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PART SIXTH.
ON UNION WITH GOD IN HIS PROVIDENCES.



CHAPTER II.


ON THE LAW OF PROVIDENCE IN DISTINCTION FROM THE GENERAL NATURE OR FACT OF PROVIDENCE.


Of the distinction between Providence and the law of providence. — Of the foundation of the law of Providence. — Illustrations of the subject. — Of the harmony of the providential law, and the law of the Scriptures. — Practical remarks.

IN the preceding chapter we have endeavored to illustrate what we consider to be the true idea of Providence, considered both in its nature and its extent. But it should be remembered that Providence is one thing; the
law of Providence is another. Providence is God's arrangement of things and events in the world, including his constant supervision. The law of Providence, in distinction from Providence in itself considered, is the RULE OF ACTION, which is contained in, and which is developed from, this providential arrangement.

2. We cannot well understand and appreciate the doctrine of the law of Providence without some proper view of the mutual relationship and connection of things. It was a maxim of the Schoolmen, and is not less a maxim of nature, NIHIL EX NIHILO FIT. Everything, therefore, which exists, if it do not have an existence which is eternal and independent, must come from a common source. Consequently, there must be some common relationships, some common alliances.

And this is just as true of events which exist in time as of things which exist in place. It is true of everything of which it can be said,
it is. If God calls into existence, or, in any way, gives rise to certain things and events and establishes them in their order, which, as a "God of order," he cannot fail to do, he necessarily gives to them their position, their relations, their rights, their influences. All these are theirs by the nature of the case. They do not make them of themselves, but have them, as it were, by inheritance. It is not easy to see how it can be otherwise. It is a matter of necessity, although we may properly make a distinction between things and events in some respects, that they should have their place and relations, their appropriate rights, their appropriate effects.

3. We will endeavor to illustrate what we mean, in the first place, from things which have merely an animate, and not a moral, existence. Among the multitude of created things that fill the air and earth, behold the feeble worm that makes its home in the clod. God has created it. Here is a fact, unimportant as it may seem to be, which makes a part, nevertheless, of his providential arrangements. The fact of the creation of this worm involves the fact of a sphere of life; that is to say, an appropriate place of residence, and adequate means of protection and support. This little animal has not only its assigned place and its means of protection, but it has its rights and claims also in relation to other beings; rights which reach from the dust in which it crawls to the infinite throne, and are as unchangeable as immutable justice. Infinite holiness holds its aegis over this weak creature. Continually the burning eye of Jehovah watches in order to see who invades its sphere, and does it an injury. The protection which is assured to it is not measured by the fact of its strength, but by the fact of its existence. God cannot create a being without, at the same time, pledging his friendship to it. The providence of God, therefore, cannot place a worm by our side without establishing a code of laws between us. The traveller, who sees it crawling in the dust, is obliged to turn aside his foot. The obligation binds the tread of a king as clearly and strongly as the tread of a peasant. He who crushes it without a justifiable cause violates the moral order of things, and tramples on the eternal will of the Creator.

4. Still more easily is the subject illustrated from other instances, where the rights of human beings are involved. Not far distant from a certain rich man's residence is a very poor family. One of its children has been infirm and helpless from birth; and nothing but the aid of others, more favored in their circumstances, can save it from the greatest suffering. The position of the child, with its wants and sufferings, is a PROVIDENCE. The duty, which devolves upon the rich man to take an interest in its welfare, and to render it aid, is the led of Providence. The law is developed from existing things; but, as the things existing are from God, the law which they disclose and establish is from him also. And he, who will not see a worm trampled upon without displeasure, will never see an injury done to an immortal being with impunity.

5. And it is thus with everything. Things animate and things inanimate, things in space and things in time, things said and things done, all being and all action, in themselves and in their relations, in their rights and in their influences, form a part of the great system of the facts and arrangements of divine Providence. Man, and all the acts and all the sufferings of which he is the source and the subject, is placed in the midst of this great ocean; this great and moving flux and reflux of other men, and other acts, and other sufferings, and is required to be in moral harmony with it. It is this
requisition, this rule, existing under these circumstances, which constitutes the providential law, — a law operating from the external upon the internal; a law founded in infinite wisdom, just and inflexible in its requirements, just and inflexible in its retributions.

6. The law of Providence coincides with the law of the Scriptures. God, who speaks in Providence as well as in the Scriptures, cannot utter voices which, in their principles and claims, are discordant with each other. We may sometimes fail in our interpretations of the Scriptures; we may sometimes attach a meaning to them different from God's meaning; but when the declaration of God in the Scriptures is rightly understood, it will always be found to harmonize with his providential voice. If, for instance, he requires us, in his written law, to love our neighbor as ourselves, he has also arranged in such a manner the things and relations which constitute his providential law as to make the same requisition. And it will be found true, under the operation of the divine Providence, that man will and must suffer just in proportion as he comes short of that divine law of love. It will be the same in other similar instances.

7. In view of this important subject, so far as it has now been developed, a number of practical remarks may properly be made here; and one is, that it is an important part of Christian duty to study God's will in his providences. We neither know how to act, nor how to feel, without a regard to them. This remark is sufficiently obvious in relation to action. It is hardly less obvious in relation to
feeling. For instance, a near friend dies, perhaps a child, or brother. This is an event in Providence. The feeling appropriate to it is SORROW; but, when we consider that, being an event in Providence, it is an event ordered in divine wisdom, the appropriate feeling is not only sorrow, but sorrow mingled with acquiescence and patience. The law of Providence requires this modification of the feeling as strictly and as truly as the written law; so that we may lay it down as a principle, that the law of Providence must regulate, to a considerable extent, not only our outward acts, but our affections. It is Providence which places before us the objects we must love; and, what is more, it indicates the degree of our love, and the ways of its manifestation. And, on the other hand, the same Providence indicates to us the objects which should excite our disapprobation, and also the degree and manner of our disapprobation.

8. Another remark is this. If we are in full harmony with Providence, we walk in all things humbly and softly, neither too slow nor too fast. The light which is imparted to us, is given moment by moment. And it is the true light, if our souls are so far renovated into the nature of Christ as to be in a disposition to receive it. It teaches us, not only to work FOR God, but, what is hardly less important, to work WITH God; — that is to say, in harmony with his own wise and benevolent plans.

9. Again, in acting in accordance with Providence, we do good without doing evil. No matter how desirable a thing may appear to be to us, if the law of Providence stands in our way, it cannot be done. There is, in such a case, what is called a moral, in distinction from a physical, impossibility, because the thing cannot be done without violating other obligations. Therefore, we are to do the good which we are
called to do; in other words, we are to do the good which Providence allows and requires us to do; and then, and then only, we do good without doing evil. It is desirable that those who aim at the highest results in religion, should keep this in mind.