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SermonIndex.net : Christian Books : Chapter I. God Desires And Seeks The Salvation of All Men.

A Theodicy Or Vindication Of The Divine Glory by Albert Taylor Bledsoe

Chapter I. God Desires And Seeks The Salvation of All Men.

Love is the root of creation, -- God's essence.
Worlds without number
Lie in his bosom, like children: he made them for this purpose only, --
Only to love, and be loved again. He breathed forth his Spirit Into the slumbering dust, and, upright standing, it laid its Hand on its heart, and felt it was warm with a flame out of heaven. -- TEGNER.

The attentive reader has perceived before this time, that one of the fundamental ideas, one of the great leading truths, of the present discourse is, that a necessary holiness is a contradiction in terms, -- an inherent and utter impossibility. This truth has shown us why a Being of infinite purity does not cause virtue to prevail everywhere, and at all times. If virtue could be necessitated to exist, there seems to be no doubt that such a Being would cause it to shine out in all parts of his dominion, and the blot of sin would not be seen upon the beauty of the world. But although moral goodness cannot be necessitated to exist, yet God has attested his abhorrence of vice and his approbation of virtue, by the dispensation of natural good and evil, of pleasure and pain. Having marked out the path of duty for us, he has made such a distribution of natural good and evil as is adapted to keep us therein. The evident design of this arrangement is, as theologians and philosophers agree, to prevent the commission of evil, and secure the practice of virtue. The Supreme Ruler of the world adopts this method to promote that moral goodness which cannot be produced by the direct omnipotency of his power.

Hence, it must be evident, that although God desires the happiness of his rational and accountable creatures, he does not bestow happiness upon them without regard to their moral character. The great dispensation of his natural providence, as well as the express declaration of his word, forbids the inference that he desires the happiness of those who obstinately persist in their evil courses. If we may rely upon such testimony, he desires first the holiness of his intelligent creatures, and next their happiness. Hence, it is well said by Bishop Butler, that the |divine goodness, with which, if I mistake not, we make very free in our speculations, may not be a bare, single disposition to produce happiness, but a disposition to make the good, the faithful, the honest man happy.|(160)

He desires the holiness of all, that all may have life. This great truth is so clearly and so emphatically set forth in revelation, and it so perfectly harmonizes with the most pleasing conceptions of the divine character, that one is filled with amazement to reflect how many crude undigested notions there are in the minds of professing Christians, which are utterly inconsistent with it. |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, for why will ye die?| This solemn asseveration that God desires not the death of the sinner, but that he should turn from his wickedness and live, one would suppose should satisfy every mind which reposes confidence in the divine origin of revelation. And yet, until the minds of men are purged from the films of a false philosophy and sectarian prejudice, they seem afraid to look at the plain, obvious meaning of this and other similar passages of Scripture. They will have it, that God desires the ultimate holiness and happiness of only a portion of mankind, and the destruction of all the rest; that upon some he bestows his grace, causing them to become holy and happy, and appear forever as the monuments of his mercy; while from some he withholds his saving grace, that they may become the fearful objects of his indignation and wrath. Such a display of the divine character seems to be equally unknown to reason and to revelation.

Section I.

The reason why theologians have concluded that God designs the salvation of only a part of mankind.

The reason why so many theologians come to so frightful a conclusion is, that they imagine God could very easily cause virtue in the breast of every moral agent, if he would. Hence arises in their minds the stupendous difficulty, |How can God really desire the holiness and happiness of all, since he refuses to make all holy and happy? Is he really in earnest, in pleading with sinners to turn from their wickedness, since he might so easily turn them, and yet will not do it? Is the great God really sincere in the offer of salvation to all, and in the grand preparations he hath made to secure their salvation, since he will not put forth his mighty, irresistible hand to save them?| Such is the great difficulty which has arisen from the imagination in question, and confounded theology for ages, as well as cast a dark shadow upon the Christian world. It is only by getting rid of this unfounded imagination, this false supposition, that this stupendous difficulty can be solved, and the glory of the divine government clearly vindicated.

