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winter, seed time and harvest, regularly follow each other. Yea, all ́ things serve their Creator: "fire and hail, snow and vapour, wind and storm, are fulfilling his word:" so that we may well say, "Oh Lord our Governor, how excellent is thy name in all the earth!"
4. Equally conspicuous is the wisdom of God in the government of nations, of states, and kingdoms; yea, rather more conspicuous; if infinite can be allowed to admit of any degrees. For the whole inanimate creation, being totally passive and inert, can make no opposition to his will. Therefore, in the natural world, all things roll on in an even uninterrupted course. But it is far otherwise in the moral world. Here evil men and evil spirits continually oppose the divine will, and create numberless irregularities. Here, therefore, is full scope for the exercise of all the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God, in counteracting all the wickedness and folly of men, and all the subtlety of Satan, to carry on his own glorious design; the salvation of lost mankind. Indeed were he to do this by an absolute decree, and by his own irresistible power, it would imply no wisdom at all. But his wisdom is shown, by saving man in such a manner as not to destroy his nature, nor to take away the liberty which he has given him.
5. But the riches both of the wisdom and the knowledge of God, are most eminently displayed in his church: in planting it like a grain of mustard seed, the least of all seeds; in preserving and continually in creasing it, till it grew into a great tree, notwithstanding the uninterrupted opposition of all the powers of darkness. This the apostle justly terms the manifold wisdom (oxidos copia) of God. It is an uncom monly expressive word, intimating that this wisdom, in the manner of its operation, is diversified a thousand ways, and exerts itself with infinite varieties. These things the highest "angels desire to look into," but can never fully comprehend. It seems to be with regard to these chiefly, that the apostle utters that strong exclamation, "How unsearchable are his judgments!" His counsels, designs, impossible to be fathomed; "and his ways" of accomplishing them, "past finding out!" Impossible to be traced. According to the psalmist, "His paths are in the deep waters, and his footsteps are not known."
6. But a little of this he has been pleased to reveal unto us: and by keeping closely to what he has revealed; meantime comparing the word and the work of God together; we may understand a part of his ways. We may, in some measure, trace this manifold wisdom from the beginning of the world; from Adam to Noah, from Noah to Moses, and from Moses to Christ. But I would now consider it (after just touching on the history of the church in past ages) only with regard to what he has wrought in the present age; during the last half century; yea, and in this little corner of the world, the British islands only.
7. In the fulness of time, just when it seemed best to his infinite wisdom, God brought his first-begotten into the world. He then laid the foundation of his church; though it hardly appeared till the day of pentecost. And it was then a glorious church; all the members thereof being "filled with the Holy Ghost;" being "of one heart and of one mind, and continuing steadfastly in the apostles' doctrine, and in fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in the prayers." In fellowship; that is, having all things in common; no man counting any thing he had his own.
"Meek simple followers of the Lamb,
8. But this happy state did not continue long. See Ananias and Sapphira, through the love of money, ("the root of all evil,") making the first breach in the community of goods! See the partiality, the unjust respect of persons on the one side, the resentment and murmuring on the other, even while the apostles themselves presided over the church at Jerusalem! See the grievous spots and wrinkles that were found in every part of the church, recorded not only in the Acts, but in the epistles of St. Paul, James, Peter, and John. A still fuller account we have in the Revelation: and, according to this, in what a condition was the Christian church, even in the first century, even before St. John was removed from the earth; if we may judge (as undoubtedly we may) of the state of the church in general, from the state of those particular churches, (all but those of Smyrna and Philadelphia,) to which our Lord directed his epistles! And from this time, for fourteen hundred years, it was corrupted more and more, as all history shows, till scarce any, either of the power or form of religion was left.
9. Nevertheless it is certain, that the gates of hell did never totally prevail against it. God always reserved a seed for himself; a few that worshipped him in spirit and in truth. I have often doubted, whether these were not the very persons whom the rich and honourable Christians, who will always have number as well as power on their side, did not stigmatize, from time to time, with the title of heretics. Perhaps it was chiefly by this artifice of the devil and his children, that the good which was in them being evil spoken of, they were prevented from being so extensively useful as otherwise they might have been. Nay, I have doubted whether that arch heretic, Montanus, was not one of the holiest men in the second century. Yea, I would not affirm, that the arch heretic of the fifth century, (as plentifully as he has been bespattered for many ages,) was not one of the holiest men of that age, not excepting St. Augustine himself: (a wonderful saint! as full of pride, passion, bitterness, censoriousness, and as foul-mouthed to all that contradicted him, as George Fox himself.) I verily believe, the real heresy of Pelagius, was neither more nor less than this: The holding that Christians may, by the grace of God, (not without it; that I take to be a mere slander,) "go on to perfection;" or, in other words, "fulfil the law of Christ."
