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On our Lives being in the Hand of God.
[Preached at the Beginning of a New Year. *]
Psalm xxxi. 15.
My times are in thy hand.
our heads, the food that we receive, the rest that we enjoy, daily admonish us of a superiour power, on whom the inhabitants of the earth depend for light, life, and subsistence. But as long as all things proceed in their ordinary course; when day returns after day with perfect similarity; when our life seems stationary, and nothing occurs to warn us of any approaching change, the religious sentiments of dependence are apt to be forgotten. The great revolutions of time, when they come round in their stated order, have a tendency to force some impressions of piety even on the most unthinking minds. They both mark our existence on earth to be advancing towards its close, and exhibit our condition as continually changing ; while each returning year brings along with it new events, and at the same time carries us forwards to the conclusion of all.
* January 6th, 1793.
We cannot, on such occasions, avoid perceiving, that there is a Supreme Being, who holds in his hands the line of our existence, and measures out to each of us our allotted portion of that line. Beyond a certain limit, we know that it cannot be extended; and long before it reach that limit, it may be cut asunder by an invisible hand, which is stretched forth over all the inhabitants of the world. Then naturally arises the ejaculation of the text, My times, O God, are in thy hand. “ My fate “ depends on thee. The duration of my life, and “ all the events which in future days are to fill it, “ are entirely at thy disposal.” - Let us now, when we have just seen one year close, and another begin, meditate seriously on this sentiment. Let us consider what is implied in our times being in the hand of God; and to what improvement this meditation leads.
The text evidently implies, first, that our times are not in our own hand; that, as our continuance in life depends not on ourselves, so the events which are to happen while life remains, are unknown to us, and not under our own direction. Of this we may behold many a proof when we look back on the transactions of the year which is just finished. Recollection will readily present to us a busy period, filled up with a mixture of business and amusement, of anxieties and cares, of joys and sorrows. We have talked, perhaps, and acted much. We have formed many a plan; in public or in private life, we have been engaged in a variety of pursuits. Let me now ask, how small a proportion of all that has happened could have been foreseen, or foretold by us ? How
many things have occurred, of which we had no expectation ; some, perhaps, that have succeeded beyond our hopes; many, also, that have befallen us contrary to our wish? How often were each of us admonished that there are secret wheels, which, unseen by us, bring about the revolutions of human affairs; and that, while man was devising his way, Providence was directing the event ?
That scene is now closed. The tale of that year. has been told. We look forward to the year which is beginning; and what do we behold there? - All, my brethren, is a blank to our view: A dark unknown presents itself. We are entering on an untried, undiscovered country, where, as each succeeding month comes forward, new scenes may open; new objects may engage our attention; changes at home or abroad, in public or in private affairs, may alter the whole state of our fortune. New connections may be at hand to be formed, or old ones just about to be dissolved; perhaps, we may
have little more to do with this world, or with any of its connections; we may be standing on the verge of time and life, and on the point of passing
into a new region of existence. In short, the · pect before us is full of awful uncertainty. Life and
death, prosperity and adversity, health and sickness, joy and trouble, lie in one undistinguishable mass, where our eye can descry nothing through the obscurity that wraps them up.
While it is thus certain that our times are not at our own disposal, we are taught by the text, that they are in the hand of God. This may be considered in two views. Our times are in the hand of God, as
á supreme Disposer of events. They are in the hand of God, as a Guardian and a Father.
Our times, I say, are in the hand of God as a supreme irresistible Ruler. All that is to happen to us in this and the succeeding years of our life, — if any succeeding years we shall be allowed to see, has been foreknown and arranged by God. The first view under which human affairs present themselves to us, is that of confused and irregular succession. The events of the world seem thrown together by chance, like the billows of the sea, tumbling and tossing over each other, without' rule or order. All that is apparent to us, is the fluctuation of human caprice, and the operation of human passions. We see the strife of ambition, and the efforts of stratagem, labouring to accomplish their several purposes among the societies of men. But it is no more than the surface, the outside of things that we behold. Higher counsels, than it is in our power to trace, áré concerned in thể transactions of the world. If we believe in God at all, as the Governour of the universe, we must believe that, without his providence, nothing happens on earth. He over-rules, at his pleasure, the passions of men. He bends all their designs into subserviency to his decree. He makes the wrath of män to praise him; and rëstrăins, in what measure he thinks fit, the remainder of wrath. * He brings forth in their course all the generations of men. When the time is come for their entering into light, they appear on the stage ; and when the time fixed for their dismission arrives, he changes their countenance, and sends them away.
* Psalm 1xxvi. 10.
The time of our appearing is now come, after our ancestors had left their place, and gone down to the dust. We are at present permitted to act our part freely and without constraint. No violence is done to our inclination or choice. But assuredly there is not a day of our life, nor an event in that day, but was foreseen by God. That succession of occurrences, which to us is full of obscurity and darkness, is all light and order in his view. He sees, from the beginning to the end; and brings forward every thing that happens in its due time and place.
Our times are altogether in his hand. Let us take notice, that they are not in the hands either of our enemies, or of our friends. It is not in the power of man to shorten or to prolong our life, more or less than God has decreed. Enemies may employ craft or violence in their attacks ; friends may employ skill and vigilance for the preservation of our health and safety; but both the one and the other can have effect only as far as God permits. They work in subserviency to his purpose. By him they are held in invisible bonds. To the exertions of all human agents he says, Hitherto shalt thou comès and no farther.
We are to observe next, that our times äre in the hand of God, not only as an almighty Disposer, but as a merciful Guardian and Father. We are by no means to imagine, that from race to race, and from year to year, God sports with the lives of succeeding generations of men, or in the mere wantonness of arbitrary power, brings them forth, and sends them away. No; if we have any confidence in what either the light of nature suggests to all men, or what
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