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SermonIndex.net : Christian Books : Chapter II. Summary Of The Second Part Of The Foregoing System.

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

Chapter II. Summary Of The Second Part Of The Foregoing System.

Having reconciled the existence of sin with the purity of God, and refuted the objections against the principles on which that reconciliation is based, we next proceeded to the second part of the work, in which the natural evil, or suffering, that afflicts humanity, is shown to be consistent with his goodness. This part consists of five chapters, of whose leading principles and position we shall now proceed to take a rapid survey in the remaining sections of the present chapter.

Section I.

God desires the salvation of all men.

The fact that all men are not saved, at first view, seems inconsistent with the goodness of the Divine Being, and the sincerity of his endeavours for their conversion. We naturally ask, that if God could so easily cause all men to turn and live, why should he in vain call upon them to do so? Is he really sincere in the use of means for the salvation of all, since he permits so many to hold out in their rebellion and perish? In other words, if he really and sincerely seeks the salvation of all, why are not all saved? This is confessedly one of the most perplexing and confounding difficulties which attach to the commonly received systems of theology. It constitutes one of those profound obscurities from which, it is admitted, theology has not been able to extricate itself, and come out into the clear light of the divine glory.

By many theologians this difficulty, instead of being solved, is most fearfully aggravated. Luther, for example, finds it so great, that he denies the sincerity of God in calling upon sinners to forsake their evil ways and live; and that, as addressed to the finally impenitent, his language is that of mockery and scorn. And Calvin imagines that such exhortations, as well as the other means of grace offered to all, are designed, not for the real conversion of those who shall finally perish, but to enhance their guilt, and overwhelm them in the more fearful condemnation. If it were possible to go even one step beyond such doctrines, that step is taken by President Edwards: for he is so far from supposing that God really intends to lead all men into a conformity with his revealed will, that he contends that God possesses another and a secret will by which, for some good purpose, he chooses their sin, and infallibly brings it to pass. If any mind be not appalled by such doctrines, and chilled with horror, surely nothing can be too monstrous for its credulity, provided only it relate to the divine sovereignty.

The Arminian with indignation rejects such views of the divine glory. But does he escape the great difficulty in question? If God forms the design, says he, not to save all men, he is not infinitely good; but yet he admits that God actually refuses to save some. Now, what difference can it make whether God's intention not to save all be evidenced by a preexisting design, or by a present reality? Is not everything that is done by him, or left undone, in pursuance of his eternal purpose and design? What, then, in reference to the point in question, is the difference between the Arminian and the Calvinist? Both admit that God could easily save all men if he would; that is, render all men holy and happy. But the one says that he did not design to save all, while the other affirms that he actually refuses to save some. Surely, if we may assume what is conceded by both parties, the infinite goodness of God is no more disproved by a scheme of salvation limited in its design, than by a scheme of salvation limited in its execution. Hence, it is admitted by many Arminians themselves, that their own scheme merely mitigates and softens down, without removing, the appalling difficulty in question.

There are many exceptions to this remark. One of the most memorable of these is the judgment which Robert Hall(229) pronounces concerning the solution of this difficulty by the |Wonderful Howe.| This solution, as we have seen, labours under the same defect with those of its predecessors, in that it rejects the truth that a necessary holiness is a contradiction in terms. Instead of following the guidance of this truth, he wanders amid the obscurities of the subject, becomes involved in numerous self-contradictions, and is misled by the deceitful light of false analogies.

We shall not here reproduce his inconsistencies and self-contradictions. We shall simply add, that although he, too, attempts to show why it is for the best that all should not be saved, he frequently betrays the feeble and unsatisfactory nature of the impression which his own reasons made upon his mind. For the light of these reasons soon fades from his recollection; and, like all who have gone before him, when he comes to contemplate the subject from another point of view, he declares that the reasons of the thing he has endeavoured to explain, are hid from the human mind in the profound depths of the divine wisdom.

If we would realize, then, that God sincerely desires the salvation of all men, we must plant ourselves on the truth, that holiness, which is of the very essence of salvation, cannot be wrought in us by an extraneous force. It is under the guidance of this principle, and of this principle alone, that we can find our way out from the dark labyrinth of error and self-contradiction, in which others are involved, into the clear and beautiful light of the gospel, that God |will have all men to be saved, and come unto a knowledge of the truth.| It is with the aid of this principle, and of this alone, that we may hear the sublime teachings of the divine wisdom, unmingled with the discordant sounds of human folly.

