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to us, is not chance, but providence — is ordered and appointed by God
to bring to pass what his own wisdom and counsel has decreed; as is
very evident from some remarkable instances of providence which are
recorded. in Scripture.

By how many seeming accidents and casual events was Joseph
advanced to Pharaoh's throne? His dreams, whereby God foretold
his advancement, made his brethren envious at him, and watch some
convenient opportunity to get rid of him, and so confute his dreams.
Jacob sends Joseph to visit his brethren in the fields, where they
were keeping their sheep. This gave them an opportunity to execute
their revenge, and at first they intended to murder him; but the
Ishmaelites, accidentally passing by, they sold Joseph to them, and
they carried him into Egypt and sold him to Potiphar. Potiphar's
wife tempts him to uncleanness, and being denied by Joseph, she
accuses him to his lord, who casts him into the king's prison. Whilst
he was there, the king's butler and baker were cast into the same
prison, and dreamed their several dreams, which Joseph expounded to
them, and the event verified his interpretation. The butler, who was
restored to his office, forgot Joseph till two years after, when Pha-
raoh dreamed a dream which none of the wise men could interpret;
and then Joseph was sent for, and advanced to the highest place of
dignity and power next to Pharaoh. The years of famine brought
Joseph's brethren into Egypt to buy corn, where they bowed before
him, according to his dream. This occasioned the removal of Jacob
and his whole family into Egypt, where Joseph placed them in the
land of Goshon, by which means God fulfilled what he had told
Abraham: "Know of a surety, that thy seed shall be a stranger in a
land that is not theirs, and shall serve them, and they shall afflict
them four hundred years" (Gen. xv. 13). How casual does all this
appear to us! But no man will think that prophecies are fulfilled by
chance; and therefore we must confess, that what seems chance to us,
was appointed by God.

Another writer (Sherlock) teaches as follows:


"Let us, then, now more particularly consider how God governs
mankind, so as to make them the instruments and ministers cf his
providence in the world. The methods of the divine wisdom are infi-
nite and unsearchable, and we must not expect fully to comprehend
all the secrets and mysteries of God's government; but something wo
may know of this, enough to teach us to reverence God, and to trust
in him, and to vindicate his providence from the cavils of ignorance
and infidelity, which is as much as is useful for us to know. And I
shall reduce what I have to say to two general heads: — 1. The govern-
ment of men's minds, of their wills, their passions, and counsels. 2.
The government of their actions.

1. God's government of the minds of men, their wills, and passions,
and counsels; for these are the great springs of action, and as free a
principle as the mind of man is, it is not ungovernable: it may be
governed, and that without an omnipotent power, against its own bias,
and without changing its inclinations; and what may be done, cer-
tainly God can do; and when it is necessary to the ends of Providence,
we may conclude he will do it. Let a man oe ever so much bent
upon any project, yet hope or fear, some present great advantage or
great inconvenience, the powerful intercession of friends, a sudden
change of circumstances, the improbability of success, the irrepar-
able mischief of a defeat, and a thousand other considerations, will
divert him from it; and how easy it is for God to imprint such
thoughts upon men's minds with an irresistible vigor and brightness,
that it shall be no more in their power to do what they had a mind to,
than to resist all the charms of riches and honors, than to leap into
the fire, and to choose misery and ruin!

That thus it is, the Scripture assures us (Prov. xxi. 1), The king's
heart is in the hand of the Lord; as the rivers of water, he turneth
it whithersoever he will." And if the king's heart be in the hand of
the Lord, we can not doubt but he hath all other men's hearts in his
hand also, and can turn and change them as he pleases. Thus the
wise man tells us, "A man's heart deviseth his ways but the Lord
directeth his steps" (Prov. xvi. 9). Men consult and advise what to
do, but, after all, God steers and directs them which w^ay he pleases,
for though "there are many devices in a man's heart, nevertheless che
counsel of the Lord that shall stand" (Prov. xix. 21), which made the
wise man conclude, "Man's goings are of the Lord: how then shall
a man understand his own ways?" (Prov. xx. 24). That is, God has
such an alisolute government of the hearts and actions of men, when
his providence is concerned in the event, that no man can certainly
know what he himself shall choose and do: for God can, in an instant,
alter his mind, ard make him stoor a very different course from
what he intended. As the prophet Jeremiah assures us, 'I Know that


