EXPLANATION OF THE CREATION.
Q. What do you mean when you say that God is the Creator and Sovereign Lord of all things?Return to Table of Contents
A. I mean that this one, only, living and true God, one in substance, and three in Persons, created the heavens and the earth, and all that they contain, all things visible and invisible; and that he still continues to preserve, govern and dispose of all things according to his own good will and pleasure.
Q. What do you mean by created all things?
A. I mean that God made all things out of nothing, by his word alone; for, as the scripture expresseth it, "He called those things that are not, as those that are," Rom. iv. 17. "He spoke and they were made, he commanded and they were created," Psal. cxlviii. 5. "And God said, Be light made, and light was made. - And God said, Let the waters that are under the heaven be gathered into one place, and let the dry land appear; and it was done so," - and God said, Let the earth bring forth the green herb - and it was so done," Gen. i. And of the Son it is said, "All things were made by him, and without him was nothing made that was made," Jo. i. 3. Also, "In him were all things created, in heaven and in earth, visible and invisible - All things were created by him and in him," Col. 1. 16. Lastly, of the Holy Ghost the scripture says, "In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth - and the spirit of God moved over the waters," Gen. i. 2. "His spirit hath adorned the heavens, and his artful hand hath brought forth the winding serpent," Job xxvi. 13. "By the word of the Lord the heavens were established, and all the power of them by the spirit of his mouth." Ps. xxii. 6. There is one most high Creator, almighty and a powerful King, and greatly to be feared, who sitteth upon his throne, and is the God of dominion, he created her, (to wit: wisdom) in the Holy Ghost," Ecclus. i. 8, 9.
Q. Had then this world a beginning?
A. Yes it had, and the scripture says, "In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth," Gen. i. 1.
Q. What was there before this world began?
A. Nothing but God alone, who had no beginning, but was from all eternity, perfectly happy in himself, and in his own divine perfections.
Q. Why did God create this world?
A. Not out of any necessity, or through force, but out of his own free will and good pleasure, and for his own glory; "for the Lord hath made all things for himself," Prov. xvi. 4. And, "Every one that calleth upon my name, saith he, I have created him for my glory, I have formed him and made him," Isa. xliii. 7. "Hence the saints in heaven continually cry out to him, "Thou art worthy, O Lord, to receive glory, and honor, and power; for thou hast created all things, and for thy pleasure they are and were created." Rev. iv. 11
FOR THE GLORY OF GOD.
Q. What do you mean by these words, for his own glory?Return to Table of Contents
A. I mean that God, by creating intelligent beings, capable of knowing and loving him, and inferior creatures for their use and benefit, displays to those beings his own divine perfections, his infinite power, wisdom, and goodness, that they may give glory to him, and render him the just homage of love, gratitude, obedience, and praise. Thus the holy scripture, speaking of the creation of man, says, "God set his eyes upon their hearts, to show them the greatness of his works, that they might praise the name which he hath sanctified, and glory in his wondrous acts," Ecclus. xvii. 7, 8.
Q. Does God still continue to preserve all things in the being which he gave them, or can they subsist without him, once they are made?
A. As God alone has being essentially, and of himself, and is independent of any other; so no creature has any being at all of itself, but is wholly dependent upon God; without whose continual conservation no creature could subsist for one instant; so that, were God for an instant withdraw his almighty hand from any creature, it would immediately fall back to its primitive nothing; for "he upholdeth all things by the word of his power," Heb. i. 3. "He is before all, and by him all things consist," Coo. i. 17. And therefore the wise man justly said to God, "How could anything endure if thou wouldst not? or be preserved, if not called by thee?" Wisd. xi. 26. On this account, God the Son declares, that He and his father are always working, to-wit: by the continual preservation of all creatures. "But Jesus answered them, My Father worketh until now, and I work," John v. 17.
