Let us approach nearer to the object of our supreme love. Such a being as God would be worthy of our hearts’ best affection, if we were wholly under the dominion of another Lord, and owed our existence to another creative power. Like the Queen of Sheba, when she heard of the wisdom and glory of Solomon, we might, with great propriety, desire to visit the remote palace of Jehovah, that we might learn his character, and the arrangements of his empire. If God, after creating the world, had left the management of it in other hands, and had withdrawn to employ himself in other works, our inquires might well follow him, and we might laudably seek to know our Creator. But God is not far from us. He did not, on making the world, leave it to itself, or commit it into other hands; but it is an object of his constant care, and his hand is concerned in all its movements. Whether we look on the right hand, or on the left, we can see where he doth work; and, in the display of his wisdom, power, and goodness, which at every moment meets our eyes, we find continued incitements to adore and love.

God’s care of his creation termed Providence; and includes Preservation and Government.



We can as little understand the act of Providence, as that of creation; but we know that both are acts of God, implying both his will and power. That a continued preserving act is necessary to keep his creatures in being, ought not to be doubted. The expression, “upholding all things,”[2] clearly denotes such an act. An architect may build a house, which, when once completed, may stand, independent of his labor and skill, a monument of both, when he has fallen by the hand of death; and we are prone to conceive that the work of God might equally stand, if left to itself, without his constant care and support. But the cases are widely different. The human architect finds the materials which he uses already in existence; and his whole work consists in changing their form, and combining them in a new order. The substances used did not receive their existence from him; and the independent being which they possessed before the architect touched them, they retain after his hand has been withdrawn. But the very substance, as well as the form, of all created things, came from the hand of God; and withdrawal of that hand would leave their being unsupported, or the expression, “upholding all things,” has no appropriate meaning.

Many have maintained that the preserving act not only has the same author as the creating act, but is identical with it. They consider it philosophically true that preservation is a perpetual creation. All created existence is conceived to terminate at every moment by its natural tendency to annihilation, and to be reproduced by a new creative act. But, notwithstanding the ingenious arguments which have been advanced in support of this opinion, philosophy perseveres in distinguishing between the two acts, regarding creation as miraculous, and preservation, as conformed to the laws of nature. We are prone to conceive, that, to bring from non-existence into existence, differs from the preservation of existence already bestowed. It is enough, for every practical purpose, to attribute the preservation of all things to the power and will of the same being that originally created them. At his will, the world came into existence; and, at his will, it continues to exist.



Created things are perpetually operating on each other in the relation of cause and effect. The properties and powers by which they so operate, were given to each of them in their creation, and are continued in the act of preservation. It follows, therefore, that all created things operate on each other, and produce changes in each other, by the will and power of God. If they are dependent for their existence, they must be, for their properties and powers, and, of consequence, for their operations.

God’s control over all events that happen, is abundantly taught in the Scriptures; which represent the wind,[4] the rain,[5] pestilence,[6] plenty,[7] grass,[8] and fowls of the air,[9] and hairs of the head,[10] &c., as objects of his providence.

The Scriptures not only attribute events to the overruling hand of God, but they represent him as ordering them for the accomplishment of some purpose. The grass grows, that it may give food.[11] Pestilence is sent, that men may be punished for their sins.[12] Joseph was sent into Egypt, to preserve much people alive.[13] Nor are there a few events only which are so ordered; but it is said, He worketh all things after the counsel of his own will. The declaration, “All things work together for good, “[14] &c., could not be true, if God’s control were not alike extended to all events, causing them all to co-operate in the fulfilment of his purpose.

Some persons are unwilling to attribute to God the care and management of minute and unimportant events. They consider it beneath his dignity to be concerned about such trivial matters. They believe in a General Providence over the affairs of the world, exercised by general laws; but a Particular Providence, exercised over every particular incident of every man’s life, enters not into their creed. But the Scriptures are plain on this subject. The fall of a sparrow is a very trivial event, yet it is affirmed by the teacher from heaven, to be not without our heavenly Father.[15] If great events happen according to general laws, it is equally true of small ones; and operation of these laws, in the latter case, must be as well understood, and as perfectly controlled, as in the former. Moreover, it often happens, that very important events depend on others that are in themselves trivial and unimportant. The King of Israel was slain,[16] and God’s prophecy concerning him was fulfilled, by an arrow shot at a venture. How many very minute circumstances must have concurred in this act! That the arrow was shot at all–that it was then shot–that is was precisely so directed, and with precisely the necessary force–and that it met no obstacle on its way: all these concurred, and all these must have been under the control of Him, in whose hand was the life of the king. As God’s greatness permitted him to create the minutest of his works, so it permits him to take care of them; and this care is as easy and undistracting to him, as if his whole energy were directed to the care and benefit of a single man or angel.

