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and finally selling him into Egypt; but God had a good design in both foretelling and guiding their wicked actions. So that God will be glorified by all their conduct. And since God equally governs all the actions of all men, whether good or bad, he must be glorified by the conduct of the whole human race. All the wrath, all the malice, all the revenge, all the injustice, and all the selfishness, as well as all the benevolence of mankind, must finally praise him, or serve to display the beauty and glory of his character. His intention and his agency, which always go before theirs, and which is always wise and benevolent, turns all their conduct to his own glory. At the
At the great and last day, when all human hearts shall be unfolded, and all human conduct displayed, the hand and counsel of God will appear in all, and shine the brighter by every act of disobedience and rebellion in his creatures. Their bad intentions will be a foil, to display the glory of God to the best advantage.
6. If the actions of men may be ascribed both to God and 10 themselves, then we may see the duty and nature of true repentance. When men freely and voluntarily do evil, their conduct is their own, and they are the criminal agents. They freely and actively violate their obligations to obedience. This is in its own nature sinful, and for this they ought to repent. Their criminality does not consist in the cause of their evil desires, affections, designs and volitions, but in their evil desires, affections, designs and volitions themselves. These are all as much their own, and as really criminal, as if God had had no concern, influence, or agency in their production; and they are under as real and strong obligation to repent, as if they had acted independently of every being in the universe. But since all their sinful conduct may be ascribed to God, who ordained it for his own glory, and whose agency was concerned in it, they have no reason to be sorry that any evil action or event took place. This is so far from being implied in true repentance, that it is altogether inconsistent with it. So Joseph supposed in the case of his brethren. “ Now therefore be not grieved, nor angry with yourselves, that ye sold me hither : For God did send me before you to preserve life.” God had a good design in governing the sinful conduct of Joseph's brethren; and when they saw this good design happily accomplished, they could have no ground to regret the taking place of that series of actions and events by which it was brought about. They could not have been sorry for this, without being sorry for God's conduct, and for the accomplishment of his holy and benevolent design; which would have been totally inconsistent with godly sorrow for their own sins. God was not sorry that their sinful conduct had taken place, and they had no more reason to be sorry on that account. When they really repented as we know they did, they loathed and abhorred themselves for sin itself, and not for its taking place under the divine government.
This is the very language of their hearts, when they were brought to repentance. " And they said one to another, We are verily guilty concerning our brother, in that we saw the anguish of his soul, when he besought us, and we would not hear; therefore is this distress come upon us." They saw the intrinsic turpitude, malignity and criminality of their intentions and designs, and with self reproach, self loathing and self condemnation, acknowledged their just desert of punishment from the hand of God. This was genuine repentance and godly sorrow, and essentially different from a sorrow that their sins had taken place, and that God's design had been accomplished. The apostle Paul makes this distinction between godly sorrow and the sorrow of the world, in his description of true repentance. “For godly sorrow worketh repentance unto salvation not to be repented of; but the sorrow of the world worketh death.” The sorrow of the world is the sorrow that arises from an event's taking place; and this worketh death, because there is no remedy for it. If we ought to be sorry, all things considered, that any event has taken place, then it is utterly impossible that either God, or his holy creatures, can be completely blessed. But if there be no cause to be sorry, all things considered, that any action or event has taken place, then sinners may loathe and abhor their sins, as God loathes and abhors them, and yet be completely happy. Godly sorrow, or true repentance, is not only consistent with, but absolutely necessary to, the highest happiness of sinners. While they condemn and loathe their own conduct, they may rejoice for ever in the conduct of God towards themselves and all other dependent beings.
Finally, if it be true that the actions of men may be properly ascribed both to God and to themselves; then it is of great importance for mankind to believe and acknowledge this truth. It runs through the whole Bible, and stands inseparably connected with all God's conduct towards his creatures, and with all their conduct towards him and one another. It is so far from casting any darkness or obscurity over the scriptures, that it throws peculiar light upon all the doctrines and duties of the gospel, and upon all the works of God and man in the dispensations of providence and grace. While we see the consistency of human and divine agency in all the actions of men, we can read the sacred volume with great edification and delight, and clearly discern the heart and hand of both God and man, in all the small as well as great events which take place in the world. But without seeing and believing this truth, not only the world, but the Bible, must appear to us full of darkness and mystery, which it will be out of our power to penetrate or remove.
