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unto; and he would, doubtless preserve himself from dying, for that is agreeable to the dictates of nature, which would, were it possible for him to do it, prevent itself from being dissolved. And if man could preserve himself in being, he might, and doubtless, would, by his own skill, maintain himself in a prosperous condition in this world, and always lead a happy life, since this is what nature cannot but desire: But, inasmuch as all are liable to the afflictions and miseries of this present state, it plainly argues that they are unavoidable, and consequently that there is a providence that maintains men, and all other creatures, in that state in which they are.
In considering the upholding providence of God, we must observe, that it is either immediate, or mediate. The former of these consists in his exerting that power, by which we live, move, and act, which is sometimes called the divine manutenency; and this cannot be exerted by a finite medium, any more than that power that brought all things into being.
But besides this, God is said, according to the fixed laws of nature, to preserve his creatures by the instrumentality of second causes. Thus life is maintained by the air in which we breathe, and the food, by which we are nourished; and every thing that tends to our comfort in life, is communicated to us by second causes, under the influence and direction of providence, to which it is as much to be ascribed, as though it were brought about without means: thus Jacob considers God, as giving him bread to eat, and raiment to put on, Gen. xxviii. 20. whatever diligence or industry was used by him to attain them; and God is elsewhere said to give food to all flesh; Psal. cxxxvi. 25. and, concerning brute creatures, it is said, These wait all upon thee, that thou mayest give them their meat in due season; that thou givest them, they gather; thou openest thy hand, they are filled with good, Psal. civ. 27, 28.
II. God governs all things by his providence, so that nothing happens by chance to him. This appears from those admirable displays of wisdom, which come under our daily observation, in the government of the world. Many things are ordered to subserve such ends, as are attained by them without their own knowledge; as the sun and other heavenly bodies which are a common blessing to this lower world; so the rain, the air, vapours, minerals, beasts, vegetables, and all other creatures, below men, answer their respective ends, without their own design, and not by the will or management of any intelligent creature therefore it must be by the direction of providence.
That there is a providence, that governs the world, is so obvious a truth, that it has been denied by none, but the most stupid part of mankind, who wholly abandoned themselves to sensuality and libertinism, and hardly owned that there is a
God, or such things as moral good or evil; and these scarce deserve the name of men.* All others, I say, have owned a providence, as what is the necessary consequence of the belief of a God, and therefore it is a doctrine founded in the very na ture of man; so that the heathen who have had no other light than that affords, have expressed their belief of it, and have compared the divine Being to a pilot, who sits at the helm and steers the ship; or to one that guides the chariot where he pleases; or to a general, that marshals and gives directions to the soldiers under his command: or to a king, that sits on the throne, and gives laws to all his subjects. Accordingly, the apostle Paul, when arguing with the Athenians, from principles which they maintained, takes it for granted, as what would not be contested by them, that there was a providence, when he says, In him we live, and move, and have our being, Acts xvii. 28. And, indeed, this truth appears to have been universally believed, in the world, by men of all religions, whether true, or false. As it is the foundation of all true worship; so, that worship, which was performed by the heathen as derived partly from the light of nature, and partly from tradition; and those prayers, that were directed to God, and altars erected for his service, all argue their belief, not only of God, but of a providence; so that this doctrine is agreeable to the light of nature, as well as plainly evinced from scripture.