The objects of God’s Providence are all created things, animate and inanimate, rational and irrational. Some of these, as angels and men, are moral agents. All others, viewed as causing change of any kind, may be classed together as natural agents. With reference to this division of the agencies under his control, the government of God may be divided into natural and moral.


Among our earliest lesson, we learn that the relation of cause and effect exists, and that events occur because of this relation in an established order of sequence. Were the order of succession not established, or were we ignorant of it, we should be unable to mange the most common concerns of life. If food sometimes nourished, and sometimes poisoned, or if we were incapable of learning whether the nutritive quality belonged to bread, or to arsenic, we should be unable to regulate the process of eating, so necessary to the preservation of life. But our Creator has made us capable of observing the sequences of nature, and of learning the order in which they occur, and the relation of cause and effect, which the parts of the succession sustain to each other. The study of these sequences is the business of philosophy; but philosophy is not confined to the university, or the lecture-room. It is found in every man’s walk, and in the every-day experience of life. The child begins to learn it in the cradle; and without some knowledge of it, men would not know how to shun the flood, the flames, or the precipice.

In all departments of knowledge we classify the things known; and the sequences of nature, classified, become what we call laws of nature. These are only the regular modes in which the sequences of nature occur. In the phrase, law of nature, the term law is used in a transferred sense. When employed in morals, it implies an authority commanding, and a subject bound to obey. But nature is not a being possessing authority; and natural things are not capable of obedience in the proper sense. In morals, laws given may be disobeyed; but the processes of nature always conform to what are called the laws of nature. The laws of nature may be regarded as the modes in which the providence of God operates. His will has determined the relation of cause and effect; and, therefore, the laws of nature are the orders of sequence, in which it is his will, that the changes of natural things should occur.

When we contemplate the order which prevails in the natural world, we behold the exhibition of the wisdom which God’s providence displays. His natural government, as well as his moral, abounds with wisdom. All his reasons for planning the system of things precisely as it is we cannot presume to understand; but the advantage resulting from its order meets us in every experience of life. It would be to no purpose that we have been so made as to be capable of observing the sequences of nature, if these sequences took place without order. If chaos reigned in the succession of events, philosophy would be impossible, and equally impossible the most common arts of life. Reason would be an unavailing gift; and if human life were not filled with perpetual terror, the exemption would arise rather from inability to comprehend its danger, than from the circumstances of its situation.


A voluntary agent, with a sense of right and wrong, we call a moral agent. Such an agent is a proper subject of moral law. He may be commanded, and he can obey or disobey. He can feel the force of moral obligation, and be affected by self-approbation or remorse.

Moral law is not an established order of sequence, as the laws of nature are. Some have sought to find an agreement between them in this particular, by referring to the fact, that a moral action has consequences inseparably connected with it, which result from its moral quality. But the connection of these consequences with the moral action belongs rather to the class of natural sequences. Like other natural sequences, the order is inviolable. But moral law may be violated. The order of sequence which moral law aims to regulate, is that which subsists between the command and the action, not between the action and its consequences. In the first of these sequences, not in the last, the obedience or disobedience of moral law appears. If moral law were an established order of sequence, as natural law is, none but God could violate it, as none but he can work miracles. But, while God cannot commit sin, which is a transgression of moral law, it may be committed by angels and men, as sad experience has proved.

The distinction which has been drawn between natural and moral law must be kept in view, to understand the difference between natural and moral government. Moral government is a department of God’s universal administration, specially adapted to moral agents, furnishing scope for the exercise of their moral agency, as, also, on God’s part, for the exercise of his justice. It is not inconsistent with the rest of his administration, but is distinct from the rest, and is the holy of holies, in which the great Supreme manifests his highest glory. It is true, that in this the will of God is not invariably done; whereas, in his natural government, he worketh all things after the counsel of his will; but it must be remembered that the term will is used in different senses. This will which is violated in moral government is the will of precept; that which is invariably executed in natural government is the will of purpose. The whole of God’s moral government perfectly accords with his purpose. It was his purpose to institute it; to create moral agents, to give them a moral law, a will of precept, which they, as free agents, might violate or not; to permit the violation, and to hold them responsible for it. All this God purposed, and all this he has accomplished. Because the term will is used in two senses, manifestly distinct from each other, it becomes necessary, in our use of it, to keep the distinction in view, lest our reasonings be confused.

