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Psalm xcvii. 1.
To thinking men, the universe presents a scene of wonders. They find themselves brought into the world, they know not how. If they look around them, they behold the earth clothed with an infinite variety of herbs and fruits, subservient to their use, or administering to their delight. If they look above them, they behold the host of heaven walking in brightness and in beauty; the sun ruling the day ; the moon and the stars governing the night. If they attend to the course of nature, they behold with wonder the various revolutions of the year ; the gradual return of the seasons, and the constant vicissitude of day and of night. Whilst thus they are employed, they behold in the heavens the glory of their Creator ; they discover in the firmament the handywork of Omnipotence, and they hear the voice that nature sends out to the ends of the earth, that all things are the workmanship of a fupreme and intelligent Cause. As from these events they conclude the Almighty to be the Maker of the world ; from the same events, they conclude that he is the Governor of the world which he hath made, and that Divine power is as requisite to preserve the order and harmony of the world now, as it was ne. cessary to establish it at the first. But when experi. ence unfolded to them the powers of natural bodies ; when they saw machines contrived by human skill, exhibiting motions, and producing effects, similar to those which they observed in nature, by the impulse of matter upon matter ; and when they saw these machines regularly exhibiting such motions, regularly producing such effects, although the head that contrived, and the hand that put them together, were removed from them; this raised an opinion, in some speculative minds, that the world resembled such machines ; and that, as a clock will show the hour of the day, in virtue of its original frame and constitution, without any further interposition of the artificer that framed it, so nature, in virtue of its original frame and constitution, may and does produce every effect which we see around us, without any further interposition of its Divine Author.
This opinion is frequently mentioned and confuted in the Sacred Scriptures. Those men are condemned whose belief it was, that, in the course of human affairs, the Lord would not do good, neither would he do evil. Although I seldom choose to carry you through the barren and unpleasant fields of controversy, yet, as this question affects so deeply our religious comfort in this state, and our hopes of happiness in a future world, I shall consider it at large, and shall, in the first place, Show you the ab. surdity of that opinion which would exclude God from the government of the world. Secondly, Establish and confirm the doctrine of a particular Providence. Thirdly, Show you the grounds of joy arising to the world from such a Providence.
In the first place, I am to show the absurdity of that opinion which would exclude God from the government of the world.
It has been thought by fome, “ That the Creator < of the universe formed the constitution of nature in “ such a manner at the beginning, as to stand in need ¢ of no succeeding change; that he established certain “ laws in the material and in the moral world, which « uniformly and invariably take place, producing all " the effects which he ever intended they should pro. • duce; as when an artist frames a machine for cer'“ tain purposes, and for a limited duration, the effects " which result from it spring not from the immediate “ direction and influence of the artist, but from the 6 original frame and composition of the machine.” Such is the opinion of those who hold what they call a general Providence. We, on the other hand, maintain, that “ Almighty God, upon fpecial occa“ fions, directs and overrules the course of events, "s both in the natural and moral world, by an imme. « diate influence, to answer the great designs of his « universal government.”
With respect to a general Providence, this mechanical system, this engine by which some persons would throw out the superintending Providence of Heaven, is a creature of the brain. It is a mere presumption. It is by its own nature incapable of proof. From whence should the evidence arise ? Art thou who excludest God from his works, intrusted with the secrets of heaven? Wert thou present when God laid the foundations of the world? Wert thou privy to his councils ? Or do you now see, or can you show, that original cause, or those original causes, established by God at the creation, from which all the various ef.
fects in nature may be deduced, and into which they may mechanically be resolved? Can you fhow the immediate cause of lightning or of rain, or of any other phenomenon in nature, and from the immedi, ate cause ascend to the second, from the second to the third, and so upward till you come to the last link of the chain, which hangs immediately upon the throne of God? This can be done in the works of art. An artist will show you the dependence of all the movements in a machine upon one another. And when you are as well acquainted with the fabric of the world, as you may be with the structure of a machine, you may then speak of your chain of mechanical causes and effects. But, alas! the most improved philofophy can do no more but skim the surface of things; and in its progress from the immediate visible to the first invisible cause, at one or two removes, it finds its period, beyond which it cannot go.
Further, This mechanical system of governing the world without the immediate interposition of the Deity, undermines the foundation of all religious worship. When we pray for our daily bread, what do we ask but the blessing of God upon the earth, to yield her fruits in due season? When we ask the blessing of God upon our meals, what do we less than recognise his supreme power, and implore him to make the gifts of his Providence the means of our sustenance and refreshment ? This disclaims every notion of natural causes and effects that shuts out God; it supposes his concurrence and co-operation directing all the operations of nature. Again, when we pray for the graces and virtues of the spiritual life, what do we aik but the Divine aid to strength:
en the good dispositions he hath already given us, and fo to direct and order the course of events, that we may be kept from temptation, or not be overcome when we are tempted ? But this supposes the superintendence of God over us ; supposes his interpofition in human affairs; supposes his providence continually exerted in administering to the wants of his creatures, according as their circumstances require. If this account be just, then our worship is a reasonable service. But if these are vain words, then our worship also is vain. Then every one that goes into his closet to pray, goes only to act foolishly ; then all the good and the pious, every where over the face of the whole earth, that are calling upon the Most High God, are as ufelessly, as absurdly employed, as if they were falling down before a dumb idol, and paying their devotions to images of wood or stone.
Further still, 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 represents him as beholding virtue and vice, the finner and the saint, 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 ruth to prevent the horrid deed ; did we know the retreats of the robber and murderer, and not endeavour to bring them to public justice, we would be reckoned in part guilty of their crimes, as, by a criminal omission, we should endanger the peace of the