But Job answered and said.
God appears incomprehensibly great in THAT PORTION OF THE UNIVERSE THAT IS BROUGHT UNDER HUMAN OBSERVATION.
1. In connection with the world of disembodied spirits. "Dead things are formed from under the waters and the inhabitants thereof. Hell is naked before Him, and destruction hath no covering."
2. In connection with this terraqueous globe. "He stretcheth out the north over the empty place, and hangeth the earth upon nothing." "It is evident that the true figure of the earth had early engaged the attention of men, and that occasionally the truth on this subject was before their minds, though it was neither brought into a system nor sustained there by sufficient evidence to make it an article of established belief."
3. In connection with the starry universe. "By His Spirit He hath garnished the heavens." W. Herschell observed one hundred and sixteen thousand stars pass the feeblest telescope in one quarter of an hour. But what are they? Only a few drops to the ocean.
II. INSIGNIFICANT COMPARED WITH THOSE PARTS THAT ARE UNDISCOVERED IN IMMENSITY. "Lo, these are parts of His ways; but how little a portion is heard of Him? but the thunder of His power who can understand?" Conclusion —
1. God's greatness is not inconsistent with His attention to little things.
2. God's greatness is a vital subject for human thought. No subject is so soul quickening. No subject is so humbling.
And hangeth the earth upon nothing.
That is the startling and sublime conception of the sacred poet, that the earth is sustained by impalpable and spiritual energies. But if you go to the mythology of the Hindoo, you find that the earth rests on the back of an elephant, and that the elephant stands on a tortoise! Now these two ways of looking upon the stability of the earth penetrate the whole world of thought. One great school of men finds that the basis of all things is spiritual; another school finds that the basis of all things is material. Says one, the life of the universe is supernatural; says the other, we can only trust a tangible and material foundation. There in nature, as Job says, "He hangeth the earth upon nothing." He says that the basis of the world is invisible and metaphysical; in a word we say in this place that the ultimate factor in nature is spiritual; that out of the spiritual arose the visible; that the spiritual holds the visible together; that the spiritual governs the visible and directs it to some intelligent and noble goal. We say, not the sensational, not the material, but the visible universe, hangs on nothing — on the unseen power of the spiritual God. You go to some sceptical men today and ask them, What holds this earth up? Why the imponderables, the ethers, the electricities, the galvanisms, the gravitations — the elephant and tortoise! Go and ask them where all the flowers came from. There was a time when there was not a single plant on the planet. Where did they all come from? Well, they say, if you go back far enough, you go back to a meteor stone which brought from other planets the germs of vegetable life and beauty. If you go far enough back! Only you see, it is not far enough back, it is the tortoise again! You go to the physiologist and ask him where physical life, animal life comes from? He says, if you want to explain animal life you must go back to — what? Odic forces, nervous energy! Oh no, no, no, it is not far enough back; it is stopping once more at the elephant and tortoise. And that is exactly what we in the Church refuse to do. We won't stay here, but we will go with the sublime philosophy of the text, to the living God. And we believe that at last the things that are seen rest upon the wise and eternal will of God, over all blessed forever. When these men say that everything is to be explained by natural laws, natural causes, natural sequences, we believe in natural laws, natural causes, natural sequences. But before all changes, all states, all stages, we must find the Prime Mover, and, as to all the rest, all the secondary causes, the will of God works through them all, to His high and wonderful purpose. Go to the sceptical biologist today, and he says, if you want to explain organisation you must go back, and you will find that the organisation of today is based upon simple organisation in the primitive epoch. In other words, you are to go back and to find the microscopical tortoise in the primitive mud. You go to a sceptical astronomer and ask what keeps the universe up. "Oh," he says, "one star hangs upon another." Very good. And they all hang upon the topmost star. Everything is dependent upon the central sun. In other words, your central sun is the transfigured tortoise. Go to the sceptical geologist and say, "What do things rest upon?" He says, "The earth you walk upon rests upon the carboniferous epoch." "Yes, and what does that rest upon? That rests upon the Devonian." "Very good; and what does that rest on?" He says, "That rests on the Silurian." "And what does that rest on?" "That rests on the cosmical dust." A lively tortoise! We hold the tortoise and the elephant are very good as far as they go; but they do not go far enough. And you have never gone far enough, whilst you keep to secondary causes, whilst you keep to intermediary forces. You can never find rest for the intelligent soul, until at the back of the physical universe, with its interdependencies and its evolutions, you find the God who made and ruled it, and is bringing it through the ages to some wise and magnificent consummation. I say, let us, in these days of materialism, keep well this before the world — "In the beginning God," the first cause, God in whom all things are held together; God who directs everything to a noble and adequate consummation. You know, where I live, the speculative builder has turned up, and he has built a row of houses opposite to my modest cottage. I had a grand time when I went to live there. I had the sky, and the sunrise, and the sunset, and the procession of the clouds, and the colours of the spring, and the glory of the summer. I