The general proposition, under the head of Government, page 117, was stated thus: “All god’s creatures are so under his control, that their changes take place according to his purpose.” The truth of this, with respect to his natural government, will be readily admitted. An important part of the changes which take place in the world, consists of the actions performed by moral agents. In applying the proposition to these, it becomes necessary to distinguish between the efficient and permissive purpose of God. Even the most sinful action cannot take place without his permission; and, in this view, the proposition extends to the moral, as well as to the natural government of God.


What is free agency? If it signifies freedom from accountability to a higher power, there is no free agent but God. This, however, is not the sense in which the term is technically employed, and in which it denote voluntary agency—agency without compulsion.

A creature who acts voluntarily, and knows the difference between right and wrong, is a proper subject of moral government. The common sense of mankind holds such an one accountable for his actions. We do not enter into a metaphysical inquiry to ascertain by what mental process the volition was formed; but it is enough for us to know that it was formed. If a man does what he did not intend, to do, we admit the plea of involuntariness; but, when the intention to perpetrate the deed is proved, together with knowledge of its criminality, no metaphysical subtleties exempt him, in the uniform judgment of mankind, from being held accountable.

Some have maintained that, in order to responsible agency, it is necessary that the will should have a self-determining power. It is, they maintain, not only necessary that the agent should have acted voluntarily, but he should have the power to will otherwise than he did. That he should have had the power to act otherwise than he did, is implied in his acting voluntarily, i.e. without compulsion, and is, therefore, necessary to his accountability; but the power to will otherwise than he did, is a superaddition to voluntariness, which the common sense of mankind does not inquire into; yet, as a metaphysical perplexity, it claims our attention.

Self-determining power of the will.—It is inconsistent with philosophical accuracy to speak of the will as determining or deciding. The faculties of the mind are not distinct agents, possessing a separate existence from the mind itself. We may say that a man understands or wills, or that his mind understands or wills; but to say that his understanding understands, or his will wills, is bad philosophy. If it be conceived that the will determines itself, as without choice, a supposition is admitted which will not at all accord with views of those who advocate the self-determining power of the will. But, if it be conceived that the will determines by choice, or any other mental process, then the will is represented as a distinct agent, having a mind of its own.

Power of the will.—Here is another incongruity. In the external acts of men, power and will are concomitants necessary to the act. Without either, the act cannot be. But to an act of willing, what is necessary besides the will itself? What power must be conjoined with it? What a supposition it would be, that the will has a will to put forth a volition, but has not the power! Yet something like this must be conceived, to give a distinct and intelligible meaning to the phrase, “self-determining power of the will.”


If a number of dice be put into a box and thrown out on a table, it is certain that every one will take some position, and will lie on some one of its six sides; but no one can foretell what the several positions will be, or on which of the six sides each one will lie. These positions are attributed to chance; and, in a calculation of chances, this case may be adduced as an appropriate example. But though no one will undertake to foretell what position each die will assume, yet every one believes that all its motion, till its final position is assumed, is in accordance with the laws of nature, and that the fall from the box is not more determined by these laws than the final position. A mind which could go through the calculation, and estimate the precise effect of the forces applied, from the beginning to the end, on each die, from the position in which it started, might determine the result with as much certainty as the astronomer feels in computing an eclipse. The position of the die is no more the effect of chance than the occurrence of the eclipse. Chance is, in this case at least, a relative term—having reference to our ignorance.

That a large part of the events which we esteem contingent are so merely with reference to our ignorance, everybody will admit; but it is still a question, whether there is any absolute contingency in the world. Are there any events which occur that do not conform to an established order of sequence?

