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OF THE PRESCIENCE AND PROVIDENCE OF GOD.
IN the controversy between the Calvinists and Arminians, concerning the decrees of election and reprobation, the freedom of man’s will, and the speciality of God’s grace, it is observed by the former, that many of the arguments of the latter seem as strongly to conclude against God’s foreknowledge of future contingencies, as against his absolute decrees; that what is said in favor of the freedom of men’s wills, and against the determination of them by a divine influence, weakens the providence of God; and that the case of the heathens being left without a revelation, cannot well be reconciled to the doctrines of universal grace and general redemption. The learned writer attended to, proposes, in his sixth Discourse, and answer to these three objections, which he easily saw lay against the doctrines he had asserted in his former discourses, and the arguments by which he endeavored to confirm them, which I shall consider and reply to in this and the following chapter. And, I. It must be, and is generally allowed, that God had, from eternity, a prescience or foreknowledge of all future events; of all future contingencies, even of the free actions of men’s wills; of every thing that should be done in time, to the end of the world, and to all eternity. He foreknew what all men would do, or would not do; who would believe and repent, and who would not; and who would perish, and who would be eternally saved: which foreknowledge is not conjectural, uncertain, and precarious, but is real, certain, and infallible; whence it must follow, that whatsoever arguments are advanced upon the attributes of God, his wisdom, justice, holiness, truth, sincerity, goodness, and mercy, or upon the methods and dealings of God with the sons of men, against the absolute decrees of God, are as much opposed unto, and lie as strongly against, the foreknowledge of God; since that as much requires the certainty, and secures the infallibility, of the event, as his absolute decrees do; otherwise his foreknowledge would not be knowledge, but conjecture. The answer to this is, f753 1. “That though this argument be offered in favor of the decrees of absolute election and reprobation, yet doth it plainly overthrow them, or render them superfluous; for be it, that these decrees were made from eternity; yet seeing that God’s foreknowledge of the events of all men was also from eternity, must he not know what was the condition of , all men when he made these decrees? And what need then would there be of a decree for that event, which was infallible by virtue of his foreknowledge, without that decree?” To which I reply, that the foreknowledge of God is so far from overthrowing or rendering superfluous the decrees of God, that the decrees of God are the foundation of his foreknowledge of future events; for he foresees and foreknows all things that come to pass in himself, in his own will, and the decrees of it. The reason why God decrees this or the other thing, is not because he foreknew they would be, whether he decreed them or not; but he foreknew they would be, because he decreed they should be. God foreknows all things possible in his own power, and all things future in his own will, and the determinations of it; he willed things, and then knew what he willed; though there is neither first nor last in God, yet we are obliged to consider one thing after another.
God’s decrees are not to be conceived of without his knowledge, nor his knowledge without his decrees; wherefore it follows, that God’s foreknowledge does not avert or render his decrees superfluous, nor do his decrees destroy his foreknowledge, or render that insignificant; of the two, the latter might rather be supposed, though it ought not by any means, since God’s foreknowledge of future events necessarily arises from himself, his will, and the decrees of it, and are strictly, closely, and inseparably connected with them. 2. It is said, that “this argument is obnoxious to these dreadful consequences, that it plainly renders God the author of sin; and prescience thus stated must be attended with a fatal necessity.” To which may be replied, that the foreknowledge of God can never reasonably be thought to make him the author of sin, when even the decrees of God, respecting sinful actions, from whence his foreknowledge of sin arises, and upon which it is founded, do not make him so. God determined the selling of Joseph into Egypt, the betraying of Christ by Judas, and the crucifixion of him by the Jews, and yet was the author of neither of them. Nay, should it be allowed what is suggested, that “to say God only doth foresee things future, because he hath decreed they should be so, is to say God moves and predetermines the wills of men to those things which are evil;” though I think the difference is very wide between God’s decrees of future events, within himself from eternity, and his motions and predeterminations of the wills of men to any actions in