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On Providence

Providence is the fundamental catalyst of any deterministic society that has full faith towards their god, and is also the proof for those who believe that things happen for a purpose, even accidents that were less likely to happen to the most pious of persons. Among the somewhat many accounts that could probably serve to prove the power of divine providence comes in the Journal of John Winthrop. Known aptly as the 1st governor of the Massachusetts colony in America, Winthrop was often beset with trials and tribulations during his tenure.

His journal – which mostly contains an impressive record of shipments and trade transactions – also tells a darker side on life in the colony, which comes in the form of accounts on political enemies, political intrigue, resentment and hostility from the Native Americans (who, considering that the timeline was in the mid 1600s, are originally called Indians by the settlers), debauchery, blasphemy, murder, and hideous accidents that have happened to people in the colony. The accounts are brief, and some are left open – ended for reasons unknown.

The use of divine providence in his work is dogmatic as it is a word to express the wrath of god towards his enemies. It is a word often used by the author to explain freak accidents that befell on even the godliest of people in the colony, as well as events that constitute for untold rewards reaped by those who are just and loyal to him. One example of providence in action comes in the form of an accident. Sometime in 1641, Winthrop wrote, a woman in Boston had bought exquisite linen of great value.

Being a godly woman who never forgot about her duties as a Christian, this attitude changed when she had attached her heart too much on the bought linen. This obsession came to an end swiftly, when her maid had somehow forgot to snuff a candle placed near the linen before going to bed. The result of course, was that the linen was burnt to a cinder the following morning (Winthrop, 1630-1649, p. 31). To some, one would call this as an unfortunate event. But Winthrop thinks that it is not so, for this providence had freed the woman from her “earthly bonds” and thus had returned her to the godly path (Winthrop, 1630-1649, p.

32). This event was interpreted by the author as an action meted out from the displeasure of god, and sends a clear message that it is not wise to be attached to earthly goods and possessions, for they could disappear quickly as quickly as they have been bought. One could also see this as a warning to those who forget their duties as a follower of god, for he could mete swift punishment to those who forget their duties. Such punishments could come in many forms, and are not limited to the “what the Lord hath giveth, the Lord hath taketh away” variety.

An example would be in a minor account on 1644, where it tells of three fishermen from the Isle of Shoals. These fishermen, Winthrop writes, were very profane men and scorned religion, and drank heavily on the Lord’s Day rather than keep it holy. One would think that such fishermen would be let be by the townsfolk, but it became apparent that providence would not allow the wicked to have their ways. As soon as the fishermen cast off the week after, their boat hit hard on the rocks of the Isle of Shoals, and they drowned (Winthrop, 1630-1649, p.

138). This minor account alone sends a powerful message against the scorners of religion, particularly to the Christian faith. Those who would show themselves openly as an enemy of God would be punished eventually; the most terrifying would be in the form of death. Such would be said in the other accounts scattered in the book pertaining those few who are noted by Winthrop, though it would be finite to say that death is the only punishment that God would brandish on the non – believers.

Apparently, it is no surprise that Winthrop would be biased on providence provided on his position and to the government that runs the entire colony, considering the lingering impression that the author regards the position as a nightmare based on his accounts alone: Political enemies to contend to, the amount of dissent by those who would gladly sow anarchy, the intrigue and justice passed to the unbelievers of both God and government each day.

This would eventually lead Winthrop to idealize the providence of God to be at his side, for he believed that the justice of the government is the justice of God, and that anyone who stood in the way of the government stood in the way of justice, and stood in the way of God as well. This bias was strengthened by the special providence on Dr. Child, one of the colony’s staunch enemies. It would appear, as Winthrop stated, that the good doctor’s loss of influence as well as the continued failure of his plans to plant dissent against the government was God’s way of protecting the government (Winthrop, 1630-1649, pp.

