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time his overwhelming evils fell upon him, than afterwards. “ Naked came I out of my mother's womb, and naked shall I return thither. The Lord gave, and the Lord hath taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.” God had taken away all, and he found it easier to give up all than to give up a part. Do you take away only one play-thing from a child, and he will complain more bitterly than if you take away all. . And this holds true with respect to all the children of men. They find it harder to be stripped of one peculiar blessing than to be called to give up all. It is no less absurd than criminal for the afflicted to think that their afflictions are greater than they can bear, when they can easily and instantly cast them upon the Lord, who can ease them of their burden. So long as they do not submit, they take the burden upon themselves; but the moment they submit they cast it upon God. And when they have cast off a great burden, no matter how great, they feel themselves more at ease, than while they carry and refuse to cast off a light burden.
6. If men are apt to think that God afflicts them too severely, then their afflictions give them the best opportunity to know their own hearts. All afflictions are trials of the heart. They try whether the afflicted are stupid, or whether their hearts are hard, or whether their hearts are tender, or whether they have ever been broken and subdued, or whether they have declined and neglected to grow in grace. All descriptions of men have a fair opportunity, under great trials especially, to know what manner of spirit they are of. Such trials never fail to excite sensible motions and exercises of heart, which are the proper criterion to determine whether the heart is or has been right with God. Those who have always been stupid may discover their stupidity in a day of adversity. Those who have been awakened may discover the real effects of their awakenings in a day of adversity. Those who have been in doubt of their spiritual state may discover what it is, under heavy afflictions. Both growing and declining christians may discover their growing or declining state under the correcting hand of God, better than at any other time. It is easier to distinguish nature from grace, in the furnace of affliction, which is designed to separate the dross from the silver, than in a day of prosperity. Hence the apostle represents trials as matter of rejoicing. “Beloved, think it not strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened unto you; but rejoice.” As all men need to be tried, so all need to be afflicted, and to be afflicted in the very manner in which God afflicts them, in order to try them, and make them know their spiritual state. How often do we find that those who have been long in doubt whether they have ever met with a saving change, have derived a comfortable hope in their adversity that they have experienced the grace of God! Their trials have enabled them to distinguish grace from nature, by causing them to exercise those christian graces, to which the promises of life are made. When pressed down with the weight of affliction, and drowned in sorrow, they have been drawn near to God, exercised love to his character, submission to his providence, and holy confidence in his promises. God often afflicts those who are in a dark and doubting state, to bring them out of darkness into light. Such persons in particular have peculiar need of fiery trials, and have peculiar reason to be thankful for them. And if they properly improve them, they will be thankful for them.
This subject calls upon all to inquire what effects they have derived from the afflictions which they have experienced. All have been more or less tried, and many, no doubt, imagine that they have been tried severely, and there have been no sorrows like unto their sorrows. All such remember their affliction and misery, the wormwood and the gall, and have their views and feelings still in remembrance. It behooves them to examine and distinguish their past views and exercises. They may afford a plain criterion to determine what they are now, whether in a state of nature or a state of grace; which is of the highest importance to themselves, to determine according to truth. Let those who know that they are in a state of nature, recall their past feelings under afflictions and divine corrections, that they may know how vile they are. Let those who have been depressed, and so bowed down as to resolve to seek and serve God, but have never fulfilled their resolution, reflect
upon their peculiar guilt and danger. And let present mourners consider their critical and hazardous situation. You are now under trial, and under trial for eternity, and perhaps the heaviest if not the last trial you will ever have, before your day of trial will cease, and you are put into a state where trials can never do you any good. If you thought this would be the case, would it not alarm you? And do you not need to be alarmed? Do not all need to be alarmed?' Deaths, sudden deaths, are frequently occurring. Let christians trim their lamps. Let sinners fly to the ark of safety. And let all stand in the posture of servants, waiting the coming of their Lord. He may come quickly and suddenly. And you know not what a day may bring forth. You are walking on the brink of time and verge of eternity. O that you would be wise, that you would consider your latter end!
DIVINE SOVEREIGNTY IN THE DEATH OF MEN.
JUNE 9, 1822. DEATH OF ALEXANDER M. FISHER, PROFESSOR OF MATHEMATICS
AND NATURAL PHILOSOPHY IN YALE COLLEGE.
I TELL you, in that night there shall be two men in one bed; the one shall be
taken, and the other shall be left,“ — LUKE, xvii. 34.
