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The Divine Purposes.

1.—The doctrine of the Divine Purposes, to some extent in the more general form of Providential arrangements, but especially when regarded as including the doctrines of Decrees and Election, and any and all results which rest specifically upon the decisions of the Divine will, has met with serious objections in the minds of many. And yet it cannot well be doubted, that the analogies of nature and the suggestions and arguments of a broad and reflective philosophy will be likely to discover an important and perhaps an indispensable truth in that direction. Our views will of course be based upon the accepted idea of the existence of God. And reasoning upon this basis, it must not be forgotten, that the facts of the universe, whatever they may be, embody the wisdom of the Great Mind of the universe; and the wisdom of the great superintending Mind cannot possibly be separated from his goodness.

And the first question which arises is, what has He done? In other words, what are the results of his mental decisions? We shall all agree I suppose, that we find the answer to this question in what we everywhere behold around us. Looking especially at man, who is commonly regarded as the greatest of His works, we find the condition of things so existing, which implies that they are so originated and so arranged, that there are innumerable diversities of rich and poor, of learned and ignorant, of those who are bowed in sickness and affliction, and those who are in prosperity, of men in palaces and men in dungeons, of men honored by virtues and men degraded by crimes. It may even be said that there are no two situations and no two characters which are precisely alike.

2.—Now it must be admitted that this state of things is not at variance with the thought and purpose of the great controlling Mind, who is at the head of all things. He has done it; and in the exercise of the highest wisdom, he intended to do it. It harmonizes with his idea of what is for the best; it constitutes a part of the divine plan—a plan which may safely appeal to the highest human reason for its acceptance and approval. It is possible that those who hold adverse or unfavorable positions, those who pine on beds of sickness or look out upon the bright world through the grates of a prison, may not always clearly see the evidences of wisdom or even of justice. But when we look away from individual cases which considered alone might perplex the judgment, and contemplate creation as a great system, in which the highest wisdom as well as the highest benevolence is called upon to develop itself, I think we cannot fail to approve of and to accept the wisdom of that grand creative idea, which harmonizes the central unity of things with the greatest possible diversities. In other words we find the leading principle of a philosophic answer to the objections that are made to the great doctrine of unity and diversity. Look abroad upon outward nature. And can it be affirmed that it is less beautiful or less wisely ordered, because it is not an unvaried and level expanse, but is diversified by rocks, valleys and mountains? And what would humanity be, where would be the interest attached to it, if everything were reduced to a dead level, without diversities of thought, without varieties of action, without the hills and valleys and rocky and rugged places of comparative situation, with all poor and none rich, or all rich and none poor: so that a man would find it impossible to be interested in the welfare of his neighbor, and still less to do him good. Such a state of things, like a dead level in the material world, would answer perhaps for a day or an hour, but would soon become a profitless and hopeless stupidity.

3.—And now, when we attempt to look more carefully into the origin of things or rather into the causes of things, not merely the beginning but the intelligent cause which makes their beginning, we are obliged to say, since we have nothing else to say, that the causative principle of this state of things is God himself. And we mean by this, that God stands at the head not only of creation but of the diversities of creation; not only of existence but of all the modifications and varieties of existence. God makes the sunshine, and God makes the storm. The springtime and the harvest; the summer and the winter are the Lord’s: God made the mountains: the hills and the valleys also are the works of his hand. The rivers and the fountains are his: and he makes mighty seas and oceans. The universe in some important sense, is the reflex of himself; and its infinite diversities are the expression of the wisdom and the boundless resources which are hidden in the infinitude of his nature. And this causative relation which makes him the responsible head of all things, extends to things intellectual and moral as well as physical; to man as well as to outward nature; to every incident of his being and every form of his activity. In the theological and dogmatic form of expression, to which we are now directing attention, it is a matter of purpose and decree. God sustains not merely a permissive, but a positive and authoritative relation. He has “decreed” the facts of existence, he has “elected” the course of individuals and empires.

4.—And all this, notwithstanding it seems to sound harshly, we can admit and affirm, when the matter is stated in its full extent and placed in its proper relations. Let it not be forgotten that in the universality of this grand “decree” and in the discriminations of that authoritative process which “elects” one vessel to “honor and another to dishonor,” he embraces as a part of his scheme the fact of man’s moral freedom and its inviolability; the immutable distinction of right and wrong; the relation of wrong to punishment and of punishment to wrong; the principle of growth by means of exertion and trial; the mighty compensations of time, which as time cannot be separated from eternity are known only to himself; the adjustment of diversities which are seen, with harmonies that are necessarily unseen, except by minds that can embrace all facts and all relations; that though some fall and some rise, yet there “is not a sparrow that falleth to the ground without his notice,” that though he saw his own Son nailed to the cross, yet he placed upon his head the crown which shall shine through the eternity of ages;—let these and many other things be remembered and taken into account in the consideration of this great subject. All that a proper regard for the truth requires is, that the proper breadth may be given to the problem; that it may be considered in its universality and in the measureless extent of its possibilities. And whether it be called “divine purpose,” or “decree,” or “election” or by any other name, it holds a truth, when properly discriminated and set in its true light, which philosophy accepts, and practical religion has never been able to dispense with.