the way of man is not in himself; it is not in man that walketh to
direct his steps" (Jer. x. 23). And Solomon tells us something more
strange than this: "The preparation of the heart in man, and the
answer of the tongue, is of the Lord" (Prov. xvi. 1), or, as the
Hebrew seems to signify, the preparation of the heart is from, inan;
a man premeditates and resolves what he will say; but notwithstand-
ing that, the ansiver of the tongue is of the Lord. When he comes to
speak, he shall say nothing but what God pleases. Which sayings
must not be expounded to a universal sense, that it is always thus;
but that thus it is whenever God sees fit to interpose, which he does
as often as he has any wise end to serve by it.

Thus we are told, that "when a man's ways please the Lord, he
maketh even his enemies to be at peace with him" (Prov. xvi. 7).
And it is a very remarkable promise that God makes to the children
of Israel, that when all their males should come three times every
year to worship God at Jerusalem, by which means their country was
left without defense, exposed to the rapine of their enemies who dwelt
round about them, that "no man should desire their land, when they
go up to appear before the Lord" (Ex. xxxiv. 24). We have many
examples of this in Scripture, and some of those many ways whereby
(Jod does it. When Abraham sojourned in Gerar, he said of Sarah
his wife, that she was his sister, and Abimelech, the king of Gerar,
sent and took her; but God reproved Abimelech in a dream, and tells
him that he had withheld him from sinning, and not suffered him to
touch her. (Gen. xx. 1, etc.) Thus when Jacob fled from Laban with
his wives and children, and Laban pursued him, God appeared to
Laban in a dream, and commanded him that he should not ^peak to
Jacob either good or hurt. (Gen. xxxi. 24.) Such appearances were
very common in that age, though they seem very extraordinary
to us; but God does the same thing still by strong and lively impres-
sions upon our minds — by suggesting and fixing such thoughts in us,
as excite or calm our passions, as encourage us to bold and great
attempts, or check us in our career by frightful imaginations and
unaccountable fears and terrors, or by such other arguments as are
apt to change our purposes and counsels. ,

Sometimes God does this by concurrence of external causes, which
at other times would not have been effectual, but shall certainly have
their effect when God enforces the impression.

Thus God in a moment turned the heart of Esau when he came
out in a great rage against his brother Jacob. It was an old hatred
he had conceived against him for the loss of his birthright and of his
blessing. And he had for many years confirmed himself in a resolu-
tion to cut him off the first opportunity he had to do it. And could
it be expected that the present which Jacob sent him, which he could


have taken if he had pleased without receiving it as a gift, and that
the submission of Jacolj when he was in his power, should all on a
sudden make him forget all that was past and the very business he
came for, and turn his bloody designs into the kindest embraces?
No! this was God's work, the effect of that blessing which the angel
gave to Jacob after a whole night's wrestling with him in Penuel.
(Gen. xxxii. 33.) And when God pleases, the weakest means shall
change the most sullen and obstinate resolutions.

Of the same nature of this is the story of David and Abigail. Nabal
had highly provoked David by the churlish answer which he sent
him, and David was resolved to take a very severe revenge on Nabal
and his house. But God sent Abigail to pacify him, who, by her pres-
ence, and dutiful and submissive behavior and wise counsels, diverted
him from those bloody resolutions he had taken, as David himself
acknowledges: "Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, who sent thee
this day to meet me, and blessed be thy advice, and blessed be thou
who hast kept me this day from coming to shed blood, and from
avenging myself with my own hand" (I. Sam. xxv. 32, 33).

Saul pursued David in the wilderness to take away his life, and
God delivered him twice into David's hands; and the kindness David
showed him in not killing him when he was in his power, did at last
turn the heart of Saul, that he pursued him no more. (I. Sara. xvi.
and xxvii.)

