by John Flavel
Author’s Introduction Part One - The Evidence of Providence
Chapter 1) The Work of Providence for the Saints
Chapter 2) Our Birth and Upbringing
Chapter 3) The Work of Conversion
Chapter 4) Our Employment
Chapter 5) Family Affairs
Chapter 6) Preservation of the Saints from Evil
Chapter 7) The Work of Sanctification
Part Two - Meditation on the Providence of God
Chapter 8) The Duty of Meditation on Providence
Chapter 9) How to Meditate on the Providence of God
Chapter 10) The Advantages of Meditating on Providence Part Three - Application of the Doctrine of Providence
Chapter 11) Practical Implications for the Saints
Chapter 12) Practical Problems in Connection with Providence
Chapter 13) The Advantages of Recording our Experiences of Providence
Electronic Version Notes
Author’s Introduction Back to Table of Contents
I will cry unto God most high; unto God that performeth all things for me (Psalm 57:2)
The greatness of God is a glorious and unsearchable mystery. ‘For the LORD most high is terrible; he is a great king over all the earth’ (Psalm 47:2). The condescension of the most high God to men is also a profound mystery. ‘Though the LORD be high, yet hath he respect unto the lowly’ (Psalm 138:6). But when both these meet together, as they do in this Scripture, they make up a matchless mystery. Here we find the most high God performing all things for a poor distressed creature.
It is the great support and solace of the saints in all the distresses that befall them here, that there is a wise Spirit sitting in all the wheels of motion, and governing the most eccentric creatures and their most pernicious designs to blessed and happy issues. And, indeed, it were not worth while to live in a world devoid of God and Providence.
How deeply we are concerned in this matter will appear by that great instance which Psalm 57 presents us with. It was composed, as the title notes, by David when he hid himself from Saul in the cave. It is inscribed with a double title: ‘Al-taschith, Michtam of David.’ ‘Altaschith’ refers to the scope and ‘Michtam’ to the dignity of the subject-matter.
The former signifies ‘destroy not,’ or ‘let there be no slaughter.’ and may either refer to Saul concerning whom he gave charge to his servants not to destroy him, or rather, it has reference to God, to whom in this great exigency he poured out his soul in this passionate ejaculation: ‘Altaschith,’ ‘destroy not.’
The latter title ‘Michtam’ signifies ‘a golden ornament,’ and so is suited to the choice and excellent matter of the Psalm, which much more deserves such a title than do Pythagoras’ Golden Verses.
Three things are remarkable in the former part of the Psalm: his extreme danger; his earnest address to God in that extremity; and the arguments he pleads with God in that address.
His extreme danger is expressed in both the title and the body of the psalm. The title tells us this psalm was composed by him when he hid himself from Saul in the cave. This cave was in the wilderness of Engedi among the broken rocks where the wild goats lived, an obscure and desolate hole; yet even there the envy of Saul pursued him (1 Samuel 24:1, 2). And now he that had been so long hunted as a partridge upon the mountains seems to be enclosed in the net. His enemies were outside the cave, from which there was no other outlet. Then Saul himself entered the mouth of this cave, in the sides and creeks of which David and his men lay hidden, and they actually saw him. Judge to how great an extremity and to what a desperate state things were now brought. Well might he say: ‘My soul is among lions, and I lie even among them that are set on fire’ (verse 4). What hope now remained? What but immediate destruction could be expected?
Yet this does not frighten him out of his faith and duty, but between the jaws of death he prays, and earnestly addresses himself to God for mercy: ‘Be merciful unto me, O God, be merciful unto me’ (verse 1). This excellent psalm was composed by him when there was enough to discompose the best man in the world. The repetition notes both the extremity of the danger and the ardency of the supplicant. Mercy, mercy, nothing but mercy, and that exerting itself in an extraordinary way, can now save him from ruin.
The arguments he pleads for obtaining mercy in this distress are very considerable. First, he pleads his reliance upon God as an argument to move mercy. ‘Be merciful unto me O God, be merciful unto me, for my soul trusteth in thee; yea, in the shadow of thy wings will I make my refuge, until these calamities be overpast’ (verse 1). This his trust and dependence on God though it is not an argument in respect of the dignity of the act, yet it is so in respect of the nature of the object, a compassionate God, who will not expose any that take shelter under His wings; also in respect of the promise by which protection is assured to them that fly to Him for sanctuary: ‘Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on thee, because he trusteth in thee’ (Isaiah 26:3). Thus he encourages himself from the consideration of that God in whom he trusts.
He pleads former experiences of His help in past distresses as an argument encouraging hope under the present strait: ‘I will cry unto God most high, unto God that performeth all things for me’ (verse 2).
In these words I shall consider two things: the duty resolved upon, and the encouragement to that resolution.
The duty resolved upon: ‘I will cry unto God.’ Crying unto God is an expression that denotes not only prayer, but intense and fervent prayer. To cry is to pray in a holy passion; and such are usually speeding prayers (Psalm 18:6; Hebrews 5:7).
The encouragements to this resolution are taken from the sovereignty of God and from the experience he had of His Providence.
The sovereignty of God: ‘I will cry unto God most high.’ Upon this he acts his faith in extremity of danger. Saul is high, but God is the most high, and without His permission he is assured Saul cannot touch him. He had none to help, and if he had, he knew God must first help the helpers or they cannot help him. He had no means of defence or escape before him, but the Most High is not limited by means. This is a singular prop to faith (Psalm 59:9).
The experience of His Providence hitherto: ‘Unto God that performeth all things for me.’
The word which we translate ‘performeth’ comes from a root that signifies both to perfect, and to desist or cease. For when a business is performed and perfected, the agent then ceases and desists from working. To such a happy issue the Lord has brought all his doubtful and difficult matters before; and this gives him encouragement that He will still be gracious, and perfect that which concerns him now, as he speaks: ‘The LORD will perfect that which concerneth me’ (Psalm 138:8).
The Septuagint renders Psalm 57:2: ‘The well-doer saving me,’ ‘who profits or benefits me.’ And it is a certain truth that all the results and issues of Providence are profitable and beneficial to the saints. But the supplement in our translation well conveys the sense of the text: ‘Who performeth all things.’ And it involves the most strict and proper notion of Providence, which is nothing else but the performance of God’s gracious purposes and promises to His people. And therefore Vatabulus and Muis supply and fill up the room left by the conciseness of the original with ‘which he hath promised,’ thus: ‘I will cry unto God most high; unto God that performeth the things which he hath promised.’ Payment is the performance of promises. Grace makes the promise, and Providence the payment.
Piscator fills it thus: ‘unto God that performeth his kindness and mercy.’ But still it supposes the mercy performed to be contained in the promise. Mercy is sweet in the promise, and much more so in the providential performance of it to us.
Castalio’s supplement comes nearer to ours: ‘I will cry unto God most high, unto God, the transactor of my affairs.’ But our English, making out the sense by a universal particle, is most agreeable to the scope of the text. For it cannot but be a great encouragement to his faith, that God had transacted all things, or performed all things for him. This Providence that never failed him in any of the straits that ever he met with (and his life was a life of many straits) he might well hope would not fail him now, though this were an extraordinary and matchless one.
Let us then bring our thoughts a little closer to this Scripture, and it will give us a fair and lovely prospect of Providence in its universal, effectual, beneficial and encouraging influence upon the affairs and concerns of the saints.
The expression imports the universal interest and influence of Providence in and upon all the concerns and interests of the saints. It not only has its hand in this or that, but in all that concerns them. It has its eye upon every thing that relates to them throughout their lives, from first to last. Not only the great and more important, but the most minute and ordinary affairs of our lives are transacted and managed by it. It touches all things that touch us, whether more nearly or remotely.
The text displays the efficacy of providential influences. Providence not only undertakes but perfects what concerns us. It goes through with its designs, and accomplishes what it begins. No difficulty so clogs it, no cross accident falls in its way, but it carries its design through it. Its motions arc irresistible and uncontrollable; He performs it for us.
And (which is sweet to consider) all its products and issues are exceedingly beneficial to the saints. It performs all things for them. ‘Tis true we often prejudge its works, and unjustly censure its designs, and in many of our straits and troubles we say: ‘All these things are against us’; but indeed Providence neither does nor can do any thing that is really against the true interest and good of the saints. For what are the works of Providence but the execution of God’s decree and the fulfilling of His Word? And there can be no more in Providence than is in them. Now there is nothing but good to the saints in God’s purposes and promises; and, therefore, whatever Providence does concerning them, it must be (as the text speaks) ‘the performance of all things for them.’
And if so, how cheering, supporting and encouraging must the consideration of these things be in a day of distress and trouble! What life and hope will it inspire our hearts and prayers with when great pressures lie upon us! It had such a cheering influence upon the Psalmist at this time, when the state of his affairs was, to the eye of sense and reason, forlorn and desperate; there was but a hair’s breadth (as we say) between him and ruin.
A powerful, enraged and implacable enemy had driven him into the hole of a rock, and was come after him into that hole. Yet now while his soul is among lions, while he lies in a cranny of the rock, expecting every moment to be drawn out to death, the reflections he had upon the gracious performances of the Most High for him, from the beginning to that moment, support his soul and inspire hope and life into his prayers: ‘I will cry unto God most high, unto God that performeth all things for me.
From the text then you have this doctrine : ---
It is the duty of the saints, especially in times of straits, to reflect upon the performances of Providence for them in all the states and through all the stages of their lives.
The Church, in all the works of mercy, owns the hand of God: ‘LORD, thou also hast wrought all our works in (or for) us’ (Isaiah 26:12). And still it has been the pious and constant practice of the saints in all generations to preserve the memory of the more famous and remarkable providences that have befallen them in their times as a precious treasure. ‘If thou be a Christian indeed, I know thou hast, if not in thy book, yet certainly in thy heart, a great many precious favours upon record; the very remembrance and rehearsal of them is sweet; how much more sweet was the actual enjoyment?’. Thus Moses, by divine direction, wrote a memorial of that victory obtained over Amalek as the fruit and return of prayer, and built there an altar with this inscription, Jehovah-nissi ‘The LORD my banner’ (Exodus 17:14, 15). Thus Mordecai and Esther took all care to perpetuate the memory of that signal deliverance from the plot of Haman, by ordaining the feast of Purim as an anniversary ‘throughout every generation, every family, every province, and every city; that these days of Purim should not fail from among the Jews, nor the memorial of them perish from their seed’ (Esther 9:28). For this end you find Psalms indited, ‘to bring to remembrance’ (Psalm 70, title). You find parents giving suitable names to their children, that every time they looked upon them they might refresh the memory of God’s mercies (1 Samuel 1:20). You find the very places where eminent providences have appeared, given a new name, for no other reason but to perpetuate the memorial of those sweet providences which so refreshed them there. Thus Bethel received its name (Genesis 28:19). And that well of water where Hagar was seasonably refreshed by the angel in her distress, was called Beer-laha-roi: ‘the well of him that liveth and looketh on me’ (Genesis 16:14). Yea, the saints have given, and God has assumed to Himself new titles upon this very score and account; Abraham’s Jehovah-jireh and Gideon’s Jehovah-shalom were ascribed to Him for this reason. And sometimes you find the Lord styles Himself ‘The God that brought Abraham from Ur of the Chaldees’ or ‘The LORD God that brought them out of Egypt’ or again ‘The LORD that gathered them out of the north country’; reminding them of the gracious providences which in all those places He had wrought for them.
Now there is a twofold reflection upon the providential works of God.
One is entire and full, in its whole complex and perfect system. This blessed sight is reserved for the perfect state. It is in that mount of God where we shall see both the wilderness and Canaan, the glorious kingdom into which we are come, and the way through which we were led into it. There the saints shall have a ravishing view of it in its entirety, and every part shall be distinctly discerned, as it had its particular use, and as it was connected with the other parts, and how effectually and orderly they all wrought to bring about that blessed design of their salvation, according to the promise: ‘And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose’ (Romans 8:28). For it is certain, no ship at sea keeps more exactly by the compass which directs its course, than Providence keeps by that promise which is its cynosure and polestar. [footnote]
The other sight is partial and imperfect which we have on the way to glory, during which we only view it in its single acts, or at most, in some branches and more observable series of actions.
Between these two is the same difference as between the sight of the disjointed wheels and scattered pins of a watch, and the sight of the whole united in one frame and working in one orderly motion; or between an ignorant spectator who views some more observable vessel or joint of a dissected body, and the accurate anatomist who discerns the course of all the veins and arteries of the body as he follows the various branches of them through the whole, and plainly sees the proper place, figure and use of each, with their mutual respect to one another.
O how ravishing and delectable a sight will it be to behold at one view the whole design of Providence, and the proper place and use of every single act, which we could not understand in this world! What Christ said to Peter is as applicable to some providences in which we are now concerned as it was to that particular action: ‘What I do, thou knowest not now; but thou shalt know hereafter’ (John 13:7). All the dark, intricate, puzzling providences at which we were sometimes so offended, and sometimes amazed, which we could neither reconcile with the promise nor with each other, nay, which we so unjustly censured and bitterly bewailed, as if they had fallen out quite against our happiness, we shall then see to be to us, as the difficult passage through the wilderness was to Israel, ‘the right way to a city of habitation’ (Psalm 107:7).
And yet, though our present views and reflections upon Providence are so short and imperfect in comparison to that in heaven, yet such as it is under all its present disadvantages, it has so much excellence and sweetness in it that I may call it a little heaven, or as Jacob called his Bethel, ‘the gate of heaven.’ It is certainly a highway of walking with God in this world, and a soul may enjoy as sweet communion with Him in His providences as in any of His ordinances. How often have the hearts of its observers been melted into tears of joy at the beholding of its wise and unexpected productions! How often has it convinced them, upon a sober recollection of the events of their lives, that if the Lord had left them to their own counsels they had as often been their own tormenters, if not executioners! Into what and how many fatal mischiefs had they precipitated themselves if Providence had been as shortsighted as they! They have given it their hearty thanks for considering their interest more than their importunity, and not allowing them to perish by their own desires.
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The Work of Providence for the Saints
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First, I shall undertake the proof and defense of the great truth that the affairs of the saints in this world are certainly conducted by the wisdom and care of special Providence. And in doing so I address myself with cheerfulness to perform, as I am able, a service for that Providence which has throughout my life ‘performed all things for me,’ as the text speaks.
There is a twofold consideration of Providence, according to its twofold object and manner of dispensation; the one in general, exercised about all creatures, rational and irrational, animate and inanimate; the other special and peculiar. Christ has a universal empire over all things (Ephesians 1:22); He is the head of the whole world by way of dominion, but a head to the Church by way of union and special influence (John 17:2). He is ‘the Saviour of all men, specially of those that believe’ (1 Timothy 4:10). The Church is His special care and charge. He rules the world for its good, as a head consulting the welfare of the body.
Heathens generally denied Providence, and no wonder, since they denied a God; for the same arguments that prove one will prove the other. Aristotle, the prince of heathen philosophers, could not by the utmost search of reason find out how the world originated, and therefore concludes it was from eternity. The Epicureans did, in a way, acknowledge a God, but yet denied a Providence, and wholly excluded Him from any interest or concern in the affairs of the world, as being inconsistent with the felicity and tranquillity of the divine Being, to be diverted and cumbered with the care and labour of government. This assertion is so repugnant to reason that it is a wonder they did not blush at its absurdity; but I guess the reason, and one of them (according to Cicero) speaks it out in broad language: Itaque imposuistis cervicibus nostris sempiternum dominum, quem dies & noctes timeremus. Quis enim non timeat omnia providentem, & cogitantem, & animadvertentem, & omnia ad se pertinere putantem, curiosum & plenum negotii Deum? (If this is so you have yoked us to an eternal master, such as we would fear day and night. For who would not be frightened of a prying busybody of a God who provides, plans and observes everything and who considers that everything is his concern?) They foresaw that the concession of a Providence would impose an eternal yoke upon their necks, by making them accountable for all they did to a higher tribunal, so that they must necessarily ‘pass the time of their sojourning here in fear,’ while all their thoughts, words and ways were strictly noted and recorded, for the purpose of an account by an all-seeing and righteous God. They therefore laboured to persuade themselves that what they had no mind for did not exist. But these atheistical and foolish conceits fall flat before the undeniable evidence of this so great and clear a truth.
