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argument for the confirmation of the truth discoursed of, if I should appeal to the experience of many in this nation, who, having been long bred to the decent way of divine service in the cathedrals of the church of England, were afterwards driven into foreign countries, where, though they brought with them the same sincerity to church, yet perhaps they could not find the same enlargements and flowings out of spirit which they were wont to find here. Especially in some countries, where their very religion smelt of the shop; and their ruder and coarser methods of divine service seemed only adapted to the genius of trade and the designs of parsimony; though one would think, that parsimony in God's worship were the worst husbandry in the world, for fear God should proportion his blessings to such devotions.
things are either parts of our devotion, or by
2. The other reason, why God prefers worship paid him in places solemnly dedicated and set apart for that purpose, is, because in such places it is a more direct service and testification of our homage to him. For surely, if I should have something to ask of a great person, it were greater respect to wait upon him with my petition at his own house, than to desire him to come and receive it at mine.
Set places and set hours for divine worship, as much as the laws of necessity and charity permit us to observe them, are but parts of that due reverence that we owe it: for he that is strict in observing these, declares to the world, that he accounts his attendance upon God his greatest and most important business: and surely, it is infinitely more reasonable that we should wait upon God, than God
In all our worshippings of God, we return him but what he first gives us; and therefore, he prefers the service offered him in the sanctuary, because there he usually vouchsafes more helps to the piously disposed person, for the discharge of it. As we value the same kind of fruit growing under one climate more than under another; because under one it has a directer and a warmer influence from the sun, than under the other, which gives it both a better savour and a greater worth.
And perhaps I should not want a farther
We shall still find, that when God was pleased to vouchsafe his people a meeting, he himself would prescribe the place. When he commanded Abraham to sacrifice his only and beloved Isaac, the place of the offering was not left undetermined, and to the offerer's discretion: but (Gen. xxii. 2,) "Get thee into the land of Moriah," says God, "and offer him for a burnt offering upon one of the mountains that I shall tell thee of."
It was part of his sacrifice, not only what he should offer, but where. When we serve God in his own house, his service (as I may so say) leads all our other secular affairs in triumph after it. They are all made to stoop and bend the knee to prayer, as that does to the throne of grace.
Thrice a year were the Israelites from all, even the remotest parts of Palestine, to go up their pay to Jerusalem, there to worship, and offerings at the temple. The great distance of some places from thence could not excuse the inhabitants from making their appearance there, which the Mosaic law exacted as indispensable.
Whether or no they had coaches, to the temple they must go; nor could it excuse them to plead God's omniscience, that he could equally see and hear them in any place: nor yet their own good will and intentions; as if the readiness of their mind to go, might, forsooth, warrant their bodies to stay at home. Nor, lastly, could the real danger of leaving their dwellings to go up to the temple excuse their journey: for they might very plausibly and very rationally have alleged, that during their absence their enemies round about them might take that advantage to invade their land. And therefore, to obviate this fear and exception, which indeed was built upon so good ground, God makes them a promise, which certainly is as remarkable as any in the whole book of God, (Exod. xxxiv. 24,) “I will cast out the nations before thee; neither shall any man desire thy land, when thou shalt go up to appear before the Lord thy God thrice in a year." While they were appearing in God's house, God himself engages to keep and defend theirs, and that by little less than a miracle, putting forth an overpowering work and influence upon the very hearts and wills of men, that when their opportunities should induce, their hearts should not serve them to annoy their neighbours.
For surely, a rich land, guardless and undefended, must needs have been a double incitement, and such an one as might not only admit, but even invite the enemy. It was like a fruitful garden or a fair vineyard without a hedge, that quickens the appetite to enjoy so tempting, and withal so easy a prize. But the great God, by ruling men's hearts, could by consequence hold their hands, and turn the very desires of interest and nature out of their common channel, to comply with the designs of his worship.
But now, had not God set a very peculiar value upon the service paid him in his temple, surely he would not have thus (as it were) made himself his people's convoy, and exerted a supernatural work to secure them in their passage to it. And therefore, that eminent hero in religion, Daniel, when in the land of his captivity he used to pay his daily devotions to God, not being able to go to the temple, would at least look towards it, advance to it in wish and desire; and so, in a manner, bring the temple to his prayers, when he could not bring his prayers to that.
And now, what have I to do more, but to wish that all this discourse may have that blessed effect upon us, as to send us both to this and to all other solemn places of divine worship, with those three excellent ingredients of devotion, desire, reverence, and confidence?
1. And first, for desire. We should come hither, as to meet God in a place where he loves to meet us; and where (as Isaac did to his sons) he gives us blessings with embraces.
