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men, to expect from God that he should openly appear it
the support of good men; yet it is rational to expect from his :: providence, “that all things shall work together' (which is the language of Scripture) • for the good of those who love him."
And this leads to another, and indeed the great difficulty of the case, which relates to the sufferings of good men, and the suspicion they are apt to entertain of God's kindness towards them, whilst they suffer under the weight of his afflicting hand.
The complaints of this sort to be met with in Scripture are of two sorts: one regards the national calamities of the Jews; the other, the sufferings of particular men.
The first made the subject of the Psalmist's complaint in the text; as is probable from the conclusion of the Psalm, in which he reckons up the great things formerly done by God for the deliverance of his people; and concludes with one of the greatest, Thou leddest thy people like a flock by the hand of Moses and Aaron.' His seeking comfort, from a remembrance of God's great kindnesses to Israel, intimates that his sorrow was on account of their sufferings.
But however the Psalmist might be affected by the calamities of the people to whom he was so nearly related; yet who. ever reads the history of this people in their own books, will hardly think that their sufferings, as a nation, stand as an objection to Providence: they were under the highest obligations to obedience, and the most forward to disobey of any other : and it appears that, as often as they repented of their iniquity, they were saved from such destructions as seemed to leave no hope for their restoration, But the case of suffering nations in general, without considering the merit of any particular nation, is so intricated by a great variety of circumstances, that it is hard to form a distinct judgment. The iniquity of a nation is made up of the iniquities of many; and, it may be presumed, no nation was ever so bad, but that there were some good people in it: these, be they many or few, are involved in the general ruin, and their case makes a distinct difficulty. Now, though it be scarce possible for us, who can with no certainty judge of each other, to estimate the virtue and vice of nations, so as to say when they are ripe for destruction, yet there are some general observations which lie within our reach, that will.
help to justify the providence of God in this part of divine government, and silence complaints on this head.
First, there is a natural tendency in vice and immorality to weaken and destroy nations and governments; and that it should be so is agreeable, in general, to the notion we have of God's justice and goodness.
Secondly, it is also agreeable to our sense of justice and goodness, that nations, quite degenerate and corrupted, should not be suffered to continue and prosper, and to spread their vice and iniquity by means of their power and authority.
Thirdly, these principles allowed, the whole difficulty lies in the application of them to particular cases; which application to particular cases depending on circumstances which we cannot possibly know, the objection arises, not from the reason of the case, but merely from our ignorance of it: and where is the wonder that there should be many things in the administration of divine government, the reasons of which we cannot comprehend ? The general method of Providence, in exalting virtuous and sober nations, in humbling the proud and profligate, is confessedly agreeable to justice; and no man can complain of it. There is no room therefore for any complaint at all, but when these rules of justice are misapplied; and it is not only weakness, but great presumption to say these rules are in any case transgressed, because it is a point in which human reason cannot judge. Whoever therefore enters into this complaint may certainly say with the Psalmist, . It is my infirmity.'
The miseries of which good men have a share in all public calamities will fall under the next head, which relates to the private and particular sufferings of good men.
These complaints must be considered as made by others in behalf of those who suffer; or as made by the sufferers them. selves. When others make this complaint in behalf of the sufferers, they evidently assume a fact for which they can have no proof, that the sufferers are innocent righteous persons; and therefore it is great weakness and infirmity in them to complain against Providence, on supposition of a fact of which they cannot possibly judge.
The characters of men, in the eye of the world, depend on their outward behavior; and when men behave so as to deserve a good character, it is great want of candor and charity to suspect them of evil: to treat them as deserving ill would be a direct violation of common justice: for since we have no way of judging men but by their outward conduct, to treat those ill who appear to us to deserve well, is acting against the only rule we have to direct us in the administration of justice. But when we judge of God's dealing with men, and call him to account for his justice, this rule, by which we are bound to judge and direct ourselves, is a very unsafe one to follow, and may easily misguide us : the reason is, because, though we must take men's characters from the only rule we have to go by, their external behavior, yet their true and real character, as to virtue and vice, is determinable only by their inward principles and sentiments, which are known to God alone, who searcheth the hearts and reins.' To judge men to be wicked because we see they are miserable, would be acting without charity towards men: to judge them to be innocent, and therefore unjustly treated when they suffer, would be acting with great presumption towards God. From which two considerations, the rule of our duty in these cases must appear to be this, to treat men as they appear to us to deserve, whether they are fortunate or unfortunate in the world ; and forbear all censures on divine Providence, which acts by rules of the highest justice, though undiscoverable by us in particular cases.