III. The providence of God extends itself to all the actions of creatures. That this may appear, let it be considered; that there are innumerable effects produced by, what we call, second causes; this is allowed by all. Moreover, every second cause implies, that there is a first cause, that guides and directs it. Now no creature is the first cause of any action, for that is pe
It was denied, indeed, by the Epicureans, who were detested by the better sort of heathen, and reckoned the Libertines of the respective ages, in which they lived; and, though they may occasionally speak of a God, yet were deemed no better than Atheists. Diogenes Laertius [Vid. in Vit. Epicuri, Lib. X.] in the close of the life of Epicurus, gives a brief account of his sentiments about religion, which he lays down in several short Aphorisms; the first of which begins with this memorable passage, Το μακάριον και αφθαρίων στο αυτό πραγματα έχει ετε άλλω παρέχει, Quod beatum & immortale est neque ipsum negotia habet, neque ali, præbet; which expression some of the wiser heathen have taken just offence at. And accordingly Cicero, [Vid. ejusd. Lib. I. De Nat. Deor.] referring to this passage, says, that whatever veneration Epicurus pretended to have for the gods, yet he was no better than an Atheist, and brought a god into his philosophy, that he might not fall under the displeasure of the senate at Athens: thus he says, Novi ego Epicureos omnia Sigilla venerantes; quanquam video nonnullis videri Epicurum, ne in offensionem Atheniensium caderet, verbis reliquisse Deos, resustulisse: And Lactantius observes the same thing concerning him, and describes him as a deceiver and a hypocrite, Hic vero si aliud sensit, & aliud locutus est; quid aliud appellandus est, quam deceptor, bilinguis, malus, & propterea stultus? Vid. Lactant. de Ira Dei, Cap. 4. And as for the Poets, it was only the most vain among them, who gave countenance to immorality, and endeavoured to debauch the age in which they lived, that gave out this notion; and, in our age, this seems to be one of the first principles of Deism.
culiar to God, therefore all creatures act under his influence, that is, by his providence. If it is in God, not only that we live, but move, and act, then there is no motion, or action in the world, whether in things with, or without life, but is under the influence of providence. Therefore we shall proceed to consider the providence of God, as conversant about all things, the least as well as the greatest, and about things that are agreeable, or contrary to the laws of nature, and particularly how it is conversant about the actions of intelligent creatures, such as angels and men.
1. The greatest things are not above, nor the least and most inconsiderable below the care and influence of providence, and consequently it must extend itself to all things. The most excellent of finite beings are but creatures, and therefore they are dependent upon God, as much as the least: thus it is said, He doth according to his will, in the army of heaven, as well as among the inhabitants of the earth, Dan. iv. 35. Sometimes we read of the providence of God, as conversant about the most glorious parts of the frame of nature: it is by his influence that the sun appears to perform its regular motions; he hath fixed it in the heavens, as in a tabernacle appointed for it. And those creatures that are most formidable to men, as the leviathan, which is represented as the fiercest of all creatures, who abide in the sea, and the lion of all the beasts of the forest; these are described as subject to his providence, and receiving their provisions from it, Job xli. Psal. civ. 21. and the inconsiderable sparrow doth not fall to the ground without it, Matt. x. 29, 30. and the very hairs of our head are all numbered; which is a proverbial expression, to denote the particular concern of providence, as conversant about the most minute actions of life.
2. The providence of God is conversant about those things which come to pass, either agreeably, or contrary, to the fixed laws of nature, the whole frame whereof is held together by him the successive returns of seed-time and harvest, summer and winter, day and night, are all ordered by him, Gen. viii. 22. the elements and meteors are subject to his appointment; Fire and hail, snow and vapour, and stormy wind, fulfil his word, Psal. cxlviii. 8. He looketh to the ends of the earth, and seeth under the whole heaven, to make the weight for the winds, and he weigheth the waters by measure; when he made a decree for the rain, and a way for the lightning of the thunder, Job xxviii. 24-26.
And as for effects, that are above, or contrary to the course of nature, these are subject to, and ordered by, his providence. It was contrary to the course of nature for the ravens, which are birds of prey, to bring provisions to mankind, yet these were ordeerd to bring a supply of food to the prophet Elijah,
1 Kings xvii. 4. And the lions, who knew no difference between Daniel and his persecutors, and were naturally inclined to devour one, as well as the other, were obliged to make a distinction between them, and not to hurt the one, but immediately to devour the other, Dan. vi. 22, 24. And a whale was provided, by providence, to receive and bring the prophet Jonah to land, when cast into the sea, chap. i. 17. So the fire had no power over Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego, when thrown into it, but immediately consumed those who were ordered to cast them in, Dan. iii. 22, 27.
