As frequent mention of the permission of sin has been already made by us, it will be a work, not useless in itself, and not displeasing to you, if I shall distinctly set forth what I consider the true view concerning permission, in general, according to the Scriptures. You will read, weigh, and judge, freely and with candour, and if I shall, as to any point, seem to err, you will recall me to the right way, by serious and friendly admonition. I will treat, first, of permission in general, then of the permission of sin.
We know that permission pertains to action, in a generic sense, from the very form of the word, whether in itself or by reduction as they say in the schools. For cessation from act may also be reduced or referred back to the act, but it has, as its proximate and immediate cause, the will, not knowledge, not capability, not power, though these, also, may be requisite in the being, who permits. No one is rightly said to permit, who does not know what and to whom he permits, and is not capable of permitting or preventing, and finally has not the right and authority to permit. If permission is attributed to any one, who is destitute of that knowledge, or capability, or power, it is in an unusual and extended sense, which ought not to have a place in an accurate discussion of a subject.
The object of permission is both the person to whom anything is permitted, and the act which is permitted, and, under the act, I would include, also, cessation from the act. In the person, to whom anything is permitted, two acts are to be considered in respect to the person, -- first, strength sufficient to the performance of an act, unless there is some hindrance; secondly, an inclination to perform the act, for apart from this, the permission would be useless. Strength is necessarily requisite for the performance of an act; even if this is present, unless the person, to whom an act is permitted, has an inclination to the act, it is permitted to no purpose, and in vain. Indeed it can not be said, correctly, that an act is permitted to any one, who is influenced by no inclination to the performance of the act. From this it is apparent that permission must be preceded by the prescience or the knowledge of the fact that both sufficient strength and an inclination to perform the act, exist in him, to whom the permission is granted. The mode of permission is the suspension of efficiency, which efficiency is also possible to the being, who permits, either according to right, or according to capability, or in both respects, and, when used, would restrain, or in fact prevent the act. We may, hence, define permission in general, thus; -- It is the act of the will by which the being, who permits, suspends any efficiency which is possible to him, which, being used, would restrain, or, in fact, prevent an act in him to whom the permission is granted, to the performance of which act the same person has an inclination and sufficient strength. These conditions being applied to the Divine permission, by which He permits an act to a rational creature, the definition may be thus arranged: -- Divine permission is an act of the divine will by which God suspends any efficiency possible to Himself, either by right, or by power, or in both modes, which efficiency, used by God, would either restrain or really prevent an act of a rational creature, to the performance of which act, the same creature has an inclination and sufficient strength. But, since the will of God is always directed by His wisdom, and tends to good, that permission can not but be instituted to a certain end and the best end. There are two modes or species of permission, as is manifest in the definition, in which, to efficiency, if used, either the limitation of an act, or its prevention is ascribed. For the will of God is considered, in a two-fold respect, either as He prescribes something to His creatures, by command or prohibition, or as He wills to do or to prevent anything. Hence the efficiency, which is under discussion, is two-fold, on one hand, as the prescription or enactment of a law by which any act of the creature is restrained, by which restraint or limitation that act is taken away from the freedom of the creature, so that he can not, without sin, perform it, if it is forbidden, or omit it, if it is commanded; and on the other, as the interposition of an impediment, by which any act of the creature is prevented.
In the first mode, there was a limit as to the eating of the forbidden fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil, and as to the love due to a wife, the former by prohibition, the latter by command. In the second mode, Balaam was prevented from cursing Israel, Ahaziah from the murder of Elijah, Sennacherib from the capture of Jerusalem, and Abimelech from sin with Sarah. But since God, if He pleases, suspends this efficiency, in both modes, when and where it seems good to Him, permission is also two-fold; on one hand, as He does not restrain an act by a law, but leaves it to the decision and freedom of the creature, whether this may be on account of the simple nature of the act itself, as in that expression of the apostle |all things are lawful for me| (1 Cor. vi.12) or, on account of another forbidden evil, an example of which may be taken from the |bill of divorcement;| on the other hand, as He does not, by His own action, interpose an impediment to an act, -- an impediment, by which the act may be really prevented, not one, by which it can or ought to be prevented. Thus He permitted Adam to eat of the forbidden fruit, and Cain to kill his own brother. Though He used impediments, by which, each of those acts could, and ought to have been prevented, yet He did not use impediments, by which the act, in either case, was prevented. We may be allowed to divide, also, the latter mode of permission which is by abstaining from the use of an impediment, which would prevent the act, according to the difference of the modes in which God is able, and, indeed, accustomed to prevent an act, to the performance of which a creature is inclined and sufficient. I do not wish, however, that such sufficiency should be ever understood apart from the concurrence of the first cause. That variety arises from the causes by means of which a rational creature performs an act. Those causes are |capability, and will, -- we, here, speak of voluntary acts, to which the permission, of which we now treat, has reference and, therefore, the impediment is placed either upon the capability or the will of the creature; that is, God effects that the creature should be either not able, or not willing to produce that act. In the former mode He prevented the entrance of Adam into Paradise, in the latter, He prevented Joseph from polluting himself with adultery with the wife of his master.
More particularly, we must consider in how many ways God may prevent the creature from being able or willing to perform the act, to which he has an inclination and sufficient strength, that is, apart from this impediment. We consider prevention as applied, first to the capability, secondly, to the will. That the creature may be able to effect any thing, it is necessary that he should have capability; that no greater or equal power should act against him; finally, that he should have an object on which his capability can act. From this it is evident that an impediment may be placed on the capability in a four-fold manner; -- first, by the taking away of being and life which are the foundation of capability; secondly, by the deprivation or diminution of the capability itself; thirdly, by the opposition of a greater, or, at least, an equal power; fourthly, by the removal of the object; either of which ways is sufficient for prevention. We will adduce examples of each mode.
In the first mode, the capture of Jerusalem attempted by Sennacherib, was prevented by the slaughter of |an hundred four score and five thousand| men, made by one angel (2 Kings xix.35, 36). Thus, also, the effort to bring Elijah before Ahaziah was prevented by the fire, twice consuming fifty men, who were sent to take him.
In the second mode, Samson was prevented from freeing himself from the hands of the Philistines, after his hair was cut off (Judges xvi.19, 20), the strength of the Spirit, by which he had formerly been so mighty, having been taken away or diminished.
In the third mode, Uzziah was prevented from burning incense to the Lord by the resistance of the priests (2 Chron. xxvi.18), and the carrying of Lot and the Sodomites into captivity was prevented by Abram with his servants, attacking the victorious kings (Gen. xiv.15, 16).
In the fourth mode, Ahab was prevented from injuring Elijah (1 Kings xix.3), and the Jews, who had sworn to slay the apostle Paul, were prevented from effecting their design (Acts xxiii.10). God removed Elijah, and Paul was rescued from the Jews by the chief captain. Thus, also, Christ often removed himself out of the hands of those, who wished to take him; of those, also, who wished to make him a king.
