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After God has revealed his will to us in his word, we have no occasion for any farther information from him in respect to duty. So Moses told the people of God: “Secret things belong unto the Lord our God; but those things which are revealed belong unto us, and to our children for ever, that we may do all the words of this law.”
God's secret purposes concern his own conduct, not ours. It concerns him to do all that he determined to do from eternity, or to carry into effect all his wise and holy purposes; and it concerns us to do all that his holy word or revealed will requires us to do. We have no occasion for knowing his secret will in order to know his revealed will; for his revealed will does not depend upon his secret will, nor does our obligation to obey his revealed will depend upon our knowing his secret will. The obligation of a child to do what his parent requires, does not depend upon his knowing the secret will of his parent, or the reason why he commands him to do this or that lawful thing. The obligation of a subject to do what a civil ruler requires him to do, does not depend upon his knowing the reasons of state, or why the civil ruler requires certain acts of obedience. So the obligation of creatures to obey the revealed will of their Creator, does not depend upon their knowing his secret will, or the reasons of his commands. It is the revealed will of God, therefore, and not his secret will, which is our infallible rule of duty.
3. God's secret or decretal will cannot be known, and for that reason cannot be a rule of duty to any of his creatures. It is essential to a law, or rule of duty, that it should be published, or made known to thoso who are to be bound by it. So long as God conceals his own purposes in his own breast, they cannot bind his creatures to regard them, any more than if they did not exist in his mind. No human law can bind any human being before it is published, or made known, any more than it can bind before it is enacted. God has told us that he has reserved the times and seasons in his own power; which means that he has concealed most of his purposes respecting future events from the knowledge of his intelligent creatures. The angels in heaven know no more than we do with respect to the future conversion and salvation of sinners in this world. The decree of election and reprobation respecting sinners in time to come is a profound secret in the divine mind; and so is his secret will respecting thousands and millions of other future events. And whatever secret purposes God may have in his own mind concerning future events in this or any other world, these can be no rule of duty to us, or to any other of his intelligent creation. It is sufficient for us to know and to do his revealed will. His revealed will constantly and infinitely VOL. IV.
binds us, let his secret will be what it may, respecting us or any other created beings.
4. Supposing God should reveal to us all his purposes respecting all his intelligent creatures in every part of the universe; ihis knowledge of his decretal will would be no rule of duty to us. His decretal will is only a rule of conduct for himself. It becomes him to do all that he has seen fit to determine to do; but our knowing what it becomes him to do cannot inform us what it is becoming us to do. Supposing God had revealed to Lucifer, the day before he rebelled, that he had determined or decreed that he should rebel the next day; would that knowledge of the decretal will of God have laid him under moral obligation to rebel, or destroyed his moral obligation to love and obey God for ever? Did Christ's telling Judas that he was the son of perdition, and that it was his decretal will that he should betray him, lay him under moral obligation to betray him, or lessen his guilt in betraying him? Or did Christ's telling Peter that he would deny him, and that it was his decretal will that he should deny him, lay him under moral obligation to deny him, or diminish his indispensable obligation to confess and own him before a frowning and opposing world ? In these instances it is plain to the lowest capacity, that the decretal will of God was no rule of duty to Lucifer, Judas, or Peter. And it is equally plain that the decretal will of God can never be a rule of duty to any of his creatures. The decretal will of God cannot alter the nature of things, or make that right which in the nature of things is wrong, nor that wrong which in the nature of things is right. Though all the impenitent at the day of judgment will know that it is the decretal will of God that they shall be his enemies for ever, yet this knowledge of his decree cannot make it their duty to remain his enemies for ever. If all the decrees of God were universally known, they would be no rule of duty to angels or men, because his decrees have no respect to what is wrong, or right, but only to what it is wisest and best should take place. But his revealed will is a proper and infallible rule of duty, because it makes known what is right and wrong, and what is pleasing and displeasing to him, and what will promote and destroy eternal happiness. I may add,
5. That the secret will of God cannot, if it were known, be a rule of duty, because it is entirely destitute of both precept and penalty, and consequently of all divine authority. T'he decretal will of God does not require any thing, nor forbid any thing, nor promise any thing, nor threaten any thing. It has no legal properties, nor legal authority, force, or obligation. It does not manifest God's approbation or disapprobation of any person, action or event. This is certainly the case when it is not
known; and it is equally the case when it is known. God has, in some instances, revealed his secret purposes, and made known his eternal determination to bring about some events long before they took place. He revealed his secret, or decretal will that the posterity of Ham, Noah's youngest son, should be servants of servants unto the descendants of Shem and Japheth; but this was no rule of duty to the children of Shem and Japheth to tyrannize over the posterity of Ham, and make them servants of servants. It is as criminal for the posterity of Japheth now to enslave the Africans, as if God had never revealed his will, his purpose, or design, to subject them to bondage and slavery from generation to generation. God's revealing his decree that Issachar should crouch down between two burdens, was no rule of duty to him, or to his oppressors. God's revealing his will that Ishmael should be a wild man, and his hand should be against every man, and every man's hand against him, and that he should dwell in the presence of his brethren, to be a perpetual scourge to them, was no rule of duty to the Ishmaelites, and gave them no right to oppose, plunder and harass mankind from age to age. God's revealing his eternal purpose respecting the sufferings and death of Christ, by Jews and Gentiles, was no rule of duty to the chief priests, to Herod, to Pilate, to Judas, or to the soldiers, to do what they did to the Lord of glory. God's revealing his will concerning the rise of the Man of sin, and the subversion of his temporal and spiritual tyranny, is no rule of duty for France, or Britain, or Russia, or any other European nations, to wage war with Italy, ransack the city of Rome, and spread destruction and misery through the Pope's dominions, without any national provocation. All these instances, and numerous others that might be mentioned, clearly show that God's secret or decretal will is no rule of duty even after it is known, any more than before it is revealed. It is only a rule of the divine conduct, but no rule of human conduct. It has no precept, nor penalty, and is clothed with no divine authority. The conclusion is plain and irresistible, that the law of God, or his revealed will, is the only rule of duty to mankind.
