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ruffians there,) are the numberless islands in the Pacific ocean! How little is their state above that of wolves and bears! And who careth either for their souls or their bodies? But does not the Father of men care for them? Oh mystery of providence!
5. And who cares for thousands, myriads, if not millions of wretched Africans? Are not whole droves of these poor sheep, (human, if not rational beings!) continually driven to market, and sold, like cattle, into the vilest bondage, without any hope of deliverance, but by death? Who cares for those outcasts of men, the well known Hottentots? It is true, a late writer has taken much pains to represent them as a respectable people. But from what motive, it is not easy to say; since he himself allows, (a specimen of their elegance of manners,) that the raw guts of sheep and other cattle are not only some of their choicest food, but also the ornaments of their arms and legs; and (a specimen of their religion) that the son is not counted a man, till he has beat his mother almost to death; and when his father grows old, he fastens him in a little hut, and leaves him there to starve! Oh Father of mercies! are these the works of thy own hands? The purchase of thy Son's blood?
6. How little better is either the civil or religious state of the poor American Indians! that is, the miserable remains of them: for in some provinces not one of them is left to breathe. In Hispaniola, when the Christians came thither first, there were three million of inhabitants. Scarce twelve thousand of them now survive. And in what condition are these, or the other Indians who are still scattered up and down in the vast continent of South or North America? Religion they have none: no public worship of any kind! God is not in all their thoughts. And most of them have no civil government at all; no laws, no magistrates; but every man does what is right in his own eyes: therefore, they are decreasing daily; and very probably, in a century or two there will not be one of them left.
7. However the inhabitants of Europe are not in so deplorable a condition. They are in a state of civilization; they have useful laws, and r.re governed by magistrates; they have religion; they are Christians. I am afraid, whether they are called Christians or not, many of them have not much religion. What say you to thousands of Laplanders, of Finlanders, of Samoiedes, and Greenlanders? Indeed, of all who live in high northern latitudes? Are they as civilized as sheep or oxen ? To compare them with horses, or any of our domestic animals, would be doing them too much honour. Add to these, myriads of -human savages, that are freezing among the snows of Siberia, and as many, it not more, who are wandering up and down in the deserts of Tartary. Add thousands upon thousands of Poles, and Muscovites; and of Christians, so called, from Turkey in Europe. And did "God so love" these, "that he gave his Son, his only begotten Son, to the end they might not perish, but have everlasting life!" Then why are they thus? Oh wonder above all wonders!
8. Is there not something equally mysterious in the divine dispensation, with regard to Christianity itself? Who can explain why Christianity is not spread as far as sin? Why is not the medicine sent to every place where the disease is found? But, alas! it is not: "the sound of it is" not now " gone forth into all lands." The poison is
diffused over the whole globe: the antidote is not known in a sixth part of it. Nay, and how is it that the wisdom and goodness of God suffer the antidote itself to be so grievously adulterated, not only in Roman Catholic countries, but almost in every part of the Christian world? So adulterated, by mixing it frequently with useless, frequently with poisonous ingredients, that it retains none, or at least a very small part, of its original virtue. Yea, it is so thoroughly adulterated by many of those very persons whom he has sent to administer it, that it adds tenfold malignity to the disease which it was designed to cure! In consequence of this, there is little more mercy or truth to be found among Christians than among pagans. Nay, it has been affirmed, and I am afraid truly, that many called Christians are far worse than the heathens that surround them; more profligate, more abandoned to all manner of wickedness; neither fearing God, nor regarding man! Oh who can comprehend this? Doth not He that is higher than the highest regard it?
9. Equally incomprehensible to us are many of the divine dispensations with regard to particular families. We cannot at all comprehend, why he raises some to wealth, honour, and power; and why, in the mean time, he depresses others with poverty and various afflictions. Some wonderfully prosper in all they take in hand, and the world pours in upon them; while others, with all their labour and toil, can scarce procure daily bread. And perhaps prosperity and applause continue with the former to their death; while the latter drink the cup of adversity to their life's end; although no reason appears to us, either for the prosperity of the one, or the adversity of the other.
