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in its boldest flight, can never reach the fathomless abyss of that eternity in which this plan was laid, and all its parts adjusted, “when as yet the morning stars had not sung together, nor the sons of God shouted for joy;" when as yet there was no earth, and this beautiful universe had not burst from the darkness and the disorder of chaos; when the eternal son intensely dwelling, in the plenitude of his compassion, on human misery, said, “ Lo, I come,” and in the intense desire of his generous soul, rejoiced in the habitable parts of our earth, and his delights were with the sons of men !
Those eternal, immutable purposes of God, in which that mighty scheme is fixed, as upon an eternal rock, we can never reach. We call them by various names; we seek a thousand illustrations and solutions ; but still the knowledge is too high for us : we cannot attain to it, and they remain locked up amongst those secrets that belong alone to God. It is not for us to read the book of the divine decrees—the volume of life—or to tell the number of the saved, or to ascertain the principles on which personal or national election to everlasting salvation, or the privileges of the gospel proceed. Neither can our power of calculation ever number up the myriads of crowns which, because of the exalted rank he occupies in this great scheme of redemption, shall one day be placed upon the redeemer's brow, or the myriads of anthems and hallelujahs that his ransomed shall pour for ever at his feet! This mighty scheme, in which the wisdom, and the knowledge, and the power, and the justice, and the mercy of God are all alike displayed, requiring eternal duration in which to unfold its blessings; those immeasurable realms, in which to display these glories, uniting ends the most opposite to each other, and purposes that seem for ever at variance, the honor of the Creator, and the salvation of the fallen creature—the glory of the sovereign, and the pardon of the rebel—the justification of the guilty, and the justice of the justifier ! such a plan, I say, may well bid defiance to human faculties, and disdain to compress all its illustrations and developments within the narrow limits of our three-score years and ten! Ask not, then, why God chose the Israelites to be his people, and not the Egyptians! Ask not why God has made these British Isles, and the continent of America, the depositaries of his truth, instead of China, or Hindoostan! Ask not why two men sit in one pew, and the gospel shall be to one the savor of life unto life, whilst unto the other it is a savor of death unto death-that to one it shall be the means of his eternal salvation, whilst it shall only aggravate the guilt, and enhance the punishment of the other! Ask not “ Lord, are there few that be saved ?” Ask not how God will deal with infants, idiots, and lunatics, who not possessing the requisite qualifications that constitute a moral agent, cannot be accountable. Ask not what sentence he will pronounce upon the heathen, who never heard the name of Christ, nor listened to the glad tidings of salvation by his blood! Plunge not into these labyrinths of daring speculation or bold curiosity-put not this idle and senseless question to the Deity: he will not answer you—it is not in his word. Yet if you demand, he replies, “ I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy.” If you object, he says, “ Nay but, О man, who art thou, that replyest against God? hath not the potter power over the clay, to make one vessel to honour, and another unto dishonour ?" If you are dissatisfied with this, he says, “ should it be according to thy mind ?are you to be consulted in my infinite arrangements, and must my plans be submitted to your inspection, and receive your fiat ere I adopt them and proclaim them as my own ?" Are you disposed to reason with him, he will reason too. What if God, willing to show his wrath, and to make his power known, endure with much long suffering, the vessels of wrath fitted to destruction, and that he might make known the riches of his glory on the vessels of mercy, which he had afore prepared unto glory, and where is the idle objector, and the daring sceptic, and the proud reasoner, and the vain philosopher ? « Let God be true, and every man a liar !" But if you are humble, and patient, and submissive, he cheers you with this promise, “ What I do thou knowest not now, but thou shalt know hereafter.” Now you see as through a glass darkly; but then face to face! Now you know in part, and prophecy in parts; but when that which is perfect is come, then that which is in parts shall be done away. “ Clouds and darkness are round about him; righteousness and judgment are the habitation of his throne !” Brethren! here are mysteries which you cannot fathom; but they are no mysteries to God! You cannot grasp the mighty scheme in all its dependencies and parts; but infinite intelligence comprehends and fathoms all! It may seem to you a scene of wild confusion and disorder; but it is an ocean encompassed by his perfections! In the clouds that encircle it he has set the bow of promise; and every wave that rolls teems with love to his people, good to the universe, and glory to himself! That eternity in which the scheme of human redemption arose, and through which it will develop its blessings, he inherits. Though he does not condescend to assign the reason of