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That the providence of God is concerned about the sinful actions of creatures must be admitted. Joseph's brethren committed a most wicked and unnatural action in selling him to the Midianites; but Joseph thus addressed his brethren : “Be not grieved, nor angry with yourselves, that ye sold me hither: for God sent me before you to preserve life.”—Gen. xlv. 5. The most atrocious crime ever perpetrated by human hands was the crucifixion of the Lord of glory; yet it is expressly affirmed that God delivered him into those wicked hands which were imbrued in his sacred blood: “Him, being delivered by the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God, ye have taken, and by wicked hands have crucified and slain.”-Acts ii. 23. At the same time, it is indisputable that God cannot be the author nor approver of sin. To solve the difficulty connected with this point, theologians distinguish between an action and its quality. The action, abstractly considered, is from God, for no action can be performed without the concurrence of Providence; but the sinfulness of the action proceeds entirely from the creature. As to the manner in which the providence of God is concerned about the sinful actions of creatures, it is usually stated, that God permits them, that he limits them, and that he overrules them for the accomplishment of his own holy ends. But the full elucidation of this abstruse subject, so as to remove every difficulty, surpasses the human faculties. We are certain that God is concerned in all the actions of his creatures; we are equally certain that God cannot be the author of sin; and here we ought to rest.
SECTION V.-The most wise, righteous, and gracious God, doth oftentimes leave for a season his own children to manifold temptations, and the corruption of their own hearts, to chastise them for their former sins, or to discover unto them the hidden strength of corruption, and deceitfulness of their hearts, that they may be humbled ; 19 and to raise them to a more close and constant dependence for their support upon himself ,and to make them more watchful against all future occasions of sin, and for sundry other just and holy ends.90 19 2 Chron. xxxii. 25, 26, 31. 2 Sam. 20 2 Cor. xii. 7-9. Ps. Ixxiii. ; lxxvii.
1" ], 10, 12. Mark xiv, 66, to end.
John xxi. 15. 17.
SECTION VI.-As for those wicked and ungodly men whom God, as a righteous judge, for former sins doth blind and harden,a from them he not only withholdeth his grace, whereby they might have been enlightened in their understandings, and wrought upon in their hearts, ao but sometimes also withdraweth the gifts which they had,23 and exposeth them to such objects as their corruption makes occasion of "sin, ** and withal, gives them over to their own lusts, the temptations of the world, and the power of Satan; , 25 whereby it comes to pass that they harden themselves, even under those means which God useth for the softening of others. **
21 Rom. i. 24, 26, 28; xi. 7, 8.
26 Ex. vii. 3; viii. 15, 32. 2 Cor. ii.
15, 16. Is, viii. 14. 1 Pet. ii. 7, 8. Is. vi. 9, 10. Acts xxviii. 26, 27.
God cannot possibly solicit or seduce any man to sin; for this is inconsistent with the purity of his nature.-James i. 13, 14. But, in righteous judgment, God sometimes permits persons to fall into one sin for the punishment of another. He deals in this way even with his own dear, but undutiful, children. Sometimes he leaves them for a season to temptations, and to the lusts of their own hearts, for their trial, or to discover to themselves the latent corruptions of their hearts, to humble them, and to excite them to more fervent prayer and unremitting watchfulness. Thus, God left Hezekiah to try him, that he might know, or make known, all that was in his heart.--2 Chron. xxxii. 31. Sometimes God deals in this manner with his own children to chastise them for their former sins. Thus,“ The anger of the Lord was kindled against Israel, and he moved David against them to say, Go number Israel and Judah.”_2 Sam. xxiv. 1. In Scripture, God is frequently said to harden wicked men for their former sins. This he does, not by infusing any wickedness into their hearts, or by any direct and positive influence on their souls in rendering them obdurate, but by withholding his grace, which is necessary to soften their hearts, and which he is free to give or withhold as he pleases; by giving them over to their own hearts' lusts, to the temptations of the world, and the power of Satan; and by providentially placing them in such circumstances, or presenting such objects before them,
as their corruption makes an occasion of hardening themselves.
SECTION VII.-As the providence of God doth, in general, reach to all creatures ; so, after a most special manner, it taketh care of his Church, and disposeth all things to the good thereof."
27 | Tim. iv. 10. Amos ix. 8,9. Rom. viii. 28. Is. xliii. 3-5, 14.
