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PART SIXTH.
ON UNION WITH GOD IN HIS PROVIDENCES.



CHAPTER V.


ON THE WISDOM AND GOODNESS OF GOD, AS DISPLAYED IN HIS PROVIDENTIAL ARRANGEMENTS.


The arrangements of providence often mysterious.— Their wisdom and goodness visible only to the eye of faith. — Illustrations of the subject. — Reference to the history of Moses.— Illustrations from profane history. — Reference to Bunyan and Milton.— Remarks.

SOME of the views of the last chapter admit of further illustrations. We have seen that the allotments of men in the present life, like things in external and material nature, are exceedingly diversified. And it must be admitted that, to human view, these diversities are oftentimes mysterious. It is not easy for men to see, certainly not in all cases — the wisdom of that arrangement which makes one poor, and another rich; which confines one to a particular spot, but enlarges and diversifies the habitation of another; which places one on a throne, another in a dungeon. It should not be forgotten, however, that it is God who does it all; and, to the eye of faith, everything which he does is full of wisdom and goodness, however it may appear to those who see only with human wisdom.

2. In one of the retired streets of yonder city there lives an honest and laborious mechanic. His daily walk is limited by the few rods which separate his house from his workshop. Arrived at his place of labor in the morning, he toils from morning till night within the limited space of a few feet in circumference. From day to day, and from year to year, the muscles of his arm are lifted at the same anvil, or are turning at the same wheel. An unseen hand, which is acquainted with all localities, has drawn the lines around him, and planted him there for life. He is a prisoner, if we may so express it, in the Lord's captivity. But it would be a sad mistake, if he should suppose that this providential arrangement is instituted without wisdom and without goodness. Though he will probably never wander beyond those narrow boundaries, yet that place, of all the places in the universe, is the best one for him. We do not say it appears best to human wisdom, which is incapable of judging, but is best in the view of Him who has assigned it. Happy will it be for him if he does not doubt. Believing that He who has given him life has constituted his habitation, !et it be his aim to harmonize his feelings with his position, and thus the principle of faith, whatever view the world may take of him, will make him a happy child in his Father's house.

3. In early life I was acquainted with a woman, a resident of the village of my youth, whose memory is recalled by these considerations. In her earlier — I will not say her better — days, she held a leading position in society, to which she seemed to be well entitled by great excellence and intelligence of character, as well as by wealth. In the alternations and reverses of the times, her property was entirely lost; her husband died; all her near relatives died also, or were scattered abroad, and she was left entirely alone. She was supported in her old age at the public expense; but, out of respect to her character, the town authorities permitted her to occupy a single room in the house which she had formerly owned. At the time I became acquainted with her, she was nearly seventy years of age, and had long been unable to leave her room without assistant. But she was far from supposing that God, in depriving her of friends and property, and in confining her in her old age to these narrow limits, was unkind. Her constant companions were her Bible and a few old books on practical and experimental religion. She had faith. No complaint escaped from her lips. In the walls of her little room she felt herself far more closely and lovingly encircled by the arms of her heavenly Father, than if she had been left in the greatest enlargements of society. A plant in the Lord's garden, closely hemmed in, but diligently nurtured, she resembled that patriarch, who is described as "a fruitful bough,
whose branches run over the wall."

4. The Bible is full of instances and illustrations of the subject. The patriarch Moses, in particular, furnishes us a lesson in relation to it. Such were the arrangements of God's providence, that he found it necessary to quit the aspiring hopes which he had once entertained of being the immediate deliverer of his people, and to flee from the splendid court of Pharaoh into the deserts of Arabia Petræa. For forty years he tended his flocks in the vicinity of Mount Sinai, exchanging the palaces of Egypt for a rude home in the distant and solitary rocks. Undoubtedly it seemed very mysterious to Moses that he should thus be dealt with. He did not then understand that God, in thus leading him into the wilderness, and making him acquainted with the vast desert between the Nile and the Red Sea, was preparing him for the dangerous task of being a leader of his people through these very deserts and mountains.

But this was not all. His manners and intellect had been trained in the court of the Pharaohs; but God, who is a greater teacher than kings, saw it necessary that his spirit should be disciplined and trained in the wilderness. It was there that he learned, more fully than he had ever understood it before, the lesson of a present and special Providence. Taken from the bulrushes and placed in a palace, and then taken from a palace and placed for forty years in a lonely desert, he felt deeply that God selects and arranges the habitations of men; and that it is man's great business, submitting on religious principles to the arrangements of Providence, to harmonize his inward state with his outward situation.

