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upon him.

fairly traced back to God as the prime mover, and its guilt must be charged

Causa causæ est etiam causa causati ; the cause of a cause, say the Schoolmen, is also the cause of its effect. To remove this difficulty, it has been said, that although the divine præcursus extends to bad as well as to good actions, it does not make God the author of sin, because the previous concourse relates to actions considered materially and entitatively, but not morally ;-such is the language of the schools ;—that is, it relates to the substance of the act, but not to its pravity. It is not new to view an action in two different lights, physically and morally; nor that the same action should have two different causes. The soul, for example, moves the body, by acting, we may presume, upon the brain. If a particular person be lame, his halting gait is not owing to the action of the soul upon the brain, and through the nerves upon the muscles, but to the natural or accidental defect in his limb. If a man play upon a musical instrument, the impulse which he gives to the strings is the cause of the sound, but not of the discord which is produced by their not being properly stretched. If a magistrate orders a criminal to be executed, he is the cause of his death, but not of the malevolence which the man may feel, who is employed in carrying the sentence of the law into effect. It is no objection, that as pravity is necessarily and inseparably annexed to the action, he who is the cause of the action, seems to be the cause of its pravity, because the will of the creature is no otherwise the moral cause of the evil, than as it is the material cause of the action, with which moral evil is necessarily connected. But this statement of the concern of the will in moral evil is false, for the will, as a physical agent, is the physical cause of the action, but as a moral agent, is the cause of its sinfulness, not simply by performing the action, but by performing such an action as is contrary to the law to which the person is subject. The cause that moral evil is ascribed to a man's will, is not, that as a physical agent it performs a physical action, but that as a moral agent it performs the action forbidden by the law, which the man is bound to obey. The moral evil does not arise from the action considered as a natural action, but from the defect or corruption of the will.

Two things ought to be carefully distinguished, an action and its quality. The action is from God: its quality, if at least it be evil, is from man. To render the point still clearer, Theologians have maintained that actions, abstractly considered, are neither good nor bad, but become such according to circumstances; volitions are mere natural acts of an intelligent being, and are in themselves indifferent; unless we should say that they are good in the metaphysical sense of the term, according to which, goodness is predicated of simple existence, and the modes of existence. In this view, the agency of God in causing volitions and actions subsequent to them, is not more inconsistent with the purity of his nature than his agency in causing the motions and modifications of matter. In both cases something is produced; but as it is invested with no quality, but is considered as a simple existence, it is not the proper object of a moral judgment. I know not how far you have apprehended these distinctions, nor what satisfaction they have communicated to your minds on this intricate and perplexing subject. The design of them is to maintain on the one hand, the dependence of creatures upon their Maker, and, on the other, to vindicate him from the suspicion of being the Author of sin. It is certain that, when discussing this subject

, we walk in a very narrow and a very obscure path, and are in constant danger of stepping aside to the right hand or to the left. Whether it be possible to pursue it without deviating, is questionable ; and those who have made the trial with the most humility, will be the least disposed to boast of their success.

A little acuteness is sufficient to invent distinctions, by which a difficulty may be evaded, and an opponent may be silenced, if not convinced; but it is

not so easy on a subject so obscure and embarrassed, to give full satisfaction to a dispassionate, inquiring, and reflecting mind. A man may surely be pardoned, or at least not severely censured, if, after having perused the arguments of Scholastic Divines, he should acknowledge himself to be at a loss to understand how God, who is infinitely holy, can by an immediate influence excite rational creatures to actions, which, whatever they may be in themselves, are and must be sinful as performed by them who are corrupted in all their faculties. He may be excused also, if he should be tempted to think, that a physical act, abstracted from all circumstances, which has been barbarously called the substrate matter of sin, is a metaphysical conceit, an airy nothing without a local habitation. He may be wrong in this opinion ; but the subject is so abstruse, and so subtile, that his mistake is entitled to indulgence. An intention to take away life, it is said, is indifferent in itself, and is good or bad according to circumstances. God therefore may excite this intention, without doing any thing impure or unjust. But I would ask, is it a simple intention to take away life, without the specification of an object, which is excited in the mind of a murderer? Does such an abstract intention exist in rerum natura? And if it did exist, would it be innocent? A private man can never innocently form the general design to take away life, nor indeed can any man, either private or public. The general intention to take away life is necessarily criminal ; it is an intention to do what, abstractly considered, no creature has a right to do; it becomes lawful only when the object is specified, and is in particular circumstances. Here, I presume, is a case, and others might be mentioned, which demonstrates the falsity of the maxim, that actions and volitions are indifferent in themselves, and become good or bad by their circumstances. I should like to hear, from some person who is master of the subject, how God could, without being the author of sin, excite a man to blaspheme his name. Some of the distinctions which would be resorted to on ihis occasion, may be conceived; but it would be a hard task to digest them.