time. But supposing such motions and determinations of the wills of men to that which is evil, since he moved David to number the people, and put it into the hearts of the kings of the earth to fulfill his will, and to agree to give their kingdom to the beast; ( 2 Samuel 24:1: Revelation 17:17.) even these do not make God the author of sin; for the divine predetermination, motion, and providential concourse respecting men, do not at all alter the liberty of the will; men, under them, feel no power or force upon them: they freely will, and voluntarily do what they do; of which not God, but they, are the authors. If, therefore, neither the predeterminations of the wills of men in time, nor the decrees of God from eternity, make him the author of sin, much less his foreknowledge. God foreknew that Adam would fall, as Christ did that Judas would betray him, for he told him of it beforehand; and yet God was no more the author of sin and fall of Adam, than Christ was of betraying by Judas; nor did either Adam or Judas feel any force or constraint from this foreknowledge, obliging them to sin; nor do they ever complain of it, or impute their sin and fall unto it. Prescience, thus stated, introduces no fatal necessity: it is, indeed, attended with a necessity of infallibility respecting the event; but not with a coactive necessity upon the wills of men, which are left hereby entirely free, and so they find themselves in the commission of every action; neither the decree of God, nor his foreknowledge, necessitate men, or oblige and compel them to do the things decreed and foreknown; nevertheless, whatever is decreed and foreknown by God, is certainly, infallibly, and immutably brought to pass, according to his will. 3. It is urged “that if there were any strength in this argument, it would prove that we should not deny the liberty supposed in all the arguments used against these decrees, but rather, prescience itself; for if those two things were really inconsistent, and one of them must be denied, the introducing an absolute necessity of all our actions, which evidently destroys all religion and morality, would tend more, of the two, to the dishonor of God, than the denying him a foreknowledge.” It is easy to observe, that this author was rather disposed to deny the foreknowledge of God, than to part with his favorite notion concerning the liberty of man’s will lying in an indifferency to good and evil, and as opposed to any sort of necessity. Socinians, upon this principle, have come into a denial of it; and the Arminians have shown a good inclination to it. Their champion, John Goodwin, has roundly declared, that “there is no foreknowledge, properly so called, in God.” This has been always the way of these men, that, if their notions would not comport with the being and perfections of God, they will shape God and his perfections agreeable to their notions.
Though it may be a considerable difficulty to reconcile the prescience of God and the liberty of man’s will, yet there is no need to deny either of them: not the natural liberty of the will; this would be to destroy the will itself, which liberty is no ways infringed either by the foreknowledge or decrees of God, though the moral liberty of the will, since the fall, without the grace of God, must be denied; nor the prescience of God, which introduces no such necessity of our actions, which destroys religion and morality, or tends to the dishonor of God, since it puts no coactive necessity upon us, but leaves us free to the commission of our actions; for to deny this perfection of God, would be to deny God himself; and, one should think, if either of these must be denied, it would be more eligible to deny man what may be thought to belong to him, than to deny that which so evidently belongs to God. 4. It is observed, “that if these decretalists may take sanctuary in the foreknowledge God hath of things future, the Hobbists and the fatalists may do the same; that the Hobbists do found their doctrine of necessity upon the ninth chapter to the Romans, and the fatalists upon the certainty of divine prescience and predictions; and that it was the fear of this, that the liberty of man’s will could not be preserved, which made the Greeks embrace this impious doctrine, that God did not foreknow things future and contingent: whereas it is said from Le Blanc, that the truest resolution of this difficulty is, that prescience is not the cause that things are future; but their being future, is the cause they are foreseen.” I repy; that if the sentiments of the Hobbists and fatalists were the same with those who are called decretalists, they might justly take, what this author styles, sanctuary in the foreknowledge of God; or, in other words, rightly make use of it in favor of their principles. But it has already been made to appear, that the opinions of these men do not agree with our doctrines concerning the decrees of God, and the liberty of man’s will; nor have the same countenance from the prescience of God that ours have. Though Mr.
