« السابقةمتابعة »
him. and bring him down from his vaunted eminence, and force him to the nuriating confession, that what can be discovered by man bears no proportion to what is hidden by God. And if so little way can be made in the mastery of the world without, what wisdom have we in respect of the world that is within? Is not man at all times veiled and hidden from himself? The operation of mind on matter where is the plumb-lime to fathom this abyss? The facu.ty of embodying thought in speech-what a marvel! The dwelling of the immortal principle within the fleshly tenement-the soarings and wanderings of the spirit-the undefined connexion between the final departure of the soul, and the destruction of vitality; these and a thousand others, lie hidden beyond the reach of the most curious anatomy, and we may venture to say, that man must die ere he can hope to discover how he lived. There is nothing teaches us our own ignorance so much as knowledge when pushed to its utmost limits. In enlarging the sphere of light, you equally enlarge the surrounding sphere of darkness. But in what language, in what tone, shall we speak of the Creator thus hiding himself, since each fresh discovery in science still seems only to amplify the field still beyond? Is it not true, that, the more man searches, the more cause is found why God should be magnified? The wonders of nature, which, had they been completely unveiled, would soon have ceased to interest, or become the subject of admiration or praise, are, by being partially hidden, made to contribute to the glory of their Creator. If God had bared the secrets of creation, so that we could exhaust the store-house whose very threshold we are now scarce able to pass, is it not evident that the familiarity would have generated indifference to the skill of the mighty Architect; and that the mere fact that there was nothing to find out, would have made us unobservant of the broad impress of Divinity? Under the existing arrangement, as we may term it, of God's hiding himself, creation ministers perpetually to our awe and admiration of the Creator; every new leaf, as it is turned over by the intelligence of industry, and the guidance of inquiry, presenting a new witness to the wisdom and power of Deity, whilst, at the same time, it tells out the inexhaustibleness of the volume; so that continually learning, and yet continually finding there is more to learn, we pass on from stage to stage, climbing (so to speak) the magnificence of God, only to know that what appeared the summit is but the basis of a loftier mountain; and thus compelled, as marvel on marvel crowds the vision, to exclaim-O not with the tongue of regret and murmuring, but with the tongue of worship and rapture-" Verily, thou art a God that hidest thyself, O God of Israel, the Saviour!”
But we shall not enlarge upon this; your own thoughts will suggest many similar reflections. We rather proceed to the second division of our subject, to explain how God hides himself in regard to his dealings with his creatures. Now, first of all, God conceals much in the dispensations of his providence. He does not lay open the reasons of his appointments; he does not explain why prosperity should be allotted to one man, and adversity to another. In affliction, or example, our cry is most commonly that of Job, "Shew me wherefore thou contendest with me." The wicked, moreover, often flourish like a green bay tree, while the righteous are cast down, or given over to the extremes of misery and destitution. Evil, too, is permitted to walk unblushingly abroad, while wisdom crieth in vain in our streets. It is beyond question that there is much
that is hidden in all this, which we may feel to overpass our philosophy: bu. we contend that what is thus hidden furnishes matter of thankfulness; for man is hereby thrown upon his faith; and faith, as we have already said, gives most honour to God, and is the best discipline for ourselves. And although such reasoning includes but a small portion of mankind, namely, those who in heart and soul are dedicated to God, yet be remembered, there is approaching a day of solemn retribution, a day when every human action shall have its recompense, and every divine proceeding its vindication. When the Almighty Judge shall reduce to order every discordant element-when all secret things shall be brought to light, and the discrepancies of ages reconciled in a moment-when the reason of each permission, the design of each allotment, the intent of every dealing, shall flash forth from the open book of providence, so that the gathered universe shall read the combined mercy and wisdom; will there not, think you, come forth from unnumbered multitudes such an ascription of glory at all that was thus hidden-an ascription from the mouths of the lost, as well as the redeemed -that there shall scem no comparison between the honour that would be given to God were he pleased to make such dealings plain, and that which is wrung from countless generations, when the mysteries of ages, and the centuries of time shall all end, ere time itself shall be buried in eternity? O, the voices of teeming myriads, from Adam down to his last descendant, as the disordered chaos, as it seems to us, resolves itself into beauty and symmetry-these voices shall be gathered into one peal of confession, "Thou hast magnified thyself, O God, through being a God that hidest thyself!"