never dared to speak of it, lest my landlord should put up my rent! If he had made me pay for all that, he would have wanted a fine fee. But in comes the speculative builder, and puts up this row of horrid bricks and mortar. And now the only glimpse I get of the violet sky is in a puddle in the street. I never see the splendour of the sunset, except a stray gleam in a window pane. As for the growths of the summer, the only relics I how see are two smutty, smutty growths in a little plot that they poetically call my garden! They call it London Pride that grows there. But if London is proud of it, it shows the humility of the metropolis! Now what I want yon to see is this: that just as the bricks and mortar have shut out nature, so nature herself may become so much dead brick and mortar to shut out the greater world that is back of it. Men stop with the visible, and they forget the unseen and eternal universe, of which this world is but a theatre of images and shadows. Now find another illustration of the text in society. If God is the ultimate factor in nature, God is once more the ultimate factor in society. "He hangeth the earth upon nothing." He hangeth civilisation upon nothing. Now there, again, you find the objector comes in. He says, Oh, you believe everything rests in society upon a spiritual basis. Yes. Well, I don't; I believe that society is built upon instincts, upon utilities, upon governments. The elephant and tortoise again! What are the three great words in the world today touching civilisation? "Liberty, equality, fraternity?" Let us drop that legend and take up these which come nearer co the point — sympathy, righteousness, hope. Society is held together, it advances by the power of these three words. If you come to look at them, they are all metaphysical. Sympathy — What a power sympathy is in civilisation! The home, society are held together by it. Go to the materialist, and he says, Society is held together by hooks of steel. What are they? The policeman's handcuffs, that is it. How is society held together? By the hangman's noose. Coercion, penalties, punishments — society rests there! Society does not rest there. One of the great factors is that wonderful thing you call love that has been working obscurely in the world from the beginning to this hour. Forbearance, unselfishness, disinterestedness, gratitude, love. Oh, says the utilitarian, hang the earth upon the thick cart rope of coercion. He hangeth civilisation upon the fine silken thread we call love. And today in society, love plays the same part that gravitation plays in the physical universe. Righteousness. What is righteousness? Oh, says the utilitarian, righteousness is a coarse fibre, — self-interest. That is the sustaining force of righteousness. What is the force which sustains righteousness? It is spiritual. "God hangs the heavens upon the finest wires," say the ancients; and morality depends upon faith and love. If you want a guarantee for morality, what is the great guarantee which the New Testament gives? That the love you feel to the world's Saviour will prompt your obedience to the world's Lawgiver. Hope. There is another great word that moves and sanctifies society. If it were not for hope, the nation would wither, civilisation would wither. And the hope of the world is at last the confidence of men in an unseen but a faithful God. And so, in civilisation as in science, the great forces that mould, and sustain, and inspire, and perfect, are not gross materialism and mean utilities, but they are in fine threads, noble feelings, and these threads sustain the whole fabric of civilisation. And therefore in the Church, you know, we seem really nobody. If you get a statesman, he has got an army at his back. If you get a magistrate, he has got a lot of policemen at his back. If you get a merchant, you get the Bank of England at his back — more or less! But we in the Church have no political mastery. When we lay down a law, we cannot call in the policeman. We have none of the forces of bread and gold. What have we got in the Church? Well, I say this, the Church is the master of the forces that mould society, that is all. The Church is the master of those great emotions of sympathy, of sentiment, of righteousness, of hope. Never you be troubled because you think the Church has a somewhat isolated and spiritualised and apparently uninfluential situation. It is the spiritual that governs society. I must show you how the text is illustrated in the Church. "He hangeth the earth upon nothing." Religion — what is religion? Religion means a bond, a spiritual bond, between my soul and my Maker, and my salvation hangs where the earth hangeth and where salvation hangs, on the Word of God in Jesus Christ; there and only there. You are wrong again, says the objector, and he begins to call in the elephant and the tortoise. Says he, What about the Church? Your salvation rests on the Church, its services, sacraments, its spiritualities. Don't you see it is resting (and I speak with great respectfulness) our salvation upon the elephant and the tortoise, instead of going back to the spiritual God and His truth, love, and grace, and these only? My salvation depends upon my personal fellowship with my living Lord. He hangeth the earth, not upon the coarse thread of historic continuity, but upon the fine thread of the spiritual past. My salvation does not hang upon a connection with the ceremonial Church. There they fix me up with the visible, mechanical, ceremonial Church. It is like a man who believes the earth wants shoring up. Not a bit of it. I can do with certain of these things and I can do without them. I am not bound to the visible ceremonial Church. Hangs my salvation on the simple Word in Jesus Christ, and there is the vital truth for you and for me. "God is a Spirit, and they that worship Him must worship Him in spirit and in truth, for He seeketh such to worship Him." "He hangeth the earth upon nothing," and it hangs well. Fasten yourself to the same thread and you shall not find that you will be confounded.