Hobbs makes use of some passages in the ninth chapter to the Romans, it is to prove what cannot be proved by them, and which we deny, namely, “that God, the will and decrees of God, necessitate men to sin.” So far as the stoical fate can be thought to agree with our doctrine concerning the decrees of God, they might rightly improve the doctrine of prescience in favor of it. Cicero denied the prescience of God, which the stoics, doubtless, had some notion of: though it does not appear, from the passage referred to in him, that they founded their doctrine of fate upon the certainty of it; but rather, as abundantly appears from their writings, upon the fixed and unalterable nature of things. Cicero is arguing against the definition his brother Quinctus had given of divination, that it was rerum fortuitarum presensio, a foresight or pre-apprehension of fortuitous events, after this manner: “Nothing, says he, is so contrary to reason and constancy, as fortune; that to me, it does not seem even to belong to God, to know what shall be by chance and fortune; for if he knows certainly, it will come to pass, and if it will certainly come to pass there is no such thing as fortune; but there is fortune, therefore there is no foresight of fortuitous events; or if you deny that there is fortune, and say that all things which are, or shall be, were from all eternity fatally determined; change the definition of divination, which you said is a foresight of fortuitous events; for if nothing can be done, nothing happen, nothing come to pass, but was certain from all eternity should be in the fixed time, what fortune can there be? which being removed, what room is there for divination? which is said by you to be a foresight of fortuitous events.” The Greeks, it seems, upon the same principle on which the Socinians and others since have proceeded, fearing lest the liberty of man’s will could not be preserved, embraced this impious opinion, “that God did not foreknow things future and contingent;” whereas it is said with Origen, it must be owned, “not that God’s prescience is the cause of things future, but that their being future is the cause of God’s prescience, that they will be.” And this, saith Le Blanc, is the truest resolution of this difficulty, “that prescience is not the cause that things are future; but their being future is the cause they are foreseen.”
Which, so far, is very right; but then what is it that gives these things their futurity? Nothing less than the will of God, and his decrees, from whence the foreknowledge of them arises. For, as it is the power of God that gives possibility to things possible, it is the will of God that gives futurity to things that shall be. Nothing that is in time can give futurity to things in eternity: for the futurity of things was from all eternity, or all things which are or shall be in time, were future from all eternity; which futurity could arise from nothing else but the will and decrees of God, which of things possible made them future. Now whatsoever God has determined shall come to pass, he certainly foreknows will come to pass; wherefore it is as absolutely necessary that whatsoever God foreknows will be, should be, as it is that what he has decreed shall come to pass, should. Hence it follows, that whatever arguments lie against the absolute decrees of God, lie against the prescience of God and the certainty of it. 5. It is further observed, that “God’s prescience hath no influence at all upon our actions.” It is true, it has no casual influence upon the actions of men, nor lays any coactive necessity upon them to perform them, nor at all impairs the freedom of them; no more do the decrees of God. There is no need of the plain reasoning of Mr. Hobbes, or the more nice and subtile argumentation of Mr Baxter, to prove this. But then, though neither the foreknowledge of God, nor the decrees of God, have any casual influence upon the actions of men nor do they lay any compulsive necessity upon men, nor in the least impair the freedom of their actions; yet the latter are the cause of the futurity of such and such actions, and the reason of God’s foreknowledge of them as future, and both lay a necessity of infallibility upon them with respect to the event; that is to say, make it necessary that the things determined and foreknown, should certainly come to pass, though every thing in its own way; necessary actions, necessarily; free actions, freely; and contingent ones, contingently; yet all certainly. Neither the decrees of God, nor the foreknowledge of God, put anything in men; nor is there that signal difference between them, as is suggested: a difference there is between them, the one belonging to his understanding, the other to his will; and so the one can be no more deceived, than the other can be frustrated: but not as is intimated; the decrees of God are no more active and powerful, and lay no more a necessity on our actions, than his foreknowledge. The decrees of God, indeed, include both end and means; and God