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22. Admitting, then, that in the common course of nature, God does act by general laws, he has never precluded himself from making exceptions to them, whensoever he pleases ; either by suspending that law, in favour of those that love him, or by employing his mighty angels : by either of which means he can deliver out of all danger them that trust in him.
“What! You expect miracles then ?" Certainly I do, if I believe the Bible : for the Bible teaches me, that God hears and answers prayer : but every answer to prayer is, properly, a miracle. For if natural causes take their course, if things go on in their natural way, it is no answer at all. . Gravitation therefore shall cease, that is, cease to operate, whenever the author of it pleases. Cannot the men of the world understand these things? That is no wonder : it was observed long ago, “ An unwise man doth not consider this, and a fool doth not understand it.”'
23. But I have not done with this same general providence yet. By the grace of God, I will sift it to the bottom: and I hope to show it is such stark staring nonsense, as every man of sense ought to be utterly ashamed of.
You say, “You allow a general providence, but deny a particular one." And what is a general, of whatever kind it be, that includes no particulars ? Is not every general necessarily made up of its several pariiculars ? Can you instance in any general that is not ? Tell me any genus, if you can, that contains no species? What is it that constitutes a genus, but so many species added together? What, I pray, is a whole that contains no parts ? Mere nonsense and contradiction ! Every whole must, in the nature of things, be made up of its several parts; insomuch that if there be no parts, there can be no whole.
24. As this is a point of the utmost importance, we may consider it a little farther. What do you mean by a general providence, contradistinguished from a particular? Do you mean a providence which superintends only the larger parts of the universe ? Suppose the sun, moon, and stars. Does it not regard the earth too? You allow it does. But does it not likewise regard the inhabitants of it ? Else what doth the earth, an inanimate lump of matter, signify? Is not one spirit, one heir of immortality, of more value than all the earth? Yea, though you add it to the sun, moon, and stars ? Nay, and the whole inanimate creation ? Might we not say, “ These shall perish; but” this remaineth: these all shall wax old as doth a garment;" but this (it may be said in a lower sense, even of the creature) is “the same," and his “years shall not fail.”
25. Or do you mean, when you assert a general providence, distinct from a particular one, that God regards only some parts of the world, and does not regard others? What parts of it does he regard ? Those without, or those within, the solar system? Or does he regard some parts of the earth, and not others ? Which parts ? Only those within the temperate zones ? What parts then are under the care of his providence? Where will you lay the line ? Do you exclude from it those that live in the torrid zone? Or those that dwell within the arctic circles? Nay, rather say, "The Lord is loving to every man,” and his care" is over all his works."
26. Do you mean, (for we would fain find out your meaning, if you have any meaning at all,) that the providence of God does, indeed,
extend to all parts of the earth, with regard to great and singular events; such as the rise and fall of empires; but that the little concerns of this or that man are beneath the notice of the Almighty? Then you do not consider, that great and little are merely relative terms, which have place only with respect to men. With regard to the Most High, man, and all the concerns of men, are nothing, less than nothing, before him. And nothing is small in his sight, that, in any degree, affects the welfare of any that fear God and work righteousness. What becomes then of your general providence, exclusive of a particular? Let it be for ever rejected by all rational men, as absurd, self contradictory nonsense. We may then sum up the whole Scriptural doctrine of providence, in that fine saying of St. Austin, “ Ita presidet singulis sicut universis, et universis sicut singulis!”
“FATHER, how wide thy glories shine!
Lord of the universe,-and mine :
As I remain'd thy single care." 27. We may learn from this short view of the providence of God, first, to put our whole trust in him, who hath never failed them that seek him. Our blessed Lord himself makes this very use of the great truth now before us. “ Fear not, therefore :" if you truly fear God, you need fear none besides. He will be a strong tower to all that trust in him, from the face of your enemies. What is there either in heaven or in earth that can harm you, while you are under the care of the Creator and Governor of heaven and earth? Let all earth and all hell combine against you; yea, the whole animate and inanimate creation; they cannot harm, while God is on your side : his favourable kindness covers you as a shield.
28. Nearly allied to this confidence in God, is the thankfulness we owe for his kind protection. Let those give thanks, whom the Lord thus delivers from the hand of all their enemies. What an unspeakable blessing it is, to be the peculiar care of Him that has all power in heaven and earth! How can we sufficiently praise him, while we are under his wings, and his faithfulness and truth are our shield and buckler?