He bindeth up the waters in His thick clouds.
The average quantity of aqueous vapour, or water held in the air, is estimated to be 54,460,000,000,000 tons. The annual amount of rainfall is estimated to be 186,240 cubic miles. If this rain were at any one moment equally spread over the land portion of the globe, it would cover all the continents with water three feet deep. Reflect now that water in its natural state is 773 times heavier than air. And now suppose that you had never heard or conceived of the principle of evaporation, and that you were required to lift up this vast mass of 54,460,000,000,000 tons of water one mile, two, three, four or five miles high into the air, and keep it suspended there. Well, what man, or all mankind combined cannot do, or begin to do, God did on that second day of creation, and does daily. Water as vapour occupies 1600 times larger space than water as liquid. Hence, water as vapour is lighter than air, and naturally ascends. That is the whole secret. How manifold are the works of God.
He holdeth back the face of His throne, and spreadeth His cloud upon it.
Aided by Divine revelation, the researches of man have done much and well in tracking out the footprints of Deity, in exploring His hidden works, and leading us through nature up to that God whose glory is thus dimly shadowed forth, and upon whom nature depends for all its laws, its continuance and well-being. But after all, there is still around the throne of God a cloud so dense that it cannot be pierced by the keenest eye of the most assiduous investigator, and defies all the daring powers of the most gifted intellect. How insignificant do we appear in the presence of the Infinite, the Incomprehensible!
I. THE TRUTH TO BE ILLUSTRATED. The figurative language of the text seems to have reference to the mystery which surrounds the throne of God as the seat of His universal empire.
1. In reference to the kingdom of creation, it must be acknowledged that the mind of man has discovered much that is vast and sublime. It has discovered what are called the laws of gravitation. But who can define the precise nature of this gravitation? Is it not a name given to something, the effects of which are manifest, but whose real and essential nature is unknown? We go to the patriarchal hills, and explore the bosom of the earth, and discover further illustration of the text. There is something here which baffles all man's powers to explain. Look at that living mystery of all mysteries which we carry about with us; consider the mechanism of the human frame, and the moral constitution of our nature. Who can trace the connection that subsists between mind and matter; how is it that the physical frame is subject to the volitions of mind?
2. In reference to the kingdom of God's moral government, and the dispensations of an overruling providence. As a general rule, vice brings along with it its own scourge, and virtue its own reward; yet in how many instances are we staggered with perplexity, when we see the profane and the ungodly among the most prosperous in temporal matters, whilst the man who fears God, and pursues his honest avocation with persevering industry, is often bound round with sorrow as with a garment, and disastrous events come upon him in quick succession.
3. In reference to the kingdom of grace. At every step we find ourselves encompassed with inscrutable mystery, whether' we consider the doctrines taught, the objects embraced, or the change produced.
II. THE CONSOLATION SUGGESTED. It is not one opposing power holding back the throne of another, and spreading a cloud upon it with some vindictive design. It is the King Himself holding back His own throne, and Himself covering it with a cloud. God is seated upon the cloud-wrapped throne, not merely as universal Governor, but in the more endearing character of a Father. All things are working together for good under the superintendence of Him who sitteth upon the throne. These considerations should tend to check the despondent repinings in which we are so often disposed to indulge. The cloud is spread upon the throne now; but let us trust God where we cannot trace Him; only let us live by faith in His Son; and soon the cloud will pass away before our beatific vision; soon shall we see the King in His beauty, on His throne dismantled of the cloud, smiting with a Father's warmest love. We shall then acknowledge with grateful hearts — He did all things well.
Lo, these are parts of His ways.
