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"The mystery of his will" Ephesians i. 9. THE progress we have already made in acquainting ourselves with God leads naturally to the step which we are now to take. Under the guidance of the Sacred Word, we have found God to be an infinite, necessary, and complex Spirit, and, as a spirit, to be endowed with capabilities of knowledge and emotion. Having regarded God as an intelligent and emotional being, we now proceed to contemplate him as a voluntary one. Our present subject is " the mystery of his WILL." In the treatment of this subject, I shall endeavour, first, to EXPLAI THE GE ERAL CO CEPTIO of the will of God ; secondly, to I DICATE rrs PRI CIPAL CHARACTERISTICS; and, thirdly, to POI T OUT ITS SI GLE A D REMARKABLE LIMITATIO . I. In the first place, I shall endeavour to EXPLAI THE GE ERAL CO CEPTIO of the will of God. I shall attempt this by means of a reference to ourselves. It is the natural tendency of feeling, when excited in us, to lead to action. We ordinarily use efforts to obtain what we desire, to avoid what we fear, to repel an assault, to avenge an injury. But our feelings do not always lead to action; on the contrary, there are many instances in which we feel, in which nevertheless we do nothing. This may be, either because our feelings are slight, and so not of sufficient strength to impel us to action; or because our feelings are
GOD A VOLU TARY BEI G. 93 antagonistic, and so neutralize one another, as to the production of action, by their mutual conflict; or because we ourselves make an effort to modify and subdue them, so that they may not lead to action, but that this, their natural tendency, may in the particular case be counteracted. The last class of cases introduces to our notice a new and distinct power, of remarkable character and of great importance. There is something that interposes between my feelings and the action which, if nothing interposed, would be the natural and certain result of them; something that judges of the quality of my feelings, whether they be worthy of being carried into effect or not, and finally determines that they shall or shall not be so. What, or I might rather say, who is this] For it seems as though there were some mysterious person here stepping in, and modifying, or even arresting, a course of sequences otherwise direct and inevitable. The faculty which is thus interposed between the feelings and their resulting action is will. After the feelings have been excited, there is required an exercise of the will, an act of volition or determination, before action can take place; and this exercise of the will lies with that mysterious personage, myself, who, conscious of my own feelings, and passing judgment upon them, either for repression or indulgence, ultimately determines what shall be done. Allow me to illustrate this general statement by an example. I am, let it be supposed, in circumstances in which I may with impunity commit a robbery say, steal a sum of money. The possession of this money is on various grounds attractive to me, and my desires are excited towards it; I do not take it, however. Why? Because I sit in judgment on those excited feelings, condemn them as wrong, and by proper considerations correct and suppress them ; and I consequently determine to let the money alone. Or suppose I have received an injury, which kindles my resentment, indeed, but which I am strongly disposed to forgive.
Again I sit in judgment on those feelings; I approve them, and determine to forgive the injury accordingly. In each case my will comes into exercise, and its exercise is interposed between my feelings and the action towards which they lead. ow it is natural to suppose something analogous to this in the divine Being. His emotional ardour of holy, com-
94 ACQUAI TA CE WITH GOD. placent, and benevolent, love, must be conceived to supply in him, as emotions do in us, impulses to action; impulses, however, which operate, not immediately, but through the intervention of his will. The will of God is too frequently spoken of in Scripture to make it needful for me to quote particular passages as justifying this representation. Sometimes, indeed, the term has relation to his preceptive will, or his will as expressed in order to mark out our duty; but it often refers also to his attitude of determination, of which the text itself is an example : " Having made known to us the mystery of his will, according to his good pleasure which lie hath purposed in himself." It appears, therefore, that God, like man, has a will, and, like man, determines thereby the course of his action. Well speaks the apostle, however, of "the mystery" of God's will. Will is a mystery in ourselves. It seems to imply the existence of a kind of separate, or detached, personality, of which it is exceedingly difficult to frame to ourselves a theoretical conception, but of which an irresistible practical evidence is afforded to us by our consciousness. It is not my will that determines my actions, it is I myself that determine them, and that guide my will to the volitions by which my actions are regulated: for the will itself has no voluntary power; it is a mere piece of mental machinery placed under my regulation and control, and, like a mechanical spring, acting precisely according to the pressure under
