« PreviousContinue »
ed by examples and complaints, as to leave the fact itself unquestionable.—That things are carried on in this world sometimes so contrary to all our reasonings, and the seeming probabilities of success,that even the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong ;-nay, what is stranger still,—nor yet bread to the wise, who should last stand in want of it ; nor yet riches to men of understanding, who you would think best qualified to acquire them ;nor yet favour to 'men of skill, whose merit and pretences bid the fairest for it; but that there are some secret and unseen workings in human affairs, which baffle all our endeavours -and turn aside the course of things in such a manner that the most. likely causes disappoint and fail of producing for us the effect which we wished and naturally expected from them:
You will see a man, of whom was you to form a conjecture from the appearance of things in his favour,-you would say was setting out in the world with the fairest prospect of making his fortune in it;with all the advantages of birth to recommend him of personal merit to speak for him,--and of friends to help and push him forwards : you will be hold him, notwithstanding this, disappointed in eve. ry effect you might naturally have looked for from them! every step he takes towards his advancement, something invisible shall pull him back, some un foreseen obstacle shall rise up perpetually in his way, and keep him there.-In every application he makes- some untoward circumstance shall blast it. -He shall rise early-late take rest,--and eat the bread of carefulness-yet some happier man shall still rise up, and ever step in before him, and leave
him struggling, to the end of his life, in the very same place in which he first began it.
The history of a second shall, in all respects, be the contrast to this. He shall come into the world with the most unpromising appearance,-shall set forwards without fortune, without friends, without talents to procure him either the one or the other ; -nevertheless, you will see this clouded prospect brighten up insensibly, unaccountably before him ; every thing presented in his way shall turn out beyond his expectations :-in spite of that chain of unsurmountable difficulties which first threatened him, -time and chance shall open him a way; a series of successful occurrences shall lead him by the hand to the summit of honour and fortune, and, in a word, without giving him the pains of thinking, or the credit of projecting it, shall place him in safe possession of all that ambition could wish for.
The histories of the lives and fortunes of men are full of instances of this nature,—where favourable times and lucky accidents have done for them what wisdom or skill could not: and there is scarce any one who has lived long in the world, who, upon looking backwards, will not discover such a mixture of these in the many successful turns which have hapo pened in this life, as to leave him very little reason to dispute against the fact, and, I should hope, as little upon the conclusions to be drawn from it.
Some, indeed, from a superficial view of this representation of things, have atheistically inferred, that because there was so much of lottery in this life, and mere casualty seemed to have such a share in the disposal of our affairs,--triat the providence of God stood neuter and unconcerned in their several workings, leaving them to the mercy of time and chance to be furthered or disappointed as such blind agents directed ;-whereas, in truth, the very opposite conclusion follows: for, consider,if a superior intelligent Power did not sometimes cross and over-rule events in this world,—then our policies and designs in it would always answer according to the wisdom and stratagem in which they were laid, and every cause, in the course of things, would produce its natural effect without variation. Now, as this is not the case, it necessarily follows, from Solomon's reasoning, that, if the race is not to the swift, if knowledge and learning do not always secure men from wants-nor care and industry always make men rich,—nor art and skill infallibly make men high in the world, that there is some other cause which mingles itself in human affairs, and governs and turns them as it pleases; which cause can be no other than the First Cause of all things, and the secret and over-ruling providence of that Almighty God, who, though his dwelling is so high, yet he humbleth himself to behold the things that are done on earth, raising up the poor out of the dust, and lifting the beggar om the dung-hill; and, contrary to all hopes, putting him with princes, even with the princes of his people; which, by the way, was the case of David, who makes the acknowledgment !- And, no doubt,--one reason why God has selected to his own disposal so many instances as this, where events have run counter to all probabilities, was to give testimony to his providence in governing the world, and to engage us to a consideration and dependence upon it, for the event and success of our undertakings.* For undoubtedly, as I said, it should seem but suitable fo nature's laws, that the race should ever be to the swift, and the battle to the strong ;-it is reasonable that the best contrivances and means should have best success ;-and since it often falls out otherwise in the case of mạn, where the wisest projects are overthrown,—and the most hopeful means are blasted, and time and chance happen to all,—you must call on the Deity to untie this knot: —for though at sundry times,sundry events fall out--which we, who look no farther than the events themselves, call chance, because they fall out quite contrary both to our intentions and our hopes,-yet at the same time, in respect of God's providence over-ruling in these events, it were profane to call them chance, for they are pure designation; and though invisible, are still the regular dispensations of the superintending power of that Almighty Being from whom all the laws and powers of nature are derived; who, as he has appointed,--so holds them as instruments in his hand, and, without invading the liberty and free-will of his creatures, can turn the passions and desires of their hearts to fulfil his own righteousness, and work such effects in human affairs, which to us seem merely casual,--but to him certain and determined; and what his infinito wisdom sees necessary to be brought about for the government and preservation of the world, over which providence perpetually presides.
When the sons of Jacob had cast their brother Joseph into the pit for his destruction,-one would think, if ever any incident which concerned the life of man deserved to be called chance, it was this. That the company of the Ishmaelites should happen to pass by, in that open country, at that very place, at that time too, when this barbarity was commits ted. After he was rescued by so favourable a con. tingency,-his life and future fortune still depended upon a series of contingencies equally improbable ; for instance, had the business of the Ishmaelites whò bought him, carried them from Gilead to any other part of the world besides Egypt; or, when they arrived there, had they sold their bond-slave to any other man but Potiphar, throughout the whole empire ;-or, after that disposal, had the unjust accusations of his master's wife cast the youth into any other dungeon than that where the king's prisoners were kept;mor had it fallen out at any other crisis than when Pharaoh's chief butler was cast there too, had this, or any other of these events fallen out otherwise than it did a series of unmerited misfortunes had overwhelmed him, and in consequence, the whole land of Egypt and Canaan. From the first opening to the conclusion of this long and interesting transaction, the providence of God suffered every thing to take its course :--the malice and cruelty of Joseph's brethren wrought their worst mischief against him ; banished him from his country and the protection of his parent.--The lust and baseness of a disappointed woman sunk him suill deeper ;-loaded his character with an unjust reproach ;-and, to complete his ruin, doomed him, friendless, to the miseries of a hopeless prison, where he lay neglected. Providence, thougb it did not cross these events, yet Providence bent them to the most merciful ends. When the whole drama
* Pide Tillotson's Sermon on this subject.