|« Prev||Lecture V. Preached January 29, 1692.||Next »|
Thus we have fully spoken to these words as they concern the spiritual and eternal state of men, which is the apostle’s principal scope as you may see, in the foregoing part of the chapter, and of the same verse; “having predestinated us to the adoption of children by Jesus Christ to himself, according to the good pleasure of his will.” verse 5. And here, “ac cording to the purpose of him that worketh all things according to the counsel of his own will,” But you see, that from that special consideration of the counsel or purpose of his own will, or the good pleasure thereof, the apostle makes a very easy, natural transition unto this more general proposition which comprehends all that could be said, including the former in it, and much more. And therefore, having spoken to the more limited object already, of the counsel of the divine will, I shall proceed to speak somewhat of the counsel of God’s will concerning the other affairs of men, besides those of their souls or of their eternal state.
And though it be very true that God’s agency about all 185these outward concernments of men, do belong to another head of theology, that is, his providence; yet, the counsel of his will, according whereunto that agency is directed about these affairs, as well as those others that we have already spoken to, comes properly under our consideration here. And therefore, to that I shall speak somewhat briefly; to wit, the counsel of the divine will respecting the present concernments of men in the world, so far as it may be needful and useful to us; that so we may detract nothing from God, that doth truly and right fully belong to him, and that we may not lose the advantage of the pleasant sentiments and relishes which we may have ourselves, and in our own spirits from the right stating of this matter, which we shall, therefore, endeavour as much as in us is. And shall in speaking of it do these four things—speak of the extent of the object about which the counsel of the divine will is said to be conversant—of the counsel of the divine will itself, its nature and significancy in reference to that object or sort of objects that we are now to consider—give you briefly the reasons why we are to ascribe such a thing to God as counsel and purpose touching these affairs of ours, and—labour to shew you, that no ill consequence can reasonably and justly, be drawn from hence.
I. The extent of the object: sure we are not otherwise to circumscribe it than the letter of the text; WHO WORKETH ALL THINGS. For that special sort of object, the souls of men, and their spiritual and eternal state, we have spoken to already, which falls within the compass and comprehension, you plainly enough see, in the general expression in the text. And having spoken to that, even all other concernments besides we must understand to be within the compass of the object too: and therefore, that the counsel of the divine will is conversant about them; that is, whatsoever be hath any agency about, about that also, the counsel of his will hath place, for “he worketh all things according to the counsel of his will.” He doth nothing unwillingly, he wills nothing unadvisedly: therefore, whereas all things lie under his agency, all things lie under the counsel of his will.
More especially, whatsoever he hath made any law about; in reference to whatsoever he hath given us rules and precepts, these are called counsels often, and often in Scripture: they are the counsels and mandates of his will. These all lie under the counsel of his will.
There is no state or condition that men can be in, in this world, but there are regulations and precepts given in reference thereto. Whatsoever is matter of threatening or of promise, 186the sanctions annexed to his precepts, (as there are many things of threatening and promise that are of temporal concernments,) these still must be considered as being within the same compass. Whatsoever may be matter of affliction or of comfort, whatsoever may have in it any thing of blessing, or any thing of cursing, (as there are temporal blessings and temporal curses besides the eternal ones,) all these, we must understand to be consulted of, in the sense we formerly opened unto you, excluding all the imperfections, and including all the perfection that can be any way conceived or signified by it.
Moreover, all the private concernments of men, personal and domestic; the concernments of the world, of kingdoms and nations, political concernments: the concernments of the church of God in the world, which may be considered under the measure of time; they are all to be considered within the object of divine purpose and counsel.