We have before us Mr. Symington's able and plausible defence of a limited atonement, in which he says, that |the event is the best interpreter of the divine intention.| Hence he infers, that as all are not actually saved, it was not the design of God that all should be saved, and no provision is really made for their salvation. This argument is plausible. It is often employed by the school of theologians to which the author belongs, and employed with great effect. But is it sound? No doubt it has often been shown to be unsound indirectly; that is, by showing that the conclusion at which it arrives comes into conflict with the express declarations of Scripture, as well as with our notions of the perfections of God. But this is not to analyze the argument itself, and show it to be a sophism. Nor can this be done, so long as the principle from which the conclusion necessarily follows be admitted. If we admit, then, that God could very easily cause virtue or moral goodness to exist everywhere, we must conclude that |the event is the best interpreter of the divine intention;| and that the atonement and all other provisions for the salvation of men are limited in extent by the design of God. That is to say, if we admit the premiss assumed by Mr. Symington and his school, we cannot consistently deny their conclusion.

Nor could we resist a great many other conclusions which are frightful in the extreme. For if God could easily make all men holy, as it is contended he can, then the event is the best evidence of his real intention and design. Hence he really did not design the salvation of all men. When he gave man a holy law, he really did not intend that he should obey and live, but that he should transgress and die. When he created the world, he really did not intend that all should reach the abodes of eternal bliss, but that some should be ruined and lost forever. Such are some of the consequences which necessarily flow from the principle, that holiness may be caused to exist in the breast of every moral agent. This is not all. We have before us another book, which insists that since the world was created, the law of God has never been violated, because his will cannot be resisted. Hence, it is seriously urged, that if theft, or adultery, or murder, be perpetrated, it must be in accordance with the will of God, and consequently no sin in his sight. |The whole notion of sinning against God,| this book says, |is perfectly puerile.| Now all this vile stuff proceeds on the supposition, that |the event is the best interpreter of the divine intention;| and it rests upon that supposition with just as great security, as does the argument in favour of a limited atonement. Though we may well give such stuff to the winds, or trample it under foot with infinite scorn, as an outrage against the moral sentiments of mankind; yet we cannot meet it on the arena of logic, if we concede that holiness may be everywhere caused to exist, and universal obedience to the divine will secured.

The only principle, it clearly seems to us, on which we can reconcile such glaring discrepancies between the express will of God and the event, is, that the event is of such a nature that it is not an object of power, or cannot be caused to exist by the Divine Omnipotence. For his |secret will,| or rather his executive will, is always in perfect harmony with his revealed will. It is from an inattention to the foregoing principle, that theologians have not been able to see and vindicate the sincerity of God, in the offer of salvation to all men. We have examined their efforts to remove this difficulty, and been constrained to agree with Dr. Dick, that |we may pronounce these attempts to reconcile the universal call of the gospel with the sincerity of God, to be a faint struggle to extricate ourselves from the profundities of theology.| But on looking into those solutions again, in which for some years we found a sort of rest, we could clearly perceive why theology had struggled in vain to deliver itself from its profound embarrassments on this subject, as well as on many others. These solutions admit the very principle which necessarily creates the difficulty, and renders a satisfactory answer impossible. Discard this false principle, substitute the truth in its stead, and the sincerity of God will come out from every obscurity, and shine with unclouded splendour.

Section II.

The attempt of Howe to reconcile the eternal ruin of a portion of mankind with the sincerity of God in his endeavours to save them.

To illustrate the justness of the remark just made, we shall select that solution of the difficulty in question which has been deemed the most profound and satisfactory. We mean the solution of |the wonderful Howe.|(161) This celebrated divine clearly saw the impossibility of reconciling the sincerity of God with the offer of salvation to all, on the supposition that he does anything to prevent the salvation, or promote the ruin of those who are finally lost. He rejects the scheme of necessity, or a concurrence of the divine will, in relation to the sinful volitions of men, as aggravating the difficulty which he had undertaken to solve. This was one great step towards a solution. But it still remained to |reconcile God's prescience of the sins of men with the wisdom and sincerity of his counsels, exhortations, and whatsoever means he uses to prevent them.| Let us see how he has succeeded in his attempt to accomplish this great object.

