A discourse concerning the divine providence by William Sherlock ...
Sherlock, William, 1641?-1707.
highlight hits: on | off
Page  3

CHAP. I.

The necessary Connection between the Belief of a God, and of a Providence.

INstead of other Arguments to prove a Providence, I shall at present insist only on this, That the Belief of a God infers a Providence: That if we believe there is a God who Made the World, we must believe that the same God who Made the World, does Govern it too.

1. For first, It is as absurd and unreasonable to think, That the World is Governed by Chance; as to think, That it was Made by Chance; for Chance can no more Govern, than it can Make the World.

One principal Act of Providence is to uphold all things in being, to preserve their Natures, Powers, Operations; to make this lower World again every Year by new Pro∣ductions: For Nature seems to decay, and dye, and revive again, in almost as wonderful a manner, and as unintelligi∣ble to us, as it was first made. Now tho it is very absurd to say, That Chance which acts by no Rule, nor with any Counsel or Design, can make a World, which has all the Marks and Characters of an admirable Wisdom in its Con∣trivance; yet it seems more absurd to say, That Chance can preserve, that it can uphold the things it has made, that it can repair the decays of Nature, nay, restore it when it seems lost: That it can not only do the same thing twice, but repeat it infinitely in new productions: That Chance can give Laws to Nature,* and impose a Necessity Page  4 on it to act regularly and uniformly; that is, That Chance should put an end to Chance, and introduce Necessity and Fate. Were there not a Wise and Powerful Providence, it is Ten thousand times more likely, that Chance should unmake and dissolve the World, than that it should at first make it; for a World that came together by Chance, and has nothing to keep it together but the Chance that made it, which is as uncertain and mutable as Chance is, will quickly unmake it self. Should the Sun but change his place, come nearer this Earth, or remove farther from it, there were an end of this lower World▪ and if it were pla∣ced there by Chance, it is wonderful, that in so many Ages, some new unlucky Chance has not removed it. And there∣fore the Psalmist attributes not only the Creation but the Preservation of all things to God. Praise him sun and moon, praise him ye stars of light: Praise him all ye heavens, and ye waters that are above the heavens: Let them praise the name of the Lord, for he spake the word, and they were made; he commanded, and they were created: He hath made them fast for ever; he hath given them a law, which shall not be broken, 148. Psal. 3, 4, 5, 6.

2dly. The same Wisdom and Power which Made the World, must Govern it too: It is only a Creating Power that can preserve: That which owes its very Being to Power, must depend upon the Power that made it, for it can have no principle of Self-subsistence independent on its Cause: It is only Creating Wisdom, that perfectly under∣stands the Natures of all things, that sees all the springs of Motion, that can correct the Errors of Nature, that can suspend or direct the Influences of Natural Causes, that can govern Hearts, change mens Purposes, inspire Wisdom and Counsel, restrain or let loose their Passions. It is only an Infinite Mind that can take care of all the World; that can allot every Creature its portion; that can adjust the Interests of States and Kingdoms; that can bring Good Page  5 out of Evil, and Order out of Confusion. In a word, the Government of the world requires such Wisdom and such Power, as no Being has but he who made it; and therefore if the World be governed, it must be governed by the Maker of it.

3dly. If there be any such Being as we call God, a Pure, Infinite, Eternal Mind, it is a Demonstration, That he must Govern the world.

Those who deny a Providence, will not allow, that God sees or takes notice of what is done here below. The Epi∣cureans, tho in Civility and Compliment to the Supersti∣tion of mankind, rather than from a real belief and sense of a Deity, they did own a God, nay, a great many Gods,* such as they were, yet never allowed their Gods to know any thing of our affairs,* which would have disturbed their profound Ease and Rest, the sole Happiness of the Lazy, Unactive, Epicu∣rean Deities; and this secured them from the fear of their Gods, who lived at a great distance from them, and knew nothing concerning them.

