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sudden and unexpected manner. The reason of this is obvious. Mankind naturally think that they have a right to all they possess. After blessings are put into their hands, they imagine they have a right to hold them. They do not make the same claim to favors not yet received. These they are more ready to allow that God has a right to grant or to deny. But their children, and friends, and other outward comforts, which are in their possession, they are extremely apt to claim as their own. By bereavements, therefore, God practically declares that he is greater than man; and has a supreme right to take away any thing, and even every thing, which he has in mere mercy given him. God means to display his sovereignty in the most sensible manner to those whom he bereaves of enjoyments, to which they were the most attached, and to which they laid the strongest claim. Hence it is the natural tendency of afflictions in general, and of bereavements in particular, to make the friends of God realize his absolute sovereignty. Under bereavements, the sovereignty of God is the most prominent perfection of his nature, and appears to comprehend and absorb all his other perfections. It meets the afflicted and bereaved at every corner and in every object. It appears to be displayed so plainly every where, that they are astonished that they could ever overlook it any where.
Though the friends of God, under the smiles of providence, sometimes lose a sense of divine sovereignty, yet there is an aptitude in them to realize it, when it is clearly displayed by afflictions and bereavements. They have had such a lively sense of God's right to save, or to destroy their souls for ever, that trials, afflictions, and bereavements, naturally revive a realizing sense of his sovereignty in giving or taking away any inferior favors. I now proceed to show,
II. That such a realizing sense of the sovereignty of God in afflictions, has a natural tendency to excite true submission in every pious heart. "Behold, he taketh away, who can hinder him?" This expresses a lively sense of divine sovereignty. "Who will say unto him, What doest thou?" This equally expresses unreserved submission to divine sovereignty. While Job realized the absolute sovereignty of God in taking away his dearest enjoyments, it appeared so reasonable and so easy to submit to him, that he seemed to think it impossible for him or any other person to refuse submission. "Who will say unto him, What doest thou?" Such a realizing sense of divine sovereignty always has a natural tendency to bring good men to unreserved submission, under the correcting hand of God. For,
1. While they realize the nature of his sovereignty, they
cannot help seeing the true ground or reason of submission. His sovereignty results from his supremacy. He is supreme in every natural and moral excellence, which gives him an absolute right and power to act independently of all other beings in the universe. When he acts as a sovereign, he neither solicits their assistance, nor asks their advice, nor consults their views, their desires, or their feelings. Hence his sovereignty is omnipotent and irresistible. In the exercise of it, he overturneth and removeth mountains; he shaketh the earth out of its place; he stoppeth the sun in its course, and sealeth up the stars. "He is in one mind, and who can turn him? and what his soul desireth, even that he doeth." "When he giveth quietness, who then can make trouble, and when he hideth his face, who then can behold him?" "Behold, he taketh away, who can hinder him?" It must be reasonable to submit to such omnipotent sovereignty, because it is presumption to resist, or to say to him who is mighty in power, " What doest thou?" "Whoever hardened himself against him, and prospered?" God is wise in heart, and his sovereignty is always exercised agreeably to his unerring wisdom. Though he does not give to any of his creatures the reasons of his conduct, yet he always has good, yea, the best reasons for his most mysterious and sovereign dispensations of providence. He acts in the clear and comprehensive view of all things past, present, and to come. It is morally impossible that he should ever make a designed or undesigned mistake, in any of his dealings towards his intelligent creatures. His sovereignty consists in acting from wiser reasons than the united wisdom of angels and men could suggest. And surely it becomes them to submit their finite to his infinite understanding, and their erring to his unerring wisdom. Besides, the sovereignty of God is not only omnipotent and omniscient, but perfectly benevolent. God is love, and his love dictates every sovereign act of his providence. He is good unto all, and his tender mercies are over all his works; and, "as a father pitieth his children, so the Lord pitieth them that fear him." He displays paternal tenderness when he taketh away, as well as when he giveth. In a word, his sovereignty displays the bright assemblage of all his natural and moral perfections. It has a natural tendency, therefore, to bow the hearts of all his friends to unreserved submission. It is indeed the only thing which lays them under moral obligation to submit to his disposing will. If he did not act as a wise, benevolent, and omnipotent sovereign, or if he were under the least influence of any other being, in the dispensations of providence, he would not be worthy of their cordial and unreserved submission. But when
they realize the nature and perfection of his sovereignty, they are sweetly constrained to feel and say as Job did, "Shall we receive good at the hand of the Lord, and shall we not receive evil?"
