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Heaven and earth may pass away, but his word shall not pass away. If ordinary means will not suffice, miracles will be wrought that his declared purpose may be accomplished. We may therefore confidently expect, that his Other promises respecting the church, and the interests of the individual members of it in this world and the next, will be performed with the same punctuality, and that “there shall not fail one good word of all that the Lord our God hath spoken.”
Again, God is faithful in his threatenings, or his denunciations of evil against the transgressors of his law. His faithfulness in respect of these implies these two things; his intention to inflict the evil denounced, and the actual infliction of it if no just cause occur to prevent it. The same distinction, however, is necessary, which we made when speaking of the promises. These threatenings must be considered as absolute or conditional ; as absolute, when they express the unalterable purpose of God to punish the guilty ; as conditional, when they express his purpose to punish hypothetically, or on the supposition of continued disobedience and final impenitence. Of the former, we have examples in the case of the rebellious Israelites, who were doomed to perish in the wilderness ; in the case of the Amalekites, concerning whom the Most High declared with an oath, that he would utterly put out their remembrance from under heaven; and in the case of the antichristian Church, which is irremediably devoted to destruction. In none of these cases was room left for repentance on the part of God, or of the objects of his wrath. An example of conditional threatening is found in the history of Nineveh. When Jonah proclaimed in its streets, “ Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown,” no condition was expressed; but it appears from the event to have been implied, that the doom of the city would be suspended by the repentance of the inhabitants. God himself has taught us to account upon the same principle for other threatenings which are not executed. “ At what instant I shall speak concerning a nation, and concerning a kingdom, to pluck up, and to pull down, and to destroy ; if that nation, against whom I have pronounced, turn from their evil, I will repent of the evil that I thought to do unto them.” To the same class of threatenings belong those which are directed against sinners living under the dispensation of the gospel. It is evident that they are only conditional declarations of God's intention to punish them; for the guilty are provided with the means of escape, and many through faith in Christ obtain the pardon of their sins. Hence, although it is certain that every sin deserves eternal condemnation, and final perdition of the hearers of the gospel is ascribed to unbelief, because it is a rejection of the offer of mercy. 6. He that believeth not the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abideth upon him.”+ But although the faithfulness of God does not require the execution of his threatenings when a change has taken place in the character and conduct of men, it does require that they should be executed when circumstances continue the same. His denunciations are not vain terrors, intended to keep us in awe, but which a man of courage may disregard with impunity. The day of retribution will demonstrate how presumptuous are the hopes of the guilty; and their state in the world to come will be a solemn and impressive testimony to all intelligent creatures, that the judgments of the Lord are righteous and true " When he that heareth the words of this curse, shall bless himself in his heart, saying, I shall have peace, though I walk in the imagination of mine heart, to add drunkenness to thirst; the Lord will not spare. him; but then the anger of the Lord, and his jealousy, shall smoke against that man, and all the curses that are written in his book shall lie upon him, and the Lord shall blot out his name from under heaven.”[ Some maintain that God ought to perform his promises, because they have created an expectation, and conferred a right to the blessings promised; but that there is no obligation to execute his threatenings, because no injury will ensue, but on the contrary an unspeakable advantage. There is, however, a fallacy in this argument. It supposes that there is no moral good in truth itself, nothing in its nature to make it sacred and inviolable, and that the obligation to respect it is resolved into utility. It confounds two things closely allied, yet perfecily distinct, truth and justice; and represents a person as bound to fulfil his word, not because he has pledged it, but because others have acquired a right from his engagement, like that of a creditor to the payment of a debt. But as men ought to speak truth for its own sake, and without any respect to the consequences, which can be considered only as motives to what was previously a duty, so God is led by his nature to speak truth, and to redeem every pledge which he has given, not so much for the sake of his creatures, as from a regard to himself. It is not because men have obtained a conventional right to certain blessings that he will bestow them, but because he will not deny himself; and for the same reason, he will not fail to give effect to his denunciations of evil. The design of this reasoning is to make it probable, that notwithstanding the explicit declaration of his purpose to punish transgressors, he may relent, and suffer them to escape with some temporary correction; but, besides that the reasoning is founded on a false principle, it forgets that the threatenings originated in the justice of God, and consequently, that not to execute these would be inconsistent with his essential rectitude as well as with his veracity. If truth were a matter of expedience, it might yield to occasion and circumstances, but its character is immutability, and it will maintain its honour in the treatment of both sinners and saints.
* Jer. xviij. 7, 8. + John iii. 36. | Deut. xxix. 19, 20.
