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veyed by such natural means, and to be so according to the common course of things, that men seldom think of an immediate interposition of Providence, and there are hardly grounds to prove it; but to balance this difficulty, let it be considered : first, that an immediate and visible interposition of Providence in behalf of the righteous, and for the punishment of the wicked, would interfere with the freedom of moral agents, and not leave room for their trial : this is a sufficient reason for not using this method : secondly, that this reason only excludes such methods of rewards and pụnishments here as are inconsistent with free actions; but does not exclude any methods not liable to this objection : thirdly, that the natural course of things being under the direction of God, it is reasonable to believe that they are often disposed for the benefit of the righteous and the punishment of the wicked ; though we cannot observe it, as 'every thing appears natural and ordinary. The first proposition has been considered ; and the second is but a consequence of it: of the third no man can doubt who believes at all in the providence of God : this made out from a consideration of storms and plagues, and earthquakes, and such like events. If this then can be done, it is reasonable to think that it is done; it being altogether agreeable with the goodness and justice of God, and not inconsistent with his government of moral agents : the truth of this observation is equally applicable to nations and individuals; for there are a thousand accidents in life (so we call them) on which the fortunes of men depend ; and how easy must it be for the power
presides over these accidents, to determine the fate of men, and at the same time to escape their observation! Though it be unreasonable, because inconsistent with God's government, to expect that he should appear openly in support of good men, yet it is rational to expect, from his providence, that all things shall work together for the good of those who love him. This leads to the great difficulty of the case, which relates to the
sufferings of good men, and the suspicions which they are apt to entertain of God's kindness to them when under affliction. These complaints to be met with in Scripture are of two sorts : one regards the national calamities of the Jews; the other the sufferings of particular men, The first is made the subject of the Psalmist's complaint in the text, as is probable from the conclusion of the psalm ; but however the Psalmist might be affected by the calamities of the people to whom he was su nearly related, yet from the scripture history of this people, we can hardly think their sufferings an objection to Providence: the reason of this explained. But the case of suffering nations in general is rendered so intricate by a great variety of circumstances, that it is hard to form a distinct judgment on it: this case fully made out from the following observations. I. Vice and immorality naturally tend to destroy nations and governments, which is agreeable to our notion of God's justice and goodness. II. It is also agreeable to our sense of justice and goodness, that nations quite corrupt and degenerate should not be suffered to prosper, and thus spread the contagion of their iniquities. III. These principles allowed, the difficulty is in the application of them to particular cases : which application depending on circumstances which we cannot know, the objection arises, not from the reason of the case, but from our ignorance of it: and where is the wonder that there should be many things in the divine government which we cannot comprehend? This topic enlarged on: whoever therefore enters into this complaint, may say with the Psalmist, it is my infirmity. The miseries of which good men have a share in all public calamities next considered. Complaints in this case must be considered as made by others in behalf of those who suffer, or by the sufferers themselves ; in the former case, a fact is assumed of which there is no proof, that the sufferers are righteous and innocent: hence it is a great weakness and infirmity to complain against Provi
dence in such a case. The characters of men, in the eye of the world, depend on their outward behaviour; and we must judge and act according to this rule, which in God's dealings with mankind it is unsafe to follow, as it may easily misguide us, since the inward principles and sentiments of a man are only known to God, who searcheth the heart and reins : this topic enlarged on. But farther, even the sufferings of him who appears to be and is a good man, may give no just occasion for complaint; since good men sometimes want admonitions to awaken their care, and trials to perfect their faith : unless therefore you can judge certainly of the end and purposes of providence in permitting a good man to suffer, you can never with reason pass sentence on the ways of God. This is also true, when the righteous perish, to the eyes of the world, miserably: of which case the holy martyrs are instances. The truth is, since all men must die, in the time and manner of death the difference cannot be great; and though it may be hard to reconcile ourselves to death, especially to unnatural and violent death, yet it can really be no loss to a good man to die sooner : and this will account for the case of the righteous, supposed to suffer in the destruction of a wicked nation : they fall like other men, but they fall into the hands of God, who knows how to distinguish their case, and to compensate their miseries. On the principles, therefore, of reason and religion, no objection can lie against divine Providence on account of their sufferings. But who will say of a sufferer complaining in his own behalf, that a righteous man is suffering unjustly? We pray daily to God, not to enter into judgment with us : before a man then enters into judgment with God, let him ask himself, whether he has been guilty of no offence to deserve the punishment which he suffers ? whether he is sufficiently perfect and approved as to want no trial ? As to the suspicions of Providence, and the care of God over us, which have in them a mixture of religious melancholy, they are of
another consideration : they are often great bodily infirmities, and deserve compassion and assistance : but these disorders do not usually break out against Providence, but rather turn on the sufferers themselves, who despair of mercy from not thinking themselves worthy of it: they therefore belong not to the present subject.
Conclusion: showing the danger of censuring the methods of God's government: this point enlarged on, from a consideration of human governments. The great works of God, if duly attended to, declare his wisdom, goodness, and power; and the voice of nature speaks in the language of the wise king, trust in the Lord with all thine heart and lean not to thine own understanding. Happy are they who
Happy are they who listen to this voice! whilst others, full of their own wisdom, daily condemn what they understand not; and if ever they recover their right reason, their first step must be to confess with the Psalmist, it is my own infirmity.
PSALM LXXVII.–VERSES 9, 10.
Hath God forgotten to be gracious ? hath 'he in anger shut up his
tender mercies? And I said, This is my infirmity: but I will remember the years of
the right hand of the Most High.
WHOEVER was the author of this psalm, he was manifestly under a great dejection of mind when he penned it : he speaks of himself as deserted of God, and given up to be a prey to the sorrows of his own disturbed, tormented heart.
- His soul refused comfort,' as he complains in the second verse : • When he remembered God, he was troubled; when he complained, his spirit was overwhelmed,' as he laments in the third verse.
What the particular grief was, which gave rise to this mournful complaint, does not appear; but whatever it was, the sting of it lay in this, that the Psalmist apprehended himself to be forsaken of God: and without doubt this is of all afflictions the most afflicting, the most insupportable; a grief it is, which no medicine can reach, which all the powers of reason can hardly assist, for the soul refuses to be comforted.'
These fears, these sorrows, belong not to the vicious and profligate, who have not God in all their thoughts :' they live without reflexion, and therefore without concern; and can be extremely diverted with hearing or seeing what modest and humble sinners suffer from a sense of religion : but bold and fearless as such men are, their day of fear is not far off, it draws near apace: and when it comes, will convince them of the truth of the wise preacher's observation : • The heart of