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diligently the characters and apprehensions of the recipients striving to improve them in those particulars where an improvement may be made : for the same step may be an advance in one man which would be going backward in another. Therefore discretion must be used, and no easy matter it will prove, to discern what is an approach towards holiness in each person, according to his situation, keeping it always in aim to bring him by practicable gradations to an universal benevolence even to the worst of men, so as to show them all the kindness that may not prove an encouragement to vice, or endanger mischief to himself : in imitation of that power who causeth his sun to shine upon the good and upon the evil, and sendeth his rain upon the just and the unjust ; and we trust will turn every evil permitted, to answer some good and holy purpose.
31. Having now explained my notions of the esoteric and exoteric doctrines in the clearest and fullest manner I was able, I hope they will appear upon a careful and candid examination to be the same in substance, varying only in language (Permission being used instead of Provision, or as I may say, the latter being translated by the former ;) and in the method of laying out our objects according to the scene beheld in our imagination. When withdrawn from the hurry of sensible objects we give the full stretch to contemplation, we may then survey the divine economy
, from beginning to end, and though our views will still be very short and imperfect with respect to particulars, yet we may clearly discern so much as to see, that all events must be determined by their proper adequate causes, these again by others prior from whence they were generated, and so on without interruption until we find their source in the immediate acts of the Almighty : whose omniscience will not suffer us to imagine he performs any without knowing, or without thinking what they will produce in the remotest or minutest consequences. Whence follows the absolute dominion of Providence ; nothing ever happening that was not noticed and marked down in the original plan. We may then turn round to the other side of the prospects and perceive that events do not terminate in what we discern or feel of them, but draw on further consequences depending upon one another in an endless succession : by which we may understand how every line in the plan of Providence, however appearing otherwise in some particular links of the chain, may be drawn in wisdom and goodness for promoting the advantage of the creatures. Upon this view it will appear that God is righteous in all his works, gracious
, and holy in all his doings, the very provisions made for physical
and moral evil being calculated for increasing the sum of happiness and holiness throughout the universe.
From this idea of universal Providence we may learn to conduct ourselves within our own little province : for such we have in the administration of affairs, by means of the power and freewill allotted us. Nor does the divine dominion destroy our freedom; for freedom has no concern with antecedent causes, nor the provisions giving them birth, but solely with the force or restraint there might be upon our future volitions and actions; and experience convinces us that we have a certain scope to range in, exempt from such force or restraint. Within this compass then it behoves us, if I may be pardoned the expression, to lay our plan of Providence in imitation of the most perfect model: drawing our lines, so far as our best judgment can extend them, with a view to produce the greatest good, upon their whole length, to our fellow-créatures or ourselves, that can be effected upon every particular occasion. And because we are liable to inordinate passions too strong for judgment to overpower, it is incumbent upon us to endeavor after a holiness of temper, exempt from malice or envy, or sensuality, or selfishness, or indolence, which might draw us aside from the prosecution of our plan.
But as a traveller, while passing along the road, must observe the tracks before him and keep his eye attentive to the objects near at hand, nor can stand to gaze at the distant horizon : so we, when occupied in the common business of life, cannot retain the whole extent of our contemplative scenes in mind. We then find our prospect reduced to scantier limits; the chains of causes appear broken short; nature, chance, and freewill, seem original sources of events; and though there may still remain a general idea of Providence, we cannot trace it up to its first appointments, but it presents to our view a superintending power, continually guiding the motions of second causes by fresh and occasional operations, though when or how the touch is given we cannot perceive. In this partial scene of things we have other sources to assign for all the evils that happen, so it becomes us to ascribe the good alone to Providence, together with the purpose of producing further good out of the evils permitted. Yet permission is no sanction or encouragement, but wickedness still remains the object of vengeance and displeasure to God, who has nothing unholy in his nature : therefore we cannot make ourselves more agreeable to him than by laboring, so far as our imperfections will allow, to imitate his holiness.
32. Thus we see the two systems, though proceeding by different routes, conduct to one and the same end, namely; to give us the purest idea of our Governor, and most heavenly disposition of mind we are capable of attaining. But if we go to blend them together, it will utterly spoil our work; which then can answer no end at all, unless to involve us in doubt and perplexity. It will be like joining the halves of two maps cast upon different scales, from whence nothing but incoherence and absurdity can ensue: there will be rivers pointing their course against mountains, private gardens bigger than the adjacent country, and streets of cities leading into the sea. It may be presumed that all the difficulties, started against the ways of Providence, arise from this motley mixture of gross and refined notions; for there are people too shrewd to rank among the vulgar, yet too dull ever to become adepts: these operators are perpetually mingling the strokes of one system among the other, whereby they make neither uniform, but mangle them both, and in this condition it is no wonder they appear distorted and disfigured.