Q. Can God destroy the whole world if he wills, and in what manner he pleases?
A. Most undoubtedly; for, as all creatures depend entirely on him, and have their very being and all their powers and faculties only from him, and at his pleasure; so he is sole maker, to do with all and every one of them what he wills; nor is there any thing that can resist or oppose him. Hence he says himself, "My word which shall go forth from my mouth, shall not return to me void; but it shall do whatever I please, and shall prosper in the things for which I sent it," Isa. lv. 11. And the royal Prophet declares, that, "The Lord is great, and our God is above all gods; whatsoever the Lord pleased, he hath done in heaven, in earth, in the sea, and in all the depths," Psal. cxxxiv. 5, 6. "All the inhabitants of the earth are reputed as nothing before him; and he doth according to his will as well with the powers of heaven, as among the inhabitants of the earth; and there is none that can resist his hand, and say to him, Why hast thou done it?" Dan. iv. 32. This was the comfort of the servants of God in their distress, "We trust, said they, in the Almighty Lord, who at a beck can utterly destroy both them that come against us, and the whole world," 2 Macch. viii. 18. And the holy scriptures are full of the wonderful effects of his Almighty power, and of his absolute dominion over all his creatures. There we are informed that at one time he stopped the course of the sun for several hours; that at another he made it even go back for ten degrees on the dial; and that he deprived it of its light at the death of Christ; that he divided the Red Sea into two, and gave his people a passage through the midst of it on dry ground; that he rained down food to them from heaven in the desert; that he gave them water out of the hard rock; that he changed the water in Egypt into blood, and at the marriage of Cana, into exquisite wine; that he hindered the fiery furnace from touching his faithful servants, who were thrown into it; that he raised the dead to life, commanded the winds and sea, cured all diseases, cast out devils, with many other such wonders, in an instant, and by his word alone; so that the scripture justly declares, that "the Lord is terrible and exceeding great, and his power is admirable," Ecclus, xliii. 31.; for "he only is mighty, the King of kings, and Lord of lords," 1 Tim. vi. 15.
Q. Can creatures produce any effect, or do any thing of themselves without the concurrence of Almighty God?
A. All the powers which creatures have to produce any thing, are given them by God, and depend entirely on his preservation: They therefore are only as instruments in his hand for accomplishing his will; of which, however, he has no need. They, indeed, can act with his concurrence, according to the powers he has given them; but he is the original cause on which they and all the effects they produce depend. Thus, it is God "who covereth the heavens with clouds, and prepareth rain for the earth, who maketh grass to grow on the mountains and herbs for the service of man," Ps. cxlvi. 8. Also, "the Most High hath created medicines out of the earth - but all healing is from God," Ecclus. xxxviii. 1, 4. For, "it was neither herb nor mollifying plaster that healed them; but thy word, O Lord, which heals all things," Wisd. xvi. 12. So also Isaiah says, "Lord, thou will give us peace, for thou hast wrought all our works for us," Isa. xxvi. 12. - And st. Paul, "There are diversities of operations; but it is the same God which worketh all in all," 1 Cor. xii. 6. "Neither he that planteth is any thing, nor he that watereth; but God that giveth the increase," 1 Cor. iii. 7. For "without me, saith God himself, you can do nothing," Jo. xv. 5. And "it is God that worketh in you, both to will and to accomplish, according to his good will," Phil. ii.13.
ALMIGHTY GOD RULES ALL CREATURES.
Q. Does then Almighty God rule, govern, and dispose of all creatures according to his will?Return to Table of Contents
A. He certainly does; all things belong to him; "the earth is the Lord's, and the fulness thereof, the world, and all the dwell therein," Ps. xxiii. 1. He disposes of all things according to his own pleasure, for "he doth according to his will, as well with the power of heaven as among the inhabitants of the earth," Dan. iv. 32. He is the King, Lord, and Master of all creatures, and rules and governs them, and every thing that happens among them, according to h is eternal purposes; "There is one most high Creator, Almighty, and a powerful King, and greatly to be feared, who sitteth upon his throne, and is the God of dominion," Ecclus. i. 8. "He that liveth for ever created all things together; God only shall be justified, and he remaineth an invincible King for ever," Ecclus. xviii. 1. "God is the King over all the earth. God shall reign over the nations," Ps. xlvi. 8, 9. "The Lord shall reign to eternity, yea, for ever and ever," Ps. x. 16. "The Lord is a great God and a great King, above all gods; for in his hand are all the ends of the earth, and the heights of mountains are his; for the sea is his, and he made it, and his hands formed the dry land," Ps. xciv. 3. "The Lord he hath reigned, he hath corrected the world which shall not be moved, he will judge the people with justice," Ps. xcv. 10. "He is the King of kings, and the Lord of lords," Rev. xix. 16.
