« VorigeDoorgaan »
"to his will in the armies of heaven, and among the "inhabitants of the earth," in fact did nothing; but left the universe to the established laws of nature, or the uncontrouled devices and machinations of his creatures! I would not be supposed, my brethren, to speak against philosophy; that is, the investigation of the works of GOD, and a sober enquiry into the ordinary rules by which he governs the world: for this conduces to an intelligent perception of his operations, and an admiring sense of this wisdom, power, justice, and goodness. But sceptical reasonings about second causes, and undue attention to instruments, exceedingly tend to make men overlook the First Cause, that great Agent "who worketh all in all."
In this respect as well as others, we should learn "to speak according to the oracles of God:" for in scripture his hand is acknowledged on every occasion. By Naaman the LORD had given deliverance unto Syria." "I inform you," (says the apostle)" of the grace of GoD bestowed on the churches of Mace"donia;" that is their liberality, which was the effect of divine grace." Thanks be to GoD who put the "same earnest care into the heart of Titus."* The exercise of faith leads us to view GOD in every object and event, to taste his love in our most common mercies, and to submit to his correction by whatever means it is brought upon us.
The arrogance, blasphemy, rapacity, and ambition
2 Kings v. 1. 2 Cor. viii. 1-3. 16, 17.
of Sennacherib can scarcely be exceeded: yet observe what the LORD says of him; "O Assyrian, the rod of "mine anger, and the staff in their hand is mine in"dignation. I will send him against an hypocritical "nation; and against the people of my wrath will Į
give him a charge, to take the spoil, and to take the "c prey, and to tread them down as the mire of the "streets: howbeit he meaneth not so, neither doth his "heart think so."* Hezekiah and his principal assist, ants in reforming Judah were sincere and zealous:† but many of the princes, priests, and people had been mere dissemblers in their concurrence. The LORD therefore determined to employ Sennacherib, to execute judgment on them for this hypocrisy; and when he had fulfilled that commission he meant to take still more signal vengeance on him. It is vain then for us to expect success against our enemies, merely because they are infidels or atheists, if we are only nominal Christians: for the LORD commonly employs such men to correct or punish his hypocritical worshippers. -Executioners, in general, are not the most respectable characters; and a malefactor would act absurdly, who should hope to escape the sentence denounced against him, because he supposed the person appointed to inflict it, more criminal than himself!
The LORD Smote Egypt with desolating plagues; and flies, lice, locusts, and frogs were his instruments,
* Is. x. 5-7.
2 Chron. xxxi. 20, 21.
in pouring contempt, as well as vengeance, on haughty Pharaoh. But in smiting the Canaanites, he gave Joshua and Israel a charge against them. These nations deserved their doom; and an express commission, sealed by undeniable miracles, fully warranted all that was done against them. Yet in general, the instruments of punishment are unrighteous, though the LORD is righteous in the judgments they inflict. When the Israelites provoked him, the Philistines, Midianites, Syrians, Assyrians, Chaldeans, Greeks, and Romans were successively employed in smiting them: the rod of correction, or sword of vengeance was changed; but the hand that used it was the same. Nay, when domestick usurpers, tyrants, or persecutors, like Ahab, Athaliah, or Manasseh, brought calamities upon them, GOD made use of them as his instruments." Shall "there be evil in a city, and the LORD hath not done " it?""* The evil of sin is wholly from the creature; but the evil of suffering from the LORD, who thus punishes the trangressions of his offending subjects. Whether afflictions come immediately from the hand of God, as sickness, famine, pestilence, and earth. quakes; or by the intervention of men, the case in this respect is not altered. The Chaldeans and Sabeans unjustly seized on Job's property, and slew his servants; fire from heaven consumed his flocks; and the wind threw down the house upon his children: yet he made no distinction, but said in general, "The LORD
* Amos, iii. 6.
gave, and the LORD hath taken away, blessed be "the name of the LORD."
Whether, therefore, our present publick distresses and dangers be the natural consequences of providential dispensations; or whether the,misconduct of men have been, and is, in any degree the cause of them; we must acknowledge that it is the LORD who smiteth us.-A scarcity and dearness of provisions, decay of trade, and various hardships, are generally complained of: and many imagine that they are occasioned by the mistakes, or crimes of this or the other description of men. Now, in a political sense, it is of great importance to investigate the point, and to use proper methods of counteracting every attempt of this kind: but as a religious concern, it is not in the smallest degree material; for, on every supposition, the hand of God should be acknowledged; and as a minister of religion, I must declare, that, till proper methods of discovering and removing the distresses we feel be used and prospered; the righteous LORD continues to smite us, whether unjust men be his instruments or not.
"The LORD's voice crieth unto the city, and the man of wisdom shall see thy name." The power and perfections of GoD are perceived by men of wisdom in all publick calamities. "Hear ye then the rod, "and who hath appointed it."* The rod calls us to repentance: but unless we recollect, who it is that appointed it, we shall not hear and obey its voice, however we may smart and groan under its repeated strokes.
* Micah, vi. 9.
---I insist the more fully on this point, because Satan successfully contrives to perplex the minds even of serious persons about it. They are told, and they believe, that this or the other description of men, by their folly or knavery, occasion the publick distresses: and others dispute with them and vindicate men and measures. But in the mean while "the LORD's hand is "lifted up, and they will not see;" he smites, and they refuse to humble themselves before him: being em. ployed in disputing about the rod and the sword.
But if some men be infatuated in their counsels, or others intoxicated by ext avagant projects; if one set of men will be rich at any rate; another try to abuse power in tyranny and oppression; or a third would throw a nation into confusion, civil war, or anarchy, to gratify their own ambition or rapacity: the LORD permits them to practise and prosper, in order by them to scourge an hypocritical or ungodly people. When David was left, in vain-glory, to number Israel, which made way for the desolations of a pestilence; the nation had first provoked GoD by their sins to leave the king to that pernicious project.*
When we recognize the hand of God in our sufferings, we must not only view his power, but submit likewise to his justice. "We are consumed by thine " anger, and by thy wrath are we troubled: thou hast "set our iniquities before thee, and our secret sins in "the light of thy countenance." We should not only consider sin, but our own sins, as the cause of our af
* 2 Sam. xxiv. 1.
† Ps. xc. 7, 8.