by James W. Alexander
In looking back on life, there is, perhaps, no Christian who does not acknowledge that his way has been such as to conflict with all his expectations and purposes, and many of his wishes and fears. Yet there is no well-instructed believer who does not likewise admit, that the way has been a right way, and that the most adverse events are part of God's wise, sovereign, and merciful arrangement. Ignorant as we are both of our own strength and our own weakness, of the work which the Master demands, the preparation which he would effect, and the dangers which he foresees as awaiting us, it would be the height of presumption for us to choose our own path. In our best hours, it is our consolation that those things which we cannot control are governed by One who loves us better than we love ourselves! Who would give the babbling, whimpering infant a voice in the conduct of its little life? yet the comparison is all in our favor. The infant is wiser and mightier, when compared with the parent—need I say it?—than are we, when compared with God. The wonder is that we should ever dream of taking the direction of our own affairs. The mercy is, that they are under the superintendence of Him who is infinitely able to govern and bless. The ravings of the wildest storm which threatens our vessel are regular parts of the plan, agreeably to which the Sovereign of nature and grace is conducting us towards a state of rest.
We shall now be led, first, to contemplate the
truth, that while man, through ignorance, cannot order his life, God does
order it; and secondly, to deduce the practical lessons which flow
from this truth.
I. While man, through ignorance, cannot order his life—God does order it.
We can never see this world in its true light unless we consider it as a state of discipline—a condition through which we are passing to fit us for another. It belongs to such a state to be very different from a state of rest and accomplishment. Many things must necessarily pertain to it which are but for a season; many things which are not good in themselves—but good with relation to the end that is sought. To understand such a condition of discipline presupposes a knowledge of several particulars which are beyond the reach of human minds in their present state; for we must know, first, what the end is for which the Supreme Governor is preparing us; then, the true state and character of our own souls, with all their peculiarities and defects, which make such a discipline necessary; and lastly, the suitableness of every particular of such discipline to produce the end desired.
This, it needs but a little reflection to see, is far beyond our intellectual power. Especially is this seen when we take notice that the problem is disturbed and darkened by involving some of the most difficult and inscrutable questions, such as the origin of evil, the nature of spiritual temptation, the decrees of God, and how far his providence may be said to concur in the product of those acts which, so far as we are concerned, are sinful. And the reason why these inexplicable questions are connected with the subject is, that our discipline in this world includes not merely the outward dispensations of God's providence—but the free act of creatures, ourselves and others, and these as well, when they are evil as well as when they are good. It is the prerogative of God alone to deal with sin without contracting any taint. While he cannot be tempted to evil, neither tempts any man; and while to make God the author of sin is impious, it is, nevertheless, true, that sin is within the sphere of his providential arrangements; and his providence has such a reference to sin as to carry with it, as we have seen, a "bounding, and otherwise ordering and foreseeing of them, in a manifold dispensation, to his own holy ends, yet so as the sinfulness thereof proceeds only from the creature, and not from God."
The connection of this with our subject will be more apparent, if we consider that all our other trials are light and unimportant when compared with those which proceed from human freedom, that is, from the sins of ourselves and others. The direct visitations of God, in the storm, the pestilence, in wounds and sufferings and death, admit of more solace than those which flow from the unhallowed passions of men; and even these carry a less poignant sting than our own shameful neglects and transgressions, which wound the soul again and again, and keep us mourning as long as we are in the flesh. Yet even these are ordered in wisdom and benignity; and we take but a narrow view of Providence, and of our own way, unless we regard them as parts of a manifold dispensation, intended for our good.
When aged David lies under the rebukes of a reproachful foe, he exclaims: "So let him curse, because the Lord has said unto him, Curse David." Not that the holy king would impute the sin to his Maker—but that he considers the wicked as God's sword, and their free transgressions as overruled to effect his chastisement. It is the province of Jehovah to bring good out of evil; but his method of doing so is among the darkest of his ways.
