The divine inspection into the affairs of the world doth necessarily follow from the nature and being of God; and he that denies this, doth implicitly deny his existence: he may acknowledge what he will with his mouth, but in his heart he hath said, There is no God.
Must not the conduct of a parent seem very unaccountable to a child when its inclinations are thwarted; when it is put to learn letters; when it is obliged to swallow bitter physic; to part with it what it likes, and to suffer, and do, and see many things done, contrary to its own judgment? Will it not, therefore, follow from hence, by a parity of reason, that the little child man, when it takes upon itself to judge of parental providencea thing of yesterday to criticise the economy of the Ancient of Dayswill it not follow, I say, that such a judge of such matters must be apt to make very erroneous judgments, esteeming those things in themselves unaccountable which he cannot account for; and concluding of some things, from an appearance of arbitrary carriage towards him, which is suited to his infancy and ignorance, that they are in themselves capricious or absurd, and cannot proceed from a wise, just, and benevolent God?
This we call fortune, that serpentine and crooked line, whereby he draws those actions his wisdom intends, in a more unknown and secret way. This cryptic and involved method of his providence have I ever admired; nor can I relate the history of my life, the occurrences of my days, the escapes of dangers, and hits of chance, with a Bezo las Manos to fortune, or a bare gramercy to my good stars . Surely there are in every mans life certain rubs, doublings, and wrenches, which pass awhile under the effects of chance, but, at the last, well examined, prove the mere hand of God.
Let not fortune, which hath no name in Scripture, have any in thy divinity. Let Providence, not chance, have the honour of thy acknowledgments, and be thy dipus in contingencies. Mark well the paths and winding ways thereof; but be not too wise in the construction, or sudden in the application. The hand of Providence writes often by abbreviatures, hieroglyphics or short characters, which, like the Laconism on the wall, are not to be made out but by a hint or key from that spirit which indited them.
In the admirable difference of the features of men; which is a great argument that the world was made by a wise Being. This could not be wrought by chance, or be the work of mere nature, since we find never, or very rarely, two persons exactly alike. This distinction is a part of infinite wisdom; otherwise what confusion would be introduced into the world! Without this, parents could not know their children, nor children their parents, nor a brother his sister, nor a subject his magistrate. Without it there had been no comfort of relations, no government, no commerce. Debtors would not have been known from strangers, nor good men from bad. Propriety could not have been preserved, nor justice executed; the innocent might have been apprehended for the nocent; wickedness could not have been stopped by any law.
A firm persuasion of the superintendence of Providence over all our concerns is absolutely necessary to our happiness. Without it, we cannot be said to believe in the Scripture, or practise anything like resignation to his will. If I am convinced that no affliction can befall me without the permission of God, I am convinced likewise that he sees and knows that I am afflicted: believing this, I must in the same degree believe that if I pray to him for deliverance, he hears me: I must needs know, likewise, with equal assurance, that if he hears, he will also deliver me, if that will upon the whole be most conducive to my happiness: and if he does not deliver me, I may be well assured that he has none but the most benevolent intention in declining it.
It may be superstition, perhaps, but I cannot alter the nature and character of my understanding, which, as long as I can look back, has dictated to me, as a comforting truth, that the DIVINE PROVIDENCE singles out particular nations, and perhaps even individual men, to carry on the slow and mysterious system of the world. This island, although placed on the very margin of civilization, has been its example and its protector,spreading the blessings of a pure religion and of equal laws to the remotest ends of the earth. My impression, my lords, has always been, that such an unparalleled dominion is but a more exalted trust, and that if we fall off from the character which bestowed it, and which fitted us for its fulfilment, we shall be deservedly treated like sentinels who desert, or who sleep upon, their posts.
Lord-Chancellor Erskine: Speech in the House, re Trial of Queen Caroline, 1820.
The moral of that poetical fiction, that the uppermost link of all the series of subordinate causes is fastened to Jupiters chair, signifies that Almighty God governs and directs subordinate causes and effects.
