« PreviousContinue »
of those methods, as their temper and their circumstances do require. Whence it is very difficult for us ever from the kind of accidents befalling men, to divine how far God is concerned in them, or to what particular scope they are aimed ; so that well might the preacher, on a careful observation of such occurrences, establish this rule, • No man knoweth love or hatred’ (that is, the special regard of God toward men) .by all that is before them ;' because, 'all things come alike to all: there is one event to the righteous and to the wicked.' Farther,
9. There are different ends which Providence in various order and measure doth pursue, which we, by reason of our dim insight and short prospect, cannot descry: God, as the universal and perpetual governor of the world, in his dispensation of things, respecteth not only the good of this or that person, of one nation or one age; but often in some degree waving that, or taking care for it in a less remarkable way, hath a provident regard to the more extensive good of a whole people, of the world, of posterity; as he did order his friend Abraham to wander in a strange land for the benefit of his seed; Joseph to be sold, calumniated, and fettered for the preservation of his family; our Lord to suffer those grievous things for the redemption of mankind; the Jews to be rejected for the salvation of the Gentiles : in such cases purblind men, observa ing events to cross particular and present ends, but not being aware how conducible they may prove to general, remote, and more important designs, can hardly be satisfied how God should be concerned in them; the present, or that which lieth adjacent just under our nose, is all that we can or will consider ; and therefore must be ill judges of what is done by all-provident wisdom.
10. Again, God permitteth things, bad in their own nature, with regard to their instrumental use and tendency; for that often the worst things may be ordinable to the best ends ; things very bitter may work pleasant effects ; on the wildest stock divine husbandry can ingraft most excellent fruit; sin really, and suffering reputedly, are the worst evils, yet from them much glory to God and great benefit to men do accrue; even
from the most wicked act that ever was committed, from the most lamentable event that ever did happen, fruits admirably glorious and immensely beneficial did spring; yet usually so blind are we as to be offended at such things, and from them to raise exceptions against providence.
11. Also the expediency of things to be permitted or crossed, doth frequently consist, not in themselves singly taken, as particular acts or events, but in their conjunction, or reference to others, with which they may become subservient toward a common end ; so that divers things in themselves extremely bad may by combination or collision engender good effects; and thence prove fit weapons or tools of providence; as the most deadly poisons may be so mixed, that curbing one another's force, they may constitute a harmless mass, sometimes a wholesome medicine: but we poring on the simple ingredients, and not considering how they may be tempered, or how applied by a skilful hand, can hardly deem the toleration of them congruous to wisdom.
Farther, 12. That providence sometimes is obscure and intricate, may be attributed to the will of God, on divers good accounts designing it to be such : Verily,' saith the prophet, *thou art a God that hidest thyself, O God of Israel, the Saviour.'
God commonly doth not intend to exert his hand notoriously; for that whereas every special interposition of his hand is in effect a miracle, (surmounting the natural power, or thwarting the ordinary course of inferior causes,) it doth not become him to prostitute his miraculous power, or to exert it otherwise than on singular occasions, and for most weighty causes : it is not conformable to the tenor of his administrations to convince men against their will, or by irresistible evidence to wring persuasion from stubborn or stupid minds; but to exercise the wisdom, and to prove the ingenuity of well disposed persons who on competent intimations shall be capable to spell out, and forward to approve his proceedings.
13. He will not glare forth in discoveries so bright as to dazzle, to confound our weak sight; therefore he veileth his face with a cloud, and wrappeth his power in some obscurity;
therefore clouds and darkness are round about him: he maketh darkness his secret place; his pavilion round about him is dark waters and thick clouds of the sky.'
14. He meaneth thereby to improve and exalt our faith, being the less seen, that he may be the more believed ; faith never rising higher than when it doth soar to objects beyond our sight; when we can approve God's wisdom and justice in occurrences surmounting our conceit; when we can rely on God's word and help, although the stream of his proceedings seemeth to cross our hopes.
15. It is fit also that God many times designedly should act in ways surpassing our apprehension, and apt to baffle or puzzle our reason, that he may appear God indeed, infinitely transcending us in perfection of wisdom and justice; or that we, comprehending the reason of his actings, may not imagine our wisdom comparable, our justice commensurate to his; yea, that we in those respects do exceed him ; for “that,' as Tertullian discourseth, ‘which may be seen, is less than the eyes that survey it; that which may be comprehended, is less than the hands that grasp it; that which may be valued, is less than the senses which rate it.'* It is God's being inestimable that makes him worthily esteemed; his being incomprehensible rendereth bim adorable.