Still more painful is the doubt, when we are ourselves surprised by committing sin. Amidst the necessary and useful paroxysms of shame and grief which follow transgression, we do not find time or heart to turn our thoughts to this providential aspect of the subject. Yet it is not too much to say, that all our frailties, defects, and offences are so governed by the supreme Providence, as to work out our greater salvation, and the greater glory of divine grace. But here again, while the result is certain, we are absolutely incompetent to understand the means, and in this respect the way of man is not in himself. We can only bow, and yield ourselves with implicit submission to the solemn hand of that Providence which leads the blind by a way that they know not.
To say that a man is incompetent to direct his own way, is only to say, that in a tangled forest, full of pitfalls, a wanderer at midnight, without light, path or compass, is unable to choose his direction. In the pilgrimage of this world, we know not where we are going, or what God intends to do with us. The pillar of cloud which guides us is absolutely independent of our disposal; yet we are bound to be governed by its motion and its rest. The spirit of the declaration is still in force: "At the Lord's command the Israelites set out, and at the Lord's command they camped. As long as the cloud stayed over the tabernacle, they camped. Even when the cloud stayed over the tabernacle many days, the Israelites carried out the Lord's requirement and did not set out. Sometimes the cloud remained over the tabernacle for only a few days. They would camp at the Lord's command and set out at the Lord's command. Sometimes the cloud remained only from evening until morning; when the cloud lifted in the morning, they set out. Or if it remained a day and a night, they moved out when the cloud lifted. Whether it was two days, a month, or longer, the Israelites camped and did not set out as long as the cloud stayed over the tabernacle. But when it was lifted, they set out. They camped at the Lord's command, and they set out at the Lord's command. They carried out the Lord's requirement according to His command through Moses." (Numbers 9:18-23)
We must expect God's signals, and those indications which are properly called the leadings of his providence. It is charged among the sins of Israel, that "they waited not for his counsel." At one time we find them disheartened by the report of the spies, turning back in heart unto Egypt, weeping tears of vexation all night, and crying—Would God that we had died in the land of Egypt! Or would God we had died in this wilderness! At another time, they are on the opposite extreme, rushing upon the Amalekites and Canaanites, without command, and driven before them for their sins with a great defeat.
Our course is similar, when we idly attempt to force a way, in spite of Providence; when we repine at our lot, or violently endeavor, for reasons other than those of plain duty, to throw off the yoke which is laid upon us, or to break into new paths which our Leader has not opened. The folly of such endeavors is as great as its rebellion. The horizon of our knowledge is very limited. The circle which encloses the legitimate field of our planning and management is small indeed. Our way is hedged in more closely than we are apt to imagine; and the freedom with which we flatter ourselves is checked and controlled by arrangements beyond our knowledge and above our reach.
Our deplorable ignorance as to our own way in life, is particularly manifest when we consider that whole trains of events, such as give color to the entire life, are often dependent on a trivial, unforeseen, and apparently casual occurrence. By turning down one street of a city, instead of another, a man may meet the person by whom the whole current of his after life shall be determined.
That Joseph, rather than some other messenger, should have been sent to find his brethren at Shechem; that Ishmaelites on their camels should have come up in the nick of time, and carried him a slave into Egypt; that the wife of Potiphar should have become his enemy; and that he should have been thrown into prison—were all what we call fortuitous and unfortunate events. So far as his brethren were concerned, their machinations were malignant; yet were they all threads in that wonderful web of Providence which was partially unfolded in the four hundred years' captivity, and more fully in the fortunes of the Jewish nation, and the plan of redemption. "As for you, you thought evil against me; but God meant it for good, to bring to pass as it is this day, to save many people alive."
