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men out of their carnal security. This is one way whereby God speaks to man, to withdraw him from his purpose, and hide pride from him, Job xxxiii. 14, 17, 19. Sometimes God makes his exemplary judgments, that are abroad in the world, effectual to warn others to flee from the wrath to come. And as for the preaching of the gospel, there is a peculiar hand of providence, sometimes in giving a suitable word, in which case God often over-rules the thoughts and studies of his ministers; so that they are, as it were, directed without their own forethought relating to this event, to insist on such a subject, that God designs to make instrumental for the conversion of souls. This he sets home on the consciences of men, keeps it fixed on the imagination of the thoughts of their hearts, and enables them to improve it to his glory in the conduct of their lives.
Secondly, We shall proceed to consider the providence of God, as conversant about the actions of men. If other creatures are dependent on him, in acting, as well as existing, then certainly man must not be exempted from this dependence. There are several scriptures which speak of intelligent creatures, as under the influence of providence. Thus it is said, The king's heart is in the hand of the Lord; as the rivers of water, he turneth it whithersoever he will, Prov. xxi. 1. and elsewhere the prophet says, O Lord, I know that the way of man is not in himself; it is not in man that walketh to direct his steps, Jer. x. 23. that is, he cannot manage himself in the conduct of life, either as an intelligent creature, or as a believer, without supposing the natural or spiritual influence of divine providence.
Now these actions are considered as moral, and so agreeable or contrary to the divine law, in which different respects they are, either good or bad.
(1.) We shall consider the providence of God, as conversant about the good actions of men; and it is so, not only by upholding the powers and faculties of the soul, in acting, or in giving a law, which is the rule thereof; nor is it only conversant about them, in an objective way, or by moral suasion, as affording rational arguments or inducements thereunto, but as implanting and exciting that principle, by which we act; especially, as it respects the work of grace in the souls of men, which is what we call the gracious dispensation of providence, exercised towards men, not barely as intelligent creatures, but as believers. But this we shall not insist on at present, because we shall be led to speak to it under some following answers, which more particularly set forth the grace of God as displayed in the gospel. We are now to consider the actions of men in a more general view; which, when we style them good, it is only as containing in them a less degree of conformity to the
divine law; but refer the consideration of the goodness of actions, as under the influence of special grace, to its proper place. All that we shall observe at present is, that every thing that is good, in the actions of intelligent creatures, is under the direction and influence of providence. This does not carry the least appearance of a reflection on the divine perfections, while we suppose God to be the Governor of intelligent creatures, acting as such; and therefore, I presume, it will not be much contested, by any who allow a providence in general. But,
(2.) We shall proceed to consider the providence of God, as conversant about evil actions. This is a subject which contains in it a very great difficulty; for we must use the utmost caution, lest we advance any thing that may argue him to be the author of sin; and yet we are not to suppose that the providence of God is to be wholly excluded from those actions that are sinful; for there is certainly some meaning in such scriptures as these, when God says, concerning Pharaoh, I will harden his heart, Exod. iv. 21. and, Sihon king of Heshbon would not let us pass by him; for the Lord thy God hardened his heart, and made his heart obstinate, that he might deliver him into thy hand, Deut. ii. 30. and elsewhere it is said, concerning Shimei, The Lord said unto him curse David, 2 Sam. xvi. 10. and, concerning Joseph's brethren, who sold him into Egypt, it is said, It was not you that sent me hither, but God, Gen. xlv. 8. and concerning the false prophets that deceived Ahab, it is said, The Lord hath put a lying spirit in the mouth of all these thy prophets, 1 Kings xxii. 22. These, and such-like scriptures, are not to be expunged out of the Bible, but explained in a way consistent with the divine perfections; and nothing can be inferred from them, if this be not, that the providence of God is some way conversant about those actions that are sinful; but yet it is not in such a way, as either argues him to be the author or approver of sin. (a) Accordingly I would choose to express myself, concerning this matter, to this effect: That the providence of God is conversant about those actions, to which sin is annexed, rather than that it is conversant about sin itself, or the obliquity, or sinfulness thereof. Now, that we may understand this matter, we must distinguish between what is natural, and what is sinful in an action; the former is from God; the latter, from ourselves. This is often illustrated by such similitudes as these. The motion of a bowl is from the hand that throws it; but the irregularity of the motion is from the bias that turns it aside. So the motion of a horse is excited by the whip, or spur of the rider; but if it goes lame, the defect, or halting that it has in its motion, proceeds from an inward indisposition in the horse, and not from the rider. Others illustrate it by a similitude, taken from the sun's
(a) Vide ante. Vol. I. p. 532, in note.
drawing forth vapours from the earth, by that heat, which has a tendency to exhale them; but the stench that attends what is exhaled from a dunghill, is not from the sun, but from the nature of the subject from whence it is drawn forth. So the providence of God enables sinners to act in a natural way; but the sinfulness, irregularity, or moral defects, that attend those actions, is from the corruption of our own nature: or, to speak more plainly, the man that blasphemes, could not think, or utter his blasphemy, without the concurrence of the common providence of God, which enables him to think or speak. These are natural actions; but that the thoughts, or tongue, should be set against God, or goodness, that is from the depravity of
Again, to kill, or take away the life of a man, is, in some respects, a natural action, as it cannot be done without thought, or strength to execute what we design. These are the gifts of providence, and, in this respect God concurs to the action. Thus Joab could not have killed Abner, or Amasa, if he had not had a natural power to use the instrument, with which he did it. This was from God; but the malice, that prompted him to abuse these gifts of providence, and his hypocritical subtilty, and that dissimulation, or disguise of friendship, which gave him an opportunity to execute his bloody design, was from the wickedness of his own heart.
