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penetrable depth of his decrees will fill our minds with sound and practical knowledge. "O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments, and his ways past finding out!"
In order to enter into the mind of the apostle, it is necessary to observe the subject to which he applies the text, and never to lose sight of the design of this whole epistle. The apostle chiefly proposes to counteract a scandalous schism in the church of Rome. This church was composed of two sorts of Christians, some converts from Judaism, others from Paganism. The Jews considered the Gentiles with contempt, as they always had been accustomed to consider foreigners. For their parts, they thought they had a natural right to all the benefits of the Messiah, because, being born Jews, they were the legitimate heirs of Abraham, to whom the promise was made, whereas the Gentiles partook of these benefits only by mere favour. St. Paul attacks this prejudice, proves that Jews and Gentiles, being all alike under sin, had all an equal need of a covenant of grace; that both derived their calling from the mercy of God; that no one was rejected as a Gentile, or adınitted as a Jew: but that they only should share the salvation published by the Messiah who had been elected in the eternal decrees of God. The Jews could not relish such humbling ideas, nor accommodate this doctrine to the prerogatives of their nation; and much less could they admit the system of the apostle on predestination. St. Paul einploys the chapter from which we have taken our text, and the two chapters before to remove their difficulties. He turns himself, so to speak, on every side to elucidate the subject. He reasons, proves, argues; but after he has heaped proofs upon proofs, reasonings upon reasonings, and solutions upon solutions, he acknowledges, in the words of the text, that he glories in falling beneath his subject. In some sense he classes himself with the most ignorant of his readers, allows that he has not received a sufficient measure of the Spirit of God to enable him to fathom such depths, and he exclaims on the brink of this great profound, "O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judginents, and his ways past finding out!" The apostle therefore wrote these words of the "deep things of God" chiefly with a view to the conduct of God with regard to such as he appoints to glory, and such as he leaves in perdition. I grant, were this text to be accurately discussed, it ought to be considered in regard to these events, and these doctrines; but nothing hinders our examining it in a more extensive view. The apostle lays down a general maxim, and takes occasion from a particular subject to establish a universal truth, that is, that such is the magnificence of God that it absorbs all our thought, and that to attempt to reduce the conduct of God to a level with our frail reason is to be guilty of extreme rashness.
This is what we will endeavour to prove. Come, Christians, follow us, and learn to know yourselves, and to feel your insignificance. We are going, by showing you the Deity in
four different views, to open to you four great deeps, and to give you four reasons for exclaiming with the apostle, "O the depth!"
The four ways in which God reveals himself to man, are four manners to display his perfections, and at the same time they are four abysses in which our imperfect reason is lost. These ways are-first, an idea of the Deity-secondly, of nature-thirdly, of Providence and fourthly, of revelation; four ways, if I may venture to speak thus, all shining with light, and yet all covered with adorable darkness.
1. The first mirror in which we contemplate God, and at the same time the first abyss in which our imperfect reason is lost, is the idea we have of the divine perfections. This is a path leading to God, a mirror of the Deity. To prove this, it is not necessary to examine how we came by this idea, whether it be natural or acquired, whether we derive it from our parents or our tutors, whether the Creator has immediately engraven it on the mind, or whether we ourselves have formed it by a chain of principles and consequences; a question much agitated in the schools, sometimes settled, and sometimes controverted, and on which both sides affirm many clear and substantial, though opposite propositions. Of myself, I am always fully persuaded that I have an idea of a Being supremely excellent, and one of whose perfections I am not able to omit without destroying the essence of the Supreme Being to whom it belongs. I know too that there must be somewhere without me an object answering to my idea; for as I think, and as I know I am not the author of the faculty that thinks within me, I am obliged to conclude that a foreign cause has produced it. If this foreign cause is a being that derives its existence from another foreign cause, I am necessarily obliged to proceed from one step to another, and to go on till I find a self-existent being, and this self-existent being is the infinite Being. I have then an idea of the infinite Being. This idea is not a phantom of my creation, it is the portrait of an original that exists independently of my reflections. This is the first way to the Creator; this is the first mirror of his perfections.