sees both in the determinations of his will. In the decree of election, God determines to give both grace and glory to the objects of it, and it is a preparation of both for them; but puts neither in them, or them into the possession of either of them; and God, in his infinite knowledge, sees the preparation of both in the determinations of his will, and foresees that both will be certainly bestowed upon them. In the decree of reprobation, God determines to deny both grace and glory to the objects of it; but then this decree is not active, or it does not put anything in man to render him deficient or sinful of necessity, but leaves him as it finds him; and God, in his infinite knowledge, sees this denial of both to them in the determinations of his will, and foresees and foreknows that neither of them will be bestowed upon them. Thus the decrees of God and his foreknowledge go hand in hand together, and exactly agree with each other. 6. It is said, “that God’s knowledge reaches not only ta mellonta to future contingencies; but also ta dunata , future possibililies; namely, he knows that such things may be, though they never will be; that I might will and do, what I neither do nor will; and abstain from that I do not abstain from; and that I will this, when I might will the contrary.” I reply; future possibilities I do not understand: whatsoever is possible, may be, and it may not be; but what is future, shall be, and so not barely possible, but certain. A future possibility seems to be a contradiction, as is the instance of one of these future possibilities, namely, “that he (God) knows that such things may be, though they never be?” For, how can he know they may be, though they never will be? when, if they never will be, he must know they never will be, and therefore cannot know that they may be. He knows whatever is possible for himself to do, that is, he knows what his power can do, as well as what his will determines to do, or shall be done: the former is called possible, the latter future; and God’s knowledge reaches to both: but then, every thing that is possible, is not future; all that God knows might be accomplished by his power, he has not determined that it shall be: and whatsoever is future, ceases to be barely possible. God also knows what is possible for man to do, that he might will and do this, and abstain from that, when he does neither; that is, he knows that he has a power to will, do, and abstain. These future possibilities, as they are called, which men may do, and may not do, are no other than future contingencies: which are so not with respect to God, but with respect to men; for it cannot be said of God, that he knows that so it may be, that man may will or do this, or abstain from that, which he knows he never will do or abstain from; or that so it may be, that he may not do what he knows he will do: for then those puzzling inquiries must be made, how can God certainly know I will do, what he sees I may not do? or how can that be certainly known, which neither in itself, nor in its causes, hath any certain being, but may as well not be, or not be done, as be, or be done?” Which brings this author,7. To observe, “that this argument only opposeth a great difficulty, arising from a mode of knowledge in God, of which we have no idea, against all the plain declarations of his revealed will, produced in great abundance, against the imaginary decrees which men have imposed upon God without just ground.” To which I reply: that the mode of knowledge in God is such indeed, that we can have no adequate idea of, nor have we of God himself, of the modus of his being, subsistence, or any of his perfections; but then the thing itself is certain, that God has a foreknowledge of future contingencies, as is evident from the word of God, which ascribes it to him: from the many predictions of contingent events in it; from the infinite perfection of God, his complete happiness, and the immutability and infinity of his understanding; and therefore we may be allowed to advance an argument upon it in this controversy, though we do not use it, and are far from using it, against the plain declarations of God’s revealed will. In the first Part of this work, I have shown, that there are no declarations of God’s revealed will against the decrees of election and reprobation, which are called imaginary ones; and in the second Part of it, that there are many declarations and testimonies of Scripture in favor of them: so that they are not what men have imposed upon God, nor do they depend on a single argument founded upon the foreknowledge of God.
II. That the world is made by the power, and governed by the providence of God, none but Athiests and Epicures will deny. Now much of the providence of God lies in the government of men, in moving of their wills, and ordering of their actions, to bring about his great designs and his own glory. For, as he has made all things for himself, for his own glory, so he orders and disposes all things to answer to that end.