Section II.

The sufferings of the innocent, and especially of infants, consistent with the goodness of God.

By the Calvinistic school of divines it is most positively and peremptorily pronounced that the innocent can never suffer under the administration of a Being of infinite goodness. They cannot possibly allow that such a Being would permit one of his innocent creatures to suffer; but they can very well believe that he can permit them both to sin and to suffer. Is not this to strain at a gnat, and swallow a camel?

Having predetermined that the innocent never suffer, they have felt the necessity of finding some sin in infants, by which their sufferings might be shown to be deserved, and thereby reconciled with the divine goodness. This has proved a hard task. From the time of Augustine down to the present day, it has been diligently prosecuted; and with what success, we have endeavoured to show. The series of hypotheses to which this effort has given rise, are, perhaps, as wild and wonderful as any to be found in the history of the human mind. We need not again recount those dark dreams and inventions in the past history of Calvinism. Perhaps the hypothesis of the present day, by which it endeavours to vindicate the suffering of infants, will seem scarcely less astonishing to posterity, than those exploded fictions of the past appear to this generation.

According to this hypothesis, the infant world deserves to suffer, because the sin of Adam, their federal head and representative, is imputed to them. It is even contended that this constitution, by which the guilt or innocence of the world was suspended on the conduct of the first man, is a bright display of the divine goodness, since it was so likely to be attended with a happy issue to the human race. Likely to be attended with a happy issue! And did not the Almighty foresee and know, that if the guilt of the world were made to depend on the conduct of Adam, it would infallibly be attended with a fatal result?

We have examined, at length, the arguments of an Edwards to show that such a divine scheme and constitution of things is a display or manifestation of goodness. Those arguments are, perhaps, as ingenious and plausible as it is possible for the human intellect to invent in the defence of such a cause. When closely examined and searched to the bottom, they certainly appear as puerile and weak as it is possible for the human imagination to conceive.

Indeed, no coherent hypothesis can be invented on this subject, so long as the mind of the inventor fails to recognise the impossibility of excluding all sin from the moral system of the universe: for if all sin, then all suffering, likewise, may be excluded; and we can never understand why either should be permitted; much less can we comprehend why the innocent should be allowed to suffer. But having recognised this impossibility, we have been conducted to three grounds, on which, it is believed, the sufferings of the innocent may be reconciled with the goodness of God.

First, the sufferings of the innocent, in so far as they are the consequences of sin, serve to show its terrific nature, and tend to prevent its introduction into the world. If this end could have been accomplished by the divine power, such a provision would have been unnecessary, and all the misery of the world only so much |suffering in waste.| Secondly, the sufferings of the innocent serve as a foil to set off and enhance the blessedness of eternity. They are but a short and discordant prelude to an everlasting harmony. Thirdly, difficulties and trials, temptations and wants, are indispensable to the rise of moral good in the soul of the innocent; for if there were no temptation to wrong, there could be no merit in obedience, and no virtue in the world. Suffering is, then, essential to the moral discipline and improvement of mankind. On the one or the other of these grounds, it is believed that every instance in which suffering falls upon the innocent, or falls not as a punishment of sin, may be vindicated and reconciled with the goodness of God.

Section III.

The sufferings of Christ consistent with the divine goodness.

The usual defences of the atonement are good, so far as they go, but not complete. The vicarious sufferings of Christ are well vindicated on the ground, that they are necessary to cause the majesty and honour of the divine law to be respected; but this defence, though sound, has been left on an insecure foundation; for it has been admitted that God, by the word of his power, might easily have caused his laws to be universally respected and obeyed. Hence, according to this admission, the sufferings of Christ might have been easily dispensed with, and were not necessary in order to maintain the honour and glory of the divine government. According to this admission, they were not necessary, and consequently not consistent with the goodness of God.

Again: by distinguishing between the administrative and the retributive justice of God, and showing that the vicarious sufferings of Christ were a satisfaction to the first, and not to the last, we annihilate the objections of the Socinian. By means of this view of the satisfaction rendered to the divine justice, we think we have placed the great doctrine of the atonement in a clearer and more satisfactory light than usual. We have shown that the vicarious sufferings of the INNOCENT are so far from being inconsistent with the divine justice, that they are, in fact, free from the least shadow or appearance of hardship either to him or to the world. Nay, that they are a bright manifestation of the divine goodness both to himself and to those for whom he suffered; the brightest manifestation thereof, indeed, which the universe has ever beheld.

