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ing creature preys upon another, produce, on the whole, the greatest quantity of life and happiness. Do you ask again, Are there not some ferocious animals, which seem created only to prey on such as are more harmless and useful? True: and to a superficial observer, this seems a mystery, and an imperfection in nature. But do not these, by their thirst of blood, prevent the overgrowth of othe: kinds; an overgrowth which, if unchecked, would finally produce almost universal desolation? Those feebler kinds are harmless, only because their num bers are circumscribed. Were their increase unlimited, they would consume from the earth what is necessary for the support, both of man and of other tribes of beings. The husbandman might think it better that some species of birds were totally extirpated. In some particular districts, the experiment has been tried; and it was found that caterpillars and other insects, to whom they are the natural foes, multiplied so rapidly, as to threaten, with immediate hazard, the precious fruits of the earth; and proved that the creatures, whose destruction he had sought, were his allies rather than his enemies. While against the danger, which might be apprehended from their too great increase, God has guarded, in his providence, by making them the prey of other winged tribes, of greater rapacity and strength. In short, so wisely balanced is the great plan of the Creator, in the formation of animated nature, that, were but one species either excessively multiplied, or totally destroyed, it is probable every other, in process of time, would perish. Nay, the effect might ultimately extend to the plants of the
field; and the earth become, at last, equally void of fertility and of life. For every naturalist knows what important and necessary services are performed, by various classes of animals, and by some even of those, which are apparently the meanest and most insignificant, in preserving and propagating the vegetable tribes.
When we attend, then, to but a single part of the Creator's plan, in the instances referred to, we are apt, rashly, to judge it imperfect, or, at least, to pronounce it mysterious or perplexed. When we enlarge our views, the scene becomes more beautiful and clear. We discern one design, and one great whole. We see it, in all its parts, properly balanced and connected; and tending to one great end, the manifestation of divine skill, goodness, and power, united in producing the greatest possible sum of life and of enjoyment.
The inference to be drawn from this particular is so plain, that I shall state it in a single sentence. If, in the works of nature, many things, which at first seemed marks of imperfection or error, have been found, on more careful inspection, to be beautiful and fit; it is more than probable that, in the operations of Providence, those proceedings, which at first may have been deemed inequitable or severe, will, on more thorough acquaintance, appear just and good.-This will be still more evident, if we consider,
II. Those facts in the ordinary dispensations of Providence, which at first appeared irregular, and have been pronounced unjust; but which subse
quent events, or more mature reflection, have explained and justified.
The general plan of Providence is that, even independently of inward peace, the good are, on the whole, in a better external state than the bad. Industry, integrity, and temperance, naturally tend to comfort and advancement in life. Whereas sloth, dishonesty, and sensuality, as naturally produce the opposite effects. "In the keeping of God's "commandments," says David, "there is a great "reward."* "Great peace," he adds, " have they "which love thy law; and nothing shall offend
them." Nay, he affirms that, from his youth to his old age, he had never" seen the righteous forsaken, or his seed begging bread." Such is the general plan. But many exceptions are admitted. The ambitious and the cruel, the rapacious and the unjust, often oppress and persecute the quiet and the good. It is not in the psalmist's days only that the "wicked" have been " seen
great in power."§ Often do "all things come "alike to all; and there is one event to the righteous and to the wicked."|| "Under the sun, "the race is not always to the swift, nor the battle "to the strong; neither yet bread to the wise, nor "riches to men of understanding, nor favour to "men of skill." So that, if we confine our attention wholly to external circumstances, it is frequently true, that "no man knoweth either love or "hatred, by all that is before him."** These instances, and the like, are the exceptions. Were
*** Eccl. ix. L
Psalmi xix. ri.
Ibid. xxxvii. 25.
Eccl. ix, 2.
the general plan, which we have noticed, to be. come universal, profanity could find no pretext for cavil. It is the numerous exceptions which perplex our minds, and appear unjust.
In order more effectually to remove the objections, to which these exceptions might give rise, and to attain the end proposed under this head of discourse, I shall first make two general observations ; and then proceed to state some particular facts.
The first of these observations is that, though rashness may censure the afflictions of the righteous, as needless or unjust; they evidently appear, on calm reflection, to have a tendency eminently beneficial. Disease in the body has frequently the most useful effects. It carries off the gross and dangerous humours, whose consequences, did they remain, would be fatal to life. But afflictions have effects more useful still. They are a powerful mean of curing the corruptions of the soul. They teach the unprofitableness of worldly pursuits, the emptiness of worldly joys. They break the force of evil passions, and put an end to the indulgence of evil habits. They beget patience, temperance, humility, and consideration; and besides, are frequently overruled, to produce other and important consequences; some of which we shall have occasion, in a little, to exemplify. David, whose experience of them was ample, bears full testimony to their utility. "Before I was afflicted, I went astray: but now "have I kept thy word." "It is good for me that
I have been afflicted, that I might learn thy sta"tutes." He had good reason, therefore, to subjoin, "I know, O Lord, that thy judgments are right;
" and that thou in faithfulness hast afflicted me."* The afflictions, then, of the people of God, are intended as mercies, and deserve to be acknowledged as valuable benefits.
The second general observation, to which I request your attention, is, that God, in his providence, appears deliberate in every operation; accomplishing his ends by slow successive steps. This is evident in every department of nature. Plants and animals might be formed complete at once; yet their parts unfold themselves, and they advance to maturity by slow degrees: and thus it also is, in the ways of Providence. Men are impatient. They have not temper to wait the completion of any dispensation and often blame the course of the Almighty, as tedious or unwise. When "the taber"nacles of robbers prosper, and they that provoke "God are secure ;"+ even his own people are too apt to charge him, as an unconcerned spectator. "How long wilt thou forget me, O Lord? for ever? "How long wilt thou hide thy face from me?" "Wherefore dost thou forget us for ever?§"Lord, "how long wilt thou look on?"|| "Awake: why "sleepest thou, O Lord, arise !" Such are our shortsighted views, and presumptuous expostulations. Yet, as we are admonished by Peter," the "Lord is not slack concerning his promise, as some "men count slackness." "The Lord," we ought to consider, "waits, that he may be gracious."** As with him there is no succession of time, with him there can be no impatience, to precipitate his acPsalm cxix. 67, 71, 75. § Lám. v. 20. † Job xii. 6. Psalm xiii. 1. | Psalm xxxv. 17.
¶ Psalm xliv. 23. ** Isaiah xxx. 18.