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Origin and meaning of the term providence. — Importance of the doctrine of Divine Providence.— Of the difference between a particular and a general providence. — Of the recognition of a particular providence by the heathen. — Of its recognition in the Scriptures. The providence of God extends not only to individuals, but to families and nations.

THE word providence is derived from the Latin term PROVIDENTIA, meaning watchfulness, care, oversight. As the term is commonly employed, it means the constant oversight or care which God exercises over all his works.

2. "The doctrine of divine providence," says a judicious writer, "is of the very first importance, and contributes greatly to the peace and happiness of human life. Were it not that God maintained a constant and watchful care over all his works, all piety would immediately cease. A God who did not concern himself in the affairs of the world, and especially in the actions of men, would be to us as good as none at all. In that case, should men live in a virtuous and pious manner, they would have no approbation to expect from him. Should they be guilty of crimes, they would have no punishment to fear. Were they persecuted, they would think of God only as the idle witness of their wrongs. Were they in circumstances of suffering and sorrow, they could find no consolation if God were unmindful of them." [Lectures on Christian Theology, by George Christian Knapp.]

3. In considering this important and interesting subject, it is proper to notice the distinction which is frequently made between a particular and general providence. It is certainly doubtful whether such a distinction ought to be made; — especially if the doctrine of a general providence is designed to supersede that of a particular providence. How can we readily conceive of a general providence, extending its watchfulness over things in their general aspects, which does not involve the fact of a particular providence, extending its watchfulness at the same time to those particulars, out of which that which is general is constituted? If there is a God, to whom the attributes usually ascribed to God belong, there is and must be a providence of God. If there is a providence of God extending with any degree of certainty, and with any good results, to things in their general nature, it extends to everything. We do not propose, however, to enter into an argument in support of a view which seems to us to be obvious of itself.

4. It is the rejection of the doctrine of providence, considered as entering into particulars, which constitutes one of the great evils, the practical atheism, perhaps we may call it, of the age in which we live. It is true, undoubtedly, that men, with but few exceptions, admit the existence of a God; but they do not admit, except in a very mitigated and imperfect sense, his presence and supervision. They allow him a being, but they practically strike off its infinity, by assigning him a distant and strictly bounded locality. They allow him the privilege of casting a look down upon the world's affairs; but cannot bear the thought that the world does not and cannot go on without him. Here, then, is one of the great evils of the day, one of the secrets of our misery; the acknowledgment of God's existence, with the excision of his practical omnipresence; the recognition of God in general, but the rejection of him as God in particular.

5. One would be almost inclined to think that heathen nations are less faulty in this particular than those which bear the name of Christians. The untutored savage

“Sees God in clouds, and hears him in the wind."

Because an advanced knowledge in the sciences has explained many physical laws, men have fallen into the habit of ascribing to law what belongs to agency. And by thus attributing almost everything to what they denominate the laws of Nature, they forget the God of Nature. The mind of the savage, on the contrary, contemplating the result without understanding the law by which it is brought about, sees God in all the objects around him. It is God, dwelling in the cave of its fountain waters, who pours down the mighty rivers. It is the Great Spirit that sends the storm and the lightning from the mountain tops. It is God that shines in the sun, and walks in the clouds, and dwells even in four-footed beasts and creeping things. Here is a great truth, founded in the nature of God, although it is perverted and darkened in its development by the imperfection of fallen hearts. It is a truth, therefore, which ought to be respected. And the question may be put in all sincerity: — Who would not rather be the superstitious savage than the unbelieving philosopher?

6. It is certainly necessary that science, bewildered in its own wanderings, should return at last, and baptize itself in the truth of the Scriptures: those Scriptures which constantly associate God with all his works. The beautiful Psalms, unequalled in poetry as they are in devotion, may be said to be built upon this great idea, which is equally philosophical and religious. Speaking of God, the Psalmist says, “
He sendeth the springs into the valleys, which run among the hills. He watered the hills from his chambers. He causeth the grass to grow for the cattle, and herb for the service of man. He hath planted the cedars of Lebanon, where the birds build their nests. He appointeth the moon for seasons and the sun knoweth his going down, Thou makest darkness, and it is night, wherein all the beasts of the forest do creep forth. The young lions roar after their prey, and seek their meat from God.” [Psalm 104: 10, 20.]

