Friday, July 31, 2015

The Agency of God in the Infliction of Evil (Part 1)

This and the following two posts are from an article in the August and September 1837 issues of the Reformed Presbyterian. While the primary national sin the anonymous author bewails is slavery, it takes no effort to see the applicability of the article to contemporary national sins. The full title of the article is "The Agency of God in the Infliction of Evil: and Why He Does It."

The word evil, though one of very common use, has an extensive latitude of meaning. It is used in different senses: and, like many others, its meaning in a given case, can only be ascertained by its relation to the context. In the remarks which we now lay before our readers we use the word as expressive of physical evil—external trouble, suffering, calamity. It is so used by the sacred writers as in Amos, iii. 6. "Shall there be evil in a city, and the Lord hath not done it?" 

In this use of the term, evil is caused by God; and the infliction of it, forms an important part of the administration of his government of individuals and societies. This is a truth, which, perhaps more than any other, is liable to be neglected.—Indeed, men generally act, as if the evils which are endured by individuals or societies were altogether disconnected with the providence of God, when in fact they are inflicted by him. Not even a sparrow can fall to the ground irrespective of his will. It is a practical forgetting of God to attribute to secondary causes the events of providence, whether evil or good; it is the very spirit of Atheism, and is followed by the most injurious consequences to religion and morality. The Almighty claims to himself the high prerogative of inflicting evil on the children of men, and of communicating good to them; and reproves them severely for despising the truth. "I form the light and create darkness: I make peace and create evil: I the Lord do all these things." "Except the Lord do build the house, they labour in vain that build it: except the Lord keep the city the watchmen waketh but in vain." Is. xiv. 7. Ps. cxxvii. 1. 

It does not correspond with the Divine plan of government, however, to operate directly and immediately in the production of evil: the ordinary course of God, is to employ a subordinate agency of means; through the medium of such means, He inflicts evil upon individuals, cities, and nations. This is indeed the ordinary way by which God proceeds in all his providences, means are subordinated to his designs, and by these he accomplishes what he has designed. And the means as well as the end are ordained by Him. He determined to inflict evil. He determined too, the means by which it should be inflicted, and the whole train of events and circumstances that might render them operative. 

These means are numerous and exceedingly varied. Sometimes the agency of man is employed: man is made the means of bringing evil upon man, while the immediate object he has in, view is the gratification of his ambition, pride, malice, or cupidity; but the sufferings of others are the effects: and are to be seen in the desolations and horrors of war, encroachments on the rights of men, slander and reproach, and every wicked work. And here it ought to be remembered,- that however deserved the evil may be, as coming from the hand of God, and determined by him; that man often acts very sinfully as the instrument by which the evil is inflicted. 

Sometimes the beasts of the field become the instruments of evil lo those whom God would afflict. And sometimes the most insignificant insects cut off the hope of the husbandman, at one time, by destroying the precious seed; at another by devouring the fruits of harvest. "When your gardens and your vineyards, your fig-trees and your olive trees increased, the palmer-worm devoured them: yet have ye not returned unto me saith the Lord: that which the palmer-worm hath left, hath the locust eaten; and that which the locust hath left, hath the canker-worm eaten; and that which the canker-worm hath left, hath the caterpillar eaten," 

Sometimes, the elements of nature are the means by which God sends evil upon the sons of men. By an unseen hand, the wind that had been at rest, is awakened; and, as if aroused into anger, careers over the deep, while the stately ships with their crews and cargoes, that had been gliding onwards in apparent safety to their respective havens, are in a few hours or perhaps moments strewed as wreck upon the waters. The merchant and the ship-owner mourn over their bankrupt fortunes, and their families are reduced to poverty: widows and orphans weep over husbands and fathers lost, and their cheerless homes proclaim the reality of their experienced evils. The solar heat during the summer months has only to range above the usual warmth, and the traveller becomes exhausted and the labourer sinks under its influence: or in winter, the cold becomes intense, and the sailor is frozen before the mast, the traveller perishes on the highway and the friendless poor suffer in their wretched dwellings. The stream that moves gently onward to the ocean—and which man renders subservient to his pursuits of business or of pleasure, suddenly swells beyond its accustomed channel and desolates the neighbouring country; and thus the fruit and the toil of years are swept into destruction, while the unresisted flood pours contempt on the feeble efforts of man. 

The thunder rolls; and the lightning's streak is seen to quiver through the heavens, and the terrified animals that had crowded together under a neighbouring tree fall lifeless. Or perhaps the calamity is still more dire, the electric fluid enters the habitation of man, and the unsuspecting inmates in the midst of joy are struck dead! Or it may be, the common element of fire obtains the mastery over man, and covers with wide spread desolation whole squares and streets of buildings. The stillness of night is disturbed by the alarm and dismay of the terror-stricken inhabitants, while the irresistible conflagration leaps from house to house, and from street to street, and ma n looks on, helpless and confounded: the accumulated wealth of years—the millions that had been collected from all quarters of the globe are in one night consumed: and thousands of individuals dependent on their daily labour are reduced to want. This is no ideal picture drawn from fancy; it is one of fact; and strong as are its lineaments, they are less deeply marked than the originals furnished in frequent scenes of too recent occurrence to need particular description. 

Sometimes, disease is made the means of scourging the inhabitants of the earth. God in his righteous providence frequently visits nations, by sending among them epidemical diseases, which very speedily become the means of consigning vast numbers to the grave, and of inflicting unspeakable suffering upon such as survive. "I have sent among you the pestilence after the manner of Egypt, saith the Lord." Such calamities, by whatever names they ma y be known, are the servants of God in doing his pleasure among the sons of men. Modern times furnish us with an awful illustration of this kind, in the disease of Cholera. More than fifty millions of human beings (or upwards of one sixteenth part of the whole human race) are said to have been cut off by this angel of destruction, in a few years. It has passed from East to West, and scourged the nations in its course. Its deadly march through our own land is yet fresh in our memories, when the stoutest heart was appalled, and universal mourning and bereavement filled the land! 

Sometimes, the sources of national wealth are dried up; while bankruptcy and want swell the aggregate of suffering. "He that earneth wages, earnelh wages to put it into a bag with holes." "Ye looked for much and lo it came to little, and when ye brought it home I did blow upon it saith the Lord of hosts." The present mercantile crisis, in the United States, is an extraordinary example of the kind to which we have referred.—A whole nation cast down from the very "summit of an almost unexampled mercantile prosperity! And, how sudden, how rapid the change from prosperity to ruin? The work comparatively of a moment! Many, who a few months ago, could command hundreds of thousands, are now bankrupt—the most extensive chartered companies cannot meet their pecuniary obligations.—In one. word, as a commercial people we may be said to be bankrupt. Unless we are destitute of all religious impressions we will recognize the hand of God in these things.—He has blown upon our prosperity and it has come to nought.

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