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predetermined with the ends accomplished; and equally parts of the divine system.
Another error is involved, also, in the same objection; viz. that God bestows blessings upon mankind, which are not given in answer to prayer. Of such a determination there is not, and there cannot, be any evidence. The Scriptures decisively teach us, that the only condition of receiving is asking. Prayer, therefore, as means to the end, that is, the reception of blessings, is itself a part, and an inseparable part, of the predetermined plan of God. When any man considers how useful prayer is to form us into a fitness for the reception of blessings; he will easily discern one great and solid reason of this divine constitution of things.
There is no moral subject, concerning which mankind appear to have fallen into more, and greater, errors, than concerning this. The character of God, with respect to both these subjects, is undoubtedly far removed, in many particulars, above our comprehension. In several others, it seems to be capable of a satisfactory illustration to a sober mind, not unwilling to be satisfied. Nothing is more certain, than that, if God ever was, is, or will be, the subject of any determinations, he must have formed them from eternity. In him there is no variableness, neither shadow of turning. Of course, he can never be the subject of any new determinations. He can have no new ideas, thoughts, or views. All his works were known to him from the beginning. This is certain even to Reason; for all his works were contrived by him, and therefore were unquestionably known. Hence, no being, and no event, can be any thing, but what he contrived, and knew. As he is perfectly the same; as the being, and the event, in each case is, also, invariably the same, as when originally contemplated by him; whatever choice, or preference, he originally experienced, must for ever be his invariable choice, or preference. If, therefore, he did not originally determine, choose, or prefer, he certainly never will.
Further; The existence of God is one unvarying present existence; and his duration an eternal Now, without past, or future; nearer in its nature to one indivisible moment of our existence, than to any thing else, which we experience, or know. He literally inhabits eternity, or fills it all at once; just as he fills immensity at once, and not, successively, its several parts. When, therefore, we say, that God predetermined all things, it is as true, in the metaphysical sense, that he determines them after, as before, their existence. In strict truth, there is no proper comparison between our successive being, and the unchanging existence of God. One thing only is present to us at any present time. Every thing, and every time, is absolutely present to God. His creaation and providence, together with all their beings and events, are always before his view, as a picture containing many images is present before ours. VOL. IV.
Every part of God's predetermination is founded on exactly the same reason with those, on which the same determination would be founded, if all beings and events had already existed; and God, in the possession of the same omniscience, should then survey them with a perfect discernment of their natures and relations, form his own determinations concerning them, and pronounce, with respect to every one, his unerring judgment. Of course, his predeterminations are exactly the same with such determinations, as would exist in his mind, after every thing had taken place; and are all exactly just, and right; such as perfect wisdom and goodness, understanding them entirely, would dictate, and approve.
Nor is the immutability of God at all more liable to objections. God from everlasting was exactly what all beings ought to wish him to be; possessed of every excellence in an infinite degree, and the subject of no imperfection either natural or moral. He knows, and ever knew, all things, both actual and possible. He can do all things; and is infinitely disposed to do every thing, and that only, which is absolutely right and good. Consequently there is nothing, there never has been, there never will be, any thing, which, considered merely as a work of God, is not exactly right. In that vast kingdom, which fills immensity and eternity, there will never exist a single being, or event, which perfect wisdom and goodness could wish not to have existed.
Who can rationally desire a change in such a character as this? What would the change be? A change from perfection to imperfection; from knowledge to ignorance; from truth to falsehood; from justice to injustice; from kindness to cruelty; from universal excellence to universal turpitude. Perfection can be changed into nothing but imperfection. The immutability of God is indispensable to the glory of his character; and is itself a part of his perfection: for no mutable being can be perfect in the same sense with one who is immutable. Equally is it the corner-stone, on which the universe rests. Were this support taken away, the immense fabric would tumble into ruin. To his creatures there would be neither safety, nor hope: but immensity, and eternity, would be filled with suspense, terror, and anguish.
Particularly, there would not, in this case, be the least foundation for encouragement in prayer. If all the determinations of God were not settled in heaven; who could divine what new decisions would exist? what new laws? what new systems of administration? Prayer, commanded to-day, might be forbidden to-morrow. Prayer, acceptable to him to-day, might be hateful to him to-morrow. The things, for which we now ask with certain assurance of being heard, might speedily be denied. He, who at one season did his duty, might, at another, by the very same conduct, be only exposed to punishment. Nothing in this case, could be known by creatures to be permanently agreeable to his will, and finally secure of a reward. The government of the universe
would be a government of fickleness and caprice; and consequently more or less, and no finite being can conjecture how far, a government of oppression and cruelty. Think what would be the exertions and effects of Infinite knowledge and power, wielding the sceptre of the universe under the control of so dangerous a disposition. For aught that can be foreseen, the time might speedily, as well as easily, arrive, when under such a dominion, this vast empire might, in a moment of change, be reduced to a desert of ravage and ruin.
As things are actually ordered by God, every part of the system is established on immoveable foundations. Every Intelligent creature knows, therefore, or may know, on what he is absolutely to depend. If he is obedient, his obedience will always be acceptable to his Maker. The law, once established, will never be changed. Sooner shall Heaven and Earth pass away, than one jot, or tittle, of it shall pass, until all be fulfilled. Every declaration of God is true: every promise will be exactly accomplished. Whatever sins, or backslidings, the children of God may have committed; his promise assures them of everlasting life. Whatever gross guilt, or impious rebellion, a Christian may have been the subject of, if they do not involve the sin against the Holy Ghost; still, if he exercises repentance towards God, and faith towards our Lord Jesus Christ, he will be received in the end.
