VIII. 29, 30.
For whom he did foreknow, he also did predestinate to be conform’d to the Image of his Son, that he might be the First-born among many Brethren. Moreover, whom he did predestinate, them he also call’d; and whom he call’d, them also he justify’d; and whom he justify’d, them he also glorify’d.
§. I. IN these words the Apostle lays down the several steps by which God proceeds in the saving of his Elect. 1st, He knows and considers those, whom he designs for Salvation. 2dly, He decrees and predestinates them to be like his Son Jesus Christ, in Holiness here and Glory hereafter, that he might be the First-born among many Brethren. 3dly, He calls them to the means of Salvation. 4thly, He justifies. And Lastly, He glorifies them. This is the Chain and Series of God’s dealing with his beloved; in which he is represented to us as first designing, and then executing his gracious purposes towards them.
I am very sensible, that great Contentions and Divisions have happen’d in the Church of God about Predestination and Reprobation, about Election and the Decrees of God; that Learned Men have engag’d with the greatest Zeal and Fierceness in this Controversy, and the Disputes have prov’d so intricate, that the most diligent Reader will perhaps after all his labour in perusing them, be but little satisfy’d, and less edify’d, by the greatest part of all that has been written upon this Subject. And hence it is, that considering Men of all Parties seem at last, as it were by consent, to have laid it aside; and seldom any now venture to bring it into the Pulpit, except some very young or imprudent Preachers.
Not but that the Doctrine laid down in my Text, is undoubtedly true and useful, if we could but light on the true and useful way of treating it, for so our Church has told us in her seventeenth Article, where she informs us, That as the godly Consideration of Predestination is full of sweet, pleasant, and unspeakable Comfort to godly Persons, so for curious and carnal Persons lacking the Spirit of Christ, to have continually before their eyes the Sentence of God’s Predestination, is a most dangerous downfal, whereby the Devil doth thrust them either into Desperation, or into Wretchedness of most unclean living.
The Case therefore being thus, I shall endeavour to lay before you that which I take to be the edifying part of the Doctrine of Predestination; and in such a manner (I hope) as to avoid every thing, that may give occasion to ignorant or corrupt Men to make an ill use of it.
§. II. In order to this, I shall,
First, Consider the Representation that the Text gives of God, as contriving our Salvation; and shall endeavour to explain how these terms of Foreknowing and Predestinating are to be understood when attributed to God.
Secondly, Why the Holy Scriptures represent God to us after this manner.
As to the first of these, you may observe, that in the Representation here given of God’s dealing with Men, there are five Acts ascrib’d to him, Fore-knowing, Predestinating, Calling, Justifying, and Glorifying. And about each of these great Disputes have arisen among Divines, and Parties and Sects have been form’d on the different Opinions concerning them. However, as to the three last, Protestants seem now pretty well agreed; but as to the two first, the difference is is so great, that on account thereof, there yet remain form’d and separate Parties, that mutually refuse to communicate with one another: tho I believe, if the Differences between them were duly examin’d and stated, they would not appear to be so great as they seem to be at first view; nor consequently, would there appear any just reason for those Animosities, that yet remain between the contending Parties.
§. III. In order to make this evident, we may consider,
(1.) That it is in effect agreed on all hands, that the Nature of God, as it is in it self, is incomprehensible by human Understanding; and not only his Nature, but likewise his Powers and Faculties, and the ways and methods in which he exercises them, are so far beyond our reach, that we are utterly incapable of framing exact and adequate Notions of them. This the Scriptures frequently teach us, particularly St. Paul in his Epistle to the Romans, Chap. 11. Ver. 33. O the depth of the Riches both of the Wisdom and Knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his Judgments, and his Ways past finding out? Ver. 34. For who hath known the mind of the Lord, or who hath been his Counsellor?
§. IV. (2.) We ought to remember, that the Descriptions which we frame to our selves of God, or of the Divine Attributes, are not taken from any direct or immediate Perceptions that we have of him or them; but from some Observations we have made of his Works, and from the Consideration of those Qualifications, that we conceive would enable us to perform the like. Thus observing great Order, Conveniency, and Harmony in all the several Parts of the World, and perceiving that every thing is adapted and tends to the Preservation and Advantage of the Whole; we are apt to consider, that we could not contrive and settle things in so excellent and proper a manner without great Wisdom: and thence conclude, that God who has thus concerted and settled Matters, must have Wisdom; and having then ascrib’d to him Wisdom, because we see the effects and result of it in his Works, we proceed and conclude, that he has likewise Foresight and Understanding, because we cannot conceive Wisdom without these, and because if we were to do what we see he has done, we could not expect to perform it, without the exercise of these Facultys.
And it doth truly follow from hence, that God must either have these, or other Faculties and Powers equivalent to them, and adequate to these mighty Effects which proceed from them. And because we do not know what his Faculties are in themselves, we give them the Names of those Powers, that we find would be necessary to us in order to produce such effects, and call them Wisdom, Understanding, and Foreknowledge: but at the same time we cannot but be sensible, that they are of a nature altogether different from ours, and that we have no direct and proper Notion or Conception of them. Only we are sure, that they have effects like unto those, that do proceed from Wisdom, Understanding, and Foreknowledge in us: and that when our Works fail to resemble them in any particular, as to Perfection, it is by reason of some want or defect in these Qualifications.
§. V. (3.) If we look into the Holy Scriptures, and consider the Representations given us there of God or his Attributes, we shall find them generally of the same nature, and plainly borrow’d from some resemblance to things, with which we are acquainted by our Senses. Thus when the Holy Scriptures speak of God, they ascribe Hands, and Eyes, and Feet to him: not that it is design’d we should believe, that he has any of these Members according to the literal signification; but the meaning is, that he has a Power to execute all those Acts, to the effecting of which these Parts in us are instrumental: that is, he can converse with Men, as well as if he had a Tongue and Mouth; he can discern all that we do or say, as perfectly as if he had Eyes and Ears; he can reach us as well, as if he had Hands and Feet; he has as true and substantial a Being, as if he had a Body; and he is as truly present every where, as if that Body were infinitely extended. And in truth, if all these things, which are thus ascrib’d to him, did really and literally belong to him, he could not do what he does near so effectually as we conceive, and are sure he doth them by the Facultys and Propertys which he really possesses, tho what they are in themselves be unknown to us.
After the same manner, and for the same reason, we find him represented as affected with such Passions as we perceive to be in our selves, viz. as angry and pleas’d, as loving and hating, as repenting and changing his Resolutions, as full of Mercy and provok’d to Revenge. And yet on Reflection we cannot think, that any of these Passions can literally affect the Divine Nature. But the meaning confessedly is, that he will as certainly punish the Wicked, as if he were inflam’d with the Passion of Anger against them: That he will as infallibly reward the Good, as we will those for whom we have a particular and affectionate Love; that when Men turn from their Wickedness, and do what is agreeable to the Divine Commands, he will as surely change his Dispensations towards them, as if he really repented and had chang’d his Mind.
And as the Nature and Passions of Men are thus by Analogy and Comparison ascrib’d to God, because these would in us be the Principles of such outward Actions, as we see he has perform’d, if we were the Authors of them; so in the same manner, and by the same condescension to the weakness of our Capacitys, we find the Powers and Operations of our Minds ascrib’d unto him.
