Jesus has, with the utmost propriety, taught us to pray, “Give us our daily bread.” That God is the giver of our daily bread, we cannot hesitate a moment to admit.
But in vain would the sun shine and the rain descend, if we were not to prepare the ground, sow the seed, and gather in the produce, which would otherwise be scattered and lost.
Everything the hand of the Almighty has bestowed with the utmost liberality and profuseness – light, air, water, fire, minerals, metals – all require the labor and ingenuity of man to be productive of their greatest benefits.
And with respect to ourselves, the preservation of our bodies in health depends in no small degree upon our own care, caution, and prudence.
But in these calls upon the industry, care, and attention of humanity, there is no coercion - no absolute uncontrollable necessity; strong motives are indeed presented, but we may, if we will, counteract them. If we do so, we become culpable, and suffer in consequence.
Nothing can be more evident than that we are to work together with God; and it is equally clear that all this would have no meaning, if we were not endued with liberty of acting.
Let us then inquire whether he be not possessed of freedom as a moral agent. Our moral, as well as our rational faculties, are the gift of our Creator. By our moral faculties, it would be understood to mean our perception of the intrinsic difference between moral good and evil. Being thus given, it is ours for the time we are to exercise it.
Revelation, and particularly the Gospel revelation given to us by Jesus, is that influence under which the moral principle fully unfolds itself, and, like the ripening sun and fructifying showers of heaven, assisting and co-operating with human industry, attention and culture, exhibits it in all its beauty, fragrance and utility.
But as is true in Nature’s system, it is also true in the moral system: in vain may the sun of righteousness arise, in vain may divine instruction and assistance be offered, if we will not accept and improve; in vain may the hand of divine mercy be stretched out, if we will be disobedient. Almighty God has, by the laws He has established, put it out of His own power to save the obstinate and rebellious from the consequences of their misconduct.
As He spoke to Israel, saying, “Say unto them, As I live, says the Lord God, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and live-turn ye, turn ye from your evil ways, for why will ye die, 0 house of Israel?” (Ezek. 18:31; 33:11)
It was as if He says, “I cannot help you if I would, if you will not help yourselves."
Indeed, the power of humanity to obey or disobey, to accept or refuse, is, like the unity of God, so clearly legible in every page of revelation, that it is so abundantly confirmed by every reasoning and feeling faculty, that to doubt of it would be to doubt of our existence.
As little also can we doubt of the nature and reality of that influence and assistance which is imparted to us from above. Like the light that visits our eyes, it is present if we will but open them to see. Like the air that surrounds us, it is every moment ready to be inhaled, if we do not willfully obstruct the organs of respiration.
At any moment we please, we may have recourse to God’s word, which He has given us, as a good parent gives his children an estate. At first view, and on its very face, it is a generous gift, an ample patrimony, capable of supplying our most pressing demands, with a small degree of attention.
But we are not to satisfy ourselves with this. We are to dig into it to find the treasure it contains - we are to ascertain, by study and experiment, how it is to be made capable of producing the greatest possible benefit; and, if we are wise, shall hear and compare the different opinions of others before we finally decide upon our plan.
God has made us with such capacities for happiness as suited the plans of his infinite benevolence. A state of inaction on our part does not enter into those plans.
God has done much for us, but He has given us much to do; and if we neglect or refuse to fall in with His intentions, our interest and our happiness suffer in proportion, for His laws are not to be disregarded with impunity.
(Adapted from a sermon by Rev. Ralph Eddowes, 1817)