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in doing this, he is called God's servant, Jer. xliii. 10. not as though he had any religious regard to the honour and command of God herein; but his design was only to enlarge his dominions, by depriving others of their natural rights; yet God over-ruled this, for the setting forth the glory of his vindictive justice, against a sinful people. And Cyrus, on the other hand, was raised up to be Israel's deliverer from captivity. His success in war, which God designed should be subservient thereunto, is styled, His girding him, Isa. xlv. 1, 5. and God promises, that he would loose the loins of kings, to open before him the two leaved gates: And all this was done with a design that he should give liberty to his people; though Cyrus had no more religion, nor real regard to the interest of God in the world, than other kings, who design little else but the satisfying their own ambition; for it is expressly said, Thou hast not known me. God did not approve of that corruption, which might give the first occasion to the war, or that injustice that might appear in it: but, notwithstanding, he over-ruled it, to answer the ends of his own glory.
In considering the over-ruling providence of God, in order to the bringing about the ends designed, let it be farther observed; that there are some things which seem to have a more direct tendency thereunto, agreeably to the nature of those second causes, which he makes use of, whereby he gives us occasion to expect the event that will ensue: and, on the other hand, he sometimes brings about some great and valuable ends by those means, which at first view, have no apparent tendency thereunto; but they are over-ruled without, or contrary to the design of second causes, wherein the admirable wisdom of providence discovers itself. Thus those things, which, in all appearance, seem to threaten our ruin, are ordered to subserve our future happiness, though, at present, altogether unexpected. "When there was such a dark gloom cast on the world, by the first entrance of sin into it, who would have thought that this should be over-ruled by providence, to give occasion to the display of those divine perfections, which are glorified in the work of our redemption? I do not, indeed, like the expression of an ancient writer, who calls it, Happy sin! that gave occasion to man's salvation; but I would rather say, How admirable was the providence of God, which over-ruled the vilest action to answer so great an end, and brought so much good out of that, which, in itself, was so great an evil!
We might here give some particular instances of the dispensations of providence, by which God brings good out of evil, in considering those lengths which he hath suffered some men to run in sin, whom he designed, notwithstanding, effectually to call and save; of which the apostle Paul was a very remark
able instance, who considers this as an expedient, whereby God designed to shew forth all long-suffering as a pattern to them, that should hereafter believe on Christ to life eternal; and that men might take encouragement, from hence, to conclude, that Christ came into the world to save the chief of sinners, 1 Tim. i. 15, 16. And the injurious treatment which God's people have met with from their enemies, has sometimes been overruled for their good. Thus Ishmael's mocking, or, as the apostle calls it, persecuting Isaac; and, as is more than probable, not only reproaching him, but the religion which he professed, was over-ruled, by providence, for Isaac's good, when Ishmael was separated from him, which set him out of danger of being led aside by his bad example, as well as delivered him from that uneasiness, which his opposition to him would have occasioned: and it was most agreeable to his future circumstances, whom God designed not only to be the heir of the family, but the propagator of religion in it.
Again, Pharaoh's cruelty, and the methods used to prevent the increasing of the children of Israel in Egypt, was overruled by the providence of God, so that they seemed, after this, to be the more immediate care thereof; and it is more particularly remarked in scripture, as an instance of the kind hand of providence towards them, that the more the Egyptians afflicted them, the more they multiplied, and grew, Exod. i. 12.
Again, the inhuman and barbarous cruelty of Simeon and Levi, in slaying the Shechemites, Gen. xxxiv. 25. brought on them a curse; and accordingly their father pronounced it, and tells them, that God would divide them in Jacob, and scatter them in Israel, Gen. xlix. 7. which, in particular, had its accomplishment in Levi's having no distinct inheritance, except those cities that were appointed to them, out of every tribe; but this dividing and scattering them throughout the whole country, was over-ruled by the providence of God, for the good of his people in general; so that this tribe, which God had ordained, to teach Jacob his judgments, and Israel his law, Deut. xxxiii. 10. might, through the nearness of their habitation, be conveniently situated among them to answer that end.
We might farther observe, that Saul's unreasonable jealousy and fury, with which he persecuted David, was over-ruled, by providence, for his good; as; in his exile, he had a greater degree of communion with God, than at other times, and, as is more than probable, was inspired to pen the greater number of his Psalms, and was, as it were, trained up for the crown in this school of affliction, and so, more fitted to govern Israel, when God designed to put it on his head.
To this let me add one instance more, and that is, God's suffering the persecuting rage of the Jews to vent itself against
the apostles, when the gospel was first preached by them, which was over-ruled by providence for their scattering, and this for the farther spread thereof, wherever they came; and the apostle Paul observes, that his bonds in Christ were not only mani fest in all the palace; and in all other places, but they were made conducive to the furtherance of the gospel, Phil. i. 12, 13. And as for that contention that was between him and Barnabas, at another time, in which each of them shewed that they were but men, subject to like passions and infirmities with others, this seems to have been occasioned by a small and inconsiderable circumstance, yet it rose to such a height, that they departed one from the other, Acts xv. 36-40. Each seemed to be over-much tenacious of his own humour; but providence suffered the corruption of these excellent men to discover itself, and their separation to ensue, that by this means, their ministry might be rendered more extensive, and double service be done to the interest of Christ in different parts of the world.