2. God designs to bring his children to submission, when he gives them a realizing sense of his holy and righteous sovereignty. He can excite other gracious affections in their hearts, by other means. He can awaken their love, their gratitude and praise, by his word, or by his ordinances, or by the smiles of his providence. But nothing short of a realizing sense of his sovereignty under his correcting hand, is sufficient to bring them to submission. Whenever he throws them in the dust, sinks them in sorrow, and tears from their hearts the dear objects of their affections, he means to bring them to a cordial resignation to his sovereignty. It is only, if need be, that he ever afflicts and bereaves them. But there would be no occasion for his bringing them into the furnace of affliction, if any thing besides a realizing sense of his sovereignty would soften their hearts to submission. And since he makes use of this severe method to reduce them to an humble, submissive spirit, we may well suppose that this is the method which has the most natural tendency to produce this effect in their hearts. God always employs the most proper means to accomplish his own designs. It is certain, however, that we cannot conceive of any thing better adapted to lead saints to submission, than a realizing sense of divine sovereignty. And it seems that God himself knew of no better method to bring his ancient people to proper views and feelings. "Therefore thus saith the Lord of hosts; Behold I will melt them and try them for how shall I do for the daughter of my people?" But it will more fully appear, that a realizing sense of the sovereignty of God naturally tends to lead his friends to unreserved submission, if we consider,
3. That it has so often produced this desirable effect in their hearts. Though they have sometimes murmured and repined under afflictions, yet a realizing sense of God's sovereign right to dispose of them has eventually brought them to a cheerful resignation to his will. Job no sooner heard of the complicated evils brought upon him, than he saw the sovereign hand of God in them, which instantaneously reduced him to perfect resignation. Then Job answered and said, "The Lord gave, and the Lord hath taken away: blessed be the name of the Lord." Though after this, he frequently felt and expressed hard and murmuring thoughts of God, yet a realizing view of divine sovereignty as frequently tranquillized his mind, and softened it into submission. When God demanded, "Shall 16
he that contendeth with the Almighty instruct him? He that reproveth God, let him answer it: Then Job answered the Lord and said, Behold I am vile; what shall I answer thee? I will lay mine hand upon my mouth. Once have I spoken; but I will not answer: yea, twice; but I will proceed no farther." God continues, however, to proclaim his sovereignty by a series of pointed and awful interrogations. "Then Job answered the Lord and said again, I know that thou canst do every thing. I have heard of thee by the hearing of the ear, but now mine eye seeth thee. Wherefore I abhor myself, and repent in dust and ashes." Such was the effect of a realizing sense of God's sovereignty upon the heart of Job; it silenced all his objections, restrained all his opposition, and prostrated him in silent submission at the foot of his Maker.
When Samuel denounced the displeasure of God against Eli, and foretold the dire calamities coming upon him, his pious mind instantly turned upon the sovereignty of God, which bowed his will to the divine will. Having heard the dreadful message which was designed to make his ears and the ears of all Israel to tingle, he solemnly paused, and then uttered these memorable words: "It is the Lord; let him do what seemeth him good." His submission was unreserved; he was willing to bear whatever a holy and sovereign God should please to lay upon him.
God bereaved Aaron of two sons in one day, on a solemn occasion, and in an awful manner. Though his case was distressing beyond description, yet Moses admonished him to suppress every token of sorrow, and conduct with that calmness and submission which became the dignity of his sacred office. Aaron conducted accordingly. The account is this. "Then Moses said unto Aaron, This is that the Lord spake, saying, I will be sanctified in them that come nigh me, and before all the people I will be glorified. And Aaron held his peace." His silence spoke louder than words, and emphatically said, "Behold, he taketh away, who can hinder him? who will say unto him, What doest thou?"
God's dealings with the Shunammite were designed to display his sovereignty and her submission. He gave her a son in sovereignty, and in sovereignty took him away. When she was suddenly and unexpectedly bereaved of her darling child, she went to the man of God for direction and relief. But he declined to see her or hear her speak, and sent his servant to ask her, "Is it well with thee? Is it well with thy husband? Is it well with the child? And she answered, It is well." She realized, she loved, and she submitted to the sovereignty of God.
A realizing sense of the sovereignty of God in afflicting and bereaving David, led him to feel and to express the genuine spirit of submission. He was able to say unto God, in the sin-` cerity of his heart, after he had gone through the fiery trial, "I was dumb, I opened not my mouth; because thou didst it."
While Paul was returning from a long journey to Jerusalem, a certain prophet named Agabus forewarned him of the danger of returning to that city. Whereupon all his friends unitedly entreated him to desist from his purpose. But he was so entirely reconciled to the sovereignty of God in the dispensations of providence, that he reproved and rejected their unsubmissive advice. "Then Paul answered, What mean ye to weep, and to break my heart? for I am ready not to be bound only, but also to die at Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus. And when he would not be persuaded, they ceased, saying, The will of the Lord be done." Thus the friends of God under his afflictive and chastising hand, realize his amiable sovereignty, which brings them to submit cheerfully and unreservedly to his disposing will.
It now remains to improve and apply the subject.
1. If all afflictions are designed and adapted to bring men to a cordial submission to divine sovereignty, then all true submission must be in its own nature absolute and unreserved. It must be like the object upon which it terminates, or towards which it is exercised. The sovereignty of God, which results from his absolute supremacy, can admit of no limitations. He can no more be limited in dispensing evil, than in dispensing good, to mankind. He has an equal and unlimited right to dispose of every one of the human race, and to order the outward circumstances of every person in the world, just as he pleases. He may send prosperity to one, and adversity to another. He may afflict the rich or the poor, the high or the low, the godly or ungodly, in what way, or in what measure, he sees best. Where he has given much, there he may take away much. Those whom he has distinguished by great favors, he may distinguish by as great afflictions. His right to afflict is entirely unlimited, and of consequence, all submission under his afflictive hand must be absolute and unreserved. The afflicted may never say unto him, "What doest thou?" nor even desire to stay his correcting hand. There can be no reserve in submission, because reserve would be, in its own nature, an exercise of sovereignty, rather than an exercise of resignation. While a person feels truly submissive to God, he is as really willing that he should take away one favor as another, and all that he has given him, as a part. For he loves and approves of that very sovereignty, which is altogether absolute