Q. Does the care and attention of this Sovereign Lord extend to all creatures without exception?
A. The eternal providence of God watches over all his creatures, the least as well as the greatest, with equal care and attention; for "he made the great and the little, and he hath equally care of all," Wisd. vi. 8. "He hath ordered all things in number, weight, and measure," Wisd. xi. 21. "He telleth the number of the stars, and calleth them all by their names," Ps. cxlvi. 4. "Are not two sparrows sold for a farthing? and not one of them shall fall on the ground without your Father," Matth. x. 29. Also, "Are not five sparrows sold for two farthings? and not one of them is forgotten before God. Yea, the very hairs of your head are all numbered," Matt. x. 30; and without him "a hair of your head shall not perish," Luke xxi. 19.
THE PROVIDENCE OF GOD.
Q. What do you mean by the Providence of God?Return to Table of Contents
A. The providence of God is his eternal will, by which he disposes of all things whatsoever that come to pass, according to his own pleasure, and conducts his creatures in the way that he sees most proper towards the ends and purposes for which he created them. It includes three things; First, his infinite wisdom, by which he knows all his creatures, and all the good of which they are capable, and the ends of which they can serve, as also the ways and means by which they can acquire that good, and arrive at those ends, with the impediments that can hinder them from either. Secondly, his infinite goodness, which inclines him to will and choose for them those means of acquiring the ends for which he creates them, that are the most proper and conducive thereto, and the most fit and best proportioned and conformable to the nature and capacity of each creature, and to remove or diminish the hindrances they may meet with in doing so. And, thirdly, his infinite power, by which he most effectually puts in execution, in time, those means, which, from all eternity, he knew and made choice of, for enabling his creatures to obtain the ends he thus proposed to himself in creating them. Thus the scripture says, "O Lord God, thou hast done the things of old, and hast devised one thing after another, and what thou hast designed hath been done; for all thy ways are prepared, and in thy providence thou hast placed thy judgments," Judith. ix. 4. "For in his hands are both we and our works, and all wisdom, and the knowledge and skill of works." Wisd. vii. 16. "Wherefore, give not thy mouth to cause thy flesh to sin, and say not before the angel, there is no providence, lest God be angry at thy words, and destroy all the works of thy hands," Ecclus. v.5.
Q. Can the divine Providence be ever mistaken, or use improper means for obtaining its ends, or be disappointed in obtaining its designs?
A. No, by no means. It is absolutely impossible God should either mistake the means, or be disappointed in his designs; his infinite wisdom is incapable of mistake, and his infinite power quashes all opposition to his will: "No evil can overcome his wisdom; it reacheth from end to end mightily, and ordereth all things sweetly," Wisd. vii. 30.; and viii. 1. "All things are in his power, and there is none that can resit his will, in what he determines to be done," Esther xiii. 9. "I am God," says he, "who show from the beginning the things that shall be at last, and from ancient times the things that as yet are not done, saying, My counsel shall stand, and all my will shall be done," Isaiah, xlvi. 10. "For he will do all that pleaseth him, and his word is full of power," Ecclus. viii. 3
Q. Can any thing happen by chance in creation?
A. A thing is said to happen by chance, when it is supposed to happen without any cause, or without being foreseen or suspected, or without design or intention. Now, with regard to men, numbers of things happen, as it were, by chance, in some one or other of these ways; but, with regard to God, this is absolutely impossible; for the scripture assures us, that "nothing upon earth is done without a cause," Job v. 6.; that his infinite wisdom "sees from eternity to eternity;" that "nothing is hid from his eyes;" that "he knows the works of all flesh." (See Q. and A., Chap. 1.) So that it is impossible for any thing to happen but what he foresees from all eternity; and that "he has made all things in wisdom," Psalm ciii. 24.; and that he orders "all things in number, weight, and measure," Wisd. xi. 21. Consequently, every thing that happens is foreknown by him, enters into the plan of his operations, and is disposed by the Divine Providence, according to his eternal purposes. Hence, "lots are cast into the lap, but they are disposed of by the Lord," Prov. xvi. 33.; and this the royal Prophet well knew, when he said, "Thou art my God, my lots are in thy hands," Psal. xxx. 16. "The heart of the king is in the hand of the Lord, whithersoever he will he shall turn it," Prov. xxi. 1. Thus, it was not by chance that the asses of Saul were lost, or that the Ishmaelite merchants passed by when Joseph's brethren were going to kill him, but by the particular disposition of God's providence, for accomplishing the ends he had in view.