He admits in this very attempt, |that the universal, continued rectitude of all intelligent creatures had, we may be sure, been willed with a peremptory, efficacious will, if it had been best.| He expressly says, that God might have prevented sin from raising its head in his dominions, if he had chosen to do so. |Nor was it less easy,| says he, |by a mighty, irresistible hand, universally to expel sin, than to prevent it.| Now, having made this concession, was it possible for him to vindicate the sincerity and wisdom of God in the use of means to prevent sin, which he foresaw must fail to a very great extent?

After having made such an admission, or rather after having assumed such a position, we think it may be clearly shown that the author was doomed to fail; and that he has deceived himself by false analogies in his gigantic efforts to vindicate the character of God. He says, for example: |We will, for discourse's sake, suppose a prince endowed with the gift or spirit of prophecy. This most will acknowledge a great perfection, added to whatsoever other of his accomplishments. And suppose this his prophetic ability to be so large as to extend to most events which fall out in his dominions. Is it hereby become unfit for him to govern his subjects by laws, or any way admonish them of their duty? Hath this perfection so much diminished him as to depose him from his government? It is not, indeed, to be dissembled, that it were a difficulty to determine, whether such foresight were, for himself, better or worse. Boundless knowledge seems only in a fit conjunction with an unbounded power. But it is altogether unimaginable that it should destroy his relation to his subjects; as what of it were left, if it should despoil him of his legislative power and capacity of governing according to laws made by it? And to bring back the matter to the Supreme Ruler: let it for the present be supposed only, that the blessed God hath, belonging to his nature, the universal prescience whereof we are discoursing; we will surely, upon that supposition, acknowledge it to belong to him as a perfection. And were it reasonable to affirm, that by a perfection he is disabled from government? or were it a good consequence, 'He foreknows all things -- he is therefore unfit to govern the world?' |

This way of representing the matter, it must be confessed, is exceedingly plausible and taking at first view; but yet, if we examine it closely, we shall find that it does not touch the real knot of the difficulty. The cases are not parallel. The prince is endowed with a foreknowledge of offences, which it is not in his power wholly to prevent. Hence it may be perfectly consistent with his wisdom and sincerity, to use all the means in his power to prevent them, though he may see they will fail in some cases, while they will succeed in others. But God, according to the author, might prevent all sin, or exclude it all from his dominions by |his mighty, irresistible hand.| Hence it may not be consistent with his wisdom and sincerity to use means which he foresees will have only partial success, when he might so easily obtain universal and perfect success. It seems evident, then, that this is a deceptive analogy. It overlooks the root, and grapples with the branches of the difficulty. Let it be seen, that no power can cause the universal, continued moral rectitude of intelligent creatures, and then the two cases will be parallel; and God may well use all possible means to prevent sin and cause holiness, though some of his subjects may resist and perish. Let this principle, which we have laboured to establish, be seen, and then may we entirely dispel the cloud which has so long seemed to hang over the wisdom and sincerity of the Supreme Ruler of the world. We might offer strictures upon other passages of the solution under consideration; but as the same error runs through all of them, the reader may easily unravel its remaining obscurities and embarrassments for himself.

If holiness cannot be caused by a direct application of power, it follows that there is no want of wisdom in the use of indirect means, or of sincerity in the use of the most efficacious means the nature of the case will admit: but if universal holiness may be caused to exist by a mere word, then indeed it seems to be clearly inconsistent with wisdom to resort to means which must fail to secure it, and with sincerity to utter the most solemn and vehement asseverations that it is the will of God to secure it; for how obvious is the inquiry, If he so earnestly desire it, and can so easily secure it, why does he not do it?

In rejecting the principle for which we contend, Howe has paid the usual penalty of denying the truth; that is, he has contradicted himself. |It were very unreasonable to imagine,| says he, |that God cannot, in any case, extraordinarily oversway the inclinations and determine the will of such a creature, in a way agreeable enough to its nature, (though we particularly know not, and we are not concerned to know, or curiously to inquire in what way,) and highly reasonable to suppose that in many cases he doth.| Here he affirms, that our wills may be overruled and determined in perfect conformity to our natures, in some way or other, though we know not how. Why, then, does not God so overrule our wills in all cases, and secure the existence of universal holiness? Because, says he, |it is manifest to any sober reason, that it were very incongruous this should be the ordinary course of his conduct to mankind, or the same persons at all times; that is, that the whole order of intelligent creatures should be moved only by inward impulses; that God's precepts, promises, and comminations, whereof their nature is capable, should be all made impertinences, through his constant overpowering those that should neglect them; that the faculties, whereby men are capable of moral government, should be rendered to this purpose, useless and vain; and that they should be tempted to expect to be constantly managed as mere machines that know not their own use.|