The permission, which is contrary to this prevention, also subsists by four modes, contrary to those just exemplified, but united together. For a complete cause is required to the production of an effect, the absence of a single necessary cause, or element of the cause, being sufficient to prevent the effect. Thus it is necessary that, when God permits any act to the capability of a creature, that creature should be preserved as it is, and should live; that its capability should remain adapted to the performance of the act; that no greater or equal power should be placed in opposition; finally, that the object, to be operated upon, should be left to that capability. It appears, from this, that this divine permission is not inactive, as so many actions of the providence of God are requisite to that permission, -- the preservation of being, of life, and the capability of the creature, the administration and government, by which a greater or an equal power is opposed to the creature, and the presentation of the object. We may be allowed, also to adduce similar examples of permission. Thus God gave His Son into the power of Pilate and of the Jews. |This is your hour and the power of darkness| (Luke xxii.53). Thus He gave Job into the hands of Satan (Job i.12), Zachariah into the hands of his murderers (2 Chron. xxiv.21), and James into the hands of Herod (Acts xii.2). Let us now consider how God may prevent a creature from a volition to perform an act, to which he has an inclination and sufficient strength. An impediment is placed by the Deity, upon the propensity and the will of a rational creature, in a two-fold mode, according to which God can act on the will. For He acts on the will either by the mode of nature, or according to the mode of the will and its freedom. The action, by which He affects the will, according to the mode of nature, may be called physical impulse; that, by which He acts on the same, according to the mode of the will and its freedom, will be suitably styled suasion. God acts, therefore, preventively on the will either by physical impulse or by suasion, that it may not will that, to which it is inclined by any propensity. He acts preventively on the will, by physical impulse, when He acts upon it, by the mode of nature, that, from it may necessarily result the prevention of an act, to which the creature is inclined by any propensity. Thus the evil disposition of the Egyptians towards the Israelites seems, in the judgment of some, to have been prevented from injuring them. God acts, preventively, on the will by suasion, when He persuades the will by any argument, that it may not will to perform an act, to which it tends by its own inclination, and to effect which the creature has, or seems to himself to have, sufficient strength. By this, the will is acted upon preventively, not of necessity, indeed, but of certainty.
But since God, in the infinity of His own wisdom, foresees that the mind of the rational creature will be persuaded by the presentation of that argument, and that, from this persuasion, a prevention of the act will result, He is under no necessity of using any other kind of prevention. All the arguments, by which the reason can be persuaded to the performance of an act, can be reduced to three classes -- that which is easy and practicable; that which is useful, pleasant, and delightful; and that which is honest, just and becoming. Hence, also, God, by a three-fold suasion, prevents a person from the will to perform any act. For He persuades the mind that the act is either difficult to be performed, or even altogether impossible; or useless and unpleasant; or dishonest, unrighteous and indecorous.
By the argument from the difficult and impossible, the Pharisees and chief priests were, often, prevented from laying violent hands on Christ: for they knew that he was considered a prophet by the multitude, who seemed prepared to defend him against the efforts of his enemies. The Israelites, pursuing the king of Moab, when they saw that he had offered his eldest son, as a burnt offering, and, from this fact, knew that he was strengthened in his own mind, departed from him, thinking that they could not take the city without very great difficulty and much slaughter (2 Kings iii.23-27). Sanballat and Tobiah, and the other enemies of God's people, endeavouring to hinder the building of the walls of Jerusalem, were prevented from accomplishing their design, when they heard that their plots were known to Nehemiah (Neh. iv.15). For they despaired of effecting any thing, unless they could take the Jews by surprise. By the argument from the useless, the soldiers, who crucified Christ, were prevented from breaking his legs (John xix.33), because he was already dead, and it would have been useless to break his legs, as this was designed, and usually done to hasten death; and, at this time, the Jews desired that their bodies should be taken down from the cross before sunset. But God had declared, |a bone of him shall not be broken| (John xix.36). By the same argument -- of inutility -- Pilate was prevented from releasing Christ. |If thou let this man go, thou art not Caesar's friend| (John xix.12). Thus, also, Pharaoh did not wish to let the people of God go (Exod. chapters 5, 6 and 7). By the argument from the unrighteous or dishonest, David was prevented from slaying Saul, when he had fallen into his hands; |The Lord forbid that I should stretch forth my hand against the anointed of the Lord| (1 Sam. xxiv.6).
It is sufficient, for the prevention of an act by the argument of suasion, that the act should seem to be impossible, useless, or unrighteous to those, by whom God wills that it should not be performed, even if it is not so in reality. Thus the Israelites were prevented from going up into the promised land, when they learned, from the spies, the strength of the nations, and the defenses of the cities, thinking that it would not be possible for them to overcome them (Num.13 and 14). Thus David was prevented from fighting, for the Philistines, against Saul and the Israelites; for the Philistines said to their king -- |let him not go down with us to battle, lest, in the battle, he be an adversary to us| (1 Sam. xxii.4).
Thus Ahaz was prevented from asking a sign of the Lord, at the suggestion of Isaiah, the prophet; for he said, |I will not ask, neither will I tempt the Lord (Isa. vii.12). To this last argument pertain the revelations of the Divine will, whether they are truly such, or are falsely so esteemed. Thus David was prevented from building the temple of the Lord, by the Divine prohibition in the mouth of Nathan (2 Sam. vii.5 &c.), though he had purposed, in his own mind, to do this for the glory of God. Thus Laban was prevented from speaking |to Jacob either good or bad,| for, he said, |it was in the power of my hand to do you hurt| (Gen. xxxi.29). The king of Babylon being prevented by the oracle of his own gods, which he consulted, from attacking the Ammonites, marched against the Jews, whom God wished to punish. Each of these is not always used separately, from the others, by God to prevent an act which He wishes should not be performed, but they are some times presented, two or three together, as God knows may be expedient, to the prevention of an act which He wishes to prevent.
We do not, in this place, professedly discuss what that action is, by which God proposes suasory arguments, designed to act preventively on the will, to the mind of the creature, inclined to the act and having strength adequate to its performance. Yet it is certain, whatever that act may be, that it is efficacious for prevention, and will certainly prevent, which efficacy and certainty depends, not so much on the omnipotence of the divine action as, on the prescience of God, who knows what arguments, in any condition of things or at any time, will move the mind of man to that, to which God desires to incline him, whether on account of His mercy or of His justice. Yet, in my judgment, it is lawful so to distinguish that action as to say that, on the one hand, it is that of the gracious and particular providence of God, illuminating, by His Holy Spirit, the mind of the man who is regenerate, and inclining his will, that he may will and not will that which God purposes that he should will and not will, and that, indeed, of a pure inclination to obey God; on the other hand, it is that of more general providence, by which He acts on men as men, or as only morally good, that they may not will, and may will, as God purposes that they should not will and should will, though not with this event and purpose, that they should, in their nolition or volition, obey God.
We now deduce, from this, the modes of permission, the opposite of prevention, which are not to be separated like those of prevention, but are to be united. For, as a single argument can act preventively on the will, that it may not will what God purposes to prevent; so it is necessary that all those arguments should be absent by which the will would be persuaded to an act of nolition, otherwise, there would be no permission. Therefore, the permission, by which God permits a rational creature to perform an act, to the performance of which he has inclination and adequate strength, is the suspension of all those impediments, by which the will was to have been persuaded, and in fact moved to a nolition. For it can be that God, being about to permit an act to the will of the creature, should so administer the whole matter, that not only some arguments of dissuasion, but all conjoined, may be presented to the will of a rational creature; yet, as persuasion can but result from that presentation of arguments, which is also known to God, it is from this fact that the presentation of arguments, is most consistent with the permission of that thing to dissuade from which they were used.
