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led him about, he instructed him, he kept him as the apple of his eye. As an eagle stirreth up her nest, fluttereth over her young, spreadeth abroad her wings, taketh them, beareth them on her wings: so the Lord alone did lead him, and there was no strange god with him." We may observe, that, in his providence, when most severe, the Lord is gracious still. Notwithstanding all the afflictions through which he brought his people, he was still keeping them as the apple of his eye; and just as the eagle is here represented as teaching the eaglet to fly, and as accustoming it to the use of the wing which is afterwards to soar up to the sun; so all these afflictions in the wilderness, the Lord spiritualizing the minds of his people and teaching them on the wings of faith and love to fly upwards to himself—O it is a beautiful description of what God does for his people in providence, when he "stirs up their nests," permits them not to have this earth's comforts, teaches them to unsay the atheistical decision, "I shall die in my nest," and makes them perceive that this is not their home; but by the very act which breaks up their earthly comforts, strengthens the wings of faith and love, and teaches them to mount up as on the wings of eagles to himself. This is the intention of God, both in the joys and the sorrows which he sends to his people.
We have an exposition of this character of divine providence in a remarkable passage in the book of Ecclesiastes, vii. 14: "In the day of prosperity be joyful, but in the day of adversity consider: God also hath set the one over against the other "-will not let his people be happy, but sends them their share of suffering" to the end that man shall find nothing after him." That this was the intention of the Lord in his guidance of the people through the wilderness you may see in Deuteronomy, xxix. Moses, who was shortly to be called to his rest, was about to take his farewell of the people whom he had led so long: "I have led you" (he says) "forty years in the wilderness: your clothes are not waxen old upon you, and thy shoe is not waxen old upon thy foot. Ye have not eaten bread, neither have ye drunk wine or strong drink; that ye might know that I am the Lord your God." In all these providential arrangements this is the design, and this design they are calculated to effect-to reveal to God's people his character. They serve to mark to the reflecting Christian his gracious interposition in answer to prayer, his fidelity to his promises, his tender watchfulness over his people, the wisdom and the goodness with which he makes all events subservient to the highest purposes, and brings them to work for their eternal good. So that, on the whole, the character of the divine providence is this—to bring his people to the conviction that God leads them aright; and to believe that statement which he has made of himself—"I am the Lord thy God which leadest thee by the way which thou shouldst go." However contrary to our natural desires some of the providential appointments of God may be, still the way along which he leads his people, is the way that his children should go in and when they get to the heavenly Canaan they will see they could not have altered any of the events, which were directed by unerring wisdom, except to do themselves harm.
If this be the character of Divine providence, it becomes most important to consider how we may best improve the events which are ordered by the providence of God. It appears from what we have considered, that the whole of life may be viewed, ought to be viewed by the Christian, as the discipline which is appointed to prepare him for glory. Every event of life, therefore,
has a moral character; every event of life, however insignificant or apparently fortuitous, has a moral character which the child of God ought to notice and improve, upon which he should act, and by which he should be benefited. It is thus the gracious promise will be fulfilled-" All things are yours "—" All things work together for good to them that love God." Every event of life, however varied in the experience of God's children, is sent by him in unerring wisdom, as well as infinite power; sent by him in order to promote the best interests of his people: and it becomes one of the most important duties that we are called upon to discharge, to observe the moral tendency of the circumstances in which we are placed, and to seize the advantages which each may present there is not one of them which may not be productive of advantage, and which is not sent for that very end.
