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concerning his probable mode of operation, taken in connexion with the declarations of scripture, demonstrate that his ways are above the reach of our comprehension; that, nevertheless, things dark and inexplicable to us, may be clearly intelligible to creatures moving in an higher sphere; but that the laws, by which his government is directed, and the whole causes and consequences of his dispensations, can be fully comprehended by the infinite mind alone.
2. That God's ways can by us be but imperfectly known, will farther appear, if we consider the nature and condition of man.
It is but a small portion of the works, either of nature or of providence, which we have an opportunity to contemplate. Our life is but for a few years; and the world which we inhabit, is but one of the innumerable orbs, which crowd the universe. In that life, the events are neither very numerous, nor greatly diversified: of even that world, it is but a diminutive spot which we occupy; but few of its inhabitants that we can see, and fewer still with whom we can be acquainted. For one in this situation, to pretend a capacity to judge of, and to censure the providence of God, which reaches to all ages and all nations, and which probably comprehends, under one system, the whole of his immense dominions, is a degree of absurdity and impiety, which we would hesitate to credit, did it not fall under actual observation. Figure to yourselves a minute insect seated on one of the many wheels of a vast and complicated machine; and you have a view of man's situation in the universe. Suppose
that the insect's life continues only while the wheel moves through one of its notches; and say, is it possible that such a creature can see enough, either of the construction or movement of the machine, to judge of its end, or of its fitness to attain that end ? yet such is the little spot, which, for a little while, man occupies in the dominions of God. Although, therefore, his intellect were far more penetrating than it is, and his heart free from every moral defect, his situation alone, independently even of the shortness of his life, must utterly preclude him from a thorough perception of the whole plan
of Providence. Can he, who peeps through the chinks of a shattered wall, perceive the whole ex
tent of a country, the relative situation of its dis3 tricts, or the rivers, hills, and valleys, which diversify its surface? Chained to the bottom of a deep and narrow pit, could you tell the number of the stars, or describe their courses over the wide expanse of heaven? Our mind is shut up in the body, as in a prison : and it is but through a few imperfect openings, that external objects are discerned. Hence, of necessity, our knowledge is narrowly circumscribed ; and hardly extends farther than a few gross matters of fact. Our reasoning conse. quently can proceed but little way; and even there, is liable to almost unavoidable defect. Is it possible, then, that the providence of God, of which so small a portion comes under our observation, can be otherwise than incomprehensible? This even the apostles, enlightened as they were by inspira
tion, acknowledged: “We now see through a glass, “ darkly; and know only in part.”*
But it is not our situation only which disqualifies us to discern the ways of God. The subject is too vast, and too complicated for our understandings to apprehend. Only one idea, one particular object of contemplation, can be present to the mind, at one time. We can examine at once but one cause, and but one effect. Or if we find many causes united to produce an effect, we add them into one sum, and take the amount as one. But if some things be, in many respects, reciprocally cause and effect; if not only one effect have many causes, but if of these causes many have reference to a thousand different effects; how totally bewildered and confounded must the most penetrating and comprehensive mind become! In the immense variety of objects, which the plan of Providence embraces, it is therefore evident many things must appear to a man inexplicable ; their design, their origin, their consequences, must be utterly unknown. For we view things but by piecemeal: and though we could exactly estimate the qualities and effects of any one; yet our minds should be lost, were we to attempt to gather into one amount the effects of causes beyond number, and to determine the result of their infinite combinations, their mutual clashings and disturbances. Nay, could we climb to the third heavens, lay hold of the records of the eternal decrees, and peruse the laws by which the world is governed; we should still be unable completely to scan the designs, or trace the footsteps of Provi
1 Cor. xiii. 9, 120
dence! Their immensity must exceed, their variety distract, all our powers of thought.
Add to the confinedness of our situation, and the narrowness of our capacity, the moral defects of our nature; and it will undeniably appear that, by creatures such as we, the ways of God can be but darkly seen.
Were our hearts pure, and our understandings unclouded, we should all see much farther into the dispensations of Providence than we do; and we would readily confide in the wisdom, justice, and goodness of those, which we could not comprehend. But the mists of prejudice hang over our minds. A thousand humours and passions occupy our hearts; and influence alike our judgments and our wills. These are moral defects, which obscure to us the ways of God.
of God. We weigh the rectitude and expediency of his dealings towards us, in the false scales of our prejudices and our passions. We wonder why the rules of his conduct do not accord with our foolish imaginations, and varying propensities. We judge as we feel: and as we judge, we suppose that the Almighty ought to execute. Are our hearts set on some favourite object? If he do not grant it, however pitiful it may be, we accuse his providence by our murmurings, and say to him in our hearts, “ We do well to be angry," perhaps, “ to be angry even unto death."* In all our predilections and antipathies, our loves and hatreds, we presume that he should take our part, and accommodate his dispensations to our desires. In short, such are our moral deficiencies, that sloth
* Jonah iv. 9.
prevents us from meditating, with steady application of mind, upon the ways of God; impatience will not let us wait, till we see the end of any particular dispensation ; and corrupt passion leads us. to take offence at whatsoever may befall us, contrary to our previous inclinations and humours. Nor are these weaknesses and perverse dispositions attached to only a few of the most ignorant and wicked of mankind; they cleave, in some degree, to the wisest and the best. Jacob, Job, Elijah, David, and even the immediate disciples of our Lord, in many instances, misunderstood, and strongly expressed a dislike of those proceedings of Providence, in which their persons and interests were involved. “ There is none that understand. “eth ; no, not one."*
3. The unsearchableness of divine Providence is what we should be led to expect, from the mys. teries which occur in the operations of nature,
After a little inquiry, man thinks himself wise : after a little more, he finds his knowledge scarcely extends farther than to discover to him his ignorance. This is particularly observable, when we prosecute the study of God's work in nature. We soon find ourselves involved in difficulties inextricable; and are forced to own, with respect to the works, as with respect to the being of the Almighty, that “ such knowledge is too high for us." We may be able to name the plants which cover the earth, and to enumerate some of their virtues; but by what power the sap rises for their formation, from the first germ to the perfect vegetable; why
* Rom. iii. 11, 12