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THE WISDOM OF GOD
THE PERMISSION OF SIN.
GENESIS I. 20.
Ye thought evil against me, but God meant it unto good. Wisdom consists in choosing the best end, and contriving the most proper means to attain it.
The Messiah had been promised to our first parents, about two thousand years ago ; and the time of his advent was approaching : but the world were greatly unprepared for such an event. They did not know that they were in a fallen state, and that they needed a Redeemer and a Sanctifier, They neither knew God, nor themselves; what they were, nor what they ought to be; nor what they needed to bring them right; and were sinking, by swift degrees, into still grosser ignorance and the most stupid idolatry. And had God suffered them all to have taken their own course, till the MesSIAH's birth, ignorance and deprávity would have risen to such a height as to have rendered mankind wholly unprepared for the gospel-dispensation.
Wherefore, God must interpose, and some method must be taken to check the universal spread of idolatry and ignorance, and to revive the knowledge of the true God, and of the law of nature; and to make mankind sensible of their depravity, of their guilt, and ill-desert, and need of a Redeemer and Sanctifier; and so prepare a way for the coming of Christ, and the erection of his spiritual kingdom.
With these views, about two thousand years before the birth of the Messiah, God called Abraham from Ur of the Chaldees, and separated him from an idolatrous world, and chose his seed to be his people ; that, in his dealings with thein, he might bear a public testimony against idolatry, in the sight of all the nations of the earth; and, at the same time, exhibit a most exact picture of himself in his conduct, and set his character in the most glaring, striking, affecting light; that, stupid as they were, they should be, as it were, forced to see and understand what he was. And, at the same time, he would let them know what they ought to be, and the greatness of their obligations to the Deity; and turn their hearts inside out, that they might see themselves, and discern their true character, and so feel their need of a Redeemer and Sanctifier. And then he would exhibit in types and shadows, i. e. by sacrifices of atonement, and purifications for uncleanness, the nature of an atonement of Christ, and of the sanctifying influences of the Holy Spirit ; and thus prepare the way for the coming of the Messiah, and the erection of his spiritual kingdom in the world : and that not only among the Jews, thus trained up, but also among Gentiles, who, in after ages, should be let into these divine dispensations and designs, and reap the benefit of all these preparatory and introductory steps.
Had Joseph not been sold, and had Jacob continued to live in the land of Canaan, with his family, and had his posterity there gradually increased, until they had filled all the land, (the Canaanites meanwhile 'dying off, as the Indians have done in N. E. these 130 years past,) I say, had his posterity gradually increased until they had filled all the land, without any uncommon changes, or any extraordinary inter· positions of providence, none of the forementioned ends could have been answered. Yea, there would apparently have been the utmost danger that the Israelites would have been no better than the Canaanites had been: and God might foresee that this would infallibly be the case ; and so all his ends in separating Abraham and his seed, wholly frustrated.
On the other hand, if Joseph is sold ; if Jacob and his family move down and settle in Egypt, the chief seat of idolatry, a proper scene opens in te view of infinite wisdom, where all his wonders might be wrought; and fit opportuni
fies, he foresaw, would present for the accomplishment of all
Nothing further was needful than for God not to hinder Joseph's brethren, and they would sell him; not to hinder Potiphar's wife, and she would get him cast into prison, where he might be prepared for, and from whence he might be raised to the highest advancement, by which many noble and God-like ends might be answered. Nothing further was needful than for God not to hinder the king of Egypt, and he would oppress the Israelites till they were prepared for their egression ; not to binder Pharaoh, and he would harden his heart, and refuse to let them go, until Egypt was filled with the wonderful works of God. Yea, if God hindered him not, into the Red sea he would drive head-long, hurried on by the corruptions of his heart, that, in his destruction, God might show his power, and cause his name to be declared throughout all the earth. And now the Hebrews, rescued from Pharaoh's destroying sword, by almighty power, would be in the hands of God, their deliverer, to be disciplined ; to be humbled, and proved, and tried, that it might be known what was in their hearts; and that, finally, they might be prepared to enter the promised land, and execute the vengeance of the ALMIGHTY on those idolatrous nations, and be God's peculiar people, till the MessiAH's coming, and the erection of his spiritual kingdom. I say, be God's peculiar people; to receive the law from Sinai; to be under God's immediate government; to keep the holy oracles ; to preserve the predictions of the Messiah, and to answer many other noble and divine ends God had in view.