The Lord looketh from heaven, he beholdeth all the sons of men, from the place of his habitation, he looketh upon all the inhabitants of the earth, he fashioneth their hearts alike he considereth all their works. ( Psalm 33:13,15.)
And as he has made and fashioned the hearts of all men, it is as certain that the hearts of all men are under his government; he can move, influence, and determine them to this and the other action at his pleasure, without offering any violence to them; for not only the king’s heart, but every other man’s, is in the hand of the Lord, as the rivers of water: he turneth it whithersoever he will. ( Proverbs 21:1.)
God has not made a creature that he cannot govern, or possessed man of a will that is independent of his own. If man was in such sense a free agent, or lord paramount of his own will, or had such an ajutexousion , such a power over himself, as not to admit any divine motion, influence, or predetermination of his will, a very considerable branch of providence is lost, and God is shut out from having any concern in the most considerable affairs and events of this lower world; or as the learned writer attended to has stated our objection, “this doctrine must weaken the providence of God; for if he doth not order and effectually move the wills of men, he cannot compass the designs of providence.” To which several answers are returned: as, 1. That “this objection will receive the shorter answer, because it falls into this great absurdity,” that “it makes God as much the author of all the evil, as of all the good that is done in the world.” To which may be replied; that the providence of God has for its object evil actions as well as good, or God’s providential concourse attends sinful actions, though not as such, as well as good; and that God orders and moves the wills of men to each, must be allowed; since he moved David to number the people, and put it into the hearts of the kings “of the earth to fulfill his, will, and give their kingdoms to the beast. But then this does not make him as much the author of all the evil as of all the good that is done in the world; for God, when he moves and influences the wills of men to that which is good, puts his own grace and goodness into them, or stirs up and excites what he had put there before; and not only his providential concourse attends and assists’ in the performance of the action as natural, but his grace is concerned in the goodness of it, and attends and assists in the performance of it as a good one; for it is God that worketh in us both to will and to do of his good pleasure; whereas when he moves the wills of men to evil actions, he puts no sinfulness into them, only leaves them to the sinfulness he finds, and moves the natural faculty of the will to these actions, not as sinful, but as natural; and his providential concourse only attends and assists in the performance of the action as natural, and is no ways concerned in the vitiosity of it: whence it follows, that since God puts no sinfulness in men, nor moves them to sinful actions as such, nor does his providential concourse assist in the performance of them as such, he cannot be at all, in any sense, the author of sin; as has been fully made to appear by that learned and excellent writer Theophilus Gale, in his Court of the Gentiles, Part 4, Book 3, Of divine Predetermination; which is well worth the reader’s consulting. 2. The more particular answer is, that “these things seem only necessary to accomplish all the designs of providence; that God hath a perfect prospect of the events of all actions, as well of those which proceed from the free-will of man, as of those which issue from natural causes; — that he hath infinite Wisdom to direct these actions to their proper ends; — that he hath power to restrain from the execution of those purposes which would thwart the designs of his providence, — without laying any force or necessity upon the wills of men.” To which I reply; that the things mentioned are necessary to accomplish the designs of providence will be allowed, but not that they are only so; for the perfect prospect or foresight which God has of all actions and their events, arises from the determinations of his will that they shall be; wherefore it is not proper that they should be left, nor are they left, to depend upon the will of man, whether they shall be, or shall not be. Hence it is necessary, that as God has the hearts of all men in his hands, and can turn them as he pleases, he should move, influence, and predetermine the wills of men to such and such actions; and that the concourse of his providence should attend the performance of them, which he has willed shall be, in order to accomplish his designs; which motions, influences, and predeterminations of God, may be, and are, without laying any compulsive necessity or force upon the wills of men, with respect either to good or evil actions. David, though moved to it, freely numbered the people; and the kings of the earth, though it was put into their hearts to give, yet did voluntarily give their kingdoms to the beast; so all good actions which men are moved and influenced to, and assisted in, by the grace of God, are yet freely and voluntarily performed. 