10. As little can we account for the divine dispensations, with regard to individuals. We know not why the lot of this man is cast in Europe, the lot of that man in the wilds of America; why one is born of rich o noble, the other of poor parents; why the father and mother of one are strong and healthy; those of another weak and diseased:" in consequence of which he drags a miserable being all the days of his life, exposed to want, and pain, and a thousand temptations, from which he finds no way to escape. How many are, from their very infancy, hedged in with such relations, that they seem to have no chance, (as some speak,) no possibility, of being useful to themselves or others? Why are they, antecedent to their own choice, entangled in such connections? Why are hurtful people so cast in their way that they know not how to escape them? And why are useful persons hid out of their sight, or snatched away from them at their utmost need? Oh God, how unsearchable are thy counsels! Too deep to be fathomed by our reason; and thy ways of executing those counsels not to be traced by our wisdom!
III. 1. Are we able to search out his works of grace, any more than his works of providence? Nothing is more sure, than that " without holiness no man shall see the Lord." Why is it then, that so vast a majority of mankind are, so far as we can judge, cut off from all means, all possibility of holiness, even from their mother's womb? For instance: What possibility is there that a Hottentot, a New-Zealander, or an inhabitant of Nova-Zembla, if he lives and dies there, should ever know what holiness means? or, consequently, ever attain it? Yea, but one may say, "He sinned before he was born, in a pre-existent state; therefore he was placed here in so unfavourable a situation; and it is mere mercy that he should have a second trial." I answer: Supposing such
a pre-existent state, this which you call a second trial, is really no trial at all. As soon as he is born into the world, he is absolutely in the power of his savage parents and relations, who, from the first dawn of reason, train him up in the same ignorance, atheism, and barbarity with themselves. He has no chance, so to speak, he has no possibility of any better education. What trial has he then? From the time he comes into the world, till he goes out of it again, he seems to be under a dire necessity of living in all ungodliness and unrighteousness. But how is this? How can this be the case with so many millions of the souls that God has made? Art thou not" the God of all the ends of the earth, and of them that remain in the broad sea?"
2. I desire it may be observed, that if this be improved into an objection against revelation, it is an objection that lies full as much against natural, as revealed religion. If it were conclusive, it would not drive us into deism, but into flat atheism. It would conclude, not only against the Christian revelation, but against the being of a God. And yet I see not how we can avoid the force of it, but by resolving all into the unsearchable wisdom of God; together with a deep conviction of our own ignorance, and inability to fathom his counsels.
3. Even among us, who are favoured far above these; to whom are entrusted the oracles of God, whose word is a lantern to our feet, and a light in all our paths; there are still many circumstances in his dispensations, which are above our comprehension. We know not why he suffered us so long to go on in our own ways, before we were convinced of sin. Or why he made use of this or the other instrument, and in this or the other manner: and a thousand circumstances attended the process of our conviction, which we do not comprehend. We know not why he suffered us to stay so long, before he revealed his Son in our hearts; or why this change from darkness to light was accompanied with such and such particular circumstances.
4. It is doubtless the peculiar prerogative of God, to reserve the "times and seasons in his own power." And we cannot give any reason, why of two persons equally athirst for salvation, one is presently taken into the favour of God, and the other left to mourn for months or years. One, as soon as he calls upon God, is answered, and filled with peace and joy in believing; another seeks after him, and, it seems, with the same degree of sincerity and earnestness, and yet cannot find him, or any consciousness of his favour, for weeks, or months, or years. We know well, this cannot possibly be owing to any absolute decree, consigning one, before he was born, to everlasting glory, and the other to everlasting fire; but we do not know, what is the reason for it: it is enough that God knoweth.
5. There is, likewise, great variety in the manner and time of God's bestowing his sanctifying grace; whereby he enables his children to give him their whole heart; which we can in no wise account for. We know not why he bestows this on some, even before they ask for it; (some unquestionable instances of which we have seen ;) on some, after they had sought it but a few days: and yet permits other believers to wait for it, perhaps twenty, thirty, or forty years; nay, and others, till a few hours, or even minutes, before their spirits return to him. For the various circumstances also which attend the fulfilling of that great promise; "I will circumcise thy heart, to love the Lord thy God, with
all thy heart, and with all thy soul;" God undoubtedly has reasons; but those reasons are generally hid from the children of men. Once more: some of those who are enabled to love God with all their heart, and with all their soul, retain the same blessing, without any interruption, till they are carried to Abraham's bosom; others do not retain it, although they are not conscious of having grieved the Holy Spirit of God. This also we do not understand: we do not herein "know the mind of the Spirit."