Many frequent the gates of Sion, but is it because they love them; and not rather because their interest forces them, much against their inclination, to endure them?
Do they hasten to their devotions with that ardour and quickness of mind that they would to a lewd play or a masquerade?
Or do they not rather come hither slowly, sit here uneasily, and depart desirously? All which is but too evident a sign, that men repair to the house of God, not as to a place of fruition, but of task and trouble, not to enjoy, but to afflict themselves.
2. We should come full of reverence to such sacred places; and where there are affections of reverence, there will be postures of reverence too. Within consecrated walls, we are more directly under God's eye, who looks through and through every one that appears before him, and is too jealous a God to be affronted to his face.
3. And lastly; God's peculiar property in such places should give us a confidence in our addresses to him here. Reverence and confidence are so far from being inconsistent, that they are the most direct and proper qualifications of a devout and filial approach to God.
For where should we be so confident of a blessing, as in the place and element of blessings; the place where God both promises and delights to dispense larger proportions of his favour, even for this purpose, that he may fix a mark of honour upon his sanctuary; and so recommend and endear it to the sons of men, upon the stock of their own interest as well as his glory; who has declared himself "the high and the lofty One that inhabits eternity, and dwells not in houses made with men's hands, yet is pleased to be present in the assemblies of his saints."
To whom be rendered and ascribed, as is most due, all praise, might, majesty, and dominion, both now and for evermore. Amen.
ALL CONTINGENCIES UNDER THE DIRECTION OF GOD'S PROVIDENCE. PREACHED AT WESTMINSTER-ABBEY, FEB. 22, 1684-5.
"The lot is cast into the lap; but the whole disposing of it is of the Lord."-PROV. xvi. 33.
I CANNOT think myself engaged from these words to discourse of lots, as to their nature, use, and allowableness; and that not only in
Some there are, who utterly proscribe the name of chance, as a word of impious and profane signification; and indeed, if it be taken by us in that sense in which it was used by the heathen, so as to make any thing casual in respect of God himself, their exception ought justly to be admitted. But to say a thing is a chance, or casualty, as it relates to second causes, is not profaneness, but a great truth; as signifying no more, than that there are some events, besides the knowledge, purpose, expectation, and power of second agents. And for this very reason, because they are so, it is the royal prerogative of God himself, to have all these loose, uneven, fickle uncertainties under his disposal.
The subject, therefore, that from hence we are naturally carried to the consideration of, is, the admirable extent of the divine Providence, in managing the most contingent passages of human affairs; which that we may the better treat of, we will consider the result of a lot,
I. In reference to men.
I. For the first of these, if we consider it as relating to men, who suspend the decision of some dubious case upon it, so we shall find, that it naturally implies in it these two things,
1. Something future. 2. Something contingent.
From which two qualifications these two things also follow,
1. That it is absolutely out of the reach of man's knowledge.
2. That it is equally out of his power. This is most clear; for otherwise, why are men in such cases doubtful, and concerned, what the issue and result should be? for no man doubts of what he sees and knows; nor is solicitous about the event of that which he has in his power to dispose of to what event he pleases.
years, it will certainly burn so long; and that there will be summer, winter, and harvest, in their respective seasons; but whether God will continue the world till to-morrow or no, we cannot know by any certain argument, either from the nature of God or of the world.
But when we look upon such things as relate to their immediate causes with a perfect indifference, so that in respect of them they equally may or may not be, human reason can then, at the best, but conjecture what will be. And in some things, as here in the casting of lots, a man cannot, upon any ground of reason, bring the event of them so much as under conjecture.
The light of man's understanding is but a short, diminutive, contracted light, and looks not beyond the present: he knows nothing future, but as it has some kind of presence in the stable, constant manner of operation belonging to its cause; by virtue of which we know, that if the fire continues for twenty
The choice of man's will is indeed uncertain, because in many things free; but yet there are certain habits and principles in the soul, that have some kind of sway upon it, apt to bias it more one way than another; so that, upon the proposal of au agreeable object, it may rationally be conjectured, that a man's choice will rather incline him to accept than to refuse it. But when lots are shuffled together in a lap, urn, or pitcher, or a man blindfold casts a die, what reason in the world can he have to presume that he shall draw a white stone rather than a black, or throw an ace rather than a size? Now, if these things are thus out of the compass of a man's knowledge, it will unavoidably follow, that they are also out of his power. For no man can govern or command that which he cannot possibly know; since to dispose of a thing implies both a knowledge of the thing to be disposed of, and of the end that it is to be disposed of to.
