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WISDOM OF GOD IN THE
PERMISSION OF SIN.
YE THOUGHT EVIL AGAINST ME, BUT GOD MEANT IT UNTO GOOD.
Genesis 1. 20.
JACOB being dead and buried, and Joseph still governor over all the land of Egypt, his guilty brethren began to be afraid that Joseph, in whose power they now were, and at whose mercy they now lay, would requite them evil for the inhuman, barbarous deed they had formerly committed, in selling him for a slave, notwithstanding all his cries and tears, and the anguish of his soul. Wherefore, having first sent messengers to him, to pacify him, and beg his pardon, they venture at last into his presence, and fall down before his face, and resign to his mercy, saying, “Behold, we be thy servants,” that is, we have nothing to say for ourselves; we are verily guilty; we are in thy power; we surrender ourselves to thy disposal. Upon which Joseph said unto them, “Fear not” any harm from me; "for am I in the place of God ?” the righteous Judge of the world, to whom vengeance belongs, and with whom you had need make your peace. It is true, indeed, you acted a barbarous and cruel part: “Ye thought evil against me; but God,” who had the ordering of the whole affair, "meant it unto good, to bring to pass, as it is this day, to save much people alive." And while I behold the 'wisdom and goodness of God, so conspicuous in this dispensation, I have no disposition to revenge the injury you did me. “Therefore, fear not;" for, instead of requiting you the evil you are sensible you deserve, for your ill treatment of me, I will rather, in imitation of God, who hath been so kind to me in all my distresses, treat you with all goodness: "I will nourish you and your little ones. And he comforted them, and spake kindly to them.”
At the same time Joseph viewed the conduct of his brethren, and considered their temper and designs, and the heinousness of their crime, he also beheld the hand of God, which he as plainly saw in the whole affair, permitting and overruling his brethren's sin, to answer good and noble ends. And this indisposed him to any angry resentments, and framed his soul only to gratitude to God, and love and kindness to his brethren. His seeing the hand of God in it, or, to use his own language, his seeing that “God meant” he should be sold, and that it was “God who sent him thither,” together with the happy experience he had of the wisdom and goodness of God in the affair, not only prepared him to forgive his brethren, but to treat them with all possible tenderness and fraternal goodness. So that he was not only satisfied in the wisdom of God in the permission of that sin, but was thereby better prepared to do his duty.
Doctrine. — A sight of the wisdom of God in the permission of sin, is very useful to promote holiness of heart and life. It has a great tendency to make us feel right and behave well.
Thus it was with Joseph, as we have seen. And thus it was with Job, who, while the Sabeans wickedly robbed him, eyed the hand of God, and said, “The Lord gave, and the Lord hath taken away, and blessed be the name of the Lord.” And thus it was with David, while Shimei wickedly abused him, going along on the hill over against him, as he was fleeing out of Jerusalem, from the hands of Absalom, his son, and cursed him as he went, saying, “Come out, come out, thou bloody man."
“Let him curse," says David, " for the Lord hath bidden him.” “I justly deserve it at the hands of the majesty of heaven, against whom I have grievously sinned. A bloody man indeed I am. O Uriah! Uriah ! I shall never forget the blood of the valiant Uriah!”
But it is needless to multiply instances. For nothing is plainer than that it must tend to bring us to a right temper of mind, in every circumstance of life, to view infinite wisdom as ordering all things which concern us in the wisest and best manner. Nor could any thought be more shocking to a pious mind, than to conceive the Deity as unconcerned in human affairs; the devil ruling in the children of disobedience without control ; and all things jumbling along in this wicked world, without the least prospect of any good end ever to be answered. But if all things, good and bad, are under the government of infinite wisdom, this affords a sure prospect of a happy issue. And under such a wise and perfect government, we have the greatest inducement to go on cheerfully in the ways of our duty; having always an implicit faith in the Supreme Ruler of the
universe. Wherefore, the truth of the doctrine being thus plain and evident, I shall only attempt to show,
I. What we are to understand by God's permitting sin.
1. What are we to understand by God's permitting sin ? 1. Not that he loves sin, or that there is any thing in the nature of sin that he approves of; for it is the abominable thing which his soul hateth. When he viewed the temper, conduct, and design of Joseph's brethren, they each of them appeared perfectly odious in his eyes. Their envy and malice he abhorred; their cruel and barbarous deed he detested; their design intimated in that saying, “And then shall we see what will become of his dreams," he perfectly disapproved.
2. Much less are we to imagine that God, in permitting sin, deprives the sinner of the freedom of his will. Joseph's brethren felt themselves at liberty; and in the whole affair, acted according to their own inclinations, just as they pleased.
3. God's permitting sin consists merely in not hindering of it. He saw that Joseph's brethren, considering their temper, and how they had their brother out in the field, and how that the Ishmaelitish merchants would soon come by, etc., would certainly sell him, unless he interposed to hinder it. And he could have hindered their selling as easily as he hindered their murdering him. But he did not. He let them take their course.