But farther, the man who suffers may be what you take him to be, a very good man; and yet his sufferings no just occasion
any complaint on his behalf. One good man saw this and confessed it in his own case, It is good for me that I was afflicted : before I was in trouble I went astray. Even good men in this life want sometimes admonitions to awaken their care, sometimes trials to perfect their faith. And unless you can judge certainly (which most certainly you cannot do) of the end and purposes of Providence in permitting a good man to suffer, you can never, with any pretence of reason, pass judgment on the ways of God.
As this is true with respect to the temporary sufferings of the righteous; so is it likewise true, even when the righteous are given up to destruction in this world, and perish, in the eyes of
the world, miserably. Consider the case of all the martyrs who have died for the testimony of God's truth : do you esteem them as good men given up by God, without mercy, to sundry kinds of cruel death ? If you do not, it is evident that good men may suffer, even to death, without any just reflexion on the goodness of God.
The truth of the case is this; since all men must die, in the time and manner of death the difference cannot be great: and how hard soever it may be to reconcile ourselves to death, to unnatural and violent death especially; yet, on the strictest scrutiny of reason, it can be no loss to a good man, if there be any truth in religion, to be removed at any time out of this world into a better. And this will account for the case of the righteous, supposed to suffer in the destruction of a wicked nation: they fall indeed like other men; but they fall into the hands of God, who knows how to distinguish their case and to compensate all their miseries. I am not recommending these kind of sufferings to your liking, or trying to reconcile your natural sentiments to them: this only I contend for, that, on principles of reason and religion, no objection can lie against divine Providence on their account. But to proceed :
When the sufferer complains in his own behalf, where is the man who will venture to put his complaint into this form, that à righteous man is suffering unjustly? We pray daily to God not to enter into judgment with us;' and, I think, no man will care to begin, and enter into judgment with God: before he does, he must satisfy himself in these particulars; that he has been guilty of no offence to deserve the punishment of sufferings; that he is so perfect às not to want the admonition of them; that he is so approved as to want no trial.
Whoever can come to think of himself in this manner will not say of his own complaint, 'It is my infirmity;' but if the rest of the world say no worse of him, they will deal very tenderly by him.
I have now gone through the general cases which fall under my subject: as to the suspicions about Providence and the care of God over us, which have in them a mixture of religious melancholy, they are of another consideration. They are indeed great infirmities, often they are great bodily infirmities, and deserve all the compassion and assistance that can be given. But these disorders do not usually break out into objections against Providence, but rather turn on the sufferers themselves, who are apter to judge hardly of themselves than of God; and if they despair of mercy, it is because they think themselves unworthy of it. They belong not therefore to the present subject.
To conclude : you see how dangerous it is to sit in judgment on God, and to censure the methods of his government: in every government particular cases have their particular reasons : those who know the reasons and circumstances of each case, may know whether the general rules of justice and equity are properly applied in the judgment and determination of the
Others cannot possibly judge, though perhaps in the general rules of justice they may be well skilled. If this be true in human government, it must needs hold more strongly in the government of God. One man may see what another man can see, and therefore may be capable of judging when he does right or wrong: but no man can see all that God sees, and therefore no man is qualified to pass judgment on particular acts of Providence, which depend on circumstances out of the reach of human eyes. The great works of God which are before us, if duly attended to, declare his wisdom, goodness, and power; and the voice of nature, in all her works, speaks in the language of the wise king, “Trust in the Lord with all thine heart, and lean not to thine own understanding.' Happy are they who listen to this still yoice! they will act not only the safest, but the most rational part; whilst others, full of themselves and their own wisdom, are daily condemning what they do not understand : and if ever they recover their right reason, the first step must be to see their weakness, and to join with the Psalmist in his humble confession, . It is my own infirmity.'