Now my business here is not so much to deal with professed atheists who deny the existence of God and consequently deride all evidences brought from Scripture of the extraordinary events that fall out in favour of that people that are called His, but rather to convince those that professedly own all this, yet, never having tasted religion by experience, suspect, at least, that all these things which we call special providences to the saints, are but natural events or mere contingencies. Thus, while they profess to own a God and a Providence (which profession is but the effect of their education) they do in the meantime live like atheists, and both think and act as if there were no such things; and really, I fear this is the case with the greater part of the men of this generation.
But if it were indeed so, that the affairs of the world in general, and more especially those of the saints, were not conducted by divine Providence, but, as they would persuade us, by the steady course of natural causes, beside which, if at any time we observe any event to fall out, it is merely casual and contingent, or proceeds from some hidden and secret cause in nature - if this indeed were so, let them that are tempted to believe it, give a rational answer to the following questions:
How comes it to pass that so many signal mercies and deliverances have befallen the people of God, above the power and against the course of natural causes, to make way for which there has been an obvious suspension and stop put to the course of nature?
It is most evident that no natural effect can exceed the power of its natural cause. Nothing can give to another more than it has in itself, and it is as clear that whatsoever acts naturally, acts necessarily. Fire burns to the uttermost of its power; while waters overflow and drown all that they can. Lions and other rapacious and cruel beasts, especially when hungry, tear and devour their prey; and arbitrary and rational agents also act according to the principles and laws of their natures. A wicked man when his heart is fully set in him, and his will stands in a full bent of resolution, will certainly, if he has power in his hand and opportunity to execute his conceived mischief, give it vent, and perpetrate the wicked devices of his heart. Having once conceived mischief, and ‘travailing in pain with it,’ according to the course of nature, he must ‘bring it forth’ (Psalm 7:14). But if any of these inanimate, brute, or rational agents, when there is no natural obstacle or hindrance, have their power suspended, and that when the effect is near the birth and the design at the very point of execution, so that though they would, yet cannot hurt; to what, do you think, is this to be assigned and referred? Yet so it has often been seen, where God’s interest has been immediately concerned in the danger and evil of the event. The sea divided itself in its own channel, and made a wall of water on each side, to give God’s distressed Israel a safe passage, and that not in a calm, but when its waves roared (Isaiah 51:15). The fire, when blown up to the most intense and vehement flame, had no power to singe one hair of God’s faithful witnesses, when at the same instant it had power to destroy their intended executioners at a greater distance (Daniel 3:22). Yea, we find it has sometimes been sufficient to consume, but not to torment the body, as in that known instance of blessed Bainham, who told his enemies: ‘The flames were to him as a bed of roses.’ The hungry lions put off their natural fierceness and became gentle and harmless when Daniel was cast among them for a prey. The like account we are given of Polycarp, and Dionysius the Areopagite, whom the fire would not touch, but stood after the manner of a shipman’s sail filled with the wind about them.
Are these things according to the course and law of nature? To what secret natural cause can they be ascribed? In like manner we find the vilest and fiercest of wicked men have been withheld by an invisible hand of restraint from injuring the Lord’s people. By what secret cause in nature was Jeroboam’s hand dried up and made inflexible at the same instant it was stretched out against the man of God (1 Kings 13:4)? No wild beasts rend and devour their prey more greedily than wicked men would destroy the people of God that dwell among them, were it not for this providential restraint upon them. So the Psalmist expresses his case in the words following my text: ‘My soul is among lions, and I lie among them that are set on fire.’ The disciples were sent forth ‘as sheep into the midst of wolves’ (Matthew 10:16). It will not avail in this case to object that those miraculous events depend only upon Scripture testimony, which the atheist is not convinced by, for beside all that may be alleged for the authority of that testimony (which is needless to produce to men that own it), what is it less that every eye sees or may see at this day? Do we not behold a weak, defenseless handful of men wonderfully and otherwise unaccountably preserved from ruin in the midst of potent, enraged and turbulent enemies that fain would, but cannot, destroy them; when as yet no natural impediment can be assigned why they cannot?
And if this puzzle us, what shall we say when we see events produced in the world for the good of God’s chosen, by those very hands and means which were intentionally employed for their ruin? These things are as much beside the intentions of their enemies as they are above their own expectations; yet such things are no rarities in the world. Was not the envy of Joseph’s brethren, the cursed plot of Haman, and the decree procured by the envy of the princes against Daniel, with many more of the same kind, all turned by a secret and strange hand of Providence to their greater advancement and benefit? Their enemies lifted them up to all that honour and preferment they had.
How is it, if the saints’ affairs are not ordered by a special divine Providence, that natural causes unite and associate themselves for their relief and benefit in so strange a manner as they are found to do?
It is undeniably evident that there are marvelous coincidences of Providence, confederating and agreeing, as it were, to meet and unite themselves to bring about the good of God’s chosen. There is a similar face of things showing itself in several places at the same time, whenever any work for the good of the Church is come upon the stage of the world. As when the Messiah, the capital mercy, came to the temple, then Simeon and Anna were brought there by Providence as witnesses to it. So in Reformation work, when the images were pulled down in Holland, one and the same spirit of zeal possessed them in every city and town, that the work was done in a night. He that carefully reads the history of Joseph’s advancement to be the lord of Egypt may number in that story twelve remarkable acts or steps of Providence by which he ascended to that honour and authority. If but one of them had failed, in all likelihood the event had done so too; but every one occurred in its order, exactly keeping its own time and place. So in the Church’s deliverance from the plot of Haman, we find no less than seven acts of Providence concurring strangely to produce it, as if they had all met by appointment and consent to break that snare for them, one thing so aptly suiting with and making way for another that every careful observer must needs conclude that this cannot be the result of accident but wise counsel. Even as in viewing the accurate structure of the body of a man, the figure, position, and mutual relationships of the several members and vessels has convinced some, and is sufficient to convince all, that it is the work of divine wisdom and power; in like manner if the admirable adaptation of the means and instruments employed for mercy to the people of God are carefully considered, who can but confess that as there are tools of all sorts and sizes in the shop of Providence, so there is a most skillful hand that uses them, and that they could no more produce such effects of themselves than the axe, saw, or chisel can cut or carve a rough log into a beautiful figure without the hand of a skillful artificer?
We find, by manifold instances, that there certainly are strong combinations and predispositions of persons and things to bring about some issue and design for the benefit of the Church, which they themselves never thought of. They hold no conference, they do not communicate their counsels to each other yet meet together and work together as if they did, which is as if ten men should all meet together at one place, and in one hour, about one and the same business, and that without any previous appointment between themselves. Can any question that such a meeting of means and instruments is certainly, though secretly, overruled by some wise invisible agent?
If the concerns of God’s people are not governed by a special Providence, how is it that the most apt and powerful means employed to destroy them are rendered ineffectual, while weak, contemptible means employed for their defence and comfort are crowned with success?
This could never be if things were wholly swayed by the course of nature. If we judge by that rule, we must conclude that the more apt and powerful the means are, the more successful and prosperous they must needs be; and where they are inept, weak, and contemptible, nothing can be expected of them. Thus reason lays it, according to the rules of nature, but Providence crosses its hands, as Jacob did in blessing the sons of Joseph, and orders quite contrary issues and events. Such was the mighty power and deep policy used by Pharaoh to destroy God’s Israel, that to the eye of reason it was as impossible to survive it as for crackling thorns to abide unconsumed amidst devouring flames. By this emblem their miraculous preservation is expressed; the bush was all in a flame, but not consumed (Exodus 3:2). The heathen Roman emperors, who made the world tremble and subdued the nations under them, employed all their power and policy against the poor, naked, defenseless Church, to ruin it, yet could not accomplish it (Revelation 12:3, 4). O the seas of blood that heathen Rome shed in the ten persecutions! yet the Church lives. And when ‘the dragon gave his power to the beast’, (Revelation 13:2) that is, the state of Rome became antichristian, O what slaughters were made by the beast in all his dominions, so that the Holy Ghost represents him as drunken with the blood of the saints (Revelation 17:6). And yet all will not do; the gates, that is, the powers and policies of hell, cannot prevail against it. How manifest is the care and power of Providence herein! Had half that power been employed against any other people, it had certainly swallowed them up immediately, or, in the hundredth part of the time, worn them out. How soon was the Persian monarchy swallowed up by the Grecian, and that again by the Roman! Diocletian and Maximinus, in the height of their persecutions, found themselves so baffled by Providence that they both resigned the government and lived as private men. But in this wonderful preservation God makes good that promise: ‘Though I make a full end of all nations, yet will I not make a full end of thee’ (Jeremiah 30:11), and ‘No weapon formed against thee shall prosper’ (Isaiah 54:17).
On the contrary, how successful have weak and contemptible means been made for the good of the Church! Thus in the first planting of Christianity in the world, by what weak and improbable instruments was it done! Christ did not choose the eloquent orators, or men of authority in the courts of kings and emperors, but twelve poor artisans and fishermen; and these not sent together in a troop, but some to take one country to conquer it, and some another. The most ridiculous course, in appearance, for such a design as could be imagined, and yet in how short a time was the Gospel spread and the Churches planted by them in the several kingdoms of the world! This the Psalmist foresaw by the Spirit of prophecy when he said: ‘Out of the mouth of babes and sucklings hast thou ordained strength, to still the enemy and the avenger’ (Psalm 8:2). At the sound of rams’ horns Jericho is delivered into the hands of Israel ((Joshua 6:20). By three hundred men, with their pitchers and lamps, the huge host of Midian is discomfited (Judges 7:19). The Protestants besieged in Beziers in France are delivered by a drunken drummer who, going to his quarters at midnight, rang the alarm-bell of the town, not knowing what he did; and just then their enemies were making their assault. And as weak and improbable means have been blessed with success to the Church in general, so to the preservation of its particular members also. A spider by weaving her web over the mouth of an oven, shall hide a servant of Christ, Du Moulin, from his enemies, who took refuge there in that bloody Parisian massacre. A hen shall sustain another many days at the same time by lodging her egg every day in the place where he had hid himself from the cut-throats. Examples might be easily multiplied, but the truth is too plain and obvious to the observation of all ages to need them. And can we but acknowledge a divine and special Providence overruling these matters, when we see the most apt and potent means for the Church’s ruin frustrated, and the most silly and contemptible means granted success and prospered for its good?
If all things are governed by the course of nature and force of natural causes, how then comes it to pass that, like a bowl when it strikes another, men are turned out of the way of evil, along which they were driving at full speed?
Good men have been going along the way to their own ruin, and did not know it; but Providence has met them in the way and preserved them by strange diversions, the meaning of which they did not understand till the event revealed it. When Paul lay bound at Caesarea, the high priest and chief of the Jews request Festus that he might he brought bound to Jerusalem, having laid wait in the way to kill him; but Festus, though ignorant of the plot, utterly refuses it, and chooses rather to go with them to Caesarea and judge him there. By this diversion their bloody design is frustrated (Acts 25:3, 4).
Possidonius, in the life of Augustine, tells us that the good father, going to teach the people of a certain town, took a guide with him to show him the way. The guide mistook the usual road and unwittingly took a by-path, by which means Augustine escaped ruin by the hands of the bloody Donatists who, knowing his intention, waylaid him to kill him on the road.
And as memorable and wonderful are those rubs and diversions wicked men have met with in the way of perpetrating the evils conceived and intended in their own hearts. Laban and Esau came against Jacob with mischievous purposes, but no sooner are they come near him but the shackles of restraint are immediately clapped upon them both, so that their hands cannot perform their enterprises. Balaam runs greedily, for reward, to curse Israel, but meets with an unexpected check at his very outset; and though that did not stop him, he tried every way to do them mischief, yet he still finds himself fettered by an effectual bond of restraint that he can in no way shake off (Numbers 22:25, 38). Saul, the high priest’s bloodhound, breathes out threatenings against the Church, and goes with a bloody commission towards Damascus, to hale the poor flock of Christ to the slaughter; but when he comes near the place he meets an unexpected stop on the way, by which the mischief is not only diverted, but he himself is converted to Christ (Acts 9:1-4). Who can fail to see the finger of God in these things!
If there is not an over-ruling Providence ordering all things for the good of God’s people, how comes it to pass that the good and evil which is done to them in this world is accordingly repaid into the bosoms of them that are instrumental therein?
How clear is it to every man’s observation, that the kindnesses and benefits any have done to the Lord’s people have been rewarded with full measure into their bosoms! The Egyptian midwives refused to obey Pharaoh’s inhuman command, and saved the male children of Israel; for this the Lord dealt well with them and built them houses (Exodus 1:21). The Shunammite was hospitable and careful for Elisha, and God recompensed it with the desirable enjoyment of a son (2 Kings 4:9, 17). Rahab hid the spies, and was exempted from the destruction of Jericho (Hebrews 11:31). Publius, the chief man of the island of Melita, courteously received and lodged Paul after his shipwreck; the Lord speedily repaid him for that kindness, and healed his father, who lay sick at that time of a bloody flux and fever (Acts 28:7, 8).
In like manner, we find the evils done to God’s people have been repaid by a just retribution to their enemies. Pharaoh and the Egyptians were cruel enemies to God’s Israel, and designed the ruin of their poor innocent babes; and God repaid it in smiting all the first-born of Egypt in one night (Exodus 12:29). Haman erected a gallows fifty cubits high for good Mordecai, and God so ordered it that he himself and his ten sons were hanged on it. And indeed it was but meet that he should eat the fruit of that tree which he himself had planted (Esther 7:10). Ahithophel plots against David, and gives counsel like an oracle how to procure his fall; and that very counsel, like an overcharged gun, recoils upon himself and procures his ruin. Seeing his good counsel rejected (good politically, not morally), it was now easy for him to guess the outcome, and so his own fate (2 Samuel 17:23).
Charles the 9th most inhumanly made the very canals of Paris flow with Protestant blood, and soon after he died miserably, his blood flowing from all parts of his body. Stephen Gardiner, who burnt so many of God’s dear servants to ashes, was himself so scorched up by a terrible inflammation that his very tongue was black and hung out of his mouth, and in dreadful torments he ended his wretched days. Maximinus, that cruel emperor, who set forth his proclamation engraven in brass for the utter abolishing of the Christian religion, was speedily smitten like Herod with a dreadful judgment, swarms of lice preying upon his entrails, and causing such a stench that his physicians could not endure to come near him, and for refusing to do so were slain. Hundreds of like instances might easily be produced to confirm this observation. And who can but see by these things that ‘verily there is a God that judgeth in the earth!’
Yea, so exact have been the retributions of Providence to the enemies of the Church, that not only the same persons, but the same members, that have been the instruments of mischief, have been made the subjects of wrath. The same arm which Jeroboam stretched out to smite the prophet, God smites. The emperor Aurelian, when he was ready to subscribe the edict for the persecution of the Christians, was suddenly cramped in his knuckles that he could not write. Greenhill, in his exposition upon Ezekiel 11:13, tells his hearers that there was one then present in the congregation who was an eye-witness of a woman scoffing at another for purity and holy walking, who had her tongue stricken immediately with the palsy, and died of it within two days. Henry the 2nd of France, in a great rage against a Protestant counselor, committed him to the hands of one of his nobles to be imprisoned, and that with these words, that ‘he would see him burned with his own eyes.’ But, mark the righteous providence of God, within a few days after, the same nobleman, with a lance put into his hands by the king, did at a tilting match run the said king into one of his eyes, from which he died.
