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In the second place, The doctrine which has been illustrated should prevent us from censuring Providence, on account of any seeming disorders and evils which at present take place in the world. The various instances which have been pointed out in this discourse, of human passion and wickedness rendered subservient to wise and useful ends, give us the highest reason to conclude, that in all other cases of seeming evil, the like ends are carried on. This ought to satisfy our mind, even when the prospect is most dark and discouraging. The plans of Divine wisdom are too large and comprehensive to be discerned by us in all their extent; and where we see only by parts, we must frequently be at a loss in judging of the whole. The way of God is in the sea, and his paths in the great waters; his footsteps are not known.* But although thou sayest thou canst not see him, yet judgment is before him, therefore trust thou in him. † As in the natural world no real deformity is found, nothing but what has either some ornament or some use; so in the moral world, the most irregular and deformed appearances contribute in one way or other, to the order of the whole. The Supreme Being, from the most opposite and disagreeing principles, forms universal concord; and adapts even the most harsh and dissonant notes to the harmony of his praise. As he hath reared the goodly frame of nature from various and jarring elements, and hath settled it in peace; so he hath formed such an union by his providence of the more various interests, and more jarring passions of men, that they all conspire to his glory, and
+ Job, xxxv. 14.
*Psalm lxxvii. 19.
co-operate for general good. How amazing is that wisdom, which comprehends such infinite diversities and contrarieties within its scheme! How powerful that hand, which bends to its own purpose the good and the bad, the busy and the idle, the friends and the foes of truth; which obliges them all to hold on their course to his glory, though divided from one another by a multiplicity of pursuits, and differing often from themselves; and while they all move at their own freedom, yet, by a secret influence, winds and turns them at his will! O the depth of the riches, both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! how unsearchable are his judgments, and his ways past finding out!
In the third place, We see, from what has been said, how much reason there is for submission to the decrees of Heaven. Whatever distresses we suffer from the wrath of man, we have ground to believe that they befal not in vain. In the midst of human violence or oppression, we are not left to be the sport of fortune. Higher counsels are concerned. Wise and good designs are going on. God is always carrying forward his own purposes; and if these terminate in his glory, which is ever the same with the felicity of the righteous, is not this a sufficient reason for our calm and cheerful acquies
Hence also, to conclude, arises the most powerful argument for studying with zealous assiduity to gain the favour and protection of the Almighty. If his displeasure hang over our heads all things
* Rom. xi. 33.
around us may be just objects of terrour. For, against him there is no defence. The most violent powers in nature are ministers to him. Formidable, indeed, may prove the wrath of man, if he be pleased to let it forth against us. To him, but not to us, it belongs to restrain it at pleasure. Whereas, when we are placed under his protection, all human wrath is divested of its terrours. If He be for us, who, or what, can be against us? Let us pursue the measures which he hath appointed for obtaining his grace, by faith, repentance, and a holy life, and we shall have no reason to be afraid of evil tidings; our hearts will be fixed, trusting in the Lord. When the religious fear of God possesses the heart, it expels the ignoble fear of man, and becomes the principle of courage and magnanimity. The Lord is a buckler and a shield to them that serve him. When he ariseth, his enemies shall be scattered as smoke is driven away, and as chaff before the wind. He giveth strength and victory to his people; he clotheth them with salvation. The wrath of man shall praise him, and the remainder of wrath shall he restrain.
On the IMPORTANCE of RELIGIOUS KNOWLEDGE to MANKIND.
[Preached before the Society in Scotland for propagating Christian Knowledge.]
ISAIAH, xi. 9.
They shall not hurt nor destroy in all my holy mountain; for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea.
THIS HIS passage of Scripture is understood, by all Christian interpreters, to refer to the days of the Gospel. The prophet describes in the context the auspicious influence of the Messiah's reign, as extending over all nature, and producing universal felicity. The full accomplishment of this prediction is yet future, and respects some more advanced. period of the kingdom of God, when true religion shall universally prevail, and the native tendency of the Gospel attain its entire effect. In the prospect of this event the prophet seems to rise above himself, and celebrates that happy age in the most sublime strain of Eastern poetry. He opens a beautiful view of the state of the world, as a state of returning innocence. He represents all nature. flourishing in peace; discord and guile abolished ;
the most hostile natures reconciled, and the most
savage reformed and tamed. The wolf shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard lie down with the kid; and the calf, and the young lion, and the fatling to
gether, and a little child shall lead them. The lion shall eat straw like the ox; and the suckling child shall play on the hole of the asp, and the weaned child shall put his hand on the cockatrice den. They shall not hurt nor destroy in all my holy mountain; for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea.
Upon reading these words we must immediately perceive the great encouragement which they give to all good designs for promoting religion in the world. When we engage in these, we have the comfort of being engaged, not only in a good cause, but also in one that shall undoubtedly be successful. For we are here assured by the Divine promise, that truth and righteousness shall at length prevail, and that the increasing influence of religion shall introduce general happiness. It is a pleasing and animating reflection, that, in carrying on such designs, we act upon the Divine plan; and co-operate with God for advancing the kingdom of the Messiah. We have no reason to be discouraged by any unfavourable circumstances which at present oppose our pious endeavours. Though the ignorance, superstition, and corruption, which now fill so great a part of the world, have a dark and mysterious aspect, it is not beyond the power of that Supreme Being, who brings light out of darkness, to clear up those perplexing appearances, and gradually to extricate mankind from the labyrinth of ignorance and errour. Let us consider how improbable it seemed, when the Gospel was first