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evil, I will repent of the evil that I thought to do unto them.”
These texts, and some others, seem to imply, that God is not always in one mind; but is turned from his purposes, or made to regret having executed them, sometimes by the wickedness, and sometimes by the repentance and prayers of his creatures. But it is very certain that all such texts are to be understood cnly as figurative representations, accommodated to our thoughts and ways ; or as speaking after the manner of men.
We also read of the arm of the Lord, and of his hand and eyes ; yet no one, unless grossly ignorant, will suppose that God, who is a spirit, has actually such bodily organs as these. The eyes of the Lord are his understanding; his hand or arm, denotes his power : And, in like manner, he is said to repent, when he alters his treatment of creatures from what it had been, or seemed about to be. When he destroys what he had created, or spares those whom he had threatened to de. stroy. In these cases, however, the alteration is in them, and not at all in him : and all these variations in his ways, he foresaw, and fully determined, from all eternity. But,
2. Some may reject this doctrine, and others misimprove it, as though the inevitable consequence of it were, that all supplications and intercessions to God, can avail nothing. If he will do just as he sees fit after all, and just as he had eternally fore-ordained—if he be so in one mind that nothing can turn him, it may be said, Why should we call upon him ? “and what profit should we have if we pray unto him?"
To this it may be answered,
1. That whatever difficulty there may be in reconciling the efficacy of prayer, with the immutabil. ity of God, yet both must be believed, if we believe the scriptures : and we must impute the seeming inconsistency between them, to their being matters too high for our comprehension. That with God there is no shadow of turning, we are expressly assured in his word, and must necessarily conclude from his other perfections. But we are also abundantly taught that he heareth prayer, and is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him. It is written, “He will regard the prayer of the destitute, and not despise their prayer.” It is written, “ I said not unto the seed of Jacob, Seek ye me in vain.” It is written, “ The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much.” And our great Teacher hath told us; “ Ask, and it shall be given you ; seck, and
shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you."
There are also many examples of the wonderful efficacy of prayer, recorded in the holy scriptures, for our encouragement to this duty. We have the instance of Jacob's wrestling in prayer until the breaking of the day; to whom it was said, “Thy name shall be called Israel ; for as a prince hast thou power with God, and hast prevailed.” We have repeated instances of the prevalence of the fervent intercession of Moses, for averting the threatened vengeance of God, and the utter destruction of his people in the wilderness. We have the instance of the Ninevites : when Jonah, by express divine command, had made a solemn public proclamation; “ Yet forty days, and Ninevah shall be overthrown:” Nevertheless, on their fasting, and crying mightily unto God, we are told, “ God repented of the evil that he had said he would do unto them; and he did it not."
From these declarations and examples, it is certain, if the Bible be true, that prayer is not a vain thing; however hard it may be to conceive how it can be of any avail, if God changeth not, and is not to be turned.
2. It may be observed, that there is no more difficulty in this, than there is in reconciling God's decrees, or even his fore knowledge, of whatsoever comes to pass, with its being of the least avail to use any means for the preservation of our lives, for the recovery of bodily health, or for procuring our daily bread. But,
3. In every case, the true solution is, that God hath decreed the means, as well as the end: or that, though he hath determined whatever he will do, and never alters his mind, yet he hath determined to do things in a certain way, and in no other. Some things indeed, God determined from eternity, to bring to pass without means; and these he thus brings to pass. But concerning those events which he determined to effect by the use of means, it is not true that they would come to pass at all, if the appointed means were not used. What God hath thus joined together, cannot be put asunder. To suppose that things which he designed to do by certain means, he afterwards should accomplish without the use of those means, is to suppose him mutable. It is to suppose an alteration in the Divine Mind. If God be unchangeable, he will do every thing in the very way he hath purposed, and in no other way.
Respecting prayer, in particular, the subject now under consideration ; some mercies, God, from eternity, determined to bestow without being sought unto for them : for instance, giving men capacities and a disposition to seek and serve him. In regard to these, he is found of them that sought him not; and hath mercy on whom he will have mercy. But there are other blessings, which though he hath determined to grant, yet he hath as absolutely determined to be sought unto for them first ; and to bestow them only in answer to prayer. This is the case with respect to the pardon of transgressors, and giving them a covenant title to eternal life. And this is the case respecting many temporal deliverances and salvations. When God hath determined to deliver a sinful people from threatened judgments, he will deliver them ; but he will yet, for all this, be inquired of to do it for them. He will first cause them to repent, and accept the punishment of their iniquities. He will take away the stony heart out of their flesh, and give them a heart of flesh—a feeling, sensible heart; a heart to mourn for their sins with godly sorrow, and to seek unto him, in a humble, penitent manner. And in this way only, will he restore them to his favor, plant them, and cause them to flourish. But when he hath determined to destroy a guilty nation, though Noah, Daniel and Job were in it, and interceded night and day for it, their intercessions could be of no avail. Some favors God will confer upon persons at the request of others merely ; other things he will not bestow on any until they seek to him themselves.
Some blessings may always be obtained, if we ask aright for them ; pardoning mercy, justifying grace, and progressive sanctification : in other cases God will sometimes grant the particular requests of his children ; and sometimes will refuse them in mercy. But all these diversities of operation, and the real efficacy of the prayer of faith, are fully reconcilable with the eternal unchangeableness of His purpose, who worketh all things after the counsel of his own will.
I shall now conclude with a few reflections, aris.ing from what has been said upon this subject.
1. We may hence see that the immutability of God is a glorious attribute. That His being so in one mind that none can turn him, instead of affording any cause of complaint or uneasiness, is matter of the highest joy and rejoicing. We have seen that this is necessarily the consequence of his infin
ite wisdom, power and goodness; and that it is not inconsistent with his hearing prayer, or being easy to be entreated : and it is evidently necessary to be believed, as the ground of trust and confidence in him. Could he be persuaded to alter his eternal plan, or any part of it, by our arguments or entreaties, not his wisdom and power, but the weakness and-folly of partial, ignorant creatures, would govern the world. In one whose understanding can never err, and who is always disposed to do what is best, immoteable fixedness in his own opinion and intention, is certainly to be rejoiced in and adored. Hence Moses says, “ Because I will publish the name of the Lord, ascribe ye greatness to our God : He is the Rock, his work is perfect-just and right is he.” David also says,
" Who is a God, save the Lord ? or who is a rock save our God.” And again, “Of old hast thou laid the foundation of the earth, and the heavens are the work of thy hands. They shall perish, but thou shalt endure ; yea, all of them shall wax old like a gárment ; as a vesture shalt thou change them, and they shall be changed, but thou art the same."
2. We may learn from this subject, the unreasonableness and danger of that power for which some contend, as essential to the freedom of a moral agent : - power to will and act this way or that, in all cases ; contrary to one's own disposition, as well as according to it. The Almighty himself has not this power : if he had, what Rock-what immoveable basis-what firm foundation would there be in the universe, on which the mind of a good man could be stayed, and kept in perfect peace! The want of such a power as this, is implied in that immutability of the Supreme Being, which is essential to be believed, as the ground of all trust and confidence in him. Were it possible for God to lie, or to act unwisely, unjustly, or unmercifully ; or were it