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would choose, if he could, to have his habitation secured against the injuries of time and accidents. And can we expect less of a house, whose builder is God, than that it should continue firm and stable, and without decay, during the time intended and limited for its continuance ? If all things therefore continue as they were from the beginning of the creation, it proves that they were extremely well made at first, and have been extremely well preserved ever since : and can this afford to a man of any thought or reflexion an objection against Providence ?
It may be said perhaps, that it is not merely the continuing of the world that is the objection, but its continuing always in one unwearied course. The sun rises and sets now, just as it did three or four thousand years ago : and what sign is there of wisdom or contrivance in doing the same thing over and over again for ages together? This observation can arise only from what we see among men ; and with respect to men there is foundation for it: but it is great weakness and want of thought to transfer this observation to the works of God. Men are improving daily in knowlege and experience, and may have good reason to alter this year what they did the last, the better to suit their pleasure or convenience : but can any man be so weak as to think this to be the case of the Almighty? Do you imagine God was young and unexperienced when he made the world, and that he sees faults in it now which he did not see then ? If
do not think this, what reason can you give why the world should not go on now as it did from the beginning ? If God made it in the best manner at first, and without doubt he did, can there be any just cause for alteration ?
But farther : supposing the observation true, that the world is now where it was at the beginning; yet no conclusion can be drawn from thence as to the future continuance of the world. For though this system of things shall keep its appointed course during the time determined by God for its continuance, yet neither can the present nor the past state of things enable us in the least degree to judge when the end will be. And whoever reasons in this way may just as well say such a man lived in good health the last twenty years, and therefore he shall live in good health for twenty more.
argument concludes alike in both cases, however the absurdity may appear shocking only in one.
But supposing we should allow even the conclusion to be right, and that the material world may go on without end : what is it to the purpose ? Whatever becomes of the world, you can last but a little time. Your condition hereafter will not depend on the lasting of the sun or moon, or be in the least influenced by it.
Let them move on for ever; yet if you in the mean time are to be miserable, and to suffer for your
iniquities, what will you be the better for it? If this world should last for ever, may there not be other states for the reception of good and bad spirits, when separate from the body? If there may, how is religion, or the belief of God's government in the rational and moral world, at all concerned in this speculation ? And how weak and how absurd a thing is it for men, who know they must die, and may die to-day or to-morrow, to harden their hearts against the belief of Providence, by speculating on the durableness of things without themselves; when their only true concern is, and ought to be, to know what will become of themselves, being very sure that they cannot continue long here? Our Saviour has told us that in his · Father's house are many mansions :' this mansion in which we now live may continue, and yet we may be transferred to other mansions to be happy or miserable, according as we have behaved ourselves in this.
Let us consider now, whether the other part of the objection, pointed against God's moral government of the world, has any better foundation in reason to support it.
The great irregularity observable in human actions, and the mischiefs and iniquities which abound in the world, have tempted some to think that God concerns not himself with the actions of men, but has given them up intirely to follow their own devices.
It is truly and justly observed, that there is this difference between the material and rational parts of the world ; that the material world, and the several parts of it, act regularly and uniformly, pursuing constantly the ends and appointments of nature; whilst moral agents act variously, and often inconsistently with the great ends to which they are ordained. But
I wonder any man, capable of making this observation, should not at the same time see the true reason of it, supposing both parts to be under God's government.
Matter, being capable of no action of itself, must necessarily follow the impressions it receives : supposing God to govern the world, the material parts of it must follow the immediate impressions of his hand; and where God is the mover, can you expect any thing less than order and regularity, and a constant subserviency to the great ends of the creation ? To suppose therefore 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 and choosing for themselves; and were it otherwise, they could not be rational or moral agents. Were God therefore to determine the actions of men absolutely and uncontrollably as he directs the emotions of the material world, men would be, to all intents and purposes, as much parts of the material world as the trees and plants which grow in it. And such a method of government would destroy and overthrow the very end for which rational agents were created : for to what purpose were reason and understanding given to men, but to guide and direct them, and to make them capable of discharging the duties of religion and morality? But if the powers of reason and understanding were to be perpetually overruled, to prevent the irregularities and mischiefs which proceed from the free use of them ; what would it be but making men rational and moral agents by the law of their creation, and then putting them under a government which leaves no room for reason or morality? which is such a part as no wise man would act, and which no reasonable man would ascribe to God.
Indeed, this very difference observable in the conducting the material and the moral world, is the strongest presumption that the whole is under the direction of the all-wise Being. On supposition that God governs the world, would you not expect to see all things directed in a way suitable to their nature, and the end for which they were made ? Material
beings require to be absolutely and uncontrollably directed, for they have no power to direct themselves; consequently their motions must be just and regular, or otherwise, according to the wisdom and ability of the director : and if God be that director, they must ever be just and regular.
Moral agents cannot be so directed; for it is essential to the nature of a moral being to act and choose for itself; and the actions of such beings will be wise and regular, in proportion to the wisdom of such beings; where they are weak and infirm, they will oftentimes be very irregular and blameworthy. That men are weak and infirm wants no proof; consequently, there must be great signs of weakness and imperfection in their moral behavior.
Since then it is evident, a priori, that the government of the world, supposing it to be under the government of God, must be what it now appears to be; it can be only want of thought and reflexion which furnishes objections, from the present state of things, against a divine Providence.
But farther : though it is necessary to leave men, considered as moral agents, to choose and act freely; yet this is far from excluding the providence of God from interposing in human affairs : the reason is, because this may be done many ways consistently with the freedom of men; and wicked men may be punished, and good men rewarded, even in this world, without overruling the wills or actions of either. A little reflexion will clear this up to every man's mind ; and therefore I shall say no more than is necessary to explain my meaning.
The power of life and death, which is in the hand of God, is alone sufficient for conducting the great affairs of the world. It is natural for men to die; and when they do die, nobody is surprised at so common an event: and yet it is evident that the well-being of whole nations often depends on the life or death of a few men : let them live or let them die, nobody's liberty or freedom of action is affected by it; yet the peace and security of whole countries, or the utter ruin and destruction of them, may depend intirely on the event.
With respect to private men, and their happiness or misery here; if we consider how much every man's good or ill fortune in the world depends on variety of accidents, which may happen one way or other, but must happen as God shall think proper; it will be easy to conceive that men may be effectually punished for their iniquities, or rewarded for their virtue, by a train of things appearing to be natural and common, without the visible interposition of Providence.
These secret methods do not indeed justify the righteousness of God in the eyes of men ; nor is it pretended that they are made use of for an exact administration of justice in every case; but it is sufficient if they are or may be used to all the necessary purposes of government over moral beings in a state of probation; which is a very different thing from the final administration of justice. And whatever inequalities may appear to us in the distribution of good or evil in this life, they cannot stand as objections to God's government over the world, unless you can prove that there will be no day of reckoning hereafter: for supposing a future state, it is quite consistent with divine justice to perinit things to be as we see they are now; since justice does not sleep, but waits with patience to see the full proof of the righteousness or unrighteousness of men.
When the appointed time shall come for dissolving this frame of things, the material world will have done its office, and may lie by, till called out by the Creator to serve other uses : but for the moral world there is another scene prepared, in which they must account for their conduct and behavior in this ; and answer for the use they made of those great and excellent gifts of reason and understanding with which God endowed them.
Lay all these things together, and consider in one view the whole scheme of divine Providence: then try over again the misgivings of mind, and the suspicions you have entertained against God's government of the world, and you will perhaps see reason to confess your own weakness, and say with the Psalmist, It is mine own infirmity.'