5.—But if we must accept moral freedom at the same time that we accept divine supremacy, the question arises,—By what process can they be harmonized with each other? Where are the philosophic methods which can reconcile what either is, or at least has the appearance of being, a positive contradiction? If we take the ground that they are really contradictions, we must of course admit that they cannot be reconciled. But in point of fact there are, and can be no contradictions in the universe of God. A contradiction in the thoughts or acts of God, or in anything which makes a part of his created universe, necessarily implies an imperfection in his character entirely at variance with the accepted ideas of the completeness of his knowledge and wisdom. Collect and collate the facts that are presented to notice around us, facts mental as well as material; facts which pertain to the spiritual sphere of things as well as those which belong to the outward and tangible; and go further and establish all theories and systems which legitimately flow from them; and it is true of one and all of them that they do and must harmonize.

We do not say, nor would it be proper to say, that their harmony is always perceived; which is a very different thing. But the harmony exists, whether it be perceived or not. As the facts in their vast multitude overleap all known limitations, it is not possible that the human mind, in its acknowledged finiteness, should understand and adjust them all, either in themselves as objective facts or in their subjective relations. And this state of things lays the foundation for the exercise of belief existing in matters beyond the reach of the senses and even of consciousness. A true philosophy, one which includes God as well as man, embraces and affirms the doctrine of faith. And what we cannot understand as a matter of direct perception, we are still justified, on appropriate occasions, in having faith beyond the limit of the revelation of the understanding. And hence I think we may see a true philosophical spirit in a remark of Mr. Locke, where he says;—“I own freely to you the weakness of my understanding, that, though it be unquestionable that there is omnipotence and omniscience in God our Maker, and though I cannot have a clearer perception of anything than that I am free, yet I cannot make [meaning undoubtedly that he could not explain and clear up in all respects how it should be so,] freedom in man consistent with omnipotence and omniscience in God,
though I am as fully persuaded of both as of any truth I most firmly assent to; and therefore I have long since given up the consideration of that question, resolving all into this short conclusion, that if it be possible for God to make a free agent, then man is free, though I see not the way of it.”

6.—Humanity needs a God who is a reality and not a pretense. I think that man had rather be under a tyrant than under a liberty which is without law, or under an authority which gives no protection. God, who is neither the weakness of a semblance nor the cruelty of an injustice, is the protector of the weak and the avenger of the injured. He is no tyrant; but we recognize both wisdom and justice when we say he is God.

There are moral evidences as well as intellectual; evidences which are based upon human action. If the positive authority of God culminating in results which lead intelligent men to speak of his decrees, elections, and sovereign purposes, is not merely a dogmatism but a truth, it will be found to be strongly sustained as such by the practical results in the lives and acts of those who receive it. And undoubtedly the evidence from this source is such as to arrest attention. Among the men in all ages of the world who have been distinguished for firmness of purpose and endurance of trial, there have been a large number who have adopted these views of God. Such were the Waldenses, whose touching story will be remembered as long as the lofty cliffs shall stand, from which in the support of their opinions, they were thrown headlong and dashed to pieces.

Such were the Covenanters of Scotland, whose great theme was the sovereignty of God, and who in their trials and sufferings carried to the extreme of human endurance, could bless the hand that “doeth all things well.”

Such were the Jansenists who, in adopting the Augustinian method of religious thought, including the Protestant doctrine of Justification by Faith, took a position which exposed them to misrepresentation and to the greatest trials. The great names of Pascal, Arnauld and others among them, renowned alike for genius and piety, could not save them from fearful persecutions which have made their history memorable in the annals of human sorrow.

Such were the Pilgrims and Puritans of New England, whose instructive history is repeated by their descendants, not only on account of its strange and romantic incidents and its great civil and political results, but as an illustration of the greatness of human strength when it rests believingly on the strength and purpose of an Almighty Arm.

7.—It is true then, that God decides our destiny. And he does so, because all truth, all justice, and all good, look to him for the approbation of his wisdom, and for the support of his strength. Either God rules or what is called fatality rules. But the Absolute Religion which is the highest declaration of philosophy, rejects the unsatisfactory dogma of fatalism, as a dishonor to truth and a crucifixion to humanity. But in rejecting fatalism, it does not reject the doctrine of the divine supremacy. Men cannot afford to part with the great Calvinistic idea which has become a part of human history; but they will do well to surround it with accessories which save it from exaggerations and which present it in the true light