Yea, Providence has made the very place of sinning the place of punishment: ‘In the place where dogs licked the blood of Naboth, shall dogs lick thy blood’ (1 Kings 21:19); and it was exactly fulfilled (2 Kings 9:26). Thus Tophet is made a burying-place for the Jews, till there was no room to bury; and that was the place where they had offered up their sons to Moloch (Jeremiah 7:31, 32). The story of Nightingale is generally known, which Foxe relates, how he fell out of the pulpit and broke his neck, while he was abusing that Scripture (1 John 1:10). And thus the Scriptures are made good by Providence. ‘Whoso diggeth a pit shall fall therein; and he that rolleth a stone, it shall return upon him’ (Proverbs 26:27), and ‘with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again’ (Matthew 7:2).
If any shall still say that these things may fall out accidentally, and that many thousands of the Church’s enemies have died in peace, and their end been like other men, we answer with Augustine: ‘If no sin were punished here, no Providence would be believed; and if every sin should be punished here, no judgment would be expected. But, that none may think these events to be merely casual and accidental, we shall enquire yet further.
If these things are merely accidental, how is it that they square and agree so exactly with the Scriptures in all particulars?
We read: ‘Can two walk together except they be agreed?’ (Amos 3:3). If two men travel along one road, it is likely they are agreed to go to the same place. Providences and Scriptures go all one way, and if they seem at any time to go different or opposite ways, be sure they will meet at the journey’s end. There is an agreement between them so to do.
Does God miraculously suspend the power of natural causes? Why, this is no accidental thing, but what harmonizes with the Word ‘When thou passest through the waters, I will be with thee, and through the rivers, they shall not overflow thee. When thou walkest through the fire, thou shalt not be burned, neither shall the flame kindle upon thee’ (Isaiah 43:2).
Do natural causes unite and associate themselves for the good of God’s people? Why, this is no more than what is contained in the promises, and is but the fulfilling of that Scripture: ‘All is yours, for ye are Christ’s’ (1 Corinthians 3:22); that is, the use, benefit and service of all the creatures is for you, as your need shall require.
Are the most apt and powerful means employed for their ruin frustrated? Who can but see the Scriptures fulfilled in, and expounded by such providences (see Isaiah 8:8-10; Isaiah 54:15-17; expounded by 2 Kings 18:17, etc.)!
Do you see at any time a rub of Providence diverting the course of good men from falling into evil, or wicked men from committing evil? How loudly do such Providences proclaim the truth and certainty of the Scriptures, which tell us that ‘the way of man is not in himself, neither is it in him that walketh to direct his steps’ (Jeremiah 10:23), and that ‘a man’s heart deviseth his way: but the LORD directeth his steps’ (Proverbs 16:9)!
Do you see adequate retributions made to those that injure or befriend the people of God? Why, when you see all the kindness and love they have shown the saints returned with interest into their bosoms, how is it possible but you must see the accomplishment of these Scriptures in such providences! ‘But the liberal soul deviseth liberal things, and by liberal things he shall stand’ (Isaiah 32:8; 2 Corinthians 9:6).
And when you see the evils men have done, or intended to do to the Lord’s people, recoiling upon themselves, he is perfectly blind that does not see the harmony such providences bear with such Scriptures as Psalm 7:14-16; Psalm 9:16; and Psalm 140:11, 12.
O what exact proportions do providences and Scriptures hold! Little do men take notice of it. Why did Cyrus, contrary to all rules of state policy, freely dismiss the captives, except to fulfill the Scripture (Isaiah 45:13)? So that it was well observed by one that, ‘as God hath stretched out the expansum or firmament over the natural; so he hath stretched out his Word over the rational world.’ And as the creatures on earth are influenced by those heavenly bodies, so are all creatures in the world influenced by the Word, and do infallibly fulfill it, when they design to thwart it.
If these things are contingent, how is it that they fall out so remarkably in the nick of time, which makes them so greatly observable to all that consider them?
We find a multitude of providences so timed to a minute, that had they occurred just a little sooner or later, they had mattered little in comparison with what now they do. Certainly, it cannot be chance, but counsel, that so exactly works in time. Contingencies keep to no rules.
How remarkable to this purpose were the tidings brought to Saul, that ‘the Philistines have invaded the land’ (1 Samuel 23:27), just as he was ready to grasp the prey! The angel calls to Abraham, and shows him another sacrifice just when his hand was giving the fatal stroke to Isaac (Genesis 22:10-11). A well of water is shown to Hagar just when she had left the child, as not able to see its death (Genesis 21:16, 19). Rabshakeh meets with a blasting providence, hears a rumour that frustrated his design, just when ready to make an assault upon Jerusalem (Isaiah 37:7, 8). So when Haman’s plot against the Jews was ripe, and all things ready for execution, ‘on that night could not the king sleep’ (Esther 6:1). When the horns are ready to gore Judah, immediately carpenters are prepared to fray them away (Zechariah 1:18-21).
How remarkable was the relief of La Rochelle by a shoal of fish that came into the harbour when they were ready to perish with famine, such as they never observed before, nor after that time! Mr Dod could not go to bed one night, but has a strong impulse to visit, though unseasonably, a neighbour gentleman, and just as he came there he meets him at his door, with a halter in his pocket, just going to hang himself. Dr Tate and his wife in the Irish rebellion, were flying through the woods with a sucking-child, which was just ready to expire. The mother going to rest it upon a rock, puts her hand upon a bottle of warm milk, by which it was preserved. A good woman, from whose mouth I received it, being driven to a great extremity, all supplies failing, was exceedingly plunged into unbelieving doubts and fears, not seeing where supplies should come from; when, lo! in the nick of time, turning over some things in a chest, unexpectedly she lights upon a piece of gold, which supplied her present needs till God opened another door of supply. If these things fall out by accident, how is it they come in the very nick of time so exactly, as that it is become proverbial in Scripture, ‘In the mount of the LORD it shall be seen’ (Genesis 22:14)?
Lastly, were these things accidental and contingent, how can it be that they should fall out so immediately upon and consonantly to the prayers of the saints? So that in many providences they are able to discern a very clear answer to their prayers, and are sure they have the petitions they asked (1 John 5:15).
Thus the sea divided itself just at the time of Israel’s cry to heaven (Exodus 14:10). So signal a victory is given to Asa immediately at the time of that passionate cry to heaven: ‘Help us, O LORD our God’ (2 Chronicles 14:11, 12). Ahithophel goes and hangs himself, just at the time of that prayer of distressed David (2 Samuel 15:31). Haman falls and his plot is broken, just at the time of the fast kept by Mordecai and Esther (Esther 4:16). Our own Speed, in his History of Britain, tells us that Richard the 1st besieged a castle with his army; they offered to surrender if he would save their lives; he refuses, and threatens to hang them all. Upon this an arbalester charged his bow with a square arrow, making first his prayer to God that he would direct the shot and deliver the innocent from oppression; it struck the king himself, from which he died, and they were delivered. Abraham’s servant prayed for success; and see how it was answered (Genesis 24:45). Peter was cast into prison, and prayer was made for him by the Church, and see the event (Acts 12:5, 6, 7, 12). I could easily add to these the wonderful examples of the return of prayers which was observed in Luther, and Dr Winter in Ireland, and many more; but I judge it needless because most Christians have a stock of experience of their own, and are well assured that many of the providences that befall them are, and can be no other than the return of their prayers.
And now who can be dissatisfied in this point that wisely considers these things? Must we not conclude that ‘he withdraweth not his eyes from the righteous’ (Job 36:7) and that ‘The eyes of the LORD run to and fro throughout the whole earth, to show himself strong in the behalf of them whose heart is perfect towards him’ (2 Chronicles 16:9). His providences proclaim Him to be a God who hears prayer.
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Our Birth and Upbringing
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Having proved that the affairs of the saints in this world are certainly conducted by the wisdom and care of a special Providence, my next work is to show you in what affairs and concerns of theirs the Providence of God more especially appears, or what are the most remarkable performances of Providence for them in this world.
And here I am not led directly by my text to speak of the most internal and spiritual performances of Providence immediately relating to the souls of His people, though they all relate to their souls mediately and eventually, but of the more visible and external performances of Providence for them. It is not to be supposed that I should touch all these - they are more than the sands - but what I aim at is to discourse to you on some more special and more observable performances of Providence for you.
To start with, let us consider how well Providence has performed the first work that ever it did for us: in our formation and protection in the womb. Certainly this is a very glorious and admirable performance; it is that which the Psalmist admires: ‘My substance was not hid from thee, when I was made in secret, and curiously wrought in the lowest parts of the earth’ (Psalm 139:15). The womb is so called for this reason, that as skillful artists, when they have some choice piece in hand, perfect it in private, and then bring it into the light for all to gaze at; so it was here. Two things are admirable in this performance of Providence for us.
First the rare structure and excellent composition of the body. ‘I am wonderfully made’; that word ruchampti is very full. The vulgate renders it, ‘painted as with a needle,’ i.e., richly embroidered with nerves and veins. O, the skillful workmanship that is in that one part, the eye! How has it forced some to acknowledge a God upon the examination of it! Providence, when it went about this work, had its model or pattern before it, according to which it molded every part, ‘In thy book all my members were written’ (verse 16). Have you an integral perfection and fullness of members? It is because He wrote them all in His book, or painted your body according to that exact model which He drew of you in His own gracious purpose before you had a being. Had an eye, an ear, a hand, a foot been wanting in the plan, you had now been sadly aware of the defect. This world had been but a dungeon to you without those windows, and you had lived, as many do, an object of pity to others. If you have low thoughts of this mercy, ask the blind, the deaf, the lame and the dumb the value and worth of those mercies, and they will tell you. There is a world of cost bestowed upon your very body. You might have been cast into another mold, and created a worm or a toad. I remember Luther tells us of two cardinals riding in great pomp to the Council of Constance, and by the way they heard a man in the fields bitterly weeping and wailing. When they came to him they found him intently viewing an ugly toad; and asking him why he wept so bitterly, he told them his heart was melted with this consideration, that God had not made him such a loathsome and deformed creature. ‘This is what I love to weep at,’ said he; whereupon one of them cries out: well said the father, ‘The unlearned will rise and take heaven, and we with all our learning shall be cast into hell.’ No part of the common lump was so figured and polished as man is. Galen gave Epicurus a hundred years to imagine a more commodious situation, configuration or composition of any one member of a human body. And if all the angels had studied to this day, they could not have cast the body of man into a better mold.
And yet all this is but the enameling of the case, or polishing the casket in which the rare jewel lies. Providence has not only built the house, but brought the inhabitant (I mean the soul) into the possession of it. A glorious piece it is, that bears the very image of God upon it, being all in all, and all in every part. How noble are its faculties and affections! How nimble, various and indefatigable are its motions! How comprehensive is its capacity! It is a companion for angels, nay, capable of espousal to Christ and eternal communion with God. It is the wonder of earth, and the envy of hell.
Suppose now (and why should you not suppose what you so frequently behold in the world?) that Providence had so permitted and ordered it, that your soul had entered into your body with one or two of its faculties wounded and defective. Suppose its understanding had been cracked; what a miserable life you would have lived in this world, being capable of neither service nor comfort. And truly, when I have considered those works of Providence, in bringing into the world in all countries and ages some such spectacles of pity; some deprived of the use of reason and differing from beasts in little more than shape and figure; and others, though sound in their understandings, yet deformed or defective in their bodies, monstrous, misshapen and loathsome creatures; I can resolve the design of this Providence into nothing else but a demonstration of His sovereign power unless they are designed as foils to set off the beauty of other rare and exquisite pieces, and intended to stand before your eyes as monitors of God’s mercy to you, that your hearts, as often as you behold them, might be melted into thankfulness for distinguishing favour to you.
Look then, but not proudly, upon your outside and inside. See and admire what Providence has done for you, and how well it has performed the first service that ever it did for you in this world. And yet, this was not all it did for you. Before you saw this world, it preserved you, as well as formed you in the womb, else you had been as those embryos Job speaks of ‘which never saw light’ (Job 3:16). Abortives go for nothing in the world, and there are multitudes of them. Some never had a reasonable soul breathed into them, but only the rudiments and rough draft of a body; these come not into the account of men, but perish as the beast does. Others die in, or shortly after they come out of the womb, and though their life was but a moment, yet that moment entails an eternity upon them. Had this been your case, as it is the case of millions, then, supposing your salvation, yet you had been utterly unserviceable to God in the world; none had been the better for you, nor you the better for any in the world. You had been utterly incapable of all that good which throughout your life you have either done to others or received from others.
And if we consider the nature of that obscure life we lived in the womb, how small an accident, had it been permitted by Providence, could have extinguished our life, like a bird in the shell? We cannot therefore but admire the tender care of Providence over us, and say with the Psalmist: ‘Thou hast covered me in my mother’s womb’ (Psalm 139:13): and not only so, ‘But thou art he that took me out of the womb’ (Psalm 22:9). He preserved you there to the fullness of time and, when that time was come, brought you safely through manifold hazards into that place in the world which He from eternity prepared for you.
Another great performance of Providence for the people of God respects the place and time of their birth. And truly, this is no small concern to every one of us, but of vast consequence, either to our good or evil, though it is little considered by most men. I am persuaded the thoughts of few Christians penetrate deep enough into this Providence, but slide too slightly and superficially over an abyss of much mercy, rich and manifold mercy wrapped up in this gracious performance of Providence for them.
Ah friends! can you think it an indifferent thing into what part of the world the womb of nature has cast you out? Does nothing depend upon what spot of the creation, or in what age of the world, your lot has fallen? It may be you have not seriously thought about this matter. And because this point is so seldom touched, I will therefore dive a little more particularly and distinctly into it, and endeavour to warm your affections with a representation of the many and rich benefits you owe to this one performance of Providence for you.
We will consider it under a double respect or relation, as it respects your present comfort in this world, and as it relates to your eternal happiness in the world to come.
This performance of Providence for you very much concerns your present comfort in this world. All the rooms in this great house are not alike pleasant and commodious for the inhabitants of it. You read of ‘the dark places of the earth,’ which ‘are full of the habitations of cruelty’ (Psalm 74:20); and many such dismal places are found in the habitable earth. What a vast tract of the world lies as a waste wilderness!
Suppose your mothers had brought you forth in America, among the savage Indians, who herd together as brute beasts, are scorched with heat, and starved with cold, being naked, destitute and defenseless. How poor, miserable, and unprovided with earthly comfort and accommodations are many millions of the inhabitants of this world! What mercies do you enjoy in respect of the amenity, fertility, temperature, and civility of the place of your habitation? What is it but a garden enclosed out of a wilderness? I may without partiality or vanity say, God has, even upon temporal accounts, provided you with one of the healthiest, pleasantest, and in all respects the best furnished room in all the great house of this world. Hear what our own chronicler says of it: ‘It is the fortunate island, the paradise of pleasure, the garden of God; whose valleys are like Eden, whose hills are as Lebanon, whose springs are as Pisgah, whose rivers are as Jordan, whose wall is the ocean, and whose defense is the Lord Jehovah.’
You are here provided with necessary and comfortable accommodations for your bodies, that a great part of the world are unacquainted with. It is not with the poorest among us, as it is said to be with the poor Russians, whose poverty pinches and bites with such sharp teeth that their poor cry at the doors: ‘Give me and cut me! give me and kill me!’
