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cept to such an extent as God can work through and by them for the carrying on of his own eternal designs.
Now this theory of history, or rather of the causes which combine to produce the events of history, is not only plausible in itself, but is sustained, illustrated, and made chiefly valuable, by the light which it sheds upon other and correlated topics, such as the following:
1. It solves the problem by furnishing a cause every way suitable to the effects produced. We believe in the system of astronomy set forth by Copernicus and Newton, because it explains the phenomena of the heavenly bodies; it brings order out of confusion. Now if the mysterious windings and seemingly contradictory facts of history find a natural explanation in the views which have now been set forth, then, since effects and causes correspond, the theory must in the main be true. And, under such a system as has been described, we should expect to find the events of history essentially what they are. Man, especially if fallen, would be found working against God, and God against man. There would be seeming confusion and yet real harmony; all partial evil would be universal good. Confusion would be confined to a narrow circle, while harmony would sweep the circuit of eternity. Man's freedom would give him character; God's sovereignty would give him control. And this, precisely, is the condition of man, and the course of history.
2. Our theory of human freedom and divine sovereignty harmonizes not only the events of history, but, as well, the teachings of the Bible. Both doctrines are therein contained. Man is addressed and treated in every part of God's word as a free moral agent. His freedom is no more a matter of consciousness than of scripture teaching. The texts are so numerous and obvious as to render quotation unnecessary. But with equal force and enlargement of statement does the Bible set forth the doctrine of divine sovereignty and foreordination. "In Him," says the apostle, "we have obtained an inheritance, being predestinated according to the purpose of Him who worketh all things according to the counsel of his own will."
Now these two doctrines have been to many a source of
stumbling. The admission of one has been thought to be a denial of the other. Hence the two rival theologies of Arminianism and Calvinism; one reasoning from man up to God, and the other from God down to man. Arminianism finds what man is, and what he needs as a free agent, and upon that basis elaborates a religious system. Calvinism finds what God is and what he purposes, and therefrom constructs a theology to which man must conform. Each system criticizes and condemns the other, and claims for itself, par excellence, the title of Christianity. Now if the advocates of both systems would accept the explanation that has here been given, would not the exclusiveness and the errors of each be avoided, and the Bible stand forth a self-consistent and harmonious book? Man would be left free as to his moral states and duties, and God omnipotent as to his eternal purposes.
3. Our theory as to the causes of history explains the consistency of faith and works, of prayer and effort. The writings of Paul and James upon this subject, and sometimes of Paul himself, appear to be contradictory; so much so that Martin Luther once tore the epistle of James from the Bible and declared it to be no part of the sacred canon. Had he bethought himself of the explanation here given he would not have committed that folly. He would rather have seen that if man's condition were not hopeless, both doctrines must be true. For, if God has no fixed and eternal purposes; if he leaves the world to drift wherever accident or the fickleness and passions of men may carry it, then prayer is an absurdity. So, again, if the purposes of God contravene human freedom, and leave to man no room for choice, then has he no character of his own, and to pray or labor is either a necessity or an impossibility. But let both doctrines be admitted and combined, as our theory combines them, and prayer is then not only rational but the highest of privileges; and we are stimulated to work for God with energy and success.
4. Our theory as to the causes of history harmonizes the goodness of Divine providence with the darker aspects of human experience. To reconcile man's condition and history with the wisdom, benevolence and power of God has well been
denominated the "Conflict of Ages." Numerous and strange theories have been conjured up, numberless theological battles have been fought, and yet the conflict goes on. Not long since a remarkable volume was published, the first half of which was devoted to proving, as the alternative of a "pre-existent state," that God is an infinite tyrant; and in the latter half, reasoning in a circle, the author contended that because God was not a tyrant the doctrine of pre-existence was proved.
If the book was a failure, its failure did not arise from the fact that the existence of moral evil and misery in the world was not a dark enigma; for certainly it has been felt to be such by the ablest and best of men. Listen to Albert Barnes, while he utters himself thus:
"When I look on a world of sinners and sufferers; upon death-beds and graveyards; upon the world of woe filled with hosts to suffer forever;—when I see my friends, my parents, my family, my people, my fellow-citizens-when I look upon a whole race, all involved in this sin and danger, and when I see the great mass of them wholly unconcerned, and when I feel that God only can save them and yet that he does not do it, I am struck dumb. It is all dark-dark-dark to my souland I cannot disguise it."