The more private, personal or domestic concernments of men; they belong to this object, and cannot be excluded. The time of every one’s coming into this world, and the time of his going out of it: the “time to be born, and the time to die;” they lie under the determination of the divine counsel, directive of his will: even touching them, there is a time for every purpose under the sun. These, among the rest, “a time to be born and a time to die.” Eccles. iii. 2. Skipping over (as it were) the intervening time, as if that were little worth the notice: yet only not noting it there, but in the mean time not excluding it neither, as is evincible enough from many other texts. But it is to be observed, (if you compare that with another passage in the same book: chap. 8. 6.) as to every purpose, there belongs a season, so to every season there belongs judgment; to every purpose there is time and judgment. That must, undoubtedly, primarily, mean divine judgment, which is the perfection of counsel; that which with men is the result of counsel, and which therefore, must signify somewhat analogous with God: there is the judgment of wisdom and counsel, that is determinative of every season, every time, for whatsoever purpose, or occurrence that falls out to any of the sons of men. And the time between these two times, the time of their being born, and the time when they are to die: that lies tinder the same determination. His days and months and years are all set and appointed; as it is fully expressed in Job xiv. 6.
And so the conditions of men, while they are here in this world, whether they shall be high or low; whether they shall be rich or poor; every one hath his dimension, his allowance 187ordered for him; and no doubt therefore, pre-ordained. Whatsoever portion any man hath of the things of this life, whether it be more, or whether it be less, it is all given. Even what the ravens have, the fowls of the air and the beasts of the field, it is all given: and much more what every man hath, is by the divine allowance and vouchsafement. To every living thing he gives what is convenient and suitable for the sup port of that life which he had given it before. But what he gives, he gives willingly, not against his will. And what he did once will, (as you formerly heard,) he could not but ever will, and there can be no new one with him.
And how particular persons do branch into families; this all lies under the particular direction even of divine counsel an*d purpose. And so, what allotments such and such families shall have; and those as they multiply and do increase, “even unto nations and kingdoms,” as you see, Acts xvii. 26. As God hath made of one blood all nations of men to dwell on all the face of the earth; so he hath determined the times of all, and appointed the very bounds of their habitations; assigned to every one his place where he shall be. It hath been the matter of the counsel of the divine will, even concerning us, that our lot should fall in such and such a part of the world: that we should dwell so much of our time in such a place; that our lot should be cast in England, or for so long a time in Lon don; and in what circumstances and with what advantages one way or other. All these things, as they have been ordered by the great Lord of all, so they are not ordered by him incogitantly, but according to the eternal counsel and purpose that are understood to have passed concerning us. The very meanest things that can any way belong to us, or belong to this world, being expressly mentioned to come under the divine cognizance and care; it is plain such concernments as these cannot be excluded. As when we are told, all the hairs of our heads are numbered; and that a sparrow cannot fall to the ground without our heavenly Father. And that is our Saviour’s reasoning from hence, “Are not ye of more value than they, than many sparrows?” Now, if these things be the matter of the very care and agency of providence, they must have been the matter of an eternal purpose and counsel, for the reason again and again repeated before, that nothing can be new with God; no new thought, no new counsel or purpose.
And to consider, to what particularities the divine eye and purpose do reach; what we find recorded and comes under our notice by way of history, that therefore, must suppose there 188hath been an eternal view, even of the same things, and a purpose concerning them. As for instance, that which appears to be the most barren part of the Bible, that large account that we have of genealogy in Scripture; How should Moses possibly come to know through the successions of so many hundreds of years, even two thousand years before him, what children such and such men had, all those that are reckoned up, and how many years they lived? And it was thought fit that should be put down: and how such families were ranked, and what nations sprang from them; all these must needs have been matter of divine Revelation, and therefore, were matter of divine knowledge, and therefore, were eternally so: all things being in the same order, under the divine eye, wherein they actually come to pass in the world.
So all the removes of men to and fro, here upon earth. “Thou tellest my wanderings,” saith David; there is not a step taken this way or that, but all is under the divine direction and provision and purpose, that so and so it shall be.