Q. Does then the Providence of God dispose of and direct every thing that happens in the creation?
A. Yes, it does; it extends to all creatures, and to all things, whether good or evil; all which it disposes of and directs in the way and manner which he knows to be most conducive to his own wise ends and purposes; so that, whatever be the immediate cause by which any thing is done or produced, Almighty God is the first supreme disposer of the whole, and against whose will nothing that is, or happens, could possibly exist. In this, however, he acts in the most admirable manner, without encroaching in the smallest degree on the free will of man, or hindering second causes from going on in their natural course; but making use of man's free will and all second causes to accomplish most sweetly, but, at the same time, most assuredly, whatever he pleases.
Q. How does the Providence of God manifest and exert itself for the good of his creatures?
A. The scripture assures us, that God is the author of all good to his creatures, and "that every best gift, and every perfect gift, is from above, coming down from the Father of light," Ja. i. 17. And this he manifests chiefly in three ways: First, In providing for, and bestowing upon all and every one of his creatures, whatever is necessary for, and conducive to, their good and happiness, conformable to their state and condition and according to the ends he has in view for them. Secondly, In preserving them or delivering them from the evils that are contrary to those ends. Thirdly, In guiding and governing them towards these ends. All which the scripture points out to us in the clearest and most effective manner.
And, First, that he provides all the good things that we enjoy: "The eyes of all hope in thee, O Lord, and thou givest them meat in due season: thou openest thy hand and filleth with thy blessing every living creature," Psalm cxliv. 15, 16. "Who provideth food for the raven when her young ones cry to God, wandering about, because they have no meat?" Job xxxviii. 41. "Who hath sent out the wild ass free," says God, "and who hath loosed his bonds? to whom I have given a house, in the wilderness, and his dwelling in the barren land," Job xxxix. 5, 6. "Behold the birds of the air, for they neither sow, nor do they reap, nor gather into barns, and your heavenly Father feedeth them - Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they labor not, neither do they spin; but I say to you, that even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these; and if the grass of the field, which to- day is, and to-morrow is cast into the over, God doth so clothe, how much more you, O ye of little faith?" Matthew vi. 26, etc. "All things work together for good to them that love God," Rom. viii. 28; and therefore "cast all your cares on him, for he hath care of you," 1 Pet. v. 7. "Cast thy care upon the Lord, and he shall sustain thee, he will not suffer the just to waver for ever," Ps. liv. 23. "It was neither herb nor mollifying plaster that healed them, but thy word, O Lord, which healeth all things," Wisd. xvi. 12.
Secondly, that he preserves and delivers his creatures from evil: "God is our refuse and strength, a helper in troubles which have found us exceedingly," Ps. xlv. 2. "Blessed is he who hath the God of Jacob for his protector - who executeth judgment for them that suffer wrong; who giveth food to the hungry: The Lord looseth them that are fettered; the Lord giveth sight to the blind: The Lord keepeth the strangers; he will support the fatherless and the widow," Ps. cxlv. "The Lord healeth the broken of heart, and bindeth up their bruises," Ps. cxlvi. 3. "He hath given his angels charge over thee, to keep thee in all they ways: in their hands shall they bear thee up, lest thou dash thy foot against a stone," Ps. xc. [Ps. 91:11-2] And, indeed, the whole scripture is full of this truth, and of the most striking example of his Divine Providence, in preserving his creatures from evil, and even of turning the trials of his servants to their greater good; witness his conduct towards his people in the wilderness, the history of Joseph, Job, Daniel, the three children, Elijah, and many others.
Thirdly, That he guides and governs his creatures towards their good, and the ends he has in view for them: The Divine wisdom "goeth about seeking such as are worthy of her, and she showeth herself cheerfully to them in the ways, and meeteth them with all providence," Wisd. vi. 17. "In all thy ways think on God, and he will direct thy steps," Prov. iii. 6. "Thus saith the Lord - I am the Lord thy God, that teach thee profitable things, that govern thee in the way that thou walkest," Is. xlviii. 17. "The Lord ruleth me, and I shall want nothing. He hath set me in a place of pasture. He hath brought me up on the waters of refreshment; he hath converted my soul. He hath led me on the paths of Justice," Psalm xxii. 1
Q. How does the providence of God enter into the evils of the creatures?
A. The evils of reatures are of two kinds; to-wit, the evil of sin, and the evil of suffering. The evil of sin resides in the perverse will of man consenting to any thing which is against the law of the Almighty: All evil of this kind God only permits. The evil of suffering includes all the afflictions, pains and miseries, by which the creatures suffer, whether in mind or body: All evil of this kind, from whatever immediate occasion it arises, is all ordained, intended and expressly willed by Almighty God.
