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This bold statement he illustrates by adducing for special remark, several of the more important truths of revelation. It is interesting to see how he connects the doctrine of Christ crucified for the sins of men, with this deeper and more comprehensive truth, and shows its relation of dependence.
"It is an essential doctrine of the Gospel, that Christ died on the cross to make an atonement for sin. But there is no truth in this doctrine, unless God decreed to save sinners. For Christ professed to come in the name of his Father, to obey his Father, and to die at the express command of his Father. But if his Father never decreed the salvation of sinners, it is certain that his Father never sent him, and never commanded him to die in the room of sinners; so that Christ is found a false witness. And then, though he died on the cross, his death could make no atonement, and be of no avail to the salvation of sinners. But if he died according to the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God; if he was obedient to his Father, even unto the death of the cross; then his dying, the just for the unjust, may avail to bring sinners unto God. The truth of Christ's mission, and the value of his death, depend upon the doctrine of divine decrees. And the denial of this doctrine is virtually and necessarily the denial of the atonement of Christ, and the whole glory of the Gospel."
By a similar train of thought, he exhibits the relation of this, to several other truths of Christianity. The doctrine of God's perfect holiness, of the divine inspiration of the Scriptures, of the world's conversion to Christ, of the perseverance and eternal happiness of the saints, of the certain and everlasting destruction of the wicked, of the general resurrection, and of all things working together so as to subserve the glory of God and the highest good of the universe, he proves, in his own decisive manner, to be indissolubly connected with the doctrine of divine decrees. This is to those fundamental. This rejected, those cannot be maintained. This obscured, dimness covers the whole scheme of salvation.
Impressed with these views, it is not wonderful that he labored so diligently and studied so profoundly that he might elucidate and defend this truth. He could not do less than insist with uncompromising earnestness on the duty of all who preach the Gospel, to declare the whole counsel of God' on this subject. Believing as he did, that God's purposes, rightly apprehended, impart strength and glory to the entire system of religious truth,' that, as luminous points they 'radiate a light clear and beautiful on all the works and ways of God,"2 it was not in his nature to refrain from untiring effort that other eyes 2 Ib. pp. 281, 282.
'Works, Vol. IV. p. 278.
might behold their unvailed beauty, and other hearts be affected by their elevating power.
Nor was he satisfied with 'preaching up' this doctrine, unless it were so presented as to 'preach down' its opposing error. He thought it the office of light so to shine as to disperse darkness. To him the true was so true, that necessity was laid upon him to expose the falseness of the false. By a law of mental association, whenever he considered any important portion of theology, its antagonistic error was almost sure to be suggested to his mind. The hostile relation of one to the other, he was quick to detect and prompt to declare. Respecting the point now before us, in particular, he neither asked nor gave quarter. He had taken his position, and would fortify it by every means at his command. If attacked, whether by an open enemy or a covert foe, his defence was spirited and courageous; and very often, changing positions with his assailant, his part of the contest became boldly aggressive. The man who felt that a blow was aimed at the foundation of all his hope, was not likely to be passive until it had been delivered. He who believed that 'every scheme of doctrine which ignores the decrees of God, subverts the whole Gospel, and strikes at the basis of rational and revealed religion,' must have been a traitor to his faith not to oppose every such scheme with something of the spirit which impelled 'Michael and his angels against the dragon.'
It will have been already understood, that our author so conceived and presented this subject as to make it eminently practical. He made it fruitful of test questions respecting Christian character. It was difficult for him to see how any valid evidence of likeness to God can exist in a human heart, which has no lively satisfaction in view of the decrees of God. That a person can be indifferent respecting a subject which brings God so near to us, and places our interests for time and eternity under his sovereign control;2 that one can fail to be conscious of a pure joy while reflecting that God will deal with us and ours, with all creatures and things, according to the 'counsel whereby he purposeth all things for his own glory,' and yet be a child of God and an heir of heaven;- this was to him more than a mystery. It was an impossibility. Thus he made his most elaborate discussions of abstract truth subservient of the highest practical results.
There are but few preachers who expatiate so largely on the doctrine of God's purposes as did Dr. Emmons; and some have suggested that he gave it undue prominence. They imagine that, on this account, his system lacks symmetry and exhibits distortion. But it would be difficult to point to an author who insisted more frequently
I Works, Vol. IV.
on the importance of studying truth in its connections. thought more highly of presenting each part of the Gospel so that it should harmonize with every other. Whatever may have been suggested to the contrary, he was the last man to isolate the doctrine of decrees, and exalt that at the expense of any other revealed truth. While, however, he illustrated it in connection with other points and rejoiced in the light which they mutually reflect, he dwelt with peculiar interest on the relation subsisting between the decrees and the
$6. Agency of God.
He saw in this relation, a high order of moral beauty. That God 'has foreordained whatsoever comes to pass,' is a truth which exercised and gratified his best powers; but to contemplate this by itself alone, met the demands of neither his intellect nor his heart. He required that this should be associated with its kindred doctrine of the divine agency. Disjoined, each lacks completeness and efficiency. Reciprocally complemental, they dislike separation as nature abhors a vacuum. It is only when the utterances of each are harmoniously responded to by the other, that their real grandeur and power can be appreciated.