And if you enlarge your thoughts further, to the concernments of formed nations and kingdoms, collective bodies, they must be understood also, to be within the compass of this object. The alterations in kingdoms; the seasons and intervals of rests and disturbances; of peace and of war, of plenty and of scarcity; of a prosperous and of an adverse posture of affairs, in respect of any, whatsoever, favourable providences or judgments that come upon these; these all lie under the counsel of the divine will. The revolutions of governments, when they are past, when they pass from form to form; God hath been pleased to give some more extraordinary proof and demonstration of his regency in these kingdoms, on purpose that it may be known (as Nebuchadnezzar, that great prince was forced to confess) that God rules over the kingdoms of men, and gives them to whom he pleaseth. Dan. iv. 32. The Most High rules in the kingdom of men. It is not said kingdoms, importing this whole world to be one kingdom to him, one great monarchy, all lying under his imperial power. And all this must be understood to be according to counsel, and according to purposes that were with him eternally. For (as hath been said before) his being is so; Et eternum non patitur novum; no new thing can fall out in eternity.
And so, for the state of his church in general, or of particular churches upon earth; all their concernments, as they are such, they fall under the counsel of the divine will which orders all their circumstances in reference to them; sometimes making their condition more prosperous and favourable, and 189sometimes, move adverse, for trial and needful exercise of their graces, in these kinds wherein it is requisite such graces should have their exercises, which he hath adapted to such special purposes. So large (and for our thoughts, let them go as large, and far as they will or can) is the object about which the counsel of the divine will is conversant. But,
2. Something is to be said concerning the nature of such counsel and will, as it respects such an object; or this more special sort of object which I most intend in the present discourse. Why,
( I.) This is always to be held concerning the counsel of the divine will, that it is most perfectly wise; all things being in view to him at once, open to one eternal view in all their connections, references and dependancies; he having a thorough and everlasting perspection, even of all at once, of the things themselves and of their connection with one another, even as they are connected, not because they are so, so as to pass from one connected thing to another, as we in our more imperfect way of knowing things are constrained to do. And,
(2.) The counsel of his will must therefore, hereupon, be immutable: being most perfectly wise, there can be no imaginable? reason of any change. He never needs alter his measures: “Known to him are all his works from the beginning of the world,” was that grave saying of the apostle James, in that synod at Jerusalem. Acts xv. 18. Whatsoever he hath to do, or doth do, that he designed to do; for he acts nothing casually: and what he did design to do, he did consult about, so far as consulting can have place with him: we explained the sense of it before, that is, that he hath perfect perspection of all that is requisite and fit to be done, and so did purpose according thereto, and then doth according to that purpose. And therefore, to consider, besides the nature of such a divine purpose and counsel, its reference and significancy to human affairs. I say,
(3.) This same counsel of the divine will, it is a measure to himself of all his own agency, what he will do, and what he will not do; how far he will exert his influence, and wherein he will suspend it: how he will direct it this way and that, and how he will limit it. And,
(4.) By consequence, it must needs be a measure of all events; because nothing can eventually fallout, but according to his will, either effecting or permitting; and there being no determination of his will which is not still under the direction of divine counsel. And all this, we must understand to be constantly transacting with him, with the greatest clearness, 190and with the greatest facility imaginable. You do observe among men, vastly different tempers and complexions of mind; some seem to be almost constantly calm and sedate, composed and serene, there appears nothing torpid or unequal in their frame or habit. Now, if we can conceive among human minds what is more perfect, and what is less, sure it should not be difficult to us to take our assent, and conceive concerning the Divine Mind, that it must be most absolutely perfect, never liable to any cloud, to any discomposure, all things lying in a most perfect clearness, and having their eternal formation or form there, with the greatest imaginable facility: and infinitely more than we can imagine. So as there is no cause for any thought concerning a plenus negotii Deus, as the epicurean objecteth, concerning such a Deity as should be engaged and taken up about making, and about governing such a world as this, that this must give too much business to such a Being, as we are not to conceive of otherwise than as perfectly happy, it not consisting (as they foolishly imagine) with the felicity and happiness of such a Being. But when we can conceive in some men, with how very great composure of mind they go through a great variety of business, their minds being always clear and serene, can we not consider concerning God, that his understanding is infinite, as reason and Scripture do most plainly speak; and so that nothing could ever be excluded it, or lie without it? as the various images of things are represented in a clear glass, detected there, without giving any toil or labour to the glass, or inferring upon it any change. And so the schools have been wont to speak of God’s eternal knowledge of things, that he beholds them all as in an everlasting and eternal speculum, there being that perpetual and eternal clearness in the Divine Mind, that things lie there without any discomposure to him, without any disorder, in the same state and frame, wherein they do actually fall out; so as when they do actually fall out, whatsoever disturbance there is of one thing with another, and among the things themselves variously interfering, yet all these things are beheld without disturbance to him: as the various motions and agitations of many persons in a room, all represented in a clear glass, make no disturbance or discomposure in it at all, whatsoever there is in the things represented. Therefore, I pass,
3. To the reasons why we are to ascribe to God such a concern about human affairs, so as to employ the counsel of 1m will, even from eternity about them. I will shortly name to you these two plain and obvious things, as the reasons thereof, besides what Scripture doth, in many more places than those that I 191have named, expressly assert about it: 1st. The most absolute perfection of hiss nature cannot but infer it: and 2d. the supremacy, the universality and accurateness of his government.