Of this unchangeable system, one great and glorious part is, that every humble, faithful prayer, shall be certainly heard, accepted, and answered. Not one ever was, or will be, offered up in vain. This scheme of things contains every possible encouragement to pray; and displays the absolute necessity, as well as the superior usefulness and efficacy, of prayer. Any other scheme would exceedingly lessen, or entirely destroy, both the encouragement, and the usefulness, of prayer.
So far, then, are the predetermination and immutability of God from preventing and discouraging prayer, that they hold out infinitely more and greater inducements to this duty, than can be furnished in any other manner.
I have dwelt the longer, and the more particularly, upon this objection, because I consider it as the fundamental one; and because I believe it to be, in some minds, regarded as possessing real weight, and attended by real difficulties.
2. It is also objected, that it is useless, and impertinent, to declare our wants to an omniscient Being, because he knows them already.
That God knows all our wants, that he knows them more perfectly than ourselves, and that he thus knew them from eternity, will, it is presumed, be universally admitted here. This knowledge must be attributed to God by every man, who believes the Scriptures, or considers him as the Author of all things. To give him, therefore, any information concerning ourselves, with a sup-position that he needs thus to be informed, can never be the in
tention of a Christian suppliant; nor any part of a Christian prayer.
The true end of reciting our wants before God is, doubtless, far distant from any thing that is even glanced at in the objection. Unquestionably it is the same end with that, which we propose in confessing our sins; viz. the production of proper views in our own minds. It is to awaken in ourselves a strong sense of our feebleness, our guilt, our dependence on God for all good, and our indebtedness to him for every blessing which we receive. By such views, deeply impressed, we are more happily prepared for the reception of blessings, than we otherwise can be. We are rendered humble; submissive; affected with the greatness of our necessities, the importance of those supplies, which we ask, and the glory of that goodness, by which such wants of such beings are supplied. This state of mind is the happiest of all dispositions for the reception of mercies; and is inwrought effectually in us, only by prayer. Unless man, therefore, has an interest in not acquiring this disposition, the objection is groundless.
3. It is further objected, that, as God is infinitely wise and good, whether we consider him as having predetermined all things, or not, his wisdom and goodness will prompt him to give us whatever is proper to be given, and to withhold whatever is not, equally with, and without, our prayers. Our prayers, therefore, must at the best be useless. "We cannot," says the objector, "prevent, change, or influence, the dictates of Infinite wisdom and goodness by our prayers. If we could; it would be wrong, and undesirable; and ought plainly neither to be done, nor wished."
All this is readily admitted: and, were the design, or the nature, of prayer such, as is here supposed, the impropriety of praying would, I presume, be also admitted. Certainly, it could never be a proper design, in any creature, to attempt a change in the dictates of Infinite wisdom and goodness.
But it may be very proper for infinite wisdom to bestow on a. humble suppliant that, which it would very properly withhold from him, who refuses to pray. The question is not, here, concerning what infinite wisdom will, or will not, give; but concerning the persons, to whom it will give. Infinite wisdom may bestow all its favours on those, who are willing to ask for them; and not on those, who are unwilling: on those, who feel their dependence upon itself; not on those, who say in their conduct, What is the Almighty, that we should serve him? and what profit shall we have, if we pray unto him? on those who cheerfully, and implicitly, subject themselves to its dictates; not on those, who speculate ingeniously concerning them.
Finally; Infinite wisdom may with propriety communicate its blessings to those, who by such means, as are in their power, become prepared to receive them with a spirit of gratitude, reverence, and obedience; and may with equal propriety withhold them, at
the same time, from such as are too proud, too indolent, too indifferent, or too worldly-minded, to regard them with serious attention, or to receive them with a grateful or reverential spirit. Until all this can be disproved, the objection will stand for nothing. But this can never be disproved. Reason declares it all as her own decision; and Revelation places it beyond a cavil, or a doubt. In the Scriptures we are taught expressly, that such is the real system of Infinite wisdom and goodness; and that blessings actually descend only as answers to prayer.
4. It is further objected, that to suppose our prayers sufficiently ef ficacious to procure blessings for ourselves, and especially for others, indicates vanity and presumption.
If we thought our prayers sufficiently meritorious, in the sight of God, to deserve such blessings, as are bestowed either on our selves, or on others; there would be some ground for this objec tion. But when we pray, as an act of obedience to his will, it is obviously unfounded. There can be neither presumption, nor vanity, in believing that God is pleased with obedience, and that he will bless those who obey. God has commanded all men to pray to him. There is no presumption in believing this precept. He has declared, that faithful prayer is pleasing to him. There is no presumption in believing his declaration. He has promised to bless those who thus pray. Without presumption we may rely on his promise.
He has commanded us to pray for all men; and has promised to answer such prayers, when faithfully presented. In the Scriptures he has recorded numerous instances, in which he has actually answered such prayers by giving blessings to those, for whom they were asked. To obey this command, to confide in this promise, and to receive this testimony, is neither vain, nor presumptuous. The contrary conduct is chargeable with this criminality: for the objector supposes, that God will give him blessings in a way directly opposed to that, in which alone he has encouraged men to expect them.
But further; does not God make one man the instrument of blessings to another; to many; to thousands; to millions; and that in an immense variety of ways? How does it appear, that the heart, the desires, the supplications, of a good man may not be the means of such blessings as truly, as properly, and as often, as his voice, or his hands? All these blessings come from God. Will not he, who seeth not as man seeth, but looketh on the heart, as willingly regard the virtuous efforts, of which he is there a witness, as those of the hands, or the tongue? How few blessings do we enjoy, in which others have not been more or less instrumental! For our daily food and raiment, nay, for our very being, we are indebted to those, who have lived in every age of time. In the same manner we are now reaping the benefits, flowing from the prayers of good men in all past ages. The salvation of every