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We propose to-day, my brethren, to combat these dangerous prejudices, to dissipate all such appearances of grandeur and elevation, and to make you feel the extravagance of all those, who have the audacity to attempt to oppose Almighty God. The wise man calls us to this meditation in the words of the text. There is no wisdom nor understanding, nor counsel against the Lord.
Perhaps you will accuse us (and we will enter on the subject by examining this objection) perhaps you will accuse us of creating phantoms to combat. Perhaps you will defy us to find among the different classes of idiots, whom society cherishes in its bosom, any one, who hath carried his extravagance so far as to presume to oppose God, or to pretend to constrain him by superior knowledge or power.
My brethren, one of the most difficult subjects in the study of the human heart is, when a man leads a certain course of life, to determine whether he have adopted the extravagant principles on which his conduct is founded, and without which his conduct is the most palpable folly. Take which side we will, whether that he acts on principles, or without them, the case will appear extremely difficult. On the one hand, we can hardly persuade ourselves that an intelligent creature, who is capable of governing a state, regulating a large and extensive commerce, and of arranging a variety of systems, should entertain notions seemingly incompatible with the very least degree of intelligence. On the other hand, we know not how to comprehend, that a course of actions, which is the natural effect of such notions, can subsist without them.
Follow us a moment, my brethren, into these labyrinths of the human heart, or rather, let us endeavor to know ourselves, and to reconcile our
selves to ourselves, and let each of us put a few questions to himself.
I, who have some idea of the perfections of God, and who cannot doubt whether he know the most secret thoughts of my heart, can I promise myself to impose on him in his temple by a painted outside, by a grave deportment, and by a mournful countenance, while my understanding and my affections take no part in religious exercises, while my ideas are confused, and while my passions promise me an immediate indemnity for the violence I have offered them during the few moments of this seeming devotion ? But, if I have not this thought, how is it then that I think to obtain the favor of God by exercises of this kind ?
I, who was educated in the christian church, can I imagine that God hath less dominion over me, when the air is calm, the heavens serene, and the earth firm under my feet, than when the clouds are thick and black, the thunder rolls in the air, the lightning flashes, and the earth seems to open under my feet? But, if I have not adopted this opinion, how comes it to pass that I commit the greatest crimes without remorse in the first period, and in the second reproach myself for the most pardonable of all my frailties?
I, who am surrounded with the dying and the dead, I, who feel myself dying every day, I, who carry death in my face, who feel it in my veins, , who, when I lay on a sick bed a few months ago, and thought myself come to the last moment of life, felt the most violent remorse, I, who would have then given the whole world, had the whole world been at my disposal to have been delivered from sin, can I persuade myself that I shall live here always ? Can I even persuade myself that I shall live much longer? Or if I could, that when
death shall present itself to me, I shall be exempt from remorse, and that the crimes, which now make the pleasure of my life, will not be the poison of my dying bed? But, if I be incapable of adopting opinions so opposite to what I know by feeling and experience, what am I doing? How is it possible for me to live as if I thought myself immortal, as if I had made a covenant with death, and were at agreement with the grave, as if I had stifled for ever the feelings of my conscience, as if I were sure of dictating myself the decree of divine justice concerning my own eternal state ?
And not to multiply examples, of which the extravagance of the human mind would furnish a great number, I, whose views are so short, whose knowledge is so confined, whose faculties are so frail, and whose power is so limited, can I promise myself success in opposing the designs of that God, who saith in his word, My counsel shall stand, and I will do all my pleasure ? Isa. xlvi. 10. Can I promise myself to subdue a God Great in counsel, and mighty in work, Jer. xxxii. 19. and to constrain him by superior power? But, if I have not adopted such extravagant thoughts, what mean the obstacles, which I oppose against his will ? What signify my plans of felicity, which are diametrically opposite to those, which he hath traced for me in his word? Why do I not direct all my intentions and actions to incorporate in my interest him, whose will is productive and efficient? Why do I not found my system of living on this principle of the wise man, There is no wisdom, nor un. derstanding, nor counsel against the Lord.
My brethren, explain to us these enigmas, discover yourselves to yourselves, and reconcile yourselves with yourselves. O miserable man! What kind of madness animates thee? Is it that of having conceived these extravagant thoughts, which are alone capable of varnishing over thy conduct? Or is it that of acting without thought, which is a sort of raving madness, for even erroneous opinions might seem to thee to apologize for thine actions ? O heart of man, deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked, who can know thee? Jer. xvii. 9.
However, the knowledge of this heart so difficult to be known is not entirely unattainable, it is even essential to our happiness. How should we correct ourselves without knowing ourselves? How should we acquire real wisdom without knowing precisely what our folly is, and by what means to get rid of it?
It should seem, we ought to search for a solution of these difficulties in the artifices of our own passions. The passions not only disguise exterior objects, but they disguise even our own thoughts, they persuade us that we do not think what we do think, and in this manner they confirm us in the most extravagant notions, the absurdity of which we could not help seeing were we dispassionate and cool. The work, therefore, to which we ought most seriously to apply ourselves, is to take off such coverings as our passions throw over our opinions, and which prevent our seeing that we think as we do; to this important work I shall address myself in the remaining part of this discourse.
A modern philosopher hath founded on this principle the whole of his system on the difference between right and wrong. He says, justice consists in affirming that a thing is what it is, and injustice in denying it. He explains this thought by another, that is, that we affirm and deny not only by words, but also by actions, and that the second inanner of affirming or denying is more express
and decisive than the first. I will not examine whether this philosopher have not carried his principles too far : but I am going to prove by the actions of men that they pretend to oppose God, and that they set four obstacles against his will, their grandeur, their policy, their pleasures, and their stoical obstinacy. I am going to prove at the same time to worldly politicians and grandees, to voluptuous and stoical people, that to undertake to re- · sist God is the height of extravagance. There is no wisdom nor understanding, nor counsel against the Lord.
I. We will consider our text in regard to worldly grandeur. We sometimes see those, who are called grandees in the world, resist God, pretend to compel him by superior force, or by greater knowYedge. And whom do we intend to characterize? Is it a Pharaoh, who boldly demands, who is the Lord, that I should obey his voice? Is it a Sena. cherib, who uttered this insolent language, Beware lest Hezekiah persuade you, saying, the Lord will deliver us. Hath any of the gods of the nations delivered his land out of the hand of the king of Assyria? Where are the gods of Hamath and Arphad? Where are the gods of Sepharvaim ? Who are they amongst all the gods of these lands, that have delivered their land out of my hand, that the Lord should deliver Jerusalem out of my hand ? Is it a Nebuchadnezzar, to whom a prophet puts this mortifying question, How art ihou fallen from heaven, thou day star, thou son of the morning? Thou who didst weaken the nations, hast said in thine heart, I will ascend into heaven, I will exalt my throne above the stars of God, I will sit also upon the mount of the congregation