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in the corrections and punishments which he sends upon them for their disobedience.
For why does God chuse any people, but to make them wise and holy, and lead them to eternal happiness by the ways of truth and righteousness ? If they forget their profession, and disgrace it by their manners, they are corrected in mercy, for the preservation of God's truth, and the reformation of the society, which he has separated from the world. In the 105th psalm the prophet celebrates the mercies of God, in redeeming the people from Egypt, and feeding them in the wilderness; but in the 106th psalm, the same mercy is farther celebrated for the mighty acts of his judgments in visiting them for their sins: how he sent leanness into their soul for their lusting after the food of Egypt; how he destroyed Dathan and Abiram, and sent á fire and a pestilence upon the murmuring congregation : how he overthrew them in the wilderness for their idolatry in worshipping the golden calf, and their unbelief in not receiving the good report which was brought of the land of Canaan; how he sent a plague upon those who had joined themselves unto Baal Peor, and after their settlement in Canaan, when they defiled themselves with the works of idolatry, he gave them into the hands of the hea. then, and they that hated them were Lords over them: then their enemies oppressed them, and they were brought into subjection under their hand. These are the works of God's Providence toward his church; he delivers it from the power of the world; he
; punishes it for disobedience, and humbles it to effect its reformation.
If we were to examine the history of the several nations of christendom, since they were taken into
the church; we should find, that his providence has acted by the same rules, for the preservation of his truth and the reformation of his people.
But now I mean to prove that his providence extends to particular persons, as well as to nations and the church at large: for every person is a church and nation to himself, and no concerns can be so near to him as his own; therefore it would be of small profit to him to hear that God's presence attends the church; unless it can also be shewn, that it extends to single persons. And this it certainly does, and must from the reason of the thing: for why doth God's presence attend the church, but for the benefit of the individuals of which it consists!
Ilis care is upon the whole for the sake of the parts; and the salvation of single men is the object of all his mighty works and of all the means of grace: he willeth not the death of any one sinner, but is desirous that all should return and be saved ; therefore his attention is as truly upon individuals as upon 80
societies. And the same rules are observed in both
In regard to churches and nations, Providence acts for deliverance or punishment as occasion requires ; with regard to single people, the measure of God's interposition is according to the state of a man's soul. When a man is mindful of him, and careful of his duty, he gives a blessing to his affairs and undertakings. When success begets confidence and too much reliance upon this world, some loss or disappointment is sent upon him to rectify his mistake; when he falls into wilful sin, some sorrow or sickness brings him to self-examination, and he finds the cause of his visitation. When our Lord said to the man whom he had raised from the palsy, Go and BiN no more lest a worse thing come unto thee; all these inferences may be drawn from that short admonition: first, that his sickness was a visitation for his sin : it did not happen by chance: secondly, that he knew what sin in particular was the cause of his suffering; because he could not otherwise have profited by the admonition; for it is not to be supposed, that our Saviour, when he said, sin no more, meant, that he should be perfect and without sin; it being impossible for man in this life to attain to a sinless state: thirdly, it was implied, that he should pray for the grace of God; without which, though a man knows his sin, he will not be able to forsake it: fourthly, that if the afflictions sent upon a sinner do not reform him, something worse is to be expected; whence it is reasonable to think, no man ever was consigned to extreme punishment or total ruin, till he had slighted the lesser warnings of Providence. In some cases, the goodness of God operates in a striking manner, by delivering us from some sudden and imminent danger, to remind us of our continual dependance upon him. We look back with terror for a while, and wonder how it was possible for us to escape
with life under such circumstances; but when we have rightly considered the thing, we see the hand of God, and feel the obligation we are under, of dedicating to his service the life which he has preserved to us.
All these things worketh God oftentimes with men, and he is now working the same with many every day. As his presence was with the Israelites in the wilderness, and his power acted for their preservation and correction, so it is now with us. Not a single circumstance befel them, which, at some stage of our journey through life, does not happen to us. Не gives us meat and drink; though not from a rock
nor from the clouds of heaven, yet often in some strange and unexpected way, which it was impossible for us to foresee. As he punished their faults, by bringing war upon them from the wicked nations who hated them, and took delight in oppressing them; so he raises up enemies for the trial and exercise of good men, if their case require it. We are
old, that when a man's ways please the Lord, he maketh even his enemies to be at peace with him. Whence it follows, that if his enemies disturb him, this may happen, because there is something in his ways which displeuses the Lord, and wants to be corrected. Perhaps he has too much pride, or too little patience; and enemies are of great use to exercise our patience, and mortify our pride, by informing us of our failings, which they are always glad to discover. He who knows there is an enemy near, with a mouth open to publish his faults, looks the more sharply to his conduct, that his enemy may be disappointed.
Sometimes it may be necessary, not only that our enemies should be at war with us, but that even our friends should turn against us; that we may learn to depend less upon earthly comforts, and draw nearer to that one sure friend, who hath said I will never leave thee nor forsake thee.
In so high a subject as this of God's special Providence, there must of course be some difficulties, which will try those who are strong in faith, and perplex those who are weak in knowledge. These I shall propose and explain as briefly as I can. There are two cases, which at first sight seem to disagree with our doctrine; namely, the prosperity of the wicked, and the persecution of the godly: but these, when duly considered, will fall in with it.
As to the prosperity of the wicked, it is to be noted, that there are minds which set no value upon any thing, but the possession and enjoyment of this world, and determine to have it at any rate. God permits it to them: he allows them what they desire. So Abraham said to the rich man in the parable, Son, remember that thou in thy life-time receivedst thy good things: not such things as were good in themselves, but good in thy estimation; they were thy good things; such as thou didst enjoy and set thy heart upon, without seeking or desiring any better.
. This the rich man knew, aud so had nothing to say. He to whom God permits what the receiver calls good, and prefers to every thing else, cannot accuse Providence of taking part against him. And had it been denied to him, it had probably only vexed his unrighteous soul to no purpose: for mortifications and corrections, though good in their proper place, are distinguishable as such only to the
of faith; and we are assured too truly that all men have not faith. The prophet David, when he reasoned with himself upon the dispensations of Providence, was soon relieved under this difficulty: I have seen, said he, the ungodly in great prosperity, and flourishing like a green bay-tree. But then it follows, yet he passed away, and lo, he was not ; yea I sought him, but he could not be found. His life, though splendid and promising for a time, was short and transient. He seemed to himself to have taken deep root in the earth, and thought his fruit would endure; but a blast struck him on a sudden, perhaps when he thought least about it. He was preparing to enlarge his granaries, and enjoy the increase of his goods, and that night his soul was required of him. Self-indulgence is a burthen, and they who live without it are frequently in better spirits; plenty breeds fulness,