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Sin, that is the most disorderly thing in the world, is not only within the compass of his permission, but is limited and dispo sed by his providence: and such is his goodness, that he would not permit it, if his power could not overrule that evil, for a good that preponderates the evil. And all afflictive evils, by his own declaration, are the effects of his just and powerful providence. "Is there any evil in the city, and I have not done it ?" His providence is comprehensive and complete; no unforeseen accidents in the freest and most contingent things, no involuntary obstruction in the most necessary things, can break the entireness, or discompose the order of his providence. "The Lord is in heaven, he doth whatsoever he pleaseth in heaven and in earth, in the sea, and all the deep places." How exactly and easily does he manage and overrule all things? The whole world. is his house, and all the successive generations of men his family; some are his sons, and by voluntary subjection; others his slaves, and by just constraint fulfil his pleasure. It was the saying of a wise king, instructed by experience, that the art of governments was like the laborious travel of a weaver, that requires the attention of the mind, and the activity of the body; the eyes, hands, and feet, are all in exercise: and how often is the contexture of human counsels, though woven with great care, yet unexpectedly broke? So many cross accidents interpose, so many emergencies beyond all prevention start up, that frustrate the designs and hopes of the most potent rulers of this world. But God disposes all things with more facility than one of us can move a grain of sand: the government of the world has a less proportion to his infinite wisdom and uncontrolable power, than a grain of sand hath to the strength of a man. His counsel shall always stand; all second causes depend upon him in their beings, their agency and influences. Nothing is executed in this visible kingdom below, but by express order from his invisible court; and all occurrences are made use of for the accomplishing the designs of his electing mercy, in the glorification of his saints." Now all that is comfortable and reviving, is contained in this principle. If his providence reaches to the birds of the air, and the lilies of the field, much more to the saints, in whom he hath a propriety; and such is his condescending love, and inconceivable benignity, that he styles himself by the most endearing relation, "their God." They are the prime part of his vigilant
care. It is St. Austin's affectionate ejaculation, *"O omnipotent goodness, that so particularly regardest every one of us, as if the sole objects of thy tender care, and all of us as single persons!" The sun applies its quickening influences for the production and growth of a single plant as particularly as if there were no other things in the world to receive them; yet at the same time it passes from sign to sign in the heavens, changes the scenes of the elements, produces new seasons, and its active and prolific heat, forms and transforms whatsoever is changed in nature. This is a fit resemblance of the universal and special operations of divine providence; what a strong security doth this give to a christian in the midst of all trouble in this corrupt and changeable world? How will it clear the mind from those miserable perplexities, and quiet those improvident, precipitant passions that so often afflict the afflicted? Whatever evils befal the saints, are with the knowledge, the will, and by the efficiency of God, materially considered; and is he defective in wisdom, power, or goodness, that what he does, either might or ought to be better otherwise? Indeed, sometimes the special ends of his afflicting providence are in such deep obscurity, that our line is too short to fathom, and the manner how God shall result from evil is unknown; but then we may conclude with evidence, it is for the best. When Cesarius a primitive saint was arguing in himself, how that scripture could be true, that the earth was founded on the waters; how the more weighty element should not sink, and be overwhelmed by the other: he stopped the course of his thoughts by this reflection, "I forgat myself when I said to God, how can this be?" + And admires that which he could not comprehend. For inferior reasons we often pray, that particular evils that are near, may be prevented; but if they overtake us, we may be satisfied that they are appointed by his supreme reason and everlasting counsel. As in a concert of music, the parts are not formed when they are sung, but were composed before by the skill of the musician, and every part assigned convenient to the voices of the persons. Thus the various conditions and passages of our lives were so disposed by the sove
O bone omnipotens, qui sic unumquemque nostrum tanquam solum cu res, & sic omnes tauquam singulos! Aug. Conf. lib. 13.