Lastly, God is sincere in the admonitions which he addresses to men, in his expostulations, his intreaties, and his invitations. We find him remonstrating with them for their folly and wickedness, warning them of the consequences of sin, and beseeching them to embrace the offers of salvation. Have we any reason to suspect that he is not in earnest? Why should we not give the same credit to him, which we should give to a person of known integrity and benevolence, who spoke to us in affectionate terms, and expressed great solicitude for our welfare? It is objected to his sincerity in this case, that he addresses himself to persons who, he knows beforehand, will pay no regard to his words, who are in fact incapable of attending to them, because they are in a state of moral insensibility and death, and to whom he will not give his effectual grace, to awaken them to serious consideration. Why does he dissuade them, it is asked, from that which will certainly take place, and express a desire for the salvation of those whom it is not his intention to save? It cannot be denied, that this is a difficulty of which we should endeavour, if possible, to obtain a solution, for the glory of God as well as for our own satisfaction. Let it be observed, that the calls, invitations, and intreaties of Scripture may be considered as so many notices of our duty, as intimations to sinners that it is incumbent upon them to return to God by repentance, to believe the revelation of his grace, and to engage in the work of their salvation. As it will not be denied that this is our duty, so it cannot be doubted that God may enforce it in whatever manner his wisdom judges to be best, although he knows that we will not comply, because his right to command does not depend upon our disposition or our actual ability to obey, but upon the relation in which we stand to him as his creatures and subjects. Again, the counsels and expostulations of Scripture may be considered as declarations of what is agreeable to him, and in this view cannot be suspected of insincerity, with whatever earnestness they are expressed. The obedience of all men would be pleasing to God, who necessarily loves holiness and hates sin. Their happiness would be as pleasing to him as their holiness, because he is a beze. volent Being, and cannot will their misery abstractly considered, or under the notion of an ultimate end. He has sworn by his life, that he has no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that they should turn to him and live.* If he does subject many of them to death, he is compelled to this severity for the honour of his government, as a good ruler among men, who desires the welfare of all under his authority, is compelled to punish the breakers of the law. In a word, the design of those parts of Scripture may be to render sinners inexcusable, to show that their perdition is imputable to themselves alone. They cannot plead that they were destitute of the means of knowing their duty, that their attention was not called to it, and that motives of sufficient efficacy were not employed to excite them. It will appear that the fault was in themselves. Their own perverseness frustrated the methods which were used for their good. They were so eagerly bent upon sin, that no obstacles could stop them. God had done much to restrain them, and more than he was under any obligation to do.
It may be said that these observations do not meet the difficulty directly, and are applicable only to a partial view of it. It is not denied, that in any way which he chooses God may remind men of their duty, that their obedience would be pleasing to him, and that admonitions and reproofs render the impenitent inexcusable ; but the perplexing question remains unanswe
wered, How is the use of means for saving men consistent with a previous decree to exclude them from salvation ? I am not aware that the question admits of an answer perfectly satisfactory. And what is the reason? Is it any real opposition between the decree of God, and the call of the gospel ? or, in other words, is it a fact that God is insincere ? No; the cause is our ignorance of the true nature and relation of the things which are to be reconciled. We know little about the decrees of God, much less than we are apt to imagine ; and when they are the subject of discussion, we reason in the dark. But we understand what the Scriptures say respecting our duty, and the offer of salvation. Let us be content with this knowledge, whịch is all that is necessary for practice, and permit no speculation upon a subject beyond our comprehension to interfere with our belief of the Divine veracity, which is the only foundation of our faith and hope. We have full proof of it in all other cases; and it is surely reasonable to believe, that nothing hinders us from distinctly perceiving it in this case, but our own limited views. Let it be remembered, that whether we hold absolute or conditional decrees, the difficulty is the same, it being as impossible for the Arminian to reconcile the external call of the word with certain foreknowledge, as it is for the Calvinist to demonstrate its harmony with an independent and immutable purpose.
None of those reasons which lead men to deviate from truth, can have any influence upon God.
Men sometimes speak what is not agreeable to truth from ignorance, and misconception of the subject of discourse. It is unnecessary to state that a Being, whose knowledge is infinite, is liable to no misapprehension.
Men often tell lies for convenience, supplying by this expedient their want of power, or of other means to accomplish their purposes. Omnipotence stands in no need of stratagems, but goes straight forward to its end ; it has the command of all means which wisdom may deem it fit to employ, and it can always effect its designs without them. It sometimes happens that men do not perform their promises from pure inability; they want the power which they possessed when they made them, or had a reasonable prospect of possessing. But there are no real obstacles to the performance of his promises; they are obstacles only in our apprehension. “He quickeneth the dead, and calleth the things which be not as though they were." “ Hast thou not known, hast thou
• Ezek. xxxiii. 11.
not heard, that the Creator of the ends of the earth fainteth not, neither is
Men sometimes deceive others from malignity, that they may be annused with their errors, and derive an infernal pleasure from the disappointment of their hopes. God has his creatures at absolute command, and could entangle them in a snare from which their own sagacity could not extricate them. He could confound their faculties, make them mistake imaginations for realities, and pronounce good to be evil, and evil to be good; but he will not employ his power for such purposes, although he may, for the just punishment of those who receive not the truth in the love of it, deliver them up to strong delusion to believe a lie. He is not, however, the author of such delusions, which originate in their own minds, or in the artful representations of other wicked beings. Men would not be deceived if they would commit themselves to his direction, and attend to the instructions he has given in his word.
