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“ hast obeyed my voice.” And in every part of Scripture, God promises his favour, protection, and peace to those who set their hearts to fulfil and obey his commands. Thus God creates evil only to those men or nations who are disobedient to him; and this evil is only inflicted with a view to their reformation, and ultimate happiness, temporal or eternal; for God expressly affirms this to be his intention by his prophet Jeremiah ; “ The Lord will not cast off for ever : and
though he cause grief, yet will he have
compassion, according to the multitude of “ his mercies; for he doth not afflict or
grieve the children of men willingly.” The wickedness of men often renders the infiction of evil necessary on the part of God, because, as it is declared in the prophecy of Isaiah, “ when thy judgments are in the
earth, the inhabitants of the world will “ learn righteousness :" but when God inflicts these judgments, it is no more repugnant to our reason, nor any more an impeachment of the goodness of God, (as moral Governor of the world, who has ever in view the good of the whole species,) than that any earthly monarch should send a general with an army to punish a people in one of his provinces, who had rebelled against him, as a warning and example to the rest of his subjects, and with a view to establish peace, order, and happiness generally throughout his dominions.
In the infliction of national evil, without a constant operation of miracles, it is impossible but that the good must often suffer with the bad ; and though this rule is not always without a glorious exception, such, for example, as during the late religious persecution in France, when some of the noblest and most distinguished of its priesthood were in a manner miraculously saved, protected, and nourished in this country ; yet in general, when nations are punished, the good and bad suffer together; and this indiscriminate suffering, which is unavoidable, puzzles some people, from their not considering, that the real cause of this suffering should be ascribed not to God, but to man, from his disobedience to the laws of his Creator. It is the neglect of this discrimination which weakens, in these people, their trust and confidence in God, whose decrees, being all founded, no less in infinite goodness, than in infinite wisdom and power, are all inevitably just and right. But though whatever is the indisputable decree of God is and must be right, I apprehend the general and unconditional observation, that whatever happens in this world is right, should always be understood in a qualified sense; since a great part of the occurrences, and many, very many, of the events which prevail in it, are so far from proceeding from the will of God, that, though they are allowed to come to pass, they are utterly against his will, and only proceed from the depraved will of man. For God having given to man great power and dominion in this world, and having constituted free will and free agency so absolutely essential to his character, that it cannot be severed from it whilst man is man, an immense power to act right or wrong necessarily devolves on, and is naturally attached, to, man, especially to princes and potentates. Now if one of these princes abuses the power entrusted to him, and, when God has ordered him to love mercy, he commits murder wantonly and unnecessarily, it is perfectly absurd to assert, that whatever is is right in this sense; on the contrary, the commission of this murder cannot be otherwise, either in the judgment of God or man, than extremely wrong; at the same time that it is perfectly right the prince in question should
power of committing the murder, though he abuses it.
The reason and conscience of man is unquestionably sufficient for a wise and prudent conduct in all temporal matters, and is most probably so considered by the Almighty; therefore in matters of a temporal nature he probably much seldomer overrules the free will and free agency of man than is generally imagined. But the case is otherwise, I apprehend, in spiritual matters; because the conduct of all nations who are ignorant of revealed religion proves, by their superstitions and idolatries, that the reason of man is inadequate to a just knowledge of them; and accordingly, as in the establishment of the Gospel, the will of God was demonstrably seen to prevail over the will of
Thus though God has made man a free agent, he does not divest himself of the power of controlling that free agency when he pleases, but probably he rarely overrules it, except when its culpable exertion would deface or tarnish the beauty of his intellectual system, or would in any material way interfere with the accomplishment of his own great and glorious designs. We should consider, that, prior to all action, there is will
and intention: now it is impossible to conceive there can be any evil will in God, any evil design towards his own offspring, towards his creature man, any that has not for its object either the present or future good of man ; but with man this matter is entirely different; for we know to a certainty that, to gratify revenge, and other criminal passions, he often meditates evil, for the accomplishment of the most cruel and evil ends that can be imagined. We ought therefore, agreeably to the principles of reason, to ascribe all the misery which proceeds from cruelty, oppression, tyranny, injustice, wars begun and prosecuted on ambitious and worldly principles, not to God, but to man's disobedience to those laws, and that career of conduct, which it ever was, and ever will be, his duty to perform ; and whoever suffers his mind to entertain any other opinion, in the highest degree dishonours his Maker, who delights to see his creatures enjoy that rational happiness, which every man in this life may do if he pleases, and which nothing prevents his doing but a flagrant and senseless abuse of his free will and free agency, by voluntarily departing from the suggestions of his reason and conscience, and the declared laws and com