« PreviousContinue »
which this conviction was calculated to produce. The divine providence is universal : it is particular also. It is comparatively an easy thing to acknowledge the Lord in the general government of events, while we feel at liberty to suppose the thousand disagreeable particulars which more immediately affect us, to be exceptions to the general rule, which are to be balanced in a future state of retribution. But this is no real acknowledgment of the Lord at all; but rather an attempt to subvert his laws and government. The general principle in which our faith is required, is one which includes within itself every single event of our lives, however minute. The wisdom which directs the events by which we are surrounded and affected, is not human that it should err; the rule in which it operates, is not human that it should admit exceptions. But all things work together for good to them who love God.
The doctrine of divine providence is one of the earliest truths we learn from revelation; but our first views of it are extremely imperfect and obscure. It is a doctrine, however, in the reception of which we can most manifestly observe an elevation of the understanding above the will. The sacred scriptures so plainly declare the divine providence of the Lord in particular events as well as in universals, that he who is not obstinately opposed, will be likely to become rationally convinced of its truth. But this conviction is not the end, but the commencement of a practical application of the doctrine to the life. We must learn to acknowledge and admire the wisdom of the Lord, not merely in universals, but in particulars also; not merely in those things and events which appear agreeable and desirable, but in those also which appear the reverse. In this way the doctrine of divine providence will gradually descend and enter into all the thoughts of the man, and he will attribute less and less to chance and accident, till he realizes a providence that constantly attends his daily walks, and numbers the very hairs of his head. Yet, in all this work, the general conviction of the understanding is prior in point of time, and continually operating. In the trials of life, it becomes to the mind like oil poured upon the troubled sea; it produces a calm and smoothness upon the surface of the deep, which allows the turbid waters beneath gradually to assume a state of transparency
But there is a point beyond the acknowledgment of the divine wisdom in all things, even if that acknowledgment be without limit or qualification. There is a principle even deeper and more unsearchable than the divine wisdom. This is no other than the divine love, emanating from the very heart of heaven, and pervading the whole creation; reaching us at every possible point of contact, even the minutest circumstance of our lives, and literally
placing underneath us “ the everlasting arms."
“the everlasting arms.” This is, indeed, the real active principle, and cause of all things; but, being also the most interior, it is the last that manifests itself to man. We acquire no perception of it by reasoning about truth, nor about the principles and motives of obligation and duty; but by being elevated above reason, into the life and fountain of reason. It is not a thing to be seen in the understanding, but to be felt in the heart; and to be felt only in so far as we put on the new man which after God is created in righteousness and true holiness.” For the natural man, or the natural will of man, does not feel the dispensations of Divine Providence as the dealings of Divine Love, because he is in enmity against God. The divine love can be manifested to us, as such, only in proportion as we put away our own desires, and are thus able to say not as I will, but as thou wilt. And this change of our wills, which is so essential, and is indeed the sole aim of revelation, is to be effected only by our obedience to the commandments. We cannot by an effort of reason change our own wills; but our Lord has revealed our duty in his word, and, while we are conforming to his commandments, he will order and arrange all within us. If a man love me, he will keep my words ; and my father will love him; and we will come unto him, and make our abode with him.
In proportion as a man comes into this view of the divine providence which results from obedience to the commandments, his life will become a stream of uninterrupted joy. He is no longer anxious and perplexed about things beyond his controul; for he is content to resign them into the hands of Him who knoweth that we have need of these things before we ask him. He has learned to seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things are added unto him. Thus he is no longer subject to disappointment, for he has ceased to anticipate. He finds his duty in the present, not in the future; and the performance of it leads his contemplations to that kingdom which is within him, not to that which is without. Whatsoever he asks, he receives; for his desires do not press forward, but inward : thus he asks all things in the name of the Lord. In the course of Divine Providence, he is borne onward, as by a stream. To him, the morrow shall take thought for the things of itself, for sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof.
All this wonderful change is effected, and is to be effected, only by yielding our own wills to the will of the Lord. The divine providence is over all. The Lord maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust. The difference consists in this, that the one receives, acknowledges, and endeavours to cooperate with the influx from the Lord, the other rejects, denies, and resists it; and while he strives against the Lord, he finds it is hard to kick against the pricks. Hence, he assumes the idea that the Lord is a hard master, reaping where he had not sown, and gathering where he had not strawed. Alas, how does he deceive himself! He is judging his master's service to be hard, without having tried it. All the hardness and difficulty consists in renouncing his allegiance to his old master. Ye cannot serve God and mammon. But the service which God requires, is love, love, that is consistent only with a state of perfect freedom. If, therefore, we find the yoke of the Lord is not easy, and his burthen is not light, (we have his sacred Word for it, that) it is because we have not taken it upon
ILLUSTRATIONS OF SCRIPTURE.
JOHN, XI. 21—26.