But no one can be so careless as not to see that many of them are sent in vain: the spiritual improvement may not be derived. As we see some unhappily repelling all the gracious providences of God till they are living memorials of the awful expression, "I will curse your blessings;" so also the children of God themselves may, through indolence or levity, deprive themselves of the many advantages which the providence of God was intended to bestow. The way in which the discipline of providence may be repelled and overcome, was awfully manifested in the conduct of the Jews. You find in Deuteronomy, xxviii. 47, 48, this striking declaration of what, in fact, proved to be their history, both parts of the prediction having been fulfilled: "Because thou servedst not the Lord thy God with joyfulness, and with gladness of heart, for the abundance of all things: therefore shalt thou serve thine enemies which the Lord shall send against thee, in hunger, and in thirst, and in nakedness, and in want of all things; and he shall put a yoke of iron upon thy neck, until he have destroyed thee." The way in which God would draw them to himself was by blessing them, and the intention was that they should serve him with joyfulness. This was the character of that first providence; they were called to obey him joyfully" for the abundance of all things." But when that providence failed in its intended effect, through the rebellion of ungodly hearts, there was another series of providences sent them calculated to draw them back to him: a series of visitations, each surpassing the other in magnitude, was sent to bring them back to him. But these again failed in their effect, and the result is stated in those awful words in Isaiah, i. 5: "Why should ye be stricken any more? Ye will revolt more and more. The whole head is sick, and the whole heart faint." For a while the visitations of Divine providence were sent with increased intensity, with a view to bring them back to his service but when these failed, they were permitted to go on till overwhelming justice came upon them. We see this exhibited in the men who were made the monuments of the divine vengeance. Many sore afflictions were visited on Pharaoh, that he might be brought to acknowledge and obey the great Autocrat of the universe, he said, "Who is the Lord that I should obey his voice to let Israel go? I know not the Lord, neither will I let Israel go:" and that determination was retained, till in the Red Sea, he felt how awful it is to defy Omnipotent power.
Now it is obvious that if thus the ungodly heart of an unregenerate sinner may oppose the benevolent character of the Divine providence, and may bring evil out of that which, if rightly employed, must have been serviceable to his
best interests; so in their degree may the servants of God by indolence, by sloth, by levity, by pride, by worldliness, or by other means, repel the merciful character of God's providence. Could there be a greater difference than there was in the end of those individuals-Solomon under the Old Testament dispensation, and Paul under the New? The one at the close of a most remarkable career, departed in triumph, saying, "I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith: henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, shall give me at that day:" whereas the other, loved of the Lord in his childhood, blessed by the Lord in his youth, gifted with eminent wisdom, surrounded with unnumbered blessings, in some respects one of the most remarkable men that ever lived, at the fame of whose wisdom persons flocked from the ends of the earth to Jerusalem; this man, as the result of neglecting to employ the merciful providence of God for his improvement, was brought in his old age to make this melancholy and memorable confession : "Therefore I hated life." With every possible blessing crowning his lot, with every thing intellectual and physical to make him happy, he exclaims, "Therefore I hated life; because the work that is wrought under the sun is grievous unto me; for all is vanity and vexation of spirit. Yea, I hated all my labour which I had taken under the sun because I should leave it unto the man that shall be after me. And who knoweth whether he shall be a wise man or a fool? yet shall he have rule over all my labour wherein I have laboured, and wherein I have shewed myself wise under the sun. This is also vanity. Therefore I went about to cause my heart to despair of all the labour which I took under the sun. For there is a man whose labour is in wisdom, and in knowledge, and in equity; yet to a man that hath not laboured therein shall he leave it for his portion. This also is vanity and a great evil. For what hath man of all his labour, and of the vexation of his heart, wherein he hath laboured under the sun? For all his days are sorrows, and his travail grief; yea, his heart taketh not rest in the night. This is also vanity." Now we have reason to hope that Solomon was a servant of God; we know Paul was a servant of God: the providence of God was calculated to bless Paul; and the providence of God was most merciful to Solomon: the one was constantly repelling the providence that surrounded him; the other constantly improving them: the one died under a cloud, it being uncertain, notwithstanding all his blessings, whether he was a child of God-we have reason to hope that he was; the other-O, how different was his closing scene! From the glory that surrounded the death-bed of Paul, how different must we conclude is their lot in eternity! Both, we hope, are happy in eternity; but O how different "the crown of righteousness" that awaits the one, to the crown of glory that awaits the other!
Fixing our minds, then, on the different ends of these remarkable men, let us learn what we are to expect with regard to our own experience in life. It is obvious that the whole of divine providence is meant to discipline us for a better world: it consists of a merciful series of events calculated to do us good. Our duty, therefore, obviously is, to watch the character of every providence, and then to endeavour to derive from it the spiritual improvement it is meant to convey It is for each of us to apply this practically to the circumstances in which he may be placed. Let us notice a few instances in which providences may be thus used and improved.
