Stacks Image 905




Providence designates our situation in life. — Of the diiferenee in our allotment. — God assigns our place, but leaves to us the dispositions with which we shall receive it.— The position of Providence our true home. — also the only true place of safety. — Of inward retirement, or solitude.

THAT divine superintendence, which is denominated Providence, extends not only to every individual, but to all that pertains to every individual; including, among other things, all the various circumstances and situations of his life. Without delaying its operation for a single day, it indicates man's locality in the very beginning of his existence. In combination with the natural or physical law, which is its instrument, it places him in the cradle, under the eye of his father and mother. Helpless, but not unprotected, it is the watchful hand of Providence, using more or less of earthly instrumentality, which feeds him, clothes him, teaches him. It is Providence, also, as he exchanges childhood for youth, and thus gradually enlarges the boundaries of his habitation, which scatters both thorns and flowers in his path; the one to cheer him to activity and duty, and the other to warn him of danger, and to deter him from sin. From the early locality of the cradle and the parental hearth, from the lines drawn around him by the domestic circle where he is first placed, he never moves a step, he never goes, and never can go, rightfully and safely, except by divine permission.

2. It is one of the first principles in the doctrines of holiness, that men should remain patiently and quietly where God has placed them, until they receive from himself the intimations of departure. It was thus that Jesus grew up in the humble retirement of a carpenter's family, a brother among brothers and sisters, obeying his parents in love, eating and drinking at their common table, sympathizing in their joys and sorrows, laboring daily with those who were brought up in the same form of labor, and regarding the yoke of his earthly position as entirely light and easy, because it was the yoke of his heavenly Father's providence. He remained there till that unerring Providence, arranging around him other circumstances, and arousing within him desires corresponding to those circumstances, led him forth from the quiet home of Mary and Joseph, to the trials and duties of a new position, — to persecution and death. How different was his conduct from that of the rebellious and unhappy youth of whom he has given an account in one of his affecting parables! The prodigal son, in the pride of self-wisdom and self-will, demanded his share of his father's goods before the time, which was rapidly drawing nigh, when the arrangements of Providence would have freely offered them. As he went forth in violation of the providential law, which required him to wait till a later period, he went forth without the presence and approbation of the God of providence, and found, in the famine and wretchedness of a distant land, that sure retribution which always follows any movement made in our own strength and choice.

3. The first position, then, in which man is placed by Him who overrules all things in goodness, is that of dependence and guardianship within the limits of the family circle. Gradually the hand of Providence opens the door, and he goes out; but it is only into another department, or, perhaps we should say, into another line of demarcation, drawn by One who is invisible. As the child advances to youth, and from youth to manhood, and as he acquires the wisdom of maturer age and the increased strength of virtue, he is invited, under the guidance of that unseen Power, who proportions our trials to our strength, to different and perhaps more responsible scenes and duties. The hand, which at first restricted him to his father's home, and prescribed its limited duties, now points him to a wider sphere of endurance and action, as well as of joy and sorrow. Hidden in the vast and impenetrable future, no one can tell beforehand what that sphere will be. He may be called to labor in the field or the workshop, and, with his shepherd's staff or his plough, he may be either the master or the servant. He may be employed as the humble teacher of children in the elements of knowledge, or may be constituted a lawgiver in the halls of a national legislature. He may be the physician of the sick, and eminent in the gifts of healing, or he may himself be the inmate of a hospital, and be administered to by others, through long years of pain and despondency. To-day he is on a throne, — tomorrow in a prison.

4. Men, it is true, are often disposed to quarrel with God's providential arrangements. And the reason is, that the doctrine of providence implies that, in all situations, there is a God above and around us. But, however humbling the doctrine of special providence is to human pride and human reason, the simple and sublime fact still remains. God makes us, and God places us. In the language of Scripture, "A man's heart deviseth his way;
But the Lord directeth his steps.” The hand of a higher power has marked out the lines of our habitation. He builds up one, and casts down another. It does not depend upon man's talents, nor upon his education, nor upon his wealth, nor upon his friends, nor upon anything else that is human, what he shall be, or whether, in the worldly sense of the term, he shall be anything; where he shall go, or whether he shall go anywhere; but upon God alone.

