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The Doctrine of Providence a chief Topic of
Comfort to good Men.
The providence of God comprehends all creatures, with all their operations, and every circumstance attending them; nothing is too vast or too minute for its notice or control.
All the events that happen throughout the universe may be ascribed to divine appointment, except the voluntary determinations of free agents *.
Therefore all events, such free volitions excepted, must bear some direct impression of God, of his wisdom or power, of his goodness or justice; in a word, of his in
* By a voluntary determination, I understand such a one as might have been forborne by the agent in the precise circumstances, internal and external, in which it was formed.
finite perfections. And it will make no difference as to our present argument, whether such events proceed immediately from the divine agency, or through the intervention of second causes; whether they are separate acts, or the
consequences ral laws.
Of that energy by which effects are produced, and the course of things is continued, we know nothing. Of causation, whether original or secondary, we have no idea. How the world was made at the fiat of the Creator, how one body is put in motion at the impulse of another, or how the action of the mind is connected with the motion of a limb, we are entirely ignorant. It is sufficient to know that all effects either arise immediately from the power of God, without any medium or instrumentality, or according to those constitutions and laws which he has established.
Though our free volitions are exempt from every kind of necessity, moral as well as physical, they are nevertheless subject to the influence of our dispositions, our views, and external circumstances; all which are under a divine superintending direction.
God, by restraining our evil inclinations and inspiring others, can easily change our determinations, without doing the least violence to our liberty. He tells Abimelech in a dream, I withheld thee from sinning against me * And Laban says to Jacob, It is in the power of my hand to do you hurt, but the God of your father spake unto me yesternight, saying, Take thou heed that thou speak not to Jacob from good to bad t: and it would appear
from all the circumstances of the story, that the heart of Esau was under special influence, when he received his brother Jacob with so much kindness and generosity 1.
And as God can rule the will by a direct act, or by impressing the passions; he can do the same through the medium of the understanding. There is something unaccountable in those trains of ideas that
pass through our minds; some of them we know
* Gen. xx. 6.
+ Gen. xxxi. 29. 1 Compare Gen. xxvii. 41.--xxxii. 11.-xxxij. 4-9.
may be resolved into the principle of association; yet how often are there trains that appear to us perfectly new, and which had no previous tracks in the imagination that we can discover; and how often too are known trains broken and interrupted by the incursion of ideas of which the memory has no recollection? All this is wonderful to us, yet certainly is not without his
superintendance, who at once regulates the course of every particle of matter, and every motion in the intellectual world.
The thoughts of a young man, in deliberating upon a plan of life, may first run in a commercial line; this may be crossed by some other that shall turn his attention towards law, physic, or divinity; or some new track may present itself, that shall divert him into a project which never occurred to him before. And thus ideal trains, over which he has very little control, may conduct him to very different determinations respecting his future calling or employment in the world.
Take another illustration. When Cæsar, upon his breach with Pompey, had reached
the Rubicon, he is said to have made a halt at the bank of this river, and seriously to have debated with himself the business before him; his mind inclining now one way, and then another, as the danger of the enterprize, the calamities it might draw after it, the perverseness of his enemies, and the glory of victory, offered themselves by turns to his view. In this state of suspense, a single idea more or less might have produced a different resolution, and the world have taken another course.
• At last,” says Plutarch, “ borne on by an extraordinary impulse, he would reason no longer, but, committing himself to his fortune, plunged into the Rubicon, crying, The die is cast.” Who must not acknowledge, that the heart of Cæsar on this critical occasion, was in the hand of God as the rivers of water *,
After a man has formed his resolution, the execution of it may depend upon a thousand circumstances beyond his prudence or management. The winds or the wayes, or other contingencies of nature,
* Prov. xxi. 1.