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world! Who could have expected that a few plain fishermen of Galilee, unsupported by the influence of the rich or the authority of the great, and destitute of all the advantages of learning and eloquence, should have been able to withstand all the policy of statesmen, the eloquence of philosophers, the influence of priests, and the power of kings? But God chose the foolish things of the world to confound the wise, and the weak things of the world to confound the mighty, and things that are despised, yea, and things that are not, to bring to nought things that are, that no flesh should glory in his
But God not only employs inconsiderable means to accomplish important ends, but means which, according to our narrow views, have no relation whatever to the end proposed. If the man, for example, whom our Saviour restored to sight, by anointing his eyes with clay, had found fault with, and despised the means prescribed; or had Naaman, the Syrian, persisted in neglecting the prophets advice, as having no tendency to effectuate the cure of his leprosy, the one might have remained blind, and the other a leper, all the days of their life. The same remark is no less applicable to our Saviour's washing his disciples' feet. Had Peter persisted in his resolution not to allow his Lord and Master to perform so mean and degrading an office as he imagined it to be, both he and the other disciples would have lost the benefit of so instructive an example of humility as was thereby impressed upon their minds; whilst, by refusing to submit to his authority, they would have shewn a disposition unbecoming the relation in which they stood to him, and consequently would have had no part in him or in his great salvation.
But that which shews in the strongest light that God's thoughts are not as our thoughts, nor his ways as ours, is, that the designs of his providence are often accomplished by means which appear quite opposite in their nature and tendency, and from which, therefore, the contrary effect might be expected. Of this we have a striking example in the history of Joseph. Little did the good old patriarch imagine what great and kind designs God was carrying on, when, in the bitterness of his soul, he exclaimed, Me have ye bereaved of my children: Joseph is not, and Simeon is not, and ye will take Benjamin away. All these things are against me. And thus it is with afflictions in general : how formidable soever in their aspect, they are all intended by a God of infinite wisdom and goodness to humble us and to prove us, that he may do us good at the latter end. In whatever he gives, or whatever he takes away, his mercy and his love are still to be adored. The trial of our faith is precious; and that it may be found to praise and honour and glory, at the appearance of Jesus Christ, it must be tried in the furnace of affliction, as gold is tried in the fire. Beloved, says the apostle Peter, think it not strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened unto you : but rejoice, inasmuch as ye are partakers of Christ's sufferings ; that, when his glory shall be revealed, ye may be glad also with exceeding joy. Thus are trials, persecutions, and sufferings of various kinds, rendered subservient to the purposes of God's mercy and love towards his people, that, when the chief Shepherd shall appear, they may receive a crown of glory that fadeth not away.
This view of the divine dispensations, and it is the view which the enlightened Christian takes, tends to prevent his murmurings against second causes. It sets his heart at rest, preserves its peace, or restores it, when it has suffered a momentary suspension. It prevents him from sorrowing as those who have no hope, by reminding him, that even in the sorest affliction, the removal of those whom we most tenderly love, there may be a mercy impenetrable to us; that they may be taken away from the evil to come; and that, though their period of trial was short, its design was as fully answered as if it had been of a much longer duration. Besides, we should recollect that we have prayed a thousand times, Not my will but thine be done ; and yet God often finds it necessary forcibly to take from us what we have not courage to resign. It was not ours, it was only a loan; and if God, when he resumes his own, sanctifies the loss; if he takes possession of our whole hearts, and reigns unrivalled in our affections, both we and those for whom we mourn are gainers by the exchange; we, by the foretaste and pledge of the heavenly happiness, and they, by the full and everlasting enjoyment of God, and of an exceeding great and eternal weight of glory. But, as one justly observes, “ if the loss of our earthly friends does not help to detach us from the world, we have the calamity without the indemnification; we are deprived of our treasure without any advantage to ourselves. If the loss of him whom we loved does not make us more earnest to secure our own salvation, we may
lose at once our friend and our soul. To endure the penalty and lose the profit, is to be emphatically miserable.”
This is the grand improvement which we should endeavour to make of the mysterious dispensations of Divine Providence. Mysterious they unquestionably are, and must remain, to such imperfect beings as we are, after all our reasonings on the subject. How often are our expectations raised only to be disappointed ? Neither the parent nor the child can see into futurity, or their apprehensions would be extremely different from what they frequently are. Some children early discover the most amiable dispositions, are studious, and bent on distinction beyond their companions. The tender plants are soon ripened by the dew of heaven, and transplanted to a kindlier soil. Others, who enjoy the same advantages, carelessly throw them away, are idle and dissolute; but they are spared, not to be, as the others might have been, the ornaments of society and the comfort of their friends, but the bane and curse of the one, and the instruments of bringing the other with sorrow to the grave. When we see such events as these daily occurring—when we see those whose minds are highly cultivated, and adorned by the hand of Christ himself with much of his own image, and with every necessary qualification to fit them for proclaiming the riches of his grace to a thoughtless and sinful generation—when we see them cut off by disease and death, at the time when they fondly expected that this supreme desire of their hearts was about to be realized, whilst those who have survived their usefulness are permitted to remain, a burden to themselves and to those around them when we see events like these, and a thousand else no less mysterious, taking place under the government of the great Head of the church-of Him to whom all power
in heaven and in earth is committed, and to whom belong the issues of life and death, we must acknowledge, that what He does we know not now. But then it was observed,
II. That the time will come when we shall have much clearer views of the reasons of his dispensations; of some of them in the present life, and of others in that which is to come. What I do thou knowest not now; but thou shalt know hereafter.
The disciples had not to wait long till our Lord explained to them the reasons of his conduct in the instance before us. He laid aside the towel with which he was girded, and sat down, and told them why he had washed their feet; that it was to teach them a lesson of humility, and to excite them to perform the most condescending offices and labours of love which they might have an opportunity of performing towards one another. And thus, in