Do not say that the barbarous nations excel you in that they possess the mines of silver and gold, which it may be you think enough to make up for all other inconveniences of life. Alas, poor creatures! better had it been for them if their country had brought forth briars and thorns, instead of gold, silver, and precious stones; for this has been the occasion of ruining all their other comforts in this world, this has invited their cruel avaricious enemies among them, under whose servitude they groan and die without mercy, and thousands of them have chosen death rather than life on the terms they enjoyed it. And why might not your lot have fallen there as well as where it is? Are not they made of the same clay and endowed with as good a nature as yourselves? O what a distinction has divine mercy made, where nature made none! Consider, ungrateful man, you might have fallen into some of those regions where a tainted air frequently cloys the jaws of death, where the inhabitants differ very little from the beasts in the manner of their living; but God has provided for you, and given the poorest among us far better accommodations of life than the greatest among them are ordinarily provided with. O what Providence has done for you!
But all that I have said is very inconsiderable in comparison with the spiritual mercies and advantages you here enjoy for your souls. O this is such an advantageous cast of Providence for you as obliges you to a thankful acknowledgment of it to all eternity. For let us here make but a few suppositions in the case before us, and the glory of Providence will shine like a sunbeam full in your faces.
Suppose it had been your lot to have fallen in any of those vast continents possessed by pagans and heathens at this day, who bow down to the stock of a tree, and worship the host of heaven. This is the case of millions, and millions of millions, for pagan idolaters, as that searching scholar, Brerewood, informs us, do not only fill the circumference of nine hundred miles in Europe, but almost the one half of Africa, more than the half of Asia, and almost the whole of America.
O how deplorable had your case been if a pagan idolatress had brought you forth, and idolatry had been sucked in with your mother’s milk! Then, in all probability, you had been at this day worshipping devils, and racing at full speed in the direct road to damnation, for these are the people of God’s wrath: ‘Pour out thy fury upon the heathen that know thee not, and upon the families that call not upon thy name’ (Jeremiah 10:25). How dreadful is that imprecation against them, which takes hold of them and all that is theirs! ‘Confounded be all they that serve graven images, that boast themselves of idols’ (Psalm 97:7).
Or suppose your lot had fallen among Mahometans, who next to pagans spread over the greatest tract of the earth, for though Arabia bred that unclean bird, yet that cage could not long contain him; for not only the Arabians, but the Persians, Turks, and Tartars, do all bow down their backs under that grand impostor. This poison has dispersed itself through the veins of Asia, over a great part of Africa, even the circumference of seven thousand miles, and does not stop there, but has tainted a considerable part of Europe also.
Had your lot fallen here, O what unhappy men and women had you been, notwithstanding the natural amenity and pleasantness of your native soil! You had then adored a grand impostor, and died in a fool’s paradise. Instead of God’s living oracles, you had been, as they now are, deceived to your eternal ruin with such fond, mad and wild dreams, as whoso considers would think the authors had more need of manacles and fetters than arguments or sober answers.
Or if neither of these had been your lot, suppose you had been emptied by the womb of nature into this little spot of the earth which is Christianized by profession, but nevertheless for the most part overrun by popish idolatry and anti-christian delusions. What unhappy men and women had you been had you sucked a Popish breast! for his people are to be the subjects of the vials of God’s wrath to be poured out successively upon them (Revelation 16), and the Scriptures in round and plain language tell us what their fate must be: ‘And for this cause God shall send them strong delusion, that they should believe a lie, that they all might be damned who believed not the truth, but had pleasure in unrighteousness’ (2 Thessalonians 2:11, 12).
Nay, you might have fallen into the same land in which your habitation now is, and yet have had no advantage by it as to salvation, if He that chose the bounds of your habitation had not also graciously ‘determined the times’ for you (Acts 17:26).
Suppose your lot had fallen where it is, during the pagan state of England, where for many hundred years were gross and vile idolaters. Thick darkness overspread the people of this island and, as in other countries, the devil was worshipped, and his lying oracles zealously believed.
The shaking of the top of Jupiter’s oak in Dodona, the cauldron smitten with the rod in the hand of Jupiter’s image, the laurel and fountain in Daphne: these were the ordinances on which the poor deluded wretches waited. So in this nation they worshipped idols also. The sun and moon were adored for gods, together with many abominable idols which our ancestors worshipped and whose memorials are not to this day quite obliterated among us.
Or suppose our lot had fallen in those later miserable days in which Queen Mary sent so many hundreds to heaven in a fiery chariot, when the poor Protestants skulked up and down in holes and woods to preserve themselves from popish inquisitors, who, like bloodhounds, hunted up and down through all the cities, towns and villages of the nation, to seek out the poor sheep of Christ for a prey.
But such has been the special care of Providence towards us, that our turn to be brought upon the stage of this world was graciously reserved for better days, so that if we had had our own option, we could not have chosen for ourselves as Providence has done. We are not only furnished with the best room in this great house, but before we were put into it, it was swept with the broom of national Reformation from idolatry, yea, and washed by the blood of martyrs from popish filthiness, and adorned with Gospel lights, shining in as great lustre in our days, as ever they did since the apostles’ days. You might have been born in England for many ages, and not have found a Christian in it; yea, and since Christianity was here owned, and not have met a Protestant in it. O what an obligation has Providence laid you under, by such a merciful performance as this for you!
If you say: ‘All this indeed is true, but what is this to eternal salvation? Do not multitudes that enjoy these privileges eternally perish notwithstanding them; yea, and perish with an aggravation of sin and misery beyond other sinners?’
True, they do so, and it is very sad that it should be so; but yet we cannot deny this to be a very choice and singular mercy, to be born in such a land, and at such a time. For let us consider what helps for salvation men here enjoy, beyond what they could enjoy had their lot fallen according to the forementioned suppositions.
Here we enjoy the ordinary means of salvation, which elsewhere men are denied and cut off from. So that if any among the heathen are saved and brought to Christ, it must be in some miraculous or extraordinary way, for ‘how shall they believe in him of whom they have not heard, and how shall they hear without a preacher?’ (Romans 10:14). Alas! were there a desire awakened in any of their hearts after a Gospel-discovery of salvation, which ordinarily is not nor can be rationally supposed, yet, poor creatures, they might travel from sea to sea to hear the Word, and not find it; whereas you can hardly miss the opportunities of hearing the Gospel. Sermons meet you frequently, so that you can scarcely shun or avoid the ordinances and instruments of your salvation. And is this nothing? Christ even forces Himself upon us.
Here, in this age of the world, the common prejudices against Christianity are removed by the advantage it has of a public profession among the people, and protection by the laws of the country. Whereas were your habitation among Jews, Mahometans, or heathen idolaters, you would find Christ and Christianity the common odium of the country, every one defying and deriding both name and thing, and such yourselves likely had been, if your birth and education had been among them. For you may observe that whatever is traditionally delivered down from father to son, every one is fond of and zealous [for] in its defense. The Jews, heathens and Mahometans are at this day so tenacious of their errors that, with spitting, hissing, and clapping of hands, and all other signs of indignation and abhorrence, they chase away all others from among them.
Is it not then a special mercy to you to be cast into such a country and age, where, as a learned divine observes, the true religion has the same advantages over every false one, as in other countries they have over it? Here you have the presence of precious means, and the absence of soul-destroying prejudices -- two signal mercies.
Here, in this age of the world, Christianity confronts you as soon as you are capable of any sense or impressions of religion upon you; and so, by an happy anticipation, blocks up the passages by which a false religion would else certainly enter. Here you suck in the first notions and principles of Christianity, even with the mother’s milk, and certainly such a prepossession is a choice advantage. Quo semel est imbuta, recens servabit odorem testa diu. (For many a day the pot will keep the scent of that which first it held, when freshly baked.) ‘Train up a child in the way he should go; and when he is old, he will not depart from it’ (Proverbs 22:6).
Here you have, or may have, the help and assistance of Christians to direct your way, resolve your doubts, support your burdens and help you through those difficulties that attend the new birth. Alas! if a poor soul had any beginnings or faint workings and stirrings after Christ and true religion in many other countries, the hand of every man would presently he against him, and none would be found to relieve, assist or encourage, as you may see in that example of Galeacius. The nearest relations would, in that case, prove the greatest enemies, the country would quickly hoot at him as a monster and cry: ‘Away with the heretic to the prison or stake.’
Whether these eventually prove blessings to your souls or not, certain I am that in themselves they are singular mercies, and helps to salvation that are denied to millions besides you. So that if Plato when he was near his death could bless God for three things, viz., that he was a man and not a beast, that he was born in Greece, and that he was brought up in the time of Socrates, much more cause have you to admire Providence, that you are men and not beasts; that you were born in England, and that you are brought up in Gospel days. This is a land the Lord has espied for you, as the expression is (Ezekiel 20:6), and concerning it you have abundant cause to say, as in another case the Psalmist does: ‘The lines are fallen unto me in pleasant places; yea, I have a goodly heritage’ (Psalm 16:6).
Another performance of Providence which must be carefully noticed and weighed is the designation of the stock and family out of which we should spring and rise. And truly this is of special consideration, both as to our temporal and eternal good. For whether the families in which we grew up were great or small in Israel, whether our parents were of the higher or lower class and rank among men, yet if they were such as feared God and wrought righteousness, if they took any care to educate you religiously and train you up ‘in the nurture and admonition of the Lord,’ you are bound to reckon it among your chief mercies, that you sprang from the loins of such parents, for from this spring a double stream of mercy rises to you.
First, temporal and external mercies to your outward man. You cannot but know that as godliness entails a blessing, so wickedness and unrighteousness a curse upon posterity. An instance of the former you have in Genesis 17:18-20; on the contrary you have the threatening, Zechariah 5:4, and both together in this passage ‘The curse of the LORD is in the house of the wicked; but he blesseth the habitation of the just’ (Proverbs 3:33). True it is that both these imply the children’s treading in the steps of their parents (Ezekiel 18), but how frequently is it seen that wicked men breed their children vainly and wickedly; so that as it is said of Abijam: ‘and he walked in all the sins of his father, which he had done before him’ (1 Kings 15:3); and so the curse is entailed from generation to generation. To escape this curse is a choice providence.
But especially take notice what a stream of spiritual blessings and mercies flows from this Providence to the inner man. O, it is no common mercy to descend from pious parents. Some of us do not only owe our natural life to them, as instruments of our beings, but our spiritual and eternal life also. It was no small mercy to Timothy to be descended from such progenitors (2 Timothy 1:5), nor to Augustine that he had such a mother as Monica, who planted in his mind the precepts of life with her words, watered them with her tears, and nourished them with her example. We will a little more particularly inspect this mercy, and in so doing we shall find manifold mercies contained in it.
What a mercy was it to us to have parents that prayed for us before they had us, as well as in our infancy, when we could not pray for ourselves? Thus did Abraham (Genesis 15:2) and Hannah (1 Samuel 1:10, 11), and probably some here are the fruits and returns of their parents’ prayers. This was that holy course they continued all their days for you, carrying all your concerns, especially your eternal ones, before the Lord with their own; and pouring out their souls to God so affectionately for you, when their eye-strings and heart-strings were breaking. O put a value upon such mercies, for they are precious. It is a greater mercy to descend from praying parents than from the loins of nobles. See Job’s pious practice (Job 1:5).
What a special mercy was it to us to have the excrescences of corruption nipped in the bud by their pious and careful discipline! We now understand what a critical and dangerous season youth is, the wonderful proclivity of that age to every thing that is evil. Why else are they called youthful lusts (2 Timothy 2:22)? When David asks: ‘Wherewithal shall a young man cleanse his way?’ it is plainly enough implied in the very question that the way he takes lies through the pollutions of the world in his youth (Psalm 119:9). When you find a David praying that God would ‘not remember the sins of my youth’ (Psalm 25:7), and a Job bitterly complaining that God ‘made me to possess the iniquities of my youth’ (Job 13:26), surely you cannot but reflect with a very thankful heart upon those happy means by which the corruption of your nature was happily prevented, or restrained in your youth.
And how great a mercy was it that we had parents who carefully instilled the good knowledge of God into our souls in our tender years? How diligent was Abraham in this duty (Genesis 18:19), and David (1 Chronicles 28:9)! We have some of us had parents who might say to us, as the apostle: ‘My little children of whom I travail in birth again until Christ be formed in you’ (Galatians 4:19). As they longed for us before they had us and rejoiced in us when they had us, so they could not endure to think that when they could have us no more, the devil should. As they thought no pains, care or cost too much for our bodies, to feed them, clothe and heal them; so did they think no prayers, counsels, or tears, too much for our souls, that they might be saved. They knew a parting time would come between them and us, and did strive to make it as easy and comfortable to them as they could, by leaving us in Christ and within the blessed bond of His covenant.
They were not glad that we had health and indifferent whether we had grace. They felt the miseries of our souls as much as of our bodies; and nothing was more desirable to them than that they might say in the great day: Lord, here am I and the children which thou hast given me.
And was it not a special favour to us to have parents that went before us as patterns of holiness, and beat the path to heaven for us by their examples? They could say to us: ‘those things ye have heard and seen in me, do’ (Philippians 4:9); and ‘be ye followers of me, as also I am of Christ’ (1 Corinthians 11:1). The parents’ life is the child’s copy. O, it is no common mercy to have a fair copy set before us, especially in the molding age; we saw what they did, as well as heard what they said. It was Abraham’s commendation, ‘that he commanded his children, and his household after him, to keep the way of the LORD.’ And such mercies some of us have had also.
Ah, my friends, let me beg you that you will take special notice of this Providence which so graciously wrought for you; and that your hearts may be more thoroughly warmed in the sense of it, compare your condition with others, and seriously consider the following.
How many children there are among us that are drawn headlong to hell by their cruel and ungodly parents, who teach them to curse and swear as soon as they can speak! Many families there are in which little other language is heard but what is the dialect of hell. These, like the old logs and small spray, are preparing for the fire of hell, where they must burn together. Of such children that Scripture will one day be verified, except they repent: ‘He shall go to the generation of his fathers; they shall never see light’ (Psalm 49:19).
And how many families there are, though not so profane, who yet breed up their children vainly and sensually, and take no care what becomes of their souls, if they can but provide for their bodies (Job 21:11)! If they can but teach them to carry their bodies, no matter if the devil actuate their souls. If they can but leave them lands or monies, they think they have very fully discharged their duties. O, what will the language be with which such parents and children shall greet each other at the judgment-seat, and in hell for ever!
And how many there are who are more sober and yet hate the least appearances of godliness in their children. Instead of cherishing, they do all that they can to break bruised reeds and quench smoking flax, to stifle and strangle the first appearances and offers they make towards Christ! They would rather accompany them to their graves than to Christ, doing all that in them lies, Herod-like, to kill Christ in the cradle! Ah, sirs, you little know what a mercy you enjoy or have enjoyed in godly parents and what a good lot Providence cast for you in this affair of your bodies and souls.
If any shall say this was not their case, they had little help heavenward from their parents, to such I reply as follows.
If you had little furtherance, yet own it as a special providence that you had no hindrance; or if you had opposition, yet admire the grace of God in plucking you out by a wonderful distinguishing hand of mercy from among them and keeping alive the languishing sparks of grace amidst the floods of opposition. And learn from hence, if God give you a posterity of your own, to be so much the more strict and careful of family duties, by how much you have acutely felt the want of it in yourselves.
But seeing such a train of blessings, both as to this life and that to come, follow upon an holy education of children, I will not dismiss the point till I have discharged my duty in exhorting parents and children to their duties.
