« FöregåendeFortsätt »
be glad therein." You see the dawn of that glorious day, whereof all the prophets have spoken. And how shall you most effectually improve this day of your visitation !
12. The first point is, see that you yourselves receive not the bless ing of God in vain. Begin at the root, if you have not already. Now repent, and believe the gospel! If you have believed, “ look to yourselves, that ye lose not what you have wrought, but that ye receive a full reward!" Stir up the gift of God that is within you! Walk in the light as he is in the light! And while you“ hold fast that which you have attained, go on unto perfection !" Yea, and when you are “made perfect in love," still, " forgetting the things that are behind, press on to the mark, for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus!"
13. It behoves you, in the next place, to help your neighbours. “Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven.” As you have time, do good unto all men, but especially unto them that are of the household of faith. Proclaim the glad tidings of salvation ready to be revealed, not only to those of your own household, not only to your relations, friends, and acquaintance, but to all whom God providentially delivers into your hands! “Ye," who already know in whom you have believed, are the salt of the earth.” Labour to season, with the knowledge and love of God, all that you have any intercourse with ! “ Ye are as a city set upon a hill;" ye cannot, ye ought not to be hid. “ Ye are the light of the world : men do not light a candle, and put it under a bushel ;" how much less the all wise God! No; let it shine to all that are in the house ; all that are witnesses of your life and conversation. Above all, continue instant in prayer, both for yourselves, for all the church of God, and for all the children of men, that they may remember themselves, and be turned unto our God, that they likewise may enjoy the gospel blessing on earth, and the glory of God in heaven!
SERMON LXXII. - On Divine Providence.
« Even the very hairs of your head are all numbered,” Luke xii, 7.
1. The doctrine of Divine providence has been received by wise men in all ages. It was believed by many of the eminent heathens, not only philosophers, but orators and poets. Innumerable are the testimonies concerning it, which are scattered up and down in their writings, agreeable to that well-known saying in Cicero, “ Deorum moderamine cuncta geri :” that all things, all events in this world, are under the management of God. We might bring a cloud of witnesses to confirm this, were any so hardy as to deny it.
2. The same truth is acknowledged at this day in most parts of the world : yea, even by those nations which are so barbarous as not to kaow the use of letters. So when Paustoobee, an Indian chief, of the Chicasaw nation in North America, was asked, “Why do you think the Beloved Ones (so they term God,) take care of you ?” he answered, without any hesitation, “I was in the battle with the French; and the bullet went on this side, and the bullet went on that side; and this map
died, and that man died; but I am alive still; and by this I know that the Beloved Ones take care of me."
3. But although the ancient as well as modern heathens had some conception of a divine providence, yet the conceptions which most of them entertained concerning it were dark, confused, and imperfect: yea, the accounts which the most enlightened among them gave, were usually contradictory to each other. Add to this, that they were by no means assured of the truth of those very accounts: they hardly dared to afirm any thing; but spoke with the utmost caution and diffidence: insomuch that what Ciceró himself, the author of that noble declaration, ventures to affirm in cool blood, at the end of his long dispute upon the subject, amounts to no more than this lame and impotent conclusion : Mihi verisimilior videbatur Cottæ oratio : “What Cotta said," (the person that argued in the defence of the being and providence of God,) “ seemed to me more probable, than what his opponent had advanced to the contrary."
4. And it is no wonder: for only God himself can give a clear, consistent, perfect account, (that is, as perfect as our weak understanding can receive, in this our infant state of existence; or, at least, as is consistent with the designs of his government,) of his manner of governing the world. And this he hath done in his written word: al} the oracles of God, all the Scriptures, both of the Old Testament and the New, describe so many scenes of divine providence. It is the beautiful remark of a fine writer, “Those who object to the Old Testament in particular, that it is not a connected history of nations, but only a congeries of broken, unconnected events, do not observe the nature and design of these writings. They do not see, that Scripture is the history of God." Those who bear this upon their minds, will easily perceive, that the inspired writers never lose sight of it; but preserve one unbroken, connected chain from the beginning to the end. All over that wonderful book, as “ life and immortality” (immortal life) is gradually “ brought to light,” so is Immanuel, God with us, and his kingdom ruling over all.
