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many things have occurred, of which we had no expectation ; some, perhaps, that have succeeded beyond our hopes; many, also, that have befallen us contrary to our wish? How often were each of us admonished that there are secret wheels, which, unseen by us, bring about the revolutions of human affairs; and that, while man was devising his way, Providence was directing the event?
That scene is now closed. The tale of that year has been told. We look forward to the
which is beginning; and what do we behold there ? — All, my brethren, is a blank to our view: A dark unknown presents itself. We are entering on an untried, undiscovered country, where as each succeeding month comes forward, new scenes may open; new objects may engage our attention ; changes at home or abroad, in public or in private affairs, may alter the whole state of our fortune. New connections may be at hand to be formed, or old ones just about to be dissolved; perhaps, we may have little more to do with this world, or with any of its connections; we may be standing on the verge of time and life, and on the point of passing into a new region of existence. In short, the prospect before us is full of awful uncertainty. Life and death, prosperity and adversity, health and sickness, joy and trouble, lie in one undistinguishable mass, where our eye can descry nothing through the obscurity that wraps them up.
While it is thus certain that our times are not at our own disposal, we are taught by the text, that they are in the hand of God. This may be considered in two views. Our times are in the hand of God, as a supreme Disposer of events. They are in the hand of God, as a Guardian and a Father.
Our times, I say, are in the hand of God as a supreme irresistible Ruler.
All that is to happen to us in this and the succeeding years of our life, - if, any succeeding years we shall be allowed to see, has been foreknown and arranged by God. The first view under which human affairs present themselves to us, is that of confused and irregular succession. The events of the world seem thrown together by chance, like the billows of the sea, tumbling and tossing over each other, without rule or order. All that is apparent to us, is the fluctuation of human caprice, and the operation of human passions. We see the strife of ambition, and the efforts of stratagem, labouring among the societies of men.
But it is no more than the surface, the outside of things that we behold. Higher counsels, than it is in our power to trace, are concerned in the transactions of the world. If we believe in God at all, as the Governour of the universe, we must believe that, without his providence, nothing happens on earth. He over-rules, at his pleasure, the passions of men. He bends all their designs into subserviency to his decree. He makes the wrath of man to praise him; and restrains, in what measure he thinks fit, the remainder of wrath. *
He brings forth in their course all the generations of men. When the time is come for their entering into light, they appear on the stage; and when the time fixed for their dismission arrives, he changes their countenance, and sends them away.
* Psalm lxxvi, 10.
The time of our appearing is now come, after our ancestors had left their place, and gone down to the dust.
We are at present permitted to act our part freely and without constraint. No violence is done to our inclination or choice. But assuredly there is not a day of our life, nor an event in that day, but was foreseen by God. That succession of occurrences, which to us is full of obscurity and darkness, is all light and order in his view. He sees, from the beginning to the end; and brings forward every thing that happens in its due time and place.
Our times are altogether in his hand. take notice, that they are not in the hands either of our enemies or of our friends. It is not in the
power of man to shorten or to prolong our life, more or less than God has decreed. Enemies may employ craft or violence in their attacks; friends may employ skill and vigilance for the preservation of our health and safety; but both the one and the other can have effect only as far as God permits. They work in subserviency to his purpose. By him they are held in invisible bonds. To the exertions of all human agents he says, Hitherto shalt thou come, and no farther.
We are to observe next, that our times are in the hand of God, not only as an almighty Disposer, but as a merciful Guardian and Father. We are by no means to imagine, that from race to race, and from year to year, God sports with the lives of succeeding generations of men, or in the mere wantonness of arbitrary power, brings them forth, and sends them away. No; if we have any confidence in what either the light of nature suggests to all men, or what the revelation of the Gospel has confirmed to Christians, we have full ground to believe that the administration of human affairs is conducted with infinite wisdom and goodness. The counsels of the Almighty are indeed too deep for our limited understandings to trace. His path may, often, as to us, be in the sea, and his footsteps in the mighty waters; while, nevertheless, all his paths are mercy and truth. He who, from the benignity of his nature, erected this world for the abode of men; He who furnished it so richly for our accommodation, and stored it with so much beauty for our entertainment'; He who, since first we entered into life, hath followed us with such a variety of mercies, surely can have no pleasure in our disappointment and distress. Ile knows our frame ; He remembers we are dust ; and looks to frail man, we are assured, with such pity as a futher beareth to his children.*
To him we may safely commit ourselves, and all our concerns, as to one who is best qualified, both to direct the incidents proper to happen to us in this world, and to judge of the time when it is fit for us to be removed from it.
Even that ignorance of our future destiny in life, of which we sometimes complain, is a signal proof of his goodness, He hides from us the view of futurity, because the view would be dangerous and overpowering. It would either dispirit us with visions of terrour, or intoxicate us by the disclosure of success. The veil which covers from our sight the events of this and of succeeding years, is a veil woven by the hand of mercy. Our times are in his hand; and we
* Psalm ciii. 13, 14.
have reason to be glad that in his hand they are kept, shut out from our view. Submit to his pleasure as an Almighty Ruler we must, because we cannot resist him. Equal reason there is for trusting in him as a Guardian, under whose disposal we are safe.
Such is the import of the text, that our times are in the hand of God. Our times are unknown to us, and not under our own direction. They are in the hands of God as a Governour and Ruler; in the hands of God as a Guardian and Father. These separate views of the text require, on our part, separate improvements.
SEEING our times are not in our own hand, seeing futurity is unknown to us, let us, first, check the vain curiosity of penetrating into what is to come. Conjecture about futurity we often must; but upon all conjectures of what this year is to produce, let us lay a proper restraint. Let us wait till God shall bring forward events in their proper course, without wishing to discover what he has concealed; lest, if the discovery were granted, we should see many things which we would wish not to have seen.
The most common propensity of mankind is to store futurity with whatever is agreeable to them; especially in those periods of life when imagination is lively, and hope is ardent. Looking forward to the year now beginning, they are ready to promise themselves much from the foundations of prosperity which they have laid; from the friendships and connections which they have secured; from the plans of conduct which they have formed. Alas! low de