And first for you that are parents, or to whom the education of children is committed, I beseech you mind the duty which lies on you. That I may effectually press it, consider how near the relation is between you and your children, and therefore how much you are concerned in their happiness or misery. Consider but the Scripture account of the dearness of such relations, expressed by longings for them (Genesis 15:2; 30:1), by our joy when we have them, as Christ expresses it (John 16:21), the high value set on them (Genesis 42:38), the sympathy with them in all their troubles (Mark 9:22) and by our sorrow at parting (Genesis 37:35). Now shall all this be to no purpose? For to what purpose do we desire them before we have them, rejoice in them when we have them, value them so highly, sympathize with them so tenderly, grieve for their death so excessively, if in the meantime no care be taken what shall become of them to eternity?
Consider how God has charged you with their souls, as well as bodies, and this appears by precepts directly laid upon you (Deuteronomy 6:6, 7; Ephesians 6:4) and by precepts laid on them to obey you (Ephesians 6:1), which plainly implies your duty as well as expresses theirs.
What shall comfort you at the parting time, if they die through your neglect in a Christless condition? O this is the cutting consideration: My child is in hell, and I did nothing to prevent it! I helped him there. Duty discharged is the only root of comfort in that day.
If you neglect to instruct them in the way of holiness, will the devil neglect to instruct them in the way of wickedness? No, no, if you will not teach them to pray, he will teach them to curse, swear and lie. If ground be uncultivated, weeds will spring up.
If the season of their youth is neglected, how little probability is there of any good fruit afterwards? Youth is the molding age (Proverbs 22:6). How few are converted in old age? A twig is brought to any form, but grown limbs will not bend.
You are instrumental causes of all their spiritual misery, and that by generation and imitation. They lie spiritually dead of the plague which you brought home among them: ‘Behold, I was shapen in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive [or warm] me’ (Psalm 51:5)
There is none in the world so likely as you to be instruments of their eternal good. You have peculiar advantages that no one else has; such as the interest you have in their affections; your opportunities to instill the knowledge of Christ into them, being daily with them (Deuteronomy 6:7); your knowledge of their character. If therefore you neglect, who shall help them?
Again, the consideration of the great day should move your bowels of pity for them. O remember that text: ‘And I saw the dead small and great stand before God’ (Revelation 20:12). What a sad thing will it be, to see your dear children at Christ’s left hand? O friends, do your utmost to prevent this misery. ‘Knowing the terror of the Lord, we persuade men.’
And you, children, especially you that sprang from religious parents. I beseech you, obey their counsels, and tread in the steps of their pious examples. To press this, I offer the following considerations:
Your disobedience to them is a resisting of God’s authority: ‘Children, obey your parents in the Lord’ (Ephesians 6:1). There is the command; your rebellion therefore runs higher than you think. It is not man, but God that you disobey; and for your disobedience God will punish you. It may be their tenderness will not suffer them, or you are grown beyond their correction. All they can do is to complain to God, and if so, He will handle you more severely than they could do.
Your sin is greater than the sin of young heathens and infidels; and so will your account be also. O better, if a wicked child, that you had been the offspring of savage Indians, nay, of beasts, than of such parents. So many counsels disobeyed, hopes and prayers frustrated, will turn to sad aggravations.
It is usual with God to retaliate men’s disobedience to their parents in kind; commonly our own children shall pay us home for it. I have read in a grave author of a wicked wretch that dragged his father along the house. The father begged him not to drag him beyond such a place, for, said he, I dragged my father no further. Oh, the sad, but just retributions of God!
And for you in whose hearts grace has been planted by the blessing of education, I beseech you to admire God’s goodness to you in this providence. O what a happy lot has God cast for you! How few children are partakers of your mercies!
See that you honour such parents; the tie is double upon you so to do. Be you the joy of their hearts, and comfort of their lives, if they are alive. If not, yet still remember the mercy while you live, and tread in their pious path, that you and they may both rejoice together in the great day, and bless God for each other to all eternity.
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The Work of Conversion
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In nothing does Providence shine forth more gloriously in this world than in ordering the occasions, instruments and means of conversion of the people of God. However skillfully its hand had moulded your bodies, however tenderly it had preserved them and however bountifully it had provided for them; if it had not also ordered some means or other for your conversion, all the former favours and benefits it had done for you had meant little. This, O this, is the most excellent benefit you ever received from its hand. You are more indebted to it for this, than for all your other mercies. And in explaining this performance of Providence, I cannot but think your hearts must be deeply affected. This is a subject which every gracious heart loves to steep its thoughts in. It is certainty the sweetest history that ever they repeated; they love to think and talk of it. The places where, and instruments by whom this work was wrought are exceedingly endeared to them for the work’s sake, yea, endeared to that degree, that, for many years after, their hearts have melted when they have but passed occasionally by those places or but seen the faces of those persons that were used as instruments in the hand of Providence for their good. As no doubt but Jacob’s Bethel was ever after that night sweet to his thoughts (Genesis 48:3), so other saints have had their Bethels as well as he. O blessed places, times, and instruments! O the deep, the sweet impressions, never to be erased out of the memory or heart, that this Providence has made upon those on whom it wrought this blessed effect at years of discretion, and in a more perceptible way!
But lest any poor soul should be discouraged by the display of this Providence because he cannot remember the time, place, instruments and manner when and by which conversion work was wrought, I will therefore premise this necessary distinction, to prevent injury to some, while I design benefit to others.
Conversion, as to the subjects of it, may be considered two ways; either as it is more clearly wrought in persons of riper years, who in their youthful days were more profane and vile; or upon persons in their tender years, into whose hearts grace was more imperceptibly and indiscernibly instilled by God’s blessing upon pious education. In the former sort, the distinct acts of the Spirit, illuminating, convincing, humbling, drawing them to Christ and sealing them are more evident and discernible. In the latter, these are more obscure and confused. They can remember that God gave them an esteem and liking of godly persons, care of duty and conscience of sin; but as to the time, place, instruments and manner of the work, they can give but a slender account of them. However, if the work is savingly wrought in them, there is no reason they should be troubled because the circumstances of it are not so evident to them as they are to others. Let the substance and reality of the work appear, and there is no reason to afflict yourselves because of the lack of evidence of such circumstances.
But where the circumstances as well as substance are clear to a man, when we can call to remembrance the time when, the place where, the instrument by whom that work was wrought, it must needs be exceedingly sweet, and they cannot but yield a fresh delight to the soul every time they are reflected upon.
There are many of the following occasions which, it may be, we took for stragglers when they first befell us, but they proved scouts sent out from the main body of Providence, which they make way for.
Now there are various things in those providences that respect this work, which are exceedingly sweet and taking, as namely:
The wonderful strangeness and unaccountableness of the work of Providence in casting us into the way and ordering the occasions, yea, the minutest circumstances about this work. Thus you find that the Eunuch, at that very instant when he was reading the prophet Esaias, had an interpreter, one among a thousand, that joins his chariot just as his mind was by a fit occasion prepared to receive the first light of the knowledge of Christ (Acts 8:26-30).
And how strange was that change, however far it went, upon Naaman the Syrian (2 Kings 5:1-4)! that the Syrians in their incursion should bring away this girl - likely her beauty was the inducement - and she must be presented to Naaman’s wife, and relate to her the power of God that accompanied the prophet; though you find in that particular case there had never been an instance given before (Luke 4:27). Doubtless the whole of this affair was guided by the signal direction of Providence.
So for the conversion of the Samaritans, it is observed that Christ must needs go that way (John 4:4) - it lay just in the road between Judea and Galilee - and at the sixth hour, i.e., high noon, he rests himself upon Jacob’s well, still seeming to have no other design but his own refreshment by sitting and drinking there. But O what a train of blessed providences follow this which seemed but an accidental thing! First the woman of Samaria and then many more in that city are brought to believe in Christ (verses 29 and 41).
It is noted by Melchior Adams in the Life of Junius how much of an atheist he was in his younger years; but in order to bring about his conversion to God, first, a wonderful preservation of his life in a public tumult at Lyons in France must take place, which forces from him the acknowledgment of a Deity. Then his father sends for him home and with much gentleness persuades him to read the Scriptures. He lights upon the first of John, and with it he feels a divine supernatural majesty and power seizing his soul, which brought him over by a complete conversion to Jesus Christ. Thus, as the woman of Tekoa told David, does God devise means to bring back His banished (2 Samuel 14:14).
Lavater tells us that many Spanish soldiers, going into the wars of Germany, were there converted to Christ, by going into the cities and towns where godly ministers and Christians were.
Robert Bolton, though an excellent scholar, yet in his younger years he was a very irreligious person and a jeerer of holy men; but being cast into the company of godly Mr Peacock was by him brought to repentance and proved a famous instrument in the Church of Christ.
A scrap of paper, accidentally coming to view, has been used as an occasion of conversion. This was the case of a minister in Wales, who had two livings, but took little care of either. Being at a fair he bought something at a pedlar’s stall, and tore off a leaf of Mr Perkins’ Catechism to wrap it in, and reading a line or two in it, God sent it home so as it did the work.
The marriage of a godly man into a carnal family has been ordered by Providence for the conversion and salvation of many therein. Thus we read in the life of that renowned English worthy, John Bruen, that in his second match it was agreed that he should have one year’s diet in his mother-in-laws house. During his abode there that year the Lord was pleased by this means graciously to work upon her soul, as also upon his wife’s sister and half-sister, their brothers William and Thomas Fox, with one or two of the servants in that family.
The reading of a good book has been the means of bringing others to Christ. And thus we find many of the German divines converted by reading Luther’s books; yea, and it is more strange, Sleyden, in his Commentary, tells us that Vergerius, though he were an eye and ear witness to that doleful case of Spira, which one would think should move a stone, yet still continued so firm to the pope’s interest that when he fell into some suspicion among the cardinals he resolved to purge himself by writing a book against the German apostates. But while he read the Protestant books, out of no other design but to confute them, while he is weighing the arguments, he is himself convinced and brought to Christ. He, finding himself thus overcome by the truth, imparts his conviction to his brother, also a zealous papist. This brother deplores the misery of his case and seeks to reclaim him; but Vergerius entreating him to weigh well the Protestant arguments, he also yields, and so both immediately gave themselves to preaching justification by the free grace of God through the blood of Christ.
Yea, not only the reading of a book or hearing a minister, but, which is most remarkable, the very mistake or forgetfulness of a minister has been improved by Providence for this end and purpose. Augustine, once preaching to his congregation, forgot the argument which first he proposed, and attacked the error of the Manichees beside his first intention. By this discourse he converted one Firmus, his hearer, who fell down at his feet weeping and confessing he had lived a Manichee many years.
Another I knew who, going to preach, took up another Bible than that he designed, in which, not only missing his notes but the chapter also in which his text lay, was put to some loss thereby. But after a short pause he resolved to speak on any other Scripture that might be presented to him and accordingly read that text: ‘The Lord is not slack concerning his promise, as some men count slackness’ (2 Peter 3:9). And though he had nothing prepared, yet the Lord helped him to speak both methodically and pertinently from it, by which discourse a gracious change was wrought upon one in the congregation who has since given good evidence of a sound conversion and acknowledged this sermon to be the first and only means thereof.
The accompanying of others in a neighbourly civil visit has been overruled to the same end. Thus many of the Jews accompanied Mary unto Bethany, designing only to manifest their civil respect, but there they met Christ, saw the things which He did, and believed on Him (John 11:45).
Firmin tells us of one who had lived many years in a town where Christ had been as clearly preached as in any town in England. This man, when he was about seventy-six years of age, went to visit a sick neighbor. ‘A Christian friend of mine,’ says my author, ‘came to see him also, and finding this old man there, whom he judged to be one that lived upon his own stock, civility, good works, etc., he purposely fell into that discourse, to shew how many persons lived upon their duties, but never came to Christ. The old man sitting by the bedside heard him, and God was pleased to convince him that he was such a person, who had lived upon himself without Christ to that day; and would say afterwards, ‘had I died before threescore and sixteen, I had perished, for I knew not Christ.’
The committing of a godly man to prison has been the method of Providence to save the soul of a poor keeper. So Paul was made a prisoner to make his keeper a spiritual freeman (Acts 16:27-34). The like success had Dr. Barnes in Queen Mary’s days, who afterwards celebrated the Lord’s Supper in prison with his converted keeper.
The scattering of ministers and Christians by persecution from cities and towns into the ignorant and barbarous parts of the country, has been the way of Providence to find out and bring home some lost sheep that were found there to Jesus Christ (Acts 8:1, 4). The like signal event has since followed upon the like scattering of godly ministers, of which there are many outstanding instances at this day.
A servant running away from his master, probably out of no other design but to live an idle life, yet falling into such places and companies as Providence ordered, in a design to him unknown, has thereby been brought to be the servant of Christ. This was the very case of Onesimus who ran away from his master Philemon to Rome, where by a strange Providence, possibly a mere curiosity to see the prisoners, he there falls into Paul’s hands, who begat him to Christ in his bonds (Philemon 10-16).
Going to hear a sermon in jest has proved some men’s conversion in earnest. The above named Mr. Firmin tells us of a notorious drunkard whom the drunkards called ‘father’ that one day would needs go to hear what Wilson said, out of no other design, it seems, but to scoff at that holy man. But in the prayer before the sermon his heart began to thaw, and when he read his text: ‘Sin no more, lest a worse thing come unto thee’ (John 5:14), he could not contain, and in that sermon the Lord changed his heart, though so bitter an enemy that the minister on lecture-days was afraid to go to church before his shop door. ‘Lo, these are parts of his ways, but how small a portion is known of him?’
The dropping of some grave and weighty word accidentally in the presence of vain carnal persons, the death of a husband, wife or child, a fit of sickness, with a thousand other such like occasions, have been thus improved by Providence to the conversion of souls.
And no less remarkable and wonderful are the designs of Providence in ordering the removals and governing the movements of ministers from place to place, for the conversion of souls. Thus often it carries them to places where they did not intend to go, God having, unknown to them, some elect vessels there who must be called by the Gospel.
Thus Paul and Timothy, a sweet and lovely pair, when they were traveling through Phrygia and Galatia, were forbidden to preach the Word in Asia, to which probably their minds inclined (Acts 16:6), and when ‘they essayed to go into Bithynia, the Spirit suffered them not’ (verse 7). But a man of Macedonia, i.e., an angel in the shape or habit of a man of that country, appeared to Paul in a vision and prayed him saying: ‘Come over into Macedonia, and help us’ (verse 9), and there did God open the heart of Lydia.
I knew a pious minister, now with God, who, falling in his study upon a very rousing subject, intended for his own congregation, was strongly moved, when he had finished it, to go to a rude, vile, profane people about five miles off and first preach it to them. After many wrestlings with himself, not being willing to quench any motion that might be supposed to come from the Spirit of God, he obeyed and went to this people, who had then no minister of their own and few durst come among them. And there did the Lord, beyond all expectation, open a door, and several profane ones received Christ in that place and engaged this minister to a weekly lecture among them, in which many souls were won to God.
The same holy man at another time, being upon a journey, passed by a company of vain persons, who were wrestling upon a green near the road. Just as he came near the place one of them had thrown his antagonist and stood triumphing in his strength and activity. This good man rode up to them, and turning his speech to this person, told him: ‘Friend, I see that you are a strong man, but let not the strong man glory in his strength: you must know that you are not to wrestle with flesh and blood, but with principalities and powers, and spiritual wickednesses. How sad will it be that Satan should at last trip up the heels of your hope, and give you an eternal overthrow!’ After about a quarter of an hour’s serious discourse upon this subject, he left them and went on his journey, but this discourse made such an impression, that the person had no rest till he confided his trouble to a godly minister, who wisely following the work upon his soul, saw at last the blessed issue thereof in the gracious change of the person, of which he afterwards gave the minister a joyful account. O how unsearchable are the methods of Providence in this matter!
Nay, what is yet more wonderful, the Providence of God has sometimes ordered the very malice of Satan and wickedness of men as an occasion of eternal good to their souls. A very memorable example of this I shall here give the reader, faithfully relating what, not many years past, occurred in my own observation in this place, to the astonishment of many spectators.