As for example, it is the part of a wise Man to consider beforehand what is proper for him to do, to prescribe Means and Methods to obtain his Ends, to lay down some Scheme or Plan of his Work before he begins, and to keep resolutely to it in the Execution, for if he should be conceiv’d to deviate in any thing from his first purpose, it would argue some imperfection in laying the Design, or want of Power to execute it. And therefore ’tis after this manner the Scripture represents God, as purposing and contriving beforehand all his Works: and for this reason Wisdom and Understanding, and Counsel and Foreknowledge are ascrib’d to him, because both Reason and Scripture assure us, that we ought to conceive of God as having all the Perfection that we perceive to be in these Attributes, and that he has all the Advantages that these Powers or Faculties could give him.
The Advantages that Understanding and Knowledge give a Man in the use of them, are to enable him to order his matters with Conveniency to himself, and Consistency in his Works, so that they may not hinder or embarrass one another: and inasmuch as all the Works of God are so order’d, that they have the greatest congruity in themselves, and are most excellently adapted to their several Uses and Ends, we are sure there is a Power in God, who orders them equivalent to Knowledge and Understanding; and because we know not what it is in it self, we give it these Names.
§. VI. Lastly, The use of Foreknowledge with us, is to prevent any Surprize when Events happen, and that we may not be at a loss what to do by things coming upon us unawares. Now inasmuch as we are certain that nothing can surprize God, and that he can never be at a loss what to do in any Event; therefore we conclude, that God has a faculty to which our Foreknowledge bears some Analogy, and therefore we call it by that Name.
And therefore to argue, because Foreknowledge, as it is in us, if suppos’d infallible, cannot consist with the Contingency of Events, that therefore what we call so in God cannot, is as far from Reason, as it would be to conclude, because our Eyes cannot see in the dark, that therefore, when God is said to see all things, his Eyes must be enlighten’d with a perpetual Sunshine; or because we can’t love or hate without Passion, that therefore when the Scriptures ascribe these to God, they teach us, that he is liable to these Affections as we are.
We ought therefore to interpret all these things, when attributed to God, as thus express’d, only by way of condescension to our Capacitys, in order to help us to conceive what we are to expect from him, and what Duty we are to pay him; and particularly, that the terms of Fore-knowledge, Predestination, nay, of Understanding and Will, when ascrib’d to him, are not to be taken strictly or properly, nor are we to think that they are in him after the same manner or in the same sense that we find them in our selves; but on the contrary, we are to interpret them only by way of Analogy and Comparison.
That is to say, when we ascribe Foreknowledge to him, we mean, that he can no more be surpriz’d with any thing that happens, than a wise Man, that foresees an Event, can be surpriz’d when it comes to pass; nor can he any more be at a loss what he is to do in such a case, than a wise Man can, who is most perfectly acquainted with all Accidents which may obstruct his Design, and has provided against them.
§. VII. So when God is said to predetermine and foreordain all things according to the Counsel of his Will, the importance of this Expression is, that all things depend as much on God, as if he had settled them according to a certain Scheme and Design, which he had voluntarily fram’d in his own mind, without regard had to any other consideration besides that of his own mere Will and Pleasure.
If then we understand Predetermination and Predestination in this analogous Sense, to give us a Notion of the irresistible Power of God, and of that Supreme Dominion he may exercise over his Creatures, it will help us to understand what that Sovereignty is that God has over us, the Submission that we ought to pay him, and the Dependence we have upon him.
But it no ways follows from hence, that this is inconsistent with the Contingency of Events or Free-Will. And from hence it appears what it is, that makes us apt to think so; which is only this, that we find in our selves when we determine to do a thing, and are able to do what we have resolv’d on, that thing can’t be contingent to us: And if God’s Foreknowledge and Predetermination were of the same nature with ours, the same Inconsistency would be justly infer’d. But I have already show’d that they are not of the same kind, and that they are only ascrib’d to him by way of Analogy and Comparison, as Love and Mercy, and other Passions are; that they are quite of another nature, and that we have no proper Notion of them, any more than a Man born blind has of Sight and Colours; and therefore that we ought no more to pretend to determine what is consistent or not consistent with them, than a blind Man ought to determine, from what he hears or feels, to what Objects the Sense of Seeing reaches: for this were to reason from things that are only comparatively and improperly ascrib’d to God, and by way of Analogy and Accommodation to our Capacitys, as if they were properly and univocally the same in him and in us.
If we would speak the Truth, those Powers, Propertys and Operations, the Names of which we transfer to God, are but faint Shadows and Resemblances, or rather indeed Emblems and parabolical Figures of the Divine Attributes, which they are design’d to signify; whereas his Attributes are the Originals, the true real things, of a Nature so infinitely superior and different from any thing we discern in his Creatures, or that can be conceiv’d by finite Understandings, that we can’t with reason pretend to make any other deductions from the natures of one to that of the others, than those he has allow’d us to make, or extend the Parallel any farther than that very Instance, which the Resemblance was design’d to teach us.
§. VIII. And this brings me to the Second Head which I propos’d to my self in this Discourse, which was to show you, Why God and heavenly things are after this manner represented to us in Holy Scripture. And the first Reason I shall offer, is, that we must either be content to know them this way, or not at all. I have already told you, and I believe every considering Man is convinc’d, that the Nature and Perfections of God, as he is in himself, are such, that it is impossible we should comprehend them, especially in the present State of Imperfection, Ignorance and Corruption, in which this World lies. He is the Object of none of our Senses, by which we receive all our direct and immediate Perception of things; and therefore if we know any thing of him at all, it must be by Deductions of Reason, by Analogy and Comparison, by resembling him to something that we do know and are acquainted with.
To apply this more particularly to the Case before us: We ascribe Decrees and Predestination to God, because the things signify’d by these words bear some resemblance to certain Perfections that we believe to be in him. But if we remember that they are only Similitudes and Representations of them, and that there is as little likeness between the one and the other, as between the Countries and Maps which represent them; and that the likeness lies not in the Nature of them, but in some particular Effect or Circumstance that is in some measure common to both; we must acknowledge it very unreasonable to expect, that they should answer one another in all things: or because the different Representations of the same thing can’t be exactly adjusted in every particular, that therefore the Thing represented is inconsistent in it self.
Foreknowledge and Decrees are only assign’d to God, to give us a Notion of the Steadiness and Certainty of the Divine Actions; and if so, for us to conclude, that what is represented by them is inconsistent with the Contingency of Events or Free-Will, because the things representing (I mean our Foreknowledge and Decrees) are so, is the same Absurdity, as it is to conclude, that China is no bigger than a Sheet of Paper, because the Map, that represents it, is contain’d in that Compass.
§. IX. This seems to me a material Point, and therefore I will endeavour to illustrate it with an Instance or two more. Every body is satisfy’d that Time, Motion and Velocity, are Subjects of very useful Knowledge; and that adjusting and discovering the Proportions that these bear to one another, is perhaps all that is profitable in natural Philosophy. How is it then that we proceed in our Demonstrations concerning these? Is it not by representing Time by a Line, the degrees of Velocity by another, and the Motion that results from both, by a Superficies or a Solid? And from these we draw Conclusions, which are not only very true, but also of great moment to Arts and Sciences; and never fail in our Deductions, while we keep justly to the Analogy and Proportion they bear to one another in the Production of natural Effects; neither is it easy, nor perhaps possible, to come at such knowledge any other way.
