Obrázky na stránke

make a good use of the favour be denied the advantage, on account only of others who would abuse it? or why should great numbers lose the opportunities of making themselves happy, because others would, by their own fault, abuse the same opportunities to their own undoing? It was undoubtedly kind and gracious in God to create men, though many of them would prove wicked, because it was certain, in God's foreknowledge, that many also would be righteous ; and so for their sakes, or for the sake of as many as would be such, it was worthy of the Divine wisdom and goodness to make the world. In this sense we may understand, that God made all things, and “even the wicked, “ for himself," and for his own glory: it was for his glory to create even such as would be wicked, rather than not create mankind at all, and so make none to be happy. But this being a deep and abstruse meditation, and not so proper for a popular discourse, I pass it over, and proceed to an easier thought, which I take to be principally intended in the text, though not very clearly expressed in our translation ; which is, that God makes use of the wicked men who are his creatures, to serve the ends of his providence : they are all absolutely in his hands, and under his sovereign control : they can do nothing without his leave; and when he does give leave, it is to serve some wise end and useful purpose of his own, quite beside their intention. They mean nothing but evil, while God turns it to good. This certainly is one of the most delightful and comfortable theories, which a good man can fix his mind upon ; to consider, that amidst all the seeming distraction and confusion in this mad world, where wickedness prevails, and transgressions abound; yet there is a God in heaven, who sits, as it were, calm and undisturbed above; marks and views all that is here doing below; and not only observes, but interposes in every action, in every motion, in every contrivance and thought of the heart, either suspending or suffering it to proceed ; and all the while so conducting its force, or turning its direction by secret springs, as to make it answer what himself intended, or had decreed, with all possible exactness. We are by no means able to reach the depth of this mysterious management; but we may take a view of some particulars which may help towards a more distinct idea of what is intelligible in it.

1. Let us first consider the power of God over the minds and hearts of wicked men. They are, without question, perpetually bent upon mischief, of one kind or other. But yet God shall so overrule, that some particular mischiefs which they would be fond enough of, shall never so much as enter into their heads. If he is pleased, for instance, to preserve some particular person or place from their rage and fury; he may, he often does, prevent the very thought, and turns their minds off from pitching their aims there.

But suppose he permits a thought to come into their minds; he may yet stifle it there, and never suffer it to proceed so far as to a resolution or design. A thousand accidents may divert it, defeat it, or render it abortive, before it be formed into an intention to do any thing.

Next, suppose it carried on so far as to commence a resolution; yet how easily, how suddenly, are resolutions changed, and designs laid aside, upon any considerable change in mind, body, or outward circumstances, which are all in God's power, and at his disposal.

But suppose further, that with God's leave the resolution abides, and opportunity invites, and circumstances favour, and a man has all his instruments prepared and ready for putting the same in execution; yet even in that critical juncture, in the very article of action, Providence interposes, many times, and blasts and quashes all in one moment.

Admit further, that the resolution formed is suffered to proceed to action; yet Providence alone determines the time when, the place where, with the precise measure and degree of all that is doing; that the agent shall not be able to effect one tittle, either more or less, either contrary to, or different from, what God in his wise counsels had previously determined. “A man's “ heart deviseth his way, but the Lord directeth his steps, says Solomon in this chapter, verse the 9th. The meaning of which is, that men may invent, design, or contrive what they please, yet the Lord himself will have both the ordering and finishing of it in his own hands. Many are the devices of “ man's heart ; but the counsel of the Lord, that shall stand g." God often executes his counsels by the hands of wicked men, making use of their wickedness, as he sees proper, for his own purposes; otherwise they never take effect. We see indeed a great deal of villainy and wickedness in the world, and too often

[ocr errors]

& Prov. xix. 21.

(as we may say) it thrives, and prospers, and triumphs ; which it becomes us to lament, and to be heartily sorry for: and yet, if we look through the surface of things, and go to the bottom of the case, we must be obliged to say, that God's hand is in all; and though the wickedness is not his, yet the success that attends it, the effect it has, is really his doing. Wicked men, for instance, commit violence, rob, plunder, murder, or the like ; they do it for their own humour, and God suffers it for quite other ends. He had determined, suppose, to take off such a person for his sins, to chastise another, or to prove, try, and exercise a third. He could command serpents, or other noxious animals, to do the work: or he could do it by fire, or floods, or storms, or other casualties: or if by none of these, yet by plague or famine, by fever or dropsy, or other wasting distemper : but since there are wicked wretches in the world, full of mischief in their hearts, and wanting only to be let loose; God chooses, in such cases, to make use of them, gives them the reins, till he has finished his own work by them, and then calls them to account for doing it, because they did it not as God's work, but as their own ; not by his order, but by his permission only; not with