5. In the verses preceding the text, our Lord has heen arming his disciples against the fear of man. “ Be not afraid," says he, verse 4, “ of them that can kill the body, and after that have no more that they can do." He guards them against this fear, first, by reminding them of what was infinitely more terrible than any thing which man could inflict: “Fear him, who after he hath killed hath power to cast into hell." He guards them farther against it, by the consideration of an overruling providence: " Are not five sparrows sold for two farthings, and not one of them is forgotten before God ?" Or, as the words are repeated by St. Matthew, with a very inconsiderable variation, chap. x, verse 29, "not one of them shall fall to the ground without your father. But the very hairs of your head are all numbered."
6. We must indeed observe, that this strong expression, though repeated by both the evangelists, need not imply, (though if any one thinks it does, he may think so very innocently,) that God does literally number all the hairs that are on the heads of all his creatures : but it is a proverbial expression, implying, that nothing is so small or insignificant in the sight of men, as not to be an object of the care and providence of God; before whom nothing is small that concerns the happiness of any of his creatures.
7. There is scarce any doctrine in the whole compass of revelation, which is of deeper importance than this. And, at the same time, there is scarce any that is so little regarded, and perhaps so little understood. Let us endeavour then, with the assistance of God, to examine it to the bottom; to see upon what foundation it stands, and what it properly implies.
8. The eternal, almighty, all-wise, all-gracious God, is the Creator of heaven and earth : he called out of nothing, by his all-powerful word, the whole universe; all that is. “ Thus the heavens and the earth were created, and all the hosts of them.” And after he had set all things else in array, the plants after their kinds, fish and fowl, beasts and reptiles, after their kinds, “he created man after his own image.” And the Lord saw, that every distinct part of the universe was good. But when he saw every thing he had made; all things in connection one with another; “ behold, it was very good.”
9. And as this all-wise, all-gracious being created all things, so he sustains all things. He is the Preserver as well as the Creator of every thing that exists. “He upholdeth all things by the word of his power;" that is, by his powerful word. Now it must be that he knows every thing he has made, and every thing that he preserves from moment io moment; otherwise he could not preserve it: he could not continue to it the being which he has given it. And it is nothing strange that he who is omnipresent, who "filleth heaven and earth,” who is in every place, should see what is in every place, where he is intimately present. If the eye of man discerns things at a small distance; the eye of an eagle, what is at a greater; the eye of an angel, what is at a thousand times greater distance; (perhaps taking in the surface of the earth at one view;) how shall not the eye of God see every thing, through the whole extent of creation ? Especially considering, that nothing is distant from him, in whom we all "live, and move, and have our being."
10. It is true, our narrow understandings but imperfectly comprehend this. But whether we comprehend it or no, we are certain that so it is. As certain as it is, that he created all things, and that he still sustains all that is created; so certain it is, that he is present, at all times, in all places; that he is above, beneath ; that he “besets us behind and before," and, as it were, “lays his hand upon us.” We allow,“ such knowledge is too high” and wonderful for us; we not attain unto it.” The manner of his presence no man can explain, nor, probably, any angel in heaven. Perhaps what the ancient philosopher speaks of the soul, in regard to its residence in the body, that it is, tota in toto, et tota in qualibet parte, might, in some sense, be spoken of the omnipresent Spirit, in regard to the universe : that he is not only "all in the whole, but all in every part.” Be this as it may, it cannot be doubted but he sees every atom of his creation; and that a thousand times more clearly, than we see the things that are close to us : even of these, we see only the surface, while he sees the inmost essence of every thing.
11. The omnipresent God sees and knows all the properties of the beings that he hath made. He knows all the connections, dependen 0;23, and relations, and all the ways wherein one of them can affec
another. In particular, he saw all the inanimate parts of the creation, whether in heaven above, or in the earth beneath. He knows how the stars, comets, or planets above, influence the inhabitants of the earth beneath ; what influence the lower heavens, with their magazines of fire, hail, snow, and vapours, winds, and storms, have on our planet; and what effects may be produced in the bowels of the earth by fire, air, or water; what exhalations may be raised therefrom, and what changes wrought thereby ; what effects every mineral or vegetable may have upon the children of men : all these lie naked and open to the eye of the Creator and Preserver of the universe !
12. He knows all the animals of the lower world, whether beasts, birds, fishes, reptiles, or insects: he knows all the qualities and powers he hath given them, from the highest to the lowest: he knows every good angel and every evil angel in every part of his dominions; and looks from heaven upon the children of men over the whole face of the earth. He knows all the hearts of the sons of men, and understands all their thoughts: he sees what any angel, any devil, any man, either thinks, or speaks, or does; yea, and all they feel : he sees all their sufferings, with every circumstance of them.
