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OBJECTION TO PRAYER,
DERIVED FROM THE PREDETERMINATION AND IMMUTABILITY OF GOD,-ANSWERED.
Extract from Dwight.
THIS objection is usually stated in terms like the following.
Prayer is fruitless, because all things are determined from everlasting by an immutable God, and will, therefore, take place according to his determination. Hence our prayers, making no alteration in any thing, must be an idle, perhaps an impious service: idle, because they can effect nothing; impious, because they are expressions of our desires for blessings, which God has not chosen to give. If God has determined to give us these blessings, we shall receive them without prayer. If he has determined not to give them, we shall not receive them, however fervently we may pray. So far, then, as we pray for things, which God has determined to give, our prayers are useless. So far as we pray for those, which he has determined not to give, our prayers are directly opposed to his pleasure."
I have endeavored to state this objection at full length, because I wish to present it with all the force, which it has, or can have, in the mind of the objector. To the several things, contained in it, I answer,
1. There cannot possibly be any impiety in prayer.
Prayer is an offering up of our desires to God for things agreeable to his will." To desire that, and that only, which is agreeable to the will of God, cannot be impious. Evangelical prayer supposes in its very nature, that we ask either for those things for which the scriptures have expressly permitted us to pray; or for those which we professedly submit to his will in our petitions. In this conduct, impiety cannot exist. On the contrary, no human being was ever the subject of piety, who did not pursue this conduct.
The objection is now reduced to a single article; viz
The fruitlessness of prayer; or its inefficacy to change the purposes of God, and therefore to procure blessings. To this I answer,
2. The objection lies, with exactly the same force, against every other human effort, as against prayer.
If the predetermination and immutability of God render it improper for men to pray, because their prayers cannot change his purposes; then the same things must render it equally improper for men to plough, sow, reap, or make any other effort for any end whatever. All these, without the divine blessing, will be in vain, and can no more change the purpose of God, than prayer With just as much propriety and force may the farmer say, "It is in vain for me to plough, or sow, or reap: since, if God has determined to give me a crop, I shall have it without either of these efforts. On the contrary, if he has determined not to give me a crop, I shall not have it, however faithfully I may labor. My ploughing, sowing, and reaping,. therefore, must be idle, because they will all be fruitless."
In the same manner may the student say, "If God has determined that I should possess learning, I shall possess it without study: but if he has determined that I shall not possess learning, I shall not acquire it, although I study with ever so much diligence.
In the same manner, may every man say concerning his exertions.
This reasoning, were we governed by it, would plainly put an end to all human exertions at once; and we should neither plough, nor build, nor collect food, or fuel, nor teach, nor study, nor make any other attempt to promote the good, either of ourselves or others. Conclusions, so evidently false as these, and so fraught with necessary mischief, cannot flow from sound principles. Safely, therefore, may we pronounce the proofs, by which they are professedly established, to be hollow and deceitful.
3. There is a radical and gross error in this objection; viz. that God has predetermined the end, and not the
This opinion is equally contradictory to the scriptures, and to common sense. St. Paul, a little before his shipwreck, was informed by an angel, that God had given
him all them that sailed with him. Yet afterwards, when the shipmen were about to flee out of the ship; when they had let down the boat into the sea; Paul said to the centurion, and the soldiers, except these abide in the ship ye cannot be saved. Acts xxvii. 22, 30, 31. The end here determined, was the preservation of the ship's company. The means indispensable to this end, were the continuance of the seamen in the ship, and their exertions to bring it to land. These were predetermined equally with the end; and were absolutely necessary to its existence. Equally necessary are ploughing and sowing, rain and sunshine, to the existence of a crop; studying, to the acquisition of knowledge; and all other efforts of men, to the purposes which they actually accomplish. All these are equally predetermined with the ends accomplished; and equally parts of the divine system.