1. If God's secret will respects one object, and his revealed will respects another object, then there is no inconsistency between his secret and revealed will. It is one of the most plausible objections which has ever been made against the doctrine of divine decrees, that it is totally inconsistent with the preceptive or revealed will of God. It is said, that to suppose God has foreordained whatsoever comes to pass, necessarily implies that he requires one thing, but decrees another; or that he forbids one thing, but decrees another. He required Pharaoh to let his people go, but decreed that he should not let them go. He has required all good men to be perfectly holy in this life, but has decreed that no man shall be perfectly holy in this life. He has required all men every where to repent, but has decreed that multitudes shall never repent. He has forbidden and threatened to punish all sin, but has decreed that all the sin which abounds in the world should take place. In all these instances it is said God's secret will is diametrically contrary to his revealed will. But how does this appear? God's secret will respects one thing, but his revealed will respects another. His secret will respects nothing but the existence or taking place of things; but his revealed will respects the nature or moral quality of the things that take place. He chooses that some things should exist which he perfectly hates, and he chooses some things should not exist which he perfectly loves in their own nature. He requires nothing but what he loves in its own nature, and he forbids nothing but what he hates in its own nature. His revealed will respects nothing but the moral good and evil in the things he requires and forbids. He required Pharaoh to let his people go, because this was right in the nature of things; but he decreed that he should not let his people go, not because it was right in Pharaoh not to let them go, but because it was best, all things considered, that he should not give them liberty to go. God requires all men to be perfectly holy in this life, because this is right in the nature of things; but he decrees that no man shall be perfectly holy in this life, because he knows it to be best, all things considered, that none should be perfectly holy before they leave the world. Holiness is one thing, and the taking place of holiness is another; and sin is one thing, and the taking place of sin is another. When God requires holiness, his preceptive or revealed will respects the nature or moral excellence of holiness; but when he decrees that holiness shall not take place, his secret or decretal will respects only the event of its not taking place. So when he forbids sin, his preceptive or revealed will respects only the nature or moral evil of sin; but when he decrees that it shall take place, his secret or decretal will respects merely its actual existence to answer some valuable purpose. Thus the secret and revealed will of God respect entirely different objects, and are by no means inconsistent. If they respected the same objects, it is granted they would be inconsistent. If God should require and forbid the same thing, or if he should decree that the same thing should and should not exist, his secret and revealed will would be totally contradictory and absurd. If those who pretend that the secret and revealed will of God are inconsistent, would only make the same distinction in this case that they do in innumerable other cases, they could not discover a shadow of inconsistency between the secret and revealed will of God. How often do they themselves make a distinction between what is desirable in its own nature, and what is not desirable, all things considered? The fond and faithful parent does not desire, simply considered, to correct his offending child; but, all things considered, thinks it best, and decrees or determines to correct his child. And though he tells his child he does not desire to correct him, simply considered, but has determined it to be best, all things considered, to correct him, the child sees no inconsistency in what his father says and does. Just so the wise, holy and benevolent Parent of the universe may consistently decree to bring to pass things which he hates, forbids and condemns.
2. It appears from the representations which have been given of the secret and revealed will of God, that our text has often been perverted and misapplied. Because secret things belong unto God, but those only which are revealed belong unto us, many have been led to conclude and say that we have no right to believe and teach the doctrine of decrees, or the doctrine of election, or the doctrine of the saints' perseverance, or the doctrine of reprobation, or the doctrine of divine agency in the production of moral exercises in the hearts of men, since these are secret things. It is true, all these things were once secret; but since they have been revealed they are no longer secret things. Is not the doctrine of decrees revealed ? Is not the doctrine of election revealed ? Is not the doctrine of reprobation revealed ? Is not the doctrine of divine agency in the renovation of the heart revealed ? Is not the doctrine of the divine agency in hardening the heart revealed? Is not the doctrine of the final perseverance of saints revealed ?
Who will presume to say that these doctrines are not revealed in the Bible, and were not taught by Christ and his apostles? These doctrines have long been disputed among almost all denominations of christians; but why should they be disputed, if they were not revealed in the sacred oracles? Or why should those who disbelieve them, employ so much learning, criticism and metaphysical ingenuity, in attempting to explain them away? The acknowledged truth is, that they are revealed in the Bible; and I will venture to add that they are as plainly revealed as any other doctrines in it. This being true, we have as good a right to examine, explain and inculcate these, as any other doctrines to be found in the word of God. These doctrines may be truly explained agreeably to the analogy of scripture and the dictates of the soundest reason; and all the subtile and plausible objec