The providence of God may be considered as general and as special. His general providence is exercised about all his creatures ; his special providence is exercised, in a particular manner, about his Church and people. “The eyes of the Lord run to and fro throughout the whole earth, to show himself strong in behalf of them whose heart is perfect towards him.”—2 Chron. xvi. 9. God has the interests of his own people ever in view; he knows what is most conducive to their happiness; and he will make all things, whether prosperous or adverse, to co-operate in promoting their good.-Rom. viii. 28. In all past ages, God has watched over his Church with peculiar and unremitting care ; he has sometimes permitted her to be reduced to a very low condition, but he has also wrought surprising deliverances in her behalf. The very means which her enemies intended for her destruction and ruin have, by an overruling Providence, been rendered subservient to her edification and enlargement.-Acts viii. 4. The preservation of the Church, in spite of the craft and malice of hell, and of all the pernicious errors and bloody persecutions which have threatened her ruin, is no loss wonderful than the spectacle which Moses beheld,-a bush burning but not consumed. And let us still confide and rejoice in the promise of Christ, that the gates of hell shall never prevail against his Church.
1 Gen. iii, 13. 2 Cor. xi. 3.
OF THE FALL OF MAN, OF SIN, AND OF THE PUNISHMENT
THEREOF. SECTION I.-Our first parents being seduced by the subtilty and temptation of Satan, sinned in eating the forbidden fruit. This their sin God was pleased, according to his wise and holy counsel, to permit, having purposed to order it to his own glory."
12 Rom. xi. 32.
EXPOSITION, That man is now in a very corrupt and sinful state, universal experience and observation attest. That he was not originally formed in this degraded state might be inferred from the character of his Maker; and the Scriptures explicitly affirm that he was at first created in the image of Godin a state of perfect rectitude. The question then arises, How was moral evil introduced into the world ? To this important question reason can give no satisfactory answer. Pagan philosophers could not fail to observe the degeneracy of human nature; mournful experience taught them that evil had come into the world; but to assign the source of evil, was knowledge too wonderful for them; numerous were their conjectures, and all remote from the truth. Divine revelation, however, sets this matter in a clear and certain light; and our Confession, in accordance with the inspired record, traces the entrance of sin to the seduction and disobedience of our first parents. They “ sinned in eating the forbidden fruit.” This supposes that the fruit of a certain tree was prohibited. The moral law was impressed upon the heart of man at his creation, and entire conformity to it was his indispensable duty; but, besides this natural law, God was pleased to give man a positive law, restricting him from the use of the fruit of a particular tree in the garden. “The Lord God commanded the man, saying, Of every tree of the garden thou mayest freely eat: but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it.”—Gen. ii. 16, 17. Without loosening his obligation to yield obedience to the whole moral law, God summed up the duty of man in this single positive injunction, and constituted his abstaining from the fruit of a certain tree the test of his obedience. The thing forbidden was
in its own nature quite indifferent, neither good nor evil; the prohibition was founded solely on the sovereign will of God; it was, therefore, a most proper trial of man's obedience to the divine authority.
The occasion of man's violating this express injunction of his Sovereign, was the temptation of Satan. The inspired historian, in the 3d chapter of Genesis, makes mention only of the serpent as concerned in seducing our first parents; but since we find Satan represented, in manifest allusion to the transactions of the fall, as a murderer from the beginning,” and as “ the old serpent and dragon” (John viii. 44 ; Rev. xii. 9, and xx. 2), we are led to the conclusion that Satan was the real tempter, and that he made use of the literal serpent as his instrument in carrying on the temptation. The various methods of fraud and cunning whereby he conducted his plot are stated in the sacred history, and have been illustrated by many eloquent writers.* It was not by force or compulsion, but only " through his subtlety that the serpent beguiled Eve." Seduced by the tempter, Eve“ took of the fruit, and did eat, and gave also unto her husband with her, and he did eat.”—Gen. iïi. 6. Thus the eating of the forbidden fruit was the first sin actually committed by man in our world. No doubt, our first parents were guilty of sin in their hearts, before they committed it with their hands; but the eating of the forbidden fruit was the first sin that was finished. “When lust hath conceived, it bringeth forth sin; and sin, when it is finished, bringeth forth death.”James i. 15.
To some the eating of an apple may appear a very trivial matter, and often have attempts been made to turn this grave subject into ridicule ; but, in judging of this act of our first parents, we must remember that they thereby transgressed an express prohibition of the Most High. Their abstaining from the tree of knowledge was the criterion by which their fidelity was to be tried, and their eating of the fruit of that tree was a violation of the whole law; for it was rebellion against the Lawgiver, and a renunciation of his authority.
This grand transgression," says a judicious author, “ though in its matter—to wit, eating a little fruit—it may be looked upon as a most mean and insignificant action ; yet, if we consider it in its formal nature, as disobedience to an express divine command, which precept was particularly chosen out and enjoined as the test of man's pure love, just gratitude, and absolute obedience to God, it was certainly most heinous sin. For behold what monstrous infidelity, ingra
* Berry Street Sermons, Serm. 10; Dwight's Theology, Serm. 27.