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OF THE PROVIDENCE OF GOD.
Matth. x. 29.- Are not two sparrows sold for a farthing ? and one of
them shall not fall on the ground without your Father.
Our Lord is here encouraging his disciples against all the troubles and distresses they might meet with in their way, and particularly against the fear of men, by the consideration of the providence of God, which reaches unto the meanest of things, sparrows and the hairs of our head. Sparrows are of a mean price and small value; and yet, for as mean as they are, God preserves them, guides and disposes of all things concerning them, so that one of them cannot fall to the ground by shot or any other way, without his sovereign ordering and disposal.
The instruction deducible from the text is,
Doct. 'There is a providence that extends itself to the least of things.
In discoursing from this doctrine, I shall,
1. From plain scripture-testimonies; as Psal. ciii. 19. His kingdom ruleth over all.' Acts xvii. 28. 'In him we live, and move, and have our being,' Eph. i. 11.- Who worketh all things after the counsel of his own will.' Providence is also held forth by a threefold scripture-emblem. Chiefly, (1.) Mount Moriah, which upon occasion of the miraculous preservation of Isaac, and a ram to be put in his room in order to be sacrificed, was called Jehovah Jireh, i. e. The Lord will provide, Gen. xxii. 14. (2.) Jacob's ladder, on which God appears managing all things, Gen. xxviii. (3.) Ezekiel's wheels, where there was a wheel in the middle of a wheel, denoting the agency of the first cause, and the superintending and directing providence of God, Ezek. i.
2. From the nature of God, who being independent, and the first cause of all things, the creatures must needs depend upon him in their being and working. He is the end of all things, wise, knowing how to manage all for the best ; powerful to effectuate whatever he has purposed; and faithful to accomplish all he has decreed, promised, or threatened.
3. From the harmony and order of the most confused things in the world. Every thing appears to a discerning eye to be wisely ordered, notwithstanding the confusions that seem to take place. What would become of the world, if there were not a providence seeing men that despise all order, and would fain give loose reins to their lusts and unbridled inclinations, are always the greatest party, and would overpower and destroy the smaller and most virtuous party? Herein the truth of providence clearly appears. The extraordinary judgments that have pursued and been inflicted upon wicked men, and the remarkable deliverances that have been granted to the church and people of God in all ages, do loudly proclaim a providence.
4. From the fulfilment of prophecies, which could not possibly be without a providence to bring them to pass.
II. Let us, in the next place, consider the object of providence, or that which it reacheth and extendeth to. And this is all the creatures, and all their actions, Heb. i. 3.- Upholding all things by the word of his power,' Psal. ciii. 19. His kingdom ruleth over all.' The angels are subject to this providence, Neh. ix. 6. Thou, even thou art Lord alone, thou hast made heaven, the heaven of heavens, with all their host, the earth and all things that are therein, the seas and all that is therein, and thou preservest them all, and the host of heaven worshippeth thee.' So are also the devils, these infernal spirits, Matth. viii. 31, 'If thou cast us out (said they to Jesus), suffer us to go away unto the herd of swine.' It reacheth natural things, as clouds, snow, winds, &c. as appears from Psal. civ. cxlvii. and from daily observation. Casual things are ordered by providence, as lots, Prov. xvi. 33. ' The lot is cast into the lap: but the whole disposing thereof is of the Lord.' So in the case of accidental manslaughter, Exod. xxi. 13. ' If a man lie not in wait, and God deliver him into his hand.' There is nothing so mean but providence extends to it, such as the falling of a sparrow, and the numbering of the hairs of our head. It is God that feeds the fowls and the young ravens that cry. He clothes the lilies and grass of the field, that have no hand of man about them. He made lice, frogs, &c. a plague to scourge Pharaoh and his people, worms to eat up Herod, &c. In a special manner providence is conversant about man, forming him in the womb, 'Hast thou not poured me out as milk (says Job), and curdled me like cheese? Thou hast clothed me with flesh and hast fenced me with bones and sinews,' Job x. 10, 11.—bringing him forth out of his mother's bowels, and holding him up thereafter, Psal. Ixxi. 6. His heart is in the Lord's hand, and all his thoughts and inclinations are under his controul, Prov. xxi. 1. He directs and orders all his steps. The most free acts of the creature's will are governed by superintending providence. All their good actions, John xv. 5. Without me ye can do nothing.' So also their evil actions, Acts iv. 27, 28. For of a truth against thy holy child Jesus, whom thou hast anointed, both Herod and Pontins Pilate, with the Gentiles, and the people of Israel, were gathered together, for to do whatsoever thy hand and thy counsel determined before to be done,' Gen. xlv. 7. “God sent me before you,' says Joseph to his brethren, though they had wickedly sold him into Egypt.
III. I proceed to consider the acts of providence. They are two, preserving and governing the creatures and their actions.
1. God by his providence preserves all the creatures. This preservation of the creatures is an act of providence, whereby they are preserved in their being and power of acting, Heb. i. 3. Upholding all things by the word of his power. In this God sometimes makes use of means, and sometimes acts without means. We have both described, Hos. ii. 21, 22. 'I will hear saith the Lord, I will hear the heavens, and they shall hear the earth, and the earth shall hear the corn, and the wine, and the oil, and they shall hear Jezreel. He preserves the heavens immediately, the earth, the corn, the wine, and the oil, &c. mediately. And thus by his providence he provides all things necessary for the preservation of all things; Psal. cxlv. 15, 16. 'The eyes of all wait upon thee, and thou givest them their meat in due season. Thou openest thine hand, and satisfiest the desire of every living thing. This act of providence is so necessary, that nothing could subsist one moment without it. For there is no riecessary connexion betwixt the being of the creatures this moment and their being the next; and as they could not give themselves a being, so they cannot continue it, but must be upheld by God as a ball in the air, Heb. i. 3. There is a continual efflux of providence necessary for preserving and upholding the creatures in their being, otherwise they would be independent, and could preserve themselves, which is grossly absurd.