his conduct to his creatures, and that displays his sovereignty,) yet he has an infinite reason for all he does, and that distinguishes his sovereignty from mere caprice and arbitrary power. Though you cannot comprehend the eternal purposes of God, yet he has a glorious motive for every purpose. Though you do not read the book of life, he that wrote it reads it, and knows every name written in it; “ and they shall be mine, saith the Lord, in the day when I make up my jewels.” And he will pronounce a sentence on the heathen world that shall secure the admiration of all intelligences, by its infinite rectitude, justice, and truth. And then “ at the name of Jesus," whom he has appointed to judge the world, “every knee shall bow, of things in heaven, of things on earth, of things under the earth; and every tongue shall confess that he is Lord to the glory of God the Father.” From hell, as well as from heaven ; from the damned, as well as from the redeemed, the vast revenue of his renown—the full tide of his glory—shall be for ever acknowledged! And when the darkness is removed, and the clouds are rolled away, the righteousness and judgment that support his throne shall beam forth and fill the universe with their splendour, and shall be the triumph of all holy beings throughout eternal ages! But in the
2nd place: We gather an illustration from the sentiment contained in the text, of the dispensations of his providence. The dealings of God with individuals in society, we call his providence general and particular; and his dealings with his people we call his gracious and special providence, because in all his dealings towards them he has a kind and gracious design. Every sigh, every pang, every tear, every sorrow, every loss, every distress, “ all things work together for good to them that love God, and are the called according to his purpose.” Is there a salutary pang that visits them that is not the commissioned messenger of mercy, and that does not bear on its balmy wings some token of his love? And yet the providence of God is proverbially mysterious : it abounds with mystery, and is ever perplexing to those that study it. There you see the righteous depressed, overwhelmed, and afflicted, whilst the wicked prosper and are exalted to rank and honor, and have all that heart can wish! There you see the active, the diligent, the energetic, and the useful, suddenly cut off, and the slothful, the supine, and the thoughtless left to encumber still the ground! There you see the young, the vigorous, the athletic, the faithful minister, the laborious itinerant, the devoted missionary, the beloved partner, cut off in the midst of their exertions, with the fairest prospects before them, and laid in an untimely grave, and devout men make great lamentation over them; whilst the hoary-headed sinner still continues a curse to his connexions, a foul blot on society, to multiply enormities and crime with his encreasing years! There we see the generous and the benevolent man suddenly bereft of his means of doing good; and he who was long and arduously engaged in the most glorious purposes, connected with the welfare of society, is reduced to indigence and want! There the mother is torn away from the midst of her family! the father removed, when all around him were hanging upon him for support! and the man finds, perhaps, all his plans are frustrated, every hope is destroyed, every prospect overcast, and every prayer seemingly refused, until at last he sinks, the victim of despondency, and ceases to struggle against what appears to be his inevitable destiny, and he cries out, “ Show me wherefore thou contendest with me; for thou hast broken me with breach upon breach.” Now, brethren, to tell this man that all
these things work together for his good, seems like insulting his misfortunes! To tell Job that the loss of his property, the bereavement of his children, his own diseases, the reproaches of his friends, and the unkind treatment of his wife, that all these are blessings in disguise, seems to be like trifling with his woes ! And you, when your wounds are bleeding, and your heart is overwhelmed under some sudden calamity, are ill prepared to receive the declaration of my textą“Clouds and darkness are round about him ; righteousness and judgment are the habitation of his throne.” And yet it is all true; and God would not be just—God would not be wise and kind—if he did not visit you precisely as he has. For every suffering there was a necessity: there was no one visitation that had not its commission. But all the troubled waves of that agitated sea will break and leave a blessing at your feet. Yes, providence is mysterious; it is a vast machine, and we only see a part. There are wheels within wheels, and springs operating upon springs; and because we cannot see the whole, we are apt to conclude there is no harmony in the mechanism! but the parts are all adapted to a general purpose: and we wonder and expect that all will soon be a chaos-but by and by the clouds will roll off, and we shall see the eternity in which it rolls, and the eternity in which it terminates. We shall survey with a power of vision such as we are now incapable of; and looking at the immense and mighty structure, we shall be led to admire its perfect symmetry, its fair proportions, its wonderful harmony, the adaptation of its several parts, and the living spirit that animates and inspires the whole.