The least understood Being in the universe is God. Blasphemous would be any attempt, by painting or sculpture, to represent Him. Egyptian hieroglyphs tried to suggest Him, by putting the figure of an eye upon a sword, implying that God sees and rules, but how imperfect the suggestion. When we speak of Hint, it is almost always in language figurative. He is "Light," or "Day spring from on high," or He is a "High Tower," or the "Fountain of Living Waters." After everything that language can do when put to the utmost strain, and all we can see of God in the natural world and realise of God. in the providential world, we are forced to cry out with Job in my text, "Lo, these are parts of His ways; but how little a portion is heard of Him? but the thunder of His power who can understand?" We try to satisfy ourselves with saying, "It is natural law that controls things, gravitation is at work, centripetal and centrifugal forces respond to each other." But what is natural law? it is only God's ways of doing things. At every point in the universe it is God's direct and continuous power that controls and harmonises and sustains. What power it must be that keeps the internal fires of our world imprisoned — only here and there spurting from a Cotopaxi, or a Stromboli, or from a Vesuvius putting Pompeii and Herculaneum into sepulchre; but for the most part the internal fires chained in their cages of rock, and century after century unable to break the chain or burst open the door. What power to keep the component parts of the air in right proportion, so that all round the world the nations may breath in health, the frosts and the heats hindered from working universal demolition. What is that power to us? asks someone. It is everything to us. With Him on our side, the reconciled God, the sympathetic God, the omnipotent God, we may defy all human and Satanic antagonisms. We get some little idea of the Divine power when we see how it buries the proudest cities and nations. Ancient Memphis it has ground up, until many of its ruins are no larger than your thumbnail, and you can hardly find a souvenir large enough to remind you of your visit. The city of Tyre is under the sea which washes the shore, on which are only a few crumbling pillars left. By such rehearsal we try to arouse our appreciation of what Omnipotence is, and our reverence is excited, and our adoration is intensified, but, after all, we find ourselves at the foot of a mountain we cannot climb, hovering over a depth we cannot fathom. So all those who have put together systems of theology have discoursed also about the wisdom of God. Think of a Wisdom which can know the end from the beginning, that knows the thirtieth century as well as the first century. We can guess what will happen; but it is only a guess. Think of a Mind that can hold all of the past and all the present and all the future. We can contrive and invent on a small scale; but think of a Wisdom that could contrive a universe! Think of a Wisdom that was able to form, without any suggestion or any model to work by, the eye, the ear, the hand, the foot, the vocal organs. What we know is overwhelmed by what we do not know. What the botanist knows about the flower is not more wonderful than the things he does not know about the flower. What the geologist knows about the rocks is not more amazing than the things which he does not know about them. The worlds that have been counted are only a small regiment of the armies of light, the hosts of heaven, which have never passed in review before mortal vision. What a God we have! All that theologians know of God's wisdom is insignificant compared with the wisdom beyond human comprehension. The human race never has had, and never will have enough brain or heart to measure the wisdom of God. "O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! how unsearchable are tits judgments, and His ways past finding out!" So, also, all systems of theology try to tell us what is omnipresence, that is God's capacity to be everywhere at the same time. So every system of theology has attempted to describe and define the Divine attribute of love. Easy enough is it to define fatherly love, motherly love, conjugal love, fraternal love, sisterly love and love of country, but the love of God defies all vocabulary. I think the love of God was demonstrated in mightier worlds, before our little world was fitted up for human residence. Will a man, owning 50,000 acres of land, put all the cultivation on a half acre? Will God make a million worlds, and put His chief affection on one small planet? Are the other worlds, and larger worlds, standing vacant, uninhabited, while this little world is crowded with inhabitants? No, it takes a universe of worlds to express the love of God! Go ahead, O Church of God! Go ahead, O world! and tell as well as you can what the love of God is, but know beforehand that Paul was right when he said, "It passeth knowledge." Only glimpses of God have we in this world, but what an hour it will be when we first see Him, and we will have no more fright than I feel when I now see you. It will not be with mortal eye that we will behold Him, but with the vision of a cleansed, forgiven, and perfected spirit.
The man who said that was not left comfortless. Sometimes in our very desolateness we say things so deep and true as to prove that we are not desolate at all, if we were only wise enough to seize the comfort of the very power which sustains us. He who has a great thought has a great treasure. A noble conception is an incorruptible inheritance. Job's idea is that we hear but a whisper. Lo, this is a feeble whispering: the universe is a subdued voice; even when it thunders it increases the whisper inappreciably as to bulk and force: all that is now possible to me, Job would say, is but the hearing of a whisper; but the whisper means that I shall hear more by and by; behind the whispering there is a great thundering, a thunder of power; I could not bear it now; the whisper is a Gospel, the whisper is an adaptation to my aural capacity; it is enough, it is music, it is the tone of love, it is what I need in my littleness and weariness, in my initial manhood. How many controversies this would settle if it could only be accepted in its entirety! We know in part, therefore we prophesy in part; we see only very little portions of things, therefore we do not pronounce an opinion upon the whole; we hear a whisper, but it does not follow that we can understand the thunder. There is a Christian agnosticism. Why are men afraid to be Christian agnostics? Why should we hesitate to say with patriarchs and apostles, I cannot tell, I do not know; I am blind, and cannot see in that particular direction; I am waiting? What we hear now is a whisper, but a whisper that is a promise. We must let many mysteries alone. No candle can throw a light upon a landscape. We must know just what we are and where we are, and say we are of yesterday, and know nothing when we come into the presence of many a solemn mystery. Yet how much we do know! enough to live upon; enough to go into the world with as fighting men, that we may dispute with error, and as evangelistic men, that we may reveal the Gospel. They have taken from us many words which they must bring back again, when rationalism is restored amongst the stolen vessels of the Church, agnosticism also will be brought in as one of the golden goblets that belongs to the treasure of the sanctuary. We, too, are agnostics: we do not know, we cannot tell; we cannot turn the silence into speech, but we know enough to enable us to wait. Amid all this difficulty of ignorance we hear a voice saying, What thou knowest not now, thou shalt know hereafter: I have many things to say unto you, but ye cannot bear them now: if it were not so, I would have told you, — as if to say, I know how much to tell, and when to tell it. Little children, trust your Lord.