"But St. Augustine says:"-When Augustine's passions were heated, his word is not worth a rush. And here is the secret: St. Augustine was angry at Pelagius: hence he slandered and abused him, (as his manner was,) without either fear or shame. And St. Augustine was then in the Christian world, what Aristotle was afterwards: there needed no other proof of any assertion, than "Ipse dixit:” “St. Au gustine said it."
10. But to return: when iniquity had overspread the church as a flood, the Spirit of the Lord lifted up a standard against it. He raised up a poor monk, without wealth, without power, and, at that time, without friends, to declare war, as it were, against all the world; against the bishop of Rome and all his adherents. But this little stone being chosen of God, soon grew into a great mountain; and increased more
and more, till it had covered a considerable part of Europe. Yet even before Luther was called home, the love of many was waxed cold. Many, that had once run well, turned back from the holy commandment delivered to them; yea, the greater part of those that once experienced the power of faith, made shipwreck of faith and a good conscience. The observing this was supposed to be the occasion of that illness (a fit of the stone) whereof Luther died; after uttering these melancholy words; "I have spent my strength for nought! Those who are called by my name, are, it is true, reformed in opinions and modes of worship; but in their hearts and lives, in their tempers and practice, they are not a jot better than the Papists!"
11. About the same time it pleased God to visit Great Britain. A few in the reign of king Henry the eighth, and many more in the three following reigns, were real witnesses of true, scriptural Christianity. The number of these exceedingly increased, in the beginning of the following century. And in the year 1627, there was a wonderful pouring out of the Spirit in several parts of England, as well as in Scotland, and the north of Ireland. But from the time that riches and honour poured in upon them that feared and loved God, their hearts began to be estranged from him, and to cleave to the present world. No sooner was persecution ceased, and the poor, despised, persecuted Christians, invested with power, and placed in ease and affluence, but a change of circumstances brought a change of spirit. Riches and honour soon produced their usual effects. Having the world, they quickly loved the world: they no longer breathed after heaven; but became more and more attached to the things of earth. So that in a few years, one who knew and loved them well, and was an unexceptionable judge of men and manners, (Dr. Owen,) deeply lamented over them, as having lost all the life and power of religion, and being become just of the same spirit with those, whom they despised as the mire in the streets.
12. What little religion was left in the land, received another deadly wound at the restoration, by one of the worst princes that ever sat on the English throne; and by the most abandoned court in Europe. And infidelity now broke in amain, and overspread the land as a flood. Of course, all kind of immorality came with it, and increased to the end of the century. Some feeble attempts were made to stem the torrent during the reign of queen Anne; but it still increased till about the year 1725, when Mr. Law published his "Practical Treatise on Christian Perfection;" and not long after, his "Serious Call to a Devout and Holy Life." Here the seed was sown, which soon grew up, and spread to Oxford, London, Bristol, Leeds, York; and, within a few years, to the greatest part of England, Scotland, and Ireland.
13. But what means did the wisdom of God make use of in effecting this great work? He thrust out such labourers into his harvest, as the wisdom of man would never have thought on. He chose the weak things to confound the strong, and the foolish things to confound the wise. He chose a few young, poor, ignorant men, without experience, learning, or art; but simple of heart, devoted to God, full of faith and zeal, seeking no honour, no profit, no pleasure, no ease, but merely to save souls; fearing neither want, pain, persecution, nor whatever man could do unto them; yea, not counting their lives dear unto themselves, so they might finish their course with joy. Of the same spirit were the
people whom God by their word called out of darkness into his marvellous light, many of whom soon agreed to join together, in order to strengthen each other's hands in God. These also were simple of heart, devoted to God, zealous of good works; desiring neither honour, nor riches, nor pleasure, nor ease, nor any thing under the sun; but to attain the whole image of God, and to dwell with him in glory.
14. But as these young preachers grew in years, they did not all grow in grace. Several of them indeed increased in other knowledge; but not proportionably in the knowledge of God. They grew less simple, less alive to God, and less devoted to him. They were less zealous for God; and, consequently, less active; less diligent in his service. Some of them began to desire the praise of men, and not the praise of God only; some to be weary of a wandering life, and so to seek ease and quietness. Some began again to fear the faces of men; to be ashamed of their calling; to be unwilling to deny themselves, to take up their cross daily, "and endure hardship as good soldiers of Jesus Christ." Wherever these preachers laboured, there was not much fruit of their labours. Their word was not, as formerly, clothed with power: it carried with it no demonstration of the Spirit. The same faintness of spirit was in their private conversation. They were no longer" instant in season, out of season;" "warning every man, and exhorting every man,' if by any means they might save some.'