It was no very important event, that the donkeys of Kish the Benjamite should have strayed; yet this fact gave Israel a king. It was as unimportant that youthful David should go to see his brothers at the camp in Elah; yet this led to the slaughter of Goliath, and a change of the dynasty. The Ahithophels, Machiavellis, Richelieus, and Metternichs think otherwise. But the great Oxenstierna was right, when he said, "See, my son, with how little human wisdom the world is governed!" In another sense, it is governed with infinite wisdom; but God's. In his hand, a diamond necklace may cost a queen her head, and destroy a kingdom: a king, who has been deliberately shot at again and again, may, by forbidding one banquet, close a dynasty. And every day of our lives events are taking place, of which, at the time, we make no account—but which, in God's providence, are the pivots on which revolves our whole subsequent history. Yet the very smallness of these occurrences, as well as our ignorance of their bearings, would forever prevent our arranging or ordering them.
Even of those things which, in a limited sense, may be said to be within our power, we are to a great degree ignorant whether they are good or evil, whether to be chosen or refused. It is true, even to a proverb, that what we consider prosperity and success, often results in lasting evil; and as true, that the highest earthly happiness results from events which at the time are considered disastrous. And this is more strikingly evinced, when we regard the moral consequences of such occurrences, and observe that prosperity injures the soul, and that the richest spiritual blessings are connected with suffering, disappointment, and defeat. How would it be possible for us to choose or to refuse such things, if the question were left to our own forecast? Suppose, for example, that any man were to sit down to map out the course of future life for himself. Is it not almost certain that his draught would exclude all distresses and trials? Yet we know upon divine authority, that these are absolutely necessary to the discipline of the heart, and the development of Christian character. But who could undertake to insert these trials in due measure, and at the proper points? What human tongue would not falter in saying, At such a time I shall be laid on a bed of wasting sickness. At such a time I shall be bereaved of a beloved child, or of an invaluable companion. Here I shall suffer contempt and calumny; and there I shall be vexed with indescribable temptations. How truly do we find it, that the way of man is not in himself!
What has been said is true, upon the just supposition, that man is incompetent to choose that course which is best for him: but even if we should grant him this competency, his case would be little altered, because he is able in but a slight degree, to effect that which he may choose. Man knows not how much he can effect. Boast as we may of the power of human determination, the ordering of the events which concern us, is altogether out of ourselves. As we gaze with interest on a new-born babe, we can no more predict what shall be the tenor its history, than we can declare, as we look into a mountain-spring, what the river shall be which is to issue from it. The stream may pursue a direct course to its termination, or it may turn and wander a thousand times. It may go noiselessly through sandy plains of ease, and stagnate in broad shallows of carnal sloth, or it may force its way through cliffs of opposition, dash over cataracts of passion, and reach the ocean after a way of perpetual turbulence.
The greatest events of our lives, are those in which we have no option. It is not left to man's determination in what age of the world he shall be born; whether in civilized or in savage land; whether poor or rich, whether feeble or hardy; whether a genius or a fool; whether he shall enjoy parental care, or be an orphan; whether he shall dwell in a realm of peace, or have his whole character and actions molded by revolution and war. And we might carry out the enumeration to a thousand particulars, each bearing directly on his happiness.
It would seem to be the intention of God, that the lives of men should differ as much as their countenances—and that each should be checkered by the most unexpected occurrences. The beautiful biographies of the Old Testament reveal to us the hand of God, leading the patriarchs and other holy men along a perpetual pilgrimage, in which they are as really without self-direction as was Israel in the wilderness. Surely the way of Abram was not in himself, when God called him out of the East, led him into Canaan, and into Egypt, and through a long life gave him no inheritance, no, not so much as to set his foot on. The wanderings of Jacob were as little under his own control. When the twin children, Esau and Jacob, were born, no aspect of the heavens could have shown that their course of life should run in streams so divergent and unlike. Moses, and Gideon, and David, are instances quite as worthy of our meditation. But we have only to look back upon our own little biography, however quiet and uneventful that history may have been, to learn, that of the body of great events, very few have been at our own disposal. A 'higher wisdom' has beforehand appointed and determined our times, and the bounds of our habitation; has ordered how we should be educated; the time of our conversion; the field of our labor; the afflictions which have entered into our discipline, and the station in life which we now occupy. The picture for the last year has for its chief lights and shadows—events as totally independent of our will as the eclipse or the earthquake. Nor can you prognosticate the occurrences of this very day, any more certainly than the course of the winds.