And, besides that, he wanted all this time and all this solitariness of place, in order to break up his early and unfavorable associations, to chasten and subdue his natural pride, and to imbibe that wise and gentle quietude of spirit which is one of the surest signs of a soul that dwells with God.

5. It was in the prisons of Egypt that Joseph received that discipline which fitted him to be the great Egyptian ruler. It was when he was tending his father's flocks in Bethlehem, or when he was driven into mountains and caverns, that the hand and soul of David were trained and strengthened to the great task of holding a nation's sceptre. Daniel was taught of God in the lion's den; and Paul was aided in learning the great lesson of entire dependence, when he could find no escape from persecution, and perhaps from death, but by being let down by a basket over the wall of Damascus.

6. Profane history, also, as well as the Bible, furnishes illustrations of the subject. Along the streets of the city of Bedford, in England, the poor and illiterate preacher, John Bunyan, is conducted to prison. Years roll on; to human appearance all his earthly prospects are cut off; he has no books with the single exception of the Bible and the Lives of the Martyrs. Had he not been imprisoned, he would have lived and died, as do many other men, known perhaps, and useful, within the limits of a single town, and for a single generation. But, shut up in prison, and cut off from worldly plans, God was enabled to work in him, in his own wonderful way, and to guide his mind to other and higher issues. It was there he wrote that remarkable work, the Pilgrim’s Progress. Had his enemies not been allowed to prevail against him, it probably would not have been written. It was thus that God turned that which was designed for evil into good. It was a wisdom higher than man's wisdom, which shut up the pilgrim himself in prison. The Pilgrim's Progress, which was the result of the imprisonment of the pilgrim whose progress it describes, free as the winds of heaven, goes from house to house, knocks at every heart, teaches all classes, visits all nations.

7. Nearly at the same time with the pious individual to whom we have just referred, there lived in England another person, whose extraordinary powers of intellect and imagination were developed and cultivated in the best institutions of that country. In the revolutionary contests of that period, his pen, exuberant with the riches of thought and eloquence, was frequently employed with great effect. He became blind. The sun, the pleasant sky, the societies of men, were all shut off from him. "These eyes," he says in one of the sonnets written in his blindness,

"Bereft of light, their seeing have forgot;
Nor to their idle orbs doth sight appear
Of sun, or moon, or stars, throughout the year,
Or man or woman."

He was, indeed, in a dark and solitary place; but it was God, who, in the administration of his providence, constructed it for him. And there, in what seemed to the world a lonely prison-house, the light of the soul grew bright in the darkness of the body; and he wrote the Paradise Lost. In the enlargements of his own will, when he went where he chose to go, he gave his powers, too great to be thus limited, to a party; but, in what may be termed the solitude and captivity of God, he gave himself to religion and to mankind.

8. Wisdom can never be separated from providence, nor can goodness. And the darker the providence, the greater the wisdom. Souls that are formed for great and good purposes are so especially the objects of Providence, in its most mysterious arrangements, that they may be called, with scarcely a metaphorical use of the expression,
the prisoners of God. For reasons which are perfectly known only to himself, they are hedged in by him on every side. He does with them what he thinks best; and he does not allow them, in the exercise of their own wisdom, to think what is best for themselves, because he intends to make them the subjects of his teachings, as well as the instruments of his own designs. The way in which he leads them is not only a narrow one, and built up with walls on every side, but is often precipitous and, to human sight, full of dangers. But out of that road they find, if they follow the true light, they have no liberty to go; and in it they must receive, not what they might choose, but what God sees fit to give them. He smites them, and he heals them; he pours light upon their path, or he leaves them in sudden darkness. "They are clay in the hands of the potter." They are broken to pieces, that out of their earthly fragments he may build up a heavenly habitation. He makes them nothing, that they may have divine strength. He cuts them loose from the creature, that they may be made receptive of the Creator. But in everything there is wisdom. Men may not see it; but it is there.




THE LIGHT ABOVE US

There is a light in yonder skies,
A light unseen by outward eyes;
But dear and bright to inward sense,
It shines, the star of Providence.

The radiance of the central throne,
It comes from God, and God alone;
The ray that never yet grew pale,
The star, that "shines within the veil.”

And faith, unchecked by earthly fears,
Shall lift its eye, though filled with tears,
And while around 'tis dark as night,
Untired, shall mark that heavenly light.

In vain they smite me, — men but do
What God permits, with different view;
To outward sight they wield the rod,
But faith proclaims it all of God.

Unmoved, then, let me keep my way,
Supported by that cheering ray,
Which, shining distant, renders clear
The clouds and darkness thronging near.

— Life of Madam Guyon, vol. ii, p. 317