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Then every one who goes into his closet to pray, goes only to act foolishly; then all the good and the pious, everywhere upon the face of the whole earth, who are calling upon the most high God, are as uselessly and as absurdly employed, as if they were falling down before a dumb idol, and paying their devotions to images of wood or stone.
Finally this mechanical system, in a great measure, annihilates the moral perfections of the divine nature. It places the Almighty in a state of indolence, which is inconsistent with every idea of perfection; it makes him an idle and unconcerned spectator of his own works, and presents him as beholding virtue and vice, the saint and the sinner, with an equal eye. There are many scenes in human life, at which if we were present, it would be criminal for us not to take a part. Did we see the hands of the violent raised to shed innocent blood, and not rush to prevent the horrid deed ; did we know the retreat of the robber and assassin, and not endeavor to bring them to public justice, we should be regarded as guilty, in part, of their crimes, since, by a criminal omission, we should endanger the peace of the public, and the interests of society. If we, being evil, would abhor such a character, shall we impute it, can we impute it, to Him who is infinite in goodness, and who is possessed of absolute perfection ? To what purpose is God everywhere present, if it must be forever dormant? Why is he inspired with infinite wisdom, if it is to be never exercised? To what purpose are the divine goodness and justice, if we only hear of their names? Are all the attributes of the Godhead in vain? How false, how absurd, how injurious is that sentiment which would destroy every divine perfection?
Reason and true philosophy never separate the Deity from his works. We must own him in the sky, to hold the planets in their respective orbits; we must own him in the earth, and in the sea, to keep them within their proper bounds; and we must own him through the whole system of nature, to support and maintain that gravitating force which gives consistency and stability to all material things. We must also maintain that, in the government of moral and accountable beings, He exercises his providence so as to preserve inviolable the freedom of the human will. Power and freedom of action are indispensably necessary to constitute the conduct of intelligent beings either virtuous or vicious.
Upon the system of liberty, then, the true answer to the question seems to be this: That some things are absolutely impossible, not from any weakness in the Deity, but because they imply absurdity and contradiction. Thus, it is impossible for twice two to be anything but four; and thus it is impossible for omnipotence itself, to confer self-approbation upon an intelligent being who has never deserved it; that is to say, it is impossible for a man of sense to be pleased with himself for having done a certain action, while he himself is conscious that he never performed the action. But self-ap
probation constitutes the highest, the most unmingled and permanent felicity, of which our nature is capable of enjoying. It is not in the power of omnipotence itself, then, to bestow the highest and most permanent felicity of our nature; it must be earned and deserved before it can be obtained. In the same manner good desert, virtue, or merit, cannot be conferred; they must be acquired. To enable us to acquire these, we must be exposed to diffiches, and must suffer in a certain degree. If these difficulties had no influence on our conduct and feelings, if they exposed us to no real danger, no fabric of merit and self-approbation could be raised upon them. All that the Supreme Being could do for us was to confer such an original constitution and character, as would enable us to do well if we should exert our utmost powers. The universe is not ruled by favor, but by justice. Complete felicity must be purchased. Guilt is an abuse of our freedom, a doing ill where we could have done well, and is entirely the work of man. Heaven could not avoid permitting its existence, and exposing us to danger; for temptation is necessary to virtue, and virtue is the perfection of our nature, our glory, and our happiness.
The permission of moral evil has been so ably accounted for by Simplicius, a Pagan philosopher, and therefore not biased by any partiality to the Scriptures, that we cannot deny ourselves the pleasure of introducing his reasoning on the subject. He asks whether God may be called the author of sin, because he permits the soul to use its liberty ? and answers the question thus :
“ He who says that God should not permit the exercise of its freedom to the soul, must affirm one of these two things : either that the soul, though by nature capable of indifferently choosing good or evil, should yet be constantly prevented from choosing evil; or else it should have been made of such a nature as to have no power of choosing evil.
The former assertion is irrational and absurd; for what kind of liberty would that be in which there should be no freedom of choice? and what choice could there be, if the mind were constantly restrained to one side of the alternative? With respect to the second assertion, it is to be observed, that no evil is in itself de sirable, or can be chosen as evil. But if this power of determining itself either way in any given case must be taken from the soul, it must be either something as not good, or as some great evil. But whoever says so, does not consider how many things there are which, though accounted good and desirable, are yet never put in competition with this freedom of the will; for without it we should be on a level with the brutes; and there is no person who would rather be a brute than a man. If God, then, shows his goodness in giving to inferior beings such perfections as are far below this, is it incongruous to his divine nature and goodness to give man a selfdetermining power over his actions, and to permit him the free exercise of that power? Had God, to prevent man's sins, taken away
the liberty of his will, he would likewise have destroyed the foundation of all virtue, and the very nature of man, for there could be no virtue were there not a possibility of vice; and man's nature, had it continued rational, would have been divine, because impeccable. Therefore, though we attribute to God, as its author, this self-determining power, which is so necessary in the order of the universe, we have no reason to attribute to him that evil which comes by the abuse of liberty. For God does not cause that aversion from good which is in the soul when it sins; he only gives to the soul such a power as might turn itself to evil, out of which he produces much good, which, without such a power, could not have been produced by Omnipotence itself.” So consonant to the doctrine of the Scriptures is the reasoning of this Pagan philosopher.