The works of God should lead us to God Himself. Our study of the creature should be to gain a clearer light and knowledge of the Creator. There are many expressions and impressions of God upon the things which He hath made, and we never see them as we ought, till in them we see their Maker. A critical eye looks upon a picture, not so much to see the colours or the paint, as to discern the skill of the painter or limner; yea, some (as the apostle speaks in reference to spirituals) have senses so exercised about these artificials that they will read the artist's name in the form and exquisiteness of his art. An Apelles or Michael Angelo needs not to put his name to his work, his work proclaims his name to those who are judicious beholders of such kind of works. How much more (as the Psalmist speaks), "that the name of God is near, do His wondrous works (both of nature and providence) declare" to all discreet beholders! That which the eye and heart of every godly man is chiefly upon, is to find out and behold the name, that is, the wisdom, power, and goodness of God in all His works, both of creation and providence. It were better for us never to enjoy the creature, than not to enjoy God in it; and it, were better for us not to see the creature, than not to have a sight of God in it. And yet when we have seen the most of God which the creature can show us. we have reason to say, how little a portion is seen of Him! And when we have heard the most of God that can be reported to us from the creation, we have reason to say, as Job here doth, "How little a portion is heard of Him?"
The true knowledge of God is founded in a deep sense of our ignorance of Him. They know Him best who are most humble that they know Him no better. In this chapter Job celebrates the power and wisdom of God as manifest in the works of creation.
I. HOW LITTLE A PORTION DO WE KNOW OF HIS BEING. That there must be some intelligent, independent, first cause of all created nature is most certain. This first Being must subsist necessarily, or by a necessity of nature. But have we any idea what that means? If He be necessarily existent, He must be eternal. But a Being subsisting of Himself from all eternity, surpasses the utmost stretch of our imagination. If God necessarily exist, He must be omnipresent, or present in all places. But what idea can we form of the Divine immensity?
II. THE MANNER OF GOD'S EXISTENCE AS MUCH EXCEEDS ALL OUR COMPREHENSION AS THE NECESSARY PROPERTIES OF IT. How can we suppose that it should not? If Scripture does not explain to our understanding the peculiar mode or manner of His existence, or a distinction of subsistence in the Divine essence, why should the mystery of it be a stumbling block to our faith, when in the world of nature we are surrounded with mysteries which we readily believe, though no less incomprehensible?
III. HOW LITTLE WE KNOW OF THE DIVINE PERFECTIONS. Both His natural and moral perfections leave our thoughts labouring in the research infinitely behind. What those perfections are, as subsisting in a limited degree in creatures we know, but what they are as existing without limits, or to the utmost extent in God, we know not.
1. When our minds are once satisfied and established in the doctrine of the Divine perfections, let no difficulties or objections that may arise from our contemplation of the works of nature, or the ways of providence, be suffered to weaken our faith therein.
2. When we are speaking of the Divine attributes we commonly say they are infinite, that is, they have nothing to limit, obstruct, or circumscribe them, or that they extend to the utmost degree of perfection.
3. The attributes of God are sometimes divided into His communicable and incommunicable attributes. By the former are meant His moral perfections; such as His wisdom, holiness, goodness, etc., which in various degrees He communicates to His creatures. By the latter are understood those attributes which are appropriate to Deity; such as absolute independence, self-sufficiency, eternity, immensity, and omnipotence, which are in their own nature incommunicable to any finite subject.
IV. HOW LITTLE DO WE KNOW OF THE WORKS OF GOD. How few of them fall under our observation! Look at the minute animal work; at what is revealed by the microscope. Look at the great world; or at the finished mechanism of our body. How astonishing the union of two such opposite substances as flesh and spirit.
