The hand of the Almighty is indeed displayed in all, and in one as mu:h as in another. In the former, indeed, his purposes may be more suddenly accomplished, but not more certainly, nor in many cases more unexpectedly than in the latter. The mode and means of action may be different, but there is an agent in all, and that agent is the same. It is very unreasonable to suppose that every Divine interference must of necessity be miraculous — that a Creator is not required to sustain those very laws whose operation a miracle for a moment interrupts, or that this momentary interruption is a greater interference than was required to sustain for ages these principles in constant action — that a greater degree of power is needed or a different agent to produce cessation or change of action, than to originate and sustain that action — that it requires an agent to produce an effect by other than the ordinary means; and that none is needed to accomplish as great a purpose by the wise control, direction, and employment of influences with which we happen to be more familiar.
It is indeed the very idea and definition of Providence, that it is the Divine agency exerted in sustaining and governing the universe. It differs from miracle in this, that its designs are brought to pass by means of the established laws and through the ordinary channels: while a miracle is the accomplishment of a purpose by other means.
We are indeed fallen upon "evil days and evil times," when infidelity and atheism seem to have taken the place of the opposite extremes,. Formerly every hero and every hearth — every object of beauty and every element of nature hatl a tutelar deity. But now the chief wisdom is made to consist in a stupid attempt to explain everything by referring and restricting it to what are called natural principles, and a still more absurd halting at what are termed secondary causes; as though the mere knowledge of the mode in which a principle acts could explain the principle itself, or as if the idea of secondary causes did not abs-olutely involve that of a First Cause.
And it is most unfortunate that even those who believe in a Supreme Ruler have partaken more or less of the deleterious influence of this vain philosophy, and that they have permitted the foolish wisdom of this world to substitute any unexplained explanation for the power o'' God; or any unmeaning or undefinable "Nature" for the Deity himself. Such was not the doctrine nor the language of the ancient Christians. With them it was not the mere operations of Nature — the mere clouds, but "God" who gave them "showers of rain from heaven and fruitful seasons, filling their hearts with food and gladness.
These were with them the "wrath of God," the chastenings of "the Lord" — It was "the Lord" who "stood" with them and "delivered" them — who "supplied all their need," and "of whom, and through whom, and to whom" were "all things" — to whom they gave the glory. By the Providence of God, then, we mean His care and superintendence in preserving and governing the world.
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By the preservation of the world is implied the upholding the being, the powers, and attributes of all created things; and by its government is signified a controlling and overruling power over everything which is thus upheld. The subject, therefore, is naturally divided into preservation and government. And as the Divine Being exercises a particular care over certain departments of His universal empire, it will be convenient to make a further division into a general and a special providence, either of which may include preservation as well as government.
How important is it that in returning to the institutions of primitive Christianity, we should return also to that constant dependence upon God for all things, and that deep sense of the unceasing and watchful care and presence of our Heavenly Father, by which the disciples were characterized in the beginning! There is no providence; lest God should be angry at your voice, and destroy the works of your hands.
The Sadducees, like the Atheists, denied the superintendence of God over the universe. This indeed is implied in what is said of them Acts xxii. Thus Abraham says, "God shall send his angel before thee to take a wife for Isaac" — that is, God shall superintend and direct you in this matter.
And Jacob — "The God who fed me all my life long — the angel who redeemed me from all evil, bless the lads" — signifying the protecting, preserving, guiding providence of God which he had experienced during his life.
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Thus also David — "The angel of the Lord encampeth about them that fear him;" and again, "He shall give his angels charge concerning thee," etc. We may observe here that this last passage is evidently restricted to ordinary preservation and protection by our Lord's answer to Satan, "Thou shalt not tempt the Lord thy God" — that is, by rushing into unnecessary hazards.
In Isa. What this "anger was, we learn from II. Kings, xix. Thus too in Ps. Thus Paul quotes the th Psalm — "Who makes winds his angels [agents] and flames of fire his ministers;" the emphasis here being evidently upon the word angel as distinguished from Son. Hence too the parting salutation among the Jews — "The angel of God keep you company" Tobit.
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Hence also the phrases, "The good angel will keep him company" ver. The Sadducees among the Jews, were, in this respect, like the Epicureans among the Greeks, who, as we formerly mentioned, admitted the existence of a God, but denied a providence, supposing that the Deity delighted in calm and undisturbed repose. Semota a nostris rebus, sejunctaque.
Thus speaks Lucretius, who has embodied the tenets of their philosophy in his celebrated poem De rcr. It would be unnecessary to attempt to disprove the notion that there is no Providence, except by showing it to be congenial with the absurdities of Epicureans, Sadducees, and Atheists, were it not that few properly appreciate the necessary connection which exists between the belief in a Supreme Being, and in his preservation and government of the world.
It is certainly unreasonable to suppose that such a Being, who has created the beautiful universe, adorned it with so many glorious objects, and furnished so many sources of happiness, should nevertheless be wholly unconcerned about his creatures, and indifferent to their welfare.
But apart from this consideration, it is as great an absurdity to suppose that the world can preserve and govern itself, as that it could make itself. This may be regarded as abstruse reasoning. There is no one, however, who will consider the incessant changes which occur in the universe, the constant activity of animated nature, and the systematic arrangements, operations, and motions of all created things, who can for a moment suppose that these do not require an agent as much as creation — and the same agent, since he only who created, knows how to govern and preserve them.