The exclusion of a Supreme Being and of a superintending Providence tends directly to the destruction of moral taste. It robs the universe of all finished and consummate excellence even in idea. The admiration of perfect wisdom and goodness for which we are formed, and which kindles such unspeakable rapture in the soul, finding in the regions of scepticism nothing to which it corresponds, droops and languishes. In a world which presents a fair spectacle of order and beauty, of a vast family nourished and supported by an Almighty Parent,in a world which leads the devout mind, step by step, to the contemplation of the first fair and the first good, the sceptic is encompassed with nothing but obscurity, meanness, and disorder.
Tis enough for a Christian to believe that all things come from God, to receive them with acknowledgment of his divine and inscrutable wisdom, and also thankfully to accept and receive them, with what face soever they may present themselves: but I do not approve of what I see in use, that is, to seek to continue and support our religion by the prosperity of our enterprizes. Our belief has other foundation enough, without going about to authorize it by events: for the people accustomed to such arguments as these, and so proper to their own taste, it is to be feard, lest when they fail of success, they should also stagger in their faith.
Michel de Montaigne: Essays, Cottons 3d ed., ch. xxxi.
Providence is an intellectual knowledge, both foreseeing, caring for, and ordering all things, and doth not only behold all past, all present, and all to come, but is the cause of their being so provided, which prescience is not.
It hath so pleased God to provide for all living creatures wherewith he hath filled the world, that such inconveniences as we contemplate afar off are found, by the trial and witness of mens travels, to be so qualified as there is no portion of the earth made in vain.
Creation must needs infer providence, and Gods making the world irrefragably proves that he governs it too; or that a being of dependent nature remains nevertheless independent upon him in that respect.
Let no man who owns a providence grow desperate under any calamity or strait whatsoever, but compose the anguish of his thoughts upon this one consideration, that he comprehends not those strange unaccountable methods by which providence may dispose of him.
We are to vindicate the just providence of God in the government of the world, and to endeavour, as well as we can upon an imperfect view of things, to make out the beauty and harmony of all the seeming discords and irregularities of the divine administration.
Our existence is dependent on a succession of changes which are taking place at every moment in ourselves, but of which each one involves the necessity of the existence and the superintending power of the Deity. The existence of the whole material universe is of the same nature. Now, each of these changes is, with infinite skill, adapted to the relative conditions of all the beings whom they affect, and they are subjected to laws which are most evident expressions of almighty power, of unsearchable wisdom, and exhaustless goodness. Now, were we merely intellectual beings, it would not be possible for us to consider anything more than these laws themselves; but inasmuch as we are intellectual and also moral beings, we are capable not only of considering the laws, but also the attributes, of the Creator from whom such laws are the emanations. As everything which we can know teaches a lesson concerning God; if we connect that lesson with everything we learn, everything will be resplendent with the attributes of Deity. By using in this manner the knowledge which is everywhere spread before us we shall habitually cultivate a devout temper of mind. Thus, The heavens will declare unto us the glory of God, and the firmament will show His handywork; thus, day unto day will utter speech, and night unto night show forth knowledge of Him.
When any one acknowledges a moral government of the world; perceives that domestic and social relations are perpetually operating, and seem intended to operate, to retain and direct men in the path of duty; and feels that the voice of conscience, the peace of heart which results from a course of virtue, and the consolations of devotion, are ever ready to assume their office as our guides and aids in the conduct of all our actions; he will probably be willing to acknowledge also that the means of a moral government of each individual are not wanting; and will no longer be oppressed or disturbed by the apprehension that the superintendence of the world may be too difficult for its Ruler, and that any of His subjects and servants may be overlooked. He will no more fear that the moral than that the physical laws of Gods creation should be forgotten in any particular case: and as he knows that every sparrow which falls to the ground contains in its structure innumerable marks of the Divine care and kindness, he will be persuaded that every man, however apparently humble and insignificant, will have his moral being dealt with according to the laws of Gods wisdom and love; will be enlightened, supported, and raised, if he use the appointed means which Gods administration of the world of moral light and good offers to his use.