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PROVIDENCE OF GOD IN THE GOVERNMENT OF THE WORLD.
When I consider my own weakness and the discerning judgment of those who are to be my audience, I cannot help blaming myself considerably for this rash undertaking of mine, being a thing I am altogether unpractised in, and very much unqualified for; but I am especially discouraged when I reflect, that you are all my intimate pot-companions, who have heard me say a thousand silly things in conversation, and therefore have not that laudable partiality and veneration for whatever I shall deliver, that good people commonly have for their spiritual guides; that you have no reverence for my habit, nor for the sanctity of my countenance; that you do not believe me inspired or divinely assisted, and therefore will think yourselves at liberty to assert or dissert, approve or disapprove of any thing I advance, canvassing and sifting it, as the private opinion of one of your acquaintance. These are great disadvantages and discouragements; but I am entered and must proceed, humbly requesting your patience and attention.
I propose, at this time, to discourse on the subject of our last conversation, the Providence of God in the government of the world. It might be judged an affront to your understandings, should I go about to prove this first principle, the existence of a Deity, and that he is the Creator of the universe; for that would suppose you ignorant of what all mankind in all ages have agreed in. I shall therefore proceed to observe, that he must be a being of infinite wisdom, as appears in his admirable order and disposition of things; whether we consider the heavenly bodies, the stars and planets, and their wonderful regular motions; or this earth, compounded of such an excellent mixture of all the elements; or the admirable structure of animate bodies of such infinite variety, and yet every one adapted to its nature and the way of life it is to be placed in, whether on earth, in the air, or in the water, and so exactly that the highest and most exquisite human reason cannot find a fault, and say this would have been better so, or in such a manner; which whoever considers attentively and thoroughly will be astonished and swallowed up in admiration. That the Deity is a being of great goodness, appears in his giving life to so many creatures, each of which acknowledges it a benefit, by its unwillingness to leave it; in his providing plentiful sustenance for them all, and making those things that are most useful, most common and easy to be had; such as water, necessary for almost every creature to drink; air, without which few could subsist; the inexpressible benefits of light and sunshine to almost all animals in general; and to men, the most useful vegetables, such as corn, the most useful of metals, as iron, &c., the most useful animals, as horses, oxen, and sheep, he has made easiest to raise or procure in quantity or numbers; each of which particulars, if considered seriously and carefully, would fill us with the highest love and affection.
That he is a being of infinite power appears in his being able to form and compound such vast masses of matter, as this earth, and the sun, and innumerable stars and planets, and give them such prodigious motion, and yet so to govern them in their greatest velocity, as that they shall not fly out of their appointed bounds, nor dash one against another for their mutual destruction. But it is easy to conceive his power, when we are convinced of his infinite knowledge and wisdom. For, if weak and foolish creatures as we are, by knowing the nature of a few things, can produce such wonderful effects; such as, for instance, by knowing the nature only of nitre and sea-salt mixed we can make a water, which will dissolve the hardest iron, and by adding one ingredient more can make another water, which will dissolve gold and make the most solid bodies fluid; and by knowing the nature of saltpetre, sulphur, and charcoal, with those mean ingredients mixed we can shake the air in the most terrible manner, destroy ships, houses, and men at a distance, and in an instant overthrow cities, and rend rocks into a thousand pieces, and level the highest mountains; what power must he possess, who not only knows the nature of every thing in the universe, but can make things of new natures with the greatest ease and at his pleasurel Agreeing, then, that the world was at first made by a Being of infinite wisdom, goodness, and power, which Being we call God, the state of things existing at this time must be in one of these four following manners, namely; 1. Either he unchangeably decreed and appointed every thing that comes to pass, and left nothing to the course of nature, nor allowed any creature free agency; 2. Without decreeing any thing, he left all to general nature and the events of free agency in his creatures, which he never alters or interrupts; or,
3. He decreed some things unchangeably, and left others to general nature and the events of free agency, which also he never alters or interrupts; or, 4. He sometimes interferes by his particular providence, and sets aside the effects which would otherwise have been produced by any of the above causes. I shall endeavour to show the first three suppositions to be inconsistent with the common light of reason, and that the fourth is most agreeable to it, and therefore most probably true. In the first place; if you say he has in the beginning unchangeably decreed all things and left nothing to nature or free agency, these strange conclusions will necessarily follow. 1. That he is now no more a God. It is true, indeed, before he made such unchangeable decree, he was a being of power almighty; but now, having determined every thing, he has divested himself of all further power, he has done and has no more to do, he has tied up his hands and has now no greater power than an idol of wood or stone; nor can there be any more reason for praying to him or worshipping of him than of such an idol, for the worshippers can never be better for such worship. Then, 2. He has decreed some things contrary to the very notion of a wise and good being ; such as, that some of his creatures or children shall do all manner of injury to others, and bring every kind of evil upon them without cause; that some of them shall even blaspheme him, their Creator, in the most horrible manner; and, which is still more highly absurd, he has decreed, that the greatest part of mankind shall in all ages put up their earnest prayers to him, both in private and publicly in great assemblies, when , all the while he had so determined their fate, that he could not possibly grant them any benefits on that account, nor could such prayers be in
any way available. Why then should he ordain them to make such prayers? It cannot be imagined, that they are of any service to him. Surely it is not more difficult to believe the world was made by a god of wood or stone, than that the God who made the world should be such a God as this.
In the second place; if you say he has decreed nothing, but left all things to general nature and the events of free agency, which he never alters or interrupts, then these conclusions will follow ; he must either utterly hide himself from the works of his own hands, and take no notice at all of their proceedings, natural or moral, or he must be, as undoubtedly he is, a spectator of every thing, for there can be no reason or ground to suppose the first. I say there can be no reason to imagine he would make so glorious a universe merely to abandon it. In this case, imagine the Deity looking on and beholding the ways of his creatures. Some heroes in virtue he sees are incessantly endeavouring the good of others; they labor through vast difficulties, they suffer incredible hardships and miseries, to accomplish this end, in hopes to please a good God, and attain his favors, which they earnestly pray for. What answer can he make then, within himself, but this ? Take the reward chance may give you; I do not intermeddle in these affairs. He sees others continually doing all manner of evil, and bringing by their actions misery and destruction among mankind. What can he say here but this? If chance rewards you, I shall not punish you; I am not to be concerned. He sees the just, the innocent, and the beneficent in the hands of the wicked and violent oppressor, and when the good are at the brink of destruction, they pray to him, Thou, O God, art mighty and powerful to save ; help us, we beseech thee! He answers, I cannot help VOL. II.