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it was a chance that happened to us.” (a) They betrayed great folly indeed, after having been deceived by divination, to have recourse to fortune; yet at the same time we see them restrained, so that they cannot dare to suppose, the affliction which had befallen them was fortuitous. But how God, by the reins of his providence, directs all events according to his own pleasure, will appear by an eminent example. At the very same instant of time when David had been overtaken in the wilderness of Maon, behold the Philistines made an irruption into the land, and Saul was compelled to depart. If God, consulting the safety of his servant, laid this impediment in the way of Saul, then surely though the Philistines might have taken up arms suddenly and contrary to human expectation, yet we will not say that this happened by chance; but what to us seems a contingency, faith will acknowledge to have been a secret impulse of God. It is not always indeed that there appears a similar reason, but it should be considered as indubitably certain, that all the revolutions visible in the world proceed from the secret exertion of the Divine power. What God decrees, must necessarily come to pass; yet it is not by absolute or natural necessity. We find a familiar example in the bones of Christ. Since he possessed a body like ours, no reasonable man will deny that his bones were capable of being broken; yet that they should be broken was impossible. Hence again we perceive, that the distinctions of relative and absolute necessity, as well as necessity of consequent and necessity of consequence, were not without reason invented in the schools: since God made the bones of his Son capable of being broken, which however he had exempted from being actually broken, and thus prevented by the necessity of his purpose what might naturally have come to pass.
(a) 1 Sam. vi. 9.
"The proper Application of this Doctrine to render it useful
As the minds of men are prone to vain subtleties, there is the greatest danger that those who know not the right use of this doctrine will embarrass themselves with intricate perplexities. It will therefore be necessary to touch in a brief manner on the end and design of the Scripture doctrine of the Divine ordination of all things. And here let it be remarked, in the first place, that the providence of God is to be considered as well in regard to futurity, as in reference to that which is past; secondly, that it governs all things in such a manner as to operate sometimes by the intervention of means, sometimes without means, and sometimes in opposition to all means; lastly, that it tends to shew the care of God for the whole human race, and especially his vigilance in the government of the Church, which he favours with more particular attention. It must also be observed, that although the paternal favour and beneficence of God, or the severity of his justice, is frequently conspicuous in the whole course of his "providence; yet sometimes the causes of events are concealed, so that a suspicion intrudes itself, that the revolutions of human affairs are conducted by the blind impetuosity of fortune; or the flesh solicits us to murmur, as though God amused himself with tossing men about like tennis.balls. It is true indeed, if we were ready to learn with quiet and sober minds, that the final issue sufficiently proves the counsels of God to be directed by the best of reasons; that he designs either to teach his people the exercise of patience, or to correct their corrupt affections and subdue the licentiousness of their appetites, or to constrain them to the practice of self.denial, or to arouse them from their indolence; and on the other hand to abase the proud, to disappoint the cunning of the wicked, and to confound their machinations. Yet, however the causes may be concealed from us, or escape our observation, we must admit it as a certain truth, that they arc hidden with him: and must therefore exclaim with David, " Many, O Lord my God, are thy wonderful works which thou hast done, and thy thoughts which are to us.ward: they cannot be reckoned up in order unto thee: if I would declare and speak of them, they are more than can be numbered." (b) For though our miseries ought always to remind us of our sins, that the punishment itself may urge us to repentance; yet we see that Christ ascribes more sovereignty to the secret purpose of the Father in afflicting men, than to require him to punish every individual according to his demerits. For concerning him who was born blind,, he says, "Neither hath this man sinned, nor his parents: but that the works of God should be made manifest in him." (c) For here sense murmurs, when calamity precedes the very birth, as though it were a detraction from the Divine clemency thus to afflict the innocent. But Christ declares that the glory of his Father is manifested in this instance, provided our eyes are clear to behold it. But we must proceed with modesty, cautious that we call not God to an account at our tribunal; but that we entertain such reverence for his secret judgments, as to esteem his will the most righteous cause of every thing that he does. When thick clouds obscure the heaven, and a violent tempest arises, because a gloomy mist is before our eyes, and thunder strikes our ears, and terror stupefies all our faculties, all things seem to us to be blended in confusion; yet during the whole time the heavens remain in the same quiet serenity. So it must be concluded, that while the turbulent state of the world deprives us of our judgment, God by the pure light of his own righteousness and wisdom, regulates all those commotions in the most exact order, and directs them to their proper end. And certainly the madness of many in this respect is monstrous, who dare to arraign the works of God, to scrutinize his secret counsels, and even to pass a precipitate sentence on things unknown, with greater freedom than on the actions of mortal men. For what is more preposterous than towards our equals to observe such modesty, as rather to suspend our judgment than to incur the imputation of temerity; but impudently to insult the mysterious judgments
of God, which we ought to hold in admiration and reverence.