We might descend to instances of later date, and consider how God suffered the church of Rome to arrive to the greatest pitch of ignorance, superstition, and idolatry; and wholly to forsake the faith of the gospel, so as to establish the doctrine of merit, and human satisfactions; and its leaders to be so profanely absurd, as to expose pardons and indulgencies to public sale; this, providence was over-ruled, for the bringing about the glorious Reformation in Germany. And if it be added, that pride, lust, and covetousness, paved the way for it here in England; this is no blemish to the Reformation, as the Papists pretend, but a display of the over-ruling providence of God, that brought it about by this means.
I might enlarge on this subject, in considering the providence of God as bringing about wonderful and unexpected changes in the civil affairs of kingdoms and nations, remarkably bringing down some who made the greatest figure in the world, and putting a glory on others raised up out of their ruins; and how all political affairs have been rendered subservient to answer the ends of the divine glory, with respect to the church in the world, and the deliverances which God has wrought in various ages for it, when it was, in all appearance, upon the brink of ruin, of which we have not only many instances in scripture, but almost every age of the world has given us undeniable proofs of this matter. We might also consider the methods which God has often taken in bringing about his people's deliverance, when, to the eye of reason, it seemed almost impossible, and that, either by dispiriting their enemies, or removing them out of the way, as the Psalmist expresses himself, The stout-hearted are spoiled; they have slept their
sleep, and none of the men of might have found their hands, Psal. Ixxvi. 5. or else by finding them some other work to do for their own safety and defence. Thus when Saul was pursuing David, in the wilderness of Maon, and had compassed him, and his men round about to take them, there came a messenger to him, saying, Haste thee and come, for the Philistines have invaded the land, 1 Sam. xxiii. 26, 27. And sometimes he softens their spirits, by a secret and immediate touch of providence working a change in their natural temper and disposition. Thus he provided for Jacob's escape from that death that was de signed by his brother Esau. And if God intends that they shall fall by the hand of their persecutors, he gives them courage and resolution, together with the exercise of all those graces, which are necessary to support them under, and carry them through the difficulties that they are to undergo. But these things are so largely insisted on, by those who have written professedly on the doctrine of providence, that more need not be added on this subject. I shall therefore only consider an objection, or two, that is generally brought against it, by those who pretend to acknowlege that there is a God, but deny his providence.
Object. 1. It is objected against the concern of the providence of God, with respect to the smallest things in this world, that they are unworthy of his notice, below his care, and therefore not the objects thereof.
Answ. If it was not unbecoming his power, to bring the smallest things into being, or to preserve them from sinking into nothing, then they cannot be excluded from being the objects of his providence. If we consider the whole frame of nature; it cannot be denied, but that some things have a tendency to answer the general design of providence, in a more evident degree than others, and there are many things, the use whereof cannot be particularly assigned by us, otherwise than as they contain a small part of the frame of nature. But to say, that any part thereof is altogether useless, or excluded from being the object of providence, is a reflection on God, as the God of nature. And therefore we must conclude, that all things are some way or other, subject to his providence; and that this is so far from being a dishonour to him, that it redounds to his glory.
Object. 2. It is farther objected, by those who are disposed to cavil at, and find fault with the divine dispensations; that they are not just and equal, because we oftentimes see the righteous afflicted, and the wicked prosper in the world; which is to reproach, if not wholly to deny the doctrine of providence. This is not only done by wicked men, but believers themselves
* See Charnock, Flavell, Dr. Collings, on Providence,
have sometimes been under a temptation, through the prevalency of corrupt nature, to bring their objections against the equity of providence. Thus the Psalmist says; But as for me, my feet were almost gone; my steps had well nigh slipt. For I was envious at the foolish, when I saw the prosperity of the wicked. For there are no bands in their death: but their strength is firm. They are not in trouble as other mon; neither are they plagued like other men, Psal. xxiii. 2-5. These are the ungodly, who prosper in the world; they increase in riches: But as for himself, he says, Verily, I have cleansed my heart in vain, and washed my hands in innocency; for all the day long have I been plagued and chastened every morning, ver. 12-14. and the prophet Jeremiah, when pleading with God concerning his judgments, though he owns, in general, that he was righteous, yet says he, Wherefore doth the way of the wicked prosper? Wherefore are all they happy that deal very treacherously? Thou hast planted them, yea, they have taken root; they grow, yea, they bring forth fruit; thou art near in their mouth, and far from their reins, Jer. xii. 1, 2. He could hardly reconcile the general idea which he had of God's justice, with the seeming inequality of the dispensations of his providence; so the prophet Habakkuk, though he owns that God was of purer eyes than to behold evil, and that he cannot look upon iniquity, yet he seems to complain in the following words, Wherefore lookest thou upon them that deal treacherously, and holdest thy tongue, when the wicked devoureth the man that is more righteous than he? Hab. i. 13. And Job seems to speak very unbecomingly, when he says, Is it good unto thee that thou shouldest oppress? that thou shouldest despise the work of thine hands? and shine upon the counsel of the wicked? Job. x. 3. So that, as the wicked boldly deny a providence, or, at least, reproach it; others, of a far better character, have, through the prevalency of their unbelief, seemed to detract from the glory thereof.
Answ. To this it may be replied, in general, in the apostle's words, Nay but, Oman, who art thou, that repliest against God? Rom. ix. 20. Is there no deference to be paid to his sovereignty, who has a right to do what he will with his own? Is his justice to be impeached, and tryed at our bar? Or his wisdom to be measured by our short-sighted discerning of things, who cannot see the end from the beginning of his dispensations? It is true, good men have been sometimes tempted to question the equity of the distributions of providence, as in the instances but now mentioned; unless we suppose, that the prophets Habak kuk, Jeremiah, and Job, rather speak the sense of the world, than their own sentiments of things, and desire that God would clear up some dark providences, that wicked men might not