But further: God hides from his creatures the day of their death. "One dieth," saith Job, "in his full strength, being wholly at ease and quiet. His breasts are full of milk, and his bones are moistened with marrow. And another dieth in the bitterness of his soul, and never eateth with pleasure. They shall lie down alike in the dust, and the worms shall cover them." Nature has been ransacked for imagery: the shortness of our days is on every man's tongue; and every thing that is fleeting, and everything that is fragile, and every thing that is uncertain, has been laid under contribution to furnish similitudes for human life-time. It is a most trite, though a melancholy saying, that no man is able to reckon on the morrow. But the question recurs, Is it not a cause for thanksgiving that he is not able? We think that, such is the constitution of our nature, that, if a fixed period were allotted to our days, the thought even of the distant hour would, in most cases, prove an insupportable burden: for, strange as it may seem, the certainty that the evil day would arrive after a given number of suns had risen and set, would be far more irksome and grievous than the present uncertainty whether it may not come to-morrow. Men, who can be cheerful and active under the consciousness that they may die the next moment, would be oppressed and overborne by the positive assurance that they shall live ben years more, but not a moment beyond that. Under such circumstances, the business of the world would be almost at a stand: men's morose and gloomy meditations would be telling over the sum of their remaining weeks: one would think it useless to plan what he should not live to execute; and another to sow what he should not live to reap: and thus the whole fabric of human society would crumble away and fall, just because its several members knew the period of their respective dissolutions. A community, every member of which could define, with terrible precision, the day of his death, must be a community void of
that incessant and pains-taking activity, through which aloue well-being can be procured or maintained.
Neither is it only the destruction of the interests of society, that an acquaintance with the day of death would produce: there would result none but an injurious effect to the interests of piety. We hold that such must be the case, even with the interests of the righteous. There would require little or nothing of that watchfulness which they must now give to the keeping of their lamps trimmed, and their lights burning. There would be no demand for that godly anxiety to be found on their guard, which now forbids their being remiss in the service of their Master. And when the time of departure drew nigh, even if the mind were not overwhelmed by the contemplation, there would be no room for patience, none for resignation; and the precise knowledge of all that was hid, would pass like a blight over those softer graces of piety, whose very existence pre-supposes that every thing must be left to the unknown will of our Father. And there would be nothing of that hoping and quietly waiting for the salvation of God, which, pronounced good by the prophet, has been proved in the experience of the Church the best discipline for immortality. And as for the sinner who has the hardihood to delay repentance, though, for any thing he ean tell, he may die in an hour, would he not give an unbridled rein to his every lust, if assured to exist for ten, or twenty, or thirty years? And when the sand was almost run out, would not the consciousness that so little time was left, and that so much had been squandered, tend to produce des pair rather than penitence, and to bind him to the persuasion that it was now too late, rather than urge him to endeavours to lay hold of the only redemption ? He would put off the matter of salvation to the last year—there would be time enough then ; afterwards to the last month, and then to the last week, and then to the last day; persuading himself that even one hour would suffice; the certainty that he could not be taken by surprise, rendering him inaccessible to the most powerful motives by which we now ply those who cannot reckon on a second. And when after this long course of disobedience and procrastination, he knew that his grave was actually digging, and that, after fifty or a hundred more beats of the pendulum, he should be stretched out a corpse; we think the probability would be, that the certainty which had heretofore made him insolent in his sins, would now cause him to be seized on by all the agonies of an un controllable dread. Sickness could never alarm, the death of numbers could never admonish, the voice of Providence could never arouse: for, under that dispensation which we suppose, each man would be girt around by his own selfishness, having nothing to fear for himself from what he beholds overtaking his fellows. And if all these results would follow from acquaintance with the time of our dissolution, you are ready to admit, that God's hiding that time should call forth our praise; and gather in fresh corroboration of the truthand the exclamation should be an exclamation of thankfulness—“ Verily, thou art a God that hidest thyself, O God of Israel, the Saviour !"
God has hidden much from us respecting the nature of a future state. With the strong imagery of high-wrought diction, and the bold figures of lofty parable, the joys of the righteous and the woes of the wicked are briefly, yet eloquently, portrayed. There is enough disclosed to stimulate zeal, and enough threatened to scare from transgression: but, still, while the heirs of immortality are clothed with corruption, they see only through a glass darkly
and neither the harpings of glorified spirits, nor the wailings of ruined, convey more than a feeble metaphor of the future. There is still much to exercise faith, still much to occupy hope. We may not doubt that our most vivid imaginings make no approach towards the blessedness and majesty of heaven, whilst the awfulness and the wretchedness of hell, outdo immeasurably the worst picturings of the excited apprehension. But if the veil had been more drawn back-if the heavens had been always open to our gaze, and if these eyes of flesh could look above and behold the eternal mansions and the starry crowns-or if the earth were to give up her cold tenantry, and messengers were to come from the prison-house of wretchedness, and, gliding through the ranks of the living, preach to them the secrets of the fire and the rack, and whisper to them horrors at which the knees should knock together, and the blood curdle at the heartwhat then, we ask, would become of a state of probation? Where would be the province of faith when every thing was the object of sense? Where would be the trial of hope when every joy was already told? Where the exercise of selfdenial when the better portion forced itself on the notice of the most unobservant, compelling, by its burning grandeur, the universal recognition of superiority. Where the justice of that economy, under which a race of sinful beings could have had no place for faith, no sphere for hope, no occasion for self-denial? These, under the present dispensation, are the very stamina of the Christian life, since, had there been no hiding of the future, there could have been comparatively no room for graces which are the elements of godliness; for faith, and hope, and self-denial must have been almost, if not entirely, unknown things, had the firmament rung with the hallelujahs of the ransomed, and been crowded with the tribes of the everlasting city; whilst ever and anon, the cry of lost spirits had come up from the depths, and broken in upon merchants in their countinghouses, and statesmen in their closets, and revellers at their banquet; who will deny that God should be praised for his hiding? And, therefore, it is with the tongue of admiring gratitude we should exclaim, "Thou art a God that hidest thyself, O God of Israel, the Saviour."