3. It is said, “though this argument from providence doth not concern us (the Arminians) in the least; yet it seems evidently to overthrow the contrary doctrine: for, what answer can they return to these inquiries?” (1.) “Is it consistent with the justice of providence to wrap up all men’s fate in that of Adam’s?” I reply, it highly concerns all that have a regard to the doctrine of providence, that it is not in the least curtailed or weakened in any part or branch of it; which it seems to be, by exempting the actions which spring from the free will of man, from divine influx and predetermination; nor are we in any pain lest our doctrine should be overthrown by it; nor are we at a loss to return an answer to the enquiries made, and to this in the first place. For by the fate of all men, is either meant their state of happiness or misery in the other world to all eternity; and then it must be replied, that all men’s fate is not wrapt up in Adam’s; some being saved, as it is reasonable to suppose Adam is; and others lost, when he is not; or, by the fate of all men, is meant their passing under a sentence of condemnation in Adam, whereby they became liable to everlasting punishment. This can never be inconsistent with the justice of providence, that such who sinned in Adam should die in him. If it was consistent with the justice of providence, that if Adam had continued righteous, he having all human nature in him, his posterity would have partook of all the blessings and privileges arising from his continuance in such a state, it cannot be inconsistent with it, that all mankind being in him, both as their common root and parent, and as their federal head, and representative, and so sinning in him, should be involved in all the miseries and consequences of his fall. If it was consistent with the justice of providence, to visit the iniquities of the fathers upon the children, to the third and fourth generation of them that hate the Lord; it cannot be inconsistent with it to visit the sin of Adam upon all his posterity, their carnal minds being enmity against God. As for Adam’s repentance being made ours, as his sin is, and we be restored by it to the grace and favor of God, as we became the objects of his wrath by his sin; there is this reason lies against it, the justice of God; which was so far from admitting Adam’s repentance to be satisfactory on the account of his posterity, that it would not admit of it as such upon his own account; wherefore God reveals his Son, and the satisfaction to law and justice he had provided in him, the seed of the woman, that should bruise the serpent’s head. (2.) “Is it not one great part of providence, to give men laws for the direction of their actions, prescribing what he would have men do, and leave undone; and that under a promise of reward to the obedient, and a declaration, that he will certainly and severely punish the wilful and impenitent offender? Now, do not they destroy both the justice and wisdom of this providence, who introduce God, after the fall, giving laws positive and negative for the direction of his (man’s) actions, with threats of the severest and most lasting punishments, if he neglect to do what is required, and to avoid what is forbidden; and that after his own decree of withholding from him the assistance absolutely necessary to his doing the good required, or avoiding the forbidden evil?” answer, that it is one great part of the wise and just providence of God, to give men laws for the direction of their actions, prescribing what he would have done, and left undone is readily granted. Now, inasmuch as all laws, which are of a moral nature, and serve for the direction of human actions in things moral, were given to, and written upon the heart of man before his fall, when he had sufficient strength and power to keep them; the wisdom and justice of providence cannot in the least be injured, much less destroyed, by the continuance of them after the fall; though man has lost his power to obey them, and cannot obey them without the assistance of divine grace, which is absolutely necessary to his doing anything that is truly good; and though God withholds, having decreed to withhold that assistance of grace from some men, which he is not obliged to give; God’s withholding, and his decree to withhold that assistance, being neither of them the cause of man’s disability, but his own vitiosity: since the continuance of them is necessary to keep up the authority of the lawgiver, to assert his dominion over man, to declare his will, to show the vile nature of sin, and what satisfaction is requisite for it; to discover the impotency of man, without the grace of God; for the direction of such who have it in their walk and conversation; for the restraint of others under the influence of common providence; and for the declaration of his displeasure and indignation against sin, and his strict justice in punishing of it. (3.) “It is consistent with the justice of providence, to aggravate the sins of reprobates on this account, that they knew their Lord’s will, and did it not: provided that knowledge rendered them no more able to do it than the most ignorant of men; or, to make it such an aggravation of the sins of Christians, that they are committed against greater light, and stronger motives to perform their duty, than ever was vouchsafed to the heathen world; if, after this, they of them who lie under God’s decree of preterition, are as unable to perform that duty as the worst of heathens?”