Thus having considered, that the providence of God may be conversant about that which is natural in a sinful action, without reflecting dishonour on him, as the author of sin; we shall now proceed to consider, in what manner it is conversant about such actions, by which we may better understand the sense of those scriptures, which were but now referred to; and, I hope, nothing therein will be accounted derogatory to the divine glory, when we observe,
1. That the providence of God may be conversant, in an objective way, about those actions to which sin is annexed, without his being the author, or approver of it. Sin would not be committed, in many instances, if there were not some objects presented, which give occasion thereunto. The object that presents itself may be from God, when the sin, which is occasioned thereby, is from the corruption of our nature. Thus Joseph's brethren would not have thought of killing, or selling him into Egypt, at least, when they did, if he had not obeyed his father's command, in going to deliver his message, and see how it fared with them. Providence ordered his going to enquire of their welfare, and hereby the object was presented to them, which their own corrupt nature inclined them to abuse; so that, as soon as they saw him, they entered into a conspiracy against him. In the former of these respects, in which the pro VOL. II.
vidence of God was thus objectively conversant about this action, God is said to have sent Joseph into Egypt; though every circumstance, that was vile and sinful therein, was from themselves,
Again, in the instance before mentioned, of Shimei's cursing David: Providence was conversant about this action, so far, as it ordered that David should come by at that time when Shimei was there, otherwise he would not have cursed him; and when it is said, in the scripture but now mentioned, The Lord said unto Shimei, Curse David; the meaning is this; the Lord hath brought me into so low a condition, that the vilest persons, who, before this time, were afraid to open their mouths against me, now take occasion to give vent to their malicious reproaches, as Shimei did; the providence of God was conversant about this action, in an objective way. Now, what it is so conversant about, that, according to the scripture-mode of speaking, God is said to do; as when the man-slayer killed one, through inadvertency, who was presented as an object to him, God is said hereby to deliver him into his hand, Exod. xxi. 13. yet in all sinful actions, God's presenting the object, does not render him the author of that sin, which is to be ascribed to the corruption of nature, that took occasion to exert itself by the sight of it. This will farther appear, if we consider,
(1.) That such an object might have been presented, and the sinful action not have ensued hereupon: thus the wedge of gold, and the Babylonish garment, were no temptation to other Israelites, who saw them among the spoils of Jericho, as well as Achan, though they were so to him, through the covetousness of his own temper, and the corruption of his nature, that discovered itself, and internally moved him to this sinful action.
(2.) Such objects are not presented by providence, as designing hereby to ensnare, or draw persons to sin, though God knows that they will take occasion to sin thereby; but there are other ends of their being presented, which may be illustrated by a particular instance. God knows, that if the gospel be preached, some will take occasion to reproach it: He orders, notwithstanding, that it shall be preached; not that men might take occasion to do this, but that those, whom he has ordained to eternal life might be converted by it. So our Saviour appeared publickly at the feast of the passover, though he knew that the Jews would put him to death; the end of his going to Jerusalem was not that he might draw forth their corruption, but that he might finish the work, which he came into the world about: He was at that time engaged in his Father's work, but they performed that which they were prompted to do, by satan and their own wicked hearts.
3. When the providence of God is said to be conversant
about sin, it is in suffering or permitting it, not in suggesting, or tempting to it; for no one ought to say, as the apostle James expresses it, When he is tempted, that he is tempted of God; for God cannot tempt any man; but, when he is tempted, he is drawn away by his own lust, and enticed, chap. i. 13, 14. But, so far as the providence of God denies restraining grace, from whence corrupt nature takes occasion to break forth, it is conversant about sin occasionally, not effectually; as when the banks, or flood-gates, that keep the waters within their due bounds, are broken down, by the owner thereof, who does not think fit to repair them, the waters will, according to the course of nature, overflow the country; or if the hedge, or inclosure, that secures the standing corn, be taken away, the beasts, by a propensity of nature, will tread it down, and devour it; so if that which would have a tendency to restrain, or prevent sin, be taken away, it will be committed; and the providence of God may do this, either in a way of sovereignty, or as a punishment for former sins committed, without being charged as the author of sin. It is not the same, in this case, as when men do not prevent sin in others, when it is in their power to do it, since they are under an obligation hereunto: But God is under no obligation to extend this privilege unto sinful men; and sometimes he suffers that wrath, which he will not restrain, to break forth as having a design, some way or other, to glorify himself thereby; as the Psalmist says, Surely, the wrath of man shall praise thee; the remainder of wrath thou shalt restrain, Psal. lxxvi. 10.
3. The providence of God may be said to be concerned about sin, in over-ruling it for his own glory, and his people's good: In the former instances, it discovers itself, before the sin was committed; but, in this, it is consequent thereunto. This is a wonderful instance of his wisdom, in that, since the sinner obstinately resolves to rebel against him, this shall not tend to lessen, but to illustrate some of his perfections: Thus he overruled the wicked action of Joseph's brethren, in their selling him into Egypt, to preserve their lives, in the time of famine; accordingly he says, God has sent me before you to preserve life, Gen. xlv. 5. And the vilest action that ever was committed in the world, namely, the crucifying the Lord of glory, was overFuled, for the saving his people from their sins; and sometimes we read of God's punishing the obstinacy and rebellion of men, by giving courage and success to their enemies against them: Thus Nebuchadnezzar's success in arms against the Jews, was ordered by the providence of God, to punish their idolatry; first, by carrying the greatest part of them captive, and then, when pursuing those who contrary to God's order, fled into Egypt, by destroying or carrying them captive likewise; and,