“ Deep in unfathomable mines
Of never-failing skill
6 Clouds and darkness are round about him; righteousness and judgment are the habitation of his throne.” But I must hasten to the practical lessons taught us by the subject : and let me direct your thoughts first to adoration. Adore the Being whom you cannot comprehend! Enter into the spirit of the apostle; and, instead of cavilling, arguing, and resisting; instead of bringing down the Deity to your tribunal, and pronouncing an impious sentence on his conduct; instead of charging the Almighty foolishly, and replying against God; fall down with the Apostle, and exclaim, “ O the depths of the riches both of the knowledge and of the wisdom of God! how unsearchable is his wisdom, and his ways past finding out!" And adore that unsearchable Jehovah, and be thankful that such a Being sits upon the throne of the universe, and sways its sceptre: a Being that will not bow to your prejudices! a Being that will not consult your appetites ! a
Being that will have no respect to your passions! a Being that will conduct all in infinite wisdom, for the security of his own glory, and in infinite love for the especial welfare of his people. Oh, happy are you, who when, in the hour of anguish, you cry unto him to remove the load, if he listens not to thy prayer, but suffers it to remain until it has accomplished all his purpose ! Happy are you, who, while smarting under the rod, you entreat to be delivered from its scourge, he will not lay that rod aside until the last intended stroke is given, and he has sanctified the painful visitation he has sent! Happy for you, Christians, that There is One who is controlling all things for your good, directing the fury of every storm by which you are assailed; in the midst of darkness guiding you by an invisible hand, and preparing you for the brightness of an eternal day when this night is over and gone, and the blessed morning of your final redemption shall break upon your head !
Learn, in the second place, from the subject which we have now discussed ; learn the exercise of faith. Trust him, though you cannot trace him : believe the doctrine plainly recorded in his word, though it is beyond the grasp of your finite reason; and do not conclude the doctrine is contrary to your reason, because it is above it. There is much that the rustic cannot understand, which the philosopher clearly comprehends. Much of truth there is which human beings, even the most exalted in intellect, cannot grasp—that angels cannot! Much of truth there is which, obscure to us, is perfectly obvious to the infinite mind. Nor is there a single principle in the ordinary intercourse of life, or the structure of thy mortal frame, but well may excite doubt and hesitation, if the perfect comprehension of the truth is absolutely necessary to make it true. Tell me what is the power by which I lift up my arm to the impulse of my will. Tell me how my spirit, with all its powers, dwells within this tabernacle of clay, and operates upon my material frame. Take a grain of sand, a drop of water, a ray of light, and explain to me all the mysteries which each supplies; and when you have done the task, then I will allow you to cavil with the truth of revelation, and dispute the veracity of God! but till then be content to acknowledge your ignorance, let your finite be lost in the infinite; and the ray, the dim ray, of your reason be obscured by the bright effulgence of the uncreated light!
Learn, in the third place, gratitude, that, while there is so much mystery in redemption and providence, as well as in nature, yet that the great, the fundamental doctrines necessary to salvation, are clearly and simply explained, and written as with a sunbeam in the scriptures; so that he that runs may read, and “ the wayfaring man though a fool shall not err therein.” We turn from these mysteries, and “ we declare to you, men and brethren, that by this man, Christ Jesus, is preached to you the remission of