Yet in the nature of the thing, there is no great Similitude between a Line and Time; and it will not be obvious to a Person, who is not acquainted with the Method of the Skilful in such Matters, to conceive how a Solid should answer the compounded effect of Time and Motion. But if any, instead of endeavouring to understand the Method and Proportions us’d by the Learned in such Cases, in order to discover to them these useful Truths, should reject the whole as a thing impossible; alledging, that we make Time a permanent thing, and existing altogether, because a Line which represents it in this Scheme is so; we would think that he hardly deserv’d an Answer to such a foolish Objection.
And yet of this nature are most, if not all the Objections that are commonly made against the Representations that the Scripture gives us of the Divine Nature, and of the Mysteries of our Religion.
§. X. Thus the Holy Scriptures represent to us that Distinction, which we are oblig’d to believe to be in the Unity of God, by that of Three Persons, and the Relation they bear to one another, by that of a Father to his Son, and of a Man to his Spirit: And those that object against this, and infer, that these must be Three Substances, because Three Persons among Men are so, do plainly forget, that these are but Representations and Resemblances; and fall into the same absurd way of reasoning that the former do, who conclude, that we make Time a permanent thing, because a Line is so, by which we represent it.
§. XI. Again, if we were to describe to an ignorant American what was meant by Writing, and told him, that it is a way of making Words visible and permanent, so that Persons, at any distance of Time and Place, may be able to see and understand them: The Description would seem very strange to him, and he might object that the thing must be impossible, for Words are not to be seen but heard; they pass in the Speaking, and it is impossible they should affect the Absent, much less those that live in distant Ages. To which there needed no other Answer, than to inform him, that there are other sort of Words, besides those he knows, that are truly call’d so, because equivalent to such as are spoken; that they have both the same use, and serve equally to communicate our Thoughts to one another; and that if he will but have patience, and apply himself to learn, he will soon understand, and be convinc’d of the Possibility and Usefulness of the thing: and none can doubt but he were much to blame, and acted an unwise part, if he refus’d to believe the Person that offer’d to instruct him, or neglected to make the Experiment.
And sure, when any one objects against the possibility of the Three Persons of the Trinity in one God, it is every whit as good an Answer to tell such an Objector, that there are other sort of Persons besides those we see among Men, whose Personality is as truly different from what we call so, as a Word written is different from a Word spoken, and yet equivalent to it. And tho three Persons, such as Men are, can’t be in one human Nature, as a Word spoken can’t be visible and permanent; yet what we call three Persons by Comparison and Analogy, may consist in the Unity of the Godhead.
And after the same manner we ought to answer those who object against the Foreknowledge and Decrees of God, as inconsistent with the Freedom of Choice, by telling them, that tho such Foreknowledge and Decrees, as are in our Understandings and Wills, cannot consist with Contingency, if we suppose them certain; yet what we call so in God may, being quite of a different nature, and only call’d by those Names, by reason of some Analogy and Proportion which is between them.
And if Men will but have patience, and wait the proper Time, when Faith shall be perfected into Vision, and we shall knew even as we are known; they may then see and be as well satisfy’d, that there is no Absurdity in the Trinity of Persons, or Foreknowledge of Contingency, as the Indian is, when he has learn’d to read and write, that there is no impossibility in visible and permanent Words.
§. XII. Lastly, It is observable, that no Care, Industry or Instruction can ever give a Person born, and continuing blind, any Notion of Light; nor can he ever have any Conception how Men who have Eyes discern the Shape and Figure of a thing at a distance, nor imagine what Colours mean: and yet he would, I believe, readily (on the account he receives from others of the advantage of knowing these things) endure Labour and Pain, and submit to the most difficult and tormenting Operations of Physick or Chirurgery, in order to obtain the use of his Eyes, if any reasonable hope could be given him of the Success of such an Undertaking. And why then should not we as willingly submit to those easy Methods which God has prescrib’d to us, in order to obtain that knowledge of his Nature and Attributes, in which our eternal Satisfaction and Happiness hereafter is in a very great measure to consist? And ’tis certain we now know as much of them as the blind Man, in the case suppos’d, does of Lights or Colours; and have better reason to seek, and more certain hope of attaining in the next Life to a fuller and more complete knowledge, than such a Man can have with relation to the use of his Eyes, and the advantage of seeing. And then will not he rise up in Judgment against us, and condemn us? since he endures so much, to obtain Sight on the imperfect Representations of it made to him by other Men, whilst we will not believe and endure as much for Eternal Happiness on the Testimony of God.
§. XIII. If it be ask’d, Why these things are not made clearer to us? I answer, for the same Reasons that Light and Colours are not clear to one that is born blind, even because in this imperfect State we want Faculties to discern them: And we cannot expect to reach the knowledge of them whilst here, for the same reason that a Child, whilst he is so, cannot speak and discourse as he doth when a grown Man; there is a Time and Season for every thing, and we must wait for that Season. There is another State and Life for the clear discerning of these Matters; but in the mean time we ought to take the Steps and Methods which are proper for our present Condition: and if we will not do so, we can no more expect to arrive to the knowledge of these necessary Truths, or that State which will make them plain to us, than a Child can hope he shall ever be able to read and write, who will not be persuaded to go to School or obey his Master.
§. XIV. And therefore let me offer it as a second Reason, why God and Divine Things are thus represented to us in Scripture, viz. That such Knowledge is sufficient to all the Intents and Purposes of Religion; the design whereof is to lead us in the way to Eternal Happiness, and in order thereunto, to teach and oblige us to live reasonably, to perform our Duty to God, our Neighbours and our selves, to conquer and mortify our Passions and Lusts, to make us beneficent and charitable to Men, and to oblige us to love, obey and depend upon God.
Now it is easy to show that such a Knowledge, as I have describ’d, is sufficient to obtain all these ends: for tho I know not what God is in himself, yet if I believe that he is able to hurt or help me, to make me happy or miserable, this Belief is sufficient to convince me, that it is my Duty to fear him. If I be assur’d that all his Works are done with Regularity, Order and Fitness; that nothing can surprize or disappoint him, that he can never be in any doubt, or at a loss what is proper for him to do; tho I do not comprehend the Faculties by which he performs so many admirable and amazing things, yet I know enough to make me adore and admire his Conduct. If I be satisfy’d that I can no more expect to escape free, when I break the Laws and Rules he has prescrib’d me, than a Subject can who assaults his Prince in the midst of all his Guards; this is enough to make me cautious about every Word I speak, and every Action I perform, and to put me out of all hope of escaping when I offend him.
If I am convinc’d that God will be as steady to the Rules he has prescrib’d for my Deportment, as a wise and just Prince will be to his Laws; this alone will oblige me to a strict Observation of the Divine Commands, and assure me that I must be judg’d according as I have kept or transgress’d them.
If a Man be convinc’d that by his Sins he has forfeited all Right and Title to Happiness, and that God is under no Obligation to grant him Pardon for them; that only the free Mercy of God can put him into the way of Salvation; and that he may as well without imputation of Injustice, pardon one, and pass by another, as a Prince may, of many equal Malefactors, reprieve one for an instance of his Mercy and Power, and suffer the rest to be carry’d to Execution: If, a Man, I say, finds himself under these Circumstances, he will have the same Obligations of Gratitude to his God, that the pardon’d Offender owes to his Prince, and impute his Escape entirely to the peculiar Favour of God, that made the Distinction between him and others, without any regard to their Merits.
If we believe that there is a Distinction in the manner of the subsisting of the Divine Nature, that requires such particular Applications from us to God, as we pay to three distinct Persons here; and that he has such distinct and really different Relations to himself and to us on this account, as three Men have to one another; this is enough to oblige us to pay our Addresses to him as thus distinguish’d, and to expect as different Benefits and Blessings from him under this Distinction, as we expect from different Persons here: and it can be no hindrance to our Duty, that we are ignorant of the nature and manner of that Distinction.