A plan, in which so much sin was to be permitted, and so much misery endured, might, by short-sighted mortals, have been thought dishonourable to God, and unhappy for the Israelites; but, under the management of infinite wisdom, it proves the direct contrary. Yea, for aught that appears, God
, could not have taken a better method, as things then stood in the world, to make himself known, and get honour to his great name, and make the Israelites sensible of their dependance upon him, and obligations to bim, and engage them to perpetual obedience, than that. As it is written, “ What
could have been done more to my vineyard, that I have not done in it?"
Yea, it was a plan not only suited to be beneficial in that age, but in all succeeding generations; and that in more instances than can well be enumerated. Particularly, it has furnished us with a HISTORY of the Deity, and with a hisTORY of HUMAN NATURE. Such a history as is indeed of infinite value : for every thing is exemplified in facts; by which the mind is instructed more clearly, and the heart reached more effectually, than in any other way.
The invisible God, whom no eye hath seen, or can see, and of whom it is so difficult for us, in this benighted world, to frame just conceptions, is brought upon the stage; and he acts out his nature before our eyes, with a design to set his true character in a clear and striking light. Here we see, as it were with our eyes, how he fore-ordained whatsoever came to pass; bow he laid out the whole plan from the selling of Joseph to his advancement, and to Jacob's going down into Egypt; and how they should be oppressed and brought into bondage, and how they should finally be brought forth, and led in the wilderness, and prepared for Canaan, &c. And we see the wisdom, glory, and beauty of his plan. Here we see what a regard he has for his own honour, and how his whole plan is suited to set bim in that infinitely honourable point of light, which so exactly becomes him, as he is by nature, God, and by original right, the supreme Lord and Governor of the world. Here we see his resolution to maintain his authority, in his conduct to Pharaoh, that haughty rebel, who bid him defiance, and stoutly refused to let Israel go. Here we see his sovereign grace and self-moving goodness, as it were, forcing the infatuated Israelites from their beloved Egypt, and their beloved idols; and when he had the highest provocations to destroy them, how he wrought for his great name's sake, until he had prepared them for, and brought them into the promised land. And how, in the mean time, he set his hatred of their sins in the clearest and strongest light; commanding the earth to open its mouth and swallow up hundreds, and the plague to go forth, from time to time, and cut down thousands in a moment; yea, dooming
that whole generation to wander and fall in the wilderness for their crimes, reserving the good land for their posterity. Here we see him exercising bis sovereignty, when the Iraelites and the Egyptians both deserved destruction, and to have been buried alive in the Red sea together; he had mercy on whom he would have mercy; and whom he would, he gave up to hardness of heart and ruin. And after the Israelites had been in the wilderness above a year, and had sufficiently shown what they were, and carried their provocation so high, that divine justice said, “Let me alone, that I máy destroy them in a moment,” still he wrought for his great name's sake, and had mercy on them, because he would have mercy on them; and was gracious to them, because he would be gracious to them : i. e. from bis self-moving goodness and som vereign grace*. And by all, we see that not any thing whatsoever is able to frustrate God's design, or hinder the faithful accomplishment of his promise to Abraham, that to his seed he would give the land of Canaan.
At the same time, we have HUMAN NATURE brought upon the stage, and experiments made upon the heart of man, in a great variety; wliereby its true temper is as certainly determined
EXODUS Xxxiü. 29. Numbers xiv. From these dispensations, which were acknowledged to be right by the Jews, St. Paul was able to justify the divine conduct, in 1,is day, in casting off the Jews, and calling the Gentiles. Romans ix. “ If God had a right to give up Pharaoh to hardness of heart, and to destruction, in the days of old, as ye Jews own ; why not you now ?--If the exercises of God's grace were sovereign then to your fathers, who deserved, God being judge, to be all consumed in a moment; why may not 'the Gentiles, notwithstanding their in deserts, be now called and saved, from the same sovereign grace? God used to act as a sovereign ; why may he not still ? and if, in one instance, why not in another altogether similar ?" Nor could the Jew fairly evade the force of this reasoning. And if we should only suppose, that Pharaoh after he was drowned, went to hell, and that the unbelieving Jews of that age, who were cast off by God for their infidelity, were eternally lost, then we have the doctrine of reprobation, which has been so much misunderstood and misrepresented, exemplified in FACTS. For whatsoever God does in time, that he, from all eternity, intended to do. Yea, and that which is right for God to do in time, he had a right, from eternity, to determine to do. Yea, if God, in FACT, governs the world well then he did well to determine to govern it as he does. Reasonable creatures would never object against God's laying out a universal plan, if the plan did but suit their taste. VOL. II.