Let us illustrate the subject by examples. God permitted the brethren of Joseph to think of slaying him; (Gen. xxxvii.18;) and at length they sold him, not caring that he was their brother, and that they were forbidden, by the laws of God, to commit murder, or to sell a free person into slavery. So, also, He permitted the enemies of His Son to condemn him, though innocent and unheard, and finally to slay him, setting at naught their own law, which not only had been imposed on them by the Deity, but was called to their remembrance, by Nicodemus, Joseph and others, in the inquiry, |Doth our law judge any man before it hear him?| They obtained false witnesses, and found that |their witness agreed not together| (Mark xiv.56). Yet they did that, which their envy and hatred against Christ dictated. Thus God likewise permitted Saul to persecute David (1 Sam.23 and 24), making no account of the fact that he had been taught and convinced of David's innocence by his own son, and by personal experience. From this discussion, it is apparent that a difference must be made between a sufficient and an efficacious impediment, and that the permission of which we here treat, is a suspension of efficacious impediment. A sufficient impediment is used, by God, partly to declare that the act, to prevent which He takes care that those arguments should be proposed, and presented, is displeasing to Himself, partly that they may be more inexcusable, who do not permit themselves to be prevented; and even that He may the more, on account of their iniquity, incite them to the act which is so eagerly performed. Then we have this three-fold permission of the Deity -- first, that by which God leaves any act to the decision of a rational creature, not restraining it by any law; secondly, that by which He permits an act, in respect to the capability of the creature; third, that by which He permits the act, in respect to the inclination and will of the creature. The last two can not be disjoined in a subject, though they can and ought to be suitably distinguished from each other. For it is necessary that an act, which God does not will to prevent, should be permitted both to the capability and the will of the creature, since, by the sole inhibition, either of the capability, or of the will, an impediment is presented to the act such that it is not performed.
Some may say that the species or modes of prevention are not sufficiently enumerated; as no act is prevented in its causes only, but also, in itself. It is necessary to an act, not only that God should bestow both the power and the will, that he should produce the effect itself, and without the intervention of means. It must follow, therefore, that an act will not be certainly produced, even if God should bestow the power and the will, and hence, it is possible that an act should be prevented, even if God does not present an impediment to the capability or the will, that is, if He withholds from the creature his own concurrence, either active or motive, which is immediately necessary to produce the act. From this, it can be deduced, also, that an act is not fully permitted, even if it is left by God to the capability and will of the creature, unless God has determined to unite immediately to produce the same act, by his own act, motion, or concurrence. I reply, that I do not deny the necessity of that concurrence or immediate act of God to the production of an act; but I say that it has once been determined by God, not to withhold, from His creatures His own concurrence, whether general or special, for the producing those acts, to perform which He has given to His creatures the power and the will or which He has left to the power and will of His creatures; otherwise, He has, in vain, bestowed the power and the will, and He has, without reason, left the act to the capability and the will of the creature. I add that an example of an impediment, of that kind, can not be given, that is, an impediment, placed by God, in the way of an act permitted to the capability and will of a creature, by withholding from the creature His own immediate concurrence.
I, therefore, conclude that the modes or species of prevention, and therefore, of permission, have been sufficiently enumerated. I grant that not only much light, but also completeness, will be added to the doctrine of the divine permission, if it not only may be shown how God prevents acts, for which rational creatures have an inclination and sufficient strength, but may be explained, with accuracy, how God produces and effects His own acts and His own works, through His rational creatures, whether good or bad. In which investigation, many learned and pious men have toiled, and have performed labour, not to be regretted; yet I think that so many things remain to be solved and explained, that no genius, however surpassing, can be sufficient for all of them, and so it can be truly said that the mine of this truth is not only deep and profound, but also inexhaustible. Yet, if we descend into it with soberness, and, following the thread and guidance of the Holy Scriptures, there is no doubt that it will be granted unto us to draw thence so much as God, the only fountain and giver of the truth, knows will conduce to the salvation of the church, and to the sanctification of His name in this world, to whom be glory for ever, through Jesus Christ. Amen.
Having thus discussed the subject of permission in general, let us now consider the permission of sin. At the outset, it must be understood that sin is not permitted in the first mode of permission, for it is sin in that it is forbidden by the law, therefore, it can not be permitted by the law; else, the same thing is sin and not sin; sin in that it is forbidden, and not sin, in that it is permitted, and not forbidden. Yet, since it is said truly that sin is permitted by God, it is certain that it is permitted in some way, which will, generally considered, be a suspension of all those impediments by the interposition of which sin could not be committed by the creature. But the impediments by which sin, so far as it is sin, is prevented, are the revelation of the divine will, and an act moving or persuading to obedience to the divine will. From which it is evident that permission of sin is a suspension of that revelation, or of that suasion, or of both.
It may be stated, here, from the general definition of permission, that revelation, motion, or suasion have so much efficacy, that if they are used and applied, the sin would not, in fact, be committed. I say this, then: Let no one think that God performs no act sufficient to prevent sin, when sin is not, in fact, prevented, and thence conclude that God wills sin; and again, let no one judge that, when God perform one or more acts, sufficient to prevent sin, that He unwillingly permits sin. In the latter of which remarks, we see that they are frequently mistaken, who do not consider the subject with sufficient accuracy. For the sole consideration of efficacious prevention, by the suspension of which, permission is properly and adequately defined, effects, in view of the use of some, though inefficacious, impediments, that we should understand that God does not will sin, nor yet that he permits it unwillingly, because He has, in addition to those sufficient impediments, also efficacious ones in the storehouse of His wisdom and power, by the production of which, sin would be certainly and infallibly prevented.
That, what has been thus said by us, in general terms, may be more evident, let us explain, with a little more particularity, in reference to differences of sin. Sin is either of omission or of commission. Sin of omission is a neglect of an act, prescribed and commanded by law; sin of commission, is a performance of that, which is forbidden and prohibited by law. But since, in a preceptive law, not a good act, only, is enjoined, but its cause, mode and purpose, also in a prohibitive law, not a bad act, only, is forbidden, but also the cause and purpose of the omission, it is apparent that sin, both against a preceptive law, and against a prohibitive law, is two-fold: against a preceptive law if the enjoined act is omitted, and if it is performed unlawfully as to manner and purpose; and against a prohibitive law, by performing an action, and by not performing, but omitting it with an unlawful reason and purpose. The examples are plain. He, who omits to bestow alms on the poor, sins in omitting a prescribed act. He, who bestows alms on the poor that he may be seen of men, sins in omitting the due reason, and purpose of the bestowal. He, who steals, sins in committing a forbidden act; he, who abstains from theft, that his iniquity may be covered for the time and may afterwards more deeply injure his neighbour, sins in omitting the forbidden act with a wrong purpose. The divine permission is to be accommodated to each of the modes both of mission and of commission.
Sin is distributed, in respect to its causes, into sin of ignorance, of infirmity, and of malice; and by some, an additional distinction is made, namely, sin of negligence or thoughtlessness, as different and separate from the former, while others think that this is embraced in the three species previously mentioned.
