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GREAT offence hath been taken at the answer the Assembly of Divines have given to this question, what are the decrees of God? Answer. The decrees of God are his eternal purpose, according to the counsel of his own will, whereby for his own glory he hath fore-ordained whatsoever comes to pass. Often hath it been said, "If God fore-ordained whatsoever comes to pass, then he fore-ordained sin.” As though it were evidently the greatest absurdity in nature, to suppose, that God really thought it best in the whole, that sin ever should exist in the world he had made. And I suppose, it is generally taken for granted, that it had been much better, if sin and misery had been for ever unknown; and looked upon one of the most accountable things, that God ever suffered affairs in his world to take such a course as they have. I do not imagine mankind would ever have thought of disputing God's right to lay out a universal plan, had the plan appeared to them wise and good. We do not dispute our superior's right, in time of war, to lay out a plan of operation for an ensuing campaign, although it is expected it will cost many a precious life, when on the whole we think the plan is wise and good. But while mankind take for granted, that the present universal plan is unwise and bad, all things going wrong, they can by no means believe that from eternal ages it was contrived by infinite wisdom and goodness; but are under a necessity to suppose, that they have taken a different course from what God intended, and turned out contrary to his original design and expectation; and that he is really disappointed and grieved And doubtless, if God is disappointed and grieved, all the inhabitants of heaven are very sorry too; so that the grief and sorrow is universal in the world above. And if it is universal there, it may well be universal here. And this disappointment, grief, and sorrow, is likely to be eternal, as the wicked, according to Scripture, must be eternally miserable. And thus, it seems, hell will be full of the groans of the damned, for ever lost and undone; and heaven full of disappointment and grief, God and all holy Beings heartily sorry that things have come to such an issue. And where will be the triumph and joy? If God is disappointed and grieved, and angels and saints in heaven are grieved, and poor sinners for ever lost, there seems to be nothing but grief in the whole system; not one being perfectly suited, unless that very worst of all beings, who is called the old serpent, the
devil who yet is the very one that, above all, was finally to be disappointed, according to the ancient ORACLE, the seed of the woman shall bruise the serpent's head.
A chief design of the following Sermons, is to rectify these mistaken notions and apprehensions. Not by proposing mere theories, but by turning the reader to a certain light, which shines in this dark and benighted world, the only sure guide we poor mortals have, and to which we do well to give heed, (2 Pet. i. 19.) I mean, the holy Scriptures; but for which, I think, we might have groped in total darkness, as, to this particular, unable ever to have extricated ourselves.
It was necessary, that the true character of Jesus Christ should be determined, in order to open the wisdom of God's universal plan to view. This therefore is attempted in the first Sermon. And it was equally necessary that the final success of Christ's undertakings should be brought into view, to rectify some mistakes as to matters of fact: and this is attempted in the next. And the reader may see the method I have taken to give light to the main subject, by a careful perusal of the following Sermons on the Wisdom of God in the permission of Sin.
And these Sermons are the rather published at this season, when the state of the world and of the Church appears so exceeding gloomy and dark, and still darker times are by many expected, as they are calculated to give consolation. to such as fear the Lord, and are disposed to hearken to his holy word. A firm belief of the supreme Godhead of our Saviour, who now sits at the head of the universe, conducting all things, and whose love to his Church is as fervent as it was when he hung on the Cross; and a realizing sense of that glorious day's approaching, when the knowledge of the Lord shall fill the earth, as the waters do the sea; together with an insight into the nature and wisdom of God's universal government, may afford abundant support, let the present storm rise ever so high, and the times grow ever so dark.
Bethlem, March 21, 1758.
THE WISDOM OF GOD
THE PERMISSION OF SIN.
GENESIS 1, 20.
Ye thought evil against me, but God meant it unto good. JACOB being dead and buried, and Joseph still governor over all the land of Egypt, his guilty brethren began to be afraid that Joseph, in whose power they now were, and at whose mercy they now lay, would requite them evil for the inhuman, barbarous, deed they had formerly committed, in selling him for a slave, notwithstanding all his cries and tears, and the anguish of his soul. Wherefore, having first sent messengers to him, to pacify him, and beg his pardon, they venture at last into his presence, and fall down before his face, and resign to his mercy, saying, "Behold, we be thyl servants," i. e. We have nothing to say for ourselves; we are verily guilty; we are in thy power; we surrender ourselves to thy disposal. Upon which Joseph said unto them, "fear not" any harm from me; "for I am in the place of God," the righteous Judge of the world, to whom vengeance belongs, and with whom you had need make your peace! 'Tis true, indeed, you acted a barbarous and cruel part: "Ye thought evil against me; but God," who had the ordering of the whole affair, "meant it for good, to bring to pass, as it is this day, to save much people alive." And while I behold the wisdom and goodness of God, so conspicuous in this dispensation, I have no disposition to revenge the injury you did me: Therefore, fear not; for, instead of requiting you the evil you are sensible you deserve, for your ill treatment of me, I will rather, in imitation of God, who hath been so kind to me in all my distresses, treat you
with all goodness: “I will nourish you and your little ones. Thus he comforted them, and spake kindly to them.”
At the same time Joseph viewed the conduct of his brethren, and considered their temper and designs, and the heinousness of their crime, he also beheld the hand of God, which he as plainly saw in the whole affair, permitting and over-ruling his brethren's sin, to answer good and noble ends. And this indisposed him to any angry resentments, aud framed his soul only to gratitude to God, and love and kindness to his brethren. His seeing the hand of God in it, or, to use his own language, his seeing that "God meant" he should be sold, and that it was "God who sent him thither," together with the happy experience he had of the wisdom and goodness of God in the affair, not only prepared him to forgive his brethren, but to treat them with all possible tenderness and fraternal goodness. So that he was not only satisfied in the wisdom of God in the permission of that sin, but was thereby better prepared to do his duty.
DOCTRINE." A sight of the wisdom of God in the permission of sin, is very useful to promote holiness of heart and life. It has a great tendency to make us feel right, and behave well."
Thus it was with Joseph, as we have seen. And thus it was with Job, who, while the Sabeans wickedly robbed him, eyed the hand of God, and said, "The Lord gave, and the Lord hath taken away, and blessed be the name of the Lord." And thus it was with David, while Shimei wickedly abused him, going along on the hill over against him, as he was fleeing out of Jerusalem, from the hands of Absalom, his son, and cursed him as he went, saying, "Come out, come out, thou bloody man."-" Let him curse," says David, "for the Lord hath bidden him." I justly deserve it at the hands of the majesty of heaven, against whom I have grievously sinned. A bloody man indeed I am! O, Uriah! Uriah!-I shall never forget the blood of the valiant Uriah! But it is needless to multiply instances. For nothing is plainer than that it must tend to bring us to a right temper of mind, in t2 Samuel xvi.
* Job !.