In the year 1673, there came into this port a ship of Poole, in her return from Virginia. In this ship was one of that place, a lusty young man of twenty-three years of age, who was surgeon in the ship. This person in the voyage fell into a deep melancholy, which the devil greatly improved to serve his own design for the ruin of this poor man. However, it pleased the Lord to restrain him from any attempts upon his own life until he arrived here. But shortly after his arrival, upon the Lord’s day, early in the morning, being in bed with his brother, he took a knife prepared for that purpose and cut his own throat, and then leapt out of the bed, and though the wound was deep and large, yet thinking it might not soon enough dispatch his wretched life, desperately thrust it into his stomach and so lay wallowing in his own blood till his brother awakening made a cry for help. Hereupon a physician and a surgeon coming in, found the wound in his throat mortal, and all they could do at present was only to stitch it and apply a plaster with the design rather to enable him to speak for a little while than with any expectation of cure; for before that, he breathed through the wound and his voice was inarticulate.
In this condition I found him that morning, and apprehending him to be within a few minutes of eternity, I laboured to work upon his heart the sense of his condition, telling him I had but little time to do anything for him, and therefore I desired him to let me know what his own apprehensions of his present condition were. He told me he hoped in God for eternal life. I replied that I feared his hopes were ill-grounded, for the Scripture tells us: ‘No murderer hath eternal life abiding in him.’ But this was self-murder, the grossest of all murders, and insisting upon the aggravation and heinousness of the fact, I perceived his vain confidence began to fall and some meltings of heart appeared in him. He then began to lament with many tears his sin and misery and asked me if there might yet be hope for one that had destroyed himself and shed his own blood. I replied, the sin indeed is great but not unpardonable, and if the Lord gave him repentance unto life, and faith to apply to Jesus Christ, it should be certainly pardoned to him. Finding him unacquainted with these things, I explained to him the nature and necessity of faith and repentance, which he greedily sucked in and with great vehemence cried to God that He would work them upon his soul, and intreated me also to pray with him and for him that it might be so. I prayed with him and the Lord thawed his heart exceedingly in that duty. Loathe he was to part with me, but the duties of the day necessitating me to leave him, I briefly summed up what was most necessary in my parting counsel to him and took my leave, never expecting to see him more in this world. But beyond my own and all men’s expectation, he continued all that day and panted most ardently after Jesus Christ. No discourses pleased him but Christ and faith, and in this frame I found him in the evening. He rejoiced greatly to see me again and intreated me to continue my discourses upon these subjects; and after all told me: ‘Sir, the Lord has given me repentance for this sin; yea, and for every other sin. I see the evil of sin now, so as I never saw it before. O, I loathe myself; I am a vile creature in my own eyes! I do also believe; Lord, help my unbelief. I am heartily willing to take Christ upon His own terms. One thing only troubles me. I doubt this bloody sin will not be pardoned. Will Jesus Christ apply His blood to me, that have shed my own blood?’ I told him Christ shed His blood even for them that with wicked hands had shed the blood of Christ, and that was a sin of deeper guilt than his. ‘Well,’ said he, ‘I will cast myself upon Christ. Let him do by me what he will.’ And so I parted with him that night.
Next morning the wounds were to be opened, and then the opinion of the surgeons was that he would immediately expire. Accordingly, at his desire, I came that morning and found him in a most serious frame. I prayed with him, and then the wound in his stomach was opened, and by this time the ventricle itself was swollen out of the orifice of the wound and lay like a livid discoloured tripe upon his body and was also cut through; so that all concluded it was impossible for him to live. However they stitched the wound in the stomach, enlarged the orifice and fomented it, and wrought it again into his body, and so stitching up the skin, left him to the disposal of Providence.
But so it was that both the deep wound in his throat and this in his stomach healed, and the more dangerous wound sin had made upon his soul, was, I trust, effectually healed also. I spent many hours with him in that sickness, and, after his return home, received this account from Mr Samuel Hardy, a minister in that town, part of which I shall transcribe.
I was much troubled at the sad providence in your town, but did much rejoice that he fell into such hands for his body and soul. You have taken much pains with him, and I hope to good purpose. I think, if ever a great and thorough work were done such a way, it is now, and if never the like, I am persuaded now it is. Never grow weary of such good works. One such instance is, methinks, enough to make you to abound in the work of the Lord all your days...
O how unsearchable are the ways of Providence in leading men to Christ! Let none be encouraged by this to sin that grace may abound. These are rare and singular instances of the mercy of God, and such as no presumptuous sinner can expect to find. It is only recited here to the honour of Providence, which works for the recovery of sinners in ways that we do not understand.
As providence orders very strange occasions to awaken and arouse souls at first, so it works no less wonderfully in carrying on the work to perfection. This it does in two ways.
First, by quickening and reviving dying convictions and troubles for sin. Souls, after their first awakening, are apt to lose the sense and impression of their first troubles for sin, but Providence is vigilant to prevent it, and effectually prevents it. Sometimes Providence directs the minister to some discourse or passage that shall fall as pat as if the case of such a person had been studied by him and designedly spoken to. How often have I found this in the cases of many souls who have professed they have stood amazed to hear the very thoughts of their hearts revealed by the preacher, who knew nothing of them! Sometimes Providence directs them to some proper rousing Scripture that suits their present case, and sometimes it permits them to fall into some new sin which awakens all their former troubles again and puts a new efficacy and activity into the conscience. The world is full of instances of all these cases, and because most Christians have experience of these things in themselves, it will be needless to recite them here. Search but a few years back, and you may remember that, according to this account, at least in some particulars, Providence ordered the matter with you. Have you not found some rod or other prepared by Providence to rouse you out of your security? Why, this is so common a thing with Christians that they many times presage an affliction coming from the frames they find their own hearts in.
Secondly, Providence gives great assistance to the work of the Spirit upon the soul, by ordering, supporting, relieving and cheering means, to prop up and comfort the soul when it is over-burdened and ready to sink in the depths of troubles. I remember Mr Bolton gives us one instance which fits both these cases, the reviving of convictions, and seasonable supports in the depths of troubles. It is of a person that by convictions had been fetched off from his wicked companions and entered into a reformed course of life. But after this, through the enticement of his old companions, the subtlety of Satan and corruption of his own heart, he again relapsed into the ways of sin. Then was providentially brought to his view that Scripture, Proverbs 1:24-26. This renewed his trouble, yea, aggravated it to a greater height than ever, insomuch that he could scarcely think, as it seems by the relation, his sin could be pardoned. But in this condition that text, Luke 17:4, was presented to him, which sweetly settled him in a sure and glorious peace.
Nor can we here forget that miraculous work of Providence, in a time of great extremity, which was wrought for that good gentlewoman Mrs Honeywood, who under a deep and sad desertion, refused and put off all comfort, seeming to despair utterly of the grace and mercy of God. A worthy minister being one day with her and reasoning against her desperate conclusions, she took a Venice-glass from the table and said: ‘Sir, I am as sure to be damned as this glass is to be broken’, and therewith threw it forcibly to the ground. But to the astonishment of both, the glass remained whole and sound, which the minister taking up with admiration, rebuked her presumption and showed her what a wonder Providence had wrought for her satisfaction, and it greatly altered the attitude of her mind. ‘How unsearchable are his judgments, and his ways past finding out!’ (Romans 11:33). ‘Lo, these are parts of his ways, but how little a portion is heard of him!’ (Job 26:14).
And now let me expostulate a little with your soul, reader. Have you been duly aware of your obligation to Providence for this inestimable favour? O what it has done for you! There are various kinds of mercies conveyed to men by the hand of Providence, but none like this; in all the treasury of its benefits none is found like this. Did it cast you into the way of conversion, and order the means and occasions of it for you, when you little thought of any such thing? How dear and sweet should the remembrance of it be to your soul! methinks it should astonish and melt you every time you reflect upon it. Such mercies should never grow stale or look like common things to you, for do but seriously consider the following particulars.
How surprising was the mercy which Providence performed for you in that day! Providence had a design upon you for your eternal good, which you did not understand. The time of mercy was now fully come; the decree was now ready to bring forth that mercy, with which it had gone big from eternity, and its gracious design must be executed by the hand of Providence, so far as concerned the external means and instruments. How aptly did it cause all things to fall in with that design, though you did not know the meaning of it? Look over all the before-mentioned examples, and you will see the blessed work of conversion begun upon those souls, when they minded it no more than Saul did a kingdom that morning he went out ‘to seek his father’s asses’ (1 Samuel 9:3, 20). Providence might truly have said to you in that day, as Christ said to Peter: ‘What I do thou knowest not now, but thou shalt know it hereafter’ (John 13:7). God’s thoughts are not as our thoughts; but as the heavens are higher than the earth so are His thoughts higher than ours, and His ways than our ways. Little did Zacchaeus think when he climbed up into the sycamore tree to see Christ as He passed that way what a design of mercy Christ had upon him, who took thence the occasion of becoming both his Guest and Saviour (Luke 19:5-8). And as little did some of you think what the aim of Providence was when you went, some out of custom, others out of curiosity, if not worse motives, to hear such a sermon. O how stupendous are the ways of God!
What a distinguishing and seasonable mercy was ushered in by Providence in that day! It brought you to the means of salvation in a good hour. In the very nick of time, when the angel troubled the waters, you were brought to the pool (John 5:4). Now the accepted day was come, the Spirit was in the ordinance or providence that converted you, and you were set in the way of it. It may be you had heard many hundred sermons before, but nothing would stick till now, because the hour was not come. The Lord did, as it were, call in the word for such a man, such a woman, and Providence said: ‘Lord, here he is, I have brought him before thee.’ There were many others under that sermon that received no such mercy. You yourselves had heard many before, but not to that advantage, as it is said: ‘And many lepers were in Israel in the time of Eliseus the prophet; and none of them was cleansed, saving Naaman the Syrian’ (Luke 4:27). So there were many poor, unconverted souls beside you under the Word that day, and it may be, to none of them was salvation sent that day but to you. O blessed Providence that set you in the way of mercy at that time!
What a weighty and important mercy was providentially directed to your souls that day. There are mercies of all sizes and kinds in the hands of Providence to dispense to the sons of men. Its left hand is full of blessings as well as its right. It has health and riches, honours and pleasures, as well as Christ and salvation to dispense. The world is full of its left hand favours, but the blessings of its right hand are invaluably precious and few there be that receive them. It performs thousands of kind offices for men; but among them all, this is the chiefest, to lead and direct them to Christ. For consider, of all mercies, this comes through most and greatest difficulties (Ephesians 1:19, 20).
This is a spiritual mercy, excelling in dignity of nature all others, more than gold excels the dirt under your feet (Revelation 3:18). One such gift is worth thousands of other mercies.
This is a mercy immediately flowing out of the fountain of God’s electing love, a mercy never dropped into any but an elect vessel (1 Thessalonians 1:4, 5).
This is a mercy that infallibly secures salvation; for as we may argue from conversion to election, looking back, so from conversion to salvation, looking forward (Hebrews 6:9).
Lastly, this is an eternal mercy, one which will stick by you when father, mother, wife, children, estate, honours, health and life shall fail you (John 4:14).
O, therefore, set a special mark upon that Providence that set you in the way of this mercy. It has performed that for you which all the ministers on earth and angels in heaven could never have performed. This is a mercy that puts weight and value into the smallest circumstance that relates to it.
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Another excellent performance of providence, respecting the good of both your bodies and souls, concerns that employment and calling it has ordered for you in this world. It has not only an eye upon your well-being in the world to come, but upon your well-being in this world also, and that very much depends upon the station and vocation to which it calls you.
Now the providence of God with respect to our civil callings may be displayed very takingly in the following particulars.
In directing you to a calling in your youth, and not permitting you to live an idle, useless and sinful life, as many do who are but burdens to the earth, the wens of the body politic, serving only to disfigure and drain it, to eat what others earn. Sin brought in sweat (Genesis 3:19), but now, not to sweat increases sin. He that lives idly cannot live honestly, as is plainly enough intimated (1 Thessalonians 4:11, 12). But when God puts men into a lawful calling, in which the labour of their hands or heads is sufficient for them, it is a very valuable mercy; for in so doing they ‘eat their own bread’ (2 Thessalonians 3:12). Many a sad temptation is happily prevented and they are ordinarily funished by it for works of mercy to others, and surely ‘it is more blessed to give than to receive.’
In ordering you to such callings and employments in the world as are not only lawful in themselves but most suitable to you. There are many persons employed in sinful trades and arts, merely to furnish other men’s lusts. They do not only sin in their employments, but their very employments are sinful. They trade for hell, and are factors for the devil. Demetrius and the craftsmen at Ephesus got their estates by making shrines for Diana (Acts 19:24, 25), i.e., little cases or boxes with folding leaves, within which the image of that idol sat enshrined. These were carried about by the people in procession in honour of their idol. And at this day, how many wicked arts and employments are there invented, and multitudes of persons maintained by them, merely to gratify the pride and wantonness of a debauched age!
Now to have an honest and lawful employment, in which you do not dishonour God in benefiting yourselves, is no small mercy. But if it is not only lawful in itself, but suited to your genius and strength, there is a double mercy in it. Some poor creatures are engaged in callings that eat up their time and strength, and make their lives very uncomfortable to them. They have not only consuming and wasting employments in the world, but such as allow them little or no time for their general calling, and yet all this does but keep them and theirs alive. Therefore, if God has fitted you with an honest employment in which you have less toil than others, and more time for heavenly exercises, ascribe this benefit to the special care of Providence for you.
In settling you in such an employment and calling in the world, as possibly neither yourselves nor parents could ever expect you should attain to. There are among us such persons as, on this account, are signally obliged to divine Providence. God has put them into such a way as neither they nor their parents ever planned. For look how the needle in the compass turns now this way, then that way, and never ceases moving till it settles to the north point; just so it is in our settlement in the world. A child is now designed for this, then for that, but at last settles in that way of employment to which Providence designed him. How strangely are things wheeled about by Providence! Not what we or our parents, but what God designed shall take place. Amos was very meanly employed at first, but God designed him for a more honourable and comfortable calling (Amos 7:14, 15). David followed the ewes, and probably never raised his thoughts to higher things in the days of his youth; but God made him the royal shepherd of a better flock (Psalm 78:70, 71). Peter and Andrew were employed as fishermen, but Christ calls them from that to a higher calling, to be ‘fishers of men’ (Matthew 4:18, 19). Pareus, when he was fourteen years old, was by the instigation of his stepmother placed with an apothecary; but Providence so wrought that he was taken off from that and fitted for the ministry, in which he became a fruitful and eminent instrument to the Church. James Andreas was, by reason of his father’s inability to keep him at school, designed for a carpenter, but was afterwards, by the persuasion of friends and assistance of the church- flock, sent to Stuttgart, and thence to the University, and so attained to a very eminent station of service to the Church. A master builder Cecolampadius was by his father designed for a merchant; but his mother, by urgent entreaties, prevailed to keep him at school, and this man was a blessed instrument in the reformation of religion. I might easily cite multitudes of such, but a taste may suffice.
In securing your estates from ruin. ‘Hast thou not made an hedge about him, and all that he hath?’ (Job 1:10). This is the enclosure of Providence, which secures to us what by its favour we acquire in the way of honest industry.
In making your calling sufficient for you. It was the prayer of Moses for the tribe of Judah: ‘Let his hands be sufficient for him’ (Deuteronomy 33:7), and it is no small mercy if yours be so to you. Some there are that have work, but not strength to go through with it; others have strength, but no employment for it. Some have hands, and work for them; but it is not sufficient for them and theirs. If God bless your labours, so as to give you and yours necessary supports and comfort in the world by it, it is a choice providence, and with all thankfulness to be acknowledged.