which it is placed. Such is the machinery, however, which does constitute, and which is absolutely necessary in order to constitute, a voluntary being. Without this power of interposing to prevent the immediate operation of our feelings on the will, nothing could exist but physical action. The processes of the mind would at once be assimilated to those of the body, and the will might be classed with the power of digestion, or even with the chemical affinities. Man's emotional nature, indeed, might, under such a condition, be without exaggeration compared to a quantity of unprotected gunpowder, perilously open to every spark which might fall upon it, and liable at any instant to an explosion which no hand could either arrest or control. At the same time, it is manifest that the possession of this self-regulating power, while, on the one hand, absolutely necessary to the constitution of a voluntary being, is, on the
GOD A VOLU TARY BEI G. 95 other, a prerogative of the noblest kind. It is one of the respects, doubtless, in which God created man after his own image; and, if in this instance man, after a lowly manner, bears the likeness of God, it follows that God, after a more glorious manner, bears the likeness of man. This observation itself, even if we go no farther, opens to us a grand and wonderful view of God. We now contemplate him as exercising choice, for it is of choice that acts of volition are expressive. Displayed before him by his infinite knowledge are all the possible modes of his action, and his emotional nature they kindle into corresponding excitement. To which of them shall he give a substantial being 1 ot toall, for then his works would be infinite ; not necessarily toany one, for then there would be no guarantee of its being the most worthy of himself; then to which of them 1 The whole multitude of them awaits his choice; out of them he will select such as shall best approve themselves to him, and
these shall become the objects of his will. Imagine so vast and glorious a being engaged in this marvellous process of selection! Imagine this selection guided by an emotional nature so excellent the love of the right, the beautiful, and the blest ! And trace it out to its expression in the will of God, a will which infinite wisdom and almighty power so promptly and so perfectly obey ! I am quite aware that, in thus speaking of God, I indulge myself in a certain impropriety of language, because I speak of what, as conceived by us, involves succession of time, an idea inapplicable to God, who is eternal, and whose consciousness, therefore, has no succession. The best remedy for this infirmity of human thought and language, is to familiarize ourselves with a distinction which has been found at once necessary and just, namely, a distinction between the order of time and the order of nature. In the order of nature one thing may precede another, when there is no antecedence in time; as, for example, in the order of nature the application of the spark precedes the explosion of gunpowder, although in the order of time the two events are simultaneous. And still more with respect to the operations of mind, acts which have not a successive existence in the order of time must often be regarded as successive in the order of nature. It is only by carrying this distinction along with us in our contemplation of the divine Being that we, who live, and move,
g6 ACQUAI TA CE WITH GOD. and have our being in time, can, with any approach to propriety, conduct our conceptions of him "that inhabiteth eternity." With him, assuredly, is no succession in order of time; but without assuming succession in the order of nature we cannot speak of him at all. II. From this attempt to explain the general conception of the will of God, I shall now pass on to a consideration of ITS DISTI GUISHI G CHARACTERISTICS. For greater clearness
I shall use a negative form of expression. First, the will of God is not under restraint. This cannot be said of the will of any created beings. Within whatsoever limit a freedom of choice may be allowed to them, the sphere of their freedom has its limits which cannot be passed; and even within these limits the will of creatures, however sovereign, is always subject to the control of a higher will, the Creator's, whenever he shall be pleased to exert it. Such a restraining power is necessary to the completeness of God's supremacy, the due order of his government, and the secure fulfilment of his designs. But under no restraint is the will of God himself. A sphere of action altogether boundless belongs to him, and his resolves are beyond control. By whom, indeed, could any control over them be exercised 1 Who possesses an influence that could