Let us consider how many honour and obey their Prince, who never saw him, who never had any personal Knowledge of him, and could not distinguish him from another Man if they should meet him. This will show us that it is not necessary that we should personally know our Governor, to oblige us to perform our Duty to him: and if many perform their Duty to their Prince without knowing him, why should it seem strange that we should be oblig’d to do our Duty to God, tho we do not know any more of his Person or Nature, but that he is our Creator and Governor?
Lastly, To show that this kind of Knowledge is sufficient for Salvation, let us suppose one who takes all the Descriptions we have of God literally, who imagines him to be a mighty King that sits in Heaven, and has the Earth for his Footstool; that at the same time hath all things in his view which can happen; that has Thousands and Thousands of Ministers to attend him, all ready to obey and execute his Commands; that has a great Love and Favour for such as diligently obey his Orders, and is in a Rage and Fury against the Disobedient: Could any one doubt but he, who in the simplicity of his Heart should believe these things as literally represented, would be sav’d by virtue of that Belief, or that he would not have Motives strong enough to oblige him to love, honour and obey God?
If it should be objected, that such Representations do not exactly answer the Nature of things, I confess this is true; but I would desire you to consider, that the best Representations we can make of God are infinitely short of the Truth, and that the Imperfections of such Representations will never be imputed to us as a Fault, provided we do not wilfully dishonour him by unworthy Notions, and our Conceptions of him be such as may sufficiently oblige us to perform the Duties he requires at our hands.
And if any one further alledge, that he who takes these Representations literally, will be involv’d in many Difficulties, and that it will be easy to show, that there are great Inconsistencies in them, if we understand them according to the Letter:
I answer, He is to be look’d upon as very officious and impertinent, that will raise such Objections, and put them in the Heads of plain, honest People, who by the force of such common, tho figurative Knowledge (as it may be term’d) practise the substantial and real Duties of Religion, that lead them to Eternal Happiness.
‘Tis true, when curious and busy Persons, by the unseasonable Abuse of their Knowledge, have rais’d such Objections, they must be answer’d: and it is then necessary to show in what Sense these Representations ought to be taken, and that they are to be understood by way of Comparison, as Condescensions to our Weakness.
But tho these Objections are easily answer’d, yet he who makes them unnecessarily is by no means to be excus’d, because they often occasion disturbance to weak People. Many that may be shock’d by the Difficulty, may not be capable of readily Understanding the Answers: and therefore thus to raise such Scruples, is to lay a Stumbling Block in the way of our weak Brethren, and perplex them with Notions and Curiosities, the Knowledge of which is no way necessary to Salvation.
§. XV. But Thirdly, If we consider seriously the Knowledge that we have of the Creatures, and even of those things in this World with which we are most familiarly acquainted, it will appear, that the Conceptions we have of them, are much of the same sort as those are, which Religion gives us of God, and that they neither represent the Nature or Essential Properties of the things as they are in themselves, but only the Effects they have in relation to us. For in most cases we know no more of them but only how they affect us, and what Sensations they produce in us.
Thus for example, Light and the Sun are the most familiar and useful things in nature: we have the comfortable Perception of them by our Senses of Seeing and Feeling, and enjoy the Benefit and Advantage of them; but what they are in themselves, we are entirely ignorant.
I think it is agreed by most that write of Natural Philosophy, that Light and Colours are nothing but the Effects of certain Bodies and Motions on our Sense of Seeing, and that there are no such things at all in Nature, but only in our Minds: and of this at least we may be sure, that Light in the Son or Air, are very different things from what they are in our Sensations of them; yet we call both by the same Names, and term that which is only perhaps a Motion in the Air, Light, because it begets in us that Conception which is truly Light. But it would seem very strange to the generality of Men, if we would tell them, that there is no Light in the Sun, or Colours in the Rain-Bow: and yet strictly speaking, it is certain, that which in the Sun causes the Conception of Light in us, is as truly different in nature from the Representation we have of it in our Mind, as our Foreknowledge is from what we call so in God.
The same may be observ’d concerning the Objects of our other Senses, such as Heat and Cold, Sweet and Bitter, and which we ascribe to the things that affect our Touch and Taste. Whereas it is manifest, that these are only the Sensations, that the Actions of outward things produce in us. For the Fire that burns us, has no such pain in it as we feel, when we complain of its heat; nor Ice, such as we call Cold.
Nevertheless we call the things, whose Actions on our Senses cause these Sensations in us, by the same Name we give to our Conceptions of them, and treat and speak of them, as if they were the same. We say the Fire is hot, because it produceth heat in us; and that the Sun is light, because it affects our Eyes in such manner, as enables us to frame that thought which we then perceive in our selves. But in the mean time, we are altogether ignorant, what it is particularly in the Fire or Sun, that has these Effects on us, or how it comes thus to affect us. And yet this Ignorance of ours doth not hinder us from the Use or Advantage that Nature design’d us in these Sensations; nor does our transferring to the Objects themselves the Names that we give our own Perceptions of them, draw any evil Consequences after it: on the contrary, they serve the Uses of Life, as well as if we knew the very things themselves. The Sun by giving me the Sensation of light, directs and refreshes me, as much as if I knew what its Nature and true Substance are. For in truth, Men are no further concern’d to know the nature of any thing, than as it relates to them, and has some effect on them. And if they know the effects of outward things, and how far they are to use or avoid them, it is sufficient.
If then such Knowledge of natural things, as only shows the Effects they have on us, be sufficient to all the uses of Life, tho we do not know what they are in themselves; why should not the like Representation of God and his Attributes be sufficient for the ends of Religion, tho we be ignorant of his and their nature?
Every one knows that Steadiness, Regularity and Order, do always proceed from Wisdom. When therefore we observe these in the highest degree, in all the Works of God, shall we not say that God is infinitely Wise, because we are ignorant what that really is in it self, which produces such stupendous effects? tho after all, Wisdom as in us, be as different from what we call so in God, as Light in our conception is different from the Motion in the Air that causes it.
§. XVII. We all of us feel a Tendency to the Earth, which we call Gravity; but none ever yet was able to give any satisfactory Account of its Nature or Cause: but inasmuch as we know, that falling down a Precipice will crush us to pieces, the Sense we have of this effect of it, is sufficient to make us careful to avoid such a Fall. And in like manner if we know, that breaking God’s Commands will provoke him to destroy us, will not this be sufficient to oblige us to Obedience, tho we be ignorant what it is we call Anger in him?
§. XVIII. I might go through all the Notices we have of natural things, and show that we only know and distinguish them by the effects they produce on our Senses, and make you sensible that such Knowledge sufficiently serves the Purposes of Life. And no reason can be given, why the Representations given us in Scripture of God and Divine Things, tho they do only show us the effects that proceed from them, should not be sufficient to answer the Purposes of Religion.
Particularly we ascribe Foreknowledge to God, because we are certain that he can’t be surpriz’d by any Event, nor be at any loss what he is to do when it happens. And thereby we give him all the Perfection we can, and assure our selves that we cannot deceive him.
After the same manner we ascribe Predestination to him, and conceive him as predetermining every thing that comes to pass, because all his Works are as steady and certain, as if he had predetermin’d them after the same manner that wise Men do theirs.
