« AnteriorContinuar »
sently a reprobate and a castaway, an abomination to the Lord, one whom God has laid aside, and will never use more; which were the terms and language by which many excellent persons were not long since treated by a generation of men, who, by rapine and reformation being possessed of their places and estates, were as bold to promise themselves as sure a perseverance in temporals, as they did in spirituals.
Such persons, when God has done execution upon any, then in a preposterous way they pronounce the sentence, and after he is executed, then set upon him, and condemn him. But blessed be God that he is not forced to write after their dictates, and that man's hatred is not God's. Wherefore we may take shelter in the word of truth, from all such wandering, roving, and impertinent censures. Prov. xxvi. 2. As the bird by wandering, as the swallow by flying, and I may add, as such men by judging; so the curse causeless shall not come, unless perhaps upon the head of those who thus pronounce it; but then it ceases to be causeless.
2. The second thing is, to shew the principles inducing men thus to charge God's judgments upon false causes; and these are three.
(1.) The fallibility of the rule, and the falseness of the opinion by which they judge. The rule is providence, and the opinion is, that God's providence is an evidence of his love. For the first, in this they lay the ground of necessary error: for he must equally err who follows a false rule, and who follows
Now a rule, in the nature of it, implies certainty; and certainty in actions consists in a perpetual infallible repetition of the same instance, at least supposing the same circumstances.
A Converse out of the world.
But now God's providence, though it is certain to him, all the windings and varieties of it being clearly and infallibly represented to his omniscience, yet to us it is uncertain, as not always producing the same instances in the same cases. Such an one is in a strait, and prays, and is delivered : but is this a rule for me to judge, that whosoever is in the same strait, and prays, shall meet with the same deliverance? Experience shews the contrary, and there is no confuting of experience. In short, providences cannot be brought under any general rule, except only this, that they are according to God's will; which will is not revealed, and therefore cannot be known till the event declares it.
And as for the opinion that is founded upon this rule, that God's love and hatred are writ upon his providential dealings; it is not only to be denied as false, but to be detested as impious and uncharitable, as that which tends to extirpate brotherly love and civil
since even nature will convince us, that our love ought to follow God's love, and our hatred to second his, wheresoever he is pleased to fix it; then collecting God's love where I see a man prosper, I must love him too, which indeed is profitable; and on the other side, concluding his hatred where I see any low and afflicted, I am engaged to hate him too, which indeed is safe ; but neither of them is Christian, humane, or indeed tolerable.
Besides, those that are the most liberal in judging by this rule, when the instance comes to be made in themselves, they will admit it only by halves, and cut off one half by exception. For if they prosper, then it is an argument of God's love; but if those whom
they hate prosper, they will ascribe that to chance. If their enemies are afflicted, then God's judgments argue his hatred; but if themselves are brought low, judgments then are but only chastisements, or at the most casual contingents.
Nay, by this prevarication with their own opinion, they will elude and slip out of any argument that can be brought against them from providence. For when they flourish in the world, they say, this is the witness of providence sealing to their saintship and the justness of their doings : but if things go cross, why then they say, it is the lot of the saints to suffer affliction. So that you see it is impossible to lay hold of them either way.
There is no reason therefore, if they cannot bear the inconvenience of the utmost latitude of their own rule retorted upon themselves, that it should be admitted to bind others. For if it do not hold in all, the obligation cannot reasonably be forced upon any. But besides the apparent folly of it, if the external procedures of God's providence be the rule to measure his love or hatred by, then it cannot be avoided but that the rich and powerful have the fairest plea for heaven, and the martyrs the shrewdest marks of reprobation.
(2.) The second principle, inducing men thus to misplace God's judgments, is their inability in discerning, joined with their confidence in pronouncing. For can those that are slow to apprehend, and hasty to give sentence, be imagined likely to pass a right judgment ? But the latter temper is usually attended with the former ; forwardness to speak, with slowness to apprehend: for indeed it is not only at
tended with, but caused by it; rashness being the effect of shallowness; and because men understand not the intricacies of a providence, they are bold and sudden in their sentence. Qui ad pauca respicit, de facili pronunciat. Where they cannot untie the knot by severe scrutiny, they presently cut it asunder by a sharp censure.
Men who arrogate to themselves an apostolic spirit, and look upon themselves as dictators in religion, and think they see through all God's dealings, whereas they have the same infirmities and weakness of understanding with other men, and have no greater supernatural helps and revelations; yet joining the former confidence with this weakness, no wonder if they mangle God's dealings, and fling about blessings and curses at random ; often blessing where God curses, and cursing where he blesses.
But let us see into what ridiculous censures ignorance acted with rashness betrays men. In Acts xxviii. 3, the barbarians, who doubtless looked upon themselves as no ordinary persons in judging of such things, when they saw the viper fastening on Paul's hand, after that he had escaped shipwreck in the fourth verse, see how judiciously they interpret that strange accident! They said amongst themselves, No doubt this man is a murderer, whom, though he hath escaped the sea, yet vengeance suffereth not to live. Here they quickly found out the matter; Paul was a murderer; the case is clear, for the viper fastened upon his hand; and it seems all that are seized upon by vipers must of necessity be murderers. But now, what if Paul shakes off the viper without any harm, as it fell out that he did, why
then in the sixth verse, when they saw no harm come to him, they changed their minds, and said that he was a god. And this as wisely as the other.
A strange turn, you will say, both of their opinion and of Paul's condition ; from one that deserved not to live, to one that could not die. This is like the heathens deifying of Mars, from a murderer to make him a god. Thus we see how they interpreted providences; and the truth is, those that interpret them alike, will also judge like barbarians, not like Christians, but make a man a god and a murderer the same hour; a saint to-day, and a reprobate to-morrow. We see, therefore, that this proceeding is both impious and ridiculous; and those who take this course, do not so much interpret God's judgments, as shew the defect of their own.
(3.) The third principle, inducing men to misplace God's judgments, is the inbred malice of our nature. There is a spice of brutish envy in most, and a sordid jealousy for their own good upon the sight of another man's, which causes them to make morose, unpleasing reflections upon all events, and even to lose truth while they pursue their humour. This temper, mixed of jealousy and malice, is that which makes these two odious actions so familiar to men, to suspect and misjudge.
Now what an unhandsome face must be set upon God's providences, measured by an understanding so weak, that it cannot, and a temper so partial, that it will not judge rightly, is apparent. It bends them to its own obliquity; and that which passes through a crooked thing, must needs contract a crookedness in the passage. This temper of mind causes men, in all their censures of providence, not to speak God's