The divine permission is also adjusted to these differences. It would be an endless work to present all the divisions and differences of sin, and to show how the divine permission is related to each class. But we must not omit that, in sin, not it alone but the act also, blended with it, is to be considered, as in sin there is the transgression of the law, and the act, that is the act, simply as such, and the act, as forbidden or prescribed, the omission of which prescript is sin. But permission can be considered, either in respect to the act, or to the transgression, for sin is prevented in the prevention of the act, without which sin can not be committed. Again, the act is prevented in the prevention of the sin, which necessarily inheres and adheres to the act, so that the act itself can not be performed without sin. For one may abstain from an act, towards which he is borne by his inclination, because it can not be performed without sin; another, on the contrary, abstains from sin because he is not inclined to the act itself. When he abstains from the act because it is sin, he abstains from sin per se, from the act incidentally: but when he abstains because the act is not pleasant to him, he abstains from the act per se, from sin incidentally. When also an act, is permitted as an act, it is permitted per se, sin is permitted incidentally. When sin is permitted as sin, it is permitted per se, the act is permitted incidentally. All of which things are to be diligently considered in reference to the subject of permission, that it may be understood what efficiency God suspends in that permission, and what efficiency He uses to no purpose -- to no purpose in relation to the event, in that sin is not omitted, not to no purpose in relation to the objects which God has proposed to Himself, the best and the most wisely intended, and most powerfully obtained. But though we have already discussed the permission of acts in general, it will not be superfluous to treat here of the same, so far as those acts are blended with sin, and sin with them; though, in the mean time, the principal reference in this discussion, must be to the permission of sin, as such. For, as these two are so connected, that they can not be separated in an individual subject, the very necessity of their coherence seems to demand that we should speak of the permission of both in connection, though of the permission of sin per se, and of the act incidentally. But since the relation of sin appears, most plainly, in an act committed against a prohibitive law, as omission of good may be often comprehended under it by synecdoche, as in the definitions of sin, -- |it is that which is done contrary to the law,| -- also, |a desire, word, or deed against the law,| -- it will not be irrelevant to show, in the first place, how God permits that sin, whether as it is a sin, or as it is an act, which He permits, or in both relations.
We will present the modes of permission corresponding to the contrary modes of prevention, as before. The murder which Ahab and Ahaziah intended to perpetrate on the prophet Elijah, was an act, which, being performed would have taken away the life of Elijah, and it was a sin against the sixth commandment of God. God prevented that murder, not as a sin, but as an act. This is apparent from the mode of prevention, for in one instance, he took Elijah out of the hands of Ahab, and in another He consumed, with fire sent down from heaven, those who had been sent to take the prophet (2 Kings 1). The former case was according to the fourth mode, heretofore mentioned; the latter was, according to the first mode, in opposition to the power of Ahaziah and in this case prevented the effect. David, being instigated by his followers to slay Saul, his persecutor and enemy, refused, being restrained from that act, not as an act, but as a sin, for he said |The Lord forbid that I should stretch forth my hand against him, seeing he is the anointed of the Lord| (1 Sam. xxiv.6).
The mode of prevention was by a revelation of the divine will, and by a persuasion to obedience, and was suitable to the prevention of sin as such. The defilement of Sarah, the wife of Abraham when she was brought to Abimelech, would have been an act, by which, as the violation of Sarah's chastity, would have caused great grief to Abraham, and would have been a sin against the seventh precept of the Decalogue. It was divinely prevented, if you consider the mode of prevention, as far as it was sin. For God, in a dream, revealed to him that she was |a man's wife| (Gen. xx.3), and he could not, without sin, have carried out his design. If you examine the design and reason of the prevention, it was both in respect to the act and to the sin; as an act, because it would have caused indelible grief to Abraham, and from this God wished to spare his servant; as sin, because God knew that Abimelech would have done this |in the integrity of his heart| (6th v.) and He, therefore, withheld him from sin, in adultery with the wife of his friend.
Let us look at the opposite modes of permission in examples, also selected from the Scriptures. The sale of Joseph, made by his brethren, (Gen.37), was an act and a sin; also, the affliction by which Satan tried Job, the man of God (Job.1 & 2). Both were permitted by God. Was this in respect to the act or to its sin? This can not be gathered from the mode of the permission, for God abstains from all modes of restraint when He permits any thing, and if He did not so abstain, He would prevent, and then would, consequently, be neither the act nor sin. But, from the end and the mode of effecting the permitted act and sin, a judgment may be formed of the respect according to which God has permitted the act of sin. From the sale of Joseph resulted his removal to Egypt, his elevation to the highest dignity, in that land from which, food, necessary for his father's family, could be procured, in a time of most direful famine. God declares that He sent him into Egypt for this purpose. All this resulted from the sale, not as it was a sin, but as an act. In the affliction of Job, God desired that the patience and constancy of His servant should be tried, and it was tried by the affliction not as a sin but as an act. On the other hand, God permitted David to number the people (2 Sam.24), and Ahab to slay Naboth (1 Kings 21), in which cases the numbering of the people, and the murder were acts, but were permitted as sin. For God purposed to punish Israel, and that Ahab should fill up the measure of his crimes. It is, indeed, true that God also wished to take pious Naboth from this vale of sorrows to the heavenly land; this was effected by the murder, not as it was a sin, but as an act. Yet the proper, immediate, and adequate reason that God permitted Ahab to perpetrate that murder, is that of which I have spoken -- the measure of his crimes was to be filled. For God could, in some other way, without human sin, have called Naboth to Himself. Again, God permitted Absalom to pollute, by incest, the wives or concubines of his father, and this was done in respect to both. For it was permitted both as an act, and as sin. As an act, it served for the chastisement of David who had adulterously polluted the wife of Uriah; as a sin, it was permitted, because God wished that Absalom, by his crime, should cut off all hope of reconciliation with his offended father, and, in this way, hasten his own destruction, the just punishment of rebellion against his father. In both respects, also, God permitted Ahab to go up to Ramoth-Gilead contrary to the word of the Lord; as a sin, because God wished to punish him; as an act because God wished that he should be slain in that place, to which he came by the act of going up. From these examples a judgment may be formed of similar cases. Thus far in reference to permission of sin, which consists in the perpetration of an act, prohibited by law.
Let us now consider sin, as it is committed when an act, forbidden by law, is not performed, but omitted not from a due reason and purpose. Here the act is prevented, but sin is not prevented. There is, then, in this case, the permission of sin only, as such, and the mode of permission is a suspension of the revelation of the divine will, or at least of suasion and motion to obedience to the known will of God. For the creature omits the act, not because God has forbidden it, but for some other reason. Thus the brothers of Joseph omitted to slay him, as they had determined to do, not because they began to think that this crime would displease God, but because, from the words of Judah, they thought it useless, and that it would be better to sell him into bondage (Gen.37). Absalom, after thousands of followers had been collected, omitted to pursue his fleeing father as Ahithophel counseled him, not because he considered it wrong to pursue his father, for he was wholly hostile to him, but he followed the counsel of Hushai, because he considered that the curse, advised by Ahithophel, would be dangerous for himself and the people. In this and similar examples, we see that God restrained an act, which had been forbidden and therefore was sin, and yet did not prevent sin, which was committed by those, who omitted that forbidden act; but he permitted them to sin in the mode of omitting the forbidden act. The reason is manifest, as by the act, a person, whom God purposes to spare, would be injured, but no one but the sinner himself is injured by sin committed in an undue omission of an act, as is just. Indeed by the prevention of an act, there is prepared for the persons, who have omitted an act, the punishment due to them both on account of this sin of undue omission, and for other reasons, as happened to Absalom.