The doctrine of necessity denies the existence of absolute contingency, and maintains that the relation of cause and effect, with its established order of sequence, is not only general, but universal. In opposition to this doctrine, many maintain that human actions do not conform to an established order of sequence; and it is argued that such conformity would render man a mere machine, moving as he is moved, and, therefore, not accountable for his actions. To this argument it is replied, that the doctrine fully admits the distinction between man as a living, thinking, willing, and moral being, and a mere machine, which neither lives nor thinks; and that this difference is at the foundation of his accountability. It is argued, that if his actions did not follow from his volitions, by an established order of sequence, they would not be voluntary, and he would not be accountable for them. The validity of this argument, so far as it goes, probably no one will deny; and the question becomes narrowed down to this: Do human volitions occur as effects of antecedent causes, in an established order or sequence? The question is one of great difficulty; and, though the minds of the ablest reasoners have been employed on it, no solution has been reached that gives general satisfaction. The very difficulty of it may satisfy us that our benevolent Creator has not made the solution of it necessary, either to our faith or our duty; and we might leave the puzzling investigation to those powerful minds that are best fitted to grapple with such abstrusities, were it not that the subject is intruding itself into the minds of all inquirers, and, to some extent, affecting their theological opinions. It is, therefore, desirable to ascertain, if possible, wherein the difficulty of the subject consists, and how far it is connected with our faith or practice.

Analogy favors the doctrine of necessity. A regular order of sequence is admitted to exist throughout the material world. It is admitted to exist also, to some extent, in the operations of the human mind. Impressions on the organs of sense produce their appropriate sensations in the mind, according to fixed laws. Perceptions follow, and judgments, and trains of reasoning, all of which so far conform to fixed laws, that the order of their succession is studied with a view to find out these laws; and the science of mental philosophy proceeds on the supposition that such laws exist, and employs itself in finding them out. The train of mental operations beginning with the sensation which immediately follows the impression on the organs of sense, terminates with the volition which immediately precedes muscular action. A regular order of sequence may be traced from the first, through much of the mental process that is moving on toward the ultimate volition. Thence onward we again espy the line of succession in the action which follows, and in all its effects. At most, but a few links only in the chain can be wanting; and analogy favours the conclusion that these are not absent, but that they exist even if we cannot trace them.

An argument for the doctrine of necessity may be drawn from the fact that human volitions are every day made a subject of calculation. A man who would not attempt to calculate the position which a thrown die will assume, will judge what a known individual will determine to do in given circumstances; and so much does he rely on the correctness of his calculation, that he will be governed by it in some of his most important concerns. It is thus that a sagacious general often anticipates the movements of his enemy. All this would be impossible if the sequences of human volitions were wild and lawless.

The doctrine of necessity has been argued from Gods foreknowledge. The more sagacious any one is, the more successfully he can judge beforehand what a known individual will do in given circumstances. As a wise man may foreknow, much more can the all-wise God. If all events are contained in their causes, and are to be developed in due time, in conformity to an established order of sequence, we can conceive that the Omniscient One sees these events in their causes, and foreknows their future development with infallible certainty. On the other hand, if there is absolute contingency in the world, it is out of our power to conceive how even God himself can foreknow it, and it is alleged that he may be disappointed, and perhaps defeated in some of his plans by its occurrence.

The leading arguments against the doctrine are, that it is inconsistent with the free agency of man, and that it makes God the author of sin.

It is argued that the doctrine is inconsistent with the free agency of man. While we see the material world moving around us in obedience to the laws of nature, we are conscious that our acts are not directed by such a necessity We choose every day which of two courses we will take, and the very choice, of which we are conscious, implies the power to take either. The faculty of choosing would be possessed in vain, if we were restricted to one of the courses by invincible necessity. There is no free agency where an individual is bound to one way, and can take no other.

To this the advocates of necessity reply, the freedom of our actions, of which consciousness testifies, is fully admitted in their doctrine. Freedom of action consists in doing what we please. Compulsion to act against our will is physical necessity. The moral necessity which is contended for, respects, not the relation of the volition to the subsequent action, but its relation to antecedent causes. When a man’s volitions are known to be determined by strong ruling principles of action, it is maintained that his free agency is as perfect as if they were the result of long continued deliberation, or proceeded from no known cause. While we are conscious that we act from choice and are therefore free agents, we are equally conscious that our choice itself is, in may cases, determined instantly and firmly by strong ruling principles; and that this fact, instead of detracting from the free agency and virtue of our deeds, is our highest praise.

It is further argued, that the doctrine makes God the author of sin. The laws of nature, in the material world, are viewed as God’s mode of operation. If the sun shines, and the rain descends, it is God who gives light to his creatures, and fertilizes the ground for their benefit; and when storms rage, and hurricanes sweep over the land, these, arising according to the laws of nature which he has established, are still regarded as God’s operation. In every case the cause of the cause is the cause of the effect. If fixed laws govern with like necessity in the department of morals, it is argued that God must be viewed as the author of all that happens in obedience to these laws. Having himself established them, and created the causes which contain all the effects to be developed in the established order of sequence, he is as truly the author of these effects as if they proceeded immediately from his hand. It can no longer be said that sin has place by his permission, any more than it can be said that a storm arises by his permission. Even sin must, like the storm, be viewed as God operating. This is the argument which the advocates of necessity find it most difficult to answer.