Thus God confounded the good counsel of Ahithophel by the advicn
of Hashai, which Absalom chose to follow. And the text tells us this
was from God, who had purposed to defeat the good counsel of Ahitho-
phel, to the intent that he might bring evil upon Absalom. (II. Sam.
xvii. 14.) Such an absolute empire has God over the minds of men,
that he can turn them as he pleases, can lead them into new thoughts
and counsels with as great ease as the waters of a river may be di'awn
into a new channel prepared for them.

2. When God does not think fit to change and alter men's wills and
passions, he can govern their actions and serve the ends of his provi-
dence by them. When God suffers them to pursue their own counsels
and to do what they themselves like best — he does that by their hands
which they little expected or intended. The same action may serve
very different ends; and therefore God ana men have very different
intentions in it. And what is ill done by men, and for a very ill end,
may be ordered by God for wise and good purposes; nay. the ill ends
which men designed may be disappointed, and the good which God
intended by it have its effect. And this is as absolute a government
over men's actions as the ends of providence require, when whatever
men do, if they intend one thing and God another, "the commel of
God shall stand," and what they intended shall have no effect any


further than as it is subservient to the divine counsels, as to give some
plain examples of it: —

Joseph's brethren being offended at his dreams and at the peculiai
kindness which their father Jacob showed him, resolved to get rid of
him; but God intended to send him into Egypt, to advance him to
Pharaoh's throne, and to transplant Jacob and his family thither. And
therefore God would not suffer them to slay him as they first intended;
but he suffered them to sell him to the Ishmaelites, who carried him
into Egypt, which disappointed what they aimed at in it, never to see
or hear more of him, but accomplished the decrees and counsels of God.

Another example we have in the king of Assyria, who came against
Jerusalem with a powerful army with an intention to destroy it; but
God intended no more than to correct them for their sins. This God
suffered nim to do, but he could do no more. "0 Assyrian, the rod
of mine anger, and the staff in their hand is mine indignation: I will
send him against a hypocritical nation, and against the people of my
wrath will I give him a charge to take the spoil and to take the
prey, and to tread them down like the mire in the street." Thus far
God gave him a commission; that is, thus far God intended to suffer
his rage and pride to proceed. But this was the least of his inten-
tion: "Howbeit, he thinketh not so, but it is in his heart to destroy
and cut off nations not a few." But in this God disappointed him:
"Wherefore, it shall come to pass, that when the Lord hath performed
his whole work upon Mount Zion and on Jerusalem, I will punish
the fruit of the stout heart of the king of Assyria, and the glory of
his proud looks" (Isa. x. 5, 6, 7, 12).

A great many examples might be given or this nature, but these
are sufficient to show what different intentions God and men have in
the same actions, and how easily God can defeat what men intend,
and accomplish by them his own wise counsels which they never
thought of. When God has no particular ends of providence to serve
by the lusts and passions and evil designs of men, he commonly dis-
appoints them; that when "they intend evil, and imagine a mischiev-
ous device, they are not able to perform it" (Ps. xxi. 11). Or he turns
the evil upon their own heads: "The heathen are sunk down in thri
pit that they made; in the net which they hid, is their own feet taken.
The Lord is known by the judgment which he executeth. The wicked
is snared in the work of his own hands" (Ps. ix. 15, 16). Or he
doubly disappoints their malice, not only by defeating the evil they
intended, but by turning it to the great advantage of those it was
intended against; which was visible in the case of Haman, whose
malice against Mordecai and all the Jews for his sake, did not only
prove his own ruin, but the great advancement of Mordecai, and the
glory and triumph of the Jewish nation.