4. And yet it is self-evident, God never permits sin in the character of an unconcerned spectator, as not caring how affairs go; but as having weighed all circumstances and consequences. Therefore,
5. God never permits sin, but only when, all things considered, he judges it best not to hinder it. And therefore,
6. At whatever time God forbears to interpose to hinder the commission of any act of sin, he is not only justifiable in his conduct, but even commendable and praiseworthy ; because he has chosen to act in the wisest and best manner. But this
II. To show the wisdom of God in the permission of sin. And I will, in the first place, begin with some instances that are more plain and easy, and afterwards proceed to what is more intricate and difficult.
1st instance. And to begin with the affair of Joseph, there needs little to be said, to show the manifold wisdom of God in it; for it does not appear that God could, as things were cir
cumstanced, have taken a better method for the advancement of Joseph to be governor over all the land of Egypt than this. It was a method suited to humble Joseph, and wean him from the world, and bring him to an entire resignation to God, and dependence upon, and devotedness to him; and to prepare him for so high a station, that in it he might conduct with all fidelity to Pharaoh, and with humility, goodness, and condescension to all around him; to the honor of the God of Israel, and to the reputation of true religion, in the midst of a people sinking down fast into idolatry and wickedness. It was a method suited to give him a high character in the eyes of Pharaoh, and in the eyes of all Egypt; as one dear to the great God, full of wisdom and benevolence, and the fittest man in Egypt to be so highly advanced and so far betrusted. From a poor prisoner, he rose soon to so high a character, and was so highly esteemed, as to become a father to Pharaoh, and to all Egypt.
Nor does it appear that, as things were circumstanced, God could have taken a better method than this to provide for the sustenance of Jacob's family, of the Egyptians, and of the nations throughout the land of Canaan, through a famine of seven years' continuance. It was a method suited to dispose Pharaoh and all Egypt to receive Jacob's family kindly, and give them a hearty welcome; as they were the kindred of Joseph, their great benefactor. It was a method suited to humble Joseph's brethren, and not only to bring them to repentance for their sin, but to a better temper in general. And as the selling of Joseph had been matter of severe trial to Jacob, who verily thought him dead, and expected to go down to the grave sorrowing ; so, in the issue, the whole was suited abundantly to establish him in the belief of the being and perfections of God, and of his government of the world ; and to give him an affecting, ravishing sense of the holiness, wisdom, goodness, power, and faithfulness of the God of Abraham, his father; and to confirm him in the expectation of the accomplishment of all God's promises. And, in the mean time, the Egyptians, and all the nations inhabiting the land of Canaan, were provided for with food through a long and sore famine, in a manner suited to convince them of the vanity of their idols, and to bring them to a high esteem of the God of the Hebrews, to whose kind interposition their whole support was owing.
And thus God left not himself without witness, in that dark and benighted age of the world, when all the nations were sinking fast down into idolatry. For the whole affair of the selling of Joseph; of the conduct of his mistress ; of his
unshaken virtue ; of his imprisonment; of his interpreting the dreams of his fellow-prisoners; of his being brought to Pharaoh's court and interpreting his dreams: of his advancement, and of all his conduct in that high station, would naturally be noised abroad, not only throughout all Egypt, but also through all the land of Canaan, from whence they daily came into Egypt for bread ; yea, the news of these things would be apt to fly far and wide among all the nations round about, to the glory of the true God, and to the honor of the true religion, and to the condemnation of an idolatrous world, who had forsaken the Lord Jehovah, and gone after idols, that could neither see, nor hear, nor help. All which good ends, and many more, God had in view. Wherefore, although Joseph's brethren acted a very wicked, cruel, God-provoking part, in selling their brother, notwithstanding all his cries and tears, and the anguish of his soul, with an envious, malicious, and impious intention to prevent the accomplishment of his divine dreams, scoffingly saying among themselves, “And then we shall see what will become of his dreams; " yet, at the same time, the God of Abraham acted truly like himself, a noble, a God-like part, in letting them take their course, with a design to overrule it, as he did to accomplish his dreams; and that in a way so much to his own glory, and so much to the general good. And how know we but that the infinitely wise Governor of the universe, when he permitted angels and man to fall, and things in the intelligent system to take such a course as they have, designed to overrule the whole so, according to a plan he had then in view, as that, in the issue, God should be more exalted, and the system more holy and happy than if sin and misery had never entered ?
2d. But I proceed to a second instance of the wisdom of God in the permission of sin. Some time after Joseph's death, when the children of Israel were greatly multiplied, there arose another king in Egypt, who knew not Joseph, nor paid the least regard to his memory; who, to enrich himself, attempted to bring the Israelites into a perpetual bondage ; and to that end set task-masters over them, who made them serve with rigor. And, observing how exceedingly they multiplied, lest they should become too numerous and potent, and get themselves up out of a land in which they were so abused, Pharaoh ordered the midwives to kill their male children. But the midwives proving unfaithful to his injunctions, he laid his commands on all his people in general, to take every male child and cast it into the river. (Ex. i.) All which was inhuman and barbarous to the last degree.