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the subject, it appears to have no tendency whatever to excuse men from guilt, by throwing the blame on the Almighty: on the contrary, it is brought in for the purpose of conviction, and actually answered the end; those to whom it was addressed, being pricked in their hearts, and crying out, Men and brethren, what shall we do?
The decrees of God seem to be distinguishable into efficient and permissive. With respect to moral good, God is the proper efficient cause of it. This James teaches, Every good and perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from the Father of lights; particularly the blessing of regeneration, which contains all moral good in embryo, as it follows, Of his own will begat he us with the word of truth. With respect to moral evil, God permits it, and it was his eternal purpose so to do. If it be right for God to permit sin, it could not be wrong for him to determine to do so, unless it be wrong to determine to do what is right. The decree of God to permit sin, dues not in the least excuse the sinner, or warrant him to ascribe it to God, instead of himself. The same inspired writer who teaches, with respect to good, that it cometh from above, teacheth also in the same passage, with respect to evil, that it proceedeth from ourselves: Let no man say, when he is tempted, I am tempted of God; for God cannot be tempted with evil; neither tempteth he any man. But every man is tempted when he is drawn away of his own lust, and enticed. And as if he considered the danger of mistaking on this profound subject, he adds, by way of caution, Do not err, my beloved children! James i. 13-18.
QUERIES AND ANSWERS.
1. “Is the will dependent on the understanding, or the
understanding on the will? or do they reciprocally
influence each other?” Answer. They doubtless, in a great measure, reciprocally influence each other. The will is influenced by the understanding, and follows its dictates, in the choice of any thing which is not agreeable per se, or immediately gratifying to the taste or appetite. V. g. A man may choose labor, from the dictate of his understanding, that it is the proper mean of procuring the necessaries and conveniences of life. But the drunkard may choose and wish for his cups, and the ambitious man may wish for promotion, not from any dictate of his understanding, but from appetite or bias only. Thus the distinction between things agreeable for their own sakes, and those which are agreeable on account of something else, or because they are useful, is very important and necessary. A man may always, without and even contrary to the dictate of his understanding, choose an object which is agreeable per se. He may also choose the same object from the dictate of his understanding, if it be, or if he apprehend that it is, useful to answer some other purpose than the immediate gratification of his appetite, V. g. A man, however ambitious, may wish for promotion, not merely because it gratifies his ambition, but because it puts him into a capacity to do good. On the other hand, the understanding is influenced by the will in a thousand cases. We easily believe what we wish to believe, and can hardly be brought to believe what is contrary to our wishes.
“Does our natural depiravity originate in the will or
the understanding?" Answer. In the will wholly, and that blinds the understanding by its opposition, or by the alienation of the heart. This is a prejudice against the truth.
3. “Does the renewal of the soul in regeneration begin ,
in the will or in the understanding?" Answer. In the will. This being reconciled, the darkness of the mind, which is the effect of prejudice or alienation, is at once removed, or vanishes.
4. “Which would be most agreeable to the word of God,
right reason, sound philosophy, and the analogy of faith? and which would best evince our need of Divine illumination, and yet the inexcusableness of sinners, in their impenitence and unbelief, to say, “That sinners would easily understand Divine things, if they had a taste for them; or to say, they would certainly relish
them, if they would but understand them?" Answer 1. It is agreeable to the word of God to say the former, but not to say the latter. The Scripture every where represents the ignorance and unbelief of the wicked as the effect of unwillingness to receive and obey the truth, or of their wickedness of heart. John vii. 17, “If any man do his will, he shall know of the doctrine, whether it be of God, or whether I speak of myself.” Chap. v. 40, “Ye will not,” or rather, "ye are not willing (ou bÝ METE) to come to me, that ye might have life.” This is given as the reason of the unbelief of the Jews, 2 Thess. ii. 10. «Them that perish, be
cause they received not the love of the truth, that they might be saved." Ver. 12, “That they might be damned who believed not the truth, but had pleasure in unrighteousness.” To have pleasure in unrighteousness is set in direct opposition to a saving belief of the truth, implying plainly, that the former cannot co-exist with the latter. But if a saving belief of the truth do not imply the love of the truth, but may exist in the mind antecedently to it, then a man may savingly believe the truth, and at the same instant have no love to it, but have pleasure in unrighteousness. Again, it is implied in the tenth verse, that the reason why any perish is, that they receive not the love of the truth. Therefore, if any do love it, or have a taste for Divine things, this love either implies, or will produce that belief which is necessary to salvation, Rom. i. 28. The reason why the Heathen world were given over to a reprobate mind, was, that they did not like to retain God in their knowledge. And alienation is the only assignable reason that, when they knew God, they glorified him not as God, but became vain in their imaginations; and their foolish heart was darkened. The Apostle Peter assigns this as the reason of the unbelief of the scoffers who should disbelieve the second coming of Christ, saying, Where is the promise of his coming? The reason which he assigns is a willing ignorance of the agency of God in creation and providence. Cor. i. 12, “Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit which is of God, that we might know the things that are freely given to us of God;" implies, that a worldly spirit would render us ignorant of the truths of the Gospel, and therefore unbelievers. Psalm xxxy. 14, “The secret of the Lord is with them that fear him." 1 John ii. 20, “But ye have an unction from the Holy One, and know all things." John viii. 31, 32, “If ye continue in my word, ye shall know the truth." Chap. x. 26, “Ye believe not, because ye are not my sheep.” Psalm cxi. 10, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom: a good understanding have all they that do his commandments.” Eph. iv. 18, “Having the understanding darkened, being alienated from the life of God, through the ignorance that is in them, because of the blindness, hardness, callousness; (Twqwow) of their heart.”
Answer 2. As this is agreeable to the word of God, it is also agreeable to the analogy of faith. We believe that unbelief is a damning sin; and so with regard to the darkness, blindness, &c. so often mentioned in Scripture, and which is the effect of the influence of the god of this world. But they are and can be, no sin at all, if they do not imply wickedness, alienation of heart, or opposition of will. We also believe that faith is a duty. “This is the work of God, that ye believe on him whom he hath sent.” “This is his commandment, that ye believe on the name of the only begotten Son of God.” The Comforter was "to convince the world of sin, because they believe not on Christ.” But faith is no duty, nor any matter of command, or exhortation, unless it depend on the will or heart. Who would ever say it is the duty of an idiot to become a Sir Isaac Newton, or who would command or exhort him to become such?
Answer 3. It is also most agreeable to right reason and sound philosophy, as is implied in what has been just