And in the same manner this is represented in Scrip∣ture, That wicked men would not believe that God saw, or heard, or took any notice of what they did; 64. Psalm 5. They encourage themselves in an evil matter, they commune of laying snares secretly; they say, Who shall see them. 10. Psalm 11. He hath said in his heart, God hath forgotten, he hideth his face, he will never see it. 94. Psalm 7, 8, 9, 10. Yet they say, The Lord shall not see, neither shall the God of Iacob regard it. Vnderstand ye brutish among the people, and ye fools when will ye be wise? He that planted the ear, shall he not hear? And he that formed the eye, shall he not see? He that chastiseth the heathen, shall not he correct? And he that teacheth man knowledg, shall not he know? The Lord knoweth the thoughts of man, that they are vanity. So that Page  6 these men took it for granted, That if God did see, and hear, and know what was done in the world, he would reward men accordingly. And therefore the Providence of God is described in Scripture by his seeing and observing the Actions of men. 31. Job 4. Doth not he see my ways, and count all my steps? 33. Psal. 18, 19. Behold the eye of the Lord is upon them that fear him, upon them that hope in his mercy; that is, to protect them, and to do good to them; as it follows, to deliver their soul from death, and to keep them alive in famine. And therefore when good men pray for help and succour, they only beg God to see and take notice of their condition; 1. Lam. 11. See, O Lord, and consider, for I am become vile. 64. Isa. 9. Behold, see, we beseech thee, we are all thy people. Thus in Hezekiah's Prayer, Incline thine ear, O Lord, and hear, open thine eyes, O Lord, and see, and hear all the words of Senacherib, which hath sent to reproach the living God: And therefore God's seeing, is made an argument that he will reward or punish, 10. Psalm 14. Thou hast seen it, for thou beholdest mischief and spite, to requite it with thy hand. And indeed it is not to be imagined, that a holy and just God, who sees and observes all the good and evil that is done in the world, should not reward the good, and punish the wicked; for there is no other Holy and Just Being in the world, that has authority to reward and pu∣nish, but would certainly do it. And if the Proof of a Divine Providence be resolved into God's knowing what is done in the world, the Dispute will be soon ended; for those who believe that there is a God, and that he is an In∣finite, Omnipresent Mind, cannot doubt whether he sees and knows all things. As the Psalmist elegantly expresses it, 139. Psalm 1.—13. O Lord, thou hast searched me and known me. Thou knowest my down-sitting, and my up∣rising, thou understandest my thought afar off? Thou compas∣sest my path, and my lying down, and art acquainted with all my ways. For there is not a word in my tongue, but lo, O Lord, Page  7 thou knowest it altogether. Thou hast beset me hehind and be∣fore, and laid thine hand upon me. Such knowledge is too won∣derful for me, it is too high, I cannot attain unto it. Whither shall I go from thy Spirit, or whither shall I flee from thy pre∣sence? If I ascend up into heaven, thou art there, if I make my bed in hell, behold thou art there. If I take the wings of the morning, and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea, even there shall thy hand lead me, and thy right hand shall hold me: If I say, surely the darkness shall cover me, even the night shall be light about me; yea, the darkness hideth not from thee, but the night shineth as the day; the darkness and the light are both alike to thee; for thou hast possessed my reins, thou hast covered me in my mother's womb. How is it possible, that an Omnipresent Mind should be ignorant of any thing, or that the Maker of the World should not be present with all his Creature, or that being present, and seeing all their Actions, he should be an idle and unconcerned Spectator?

4thly, For I think in the next place, it is past all dispute, that he who made the World cannot be unconcerned for his Creatures. He hath implanted in most Creatures a natural care of their Offspring; and it is made an argument of want of understanding in the Ostrich, That she leaveth her Eggs in the Earth, and warmeth them in the dust, and forgetteth that the foot may crush them, or that the wild Best may break them. She is hardened against her young ones, as if they were not hers: Her labour is in vain without fear, because God hath deprived her of wisdom, neither hath he imparted to her understanding, 39. Job 15, 16, 17. And can we think then, that an infinitely wise Being, should be as uncon∣cerned for the World, as the Ostrich is for her Eggs?