Ever since God passed the sentence of mortality upon mankind, he has acted as a sovereign in carrying that sentence into execution. He has spared one and taken another, just as he pleased. Our Saviour said that God would act in the same sovereign manner, when he should lay Jerusalem and the temple in ruins. As he preserved Noah, while he sunk the rest of mankind in the merciless waves, and as he preserved Lot, while he consumed Sodom and Gomorrah by fire from heaven, so Christ says he would preserve one and destroy another, under the same circumstances, when he should bring desolation on his own city, his own temple, and his own nation. “ I tell you, in that night there shall be two men in one bed; the one shall be taken, and the other shall be left.” God has a right to take one in a burning house, and leave another, and to take one in a sinking ship, and leave another; and he has done this in ten thousand instances. This then is the solemn truth which now lies before
us, That God acts as a sovereign in taking away the lives of men.
I shall show,
II. In what respects he acts as a sovereign in taking away the lives of men. And,
III. Why he acts as a sovereign in this interesting case.
acting as a sovereign. It is very necessary that we should have clear and just ideas of divine sovereignty, which is often misunderstood and misrepresented. The sovereignty of God does not imply that he ever acts contrary to reason.
To act contrary to reason is to act arbitrarily. Earthly sovereigns often act contrary to reason; and when they do, mankind justly think they have ground to complain of their unreasonable and arbitrary conduct. And were it possible that God should act contrary to reason, they would have the same ground to complain of his unreasonable conduct. But the only wise God never does act contrary to reason. He not only has some reason, but he has the very best reason, for his conduct. He knows the various relations which he bears to his creatures, and the various relations which they bear to him, and to one another. And though he acts as sovereign, yet he always acts agreeably to these relations, which afford the best reasons for every thing he does. Nor does his acting as a sovereign imply that he ever acts contrary to moral rectitude. It is morally impossible that he should falsify his word, or break his promise, or justify the wicked, or condemn the just, or do the least injury to any rational or irrational creature. 6 Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right?” But his acting as a sovereign does imply,
1. That he always acts after the counsel of his own will, without consulting the will, or pleasure, or counsel, of any other being. He formed all his own designs from eternity, and he never condescends to alter them, in compliance with the wishes, desires or counsel of any of his intelligent creatures. “ He is in one mind, and who can turn him, and what his soul desireth, even that he doeth.” “O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! how unsearchable are his judgments, and his ways past finding out. For who hath known the mind of the Lord ? or who hath been his counsellor ?" God knows that all his creatures are imperfect in wisdom, and incapable of giving him any counsel or advice; and he knows that many of them are imperfect in goodness, and have desires and wishes which he ought not to gratify. Hence he always acts according to his own pleasure, without paying the least regard to the will or pleasure of his creatures, any farther than their will, and pleasure, and designs, coincide with his own.
2. His acting as a sovereign implies that he always acts, not only without the counsel, but without the control, of any created beings. He is able to carry his own designs into execution, and always does carry them into execution, notwithstand
, ing all the efforts of any of his creatures to constrain or restrain his operations. It is in vain for any to say unto him, " What doest thou ?” or to attempt to stay his mighty hand. He claims an absolute right to accomplish his own purposes. “I am God, and there is none else ; I am God, and there is none like me: declaring the end from the beginning, and from ancient times the things that are not yet done, saying, my counsel shall stand, and I will do all my pleasure."
The sovereignty of God necessarily implies that he acts independently of all his creatures; and instead of being controlled by them, he controls all their views, desires, and designs, according to his own pleasure. His sovereignty, therefore, is a holy and amiable sovereignty. It consists in his acting in the most just, most wise, most benevolent, and independent manner.
I now proceed to show,
II. In what respects he acts as a sovereign in taking away the lives of men. Here it may be observed,
1. That he acts as a sovereign in respect to appointing the time of every one's death. Job acknowledges his sovereignty in this respect. “Seeing his days are determined, the number
, of his months are with thee, thou hast appointed his bounds that he cannot pass.” God has fixed the bounds of every human life, and determined to a moment when every one that comes into the world shall go out of it. And his appointment of the day of death is absolutely sovereign and universal. determines that one shall die in infancy, another in childhood, another in youth, another in manhood, another in the meridian of his days, another in the decline of life, and another in old age. He has taken away thousands and thousands of the human race in every period of life. He has so determined the day of death as to baffle all human hopes, desires, and expectations. Though the time of death is deeply interesting to the living, yet God determines with absolute sovereignty when every one shall die. He carries the lives of all mankind in his holy and sovereign hand, and none can deliver themselves out of his hand. This warranted Solomon to say,
6 There is no man that hath power over the spirit to retain the spirit; neither hath he power in the day of death ; and there is no discharge in that war." No human art or effort can prolong the life of a single individual beyond the bounds which God has, by an act of sovereignty, absolutely and irreversibly fixed.
2. God acts as a sovereign in determining not only the time, but the place of every one's death. This is a circumstance which often deeply affects both the living and the dying. Almost every person desires to die at home among his friends; and they as ardently desire to be with him, both for his sake and their own. There are many places, in which almost every