And thus we have seen how a contingent event baffles man's knowledge, and evades his power. Let us now consider the same in respect of God; and so we shall find that it falls under,
1. A certain knowledge. And 2. A determining providence.
1. First of all, then, the most casual event of things, as it stands related to God, is comprehended by a certain knowledge. God, by reason of his eternal, infinite, and indivisible nature, is, by one single act of duration, present to all the successive portions of time; and consequently to all things successively existing in them: which eternal, indivisible act of his existence, makes all futures actually present to him; and it is the presentiality of the object which founds the unerring certainty of his knowledge. For whatsoever is known, is some way or other present; and that which is present, cannot but be known by him who is omniscient.
But I shall not insist upon these speculations; which, when they are most refined, serve only to shew, how impossible it is for us to have a clear and explicit notion of that
their purposes, or by framing their purposes to them.
But now there is not the least thing that falls within the cognizance of man, but is directed by the counsel of God. "Not a hair can fall from our head, nor a sparrow to the ground, without the will of our heavenly Father." Such an universal superintendency has the eye and hand of Providence over all, even the most minute and inconsiderable things.
which is infinite. Let it suffice us in general to acknowledge and adore the vast compass of God's omniscience. That it is a light shining into every dark corner, ripping up all secrets, and steadfastly grasping the greatest and most slippery uncertainties. As when we see the sun shine upon a river, though the waves of it move and roll this way and that way by the wind; yet for all their unsettledness, the sun strikes them with a direct and certain beam. Look upon things of the most accidental and mutable nature, accidental in their production, and mutable in their contiuuance; yet God's prescience of them is as certain in him, as the memory of them is or can be in us. He knows which way the lot and the die shall fall, as perfectly as if they were already cast. All futurities are naked before that all seeing eye, the sight of which is no more hindered by distance of time, than the sight of an angel can be determined by distance of place.
2. As all contingencies are comprehended by a certain divine knowledge, so they are governed by as certain and steady a providence.
There is no wandering out of the reach of this, no slipping through the hands of omnipotence. God's hand is as steady as his eye; and certainly thus to reduce contingency to method, instability and chance itself to an unfailing rule and order, argues such a mind as is fit to govern the world; and I am sure nothing less than such an one can.
Now God may be said to bring the greatest casualties under his providence upon a twofold account,―
(1.) That he directs them to a certain end. (2.) Oftentimes to very weighty and great
(1.) And first of all, he directs them to a certain end.
Providence never shoots at rovers. There is an arrow that flies by night as well as by day, and God is the person that shoots it, who can aim then as well as in the day. Things are not left to an equilibrium, to hover under an indifference whether they shall come to pass or not come to pass; but the whole train of events is laid beforehand, and all proceed by the rule and limit of an antecedent decree: for otherwise, who could manage the affairs of the world, and govern the dependence of one event upon another, if that event happened at random, and was not cast into a certain method and relation to some foregoing purpose to direct it?
The reason why men are so short and weak in governing is, because most things fall out to them accidentally, and come not into any compliance with their preconceived ends, but they are forced to comply subsequently, and to strike in with things as they fall out, by postliminous after-applications of them to
Nay, and sinful actions too are overruled to a certain issue; even that horrid villainy of the crucifixion of our Saviour was not a thing left to the disposal of chance and uncertainty; but in cts, ii. 23, it is said of him, that "he was delivered to the wicked hands of his murderers, by the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God:" for surely the Son of God could not die by chance, nor the greatest thing that ever came to pass in nature be left to an undeterminate event. Is it imaginable, that the great means of the world's redemption should rest only in the number of possibilities, and hang so loose in respect of its futurition, as to leave the event in an equal poise, whether ever there should be such a thing or no? Certainly the actions and proceedings of wise men run in a much greater closeness and coherence with one another, than thus to derive at a casual issue, brought under no forecast or design. The pilot must intend some port before he steers his course, or he had as good leave his vessel to the direction of the winds and the government of the
Those that suspend the purposes of God, and the resolves of an eternal mind, upon the actions of the creature, and make God first wait and expect what the creature will do, (and then frame his decrees and counsels accordingly,) forget that he is the first cause of all things, and discourse most unphilosphically, absurdly, and unsuitably to the nature of an infinite being; whose influence in every motion must set the first wheel a-going. He must still be the first agent, and what he does he must will and intend to do, before he does it; and what he wills and intends once, he willed and intended from all eternity; it being grossly contrary to the very first notions we have of the infinite perfection of the divine nature, to state or suppose any new immanent act in God.