16. The obscurity of Provideuce doth indeed conciliate an awful reverence toward it; for darkness naturally raiseth a dread of invisible powers; we use to go on tremblingly, when we cannot see far about us; we regard none so much as those, whose wisdom we find to overreach ours, and whose intentions we cannot sound : it was Elihu's observation, · With God is terrible majesty; the Almighty, we cannot find him out;men do therefore fear him.'
17. It is also requisite that God should dispose many occurrences cross to our vulgar notions, and offensive to our carnal sense, that we may thence be prompted to think of God, driven to seek him, engaged to mark him interposing in our affairs : men from disorderly and surprising accidents preposterously do conceive doubts about Providence, as if it manag
Tert. Apol. 17.
ing things, nothing odd or amiss would occur; whereas if no such events did start up, they might be proner to question it, they would at least come to forget or neglect it; for if human transactions passed on as do the motions of nature, in a smooth course, without any rub or disturbance, men commonly would no more think of God than they do when they behold the sun rising, the rivers running, the sea flowing; they would not depend on his protection, or have recourse to him for succor: it is difficulty and distress seizing on them, which compel men to implore God for relief, which dispose them to see his hand reaching it forth unto them; according to that in the psalm ; • When he slew them, then they sought him; they returned and inquired early after God; they remembered that God was their rock, and the most high God their redeemer.' Again,
18. It is needful that the present course of Providence should not be transparently clear and satisfactory, that we may be well assured concerning a future account, and forced in our thoughts to recur thither for a resolution of all such emergent doubts and difficulties : for if all accounts were apparently stated and discharged here ; if now right did ever prevail, and iniquity were suppressed; if virtue were duly crowned, and vice deservedly scourged, who would hope or fear an afterreckoning?
This indeed is the grand cause why Providence now doth appear so cloudy, that men consider not how our affairs have no complete determination or final issue here; things now are doing, and not done ; in a progress and tendency toward somewhat beyond, not in a state of consistence and perfection; this not being the place of deciding causes or dispensing rewards ; but a state of probation, of work, of travail, of combat, of running for the prize, of sowing toward the harvest; a state of liberty to follow our own choice, and to lay the ground of our doom; of falling into sin, and of rising thence by repentance ; of God's exercising patience, and exhibiting mercy: wherefore as we cannot well judge of an artificial work by its first draughts, or of a poem by a few scenes, but must stay till all be finished or acted through; so we cannot here clearly discern the intire congruity of providential dispensations to the divine attributes ; the catastrophe or utmost resolution of things is the general
judgment, wherein the deep wisdom, the exact justice, the perfect goodness of God will be displayed to the full satisfaction or conviction of all men ; when God's honor will be thoroughly vindicated, his despised patience and his abused grace will be avenged; every case will be rightly tried, every work will be justly recompensed, all accounts will be set straight; in the mean time divers things must occur, unaccountable to us, looking on things as they now stand absolutely before us, without reference to that day; considering this may induce us to suspend our opinion about such matters, allowing God to go through with his work before we censure it, not being so quick and precipitate as to forestal his judgment : and surely, would we but observe that reasonable advice of St. Paul, • Judge nothing before the time, until the Lord come,' our chief doubts would be resolved, our shrewdest exceptions against Providence would be voided.
These are the chief reasons of the point, which meditation did suggest ; on it (for it is not a point merely speculative, but pregnant with useful consequences) divers practical applications may be grounded, which the time scarcely will allow me to
1. It should render us modest and sober in our judgment about providential occurrences, not pretending thoroughly to know the reasons of God's proceedings, or to define the consequences of them; for it is plainly fond arrogance, or profane imposture, to assume perfect skill in that which passeth our capacity to learn.
2. It should make us staunch and cautious of grounding judgment or censure on present events about any cause, or any person ; for it is notorious temerity to pass sentence on grounds uncapable of evidence.
3. It should repress wanton curiosity, which may transport us beyond our bounds in speculation of these mysterious intrigues; so that we shall lose our labor and time, shall discompose our minds, shall plunge ourselves into vain errors or anxious doubts.
4. It should keep us from conceitedness and confidence in our own wisdom ; for how can we conceit highly of that, or much confide in it, which we find so unable to penetrate the