LETTER - TO A CLERGYMAN OF WESTMORELAND.
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Concerning the following texts, God hardened the heart of pharaoh; “He hath mercy on whom he will have mercy, and whom he will he hardeneth”; “Good and evil are from the Lord”; “I create light, and I create darkness”; you ask, how these things can be consistently affirmed of a God, all love and goodness to his creatures?
I would ask you also, is there any difficulty of admitting the truth of this scripture, “In God we live, and move, and have our being”? does this clash with the idea of a God all love and goodness to the creatures? Now take all the contrary things that are said of God, with relation to that which passes between God and man, and they all imply no more, affirm no more, than the single foregoing text, namely, that in every state of the life of man, be it what it will, either under a sense and enjoyment of good, or the power and pain of evil, it is all owing to this divine, original, essential relation between God and man, or because in him we live, and move, and have our being. For man, thus come from God, must through the whole course, or endless ages of his life, neither know, nor find, nor feel anything of good or evil, life or death, happiness or misery, but solely because of that, which God is in him, and to him, and because of that, which he is in God, and hath from him, by his original birth or creation.
The earthly animals, whose birth is only in and from this world, can have no evil of sin, or misery in their state, from God; and that only for this one reason, because they are not born of God, or partakers of the divine nature.
Therefore God’s creating evil in man, is the same thing, as if it were said, the divine birth in man, is that which creates his evil, because he could have no sin of a wrathful, proud, hardened heart, these things could neither exist in him, or be known by him, but because he came into being by a divine birth. Angels could not be diabolical spirits of darkness, fiery dragons of wrath, fury, malice, vengeance, envy, hatred, etc., etc., but because they were all born of God, to live and move and have their being in him. This has created all the evil of every kind, that they can feel or know in their whole state.
All the difficulty of reconciling such contrary things as are said of God, that he willeth only life and good, and yet that evil and death, are said to come from him, arises from our considering the operations of God, in a creaturely manner, or as we should understand the same contrary things, if they were affirmed of any creature. Whereas the operation of God, in its whole kind and nature, is as different from anything that can be done by creatures, as the work and manner of creation, is different, in power, nature, and manner, from that which creatures can do to one another. For (N.B.) the operation of God is never in or with the creature in any other manner, or doing any other thing, but that which it was and did in the creation of them. This, and this alone is the working of the deity in heaven and on earth; nothing comes from him, or is done by him through all the eternity of his creatures, but that essential manifestation of himself in them, which began the glory and perfection of their first existence. Now from this one, single, immutable operation of God, that he can be nothing else in, or towards the creature, but that same love and goodness, that he was to it, at its creation, it necessarily follows, that to the creature that turns from him, God can be nothing else to it, but the cause of all its evil and miserable state. Hence is that of the apostle, that “sin cometh by the Law, because where there is no Law, there is no transgression.” Now God, or the divine nature in man, is the one great Law of God in man, from which, all that is good and all that is evil in him, hath its whole state and nature. His life can have no holiness or goodness in it, but as the divine nature within him, is the law by which he lives. He can commit no other sin, nor feel any kind of hurt or evil from it, but what comes from resisting, or rebelling against that of God, which is in him; and therefore the good and evil of man, are equally from God. And yet this could not be, but because of this ground, viz., that God is unchangeable love and goodness, and has only one will and work of love and goodness towards the creature. Just as the Law could not make sin, or evil, but because it has no sin or evil in itself, but is immutably righteous, holy, and good, and has only one will and one work towards man, whether he receives good or evil by it.
Therefore the righteous, holy Law, that is so, because it never changes its good will, and work towards man, can truly say of itself these two contrary things, I create good, and I create evil, without the least contradiction. In the like truth, and from the same ground, it must be said, that happiness and misery, life and death, tenderness and hardness of heart, are from God, or because God is that which he is, in and to the birth and life of man.
This is the one true key to the state of man before his fall, to his state after his fall, and to the whole nature of his redemption. All which three states, are in a few words of our savior, set forth in the clearest and strongest degree of light. “I am the true vine, ye are the branches. He that abideth in me, and I in him, bringeth forth much fruit.” This was man’s first created state of glory and perfection, it was a living and abiding in God, such a birth and communion of life with him, and from him, as the branch hath in and from the vine.