When tuessings are bestowed on a man from the sovereign goodness of God, it is the design of God that these blessings should inspire him with gratitude; that he should continually remember the undeserved bounties bestowed on him; that he should use those mercies to the glory of the Giver; that he should become devoted to the will of God in proportion to the benefits he enjoys. But if, instead of this, they lead him to worldliness and self-indulgence, then he has frustrated the merciful character of God's providence and is assuredly preparing for himself some mischief. If a man observes that, after much prayer, after much watchfulness and diligence in God's service, blessings are bestowed upon him, the character of that providence is to teach him that there is a blessing attached to diligence and prayer, and to confirm those habits. If afflictions are sent to a man, a little examination will lead him to see that he has been neglectful in the ways of God, and has "restrained prayer before him:" the character of that providence is to lead him to take notice of his sins, and to inquire diligently into the cause of them. Or if he traces his affliction to any particular transgression, then the providence is calculated to teach the acknowledgment of that transgression, to bring it out, and lay it before the Lord, not being satisfied till he obtain strength to overcome it by the exercise of the opposite grace. If afflictions are sent to a man without any apparent cause-if, looking at his recent conduct, he cannot perceive any thing which he should mark as the moral cause which has sent the afflictionsthen it is obvious that the moral character of that providence is different: then he should observe how it is the Lord's will, in sending these unaccounted-for afflictions, that he should be humbled, and observe the strength or weakness of his faith-his unbelief or his dependence-his gratitude or his impatiencehis disposition to murmur, or his readiness to lie passive in the hand of God; and learn that the Lord is weaning him from this passing world, unfolding to him the riches of his grace, that he may choose the Lord more decidedly for his portion.
If it please the Lord to furnish his child with living examples of worth and piety, then the character of that providence is, that he endeavour to imitate them, and to fasten on his mind the conviction that such he ought to be. If any one is brought to read a good book which strikes his imagination, or influences his heart, the character of that providence is, that he act on that impression, and not trifle with it. If a man meets with a precept that strikes his mind, which seems to suit his case, and to be calculated to guard him against evil; the character of that providence is to lead him to act on that precept, and to form the habit which that precept suggests.
You may easily multiply observations like these. Each Christian may ascertain the character of that providence under which he is at the moment placed and in proportion as he desires conscientiously to improve that providence, will be the actual result in his experience.
There are two ways in which the divine providence may be effectually blessed to us; either by yielding at once to that particular providence, and seeking the blessing it is calculated to bestow; or it may be the Lord himself, while we are reluctant and careless, so directing the arrangements of his providence as at length to humble us to solemnity of mind and self-improvement If the latter be the case, it is obviously by the increase of the afflictions which are sent till they exercise so powerful an effect as to restrain worldliness and
promote spirituality of mind. Sometimes God may so graciously pour out his spirit as to enable his most unworthy child so to employ all the providences which he sends that they continually become the source of his sanctification. This is the happiest lot of all: beloved brethren, may it be yours! We have no reason to believe, judging from what we see in his providence, or read in his word, that our sanctification will be accomplished without these means. If we neglect his word, and misuse his providences, it is impossible, according to the present constitution of things, that our spiritual improvement should be carried on: the Lord will, according to his mode of governing us, send us severe proridences, or we must be brought to employ his word and his providence aright.
Is it not far better that we give ourselves at once to reading, to meditation, and to prayer? Is it not better that we study the character of the events that befall us, and strive with a strong hand to seize the advantages we may derive from them; that, placing ourselves under his care, we entreat him to sanctify us, beseeching him with earnest solicitude to make all the providences he sends to accomplish the purpose of our sanctification.
Finally, this subject will lead us to rejoice in the Lord. There is a gracious providence secured to all his people; and while they wait on him, all things must work together for his good. Nothing but sin can do the Christian harm; nothing but sin can rob him of a single joy. All things are his the word of God is his; the grace of God is his; every event of life is his; sickness as well as health, death as well as life-all things are his, for he is Christ's. It is our duty and our privileges to rejoice in the great work of redemption, in the work of God's Holy Spirit, in all those promises which and amen" in Christ, in the certainty of that infinite power and are yea love which guides all events to do us good. And, brethren, since God is so gracious let me intreat you to wait on him. Never forget there can be no blessing attached to indolence: God has not so ordered his promises as to afford encouragement to unbelief. Let us seek the highest good, waiting on the appointed means of grace; and at last we shall find it was a right way that he led us, and that goodness and mercy have followed us all the days of our life, conducting us to dwell in his temple for ever.