What strange confusion and self-contradiction! The wills of men may be, and often are, swayed by the mighty, irresistible hand of God, and in a way agreeable to their nature; and yet this is not done in all cases, lest men should be governed as mere machines! The laws, promises, and threatenings of God, are not to be rendered vain and useless in all cases, but only in some cases! Indeed, if we would escape such inconsistencies and self-contradictions, we must return to the position that a necessary holiness is a contradiction in terms, -- that no power can cause it. From this position we may clearly see, that the laws, promises, and comminations; the counsels, exhortations, and influences of God, which are employed to prevent sin, are not a system of grand impertinences, -- are not a vast and complicated machinery to accomplish what might be more perfectly, easily, and directly accomplished without them. We may see, that God really desires the holiness and happiness of all men, although some may be finally lost; that he is in earnest in the great work of salvation; and when he so solemnly declares that he has no pleasure in the death of the sinner, but would rather he should turn and live, he means precisely what he says, without the least equivocation or mental reservation. This position it is, then, which shows the goodness of God in unclouded glory, and reconciles his sincerity with the final result of his labours.

But we have not yet got rid of every shade of difficulty. For it may still be asked, why God uses means to save those who he foresees will be lost? why he should labour when he foresees his labour will be in vain? To this we answer, that it does not follow his labour will be in vain, because some may be pleased to rebel and perish. This would be the case in regard to such persons, provided his only object in what he does be to save them; but although this is one great end and aim of his agency, it does not follow that it is his only object. For if any perish, it is certainly desirable that it be from their own fault, and not from the neglect of God to provide them with the means of salvation. It is his object, as he tells us, to vindicate his own character, and to stop every mouth in regard to the lost, as well as to save the greatest possible number. But this object could not be accomplished, if some should be permitted to perish without even a possibility of salvation. Hence he gives to all the means, power, and opportunity to turn and live; and this fact is nearly always alluded to in relation to the finally impenitent and lost. Thus says our Saviour, with tears of commiseration and pity: |O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, how often would I have gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, and ye would not! Behold, your house is left unto you desolate.| Now the tears of the Redeemer thus wept over lost souls, and this eloquent vindication of his own and his Father's goodness and compassion, would be a perfect mockery, if salvation had never been placed within their reach, or if their obedience, their real spiritual obedience and submission, might have been secured. But as it is, there is not even the shadow of a ground for suspecting the sincerity of the Redeemer, or his being in earnest in the great work of saving souls.

Again the impenitent are addressed in the following awful language: |Turn ye at my reproof: behold, I will pour out my spirit upon you, I will make known my words unto you. Because I have called, and ye refused; I have stretched out my hand and no man regarded; but ye have set at naught all my counsel and would none of my reproof: I also will laugh at your calamity: I will mock when your fear cometh.| Thus the proceeding of the Almighty, in the final rejection of the impenitent, is placed on the ground, that they had obstinately resisted the means employed for their salvation. This seems to remove every shade of difficulty. But how dark and enigmatical, nay, how self-contradictory, would all such language appear, if they might have been very easily rendered holy and happy! Thus, by bearing in mind that a necessary holiness is a contradiction, an absurd and impossible conceit, the goodness of God is vindicated in regard to the lost, and his sincerity is evinced in the offer of salvation to all.

Section III.

The views of Luther and Calvin respecting the sincerity of God in his endeavours to save those who will finally perish.

