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of all men most miserable ; but that their employment and situation afforded them many compensating enjoyments, may be apprehended not only from the reason of the case, but from the promise of their omniscient Master, that whosoever had abandoned houses and lands, and wife and children, for his name's sake, should receive manifold more of blessing in the present life, as well as in that life everlasting, where his toils were finally to be rewarded!
But after all, with the exception of some peculiar dispensations, it will be by no means easy to show, on any grounds of Scripture or experience, that the balance of good and evil is, in this life, unfavourable to the virtuous even in those outward gifts of Providence, in which, till they are tried, it is natural for flesh and blood to look for happiness. Perfect bliss, indeed, is not to be found below; and even if bliss unalloyed were the promised reward of virtue, I know not where we should seek for that perfect virtue which could claim it. But is it really true that, in the ordinary dispensations of Providence, no advantage is given to virtue? Why then does every instance of successful vice, or virtue oppressed, excite not only our murmurs, but our astonishment ? On what principle but that of experience could the heathen orator pronounce it impossible for the impious and perjured man to found a lasting empire ? Or was it not an inspired experience which led the
i St. Matt. xix. 29.
Psalmist to declare that, in the course of a long life, he had never seen the righteous forsaken? Perfect felicity, I repeat, is given to none; and that definite felicity, which arises from wealth and power, is no where promised to God's children. But the promise is most blessed which, without determining the exact share of temporal advantages which may fall to them, assures them, in every state of life, of support, of comfort and protection, and so much, and no more, of worldly happiness or worldly sufferings, as He who loves them best, and knows them best, perceives to be most for their advantage.
It yet remains for me to discuss the nature and number of those spirits, by whose agency, as disclosed in my text, the Almighty interposes in the defence and assistance of His servants. This will be the subject of a future sermon. But I cannot conclude my present discourse without shortly calling your attention to the practical results which flow from the doctrine of a particular Providence, in the hope that God may bless their consideration to our holiness here, and our everlasting happiness hereafter.
In the first place, few considerations are more full of comfort, or more apt to excite in us an unbounded gratitude and veneration, than the knowledge that the events of life are not administered by blind chance or inexorable destiny, but by the immediate superintendence of the wisest and best of Beings, by whom our wants are known, by whom our prayers are heard, by whom our exertions after hap
piness are rendered efficacious and successful, who “ careth for those who cast their cares upon Him,” and makes “ all things work together for good to those who love” Him. Verily “ the Lord reigneth, let the earth rejoice, let the multitude of isles be glad thereof.” “We give Thee thanks, O Lord God Almighty, because Thou hast taken to Thee Thy great power, and hast reigned !."
Secondly, it must shew how greatly godliness has the advantage in this world as well as in the world to come, if we consider that, as neither good nor evil is dispensed to mankind at random, so if we are fit for good, good will come to us; while if we are ready to faint under the gracious chastisement of God, the surest way to obtain relief is, by the diligent amendment of our lives, to render that chastisement unnecessary. Nor can a stronger inducement be found to think humbly of our own success in life, and charitably of the failures of other men, than the assurance that both they and we can only so far succeed as God has determined for us, and that " it is not of him that willeth, nor of him that runneth, but of God that sheweth mercy.”
And, lastly, when we accustom ourselves to look up to God as His daily and hourly pensioners, and to ascribe whatever we receive or obtain to His bounteous and only dispensation, we may learn to look on prayer not only as a duty but a privilege, and to
" I St. Pet. v. 7. Rom. viii. 28. Psalm xcvii. 1. Rev. xi. 17. ? Romans ix. 16.
apply to His throne for the good things which we desire from Him, with as much earnestness and regularity as we now betake ourselves to the outward and ordinary means of obtaining the gratification of our wishes. Yea more, with this pervading and abiding sense of God's infinite presence and power, the necessary pursuits of the present life will, themselves, become devotional, as we go forth to our toil, and commence our studies in His name from whom every good gift proceeds, and consecrate to His service whatever increase He shall bestow of knowledge, or renown, or prosperity !
ON THE MINISTRY OF GOOD ANGELS.
[Preached before the University of Oxford, 1818, and at
2 Kings vi. 16.
Fear not! for they that be with us, are more than they which are
We are now arrived at the second branch of the enquiry which these words have suggested, the existence, namely, and the number of those invisible beings, by whose agency the Almighty (as in the case of the prophet Elisha) protects or consoles His servants.
For that they were spiritual and celestial guards to whose presence Elisha thus referred, and on whose power and numbers he reposed his hope of safety is plain, both from the reason of his words themselves, and from the miracle by which those words were corroborated, when the eyes of his attendant were so purged from the film of mortality as to behold those terrific ranks, whose chariots thronged the mount, and interposed their burning wheels between the prophet and his Syrian enemies. But though the literal and obvious sense of the words is thus undoubted, a question has still been