We further represent him as absolutely free, and all his Actions as arising only from himself, without any other Consideration but that of his own Will; because we are sure, the Obligations we owe to him are as great as if he acted in this wise. We are as much oblig’d to magnify his free Mercy and Favour to us, to humble our Minds before him, and return our tribute of Gratitude to him, as if our Salvation entirely proceeded from his mere good Will and Pleasure, without any thing being requir’d on our part, in order to it.
§. XIX. Let me in the fourth Place observe, that as we transfer the Actions of our own Minds, our Powers and Virtues, by Analogy to God, and speak of him as if he had the like; so we proceed the same way in the Representations we make to one another of the Actions of our own Minds, and ascribe the Powers and Faculties of Bodies to the Transactions that pass in them. Thus to Weigh things, to Penetrate, to Reflect, are proper Actions of Bodies, which we transfer to our Understandings, and commonly say, that the Mind weighs or penetrates things, that it reflects on it self, or Actions; thus, to Embrace, or Reject, to Retain or let Slip, are corporeal Performances; and yet we ascribe the first to the Will, and the last to the Memory. And it is manifest, that this does not cause any Confusion in our Notions; tho none will deny, but there is a vast difference between weighing a piece of Money in a Scale, and considering a thing in our Minds; between one Body’s passing through another, which is properly penetrating, and the Understanding’s obtaining a clear Notion of a thing hard to be comprehended. And so in all the rest, there is indeed a Resemblance and Analogy between them, which makes us give the same Names to each: but to compare them in all Particulars, and expect they should exactly answer, would run us into great Absurdities. As for example, it would be ridiculous to think, that weighing a thing in our Minds, shou’d have all the Effects, and be accompany’d with all the Circumstances that are observable in weighing a Body.
§. XX. Now to apply this, let us consider, that Love, Hatred, Wisdom, Knowledge, and Foreknowledge, are properly Faculties or Actions of our Minds; and we ascribe them to God after the same manner that we do Reflection, Penetrating, Discovering, Embracing or Rejecting, to our intellectual Actions and Faculties, because there is some Analogy and Proportion between them. But then we ought to remember, that there is as great a difference between these, when attributed to God, and as they are in us, as between Weighing in a Balance and Thinking, in truth infinitely greater; and that we ought no more to expect, that the one should in all Respects and Circumstances answer the other, than that Thinking in all things should correspond to Weighing. Wou’d you not be surpiz’d to hear a Man deny, and obstinately persist in it, that his Mind can reflect upon it self, because it is impossible that a Body, from whence the Notion is originally taken, should move or act on it self? And is it not equally absurd to argue, that what we call Foreknowledge in God, cannot consist with the Contingency of Freedom of Events, because our Prescience, from whence we transfer the Notion to the Divine Understanding, cou’d not, if it were certain? And is it not equally a sufficient Answer to both, when we say, that the Reflection of Bodies, tho in many Circumstances it resembles that Action of the Mind which we call so, yet in other particulars they are mighty unlike? And tho the Foreknowing that we have in some things, resembles what we term so in God, yet the Properties and Effects of these in other particulars, are infinitely different.
§. XXI. It may be objected against this Doctrine, that if it be true, all our Descriptions of God, and Discourses concerning him, will be only Figures and Metaphors; that he will be only figuratively Merciful, Just, Intelligent or Foreknowing: and perhaps in time, Religion and all the Mysteries thereof, will be lost in these mere Figures.
But I answer, that there is great difference between the Analogical Representations of God, and that which we commonly call Figurative. The common Use of Figures is to represent things, that are otherwise very well known, in such a manner as may magnify or lessen, heighten or adorn the Ideas we have of them. And the Design of putting them in this foreign Dress, as we may call it, is to move our Passions, and engage our Fancies more effectually than the true and naked View of them is apt to do, or perhaps ought. And from hence it too often happens, that these Figures are employ’d to deceive us, and make us think better or worse of things, than they really deserve.
But the Analogies and Similitudes, that the Holy Scriptures or our own Reason frame of Divine Things, are of another Nature; the Use of them is, to give us some Notion of things whereof we have no direct Knowledge, and by that means lead us to the Perception of the Nature, or at least of some of the Properties and Effects of what our Understandings cannot directly reach; and in this Case to teach us, how we are to behave our selves towards God, and what we are to do, in order to obtain a more perfect Knowledge of his Attributes.
§. XXII. And whereas in ordinary figurative Representations, the thing express’d by the Figure, is commonly of much less moment than that to which it is compar’d; in these Analogies the Case is otherwise, and the things represented by them, have much more Reality and Perfection in them, than the things by which we represent them. Thus weighing a thing in our Minds, is a much more noble and perfect Action, than examining the Gravity of a Body by Scale and Balance, which is the original Notion from whence it is borrow’d: and Reflection as in our Understandings, is much more considerable, than the rebounding of one hard Body from another, which yet is the literal Sense of Reflection. And after the same manner, what we call Knowledge and Foreknowledge in God, have infinitely more Reality in them, and are of greater moment than our Understanding or Prescience, from whence they are transfer’d to him; and in truth, these as in Man are but faint Communications of the Divine Perfections, which are the true Originals, and which our Powers and Faculties more imperfectly imitate, than a Picture does a Man: and yet if we reason from them by Analogy and Proportion, they are sufficient to give us such a Notion of God’s Attributes, as will oblige us to fear, love, obey, and adore him.
I shall therefore proceed to the Third and Last thing I propos’d, which was to show the Uses we ought to make of what has been said, particularly of God’s fore-knowing and predestinating his Elect to Holiness and Salvation.
§. XXIII. And First, From the whole it appears, that we ought not to be surpriz’d, when we find the Scriptures giving different and seemingly contradictory Schemes of Divine Things.
It is manifest, that several such are to be found in Holy Writ. Thus God is frequently said in Scripture, to repent and turn from the Evil that he purpos’d against Sinners; and yet in other places we are told, that God is not a Man that he should lie, neither the Son of Man that he should repent. So Numb. 23. 19. Thus Psal. 18. 11. God is represented as dwelling in thick Darkness: He made Darkness his secret place ; his Pavilion round about him, were dark Waters, and thick Clouds of the Sky. And yet 1 Tim. 6. 16. he is describ’d as dwelling in the Light which no Man can approach unto, whom no Man hath seen, nor can see : And 1 John 1. 5. God is Light, and in him is no Darkness at all. Thus in the Second Commandment, God is represented as visiting the Iniquity of the Fathers upon the Children, unto the third and fourth Generation of them that hate him : and yet, Ezek. 18. 20. The Son shall not bear the Iniquity of the Father, neither shall the Father bear the Iniquity of the Son ; and Ver. 4. The Soul that sinneth, it shall die.
After the same manner we are forbid by our Saviour, Matth. 6. 7. to use vain Repetitions, as the Heathen do ; or to think that we shall be heard for our much speaking ; because, Ver. 8. Your Father knows what things ye have need of, before ye ask him. And yet Luke 18. 1. we are encourag’d always to pray, and not to faint : And this is recommended to us by the Parable of an importunate Widow, who through her incessant Applications became uneasy to the Judge, and by her continual Cries and Petitions so troubled him, that to procure his own ease he did her Justice : Ver. 5. Because this Widow troubleth me, I will avenge her, lest by her continual coming she weary me.