It is certain the Maker of the World is no sluggish un∣active Being; for to make a World is a Work of infinite Wisdom and Counsel, of Divine Art and Power; and not only to give being to that which was not, is it self an act of excellent Goodness, but there are so many legible Chara∣cters Page  8 of a Divine Bounty and Goodness stamped upon all the Works of Nature, that we must conclude, the World was made by an infinitely good Being; and it is impossible that a wise and good Being, who is a pure Act, and per∣fect Life, can cast off the care of his Creatures. Besides the Laws of God and Men, natural Affection will not suf∣fer men to forget their Children; and though God has no Superior, his own Nature is a Law to himself.

This is sufficient to shew, how necessarily the belief of a God infers a Providence, and therefore no Philosophers, excepting Epicurus, and his Sect, who acknowledged a Deity,* ever denied a Providence; and Tully tells us, that he retained the name of a God, but destroyed his Being.*

The Stoick in Tully concludes a Pro∣vidence from the acknowledgment of a God: And therefore tells us, that Providence signifies the Providence of God:* And those Philosophers made no scruple of calling God Providence and Fate,* and the Power of an Eternal and Perpetual Law. For indeed Mankind had no other notion of a God, than that he is an Excellent and Perfect Be∣ing,* who made, and who governs the World. This is the notion which the Philosophers, who acknowledg'd a Dei∣ty, defended against Epicurus, and o∣ther Atheists;* this is the notion of a God, which Atheists oppose, the God whom they fear, an Eternal Lord, who observes, and takes notice of eve∣ry thing, and thinks himself concern∣ed in all the Affairs of the World. Page  9 And therefore the Dispute, Whether there be a God or no, principally resolves it self into this, Whether this World, and all things in it, is made and governed by Wis∣dom and Counsel, or by Chance, and a blind material Ne∣cessity and Fate: which proves, that the very notion of God includes a Providence, or else either to prove or to overthrow the Doctrine of Providence, would neither prove, nor overthrow the Being of a God.

This, I am sure, is very plain, That the same Argu∣ments which prove the Being of a God, prove a Provi∣dence: If the beauty, variery, usefulness, and wise con∣trivance of the Works of Nature, prove that the World was at first made by a wise and powerful Being; the conti∣nuance and preservation of all things, the regular motions of the Heavens, the uniform productions of Nature, prove the World is upheld, directed and governed by the same Omnipotent Wisdom and Counsel. As St. Paul tells us, The invisible things of God from the creation of the world, are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead, 1 Rom. 20. 〈 in non-Latin alphabet 〉, his Dominion and Soveraignty, or his governing Providence; this visible World does not only prove an Eternal Power which made it, but a Soveraign Lord, who administers all the Affairs of it. And 14. Acts 17. He proves the Being of God from his Providence; Nevertheless he left not him∣self without witness in that he did good, and gave us rain from heaven, and fruitful seasons, filling our hearts with food and gladness. And 17. Acts 28. He proves, that God governs the World, and takes care of all the Crea∣tures that are in it, because he made it; For in him we live, move, and have our being, as certain of your own Poets have said; for we are also his off-spring: which is very im∣properly alledged by St. Paul, if we may be the Off-spring of God, and yet not live, and move, and have our Being in him; that is, if God's making the World does not ne∣cessarily Page  10 prove his constant care and governmet of it. But the Apostle knew in those days, that no man, who confessed that God made the World, questioned his Provi∣dence, and therefore makes no scruple to prove, that we live and subsist in God, because he made us.

This is a noble Argument to prove both the Being and Providence of God (which cannot be separated) from the Works of Nature, and the Wise Government of the World; It would give us a very delightful entertainment, to view all the Curiosities and suprizing Wonders of Nature; with what beauty, art and contrivance, particular Creatures are made, and how the several parts of this great Machine are fitted to each other, and make a regular and uniform World; How all particular Creatures are fitted to the use and purposes of their several Natures, and yet are made serviceable to one another, and have as mutual a connexion and dependance, as the Wheels of a Clock. What an equal and steady Hand governs the World, when its mo∣tions seem most excentrick and exorbitant, and brings Good out of Evil, and Order out of Confusion, when things are so perplext, that it is impossible for any one, but a God, to disentangle them.