THE EVIL OF SIN.
Q. How does God permit the evil of sin?Return to Table of Contents
A. The scripture assures us, that God hates sin, and that he abhors it as a most grievous injury done to himself, that he cannot look upon iniquity, and that he expressly forbids his creatures ever to commit it, under the severest and most dreadful punishments. Hence it is manifestly impossible that he should ever will sin, or intend it in any creature, and much less that he should be the cause or author of it; for this would be acting against himself, which is totally inconsistent with is infinite perfection. Seeing, however, that sin actually is committed by his creatures, and his laws numberless times are transgressed by them, all which God could hinder if he pleases, but does not hinder, it necessarily follows, that he only permits this to happen. That is to say, God has endowed some of his creatures with knowledge and free-will, and from them he requires a voluntary service; he sets good and evil, life and death, before them, and leaves them to the freedom of their own will to choose the one or the other; he proposes to them the most powerful motives to induce them to choose the good, and threatens them with the worst of miseries, to deter them from choosing the evil: "Consider," says he, by the prophet Moses, "that I have set before thee this day life and good, and on the other hand death and evil;" and a little after, "I call heaven and earth to witness this day, that I have set before your life and death, blessing and cursing; choose therefore life, that both thou and thy seed may live," Deut. xxx. 15, 19.
GOD MADE MAN FROM THE BEGINNING
AND LEFT HIM IN THE HAND OF HIS OWN COUNSEL.
And the wise man assures us, "that God made man from the beginning; and left him in the hand of his own counsel. He hath set water and fire before thee; stretch forth thy hand to which thou wilt. Before man is life and death, good and evil; that which he chooseth shall be given him," Ecclus. xv. He is always ready, however, to assist them to choose and execute the good; for "God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above what you are able, but with the temptation will also make issue (that is, a way to escape) that you may be able to bear it," 1 Cor. x. 13.; but he will not force them to this, nor oblige them to good against their free will. When, therefore, they choose the evil, he leaves them to their own choice, and permits the sin they commit; for "he hath commanded no man to do wickedly, and he hath given no man license to sin," Ecclus. xv. 21 [Sir. 15:20]Return to Table of Contents
But in thus permitting sin, we must not imagine he does so either out of sloth, impotence or negligence. Man often permits things that are disagreeable to him out of mere indolence, or through carelessness and indifference, or because he cannot help it; it is not so with God. God is incapable of sloth or carelessness, and is far from being indifferent about what his creatures do; at the same time, he is perfectly able to hinder and prevent them from sinning, if he pleases. But he permits sin, because it is his will to permit it, because he has the most just and wise reasons to permit it, because it enters into the plan of his providence, and contributes to the great end of his creating this universe; and therefore he has, from all eternity, resolved and decreed to permit it; and in permitting it, he displays, in the most admirable manner, his Divine perfections, by making it an occasion of infinitely greater good, both for exalting his own glory, and advancing the perfection of his creatures.
Q. What do you mean when you say that God wills the evil of suffering?
A. That all the pains, sufferings, and afflictions of whatever kind that any creature endures, whether in mind or body, are all ordained, decreed, and sent upon them by God: that he expressly wills all their sufferings, is the chief cause and author of them, and the first and sovereign source from which they flow, whatever be their immediate causes or occasions. This is a truth every where displayed to us in the sacred scriptures. "Good things and evil, life and death, poverty and riches, are from God," Eccles. xi. 14. "The Lord killeth and maketh alive, to bringeth down to the grace, and bringeth back again. The Lord maketh poor and maketh rich, he humbleth and he exalteth," 1 Kings (Sam), ii. 6. "See ye that I alone am, and there is no other God besides me; I will kill and I will make alive, I will strike and I will heal; and there is none that can deliver out of my hand," Deut. xxxii. 39. "I am the Lord, and there is none else, I form the light and create darkness; I make peace and create evil, I the Lord that do all these things" Is. xlv. 6, 7. "Shall there be evil in a city which the Lord hath not done?" Amos iii.6.