V. HIS WAYS OF PROVIDENCE ARE AS UNSEARCHABLE AS HIS WORKS OF POWER. Whilst His thoughts and views are not as ours, but infinitely more extended, it is no wonder that there should appear to us inextricable mysteries in the course of His providential conduct.
VI. HOW LOW AND DEFECTIVE IS OUR KNOWLEDGE OF THE WORD OF GOD. In a revelation that comes from God, it might reasonably be expected that we should meet with some hidden truths or sublime doctrines which surpass our understandings.
(1)How humble we should be in view of our ignorance.
(2)Speak of God with the profoundest reverence.
(3)Be thankful for what we know of God, and try to increase it.
Under the dispensation of the new covenant, a clearer knowledge of the Divine nature and properties was vouchsafed. Yet still the things of heaven are raised far above the level of mortal faculties. If God under the law made darkness His pavilion, He dwells under the Gospel in inaccessible light.
I. THE INCOMPREHENSIBLENESS OF GOD AS IT RELATES TO HIS GENERAL NATURE. Who can comprehend His distinct personality, combined with His diffused omnipresence? What clear and distinct notion does man entertain of eternity? Nor can we form a more accurate notion of unbounded space. God is omnipotent. But God cannot destroy His own nature. God cannot obliterate space. God cannot act wickedly. What is this omnipotence which is fettered with so many "canners"? God is a Spirit. But what does man know of Spirit? God is omniscient. But how can we reconcile this with the contingent and optional conduct of men as moral and free agents?
II. TO HOW SMALL AN EXTENT WE CAN COMPREHEND GOD'S MORAL ATTRIBUTES. Wisdom, Justice, Holiness, Mercy. If God be holy, why did He permit the existence of vice? If He be merciful, wherefore did He permit the existence of suffering? If He be just, whence the promiscuous distribution of good and evil observable, with little respect to merit or demerit, in this world? How many such questions might be asked! Inferences —
1. How exceedingly petulant appear the cavils of infidelity!
2. In those matters of faith wherein we possess no analogy to assist our power of comprehension, it will be well to rest satisfied with the authority of Scripture.
3. In our present inability to comprehend the Divine nature, we seem to possess the valuable earnest of a future state of being. Oh, the exquisite and endless pleasures which the full comprehension of Divinity will impart to the unfilmed understanding of man!
The patriarch, extolling the majesty and might of Jehovah, adduces various exhibitions of His power in the natural world. The meaning of Job is, "These manifestations of the Deity, grand and imposing as they are, present but a very inadequate display of His character and works. They are, as it were, but a breathing of His power." It is the feeling of every devout philosopher engaged in the researches of natural science, "These are parts of His ways." When he meets with difficulties, therefore, which baffle his sagacity, he modestly refers them to his own ignorance, satisfied that there must be principles or facts, as yet undiscovered, that will explain them. It is the sciolist who draws sweeping conclusions from scant premises. It will do much to save science from repeating its mistakes, to keep in mind that in its profoundest researches into the arcana of nature it sees but "parts of His ways who made and governs all." What is here affirmed of creation is no less true of His providence. Providence comes home to us all. It has to do with everyone's affairs at every moment of life. Who does not feel that this whole dispensation under which we live is a mystery? We come into being heirs of a depraved nature. The world is a scene replete with temptation, and filled with suffering. Sin, sorrow, and death range over every part of it. The mystery which enfolds this whole condition of things deepens when we consider the character of the Supreme Being. It seems, at first view, to be incompatible with His moral perfections. We are all pressed with these moral difficulties. It is a tangled web which we cannot unravel. Sometimes, in meditating on it, our faith almost gives way. If there be any method of removing or mitigating these trials, we ought to know it. Take the text as equivalent to the declaration of the apostle, "We know in part." To take this world by itself, dissevered from its relations to the great scheme of providence, and from its own past and future, is to consign ourselves to atheism and despair. To contemplate it as a part, and an infinitesimal part of a "stupendous whole," will relieve even its darkest features, and assist us in believing that although "clouds and darkness are round about Him, righteousness and judgment are the habitation of His throne." "These are parts of His ways." There is a prime truth presented in these last words. We are not to escape from the perplexities of our position by denying that the Divine government extends to this moral chaos around us. Whatever is, is by His direction or permission. All these inequalities of our condition proceed according to a purpose. It is chaos only to our limited and imperfect vision. It is something to be assured of this. If these events are but "parts of His ways," both reason and religion forbid us to judge of them as though they were the whole of His ways. As parts of God's ways, we can so far understand as to perceive that it is what it is because we are what we are. We may not attempt to penetrate the Divine counsels and inquire why this order of things was established in preference to any other. But since it is established, we cannot fail to see that it expresses in a most emphatic manner God's hatred of sin. And it is adapted to supply the very training which we need. We are under the discipline of temptation.
