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Providence extends to all creatures and events, great, and small. The governor of the world leadeth forth the stars, and telleth their names, counts the hairs upon our heads, and notices the fall of the sparrow. He assigns to all their times, and the bounds of their habitations. He sets the solitary in families, and increases them into bands. He makes one poor, and another rich; bringeth some low, and exalteth others. The most contingent actions are equally under his controul. The lot is cast into the lap, but the whole disposal thereof is of the Lord. His agency extends to all our moral and religious actions. He prepares us for these, by implanting right principles in our hearts. When he created Adam, he made him upright, a noble vine, altogether a right seed, and fully qualified for good works. In regeneration we are created in Christ Jesus, unto good works. He presents objects and motives to operation; and to excite the principles implanted in us. He also removes all those impediments which would as necessarily obstruct the operation of these principles, as the mountain arrests the current running against it. He gives energy to these principles by requiring their exercise-turning our attention to the motives, objects, and ends of this commanded duty; and inspiring the soul with satisfaction in the contemplation and performance of what is commanded. To establish the truth of these positions would be an easy undertaking; but instead of this, as they are generally admitted, let us endeavour to render them intelligible, by a familiar exemplification. Let almsgiving be this exemplification. The Lord, by nature, or regenerating grace, infuses tenderness and sympathy into the heart of a rich man, amply furnished with the means of relieving the necessities of his fellow creatures: One of these, under the pressure of poverty, is brought into his presence: In this situation, Jehovah restrains the rich man from entertaining prejudices against his poor fellow creature, which would effectually shut the hand of charity. He also effectually impresses on his mind the scriptural commands, exhortations and motives to charity; excites in his heart the emotions of compassion; aud fills him with such pleasure in the contemplation of the act of charity, that he is effectually impelled to its performance. All this is so perfectly rational and intelligible, and so fully accordant with the scriptures, and experience, that it is generally confessed.
The agency and superintendence of providence, extend also to sinful actions. To deny this, would subvert providence. For no action whether sinful or holy can happen without his knowledge, and contrary to the will and power of God. The scriptures unequivocally assert, the concern of providence in the sinful ac
tions of men. They assure us, that the Lord hardened the heart of Pharaoh, sent forth a lying spirit into the mouth of Ahab's prophets, and gave Nebuchadnezzar a commission to destroy the Jews. He sent Isaiah to make the heart of the Israelites fat, and their ears heavy, lest they should see, hear and understand, and be converted and healed. To explain, however, the agency of the God of holiness in reference to sin, is perhaps one of the most difficult undertakings in the whole system of divinity.
In accounting for the origin and prevalence of moral evil in the world, the ancient Persians and Manicheans asserted the existence of two original principles; the one, altogether good, and the other, altogether evil; the one, the source of all good, and the other, the source of all evil. These two eternal and original principles being diametrically opposite, of course maintained perpetual warfare; and sometimes the one, and sometimes the other prevailed. This theory however, is too absurd to require confutation. The Priscillianists and some other ancient heretics maintained, that God himself is the author or efficient cause of sin. This heresy, however loathsome, has been greedily swallowed down by many calling themselves American divines; and unblushingly published to the world, as one of the true sayings of God himself. This sentiment, however, has generally and justly been regarded by the church, as abominable and detestable. For in whatever way we explain the matter, we are ever to maintain the holiness of God; and to assert that as he cannot be tempted to evil, so neither tempteth he any man to sin. It seems manifest to common sense, that it is as impossible for God to be the author of sin, as for the Devil to be the efficient cause of holiness. The sophistry of vain philosophy may perplex truth itself, but from goodness and holiness, nothing but what is holy can emanate.
In attempting to ascertain the agency of providence in sinful actions, it is of the last importance to distinguish between what is natural, and what is criminal in an action. The former is entirely from God, the latter entirely from the depravity of the agent. The precise distinction between these, will be best understood by a few familiar examples. Killing an enemy from self defence, and murdering a man from malice prepense, as natural actions, are the very same; but differ widely as moral.-The power imparted by God, and exerted by these agents, is precisely the same; and the whole difference arises from the difference of the agents acted on, and acting in these actions respectively. We see the same thing exemplified in thousands of instances. The beams of the sun which fall on the putrid carcase,
and those which fall on the rose, are the same; and yet they ex hale putrescence from the one, and sweet odours from the other, The same impulse, which, on a level surface, sends a ball onward in a straight line, will, from its construction, make a cone turn into an oblique course. The whip and spur of the rider, which impel the sound horse swiftly on in his course, make the lame to limp and stumble as it moves. In a manner analogous to this, the same agency of providence is exerted in reference to an angel and a Devil, to a saint and a sinner, will produce very differrent effects, according to their respective characters Keep-ing this distinction in view, for the more full understanding of the subject, we shall consider the agency of providence in reference to sinful actions previous to their commencement. In their commencement and progress, and after that they are perpetrated.