If any that fear God shall complain that, although they have a calling, yet it is a hard and laborious one, which takes up too much of their time which they would gladly employ in other and better work, I answer that it is likely that the wisdom of Providence foresaw this to be the most suitable and proper employment for you; and if you had more ease and rest, you might have more temptations than now you have. The strength and time which is now taken up in your daily labours, in which you serve God, might otherwise have been spent upon such lusts in which you might have served the devil.
Moreover, hereby it may be your health is the better preserved, and natural refreshments made the sweeter to you. ‘The sleep of a labouring man is sweet, whether he eat little or much: but the abundance of the rich will not suffer him to sleep’ (Ecclesiastes 5:12).
And as to the service of God, if your hearts are spiritual, you may enjoy much communion with God in your very employments, and you have some intervals and respites for that purpose. Have you not more spare hours than you employ to that end?
‘But all my labours will scarcely suffice to procure me and mine the necessaries of life. I am kept short and low to what others are, and this is a sad affliction.’
Though the wisdom of Providence has ordered you a lower and poorer condition than others, yet consider how many there are that are lower than you in the world. You have but little of the world, yet others have less. Read the description of those persons (Job 30:4, etc.). If God has given you but a small portion of the world, yet if you are godly He has promised never to forsake you (Hebrews 13:5). Providence has ordered that condition for you which is really best for your eternal good. If you had more of the world than you have, your heads and hearts might not be able to manage it to your advantage. A small boat must have but a narrow sail. You have not lacked hitherto the necessities of life, and are commanded ‘having food and raiment (though none of the finest) to be therewith content.’ ‘A little that a righteous man hath is better than the riches of many wicked’ (Psalm 37:16): better in the acquisition, sweeter in the fruition, and more comfortable in the account.
Well then, if Providence has so disposed of you all, that you can eat your own bread, and so advantageously directed some of you to employments that afford, not only necessities for yourselves and families, but a surplus for works of mercy to others, and all this brought about for you in a way you did not plan; let God be owned and honoured in this providence. Will you not henceforth call Him: ‘My Father, the guide of my youth’ (Jeremiah 3:4)? Surely it was the Lord that guided you to settle as you did in those days of your youth; you reap at this day, and may to your last day, the fruits of those early providences in your youth.
Now see that you walk answerably to the obligations of Providence in this particular; and see to it in the fear of God that you do not abuse any of those things to His dishonour which He has wrought for your comfort. To prevent this, I will here drop a few needful cautions, and conclude this particular point.
Do not be slothful and idle in your vocations. It is said that Augustus built an Apragapolis, a city void of business; but I am sure God never erected any city, town or family to that end. The command to Adam (Genesis 3:19) no doubt reaches all his posterity, and Gospel-commands bind it upon Christians (Romans 12:11; 1 Thessalonians 4:11). If you are negligent, you cannot be innocent.
And yet do not be so intent upon your particular callings as to make them interfere with your general calling. Beware you do not lose your God in the crowd and hurry of earthly business. Mind that solemn warning: ‘But they that will be rich fall into temptation and a snare, and into many foolish and hurtful lusts, which drown men in destruction and perdition’ (1 Timothy 6:9). The inhabitants of Oenoe, a dry island near Athens, bestowed much labour to draw in a river to water it and make it fruitful. But when the sluices were opened, the waters flowed so abundantly that it overflowed the island and drowned the inhabitants. The application is obvious. It was an excellent saying of Seneca: ‘I do not give, but lend myself to business.’
Remember always the success of your callings and earthly employments is by divine blessing, not human diligence alone. ‘But thou shalt remember the LORD thy God; for it is he that giveth thee power to get wealth’ (Deuteronomy 8:18). The devil himself was so far orthodox as to acknowledge it: ‘Hast not thou made an hedge about him, and about his house, and about all that he hath on every side? Thou hast blessed the work of his hands’ (Job 1:10). Recommend therefore your affairs to God in prayer. ‘Delight thyself also in the LORD; and he shall give thee the desires of thine heart. Commit thy way unto the LORD; trust also in him, and he shall bring it to pass’ (Psalm 37:4-5). And do not meddle with that which you cannot recommend to God in prayer for a blessing.
Be well satisfied in that station and employment in which Providence has placed you, and do not so much as wish yourself in another. ‘Let every man abide in the same calling wherein he was called’ (1 Corinthians 7:20). Providence is wiser than you, and you may be confident it has suited all things better to your eternal good than you could do had you been left to your own option.
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That Providence has a special hand in our marriage is evident both from Scripture assertions and the acknowledgments of holy men, who in that great event of their lives have still owned and acknowledged the directing hand of Providence. Take an instance of both. The Scripture plainly asserts the dominion of Providence over this affair: ‘A prudent wife is from the LORD’ (Proverbs 19:14). ‘Whoso findeth a wife findeth a good thing, and obtaineth favour of the LORD’ (Proverbs 18:22). So for children: ‘Lo, children are an heritage of the LORD; and the fruit of the womb is his reward’ (Psalm 127:3).
And it has ever been the practice of holy men to seek the Lord for direction and counsel, when they have been changing their condition. No doubt but Abraham’s encouragement in that case was the fruit of prayer. His pious servant also, who was employed in that affair, did both earnestly seek counsel of God, and thankfully acknowledge His gracious providence in guiding it (Genesis 24:7, 12, 26, 27).
The same we may observe in children, the fruit of marriage (1 Samuel 1:20; Luke 1:13, 14). Now the Providence of God may be in various ways displayed for the engaging of our hearts in love to the God of our mercies.
There is very much of Providence seen in appointing the parties for each other. In this the Lord often goes beyond our thoughts and plans; yea, and often crosses men’s desires and designs to their great advantage. Not what they expect, but what His infinite wisdom judges best and most beneficial for them takes place. Hence it is that probabilities are so often dashed, and things remote and utterly improbable are brought about, in very strange and unaccountable methods of Providence.
There is much of Providence seen in the harmony and agreeableness of temperaments and dispositions, from which a very great part of the tranquillity and comforts of our lives results. Or at least, though natural temperament and education did not so much harmonize before, yet they do so after they come under the ordinance of God: ‘And they shall be one flesh’ (Genesis 2:24). Not one only in respect of God’s institution, but one in respect of love and affection, that those who so lately were mere strangers to each other are now endeared to a degree beyond the nearest relations in blood: ‘Therefore shall a man leave father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife, and they shall be one flesh.’
But Providence is especially remarkable in making one instrumental to the eternal good of the other: ‘What knowest thou, O wife, whether thou shalt save thy husband? or how knowest thou, O man, whether thou shalt save thy wife?’ (1 Corinthians 7:16). Hence is that grave exhortation to the wives of unbelieving husbands to win them by their conversation, which should be to them instead of an ordinance (1 Peter 3:1).
Or if both are gracious, then what singular assistance and mutual help is hereby gained to the furtherance of their eternal good whilst they live together ‘as heirs together of the grace of life’ (1 Peter 3:7). O blessed Providence that directed such into so intimate relation on earth, who shall inherit together the common salvation of heaven!
How much of Providence is seen in children, the fruit of marriage! To have any posterity in the earth, and not be left altogether as a dry tree; to have comfort and joy in them is a special providence, importing a special mercy to us. To have the breaches made upon our families repaired, is a providence to be owned with a thankful heart. When God shall say to a man, as he speaks in another case to the Church: ‘The children which thou shalt have after thou hast lost the other, shall say again in thine ears: The place is too strait for me’ (Isaiah 49:20).
And these providences will appear more affectingly sweet and lovely to you, if you but compare God’s allotments to you with what He has allotted to many others in the world. For do but look around and you will find multitudes unequally yoked, to the embittering of their lives, whose relations are clogs and hindrances both in things temporal and spiritual. Yea, we find an account in Scripture of gracious persons, a great part of whose comfort in this world has been split upon this rock. Abigail was a discreet and virtuous woman, but very unsuitably matched to a churlish Nabal (1 Samuel 25:25). What a temptation to the neglect of a known duty prevailed upon the renowned Moses by the means of Zipporah his wife (Exodus 4:24, 25). David had his scoffing Michal (2 Samuel 6:20), and patient Job no small addition to all his other afflictions from the wife of his bosom, who should have been a support to him in the day of his troubles (Job 2:9-10; 19:17).
No doubt but God sanctifies such rods to His people’s good. If Socrates knew how to improve his affliction in his Xanthippe to the increase of his patience, much more will they who converse with God under all providences, whether sweet or bitter. Nevertheless this must be acknowledged to be a sad stroke upon any person, and such as maims them upon the working hand, by unfitting them for duty (1 Peter 3:7) and cuts off much of the comfort of life also.
How many there are who never enjoy the comfortable fruits of marriage, but are denied the sight, or at least the enjoyment of children! ‘Thus saith the LORD: Write this man childless’ (Jeremiah 22:30), or if they have children, yet cannot enjoy them: ‘Though they bring up their children, yet will I bereave them that there shall not be a man left’ (Hosea 9:12), who only bear for the grave, and have their expectations raised for a greater affliction to themselves.
And it is no rare or unusual thing to see children and near relations the greatest instruments of affliction to their parents and friends, so that after all their other sorrows and troubles in the world, nearest relations bring up the rear of sorrows and prove greater griefs than any other. O how many parents have complained with the tree in the fable, that their very hearts have been riven asunder with those wedges that were cut out of their own bodies! What a grief was Esau to Isaac and Rebecca (Genesis 26:34, 35)! what scourges were Absalom and Amnon to David!
Well then, if God has set ‘the solitary in families’ (Psalm 68:6), built a house for the desolate, given you comfortable relations, which are springs of daily comfort and refreshment to you, you are upon many accounts engaged to walk answerably to these gracious providences. And that you may understand wherein that decorum and agreeable comportment with these providences consists, take up the sense of your duty in these brief hints:
Ascribe to God the glory of all those providential works which yield you comfort. You see a wise, directing, governing Providence, which has disposed and ordered all things beyond your own plans and designs: ‘The way of man is not in himself; it is not in man that walketh to direct his steps’ (Jeremiah 10:23). Not what you planned, but what a higher counsel than yours determined is come to pass. Good Jacob, when God had made him the father of a family, admired God in the mercy. ‘For with my staff,’ said he, ‘I passed over this Jordan, and now I am become two bands’ (Genesis 32:10). And how this mercy humbles and melts him! ‘I am not worthy of the least of all the mercies, and of all the truth which thou hast showed unto thy servant.
Be exact in discharging the duties of those relations which so gracious a Providence has led you into. Do not abuse the effects of so much mercy and love to you. The Lord expects praise wherever you have comfort. This aggravated David’s sin, that he should dare to abuse so great love and mercy as God had shown him in his family relations (2 Samuel 12:7-9).
Use relations to the end Providence designed them. Walk together as co-heirs of the grace of life; study to be mutual blessings to each other; so walk in your relations that the parting day may be sweet. Death will shortly break up the family; and then nothing but the sense of duty discharged, or the neglects pardoned, will give comfort.
Another gracious performance of Providence for us is seen in making provision from time to time for us and our families. I the rather put these providences together in this place because I find the Scripture does so. ‘Yet setteth he the poor on high from affliction, and maketh him families like a flock’ (Psalm 107:41).
You know the promises God has made to His people: ‘The young lions do lack and suffer hunger, but they that seek the LORD shall not want any good thing’ (Psalm 34:10). And have you not also seen the constant performance of it? Cannot you give the same answer, if the same question were propounded to you, which the disciples did: ‘When I sent you without purse, and scrip, and shoes, lacked ye anything? and they said, Nothing’ (Luke 22:35)? Can you not with Jacob call him ‘the God which fed me all my life long’? (Genesis 48:15). Surely ‘he hath given meat unto them that fear him; he will ever be mindful of his covenant’ (Psalm 111:5).
To display this Providence we will consider it in the following particulars:
The assiduity and constancy of the care of Providence for the saints. His mercies ‘are new every morning’ (Lamentations 3:23). It is not just the supply of one or two pressing needs, but all your wants, as they grow from day to day through all your days. ‘The God which fed me all my life long’ (Genesis 48:15). The care of Providence runs parallel with the line of life: ‘Hearken unto me, O house of Jacob, and all the remnant of the house of Israel, which are borne by me from the belly, which are carried from the womb: and even to your old age I am he, and even to hoar hairs will I carry you: I have made, and I will bear, even I will carry, and will deliver you’ (Isaiah 46:3-4). So that as God bade Israel to remember ‘from Shittim unto Gilgal that ye may know the righteousness of the LORD’ (Micah 6:5), so would I persuade you, reader, to record the ways of Providence, from first to last, throughout your whole course to this day, that you may see what a God He has been to you.
The seasonableness and opportuneness of its provisions for them, for so runs the promise: ‘When the poor and needy seek water, and there is none, and their tongue faileth for thirst, I the LORD will hear them, I the God of Israel will not forsake them’ (Isaiah 41:17), and so has the performance of it been. And this has been made good to distressed saints sometimes in a more ordinary way, God secretly blessing a little, and making it sufficient for us and ours. Job tells us of ‘when the secret of God was upon my tabernacle’ (Job 29:4), i.e., his secret blessing is in their tabernacles. It is by reason of this that they subsist, but it is in an unaccountable way that they do so. And sometimes in an extraordinary way it breaks forth for their supply. So you find the cruse and barrel fail not (1 Kings 17:9-14).
Samuel Clarke, in the life of that painstaking and humble servant of Christ, John Foxe, records a memorable instance of Providence, and it is this. Towards the end of King Henry VIII’s reign he went to London, where he quickly spent what little his friends had given him, or he had acquired by his own diligence, and began to be in great want. As one day he sat in Paul’s Church, spent with long fasting, his countenance thin and his eyes hollow, after the ghastly manner of dying men, every one shunning a spectacle of so much horror, there came to him one whom he had never seen before, who thrust an untold sum of money into his hand, bidding him be of good cheer and accept that small gift in good part from his countryman; and that he should make much of himself, for that within a few days new hopes were at hand, and a more certain condition of livelihood. Three days after, the duchess of Richmond sent for him to live in her house and be tutor to the earl of Surrey’s children, then under her care.
Isaac Ambrose, a worthy divine, whose labours have made him acceptable to his generation, in his epistle to the Earl of Bedford, prefixed to his Last Things, gives a pregnant instance in his own experience. His words are these: ‘For mine own part, however, the Lord has seen cause to give me but a poor pittance of outward things, for which I bless His name; yet in the income thereof, I have many times observed so much of His peculiar providence, that thereby they have been very much sweetened, and my heart has been raised to admire His grace. When of late, under a hard dispensation, which I judge not meet to mention, in which I suffered conscientiously, all streams of wonted supplies being stopped, the waters of relief for myself and family did run low. I went to bed with some staggerings and doubtings of the fountain’s letting out itself for our refreshing; but ere I did awake in the morning, a letter was brought to my bedside, which was signed by a choice friend, Mr Antony Ash, which reported some unexpected breakings out of God’s goodness for my comfort.’ These are some of his lines: ‘Your God, who has given you a heart thankfully to record your experiences of His goodness, does renew experiences for your encouragement. Now I shall report one which will raise your spirit toward the God of your mercies.’ Whereupon he sweetly concludes: ‘One morsel of God’s provision, especially when it comes in unexpected, and upon prayer, when wants are most, will be more sweet to a spiritual relish than all former enjoyments were.’
