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predictions be adapted to answer, on either the persecutors or the persecuted ? The notion of a personal prediction, in many cases, and the notion of an eternal prescience, in every case, must completely ruin the character of scripture prophecy, as in all such cases, it must have been given to human beings under no rectoral design, and it must have been utterly incapable of answering any salutary purpose whatever on the pages of Divine revelation. On the
assumption, that such predictions as the foregoing, were personal in their intention, and infallible in their fulfilment, they could not have been of any service whatever either to the church of Christ, or to the world at large; either in comforting the suffering Christians, or in restraining their infuriated and cruel persecutors. But, upon the supposition that these premonitions were not personal and direct predictions, but were only monitory cautions, founded upon a knowledge of human nature ; and that the issues which they anticipated were impersonal and contingent, and that they were administered not only for the encouragement of the Christians, under their painful and aggravated sufferings, but also for the
men, and, I might add, religious communities, and civil and political governments, from indulging their malevolent propensities, in the practice of religious persecution; if such were the purposes of the Redeemer of mankind in delivering these predictions, then the doctrine of prophecy becomes intelligible, and is rendered as agreeable to the dictates of the human understanding, as it is with the moral credit of the holy Scriptures, and the religious benefit of mankind at large.
Our blessed Redeemer, on more than a single occasion, forewarned his followers of the irreconcilable and reciprocal hostily between the spirit of the Gospel and the spirit of the world. And therefore he said, “ I am come to send fire on the earth.” Luke xii. 49. " Think not that I am come to send peace on the earth : I came not to send peace, but a sword. For I am come to set a man at variance against his father, and the daughter against her mother, and the daughter-in-law against her mother-inlaw. And a man's foes, shall be those of his own household.” Matt. x. 34-36. We have already had occasion to notice, in the judicial denunciations of the Scriptures,
that a perverse consequence is frequently spoken of as though it had been a Divine purpose; because in such cases, although the perverse consequence was the free act of an accountable creature, yet it was made to operate as its own punishment. And here I might add, that in scripture phraseology, any consequence which may follow a special interposition of the Almighty, whether it be of a perverse, or an obedient description, is uniformly imputed to the Deity; because, such special interpositions of Providence always operate either as gracious or as judicial remunerations, according to the obedience or the disobedience of the objects of those visitations.
6. Therefore hath he mercy upon whom he will have mercy, and whom he will he hardeneth.” Rom.ix. 18. And it must be evident to every ingenuous mind, that the word rendered will, in this and in many other places of the Scriptures, cannot be fairly understood as being indicative of the personal will and intention of the Almighty, to have mercy, upon certain identified persons, or to harden the hearts of other identified persons by a deliberate purpose and intention : but the word will is employed merely to indicate the certainty of the issue : or rather the absolute certainty that one of the alternatives will take place; or, if you please, the absolute necessity, that one of the alternatives must of consequence take place. And God has an undoubted right so to act, as to put a person between this tremendous alternative; and this, I am persuaded, is precisely the sovereignty for which the apostle contends.
I will ask the advocates of prescience, and of a consequent predestination, whether they will deliberately and openly affirm, that the Deity does purposely, and of deliberate intention, harden the heart of any human being? I am aware that every advocate of the doctrine of an unconditional and eternal predestination, must implicity believe that revolting libel on the character of the Deity; but such is the force of public opinion, and such is the force of the moral intuitions of the human heart, that few men have the audacity to avow their belief of it in any
intelligible and unequivocal words.
It is said of the Almighty, that he hardened the heart of Pharaoh, king of Egypt; and this he eventually did; but the hardening of Pharaoh's heart was only a perverse
consequence; and was not the purposed object of the Deity. What was it in the conduct of the Deity by which he eventually hardened the heart of that wicked and incorrigible king? Was it not the goodness of God, in hearkening to his repentance and his prayers, and in so repeatedly removing the scourge of his vengeance from Pharaoh, and from the land of Egypt? If the real intention of the Deity had been to soften the heart of Pharaoh, could he possibly have adopted means more exactly adapted to bring him to repentance? And was not the real object and desire of the Deity to bring that king to repentance by those
very means? And would the Deity either have desired or sought such an object, if its attainment had been absolutely impossible? or if its failure had been absolutely certain?' And could the event of Pharaoh's incorrigibility have been any thing more than an object of high probability? And are not objects of high probability frequently spoken of as though they were absolute certainties, as well by Divine as by human authority?
I would also ask, Did not our blessed Redeemer sincerely desire to bring the Jews to repentance ? Did he not earnestly endeavour to bring them to repentance ? Did he not actually do all in his power to bring them to repentance ? Did he not speak to them in parables, because they would not hearken to the Gospel under any literal representation? Did he not speak to them in parables, that he might bring them to repentance thereby? And did not the means which he employed to bring them to repentance, eventually produce the opposite effect? And do we not see in the Divine conduct towards Pharaoh in ancient times, and towards the Jews in the time of our Lord, the employment of similar means to bring them to repentance and salvation ? a similar
and a similar forbearance? Do we not discover in both these cases the same procrastination of final judgment, and a similar failure of the gracious purposes of the Almighty, and of the repeated and diversified agency of the providence and mercy of God?
It is passing strange, that any Christian man; any person who professes to be under the gracious inspiration of that Being who laid down his life for the redemption of the world; any person who is in the habit of reading the word of God, and of contemplating the character of the Deity,
and the moral government of the world; it is, I say, pass. ing strange, how any such person should ever imagine that God would intentionally harden the heart of any man for the purpose of procuring an occasion of heaping upon his head the greater damnation. It must indeed be confessed, that even the expediency of mercy, in connexion with the freedom of human beings, and the alternatives of eternal happiness and everlasting misery, must be regarded as being a desperate remedy, one that will either kill or cure, one that will either render human existence an unbounded blessing or an everlasting curse. But there is no escaping this appalling alternative: such is our present condition, and such are its future consequences. The sinner himself must cast the die, and choose between these infinite alternatives. who by patient continuance in well doing, seek for glory, and honour, and immortality, eternal life: and tribulation and anguish upon every soul of man that doeth evil; for there is no respect of persons with God.” Rom. ii. 11.
- To them,
The success and triumph of the Gospel, and the end of the world, not the
objects of a certain and eternal prescience.
SCRIPTURE predictions of the success and triumph of the Gospel, have usually been interpreted as though they would express the most absolute certainties; but, upon a careful investigation, such an hypothesis will prove to be incompatible with the freedom of man, and the moral government of God. Nothing can secure a certain issue, except an infallible causation; but if the final issue of any man's life be certain, that of every other human being must be evidently secure. Will not the Almighty go on to employ the Gospel in future ages, after the very same manner as he does at the present day? and must not men be converted to Christianity in the future ages of the world by the very same means, and in the same manner, as at the present time? If there be contingency in the future conversion of any man, then there must be contingency in the future conversion of every man. The prediction of John the Baptist, concerning the success of the Gospel is, “ He must increase;" and our zeal and sympathy with that blessed cause of Christianity, induce us eagerly to interpret the prediction as being of the nature of an absolute certainty. What is contained in a whole, is of necessity contained in all its parts; but if the salvation of every single individual be a contingency, then the salvation of the whole world must be a contingency. We frequently hear that popular adage, “Truth must prevail.” But truth does not always prevail ; and yet, if truth were absolutely invincible, it would be uniformly invincible, and no single case of failure could possibly transpire. Truth has the better side of every subject, and if people were always to be determined by the real merits of every case, then must the truth uniformly prevail. On the contrary, it would be quite