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THE UNSEARCHABLENESS OF GOD'S JUDGMENTS.
ROM. xi. 33.
How unsearchable are his judgments, and his ways past finding out!
SERM. THESE words are the close of a disputation, wherein St. Paul was engaged with the advocates of Judaism, concerning God's providence toward his ancient people, in rejecting the greatest part of them, upon their refusal to embrace the Christian doctrine; and in admitting the Gentile world to favour, upon its compliance with the overture thereof proposed in the Gospel. In this proceeding those infidels could not discern God's hand, nor would allow such a dispensation worthy of him, advancing several exceptions against it: God, said they, having espoused and consecrated us to himself; having to our fathers, in regard to their piety, made so absolute promises of benediction on their posterity; having consequently endowed us with such privileges and choice pledges of his favour; having taken so much pains with us, and performed so great things in our behalf; having so long avowed, supported, and cherished us; how can it well consist with his wisdom, with his justice, with his fidelity, with his constancy, thus instantly to abandon and repudiate us? Doth not this dealing argue his former affec tions to have been misplaced? Doth it not implead his
ancient covenant and law of imperfection? Doth it not SERM. LV. supplant his own designs, and unravel all that he for so many ages hath been doing? upon such occasions did this dispensation appear very strange and scandalous to them-: but St. Paul, being infallibly assured of its truth, doth undertake to vindicate it from all misprisions, rendering a fair account of it, and assigning for it many satisfactory reasons, drawn from the general equity of the case, from the nature of God, his attributes, and his relations to men; from the congruity of this proceeding to the tenour of God's providence, to his most ancient purposes, to the true intent of his promises, to his express declarations and predictions; to the state of things in the world, and the pressing needs of all mankind: such reasons (I say, which I have not time more explicitly to relate) doth the Apostle produce in favour of this great dispensation; the which did suffice to clear and justify it from all their objections; yet notwithstanding, after that he had steered his discourse through all these rocks, he thought it safe to cast anchor; winding up the contest in this modest intimation, that whatever he could say, might not perhaps exhaust the difficulty, or void all scruple; that therefore in this, and in all such cases, for entire satisfaction, we should have recourse to the incomprehensible wisdom of God, who frequently in the course of his providence doth act upon grounds, and ordereth things in methods, transcending our ability to discover or trace: to consider some causes and reasons of which incomprehensibility, and to ground thereon some practical advices, will be the scope of my discourse: the reasons may be these:
1. As the dealings of very wise men sometimes are founded upon maxims, and admit justifications, not obvious nor penetrable by vulgar conceit; so may God act according to rules of wisdom and justice, which it may be quite impossible by our faculties to apprehend, or with our means to descry.
As there are natural modes of being and operation, (such as God's necessary subsistence, his production of
Isa. lv. 9.
SERM. things from nothing, his eternity without succession, his LV. immensity without extension, his prescience without necessitation of events, his ever acting, but never changing; and the like,) so there may be prudential and moral rules of proceeding far above our reach; so God himself telleth us: As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts. Some of them we may be uncapable to know, because of our finite nature; they being peculiar objects of divine wisdom, and not to be understood by any creature: for as God cannot impart the power of doing all things possible, so may he not communicate the faculty of knowing all things intelligible; that being indeed to ungod himself, or to deprive himself of his peerless supremacy in wisdom; hence is he styled the only wise God; hence he is said to dwell in light inaccessible; hence he chargeth the angels with folly; hence the most illuminate seraphims do veil 1 Tim. vi. their faces before him.
1 Tim. i. Rom. xvi.
Other such rules we may not be able to perceive from Isa. vi. 2. the meanness of our nature, or our low rank
Job iv. 18.
among creatures for beneath omniscience there being innumerable forms of intelligence, in the lowest of these we sit, one remove from beasts; being endowed with capacities suitable to that inferior station, and to those meaner employments, Ps. ciii. 20. for which we were designed and framed; whence our mind
2 Pet. ii. 11.
hath a pitch, beyond which it cannot soar; and things clearly intelligible to more noble creatures, moving in a 2 Sam. xiv. higher orb, may be dark and unexplicable to us: As an an
17, 20. xix. 27.
gel of God, so is my lord the king, to discern good and bad, was an expression importing this difference, how those glorious creatures do overtop us in intellectual capacities.