There is no need of the subtilty of Reason and Argu∣ment in this Cause, would but men attentively study the Works of God, and dwell in the contemplation of Nature and Providence; for God is as visible in his Works, as the Sun is by its Light; when all the Wonders of Nature are unfolded, and exposed particularly to our view, it so over∣powers the mind with such infinite varieties of that most Divine Art and Wisdom, that modest men are ashamed to ascribe such things to a blind Chance, which has no De∣sign or Counsel.

Indeed to say, that a World full of Infinite Marks and Characters of the most admirable Art, a World so made, that no Art could make it better, was not made by a wise Page  11 Mind, but by Chance, by a fortuitous concourse of Atoms, which without any Design, after infinite fruitless Trials, happened into this exact, useful, beautiful Order, that now they are in, know when they are well, and in despight of Chance move as constantly, regularly, artificially, in all new Productions, as the divinest and most uniform Wis∣dom could direct: I say, to affirm this, is to put an end to all Disputes, by leaving no Principles of Reason and Ar∣gumentation to dispute with.

An Atheist is the most vain Pretender to Reason in the World: The whole strength of Atheism consists in contra∣dicting the universal Reason of Mankind. They have no Principles, nor can have any, and therefore they can ne∣ver reason, but only confidently deny or affirm. They can assign no Principles of Reason, which the rest of Man∣kind allow to be Principles, from whence they can prove that there is no God, and no Providence; but they only reject those Principles, which all other men agree in, and from whence it must necessarily follow, that there is a God and a Providence.

It will be of great use briefly to explain this, which will teach you to reject Atheism and Atheists, without trou∣bling your selves to dispute with them; for they have no common Principles with the rest of Mankind to reason up∣on, nor indeed any Principles of Reason at all.

A few words will suffice for this purpose. Mankind, who have been used to thinking and reasoning, have uni∣versally agreed, That there must be something that had no beginning, and no cause; for nothing can produce no∣thing; that had there ever been a time, when there was nothing, there never could have been any thing, unless there can be an effect without a cause, which is too absurd for Atheists themselves to say in express words, who do not boggle much at Absurdities; and therefore they make their Atoms, and their Vacuum, to be eternal. It is agreed also, Page  12 That whatever had a beginning, had a cause; and the most easy and natural progress of Human Understandings is to reason from one cause to another, till we ascend to, and center in, a first Cause. For it is as easy and natural to believe one first Eternal Cause, as to believe an Eternal Being; but though it is natural to believe something Eter∣nal, it is as unnatural to believe all things to be so; we have no notion of all things being Eternal, though we have of an Eternal Cause; for the very reason why we are for∣ced to confess something Eternal, is, because there must be an Eternal Cause of all other things; that is, because all things are not eternal: But if any thing, which has not an eternal and unchangeable Nature, but is capable of being made and unmade, changed and altered, as all the things of this World are, might be without a Cause, then every thing may be without a Cause; and if the Eternity of all things be a natural Notion, it cannot be a natural Notion that there is a first Cause. For that very Notion supposes, that something had a beginning, and was originally made, when it was not before, and therefore, that all things are not eternal. For to be made in this Axiom, primarily re∣lates to the being of things, and is so understood by all men: And how can such a notion of the making and gi∣ving being to any thing, be natural, if it be a natural no∣tion, that all things are eternal, and that nothing was made?

Hence it is, that seen and visible Effects, which have no visible Cause adequate to the producing such Effects, are allowed by all Mankind to be a sufficient proof of some In∣visible Cause, as St. Paul tells us; and he spoke the Lan∣guage of Human Nature in it; That the invisible things of God from the creation of the world, are clearly seen, being un∣derstood by the things that are made, 1. Rom. 20. For if that which is made, must have a Cause, if there be no visi∣ble Cause, there must be an invisible Maker: And there∣fore Page  13 this World, which has no visible, must have an invi∣sible Cause.