But by the 'way of man', we mean surely more than that chain of occurrences which strikes the senses. There is an inner life, which, though unseen, is loftier, vaster, and more eventful. The history of the man is the history of his immortal part. While men look on the panorama of sensible things—the poverty, the pleasures, the journeys, the expeditions, the wars, the disasters, the triumphs of our race; eyes are gazing upon us from the spiritual world, intent upon those great realities which escape us, in the pilgrimage of the spirit; the shade and texture of the reason; the dangers, and crosses, and wounds of the moral part; the new birth of the soul; the mysterious assaults of principalities and powers, the sublime conflict with evil; the armor, the triumph, and the salvation. This, of a truth, is the way of man; and it is not in himself. The wind blows where it wills, and you hear the sound thereof—but cannot tell whence it comes, or where it goes.
The whole ordering of the means of grace is by a sovereign hand. Appalling as the thought is, the greatest change of which we can be the subjects, is beyond our reach. We may deny, murmur, and even rage; yet the truth is eternal: I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion. So then it is not of him that wills, nor of him that runs—but of God who shows mercy. The most placid life of the most secluded Christian is so pregnant with spiritual events, as to be a little world of itself. And these events, linked in with eternal destiny, are not of the creature's choosing.
Enter for a little while into the mysterious chambers of memory, and contemplate the shadows of departed things which flit across those walls. How unforeseen—how strange! Was it your wisdom or your will which ordered that for so many years, through so great temptations, you should go on offending God, and resisting his commandments; that meanwhile you should at certain times, be checked and wounded by the visitation of convincing truth; that, at a certain moment, you should be called by God, and illuminated by his Holy Spirit; that you should hear such a preacher, or alight on such a text, or receive such an admonition; that you should encounter such temptations, have such joys, fall into such sins, be called to such labors, and endure such sorrows; in a word, that you should be this very hour receiving, for good or evil, the impressions of which you are now conscious?
No, my reader! No! you feel the hand of sovereignty in all this: and such has been the case with all the people of God. How much agency, do you think, had any of the three thousand Pentecostal hearers, in adjusting their several plans, and journeys, and devotions, so as to be pricked in heart, at that moment, by the preaching of Peter? How much agency had Saul of Tarsus, lately an assistant in the murder of Stephen, and now hastening to Damascus to imbrue his hands in fresh martyrdoms, in causing himself to be smitten to the earth, a repentant soul? How much agency had the jailer of Philippi, in the events which accompanied the midnight earthquake, and the divine call which snatched him from the yawning damnation of the suicide? From whom, then, proceeded these events, if not "from the Father of lights, with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning? Of his own will he begat us with the word of truth."
The future, with which we so vainly perplex ourselves, is total darkness. We know not even where our next footsteps shall be planted. Whether death or life, whether joys or temptations await us, no wisdom can disclose to us. "How can a man, then, understand his own way?"
Are we then to fold our arms, and believing ourselves to have no freedom, to lie still in the arms of an inexorable fate? By no means! Between Fate and Providence, there is just the difference which exists between darkness and light, between chance and foresight, between an unreasoning destiny and a disposing goodness, between nonentity and God. In the truth we urge, and in all our exposition of it, while it is asserted that man does not know and cannot direct himself, it is implied that God does.