My design in these observations is, not to controvert the doctrine of Calvinistic Divines, but to convince you, that this is a subject too high for our faculties. We know, that God is concerned in all the actions of his creatures ; that nothing takes place without his permission; that men are dependent upon him, and cannot move, or breathe, or think without his assistance. But the exact limit between the actions of the Creator and the actions of his rational creatures, we cannot define. Let us be content with what we know, and make a practical improvement of it. Let us adore that mighty Being who rules over all. Let us implore his direction and aid ; and let us remember that, whatever theories speculative men may adopt, conscience and Scripture, and reason declare, that we are accountable creatures; and that he who is the constant witness of our conduct, will hereafter sit in judgment upon us and reward or punish us according to our works.

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LECTURE XLIII.

ON PROVIDENCE.

Examination of the Language of Scripture respecting the Agency of God in Sinful Actions God's Peculiar or Gracious Providence-Objections to the Doctrine of Providence considered.

In the two preceding lectures, I laid before you the proofs of a Providence, and its objects. In general it is the divine government of all created things; but it was obviously proper to consider it chiefly in relation to ourselves. After shewing that its care extends to all the events and circumstances of our life, I entered more fully into the inquiry, how far it is concerned in human actions. With respect to good actions, there can be no hesitation in admitting, that it both assists and excites us; but there is great difficulty in settling the extent of its influence in respect to such as are sinful. I stated to you the opinion of Calvinistic divines on this intricate subject, and pointed out the distinctions, by which they endeavoured to prove, that, while God excites to actions which are sinful, and assists in the performance of them, he is not the author of sin. Objections, as I hinted, may be brought against those distinctions; but they have been deemed satisfactory by many persons of judgment and learning, or at least they have been proposed as the best which occurred to them, and as furnishing the only solution of the difficulty.

Let us not be surprised, that we cannot throw such light upon ihis and many other points, as shall dispel every shade of obscurity. Perfect knowledge is not given to man, the range of whose faculties is very confined, and who often encounters moral as well as physical impediments in the investigation of truth. It seems to have been the will of his Creator, that he should be furnished with as much knowledge as should suffice to direct him in the path of duty, and in the way to eternal life; but not with the means of gratifying his curiosity, and disclosing all the arcana of the universe. But he is not content with this (as he is apt to think) scanty allotment. The desire which led to so fatal an issue in the case of our first parents, is still prevalent, and operates with great power on their descendants--the desire “ to be as Gods, knowing good and evil.” There is no subject which we do not wish to comprehend, and we are unhappy and restless, as long as there is any one thing in nature or in grace, which we are unable to explain. There is no doubt that, in many instances, this impatience has led not a few persons to push their speculations too far, forgetting their incompetence, and ceasing to regard with becoming reverence the sacred barriers which the will of God has opposed to their progress.

There are two ways in which we may go wrong; we may assume false principles as the foundation of our argument, and we may reason unfairly from true principles. In the present case, the ground on which we proceed seems to be good-that

, as creatures are absolutely dependent upon God, they cannot think, and will, and move, without him; but, as we are unable to define with exactness the mode and degree of his operations upon them, we are not sure of all the consequences which we may draw from the principle. There is a danger of ascribing too much or too little to creatures; of representing them, on the one hand, as independent of God, and sovereign lords of their actions, or, on the other, of turning them into machines, which have as little concern in their own movements as a clock or a steam engine, and consequently of lay. ing all the responsibility upon God. None of us will pretend to tell how God acts upon inanimate matter, so as to move it according to the laws of gravitation and attraction; and none of us should pretend to tell how he acts upon spiritual beings. It would be wise to confess our ignorance, and to rest in the general acknowledgment that he is the First Cause, without entering into a minute explanation.

I now proceed to consider some passages of Scripture, in which the agency of God in sinful actions is mentioned.

I begin with an expression which is used on several occasions, particularly by the Apostle Paul, who says concerning the vessels of wrath, that “whom he will, God hardeneth ;''* and by Moses, who informs us more than once, “that the Lord hardened the heart of Pharaoh.” There is something awful and startling in these words, and they seem to import an agency on the part of God, which is at variance with his acknowledged holiness, and justice, and goodness. With respect to Pharaoh, we may remark, that the command to let the Israelites go, was one with which he could not be supposed to be ready to comply, because it interfered with the sovereign authority which he claimed in his own dominions, would deprive him of a great proportion of his subjects, whose labours were profitable to the state, and was delivered by Moses, a man whom he did not know, in the name of JEHOVAH, whom he did not acknowledge as God; that when the commission of Moses was confirmed by miracles, they were at first such as were imitated by the Egyptian magicians, and therefore seemed to indicate no superior power, to which he was bound to submit, or of which he had reason to be afraid ; that when other miracles were wrought which exceeded the power of the magicians, their effects were soon removed, so that Pharaoh would think that the danger was past, and probably flatter himself that each judgment would be the last; that when he gave his consent that the people should go into the wilderness to sacrifice to their God, Moses rejected the grant, unless they were permitted to take their flocks and herds along with them; that the destruction of the first-born, by which he was compelled to yield, must have left a stong feeling of resentment and revenge in his bosom; and, finally, that the situation of the Israelites, who were entangled in the wilderness, having the sea in front, and the mountains on either hand, appeared to present a favourable opportunity of punishing them for all the calamilies which they had brought upon his country, and of retaining them under his yoke. All these events were ordered by ihe Providence of God; but, in not one of them did he exert any direct or immediate influence upon the mind of Pharaoh, either to infuse wickedness into it, or to confirm his proud and rebellious disposition. Hence it is plain, that when God is said to have hardened his heart, the expression must be understood in a qualified sense. He hardened it, not by any positive act, but by a series of dispensations, from which, being previously corrupt, it took occasion to persist in disobeying his commands. God placed him in certain circumstances, and left him to act according to his natural inclinations.