IV. The fourth and last objection to the belief of the doctrine of a Divine Providence arises from the apparent confusion of human affairs, that all things alike happen to all, that bad men are prosperous, and that a total want of justice appears to attend the divine administrations. Even the best of men have, at times, been shaken by this consideration. But there are many reasons for rendering this world a mixed scene ; it would become unfit for a state of trial and education to virtue, were it otherwise.
It has been already shown, that physical evil is the parent of moral good; and, therefore, it would be absurd to expect that the virtuous should be entirely exempted from evil. For the occasional prosperity of the wicked, many reasons have been assigned, even by those who, in their disquisitions, were not guided by that revelation by which life and immortality were brought to light. “God,” says Plutarch, “spares the wicked that he may set to mankind an example of forbearance, and teach them not to revenge their injuries too hastily on each other. He spares some wicked men from early punishment, in order to make them instruments in punishing others. And he spares all for a time, that they may have leisure for repentance; for men look at nothing further in the punishment they inflict, than to satisfy their revenge and malice, and, therefore, they pursue those who have offended them with the utmost rage and eagerness; whereas God, aiming at the cure of those who are not utterly incurable, gives them time to be converted.” The reasoning of this ancient sage appears just and conclusive, as far as it goes; but it does not fully meet the objection.
This objection receives the best solution from the doctrine of a righteous retribution in a future state of existence. The life of man here is but an embryo state, preparatory to a future and immortal state of being. This doctrine is uniformly asserted in the Sacred Oracles, and made subservient to sustain and support suffering virtue under all the trials and afflictions of life: Tribulation worketh patience ; and patience, experience, and experience, hope ; and hope, like the anchor of a ship, preserves the soul in safety and security amidst all the storms and billows of life. The good man, having
been persuaded, by the truth of revelation, that his light affliction, which is but for a moment, worketh out for him a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory, while he looks not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen, looks forward beyond this vale of tears, and beholds with pleasing anticipations that inheritance which is incorruptible, unidefiled, and fadeth not away, re. served in heaven for all the faithful. At the consummation of all things, when the mystery of God shall be finished, and the clouds of darkness which obscure his providence shall be removed, his justice and equity, holiness and purity, will shine forth as clear as the morning light.
Such are the answers which are given to the objections urged against the doctrine of Divine Providence; and although they may not be sufficient to dissipate every doubt, and solve every query, that may arise in a reflecting mind, yet I trust they will prove sufficient to repress that spirit
of murmuring which too often arises even in the breast of a good man, and disposes him to consider the ways of God unequal. The subject is regarded by all as great and difficult ; perhaps, in all its relations and connexions, too capacious for the grasp of the human intellect. To use the sublime language of the Psalmist, clouds and darkness are round about him; but of this also we may rest assured, that righteousness and judgment are the habitation of his throne.
On the Uses of the Doctrine of Divine Providence.
“The Lord reigneth, let the earth rejoice.”—Psalm xcvii, 1.
Having replied, in a former discourse, to the objections which, in ancient or modern times, have been urged against the doctrine of Divine Providence, we shall now proceed to illustrate its practical uses.
I. This doctrine is not to be used for the purpose of either justifying or palliating sin. The Sacred Oracles assert that God impels sinners to the commission of sin, that he hardens their hearts, and that he blinds their understandings. Although the sacred writers use this strong, forcible, and cogent language, yet we are not to consider God as in the smallest degree the author of sin ; for it is not the human heart in a state of innocence and purity, that is induced by him to act deceitfully and wickedly; but after it has conceived sin, and become inflated with latent wickedness, and is about to discover itself by some visible act, he, in his character, as the sovereign disposer of all things, inclines and directs if in this or that way, or towards this or that object. Hence, says the Psalmist, He shall bring upon them their own iniquity, and shall cut them off in their own wickedness ; yea, Jehovah our God shall cut them off : that is, by the infliction of punishment. Neither does God make that will rebellious and evil which was before good ; but the will being already in a state of perversion, he inclines it in such a manner, that out of its own wickedness, it either produces good for others, or punishment for itself; though unknowingly or unintentionally; and, indeed, with the intent of producing a very different result. A man's heart, says Solomon, deviseth his way, but Jehovah directeth his steps. When the king of Babylon stood at the parting of the way, in doubt whether he should go to war against the Ammonites or against the Jews, God so ordered the divination as to determine him on going against Jerusalem ; but it deos not follow that because he instigated this evil agent to do war against Jerusalem, that he was in the least degree the author of his sins; for the mind of this prince was resolutely bent upon war when instigated by God, and all he did was to direct that warlike spirit, which already existed against the Jews rather than against the Ammonites. Had not God have given any direction to the divination, he would have certainly gone to war against either the Jews or the Ammonites; that is, the spirit of war, which was in his heart would have burst forth in some direction. We will illustrate our meaning by the introduction of another example. God saw that the heart of David was so elated and puffed up with pride, by