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that importunity can never prevail upon him to do what is wrong. This is not the only instance, in which the various senses of right have perplexed an argument, and occasioned delusion. If by the word right be meant what is required by justice, the maxim is true, but does not affect the present question. If, indeed, we had nothing to ask from God, but what he is bound in equity to confer, and cannot without injustice withhold, prayer would be altogether unnecessary and nugatory; for those blessings would flow spontaneously from Divine Justice. But do we actually stand upon that footing? Can we, indeed, say to the Almighty, that we stand in need of no instruction, comfort, assistance, relief and care, but what we have a right to demand, and he is obliged in justice to bestow? Can we say, that we enjoy, or have a right to expect, every degree of pardon, mercy and kindness? And if there be a multitude of blessings, which we do not receive, and which God is not bound to confer, where is the inconsistency of praying for them, whether they regard ourselves or others; or in supposing, that our heavenly Father may dictate the mode, in which we may qualify ourselves for these unmerited, supernumerary advantages, and the medium through which they shall flow? These are the points, which we are now called upon to consider.
I say then, that the bounty of Providence is seldom bestowed gratuitously, but generally in consequence of our services and exertions.
The common objection is, indeed, tantamount to this: If God think it right, that we should have a good harvest, he will grant it, without our labour; otherwise he will not grant it, though we do labour. We know, that the poor are left to our charity, and that if we do not relieve them, they will not be relieved at all; but on this principle we may argue, that if it be the will of God, that they should be maintained, he will maintain them without our interference; if it be not, our interference will not avail. Still further: if God means to pardon our sins, he will pardon them without repentance; if not, repentance will not avail. If God intended to, save mankind, he would have done so without the mission and ministry of Christ: and if not, these can have no influence in changing the Divine mind. These absurd conclusions are sufficient to expose the folly of the principle from which they flow.
A popular system of Divinity, maintains, that every event takes place by an absolute decree of God; that he decrees not only the event, but the means; that is, the actions of his creatures, by which they are brought to pass; that, of course, there is no free agency in the universe; nor, we may add, any efficacy in prayer. Thus, as usual,
the two extremes meet, and these religionists coincide with other fatalists, whether atheistical or deistical. I adhere to the opinion, that though God prosecutes the great ends of his creation and moral government with undeviating consistency, yet subordinate events are brought about by the free agency of man; that the Almighty often guides and overrules the actions of his creatures, so as to make them subservient to his views; but without infringing their freedom, or depriving them of the character of accountable beings; and that his will is, for the most part, conditional. This is evidently the conclusion to be drawn from Scripture: for every promise and threat, with respect to the prosperity or the adversity, the rewards or punishments, of individuals or communities, are dependant on their character and conduct. From the injunction given to Adam, to the final judgment by Christ, all is conditional. It is, in fact, by the conditional nature of his declarations, that they are instrumental in the government of the world. This is compatible with the responsibility of man as a moral agent, and the wisdom of God as a moral governor; and it leaves unbounded room for the efficacy of prayer and intercession, and even makes them instrumental in forwarding the designs of Providence. The will of heaven is not merely to exalt and overthrow an empire; or to bestow prosperity or inflict calamities on individuals; but
to make all these dispensations conduce to the moral improvement and future felicity of mankind. Without some such view, the destruction of Babylon, and the elevation of Cyrus; the exaltation of Mordecai, and the disgrace of Haman, would be mere show and scenery, like the same transactions represented in a drama on the stage.
I say further, that very few indeed, if any, are the legal claims, which we have upon the justice of God, and that we have none upon his bounty; and yet infinite are the gifts which he has to bestow. By what argument can it be shown, that the Supreme Being is bound to exhaust the infinite riches of his grace, and shower them upon his unworthy creatures? Setting aside the impossibility of exhausting what is infinite, how could the Divine bounty be exercised in this degree, without removing us from our present situation, and leaving a blank in the book of nature, a void in the fulness of creation? Since, then, there are many favours, which we could not receive, and many more, which we have no right to look for, it follows, that they may be withheld altogether, without any derogation from the justice and bounty of the Almighty; or that they may be conveyed in such a manner, and through such a medium, as to his wisdom may seem fit; and we have only to take care not to ascribe to the Deity any mode of proceeding, inconsistent with his spotless perfections.
Now, since the moral and intellectual improvement of his creatures is the great object of God's government, it is plain, that it is consonant with the wisdom of God to confer extraordinary bene fits upon those, who comply with his moral laws, and cultivate the nobler powers of their minds. Again, it is compatible with his supreme excel. lence to bestow them upon those, who shall make use of such means, as may contribute to the improvement of their moral and intellectual facul ties; and, if it would conduce to these or any other valuable purposes, he may bestow favours upon one, through, by, for the sake of, or at the request of, another. If then any good end can be answered by supplication, and prayer for our selves, or by the intercessory mediation of Christ; we must admit, that the Deity may communicate his gratuitous favours by these ways, and refuse to confer them upon any other terms; as parents encourage civility and humility in their children, by requiring them to solicit favours with modesty and respect. If, then, we can suppose it possible, that any good object may be attained by such injunctions, we cannot think them unworthy of God; and though we may not be able to guess at the motives, which suggested this plan; yet, if we find it declared in Scripture, every Christian must believe it to be equitable and wise; so that it is not, by any means, necessary for me to explain, nor even of any of the human race to know, the advantages likely to accrue from this scheme.