And wherever we find Almighty God foretelling by his prophets the sufferings and calamities of his people, he always declares himself to be the author of them: "I will visit you with poverty - I will send in upon you the beasts of the field to destroy you - I will bring in upon you the sword, I will send the pestilence in the midst of you - I will destroy your land - I will scatter you among the Gentiles," Levl. xxvi. "I will raise up evil against them," and the like, are the expressions he uses on such occasions. And hence we find, that all the holy servants of God, whenever they met with any disasters, immediately referred them all to God as the sovereign cause and author of them, and received them all with resignation, as coming from his hand. Thus Job, in the midst of his severe afflictions, cried out, "The Lord gave, and the Lord hath taken away; as it hath pleased the Lord so is it done; blessed be the name of the Lord," Job. i .21. And a little after he adds, "If we have received good things at the hand of God, why should we not receive evil?" Job. ii. 10
So when God, by his prophet Samuel, foretold to the high-priest Eli, all the ruin and misery that he was to send upon his family, he immediately replied, "It is the Lord, let him do what is good in his sight," I Kings (Sam) iii. 18. David also, when cursed by Semei, acknowledged his great humiliation to be from God, and said, "The Lord hath commanded him to curse David, and who shall dar say, Why hath he done so?" 2 Kings (Sam.) xvi. 10. And Christ himself acknowledged all his suffering as coming from God his Father, when he said, "The cup that my father hath given me, shall I not drink it?" Jo. xviii. 11. Hence, Solomon, comprehending all the goods and evils of this life, under the expression of the good and the evil day, says, "for God hath made both the one and the other, that man may not find against him any just complaint," Ecclus. vii. 15.
THE INFINITE GOODNESS OF GOD.
Q. But how is it consistent with the goodness of God, to render his creatures miserable by sufferings and afflictions?Return to Table of Contents
A. It is impossible that the infinite goodness of God should render his creatures miserable, from any pleasure he takes in their sufferings as such; or, that he should directly intend, or will their sufferings, as an object which is in itself agreeable to him. He, therefore, never can send any affliction upon them, but with a view to some greater good, relating either to his own glory, which is the supreme end of the creation, or the happiness of the creatures themselves; either for the exaltation of his own divine justice in punishing sinners, or for the correction of the wicked, or for the preservation and improvement of the good; either in punishing past sins in those whom he afflicts, or in preserving them from sin for the time to come. Hence all the sufferings of this life are the effects of sin; and the voluntary abuse we make of our free-will, is the cause that obliges or moves Almighty God to send them upon us. Thus the holy Sarah, in her prayers to God, says, "For thou art not delighted in our being lost; because, after a storm thou makest a calm; and after tears and weeping, thou pourest in joyfulness." Tob iii. 22.
GOD TAKES NO DELIGHT IN OUR SUFFERINGS.
Where we see that God takes no delight in our sufferings, and only sends them with a view to our good, bringeth out of them peace and joy. So also, "God made not death, neither hath he pleasure in the destruction of the living, for he created tall things that they might be, and he made the nations of the earth for health; and there is no poison or destruction in them; nor kingdom of hell upon earth, (for justice is perpetual and immortal.) But the wicked with works and deeds have called it to them," Wisd. i. 13. "As I live, saith the Lord, I desire not the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and live," Ezek. xxxiii. 11. And, therefore, he declares, by another prophet, "Destruction is thy own, O Israel, thy help is only in me," Hosea xiii. 9Return to Table of Contents
Q. That all those sufferings which arise from natural or innocent causes; such as disease, famine, pestilence, death, and the like, are sent expressly from God, and that he is the principal cause and author of them, is easy to conceive; because there is no sin in these things, and the occasions of them are incapable of sin; but as for those sufferings which arise from our own sins, or from the sins of others, from their malice, hatred, injustice or cruelty, how can God be the author of these, since they rise not from natural or innocent causes, but from wickedness and crimes, of which God cannot possibly be the author?