29. But meantime we should take the utmost care to walk humbly and closely with our God. Walk humbly : for if you in any wise rob God of his honour, if you ascribe any thing to yourself, the things which should have been for your wealth, will prove to you an occasion of falling." And walk closely : see that you have a conscience void of offence, towards God and towards man. It is, so long as you do this, that you are the peculiar care of your Father which is in heaven. But let not the consciousness of his caring for you, make you careless, indolent, or slothful : on the contrary, while you are penetrated with that deep truth, “The help that is done upon earth, He doeth it himself;" be as earnest and diligent in the use of all the means, as if you were your own protector.
Lastly: In what a melancholy condition are those, who do not believe there is any providence; or, which comes to exactly the same point, not a particular one! Whatever station they are in, as long as they are in the world, they are exposed to numberless dangers, which no human wisdom can foresee, and no human power can resist. And there is no
help! Ifthey trust in men, they find them“ deceitful upon the weights.” In many cases they cannot help: in others, they will not. they ever so willing, they will die: therefore, vain is the help of man. And God is far above, out of their sight : they expect no help from him. These modern (as well as the ancient) Epicureans have learned, that the
“ Universal Cause Acts not by partial, but by general laws.” He only takes care of the great globe itself; not of its puny inhabitants. He heeds not how those
“Vagrant emmets crawl
At random on the air-suspended ball.” How uncomfortable is the situation of that man who has no farther hope than this! But, on the other hand, how unspeakably happy is the man that hath the Lord for his help, and whose “hope is in the Lord his God;" who can say, “I have set the Lord always before me; because he is on my right hand, I shall not be moved !"—therefore, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil : for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.”
SERMON LXXIII.- The Wisdom of God's Counsels. "Oh the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God,"
Rom. xi, 33. 1. SOME apprehend the wisdom and the knowledge of God to mean one and the same thing. Others believe, that the wisdom of God more directly refers to his appointing the ends of all things, and his knowledge, to the means which he hath prepared and made conducive to those ends. The former seems to be the most natural explication; as the wisdom of God, in its most extensive meaning, must include the one as well as the other; the means as well as the ends.
2. Now the wisdom, as well as the power of God, is abundantly manifested in his creation ; in the formation and arrangement of all his works, in heaven above and in the earth beneath; and in adapting them all to the several ends for which they were designed: insomuch that each of them, apart from the rest, is good; but altogether are very good: all conspiring together, in one connected system, to the glory of God, in the happiness of his intelligent creatures.
3. As this wisdom appears even to short-sighted men, (and much more to spirits of a higher order,) in the creation and disposition of the whole universe, and every part of it; so it equally appears in their preservation, in his “ upholding all things by the word of his power.” And it no less eminently appears in the permanent government of all that he has created. How admirably does his wisdom direct the motions of the heavenly bodies ! Of all the stars in the firmament whether those that are fixed, or those that wander, though never out of their several orbits! Of the sun in the midst of heaven! Of those amazing bodies, the comets, that shoot in every direction through the immeasurable fields of ether! How does he superintend all the parts of this lower world, this “speck of creation," the earth! So that all things are still as they were at the beginning, “beautiful in their seasons ;' and summer and
winter, seed time and harvest, regularly follow each other. Yea, all things serve their Creator : "fire and hail, snow and vapour, wind and storm, are fulfilling his word :" so that we may well say, “Oh Lord our Governor, how excellent is thy name in all the earth !"
4. Equally conspicuous is the wisdom of God in the government of nations, of states, and kingdoms; yea, rather more conspicuous; if infinite can be allowed to admit of any degrees. For the whole inanimate creation, being totally passive and inert, can make no opposition to his will. Therefore, in the natural world, all things roll on in an even uninterrupted course. But it is far otherwise in the moral world. Here evil men and evil spirits continually oppose the divine will, and create numberless irregularities. Here, therefore, is full scope for the exercise of all the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God, in counteracting all the wickedness and folly of men, and all the subtlety of Satan, to carry on his own glorious design ; the salvation of lost mankind. Indeed were he to do this by an absolute decree, and by his own irresistible power, it would imply no wisdom at all. But his wisdom is shown, by saving man in such a manner as not to destroy his nature, nor to take away the liberty which he has given him.