To this may be replied, that though the knowledge of the will of God does not give men power and ability to do it; yet it puts men in a better situation, and in a better capacity of doing it, than men wholly ignorant of it are; and it may be more reasonably expected, that such should be disposed to do it, be desirous of it, and implore that assistance which is necessary to it; and therefore, when, on the contrary, such persons hate the very knowledge they have, and choose not the fear of the Lord, but say, depart from us, we desire not the knowledge of thy ways; it can never be inconsistent with the justice of providence to aggravate the sins of these men on this account. So the sins of men who enjoy the Gospel revelation, being committed, against greater light and stronger motives to perform their duty, than ever were vouchsafed to the heathen world, must be an aggravation of them, notwithstanding their inability to perform it; since that inability does not arise from the decree of preterition, but from their own wickedness; though that any of them, who are truly Christians, lie under God’s decree of preterition, or are as unable to perform their duty as the worst of heathens, is never said by any, and must be denied. (4.) “Is it suitable to the holiness of providence, or to that purity which is essential to the divine nature, and makes it necessary for him to bear a strong affection to, and to be highly pleased with, the holiness of all that are thus like unto him: and to reward them for it with the enjoyments of himself; notwithstanding, absolutely to decree not to afford, to the greatest part of them to whom he hath given his holy commandments, that aid which he sees absolutely necessary to enable them to be holy, and without which they lie under an absolute incapacity of being holy?” I answer, that holiness is essential to the divine nature, whence he necessarily bears a strong affection to, and is highly pleased with, the holiness of all that are like him, whom he blesses with the enjoyment of himself, is certain; but then, this is no contradiction to any decree of his not to afford his grace, which he is not obliged to give. Certain it is, that he could make all men holy if he would; and it is as certain, that he leaves some destitute of that grace which is absolutely necessary to enable them to be holy, and without which they cannot be so; now, if it is not unsuitable to the holiness of providence, to leave men destitute of that grace, which only can make them holy, it cannot be unsuitable to the holiness of providence to decree to leave them so. (5.) “Is it reconcileable to the goodness of providence, or to the kindness, philanthropy, the mercy, and compassion of our gracious God, in all his providential dispensations, so highly magnified in holy Scripture, to deal with men according to the tenor of these doctrines?” I reply, that the doctrines of absolute election and reprobation, which are here referred to, are entirely reconcileable to the goodness, kindness, mercy, and compassion of God, which abundantly appear in his saving, and determining to save, some of the sinful race of mankind, when he could, in strict justice, have damned them all, as he has the whole body of apostate angels; but since this has been largely considered in this Part already, under the head of Reprobation, I shall add no more; especially, since nothing new is offered in this inquiry. (6.) “Doth it comport with the wisdom of providence, to promise or to threaten upon impossible conditions, an impossible condition being, in true construction, none at all? how much less will it comport with the same wisdom, to tender the covenant of grace to all mankind, to whom the gospel is vouchsafed, upon conditions which the most part of them, before that covenant was established, were utterly unable to perform; and who, by God’s decree of preterition, were inevitably left under that disability?” I answer that the covenant of works, which, I suppose, is referred to in the former, part of this question, by what follows in the latter part of it, being made with man in his state of innocence, did not promise life, and threaten with death, upon an impossible condition, but upon one that was possible, and which man was then capable of performing; and therefore no ways incompatible with the wisdom of providence. And though man, by breaking this covenant, has lost his power of fulfilling the condition of it, perfect obedience; yet it entirely comports with the wisdom of providence, that he should be subject to the penalty of it, from which he can have no relief, but by the provision made in the covenant of grace; which covenant of grace is not a conditional one, as is suggested; nor is it tendered to any, much less to all mankind, to whom the gospel is vouchsafed, or to any left by God’s decree of preterition, under the