+ Dial 1.
reign wisdom of God from eternity, and as most fit for us. Whether the evils proceed more immediately and entirely from his hand, or by the intercurrence of second causes; it is equally certain they come by the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God. Our Saviour answers Pilate, "thou couldest have no power at all against me, except it were given thee from above." All the afflictive evils that proceed from the malice of men, and increase their guilt and judgment, are ordered by his providence, for the spiritual and eternal good of his people; this consideration will prevent much sin and trouble that the best men are liable to in their perturbations and passions. There is nothing more exasperates an afflicted mind than the apprehension that one unjustly suffers,
Leniter ex merito quicquid patiare ferendum est:
A righteous punishment even nature consents is to be received
. In conjunction with the belief of God's providence, our belief of his promises, that his truth is unchangeable, for the performance of them, is requisite to preserve the afflicted spirit in a calm and submissive state. A present evil strikes the imagination and senses in another manner than a future spiritual good. Now" faith is the substance of things hoped for," &c. Heb. 11. 1. it makes invisible things to be the greatest realities to the soul; the steady reliance upon the divine attributes engaged them to fulfil his promises, and is of an invincible efficacy to strengthen the soul in every distress. "O Lord of hosts, blessed is the man that trusteth in thee." Psal, 84. His uncontrolable power governs all the orders of creatures, and the honour of his truth is so sacred, "that heaven and earth shall pass away without the failing of any good thing promised to his people." Faith assists patience; as the blood that is a natural balsam, flows to the wounded part to heal and consolidate it. These graces are inseparable, and are recorded with special observation, as the fountains of courage under sufferings. "Here is the faith and patience of the saints; and we are directed to follow them who through faith and patience have inherited the promises." Rev. 13, 10. Other graces are engaged in the christian combat, and strive for victory, but faith and patience are crowned. And to support us in great troubles, a firm affiance in the divine promises as belonging to us, is of infinite moment. "I will greatly rejoice, and trust in the Lord, my soul shall be joyful in my God." Isa. 61. 10. The general apprehension of God's mercy is ineffectual to support us and to claim a title in him without a real evidence, is vain. But a regular trust, an applicative faith, in conjunction with our sincere performing the conditions of the promises, is to a christian, like the sacred locks of Samson's hair, whilst they remained, he was invincible; but when cut off, he became weak as other men. Our comforts rise and fall according to the stronger or weaker degrees of our faith: Peter walked firm upon the waves till he doubted, and then began to sink. One of the sorest and most dangerous temptations of the afflicted is, that they are out of God's favour. The mourning veil darkens the eyes of their minds, that they cannot see his compassionate countenance, they cannot reconcile his gracious promises with his providential dispensations; the good things he hath prepared for hereafter, with the evil he sends
here. As Gideon complained to the angel, "If God be with us, how comes all this evil to us?" And the spirit of darkness takes the advantage of great troubles to tempt sad souls to despondency, as if they were utterly forsaken of God. If this temptation prevail, "if the heavens be as brass, and the earth as iron;" if no influences descend from above, and there be no springs below; if divine and human comforts fail, there remains nothing but desperate sorrow. * St. Austin, to repel this temptation, introduceth God answering the afflicted and discomforted; "Is this thy faith? Did I promise temporal prosperity to you? Were you made a christian for this, that you might flourish in this world?" The faith of our adoption is confirmed by his corrections. If they are profitable to us, if we are refined not hardened by the fiery trial, we have a clear testimony of our interest in him. "I will bring them through the fire, and they shall be refined as silver and gold is tried ; and they shall say, the Lord is my God." Zech. 13.
Briefly, let us strengthen our faith of the glorious state, and our title to it, and it will make us firm against all the violent impressions of adversity; it will produce a joyful exultation even in the afflicted state. The christian that with steadfast faith and attentive consideration looks on the inestimable infinite felicity, is regardless of all things in the world, in comparison with it. Sacred history reports of Saul the persecutor, who was transformed into an apostle, that a sudden light from heaven of that excessive brightness encompassed him, that he was struck blind, and saw no man: this may be easily and justly applied to every sincere believer in a moral sense: the first effect of the spiritual light that shines in the eyes of his mind, and discovers unseen eternal things, is to darken his sight of the things that are temporal: even the greatest things here are not of such moment, as to allure or terrify him from prosecuting his blessed end. Saint Peter declares of persecuted christians, "That believing, they tejoice with joy unspeakable, and full of glory." 1 Pet. 1. 8. The martyrs dearly embraced the cross of Christ, and prized the thorns of his crown, more than all the roses of pleasure, than all the diadems of earthly dignity, in expectation of the blessed re
* Respondit tibi deus, hæccine est fides tua? Hæc tibi promisi? Ad hæc christianus factus es ut in seculo floreres?