O how long, how infinitely extended is this way! How impossible for the mind to pervade a distance so immense! How obscure is this mirror! How is my soul dismayed when I attempt to sail in this imineasurable ocean! An infamous man, who lived in the beginning of the last century, a man who conceived the most abominable design that ever was, who formed with eleven persons of his own cast a college of infidelity, from whence he might send his emissaries into all the world to rase out of every mind the opinion of the existence of a God, this man took a very singular method to prove that there was no God, that was to state the general idea of God. He thought, to define was to destroy it, and that to say what God is, was the best way to disprove his existence. God," said that impious man, is a being who exists through infinite ages, and yet is not capable of past or to come, he fills all without being in any place, he is fixed without situation, he pervades all without motion, he is good without quality, great without quantity, universal without parts, moving all things
without being moved himself, his will consti-
But though it be absurd to argue against the existence of God from the eminence of his perfections, yet it is the wisdom of man to derive from this subject inferences humbling to his proud and infatuated reason. We detest the design of the writer just now mentioned, but we approve of a part of the definition which our atheist gives of God. Far from pretending that such a definition degrades the object of our worship from his supreme rank in the scale of beings, it inclines us to pay him the most profound homage of which creatures are capable, and to lay down our feeble reason before his infinite excellence.
will." All creatures in the universe owe their
Yes, "God is a being who exists through in-
But it is but little to humble man to detect
*The book from which our author quoted the above
to death, which sentence was executed Feb. 19, 1619.
ful to have done so without success. There are other objects more proper to humble human reason. Objects in appearance less subject to difficulty absorb the mind of man, whenever he attempts thoroughly to investigate them. Let him consider himself, and he will lose himself in meditating on his own essence. What is man? What is that soul which thinks and reflects? What constitutes the union of a spirit with a portion of matter? What is that matter to which a spirit is united? So many questions, so many abysses, so many unfathomable depths in the ways of the Creator.
What is the soul of man? In what does its essence consist? Is it the power of displaying his faculties? But then this consequence would follow, that a soul may have the essence of a soul, without having ever thought, reasoned, or reflected, provided it has the power of doing So. Is it the act of thinking? But then it would follow, that a spirit, when it ceases to think, ceases to be a spirit, which seems contrary to experience. What then is a soul? Is it a collection of successive thoughts? But how can such and such thoughts, not one of which apart is essential to a soul, constitute the essence of it when they are joined together? Is it something distinct from all these? Give us, if it be possible, a clear idea of this subject. What is a soul? Is it a substance immaterial," indivisible, different from body, and which cannot be enveloped in its ruins? Certainly: but when we give you this notion, we rather tell you what the soul is not, than what it is. You will say, you remove false notions, but you give us no true and positive ideas; you tell us indeed that spirit is not body, but you do not explain what spirit is, and we demand an idea clear, real, and adequate.
Let us conclude that nature, this mirror descriptive of God, is dark and obscure. This is emphatically expressed by two inspired writers, the apostle Paul and holy Job. The first says, God hath made all nations of men, the earth, the appointed seasons, and the bounds of men's habitation, that they should seek the Lord, if haply they might feel after him and find him," Acts xvii. 26. 29. "This is both a passable road to God, and an unfathomable abyss.” "That they might seek the Lord;" this is a way leading to God. "That they might find him by feeling after him;" this is the abyss. In like manner Job describes in lively colours the multitude and variety of the works of the Creator, and finishes by acknowledging, that all we know is nothing in comparison of what we are
As I confound myself by considering the nature of my soul, so I am perplexed again when I examine the union of this soul with this body. Let us be informed, by what miracle a sub-ignorant of. "He stretched out the north over stance without extension and without parts, the empty place, and hangeth the earth upon can be united to a substance material and ex- nothing. He hath compassed the waters with tended? What connexion is there between bounds. The pillars of heaven tremble, and willing to move and motion? What relation are astonished at his reproof. He divideth the has a trace on the brain to an idea of the mind? sea with his power. By his spirit he hath garHow does the soul go in search of ideas before nished the heavens, his hand hath formed the ideas present themselves? If ideas present them- crooked serpent." Yet "these are only part selves, what occasion for search? To have re- of his ways!" Job xxvi. 7, &c. Weigh these course to the power of God is wise, I grant, expressions well. This firmament, this earth, if we avail ourselves of this answer to avoid these waters, these pillars of heaven, this boundour ignorance; but if we use it to cover that, less space, the sun with its light, heaven with if we pretend to explain every thing by saying its stars, the earth with its plants, the sea with God is omnipotent, and can do all these things, its fish, these, "lo, these are only parts of his we certainly deceive ourselves. It is to say, I ways, but how little a portion is heard of him!" know nothing, in philosophical terms, and The glorious extent of his power who can unwhen, it should seem, we affect to say, I per- derstand! Let us then, placed as we are on the fectly understand it. borders of the works of nature, humbly exclaim, "O the depth!"