15. But as some preachers declined from their first love, so did many of the people. They were likewise assaulted on every side; encompassed with manifold temptations: and while many of them triumphed over all, and were "more than conquerors through him that loved them;" others gave place to the world, the flesh, or the devil; and so "entered into temptation :" some of them "made shipwreck of their faith," at once; some by slow, insensible degrees. Not a few, being in want of the necessaries of life, were overwhelmed with the cares of the world; many relapsed into the desires of other things, which choked the good seed," and it became unfruitful."
16. But of all temptations, none so struck at the whole work of God, as "the deceitfulness of riches:" a thousand melancholy proofs of which I have seen within these last fifty years. Deceitful are they indeed! For who will believe they do him the least harm? And yet I have not known three score rich persons, perhaps not half the number, during three score years, who, as far as I can judge, were not less holy than they would have been had they been poor. By riches I mean, not thousands of pounds; but any more than will procure the conveniences of life. Thus I account him a rich man, who has food and raiment for himself and family, without running into debt, and something over. And how few are there in these circumstances who are not hurt, if not destroyed thereby! Yet who takes warning? Who seriously regards that awful declaration of the apostle; even "They that desire to be rich fall into temptation and a snare, and into divers foolish and hurtful desires, which plunge men into destruction and perdition?" How many sad instances have we seen of this in London, in Bristol, in Newcastle; in all the large trading towns throughout the kingdom, where God has lately caused his power to be known! See how many of those who were once simple of heart, desiring nothing but God, are now gratifying "the desire of the flesh;" studying to please their senses, particularly their
taste; endeavouring to enlarge the pleasure of tasting as far as possible. Are not you of that number? Indeed you are no drunkard, and no glutton; but do you not indulge yourself in a kind of regular sensuality? Are not eating and drinking the greatest pleasures of your life; the most considerable part of your happiness? If so, I fear St. Paul would have given you a place among those "whose god is their belly!" How many of them are now again indulging" the desire of the eye!" Using every means which is in their power, to enlarge the pleasures of their imagination! If not in grandeur, which as yet is out of their way; yet in new or beautiful things! Are not you seeking happiness in pretty or elegant apparel, or furniture? Or in new clothes, or books, or in pictures, or gardens? "Why, what harm is there in these things!" There is this harm, that they gratify "the desire of the eye," and thereby strengthen and increase it; making you more and more dead to God, and more alive to the world. How many are indulging "the pride of life!" Seeking the honour that cometh of men? Or “laying up treasures on earth?" They gain all they can, honestly and conscientiously. They save all they can, by cutting off all needless expense; by adding frugality to diligence. And so far all is right. This is the duty of every one that fears God. But they do not give all they can; without which they must needs grow more and more earthly minded. Their affections will cleave to the dust, more and more; and they will have less and less communion with God. Is not this your case? Do you not seek the praise of men more than the praise of God? Do not you lay up, or at least desire and endeavour to "lay up, treasures on earth?" Are you not then (deal faithfully with your own soul!) more and more alive to the world; and, consequently, more and more dead to God? It cannot be otherwise. That must follow, unless you give all you can, as well as gain and save all you can. There is no other way under heaven to prevent your money from sinking you lower than the grave! For " if any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him." And if it was in him in ever so high a degree, yet if he slides into the love of the world, by the same degrees that this enters in, the love of God will go out of the heart.
17. And perhaps there is something more than all this contained in those words; "Love not the world, neither the things of the world." Here we are expressly warned against loving the world, as well as against loving "the things of the world." The world, is the men that know not God; that neither love nor fear him. To love these with a love of delight or complacence, to set our affections upon them, is here absolutely forbidden; and, by parity of reason, to converse or have any intercourse with them, farther than necessary business requires. Friendship or intimacy with them, St. James does not scruple to term adultery: "Ye adulterers and adulteresses, know ye not, that the friendship of the world is enmity with God? Whosoever, therefore, will be a friend to the world, is an enemy of God." Do not endeavour to shuffle away, or evade the meaning of those strong words. They plainly require us to stand aloof from them; to have no needless commerce with unholy men. Otherwise we shall surely slide into conformity to the world; to their maxims, spirit, and customs. For not only their words, harmless ag they seem, do eat as doth a canker; but their very breath is infectious