Section IV.

The eternity of future punishment consistent with the goodness of God.

The genuine Calvinist, if he reason consecutively from some of the principles of his system, can never escape the conclusion that all men will be saved: for so long as he denies the ability of men to obey without the efficacious grace of God, and affirms that this grace is not given to such as shall finally perish, it must follow that their punishment is unjust, and that their eternal punishment were an act of cruelty and oppression greater than it is possible for the imagination of man to conceive.

It was precisely from such premises, as we have seen, that John Foster denied the eternal duration of future punishment. His logic is good; but even an illogical escape from such a conclusion were better than the rejection of one of the great fundamental doctrines of revealed religion. By having shown his premises to be false, we demolished the very foundation of his arguments. But, not satisfied with this, we pursued those arguments into all their branches and ramifications, and exposed their futility. By these means we have removed the objections and solved the difficulties pertaining to this doctrine of revealed religion. In one word, we have shown that it is not inconsistent with the dictates of reason, or with the principle of the divine goodness.

We have shown that the eternal punishment of the wicked is deserved, and therefore demanded by the divine justice; that they serve to promote the highest moral interests of the universe, and are consequently imposed by the divine goodness itself. We have shown, that in the administration of his eternal government, the infliction of an endless punishment is even more consistent with goodness than the use of temporal punishment in the management of a temporal government; for the first, besides being eternal in duration, is unbounded in extent. Thus reason itself, when disenchanted of its strong Calvinistic prejudices and its weak Socinian sentimentalities, utters no other voice than that which proceeds from revelation; and this it echoes rather than utters. In plainer words, though reason does not prove or establish the eternity of future punishment, it has not one syllable to say against its wisdom, its justice, or its goodness.

Section V.

The true doctrine of election and predestination consistent with the goodness of God.

The Calvinists endeavour to support their scheme of election and predestination by means of analogies drawn from the unequal distribution of the divine favours, which is observable in the natural economy and government of the world. But the two cases are not parallel. According to the one, though the divine favours are unequally distributed, no man is ever required to render an account of more than he receives. Whereas, according to the other, countless millions of human-beings are doomed to eternal misery for the non-observance of a law which they never had it in their power to obey. This is to judge them, not according to what they receive, but according to what they receive not, and cannot obtain. It is to call them to give an account of talents never committed to their charge. The difference between the two cases is, indeed, precisely that between the conduct of a munificent prince who bestows his favours unequally, but without making unreasonable demands, and the proceeding of a capricious tyrant who, while he confers the most exalted privileges and honours on one portion of his subjects, consigns all the rest, not more undeserving than they, to hopeless and remediless destruction; and that, too, for the non-performance of an impossible condition. Is it not wonderful that two cases so widely and so glaringly different, should have been so long and so obstinately confounded by serious inquirers after truth?

The Calvinistic scheme of predestination, it is pretended, derives support from revelation. The ninth chapter of Romans which, from the time of Augustine down to the present day, has been so confidently appealed to in its support, has, as we have seen, no relation to the subject. It relates, not to the election of individuals to eternal life, but of a nation to the enjoyment of external privileges and advantages. This is so plain, that Dr. Macknight, though an advocate of the Calvinistic dogma of predestination, refuses to employ that portion of Scripture in support of his doctrine.

Nor does the celebrated passage of the eighth chapter of the same epistle touch the point in controversy. We might well call in question the Calvinistic interpretation of that passage, if this were necessary; but we take it in their own sense, and show that it lends no support to their views. The Calvinists themselves being the interpreters, that passage teaches that God, according to his eternal purpose, chose or selected a certain portion out of the great mass of mankind as the heirs of eternal life. Granted, then, that a certain portion of the human race were thus made the objects of a peculiar favour, and prospectively endowed with the greatest of all conceivable blessings. But who were thus chosen, or selected? and on what principle was the election made? In regard to this point, it is not pretended by them that the passage in question utters a single syllable. They themselves being the judges, this Scripture merely affirms that a certain portion of mankind are chosen or elected to eternal life; while in regard to the ground, or the reason, of their election, it is most perfectly and profoundly silent.

