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SERM. singly taken, as particular acts or events, but in
their conjunction, or reference to others, with which they may become subservient toward a common end; so that divers things in themselves extremely bad may by combination or collision engender good effects; and thence prove fit weapons or tools of Providence; as the most deadly poisons may be so mixed, that curbing one another's force, they may constitute a harmless mass, sometimes a wholesome medicine: but we poring on the simple ingredients, and not considering how they may be tempered, or how applied by a skilful hand, can hardly deem the toleration of them congruous to wisdom. Further,
12. That Providence sometimes is obscure and intricate, may be attributed to the will of God,
upon divers good accounts designing it to be such : Isa, xlv. 15. Verily, saith the prophet, thou art a God that 46. hidest thyself, O God of Israel, the Saviour.
God commonly doth not intend to exert his hand notoriously; for that whereas every special interposition of his hand is in effect a miracle, (surmounting the natural power, or thwarting the ordinary course of inferior causes,) it doth not become him to prostitute his miraculous power, or to exert it otherwise than upon singular occasions, and for most weighty causes: it is not conformable to the tenour of his administrations to convince men against their will, or by irresistible evidence to wring persuasion from stubborn or stupid minds; but to exercise the wisdom, and to prove the ingenuity of well disposed persons, who upon competent intimations shall be capable to spell out, and forward to approve his proceedings.
13. He will not glare forth in discoveries so bright
Ps. xcvii. 2.
as to dazzle, to confound our weak sight; therefore SERM. he veileth his face with a cloud, and wrappeth his
LV. power in some obscurity; therefore clouds and Hab. iii. 4. darkness are round about him: he maketh dark-xviii. YI. ness his secret place; his pavilion round about him is dark waters and thick clouds of the sky.
14. He meaneth thereby to improve and exalt our faith, being the less seen, that he may be the more believed; faith never rising higher than when it doth soar to objects beyond our sight; when we can approve God's wisdom and justice in occurrences surmounting our conceit; when we can rely upon God's word and help, although the stream of his proceedings seemeth to cross our hopes.
15. It is fit also that God many times designedly should act in ways surpassing our apprehension, and apt to baffle or puzzle our reason, that he may appear God indeed, infinitely transcending us in perfection of wisdom and justice; or that we, comprehending the reason of his actings, may not imagine our wisdom comparable, our justice commensurate to his; yea, that we in thost respects do exceed him ; for that, as Tertullian discourseth, which may be seen, is less than the eyes that survey it; that which may be comprehended, is less than the hands that grasp it; that which may be valued, is less than the senses which rate it e. It is God's being inestimable that makes him worthily esteemedf; his being incomprehensible rendereth him adorable.
e Quod videri communiter, quod comprehendi, quod æstimari potest, minus est oculis quibus occupatur, et manibus quibus contaminatur, et sensibus quibus invenitur. Tert. Apol. 17.
* Hoc est quod Deum æstimari facit, dum æstimari non capit. Tert, 16.
SERM. 16. The obscurity of Providence doth indeed conLV.
ciliate an awful reverence toward it; for darkness naturally raiseth a dread of invisible powers; we use to go on tremblingly, when we cannot see far about us; we regard none so much as those, whose
wisdom we find to overreach ours, and whose intenJob xxxvii. tions we cannot sound: it was Elihu's observation, 22, 23, 24. With God is terrible majesty; the Almighty, we
cannot find him out;-men do therefore fear him.
17. It is also requisite that God should dispose many occurrences, cross to our vulgar notions, and offensive to our carnal sense, that we may thence be prompted to think of God, driven to seek him, engaged to mark him interposing in our affairs : men from disorderly and surprising accidents preposterously do conceive doubts about Providence, as if, it managing things, nothing odd or amiss would occur; whereas if no such events did start up, they might be proner to question it, they would at least come to forget or neglect it; for if human transactions passed on as do the motions of nature, in a smooth course, without any rub or disturbance, men commonly would no more think of God than they do when they behold the sun rising, the rivers running, the sea flowing; they would not depend on his protection, or have recourse to him for succour: it is difficulty and distress seizing on them which compel men to implore God for relief, which dispose
them to see his hand reaching it forth unto them; Ps. lxxviii. according to that in the Psalm ; When he slew
them, then they sought him; they returned and inquired early after God; they remembered that God was their rock, and the most high God their Redeemer. Again,
18. It is needful that the present course of Provi. SERM.
LV. dence should not be transparently clear and satisfactory, that we may be well assured concerning a future account, and forced in our thoughts to recur thither for a resolution of all such emergent doubts and difficulties : for if all accounts were apparently stated and discharged here; if now right did ever prevail, and iniquity were suppressed ; if virtue were duly crowned, and vice deservedly scourged, who would hope or fear an after-reckoning ?
This indeed is the grand cause why Providence now doth appear so cloudy, that men consider not how our affairs have no complete determination, or final issue here; things now are doing, and not done; in a progress and tendency toward somewhat beyond, not in a state of consistence and perfection; this not being the place of deciding causes or dispensing rewards; but a state of probation, of work, of travail, of combat, of running for the prize, of sowing toward the harvest; a state of liberty to follow our own choice, and to lay the ground of our doom; of falling into sin, and of rising thence by repentance; of God's exercising patience, and exhibiting mercy : wherefore as we cannot well judge of an artificial Chrys. tom. work by its first draughts, or of a poem by a few scenes, but must stay till all be finished or acted through; so we cannot here clearly discern the entire congruity of providential dispensations to the divine attributes; the catastrophe or utmost resolution of things is the general judgment, wherein the deep wisdom, the exact justice, the perfect goodness Rom. ii. 7. of God will be displayed to the full satisfaction or conviction of all men; when God's honour will be thoroughly vindicated, his despised patience and his
vii. p. 15.
SERM. abused grace will be avenged; every case will be LV.
rightly tried, every work will be justly recompensed, all accounts will be set straight; in the mean time divers things must occur unaccountable to us, looking upon things as they now stand absolutely before us, without reference to that day; considering this may induce us to suspend our opinion about such matters, allowing God to go through with his work before we censure it, not being so quick and precipitate as to forestall his judgment: and surely, would
we but observe that reasonable advice of St. Paul, 1 Cor. iv. 5. Judge nothing before the time, until the Lord
come, our chief doubts would be resolved, our shrewdest exceptions against Providence would be voided.
These are the chief reasons of the point which meditation did suggest; upon it (for it is not a point merely speculative, but pregnant with useful consequences) divers practical applications may be grounded, which the time scarcely will allow me to name.
1. It should render us modest and sober in our
judgment about providential occurrences, not preEcclus. iii. tending thoroughly to know the reasons of God's Psal . cxxxi. proceedings, or to define the consequences of them;
for it is plainly fond arrogance, or profane imposture, to assume perfect skill in that which passeth our capacity to learn.
2. It should make us staunch and cautious of
grounding judgment or censure upon present events Luke xiii.1. about any cause, or any person; for it is notorious
temerity to pass sentence upon grounds uncapable of evidence.
3. It should repress wanton curiosity, which may transport us beyond our bounds in speculation of
Job xi. 12.