And as it is natural to the Reason of Mankind to con∣clude the Cause from the Effect, so is it to learn the Nature of the Cause from the Nature of the Effect; for whatever is in the Effect, must be either specifically or virtually in the Cause; for whatever is in the Effect, which is not in the Cause, that has no Cause, for nothing can be a cause of that, which it is not it self. And therefore whatever has life and understanding, must be made by a living and un∣derstanding Cause; whatever has art and skill, and wise contrivance in its frame, as every Worm and Fly has, must have a wise designing Cause for its Maker: And then it is certain, that this whole World was not made by chance, or the fortuitous concourse of Atoms, but by an infinitely wise Mind. This way of reasoning is easy and natural to our minds; all men understand it, all men feel it: Atheists themselves allow of this kind of proof in all other cases, excepting the proof of a God or a Providence; and there∣fore it is no absurd, foolish way of reasoning, for then it must not be allowed of in any case; and they have no rea∣son to reject it in this case, but that they are resolved not to believe a God and a Providence. And yet this way of reasoning from Effects to Causes, must be good in all Ca∣ses, or in none: For the Principle is universal, That no∣thing can be made without a Cause, and if any thing can be made made without a Cause, this Principle is false, and can prove nothing. And I challenge the wisest and subtilest Atheist of them all, to prove from any Principle of Reason, that the most beautiful and regular House that ever he saw, which he did not see built (for that is a proof from Sense, not from Reason) was built by men, and is a work of Art, and that it did not either grow out of the Earth, nor was made by the accidental meeting of the se∣veral Materials, which without knowledge, art, or design, Page  14 fell into a regular and uniform Building. Had these men never seen a House built, I would desire to know, how they would prove, that it is a work of Art, built by a skilful Workman, and not made by chance; and by what medium soever they will prove this, I will undertake to prove, that God made the World, though we did not see him make it.

But the present Enquiry is only this, Whether this be Human Reason, the natural Reason of Human Minds? If it be, then men, who will be contented to reason like men, must acknowledge and assent to this Argument from Effects to Causes, which unavoidably proves a God and a Providence; and this is all I desire to be granted, That those who will follow the Notices and Principles of Human Reason, must believe that God made and governs the World; for I know not how to reason beyond Human Reason; those who do, may please themselves with it.

Those who have found out a Reason, which contradicts the natural Principles of Reason, must reason by them∣selves, for Mankind cannot reason with them.

But let us consider how Atheists reason, when they have laid aside this Principle of Reason, from Effects to Causes.

They tell us, That a most Artificial World may be made without Art, or any wise Maker, by blind Chance, with∣out any designing Efficient Cause: That Life, and Sense, and Reason, may result from dead, stupid, sensless Atoms; Well! we hear this, and bear it as patiently as we can; but how do they prove this; why, they say, it may be, and they can go no farther: But how do they know, this may be? Have they any such notion in their minds? have they any natural sensation that answers these words? does Nature teach them, that any thing can be without a Cause adequate to the Effect? that any thing can be wisely made without a wise Cause? that one contrary can produce the other? that sensless, stupid Matter can produce Life, Page  15 Sensation and Understanding? Can they then tell me, what it is that can't be? I desire to know by what Rule they judge, what may be, and what can't be: And if they can find any can't be more absurd and contradictious than their may be, I will renounce Sense and Reason for ever: If nothing can be without a Cause, according to the Reason of Man∣kind, this can't be, and therefore all that their may be's can signify, is this, That if the Reason of Mankind deceive us, such things may be, as the most unquestionable Principles of Reason tells us can't be. And this is the glorious triumph of Atheistical Reason, it can get no farther than a may be, and such a may be as is absolutely impossible, if the Rea∣son of Mankind be true.

Set aside the relation between Causes and Effects, and all the Arguments from Causes to Effects, and from Effects to Causes, and there is an end of all Knowledge; and set aside all those first Principles and Maxims of Reason, which all men assent to at the first Proposal, the truth of which they see and feel, and there is an end of all Reason: For there can be no reasoning without the acknowledgment of some first Principles, which the mind has a clear, distinct, and vigorous perception of: And if men will distrust their own minds in such things as they have an easy, natural per∣ception of, and prefer some Arbitrary Notions, which seem absurd Contradictions, and impossible to the rest of Man∣kind, and which they can have no Idea of beyond the sound of words; they may be Atheists, if they please, at the ex∣pence of their Reason and Understanding; that is, they may be Atheists, if they will not judge and reason like Men: But if we are as certain of the Being of a God, and of a Providence, as we are, that nothing can be without a Cause, we have all the certainty that Human Nature is ca∣pable of.

highlight hits: on | off