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To say, that "secret things belong to God, and we ought not to think of this part of the divine conduct; nor is it our duty to believe it to be wise, or to acquiesce in it, as such ; will not satisfy a pious, judicious mind. Indeed, were it a secret thing, and had we no evidence of the fact, it might justly put an end to all our inquiries. But God's permitting sin is in truth no secret thing; it is revealed, it is as open and manifest as that God made and governs the world. It is often, very often, held up to our view in the Holy Scriptures, by God himself, on purpose that we might think of it. And it is acknowledged on all hands, that it is our duty to search the Scriptures, and take special notice of what we find written there, and meditate on every part of divine conduct therein held forth to our view; since the whole is calculated and designed for our instruction. (2 Tim. iii. 16.) And as it is an acknowledged fact, that God has permitted sin in millions of instances, from the beginning of the world to this day, and will continue to do so through eternal ages, so there is no avoiding a view of his conduct, but by the greatest stupidity, or shutting our eyes in the most obstinate manner. Nay, this will not do it; we cannot but think of it sometimes in this world, and shall forever think of it in the world to come. And we must approve or disapprove; for it is so interesting an affair, that we cannot stand neuter. If we disapprove now, and forever, we cannot acquiesce in God's ways in this world, nor join the heavenly hosts at the day of judgment, in saying, Amen, Hallelujah. And God, of necessity, must look upon us as enemies to him, and malecontents in his kingdom, and treat us accordingly. It is therefore of the last importance that we approve. But if God's conduct is not wise, it is not our duty to approve of it; rather we ought to be sorry, and lament that God has done as he has; which would suppose him to be to blame, and which would imply that he is not an absolutely perfect being; and if so, he is not God; and if there is no God, all religion is overthrown; therefore we must believe the divine conduct to be wise. But how shall this belief be obtained ? Firstly and chiefly, by an implicit faith in the absolute perfection of the divine nature, which, secondly, may be strengthened by a view of the wisdom of such parts of the divine conduct as we can more fully comprehend; which, thirdly, may be still more confirmed by right views of the true nature of God's universal plan. All these I have endeavored to lead my readers to attend to, in my sermons on the wisdom of God in the permission of sin.
And had the author of the “ Attempt” carefully attended to
the subject, as I had stated it, and entered thoroughly into my reasonings, I should naturally have been led to review the whole, and to retract or confirm, as light and truth appeared. But this he has not done ; but rather, to use his own words, according to his professed design, he has exerted himself to the utmost to set out the doctrine, " if possible, in all its horror and deformity.” So that what I have to do, is to take off this ill dress, and array it in its native beauty; that the divine conduct in the permission of sin may not be blasphemed, by ignorant and wicked men, through his means; and the moral rectitude of the divine nature given up, to the subversion of all religion. Nor shall any thing in his piece, that needs an answer, pass unconsidered.
SEVERAL PARTICULARS, WHEREIN THE AUTHOR OF THE SERMONS
ON THE WISDOM OF GOD IN THE PERMISSION OF SIN, AND THE AUTHOR OF THE ATTEMPT, ARE AGREED.
We should always exactly state the point in controversy before we begin to dispute. Wherefore let us see how far this author agrees with us; that the point of difference may be made to stand out in clear view.
1. We agree, that sin is in the world, and that dreadful have been the consequences for above five thousand years. And it is likely to issue in the eternal ruin of great multitudes of God's creatures.
2. We agree, that sin is the very worst of evils in its own nature, and it naturally tends to evil, and only to evil; to dishonor God and ruin the system.
3. We agree, that the eternal ruin of such great multitudes of God's creatures, considered in itself, is an infinitely dreadful thing.
4. We agree, that all the sin and misery that has or ever will take place in the system, through eternal ages, -how infinitely dreadful soever the whole must appear to one who has a perfect, comprehensive view of it all at once,-even the whole lay open, full and plain, to the divine view, before God created the world; and that he had as full, perfect, and lively an apprehension of it, before he began to create, as he ever will have to eternal ages.
5. We agree, that, if God had pleased, he could have hindered the existence of sin, and caused misery to have been forever unknown in his dominions, with as much ease as to have suffered things to take their present course.
6. We agree, that God knew, with infallible certainty, that things would take their present course, and issue, as they will issue, in the eternal ruin of millions, unless he himself should interpose, and effectually hinder it.
7. We agree, that God did, as it were, stand by, and take a perfect view of the whole chain of events, in which his honor and the good of his creation was infinitely interested ; and, in a full view, and under a most lively sense of the whole, did deliberately forbear to interpose effectually to hinder the introduction of sin into his world, when he could have hindered it as easily as not.
8. We agree, that angels and men were under the greatest obligations to love and obey God, and were left to their own free choice; and that God was not obliged, in point of justice, to do any more for them than he did ; and that the whole blame lies at the creature's door; and that God is righteous in punishing his sinning creatures according to the declarations of his word. All these particulars I had asserted; none of them has he denied ; nor does it appear that we differ in any of these things.
THE GRAND POINT IN CONTROVERSY EXACTLY STATED.