We now proceed to the permission of sin, which is committed in the mere omission of an act, which has been commanded. This is permitted by God, as it is an omission of an act, and as it is sin. God, I assert, permits that act, which the law commands to be omitted, either as it is an act, or as it is sin. God permitted the sons of Eli to disobey the admonitions of their father, (1 Sam. ii.25); Saul, to spare the king of the Amalekites, (1 Sam. xv.8); the Israelites, when the statement of the spies had been made, to refuse to go up into the promised land, (Num. xiv.4), the citizens of Succoth and Penuel, to deny bread to the army of Gideon, (Judges viii.6 & 8); Ahab, to send away Benhadad alive, a man devoted to death by the Lord, (1 Kings xx, xxxiv, ); Festus, before whom Paul was accused, not to pronounce sentence against him, and in favour of the Jews, (Acts xxv.12); &c. He permitted all these things partly as they were omissions of acts, partly as they were sins, that is, omissions contrary to a preceptive law, which imposed commands, partly in both respects. In reference to the sons of Eli, the Scripture says -- |they hearkened not unto the voice of their father, because the Lord would slay them.| The permitted omission of obedience thus far was sin. The omission by Saul of the slaughter of those, whom God willed and commanded to be slain, was permitted as it was a sin, not as it was the omission of an act, by the performance of which they would have been deprived of life. For God had determined to take away the kingdom of Saul from him, and had already denounced this against him, by the mouth of Samuel, because he had sacrificed, not waiting for Samuel, (1 Sam. xiii.9-14). Agag, also, was afterwards hewed in pieces before the Lord by the prophet Samuel. The fact that the Israelites omitted to go up into the promised land, as they had been commanded by the Lord, occurred because God purposed that their bodies should fall in the wilderness, as they had so often tempted God, and murmured against Him. Then that omission was permitted as a sin. God permitted the citizens of Succoth and Penuel to withhold bread from the army of Gideon, partly that He might test the constancy of those, who were |pursuing after Zebah and Zalmunna,| partly that He might prepare punishment for the citizens of Succoth and Penuel. In this case then, the omission of the act was permitted as it was such, and as it was sin. For as, being provided with food, they would have been strengthened, who were pursuing the Midianites, so the omission of the act, as such, on their part, was grievous and to be worthy of punishment. The sending away of Benhadad, or his release from death was permitted by God, as a sin -- a sin, committed against an express command -- for God purposed that Ahab should heap up wrath against the day of wrath, on account of his heinous sins; and also as an act, as He purposed that Benhadad, in the prolongation of his life, by the omission of an act commanded by God, might fight afterwards with Ahab, and, after his death, with the Israelites, and besiege Samaria to the great injury of its inhabitants. Festus was permitted by God, to refrain from acquitting Paul -- according to law and right as he could be convicted of no crime -- in respect to the act as such, and not as sin. For, from that omission resulted a necessity for the appeal of Paul to Caesar, which was the occasion of his departure to Rome, where God willed that he should bear testimony concerning His Son.
In respect to sin, when a prescribed act is performed unduly as to manner and design, it is certain that it is permitted as such, for in it nothing is permitted except the omission of a due mode and purpose, which omission is purely sinful. This is evident from the mode of permission, which, in this case, is certain; namely, the suspension of efficiency by which sin, as sin, is permitted. Joab performed many distinguished deeds and those prescribed by God, in fighting bravely, against the enemies of the people of God, in behalf of Israel, that it might be well for the people of God; but God did not incline his mind to do this from a right motive. It is apparent that he sought his own glory, in those deeds, from the fact that he, by wicked treachery, destroyed men, equal to himself in bravery and generalship, that he might be alone in honour. For the man who defends any cause, only that it may be defended, and for the glory of God, will not be vexed that as many as possible, endued with skill and bravery, should be united in its defense; indeed, he would most deeply rejoice and be glad on this account.
As to the differences of sin in view of its causes -- ignorance, infirmity, malice, negligence -- there is in respect to these a clear distinction in their permission. For the permission of a sin of ignorance arises from the suspension of the revelation of the divine will; of malice, from the suspension of the act by which the perversity of the heart is corrected and changed; of infirmity, from the withholding of strength to resist temptation, of negligence, from the suspension of the act by which a serious and holy care and anxiety is produced in us to watch our faculties, and to walk in the law of the Lord. For God knows, when it seems good to him to perform a work, by the acts of rational creatures, which can not be committed by them without sin, how to suspend His own efficiency, so as to permit His creatures to perform their own acts. He willed that His church should be proved and purged by persecutions, and indeed by the act of Saul, a man zealous for the law, who, from inconsiderate and preposterous love towards his own religion, wished that the sect of the Nazarenes, so called should be extirpated. That this might be effected through him, He suffered him to be some time in ignorance, without which, as he was then constituted, he would not have persecuted the church. For he says that he |did it ignorantly| (1 Tim. i.13). In the case of Julian the apostate, a most foul persecutor of the church, God did not correct his willful and obstinate hatred of Christ and his church. For when he was convinced of the truth of the Christian doctrine, he could have persecuted it only through willful malice. God's procedure, in not correcting that hatred, was deserved by him, who, willingly and of his own fault, had apostatized from Christ. God purposed that Peter, presuming too much on himself, should come to a knowledge of himself, and He suffered him to deny his Master, from fear of death, not affording him such support of His Spirit, as to move him to dare to profess Christ openly, despising the fear of death. David, being freed from his enemies, and having conquered many neighbouring kings and nations, began to guard his steps with too little care, and heedlessly gave himself up to negligence, especially because he had Joab, a distinguished general and skilled in military duties, in whom, on account of consanguinity, he could trust; from this it happened that he fell into that shameful adultery with the wife of Uriah. But God permitted him to fall into that negligence, and on that occasion to commit sin, that he might be more diligently watchful over himself, mourn on account of his own sin for an example to others, afford a distinguished specimen and example of humility and repentance, and rise more gloriously from his sin. It would be tedious to remark the same thing in each kind of sin; but let these suffice, as exhibiting the means and mode of forming a correct judgment in reference to permission. But though the whole complex matter, which is made up of act and transgression, may be permitted by God, through a suspension of all divine acts, by the use of which, on the part of God, the act, either as an act or as sin, would have been prevented, yet it is useful to consider, distinctly, in what respect that permission may be given by God, and what efficiencies, and of what kind, He suspends, that He may not hinder the commission or omission of an act prescribed or forbidden. For in this the divine goodness, wisdom and power, and even justice is seen as distinctly as possible, and it is most clearly proved how God, in all his own action, restraint and permission, is free from blame, and without sin, and by no means to be considered the author of sin. In showing which, it is so much the more evident how easily they may fall into absurdity and blasphemy, who refer, indeed, to a providence, acting, restraining, permitting, but not with sufficient distinctness, accuracy, and diligence, bringing together and comparing them, and distinguishing each from the others.