be brought to bear upon them? Who can reach them] Who is acquainted with them ? The infinity of his nature places him at an immeasurable elevation above all such attempts, and confers on him the prerogative of a will altogether supreme. In this high position God is alone. ot only are the most exalted creatures far beneath him, but mankind have failed to embody this attribute even in their gods. The host of pagan deities were subject to Jupiter, and Jupiter himself to fate. For us fate is the will of God, and his purposes are the irrevocable decrees written in the book of destiny. Secondly, the will of God is not under law. It characterizes all voluntary beings besides that they are under authoritative rule, and that there is some standard to which they are under an obligation to conform. They find themselves not occupying an isolated position, but related to beings above, around, or beneath them, in such manner as requires a correspondence in their regard. There is something which they ouyJtt to be. A voice with the force and sanction of law addresses them, and commands them to be
GOD A VOLU TARY BEI G. 97
such. "Thou shalt love the Lord thy God, and thy neighbour." Thus it is the business of all rational creatures to see that their will accords with their obligations, and to yield herein obedience to an authority above them. But it is not so with God. He is emphatically "without law," or, if his nature may be said to have a law, he is " a law unto himself." Whatever his purposes may be, he has only to carry them into execution; it is enough that they are his own, for he has only himself to satisfy, there being none to require a modification of them, or to call him to account for them. By whom, indeed, could such an account be required 1 To whom does he owe anything, that it may be repaid him ? Who is entitled to bring him under obligation, or to prescribe a law to him 1 There can be none but a negative answer to these questions. As we now contemplate him, that is, in the formation of his eternal purposes, he exists alone, and his will cannot but be absolute. Thirdly, the will of God is not passionate. Such is often, and often to a great extent, the will of man ; as when it is exercised without information on the one hand, or without consideration on the other. We have not unfrequently to make up our minds in ignorance, or with a very partial and unsatisfactory knowledge of the facts by which our resolution should be guided; and, perhaps, still more frequently we resolve without a full consideration of the knowledge we possess. Hence our will may too often be spoken of as expressive of feeling rather than judgment, as passionate rather than enlightened ; and the actions to which it leads are accordingly ill adapted and useless, if not rash and mischievous. The will of God, however, is not passionate. "His understanding is infinite," and he can have encountered no circumstances obliging him to act under the impulse of unenlightened feeling. Every resolution of his has been taken in the clearest light, and amidst the most vivid perceptions of all the considerations by which it should have been influenced. or has he been inconsiderate. o fitting argument has been neglected by him because his will was absolute, and he could do whatever he pleased. On the con-
trary, deep thoughts have engaged him, thoughts of profoundest counsel, selecting the best ends, employing the best instruments, and arranging the best combinations, which his resources could supply. o : his will is not blind ; it is infiH
98 ACQUAI TA CE WITH GOD. nitely wise. He walks in light; and, however that light may be too intense for our gaze, or may be shrouded by a darkness which we cannot pierce so that we call it mystery, all is luminous to him. His will is but wisdom embodied in resolution. Fourthly, the will of God is not arbitrary. Such among men an absolute will would be in great danger of becoming, and such the will of man often does become in proportion as it is absolute. Authoi'ity proverbially begets caprice. We are to a great extent retained in the path of propriety by the restrictions more or less consciously placed on us by others, and we are prone to fall into a habit of excessive self- pleasing whenever we find ourselves at liberty really to please ourselves. In such circumstances, indeed, poor human nature sometimes sets the pleasing of itself above all other objects, and becomes grievously arbitrary. So, if to a person in possession of a little despotic power, more or less, one say, " Why will you do this 1 It is neither just, nor wise, nor kind;" he may get the answer, either in words or in deeds, " I do it because I like. It gratifies my self-importance, it helps me to realize my authority, it makes me know that I have power." To prevent the generation of arbitrariness where power is absolute is a matter of extreme difficulty, and requires the most energetic moral influences. It demands the highest goodness to bear to be a despot. Among men this is so little expected, that the very name despot is synonymous with tyranny. In consequence of this, in the arrangements of human society every effort is made to sur-