The grand point of difference is precisely this: "I believe, that the infinitely holy and wise God, in every part of his conduct relative to the intellectual system, does that which is really wisest and best for him to do; most for his glory, and the good of the system, in the whole ; and, therefore, that God's present plan is, of all possible plans, the best ; most for his glory and the good of the system.” On the contrary, the author of the "Attempt " believes, that “God is not obliged to do, and that in fact he does not do, that which is most for his own glory, or most for the good of the system ; and is fully persuaded that the present plan is so far from being the best, that it had been infinitely more for the glory of God, and the good of the system, if sin had never happened.”
In the sermons he objects against, it had been said, that “from the perfections of the divine nature alone we have such full evidence, that he must always act in the wisest and best manner, as that we ought not in the least to doubt it. Before the foundation of the world, this system now in existence, and all other possible systems, equally lay open to the divine view, and one as easy to the Almighty as another. He had his choice; he had none to please but himself. Besides him there
was no being: he had a perfectly good taste, and nothing to bias his judgment, and was infinite in wisdom. This he chose : and this, of all possible systems, therefore was the best, infinite wisdom and perfect rectitude being judges."
But the author of the “ Attempt "esteems this reasoning quite inconclusive, as it proceeds on a false hypothesis. “A fallacy,” he says, " to suppose that God must necessarily always will and do that which is most for his own glory." A point he does not believe, “that in fact he always does,” or that “he is obliged to do it." He thinks it plain in the works of creation, that God has not done what would have been most for his own glory, and that he might have done much better; which emboldens him to argue, that in the works of providence, he did not mean to do his best. And he attempts to prove at large by nine arguments, that it had been much better, in the whole, more for God's glory, and the general good of the system, if sin and misery had been forever unknown. And if it had been better for God to have hindered sin, it was not wise in God to permit it.
So that this is the fundamental and most essential point of difference, and that on which the whole controversy between him and me turns, namely, Whether the whole, and every part, of the divine conduct, be agreeable to infinite wisdom; or, in other words, whether God means, in the whole and every part of his conduct, to do that which he knows to be for the best, most for his glory and the good of the system, on the whole. For we both agree, that God always knows what is for the best, and never acts under mistake. So that the only question really is, whether God always means to do what he knows to be for the best on the whole; for if he does, the grand point is proved. The wisdom of God in the permission of sin is demonstrated ; and it is in vain to raise objections against that which infinite wisdom knows to be best. It is proud and arrogant, it is impious and blasphemous, for a worm of the dust to dispute against his Maker. (Isa. xlv. 9. Rom. ix. 20.)
GOD, WHO IS A BEING OF INFINITE WISDOM AND PERFECT RECTI
TUDE, ALWAYS CONDUCTS AGREE ABLY TO HIS OWN MOST GLORIOUS PERFECTIONS ; THAT IS, IN THE MOST WIŠE, HOLY, AND PERFECT MANNER; PARTICULARLY IN THIS CASE.
We are agreed, that this affair of the permission of sin was an infinitely important affair ; and, indeed, considering it in all
its consequences, there perhaps never was a more important affair that God ever had to decide. It involved in it the welfare of the angelic world, and the welfare of the whole human race. The honor of God was infinitely concerned in the affair ; yea, the very life of God's own Son did, as it were, lie at stake; for if sin was permitted, the Son of God was to die. If God ever thoroughly considered and weighed any affair whatever, no doubt he did this; and, if ever he was concerned to act according to his best judgment, if I may be allowed to use such a phrase, in any one case, no doubt he was in this. And if God is an absolutely perfect being, it was simply impossible that he should conduct, in this infinitely important affair, contrary to the light of his own mind and the joint declaration of all his perfections, infinitely to his own dishonor, and infinitely to the damage of the system, absolutely without any motive so to do; yea, against infinite motives to the contrary. Nay, to suppose that God would deliberately and voluntarily, absolutely without any motive, suffer his own creatures to sin, when he knew it would be, on the whole, infinitely better for him to hinder it, is, in the most barefaced manner, to give up the moral rectitude of the divine nature.
Did the inhabitants of heaven view the divine conduct in the permission of sin in this blasphemous light, and firmly believe God to be such a being, instead of crying, "Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord of hosts, the whole earth is full of his glory, as they did when God gave up Israel of old to blindness of mind and hardness of heart, they would rather sink down into amazing grief, and fill all heaven with loud lamentations. And saints on earth, instead of singing their ancient melodious song, “the Lord reigneth, let the earth rejoice ; let the multitude of isles be glad thereof;” might rather, if these things were so, with the captive Jews, hang their harps on the willows, put on sackcloth, sit down in sorrow, and refuse to be comforted.
A firm belief of the infinite wisdom and perfect rectitude of the divine nature and government, is essential to the very foundation of all true religion. For it is the very reason of our love to God, of our joy in him, rejoicing in his universal government, acquiescing in all his dispensations, even those which we cannot understand, and of our cheerful obedience to all his commands. If, therefore, we give up this belief, we must give up all religion; and shall be in as bad or worse condition, than if we believed there were really no God.
And this doctrine of the wisdom and rectitude of the divine government is also the very foundation of that doctrine plainly