The individual causes of permission, in its variety and in that of the permitted acts, and of sins, are, at the same time, various and manifold, and not generally explicable, which can, perhaps, in some way, be demonstrated by those, who have their senses exercised in divine things, and are accustomed to consider them with earnest study. Two general or universal reasons can be presented for the fact that God permits events in general, and why He permits any particular event. One is the freedom of the will, which God bestowed on rational creatures, and which He designed as the mistress and the free source of their actions. The other is the declaration of the divine glory, which is of such a character as not only to effect and prevent that which can be effected and prevented, for his own glory, but also so to reduce to order the acts of rational creatures which are permitted, and which frequently deviate from the order, prescribed to them, that from it the praise of the divine goodness, mercy, patience, wisdom, justice and power may shine forth and be revealed. To which pertains that, which is beautifully said by Augustine, |God has judged that it belongs to His own omnipotent goodness to bring good out of evil rather than not to permit evil to exist.|
The creature is likewise to be considered, to whom is granted the permission of an act of commission or of omission, which can not, without sin, be committed or omitted; namely, as to his character at the time when that act is permitted to him, whether, as only created, and remaining in his primeval integrity, or as fallen from that state; again, whether made a partaker of grace, or invited to a participation of grace; whether brought to that state, or resisting grace, or not sufficiently solicitous to receive it, and to continue in it, and the like. For God can deny to any creature, considered as such, action, motion, efficiency, concurrence, either general or special, of nature or of grace, of providence or predestination -- though I do not dare to make a confident assertion in reference to the act of Predestination -- which act and concurrence, which motion and efficiency He could not, without injustice, deny to the same creature considered in a different relation. But a permission of sin depends, as we have before seen, on a suspension of the divine act, motion, efficiency, &c.
He, however, who wishes to discuss fully and thoroughly the subject of permission must, of necessity, treat of the general providence of God, and of that special providence, which preserves, governs, rules, effects, prevents and permits. For, as permission is opposed to prevention, by the mode either of privation or of contradiction, so it is opposed to efficiency by negation; and it is the nature of permission to have, antecedent to itself, various acts of God concerning the same creature, to which permission is granted, and concerning that act which is permitted. If these acts of God are not accurately explained, it can not be understood what that efficiency is, in the suspension of which, permission properly and immediately consists. This, also, is the reason that many, when they hear any thing concerning permission, immediately, in their own minds, conceive of inactive quiet, and abstinence from all effort on the part of providence; others, considering the power and efficacy of that providence, which is present in and presides over all things and acts, either reject the idea of permission, or acknowledge it only in word, in the mean time, so explaining it as to resolve it into a certain act of God, and into the efficiency of providence. But these errors are both to be avoided, lest we should take away, from the divine providence, acts which belong to it, or should attribute to it things foreign to it, and unworthy of His justice. In reference to the remarks, already made, some one will object that I attribute to permission not only the illegality and the irregularity of the act, but also the act itself; and thus remove from the operation of the divine will and efficiency, not only the illegality of the act, but the act itself. He will say that, in this, he perceives a double error; first, because I attribute sin, simply and taken in any respect, to permission, and remove it from the divine efficiency and will; when it ought, in a certain respect, to be attributed to the divine efficiency and will; secondly, because I take away, from the efficiency and the will of God, the act which is the first and supreme cause of all being. Let us examine a little more closely both objections. We explain the former by the sentiments of the objector himself. In sin there are three respects; for there is, first, guilt; second, punishment; third, the cause of other sins. Indeed God is not, they say, the cause of sin in respect to its guilt, but to its punishment, and to its being the cause of other sins. They affirm that God is, without controversy, the cause of punishment, because that is an act of justice, by which sin, deviating from the law of the prescriptive justice of God, is brought under the rule of divine punitive justice. That sin is of God, as it is the cause of other sins, they, also, prove from the acts of blinding, hardening, giving over to a reprobate mind, which are acts of God and are causes of sins. I answer; -- to the first, that the objection is not valid against all sins. For the first sin, committed by a creature, can not be the punishment of another sin. There are also many sins which are not, in fact, the causes of other sins; for God may so administer and dispense the fall and the sins of His creatures, as that they may result in good, that is a greater odium against sin, and a more diligent solicitude and anxiety to guard their own steps. Therefore many sins, contrary to this objection, come to partake of an opposite character, by the permission of God, and in no respect by His efficiency. It will be said, in reply, that there are, nevertheless, many sins which must be considered in those three respects: of these at least, it may be proper to say, that in the last two respects they have God, as their cause and author. I answer secondly, that there is no act or sin, which has, at the same time, the relation of guilt, of punishment, and of the cause of another sin, if these things may be correctly and strictly considered. I confess that this is usually said, and is common with many who treat of this subject.
I will prove my assertion, first by argument, then by presenting examples of blinding and hardening. That no act at the same time, sin and punishment, is certain, since sin is voluntary, punishment is involuntary; sin is action, punishment is passion; by punishment sin is brought into subjection, but sin is not brought into subjection by sin; but by punishment, I say, differing from sin or guilt, not in relation only, but in the thing and subject which is the act. When this is said by learned men, a reason ought to be assigned for this opinion. I acknowledge it; but let us consider the sense in which this is said and understood by them. They say that sin is the punishment of sin, because, on account of previous sin, God permits the sinner to commit another sin, and, indeed, suspends some of His own acts, and performs others, in which case the creature will sin of his own wickedness, and will commit other sins, on account of which he deserves greater punishment and condemnation, and thus, as sin deserves greater punishment, it is said to be the punishment of sin by a metonymy of cause and effect. In this sense they understand their own declaration, or it can not be sustained. But that no sin is, at the same time, guilt and the cause of another sin, is also true, if it may be rightly understood; that is, a proximate and immediate cause. It is, indeed, the meritorious cause of another sin, that is, it deserves that God should afterwards suspend some act, and perform other acts, which being performed, he will, of his own wickedness, as said before, commit some sin; it is also the preparatory cause of the perpetration of other sins: for by sin the conscience is wounded, desire for prayer, and confidence in it are destroyed, a habit of sinning is prepared, a power over the sinner is granted to Satan, from which an easy lapse into other sins readily follows; yet it is not the proximate and immediate cause of another sin. |It is nevertheless a cause,| some may say, |though remote and meritorious.| What then? By this very distinction the whole force of the objection is destroyed. By it, God is made the cause of some acts, the creature will, of His own wickedness, deservedly add another sin to the former, and God is absolved from the charge of being the cause of sin, which deserved that He should perform those acts of sin, as it is the cause of another sin. For the action of the Deity intervenes between the sin, which is the cause of another sin, and that consequent sin. In that objection, however, it was inferred that God is the cause of sin, in that He is the occasion of the second sin. That error arises from the confusion and the inaccurate consideration of those acts. Sin, in the relation of guilt, is first in order, then follows demerit or conviction to punishment, from the justice of God; which is the act of God, who punishes that sin by merited desertion, and blindness. But |blindness,| you say, |is sin or guilt, and the punishment of previous sin, and the cause of subsequent sin, and God is the cause of blindness.