round authority, where it mast be conferred, with restrictions which, while permitting its influence for good, shall arrest its tendencies to evil. In this view it is a glorious thing to say of God that his will, though absolute, is not arbitrary; and, if any have deemed it so, they have greatly erred. He does what he will, indeed, but not, like a tyrant, merely because he will. He acts without control, but not without a reason. He is an absolute Sovereign, but not a self-willed one. He is above all law, but he is a more righteous Ruler than law ever portrayed. And this must be evident from the consideration that his will acts not of itself, but under the influence of his emotional nature. He intensely love the right, the beautiful, and the happy; and therefore his will, which always acts tinder the guidance of these excellent
GOD A VOLU TARY BEI G. 99 affections, is not arbitrary, but good. Knowledge has kindled holy love, and here is holy love expressed in resolution. The character of God thus stands out nobly to our view. Absolute, but not arbitrary. A despot, but not despotic. The only being whose moral goodness is equal to the sure regulation of his active powers, the only being good enough to be trusted with unrestricted rule. Absolute power, as vested in his arm, wants no fetters. His will, without qualification, may be universal law. It is as attentive to reason as though it had no authority. It is more wise and good than it would have been if the whole universe had combined to direct and to restrain it. Fifthly, the will of God is not vain. Often the will of man is so. To resolve is easy, but to carry out a resolution is often difficult often, indeed, impossible. Obstacles of various kinds and magnitudes present themselves to us, either requiring strenuous effort, or altogether insurmountable. Our will is in many cases our wish, rather than our resolution. We would if we could, but with fruitless aspirations are we obliged to content ourselves. ot such is the
will of God. For all its objects it is efficient. At its behest are all the powers of his infinite nature, and with him to will and perform are one. There is, indeed, no source from whence a real obstruction can be conceived to arise. All physical powers are but developments of himself; already he acts in and by them, and he can, of course, direct them to the execution of his pleasure. And as to voluntary beings, in so far as they may be pleased to set themselves in opposition to him, his omnipotence can crush them in a moment. Who could survive the stroke of his hand ? "I will work," saith the Lord, "and who shall let it]" (Isaiah xliii. 13). Verily, there is "none that can stay thy hand, or say unto thee, What doest thou !" (Daniel iv. 35). Sixthly, the will of God is not vacillating. Such often is the will of man. His resolutions are frequently formed one day to be changed the next, and his whole life may be said in great part to consist of schemes unfulfilled. To man, indeed, this is not unnatural, seeing that so many of his purposes are formed in total or in partial ignorance, or under ill-considered or ill-regulated impulses. He admits today that he was in error yesterday, and he will find to-morrow 1 that he is wiser than to-day. What he resolved on in passion
100 ACQUAI TA CE WITH GOD. he abandons when his feelings are calm; nay, through instability, he will even desert operations which were begun in wisdom, and might have been prosecuted to success. Hence the will of man is feeble, and liable to a thousand changes. But the will of God is unchangeable. His resolution, once taken, never alters. His plan, once formed, determines the progress of his work to the end. And why should the will of God be altered ? How could it be altered but for the worse, since it was formed amidst the amplest knowledge, determined by the noblest motives, and embodied in the wisest arrangements'? A change of any kind were a calamity immeasurable. And what should alter it 1 Has the course
of time added to the knowledge of God an element deserving to be incorporated in it 1 Has the progress of his work exposed a defect in the original design? Has he encountered obstacles from which it is needful that he should turn aside] one of these things, my brethren; and therefore, as anciently declared, " the Lord is in one mind, and none can turn him" (Job xxiii. 13). "His counsel shall stand," until the accomplished work embody it in every detail, and with infinite completeness. Such are the leading characteristics of the will of God, set forth in opposition to the will of man. It is neither under restraint, nor under law; it is neither passionate, nor arbitrary; it is neither vain, nor vacillating. It is supreme and absolute ; it is wise and good ; it is efficient and unchangeable. III. Having thus endeavoured to explain the general conception of the will of God, and to indicate its leading peculiarities, I proceed, in the third place, to consider a very remarkable LIMITATIO TO WHICH IT is SUBJECTED. After the high and glorious characteristics which have just been ascribed to the will of God, it may strike you with surprise, perhaps, that I should speak of a limitation of any kind as attaching to it. What should seem so natural as that the will of God should be the determining element of universal action? And, if there be a restriction on it, by whom can that restriction be imposed ? Let me here recall to your remembrance that, in speaking of God as a voluntary being, I have spoken of him as in this respect analogous to ourselves. There are, then, besides God, other voluntary beings, also endowed with will, or a
