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RESTRAIN SOVEREIGNTY, BUT NOT PREVENT IT.

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control of that principle. “The whole aspect of God's ways, in regard to them, is changed,” says Mr. Hinton, “ from sovereignty to equity. Had nothing existed but his natural dominion, all would have been characterized by sovereignty; but as he has seen good to establish a moral government, of its whole range, equity is the necessary distinction. Then he would have treated his creatures as he pleased, that is, with unmixed kindness; now he will treat them as they deserve." Then he might have bestowed upon them any measure of good which he chose to impart; now he can bestow, except in special cases, that measure only which they merit by obedience.

It must, however, be especially observed, that though the establishment of a moral system thus controls the principle of sovereignty, it does not annihilate it, nor absolutely prevent its development towards the subjects of that system. Were the case otherwise, mercy would be totally, and for ever, excluded from the system. The fall of Adam must have entailed irreversible condemnation upon the whole race; since nothing can be more apparent than that mere equity cannot save a transgressor. The institution of moral government subjects the Divine sovereignty to control, only to that degree which is necessary to secure the purposes of that government. Within this limit it is perfectly free to expatiate. Sovereignty may be displayed even where equity would seem to forbid, if it can be done without defeating, or injuriously interfering with, the ends of that government. The great Eternal can never absolutely give away his right to do good. In the case of universal transgression, for instance, when the exercise of sovereignty would seem, at first view, to be absolutely precluded, if some method can be devised by which the efficiency of the law, and the consequent stability of the government, can be as effectually sustained, while pardon is bestowed upon a part of the race, as if vengeance had been inflicted upon the whole, then may the heart of sovereignty indulge its gracious promptings ;-then may the hand of special grace lead “a multitude which no man can number," cleansed from their sins " in the blood of the Lamb," to the foot of the eternal

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SOVEREIGNTY DIFFERS FROM SUPREMACY ;

throne, and into the immediate presence of that great Being who occupies it.

The preceding statements are adapted to teach us, First, that we must not confound the sovereignty with the supremacy of God. There is a nice distinction in meaning, between the two terms. God will exercise his supremacy over fallen angels, and apostate men, at the termination of the present system, but not his sovereignty; their punishment will be the unmingled infliction of equity. The term supremacy points to the rank and station of God. It intimates that he is possessed of authority over all beings, and all worlds ; that he exercises uncontrollable dominion over the creatures which he has formed. It supposes the existence of beings to be governed, and it is his actual government of them. The term sovereignty, though doubtless used loosely to denote the dominion of God, carries us back, as we have seen, to a period anterior to the creation. God, strictly speaking, was not supreme till he had created, -as a man cannot be a ruler without subjects, or a father without children; but he was sovereign in the very act of creation. It was his sovereignty, not his supremacy, which led to the act—which directed as to the kind and manner of existence to be imparted—and which bestowed upon the different orders of beings formed by him, all the blessings they enjoyed; for, on account of the infinite benevolence of his nature, sovereignty becomes to them the source of unmingled good.

Secondly, that we must be careful not to conceive of Divine sovereignty as approximating in the slightest degree to arbitrariness, or capriciousness, in the current acceptation of the words. It is to be feared that many have fallen into this mistake; that there has been a proneness, at least in some quarters, to regard it as a right to act without reason, and even in opposition to law. It becomes us to oppose all such conceptions of the Divine conduct and government. They are infinitely dishonourable to God. To act without reason is the part of a fool or a madman. That be far from the great Eternal. It is doubtless the case that his conduct is often inscrutable to

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How should it be otherwise? What but infinite wisdom

us.

IS NOT CAPRICIOUS; BESTOWS GOOD.

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can comprehend the plans of an infinite mind? Who but God can explain the reasons of his conduct ? No one. Yet he has reasons.

The very highest act of sovereignty, is not a sovereign act in the sense now opposed, and which too many attach to the term. His essential and infinite goodness is ever developed under the guidance of infinite wisdom, and perfect holiness. If he choose the Jews to be the depositaries of the light of revelation, and leave the Gentiles for a season in the darkness which they had chosen ;-if he elect one man to life, and permit another to pursue his own course to eternal death, there is beyond all question a sufficient reason for these acts of choice; though I will not venture to affirm that, even by the light of eternity, it will be fully disclosed.