The philosophical arguments on this question appear to me to preponderate on the side of necessity. Indeed, how philosophy could decide against it, cannot well be conceived. She begins her investigations with the assumption that laws of nature do exist, and she makes it her business to find out what these laws are. If she observes any events that do not conform to known laws, she still assumes that there is a law which governs them, and she renews her effort to find it out. Hence, for philosophy to decide that there are events which conform to no law, would be to abandon the foundation on which she has ever stood. If such events ever occur, they belong to a department of nature which is beyond the walks of philosophy.

As a theological question, the doctrine of necessity is seriously embarrassed by the difficulty respecting the authorship of sin. The whole subject of God’s providence over sin, is exceedingly difficult. A future section will be devoted to the consideration of it.

Truth, whether ascertained by philosophy or theology, must be consistent with itself. But it ought to be remembered, that the tests by which philosophy ascertains truth, are unequal to those which theology applies. Philosophy allows conclusions to be drawn from an induction of particulars, which is unavoidably incomplete. As far as our individual observation has extended, gravitation is found at every part of the earth’s surface. From the testimony of others, we know that it exists wherever human foot has trodden. This induction is sufficient for philosophy, and she draws her conclusion that gravitation exists at every part of the earth’s surface, even in the regions denied to the habitation or approach of men. If some voyagers should testify that, on a certain island in the Pacific, gravitation ceases to operate at the distance of ten feet above the earth’s surface, the announcement, if deemed worthy of credence, would startle the whole race of philosophers, who would hasten to institute the experiments necessary to determine the truth or falsehood of the strange report. Should it be found, on trial, that all bodies thrown ten feet into the air, on that island, go off into unknown space, philosophers would inquire into the cause of this phenomenon, that is, would endeavor to find a law to which it conforms. Thus philosophy often finds it necessary to rectify her previous conclusions, because these were formed from an incomplete induction of particulars. To Siamese philosophy, it was impossible for water to become solid, so as to bear up carriages of burden. So, much to our wisest philosophy may be the erroneous conclusions of our ignorance. God’s knowledge is perfect, and with him mistake is impossible. If human testimony can suffice to rectify a conclusion of philosophy, much more ought the testimony of God be sufficient. A “thus saith the Lord,” is a better foundation for faith than all the deductions of human philosophy, and then only is faith divine, when it stands on this foundation.

Let us imagine all created things to have been brought into being, and left, for a time, in a wild state, before the laws of nature were enacted. In this chaos, the atoms would not regard the very first law of philosophy, which enjoins that matter at rest shall continue at rest; and, when put in motion, shall move forward in a right line with uniform velocity. All the affinities and elective attractions, now so familiar to the chemist, would be unknown to the various species of matter, and unobserved by them. Particles would dance and rest alternately in the most capricious manner. They would attract each other for a time and then repel with unaccountable inconstancy. They would remain for a period in close embrace, and then divorce each other with the changeableness of fickle lovers. If, when the fiat of Jehovah reduced this confusion to order by subjecting all the movements to regular laws, it was his pleasure to except some little region of his vast empire from the operation of these laws, what can philosophy say against it? If such exception was made, it was doubtless made for wise reasons; perhaps to show to his celestial school of intelligences the benefit of order by retaining a memorial of the ancient chaos; as the manna was laid up in the ark for the benefit of the Israelites. If such a region was permitted to remain, it was doubtless so bounded and shut in, that its lawless confusion cannot disturb the order of the universal empire. Now, if it should be discovered that the link of connection between volition and the cause or causes antecedent, is the place, and the only place that God has left without law, philosophy must be dumb. If God says that it is so, we are bound to believe it; and we may infer that he so keeps this lawless connection under control, that it shall not subvert his government.

If the views which have been presented are correct, the following conclusions may be considered established:— 1. The doctrine of moral necessity is not inconsistent with the free-agency and accountability of man. 2. The doctrine cannot be disproved by human philosophy. 3. We ought not to admit any inference from it as an article of faith, unless it be supported by the authority of the Holy Scriptures.


In the view which we have taken of God’s providential government, we have included the fact, that he so orders the events which occur, as to accomplish his purpose. This is called predestination. The purpose of God respects the end which he has in view; and also the means which he uses for the accomplishment of this end.