GOD A VOLU TARY BEI G. IOI mechanism productive of voluntary action. ot ourselves
only, but all intelligent beings are so. And, as we are thus made in the likeness of God in being endowed with will, so it is necessary that there should be a scope for the exercise of our will, as there is a scope for his. ot, indeed, so wide a scope, but still a scope, proportionate and adapted to the powers of our being ; a sphere in which freedom of choice, and an exercise of the will determined by otirselves, shall belong to us. How is this to be, however, if God's will pervades all, and rules all ] It is, of course, only by God's own consent and arrangement that it can be so, since no creature could challenge such a sphere of liberty for himself. It is, indeed, only by a marvellous exercise of his power and skill that it can be so, since the beings who are thus to be independent in action are still to be dependent in existence on his sustaining power. But by divine power and skill it is, no doubt, possible, and by divine condescension it has been consented to and arranged. God subjects himself to restriction in the exercise of his own will, in order that he may afford a scope for the exercise of ours. Assigning a sphere for our voluntary action, he himself thenceforth withdraws from it, and leaves it to us, entering into it no more by direct operation of his will, but appealing to us for its due regulation by words of authority and persuasion. The object of the limitation to which God has thus subjected his own will is obvious. It is not that there may be a spot in his dominions over which he shall not rule, but that, in a spot adapted for it, he may establish a kind of rule new, and otherwise impossible. With this single exception his dominion is one of force. All things act as he, directly or indirectly, acts upon them, and their actings are but the reflection and results of his own. Everything may be said to obey him the winds and the rain, the sun and the stars ; but nothing renders him an intelligent and voluntary obedience, or offers him an intentional homage. Would it have been well to have contented himself with such a universe himself alone free, and the universe in chains ] Was it not a noble thought to emancipate some of his creatures, in order that he might constitute a sphere for the exercise of a higher species of authority, and find an opportunity for receiving
a better tribute of praise? Behold, then, creation's freemen; beings who, within their allotted sphere, can choose as freely,
102 ACQUAI TA CE WITH GOD. and act as independently, as God himself; beings who, with vast motives set before them, may yet resist their influence, and refuse the request they enforce; beings who, if they yield, yield only because they are convinced and approve. From no other portion of his works can God receive such honour as from these. It is true that, in seeking for such honour, he may seem to be exposing himself to needless humiliation. Why should he who can control all things subject himself to refusal and dishonour 1 Why should he ask who may compel 1 Why should the Almighty Creator permit himself to be trampled upon by a feeble worm 1 Is it not placing a worm too high, and needlessly humbling himself to his creatures ? That such a system places created beings veiy high must certainly be admitted, but there yet remains a way in which, even on the supposition of their disobedience, the honour of the Creator may be vindicated. Disobedience may be followed by effective punishment, and by a fitting retribution the whole shame of it may be thrown on the transgressor. The stroke of God's arm can vindicate the excellency of his law, and even demonstrate the stability of his throne. I have here, in a few words, laid bare the foundation of God's moral government. It takes its rise in this self-imposed limitation of God's will. We now find scattered around us the elements of which it consists, and have only to group them together in order to constitute the entire system. With an intelligent being to whom is assigned a sphere of independent action, there is clear scope for authority and command, for requirements and recompense. And upon the same basis the evangelical system, as a system of blended moral probation and sovereign grace, satisfactorily reposes.