The nature of man’s fallen state, and whence he has all the evil that is in it, is set forth in the following words, “If a man abide not in me” (the true vine) “he is cast forth as a branch, and is withered, and men gather them, and they are cast into the fire and burned.” This comprehends the whole of man’s fallen state, namely, a being broken off from the life of God, and therefore become such a poor, withered, helpless creature, as may have all that done to him, as a firebrand of hell and devils, which men may do to a broken off, withered branch of the vine. And his state is as different from that of his creation, as a withered branch, smoking and burning in the fire, is different from its first state of life and growth in the rich spirit of the vine. Again, the whole of man’s redeemed state, is in the following words, “I am the bread of life, that came down from heaven; He that eateth this bread shall live for ever; Whoso eateth my flesh and drinketh my blood, hath eternal life, dwelleth in me, and I in him.”
This is our whole redemption, it consists in nothing else, but having the full life of God, or birth of Christ begotten, and born in us again. And thus do these three states of man fully show, that our first perfection, our miserable fall, and blessed redemption, have all that they have in them, whether of glory, or misery, merely and solely because God alone is all that is good, and can be nothing else but good towards the creature; and that neither angel, nor man can be happy or miserable, but because it either hath, or hath not, this one God of goodness essentially living and operating in it.
What a number of things called religion, are here cut off at once? since nothing is life, happiness, and glory, but the one essential operation of the triune God of love, and goodness within us; nothing is death, evil, or misery, but the departure, or turning from this essential God of our lives, to something that we would have from ourselves, or the creatures that are about us. And how greatly is he deluded, who living among the throng of religious schemes, thinks this, or that, or anything in nature, can be his atonement, his reconciliation, and union with God, but the spirit, the body, and the blood of Christ forming themselves into a new creature within him.
Then, and then only is he that first man that God created, in whom alone he can be well pleased. But till then, he is that man, whom the cherub’s two-edged flaming sword will not suffer to enter into paradise. How is it now, that we are to regain that first birth of Christ? Why just in the same way, as Adam had it at first. What did he then do? How did he help forward God’s creating power? Now creating again, or restoring a first life in God, is just the same thing, and the same sole work of God, as creating us at first; and therefore we can have no more share of power in the one, than in the other. Nothing lies upon us as creatures fallen from God, or is required of us with regard to our growth in God, but not to resist that, which God is doing towards a new creation of us.
That which God is doing towards the new creation of us, had its beginning before the foundation of the world. “In Christ Jesus,” saith St. Paul, “we were chosen before the foundation of the world”; the same as saying, that God out of his great mercy, had chosen to preserve a seed of theWORD andSPIRIT of God in fallen man, which through the mediation of a God incarnate, should revive into that fullness of stature in Christ Jesus, in which Adam was at first created. And all this work of God towards a new creation, is by that same essential operation of God in us, which at first created us in his image and likeness. And therefore nothing belongs to man in it, but only to yield himself up to it, and not resist it.
Now who is it, that may be said to resist it? It is everyone who does not deny himself, take up his cross daily, and follow Christ. For everything but this, is that flesh that warreth against the spirit. The whole life of the natural man, resisteth all that essential operation of God, which would create us again in Christ Jesus. Further, every religious man resisteth it, in and by and through the whole course of his religion, who takes anything to be the truth of piety, the truth of devotion, the truth of religious worship, but faith, and hope, and trust, and dependence upon that alone, which the all-creatingWORD, and all-sanctifyingSPIRIT of God, inwardly, essentially, and vitally worketh in his soul.
Would you know, how you are to understand this essential operation of the triune holy deity in our souls, and why nothing else is, or can be that grace or help of God, which bringeth salvation, take this earthly similitude of the matter.
The light and air of this world, are universal powers, that are essential to the life of all the creatures of this world. They are essential, because nothing sees, till the light has brought forth a birth of itself in the essence of the creature, which birth of light can last no longer, than it is essentially united with the operation of that universal light which brought it forth: Air is also essential to the life of the creature, because nothing lives, till a birth of the air is born in it, nor any longer, than its own in-born air, is in essential union with that universal air, and operation of air, that first brought it forth. Now from this essential, unalterable relation between light and air, and seeing, living creatures, it plainly follows, that darkness and death, may be ascribed to them, as well as seeing and life.
Thus, if light and air could say anything of themselves in outward words, of that which they are, and do to all animals; if the light was to say, It is I that make seeing and blind eyes; if the air was to say, I create life, and I create death; could there be any difficulty of understanding, or allowing the truth of these words? Or could they be true in any other sense, but because where light is not, there is the cause of darkness, and where air is not, there is the cause of death. And so in the strictest truth of the words, seeing and blind eyes are from the light; living and dead bodies are from the air. Because darkness could not be, but because light does not shine in it, nor the body be dead, but because the breathing of the air is not in it.