"A man's heart plans his way, but the Lord determines his steps." We are in a labyrinth indeed—but the clue is in the hand of infinite wisdom and infinite love. When we least know where we are going, he knows the way that we take. When we are unable to conceive what good can result from our present distressing condition, God is using us for the very purpose for which he sent us into the world. The expert artisan, surrounded by a thousand tools, knows precisely the use of each; he takes up one, and lays it aside; he employs each in its due time and measure, and for its right end. Just in this way does the sovereign and wise God deal with men. And it is no more reasonable for the human soul, than for the tool, to quarrel with the hand that wields it.
Assyria thought herself wise and prudent and successful. But God says: "Shall the axe boast over him who hews with it, or the saw magnify itself against him who wields it? As if a rod should wield him who lifts it, or as if a staff should lift him who is not wood!" Thus even the free actions of the most wicked man are so governed, that his way is not in himself—but in God. "For the Scripture says unto Pharaoh, Even for this same purpose have I raised you up, that I might show my power in you, and that my name might be declared throughout all the earth." And in regard to the crowning sin of our world, the death of Jesus Christ, when Herod and Pontius Pilate, with the Gentiles, and the people of Israel, were gathered together, it was "to do whatever God's hand and counsel determined before to be done."
But if this is true even with regard to the ungodly, how much more may we expect it to be true in regard to God's peculiar people, whom he has called and sanctified, to show forth his glory. Feeling that their way is not in themselves, they delight in believing that they are led from above. It is the very law of God's dispensations, that when his people are going they know not where, they are in the very path which the Master has appointed. "I will lead the blind by a way they did not know; I will guide them on paths they have not known. I will turn darkness to light in front of them, and rough places into level ground. This is what I will do for them, and I will not forsake them." (Isaiah 42:16)
The knowledge of this should work in us both submission and hope. Submission, because God is sovereign, because he is wise, because he is just, because he is omnipotent, and because all resistance and all repining are fruitless and wicked. Hope, because we are assured that all things work together for good to those who love God, being disposed according to a most gracious plan for accomplishing their perfection. What though he has not confided to us his secret purposes? The Lord reigns, let the earth rejoice! However perplexing may be the particular case, here is a rule which covers all. "Clouds and darkness are round about him; righteousness and judgment are the habitation of his throne." Even in times as dark as those of Habakkuk, we may say with the prophet: "Though the fig tree does not bud and there is no fruit on the vines, though the olive crop fails and the fields produce no food, though there are no sheep in the pen and no cattle in the stalls, yet I will triumph in the Lord; I will rejoice in the God of my salvation!" (Habakkuk 3:17-18). The promise is good to every faithful soul: "The Lord will always lead you, satisfy you in a parched land, and strengthen your bones. You will be like a watered garden and like a spring whose waters never run dry." (Isaiah 58:11)
We are more ready, perhaps, to recognize this guidance of Providence under the greater afflictions, than under the lighter afflictions of life. Yet the misery as well as the happiness of man is mainly the aggregate of little things. When fortune is suddenly swept away; when disease breaks the constitution; when death by a single stroke makes the widow and the orphan—the sufferer is prompt to acknowledge that it is the visitation of God. But we live as if we would exempt from the general rule, the petty annoyances of our common days—the languor which unfits for duty; the cloud that passes over the spirits; the domestic cross, the chafing of temper in trade; the slight, the unkindness, the forgetfulness which we endure from thoughtless or selfish fellow-creatures. Yet the law is universal. Not merely the journey—but every step of the journey, is ordered. No part of our way is left to ourselves. Resignation and faith behold God in the smallest hair that falls; and the happiest life is that of him who has bound together all the affairs of life, great and small, and entrusted them to God. Commit your way unto the Lord, trust also in him, and he will bring it to pass.
The consideration of the truth, that we cannot direct our own ways, may well serve to chastise our optimistic expectations, with regard to the course of our life. It is the characteristic illusion of youth, and it varies with the temperament of the individual—but no season of life is entirely free from it. We are prone to look at the future, as if it all were within our power. We plan for earthly happiness, as if our own purpose were omnipotent. And even sore experience does not teach us that our arm reaches but a little distance; and that we are subject to a governing power, which employs us as the potter does the clay.
