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Wicked Men, the providential Instruments of
The Second Sermon on this Subject.
PROVERBS xvi. 4.
The Lord hath made all things for himself: yea, even the wicked
for the day of evil. a former discourse upon these words, I showed their meaning to be this: that as God made all things by his power, so he governs all things by his providence; and that he serves his own wise ends and uses of all things and all men; yea, even of wicked men, whom he makes the ministers of his wrath and the executioners of his vengeance in his day of visitation, when he comes to punish bad men; or else of his discipline, when he designs only to prove and exercise good men. Having thus opened the general meaning of the text, I next proposed, in the further prosecution of it,
I. To open and illustrate the general doctrine, by a more particular explication.
II. To shew the practical use and improvement of it.
In treating of the first, I shewed, by an enumeration of particulars, how the whole universe, with all things in it, are in God's hands, and all second causes steered and conducted by his overruling providence. But because the most material consideration of all, which the text itself lays the greatest emphasis upon, and which most wanted explaining, was the Divine conduct, with respect to the thoughts, words, or actions of wicked men ; I therefore dwelt more particularly upon that article, endeavouring both to prove the thing by reason and by examples; and next to account in some measure for it. I proceed to the second thing proposed ; namely, to shew the practical use and improvement of the doctrine before proved.
II. 1. I will begin with a practical inference which Solomon himself mentions in the verse before my text, and for the sake of which he subjoined the text itself. The practical inference which I mean, in his words runs thus : “ Commit thy works “ unto the Lord, and thy thoughts shall be established a. For if it be God that governs the world, and if all things depend upon his wise and good providence; it is very manifest, that it is both our duty and interest to submit all our concerns to him, upon whom all success and every blessing depend. If we would have our designs take, and our schemes prosper ; the way certainly is to make an interest to him who alone can
prosper them, and who alone can blast thein. We ought in every undertaking to implore the Divine blessing, and to commit the care of it, and the success, to him ; who, if he approves of it, will bring it to pass ; or if he be against it, not all the powers in heaven or in hell can effect it.
But here perhaps a question may arise about the use of means, and the necessity or serviceableness of human care or industry, for the compassing any honest and just designs. For it may seem, at first view, that, if God has determined to bring the thing to effect, human care and industry are superseded : or, if God has determined otherwise, then all endeavours are fruitless and vain.
But to this I answer, that miracles are not to be expected in the ordinary course of affairs; neither does God ordinarily bestow his blessings upon men, but in the use of such prudent and honest means as he himself has prescribed. For though no human means can ever certainly promise, or, properly speaking, procure success, (which depends upon God alone,) yet means must be used, as being the conditions, without the use of which, God will not ordinarily grant his assistance. Success in affairs is proposed by God, as the reward consequent upon proper care and application : and though the reward does not always follow upon the use of the means, (God for wise reasons ordering otherwise,) yet means are necessary to procure success at all, in ordinary cases : for God suspends his blessings upon men's submission to the methods he has appointed. If we suppose at any time that God has determined thus or thus, (which yet we are ignorant of;) we ought to suppose, at the same time, that he has so determined, upon a view of the use of the ordinary means proper ; and therefore instead of loitering, or neglecting the means, we ought to use all diligence and care in applying them. In the New Testament you find a very remarkable instance to our present purpose. St. Paul, being on shipboard at a time when there was a great tempest in the sea, had an angel sent from heaven to assure him, that there would, in the event, be “ no loss of any man's life;" as indeed it proved: but notwithstanding this infallible assurance, which he had received from heaven, and declared to the whole crew; a little after, upon a dispute that happened, whether to stay in the ship or flee out, he as peremptorily tells them, that except they stayed in the ship, they “ could not be saved b.” So necessary was it to use the proper means, though secure of the event by infallible prediction; because indeed the certainty of the event supposed the certainty of the means to be used, and one implied and included the other. Means therefore are to be used ; and we are to look
a Prov. xvi. 3.
to God for the success : which should make us careful to use no means but such as are strictly honest and pious, upon which we are secure to have God for our friend; and then, most undoubtedly, he will either accomplish what we aim at; or do what, in the end, will be better for us. So much for the first practical inference, which is general, drawn from the consideration that all things are God's, and that he directs, or moderates, as supreme arbitrator in all affairs, in all occurrences what
2. The next practical inference I shall take notice of, is drawn from the consideration of God's controlling and bridling wicked men in all their machinations, never giving the reins to them, but when he has some wise end and purpose of his own to serve by them ; either making them ministers of his justice, when he is pleased to punish, or instruments of discipline, when he is pleased to prove and exercise good men.