Men sometimes deceive others from fickleness of disposition. Sincere when they make promises, they change their intentions; and the expectations which were founded on the presumption of their steadiness are not realized. Immutability is an attribute of God, immutability of couusel as well as of nature. No new object or circumstance can occur to him ; but every thing which will exist at the time when the promise is to be performed, was foreseen at the time when it was made. “Known unto God are all his works from the beginning of the world." | He will be of the same mind to-morrow as he is to day; for “he is in one mind, and who can turn him ?” The promises which were recorded in the Scriptures hundreds and thousands of years ago, are as sure a foundation of faith and hope as they were at the moment when they were first published to the world.
No man, I presume, who believes that there is a God, will suppose him to be capable of falsehood and insincerity ; and if objections are made, they can arise solely from certain statements of his proceedings in the Scriptures. Some of these have been anticipated and answered. If the supposed contradictions in the Scriptures should be objected, it would require more time than can be at present afforded, to shew how they are reconciled ; and it is sufficient to observe, that if the contradictions were real, they would prove, not that God is without veracity, but that the writings in which they are found falsely pretend to be a Divine revelation. But on the supposition that the Scriptures were dictated by his Spirit, it may be asked, what is to be made of particular passages? We hear the prophet Jeremiah saying, “ O Lord, thou hast deceived
and I was deceived: thou art stronger than I, and hast prevailed.”'S Admitting the translation to be right, we may consider the words as the exclamation of a good man in a moment of weakness, who has met with unexpected trials, and had hastily presumed that God would preserve him from them. He complains of being deceived, because his groundless expectations were disappointed. But the words may be rendered, “thou hast persuaded me, and I was persuaded;" for this is, in other places, the sense of the original term AND ; and then the meaning is, that God had irresistibly impelled him to perform the duties of his office, by which he had brought upon himself reproach and violence—had impelled him contrary to his own resolution to desist. Accordingly he adds, “ Then I said, I will not make mention of him, nor speak any more in his name : but wo was in my heart as a burning fire in my bones, and I was weary with forbearing, and I would not stay."| By another prophet, God is represented as sending a lying spirit to be in the mouth of the prophets of Ahab, and as saying, “Thou shalt persuade him, and prevail also: go forth and do so." ( But Micaiah is relating a vision, in the interpretation * Rom. iv. 17. Isa. xl. 28.
+ Acts xv. 18.
I Job xxiii. 13. À Jer. xx. 7.
|| Ibid. 9.
1 Kings xxii. 22.
of which every part of the description is not literally understood, and the general design is alone to be considered. God is often said to do what he only permits to be done. It is evident that nothing more was intended than to admonish Ahab that his prophets, who encouraged him to go to Ramoth-Gilead to battle, were deceiving him with the promise of victory; and this admonition so plainly expressed, this notice beforehand, is a proof that God had no immediate concern in deceiving him. As God is said to have directed the Israelites to borrow jewels from the Egyptians, which were not to be returned, and borrowing implies a promise to restore, it may seem that he authorised deceit in this instance. But the difficulty arises from a mistranslation, for the word so, rendered to borrow, signifies simply to ask. He merely directed the Israelites to ask these things from the Egyptians, and disposed the latter to comply with their request by his secret influence upon their minds, as Moses informs us in these words: “ And the Lord gave the people favour in the sight of the Egyptians, so that they lent unto them such things as they required, and they spoiled the Egyptians." * The only question which arises out of this case, relates to the justice of the transaction; and of this there will be no doubt, if we reflect that all human property being the gift of God, he may transfer it from one to another according to his pleasure, in the ordinary course of affairs, or by a miraculous interference; and that, when the Israelites were enriched at the expense of the Egyptians, they only recovered the wages of the long and laborious services which they had performed for the benefit of that people, and of which the due recompense had been hitherto withheld. It was right that they should be put in possession of a part of the wealth which their industry had so eminently contributed to produce ; and if more fell to their share than was strictly due, the Egyptians were compelled to atone in this manner for their injustice.
His Holiness Meaning of this term in Scripture-Definition of Holiness Instances of its display
in God's Works and Dispensations General Reflections from the preceding Review of his Attributes, on the Incomprehensibility, All-sufficiency, and Sovereignty of God.
In Scripture, holiness is often attributed to God; and there are some peculiarities attending it, of which it will be proper to take notice in the introductory part of this lecture. He is said to be glorious in holiness, as if it constituted the distinguished excellence of his nature, and diffused a lustre over his other perfections. He swears by his holiness, and thus holds it out as the inviolable pledge for the truth of his promises, the most complete security that they shall be punctually performed. It is brought forward to enforce his commands, to guard his institutions against profanation and pollution, and to excite us to a watchful care of our thoughts, and words, and actions. It is represented as impressed upon all his works and dispensations, which are thus rendered both amiable and venerable. It was singled out as the subject of praise by the seraphim who surrounded the throne of Jehovah, when he appeared in the temple to the prophet Isaiah ; and its solemn effect upon them and upon him, is too memorable to be passed over in silence. “In the year that king Uzziah
* Exod. xii. 36. Vol. I.-35