The doctrine of predestination teaches that no event comes to pass, which is not under the control of God; and that it is so ordered by him as to fulfil his purpose. If it would thwart his purpose, the event is prevented; or if, in part only it would conduce to his purpose, only so far is it permitted to happen. This divine control extends over all agents, animate and inanimate, rational and irrational; and is exercised over each in perfect accordance with its nature, and with all the laws of nature as originally established. Physical agents are controlled as physical agents; and moral, as moral agents. The latter act as freely as if no providence over them existed. Their ends are chosen, their means adopted, and their accountability exists, just as if there were no predestination of God in the matter. Yet God is not unconcerned in any of these acts, but overrules each and all of them according to his pleasure.

The holy men of ancient times were accustomed to view the hand of God in everything with which they had to do; and the passages of Scripture are numerous, in which God’s direction of man’s affairs and actions is taught. “A man’s heart deviseth his way; but the Lord directeth his steps.”[17] “The king’s heart is in the hands of the Lord, as the rivers of water; he turneth it whithersoever he will.”[18] The gardener has his rivulet, with which he waters his beds; and, by cutting a channel here, and damming up there, he directs the fertilizing stream to whatever part of his garden he pleases; while the water, however directed, moves according to its own natural tendency. So the kings heart moves according to its own inclination; but the directing hand of God guides his movements, though freely made, to the accomplishment of such ends as infinite wisdom has designed. The passages are also numerous, which show that this direction of events is for the accomplishment of some purpose. God meant it unto good.[19] All things work together for good.[20] Each particular event accomplishes some purpose; and the whole combined accomplishes the grand purpose, to which the particular purposes are subordinate. So he who builds a house, has, in adjusting each timber, a purpose subordinate to the general or final purpose for which the whole work was undertaken; and to the accomplishment of which, the whole is directed.

The possibility that God should possess this complete control of all things, cannot be doubted by any who admit the doctrine of necessity. Even if human volitions are absolutely contingent, his control of overt acts must be conceived to be as perfect, as on the other hypothesis. As length and breadth are necessary to constitute area, as weight and velocity are necessary to constitute force; so volition and power are necessary to constitute action. He does not act, who has the will without the power, or the power without the will. Now, power is in the hand of God, and under his perfect control; and, therefore, whatever the will may be, no overt act can be performed but by his permission; and consequently, no influence can be brought to bear on any part of God’s dominions, so as to disturb his administration. This hook God has in the nose of every rebellious subject; so that, however filled with rage, he cannot move but by God’s permission.[21]

Again, even if human volition is absolutely contingent, it is still true, that men often foretell it with sufficient certainty or probability, to know how to direct their actions with respect to it. A sagacious sovereign knows the character of his subjects, and the parties which exist in his government; and he adapts the measures of his administration to meet the exigencies as they arise. Why cannot God, on the throne of the universe, manage the affairs of his government with equal skill? A human sovereign sometimes fails for want of time to deliberate. His enemies form their schemes, and their plots proceed to their accomplishment before he is aware of their designs; and, when they are discovered, he cannot command his resources, or digest his plan, in time to meet the emergency. But God sees every budding volition; and, as all his power man be exerted at any point of space, so all the resources of his infinite wisdom can arrange his plan, while the volition is taking its form as wisely and completely as if it were the result of an eternity of deliberation. God is verily able to govern the world; and who doubts that he is willing? And our belief that God governs the world, and predestinates its various events to accomplish the counsel of his will, is not dependent on a metaphysical speculation.


Providence has been explained to be the care which God exercises over the world. Though this care is watchful and kind, sin has entered, bringing innumerable evils in its train, and is now mingling in the whole current of human enjoyment, and spreading havoc and death, where peace, order, life, and happiness, would have reigned undisturbed. How all this comes to pass, under the government of a God, infinitely wise, powerful, and good, is a question of great difficulty. The observations which follow, will not clear away the darkness in which the subject is involved; but they may suffice to assist our faith, and guard our hearts from unworthy thoughts of the deity.