It is therefore of as much importance to see and believe the connection and consistency of divine agency in human actions, as it is to see God, ourselves and all intelligent beings in a clear and true light, and to know how we ought to feel and conduct towards them. It is only in the view of this truth, that all holy creatures will be the most completely happy, and all unholy ones the most completely miserable, through the boundless ages of eternity. It highly behooves every person to look into, and understand this most interesting subject. It will be no excuse to say that he cannot understand it, while he neglects to examine it with a fixed, deliberate and impartial attention. Those who do not know and love it in this world, must know and hate it for ever; which will be the consummation of their future misery
SERMON X X VIII.
THE AGENCY OF GOD UNIVERSAL.
I, The Lord, do all these things. – ISAIAH, xlv, 7.
In this chapter God foretells the character and conduct of Cyrus, whom he designed to employ as the principal instrument of restoring his people from their long captivity in Babylon to their native country. And to give more weight and solemnity to his prediction, he asserts, in the strongest terms, his own divinity, unity, supremacy and universal agency. “ Thus saith the Lord to his anointed, to Cyrus, whose right hand I have holden, to subdue nations before him; and I will loose the loins of kings; to open before him the two leaved gates, and the gates shall not be shut. I will go before thee and make the crooked places straight; I will break in pieces the gates of brass, and cut in sunder the bars of iron; and I will give thee the treasures of darkness and hidden treasures of secret places, that thou mayest know that I, the Lord, who call thee by name, am the God of Israel ; for Jacob my servant's sake, and Israel mine elect, I have called thee by thy namne; I have surnamed thee, though thou hast not known me.
I am the Lord, and there is none else; there is no God besides me; I girded thee, though thou hast not known me; that they may know from the rising of the sun and from the west, that there is none beside me. I am the Lord, and there is none else; I form the light and create darkness; I make peace and create evil. I, the Lord, do all these things." This is the connection of the text, which, in this connection, contains a truth that it equally concerns all mankind to understand and believe. The truth is this : The agency of God is universal. VOL. IV.
To set this important truth in as clear a light as I am able, I shall endeavor to show,
I. In what the agency of God consists; and,
All who acknowledge the existence of God, are agreed that he brought this world out of nothing by his own proper agency. But they are not so well agreed in what his agency consists. The variety of opinions on this subject has been a source of many great and dangerous errors respecting the doctrines of the gospel. A misapprehension of divine agency has been the occasion of involving some important subjects in great darkness and obscurity. It is, therefore, much to be desired, that the agency of the first and supreme Cause should be exhibited in a clear and intelligible manner. There can be no agency where there is no choice or design. An agent is one who exerts his power to produce some effect. Accordingly God, to convince mankind of his great and powerful agency, mentions the great and important effects he has produced. He says he held the hand of Cyrus, subdued nations before him, loosed the loins of kings, opened before him the two leaved gates, brake in pieces the gates of brass, and cut in sunder the bars of iron. And after mentioning these great effects, he adds: “I form the light and create darkness; I make peace and create evil; I, the Lord, do all these things." That is, I produce all these great and marvellous effects of choice or design. Hence we may safely say that the agency of God consists in his will, his choice or volition ;* and in nothing which is either the cause or consequence of his willing or choosing to produce any effect, or bring about any event. It is plain that his bare knowledge cannot produce any effect. Our knowledge of any thing present or to come has no tendency to produce any effect. And though God's knowledge be infinite or unlimited, yet his knowledge never did and never can produce any effect. His knowledge that he should create the world had no tendency to create it; and his knowledge of any future event never had the least tendency to bring it to pass. So that his agency does not in the least degree consist in his knowledge. Nor does his agency consist in his wisdom, which enables him to form the most extensive and perfect designs. His forming the great plan of creation, of providence and redemption, had no tendency to produce those great and glorious effects. That plan existed completely in his own mind before he took one
* The terms will, choice and volition, are generally used by Dr. Emmons as they are by President Edwards, in a general sense, including the affections, desires, &c., as well as the executive acts of the mind. - ED.