The Stoics indeed held a fatality, and a fixed unalterable course of events; but then they held also, that they fell out by a necessity emergent from and inherent in the things themselves, which God himself could not alter: so that they subjected God to the fatal chain of causes, whereas they should have resolved the necessity of all inferior events into the free determination of God himself; who executes necessarily that which he first purposed freely.
In a word, if we allow God to be the governor of the world, we cannot but grant, that he orders and disposes of all inferior events; and if we allow him to be a wise and a rational governor, he cannot but direct them to a certain end.
(2.) In the next place, he directs all these appearing casualties, not only to certain, but also to very great ends.
He that created something out of nothing, surely can raise great things out of small, and bring all the scattered and disordered passages of affairs into a great, beautiful, and exact frame. Now this overruling, directing power of God may be considered,
First, In reference to societies, or united bodies of men.
Secondly, In reference to particular persons. First. And first for societies. God and nature do not principally concern themselves in the preservation of particulars, but of kinds and companies. Accordingly, we must allow Providence to be more intent and solicitous about nations and governments than about any private interest whatsoever. Upon which account it must needs have a peculiar influence upon the erection, continuance, and dissolution of every society. Which great effects it is strange to consider, by what small, inconsiderable means they are oftentimes brought about, and those so wholly undesigned by such as are the immediate visible actors in them. Examples of this we have both in Holy Writ, and also in other stories.
his victories over Syria were concluded by that number. It was very casual, that the Levite and his concubine should linger so long, as to be forced to take up their lodging at Gibeah, as we read in Judges xix. and yet we know what a villainy was occasioned by it, and what a civil war that drew after it, almost to the destruction of a whole tribe.
And first for those of the former sort.
Let us reflect upon that strange and unparalleled story of Joseph and his brethren; a story that seems to be made up of nothing else but chances and little contingencies, all directed to mighty ends. For was it not a mere chance that his father Jacob should send him to visit his brethren, just at that time that the Ishmaelites were to pass by that way, and so his unnatural brethren take occasion to sell him to them, and they to carry him into Egypt? and then that he should be cast into prison, and thereby brought at length to the knowledge of Pharaoh in that unlikely manner that he was? Yet by a joint connection of every one of these casual events, Providence served itself in the preservation of a kingdom from famine, and of the church, then circumscribed within the family of Jacob. Likewise by their sojourning in Egypt, he made way for their bondage there, and their bondage for a glorious deliverance through those prodigious manifestations of the divine power, in the several plagues inflicted upon the Egyptians. It was hugely accidental, that Joash king of Israel, being commanded by the prophet to "strike upon the ground," (2 Kings, xiii.) should strike no oftener than just three times; and yet we find there, that the fate of a kingdom depended upon it, and that
And then for examples out of other histories, to hint a few of them.
Perhaps there is none more remarkable, than that passage about Alexander the Great, in his famed expedition against Darius.
When in his march towards him, chancing to bathe himself in the river Cydnus, through the excessive coldness of those waters, he fell sick near unto death for three days; during which short space the Persian army had advanced itself into the strait passages of Cilicia; by which means Alexander with his small army was able to equal them under those disadvantages, and to fight and conquer them. Whereas had not this stop been given him by that accidental sickness, his great courage and promptness of mind would, beyond all doubt, have carried him directly forward to the enemy, till he had met him in the vast open plains of Persia, where his paucity and small numbers would have been contemptible, and the Persian multitudes formidable; and, in all likelihood of reason, victorious. So that this one little accident of that prince's taking a fancy to bathe himself at that time, caused the interruption of his march, and that interruption gave occasion to that great victory that founded the third monarchy of the world. In like manner, how much of casualty was there in the preservation of Romulus, as soon as born exposed by his uncle, and took up and nourished by a shepherd! (for the story of the she-wolf is a fable.) And yet in that one accident was laid the foundation of the fourth universal monarchy.
How doubtful a case was it, whether Hannibal, after the battle of Cannæ, should march directly to Rome, or divert into Campania! Certain it is, that there was more reason for the former; and he was a person that had sometimes the command of reason, as well as regiments: yet his reason deserted his conduct at that time; and by not going to Rome, he gave occasion to those recruits of the Roman strength that prevailed to the conquest of his country, and at length to the destruction of Carthage itself, one of the most puissant cities in the world.
And to descend to occurrences within our own nation. How many strange accidents concurred in the whole business of king Henry the Eighth's divorce! yet we see Providence directed it and them to an entire change of the affairs and state of the whole kingdom. And surely, there could not be a greater chance than that which brought to