A. This difficulty often proves a stumbling block to souls, and runs them into a most pernicious delusion; for falsely imagining that God cannot be the author or cause of those sufferings which arise from the crimes of men, they attribute them solely to the mistake, hatred, or malice of their fellow creatures, and seek from this a sanction to their own impatience under them, and to all the excesses of their unbridled passion and desire of vengeance. But his is a very great mistake; for it is a most certain truth, that though God only indeed permits those crimes, of which our sufferings are the effects, yet these sufferings he as positively wills, and has from all eternity as expressly decreed to send upon us, as any others which flow from the most innocent occasions.
To understand this, we must carefully distinguish between the sin committed, and the effects which flow from it. The sin resides precisely in the perverse will of him who commits it. The effects which flow from the sin are the sufferings which it occasions in others. The sin in him who commits it, God only permits; because he is incapable of willing sin or of being the cause or author of it; yet from all eternity he foresaw it, and from all eternity for his own most wise and just reasons, decreed to permit it. Now, what are these reasons? He foresaw that his in, if permitted, would be the occasion of sufferings to others. He takes not please in the suffering of his creatures, and would never allow them to be afflicted, unless for some good end, either in justice or mercy. It is impossible that any sufferings should come upon them against his will; for "not a hair of our head falls to ground without him." It is no less impossible that he should be indifferent whether his creatures suffer or not; his infinite goodness forbids this.
ALL SUFFERINGS OF THIS LIFE
ARE PUNISHMENTS OR BENEFITS.
We must, therefore, conclude, that as all the sufferings of this life, as we have seen in above question, are either punishments or benefits; and all punishments and benefits are expressly willed and decreed from all eternity by God, the punishments by his justice, the benefits by his mercy; consequently, though God only permits the sin in the one who commits it, yet he expressly and positively wills the sufferings of others which are the effects of it; and the reason why sin is so permitted is, that it may be made use of as an instrument in the hands of God, for executing upon those who suffer by it what he has decreed from all eternity to inflict upon them. Hence, we find in scripture, that when God Almighty foretells, by his prophet, the sufferings and afflictions he is to send upon any one, he always declares that he is the author of them sufferings, even though the means by which they are inflicted are of the most criminal nature. Thus, when the prophet Nathan reproved David for the sins of adultery and murder, which he had committed, he says, in the name of God, "Thus saith the Lord, Behold I will raise up evil against thee out of thy own house, and I will take thy wives before thy eyes, and give them to thy neighbour, and he shall lie with thy wives in the sight of the sun," 1 Kings (Sam.) xii. 11Return to Table of Contents
Here is a most severe sentence passed upon David by the Divine justice, which God foretells he himself would execute upon him; and, therefore, which he positively wills and decrees that David should undergo. His infinite wisdom could have executed this sentence by many different means; but he foresaw that David's own son Absalom, pushed on by his ambition, would rebel against his father, and abuse his wives. God could easily have hindered Absalom from committing such crimes, or have prevented the execution of them; but he thought proper to leave him to the freedom of his own will, and make us of his crimes as the instrument in his hand for executing the punishment he had decreed to inflict upon David. When Jeroboam, king of Israel, provoked God to anger by his idolatry, the prophet Ahias declared to him, in the name of God, the punishment which God had decreed to send upon him. "Thus saith the Lord, Behold I will bring evils upon the house of Jeroboam, and will cut off from Jeroboam him who fouleth against the wall - and I will sweep away the remnant of the house of Jeroboam, as dung is swept away, till all be clear," 3 Kings xiv. 10.
How was this sentence executed? By rebellion and conspiracy, and the most shocking cruelty. "In the reign of Nadab, son of Jeroboam, Baasa conspired against him and slew him, and reigned in his place: and when he was king, he cut off all the house of Jeroboam. He left not so much as one soul of his seed till he had utterly destroyed him, according to the word of the Lord, which he had spoken, in the hand of Ahias of Silonite," 3 Kings xv. 27. The crimes of Baasa, in conspiring against his sovereign and killing him, were the effects of his own ambition, and his cruelty in murdering all the family of Jeroboam, was a stroke of his worldly policy to secure his possession of the throne; but, whilst he was thus gratifying his own passion, he was, though unknown to himself, only an instrument of the Divine justice, in punishing the sins of Jeroboam, and executing the decrees of the Almighty on the family of that unhappy prince. No doubt, God could have prevented the crimes of Baasa, and have executed the sentence he had pronounced on Jeroboam by other means; but knowing Baasa's perverse heart, he permitted him to follow its suggestions; so that the crimes he committed were from himself, by God's permission; but the effect they produced in the family of Jeroboam, were expressly willed, decreed and foretold by Almighty God.