2. God does not only preserve the creatures, but governs and manages them, which is the second act of providence ; whereby he disposes of all things, persons, and actions, according to his will, Prov. xxi. 1. • The king's heart is in the hand of the Lord, as the rivers of water : he turneth it whithersoever he will, Prov. xvi. 33. The lot is cast into the lap: but the whole disposing thereof is of the Lord.' Chap. xvi. 9. 'A man's heart deviseth his way; but the Lord directeth his steps. And this act of providence is also necessary : for as the creature cannot be or exist without God, so neither can it act without him, Acts xvii. 21. 'For in him we live, and move, and have our being. God does not make man as the carpenter doth the ship, which afterwards sails without him ; but he rules and guides him, sitting at the helm, to direct and order all his motions : so that whatever men do, they do nothing without him : not only in their good actions, where he gives grace, and excites it, working in them both to will and to do of his good pleasure : but also in their evil actions, wherein they are under the hand of Providence, but in a very different manner.
For understanding this point, how the providence of God reacheth to and is concerned in sinful actions, we are to consider, that God neither puts evil into the hearts of men, nor stirs them up to it: for, says the apostle, Jam. i. 13. 'God cannot be tempted with evil ; neither tempteth he any man.' And therefore he is not the author of sin. But,
1. God permits sin, when he does not hinder it, which he is not obliged to do. Not that it falls out so as he cannot hinder it, for he is omnipotent, and can do all things ; nor yet as if he cared not what fell out in the world ; but he does wisely, for his holy ends, efficaciously will not to hinder it : Hence we read, Acts xiv. 16. that 'God in times past suffered all nations to walk in their own ways.' He does not permit sin, for that he will not violate or force the creature's free will; for God's providence offers no violence to the will of the creature; and if so, he should never hinder sin at all, for the same reason. But certainly he has holy ends in the permission of sin : for thereby his justice, mercy, wisdom, and love, in sending his Son to save sinners, do conspicuously appear, which otherwise would have been under an eternal cloud, hid from the view of men and angels.
For the further illustration of this doctrine relating to the concern of providence in sinful actions, we are to consider them in a twofold respect, as simple actions, or natural actions of the creature, abstract from any obliquity or deformity cleaving to them; and as actions having irregularity and pravity in them. Considered as natural actions of the creature, they are all effected by the providence of God, which co-operates with, and enables the creature to produce them, in such a manner that without the efflux of providence the creature could not move a hand or foot, or perform any action whatever; 'for in him we move :' and no action of the creature simply considered, or as a natural action, can be sinful, but has a goodness of being in it, and is effected by the influence of providence. As to the pravity or sin that is in actions, as God decreed the futurition of sin, or permitted it to take place, and did not hinder it; Bo all the sin or vitiosity that is in actions proceeds entirely from
the creature, and the evil lusts and passions that are in his heart.
Thus a man's taking up a stone, and throwing it, is a natural action, which the providence of God enables him to perform ; but his throwing it at another man with an intention to kill him, is permitted by God, otherwise it could not take place ; for if a hair cannot fall from our head without the providence of God, much less can a man be murdered without it: and the killing of the man by the throwing of the stone, proceeds entirely from the malice and wickedness that was in the heart of the murderer, the operation of which God did not hinder, which he is nowise obliged to do.
2. God leaves the sinner so far as he sees meet to the swing of his own lusts, and denies him restaining grace. Thus it is said of Hezekiah, a godly king, that, “ in the business of the ambassadors of the princes of Babylon, who sent unto him to enquire of the wonder that was done in the land, God left him, to try him, that he might know all that was in his heart," 2 Chron. xxxii. 31. And when the restraint is taken off the sinner, he runs furiously, to evil.
3. God bounds sin, and restrains men in their sins, as he does the raging sea, allowing it to go so far, but no further. He has such a power and command over wicked men, that they are not masters of their own affections and dispositions, but many times act quite contrary to what they had firmly resolved and proposed : as in the case of Laban. He pursued Jacob, when he left Padan-aram, in order to return into his own country, with a wicked intention to do him hurt, by robbing him of his wives, children, and cattle; but the Lord restrained him, and influenced him to enter into a covenant of friendship with the good patriarch, Gen. xxxii. Thus Esau had resolved on Jacob's death, and went out to meet him with a purpose to destroy him; but when providence brought them together, it is said, " Esau embraced Jacob, and fell on his eck, and kissed him." Thus Balaam came with an express intention to curse Israel, and yet he fell a blessing them. Thus he bent the hearts of the Egyptians to favour the Israelites, so that they sent them away with great riches, by lending them jewels of silver and jewels of gold, and costly garments. Thus, by a secret instinct, he turned Jehoshaphat's enemies away from him, when they came with a purpose to destroy him, 2 Chron. xviii. 31.; and at another time he turned his enemies against themselves, so that they sheathed their swords in one another's bowels, 2 Chron. xx. Thus also he restrained the soldiers that broke the legs of the two thieves that were crucified with Christ, from touching his, in order to accomplish his word, that a bone of the Paschal lamb, which was a type of Christ, the Lamb of God, should not be broken. So true is that saying of the Psalmist,