An old author has expressed his feeling of difficulty and doubt as to God's goodness in the disposal of human affairs in these lines:
"Oh, it is hard to work for God,
To rise and take his part
Upon the battle-field of earth
And not sometimes lose heart.
Ill masters good; good seems to change
And, worst of all, the good with good
Is at cross purposes.
It is not so, but so it looks;
And we lose courage then;
And doubts will come if God hath kept
His promises to men."
But why feel and speak thus, since, if our theory of man's freedom and God's sovereignty is true, the world's history, even in its darkest aspects, is precisely what we should expect to find it. The two powers, working together, sometimes in conjunction, but oftener in opposition, would, for a season, cause
the very disorder and darkness that so prevail. Because our theory of the causes of history explains what otherwise seems inexplicable it must be true, and the scepticism, whether of head or heart, of thought or feeling, growing out of the mys tery of man's earthly estate, is shown to be without foundation. 5. Finally, our exposition as to the causes of history contains within itself the promise and pledge of infinite good in the future. It predicts the overthrow of all evil and the final complete triumph of righteousness. If men were not free there could be no moral triumph in this world; for there would be neither sin nor holiness. So if the freedom of men, as to objective accomplishment, were not limited and controlled by the predetermined purposes of the Almighty, then sin and error might enslave the world endlessly. But because God is a sovereign ruler, and has predetermined by moral means to establish truth and righteousness in the earth, we have ground for confidence. The conflict may last for ages, but in the end God will be victorious; and that, too, without compelling men or in the slightest degree interfering with their free-agency. A system of government in which opposing powers are constantly in operation, neither of which can rule the other except by its own consent, must, in the nature of things, move slowly. Yet, as human accomplishment is limited by the divine purpose, even as the shores of the ocean bound and control the otherwise free waters, so, in the end, God will secure to himself a complete and willing victory. Thus Scripture teaches us; thus reason predicts; thus the benevolence of God demands; and for this our theory as to the causes of history provides.
Neither our limits nor our plan will permit us to speak of the honored part which the Gospel of Christ, distinctively, is to take in bringing about the grand consummation. But with all its agencies and operations it can never interfere either with God's eternal purposes or with man's freedom of choice. It will ever work through and by these, but not independently of them. Its mission is to reconcile God and man; and this in such a way as not to contravene the demands of general
justice, while yet it neither infringes upon God's sovereignty or man's liberty.
How should the subject here unfolded impress mankind with a sense of personal dignity, responsibility, and guilt! Man, indeed, is made but little lower than the angels and crowned with glory and honor. He, of all on earth, stands erect; and, looking upward, can exclaim with the Scotch geologist, “O God, I think thy thoughts after thee." To an extent the Almighty controlls his conduct, but he never forces his will. We hold in our own hand the key of destiny; and can, at option, unlock the portals of glory or unbar the gates of death. What a position of responsibility, and how fearfully has it been met! Taking advantage of God's great gift of reason and free-will, man has alienated himself from his Maker. And now, because his condition is one of misery, he falls, not to reformation, but to complaint. He finds fault with nature, with history, and with God. Let his complaints be rather of himself; let his heart turn to the Lord, then shall the veil of unbelief drop from his eyes. Let him study God's purposes and ways, and make them his own. He who does not understand his own age, and cannot read the handwriting of Providence as it appears in the course of events; and he who does not fall into line with the wonder-workings of the Almighty, and cooperate with him, must struggle in darkness through life, and, in the end, find that his existence here was a miserable failure. And this remark is as true of nations as of individuals. The Nation that will not honor God shall not prosper. Kingdoms may rise and fall, wars may desolate the earth, but God's word shall accomplish that whereunto it is sent. The heavens and the earth may pass away, but not one jot or one tittle of the law shall fail till all be fulfilled. Truth shall triumph; man shall be disenthralled; God alone shall be exalted in that day.
"For right is right since God is God,
And right the day must win;
To doubt would be disloyalty,
To falter would be sin."