any view to serve or obey God, but for their own humour or pleasure, and for the wickedness of their own corrupt hearts. The sacred history is every where full of examples of this kind, of God's making use of wicked instruments to bring about his own good and gracious designs : not that he could not have done the same thing in another way, and without them, but as they are his creatures, and are in his hands, as all other things are, he will have this use of them, and thus far at least serve himself by them. God made use of the devil's subtilty to try and prove our first parents, who were foolish enough to be deceived, and so fell from their innocence. And he again made use of the devil's malice to prove and exercise righteous Job; who was wise enough to stand it, and obtained a crown of triumph. God made use of the wickedness of king Saul to cut off the whole family of priests of the race of Ithamar, whom he had determined to destroy long before, for the sins of old Eli, and his two profligate sons. God made use of the lewdness and pride of Absalom, the cursed counsels of Ahitophel, and the impudent revilings of Shimei, to punish king David for his great transgressions in the matter of Uriah. In like manner he made use of the haughtiness and ambition of the Assyrians, to humble his

[ocr errors]

own people Israel; and of the Babylonians, to chastise Judah ; and then again, by the same Babylonians, to crush the insolent Assyrians; and of the Persians to humble Babylon, and so on. God makes use of wicked men as scourges to chastise others; and afterwards raises up others to scourge them ; especially if they assume and grow proud upon their success, and take it all to themselves, while instruments only in the whole thing. It is worth observing, how Almighty God, by his prophet Isaiah, reproved the proud Assyrian for his insolence in that kind. “I “ will punish the fruit (the vanity) of the stout heart of the king “ of Assyria, and the glory of his high looksh." " Shall the ax “boast itself against him that heweth therewith? or shall the

saw magnify itself against him that shaketh iti?” The Prophet here compares the proud Assyrian to an ax, or a saw, in the hand of a workman: and such are all wicked men in the hands of God, whenever he is pleased to use them as instruments to execute his vengeance upon sinners, or his discipline upon good men. I shall mention but one case more; a most famous one it is, where God made use of wicked instruments to effect his purposes: it was in the happy redemption of mankind by the death of Christ. God made use of the malice of the Jews, and the treachery of Judas, to bring it about ; while, notwithstanding, he took most exemplary vengeance both àpon Judas and them, for their unparalleled wickedness in doing it. For their part in the thing was base, vile, and execrable ; and the good that was in it was all God's.

But some perhaps may be bold to ask, whether God's making use of the sins of men does not look like concurring with and countenancing their iniquities? No, by no means. For herein chiefly is seen the marvellous perfection of Divine wisdom, to make such use of sinners, undefiled with their sins, to serve bimself of their impurities, remaining all the while infinitely pure. It is not that he needs men's sins, or makes them; for he could bring about his all-wise purposes without such instruments : but as men, by abusing their liberty of choice, (proper to free agents,) will of course comınit sins, which in their own nature and tendency are most pernicious, threatening nothing but destruction and misery to the world ; in this case, God himself undertakes so to control, curb, and regulate this mis

h Isa. X. 12.

i Ver. 15

chievous quality, that it shall not disturb the peace and harmony of the world further than is useful for the ends of discipline; but shall be so directed and governed, as to prove, in the event, serviceable and beneficial to the world ; and shall at length be hurtful to none, but to the authors and contrivers of it, who must suffer for it. Such is the admirable and most adorable conduct of Divine Providence in bringing good out of evil, and turning the rankest poisons into wholesome and salutary medicines. The sum then is, that all things whatever, and even moral agents, and the greatest sinners, are under the secret control of Divine Providence. God governs the world at all times : he would not have made such creatures, but that he well knew how to curb and manage them. He has them all under his command, as much as he has the waves of the sea or the tempests of the air. He sets bounds and compass to the exorbitances of the wicked. He bridles them by laws and government, and by the incessant labours of good men ; and yet, more immediately, by his secret power over their hearts and wills, and over all their faculties; as well as over all occurrences, and all second causes through the whole universe: and if he still affords them compass enough to range in; yet, notwithstanding, he rules over them with so strict and steady a hand, that they cannot move a step but by his leave, nor do a single act but what shall be turned to good effect, and shall be made to serve some wise and beneficial purpose of Divine justice or Divine mercy and grace in the end. So much for this article. The explaining of this important matter has carried me so far, that I have no room left to do justice to my second head of discourse ; wherein I proposed to shew the practical use and improvement of the present meditation: and that also is important, and well deserving a distinct inquiry at large ; wherefore I shall wave it for the present, and, in the mean while, leave the subject to your own reflections.

« PredošláPokračovať »