5. But the riches both of the wisdom and the knowledge of God, are most eminently displayed in his church: in planting it like a grain of mustard seed, the least of all seeds; in preserving and continually increasing it, till it grew into a great tree, notwithstanding the uninterrupted opposition of all the powers of darkness. This the apostle justly terms the manifold wisdom (HOAUTOIXIN05 dopa) of God. It is an uncommonly expressive word, intimating that this wisdom, in the manner of its operation, is diversified a thousand ways, and exerts itself with infinite varieties. These things the highest "angels desire to look into,” but can never fully comprehend. It seems to be with regard to these chiefly, that the apostle utters that strong exclamation, "How unsearchable are his judgments!" His counsels, designs, impossible to be fathomed ;“ and his ways” of accomplishing them, “past finding out!" Impossible to be traced. According to the psalmist,“ His paths are in the deep waters, and his footsteps are not known.”
6. But a little of this he has been pleased to reveal unto us : and by keeping closely to what he has revealed; meantime comparing the word and the work of God together; we may understand a part of his ways. We may, in some measure, trace this manifold wisdom from the beginning of the world ; from Adam to Noah, from Noah to Moses, and from Moses to Christ. But I would now consider it (after just touching on the history of the church in past ages) only with regard to what he has wrought in the present age; during the last half century; yea, and in this little corner of the world, the British islands only.
7. In the fulness of time, just when it seemed best to his infinite wisdom, God brought his first-begotten into the world. He then laid the foundation of his church ; though it hardly appeared till the day of pentecost. And it was then a glorious church; all the members thereof being “ filled with the Holy Ghost;" being “of one heart and of one mind, and continuing steadfastly in the apostles' doctrine, and in fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in the prayers." In fellowship; that is, having all things in common; no man counting any thing he had his own.
6. Meek simple followers of the Lamb,
And only love inspired the whole.” 8. But this happy state did not continue long. See Ananias and Sapphira, through the love of money, (“the root of all evil,”) making the first breach in the community of goods! See the partiality, the unjust respect of persons on the one side, the resentment and murmuring on the other, even while the apostles themselves presided over the church at Jerusalem! See the grievous spots and wrinkles that were found in every part of the church, recorded not only in the Acts, but in the epistles of St. Paul, James, Peter, and John. A still fuller account we have in the Revelation : and, according to this, in what a condition was the Christian church, even in the first century, even before St. John was removed from the earth; if we may judge (as undoubtedly we may) of the state of the church in general, from the state of those particular churches, (all but those of Smyrna and Philadelphia,) to which our Lord directed his epistles! And from this time, for fourteen hundred years, it was corrupted more and more, as all history shows, till scarce any, either of the power or form of religion was left.
9. Nevertheless it is certain, that the gates of hell did never totally prevail against it. God always reserved a seed for himself; a few that worshipped him in spirit and in truth. I have often doubted, whether these were not the very persons whom the rich and honourable Christians, who will always have number as well as power on their side, did not stigmatize, from time to time, with the title of heretics. Perhaps it was chiefly by this artifice of the devil and his children, that the good which was in them being evil spoken of, they were prevented from being so extensively useful as otherwise they might have been. Nay, I have doubted whether that arch heretic, Montanus, was not one of the holiest men in the second century. Yea, I would not affirm, that the arch heretic of the fifth century, (as plentifully as he has been bespattered for many ages,) was not one of the holiest men of that age, not excepting St. Augustine himself: (a wonderful saint! as full of pride, passion, bitterness, censoriousness, and as foul-mouthed to all that contradicted him, as George Fox himself.) I verily believe, the real heresy of Pelagius, was neither more nor less than this: The holding that Christians may, by the grace of God, (not without it; that I take to be a mere slander,)“ go on to perfection;" or, in other words, " fulfil the law of Christ."
“But St. Augustine says:"—When Augustine's passions were heated, his word is not worth a rush. And here is the secret: St. Augustine was angry at Pelagius : hence he slandered and abused him, (as his manner was,) without either fear or shame. And St. Augustine was then in the Christian world, what Aristotle was afterwards : there needed no other proof of any assertion, than “ Ipse dixit :" " St. Augustine said it."
10. But to return: when iniquity had overspread the church as a flood, the Spirit of the Lord lifted up a standard against it. He raised up a poor monk, without wealth, without power, and, at that time, without friends, to declare war, as it were, against all the world ; against the bishop of Rome and all his adherents. But this little stone being chosen of God, soon grew into a great mountain ; and increased more