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These words, in this connexion, plainly convey this general idea, that whatever God decrees shall take place, by the instrumentality of men, they have natural power to prevent. If this point can be clearly illustrated and established, it will serve to throw light upon some important and interesting subjects. Accordingly, I shall endeavour to make it appear,
I. That God does decree, that some things shall take place, by the instrumentality of men.
II. That such things shall certainly take place. And yet,
III. That men have natural power to prevent their taking place.
I. It is too plain to be denied, that God does decree, that some things shall take place, by the instrumentality of men. We know, that he determined to preserve Noah and his family in the general deluge; and he employed not only their agency, but the agency of many others, to effect his purpose. He predicted the preservation of Jacob and his family in a time of famine; and he employed Joseph to bring about the event. He determined to lead the children of Israel from the house of bondage to the land of promise; and he employed Moses, and Aaron, and Joshua, as the principal agents, to accomplish his design. He decreed to overthrow the Babylonian, Persian, and Grecian empires in succession; and he carried into execution his purposes, by the instrumentality of Cyrus, Alexander, and Augustus Cæsar. He determined, that Christ should be crucified; and he brought about the great and important event, by means of many wicked hearts and wicked hands. He determined, that the gospel of Christ should be speedily spread; and he qualified and disposed Peter, and his fellow apostles, to propagate it through all Judea. He determined, that it should
have a wider spread; and he raised up Paul to preach the glad tidings of salvation to the heathen world. And in connexion with this, he determined, that he should be carried to Rome, by means of a certain ship, and the instrumentality of certain sailors. These instances, and many more which the sacred writers have recorded, clearly prove, that God does decree to bring about the common events of providence, by the instrumentality of men. I proceed to show,
II. That whatever God has decreed to bring to pass, by the instrumentality of men, shall certainly take place. There is no room to doubt, whether that will take place, which God has determined to bring to pass by his own hand. This is so plain, that those who deny the doctrine of divine decrees in general, profess to believe, that God has decreed his own actions, and will most certainly act as he has determined to act. But many pretend to doubt, whether every thing, which God has decreed to be done, by human agency, will eventually come to pass. They suppose, therefore, there must be some uncertainty, with respect to such events as God determines to bring to pass, by human agency. But if God has decreed to bring about some events, by human agency, it is absolutely certain, that such agency will be exerted, and such events will exist. For, the divine decree always fixes the certainty of whatever is decreed, by establishing an infallible connexion between the means and the end. This is the difference between divine foreknowledge and decree. Foreknowledge does not make any future event, certain, but only proves that it is certain; whereas a decree makes a future event certain, by constituting an infallible connexion between the event decreed, and the cause or means of its coming to pass. When God decreed, that Paul and his company
should get safe to land, he fixed an infallible connex ion between their safety, and the exertion of the sailors who managed the ship. And it was this infallible connexion between the means and the end, which rendered this deliverance absolutely certain before it took place. Paul believed what the angel of God told him, and entertained no doubt of arriving safe to land, while danger stared him in the face on every side. His faith was founded upon the divine decree, which formed an infallible connexion between his safety and the means to bring it to pass. And upon the ground of this infallible connexion between the means and end, God represents the accomplishment of all his decrees as absolutely certain. "I am God, and there is none like me: declaring the end from the beginning, and from ancient times the things that are not yet done, saying, My counsel shall stand, and I will do all my pleasure." David declares, "The counsel of the Lord standeth forever. The thoughts of his heart to all generations." And Solomon asserts, "There is no wisdom, nor understanding, nor counsel against the Lord." And again he says, "There are many devises in man's heart; nevertheless, the counsel of the Lord, that shall stand." Men have often attempted to frustrate the divine decrees, but have never succeeded. Joseph's brethren endeavoured to defeat the divine purposes, but all their efforts served to bring them to pass. Pharaoh attempted to defeat the divine designs, but was made the active instrument of carrying them into execution. Ahab vainly imagined, that he could elude the divine decree, but met the arrow decreed to destroy him. No instance can be found of men's frustrating the decrees of God. Indeed, he challenges them to do this, if they can. "The Lord of hosts hath sworn, saying, surely as have thought, so shall it come to pass,
and as I have purposed, so shall it stand." And he said to his disobedient people, who went into Egypt with a design to frustrate his prediction, "Ye shall know whose words shall stand, mine, or yours." It is absolutely certain, that whatever God has decreed shall take place, whether with, or without, human agency, shall infallibly come to pass; because in all cases, his decree has established an inseparable connexion between the means and the end. If men are the means decreed, they shall as certainly as any other means decreed, contribute to the end, and eventually bring it to pass. But yet,
III. Those events which God has decreed to bring about, by the instrumentality of men, they have natural power to prevent. Though God had decreed and predicted, that Paul should stand before Cæsar, and that all who sailed with him should arrive safe to land; yet these very men had natural power to prevent the fulfilment of the divine decree and prediction. If the centurion and soldiers had suffered the sailors to leave the ship, which they had natural power to do, it would have proved the destruction of the whole company, Or if the soldiers had killed all the prisoners, as they proposed, and as they might have have done, Paul would not have stood before Cæsar, as God had decreed. And though it was decreed, that the ship and loading should be lost in the storm; yet this damage might have been prevented, if the master and owner of the ship would have hearkened to Paul. So he expressly told them, when it was too late to rectify their error. Though God decreed, that Noah should build the ark, and save his family, yet he had natural power to neglect that work, and so to frustrate that divine purpose. Though God decreed, that Joseph should preserve his father's family in Egypt during the famine, yet he had natural power and opportunity to destroy,
instead of preserving them, and so to prevent the event decreed and predicted. Though God decreed, that Hazael should kill the king his master; yet he had natural power to refrain from that traitorous deed, and so to prevent the evil, which God had determined and declared should exist. Though God decreed, that Judas should betray Christ; yet he had natural power to refrain from that action, to which he was bribed by the Jews and tempted by Satan, and so to counteract the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God. In these instances, there can be no doubt but that those, who fulfilled, had natural power to frustrate the divine purposes, which depended upon their agency. And now to make it appear, that this is true in all cases, I would observe,
1. That when God decrees, that any event shall be brought about, by the instrumentality of men, he always decrees, that they shall have natural power to fulfil his decree. This must be extremely plain to every one; for we cannot suppose, that God should decree, that any event should be brought about, by human agents incapable of bringing it about. But no man is capable of doing that which he has not natural power to do. When God decreed, that Hazael should destroy his royal master, he decreed, that Hazael should have both health and strength, to perform the traitorous deed, for had he been deprived of these, he could not have fulfilled the divine decree. This holds in all eases, in which a decreed event depends upon the instrumentality of men. The decree of God is so far from taking away the natural power of those, who are appointed to execute it, that it always secures that power. The decree which made it certain, that Judas should betray Christ, made it equally certain, that he should have natural power to perpetrate that crime; so that it was