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For that the Christian is encouraged thus to speak of God, and thus to look
every dispensation of mortality, to the immediate hand of a presiding and pervading Providence, is plain, not only from the example of Elisha in Dothan, but from very many texts of universal application in which this doctrine is expressed or implied. Implied it is, indeed, in every passage of Scripture which inculcates the duty and efficacy of prayer either for spiritual or, still more, for temporal blessings. For, as prayer would be vain and presumptuous unless God may be thereby induced to grant what He would otherwise have withheld from us, so, as prayer is recommended and enjoined, we may be sure it is neither presumptuous nor vain, and that, when we ask for daily bread, for peace, for deliverance from sickness or from danger, for the welfare of our friends, of our nation, or of our governors, or for any other of those particular blessings which we are encouraged in Scripture to seek from the bounty of the Most High, we ask for that, our obtaining of which depends on an act of His will, and which He is the more inclined to bestow on us in consequence of such our petitions : nor is more required to show that the world is not a machine, but a kingdom, in which events do not blindly or necessarily succeed each other, but rational agents are governed and rewarded by Him who is Himself Reason and Wisdom, whose eyes follow us, whose hand holds us, whose Spirit lives within us, but who regards with a very different eye, and governs with a very different sceptre, the children of His love, and those whose ways are perverse before Him.
Still, however, it will be said that experience is against the doctrine; that strong as these expressions are, and plausible as is the system which we build on them, the truth still is that in this world there is no visible difference made between the righteous and the wicked'; that injustice often triumphs ; that innocence is often depressed; that the servants of God, so far from having less, are directed by Christ Himself to prepare for more than their share of certain species of affliction; insomuch that a prosperous condition in this life is made an unfavourable symptom of our spiritual state, and we are expressly told, that “ whom the Lord loveth He chasteneth."*
I answer that, to the first part of this objection the second is, in itself, a sufficient reply, inasmuch as admitting, in its fullest extent, the fact that the righteous are, in this world, often miserable, yet would this fact be reconciled to the doctrine of an especial Providence, by the knowledge that these sufferings are not casual or fatal, but chastisements inflicted by a wise and tender Parent. The presence and care of the physician is as surely recognised in the severest inflictions of his skill, as in the anodyne or in the cordial; the mercy of God was as surely displayed when the vanity of St. Paul was
* Heb. xii. 6.
reproved by the buffetings of Satan, as when the same apostle was saved from the waves of Melita, or upborne by the Spirit above the regions of mortality to catch the triumphal hymn, and behold the ineffable glories of angels and saints in Paradise. Nor is more promised to the most illustrious of God's favourites, nor can more be reasonably desired by a passenger through the wilderness of the present life, than that such afflictions, and such only, shall visit him, as have a tendency to expedite his journey, and that so much, and no more, of temporal happiness shall be afforded him as is consistent with the far nobler prospects of eternity. Still less have the righteous cause to distrust the care, or murmur against the justice of Providence, when they behold, with David, the wicked in outward prosperity, or the enemies of God exalted to a power of oppressing and insulting His servants. Why should we envy another those advantages which God only withholds from ourselves because He knows them to be inexpedient for us? Or how can we forget that even the wicked, in the stations where God has placed them, are no more than the blind executioners of His will, and, therefore, only tolerated as instruments of unintended good, or of needful correction to those whom the Almighty favours ? Or shall we grudge the tares their rain and sunshine, when we know that these tares are allowed to stand in mercy to the wheat which is mingled with them? Or shall we not rather make it the subject of our hope and our intercession, that
the bounties showered on them, and the afflictions which we complain of, may be medicines alike, though medicines of a different character, to the healing of their sickness and our own?
It is further to be recollected that the outward signs of happiness and prosperity are often, to the last degree, deceitful; that there are rods in God's hands which have power to make the ambitious person wretched on a throne, to cause the voluptuary to eat his feast in bitterness of heart, and the miser to weep over his accumulated treasure. 6. There is an evil which I have seen under the sun, and it is common among men; a man to whom God hath given riches, wealth, and honour, so that he wanteth nothing for his soul of all that he desireth ; yet God giveth him not power to eat thereof, but stranger eateth it; this is vanity, and it is an evil dis
And, omitting that still small voice of conscience which alone was accounted sufficient by the sages of antiquity, to incline the balance of worldly happiness to the side of virtue, yet, if the absence of worldly care, if constant and useful occupation, if the love and veneration of the truly wise and good, and the buoyant sense of successful resistance to persecution be indeed pleasurable sensations, who shall say that Paul was not far happier in his bonds than Nero on his golden bed, or than that Felix who trembled on his judgment-seat? In point of external circumstances the apostles of Christ were indeed
* Eccles. vi. 1, 2.
of all men most miserable; but that their employment and situation afforded them many compensating enjoyments, may be apprehended not only from the reason of the case, but from the promise of their omniscient Master, that whosoever had abandoned houses and lands, and wife and children, for His name's sake, should receive manifold more of blessing in the present life, as well as in that life everlasting, where his toils were finally to be rewarded.*
But after all, with the exception of some peculiar dispensations, it will be by no means easy to shew, on any grounds of Scripture or experience, that the balance of good and evil is, in this life, unfavourable to the virtuous even in those outward gifts of Providence, in which, till they are tried, it is natural for flesh and blood to look for happiness. Perfect bliss, indeed, is not to be found below; and even if bliss unalloyed were the promised reward of virtue, I know not where we should seek for that perfect virtue which could claim it. But is it really true that, in the ordinary dispensations of Providence, no advantage is given to virtue? Why then does every instance of successful vice, or virtue oppressed, excite not only our murmurs, but our astonishment ? On what principle but that of experience could the heathen orator pronounce it impossible for the impious and perjured man to found a lasting empire ? Or was it not an inspired experience which led the
* St. Matt. xix. 29.