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therefore, when we lie under any affliction, if we languish under pain or sickness, if we are pinched by want or poverty, if we are oppressed by the injuries and persecutions of others, prayer is necessary; because, as God by his Providence hath brought these things upon us, so likewise possibly the same Providence hath determined not to remove them, till we earnestly and fervently pray for our deliverance from them. And, therefore, when God hath promised great mercies to the Jews, he tells them by the Prophet Ezek. xxxvi. 37. I will yet for this be enquired of by the house of Israel to do i for them. Prayer, therefore, doth not incline God to bestow that, which before he was not resolved to give; but it capacitates us to receive that, which God will not give otherwise.
iii. Another objection may be this: " IF PROVIDENCE ORDERETH AND DISPOSETH ALL THE OCCURRENCES OF THE WORLD, THEN THERE CAN NOTHING FALL OUT CASUALLY AND CONTINGENTLY.”
I answer: In respect of God it is true, there is nothing casual nor contingent in the world.
A thing may be casual, in respect of particular causes; but, in respect of the universal and first cause, nothing is such. If a master should send a servant to a certain place, and command him to stay there till such a time, and presently after should send another servant to the same, the meeting of these two is wholly casual in respect of themselves, but ordained and foreseen by the master that sent them. So is it, in all fortuitous events here below. They fall out unexpectedly, as to us; but not so, as to God: he foresees, and he appoints all the vicissitudes of things, and all the surprises of human accidents. So that, you see, there may be contingencies in the world, though God's Providence be most particular and punctual.
iv. Some may object, that this “ WOULD DESTROY THE LIBERTY OF MAN'S WILL; AND SUBJECT ALL THINGS TO A FATAL NECESSITY, EVEN HUMAN ACTIONS THEMSELVES: for, if man can do nothing, but what God hath by his Providence fore-appointed shall be done, how then is man free, either to do or not to do?”
This question requires much more time to answer it, at large, than I can allow it.
Some, seeing it a very difficult thing to reconcile Providence and Liberty, have presumed to deny that Providence inter. meddles at all in such affairs as depend upon the free-will of man. And, of this opinion, Tully seems to have been: for which St. Austin chastiseth him as injurious to God; when he saith, Voluntatem dum faceret liberam, fecit sacrilegam.
I shall not here stand to distinguish, of a necessity of co. action, and a necessity of infallibility; and that the Providence of God doth not bring upon the will a necessity of coaction, but only of infallibility, which very well consists with the liberty of the will.
All, that I shall at present answer, is, That God doth indeed efficaciously determine the will to do what it doth: yet this determination leaves it in a perfect state of liberty ; because the liberty of the will doth not so much consist in indifferency to act or not to act, as in a rational spontaneity. When we do what we have an appetite to do upon grounds that to us seem rational, then we act freely. Now, though God doth absolutely sway the will which way he pleaseth, yet he never forceth it contrary to its own inclinations : for that, to which God determines it by his Providence, seems, at that present, most rational to be done; and, upon that representation of good in the object, the will embraces it, and acts accordingly. So that its freedom is not violated by any boisterous and compulsive sway, which the First Cause hath over it; but God attracts it with such a powerful and insinuating sweetness, that, though the will can incline to nothing but what it seems to have reason for, yet withal it wills nothing but what God by Providence overrules it unto. So Austin, De Civitate Dei, lib. v. cap. 9. Nos dicimus et Deum scire omnia antequam fiant, et voluntate nos facere quicquid à nobis non nisi volentibus fieri sentimus et novimus: “ Though God foresees and decrees all things before they are, yet we do that with a free will, which we do not otherwise than willingly.”
v. The last doubt and query is this : “ IF GOD GOVERN ALL ACTIONS AND ALL AFFAIRS, BY AN EXACT AND CRITICAL PROVIDENCE ; HOW THEN COMES IT TO PASS, THAT THERE IS SO MUCH EVIL, VILLAINY, AND WICKEDNESS COMMITTED IN IT?”
The disquisition of this is the more obscure and intricate, because it is hard to conceive how God, who is Infinite Goodness itself, should interest his Providence in what is so contrary to his nature.
Now, here, we must affirm, that there is no evil whatsoever, whether it be of sin or of suffering, that comes to pass without the Providence of God. As for the evil of Punishment or Suffering, it is clear, Amos iii. 6. Shall there be evil in the city, and the Lord hath not done it? But, for the evil of Sin, it is not effectively from God; yet doth he, by his Providence, for most holy and wise ends, permit wicked men to commit those sins, which his law prohibits, and his nature abhors. Though they refuse to be subject to the written law, yet they are and must be subject to the eternal law of his own counsels: and there is not a sin which they commit, but, as his authority condemns and his purity hates it; so, his wisdom both suffers it to be, and overrules it when it is to his own ends. It is true, all men naturally are slaves to their lusts, but God holds their chain in his own hands : sometimes, slackening it, by his permission; and, sometimes, straitening it, by his powerful restraint. And, therefore, to plead Providence the warrant of our actions (a boisterous argument, which, of late, hath been most used amongst us, until Providence itself had signally confuted it) is to plead that for the justification of our actions, without which they could not be sinful: thus Cain killed his brother, by a Providence; and Achan stole the wedge of gold, and Judas betrayed Christ, and the Jews crucified him, by a Providence; yea, and all the villainy, that was ever acted under the sun, was all brought forth out of the cursed womb of men's lusts, by the Providence of God, that is, by his permission to the evil, and concurrence as to the act. Neither is this any stain at all to the infinite holiness and purity of his nature: for, though we sin, if we hinder not the commission of sin in others when it is in our power to do it, because we are commanded and obliged to it, both by the care we ought to have of his honour and the charity we owe unto the souls of others; yet no such obligation lies upon God, who may justly give men over to their perverted inclinations: and, though he can easily keep the most wicked man in the world, from rushing into those sins which he daily commits; yet, not being bound to interpose his power to hinder them, he permits them holily, and at last will punish them justly.