| The truth of what has been previously said may be demonstrated in this example. That blindness, judicially produced by God, is correctly said to be the punishment of previous sin, and can, if rightly understood, be said to be the cause of consequent sins, that is, by a removal of restraining grace, and by the performance of some acts, from which it will follow that the creature, thus blinded and left, will, of his own wickedness, commit sin. But that blindness is not sin or guilt. A distinction is to be made between the blindness as the act of God to which man is judicially subjected, and the blindness of man himself by which he renders his own mind hard and obstinate against God, which is the act of man, produced by wickedness and obstinate pertinacity. These acts indeed concur, but do not coincide, nor are they one single action, made up of the efficiency of those concurrent actions, which together make up one total cause of that act, which is called blindness. Learned men often speak in such a manner, I grant, but not with sufficient distinctness; and perhaps in a sense which agrees with my explanation, and is not contrary to it. For they use the term blindness, in a complex and indistinct manner, for the act and its result, or the work and its effect, which is, thereby, produced in the person made blind, which may be called passive blindness, produced by that active blindness. Of blindness, thus confusedly and indistinctly considered, it may be said that it is sin, the punishment of sin, and the cause of sin, but this is not at variance with my opinion, for I deny that God is the cause of that blindness, so far as it is sin and guilt. Active blindness -- as we now term it, by way of distinction -- which is produced by a man, making himself blind, is sin, for it is a great crime to harden one's own mind against God. Active blindness, which proceeds from God, is the punishment of previous sin, by which the sinner has merited to himself desertion, and privation of grace. The active blindness, which is from man, and that, which is from God, concur to the same effect, which is passive blindness, which is, properly, punishment. Finally, the active blindness of man, blinding himself, and that of God, blinding man, is the cause of the accumulation of other sins with those previously committed, by the blinded sinner, but in the mode of which I have spoken. I answer, that if it is true that one and the same act is sin or guilt, the punishment of sin, and the cause of subsequent sin, then it can not be true that God is its cause, according to the last two relations, and not according to the first, for a twofold reason. First, this distinction of relation can not effect that God should be the cause of one thing, and not of another, in fact, joined to it, unless in that mode, which will be hereafter explained, which they exclude from this subject, who say that blindness, produced by God, is sin, and the cause of sin. These respects are useful to a mind, intelligent and able to discriminate between things most intimately connected, which constitutes actually and numerically, one thing, but considered in different relations, they can not have place in actual efficiency, the limit of which is real existence. God inflicts punishment on a person who is a sinner, and His creature; the act of infliction does not distinguish the creature from the sinner, but the mind of Him, who punishes, makes the distinction, for it knows how to punish the creature, not as such, but as sinful. This error is frequently committed, that relations are carried further than their nature may permit. Secondly, because of those three relations, order, nature, and causality, the former is that in which sin is considered as guilt, the latter two are those in which it is considered as punishment, and the cause of consequent sin. God is the first cause of all effects, which He produces with or by His creatures; but, in this case, He will be a subsequent cause, for He will produce, in the relation of subsequent respects, an act, which the creature produces in the relation of prior respect, which is absurd, and inverts the order of causality and efficiency, which exists between first and second causes. There may, indeed, be supposed to exist a concurrence, which we shall hereafter explain; but they, who say that the blindness, inflicted by the Deity, is the cause of consequent sins, and at the same time a sin, deny that this concurrence has any place here. These things, indeed, I have thought, ought to be explained, somewhat fully, on account of the difficulty of the subject itself, and of preconceived opinions.
Let us proceed to the second objection, which we thus set forth, according to the meaning of its authors. |In sin there are two things, the act and its illegality, or violation of law. As an act, it is positive; as a violation of law, it is privative: the latter has the will of the creature for its cause; the former must necessarily be referred back to the first cause, and, in this relation, God is the cause of that act which, in respect to man, or as it proceeds from man, is sin. Therefore it is wrong to remove the act, which is not performed by a man without sin, from the divine will and efficiency, and attribute it to the divine permission, since that act, as such, belongs to efficiency, but as it violates law, it belongs to the divine permission. I reply, first, that it can not be said truly, and universally of all sin, that in it there are these two things, namely, the act and the violation. For, sometimes, it is the act itself which is prohibited, and sometimes, not the act itself, but some circumstance in reference to the act. Thus the eating of the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil was prohibited, not any circumstance connected with it; and, therefore, the act of eating, itself, was undue, unlawful and inordinate; it was, indeed, in itself a deviation from the rule, that is, from the law which forbade the eating. That act, of and in itself, apart from the law, is a natural act and has, in itself, no inordinacy. But after the enactment of a law which prohibits eating, that act, can not be considered as good, agreeably to its natural relations, as there is added to it the fact of inordinacy, on account of which it ought to be omitted; for it is then to be omitted, of itself and on its own account, because it is forbidden by the divine law, and because to eat is to sin, the whole inordinacy consisting in the fact that the act of eating, referred to, has a place in the number and series of human actions, which place it ought not, on any account, to have, and the number of which ought not to increase, but it ought to be wholly omitted, and to be kept under restraint, and to be never carried into effect.
The simile of a lame horse, which very many adduce to illustrate this matter, is not applicable to an act, which is prohibited by law. For in lameness there is the gait, and there is the limping or irregular gait; and a defect is added to the gait or motion on account of weakness or injury of a leg, which defect, though it may not, in fact be separated from the gait itself, can, nevertheless, be readily distinguished from it; and hence it may occur that the same horse, after the cure has been effected, can walk properly, and so lameness will be separated from his gait. But in the eating of the forbidden fruit, it was not the eating and the defect of eating, which was forbidden, but the eating itself, wholly and solely, had the relation of sin, because it was committed contrary to the law. That simile would be applicable in sin, which is committed against a law which prescribes the act itself, but prohibits some circumstance of the act; which sin consists in the fact that an act, good, according to, and prescribed by the law, is performed in a manner, which is not right, as when alms are given to a poor man, from ambition and pride, that he, who bestows them, may appear unto men to be liberal and a lover of the poor, and even religious. That act is good and may be illustrated by the gait, but the defect in it is like the lameness produced by disease or injury, and causes the act to limp, and to be displeasing to God, yet it is not to be omitted, but to be performed, only in a due and right manner, all defectiveness being avoided and omitted, which, rightly and in fact, can and ought to be separated from it. I acknowledge that the question or objection is not satisfied by that answer; for some one may affirm, that, |eating is nevertheless, a positive act, and, therefore, has an existence, though forbidden, and since all existence has God as its cause, God also is the cause of that act of eating; and so, also, of other positive acts, though they may be committed against a prohibitory law; and consequently, sin, as an act can not be removed from the efficiency of God.|
I reply, that I, by no means, take from the efficiency of God an act, which is not perpetrated by the creature without sin; indeed, I openly confess that God is the cause of all acts, which are perpetrated by His creatures, but I desire this only that the efficiency of God should be so explained as not to derogate any thing from the freedom of the creature, and not to transfer the fault of his sin to God; that is, to show that God may, indeed, be the effector of the act, but only the permitter of the sin; and that God may be at once the effector and permitter of one and the same act. This subject is of most difficult explanation, yet we may make some effort towards its elucidation.
