Verse 47. "Praising God" - As the fountain whence they had derived all their spiritual and temporal blessings; seeing him in all things, and magnifying the work of his mercy.
"Having favour with all the people." - Every honest, upright Jew would naturally esteem these for the simplicity, purity, and charity of their lives.
The scandal of the cross had not yet commenced; for, though they had put Jesus Christ to death, they had not get entered into a systematic opposition to the doctrines he taught.
"And the Lord added to the Church daily such as should be saved." - Though many approved of the life and manners of these primitive Christians, yet they did not become members of this holy Church; God permitting none to be added to it, but touv swzomenouv, those who were saved from their sins and prejudices. The Church of Christ was made up of saints; sinners ware not permitted to incorporate themselves with it.
One MS. and the Armenian version, instead of touv swzomenouv, the saved, have toiv swzomenoiv, to them who were saved; reading the verse thus: And the Lord added daily to those who were saved. He united those who were daily converted under the preaching of the apostles to those who had already been converted. And thus every lost sheep that was found was brought to the flock, that, under the direction of the great Master Shepherd, they might go out and in, and find pasture. The words, to the Church, th ekklhsia, are omitted by BC, Coptic, Sahidic, AEthiopic, Armenian, and Vulgate; and several add the words epi to auto, at that tine, (which begin the first verse of the next chapter) to the conclusion of this. My old MS. English Bible reads the verse thus: For so the Lord encresed hem that weren maad saaf, eche day, into the same thing.
Nearly the same rendering as that in Wiclif. Our translation of touv swzomenouv, such as should be saved is improper and insupportable. The original means simply and solely those who were then saved; those who were redeemed from their sins and baptized into the faith of Jesus Christ.
The same as those whom St. Paul addressed, Eph. ii. 8: By grace ye are saved, este seswsmenoi; or, ye are those who have been saved by grace. So in Tit. iii. 5: According to his mercy he saved us, eswsen hmav, by the washing of regeneration. And in 1 Cor. i. 18, we have the words toiv swzomenoiv, them who are saved, to express those who had received the Christian faith; in opposition to toiv apollumenoiv, to those who are lost, namely the Jews, who obstinately refused to receive salvation on the terms of the Gospel, the only way in which they could be saved; for it was by embracing the Gospel of Christ that they were put in a state of salvation; and, by the grace it imparted, actually saved from the power, guilt, and dominion of sin. See 1 Corinthians xv. 2: I made known unto you, brethren, the Gospel which I preached unto you, which ye have received, and in which ye stand; and BY WHICH YE ARE SAVED, diĈ ou kai swzesqe. Our translation, which indeed existed long before our present authorized version, as may be seen in Cardmarden's Bible, 1566, Beck's Bible, 1549, and Tindall's Testament, printed by Will. Tylle, in 1548, is bad in itself; but it has been rendered worse by the comments put on it, viz. that those whom God adds to the Church shall necessarily and unavoidably be eternally saved; whereas no such thing is hinted by the original text, be the doctrine of the indefectibility of the saints true or false-which shall be examined in its proper place.
ON that awful subject, the foreknowledge of God, something has already been spoken: see ver. 23. Though it is a subject which no finite nature can comprehend, yet it is possible so to understand what relates to us in it as to avoid those rocks of presumption and despondency on which multitudes have been shipwrecked. The foreknowledge of God is never spoken of in reference to himself, but in reference to us: in him properly there is neither foreknowledge nor afterknowledge. Omniscience, or the power to know all things, is an attribute of God, and exists in him as omnipotence, or the power to do all things. He can do whatsoever he will; and he does whatsoever is fit or proper to be done. God cannot have foreknowledge, strictly speaking, because this would suppose that there was something coming, in what we call futurity, which had not yet arrived at the presence of the Deity. Neither can he have any afterknowledge, strictly speaking, for this would suppose that something that had taken place, in what we call pretereity, or past time, had now got beyond the presence of the Deity. As God exists in all that can be called eternity, so he is equally every where: nothing can be future to him, because he lives in all futurity; nothing can be past to him, because he equally exists in all past time; futurity and pretereity are relative terms to us; but they can have no relation to that God who dwells in every point of eternity; with whom all that is past, and all that is present, and all that is future to man, exists in one infinite, indivisible, and eternal NOW. As God's omnipotence implies his power to do all things, so God's omniscience implies his power to know all things; but we must take heed that we meddle not with the infinite free agency of this Eternal Being. Though God can do all thinks, he does not all things. Infinite judgment directs the operations of his power, so that though he can, yet he does not do all things, but only such things as are proper to be done. In what is called illimitable space, he can make millions of millions of systems; but he does not see proper to do this. He can destroy the solar system, but he does not do it: he can fashion and order, in endless variety, all the different beings which now exist, whether material, animal, or intellectual; but he does not do this, because he does not see it proper to be done. Therefore it does not follow that, because God can do all things, therefore he must do all things. God is omniscient, and can know all things; but does it follow from this that he must know all things? Is he not as free in the volitions of his wisdom, as he is in the volitions of his power? The contingent as absolute, or the absolute as contingent? God has ordained some things as absolutely certain; these he knows as absolutely certain. He has ordained other things as contingent; these he knows as contingent. It would be absurd to say that he foreknows a thing as only contingent which he has made absolutely certain. And it would be as absurd to say that he foreknows a thing to be absolutely certain which in his own eternal counsel he has made contingent. By absolutely certain, I mean a thing which must be, in that order, time, place, and form in which Divine wisdom has ordained it to be; and that it can be no otherwise than this infinite counsel has ordained. By contingent, I mean such things as the infinite wisdom of God has thought proper to poise on the possibility of being or not being, leaving it to the will of intelligent beings to turn the scale. Or, contingencies