1. The fact of God’s providence over sin, is incontrovertible, whatever difficulties attend its explanation. If there were anything from which he would stand aloof, it would be sin, the abominable thing which he hates; but nothing so clearly shows his providence to be universal as the abundant proof which is furnished, that it extends over sin. Indeed, if it kept at a distance from everything sinful, it would abandon all human affairs, which are thoroughly mixed with sin. The Scriptures speak, in very clear and strong terms, of God’s control over sinful agents. He brought the Chaldeans against Jerusalem,[22] and stirred up the Medes against Babylon.[23] These were nations composed of wicked men, and could not have been moved by the providence of God, if wicked agents were not under his control. Wicked men are called the rod, the staff, the ax, the saw, in his hand;[24] and are therefore moved by him as these instruments are, by the hand of him who uses them. The Scriptures descend with still greater particularity to the very acts of wicked agents in which their wickedness is exhibited, and attributes these to God. So Shimei’s cursing of David[25] and Absalom’s lying with his father’s wives;[26] wicked as these acts were, are, in the words of inspiration, ascribed to the God of holiness. Why is this, if it be not designed to teach us that the providence of God extends over sinful actions. So strong are some of the representations contained in the holy word, that, like the ascribing of repentance to God, they need to be explained by the general tenor of the sacred teachings. He blinds the eyes,[27] and hardens the hearts[28] of sinful men; and sends them strong delusions,[29] that they should believe a lie, and be damned; and raised up[30] Pharoah , and hardened his heart,[31] that he might show his power in him. Such language was certainly designed to make a strong impression on our minds, that God exercises a perfect control over every sinful agent in all his acts; and it is not more clearly revealed, that God hates the wicked acts of wicked men, than that he controls and directs them to the accomplishment of his purpose. All this we are bound to believe, whatever mystery may attend it; and what we know concerning any subject, is not the less true, or the less firmly to be believed, because there are other things involved in it which we know not.

2. What we know not concerning God’s providence over sin, respects him rather than ourselves; and we may, therefore, safely leave it for him to interpret. How to govern a world of sinful agents, is a problem which it is not necessary for us to solve, as the task has not been assigned us. Had God imposed the duty on us, he would doubtless have taught us how to perform it. But he has reserved it to himself; and he giveth no account of his matters. Instead, therefore, of being surprised that there are things in God’s government which are inscrutable to us, we should have reason for surprise if it were otherwise. Earthly governments have their secrets, and these may especially relate to the management of the hostile. We must, without taking offence, permit the Sovereign Ruler of all to have his secrets, and to make known his ways only so far as he pleases. We are often, in appearance at least, exceedingly anxious to relieve the character of God from foul aspersions; but we may safely leave him to vindicate himself. We shall do well to look to it, that our very officiousness does not betray an unwillingness to repose entire confidence in the wisdom and goodness of his ways, when they are past our comprehension. Let the very darkness in which he leaves them be improved by us to the trial and strengthening of our faith.

3. The distinction between God’s permission of sin, and his being the efficient cause of it, is one which we appear authorized to use to free our thoughts from embarrassment when we contemplate this subject. More than mere permission is implied in many of the expressions found in Scripture, that refer to the influence by which the current of sinful propensities directed into this channel rather than that. But the notion that God is the efficient agent in producing the sinful propensity, we are unable to reconcile with our ideas of his character; and it does not appear to be taught in the sacred volume. God is a sun, and moral darkness arises from the absence, rather than from the presence of his beams. We dare not doubt that, had it been his pleasure, he might have poured forth such a flood of holy influence from himself as would have effectually preserved the human race from all possibility of defilement; and, that he did not do so, is his permission of sin. But every one readily conceives of this as very different from a positive efficiency in the production of moral evil. It is a good maxim, to consider all our good as coming from God, and give him the praise of it; and all our evil as our own, and give ourselves the blame of it. In like manner, when we see sin in others, and know that God is overruling it for good, we can blame them for the evil, and praise God for the good which he educes from it.