Thirdly, that sovereignty is a source from which, in a moral system, nothing but good can proceed. It is not a fountain whence issue sweet waters and bitter. It is never employed in afflicting, and cursing, and destroying the creatures to whom it imparts existence, without reason, and in opposition to law, or even in conformity with law; but in pouring upon them a stream of blessings, irrespectively of their deserts, and, in some cases, in opposition to their deserts. It is the actual source, and it only can be the source of all the good existing in the system beyond what equity demands; but it is not required as a cause, nor is it the actual cause of

any of the evils suffered by those who are connected with the system. Evil of all kinds manifestly springs from another fountain—the fountain of equity. The punishment threatened and inflicted, in the whole range of God's moral government, is the just desert of the transgressor ; and it is the office of equity, not of sovereignty, to render to any individual his due. Why should we embarrass ourselves and the subject by retaining the self-contradictory phrases, “sovereign justice, sovereign punishment,” (a mode of expression which, in point of absurdity, stands on a level with the phrase "equitable mercy,") and thus represent the punishment as having its source in the mere pleasure of God, i.e., as not being required by the nature of the case? Why do this, when there is another source--the principle of equity--from which it must neces

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THE PROVINCE OF EQUITY AND SOVEREIGNTY.

sarily spring, unless sovereignty lay the hand of merciful restraint upon its operation? And how can we venture to utter so foul a libel upon the God of love, as to affirm that any suffering can exist in his moral government, which is not to be proximately traced to the defect or transgression of its subjects ?

It is conceived to be a point of great importance to form correct conceptions on this subject, and to keep steadily in view the respective provinces of equity and sovereignty, in the conduct of God towards rational and accountable agents. The former gives to all the measure, both of good and of evil, that is due to them. This is its appropriate and exclusive province. It cannot move in the slightest degree beyond it; sovereignty has nothing whatever to do with it. The latter, on the other hand, bestows good-good exclusively—and good beyond the desert of its recipient. In a case in which evil is suffered by a subject of moral government, the Divine proceedings may develop both equity and sovereignty. Should the full amount of the suffering due to him not be inflicted, there is a manifest display of both. Yet, even in this case, the respective province of each may be perceived with great distinctness. The measure of evil endured is to be traced to the exercise of justice; the portion short of the desert of the transgressor, which he is not required to suffer, is held back by the hand of sovereignty. Equity punishes, as far as the punishment goes ; sovereignty spares the full infliction.

I beg permission of the reader to fortify my own statements by the following quotations, which are both adapted to confirm them, and to throw additional light upon the subject.

“ The punishment, even of the guilty,” says Dr. Williams, “(much less of the innocent,) is not an object of Divine sovereignty. To punish the guilty is the office of equity, which gives to all their due. For mercy to punish, or justice to confer undeserved favour, is discordant in thought and language; but not more so than sovereign punishment,—without assuming some other meaning of the term, or disputing about words. In brief, as equity never disapproves of any creature, especially a moral agent, where there is nothing wrong, or no

RESTRICTION OF THE TERM.

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desert; so Divine sovereignty is in no case employed but for the welfare of its object.” (Equity and Sovereignty, 2nd edition, pp. 126, 127.)

** By sovereignty,” says Dr. Fletcher, “ I do not mean the mere supremacy and dominion of God as the natural and moral Governor of the world; but I conceive the term is more appropriate in its application, when restricted to the dispensation of grace; the display of free and unmerited favour to those who cannot deserve it, and who have, in themselves, no reason to expect it. It is only in this part of the Divine administration that any scope can be afforded for the exercise of sovereignty. In the infliction of punishment, justice takes its course; it is the revelation of the righteous judgment of God; it is the award of equitable retribution; the reasons for that award exist in the character and criminality of the sufferer, and it is unnecessary to seek for any other reason.". “ In the determination to punish sinners, as well as in the punishment itself, we perceive the process of legal distribution; the character of the guilty accounts for their doom. We cannot resolve this act of the Divine will in the same way in which we ascribe to that will the bestowment of mercy. It may be the will of the legislator, the governor, the judge ; but it is not the will of the Sovereign; it arises not from the mere good pleasure of God." In a note attached to a later edition of the admirable sermon, (Spiritual Blessings) from which the above passages are quoted, Dr. F. says, “If the term were in future excluded from other applications, and considered only as describing that perfection from which mercy emanates, what injury would result to the system of Divine truth, or to the nomenclature of theology ?"

To this question of Dr. F.'s, I have no hesitation in replying, that the restriction of the term sovereignty to cases in which good is communicated without an equitable claim, would not only prove uninjurious, but would tend to remove some of that hostile feeling with which the doctrine of Divine Sovereignty is apt to be regarded. Much of that feeling has its foundation in mistake or misrepresentation. It is too commonly thought by our opponents, that we, in advocating the sovereignty of Jehovah, practically avow our belief that he has

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