God makes the arrangement; but the disposition with which we shall receive that arrangement, he leaves to ourselves. And let this satisfy us. In every arrangement which he makes, his aim is our highest good; but whether it will result in our highest good, depends upon the spirit in which we accept it. He never violates our moral liberty; and if, in the exercise of that liberty, we put our thoughts and our feelings in his keeping, he will give a heart so correspondent to our habitation, that our cottage will be beautiful in our sight as a palace, and the darkness of our dungeon as bright as the open day.

5. In connection with what has been said, there are a number of remarks yet remaining to be made. And one is, that the enclosure of Providence, the place of his habitation which God has chosen for him, is a man' s
only true home. There is no other; there can be no other. Let no sigh arise from his bosom; let no tear escape him, because his dwelling place, rough-hewn, perhaps, and built upon the rocks, is less beautiful than his neighbor's. Of one it can be said, "His lines have fallen to him in pleasant places, and he has a goodly heritage." Of another it can be said, with equal truth, "His house is left to him desolate." Nevertheless, if he stands within the demarcations of Providence, he occupies the place which the highest whom could design for him; he stands in his own true home, and he has no other.

6. Another remark is, that the position of Providence is the only place of safety. It is not safe for man, in violation of God's arrangements, to move beyond the line which God has marked out for him. It is not safe for him to have the smallest desire to go beyond it, or even to cast a look beyond it. Beyond this high and real barrier, — real though erected by an unseen hand and invisible to the outward sight, — there are temporal and, perhaps, spiritual riches, which are not ours, and which we are not allowed to reach after. The wealth which is beyond that line is destined for the possession of others. The crown of earthly honors which shines beyond that limit is not destined for our heads. Public religious instructions, no matter how rich and how true, which are given by religious teachers beyond that limit, are designed for others, and not for us. Even the private society of religious persons, however devoted they may be, is interdicted when it can be had only in violation of the divine limits. We must thus sacrifice the richest privileges and gifts, both spiritual and temporal, to the arrangements of Providence, in order that we may retain and enjoy, what is infinitely more valuable,
the God of Providence.

Keep with God in God's place, and thou shalt not only find inward riches, but inward and outward safety. The lines drawn around us by the providential law, constitute a "holy city," a "new Jerusalem," to those who dwell in it in faith, and who take God as their everlasting light. To such, contented with their allotment, whatever may be its temporal aspects, God will never fail to yield his presence and protection. "Only believe."

7. Another remark to be made is this. In order to keep the mind in that spiritual seclusion which is implied in being truly united with God, it is not necessary that we should quit our ordinary duties, and separate from our fellow-men. If the solitary places of forests and mountains are not interdicted, it is certain that they are not absolutely necessary. The man is in the true seclusion, the true spiritual retirement, who is shut up in the inclosures of Providence, with willingness and joy in being so. When we are in harmony with Providence, we are in harmony with God; and harmony with God implies all that seclusion from the world which is necessary. This is the true solitude. In its external forms it may be more or less. It may restrict us to the limits of a sick chamber; it may compress us within the walls of a prison; it may lead us for a time to the most retired and lonely place of meditation and worship; or it may allow us, on the other hand, the widest range of business and intercourse, and mingle us with the largest multitudes of men. But, whether its lines are stricter or more expanded, it is the true solitude, the place of retirement which God has chosen, the select and untrodden hermitage where the soul may find and delight itself with its Beloved.

8. In connection with the general views of this chapter, and the particular suggestions which naturally arise from them, we are reminded of the statements, often occurring in experimental writers, that the truly godly person is
exempt from desire. The meaning is, that such a person is exempt from perverted or unholy desire. And the form of expression arises from the fact, that his desires so perfectly harmonize with the divine arrangements, and are so perfectly met in the occurrences of each moment, that he is hardly conscious of their existence. It is the same thing as to be in perfect harmony with Providence.