are such possibilities, amid the succession of events, as the infinite wisdom of God has left to the will of intelligent beings to determine whether any such event shall take place or not. To deny this would involve the most palpable contradictions, and the most monstrous absurdities. If there be no such things as contingencies in the world, then every thing is fixed and determined by an unalterable decree and purpose of God; and not only all free agency is destroyed, but all agency of every kind, except that of the Creator himself; for on this ground God is the only operator, either in time or eternity: all created beings are only instruments, and do nothing but as impelled and acted upon by this almighty and sole Agent. Consequently, every act is his own; for if he have purposed them all as absolutely certain, having nothing contingent in them, then he has ordained them to be so; and if no contingency, then no free agency, and God alone is the sole actor. Hence the blasphemous, though, from the premises, fair conclusion, that God is the author of all the evil and sin that are in the world; and hence follows that absurdity, that, as God can do nothing that is wrong, WHATEVER IS, is RIGHT. Sin is no more sin; a vicious human action is no crime, if God have decreed it, and by his foreknowledge and will impelled the creature to act it. On this ground there can be no punishment for delinquencies; for if every thing be done as God has predetermined, and his determinations must necessarily be all right, then neither the instrument nor the agent has done wrong. Thus all vice and virtue, praise and blame, merit and demerit, guilt and innocence, are at once confounded, and all distinctions of this kind confounded with them. Now, allowing the doctrine of the contingency of human actions, (and it must be allowed in order to shun the above absurdities and blasphemies,) then we see every intelligent creature accountable for its own works, and for the use it makes of the power with which God has endued it; and, to grant all this consistently, we must also grant that God foresees nothing as absolutely and inevitably certain which he has made contingent; and, because he has designed it to be contingent, therefore he cannot know it as absolutely and inevitably certain. I conclude that God, although omniscient, is not obliged, in consequence of this, to know all that he can know; no more than he is obliged, because he is omnipotent, to do all that he can do.
How many, by confounding the self and free agency of God with a sort of continual impulsive necessity, have raised that necessity into an all-commanding and overruling energy, to which God himself is made subject! Very properly did Milton set his damned spirits about such work as this, and has made it a part of their endless punishment: - Others apart sat on a hill retired, In thoughts more elevate; and reasoned high Of providence, foreknowledge, will, and fate; Fixed fate, free-will, foreknowledge absolute, And found no end, in wand'ring mazes lost. PARAD. LOST, b. ii. l. 557.
Among some exceptionable expressions, the following are also good thoughts on the flee agency and fall of man: -- I made him just and right, Sufficient to have stood, though free to fall.
Not free, what proof could they have given sincere Of true allegiance, constant faith or love, When only what they needs must do appeared, Not what they would? What praise could they receive?.
Useless and vain, of freedom both despoiled, Made passive, both had served NECESSITY, Not ME.
- So without least impulse or shadow of fate, Or aught by me immutably foreseen, They trespass, authors to themselves in all Both what they judge, and what they choose, for so I formed them free, and free they must remain Till they enthrall themselves: I else must change Their nature, and revoke the high decree Unchangeable, eternal, which ordained Their freedom; they themselves ordained their fall. Ibid, b. iii. l. 98, 103, 120.
I shall conclude these observations with a short extract from Mr. Bird's Conferences, where, in answer to the objection, "If many things fall out contingently, or as it were by accident, God's foreknowledge of them can be but contingent, dependent on man's free will," he observes: "It is one thing to know that a thing will be done necessarily; and another, to know necessarily that a thing will be done. God doth necessarily foreknow all that will be done; but he doth not know that those things which shall be done voluntarily will be done necessarily: he knoweth that they will be done; but he knoweth withal that they might have fallen out otherwise, for aught he had ordered to the contrary. So likewise God knew that Adam would fall; and get he knew that he would not fall necessarily, for it was possible for him not to have fallen. And as touching God's preordination going before his prescience as the cause of all events this would be to make God the author of all the sin in the world; his knowledge comprehending that as well as other things. God indeed foreknoweth all things, because they will be done; but things are not (therefore) done, because he foreknoweth them. It is impossible that any man, by his voluntary manner of working, should elude God's foresight; but then this foresight doth not necessitate the will, for this were to take it wholly away. For as the knowledge of things present imports no necessity on that which is done, so the foreknowledge of things future lays no necessity on that which shall be; because whosoever knows and sees things, he knows and sees them as they are, and not as they are not; so that God's knowledge doth not confound things, but reaches to all events, not only which come to pass, but as they come to pass, whether contingency or necessarily. As, for example, when you see a man walking upon the earth, and at the very same instant the sun shining in the heavens, do you not see the first as voluntary, and the second as natural? And though at the instant you see both done, there is a necessity that they be done, (or else you could not see them at all,) yet there was a necessity of one only before they were done, (namely, the sun's shining in the heavens,) but none at all of the other, (viz. the man's walking upon the earth.) The sun could not but shine, as being a natural agent; the man might not have walked, as being a voluntary one." This is a good argument; but I prefer that which states the knowledge of God to be absolutely free, without the contradictions which are mentioned above. "But you deny the omniscience of God."-No, no more than I deny his omnipotence, and you know I do not, though you have asserted the contrary. But take heed how you speak about this infinitely free agent: if you will contradict, take heed that you do not blaspheme. I ask some simple questions on the subject of God's knowledge and power: if you know these things better than your neighbour, be thankful, be humble, and pray to God to give you amiable tempers; for the wrath of man worketh not the righteousness of God. May he be merciful to thee and me!