Thus it is said, Exod. 33. 11. The Lord spake unto Moses face to face, as a Man speaketh to his Friend. And yet in Ver. 20. he declares to the same Moses, Thou canst not see my Face : for there shall no Man see me, and live. There are multitudes of other Instances of the like nature, that seem to carry some appearance of a Contradiction in them, but are purposefuly design’d to make us understand, that these are only ascrib’d to God by way of Resemblance and Analogy, and to correct our Imaginations, that we may not mistake them for perfect Representations, or think that they are in God, in the same manner that the Similitudes represent them, and to teach us not to stretch those to all Cases, or further than they are intended.
§. XXIV. We ought to remember, that two things may be very like one another in some respects, and quite contrary in others: and yet to argue against the Likeness in one respect, from the contrariety in the other, is as if one should dispute against the likeness of a Picture, because that is made of Canvas, Oil and Colours, whereas the Original is Flesh and Blood.
Thus in the present Case, God is represented as an absolute Lord over his Creatures, of infinite Knowledge and Power, that doth all things for his mere Pleasure, and is accountable to none; as one that will have Mercy on whom he will have Mercy, and whom he will he hardens ; that foresees, predestinates, calls, justifies and glorifies whom he will, without any regard to the Creatures whom he thus deals with. This gives us a mighty Notion of his Sovereignty, at once stops our Mouths, and silences our Objections, obliges us to an absolute Submission and Dependance on him, and withal to acknowledge the good things we enjoy to be entirely due to his pleasure. This is plainly the design and effect of this terrible Representation: and the meaning is, that we should understand that God is no way oblig’d to give us an account of his Actions; that we are no more to enquire into the Reasons of his dealing with his Creatures, than if he really treated them in this arbitrary Method. By the same we are taught to acknowledge, that our Salvation as entirely depends on him, and that we owe it as much to his pleasure, as if he had bestow’d it on us without any other Consideration, but his own Will to do so. Thus Jam. 1. 18. Of his own Will begat he us with the Word of Truth, that we should be a kind of First-fruits of his Creatures. And that we might not think that there could be any thing in our best Works, the prospect whereof could move God to show kindness to us, the Scriptures give us to understand that those good Works are due to his Grace and Favour, and the Effects, not Causes of them. So Eph. 2. 10. For we are his Workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good Works, which God hath before ordain’d, that we should walk in them.
§. XXV. All which Representations are design’d as a Scheme, to make us conceive the Obligations we owe to God, and how little we can contribute to our own Happiness. And to make us apprehend this to be his meaning, he has on other occasions given us an account of his dealing with Men, not only different, but seemingly contradictory to this. Thus he frequently represents himself, as proposing nothing for his own pleasure or advantage in his Transactions with his Creatures, as having no other Design in them, but to do those Creatures good, as earnestly desiring and prosecuting that end only. Nay, he represents himself to us, as if he were as uneasy and troubled when we fail’d to answer his Expectations; as we may conceive a good, merciful and beneficent Prince, that had only his Subjects Happiness in view, would be, when they refus’d to join with him for promoting their own Interest. And God, further to express his tenderness towards us, and how far he is from imposing any thing on us, lets us know, that he has left us to our own freedom and choice: and to convince us of his Impartiality, declares that he acts as a just and equal Judge; that he hath no respect of Persons, and favours none; but rewards and punishes all Men, not according to his own pleasure, but according to their deserts; and in every Nation he that fears him, and works Righteousness, is accepted with him, Acts 10. 25.
§. XXVI. Whoever is acquainted with the Holy Scriptures, will find all these things plainly deliver’d in them. Thus to show us that God proposes no advantages to himself in his Dealings with us, he describes himself as a Person wholly disinterested. Job 22. 2, 3. Can a Man be profitable unto God, as he that is wise may be profitable unto himself? It it any pleasure to the Almighty that thou art righteous? or is it gain to him that thou makest thy ways perfect? And Chap. 35. 6, 7. If thou sinnest, what dost thou against him? or if thy Transgressions be multiply’d, what dost thou unto him? If thou be righteous, what givest thou him, or what receiveth he of thine hand?
And as to his leaving us to the liberty of our own choice, observe how he is represented, Deut. 30. 19. I call Heaven and Earth this day to record against you, that I have set before you Life and Death, Blessing and Cursing; therefore chuse Life.
And as to his earnest Concern for our Salvation, he orders the Prophet Ezekiel to deliver this Message from him: Chap. 33. 11. Say unto them, As I live, saith the Lord God, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and live. Turn ye, turn ye from your evil ways; for why will ye die, 0 House of Israel? And Hosea 11. 8. How shall I give thee up, Ephraim? How shall I deliver thee, Israel? How shall I make thee as Admah? How shall I set thee as Zeboim? Mine Heart is turned within me, my repentings ere kindled together.
Every one may see, how distant this view of God, and of his Dealings with his Creatures, is from the former; and yet if we consider it as a Scheme fram’d to make us conceive how graciously, mercifully, and justly God treats us, notwithstanding the supreme and absolute Dominion he has over us, there will be no Inconsistency between the two. You see here, that tho the Creatures be in his hand, as Clay in the Potter‘s, of which he may make Vessels of Honour or Dishonour, without any injury, or being accountable; yet he uses that Power, with all the passionate Love and Concern that Parents show towards their Children: and therefore we are to conceive of him as having all the tenderness of Affections, that Parents feel in their Heart towards their young ones; and that if he had been so affected, he could not (considering our Circumstances) have gone further than he has done to save us; that our Destruction is as entirely due to our selves, as if we were out of God’s Power, and absolutely in the hand of our own Counsel.
§. XXVII. If we take these as Schemes design’d to give us different views of God, and his Transactions with Men, in order to oblige us to distinct Duties which we owe him, and stretch them no further, they are very reconcilable: And to go about to clash the one against the other, and argue, as many do, that if the one be true, the other cannot, is full as absurd as to object against that Article of our Belief, that Christ sits on the right Hand of God, because Scripture in other places, and plain Reason assures us, that God hath neither Hand nor Parts.
And whilst a thing may in one respect be like another, and in other respects be like the contrary; and whilst we know that thing only by resemblance, similitude or proportion; we ought not to be surpriz’d, that the Representations are contrary, and taken from things that seem irreconcilable, or that the different views of the same thing should give occasion to different, nay contrary Schemes.
§. XXVIII. We ought further to consider, that these are not so much design’d to give us Notions of God as he is in himself, as to make us sensible of our Duty to him, and to oblige us to perform it. As for example, when the Scriptures represent God as an absolute Lord, that has his Creatures entirely in his power, and treats them according to his pleasure; as one that is not oblig’d to consider their advantage at all, or any thing but his own Will; that may elect one to eternal Salvation, and pass over another, or condemn him to eternal Misery, without any other reason but because he will do so: When we read this, I say, in the Holy Scriptures, we ought not to dispute whether God really acts thus or no, or how it would suit with his other Attributes of Wisdom and Justice to do so; but the use we ought to make of it, is to call to mind what Duty and Submission we ought to pay to one that may thus deal with us if he please, and what Gratitude we ought to return him for electing and decreeing us to Salvation, when he lay under no manner of Obligation to vouchsafe us that Favour.