To be sure, we do not comprehend how they are sustained, but neither do we comprehend how they were originally created. And certainly it requires as much power, and is as striking a proof of divine agency, to clothe, in the spring of the year, the naked earth with verdure and the fields with flowers — to unfold the leafy umbrellas of the grove, or bend the boughs of the orchard and present to the hand the golden fruits of autumn, as to create them at the first.
No one can show how an oak can be brought out of an acorn without divine agency, any more than how it could be created out of nothing without such agency. The argument therefore drawn from nature, proves as much for a Providence as it does for a Creator; and every consistent Deist must admit the superintendence of God over the universe upon the same principles upon which he infers his existence.
It is not a little strange that any one who believes in revelation should deny the doctrine in question. For the fact that a revelation has been given, apart from anything contained in that revelation, at once refutes the Epicurean hypothesis, and proves that the Divine Being does interest himself in the affairs of men.
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In the sacred oracles God has delivered to the human family from the beginning great and precious promises — promises which have been accomplished in every age, which are now in the act of accomplishment, or which are yet to be accomplished; and which, involving as they do the fates and fortunes of empires as well as individuals, of cities and the globe itself, necessarily depend entirely upon the divine agency for their fulfillment.
Without supposing such an agency in human affairs, such directing, governing, and overruling power over the destinies of the kingdoms and inhabitants of the earth, and the laws and elements of the material universe, no one can explain the accomplishment of these promises and predictions. It is upon this doctrine, too, that all prayer is founded. It is the belief that God will hear — the confident assurance that he will grant the just petitions of his people, by which they are emboldened to approach the throne of favor — by which even they are entitled to expect the boon — for he that doubts must not suppose "he will receive anything from the Lord.
The denial of the doctrine is characteristic of the wicked. Thus David says, "They encourage themselves in an evil matter; they commune of laying snares secretly; they say, Who shall see them?
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The Lord shall not see, neither shall the God of Jacob regard it" Ps. And they shall drive thee from men, and thy dwelling shall be with the beasts of the field: they shall make thee to eat grass as oxen, and seven times shall pass over thee, until thou know that the Moat llitjh ruleth in the kingdom of men, and giveth it to whomsoever he will. The superintending rare of God is, on the other hand, the frequent theme of the righteous under former institutions.
Thus Job xxi. He that planted the ear, shall he not hear? And he that formed the eye, shall he not see? He that chasteneth tho heathen, shall not he correct? And he that teach eth men knowledge, shall not he know? The Lord knoweth the thoughts of man that they are vanity.
Lord, and see and hear all the words of Sennacherib, which he hath, sent to reproach the living God. In the New Testament the same doctrine is expressly taught. Paul declares to the Lycaonians Acts xiv. For we are also his offspring. Nay, the very hairs of your head are all numbered" Matt. No language can more emphatically express the notice and superintendence of God. No man can tell the number of the hairs of his own head — hut God has numbered them every one! It would, however, require me to transcribe much of both Old ani New Testament, were all the references and allusions to the divine agency in the preservation and government of the world, to be noticed and enumerated.
Thou knowept my down-sitting and up-rising: thou understandest my thoughts afar off. Thou compa. For there is not a word in my tongue, but lo, O Lord, thou Icnowest it altogether. Thou hast beset me behind and before, and laid thine hand upon me. Such knowledge is too wonderful for me — it is too high, I can not attain unto it. Whither shall I go from thy Spirit, or whither shall 1 flee from thy presence?
If I ascend up into heaven, thou art there: if I make my bed in hell, behold thou art there. If I take the wings of the morning and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea, even there shall thy hand lead me, and thy right hand shall hold me. If I say, Surely the darkness shall cover me, even the nighij shall be light about me — yea, the darkness hideth not from thee, but the night shineth as the day; the darkness and the light to thee are both alike.
By preservation is meant the constant supply of the necessary wants of all animated creatures, and the sustaining their being and their powers and faculties, together with the natural or fixed order and constitution of the universe. As the main spring of a watch constantly yet silently supplies to the wheels that power which enables them to fulfill the purposes or perform the motions for which they were fitted by art, so it is by the continued agency of the Creator that all things are sustained in their appointed courses, and enabled to accomplish those actions or operations upon which the well-being, and even the existence, of the universe depend.
The preservation of the world ip to be distinguished from the government of it, as we have already stated; and this distinction, as Sherlock has ably shown, is of much importance. For, as to sustain the natural faculties and powers of all creatures, is merely to continue that constitution or being with which they were at first created, it follows that the sins of wicked men are in no wise chargeable upon God, even though his power preserve the action of the very faculties which they misuse.
It becomes the Creator to preserve the natures and faculties of the beings he has formed, and if they misuse these powers he can no more be blamed for this than for creating them at first with such powers. Hence all the objections offered upon the score of God's sustaining wicked men in life and being fall to the ground.
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The mere preservation of their natural powers does not imply the exertion of any influence, or the suggestion of any motive to induce them to employ those faculties in an unlawful manner, or for a wicked purpose. And it is evident that. That God does uccasionally thus withhold his blessings and interfere with men in many ways, is certain. But this we will consider under the head of government, as it is quite a different branch of the subject, and entirely distinct from that constant and uninterrupted agency by which the natural constitution of things is r.