13. And is the Creator and Preserver of the world unconcerned in what he sees therein ? Does he look upon these things either with a malignant or heedless eye ? Is he an Epicurean god ? Does he sit at ease in the heaven, without regarding the poor inhabitants of earth? It cannot be. He hath made us; not we ourselves; and he cannot despise the work of his own hands. We are his children: and can a mother forget the children of her womb? Yea, she may forget; yet will not God forget us! On the contrary, he hath expressly declared, that as his “eyes are over all the earth," so he “is loving to every man, and his mercy is over all his works.” Consequently he is concerned every moment, for what befalls every creature upon earth; and more especially for every thing that befalls any of the children of men. It is hard, indeed, to comprehend this : nay, it is hard to believe it; considering the complicated wickedness, and the complicated misery, which we see on every side. But believe it we must, unless we will make God a liar; although it is sure, no man can comprehend it. It behoves us, then, to humble ourselves before God, and to acknowledge our ignorance. Indeed, how can we expect that a man should be able to comprehend the ways of God! Can a worm comprehend a worm ? How much less can it be supposed, that a man can comprehend God!
“ For how can finito measure infinite." 14. He is infinite in wisdom as well as in power : and all his wisdom is continuaily employed in managing all the affairs of his creation for the good of all his creatures. For his wisdom and goodness go hand in hand: they are inseparably united, and continually act in concert with almighty power, for the real good of all his creatures. being equal to his wisdom and goodness, continually co-operates with them. And to him all things are possible: he doeth whatsoever pleaseth him, in heaven and earth, and in the sea, and all deep places : and we cannot doubt of his exerting all his power, as in sustaining, so in governing all that he has made.
15. Only he that can do all things e se cannot deny himself: he cars
not counteract himself, or oppose his own work. Were it not for this, he would destroy all sin, with its attendant pain, in a moment. He would abolish wickedness out of his whole creation, and suffer no trace of it to remain. But in so doing he would counteract himself; he would altogether overturn his own work; and undo all that he has been doing, since he created man upon the earth. For he created man in his own image: a spirit like himself; a spirit endued with understanding, with will, or affections, and liberty; without which, neither his understanding nor his affections could have been of any use; neither would he have been capable either of vice or virtue. He could not be a moral agent, any more than a tree or a stone. If, therefore, God were thus to exert his power, there would certainly be no more vice; but it is equally certain, neither could there be any virtue in the world. Were human liberty taken away, men would be as incapable of virtue as stones. Therefore, (with reverence be it spoken,) the Almighty himself cannot do this thing. He cannot thus contradict himself, or undo what he has done. He cannot destroy, out of the soul of man, that image of himself, wherein he made him: and without doing this, he cannot abolish sin and pain out of the world. But were it to be done, it would imply no wisdom at all; but barely a stroke of Omnipotence. Whereas all the manifold wisdom of God (as well as all his power and goodness) is displayed in governing man as man; not as a stock or stone, but as an intelligent and free spirit, capable of choosing either good or evil. Herein appears the depth of the wisdom of God, in his adorable providence; in governing men, so as not to destroy either their understanding, will, or liberty. He commands all taings, both in heaven and earth, to assist man in attaining the end of his being, in working out his own salvation ; so far as it can be done, without compulsion, without overruling his liberty. An attentive inquirer may easily discern, the whole frame of divine providence is so constituted as to afford man every possible help, in order to his doing good and eschewing evil, which can be done without turning man into a machine ; without making him incapable of virtue or vice, reward or punishment.
16. Meantime, it has been remarked by a pious writer, that there is, as he expresses it, a three-fold circle of divine providence, over and above that which presides over the whole universe. We do not now speak of that overruling hand, which governs the inanimate creation ; which sustains the sun, moon, and stars in their stations, and guides their motions; we do not refer to his care of the animal creation, every part of which we know is under his government," who giveth food unto the cattle, and feedeth the young ravens that call upon him;" but we here speak of that superintending providence which regards the children of men. Each of these is easily distinguished from the others, by those who accurately observe the ways of God. The outermost circle includes the whole race of mankind; all the descendants of Adam; all the human creatures that are dispersed over the face of the earth. This comprises not only the Christian world, those that name the name of Christ, but the Mohammedans also, who considerably outnumber even the nominal Christians; yea, and the heathens likewise, who very far outnumber the Mohammedans and Christians put together. “Is he the God of the Jews,” says the apostle, "and not of the Gentiles also ?" And so we may say, Is he the God of the Christians, and not of the Mohammed