In a similar manner we must explain the expression when it is used concerning other sinners. God does not create wicked dispositions in their hearts, but he does not restrain by his Providence or his grace, those which already exist. He does not keep them out of the way of temptation; but, as they go on heedlessly, he permits them to encounter and to fall over stumbling-blocks. He does not hinder Satan, and other men like themselves, from laying snares for them, and soliciting them to sin. He withholds his grace, which would have converted them, but which he was under no obligation to communicate; and he even removes the checks which he had put upon them, because they submitted to them with impatience and murmuring, and discovered an eager desire to get rid of them. The consequence is, that their hearts are hardened,

Rom. ix. 18.

that their wickedness increases, and grows into a confirmed habit; but it is evident that the hardening of their hearts is their own work, and is ascribed to God only indirectly. He does not impel them to commit sin, nor would his dispensations of themselves lead them to it; that is, unless there were a previous inclination or tendency to it. He does not prevent them from committing sin; but he cannot on this account be called the author of it, unless it could be proved that he is under an obligation to impart effectual grace to all men, without distinction.

In like manner, we must explain those passages in which God is said to blind the eyes, or the minds of men. What has been already said, is obviously applicable to them; and indeed although the expressions are different, the subject to which they relate is the same. The same effect is pointed out by the hardening of the heart; the blinding of the eyes; the giving of men over to a reprobate mind; the delivering of them up to their own lusts, to walk in their own counsels. Nothing more is intended, than that God withholds his grace from them, leaves them under the power of corrupt inclinations, and does not prevent them from being exposed to temptation. With respect to the blinding of the mind, it is worthy of attention, that while at one time it is represented as the act of God, it is attributed at another to the agency of Satan. “The god of this world,” says Paul, “ hath blinded the minds of them which believe not, lest the light of the glorious gospel of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine into them."* Now, as both representations must be true, and God and Satan must both be concerned in the effect, it seems to be the proper way of reconciling them, to suppose, that while God with holds his Spirit

, who would illuminate their minds, he permits Satan to use his arts to deceive them. Although we are ignorant of the mode in which Satan acts upon the mind, yet we are certain, from the testimony of Scripture, that he possesses the means of strengthening its prejudices, and stirring up its passions in opposition to the truth. But there is nothing positive in the part which God takes in this matter, except that his Providence may so order the circumstances of sinners, that, being already averse to spiritual things, they shall hence find an occasion of being confirmed in their dislike. He does not blind them by weakening or confounding their understandings, or by suggesting objections against the gospel; these come from themselves, or from the secret insinuations of the spirit of error and falsehood.

When God is said to tempt man, there is no difficulty, because the word may be used in a good, or in a bad sense. It is used in a good sense, when the Scripture says, that “God did tempt Abraham ;''t for the meaning is, that by commanding him to offer in sacrifice his only son, upon whose life the performance of the promises depended, he made trial of his faith, and an opportunity of manifesting it, to the glory of Divine grace and his own honour, as well as for an example to succeeding generations. It is used in a bad sense when it expresses the methods employed to entice men to sin; and to apply it to God in this sense, would be blasphemy: “Let no man say: when he is tempted, I am tempted of God; for God cannot be tempted with evil, neither tempteth he any man.”

What shall we make of the following words ? " If the prophet be deceived, when he hath spoken a thing, I the Lord have deceived that prophet. ”After the remarks already made, we cannot suppose that, strong as this language is

, it imports that God had actually deceived him; but it must be understood to mean, that, if the idolatrous Jews, who are mentioned in the context, had con: sulted a person calling himself a prophet, and he, fancying himself to be what he pretended, and imposed upon by his own imagination, had delivered a prediction which proved to be false, God was to be considered as having a right2 Cor. iv. 4. † Gen. xxii. 1. # Jamer i13.

$ Ezek. xiv, 9.

gave him

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