The plan of my discourse I have thus completed. In quest of an enlarged acquaintance with God, I have treated of "the mystery of his will;" first, by explaining the general conception of it ; secondly, by indicating the peculiar characteristics of it ; and, thirdly, by remarking a signal limitation of it. I. I call upon you, then, for profound admiration. We have lately contemplated the emotional nature of God, and surveyed the primary affections of that marvellous Being whose nature is holy love. We learn now that these affections are not wasted. Holiness, complacency, and benevo-
GOD A VOLU TARY BEI G. 1 03 leuce, propagate their quickening influences to the will of God, and embody themselves in unnumbered purposes of action in which they shall be substantially manifested. And the will of God is equal to its office. Can more be said of it, or more than this be conceived ? 2. If the will of God be what I have represented it, what, then, is the universe 1 In its entire physical aspect it is the will of God in execution ; not only in worlds created, but in all the changes which are unceasingly effected in them. Beyond the sphere allotted to the voluntary action of creatures, all is of God, and every occurrence is a part of his will, not as cherished in his bosom, but as accomplished by his hand. It is the will of God as it is done. o accidents are there, although we often call them such ; nor are second causes there in any such sense as to detach events from the great first cause. How solemnly should this be recognized in all things that occur to us ! How tranquillizing in trying circumstances would siich a recollection be ! In disappointment, in sickness, in insult, in danger, to have to say, " It is the Lord !" And why should not his children be able to add, ''The will of the Lord be done"] A will supreme and
absolute, indeed, but a will infinitely wise and good, though sin has gathered black clouds of mystery around the path of its accomplishment, and even mercy bids us wait for the entire dissipation of the gloom. His will is both efficient and immutable, and his way, if hidden, is perfect : for thus saith the Lord, " My counsel shall stand, and I will do all my pleasure" (Isaiah xlvi. 10). 3. God, as a voluntary being, is a being subject to the exercise of a moral judgment. As voluntary beings we are so. Since we will what we do, we become liable thereby to a moral estimation as either right or wrong, good or evil. or can it be otherwise with our Maker. He acts according to his will ; and, had it so been that his choice had fallen on measures unholy or unjust, had he become the perpetrator or the patron of impurity and untruth, nothing could have saved him from the censure even of his own creatures. He has made us to sit in judgment, not on ourselves only, but on others ; and the mechanism he has formed would, however painfully, have recoiled upon himself. What an unspeakable happiness it is that the will of God is so infinitely wise and good, the embodiment of holy love ! The moral estimation
104 ACQUAI TA CE WITH GOD. in which we have to hold him thus fully corresponds with our estimate of his physical glory. 4. By some of the characteristics of the will of God an admirable example is set to us. His will, although supreme and absolute, is neither passionate nor arbitrary; it is, on the contrary, wise and good. ay, although it might have been universally operative, it is voluntarily subjected to limitation for the attainment of a morally excellent end. How prone we are to pride ourselves, if we are placed in a position in which some remote shadow of God's supreme and absolute will belongs to us ! How prone to become self-willed and arbitrary ! There is scarcely anything we so quickly resent
as an attempt to impose a restriction on our will, and, perhaps, no object for which we would voluntarily fetter it. To rule seems to be the height of human ambition. God himself shows us a higher glory. In his judgment, if it be an honour to rule, it is a greater honour to rule well. If it be a high prerogative to be supreme and absolute, it is a more exalted excellence to listen to the dictates of wisdom, and imbibe the spirit of love. ay, it is greater to solicit concurrence than to compel, and more honourable to prevail by persuasion than by force. When shall men once learn to imitate their Maker, and poor worms of the earth aspire to clothe themselves with honour after the pattern of the Almighty ? HYM . ACCEPT, Lord, the praise we bring, While thy unfolding name we sing ; Thy power to choose as well as feel, The glorious mystery of thy will. Thy will's supreme, and spurns control ; 'Tis absolute, nor knows a rule ; Yet owns the light which guides thy ways, The love which tires thy breast obeys. How wise and good thy Qounsels are ! How well secured their issue fair ! Thy will, not breathed in wishes vain, e er varies from its scope again. In sphere assigned 'tis ours to choose, To obey thy precepts, or refuse ; From thence thy will supreme withdraws, To rule our hearts by righteous laws.
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