This is the spirit which pervades these divine poems They everywhere represent the union of God with his works by an ever-present supervision and love. It is not a system of second causes, it is not nature, but
God, who does all. It is God "who covers the heavens with clouds, who prepares rain for the earth, who maketh grass to grow upon the mountains. He giveth to the beast his food, and to the young ravens which cry." [Psalm 147: 8, 9]

The same spirit, the same devout disposition to recognize God in everything, pervades all parts of the Scriptures.

7. It is interesting to see how many passages there are in the Scriptures which speak of God's protection of animals, even of those which are the least considerable. He takes care of the cattle of the fields; he feeds the young lions; he plants the cedars where the birds build their nests. "Behold the fowls of the air," says the Saviour, "for they sow not, neither do they reap, nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feedeth them." It is not possible that he should take less care of man. Of all the existences on the earth, man stands the fIrst, and God loves him most. The Saviour adds, for the comfort of those who heard him when speaking of God's care of the birds, "Are ye not much better than they?” As much as if he had said, the God who provides for them cannot fail to provide for you, who are so much more important in his estimation. And, in another passage, he says, "Are not five sparrows sold for two farthings? And not one of them is forgotten before God. But even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not, therefore, ye are of more value than many sparrows."

8. Truly here is a great truth, worthy of our constant contemplation. Around every individual, no matter what may be his situation, is thrown the shield of the divine presence, love, and care. Every individual can say of himself, God is with
me. He is not a God afar off. He knoweth my down-sitting and up-rising, my going out and my coming in. He not only knows, but he orders events concerning me.

Nor is there any limit to the divine presence and operation, except that which is interposed by unbelief. God will do all, operating in entire harmony with the laws of our mental constitution, if we only have faith enough to leave ourselves entirely in his hands, and let him do all. He will not, in the present state of things, so interpose and extend his own action as to prevent the concurrence of ours. But, nevertheless, he will unite the two in such a manner that we shall recognize every good thing as coming from him. In reference to the daily support received from him, we shall be ready to say, with an eminent English writer, who had passed through many vicissitudes and trials, "I have been fed more by miracle than Elijah when the angels were his purveyors." [Daniel Defoe.]

9. He, who is the ever-present Guide and Father of the individual, is the Father also of family associations. All associations, which exist with the divine approbation, have a community of character and interest, which not only involves a common responsibility, but renders them susceptible of a common allotment. They can be guided, protected, and blessed in their common or associated position as truly as in that which is individual. “God setteth the solitary in families." Having established and recognized, in a multitude of instances, the family relation, he bestows his favor or disapprobation on families, according as they conform to or violate the ends for which they were established. The community principle is especially represented and consolidated in the father. If he is a man of prayer and faith, he is a channel of blessings to all the members. But if it be otherwise, they all suffer. God, operating in a little different manner in consequence of the new facts and relations existing, is the God of families as well as of individuals. If they endeavor to discharge their family duties in a proper manner, and look to him for guidance and assistance, they will not fail to find it. If they forget him, it will be a necessary result that they will be forgotten.

10. God, in the exercise of his providential care, is the Judge and Father also of great commonwealths. The idea that God should be united to man as an individual, and in his relation to families, but forgetful of and alien to those bodies of men which are denominated civil societies, — governing the one, and leaving the other without government,— would be exceedingly absurd. If he cannot abandon a man, nor the hair of a man's head, how can he abandon a nation or any part of a nation's interests? It is an obvious dictate of reason, therefore, that he who is watchful over the less, will be careful of the greater; that he, who watches over the members of the body, will take care of the whole body, if he has the power and qualification to do so; and that he, who is the head of the citizen,
a fortiori if his capacity equals the impulses of his benevolence, will be the head of the state.

