« PreviousContinue »
weakness and the infirmity of human reason: II. that a settled peace of mind with respect to God, must arise from a due contemplation of the great works of Providence, which God has laid open for our consideration and instruction. Under the first head are included all the suspicions which are apt to rise in men's minds against Providence, as well as formal complaints : the first of this sort is, that God is too great and too excellent a being to humble himself to behold the things that are on earth. This one mistake seems to have been the whole of Epicurus’s divinity: this topic enlarged
To make his gods happy, he removed them from the government of men, whom he left alone without God or Providence : this thought, which has in all times been the refuge of sinners, has even entered into better minds, broken with grief, and tempted by their misfortunes to think thus. The grounds of this suspicion are weak and unreasonable: the fault is that men consider God's abilities to be like their own : but as it is absurd to argue from the powers of men to the powers of God, so is it to argue from the passions of men to the affections of the Deity : this point fully explained. Epicurus and his followers, who denied God's government of the world, denied also that he made it, and so far were consistent: but if we begin by considering the works of creation ; if we call to remembrance those years of the right hand of the Most High; we shall, from these manifest and undeniable works of God, be led to conclude justly with respect to the methods of divine Providence : this point illustrated from the economy of the natural world. Another reason for suspicion of the conduct of Providence is, that men cannot discern any certain marks of God interposition: they think that the inanimate and irrational parts of the world follow invariably a certain course of nature, and that men act as though given up to their own devices, and undirected by a superior power. The scoffers in St. Peter's time supported themselves on a similar observation, that all things continue as they were from the beginning of the creation ; concluding that they would go on so for ever,
and that there was no future state to engage their concern.
But here are two great mistakes: first, the conclusion is not rightly drawn from the observation, supposing the observation true : secondly, supposing the conclusion true, it does not answer the purposes intended. That the material world continues to answer the end designed, is the strongest evidence that it was made, and is conducted, by the highest wisdom and power : this fact illustrated from the edifices of human artists. Another objection is, that the world continues in one unwearied course, and a repetition of the same thing is no sign of wisdom or contrivance. This observation can arise only from what we see among men,
where there is some foundation for it: but it is great weakness and want of thought to transfer this observation to God's works : this point enlarged on. But suppose the observation true, and the world to be now where it was at the beginning; yet no conclusion can be drawn from thence as to its future continuance: the absurdity of arguing from the past and present state of things to their end, explained. The other part of the objection, pointed against God's moral government of the world, examined. The great irregularity observable in human actions, and the mischiefs and iniquities which abound in the world, have tempted some to think that God does not concern himself with the actions of men, but bas given them up to follow their own desires. It is justly observed, that there is a difference between the material and rational parts of the world : this difference explained. Matter, being capable of no action of itself, necessarily follows the impressions it receives : if, therefore, God is the mover, nothing but order and regularity can be expected. To suppose the material world to move irregularly and inconsistently with the end to be served, would be supposing God to act irregularly and inconsistently with the end of his own creation;
but in the moral world the case is otherwise : men have a power of acting for themselves, or else they could not be moral or rational agents : this topic enlarged on. The very difference observable in the conducting the material and the moral world, is the strongest presumption that they are under the direction of an all-wise being : this enlarged on. Moral agents cannot be invariably directed, from their very nature ; and the actions of such beings will be wise and regular in proportion to their wisdom : it is then only want of thought and reflexion which furnishes objections, from the present state of things, against a divine Providence. But farther; though men are moral agents, yet this excludes not God's providence from human affairs, because this may be exerted consistently with their freedom; and the distribution of rewards and punishments may be effected without overruling the wills or actions of the good and bad. God's
of life and death alone is sufficient for conducting the great affairs of the world : and the great variety of accidents, which cannot happen but as God thinks. fit, may be effectual to punish or reward individuals, without any visible interposition of Providence. These secret methods do not indeed justify God's righteousness in the eyes of men, nor is it pretended that they are adopted for an exact administration of justice in every case : it is sufficient that they are, or may be so used, over moral beings in a state of probation; which is a very different thing from the final administration of justice. Nor can the apparent unequal distribution of good and evil in this life be any objection to God's government over the world, unless it be proved that there will not be a day of reckoning hereafter: for supposing a future state, the present condition of things is quite consistent with divine justice; which sleeps not, but waits to see full proof of the righteousness or the unrighteousness of men. At the appointed dissoJution of this frame of things, the material world will have done its office, and may lie by till called out again by the Creator :
but not so the moral world, for which another scene is prepared ; where all must answer for the use they made of God's gifts. Conclusion : exhorting men from all these considerations to contemplate divine Providence; whence they will see reason to confess their own weakness, and to say with the Psalmist, it is mine own infirmity.
The suspicions which incline men to doubt whether God does at all concern himself in human affairs having been considered, we now come to consider the suspicions which, consistently with admitting a general care of Providence over the world, lead men to fear that they are neglected or unkindly treated by God: this the case of the Psalmist, and these his fears. Of God's government he doubted not; he applied to him in his trouble, but his grief was, that he found no return to his prayers; when he remembered God, he was troubled; when he complained, his Spirit was overwhelmed; but this good man was so well grounded in religion, that in spite of doubts and fears, he pronounced rightly in his own case of his suspicions, this is my infirmity; he called to his aid the reflexion, I will remember the years of the right hand of the Most High. Admitting then God's providence to extend over the whole world, it may be doubted whether this case descends to particulars, and regards the actions and well-being of individuals; which, singly considered, have very little influence on the well-being of the whole. With respect to the material world, we may easily discern that this suspicion is groundless, and built on the weak conceit that it is too troublesome to Providence to attend to the minute things of the world : this topic enlarged on. The case is not so plain with respect to moral agents and God's government over them : the reason of this shown from their very nature. With respect to the care of Providence over
particular men, we may consider that every man consists of two parts; one material, which is the body; the other rational, which is the mind : with regard to the former, every single man manifestly depends on the preservation and care of providence, as manifestly as the great bodies of the world do : this point enlarged on : hence our Saviour's question, as related by St. Matthew vi. 26. : this passage fully explained. Nor do we want more direct proofs of God's care for men as moral agents : of this sort are the impressions and intimations which we receive from nature, that is, from the hand of our Creator, for our government and direction : the knowlege of good and evil, the power of conscience, the passions of hope and fear, the sense of honor and shame, which are natural to man, are proofs of God's care, considered as moral agents; and not the less so from their being common to all men; though possibly for that reason they have been less considered in this light. Was God to speak directly to every man, and rebuke every sinner, we should not doubt of his care for particular moral agents; but we might reasonably doubt, how consistent such methods would be with the freedom necessary to the morality of human actions : and yet this same care is taken, and the same things are done in a manner and method which do not interfere with the freedom of moral agents. This point fully explained from a consideration of the moral sense and human passions: these are undeniable proofs of God's care for moral agents, and they reach to every particular man's case, who has not extinguished the power of conscience. That this providence also extends farther, and interposes to bless and prosper the righteous, to punish and confound the wicked, cannot be doubted in a general way; though to particularise it is difficult and sometimes presumptuous, as the appearances of things will not answer to the observation : this point enlarged on. Another difficulty is, that the blessings of the righteous, and the punishment of the wicked in this world, seem to be con