Also divers notions not simply passing our capacity to know, we are not yet in condition to ken, by reason of our circumstances here, in this dark corner of things, to which we are confined and wherein we lie under many disadvantages of attaining knowledge. He that is shut up in a close place, and can only peep through chinks, who standeth in a valley, and hath his prospect inter
cepted, who is encompassed with fogs, who hath but a SERM. LV. dusky light to view things by, whose eyes are weak or foul, how can he see much or far; how can he discern things remote, minute, or subtile, clearly and distinctly? Such is our case; our mind is pent up in the body, and looketh only through those clefts by which objects strike our sense; its intuition is limited within a very small compass; it resideth in an atmosphere of fancy, stuffed with exhalations from temper, appetite, passion, interest; its light is scant and faint, (for sense and experience do reach only some few gross matters of fact; light infused, and revelation imparted to us, proceed from arbitrary dispensation, in definite measures ;) our ratiocination consequently from such principles must be very short and defective; nor are our minds ever thoroughly sound, or pure and defecate from prejudices; hence no wonder, that now we are wholly ignorant of divers great truths, or have but a glimmering notion of them, which we may and hereafter shall come fully and clearly to understand; so that even Apostles, the secretaries of heaven, might say, We know in part, and we prophecy in part; 1 Cor., we now see through a glass darkly, but then face to face.
In fine, those rules of equity or expedience, which we in our transactions with one another do use, (being derived from our original inclinations to like some good things, or from notions stamped on our soul when God made us according to his image, from common experience, from any kind of rational collection, from the prescription of God's word,) if they be applied to the dealings of God, will be found very incongruous, or deficient; the case being vastly altered, from that infinite distance in nature and state between God and us; and from the immense differences which his relations toward us have from our relations to one another.
Wherefore, in divers inquiries about Providence, to which our curiosity will stretch itself, it is impossible for us to be resolved; and launching into them, we shall soon get out of our depth, so as to swim in dissatisfaction, or to sink into distrust: Why God made the world at such
SERM. an instant, no sooner or later; why he made it thus, not exempt from all disorder; why he framed man (the prince of visible creatures) so fallible and frail, so prone to sin, so liable to misery: why so many things happen offensive to him, why his gifts are distributed with such inequality? Such questions we are apt to propound and to debate; but the resolution of them our mind perhaps was not made to apprehend, nor in its most elevate condition shall attain it: however, in this state we by no means can come at it; it
at least being kept close from us among those things, of eut. xxix. which it is said, the secret things belong unto the Lord our God, in distinction from others, about which it is added, but those that are revealed belong unto us, and to our children for ever.
In such cases the absolute will, the sovereign authority, the pure liberality of God do supply the place of reasons; om. ix. sufficient, if not to satisfy the minds of men fondly curious,
xlv. 9. yet to stop the mouths of those who are boldly peremptory: the which are alleged, not with intent to imply that God ever acteth unaccountably, or without highest reason, but that sometimes his methods of acting are not fit subjects of our conception or discussion; for otherwhile God appeal
n. xviii. eth to the verdict of our reason; when the case is such that we can apprehend it, and the apprehension of it may conduce to good purposes.
2. As the standing rules of God's acting, so the occasional grounds thereof are commonly placed beyond the sphere of our apprehension.
God is obliged to prosecute his own immutable deh. i. 11. crees; working all things, as the Apostle saith, according to the counsel of his own will; which how can we anywise come to discover? Can we climb up above the heaven of heavens, and there unlock his closet, rifle his cabinet, and peruse the records of everlasting destiny, by which the world is governed? No; Who knoweth his mind, or hath xl. 13. been his counsellor? Who, saith the Prophet, hath stood in -xxiii. the counsel of the Lord; or hath perceived and heard his 3d ix. 13. word?