« AnteriorContinuar »
outward circumstances. It is to be remembered, that the present life is not a state of recompence, but a state of trial ; consequently, men are not dealt with in outward dispensations according to their true character. The goods of Nature and Providence are distributed indiscriminately among mankind. The sun shines, the rain falls, upon the just and the unjust. It is a dangerous error, therefore, to judge of moral character from external condition in life. This was the error of Job's friends ; this the foundation of the censures they cast against this excellent person, and for which they were reproved. The intention of the book of Job is, to show the falseness of that supposition, by representing the incomprehensi. ble Majesty of God, and the unsearchable nature of his works. Many instances in Scripture confirm the truth of this observation. Who, that saw David reduced to straits, wandering for refuge in the rocks and dens of the wilderness, would have believed him to be the prince whom God had chosen ? Who, that beheld Nebuchadnezzar walking in his palace, surrounded with all the pomp and splendour of the east, would have believed him to be the object of Divine displeasure, and that the decree was gone out, that he was to be driven among the beasts? Who, that beheld our Lord in the form of a servant, would have believed that he was the Master of Nature?
I am, lastly, To deduce the practical consequences from the do&rine, by showing you the grounds of joy and consolation that it gives to the world.
In the first place, The doctrine of a superintending Providence yields us joy and consolation with respect
to our lot in life. Many persons are accustomed to complain concerning their situation and circumstances in the world. Their desires and their fortune do not correspond ; they think that they are misplaced by Providence, and look upon the lot of their neighbours as more eligible than their own. It is impoffible, in the present system of things, that all men can be alike. Nature, through all her works, delights in variety. Though every flower is beautiful, and every star is glorious ; yet one flower excelleth another in beauty, and one star exceedeth anoth. er in glory. There are also diversities in human life, and a beautiful subordination prevails amongst mankind. The Father of Spirits hath communicated himself to men in different degrees. But although all men cannot be alike ; yet all men may enjoy a great measure of happiness. Every station in life possesses its comforts and advantages. In those com. parisons you make of your life with that of others, when you would wish to exchange places with some of your more fortunate neighbours, do you not always find something in which you have the superiority ? Is there not some talent of the mind, some quality of the heart, something where you think your strength lies, some one source of enjoyment, which you would wish still to retain ? Is not this the testimony of nature, that you are happier in that path of life, than you would be in another ? Wherever you are placed by Providence, the station appointed is the post of honor. A general, in the day of battle, marshals his army according as he sees proper, and distributes the posts of danger and importance, according to the courage and conduct of his soldiers.
Your Commander knows your abilities better than you do yourselves; he prescribed to you the duty you have to execute ; and he marked out the path in which you are to seek for honor and immortality. It is from your discharge of these offices assigned to you, that the happiness of your life, and the perfection of your character, are to arise. It is not from the sphere they hold in life, but from the lustre they cast around them in that sphere, that men rank in the Divine estimation, and figure in the annals of eternity. If, with five talents, you gain five more, or if, even with one talent, you gain another, you are as praiseworthy as he who, with ten talents, gaineth other ten talents.
Further, As in a kingdom, every highway leads to the capital ; as in a circle, every line terminates in the centre ; fo, in the wide circle of nature, every line terminates in heaven ; and every path in life conducts alike to the great city of God. The prelent state is intimately connected with the future; the life which we now lead, is an education for the life which is to come. If your mind were enlarged to comprehend all the connections and dependencies of things; if your eyes were opened to take in the whole of your immortal existence, you would then fee and acknowledge, that Providence had alligned to you the very station you would have wished to fill; the very part you would have chosen to act. Trusting, therefore, in that God who presides over the universe ; assured of that wisdom and goodness which direct the whole train of the Divine administrations, each of us may express our joy in the words of the Psalmist : 66 The lines have fallen to me in pleaf“ ant places ; I have a goodly heritage : the Lord is " the portion of mine inheritance; the Lord will 56 command the blessing, even life for evermore.”
In the second place, This doctrine will yield us confolation during the afflictions which we meet with in life. If we believed that the universe was a state of anarchy, confusion, and uproar, that the Governor of the world was a cruel and malignant being, who made sport of human misery, and took pleasure in punishing his unhappy creatures, such a thought would overwhelm the mind; it would turn the gloom of adversity into the shadow of death, and mingle poison in the cup of bitternefs which we are doomed to drink. But the Scriptures inform us, that the dark dispensations of Providence are part of that plan which has the good of the world for its object ; take their rise from the goodness of our Father in heaven; are intended for the reformation and final blessedness of his children. The same word of life which says, “ Blessed is the man whom thou 6 choosest and makest approach unto thee," says also, “ Blessed is the man whom thou chastenest.” So far from being marks of the Divine wrath, the affictions of life are tokens of the Divine love. While heedless and unthinking we go astray, God interests himself in our favour, and sends these his messengers to bring us to himself. It is but a narrow and imperfect view we take of afflictions, when we consider them only as trials. They are not so much intende ed for the trial as for the cultivation of virtue. They are sent by Providence, to mortify your unruly pas. sions ; to wean you from the world ; to prepare you for heaven. They are sent for the improvement of your nature; for the increase of your graces, and for the superabounding of your joy to all eternity. When under the afflicting hand of Heaven therefore, you are standing a candidate for immortality; you are singled out by Providence to exert the part of a christian, and you are called forth to exhibit to the world a pattern of the suffering virtues. He is but a novice in the school of Christ, who has not learned to suffer. The best affections of the heart, the noblest graces of the foul, the highest virtues of life, the offering that is most acceptable to Heaven, arise from the proper improvement of adversity. The blessed above, whom the Prophet faw arrayed in white before the throne, came out of great tribulation ; the blessed above, whom he heard singing the song of Moses and the Lamb, learned the first notes of it on the bed of sorrow.
Such is the intention of afflictions which Provi. dence sends, and even under these afflictions God is with his people. You are ever under the hand of a merciful Creator, who doth not afflict willingly, nor grieve the children of men. He knoweth your frame; he remembereth that you are but duft; he will afflict you no further than you are able to bear; and as your days are, he hath promised that your strength shall be. Nay, in all your afflictions he is present with you, and the hand that bruised you binds up the wound. Let not then your hearts be troubled. Bear up under the pressure of wo. Rejoice because the Lord reigneth, and exult in the language of the Prophet; “ Although the figtree “ should not blofsom, nor fruit be found in the vine; " though the lobour of the olive should fail, and the