Hence it leaves us free to assume the position, that those persons were elected or chosen who God foresaw would, by a cooeperation with his Spirit, make their calling and election sure. And being thus left free, this is precisely the position in which we choose to plant ourselves, in order to vindicate the divine glory against the awful misrepresentations of Calvinism: for, in the first place, this view harmonizes the passage in question with other portions of the divine record, and allows us, without the least feeling of self-contradiction, to embrace the sublime word, that God |will have all men to be saved;| and that if any are not made the heirs of his great salvation, it is because his grace would have proved unavailing to them.

Secondly, this view not only harmonizes two classes of seemingly opposed texts of Scripture, but it also serves to vindicate the unbounded glory of the divine goodness. It shows that the goodness of God is not partial in its operation; neither taking such as it leaves, nor leaving such as it takes; but embracing all of the same class, and that class consisting of all who, by wicked works, do not place themselves beyond the possibility of being saved. Unlike Calvinism, it presents us, not with the spectacle of a mercy which might easily save all, but which, nevertheless, contenting itself with a few only, abandons the rest to the ravages of the never-dying worm.

Thirdly, at the same time that it vindicates the glory of the divine mercy, it rectifies the frightful distortion of the divine justice, which is exhibited in the scheme of Calvinism. According to this scheme, all those who are not elected to eternal life are set apart as the objects on which the Almighty intends to manifest the glory of his justice. But how is this glory, or his justice, manifested? Displayed, we are told, by dooming its helpless objects to eternal misery for the non-performance of an impossible condition! A display of justice this, which, to the human mind, bears every mark of the most appalling cruelty and oppression. A display of justice stamped with the most terrific features of its opposite; so that no human mind can see the glory of the one, for the inevitable manifestation of the other! No wonder that Calvinists themselves so often fly from the defence of such a display of the divine justice, and hide themselves in the unsearchable clouds and darkness of the divine wisdom. This being of course a display for eternity, and not for time, they may there await the light of another world to clear away these clouds, and reveal to them the great mystery of such a manifestation of the divine justice. But whether that light will bring to view the great mystery of the divine wisdom therein displayed, or the great secret of human folly therein concealed, we can hardly say remains to be seen. The view we take presents a glorious display of the divine justice for time as well as for eternity.

Fourthly, this view not only shows the justice and the mercy of God, separately considered, in the most advantageous light, but it exhibits the sublime harmony which subsists between them. It presents not, like Calvinism, a mercy limited by justice, and a justice limited by mercy; but it exhibits each in its absolute perfection, and in its agreement with the other: for, according to this view, the claim of mercy extends to all who may be saved, and that of justice to those who may choose to remain incorrigibly wicked. Hence, the claim of the one does not interfere with that of the other; nor can we conceive how either could be more gloriously displayed. We behold the infinite amplitude, as well as the ineffable, unclouded splendour of each divine perfection, without the least disturbance or collision between them. In the very act of punishment, the tender mercy of God, which is over all his works, concurs, and inflicts that suffering which is demanded by the good of the universe. The torment of the lost, is |the wrath of the Lamb.| The glory of the redeemed, is the pity of the Judge. Hence, instead of that frightful conflict which the scheme of Calvinism presents, we behold a reconciliation and agreement among the divine attributes, worthy the great principle of order, and harmony, and beauty in the universe.

Section VI.

The question submitted.

We must now take leave of the reader. We have honestly endeavoured to construct a Theodicy, or to vindicate the divine glory as manifested in the constitution and government of the moral world. We have endeavoured to reconcile the great fundamental doctrines of God and man with each other, as well as with the eternal principles of truth. It has likewise been our earnest aim, to evince the harmony of the divine attributes among themselves, as well as their agreement with the condition of the universe. In one word, we have aimed to repel the objections, and solve the difficulties which have been permitted to obscure the glory of the Divine Being; whether those difficulties and objections have seemed to proceed from the false philosophy of his enemies, or the mistaken views and misguided zeal of his friends. How far we have succeeded in this attempt, no less arduous than laudable, it is not for us to determine. We shall, therefore, respectfully submit the determination of this point to the calm and impartial judgment of those who may possess both the desire and the capacity to think for themselves.

THE END.

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