Every part of God's predetermination is founded on exactly the same reason with those, on which the same determination would be founded, if all beings and events had already existed; and God, in the possession of the same omniscience, should then survey them with a perfect discernment of their natures and relations, form his own determinations concerning them, and pronounce, with respect to every one, his unerring judgment. Of course, his predeterminations are exactly the same with such determinations, as would exist in his mind, after every thing had taken place; and are all exactly just and right; such as perfect wisdom and goodness, understanding them entirely, would dictate and approve.
Nor is the immutability of God at all more liable to objections. God from everlasting was exactly what all beings ought to wish him to be; possessed of every excellence in an infinite degree, and the subject of no imperfection, either natural or moral. He knows, and ever knew, all things, both actual and possible. He can do all things; and is infinitely disposed to do every thing, and that only, which is absolutely right and good. Consequently, there is nothing, there never has been, there never will be, any thing, which, considered merely as a work of God, is not exactly right. In that vast kingdom, which fills immensity and eternity, there will never exist a single being, or event, which perfect wisdom and goodness could wish not to have existed.
Who can rationally desire a change in such a character as this? What would the change be? A change from perfection to imperfection; from knowledge to ignorance; from truth to falsehood; from justice to injustice; from kindness to cruelty; from universal excellence to universal turpitude. Perfection can be changed into nothing but imperfection. The immutability of God is indispensable to the glory of his character, and is itself a part of his perfection: for no mutable being can be perfect in the same sense with one who is immutable. Equally is it the corner stone, on which the universe rests. Were this support taken away, the immense fabric would tumble into ruin. To his creatures there would be neither safety, nor hope: but immensity, and eternity, would be filled with suspense, terror and anguish.
Particularly there would not, in this case, be the least foundation for encouragement in prayer. If all the determinations of God were not settled in heaven, who could divine what new decisions would exist? what new laws? what new systems of administration ? Prayer, commanded to-day, might be forbidden to-morrow.— Prayer, acceptable to him to-day, might be hateful to him to-morrow. The things, for which we now ask with certain assurance of being heard, might speedily be denied.
-For aught that can be foreseen, the time might speedily, as well as easily, arrive, when under such a dominion, this vast empire might, in a moment of change, be reduced to a desert of ravage and ruin.
As things are actually ordered by God, every part of the system is established on immoveable foundations. Of this unchangeable system, one great and glorious part is, that every humble, faithful prayer, shall be certainly heard, accepted, and answered. Not one ever was, or ever will be, offered up in vain. This scheme of things contains every possible encouragement to pray; and displays the absolute necessity, as well as the superior usefulness and efficacy of prayer. Any other scheme would exceedingly lessen, or entirely destroy, both the encouragement, and the usefulness, of prayer.
So far, then, are the predetermination and immutability of God from preventing and discouraging prayer, that they hold out infinitely more and greater inducements to this duty, than can be furnished in any other manner.
PERSEVERANCE OF THE SAINTS.
Being confident of this very thing, that he which hath begun a good work in you, will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ.—Phil. i. 6.
In all true believers, a good work has been begun. A new heart has been given them, and a right spirit has been put within them. They are not, however, perfectly sanctified; but a sanctifying process has commenced, which will be carried on, till they arrive at the fulness of the stature of perfect men in Christ. Of this fact, the apostle expresses his confident assurance in the text above cited.
This text, it is believed, teaches clearly the doctrine of the Saints' Perseverance. As this doctrine is often called in question, and supposed by some to be of dangerous tendency, I propose in this tract,
I. To examine some of the most plausible objections which have been urged against it.
II. To adduce some of the evidence by which it is supported.
It may be proper, however, before I proceed to a discussion of the subject, to state definitely the question at issue.
The question is not, whether true believers ever fall into sin. It is admitted that they do. A just man falleth seven times, and riseth up again. Prov. xxiv. 16.
The question is not, whether persons who profess religion, and appear to possess it, may fall away and perish. That this is sometimes the case, is evinced by observation and the word of God.
The question is not, whether true believers, considered in themselves merely, are in danger of final apostacy. It is admitted that if God has not promised to keep them, there is no certainty of their perseverance.