I endeavour to point out the direct religious bearings of some of the main discoveries achieved within fifty years. Half a century ago it was generally held that every living thing, whether animal or plant, from the lichen on the wall to the cedar of the forest, from the crawling worm to the king of beasts, and man the crown of all, was called into existence by an instantaneous fiat, just as we see them now. All Nature was looked upon as a gigantic stationary stereotype, the handiwork indeed of God, who stood outside of it, and had done so since creation's dawn. In presence of that Nature, as the performance of a Divine artificer, men wondered and worshipped indeed; but to a large extent their worship was ignorant, and the wonder vacant. Our admiration lacked intelligence, our awe was a blank dismay. But Darwin and Wallace arose like prophets in our midst, and at the bidding of their voice chaos gave place to order, darkness made way for light. People who call themselves, and think themselves, and are, according to their light, religious, tell us, forsooth, that this theory of development is not demonstrated, is not proven, is a mere hypothesis. Of course it is a mere hypothesis. Everything is a mere hypothesis that attempts to give a philosophical explanation of Nature. Every effort to piece together, in a consistent whole, the isolated facts of experience, is a mere hypothesis. But the theory of separate creation is likewise a mere hypothesis. The question is, which hypothesis is the more reasonable? To accept this theory of evolution demands an act of faith. Every intellectual judgment is an act of faith. And just in proportion as it is earnest and sincere, and bends before the majesty of reason, and is a genuine endeavour to read a meaning into life and destiny, it is a religious act. There used to be a time when it was held religious to believe in miracles, in a stoppage or reversal of the quiet course of Nature. The more prodigies and marvels, the more inexplicable things a man could accept, or a book recount, the more religious that man or book was supposed to be. But the more God is recognised in order, in unbroken sequence and succession, in continuous cause and effect, in religious reason and persistent purpose, the more will piety recoil from everything that is miraculous; the more averse will be our reason and our faith — which is but reason's confiding or imaginative side — to harbour the thought of the preternatural, the supernatural, the supernatural. It was supposed that the human race appeared all of a sudden on the scene some six thousand years ago, a few centuries more or less after the disappearance of the extinct mammalia. But modern science carries back the existence of man one hundred thousand years, and even that is but a portion of the time during which some high authorities consider we have traces of the race. What are the religious lessons of this high antiquity of man? Do not Judaism and Christianity assume quite other proportions in our eyes, in relation to the entire humanity, than when it was believed that they, together with the light vouchsafed the patriarchs, constituted a revelation coeval with the lifetime of mankind? In all these cases, and in many more, it would be easy to show that the ascertained facts of science are valuable, and fraught with religious and theological worth; not only because they give the lie direct to many an ancient preconception, and many a narrowing prejudice, but because they open a wide and legitimate door to authorised flights of imagination and reasonable faith. The Bible will not lose its charm, nor its lessons their sanctity, because better understood, and more justly valued, than of old.
The thunder of His power
The text is a lofty declaration of the Divine power, with a particular note of attention — "Lo!" Doctrine. Infinite and incomprehensible power pertains to the nature of God, and is expressed in part in His works. Though there be a mighty expression of Divine power in His works, yet an incomprehensible power pertains to His nature. His power glitters in all His works, as well as His wisdom.
I. THE NATURE OF THIS POWER.
1. Power sometimes signifies authority. But power taken for strength, and power taken for authority, are distinct things. The power of God here is to be understood of His strength to act.
2. Power is divided ordinarily into absolute and ordinate. Absolute is that power whereby God is able to do that which He will not do, but is possible to be done. Ordinate is that power whereby God doth that which He hath decreed to do. These are not distinct powers, but one and the same power.
3. The power of God is that ability and strength whereby He can bring to pass whatever He please, whatever His infinite wisdom can direct, and whatever the infinite purity of His will can resolve. Power, in the primary notion of it, doth not signify an act, but an ability to bring a thing into act.
4. This power is of a distinct conception from the wisdom and will of God. They are not really distinct, but according to our conceptions. We cannot discourse of Divine things, without absolutely some proportion of them with human, ascribing unto God the perfections, sifted from the imperfections, of our nature. In us there are three orders — of understanding, will, power; and accordingly three acts — counsel, resolution, execution; which, though they are distinct in us, are not distinct in God.
5. As power is essentially in God, so it is not distinct from His essence. Omnipotence is nothing but the Divine essence efficacious ad extra. It is His essence as operative.
