Page images

to nations and societies. When wars and commotions shake the earth, when factions rage, and intestine divisions embroil kingdoms that before were flourishing, Providence seems, at first view, to have abandoned public affairs to the misrule of human passions. Yet from the inidst of this confusion, order is often made to spring; and from these mischiefs lasting advantages to arise. By such convulsions, nations are roused from that dangerous lethargy into which flowing wealth, long peace, and growing effeminacy of manners had sunk them. They are awakened to discern their true interests; and taught to take proper measures for security and defence against all their foes. Inveterate prejudices are corrected; and latent sources of danger are discovered. Public spirit is called forth; and larger views of national happiness are formed. The corruptions to which every government is liable, are often rectified by a ferment in the political body, as noxious humours in the animal frame are carried off by the shock of a disease. Attempts made against a wise and wellestablished civil constitution tend in the issue to strengthen it; and the disorders of licentiousness and faction teach men more highly to prize the blessings of tranquillity and legal protection.

Fourtily, The wrath of man when it breaks forth in the persecution of religion, praises the divine goodness, by being rendered conducive to the advancement of truth, and propagation of religion in the world. The church of God, since the days of its infancy, hath never been entirely exempted from the wrath of the world; and in those ages during which it was most exposed to that wrath, it hath

always flourished the most. In vain the policy and the rage of men united their efforts to extinguish this divine light. Though all the four winds blew against it, it only shone brighter, and flamed higher. Many waters could not quench it, nor all the floods droron it. The constancy and fortitude of those who suffered for the truth, had a much greater effect in increasing the number of converts, than all the terrour and cruelty of persecutors in diminishing it. By this means the wrath of man was made to turn against itself, to the destruction of its own purpose; like waves, which, assaulting a rock with impotent fury, discover its immoveable stability, while they dash themselves in pieces at its feet.

I SHALL only add one other instance of the wrath of man praising God, by accomplishing ends of most extensive benefit to mankind. Never did the

rage and malice of the wicked imagine that they had obtained a more complete triumph, than in the death of Jesus Christ. When they had executed their purpose of making him suffer as a malefactor, they were confident that they had extinguished his name, and discomfited his followers for ever. Behold, how feeble are the efforts of the wrath of man against the decree of Heaven! All that they intended to overthrow, they most effectually established. The death of Christ was, in the councils of Heaven, the spring of everlasting life to the faithful. The cross on which he suffered with apparent ignominy, became the standard of eternal honour to him; the ensign under which his followers assembled and triụmphed. He who, at his pleasure, restrains the remainder of wrath, suffered the rage of our Saviour's enemies to suggest

no other things to them than what long before he had determined, and his prophets had foretold. They all conspired to render the whole scene of Christ's sufferings exactly conformable to the original predicted plan of Divine mercy and goodness; and each of them contributed his share to accomplish that great undertaking, which none of them in the least understood or meant to promote. - So remarkable an instance as this, fully ascertained in Scripture, of the wrath of man ministering to the designs of Heaven, ought to be frequently in our eye; as an exemplification of the conduct of Providence in many other cases, where we have not so much light afforded us for tracing its ways.

By this induction of particulars, the doctrine contained in the text is plainly and fully verified. We have seen that the disorders which the pride and passions of men occasion in the world, though they take rise from the corruption of human nature in this fallen state, yet are so over-ruled by Providence as to redound to his honour and glory who governs all. They illustrate before the world the divine perfections in the administration of the universe. They serve the purposes of moral and religious improvement to the souls of men. By a secret tendency, they advance the welfare of those whom they appear to threaten with evil. Surely, O God! the wrath of man shall praise thee; the remainder of wrath shalt thou restrain. — In thy hand it is; and Thou never lettest it forth but in weight and in measure. It is wild and intractable in its nature; but Thou tamest it. It is blind and headlong in its impulse ; but Thou directest it. It struggles continually to break its chain ; but

Thou confinest it; Thou retrenchest all the superfluity of its fury. Let us now consider, what improvement is to be made of this meditation on the ways of Providence.

In the first place, Let it lead us to a religious contemplation of the hand of God in all the transactions of the world. In the ordinary course of human affairs, we behold a very mixed and busy scene; the passions of men variously agitated, and new changes daily taking place upon this stage of time. We behold peace and war alternately returning; the fortunes of private men rising and falling; and states and nations partaking of the same vicissitude. In all this, if we attend only to the operation of external causes, and to the mere rotation of events, we view no more than the inanimate part of nature; we stop at the surface of things; we contemplate the great spectacle which is presented to us, not with the eyes of rational and intelligent beings. The life and beauty of the universe arises from the view of that wisdom and goodness which animates and conducts the whole, and unites all the parts in one great design. There is an eternal Mind who puts all those wheels in motion ; Himself remaining for ever at rest. Nothing is void of God. Even in the passions and ragings of men, He is to be found; and where they imagine they guide themselves, they are guided and controlled by his hand. What solemn thoughts and devout affections ought this meditation to inspire; when, in viewing the affairs of the world, we attend not merely to the actings of men, but to the ways of God; and consider ourselves, and all our concerns, as included in his high administration.

In the second place, The doctrine which has been illustrated should prevent us from censuring Providence, on account of any seeming disorders and evils which at present take place in the world. The various instances which have been pointed out in this discourse, of human passion and wickedness rendered subservient to wise and useful ends, give us the highest reason to conclude, that in all other cases of seeming evil, the like ends are carried

This ought to satisfy our mind, even when the prospect is most dark and discouraging. The plans of Divine wisdom are too large and comprehensive to be discerned by us in all their extent; and where we see only by parts, we must frequently be at a loss in judging of the whole. The way of God is in the sea, and his paths in the great waters ; his footsteps are not known.* But although thou sayest thou canst ' not see him, yet judgment is before him, therefore trust thou in him.t As in the natural world no real deformity is found, nothing but what has either some ornament or some use; so in the moral world, the most irregular and deformed appearances contribute in one way or other, to the order of the whole. The Supreme Being, from the most opposite and disagreeing principles, forms universal concord ; and adapts even the most harsh and dissonant notes to the harmony of his praise. As he hath reared the goodly frame of nature from various and jarring elements, and hath settled it in peace; so he hath formed such an union by his providence of the more various interests, and more jarring passions of men, that they all conspire to his glory, and co-operate for


* Psalm lxxyii. 19.

| Job, xxxy. 14.

« PreviousContinue »