II. None therefore will attain just and profitable views of the providence of God, but he who considers that he has to do with his Maker and the Creator of the world, and submits himself to fear and reverence with all becoming humility. Hence it happens that so many worthless characters in the present day virulently oppose this doctrine, because they will admit nothing to be lawful for God, but what agrees with the dictates of their own reason. They revile us with the utmost possible impudence, because, not content with the precepts of the law, which comprehend the will of God, we say that the world is governed also by his secret counsels: as though indeed what we assert were only an invention of our own brain, and the Holy Spirit did not every where plainly announce the same, and repeat it in innumerable forms of expression. But as they are restrained by some degree of shame from daring to discharge their blasphemies against heaven, in order to indulge their extravagance with the greater freedom, they pretend that they are contending with us. But unless they admit, that whatever comes to pass in the world is governed by the incomprehensible counsel of God, let them answer, to what purpose is it said in the Scripture that his "judgments are a great deep?" (d) For since Moses proclaims, that the will of God is not to be sought far off, in the clouds or in the deep, (e) because it is familiarly explained in the law, it follows that there is another secret will, which is compared to a profound abyss: concerning which Paul also says, "O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God; how unsearchable are his judgments, and his ways past finding out! For who hath known the mind of the Lord, or who hath been his counsellor?" (f) It is true, that the law and the Gospel contain mysteries which far transcend our capacities; but since God illuminates the minds of his people with the spirit of understanding, to apprehend these mysteries which he hath condescended to reveal in his word, there we have now no abyss, but a way in which we may safely
(rf) Psalm xxxvi. 6. (i•) Dcut. xxx. 12—14. Rom. x. 6, 7.
if) Rom. xi.33, 34.
walk, and a lamp for the direction of our feet, the light of life, and the school of certain and evident truth. But his admirable method of governing the world is justly called a "great deep," because, while it is concealed from our view, it ought to be the object of our profound adoration. Moses has beautifully expressed both in few words: "The secret things," says he, "belong unto the Lord our God: but those things which are revealed belong unto us and to our children."(g) We see how he enjoins us, not only to devote our attention to meditations on the law of God, but to look up with reverence to his mysterious providence. This sublime doctrine is declared in the book of Job, for the purpose of humbling our minds. For the author concludes a general view of the machine of the world, and a magnificent dissertation on the works of God, in these words: "Lo, these are parts of his ways: but how little a portion is heard of him!" (h) For which reason, in another place he distinguishes between the wisdom, which resides in God, and the method of attaining wisdom which he hath prescribed to men. For after discoursing concerning the secrets of nature, he says that wisdom is known only to God, and "is hid from the eyes of all living." But a little after he subjoins, that it is published in order to be investigated; because it is said to men, "Behold the fear of the Lord, that is wisdom."(i) To the same purpose is this observation of Augustine: "Because we know not all that God does concerning us by an excellent order, we act according to the law in a good will only, but in other respects are actuated according to it: because his providence is an immutable law." Therefore, since God claims a power unknown to us of governing the world, let this be to us the law of sobriety and modesty, to acquiesce in his supreme dominion, to account his will the only rule of righteousness, and most righteous cause of all things. Not indeed that absolute will which is the subject of the declamation of sophists, impiously and profanely separating his justice from his power: but that providence which governs all things, from which originates nothing but what is right, although the reasons of it may be concealed from us.
( g) Drut. sxix. 29. (A) Job xxvi. 14. (r) Job xxrin. 21, 28.