3. We shall consider providence, as conversant about intelligent creatures, and more particularly man, the most excellent creature in this lower world. He is, as it were, the peculiar care, and darling of providence; as it has rendered him capable of enjoying the blessings of both worlds, fitted him to glorify God actively, as well as objectively, and governs him in a way suited to his nature, and as one who is designed for greater things, than other creatures below him are capable of. Here we shall consider the providence of God, as ordering the state and condition of men in this world, and then speak more particularly of it, as conversant about the moral actions of men, considered as good or bad.
First, To consider the providence of God, as it respects the state and condition of man in this life; and, in particular, what respects not only his natural, but religious interests.
(1.) There is a peculiar care of providence extended towards us, in our birth and infancy. The Psalmist acknowledges this, when he says, Thou art he that took me out of the womb; thou didst make me hope when I was upon my mother's breasts; I was cast upon thee from the womb; thou art my God from my mother's belly, Psal. xxii. 9, 10. Providence has provided the breast, and the most proper food contained therein, for the nourishment of the infant, at its first coming into the world; and it has put those tender bowels into the parents, to whose immediate care they are committed, that, without any arguments, or persuasive motives thereunto, besides what nature suggests, they cannot, unless divested of all humanity, and becoming worse than brutes, neglect and expose it to harm. Thus the prophet says, Can a woman forget her sucking child, that she should not have compassion on the son of her womb? Isa. xlix. 15. Therefore, be the parents never so poor, there is something in nature that inclines them rather to suffer themselves, than that the helpless infant should be exposed to suffer through their neglect; which is a peculiar instance of the care of providence. To this we may add, the time, and place in which we were born, or live; the circumstances of our parents, as to what concerns the world, especially if they are such
who are religious themselves, and earnestly desire that their children may become so, and endeavour to promote their spiritual, as well as their temporal welfare. These are all instances of the care of providence.
(2.) We shall now consider the concern of providence for man in his childhood, and advancing years. This discovers itself in furnishing us with natural capacities to receive instruction, which are daily improved, as we grow in years; and, though every one has not an equal degree of parts, fitting him for some station in life, that others are qualified for, yet most are endowed with that degree thereof, as may fit them for the station of life, in which they are placed, so that they may glorify God some way or other, in their generation.
(3.) We shall consider the care of providence, respecting various other ages and conditions of life. It is this that fixes the bounds of our habitation, determines and over-rules the advantages or disadvantages of conversation; the secular callings, or employments, which we are engaged in, together with the issue and success thereof. Again, health and sickness, riches and poverty, the favour or frowns of men; the term of life, whether long or short, all these are under the direction of providence: One dieth in his full strength, being wholly at ease and quiet. His breasts are full of milk, and his bones are moistened with marrow. And another dieth in the bitterness of his soul, and never eateth with pleasure, Job xxi. 23–25. Likewise, as to what respects the injurious treatment we meet with from men; providence is so far concerned about it, as that it sometimes permits it for the trial of our graces; and at other times averts the evil designed against us, by softening their tempers, allaying their resentments; as in the instance of what respected Laban's and Esau's behaviour towards Jacob; or else finds some way to deliver us from the evil intended against us.
(4.) We shall now consider the providence of God, as respecting, more especially, the spiritual concerns of his people. There are some kind foot-steps thereof, that have a more immediate subserviency to their conversion; particularly, their being placed under the means of grace, either bringing the gospel to them, or ordering their abode where it is preached, and that in such a way, as is most adapted to awaken, instruct, convert, or reprove, as means conducive to that great end. Moreover, it is very remarkable in casting our lot, where we may contract friendship and intimacy with those, whose conversation and example may be made of use to us, for our conviction, imitation, and conversion.
And to this let me add, that sometimes there is a peculiar hand of providence, in sending afflictions, which are sanctified, and rendered means of grace, and have a tendency to awaken