But, the question is not so much whether God doth not by his providence permit sin, as why he doth it. And St. Austin answers it excellently, in that known saying of his : “ God," saith he, “ who is infinitely good, would never permit evil, were he not also infinitely wise, and knew how to bring good out of evil.” It is the primary object of his hatred; and that alone, for which he hates wicked men. As he is a holy God, so. he hates it; and, as he is a wise God, so he permits it.
And there is a Twofold good, for which God doth sometimes permit evil.
The Manifestation of his own Glory.
The Exercise of his People's Graces. 1. God, by permitting sin, manifests the glory of many of his attributes.
Surely the wrath of man shall praise thee; saith the Psalmist, Ps. lxxvi. 10. Every sin strikes at some of the Divine Attributes : one denies his justice; another, his mercy: one, his power; another, his wisdom: and all are contrary to his purity. But yet God hath, in his own counsels, such secret screws and wires, whereby he doth so wreath and invert these pins, that eventually they advance what they seem directly to oppose. A child perhaps would think, when he sees a husbandman cast dung and soil upon his field, that it were but improvidently done thus to spoil the flourishing verdure and gaiety of the grass and flowers : why that very dung, which covers them, makes them afterwards sprout up more fair and fresh. So God permits wicked men to dung the earth with their filth, that those attributes of his, which seem to be buried under them, may afterwards spring up with the greater lustre and glory: from hence he will reap the richer crop of praise to himself. Sometimes, he glorifies the severity of his justice, by hardening them in their sins to their own destruction; sometimes, the riches of his mercy, by calling the greatest and most flagitious sinners to repentance, and granting them pardon; and, always, his infinite patience and forbearance, in not executing present vengeance upon those, who so daringły provoke hing. But, although we cannot now so clearly comprehend the advantages, which God makes out of the sins of men: yet, when we come to stand in the general assembly at the Day of Judgment, God will then comment upon and explain the mysteries of his Providence, and make us understand how those sins, for which he will then condemu" the world, put a gloss and shine upon his attributes.
2. God, by permitting sin, exerciseth the graces of his people.
The sins of others give us matter for the exercise of a holy qeal for God, who is daily affronted by them; of a holy pity and commiseration over those, who, like madmen, wound and gash and destroy themselves ; and for the exercise of a holy caution over ourselves, lest we be induced to sin after their example. Our own sins give us daily occasion to renew our repentance, to humble our souls before God, to fortify our resolutions, to double the guards we set upon our own hearts and ways, and to watch over ourselves more circumspectly that we relapse not into the commission of them again. Thus, a true Christian may gain some advantage by his very falls: as husbandmen make use of the very thorns and briars which grow in their fields, to stop the gaps and strengthen the fences about them; so should we improve our very sins and failings, to fence our souls, that we lie not open to the like temptations for the future.
Thus, you see that God brings good out of all the evil which he permits : he glorifies his own attributes, and exercises his people's graces.
And thus you see, likewise, God's Providence both proved and vindicated; asserted to be particular and punctual over all occurrences, that happen in the world; and cleared from all the imputations of injustice, that the folly or atheism of man can lay against it.
IV. I shall conclude with two or three INFERENCES or Corollaries.
i. If the accurateness of God's Providence reach unto all the little concernments of the world, we may be well assured, THAT THOSE, WHICH ARE THE MORE CONSIDERABLE AND IMPORTANT OCCURRENCES OF IT, ARE ALL GUIDED AND GOVERNED BY A SPECIAL HAND OF PROVIDENCE.
And, thus, our Saviour himself urgeth, as a strong encouragement for our confidence and trust in God: not a sparrow falls to the ground without your Father ; fear ye not therefore ; ye are of more worth than many sparrows : yea, not a hair of your head falls without a Providence, and think ye that the head itself shall ? certainly, God doth not, like Domitian, busy hima self about flies, and neglect the great and weighty affairs of his government. And this is the reason of that question, which the Apostle asks, 1 Cor. ix. 9. Doth God take care for oxen? yes, certainly he doth; nor did the Apostle intend to deny it, but thereby to infer that certainly his care is much more particular towards us. This, then, may establish our hearts under any personal sufferings, or public calamities ; when evil is upon