(1.) The perfection of his nature, that cannot but infer it. He being every way perfect, absolutely perfect, (which he must be, if he be God, we have no other notion of a Deity but of a being absolutely and universally perfect,) he must be omniscient, and must know all things: and if so, he must always have known them; for if ever he did not know them, there will be some addition to his knowledge when he comes to do so. But that knowledge to which there can be an addition is imperfect; and therefore, the divine knowledge could never admit of any addition, but all things, (as was said before) must have lain open everlastingly with him to one eternal view. And,
(2.) The supremacy, universality, and exactness of his government, doth necessarily infer it. Inasmuch as he is Lord over all, and is Most High, there can be none above him that should be director of such affairs. And inasmuch as he is universal Governor, if any affairs lie not under his government, they can lie under none. It is not a supposable thing, that one part of the creation should be governed, and another ungoverned; part under a ruler and the other part under no rule at all. And then, the exactness of his government, not considered absolutely, but respectively, that is, with respect to the state of the governed creatures, the governed communities that lie under the management and dominion of his kingdom. We are to consider this world as in a state of apostasy; and we are not to expect that he should deal with this world, as if men were in a perfect state, for their frame and temper are far from perfect. He deals with them as suitable to the state of apostates, as those that have been, and are, in rebellion against him gene rally. And admirable it is that the methods of his government should be so mild and propitious; and that so much of common order should be preserved among them thereby, as we find there is, this being considered. But to such government, eternal provision and purpose are always necessary, and could not but be necessary. There must be eternal foresight of all that was to be done, and eternal purpose and counsel thereupon. We thence come,
4. To consider, that there can be nothing of ill consequence, justly and reasonably, drawn from hence. What is most supposable in this case, and of this kind, that is, which may present itself to a first view under the notion of an ill, or inconvenient 192consequence, which chiefly lies under one of these two heads, 1st. That this hypothesis will preclude the use of human prudence; and 2d. that it will shut out prayer. These are two things that carry a first and more obvious appearance of an ill consequence, upon the supposition of what we have been hitherto asserting. But I shall labour to evince, that neither of these consequences can, with any reasonable colour, be thought to ensue. As,
(1.) That here, there should be no place nor use for human prudence. Thus some may too hastily think and pronounce, If there be a divine counsel and purpose about every thing that a man can do, or about every thing that shall occur to him, that he may either enjoy or suffer, to what purpose is it for men to consult and determine, or contrive this way or that? as not knowing but that they may, in the very thing they design and go about, run counter to the counsels of the divine will; and so all will be in vain, and to no purpose. We shall give you some considerations to shew the m-consequence, that it follows not, that there is no pretence that the use of human prudence should hereby be excluded. As,
[1.] That all things are determined by God to fall out in the way wherein they do fall out. I told you at first, when I entered upon this subject, we are not to conceive any such thing concerning him, as that he doth decree and determine things abstractly, without reference to the media by which they are to be brought about. We are to impute no such thing to God, with reference to the eternal states of men, as we spake then; that whatsoever a man doth he shall be damned, be he never so good, never so strict, never so pious; or that whatsoever such a man doth, he shall be saved, let him be never so wicked, never so irreligious or profane; never so strongly persist and persevere in such a course. We are to impute no such thing, no such counsel to the wise and holy God. Neither his word, nor the reason of the thing leads us to any such thought concerning him. And so, in reference to these lower affairs, we are never to think any such thing concerning him, as if he laid down purposes and decrees concerning this or that end, without connecting in his own eternal mind and view, the whole scheme of all the ways and methods and means by which such ends are to be compassed and brought about. And therefore,