This consideration, if carefully pursued as it ought to be, may afford matter of comfort to good men, and may be of
b Acts xxvii. 31.
excellent use, many ways, for the regulating both our judgment and practice.
From hence we may learn, never to be afraid either of wicked men, or of devils; but to fear God, and him only. Wicked men, however malicious or mischievous, are yet weak in themselves. They are under correction and restraint. They are held, as it were, with bit and bridle, from falling upon any man; and can do nothing till God looses and slackens the reins. Fear not the men themselves, who have neither breath, nor life, nor limbs, nor thought, at their own disposal : but fear him who alone has the command of all, and does as he pleases. Strictly speaking, wicked men, or devils, can never afflict us : but God may afflict us by them. He may make use of them as saws, or as axes, or hammers, (as the Prophet Isaiah intimates,) to smite, wound, or to destroy us. But they are instruments only in all that they can do, instruments in the hands of God, and it is he only that can hurt us. He can do it by fire, or floods, or tempests without, or by diseases and distempers within. He can afflict us as well by wild beasts, or serpents, or any venomous creatures, as by wicked men ; and they are all equally under his power, and either afflict or forbear, according as he in his wise providence orders. Of him therefore be afraid, and in him be your dread, and in none other; for all centers and terminates in him. No affliction can overtake us, but by his direction and permission; and he is constantly upon the watch, sees what is doing, nay more, conducts and governs the event. To what purpose is it to be afraid of mere men, unless we imagine, that God will take advantage of us by their means : but if that be the case, how
many thousand ways are there besides for God to fall upon us, whenever he is pleased to take advantage of us, and is disposed to afflict us. There is no security against him, when he pleases to visit us: but against every thing else there is ; by. trusting in God, and committing ourselves solely to him.
A further use and improvement deducible from the same principle, is, to refer all the hard usage, all the injuries or troubles we meet with from men, to God the author of them. Men may deal unjustly, vilely, barbarously by us, when God permits : and when such cases happen, we should not look only to the second causes, which are merely instruments, but to God the sovereign disposer. Men may do very wickedly in taking our goods, which they have no right to, in aspersing our good
names by slander or calumny, or in committing violence upon our persons, which are not under their authority : but God has an unalienable righť and power over our goods, reputation, or persons; over our minds, bodies, or estates; and over all that belongs to us; to deprive us of any part, or of the whole at pleasure : and what men cannot do to us without the greatest iniquity, God may permit to be done, with all the justice imaginable; or perhaps is even kind and gracious in so ordering. Whenever therefore we receive any considerable injuries from men, the way is, to turn our eyes from them, and raise our thoughts higher up to God that governs them and us too. Consider why, or for what cause God sends us these troubles ; search and examine well and wisely upon what errand they come. Think whether we have not been guilty of some great offences, which have drawn down these sore judgments upon us.
Examine and search diligently whether they are sent by way of punishment, or for trial only and further improvement: whether to lead us to repentance of some gross sins, or whether only to chastise us for smaller failings; to wean our affections more and more from the world; to exercise our patience, and improve our virtues to a higher degree here, in order to arrive at greater degrees of glory hereafter. This kind of self-examination, on such occasions, is much better employment for us, than complaining of the hard usage, and stirring our passions up against the men who have injured us. What said David to Shimei, who had reviled and cursed him in a most insolent manner, and who deserved to die the death for doing so ? David was sensible that God's hand was in it, and that it was he who had brought that affliction, that shame, that reproach upon him, for the iniquity he had been guilty of in the matter of Uriah. For this reason, he put up the affront, and would not suffer the mad reviler to be punished, as he really deserved. - The Lord,” says he,“ hath " said unto him, Curse David." “ Let him alone, and let him
for the Lord hath bidden him d.” A very wise and a just reflection. Not that the Lord had directly ordered Shimei to curse David, neither did David so mean : but the Lord had let Shimei loose to revile and blaspheme, as his own brutal temper prompted him; and God gave him an opportunity of venting all his spleen and malice upon David, (a much better man than
c 2 Sam. xvi. 10.
d Ver. II.