disability of the fall; but is a covenant made with Christ on the behalf of God’s elect; is established in him, on better promises than conditional ones, depending on the power and will of man, being absolute and sure to all seed. (7.) “On the other hand, can it accord with the same wisdom of providence, to threaten the severest judgments to them, if they repented not, or if they turned away from their righteousness, or fell away from their own steadfastness, or endured not to the end; whom he had absolutely decreed to give repentance to; and, by continuance in welldoing, to preserve them to a blessed immortality; or to caution them not to do so, or to inquire whether temptations had not prevailed upon them so to do, or bid them fear lest they should do so.” I answer; that the threatenings, cautions, and exhortations referred to, will appear to accord perfectly with the wisdom of providence, when it is considered, that they are made to societies and bodies of men under a profession of religion, some of which were real, others nominal professors; some true believers, others hypocrites, men destitute of the grace of God; and, perhaps, with a particular view to the latter, were these things given out, to whom God had never decreed to give repentance and perseverance. Besides, allowing that these threats, cautions, and exhortations are made to such to whom he had decreed to give repentance and perseverance, they are to be considered as means leading on, and blessed, in order to the enjoyment of what God had determined to give; and, therefore, it must accord with the wisdom of providence to make use of them. (8.) “It is suitable to the sincerity of his providential dispensations, of which his dealings with men, by his revealed will towards them, make so great a part, to move them to the performance of their duty only by motives, which he knows cannot work upon them, without that farther aid he, from eternity, hath determined to deny them?” I reply; that if, by performance of duty, is meant that men should convert themselves, repent of sin, and believe in Christ, to the saving of their souls, it will not be easy to prove that God makes use of any motives to move any persons to do these things of themselves; and still more difficult to prove, that he makes use of any to induce such persons thereunto to whom he does not give that grace which only can enable them to do them. If by performance of duty, is meant moral obedience to the law of God, this is every man’s duty, whether he has any motives to it or not; and if God makes use of any motives to induce unto it, which, without his grace, do not, and cannot, work upon them, the insufficiency of them does not arise from any thing in the motives themselves, nor from the denial of God’s grace, nor from his determination to deny it, but from the perverseness and wickedness of men’s hearts; wherefore, it is not unsuitable to the sincerity of providence, to make use of such motives, though they do not, and he knows they cannot, influence without his grace, which he is not obliged to give, and which he has determined to deny; since thereby, the perverseness and wickedness of men are more fully discovered, and they left inexcusable.
Besides, the instances referred to regard not all mankind, but the people of Israel, and God’s dealings with them, not in relation to their spiritual and eternal welfare, but their civil and temporal estate, as a body politic, as has been shown in the first Part of this work. (9.) “It is suitable to the same wisdom and sincerity, to move such persons by promises, to repent and believe; and to require them, having such promises, to cleanse themselves from all filthiness of flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God? What wit of man can show, how God can be serious in calling such men to faith and repentance, much less, in his concern, that they might do so, or in his trouble that they have not done so; and yet be serious and in good earnest in his antecedent decree to deny them that aid, without which they never can believe or repent?” To which may be replied, that God is serious in calling men to faith and repentance, and as serious in his decrees either to give or deny that grace, without which none can ever believe or repent, is certain; and it must be owned, it would appear unsuitable to his wisdom and sincerity, should he move such persons by promises, and call such to faith and repentance, for whom, by an antecedent decree, he had determined to deny that grace, without which they could never believe and repent: but, then, it remains to be proved, which I think, can never be proved, that God calls any persons, and moves them by promises to believe in Christ, to the saving of their souls, or to evangelical repentance, to whom he does not give grace to believe and repent, or such who are not eventually saved.