In fine, I demand an explication of the human body. What am I saying? the human body! I take the smallest particle of it; I take only one atom, one little grain of dust, and I give it to be examined by all the schools, and all the universities in the world. This atom has extent, it may be divided, it is capable of motion, it reflects light, and every one of these properties furnishes a thousand and a thousand questions, which the greatest philosophers can
when we occupy the chair of a professor, when we make it a law to answer every question, it is easy to talk, and, as the Wise Man expresses it, to "find a great deal to say."* There is an art, which is called maintaining a thesis, and this art is very properly named, for it does not consist in weighing and solving difficulties, or in acknowledging our ignorance; but in persisting to affirm our own position, and obstinately to defend it. But when we retire to our studies, coolly meditate, and endeavour to satisfy ourselves, if we have any accuracy of thought, we reason in another manner. Every sincere and ingenuous man must acknowledge that solidity, weight, light, and extent, are subjects, on which many very curious, and very finely imagined things have been said, but which to this day leave the mind almost in as much uncertainty as before. Thus the sublime genius, this author of so many volumes, this consummate philosopher cannot explain what a grain of dust is, so that one atom, one single atom, is a rock fatal to all his philosophy, against it all his science is dashed, shipwrecked, and lost.
My brethren, when we are in the schools,
III. Providence is the third path to God, and affords us new motives to adore his perfections: but which also confounds the mind, and makes
Eccles. vii. 29. The English translation of this text is man has sought out many inventions. The French Bible reads, Ont cherche beaucoup de descours, that is, mankind has found out a great many questions to ask, and a great many sophisms to affirm on this subject; or in other words, a great deal to say concerning the original rectitude of man. The original vague terms are rendered by some critics, Ipse se infinites miseuerit quaestionibus.
us feel that God is no less incomprehensible in his manner of governing the world than in that of creating it. It would be easy to prove this, if time would allow us to examine the secret way, which Providence uses to govern this universe. Let us be content to cast our eyes a moment on the conduct of Providence in the government of the church for the last century and a half.
Who would have thought that in a neighbouring kingdom a cruel and superstitious king, the greatest enemy that the Reformation ever had, he, who by the fury of his arms and by the productions of his pen, opposed this great work, refuting those whom he could not persecute, and persecuting those whom he could not refute, who would have thought that this monarch should first serve the work he intended to subvert, clear the way for reformation, and by shaking off the yoke of the Roman pontiff execute the plan of Providence, while he seemed to do nothing but satiate his voluptuousness and ambition?
Who would have thought that the ambitious Clement,† to maintain some chimerical rights, which the pride of the clergy had forged, and which the cowardice of the people and the effeminacy of their princes had granted, who would have believed, that this ambitious pope, by hurling the thunders of the Vatican against this king, would have lost all that great kingdom, and thus would have given the first stab to a tyranny, which he intended to
Who would have imagined that Zuinglius would have had such amazing success among the people in the world the most inviolably attached to the customs of their predecessors, a people scrupulously retaining even the dress of their ancestors, a people above all so inimical to innovations in religion, that they will hardly bear a new explication of a passage of Scripture, a new argument, or a modern critical remark, who would have supposed, that they could have been persuaded to embrace a religion diametrically opposite to that which they had imbibed with their mothers' milk?
Who would have believed that Luther could have surmounted the obstacles that opposed the success of his preaching in Germany, and that the proud emperor, who reckoned among his captives pontiffs and kings, could not subdue one miserable monk?