Again, when we find him represented as a gracious and merciful Father, that treats us as Children, that is sollicitous for our Welfare, that would not our Death or Destruction; that has done all things for our eternal Happiness, which could be done without violating the Laws of our Creation, and putting a force upon our Natures; that has given us Free-will, that we might be capable of Rewards at his hands, and have the pleasure of chusing for our selves; which only can make us happy, and like unto himself in the most noble Operations of which a Being is capable: that has given us all the Invitations and Encouragements to chuse well, that Mercy could prompt him to, or that the Justice which is due to Himself and Creatures would allow; and that never punishes us, but when the Necessity and Support of his Government requires he should: When we hear these things, we are not so much to enquire whether this Representation exactly suits with what really passes in his mind, as how we ought to behave our selves in such a case towards him that has dealt so graciously with us.
§. XXIX. And tho these Representations be but Descriptions fitted to our Capacities, thro God’s great Condescension towards us; yet it is certain, that there is as much Mercy, Tenderness, and Justice in the Conduct of God, as this Scheme represents: And on the other hand, that we owe as much Fear, Submission, and Gratitude to him, as if the first were the Method he took with us.
§. XXX. The second Use that I shall make of this Doctrine, is to put you in mind, how cautious we ought to be in our Reasonings and Deductions concerning things, of whose nature we are not fully appriz’d. ‘Tis true, that in matters we fully comprehend, all is clear and easy to us, and we readily perceive the Connexion and Consistency of all the Parts: but it is not so in things to which we are in a great measure strangers, and of which we have only an imperfect and partial view; for in these we are very apt to fancy Contradictions, and to think the accounts we receive of them absurd.
The truth of this is manifest from innumerable Instances; as for example, from the Opinion of the Antipodes, whilst the matter was imperfectly known: How many Objections were made against it? How many thought they had prov’d to a Demonstration the Impossibility and Contradiction of the thing? And how far did they prevail with the generality of the World to believe them? And yet how weak, and in truth foolish, do all their Arguments appear, to men that know and by experience understand the matter?
Others will say the same concerning the Motion of the Earth, notwithstanding the great Confidence with which many have undertaken to demonstrate it to be impossible; the reason of which, is only the imperfect knowledge we have of the thing: and as our understanding of it is more and more enlarg’d and clear’d, the Contradictions vanish.
Ought we not then to think, all the Contradictions we fancy between the Fore-knowledge of God and Contingency of Events, between Predestination andFree-will, to be the Effects of our Ignorance and partial Knowledge? May it not be in this, as in the matter of the Antipodes, and Motion of the Earth? May not the Inconsistencies that we find in the one be as ill-grounded as those that have been urg’d against the others? And have we not reason to suspect, nay believe this to be the Case; since we are sure, that we know much less of God and his Attributes, than of the Earth and Heavenly Motions?
§. XXXI. Even in the Sciences that are most common and certain, there are some things, which among those that are unacquainted with such matters, would pass for Contradictions. As for example, let us suppose one should happen to mention Negative Quantities among Persons strangers to the Mathematicks; and being ask’d what is meant by those words, should answer, That he understand by them Quantities that are conceiv’d to be less than Nothing; and that one of their Properties is, that being multiply’d by a Number less than Nothing, the Product may be a Magnitude greater than any assign’d. This might justly appear a Riddle, and full of Contradictions, and perhaps will do so to a great part of my Auditors. Something less than Nothing, in appearance is a Contradiction; a Number less than Nothing, has the same face: that these should be multipliable on one another, sounds very oddly; and that the Product of less than Nothing upon less than Nothing should be positive, and greater than any assign’d Quantity, seems inconceivable. And yet if the most Ignorant will but have patience, and apply themselves for Instruction to the Skilful in these matters, they will soon find all the seeming Contradictions vanish, and that the Assertions are not only certain, but plain and easy Truths, that may be conceiv’d without any great difficulty.
§. XXXII. The third Use I shall make of this Doctrine, is to teach us what answer we are to give to that Argument that has so puzzled Mankind, and done so much mischief in the World. It runs thus: “If God foresee or predestinate that I shall be sav’d, I shall infallibly be so; and if he foresee or have predestinated that I shall be damn’d, it is unavoidable. And therefore it is no matter what I do, or how I behave my self in this Life.” Many Answers have been given to this, which I shall not at present examine: I shall only add, that if God’s Fore-knowledge were exactly conformable to ours, the consequence would seem just; but inasmuch as they are of as different a nature as any two Faculties of our Souls, it doth not follow (because our Foresight of Events, if we suppose it infallible, must presuppose a Necessity in them) that therefore the Divine Prescience must require the same Necessity in order to its being certain. It is true, we call God’s Fore-knowledge and our own by the same Name; but this is not from any real likeness in the nature of the Faculties, but from some Proportion observable in the Effects of them: both having this advantage, that they prevent any surprize on the Person endow’d with them.
Now as it is true, that no Contingency or Freedom in the Creatures, can any way deceive or surprize God, put him to a loss, or oblige him to alter his measures: so on the other hand it is likewise true, that the Divine Prescience doth not hinder Freedom; and a thing may either be or not be, notwithstanding that Foresight of it which we ascribe to God. When therefore it is alledg’d, that if God foresees I shall be saved, my Salvation is infallible, this doth not follow; because the Fore-knowledge of God is not like Man’s, which requires Necessity in the Event, in order to its being certain, but of another nature consistent with Contingency: and our Inability to comprehend this, arises from our Ignorance of the true nature of what we call Fore-knowledge in God. And it is as impossible we should comprehend the Power thereof, or the manner of its Operation, as that the Eye should see a Sound, or the Ear ear Light and Colours.
§. XXXIII. The fourth Use I shall make of this Doctrine, is to enable us to discover what Judgment we are to pass on those that have manag’d this Controversy; and for my own part I must profess, that they seem to me to have taken Shadows for Substances, Resemblances for the Things they represent; and by confounding these, have embroil’d themselves and Readers in inextricable Difficulties.
Whoever will look into the Books writ on either side, will find this to be true: but because that is a task too difficult for the generality of Men, let them consider the two Schemes of the Predestinarians and Free-willers, in the present Bishop of Sarum‘s Exposition of the seventeenth Article of our Church; where they will (as I think) find the Opinions of both Parties briefly, fully, and fairly represented, and withal perceive this Error runs thro both.
As for example, the great Foundation of the one Scheme is, that God acts for himself and his Glory, and therefore he can only consider the Manifestation of his own Attributes and Perfections in every Action; and hence they conclude, that he must only damn or save men, as his doing of one or other may most promote his Glory.
But here it is manifest, that they who reason thus are of opinion, that the Desire of Glory doth really move the Will of God; whereas Glory, and the Desire of it, are only ascrib’d to God in an Analogical sense, after the same manner as Hands and Feet, Love and Hatred are: and when God is said to do all things for his own Glory, it is not meant that the Desire of Glory is the real End of his Actions, but that he has order’d all things in such an excellent Method, that if he had design’d them for no other End, they could not have set it forth more effectually. Now to make this figurative Expression the Foundation of so many harsh Conclusions, and the Occasion of so many Contentions and Divisions in the Church, seems to me the same kind of mistake, that the Church of Rome commits in taking the words of Scripture, This is my Body, literally; from whence so many Absurdities and Contradictions to our Senses and Reason are infer’d.