IV. Several valuable lessons we may learn from a deep consciousness of this our own ignorance. First, we may learn hence, a lesson of humility; not" to think of ourselves," particularly with regard to our understanding, "more highly than we ought to think;" but "to think soberly:" being thoroughly convinced, that we are not sufficient of our selves to think one good thought; that we should be liable to stumble at every step, to err every moment of our lives, were it not that we have
an anointing from the Holy One," which abideth" with us;" were it not that he who knoweth what is in man, helpeth our infirmities; that "there is a spirit in man" which giveth wisdom, "and the inspiration" of the Holy One which "giveth understanding."
From hence we may learn, secondly, a lesson of faith; of confidence in God. A full conviction of our own ignorance, may teach us a full trust in his wisdom. It may teach us, (what is not always so easy as one would conceive it to be,) to trust the invisible God, farther than we can see him. It may assist us in learning that difficult lesson, to "cast down" our own "imaginations;" (or reasonings rather, as the word properly signifies;) to "cast down every high thing, that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God, and bring into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ." There are, at present, two grand obstructions to our forming a right judgment of the dealings of God with respect to men. The one is, there are innumerable facts relating to every man, which we do not and cannot know. They are, at present, hid from us, and covered from our search by impenetrable darkness. The other is, we cannot see the thoughts of men, even when we know their actions. Still we know not their intentions; and without this, we can but ill judge of their outward actions. Conscious of this, "judge nothing before the time," concerning his providential dispensations; till he shall bring to light "the hidden things of darkness," and manifest "the thoughts and intents of the heart."
From a consciousness of our ignorance we may learn, thirdly, a lesson of resignation. We may be instructed to say, at all times, and in all instances, "Father, not as I will; but as thou wilt." This was the last lesson which our blessed Lord, as man, learned while he was upon earth. He could go no higher than, "Not as I will, but as thou wilt," till he bowed his head and gave up the ghost. Let us also herein be made conformable to his death, that we may know the full "power of his resurrection !"
SERMON LXXV.—The Case of Reason Impartially Considered
"Brethren, be not children in understanding: howbeit in malice be ye children, but in understanding be men," 1 Cor. xiv, 20.
1. It is the true remark of an eminent man, who had made many observations on human nature; "If reason be against a man, a man will always be against reason." This has been confirmed by the experience of all ages. Very many have been the instances of it in the Christian, as well as the heathen world: yea, and that in the earliest times. Even then there were not wanting well meaning men, who, not having much reason themselves, imagined that reason was of no use in religion: yea, rather, that it was a hinderance to it. And there has not been wanting a succession of men, who have believed and asserted the same thing. But never was there a greater number of these in the Christian church, at least in Britain, than at this day.
2. Among them that despise and vilify reason, you may always expect to find those enthusiasts, who suppose the dreams of their own imagination to be revelations from God. We cannot expect that men of this turn will pay much regard to reason. Having an infallible guide, they are very little moved by the reasonings of fallible men. In the foremost of these we commonly find the whole herd of Antinomians; all that, however they may differ in other respects, agree in "making void the law through faith." If you oppose reason to these, when they are asserting propositions ever so full of absurdity and blasphemy, they will probably think it a sufficient answer to say, "Oh, this is your reason;" or, your carnal reason:" so that all arguments are lost upon them they regard them no more than stubble or rotten wood.
3. How natural is it for those who observe this extreme, to run into the contrary! While they are strongly impressed with the absurdity of undervaluing reason, how apt are they to overvalue it! So much easier it is to run from east to west, than to stop at the middle point! Accordingly we are surrounded with those (we find them on every side) who lay it down as an undoubted principle, that reason is the highest gift of God. They paint it in the fairest colours; they extol it to the skies. They are fond of expatiating in its praise; they make it little less than divine. They are wont to describe it, as very near, if not quite infallible. They look upon it as the all-sufficient director of all the children of men; able, by its native light, to guide them into all truth, and lead them into all virtue.
4. They that are prejudiced against the Christian revelation, who do not receive the Scriptures as the oracles of God, almost universally run into this extreme; I have scarce known any exception; so do all, by whatever name they are called, who deny the Godhead of Christ. (Indeed some of these say, they do not deny his Godhead; but only his supreme Godhead. Nay, this is the same thing; for in denying him to be the supreme God, they deny him to be any God at all: unless they will assert that there are two gods; a great one, and a little one!) All these are vehement applauders of reason, as the great unerring guide. To these overvaluers of reason we may generally add, men of eminently strong understanding; who, because they do know more than most other men, suppose they can know all things. But we may like