3. Let us now consider what difference there is between God's
absolute government of all events, and necessity and fate; for many
men are very apt to confound these two. If no good or evil befall any
man, but what God orders and appoints for them, this they think
sounds like fate and destiny — that every man's fortune is written
upon his forehead — and that it is impossible for any man, by ail his
care, and industry, and prudence, to make his condition better than
what God has decreed it to be in the irreversible rolls of fate. And
yet an unrelenting, immutable fate is so irreconcilable with the lib-
erty of human actions, with the nature of good and evil, of rewards
and punishments, that if we admit of it, there is an end of all relig-
ion, of all virtuous endeavors, of all great and generous attempts: it
is to no purpose to pray to God, or to trust in him, or to resist temp-
tation, or to be diligent in our business, or prudent and circumspect
in our actions; for what will be, will be: or if any means be to be
used, that is no matter of our choice or care; but we shall do it as
necessarily and mechanically as a watch moves and points to the
hour of the day; for fate has, by the same necessity, determined the
means and the end, and we can do no more nor less than fate
has determined.

I shall now trouble you with an account of the various opinions of
the ancient philosophers about fate, none of whom ever dreamed of
such a terrible fate as some Christians have fancied, which reaches
not only to this world, but to all eternity. What I have already dis-
coursed is sufficient to vindicate the doctrine of Providence from the
least imputation of necessity and fate.

For, 1st. Though God overrules the actions of men. to do what he
himself thinks fit to be done, yet he lays no necessity upon human
actions: men will and choose freely, pursue their own interests and
inclinations, just as they would do if there were no Providence to
govern them; and while men act freely, it is certain there can be no
absolute fate. God, indeed, as you have already heard, sometimes
hinders them from executing their wicked purposes, and permits them
to do no more hurt than what he can direct to wise ends; but no man
is wicked, or does wickedly, by necessity and fate. Though he may
be restrained from doing so much wickedness as he would, yet all the
wickedness he commits is his own free choice, even when it serves
such ends as he never thought of; and therefore he is, and acts like
a free agent, notwithstanding the government of Providence.

2d. Though God determines all events, all the good and evil that
shall happen to men or nations, yet it is no more and no other than
what they themselves have deserved; and therefore they are under
no other fate than what they themselves bring upon themselves by
the good or bad use of their own liberty; that is. thoy are under no


other fate than to be rewarded when they do well, and to be punished
when they do ill: but this is the justice of Providence, not the neces-
sity of fate. Those who do ill, and deserve ill, and suffer ill, might
have done well, and have made themselves the favorites of Providence,
and therefore are under no greater necessity of suffering ill, than they
were of doing ill. The reason why God keeps all events in his own
hands, is not because he has absolutely determined the fates of all
men, but that he may govern the world wisely and justly, and reward
and punish men according to their deserts, as far as the reasons of
Providence require in this world. Now, while the liberty of human
actions is secured, and the events of Providence are not the execution
of fatal, absolute, and unconditional decrees, but acts of government
in the wise administration of justice, and dispensing rewards and
punishments — how absolute soever God's government be of all events,
it is not necessity and fate, but a wise, and just, and absolute govern-
ment. This, indeed, is what some of the wisest heathens called fate,
and all that they meant by the name of fate, that God had fixed it by
an irreversible decree, that good men should be rewarded and the
wicked punished; and thus far we must all allow fate; and Providence
is only the minister and executioner of these fatal decrees; and to
that end God keeps the government of all events in his own hands.
Now whether we say that God determines what good or evil shall
befall men at the very time when they deserve it, or that foreseeing
what good or evil they will do, and what they will deserve, did before-
hand determine what good or evil should befall them — this makes
no alteration at all in the state of the question; for if all the good or
evil that befalls men, have respect to their deserts, this is not fate,
but a just and righteous judgment.

In a word, God's government of all events is indeed so absolute and
uncontrollable, that no good or evil can befall any man, but what
God pleases, what he orders and appoints for him; and this is neces-
sary to the good government of the world and the care of all his
creatures. But then God orders no good or evil to befall any men,
but what they deserve, and what the wise ends of his Providence
require; and this is not fate, but a wise and just government of
the world.

3rd. That the exercise of a particular Providence consists in the gov-
ernment of all events.