It is thus, with the essential operation of the triune holy God, in the life of all divine and godly creatures, whether men or angels. The light and Holy Spirit of God, are universal powers, and essential to the birth of a godly life in the creature; which creaturely birth of a divine life, can begin no sooner, than theWORD andSPIRIT of God bring forth a birth of themselves in the creature, nor subsist any longer, than it is united with, and under the continual operation of that Word and Spirit, which brought it forth. Hence it is truly said, that spiritual life, and spiritual death, spiritual good and spiritual evil happiness and misery are from God, and that for this one reason, because there is no good, but in God, nor any other operation of God in, and to the creature, but that of heavenly life, light, love, and goodness.
When man, created in the image and likeness of God, to be an habitation and manifestation of the triune God of goodness, had by the perverseness of a false will, turned from his holy state of life in God, and so was dead to the blessed union, and essential operation of God in his soul, yet the goodness of God towards man, altered not, but stood in the same good will towards man as at the first, and willed, and could will nothing else towards the whole human nature, but that every individual of it, might be saved from that state of death and misery in an earthly nature, into which they were fallen.
Hence, that is, from this unchangeable love of God towards man, which could no more cease, than God could cease, came forth that wonderful scene of providence, of such a variety of means, and dispensations, of visions, voices, and messages from heaven, of law, of prophecies, of promises and threatenings, all adapted to the different states, conditions, and ages of the fallen world, for no other end, but by every art of divine wisdom, and contrivance of love, to break off man from his earthly delusion, and beget in him a sense of his lost glory, and so make him capable of finding again that blessed essential operation of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit in his soul, which was the essential glory of his first creation.
Now, as in this scene of a divine and redeeming providence, God had to do with a poor, blind, earthly creature, that had lost all sense of heavenly things, as they are in themselves, so the wisdom of God, must often, as it were, humanize itself, and condescend to speak of himself after the manner of men. He must speak of his eyes, his ears, his hands, his nose, etc., because the earthly creature, the mere natural man, could no otherwise be brought into any sense of that, which God was to him.
But now all this process of divine providence, was only for the sake of something higher; the mystery of God in man, and man in God, still lay hid, and was no more opened, than the mystery of a redeeming Christ, was opened in the type of a paschal lamb.
Pentecost alone was that, which took away all veils, and showed the kingdom of God, as it was in itself, and set man again under the immediate, essential operation of God, which first gave birth to a holy Adam in paradise. Types and shadows ended, because the substance of them was found. The cloven tongues of fire had put an end to them, by opening the divine eyes, which Adam had closed up, unstopping the spiritual ears, that he had filled with clay, and making his dumb sons to speak with new tongues.
And what did they say? They said all old things were gone, that a new heaven and a new earth were coming forth, that God himself was manifested in the flesh of men, who were now all taught of God. And what were they taught? That same which Adam was taught by his first created life in God, namely, that the immediate, essential operation of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, was henceforth the birthright of all that were become true disciples of Christ. Thus ended the old creation, and the fall of man, in a God manifested in the flesh, dying in and for the world, and coming again in spirit, to be the life and light of all the sons of Adam.
Look now at all God’s dispensations to the day of Pentecost, in this true point of view, as so many schools of different discipline and education of the natural man, till by a birth from above, he could bear the language of heaven, and be taught of God, and then you will sufficiently see the childish folly of those gray-headed doctors, who forgetting that the last times are come, when God will be known only as a spirit, worshipped only in spirit, because everything else is but shadow, and not the truth, yet set up themselves as masters, or rabbis of new schools of their own, which can only keep up that doting learning, and wisdom of words, which compelled the learned Jews, for the sake of God, and goodness, for the sake of Law and prophecy to crucify the Christ of God, as a Beelzebub, and blasphemer.