[2.] Those things which, according to the counsel of his will, are to be brought about by the intervention and exercise of human prudence; these things are actually so brought about: 193whatsoever is effected, whatsoever is done by the exercise of the prudence of a man, it lay in the divine mind and counsel, as a thing not only to be brought about, but to be brought about so, and in that way, by that very means, by the deliberation, and by the prudent contrivances of such and such of his creatures, that should serve his purpose in such a way. And therefore,
[3.] In this case, and in reference to all such events, the very objection is an argument. The objection, the possible use, or advantageous use, of human prudence is a proof and demonstration of it: for, according to divine counsel and purpose, such a thing as doth actually occur and come to pass by human prudence, was determined so to come to pass, by the intervention of human prudence. And again,
[4.] It is the much more common course, in the way of God’s dispensation towards his creatures, to let things go on according to the posture and aptitude of the second causes by which they are effected and brought about; it is much the more common and usual course. He who is the supreme Ruler and Lord of all, is not to be supposed but he may at pleasure lay on a restrictive or regulating hand, as he sees meet to alter the natural course and tendency of things. But ordinarily he doth not so, but things do run on according to the aptitude and disposition and posture of the second causes, by the ministry whereof they are effected and brought about. And even as to voluntary and rational agents, whereas, the men of this world, (who are such agents,) are generally wicked, God generally, and for the most part, doth not hinder the ill purposes that they have formed and contrived and set themselves to execute. That, the Psalm ist supposeth to be the common case when, in that psal. xxxvii. 7. he gives so weighty counsel in reference to that case, not fretting, nor letting our hearts tumultuate and arise and swell within us, because of evil men that bring their wicked devices to pass, implying this to be the more ordinary case, that wicked men do bring their wicked devices to pass, God doth not lay that restraint, for great and holy ends and reasons, which will appear in their lustre and glory one day; but lets things run on in their own course according as the inclinations and aptitudes of other second causes do lead. And this being observably so, it is the most unreasonable thing in the world, to suppose that in rarer instances wherein the purposes of men are disappointed and frustrated by some signal hand from God, therefore the natural operations that do belong to men should be concluded to be generally or universally useless, or to be 194precluded: or that the principles were useless which were suited to such operations or ends as those. But,
[5.] We are further to consider, that if God doth more extraordinarily interpose, so as to disappoint the evil purposes of men, contrived by their subtilty and craft, (which they are apt enough themselves to misname prudence,) he doth it in no such way as offers violence to the rational nature. He doth it by letting men befool themselves, or by letting them befool one another, or sometimes by letting the devil befool them, He sometimes lets one man befool another: as when that counsel of Hushai, proved to be the means by which God turned (as David prayed he would,) Ahitophel’s counsel into foolishness. Sometimes, he lets the devil befool men, acting according to his own inclinations which he restrains not. He lets him loose as he did to deceive Ahab, being a lying spirit in the mouth of his prophets, unto Ahab’s destruction. He would not, himself, infuse a lie into the mind of Ahab, (which was a thing his nature was most abhorrent from, being the God of truth,) neither would he let a good angel go and tell a lie to him, as unbeseeming and, indeed, impossible to one that had the divine image in perfection in his nature. But there being a proneness in the wicked spirit (as the matter is parabolically and dramatically represented) to go and deceive Ahab, in his prophets, to his destruction, he lets him go. But there is no violence offered to the rational nature of man in all this. He acts by judgment, (such as it is) that is, by a mistaken judgment; not by none, or against judgment, against a practical judgment, which indeed to the nature of man were impossible. And those that are under such deceptions as these, when they do indeed play the fool: as Ahitophel’s counsel was turned into foolishness and they all became fools that followed it, yet they thought themselves wise in so doing: and so, those that were reckoned or did reckon themselves wise, were taken in their own craftiness, and their counsels driven headlong, as in Job v. 13. the expression is. And what they do in such kinds, under such deception, they do freely and with complacency, pleasing themselves in their own way; so as there is no violence offered to the nature of man, considering him as a rational, and as a voluntary agent in what he doth, even then, when hi& purposes are inverted and disappointed. But then,