Who would have thought that the barbarous tribunal of the inquisition, which had enslaved so many nations to superstition, should have been in these provinces one of the principal causes of our reformation?
and proceed to the fourth, in which we are to treat of the depths of revelation.
IV. Shall we produce the mortifying list of unanswerable questions, to which many doctrines of our religion are liable; as for example those which regard the Trinity, the incarnation, the satisfaction, the union of two natures in Jesus Christ, the secret ways of the Holy Spirit in converting the souls of men, the precise nature of the happiness to be enjoyed in the intermediate state between our death and our resurrection, the faculties of glorified bodies, the recollection of what we shall have seen in this world, and many more of the same kind?
All this would carry us too far from the principal design of the apostle. It is time to return to the precise subject, which inspired him with this exclamation. The words of the text are, as we have intimated, the conclusion of a discourse contained in the ninth, tenth, and eleventh chapters of this epistle. Those chapters are the cross of divines. The questions there treated of concerning the decrees of God are so abstruse, that in all ages of the church, and particularly since the schism of Pelagius, divines, orthodox and heterodox, have employed all their efforts to give us a system free from difficulties, and they have all failed in their design.
To enable you to comprehend this, we are going succinctly to state their different systems; and the short view we shall take will be sufficient to convince you, that the subject is beyond the reach of the human mind, and that though the opinion of our churches has this advantage above others, that it is more conformable to right reason, and to the decisions of Scripture, yet it is not without its abysses and depths.
Let us begin with the system of Socinus and his followers. God, according to them, not only has not determined the salvation of his children, but he could not even foresee it. Whatever man resolves depends on his owr. volition, and whatever depends on human volition cannot be an object of the knowledge of God, so that God could not foresee whether I should believe or not believe, whether I should obey or not obey, whether I should receive the gospel or reject it. God made no other decree than that of saving such as believe, obey, and submit to his gospel: these things depend on my will, what depends on my will is uncertain, an uncertain object cannot be an object of certain knowledge: God therefore cannot certainly foresee, whether my condition will be eternally happy, or eternally miserable.
This is the system. Thanks be to God, we preach to a Christian auditory. It is not necessary to refute these errors, and you feel, I persuade myself, that to reason in this manner is not to elucidate, but subvert religion; it is at once to degrade God from his deity, and Scripture from its infallibility.
This system degrades God, for what, pray, is a God, who created beings, and who could not foresee what would result from their existence? A God who formed spirits united to bodies by certain laws, and who did not know how to combine these laws so as to foresee the effects they would produce? A God forced to suspend his judgment? A God who every day learns something new, and who does not know to-day
And perhaps the dark night, which now envelops one part of the church, will issue in a bright morning. Perhaps they, who in future time speak of Providence, will have reason to add to a catalogue of the deep things of divine government, the manner in which God shall have delivered the truth oppressed in a kingdom, where it once flourished in vigour and beauty. Perhaps the repeated blows given to the reformed may serve only to establish the reformation. But we abridge this third article, Pope Clement VII.
*Henry VIII. of England. Charles V.
what will happen to-morrow. A God who cannot tell whether peace will be concluded, or war continue to ravage the world; whether religion will be received in a certain kingdom, or whether it will be banished; whether the right heir will succeed to the crown, or whether the crown will be set on the head of a usurper? For according to the different determinations of the wills of men, of kings, or people, the prince will make peace, or declare war, religion will be banished or admitted, the tyrant or the lawful king will occupy the throne: for if God cannot foresee how the volitions of men will be determined, he cannot foresee any of these events. What is this but to degrade God from his Deity, and to make the most perfect of all intelligences a being involved in darkness and uncertainty like ourselves.