§. XXXIV. Secondly, If you look diligently into these Schemes, you will find a great part of the Dispute arises on this Question, What is first or second in the Mind of God; whether he first foresees and then determines, or first determines, and by virtue of that foresees? This Question seems the more strange, because both Parties are agreed, that there is neither first nor last in the Divine Understanding, but all is one single Act in him, and continues the same from all Eternity. What then can be the meaning of the Dispute? Sure it can be no more than this, whether it be more honourable for God, that we should conceive him as acting this way or that, since it is confess’d that neither reaches what really passes in his Mind. So that the Question is not concerning the Operations of God as they are in themselves, but concerning our way of conceiving them, whether it be more for his Honour to represent them according to the first or second Scheme: and certainly the right Method is to use both on occasion, so far as they may help us to conceive honourably of the Divine Majesty; and to deal ingenuously with the World, and tell them, that where these Schemes have not that effect, or where thro our stretching them too far, they induce us to entertain dishonourable Thoughts of him, or encourage Disobedience, they are not applicable to him. In short, that God is as absolute as the first represents him, and Man as free as the last would have him to be; and that these different and seemingly contradictory Schemes are brought in to supply the Defects of one another.
§. XXXV. And therefore, Thirdly, The Managers of this Controversy ought to have look’d on these different Schemes as chiefly design’d to inculcate some Duties to us; and to have press’d them no further, than as they tended to move and oblige us to perform those Duties. But they, on the contrary, have stretch’d these Representations beyond the Scriptures Design, and set them up in opposition to one another; and have endeavour’d to persuade the World that they are inconsistent: insomuch that some, to establish Contingency and Free-Will, have deny’d God’s Prescience; and others, to set up Predestination, have brought in a fatal necessity of all Events.
And not content therewith, they have accus’d one another of Impiety and Blasphemy, and mutually charg’d each the other’s Opinion with all the absurd Consequences they fancy’d were deducible from it. Thus the Maintainers of Free-Will charge the Predestinarians as guilty of ascribing Injustice, Tyranny and Cruelty to God, as making him the Author of all the Sin and Misery that is in the World: And on the other hand, the Asserters of Predestination have accus’d the others, as destroying the Independency and Dominion of God, and subjecting him to the Will and Humours of his Creatures. And if either of the Schemes, were to be taken literally and properly, the Maintainers of them would find difficulty enough to rid themselves of the Consequences charg’d on them: But if we take them only as analogical Representations, as 1 have explain’d them, there will be no ground or reason for these Inferences.
§. XXXVI. And it were to be wish’d, that those who make them would consider, that if they would prosecute the same Method in treating the other Representations that the Scriptures give us of God’s Attributes and Operations, no less Absurdities would follow: As for example, when God is said to be Merciful, Loving, and Pitiful, All-seeing, Jealous, Patient or Angry; if these were taken literally, and understood the same way, as we find them in us, what absurd and intolerable Consequences would follow; and how dishonourable must they be suppos’d to think of God, who ascribe such Passions to him? Yet no body is shock’d at them, because they understand them in an analogical Sense. And if they would but allow Predestination, Election, Decrees, Purposes and Foreknowledge, to belong to God with the same difference, they would no more think themselves oblig’d to charge those that ascribe them to him with Blasphemy in the one case, than in the other.
§. XXXVII. The fifth use we are to make of what has been said, is to teach us how we are to behave our selves in a Church, where either of these Schemes is settled and taught as a Doctrine: and here I think the Resolution is easy. We ought to be quiet, and not unseasonably to disturb the Peace of the Church; much less should we endeavour to expose what she professes, by alledging Absurdities and Inconsistencies in it. On the contrary, we are oblig’d to take pains, to show that the pretended Consequences do not follow, as in truth they do not; and to discourage all that make them, as Enemies of Peace, and false Accusers of their Brethren, by charging them with Consequences they disown, and that have no other Foundation but the Maker’s Ignorance.
For in truth, as has been already show’d, if such Inferences be allow’d, hardly any one Attribute or Operation of God, as describ’d in Scripture, will be free from the Cavils of perverse Men.
‘Tis observable, that by the same way of Reasoning, and by the same sort of Arguments, by which some endeavour to destroy the Divine Prescience, and render his Decrees odious, Cotta long ago in Cicero attack’d the other Attributes, and undertook to prove, that God can neither have Reason nor Understanding, Wisdom nor Prudence, nor any other Vertue. And if we understand these literally and properly, so as to signify the same when apply’d to God and to Men, it will not be easy to answer his Arguments: but if we conceive them so be ascrib’d to him by Proportion and Analogy, that is, if we mean no more when we apply them to God, than that he has some Powers and Faculties, tho not of the same nature, which are analogous to these, and which yield him all the Advantages which these could give him if he had them, enabling him to produce all the good effects which we see consequent to them, when in the greatest Perfection; then the Arguments us’d by * Cotta against them have no manner of force: since we do not plead for such an Understanding, Reason, Justice and Vertue, as he objects against, but for more valuable Perfections, that are more than equivalent, and in truth infinitely superior to them, tho call’d by the same Names; because we do not know what they are in themselves, but only see their Effects in the World, which are such as might be expected from the most consummated Reason, Understanding and Vertue. * Qualem autem Deum intelligere nos possumus nulla virtute praeditum? Quid enim? prudentiamne Deo tribuemus? Quae constat ex scientia rerum bonarum & malarum, & nec bonarum nec malarum, cui mali nihil est, nec esse potest, quid huic opus est delectu bonorum & malorum? Quid autem ratione? quid intelligentia? quibus utimur ad eam rem, ut apertis obscura assequamur. At obscurum Deo nihil potest esse, nam Justitia quae suum cuique distribuit, quid pertinet ad Deos? hominum enim societas, & communitas, ut vos dicitis, Justitiam procreavit: temperantia autem constat ex praetermittendis voluptatibus corporis: cui si locus in coelo est, est etiam voluptatibus. Nam sortis Deus intelligi qui potest? in dolore, an in labore, an in periculo? quorum Deum nihil attingit. Nec ratione igitur utentem, nec virtute ulla praeditum Deum intelligere qui possumus? Cic. de Nat. Deor. Sect. 15. Ed. Lond.
And after the same manner, when perverse Men reason against the Prescience, Predestination, and the Decrees of God, by drawing the like absurd Consequences, as Cotta doth, against the possibility of his being endow’d with Reason and Understanding, &c. our Answer is the same as beforemention’d. If these be suppos’d the very same in all respects when attributed to God, as we find them in our selves, there would be some colour, from the Absurdities that would follow, to deny that they belong to God, but when we only ascribe them to him by Analogy, and mean no more than that there are some things answerable to them, from whence as Principles the Divine Operations proceed, it is plain, that all such Arguments not only lose their force, but are absolutely impertinent.
§. XXXVIII. This is the Method taken by our Church in her 17th Article, where we are taught, that Predestination to life is the everlasting purpose of God, whereby before the Foundations of the World were laid, he hath constantly decreed by his Counsel, secret to us, to deliver from Curse and Damnation those whom he hath chosen in Christ out of Mankind, and to bring them by Christ to everlasting Salvation. —— And that the Godly Consideration of Predestination, and our Election in Christ, is full of sweet, pleasant and unspeakable Comfort to Godly Persons, —— as well because it doth greatly establish their Faith of Eternal Salvation, to be enjoy’d thro Christ, as because it doth fervently kindle their Love toward God. ——— And yet we must receive God’s promises, as they be generally set forth to us in Holy Scripture. Here you see the two Schemes join’d together: And we are allow’d all the Comfort that the Consideration of our being predestinated can afford us; and at the same time we are given to understand, that the Promises of God are generally conditional; and that notwithstanding our Belief of Predestination, we can have no hope of obtaining the Benefit of them, but by fulfilling the Conditions. And I hope I have explain’d them in such a way, as entitles us to show them to be consistent in themselves, and of great use towards making us holy here, and happy hereafter.