On any other principle, we must forever struggle in vain to accomplish so desirable and so glorious an object. If we proceed on the assumption that holiness may be very easily caused by an omnipotent, extraneous agency, we shall never be able to vindicate the sincerity of the Almighty, in the many solemn declarations put forth by him that he desires the salvation of all men. The only sound, logical inference for such premises, is that drawn by Luther, namely, that when God exhorts the sinner, who he foresees will remain impenitent, to turn from his wickedness and live, he does so merely in the way of mockery and derision; just |as if a father were to say to his child, 'Come,' while he knows that he cannot come.|(162)

The representation which Calvin, starting from the same point of view, gives of the divine character, is not more amiable or attractive than that of Luther. He maintains that |the most perfect harmony| exists between these two things: |God's having appointed from eternity on whom he will bestow his favour and exercise his wrath, and his proclaiming salvation indiscriminately to all.|(163) But how does he maintain this position? How does he show this agreement? |There is more apparent plausibility,| says he, |to the objection [against predestination] from the declaration of Peter, that 'the Lord is not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance.' But the second clause furnishes an immediate solution of the difficulty; for the willingness to come to repentance must be understood in consistence with the general tenor of Scripture.|(164) Now what is the general tenor of Scripture, which is to overrule this explicit declaration that |God is not willing that any should perish?| The reader will be surprised, perhaps, that it is not Scripture at all, but the notion that God might easily convert the sinner if he would. |Conversion is certainly in the power of God;| he adds, |let him be asked, whether he wills the conversion of all, when he promises a few individuals to give them 'a heart of flesh,' while he leaves them with 'a heart of stone.' | Thus the very clearest light of the divine word is extinguished by the application of a false metaphysics. God tells us that he |is not willing that any should perish:| Calvin tells us, that this declaration must, in conformity with the general tenor of Scripture, be so understood as to allow us to believe that he is not only willing that many should perish, but also that their destruction is preoerdained and forever fixed by an eternal and immutable decree of God. Nay, that they are, and were, created for the express purpose of being devoted to death, spiritual and eternal. Is this to interpret, or to refute the divine word?

The view which Calvin, from this position, finds himself bound to take of the divine character, is truly horrible, and makes one's blood run cold. The call of the gospel, he admits, is universal -- is directed to the reprobate as well as to the elect; but to what end, or with what design, is it directed to the former? |He directs his voice to them,| if we may believe Calvin, |but it is that they may become more deaf; he kindles a light, but it is that they may be made more blind; he publishes his doctrine, but it is that they may be more besotted; he applies a remedy, but it is that they may not be healed. John, citing this prophecy, declares that the Jews could not believe, because the curse of God was upon them. Nor can it be disputed, that to such persons as God determines not to enlighten, he delivers his doctrine involved in enigmatical obscurity, that its only effect may be to increase their stupidity.|(165)

In conclusion, we would add that it is this idea of a necessitated holiness which gives apparent solidity to the arguments of the Calvinist, and which neutralizes the attacks of their opponents. To select only one instance out of a thousand: the Calvinist insists that if God had really intended the salvation of all men, then all would have been saved; since nothing lies beyond the reach of his omnipotence. To this the Arminian cries out with horror, that if God does not desire the salvation of all, but is willing that a portion should sin and be eternally lost, then his goodness is limited, and his glory obscured. In perfect conformity with these views, the one contends for a limited atonement, insisting that it is confined either in its original design, or in its application, to a certain, fixed, definite number of mankind; while the other maintains, with equal earnestness, that such is the goodness of God that he has sent forth his Son to make an atonement for the sins of the whole world. To design and prepare it for all, says the Calvinist, and then apply it only to a few, is not consistent with either the wisdom or goodness of God; and that he does savingly apply it only to a small number of the human race is evident from the fact that only a small number are actually saved. However the doctrine of a limited atonement, or, what is the same thing in effect, the limited application of the atonement, may be exclaimed against and denounced as dishonourable to God, all must and do admit the fact, that it is efficaciously applied to only a select portion of mankind; which is to deny and to admit one and the same thing in one and the same breath.

Now, in this contest of arms, it is our humble opinion that each party gets the better of the other. Each overthrows the other; but neither perceives that he is himself overthrown. Hence, though each demolishes the other, neither is convinced, and the controversy still rages. Nor can there ever be an end of this wrangling and jangling while the arguments of the opposite parties have their roots in a common error. Let the work of Mr. Symington, or any other which advocates a limited atonement, be taken up, its argument dissected, and let the false principle, that God could easily make all men holy if he would, be eliminated from them, and we venture to predict that they will lose all appearance of solidity, and resolve themselves into thin air.(166)

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