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of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Ghost.” In this important matter, divine providence, divine agency, and divine grace, are frankly acknowledged. But with regard to the wickedness of the hearts and conduct of mankind, it is denied, that the providence and agency of God have any influence or concern whatever. But how can mankind be independent in wickedness, any more than in holiness? And how does the
of divine providence, by producing, in mysterious ways, the wickedness of mankind, destroy their free agency ? any more than by producing their holiness ? The holy scriptures do not hesitate in the least degree, to admit divine agency, or the mysterious agency of divine providence, even in bringing about the most wicked conduct of mankind, as well as their most virtuous conduct. The wicked, in seripture, are called God's sword, from which David prayed to be delivered, when he was persecuted by his enemies. By this sword of the Lord, was the Saviour cruelly put to death ; when, by wicked hands, he was crucified and slain. But, to this death he was delivered, by the determinate counsel, and foreknowledge of God. The purpose, and providential agency of God are expressed in these words: “ Awake, O sword against my shepherd, against the man that is my fellow, saith the Lord of hosts, smite the shepherd, and the sheep be scattered, and I will turn mine hand upon the little ones,” the lambs of his flock. From the scriptures it is evident, that God has continual access to the hearts of sinners, to harden or to soften them, as, in infinite wisdom, he sees fit. In his holy providence, he hardened the heart of Pharaoh, and the hearts of the Egyptians. In plain and unequivocal language, the Psalmist says,
66 He turned their heart to hate his people, and to deal subtilly with his servants." In equally plain terms, Solomon declares the same truth.
66 The king's heart is in the hand of the Lord, as the rivers of water, he turneth it whithersoever he will.” And again, “ The preparation of the heart in man, and the answer of the tongue is from the Lord. Is it not evident from the scriptures, that God, by the agency of his holy provi
dence, disposes the hearts and actions of all men, according to his good pleasure and that he does it in a way, to us mysterious ; yet perfectly consistent with their moral liberty and free agency ? In this case, there is no more mystery, no more difficulty, than in mens' being created moral agents. “God made man upright.
66 In the image of God created he him." He was made holy, and his holiness implied moral liberty, and moral character. · Had he not been made upright, he must have been made a sinner, and a sinner in the possession and
; exercise of moral liberty, and free agency. Without free agency, a man can be neither holy nor sinful. He cannot be a rational and accountable creature. But really, I think it to be clear and demonstrable, that the providential agency of God infringes no more on the moral liberty and free agency of mankind, than his creative agency. Both are perfectly consistent with that moral liberty or free agency of man, which consists wholly in the dispositions and voluntary exercises of the heart. Where else can we look for free agency
? In what else can it consist, but in acting freely, without compulsion or coercion ? In what can it consist but in acting from choice ? and in the view of motives ? To act from design and inclination of heart, is to act freely 1 and this is what is meant by free agency. It does not at all imply, that we act independently, nor that we act without a cause. God says, by the prophet, “ I will cause you to walk in my statutes." But if we walk voluntarily, we are free agents, whether caused or uncaused. Nor does free agency imply a self-determining power in the will. This would imply an act of selfdetermination antecedent to the first act, and as a cause of the first act, which is an absurdity. Besides; if selfdetermination is the cause of action, it destroys moral liberty and free agency, as effectually as for God to be the cause of action. Nothing is gained, therefore, but every thing is lost, by the doctrine of self-determination. Surely, if there must be a cause of action ; as there is undoubtedly, then it is of infinite importance, that God should be the cause. For he alone is capable of causing all actions, and all things to take place in a manner that shall be for the display of his own glory, and for the greatest good of the universe. In his providential government and direction of all things, there is infinite safety, and infinite good. There is a ground of strong consolation.