The wisdom of Providence in our provisions. And this is seen in proportioning the quantity, not satisfying our extravagant wishes, but answering our real needs; consulting our wants, not our wantonness. ‘But my God shall supply all your need’ (Philippians 4:19), and this has exactly suited the wishes of the best and wisest men, who desired no more at His hand. So Jacob (Genesis 28:20) and Agur (Proverbs 30:8, 9). Wise Providence considers our condition as pilgrims and strangers, and so allots the provision that is needful for our passage home. It knows the mischievous influence of fullness and excess upon most men, though sanctified, and how apt it is to make them remiss and forgetful of God (Deuteronomy 6:12) so that their heart, like the moon, suffers an eclipse when it is at the full; and so suits and orders all to their best advantage.
The wisdom of Providence is also greatly revealed in the manner of dispensing our portion to us. It many times allows our wants to pinch hard, and many fears to arise, with a design to magnify the care and love of God in the supply (Deuteronomy 8:3). Providence so orders the case, that faith and prayer come between our wants and supplies, and the goodness of God may be the more magnified in our eyes thereby.
And now let me beg you to consider the good hand of Providence that has provided for, and suitably supplied you and yours all your days, and never failed you hitherto. And labour to walk suitably to your experience of such mercies. That you may do this, let me press a few suitable cautions upon you.
Beware that you do not forget the care and kindness of Providence which your eyes have seen in so many fruits and experiences. It was God’s charge against Israel ‘that they soon forgat his works’ (Psalm 106:13). A bad heart and a slippery memory deprive men of the comfort of many mercies, and defraud God of the glory due for them.
Do not distrust Providence in future exigencies. Thus they did: ‘Behold, he smote the rock, that the waters gushed out, and the streams overflowed; can he give bread also? can he provide flesh for his people?’ (Psalm 78:20). How unreasonable and absurd are these queries of unbelief, especially after their eyes had seen the power of God in such extraordinary works.
Do not murmur and complain under new straits. This is a vile temper, and yet how natural to us when wants press hard upon us! Ah, did we but rightly understand what the demerit of sin is, we would rather admire the bounty of God than complain of the straighthandedness of Providence. And if we did but consider that there lies upon God no obligation of justice or gratitude to reward any of our duties, it would cure our murmurs (Genesis 32:10).
Do not show the least discontent at the lot and portion Providence carves out for you. O that you would be well pleased and satisfied with all its appointments! Say: ‘The lines are fallen unto me in pleasant places; yea, I have a goodly heritage’ (Psalm 16:6). Surely that is best for you which Providence has appointed, and one day you yourselves will judge it so to be.
Do not neglect prayer when straits befall you. You see it is Providence dispenses all, you live upon it; therefore apply yourselves to God in the times of need. This is evidently included in the promise (Isaiah 41:17) as well as expressed in the command (Philippians 4:6). Remember God, and He will not forget you.
Do not worry your hearts with sinful cares. ‘Behold the fowls of the air’ (Matthew 6:26), says Christ; not the fowls at the door that are daily fed by hand, but those of the air, that do not know where the next meal is coming from; and yet God provides for them. Remember your relation to Christ, and His engagements by promise to you, and by these things work your hearts to satisfaction and contentment with all the allotments of Providence.
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Preservation of the Saints from Evil
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A further great advantage and mercy the saints receive from the hand of Providence is in their preservation from the snares and temptations of sin, by its preventing care over them. That Providence wards off many a deadly stroke of temptation and many a mortal thrust which Satan makes at our souls is a truth as manifest as the light that shines. This is included in that promise: God ‘will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that ye may be able to bear it’ (1 Corinthians 10:13). Providence gives an outlet for the soul’s escape when it is shut up in the dangerous straits of temptation. There are two eminent ways by which the force and efficacy of temptation is broken in believers. One is by the operation of internal grace. ‘The flesh lusteth against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; so that ye cannot do the things that ye would’ (Galatians 5:17), i.e., sanctification gives sin a miscarrying womb after it has conceived in the soul. The other way is by the external working of Providence; and of this I intend to speak here.
The Providence of God is the great barrier and hindrance to a world of sin, which otherwise would break forth like an overflowing flood from our corrupt natures. It prevents abundance of sin, which otherwise wicked men would commit (Genesis 19:11). The Sodomites were greedily pursuing their lusts; God providentially hinders it by smiting them blind. Jeroboam intends to smite the prophet; Providence interposed and withered his arm (1 Kings 13:4). Thus you see, when wicked men have contrived and are ready to execute their wickedness, Providence claps on its manacles ‘so that their hands cannot perform their enterprise’ (Job 5:12).
And so much corruption there remains in good men that they would certainly plunge themselves under much more guilt than they do if Providence did not take greater care of them than they do of themselves. For though they make conscience of keeping themselves, and daily watch their hearts and ways, yet such is the deceitfulness of sin that if Providence did not lay blocks in their way, it would, more frequently than it does, entangle and defile them. And this it does in several ways.
Sometimes by stirring up others to interpose with seasonable counsels, which effectually dissuade them from prosecuting an evil design. Thus Abigail meets David in the nick of time, and dissuades him from his evil purpose (1 Samuel 25:34).
And I find it recorded, as on another account was noted before, of that holy man Mr. Dod, that being late at night in his study, he was strongly moved, though at an unseasonable hour, to visit a gentleman of his acquaintance. Not knowing what might be the design of Providence in this, he obeyed and went. When he came to the house, after a few knocks on the door, the gentleman himself came to him and asked him whether he had any business with him. Mr. Dod answered, No; but that he could not be quiet till he had seen him. O, Sir, replied the gentleman, you are sent of God at this hour, for just now (and with that takes the halter out of his pocket) I was going to destroy myself. And thus was the mischief prevented.
Sometimes by hindering the means and instruments, whereby the evil itself is prevented. Thus, when good Jehoshaphat had joined himself with that wicked King Ahaziah to build ships at Ezion-gaber to go to Tarshish, God prevents the design by breaking the ships with a storm (2 Chronicles 20:35-37). We find also in the life of Mr. Bolton, written by Mr. Bagshaw, that while he was in Oxford he had familiar acquaintance with Mr. Anderton, a good scholar, but a strong papist, who knowing Mr. Bolton’s natural gifts, and perceiving that he was in some outward need, took this advantage and used many arguments to persuade him to be reconciled to the Church of Rome, and to go over with him to the English seminary, assuring him he should be furnished with all necessities and have gold enough. Mr. Bolton being at that time poor in mind and purse, accepted the invitation, and a day and place was appointed in Lancashire, where they should meet and take shipping and be gone. But Mr. Anderton did not come, and so he escaped the snare.
Sometimes by laying some strong affliction upon the body, to prevent a worse evil. And this is the meaning of: ‘I will hedge up thy way with thorns’ (Hosea 2:6). Thus Basil was a long time exercised with a violent headache which he observed was used by Providence to prevent lust. Paul had a thorn in the flesh, a messenger of Satan sent to buffet him; and this affliction, whatever it was, was ordained to prevent pride in him (2 Corinthians 12:7).
Sometimes sin is prevented in the saints by the better information of their minds at the sacred oracles of God. Thus, when sinful motions began to rise in Asaph’s mind, from the prosperity of the wicked and his own afflicted state, and grew to such a height that he began to think all he had done in the way of religion was little better than lost labour, he is set right again, and the temptation dissolved, by going into the sanctuary, where God showed him how to take new measures of persons and things, to judge them by their ends and issues, not their present appearances (Psalm 73:12, 13, 17).
And sometimes the Providence of God prevents the sins of His people by removing them out of the way of temptations by death. In this sense we may understand that text: ‘The righteous is taken away from the evil to come’ (Isaiah 57:1); the evil of sin as well as sufferings. When the Lord sees His people low-spirited and not able to grapple with strong trials and temptations which are drawing on, it is for them a merciful Providence to be released by death and set out of harm’s way.
Now consider and admire the Providence of God, O ye saints, who has had more care of your souls than ever you had of them. Had not the Providence of God thus wrought for you in a way of prevention, it may be you had this day been so many Magor Missabibs (See Jeremiah 20:3-4). How was the heart of David melted under that preventing providence aforementioned (1 Samuel 25:32-34). He blesses the Lord, the instrument and that counsel by which his soul was preserved from sin. Do but seriously think of a few particulars about this case.
Think how your corrupt natures have often impetuously hurried you on towards sin, so that all the inherent grace you had could not withstand its force, if Providence had not prevented it in some such way as you have heard. ‘But every man is tempted when he is drawn away of his own lust, and enticed’ (James 1:14). You found yourselves but feathers in the wind of temptation.
How near you have been brought to the brink of sin, and yet saved by a merciful hand of Providence. May you not say with one: ‘I was almost in all evil’ (Proverbs 5:14), and ‘My feet were almost gone; my steps had well nigh slipped’ (Psalm 73:2). O merciful Providence that stepped in so opportunely to your relief!
How many have been allowed to fall by the hand of temptations, to the reproach of religion and wounding of their own consciences, so far that they have never recovered their former peace again, but lived in the world devoid of comfort to their dying day!
How woeful your case had been if the Lord had not mercifully saved you from many thousand temptations that have assaulted you! I tell you, you cannot estimate the mercies you possess by means of such providences. Are your names sweet, and your consciences peaceful, two mercies as dear to you as your two eyes? Why surely you owe them, if not wholly yet in great measure, to the aids and assistances Providence has given you all along the way you have passed through the dangerous tempting world to this day.
Walk therefore suitably to this obligation of Providence also. And see that you thankfully own it. Do not impute your escapes from sin to accidents, or to your own watchfulness or wisdom.
See also that you do not tempt Providence on the other hand, by an irregular reliance upon its care over you, without taking all due care of yourselves. ‘Keep yourselves in the love of God’ (Jude 21); ‘Keep thy heart with all diligence’ (Proverbs 4:23). Though Providence keep you, yet it is in the way of your duty.
Thus you see what care Providence has had over your souls in preventing the spiritual dangers and miseries that otherwise would have befallen you in the way of temptations.
In the next place I will show you that it has been no less concerned about your bodies, and with great tenderness it has carried them in its arms through innumerable hazards and dangers also. ‘He that keepeth Israel shall neither slumber nor sleep’ (Psalm 121:4); ‘He is the preserver of men’ (Job 7:20). To display the glory of this Providence before you, let us take into consideration the perils into which the best of men sometimes fall, and the ways and means by which Providence preserves them in those dangers.
There are many hazards into which we are often cast in this world. The Apostle Paul gives us a general account of his dangers (2 Corinthians 11:26), and how great a wonder is it that our life has not been extinguished in some of those dangers we have been in!
Have not some of us fallen, and that often, into very dangerous sicknesses and diseases, in which we have approached to the very brink of the grave (Job 33:18, 21, 28), and have or might have said with Hezekiah: ‘I said in the cutting off of my days, I shall go to the gates of the grave: I am deprived of the residue of my years’ (Isaiah 38:10)? Have we not often had the sentence of death in ourselves? and our bodies at that time been like a leaky ship in a storm, as one aptly resembles it (Thomas Goodwin in his Aggravation of Sin Against Mercy), that has taken in water on every side, till it was ready to sink? Yet has God preserved, repaired and launched us out again as well as ever. O what a wonder is it that such a crazy body should be preserved so many years, and survive so many dangers! Surely it is not more wonderful to see a Venice-glass pass from hand to hand in continual use for forty or fifty years, and still to remain whole, notwithstanding the many knocks and falls it has had. If you enjoy health, or recover from sicknesses, it is because he puts ‘none of these diseases upon thee,’ or because he is ‘the LORD that healeth thee’ (Exodus 15:26).
How many deadly dangers has His hand rescued some of you from, in those years of confusion and public calamity when the sword was bathed in blood and made horrid slaughter, when, it may be, your lives were often given you for a prey! This David put a special remark upon: ‘O GOD the Lord, the strength of my salvation: thou hast covered my head in the day of battle’ (Psalm 140:7).
Beza, being in France in the first Civil War and there tossed up and down for two and twenty months, recorded six hundred deliverances from dangers in that space, for which he solemnly gave God thanks in his last testament. If the sword did not destroy you, it was because God did not give it a commission to do so.
Many of you have seen wonders of salvation upon the deeps, where the hand of God has been signally stretched forth for your rescue and deliverance. This is elegantly expressed in Psalm 107:23-27 (which I have elsewhere expounded at large), concerning which you may say in a proper sense what the Psalmist says metaphorically: ‘If it had not been the LORD who was on our side, then the waters had overwhelmed us, the stream had gone over our soul’ (Psalm 124:1, 4). To see men that have spent so many years upon the seas, where your lives have continually hung in suspense before you, attain to your years, when you could neither be reckoned among the living or the dead, as seamen are not, O what cause have you to adore your great Preserver! Many thousands of your companions are gone down, and you are yet here to praise the Lord among the living. You have bordered nearer to eternity all your days than others, and often been in eminent perils upon the seas. Surely these and so many salvations call aloud to you for most thankful acknowledgments.
What innumerable hazards and accidents, the least of which have cut off others, has God carried us all through! I think I may safely say your privative and positive mercies of this kind are more in number than the hairs of your heads. Many thousands of these dangers we never saw, nor were made particularly aware of, but though we did not see them, our God did, and brought us out of danger before He brought us into fear. Some have been evident to us, and those so remarkable that we cannot think or speak of them to this day, but our souls are freshly affected with those mercies.
It is recorded of our famous Jewel, that about the beginning of Queen Mary’s reign, the inquisition taking hold of him in Oxford, he fled to London by night; but providentially losing the road, he escaped the inquisitors who pursued him. However, he fell that night into another imminent hazard of life, for wandering up and down in the snow, he fainted and lay starving in the way, panting and labouring for life, at which time Latimer’s servant found and saved him.
It would be easy to multiply examples of this kind; histories abound with them. But I think there are few of us but are furnished out of our own experience abundantly; so that I shall rather choose to press home the sense of these providences upon you, in order that you may make a suitable return to the God of your mercies for them, than add more instances of this kind. To this purpose I desire you seriously to weigh the following particulars.
Consider what you owe to Providence for your protection, by which your life has been protracted unto this day, with the usefulness and comfort thereof. Look around in the world, and you may daily see some in every place who are objects of pity, bereaved by sad accidents of all the comforts of life, while in the meantime Providence has tenderly preserved you. ‘He keepeth all his bones, not one of them is broken’ (Psalm 34:20). Is the elegant and comely structure of your body unspoiled, your members not deformed, or made so many seats of torment, neither the usefulness of any part deprived? Why, this is because Providence never left its hold of you since you came out of the womb, but with a watchful eye and tender hand has guarded you in every place, and kept you as its charge.
Consider how every member which has been so tenderly kept, has nevertheless been an instrument of sin against the Lord; and that not only in the days of your unregeneracy, when you yielded ‘your members as instruments of unrighteousness unto sin’ (Romans 6:13), but even since you gave them up in covenant unto the Lord as dedicated instruments to His service; and yet how tender has Providence been over them! You have often provoked Him to afflict you in every part, and lay penal evil upon every member that has been instrumental in moral evil. But O, how great have His compassions been towards you, and His patience how wonderful!
Consider what is the aim of Providence in all the tender care it has manifested for you. Why does it protect you so assiduously, and suffer no evil to befall you? Is it not that you should employ your bodies for God, and cheerfully apply yourselves to that service He has called you to? Doubtless this is the end and goal of these mercies; or else to what purpose are they afforded you? Your bodies are a part of Christ’s purchase, as well as your souls (1 Corinthians 6:19). They are committed to the charge and tutelage of angels (Hebrews 1:14), who have performed many services for them. They are dedicated by yourselves to the Lord, and that upon the highest account (Romans 12:1). They have already been the subjects of many mercies in this world (Psalm 35:10), and shall partake of singular glory and happiness in the world to come (Philippians 3:21). And shall they not then be employed, yea, cheerfully worn out, in His service? How reasonable it is they should be so! Why are they so tenderly preserved by God, if they must not be used for God?
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