Of the majority of the schemes and enterprises which engage the solicitude of the busy world, it may be said, they include no thought of God's Providential control. The worldly mind, and even the Christian mind under wrong influences, continues its way as if self-sufficient. "
Come now, you who say, "Today or tomorrow we will travel to such and such a city and spend a year there and do business and make a profit." You don't even know what tomorrow will bring—what your life will be! For you are a vapor that appears for a little while, then vanishes. Instead, you should say, "If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that." But as it is, you boast in your arrogance. All such boasting is evil." (James 4:13-16)
Such was the joy and such the boasting of the rich man in the parable, as he surveyed the extent of his crops: "I will say to my soul, Soul, you have much goods laid up for many years, take your ease, eat, drink, and be merry." But God said unto him, "You fool! this night shall your soul be required of you!" To hope, indeed, is our privilege and our duty—but our hope must be in God. Men are fond of talking about being the architects of their own fortune, and our ears are wearied with hearing of "self-made men;" but unless the Lord builds the house, they labor in vain who build it. Hope itself becomes more secure, and energy is more constant, when they are founded on the belief that all is under the Almighty guidance. Our happiness in duty is greatest, when we feel that we are conducted through all our changes by an overruling power, which uses us for ends far above our comprehension.
But such is the tendency of erring man to go from one extreme to another, that while at one moment we are inflated with idle hopes, at the next we are cast down by as needless fears. The doctrine now under consideration serves to repress our needless apprehension of coming evil. Ever attempting to pry into the future, we make to ourselves a thousand troubles which never exist but in our sickly imaginations. The foreknowledge of such as are really to befall us, would be enough to crush us; and God has wisely and mercifully concealed from us that which is to come.
But not content with forecasting those ills which shall occur, we imagine a thousand which never arrive. By such perverse musings, men may press into a few days, all those evils which God has mercifully parcelled out through a lifetime. And as there are innumerable trials which cause more distress in the needless fears, than in the endurance, we lade ourselves, not only with those which shall be—but with a hundred-fold more which are the mere creatures of our imagination. Such a temper is to be corrected, by considering that the way of man is not in himself. All such cares are needless. They do not avail in the slightest degree to avert or lessen the adversities which come, or to strengthen us for the burden. They fill up time, and absorb thoughts and energies which should be bestowed upon the duties of the day.
In this connection, how pure, heavenly, and reviving are the directions of our blessed Savior; how infinitely above the reach of worldly philosophy; how consistent with the highest wisdom! Sending us for our lesson to the birds of the air and the lilies of the field, he says: "Therefore don't worry about tomorrow, because tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own." We shall be wiser, holier, and happier, if we resign ourselves and all our affairs to the disposition of divine Providence; assured that he who loves us better than we love ourselves, will lay nothing upon us which is not for our good. Let not a thought of 'chance' intrude, even in respect to the smallest concerns. "Aren't two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them falls to the ground without your Father's consent. But even the hairs of your head have all been counted. Don't be afraid therefore; you are worth more than many sparrows." (Matthew 10:29-31)
If then we may use this doctrine to correct at once our unreasonable hopes and our unreasonable fears, we may also derive from it the habit of conducting our whole life with a reference to the leadings of Providence. Since it is not in man to direct his steps, let him seek the direction of God. And this direction is twofold; that of providential indications, and that of revealed duty. We are not left without signs in the course of events concerning us, which serve to show where our path lies. The traveler may not be able to see very far before him; but when he has made one cautious step, he is generally permitted to see where the next should be placed. Even in the night of storm, this direction is sometimes afforded by the very lightning which alarms him. We must not mistake our own wishes and fears, our likes and dislikes, our worldly ease and interest—for the leadings of Providence. But we may with justice examine every proposed step, with reference to our character, talents, age, station, and circumstances.