Farther, to deny the presence of God is to degrade Scripture from its infallibility, for how can we pretend to respect Scripture when we deny that God knows the determinations, and volitions of mankind? What then are we to understand by all the express declarations on this subject? For example, what does the psalmist mean? "O God, thou hast searched and known me. Thou knowest my downsitting and up-rising, thou understandest my thoughts afar off. Thou art acquainted with all my ways, for there is not a word in my tongue but thou knowest it altogether," Ps. cxxxix. 1, &c. What means God himself, speaking by Ezekiel? "Thus saith the Lord to the house of Israel, I know the thoughts that came into your mind every one of them," chap. xi. 5. And again by Isaiah; "I know that thou wouldst deal very treacherously," chap. xlviii. 8. What did St. Peter mean? speaking of his own thoughts, he said, "Lord, thou knowest all things," John xxi. 17. What does the Wise Man mean, who assures us, not only that God knows the hearts of kings, but that he has them "in his hand, and turneth them whithersoever he pleaseth as rivers of water!" Prov. xxi. 1.
Above all, how can this principle be reconciled to many express prophecies of events which being closely connected with the volitions of men could not have been certainly foretold, unless God at the time had a certain knowledge of these determinations? "The prescience of God," says Tertullian, "has as many witnesses as there are prophets and prophecies."* Had not God foreseen that Jesus Christ would preach the gospel in Judea, that the Jews would hate him, that they would deliver him to Pilate, that they would solicit his death, that Pilate would have the meanness and pusillanimity to yield to their entreaties; had not God known all these things, how could he have predicted them?
allured them to deny? The bondage of the human will seems to destroy the nature of man: this bondage must be denied. But the doctrine of absolute decrees seems to disagree with the liberty of man: these absolute decrees must be denied. But the foreknowledge of God cannot be allowed without the doctrine of decrees; the foreknowledge of God must be denied. But a thousand prophecies prove this prescience; the mystical sense of these prophecies must be de→ nied. But Jesus Christ has verified them: then Jesus Christ must be denied his titles, his attributes, his works, his worship, his satisfaction, his divinity, his union to God, his incarnation, must all be denied: he must be made a mere man, a prophet, a teacher, distinguished from others only by some extraordinary talents: the whole system of the gospel of salvation, and of redemption must be denied. To follow these ideas, my brethren, is to tumble from precipice to precipice without knowing where we shall stop.
But the men we oppose do not much respect the decisions of Scripture. The principle to which all this system tends, is, that reason is to decide on the doctrines of Scripture, and not that the doctrines of Scripture are to direct reason. This principle once granted, all the doctrines of our faith are subverted, as experience proves. See into what rash declarations this principle had conducted Socinus and his followers. What decision of Scripture, what doctrine of faith, what truth however established, repeated, and enforced, has it not * In his second book against Marcion.
We propose in the second place the system of our brethren of the confession of Augsburgh, and that of Arminius; for though they differ in other articles, yet they both agree pretty nearly in this point. Their system is this. They grant foreknowledge; but deny foreappointment. They allow indeed that God always foresaw who would be happy in heaven, and who victims in hell; but they tremble at the thesis, which affirms that God predestinated the first to felicity, and the last to misery. According to them, God made no other decree than to save believers, and to condemn infidels; he gave all men assistance sufficient to enable them to believe, and having only foreseen who would believe, and who would not believe, he made no decree to secure the faith of some, and the unbelief of the rest.
Although it is never our custom to envenom controversy, and to tax people with heresy for not being of our opinion; though we would rather reconcile opposite opinions than triumph in refuting them; yet we cannot help making three reflections. First, this system does not agree with itself-secondly, it is directly opposite to many decisions of the Holy Spirit, and particularly to the doctrine of the three chapters before us-and thirdly, should we grant the whole, a thousand difficulties would remain in the doctrine of the decrees of God, and we should always be obliged to exclaim, as these brethren must on this article, "O the depth!"
1. We affirm, that this system is inconsistent with itself, that the doctrine of prescience supposes that of predestination, and that unless we deny that God foresaw our salvation, we are obliged by our own thesis to affirm that he predestinated us to it. I grant there is a sense, in which it is true that to foresee a thing is different from determining to bring it to pass: but there is another sense, in which to foresee and foreappoint is one and the same thing. If I foresee that a prince sending armed troops into the house of the widow and orphan will expose that house to pillage, it is certain, my foresight has no influence in the fate of that house, and in this case to foresee the act of plundering is not a determination to plunder. But if the prince foresee the event,