But lastly, we just remark, in connexion with this illustration, how peculiarly the hiding of the Deity has, by means of prophecy, been made to minister to our advantage. Prophecy is the standing miracle of centuries; a miracle so wonderfully constructed that time, which might be thought to weaken every other, adds only fresh strength to this. The far-off day of its delivery is as surprising as the fact of its fulfilment; but it is clear that the wonder of prophecy is dependent on the combination of our ignorance and of God's knowledge of the future. It is by his displaying his own acquaintance with that which he has hidden from his creatures, that God makes the hiding to put forth the greatest strength against infidelity; indicating from the very beginning the knowledge of all things, proves his own omniscience and his sovereignty. So that if the future were open to man's expatiation, there would remain no place for prophecy as the distinct prerogative of Deity; and it would remove altogether that attestation to the truth of Christianity, which, growing and strengthening as time roils on, resists, like a rock, the advance of scepticism. And if it may be ascertained that concealment, ore than anvtning ese, has made Christianity impregnable, then the proof sees complete. that we gre thanks for what is hidden; in other words, that it ma tone of exuitation and praise that we exclaim, "Thou art a God that aidest thyself, O God of Israel, the Saviour.'
Now it were easy to extena almost indefinitely our illustrations, and to present the same truths under a far greater variety of forms. We have only space, however, to remark in conclusion, that there can be no finer moral discipline for man than results from that delay which must take place before any of his purposes can be consummated. He knows not the end from the beginning ; and therefore, when he enters on a plan, even the most matured and best arranged, he is altogether uncertain of the issue: he must work on in total ignorance whether the plan shall succeed or be frustrated. But we hold this arrangement to be palpably for his advantage ; he is hereby instructed, that in all his ways he should acknowledge God; and the simple fact that he must labour on as wholly in the dark, the result being hidden up to the moment of the occurrence, dictates such dependence upon God, as could scarcely have been inculcated under the opposite system.
It is thus with all the workings of benevolence. We cannot determine beforehand the measure of success which shall attend our exertions ; God effectually hides it. But this very circumstance is calculated (and therefore we should be thankful for the hiding) to make us carry on our undertakings in the best possible spirit, in the consciousness that we are but instruments in the hand of God. It is our part to apply the means, and to leave humbly to the Almighty to produce the result. In educating, for example, the children of the poor, it is but too probable that many of the objects of our solicitude will grow up to a manhood of unrighteousness, and that only a few will so profit by the teaching as to become wise for eternity. It may be, on the other hand, that a large proportion will be essentially advantaged, and that our school-louses shall prove literally the training-houses for heaven. And we must enter on the business of education, and go forward with all its laboriousness, quite uninformed as to what shall be the results : the duty of communicating instruction being clear and imperative; but the consequence of the endeavour being hidden by God. Thus it is the very hiding which causes that God is honoured by our performance of duty. It were comparatively nothing to labour with the certainty of success ; the trial of obedience lies in the being summoned to labour when we cannot be assured of success : and if we prosecute the enterprise, in spite of all that is disheartening which may be put forth by the hiding of results, we glorify God by that best of all offerings—a simple and unquestioning conformity to his will: our own obedience being of a far higher cast than if we were stimulated by the known amount of success, is nothing less than a fresh proof, that we should praise God under his character of “the God that hidath himself."
We shall say but little with regard to the schools of this Ward, which we desire to commend to your liberal support. It clothes and educates fifty children, and labours at present under great depression of funds. Amongst all the schools for which I am called to plead, a City school is always to me an object of peculiar interest. For the most part, our merchants and our traders reside in the suburbs of our great metropolis, whilst the courts and alleys still swarm with the poor: thus there is vast risk that the poor be neglected, and that schools, and other charitable institutions, deprived of their natural guardians. may be thrown on the precarious bounty of strangers. In the present instance, besides the deficiency produced by the death and removal of subscribers, much injury has been done to the school ly the extensive alterations still in progress