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CONCERNING DIVINE PROVIDENCE IN GENERAL.
DIVINE Providence consists in preserving, directing and governing all creatures and things which are made; or in taking the most wise and effectual care of them, so as to make them answer the end for which they are created.
God preserves or upholds all things by his powerful word; by the constant exertion of the same power, by which they were at first created, or caused to exist. Every created thing is constantly and entirely dependent on the Creator, for continuance in existence. Should that power which first caused it to exist be withdrawn, or cease to be exerted one moment, it would have no existence; it would cease to exist, and sink into its original nothing. It is impossible that a creature should be made, so as to exist one moment, in any respect or degree independent of the Creator; it must be as really and as much dependent on him for continuance in existence, as for its first existence. Therefore preservation is a constant exertion of the same power which first produced 203the existence of the creature, in causing or giving continual existence; and is really continued creation.
Every part of creation, and each creature and thing in it, from the greatest down to the least, is not only constantly upheld by the exertion of the same power which first gave existence; but is in all respects continually under the direction and governing power and care of the Creator, in every change, as to the place or manner of existence, and every motion, by which God orders, disposes and uses every thing in his creation, to accomplish his own infinitely wise and important designs. As God created all things for himself, in order to accomplish his own designs, being formed according to his pleasure; so he uses every thing, so as in the wisest and best manner to answer the end for which it was designed. If any the least thing were not so directed and used, as to answer the end designed, it would be created in vain; which is inconsistent with the wisdom and goodness of the Creator. God governs the world, and all things in it, by stated and fixed laws or rules, which are called the laws, or the course of nature, by which all motions and events take place, in a certain order, and constant series and connection of cause and effect. But this law, or course of nature, is nothing but divine power and wisdom constantly exerted, to cause things to take place in such a stated way and manner; or the divine will, establishing such an order in events; and does not suppose any power in creatures, or any created thing, to cause such motions and events, aside from the immediate exertion of divine power, which is the proper efficient cause of every event: so that all power is in God, and all creatures which act, or move, exist and move, or are moved in and by him.
This fixed law and course of nature, which, as has been observed, is nothing but the divine will, wisely determined to operate in a certain, steady, fixed manner, by way of cause and effect, the same cause generally producing the same effect, is necessary in order to man’s gaining any proper knowledge of things around him, and obtaining any prudence and wisdom, with regard to the objects with which he is concerned, and by which he is to regulate his conduct, form his plans and prospects; 204and to excite his hopes, fears and exertions. Were there no settled order and fixed connection in things and events, there would be no foundation for all this; but man would be involved in total darkness and uncertainty, without any knowledge and wisdom to conduct any of his affairs, or any motive to action, in matters relating to his body. And in this established order and connection in the visible creation, not only the power, but the wisdom, and steady counsel, the goodness, truth and faithfulness of him who worketh all things by the counsel of his own will, a e constantly manifested to man; which is asserted in the sacred writings.
When this stated course of events, or these laws of nature, are interrupted and visibly counteracted, and events take place in a contrary manner; these events are called miracles, though there is no more power necessary, or really exerted and manifested in these, than there is in producing events according to the ordinary course of things. No more power is necessary or manifested in causing the sun to stand still, or move from West to East, than there is in causing it to keep a steady, uninterrupted course from East to West. The former would be a miracle, the latter is not. The Governor of the world may and does, for wise reasons, and to answer important ends, thus visibly counteract the general course of things and events; and that on such occasions, and in those instances and ways, as not to frustrate the general and important ends to be answered by the steady course of things, which he has established. And in how many instances among the inconceivable number and variety of events which take place, they are brought about and caused to exist just at such a time, and in such a manner, not according to any stated law, or course of things, no man can tell; as the agent, by whose constant energy all things are conducted, is invincible to us; and may act immediately, or by the instrumentality of invisible agents; and yet this may be done, so as not visibly to counteract the stated laws or course of nature, or be the least obstruction to the exercise of human wisdom and prudence, in every thing in which men are concerned. No one can doubt of this, 205who will carefully attend to the matter, and observe the representation of it in the holy scriptures. All such instances, be they ever so many, may be called miracles, though invisible to man, being out of the reach of our perception, as they are of the same nature and kind with those instances above mentioned, in which, what is called the course of nature, is visibly, or to our senses, counteracted, and events take place contrary to it, which we call miracles.