In like manner, when Satan, by God's permission, had brought so many miseries upon Job, and reduced him to the most distressing situation, appearing a second time before God, "The Lord said to Satan, Hast thou considered my servant Job - still keeping his innocence? But thou hast moved me against him, that I should afflict him without a cause." Job. ii. 3. In which words God himself declares, that he was the author of his afflictions; Satan, and the other means he made use of, being only the instruments in the hands of God for executing his will.
AFFLICTIONS OF THE SERVANTS OF GOD.
Many other examples of the same kind are found in holy writ: but the following one is particularly conclusive on this head. When St. Peter and St. John, after being taken up and examined about the cure of the lame man, were set at liberty, and returned "to their own company, they related all that the chief priests and ancients had said to them. Who having heard it with one accord, they lifted up their voice to God, and all things that are in them, who by the Holy Ghost, by the mouth of our Father David, hast said, Why did the Gentiles rage, and the people meditate vain things; the kings of the earth stood up, and princes assembled together against the Lord, and against his Christ. For, of a truth, there assembled together, in this city, against the holy child Jesus, who thou hast anointed, Herod, and Pontius Pilate, with the Gentiles and people of Israel, to do what thy hand and counsel decreed to be done, " Acts iv. 23, &c. And St. Peter, in his first sermon to the Jews on Pentecost , affirms the same truth, in these words: "Jesus of Nazareth - being delivered up by the determinate counsel and fore- knowledge of God, you by the hands of wicked men, have crucified and slain," Acts ii. 22. In both which places it is positively declared that all the suffering and death of Christ were expressly decreed by God, who had foretold, long before, that it should be so, by the mouth of his holy prophets; yet the sins of the Jews and Gentiles, in what they did to Christ, were of the deepest dye; these sins were not from God, but from the malice of their own hearts, and the abuse of their free-will; this God only permitted, but he expressly willed the consequences of their crime, in the sufferings and death of Jesus.
The same thing is to be said in all such cases, whatever troubles and afflictions come upon us by the malice, or hatred, or mistakes, or sins of others, or even of ourselves, we are to consider them all as positively willed and sent upon us by Almighty God; the sins committed he only permits, but our sufferings which flows from these sins he expressly wills, and has, from all eternity, decreed to send upon us; and whereas, if he thought proper, he could send them upon us by many other ways, yet knowing the voluntary abuse which we or our fellow creatures will make of our free-will, this he permits, and makes our sins, by this means, instruments of executing his will in us. And this is precisely the light in which all the holy servants of God consider their afflictions; for, from whatever immediate source they arise, they receive them all as from the hand of God; they look upon the malice and crimes of those who injure them merely as the instruments which he makes use of for their punishment, or correction and advancement in virtue, and as such they love them and do them good.
To the examples of this truth mentioned above, add these others: When Joseph made himself known to his brethren, considering all the cruel treatment he had received from them as the orders of the Divine Providence, he comforted them, and said, "Be not afraid, and let it not seem to you a hard case that you sold me into these countries, for God sent me before you into Egypt for your preservation." He repeats the same a little after, and adds, 'not by your counsel was I sent hither, but by the will of God," Gen. xlv. 5, 8. And after his father's death, when they were afraid he would then revenge the injuries they had done him, and sent a message to him, asking forgiveness, he wept for concern on their account, and said, "Fear not; can we resit the will of God? You thought evil against me; but God turned it into good, that he might exalt me as at present you see, and might save many people: Fear not, I will feed you and your children; and he comforted them, and spoke gently and mildly," Gen. 1:21. And our Savior, as he received the cup of his passion in no other light but as sent him by his Father, and considered his enemies only as the instruments made use of by his Father for that end; so he also earnestly prayed for them with his last breath upon the cross, instead of having any resentment against them
Oh, happy those who seriously consider these truths, and imitate these holy examples! They already enjoy a foretaste of heaven itself, even in the midst of this valley of tears; no evil can come near them; for what the mistaken world calls evil, is to them a real good, a source of joy and consolation. In every thing they see the finger of God, in every thing they adore his Divine providence, in every thing they rejoice for the accomplishment of his will; and hence they learn, by the most endearing experience, that "all things work together for good in them that love God," Rom. viii.28
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