I. The agency of God in reference to sinful actions, previous to their perpetration, seems to to be as follows:
1. He denies to the agents that degree of confirming and preserving grace, which would infallibly have prevented their sinning. Jehovah could assuredly have imparted to Adam and to the angels that fell, confirming grace, till their fall would have been as impossible as that of the elect angels and spirits around the throne, is now; but he did not, and both fell and ruined themselves. And to grant this measure of grace to any creature, whether upright or fallen, he is not bound. We are obliged to exert to the uttermost, all our powers in doing good, and in preventing evil: but there is no such obligation on God: He does what he pleases with his own. When he withholds his hand, we have no right to complain, and when he gives, we must count it not a debt, but a favour. To all holy creatures he imparted, at the creation, grace sufficient for their standing; but gave them not confirmation: and some of them fell, while others continued in their obedience, and obtained confirmation.-From Devils, and from the heathen world, he withholds the means of security and salvation; and from others, to whom these means are given, the blessing on them is withheld, and they prove ineffectual. Deut. xxix. 2.-4. "Ye have seen all that the Lord did before your eyes in the land of Egypt, unto Pharaoh, and unto all his servants, and unto all his land; the temptations which thine eyes have seen, the signs, and these great miracles; yet theLord hath not given you an heart to perceive, and eyes to see, and ears to hear, unto this day." The means of conversion they enjoyed, but by refusing them an heart to perceive, eyes to see, and ears to hear, the Lord blinded their minds, and hardened
their hearts. His agency was negative, but the most positive effects ensued on it. Just as the sun, the cause of light and heat, can never be the cause of darkness and cold, yet by retiring from our horizon, both ensue; so in like manner, God by withholding converting and saving grace from sinners, and confirming grace from holy creatures, sin and ruin follow in the one case, and will probably do so in the other. God blinds and hardens, not by imparting ignorance and malice, but by refusing to communicate illumination and softening grace.
2. He revokes the ability and the grace given for a time and for a particular purpose. This is more than the former. By negations, he merely withholds what he is not bound to give; by privation, he recalls what he has given. By negation, he never withheld from any perfectly holy creature sufficient ability for supporting its station, by continuing in the full and perpetual discharge of all commanded duty. And from a perfectly holy creature, he never by privation took away ability imparted, so as to expose it to the danger, and far less to the necessity of sinning, and falling, and perishing. In dealing with sinful creatures. however, he follows a different course. He not only gives, or withholds from such, just as he pleases, but also continues, and revokes blessings granted. He deprives them of grace and strength given for trial, for correction, and for judgment. It was for trial, that he thus dealt with Job and Hezekiah. It is for judgment, that he resumes the gifts given to men and abused by them. Matt. xviii 12."For whosoever hath, to him shall be given, and he shall have more abundantly; but whosoever hath not, from him shall be taken away even that he hath." He imparted for a time even to Pharaoh restraining grace, and thus prevented him from destroying Moses and Aaron; and preserved some degree of tenderness in his heart, under judgments; but when this restraining grace was removed, he denounced Moses as worthy of death, and rushed on in crime to his own ruin. This must necessarily have been the result For just as the water pours along when the restraining mound is removed, so when restraining grace is taken away, the corruptions of the heart break forth in transgressing against the Lord.
Nothing can be more manifest, than, that in both of these modes of interfering in sinful actions, whether by negation or privation, God exerts no positive efficiency in the production of sin; and in both he conducts as an independent and righteous sovereign; and yet, sin may, and in most cases, actually does, ensue on it. II. The agency of God in the commencement, and progress of sin is referable to these four particular acts:
1. He presents the objects and occasions which creatures pervert, and which being perverted, lead them into sin. Eve approached to the forbidden tree, Joseph and his brethren met together, and Achan saw the wedge of gold, and the Babylonian garment. These concurrences had nothing in them good or evil; but they happened not without thedirection and superintendence of providence. None of them was intended as a snare to deceive and ruin the unwary, and there was nothing in them, necessarily or unavoidably leading to sin. For Eve, perhaps, often approached and contemplated in safety the forbidden tree, and might have done so again if she had not listened to the seductions of the tempter. Brethren have often met and parted to the honour of God, and their mutual benefit. It is not unlikely that other Israelites, as well as Achan, saw among the spoils of Jericho, the wedge of gold, and the tempting garment; and yet violated not the tenth commandment by coveting them. Isaiah's preaching the gospel was certainly commendable, and yet, through the depravity of his hearers, his preaching blinded their eyes, and hardened their hearts. The same gospel which to some is the savour of life unto life, to others through their corruption, is the savour of death unto death. The same signs, mercies and judgments, which hardened the 'heart of Pharoah, to his destruction, were blessed for the consolation and confirmation of Moses, and issued in the deliverance of all Israel irom Egyptian oppression. In these, and in ten thousand similar instances, the agency of providence in bringing together the objects, the agents, and occasions of acting, is manifest, real and holy; and yet, without their concurrence, the sin committed, would not have been perpetrated.
2. He not only presents the objects and occasions, which men pervert, but also permits them to commit sin,by their perverting the objects and occasions, which providence presents. Psal. lxxxi. "I gave them up to their own hearts lust, and they walked in their own counsels." Acts xiv. 16. "Who in times past suffered all nations to walk in their own ways." This permission is not a mere inactive tolerance of sin, as if God were careless whether it happened or not. The only wise God, the Holy one of Israel, can never stand thus affected towards sin, that evil and abominable thing which his soul hates. Neither is it moral, implying any relaxation of the sentence of the law against it, or approbation of it, when committed; but physical, and is opposed to his actual and effectual prevention of it. God always hinders sin, by forbidding the commission of it, and denouncing deserved vengeance against it. He also hinders sin, by placing obstacles in the way of it, that the transgressors cannot overcome; by removing the