This care and providence of God, in directing and governing all creatures and things, is universal, and constant, respecting all things at all times; and is extended to the least, as well as the greatest and more important existence; and is concerned in every event, however minute, and in our view inconsiderable. Not a sparrow, or the least bird or insect, falls to the ground, or dies, without the direction and agency of God. The hairs of our head are all carefully numbered; and so many and not one more are ordered to exist, and not one is removed or broken, without the order and operation of the divine hand. And this is equally true of every hair on men and beasts, and of each leaf in the forest, or spire of grass on the earth that ever have existed, or will exist, to the end of the world.
In the exercise of this divine providence, some events take place by the more immediate energy and agency of God; and others by the instrumentality and agency of creatures, and by various mediums, and what are called second causes. But in all the events of the latter kind, the divine hand, power and energy, is as really and as much concerned and exerted, and is really as evident, and as much to be acknowledged, as if no instrument, agent, or second cause were used, or had any concern in the matter. Because the creature or the instrument has no power to act or effect any thing, independent of God, or which is not given to him by God. And is in the hand of God, as the axe or saw is in the hand of the workman. This is the light in which divine revelation every where represents the providence of God, as every one who carefully attends to it, must be sensible. And what has been observed shows that this is perfectly consonant 206to reason; and that a different and contrary idea of divine providence is insupportable and inconsistent.159159 That such a divine providence as is here described and asserted, which is rational, and every where supposed and held up to view in the Bible, is perfectly consistent with the moral agency and liberty of man, appears from a foregoing chapter on the decrees of God.
I. From this scriptural view of divine providence, it appears, that they are in a great and dangerous error, who believe and assert, that the creation, and all creatures, when once made, have power to subsist of themselves, and stand alone by their own power, given to them in their creation; and to continue in motion and action, independent of any immediate exertion of divine energy, to support and direct them: that creation and creatures, once made and put in order, go on in a regular course of their own accord; and that God does never interpose, or take any farther care of the works of his hand. Every one who has attended to the Bible must be sensible that such a notion is very inconsistent with that: And it is most unreasonable, as it supposes that which is impossible, viz. That the creature may subsist of itself, when once made, in a measure independent of the Creator. This is contrary to all true philosophy: and at the same time dishonourable to God, as if he did not take a particular and wise care of the things he has made, and exercise and manifest his power, wisdom and goodness, in preserving and governing the world, and all things in it. And it tends to suppress and even eradicate all true piety, by leading to conceive of the Creator, as at a distance, and in a great measure out of sight; and as it obliterates a sense of our immediate dependence on God, and encourages self-dependence. In a word, it makes too much of creatures, and raises them infinitely too high, by which the Creator and Governor of the world is concealed and hid; whereas in a right view of divine providence, every creature and all events exhibit Deity to view, as constantly present in every thing, in the exercise of omniscience, power, wisdom, rectitude and goodness; and unite to impress 207 that sense of the divine Being on the mind, and lead to that acknowledgment of him, in which all true piety most essentially consists.
II. We are, therefore, in the next place, led to observe, that the true philosophical and scriptural account of divine providence, opens the most ample field for the exercise of piety and religion; as it leads us to see God in all things, and in every event; to fear him, trust in him, and acknowledge him in all our ways, feeling our immediate, constant, absolute dependence upon him. This leads us to hear him speaking important truths, in an intelligible language, by all creatures and things with which we are surrounded, and in all events; which calls for answerable exercises of prayer, acknowledgments, thanksgiving and praise, and a constant glorifying him, in whose hand is our breath and all our ways. Of such exercises and expressions of piety we have many examples in the holy scriptures; which, at the same time, appear perfectly rational.
III. Hence we learn the reasonableness and duty of a cheerful submission to God, and acquiescence in the events which take place under his direction and providence. Not to submit is to oppose God and his will, and to resist infinite wisdom and goodness. Every event that takes place is under the immediate direction of unerring wisdom and goodness, and ordered for the greatest good, to promote the most important and best ends; and is therefore so far from being the reasonable ground of any reluctance and regret in us, that we ought not only barely to submit, but to acquiesce with pleasure, and rejoice that God reigns, and hath done, and continues to do, whatsoever he pleaseth; and worketh all things, according to the counsel of his own will.
IV. How safe and happy are they who put their trust in God! He who directs and governs all things, and orders every event; who is infinitely above all control, on whom all things entirely depend; who does whatsoever he pleases in heaven and among the children of men on earth: He is engaged by repeated promises to them, that no evil shall come near them to hurt them: but that every thing shall work together for their good. If God be thus for them, who or what can be against them? 208The Lord reigneth, let them who trust in him always rejoice. Weil may they say, “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore will we not fear, though the earth be removed, and though the mountains be carried into the midst of the sea» Though the waters thereof roar and be troubled, though the mountains shake with the swelling thereof.” “Oh Lord of hosts, Blessed is the man that trusteth in thee!”
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