« PreviousContinue »
by which he is ever directing the sun and the moon, the planets, stars, and comets, in their course through the heavens, while they appear to move themselves in a free course, are matters no less inexplicable to us, than the manner in which he influences the counsels of men. But, though the mode of Divine operation remains unknown, the fact of an overruling influence is equally certain in the moral, as it is in the natural world. In cases where the fact is clearly authenticated, we are not at liberty to call its truth in question, merely because we understand not the manner in which it is brought about. Nothing can be more clear from the testimony of Scripture, than that God takes part in all that happens among mankind; directing and overruling the whole course of events so as to make every one of them answer the designs of his wise and righteous government. This is distinctly and explicitly asserted in the text. Throughout all the sacred writings, God is represented as on every occasion, by various dispensations of his Providence, rewarding the righteous, or chastening them, according as his wisdom requires, and punishing the wicked. We cannot, indeed, conceive God acting as the governor of the world at all, unless his government were to extend to all the events that happen. It is upon the supposition of a particular Providence, that our worship and prayers to him are founded. All his perfections would be utterly insignificant to us, if they were not exercised on every occasion, according as the circumstances of his creatures required. The Almighty would then be no more than an unconcerned spectator of the behaviour of
his subjects, regarding the obedient and the rebellious with an equal eye. It were needless to prosecute any
farther the argument in favour of a particular Providence. The experience of every one must, more or less, bear testimony to it. We need not for this
We need not for this purpose have recourse to those sudden and unexpected vicissitudes, which have sometimes astonished whole nations, and drawn their attention to the conspicuous hand of Heaven. We need not appeal to the history of the statesman and the warrior ; of the ambitious and the enterprising. We confine our observation to those whose lives have been most plain and simple, and who had no desire to depart from the ordinary train of conduct. — In how many instances, my
. friends, have you found, that you are held in subjection to a higher Power, on whom depends the 'accomplishment of your wishes and designs ? Fondly you had projected some favourite plan. You thought that you had forecast, and provided for all that might happen. You had taken your measures with such vigilant prudence, that on every side you seemed to yourself perfectly guarded and secure. But, lo! some little event hath come about, unforeseen by you, and in its consequences, at the first seemingly inconsiderable, which yet hath turned the whole course of things into a new direction, and blasted all your hopes. At other times, your counsels and plans have been permitted to succeed. You then applauded your own wisdom, and sat down to feast on the happiness you had attained. To your surprise you found, that happiness was not there; and that God's decree had appointed it to be only vanity. We labour for prosperity, and obtain it not.
Unexpected, it is sometimes made to drop upon us, as if of its own accord. The happiness of man depends on secret springs, too nice and delicate to be adjusted by human art. It requires a favourable combination of external circumstances with the state of his own mind. To accomplish on every occasion such a combination, is far beyond his power;
but it is what God can at all times effect; as the whole series of external causes are arranged according to his pleasure, and the hearts of all men are in his hands, to turn them wheresoever he wills, as rivers of water. From the imperfection of our knowledge to ascertain what is good for us, and from the defect of our power to bring about that good when known, arise all those disappointments which continually testify, that the way of man is not in himself; that he is not the master of his own lot; that though he may devise, it is God who directs; God who can make the smallest incident an effectual instrument of his Providence for overturning the most laboured plans of men.
Accident, and chance, and fortune, are words which we often hear mentioned, and much is ascribed to them in the life of man. But they are words without meaning; or, as far as they have any signification, they are no other than names for the unknown operations of Providence. For it is certain, that in God's universe nothing comes to pass causelessly or in vain. Every event has its own determined direction. That chaos of human affairs and intrigues, where we can see no light; that mass of disorder and confusion which they often present to our view, is all clearness and order in the sight of Him who is governing and directing all, and bringing forward
every event in its due time and place. The Lord sitteth on the flood. The Lord maketh the wrath of man to praise him, as he maketh the hail and the rain obey his word. He hath prepared his throne in the heavens ; and his kingdom ruleth over all. A man's heart deviseth his way, but the Lord directeth his steps.
HAVING illustrated the doctrine of the text, I proceed to show how it is to be improved by us. I must begin with warning you, that the doctrine I have illustrated has no tendency to supersede counsel, design, or a proper exertion of the active powers of man.
Because Providence is superior to us, it does not follow that therefore man has no part to act; or because our industry is sometimes disappointed, that therefore it is always vain. It is by the use of ordinary means that Providence, for the most part, accomplishes its designs. Man devising his own way, and carrying on his own plans, has a place in the order of means which Providence employs. To exertions, therefore, of his own, he is called by God. His Maker framed him for action ; and then only he is happy, when in action he is properly employed. To supine idleness, to a vain and presumptuous trust in Providence, while we neglect what is incumbent on us to perform, no encouragement is given in Scripture; on the contrary, threatenings are denounced against it. But the doctrine of the text is to be improved,
In the first place, for correcting anxious and immoderate care about the future events of our life. This anxiety is the source of much sin, and therefore is often rebuked in Scripture, as alienating the mind from God, and from the higher objects of virtue and religion, and filling the heart with passions which both annoy and corrupt it. If it be the parent of much sin, it is certainly also the offspring of great folly. For in such a state as human life has just now been represented to be, what means this mighty bustle and stir, this restless perturbation of thought and care, as if all the issues of futurity rested wholly on our conduct? - Something depends upon thyself; and there is reason, upon this account, for acting thy part with prudence and attention. But upon a hand unseen it depends, either to overturn all thy projects, or to crown them with success; and therefore, when the issue is so uncertain, thine attention should never run into immoderate care. By disquieting thyself so much about futurity, thou takest upon thy shoulders a load which is not thine, and which indeed thou art unable to bear.
The folly of such anxiety is aggravated by this consideration, that all events are under a much better and wiser direction than we could place them. Perhaps that evil which we have dreaded so much in prospect, may never be suffered to arrive. Providence may either have turned into a quite different course, that black cloud which appeared to carry the storm; or before the storm burst, our heads may be laid so low as to be out of its reach. Perhaps, also, the storm may be permitted to come upon us, and yet under its dark wings may bring to us some secret and unexpected good. Who knoweth what is good for man all the days of his vain life, which he spendeth as a shadow ? Who knoweth this, my brethren, except God? And who consulteth it so effectually as lie, who, by his infinite wisdom, maketh all