For if we behold the vulgar scheme with the glass of contemplation, we shall find it abounding in inconsistences; effects without a cause; freewill acting upon no inducement; all things guided by wisdom, yet for the most part depending upon contingencies; the power of God irresistible, yet many things done contrary to his Will; nothing hidden froin his sight, yet innumerable trifling and filthy objects unbecoming his regard; Providence ever watchful over events, yet permitting those to take effect which were not intended, nor approved. These the plain man does not perceive, for he takes his ideas singly, so discerns not the discordance that would be found upon comparing them together : or if a difficulty occurs, he can acquiesce without expecting to solve it, being sensible of his ignorance, and satisfied that many things may be true, though to him appearing unaccountable.
On the other hand, if we investigate the chain of causes to the fountain head, without turning the opposite way to consider what consequences may ensue beyond our immediate notice, we shall still retain our vulgar idea of terminating all events in the uses of man; and then our reference of them to the divine appointment will have a mischievous effect, representing many provisions therein as trifling, unkind, and unholy.
Nevertheless, every science must have a beginning, nor can one expect to rise from the popular system, at a leap: in the interim of our progress there will arise doubts and difficulties, for these are ordinarily the avenues to knowledge. Yet they will not discompose us so long as we bear in mind that we are but earners, for this reflection will satisfy, that we are not fully masers of any point that may seem to cast an imputation upon
Providence. For when we consider, that unholiness, by the essence of it, must proceed from some passion, or selfishness, or intemperance of mind, we shall lay it down as a fundamental principle, that nothing of this sort can have place in the most perfect; and shall esteem it the nearest approach towards perfection, to cultivate the opposite character in ourselves.
33. But then let us not suffer the desire of holiness to carry us beyond the bounds of discretion, nor mislead us in judging wherein its essence consists : an error that men of no small credit among the multitude have fallen into. For they observing justly that study, meditation, prayer, thanksgiving, and the externals of Religion, are the main supports of holiness, place the whole of it in them; so would have men think of nothing else, but employ every day and every hour of the day in a continual round of these exercises. Whereas holiness does not consist in them, but in the disposition of mind to be contracted by them, which disposition is better forwarded by the life and spirit of our devotions, than by the length or frequency of them.
For it is not in human nature to keep up a glow of fervency further than to a certain period, according to the strength and present condition of our organs : all beyond is perfunctory and unavailing form, no more a nourishment to the mind than eating beyond one's appetite is a nourishment to the body. Besides that the practice of a rational and useful life is equally, if not more necessary to strengthen our sentiments : for obedience is better than sacrifice, and infixes the principle, whereon it was performed, deeper than any mental efforts can do. Nor would it be more absurd for a soldier to desert his post that he may
lie lurking about his General's tent, lest he should lose his reverence by losing sight of him, than for us to neglect our active duties, that we may attend more closely to those of devotion.
It is not by such exercises alone that we can imitate the most perfect models: God himself not only receives the adorations of Angels and Men, but likewise feeds the young ravens and clothes the lilies of the field. We have offered reasons to make it probable, that the blessed spirits above do not spend their whole time in empty Hallelujahs, but are continually employed on high behests to assist in administering the courses of nature, and fortune. And God has placed us under a necessity of attending to sensible objects for the support and convenience of ourselves and our fellow-creatures. Let us then in all our measures have a respect to their use, and practise religious exercises so far as they tend to give us a happy turn of mind, dependent on Providence, contented with its dispensations, and pleased with being under its
protection : and make us industrious within our narrow sphere of action to maintain the order and promote the happiness of the world wherewith we stand connected.
Perfection is not to be attained without attending carefully to all branches of the duty allotted us : but he that aims only at one point commonly overshoots his mark; nor is it unusual for men to become unholy, through an intemperate zeal of being holy. It gives them narrow notions of the supreme Being, as receiving actual delight from their services, and uneasily anxious to have them paid; it keeps them inexpert in their business, and useless in their stations, makes them morose and rancorous against those whom they suppose the enemies of heaven, fills them with spiritual pride and contempt of mankind; puts them out of humor with the world about them, with the condition of their own nature ; and overwhelms them with despondencies at their not attaining impracticable lengths. So that there is such a thing as being too pious, where the piety is not rational and genuine, and the greater lengths it runs, so much the worse : as a man, whose money is in counterfeit coin, the more he has of it, will only find it the greater toil and burden.
To what purpose, it may be asked, do we make these the subject of a particular inquiry : or what can be expected from the title of this chapter, more than we have already descanted upon in our Chapter on Providence? we have there shown that all things derive their essence, and all events their accomplishment, from that source: that small as well as great, the 'veriest trifles equally with the most momentous concerns, were comprised within the original plan. The grovelling earth-worm, the worthless sea-weed, the dirt we trample upon, were works of the same hand that made the human soul with all her powers of intelligence, with all her stores of science and accomplishment. The crawling of emmets and falling of leaves were contained in the same scheme wherein were projected the rise of empires, and the exact period of their continuance. A sparrow no more falls to the ground than a kingdom is overthrown, a bubble no more bursts than a world is