The elders and messengers of the several Baptist churches meeting at Pennepek, Middletown, Piscataqua, Cohansie, Hopewell, Montgomery, Kingwood, Southampton, Philadelphia, Scotch Plains, Morristown, New Britain, Pitsgrove, Newtown, Dividing Creek, New Mills, Upper Freehold, Lyon's Farms, and Oblong, being met in Association at Philadelphia, October 12th and 13th, 1779.
To the said churches send greeting.
Dearly beloved brethren, -- Seventy-two years have now elapsed since the first Association that was held in this place; during which period, but more especially of late, we have been led to note many remarkable displays of Divine Providence, which, by appointment, is to be the subject of our present address. Confession of faith, chap. V.
When we admit the divine authority of the holy Scripture, and by the light thereof, together with that of nature, we discover the being and perfections of God, we are next led to consider his purposes and decrees, and the execution of these in the works of creation and providence. These are all material objects of faith, and main pillars, as well as essential parts of true religion.
That the all-wise and omnipotent Jehovah is the Creator and disposer of all things is a matter of general consent, discoverable by the light of nature; insomuch that creation and providence may be said to be the two testaments out of which natural religion is deduced; but still much more manifest by the sure testimony of the Scripture of truth. See Psalm civ.; Acts xvii. 25, 28, &c.
Creation is the effect of Almighty power and wisdom, whereby the eternal God created all things, visible and invisible, even the whole universe, out of nothing. Col. i. 16. But chiefly man, the glory of this lower creation, being made after his own image, in knowledge, righteousness, and true holiness. Genesis i. 27.
By Divine Providence is meant the superintendence of the Deity over all his works and all possible events. Whereby,
1. He upholds and sustains all things, animate and inanimate. Hebrews i. 3; Acts xvii. 28.
2. Provides for all living. Acts xvii. 25; Psalm civ. 21; cxxxvi. 25.
3. And governs the whole universe. Psalm ciii. 19.
1. General, Acts xvii. 25, or particular, Matthew x. 29.
2. Mediate, by second causes, 1 Kings, xiii. 24; xxii. 22, and the fixed laws of nature. Or immediate by his will and appointment.
3. Ordinary, in the common course of things, or extraordinary. 1 Kings xvii. 4; Daniel vi. 22; iii. 27.
In this view we are led to conceive of the Divine Being as the head of a vast family, extending his care and beneficence to every individual of it; or as a great monarch, who has his eye not only on those near his throne, but extends the benefits of his benign influence to the remotest parts of his vast dominions. For as we would not expect the greatest to be above, so neither are the least below his notice; insomuch that a sparrow does not fall to the ground without him, and the very hairs of our heads are all numbered. Matt. x. 29, 30.
O how august and stupendous this work of God! It is a most rich display of all the divine perfections; especially of wisdom, goodness, and power; and it excites and improves all the powers, best faculties and affections of the soul, as well as every grace and virtue; as love, reverence, admiration, gratitude and the like. For who can contemplate such manifestation of power as we see in the ways of Providence, and not feel a reverential awe of him, who controls and sustains all creation? Who can view that infinite wisdom manifest in the whole, and not be filled with wonder and astonishment? Or who can trace the footsteps of goodness and mercy visible every where, but especially in the recovery of man, which is a particular dispensation of Providence, and not feel the springs of love, gratitude, and praise excited in him? Surely one would think it must be impossible; but we shall grow wiser and better while we read in the book of Providence that lies continually open before us. Yet, after all, we must remember that in our present state we can comprehend but a very small part of this vast whole, as it is mentioned in the book of Job. "Lo, these are parts of his ways, but how little a portion is heard of him." Job xxvi. 14.
But as all the ways of God are mysterious to us in this imperfect state, while we are so prone to judge of the whole from seeing a part, so there lies one objection against the doctrine we are speaking of. Not such as has been made by those who are fond of caviling, but which has been a difficulty to the godly. To the Psalmist, Ps. lxxiii. 2, 5. To Jeremiah, Jer. xii. 1; Heb. i. 13; and to Job, x. 3, and many others since: namely, that it is not just and equal, the wicked being often prosperous and the righteous afflicted. To which it might be sufficient to say with the Apostle, "Who art thou that repliest against God?" Romans ix. 20.
But we would further observe,
1. Inequality is necessary in all governments, and the beauty of them, as there must be different members in a body.
2. Wicked men may have some virtues, which cannot be rewarded but in this life.
3. All do not prosper.
4. The prosperous wicked are not so happy as they are thought to be. Proverbs xiv. 13, 14.
5. Their prosperity will have an end; while, on the other hand,
6. The righteous have imperfections.
7. And afflictions are necessary to perfect them in grace and holiness.
8. Lastly, their reward will be hereafter, when the equality will be made. Psalm lxxxiii. 17.
In regard of the question, how Providence can be versant about evil actions without destroying the liberty of the will, but that man may still remain a free agent, we have but room to suggest, that what is natural in the act is of God, what is sinful of man, like the ascending of vapors and exhalations from all bodies is owing to the sun; but that stench should arise from any, is owing to their being corrupted in themselves. So, also, speaking is from God; but speaking wickedly from man.
As for the concerns of Providence with good actions, there is but little danger of our erring by ascribing too much to it.
Finally, brethren, the well ordering, sustaining, and overruling all things and all possible events, in the whole universe, and through all ages, is the object of Providence, under the direction of him, whose kingdom ruleth over all. Psalm ciii. 19.
Two or three things we would now point out by way of improvement, and so conclude.
First. We ought to accustom ourselves to see and acknowledge our God, and set him before us, in all these his ways, wherein his wisdom, power, mercy, and goodness shine.
1. That such a display of divine perfections may not pass unheeded.
2. That so much goodness may not be lost on us, and rise up in judgment against us.
3. That we may not miss of means so powerful to promote virtue and vital piety.
4. Wherein if we fail we must be stupid and ungrateful to a degree not only unworthy of the Christian, and the means we enjoy, but also of the powers we are endowed with. Daniel v. 23.
Second. When chastised, we ought to "hear the rod and him that has appointed it." Micah vi. 9. This is and has been our case for some years past, which we have not room now to enlarge upon.
Third. When the profusion of a kind Providence is showered on our heads, it becomes us to be taught humility, dependence, love, and gratitude. Romans ii. 4. And this has always been our case, though more remarkably of late, when the Lord remembered mercy in the midst of deserved judgment. For if you consider the steps whereby divine Providence interposed in our favor during the present contest with Great Britain, you must see and know that the most high God ruleth in the kingdom of men, and that he appointed over it whomsoever he will. Daniel v. 21.
Thus, dear brethren, we have just entered on the subject, and, as it were, traced some of its outlines, than which our limits would allow us little more. We shall now conclude in the words of the Apostle to the Romans, chap. xi. 33, 36. "O the depth of the riches, both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments, and his ways past finding out! For of him, and through him, and to him, are all things, to whom be glory for ever. Amen."
BENJAMIN MILLER, Moderator.
SAMUEL JONES. Clerk.
[From Philadelphia Baptist Association Minutes, 1779. The title is supplied. Scanned and formatted by JIm Duvall.]
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