Then said Martha unto Jesus, Lord, if thou hadst been here, my brother had not died; but I know that, even now, whatsoever thou wilt ask of God, God will give thee. Jesus saith unto her, thy brother shall rise again. Martha saith unto him, I know that he shall rise again in the resurrection at the last day. Jesus said unto her, I am the resurrection, and the life: he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live; and whosoever liveth and believeth in me, shall never die,
The ways of providence are dark and mysterious, because we cannot look into futurity and see what is to come; and therefore we cannot see the necessity and use of present dispensations. And the reason why we are not permitted to see into futurity, is because we are not made to be idle spectators of divinę providence, but to be the subjects of it. The end of providence is to reform and regenerate men—to make them true and good. This is the principal, ruling end; all other things are means, subordinate and subservient. Since we are the subjects of divine providence, and the changes are to be made in us, we are naturally incapable of standing aloof and viewing them with indifference, or as topics of curious speculation. And since the end of divine providence requires that we ourselves should be changed, we cannot distinctly perceive the design and use of present dispensations until the change is effected, until our evil loves are loosened and removed, and new affections are implanted ; so that we can see them from that state of mind which they were designed to produce in us.
In the mean time, it is necessary for us to have faith in the Lord, that he will, in his merciful providence, order all things for our real good, though they may for the time appear otherwise. This faith is necessary for us, because it is the only means of bringing forth to our view that divine goodness which is hidden
VOL. 1.NO. I.
within the dispensation. Affliction, without this faith, may serve to restrain our evils, but it cannot remove them, and introduce and implant within us good affections, and thus accomplish its design. It is by faith that we are led to see that afflictions are permitted of providence and intended for our good that we are induced to look into ourselves and see why they are necessary. It is by faith that we can shun the evils which are then manifested to us, and thus prepare the way of the Lord—the way of that goodness which the Lord is endeavouring to implant in us.
Then said Martha unto Jesus, Lord, if thou hadst been here, my brother had not died. These words of Martha imply that she thought the Lord had been absent, and that she could not believe that, if he had been present, he would have permitted her brother to die. She had loved the Lord, and she had perceived that the Lord was good to her; but she had no idea that it could be permitted of a merciful providence, or that it could in any way be good for her, for her brother to die. Hence it was that she supposed that the Lord was absent; and that, if he had been present, he would not have permitted it.
Thus it is with all of us, in our present impure love of the Lord, in our imperfect faith that he is good, and that his providence is merciful; for, while our love is so impure, and our faith so imperfect, many things must occur unto us, in the course of providence, which are not agreeable to our wishes; and, when such things do occur, we cannot but suppose that the Lord is absent, for we do not see in the dispensation that goodness which we imagine to be in him. For the providence of the Lord does nothing to confirm us in the persuasion that we are now gooddoes nothing to make us satisfied with our present attainments; for the providence of the Lord is the providence of Him who is perfect -of Him who is goodness itself. The providence of the Lord, therefore, from its internal and essential nature, tends to make the just more just, and the holy holier. From its very nature, it endeavours to give unto him who hath. 6. The branch that beareth not fruit, He taketh away; but every branch that beareth fruit, he purgeth, that it may bring forth more fruit."
There is something in this view of divine providence which may, and, in certain states of the mind, will affect it with melancholy approaching to despondency; for we are apt to ascribe merit to ourselves, and to view our attainments with selfapprobation, or to look forward to certain points of apparent perfection, which, if gained, would make us happy for ever.
Hence we cannot bear to think that generation after generation of good affections and states must pass away, and still that we should find nothing permanent, no place to rest. And there is one thing here given to alleviate the pain, and to dispel the shades of melancholy; which is, that the goodness we have already received, or may now have in view, is really good, so far as it is seen and confessed to be of the Lord—as it is thus united in the bonds of love to goodness itself, and receives its life from the fountain of life. But still this consolation is accompanied with a warning, that what we have called good, or do call good, is no longer so than while we perceive that it is from the Lord, and feel that he is in it; so that we must regard all that we enjoy and call good, as conditionally 80; that is, it is good, provided there be within it a wish to become better; provided there be within it the purging, purifying, vital principle of divine love, which is perpetually casting off the lifeless bark and external shell of that which we have, and opening and bringing forth the interior, the purer, the living. We are then only in the grace of God when we are willing to grow in
grace. Martha represents those who, whatever may be their present state, wish to become still better; who therefore do not dwell with selfapprobation upon what they now are, or now have, but are desirous of becoming more fully receptive of divine goodness, which is goodness itself. Therefore she says, But I know that, even now, whatsoever thou wilt ask of God, God will give thee. She has so much faith in the goodness of the Lord, that she cannot ask for the restoration of her brother, for she believes that whatever is good will be provided. Dictation could proceed only from distrust. And she herself too has undergone a change since the death of her brother. The exercise of her former affections having been so long suspended, they have become visible. She sees their want of spirituality, of vitality. In her sight, they are thoroughly dead, and therefore offensive, like the body of him upon whom they rested. She does not ask that her brother may be raised from the dead, but she hopes that the dispensation may, in the ways of a merciful providence, be productive of good; that it may be sanctified to her; that it may promote her spiritual good. Therefore she says, But I know that, even now, whatsoever thou, wilt ask of God, God will give thee; thus leaving it entirely to the mercy and wisdom of Him who is the way, the truth, and the life, to determine how the present affliction should be converted into a blessing.
Jesus saith unto her, thy brother shall rise again.-By which is signified, that her very brother, he for whom she had been mourning, would yet again be the object of her affections, but of new and more spiritual affections. Thus her brother would rise again to her.
Martha saith unto him, I know that he shall rise again in the resurrection at the last day.—But this did not entirely satisfy her; for she was in a state of mind to require something more; and she represented those who do not need to look forward unto the