I have often wondered at those philosophers who acknowledged a
Providence, but would not acknowledge God's particular care of all
his creatures. Some confined his Providence to the heavens, but would
not extend it to this lower world; and yet this world needs a Provi-
dence as much, and a great deal more, as being a scene of change and
corruption, of furious lusts and passions, which need the restraints


and government of Providence: no creatures need God's care more
than the inhabitants of this earth; and if ho take care of any of
his creatures, one would think ho should take most care of them
who need it most.

Others, who would allow that the Providence of God reached this
lower world, yet confined God's care to the several kinds and species,
but would not extend it to every individual; as if God took care of
logical terms, of genus and species, but took no care of his own
creatures, which are all individuals; or as if God could take care of
all his creatures, without taking care of any particular creature; t. e.,
that he could take care of all his creatures, without taking care of
any one of them.

Thus they would allow God to take care of the great affairs of
kingdoms and commonwealths, but to have no regard to particular
men or families, unless they made a great figure in the world; as if
kingdoms and commonwealths were not made up of particular men
and particular families; or that God could take care of the whole,
without taking care of every part; or as if there were any other
reason for taking care of the whole, but to take care of those par-
ticulars who make the whole. To talk of a general Providence, with-
out God's care and government of every particular creature, is mani-
festly unreasonable and absurd; for whatever reasons oblige us to
own a Providence, oblige us to own a particular Providence.

If creation be a reason why God should preserve and take care of
what he has made, this is a reason why he should take care of every
creature, because there is no creature but what he made; and if the
whole world consist of particulars, it must be taken care of in the
care of particulars; for if all particulars perish, as they may do if
no care be taken to preserve them, the whole must perish.

And there is the same reason for the government of mankind; for
the whole is governed in the government of the parts; and mankind
can not be well governed, without the wise government of every par-
ticular man.

I am sure that the objections against a particular Providence are
very foolish. Some think it too much troub'.e to God to take care of
every particular; as if it were more trouble to him to take care of
them, than it was to make them; or as if God had made more creatures
than he could take care of; as if an infinite mind and omnipotent
power were as much disturbed and tried with various and perpetual
cares, as we are. Others think it below the greatness and majesty
of God, to take cognizance of every mean and contemptible creature,
or of every private man; as if it were more below God to take care
of such creatures, than it is to make them: as if numbers made
creatures considerable to God; that though one man is below God's


care, yet a kingdom is worthy of his care and notice; when the whole
world to God is but "as the drop of the bucket, and the small dust
of the balance."

Now it is certain there can be no particular Providence, without
God's government of all events; for if any good or evil happen to
any man without God's order and appointment, that is not Provi-
dence, whatever other name you will give it; so that if God does
take a particular care of all his creatures, this is a demonstration
that he has the absolute government of all events; for without it
he can not take care of them: and if God have the government of all
events, as the Scriptures assures us he has, this confirms us in the
belief of a particular Providence; for if all the good or evil that
happens to every particular man, be appointed by God, that is proof
enough that God takes care of every particular man. God's govern-
ment of all particular events, and his care of all individuals, include
each other in their very natures. The care of particular creatures con-
sists in the government of all particular events; and the government
of all events is the exercise of a particular Providence, as our Saviour
represents it (Matt. x. 29, 30, 31), "Are not two sparrows sold for a
farthing? and one of them shall not fall on the ground without your
Father. But the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear ye
not, therefore; ye are of more value than many sparrows." Where
God's particular Providence over all his creatures is expressed by his
particular care of all events, which extends even to the life of a
sparrow, and to the hairs of our heads.

Thus much is certain, that without this belief, that God takes a
particular care of all his creatures in the government of all events
that can happen to them, there is no reason or pretense for most of
the particular duties of religious worship. For most of the acts of
worship consider God not merely as a universal cause (could we form
any notion of a general Providence without any care of particular
creatures or particular events?), but as our particular patron, pro-
tector and preserver.

Online LibraryAlexander CampbellThe Millennial Harbinger abridged (Volume 1) → online text (page 8 of 70)