This old logic and criticism of scribes and Pharisees, is that which robs disputing Christians of the truth as it is in Jesus, and instead of the true bread that came down from heaven, feeds their unregenerate hearts with the dry husks of that, which can be got from text set against text in the outward letter. Nay so wise are these verbal proficients, as to think the gospel must be false, and the Bible itself only fit to be burned, if all that, is not to be ascribed to God, as true of him, as he is in himself, which in condescension to the poor, ignorant, fallen, earthly creature, he speaks of his eyes, his ears, his hands, his turning his back, and turning his face, his coming down, and going up, his fiery wrath, his destroying fury, everlasting vengeance, etc., etc. Whereas all these things are said, not because of that, which God is in himself, in his holy, supernatural being, but because of that, which man is, in the blindness of his fallen state, so ignorant of God, so averse to godliness, as only capable for a time, to be instructed by the impressions of such language: That is, till the threatenings of the Law, and the word of prophecy have done their work, and that day star ariseth in the heart, which knoweth, and teacheth, that\parCREATOR,REDEEMER, andLOVE, are the one true unchangeable, triune God, that Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, which from everlasting to everlasting have only one will, and one work of heavenly life, light, and love in, and towards the creature. And as true as this is, so true is it also, that from the first to the last man, no one was, or ever will be any further from this essential operation of the holy deity in his soul, but so far as he hath withdrawn himself from it. “God hardened the heart of pharaoh”; this saith neither more nor less, than that pharaoh had withdrawn his heart from God. When God saith to Moses, “I will harden his heart, that he will not let the people go”; it hath no other meaning, than to give to Moses that same full assurance of pharaoh’s state, which he gave to Jeremiah at another time. “Thou shalt” (saith God) “speak all these words to them,” (N.B.) “but they will not hearken to thee, thou shalt call unto them, but they will not answer thee.” Jeremiah 7:27. God helped pharaoh to his hardened heart, just as he helped Adam not to be afraid of eating of the evil tree, by assuring him, that certain death was hid in it. But Adam’s turning from God, to hear the voice and instruction of his own reason and imagination, and the suggestions of a satanical serpent, was that which created in him a new hardened heart, bold enough to eat of the forbidden tree. Now here, sir, I would have you observe, that this rise of the first sin, full demonstrates how the matter unalterably stands between God and every sinner, to the end of the world; there cannot be the smallest variation, either on the side of God, or on the side of the sinner. The whole nature of God, his one unalterable will and work, stands in the same full opposition and contrariety to every work, of sin in every man, as it did to Adam’s first transgression. Nothing new will ever be in any sin, it has but one way of coming into the world, it must always be born out of self and Satan, as the first was. And that which God did to prevent the first sin, saying to Adam, Eat not, that same miraculous voice of love, keeps saying, and saying to every son of Adam, Sin not.
Yet so wise in the ways of God, are some divinity-students, as to teach and preach, that the whole world, through its thousands of years, has been bringing forth its millions of myriads of sinners all round the globe, who as soon as they have done with the vanity and misery of this world, are to be roaring in the hottest fire of an eternal hell. For what? Why, because they have been just as wicked, as the decrees of God required and forced them to be. And also through every age of the world, there hath always been a little number of righteous, who were to go to heaven, which number had no littleness in it, but because God would not suffer it to be greater.
Can a charge like this be brought against Satan? Nay, doth it not even free Satan from all the evil that is charged upon him, and make him, though going about as a roaring lion, to be as insignificant a tool in the work of sin, as the preacher is in the work of godliness, though with ever so loud a voice, he beseeches the reprobate to be reconciled to God, or with tears in his eyes, exhorts the elect not to depart from him?
You once, I remember, said to me, that you thought I over did the matter, in my censure upon learning. Let learning therefore speak for itself. Let its own works praise it. What has it done? What has brought forth a multiplicity of churches, but that very same acuteness of learning, which asserts and proves there is but one? Whence comes transubstantiation, election, reprobation, justification of several sorts, necessity and insignificancy of works, Socinianism, Arianism, etc., but from that knowledge of history, and critical skill in words, which is the glory of the learned world. “Without me ye can do nothing,” saith Christ. “That which a man soweth, that shall he reap,” saith the apostle. Truths like these, of which the scripture is full, would keep all believers in the true church, attentive to the one thing needful, had not a learning falsely so called, filled all eyes with the dust of darkness.
Now, sir, be as sober as you will about the use and power of learning, logic, and eloquence, in the doctrines of salvation; condemn the bad use that heretics, schismatics, Arians and Socinians have made of them; yet let me whisper this truth into your ear, that you will never be delivered from the delusion and cheat of your own learning, till by a light of life risen up within you, you come to see, and know, that you want no more learning, to change you from a sinner into a saint, than Mary Magdalen did.
God said to Abraham, “Walk before me, and be thou perfect.” This was the Hebrew school, in which the Father of the faithful, was to learn to be perfect. But here now comes the scholar-critic, and finds, that matters stand not thus now, because the glorious light of the gospel (he says) has discovered that all lies in an election and reprobation, and that salvation and damnation come from nothing else, the apostle expressly saying, “It is not of him that willeth, nor of him that runneth, but of God that showeth mercy.” What a learned strife has there been about the meaning of these words? And yet they mean not one jot more or less, than when the apostle saith, “The natural man knoweth not the things of the spirit, neither can he know them.” All that is in the one text, is in the other; and both of them say only this one great and good truth, namely, that the creature can have no divine life, light, goodness, and happiness, but from that, which the holy triune God is, and operates by a birth of his holy nature in it.
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