On the nature of God's agency, Dr. Emmons bestowed intense and prolonged thought. Dissatisfied with the various, not to say contradictory speculations of others upon the subject, he strove to compass a view of it which should commend itself alike to consciousness, reason and Scripture. Believing that it had often been so presented as to be
a source of grave errors respecting the doctrines of the Gospel,'1 and that a clear exposition of its nature and sphere of operation would throw light on the entire system of revealed truth, he devoted himself to its study with all the enthusiasm of his ardent nature. The results of his investigation can be succinctly stated, and easily apprehended. Whether we agree with him or not, we can hardly mistake his meaning.
First of all, he distinguishes between the knowledge and agency of God. To know, is not to do. God's omniscience is one thing; his action, another. Knowledge, whether of duty or of power, is essentially distinct from the performance of the one, or the use of the other. He next discriminates between wisdom and agency. God, unerring in wisdom, forms the best possible designs and adopts the best means for their accomplishment; but this is very different from actually carrying his plans into effect. Nor are agency and power synonymous. Power to
1 Works, Vol. IV. p. 378.
Agency of God.
do and actual performance, though the latter presupposes and necessitates the former, are yet by no means one and the same.
"He [God] had power to create the world before he created it. Power may exist without any exercise or exertion. The agency of God, there-. fore, does not consist in his power to act, or in his omnipotence." "None of his natural perfections can produce any effect without his willing it; and after he has willed it, his agency is no farther concerned in its production. His agency consists in nothing before his choice, nor after his choice, nor beside his choice. His willing or choosing a thing to exist, is all that he does in causing it to exist."2
The agency of God is perfectly free. To act of choice, is to act with entire freedom. An agent is free just so far as he is voluntary; and God being perfectly voluntary in all his action, is also perfectly free.3
But agency may be perfectly free and voluntary, and yet have no moral character. A mere animal may act of choice, in view of motives adapted to influence his will; but having no power to distinguish right from wrong nor to appreciate the nature of either, he cannot be a moral agent. Man, having this power, acts so as to be worthy of praise, or deserving of blame. God, having the most perfect discernment of the difference between moral good and moral evil, acts voluntarily, freely, and morally. The righteous Lord loveth righteousness.' His volitions are all holy. His choice ever has been, is, and ever will be, to do what is wisest and best. To suppose that he can choose otherwise, is to suppose what involves an absurdity. On a point of so much interest, however, Dr. Emmons should be allowed to speak his own thoughts in his own words.
"God always acts not only voluntarily and freely, but benevolently. All his volitions are virtuous and holy. He always chooses to act perfectly right. It is morally impossible for him to have a selfish or sinful volition. There is no more difficulty in forming clear and just conceptions of the free, voluntary and moral agency of God, than in forming clear and just conceptions of his power, wisdom and goodness. Nor is there any more difficulty in forming clear and just conceptions of his power, wisdom, goodness and agency, than in forming clear and just conceptions of human power, wisdom, goodness and agency. Power in God is of the same nature as power in man. Wisdom in God is of the same nature as wisdom in man. Goodness in God is of the same nature as goodness in man. And free, voluntary, moral agency in God is of the same nature as free, voluntary, moral agency in man. If this be not true, we can form no right conceptions of our Creator, and can never know that
3 Ib. 380.
1 Works, Vol. IV. p. 379.
he is a wise, powerful, benevolent and active being; for we derive all our ideas of God from our ideas of ourselves. To say, therefore, that God's agency is different in nature from our own, is as absurd as to say that his knowledge, his power, or his moral rectitude is different from our own. And to say this, is to say that we have not and cannot have any true knowledge of God. We may then rest satisfied that God is a perfectly free, voluntary, moral agent; and that his free, voluntary, moral agency solely consists in the mere exercise of his will. I have dwelt the longer on this point, because it is a point of great importance to be understood, in order to have just conceptions of God, who is the first, the greatest and best of Beings, of whom, and through whom, and to whom, are all things."
The agency of God is universal. Proof; God has made all things. He upholds all things by the word of his power. He has made all things for himself; and therefore his agency must extend to all created objects in the universe. Possessing both a right and a power to do what he pleases with his own, and to govern them so that they shall subserve the purposes of his own glory, we cannot conceive it to be possible even for God himself to do this, without exercising a constant powerful agency over all his creatures and all his works, throughout his dominions.'2
It should be observed, however, that while Dr. Emmons strenuously insisted on the universality of divine agency, he was particularly careful to foreclose the inference that God is the only free moral agent in the universe. He had no pantheistic tendencies. High as he exalted God, he would give man his true place. As we shall see, when we reach his teachings respecting man, he fully believed in the voluntariness and entire freedom of human agency. Denying the doctrine of man's independence, he yet taught with earnestness and power that of his freedom and responsibility. God is the only independent moral agent in the universe; but there are as many free moral agents, as there are individuals possessing reason and conscience. God indeed, does all things after the counsel of his own will; but his will is that man should evermore act of choice in view of motives. 'Men are as much free, voluntary, moral agents, while dependent on God and under his universal agency, as if they were self-existent, and independent of all other beings. Their dependence on God, and his controlling power over them, are perfectly consistent with their enjoying the same free moral agency that God himself enjoys."3 Other divines have taught substantially the same doctrine; but we have yet to learn who of them has explained it with so much precision, or made so ex
1 1 Works, Vol. IV. pp. 381, 382.
2 Ib. p. 383.
3 Ib. p. 385.