4. We should restrain our philosophy within due bounds, and not give ourselves up to its deductions when they would disturb our faith. We have already shown that philosophy is compelled to rely on inductions which are incomplete, and that her inferences have not equal authority with the declarations of God. We are so constituted that we rely on the uniformity of nature’s laws, and therefore believe that they will operate in the future as they have operated in the past. This constitutional propensity is wisely given, fitting us to shape our course in the world; and, for all the purposes for which it was given, it does not deceive us; but there are limits within which the propensity must be restrained. A child asks the cause of something which he notices, and when we have answered, he asks, What is the cause of that? and when, in answering his successive inquiries, we have led his mind up to God as the First Cause, he asks, Who made God? We may very wisely tell him that God is self-existent; but this means nothing more than that his inquisitive philosophy must stop here, having reached its utmost bounds. Now, whether we can metaphysically account for it or not, there is a propensity in the human mind to regard each moral agent as a sort of original source of action, somewhat as we conceive of God. This propensity, perhaps as universal as the propensity to rely on the uniformity of nature’s laws, may have been given us for the very purpose of checking our philosophy when it would presume to explain the origin of evil in the heart of a moral agent. Accustomed, as it is, to contemplate the relation of cause and effect, operating in an established order of sequence, it does not submit to consider man an original source of action, but labors to account for the moral evil in him by causes operating from without, and ultimately traces it to God. It may be well to inquire whether philosophy, when it pushes the doctrine of necessity into the inmost arcana of this subject, does not assume in the premises from which it reasons, that there is a natural inertia in mind, as in matter; or, rather, a sort of natural immutability. Among the arguments in favor of moral necessity, it was stated that the volitions of a known individual under given influences, are often the subject of calculation; but, for successful calculation, the individual must be known; and in this, it is implied that he must possess some fixed character. A change in him, all the circumstances being the same, makes a change in the result. A chemical experiment now operates precisely as it would have done before the flood, because every atom of matter has precisely the same properties now that it had then. Matter has a natural immutability; but can this be predicated of mind? And does not philosophy assume it when it applies the doctrine of necessity to mental phenomena without any limitation, and boldly carries back the authorship of sin to God, as the First Cause. There is a tendency in human mind to a fixed state of virtue or vice, by the power of habit; but a natural immutability of the mind, anterior to the formation of habits, philosophy ought not to assume. Matter, in each atom, is immutable; and it is mutable only in its combinations. The mind of man, though an uncompounded essence, is not immutable. God has made matter immutable; or operates immutably in matter. But if he has not chosen to operate in the same manner in mind, but has made each mind, in some sort, an original source of action, philosophy must submit to push her orders of sequence with confidence only where she has firm ground to stand on.

To illustrate the distinction attempted in the last paragraph, let us suppose a metallic globe placed on the sharp point of a pyramid. No human art could so adjust it that it would not fall to one side. Mathematically we may demonstrate the possibility of such an adjustment that the power of gravity, operating equally on every side, would retain it for ever in the same position. But, in spite of mathematics, the globe would fall to one side; and philosophy will seek to account for its fall as arising from some failure in the adjustment, or some external cause, as a breath of air, operating from without, and not from any changableness in the globe itself. When once started in the descent, the globe has a tendency to motion in the direction taken, but it does not pass from rest to motion except from external influence. Now, if philosophy equally denies that motion can originate in the mind, and maintains that its doctrine of necessity is applicable to the mind, not only when acting under the influence of habit, but as existing before habits were formed, does not philosophy assume a natural immutability of mind, in attributing the first start in the wrong way to a failure in God’s adjustment, or to the operation of external causes, which have been brought into being and action by him? If philosophy assumes this in the premises from which it reasons, its conclusions are not to be trusted.

[1] Job i. 21; v. 18; Ps. xxxiii. 10-15; ciii. 3–5, 10; civ. 27–30; cxxvii. 1,2; Prov. xvi. 9; Matt. v. 45; x. 29; Luke xii. 6; Acts xvii. 28.

[2] Heb. i. 3.

[3] 2 Chron. xx. 6; Ps civ. 4, 7, 10, 13, 14, 19, 32; Prov. xvi. 9; Ps. lxxvi. 10; Dan. iv. 35; Rom. viii. 28; Eph. i. 11.

[4] Johah iv. 8.

[5] Matt. v. 45.

[6] Lev. xxvi. 25.

[7] Gen. xxvii. 28.

[8] Matt. vi. 30.

[9] Matt. vi. 26.

[10] Matt. x. 30.

[11] Ps. civ. 14.

[12] 2 Sam. xxiv. 15.

[13] Gen. xlv. 7.

[14] Rom. viii. 28.

[15] Matt. x. 29.

[16] 1 Kings xxii. 34.

[17] Prov. xvi. 9.

[18] Prov. xxi. 1.

[19] Gen. l. 20.

[20] Rom. viii. 28.

[21] 2 Kings xix. 28.

[22] Hab. i. 6.

[23] Isaiah xiii. 17; Jer. li. 11.

[24] Isaiah x. 5–15.

[25] 2 Sam. xvi. 11.

[26] 2 Sam. xii. 12.

[27] John xii. 40.

[28] Rom. ix. 18.

[29] 2 Thess. ii. 11.

[30] Ex. ix. 16.

[31] Ex. vii. 13.

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