6. The power of God gives activity to all the other perfections of His nature; and is of a larger extent and efficacy, in regard of its objects, than some perfections of His nature.
7. This power is infinite. A finite power is a limited power, and a limited power cannot effect everything that is possible. The objects of Divine power are innumerable — not essentially infinite. God can do infinitely more than He hath done, or will do.(1) Creatures have a power to act about more objects than they do.(2) God is the most free agent. Every free agent can do more than He will do.(3) This power is infinite in regard of action. In regard to the independency of action. It consists in an ability to give higher degrees of perfection to everything which He hath made. As His power is infinite, extensive, in regard of the multitude of objects He can bring into being, so it is infinite, intensive, in regard of the manner of operation and the endowments He can bestow upon them.(4) This power is infinite in regard of duration.
8. The impossibility of God's doing some things is no infringing of His almightiness, but rather a strengthening of it. Some things are impossible in their own nature. Such as imply a contradiction. Some things are impossible to the nature and being of God. Some are impossible to the glorious perfections of God. He cannot do anything unworthy of Himself.
II. REASONS TO PROVE THAT GOD MUST NEEDS BE POWERFUL.
1. The power that is in creatures demonstrates a greater and an inconceivable power in God. Nothing in the world is without a power of activity according to its nature. All the power which is distinct in the creatures must be united in God.
2. If there were not an incomprehensible power in God, He would not be perfect.
3. The simplicity of God manifests it.
4. The miracles that have been in the world evidence the power of God.
III. HOW HIS POWER APPEARS — IN CREATION, IN GOVERNMENT, IN REDEMPTION.
1. In creation.(1) His power is the first thing evident in the story of the creation.(2) By this creative power God is often distinguished from all the idols and false gods in the world. How doth the power of God appear in creation? The world was made of nothing. The creation of things from nothing speaks an infinite power. The power appears in raising such variety of creatures from this barren womb of nothing.(3) God did all this with the greatest ease and facility. Without instruments. By a word; a simple act of His will. Note also the appearance of this power in the instantaneous production of things.
2. In government. God decreed from eternity the particular ends of creatures, and their operations respecting those ends. As there was need of His power to execute His decree of creation, there is also need of His power to execute His decree about the manner of government. All government is an act of the understanding, will, and power. This power is evident in natural government, which consists in the preservation of all things, propagation of them by corruptions and generations, and in a cooperation with them in their motives to attain their ends. In moral government, which is of the hearts and actions of men. And in gracious government, as respecting the Church.
3. In redemption. This is the most admirable work that ever God brought forth in the world. This will appear —
(1)In the person redeeming.
(2)In the publication and propagation of the doctrine of redemption.
(3)In the application of redemption — in the planting grace; in the pardon of sin; in the preserving grace.
1. Of information and instruction. If incomprehensible and infinite power belongs to the nature of God, then Jesus Christ hath a Divine nature, because the acts of power proper to God are ascribed to Him. Hence may also be inferred the deity of the Holy Ghost. Works of omnipotency are ascribed to the Spirit of God.
2. The power of God is contemned and abused. Contemned in every sin; in distrust of God; in too great fear of man; and by trusting in ourselves. Abused when we make use of it to justify contradictions; by presuming on it, without using the means He hath appointed. This doctrine is full of comfort, and it teacheth us the fear of God.
Skeletons of Sermons.I.
THE NATURE OF GOD'S POWER. Power sometimes signifies authority; here it signifies strength.
1. The power of God is that ability or strength whereby He can bring to pass whatsoever He pleaseth, whatsoever His infinite wisdom can direct, and the unspotted purity of His will resolve.
2. The power of God gives activity to all the other perfections of His nature. As holiness is the beauty, so power is the life of His attributes in their exercise.
3. This power is originally and essentially in His nature. The power of God is not derived from anything without Him.
4. Hence it follows that the power of God is infinite. Nothing can be too difficult for the Divine power to effect.
II. WHEREIN THE POWER OF GOD IS MANIFESTED.
1. In creation.
2. In the government of the world.
(1)In preservation, or natural government.
(2)In moral government. The restraint of the malicious nature of Satan. The restraint of the wickedness of man.
(3)In His gracious government. In the deliverance of His Church.In effecting His purpose by small means. In the work of our redemption. Note the Person redeeming; the progress of His life; His resurrection. Note the publication of it. The power of God was manifested in the instruments; and in the success of their ministry. Conclude —
1. Here is comfort in all afflictions. Our evils can never be so great to distress us as His power is to deliver.
2. This doctrine teaches us the fear of God. "Who would not fear Thee?"
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