Such is the doctrine of divine providence, a glorious doctrine ! Well becoming the high and holy character of Jehovah ! Without such a providential administration, the universe could not subsist ; or if it could subsist, it would be to no valuable purpose. From the work of creation alone, no good could ever result. Partial evils could never terminate in the greater good. Sin and misery would be subject to no restraint; and would have no bounds. Nor could we ever hope to profit by adversity, nor by abuses. Dark and dreadful would be our prospects, could we not rely, with confidence, on the universality and perfection of God's providential government. We
e may now proceed to some inferential and practical improvement of this doctrine. And,
i. We clearly infer from it, that every thing will be overruled for the best. In this world, we experience much darkness and sorrow. Comparatively few things wear a favourable aspect. The positive pains and sorrows of this life are thought, by many, to be more and greater than the positive pleasures.“ Man is born to trouble, as the sparks that fly upward.” Philosophers are unable to determine whether there be a God; or if a God exists, whether he be a good, or an evil being; or whether he may not be of a mixed character. But, from the view we have taken of God's works of providence, it is evident that every thing will be overruled for the best. The good effects of the sorest evils are often realized. And we may rest assured, that the honor of God, and the greatest general good, are infinitely secure.
2. A view of God's works of providence leads the mind to that reverence and godly fear, which beget true devotion. To whom can the man devote himself, who ascribes many eyents to his own wisdom and power, and
thë rest to chance or fate ? A sense of the presence and majesty of God, as the great disposer of all things, inspires true devotion, and reverential fear.
3. An abiding sense of God's universal providence, is happily calculated to quiet the mind in adversity. Adversity is often produced by the wicked and abusive conduct of our fellow-men. 'If, in this case, we overlook the hand of providence, we become outrageous ; wę meditate vengeance. But if we consider the wicked abuser as the sword of the Lord, to chastise us for our sins ; we are relieved ; we are cured of a spirit of revenge. So that, while we justly blame and condemn our oppressors we shall pity and pray for them, as Christ did for his murderers ; " Father forgive them, for they know not what they do.” 66 Let him alone, and let him curse for the Lord hath said unto him, curse David.”
Again; no small part of our adversity is the effect of our own folly and wickedness. If, in this case, we overlook the hand of God, we shall have extreme mortification ; but no sincere and hearty repentance; no consoJation in view of the evils which we have brought on ourselves. But if we believe, that God sits at the helm of government, and causes every thing we do, good or bad, to be overuled and directed to the most important ends; we have a solid ground of comfort, even though we are deeply wounded with a sense of sin and guilt. This was the method taken by Joseph, to comfort his wicked brethren, who had sold him into Egypt. “It was not you that sent me hither, but God. God sent me before you, to save your lives, by a great deliverance. for you, ye thought evil against me, but God meant it unto good.”' *While they humbled themselves in the dust, under a sense of their great wickedness and barbarity, in selling their brother for a slave; he would not have them vexed and tormented. “ Now therefore,” said Joseph,“ be not grieved and angry with yourselves, that ye sold me hither. For God did send me before you to preserve life.” Be humble and penitent for your enormous crime, viewed as your own act and deed, But, viewed as an event of a wise and holy providence, set
your hearts at rest. It is a matter of great consolation, that evils, both natural and moral, can be, and certainly will be, overruled for the greatest possible good of Christ's kingdom
4. The doctrine of God's universal providence emboldens his people to put their trust in him. Should God give up the disposal of some things to the decision of blind chance, or stubborn fate ; confidence in him would be at once destroyed. In this sinful world, there is no rational comfort and joy, but what is grounded on true faith and confidence in God. But this joyful confidence depends on the doctrine of his universal providence. Set aside this precious doctrine, and every christian would lose that hope which is an anchor to his soul. To human view, this world is a hopeless state. No man, without a revelation of God's merciful designs towards sinful men, could have indulged a hope of final happiness ; and this hope, after all, is liable to be extinguished, if we lose sight of a universal, superintending, and all controlling providence. Trust in the Lord must be absolute, and unlimited. 66 Trust in the Lord, with all thine heart, and lean not to thine own understanding; in all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy
These are commands, never to be obeyed, unless we believe and realize, that God, in his mysterious providence, directs and controls all the events of the vast universe. Those who deny the doctrine of a univer"sal and particular providence, must put their trust in a God that cannot save.
66 But blessed be the man that trusteth in the Lord, and whose hope the Lord is."