339-340). This led to Winthrop to believe that God truly was on their side, for the providence against Dr. Child would allow them to continue to operate for the years to come. The message was also clear: no anarchist would escape God’s divine judgment. Punishment towards enemies is not the only providence that God provided. It would appear on most of the accounts Winthrop portrayed that God favored his disciples and innocents more than he would mete out woes towards those that are not. Among the many examples of this providence was the favoring of a young traveler named Warde, who fell on the ice during a trip.

But because of his honesty and goodwill, God was said to have spared him despite the icy death that should have met him (Winthrop, 1630-1649, pp. 54-55). Another example was the providence on a young child, who was thrown to the water by his mother and left to drown but was miraculously spared from it. What others would call blind luck may be put aside when the mother threw the child again to a much deeper pond. But since the child was innocent, providence allowed that a young man sees the child and rescue him (Winthrop, 1630-1649, p. 60).

This was also the case of a Smith’s child, who fell in the river near a mill gate, and was carried by the stream under the wheel. One of the wheel’s boards came off, and would cut anything that came near it in half. But the Smith’s child, by divine providence, was carried under the gap, and was eventually found by his father (Winthrop, 1630-1649, p. 276). A final testament to this would come in the strange case of a stray sow in 1636. It was said that a Captain Keayne had found this sow, and had showed it to many people as to find its true owner, but none had moved to claim it for a year.

He then left the sow near his own sow. Now, Sherman’s wife was said to have lost a sow, and inquired about it to the Captain, but only went for it on the day that Keayne killed his own sow. Upon arrival, and seeing that the killed sow had the same markings as that of her stray sow, she accused the Captain that he had killed her own sow. A hearing was filed, and the Captain was cleared of charges. But Sherman’s wife was not pleased, and by spite brought the matter to an inferior court. But alas, the captain, by his innocence, was granted innocence even to such lowly court (Winthrop, 1630-1649, p.

64). Here Winthrop did not provide further speculation as to why such providences would come to such people despite the hopelessness of their situations. It would appear that good omens and salvation from life – threatening events (which were rampant at that time) for those whose faith was tempered; and that it would be best to not question such providences; nor would it be wise to treat them as trivialities. Winthrop’s early accounts would seem to suggest that providence comes to the non-believers and to those who fail to follow their duties as godly Christians.

But it appeared on certain accounts that it was not so, and that even the most godly of people would still suffer the wrath of God lest they do not heed his call on even the simplest of reasons. An example to this would be on the account of Nathaniel Briscoe, a godly young man whose only flaw was that he would rather work for wages than work for good will alone. His father, a godly yet poor man, asked for his son’s help one day. But, seeing that he had better profit helping another man on that day, he refused to help his father.

Retribution came in the form of providence, as when he loaded a boat on that day; he misstepped, fell into the river and drowned (Winthrop, 1630-1649, pp. 61-62). The account provided a grim reminder to people on how God can be unforgiving to those who do not help out of pure kindness from the heart, even to those who were considered to be his children. Providence also appeared as a source of strength for even grim troubles. An example for this was on the account of Mr. Tompson. Mr. Tompson, Winthrop wrote, was a melancholic man and of a crazy body.

On their arrival to Virginia they were given liberal entertainment, in which had rejuvenated Mr. Tompson’s body and spirit. This providence however, Winthrop wrote, was meant to strengthen him in both mind and heart for a trial on the horizon. For his loving wife, one who was a great and comfortable help to him, died during his travels, and his children was said to have scattered, but were well disposed of among his godly friends (Winthrop, 1630-1649, p. 94). Thus, providence in the form of good will and blessings may not be as it seemed, for there may entail a price greater than what one would ask for.

It would appear that these accounts would support a more systematic view on the way things work as proved by deterministic speculation. God, as it appeared, moved even in the most unfortunate events, as Winthrop wrote. Much as it would be a wonderful thought that God would be so kind as to shape the destiny of a particular society such thinking has been dissolved by the pervasive notion of free will in today’s society. People, it seems, had cast their lot on their own lives rather than the wisdom provided in the mechanistic mysteries of providence.

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