[6.] If men do take up such purposes as it seems meet to. the great and holy God to frustrate and disappoint, (which by extraordinary interposition, as hath been said, he doth very rarely: be is sparing in instances of that kind,) yet, that, men 195are to blame themselves for; either, that they did propose to themselves unlawful designs; or, that they did pursue and prosecute lawful ones unlawfully; whence it hath seemed meet to that wisdom which governs the world, either to cross and defeat their designs, or to check and rebuke them, that they may reflect on and understand their own folly in so mishaping in their own course, as they “are often wont to do when they take up wicked purposes, and form wicked designs which prove abortive. And how should it be otherwise, if they take counsel against the Lord and his anointed one, his Christ? Do you think it strange that that should be, in vain? t( Wherefore doth the heathen rage, and the people imagine a vain thing?” Why is it a vain thing that they imagine and device? It is counsel against the Lord and his Messiah. And if there be an inverture of the counsel and purposes of men which do lie cross to the divine counsel and purpose, and that they clash with one another, what wonder is that? Nay, whose will is it fit should rule and oversway in such a case? Is God to quit the sovereignty and yield up his throne and sceptre, and say unto vain creatures, “Be it according to your mind, and according to your will,” when they will nothing but mischief, wrong to him, and ruin to all that are better than themselves? And some times, they pursue the most lawful things unlawfully: and then it is meet that God should someway or other give a check to them. As in such an instance as the apostle James mentioneth, (chap. iv. 13.) of such as say, in the power of their own self-conceit and self-will and self-confidence, “We will go to such and such a city, and will tarry there a year, and we will buy and sell and get gain:” and forget all this while that they live under the divine dominion and government; that they ought to say, “If the Lord will, we will do so and so.” It is very fit, that in such cases, God should put them in mind they have a Lord over them, and that he should give a check to such insolencies. And if they meet with rebukes because they will not carry themselves like those that live under the dominion and government of a Ruler who is superior to them, they will not walk in that light which before hath been made to shine in their minds and consciences, and God takes a severe method with them, to make them know themselves and him; there is nothing unfit done in the case. He doth but what he owes to himself to do, that he may do himself right, that he may not lose the honour and acknowledgment that are due to him, as he is Lord of all. But now, upon such a supposition as this, it is no more reasonable to say, that the understanding, or reason, or wisdom, or prudence which any man hath, is given him in vain, than it 196would be to say, that because such and such a man is a very prudent, wise man, it is altogether in vain that he should have a prudent servant. And yet, there is no man so wise, but if he have occasion for a servant, he will have an understanding man to be his servant, and not a fool; a prudent one, and not one that is rash and foolish, and would do things precipitately and to disadvantage. But how unreasonable would it be to say, that because such a wise master will not let even this wise servant do his business his own way, but will check and control him and exercise the authority of a master over him, therefore, such a man hath a prudent servant in vain? Who would be so foolish as to say, the prudence of such a servant is to no purpose unless he may be master, and carry every thing his own way, according to his own mind and fancy? Or suppose a man had a watch that ordinarily goes well as he would have it, but sometimes he finds it to err, and then he rectifies it with his finger; would the owner of this watch, taking upon him to rectify it with his finger, say, “To what purpose are all the contrivances of this watch, and to what purpose are the several wheels and movements in it, if a man shall move it with his finger?” There is as little reason to pretend, that prudence and wisdom are given to any man in vain, because God will over rule him and shew himself to be supreme in sundry such instances as may occur. I say, there is as little reason to say and allege this, as there would be to say, that all the articles in a watch are in vain, because it may need sometimes to be rectified and corrected by a wise finger.
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