11. And it is certain that what is reasonable in this case is also scriptural. The Bible everywhere represents God as the God of nations. How often is it said, in Daniel, in Job, in the Psalms, and everywhere, that "the kingdom is the Lord's;" that "He is Governor among the nations;" that He "removes and sets up kings!" What was the language which David used in his great contest with the Philistine chief, — young as he was, and just come from the flocks and the pastures of Bethlehem? "Thou comest to me," said David, "with a sword, and with a spear, and with a shield: but I come unto thee
in the name of the Lord of hosts, the God of the armies of Israel, whom thou hast defied. This day will the Lord deliver thee into mine hand; and I will smite thee, and take thine head from thee. And I will give the carcasses of the hosts of the Philistines unto the fowls of the air and to the wild beasts of the earth; that all the earth may know that there is a God in Israel. And all this assembly shall know that the Lord saveth not with sword and spear, for the battle is the Lords, and He will give you into our hands.”

What was the declaration of the Spirit of the Lord, by the mouth of his prophet, to Jehoshaphat, king of Judah? "Thus saith the Lord unto you, Be not afraid nor dismayed by reason of this great multitude; for the battle is not yours, but God’s. Ye shall not need to fight in this battle; set yourselves, stand ye still, and see the salvation of the Lord with you. O Judah and Jerusalem fear not, nor be dismayed; to-morrow go out against them,
for the Lord will be with you.” And it is added, after some account of the great victory which the Lord gave: "So the realm of Jehoshaphat was quiet; for his God gave him rest round about." [2nd Chron., chapter 20.]

12. The doctrine, that God in his providence is to be recognized as the God of all societies and nations, is not only sustained by reason and by the Scriptures, but the facts which are presented in history constantly and clearly confirm it. To the eye of a disciplined and comprehensive faith, the footsteps of God, as they are left in the great pathway of nations, are as plain as if they were impressed and written there in letters of light. God is to be found in the dust of Nineveh and the ruins of Thebes. If he raised them to mighty power, he also, in the day of his righteous retribution, clothed them in sackcloth, and made them desolate. It was God who planted the Israelites in Egypt in the condition of slavery, and who afterwards employed them in the punishment of their masters, and then led them to the overthrow of the corrupt nations of Palestine. The Israelites themselves had their day of progress and decline, according as they walked in God's ways, or were disobedient. It was God, making the crime of human ambition the blind but effective instrument in fulfilling his own mighty purposes, who called the Assyrians from the banks of the Euphrates to the overthrow of the Israelites The Assyrians, in their turn, with Babylon, their immense city, fell under the arm of the destroyer. God found an instrument of his mighty purposes where none was supposed to exist. He raised up the Persian Cyrus, and called him by name many years before his birth, and said, "I will go before thee." And again, "I am the Lord, and there is none else; there is no God besides me. I girded thee, though thou hast not known me." — Isa. 45: 8.

The contemplative mind will see, in the history of all nations, not excepting those of modern times, the evidences of an overruling Providence. They stand or fall as they stand in or out of God. When nations have obeyed him, they have lived. When they have forgotten him, they have been destroyed. To forget God is to sin. And all sin has in itself an element of self-destruction. It is internal disorganization and weakness as well as immorality. And it is not in the power of God, while it continues sin, and is thus placed out of the reach of his protection, to save it either from decay or sorrow. With no divine arm under it, it is prostrated by its own recumbence. But as it lies scattered and decayed in the ashes of successive generations, it shows the burning footprints of the divine displeasure.

13. Such is the true idea of Divine Providence; extending to all things which exist, to things animate and inanimate, organized and unorganized, to plants, and trees, and animals, to men, to families, to nations; wide as the universe, sleepless as the divine omniscience, effective as the supreme power; always holding in respect, however, the moral freedom of all moral agents, and inviting, without forcibly compelling, them to accept that daily bread of superintendence and love which is the true element of everlasting life.