I remark, then, that God is, either mediately or immediately, the cause of an act which proceeds from a creature. He is the mediate cause, when He exerts an influence upon the cause and moves it to cause the act. He is the immediate cause, when He exerts an influence on the act and, with the creature, is the whole cause of that act. When God moves the creature to cause anything, since the creature, as the second and subordinate cause, is determined by the first moving cause to a particular act, which has its form from the influence and motion of the Deity, that act, whatever may be its character, can not be imputed, as a fault to the creature; but if the act can be called sin, God is necessarily the cause and the author of that sin. But since the latter idea can never be true, it is certain that the explanation can not be found in that mode of the mediate action of the Deity, how God is the cause of the act, which is not performed by man without sin, and the permitter of the sin. When God is the immediate cause of an act, which proceeds from a creature, then the second cause, if it is free, and we are now treating of free agents has it in its own power either to exert its influence in the act, or suspend that influence so that the act may not take place, and to exert its influence so that one act, rather than another, may be performed. Hence it follows, that, when a second cause has freely exerted its influence to produce all act, and when, by its particular influence, it has determined the general influence of God to this particular act, and has disposed the form of the act, the second cause is responsible, and the act may be deservedly called |sin| in respect to the second cause; but God is free from responsibility, and, in respect to Him, the act can not be called sin.
The concurrence and influence of the Deity bestows nothing upon the free will of the creature, by which he may be either inclined, or assisted, or strengthened to act, and it does not in the first act, but in the second, dispose the will, and therefore it presupposes, in the will, whatever is necessary for acting, even without the exception of the concurrence of the Deity itself. Though the will of the free creature may not, in reality, have that concurrence, except when he puts forth activity, yet he has it in his own power before he performs that which is prepared for, and imposed upon him. If this is not so, the will can not be said to have the act in its own power, or in its proximate capability; nor can the cause of that act be called moral but natural only, and therefore necessary, to which sin can, by no means, be attributed.
In this way that difficulty is solved, and it is shown how God can be the cause of an act, which can not be performed by the creature without sin, so that neither He may be the author of sin, nor the creature be free from sin; that He, indeed, may be only the permitter of sin, but the creature may be the proper cause of sin. For God leaves to the choice of a free second cause the disposition of its own influence to effect any act, and when the second cause is in the very movement and instant of exerting its influence, God, freely and of His own choice, joins His influence and universal concurrence to the influence of the creature, knowing that, without His influence, the act neither could nor would be produced. Nor is it right that God should deny His concurrence and influence to the creature, even if He sees that the influence of the creature, exerted to effect an act, which he is just ready to perform, is joined to sin, and is committed contrary to His law. For it is right that the act, which He left to the freedom of man, when the law had not yet been enacted by which that act was afterwards forbidden, should be left to the freedom of the same creature, after the enactment of the law. A law would be imposed, in vain, on an act, for the performance of which God should determine to deny His own concurrence. In that case, it could not be performed by the creature, and therefore no necessity would exist that its performance should be forbidden to the creature by a law. Besides God, in His legislation, designed to test the obedience of His creature; but this He could not do, if He determined to deny, to the creature, His concurrence to an act, forbidden by law; for apart from that concurrence, the creature can not perform that act. Why should God, in reference to an act, to which, as naturally good, determined not to deny His concurrence, deny that same concurrence, when the act has been made morally evil by the enactment of law; when He declares and testifies in His own legislation, that He wills that the creatures should abstain from that act, in that it is morally evil, and not in that it is an act, in its natural relations. But He wills that the creature should abstain from the act, as evil, when He imposes upon him a prohibitory law, to which he is bound to yield obedience. When, however, He determines to deny His concurrence, He wills that, in its natural relations, it shall not be performed by the creature. For the former is a kind of moral hindrance, the latter is a natural hindrance; the former, by the enactment of law; the latter, by the denial of concurrence; -- by the enactment of law, in view of which that act can not be committed without sin, and by denial of concurrence, in view of which the act can not be committed at all. If the latter impediment, that of the denial of concurrence, exists, there is no necessity that the other, that of the enactment of law, should be interposed.
It is apparent, from this explanation, that the creature, committing sin, commits it in the full freedom of his will, both as to its exercise, and as to the form of the action, to which two things the whole freedom of the will is limited. Freedom, as to its exercise, is that by which the will can put forth, and suspend volition and action. Freedom, as to the form of action is that, by which, it wills and performs this rather than that action. We will show that freedom, in both respects, exists, in another manner, in the act of sin, which the creature performs with the general concurrence of God. In the act of sin, its existence and its essence are to be considered. The existence of the act depends on the freedom of the will, as to its exercise. That its essence should be of this rather than of that character -- that it should be rather a forbidden act than one not forbidden, against this precept rather than against that, depends on the freedom of the will as to the form of action. That the act should exist, the creature effects by its own free influence, by which it wills to do rather than not to do, though not without the influence of the divine concurrence, uniting itself freely to the influence of the creature at its very first moment and instant. But that the act should be of one character rather than of another, the second cause effects, freely determining its own act to a certain direction, to this rather -- than to that -- that it should be one thing rather than another. If any one says that, on this supposition, the divine concurrence is suspended on the influence of the creature, I reply, that this does not follow from my statements. Though God may not concur unless the creature wills to exert his influence, yet the exertion of that influence depends purely, on his own freedom; for he can omit that exertion.
It may be clear from this, how God is both the permitter of sin, and the effector of an act, without which the creature can not commit sin; the permitter of sin, in that He leaves to the creature the free disposition of His own influence; the effector of an act, in that He joins His own concurrence to the effort of the creature, without which the act could not be, at all, performed by the creature.
If any one takes exception to this distinction, on account either of the difficulty of the subject or of the defect of my explanation, and so contends that efficiency in sin is in some respect to be ascribed to God, because He is the effector of that act, I wish that he would consider that God can, on the same principle, be called the permitter of the act, because He is the permitter of the sin, and, indeed, far more justly, since, in His own prohibition, He declares that He is unwilling that the act -- already permitted, not only to the freedom and the ability of the creature, but also to its right and power -- should be performed by the creature; by which prohibition, that act is removed from the divine efficiency, only so far as that ought to avail to deter the will of the creature from performing that act; and, on the other hand, the efficiency of that act is, so much the more, to be ascribed to the freedom of the will, as it can be understood to have, more vehemently willed that which is forbidden by the divine law. But, in whatever way that subject may be explained, it is carefully to be observed, both that God be not made the author of sin, and that the act itself be not taken away from the efficiency of God; that is, that the whole act, both as an act merely, and as sin, may be rightly made subject to the providence of God -- as an act to efficient providence, as a sin to permissive providence. If, however, there shall still be an inclination in the other direction, there will be less error, if the act is taken away from the divine efficiency, as an act, than if sin is attributed to the efficiency of God, as a sin. For it is better to take away an act from the Deity, which belongs to Him, than to attribute to Him an evil act, which does not belong to Him; so that a greater injury is charged on God, if He is said to be the cause of sin, than if He is regarded as an unconcerned spectator of an act.