But still more important is it to regard the path of duty as the path of Providence. The revelation of God's will in the Scriptures is our pillar of cloud and of fire. When we go where this directs, we cannot but go aright. "This is the way—walk in it." "The testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple." "Your word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path."
If instead of so often asking what is agreeable, or tending to worldly happiness, we were constantly to ask what is duty—we would attain greater holiness, greater usefulness, and greater peace of mind. Our greatest glory is conformity to the will of God. As our ways are not our own, we must eventually bow to that will whether willingly or unwillingly. However, therefore, a temporary departure from duty may seem to promise good, we may rest upon it, as the immutable truth of God—that "wisdom's ways are ways of pleasantness, and all her paths are peace."
Let me now inquire, is it not in the highest degree encouraging to be thus assured, that as dark as the future is, in regard to our apprehensions, it is not in the minutest particular uncertain in the mind of God? His eye discerns our whole path, even to the end; nay, his hand has marked it out! After our greatest efforts, and in spite of our greatest resistance, we do but float upon the mighty stream of his Providence. All that is past, and all that is to come, including every action, suffering, sentiment, and thought—all is carried forward by him to a consummation as beatific for us, as it is glorious for our Maker.
Let me say, in review of how the doctrine of Providence applies to every aspect of our life: we have found that our present life is a state of discipline, in which we know not the end for which God is fitting us, nor our own need of such and such particular trials; that being ignorant of the end, we must needs be ignorant of the way; that we know not what to choose or what to refuse, if events were left to our option; that even in cases where we have such knowledge, we have little power to accomplish what we may choose; that the events on which our whole life, especially our spiritual life, turns, are beyond our control; and that the future, with all its contingencies, is entirely hidden from us. But we have seen, on the other hand, that if man cannot direct his own ways, they are directed by God; from which we have derived these practical lessons:
to be submissive under trials
to moderate our hopes
to repress our fears, and
to follow the leadings of Providence
It seems a proper conclusion to this essay to add, that in a future state, we have reason to believe, the children of God will be admitted to see the wisdom and the mercy of all the way by which God has led them. What our Savior said to Peter may, perhaps, in a certain sense, be said to every believer: "What I am doing you do not understand now, but afterward you will understand." It is not too much to think, that when God shall have made up all his jewels, and the number of the elect shall be complete, he will make it a part of their happiness to look back from the height of heaven upon all their winding track, and to see that every step has been ordered in infinite love; that their sorest trials have been merciful; that their freest choices have been links in God's chain of purpose; that their very sins have been overruled for good.
And if this shall appear amazing in the history of an individual, how shall it shine resplendent in the nations of those who are saved, when ten thousand times ten thousand intermingling and entangled plans shall visibly accord with one infinite plan, and center in one sovereign purpose! The great end of Creation and Providence and Grace is God's own glory! This will be made manifest at the grand consummation. But in nothing will this more shine than when it shall appear that the voluntary, and even the wicked acts of innumerable creatures, all concur in the accomplishment of God's purposes; and that in proportion as man's way has not been in himself, in the same proportion has the magnificent plan been carried to completion.
There is a wonderful display of God's wisdom and power in material nature; and if we regard each star, even in the milky way, as the center of a system, we are overwhelmed with the consideration of so many orbs, all moving agreeably to a uniform law, and circling their respective courses for ages without confusion. Yet still more astonishing, and still more glorious will it be, when at the last it shall appear, that of the millions of redeemed souls, each has been the free originator of thoughts and volitions; that these have flowed from each in a perpetual stream; that they have conflicted with one another, and conflicted with the preceptive will of God; that, nevertheless, all have contributed to the happiness of the saved world, and the glory of the Almighty. Then shall be heard the song of Moses, the servant of God, and the song of the Lamb: "Great and marvelous are your works, Lord God Almighty; just and true are your ways, O King of saints!"