November 8, 2009

Henry Rogers' Analysis of John Howe (1630–1705) on the Will of God

He the proceeds [in the Tractate on Divine Prescience] to vindicate the sincerity of the Divine "counsels, exhortations, and commands" to all men. He remarks, that there can be no doubt of this, with regard to those who comply with them. With regard to those who do not, he argues, that God is, in an intelligible sense, really willing that all men should be saved, and that it would be really grateful to the infinite benevolence of his nature, if they were all to accept the salvation which the gospel provides; but that, though he is willing that all should be saved on such terms as the gospel offers, and in a method that harmonizes with the intelligent and moral nature of man, he is not willing that they should be saved at any rate or in any method.

Howe's sentiments on this subject may, I think, be illustrated in a very familiar manner. A parent is truly willing to reclaim a disobedient child, and to employ many apt methods for this purpose. But there is, at the same time, a point beyond which he will not go. He will not persist in his beneficent intention at all hazards; he will not compromise his own character; he will not expose his authority to the contempt of the rest of his family; he will not procure obedience by concessions, which, though they might succeed probably in a single instance, might fearfully weaken his general authority.—Now what is more common than such a case? Do we not often really desire to attain a certain object, provided it can be attained only at a certain expense; and yet as sternly resolve to forego it, if we find it cannot?

Thus it is, Howe argues, with God: there is a sense in which he really wills the salvation of all men; and, in consequence, has sincerely provided all those means of moral suasion which are likely to operate on a reasonable creature; but that when men persist in refusing to yield to these, he resolves to do no more, and leaves them to the consequences of their own obstinacy. This, he contends, is his general conduct; conduct by no means inconsistent with the supposition, that he may employ still further and more efficacious means for the recovery of some. The reasons which limit the employment of those means we know not.
Henry Rogers, The Life and Character of John Howe with an Analysis of His Writings (London: William Ball, 1836), 555–557.

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