O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! how unsearchable are his judgments, and his ways past finding out!
These words are the close of St. Paul s disputation concerning God s providence towards His ancient people, in rejecting the greatest part of them, on their refusal to embrace Christianity, and in admitting the Gentiles to favour on their compliance; in which proceeding the Jews could not discern God's hand, nor allow such a dispensation to be worthy of Him. The apostle, after an able vindication of it, winds up the contest with the modest intimation that in this and all such cases, for entire satisfaction, we should have recourse to the incomprehensible wisdom of God, who frequently orders things in methods beyond our ability to trace. Note —
I. SOME CAUSES AND REASONS OF THAT INCOMPREHENSIBILITY.
1. As the dealings of very wise men sometimes are founded on maxims, and admit justifications not obvious to nor penetrable by vulgar conceit, so may God's. As there are natural modes of being and operation — such as God's necessary subsistence, His eternity without succession, etc. — so there may be prudential and moral rules far above our reach (Isaiah 55:9). Some of these we may be incapable of knowing on account of our finite nature; others on account of our meanness and low rank among created beings. In such cases the absolute will, sovereign authority, and pure liberality of God, supply the place of reasons.
2. As the standing rules of God's acting, so the occasional grounds thereof are commonly placed beyond the sphere of our apprehension. God is obliged to prosecute His own immutable decrees; "working all things according to the counsel of His own will": which how can we anywise come to discover? God also has a perfect foresight of contingent events. He observes in what relation and degrees of comparison things stand towards each other; whereas we cannot tell what things to compare.
3. We are also incapable thoroughly to discern the ways of Providence, from our moral defects, in some measure common to all men; our stupidity, sloth, temerity, impatience, impurity, of heart, etc.
4. Again, the nature of those instruments which Divine Providence uses in administration of human affairs, hinders us from discerning it. The footsteps of Divine wisdom are far more conspicuous in the works of nature than in the management of our affairs, and while the one has confirmed faith, the other has bred doubt.
5. As in nature the influence of heaven and of inferior causes, so in the production of special events among men Divine and human agency are so combined, that it is not easy to discriminate what God performs by natural instruments, and what by superior efficacy.
(1) Not seeing the first, we are prone to ascribe too much to the last, which are most obvious.
(2) And this we are the more apt to do because the manner of Divine agency is ever soft and gentle. God so fashions the hearts of men, so manages their hands, so guides their steps, that even they who are most acted on by Him cannot feel the touch.
6. God, in His progress towards the achievement of any design, is not wont to go in the most direct and compendious ways, but commonly takes a large compass, enfolding several other coincident purposes; which moves our impatience, etc.
7. Like every wise agent, He is wont to act variously, according to the state and circumstances of things, or to the dispositions and capacities of persons.
8. There are different ends which Providence pursues in various order and measure, which we, by reason of our dim insight and short prospect, cannot descry.
(1) God permits things, bad in their own nature, having regard to their instrumental use and tendency.
(2) Also the expediency of things to be permitted or crossed, frequently consists, not in themselves singly taken, as particular acts or events, but in their conjunction with or reference to others, with which they may become subservient to a common end.
9. That Providence is sometimes obscure and intricate, may be attributed to the will of God, on many accounts designing it so. He will not glare forth in discoveries so bright as to dazzle or confound our weak sight.
(1) He meaneth thereby to improve and exalt our faith.
(2) It is fit also that He should thus in many things surpass our understanding, that He may appear to be God indeed.
(3) The obscurity of Providence conciliates an awful reverence towards it, as darkness raises a dread of invisible powers.
(4) It is also requisite that God should dispose many occurrences, cross to our notions, and offensive to our carnal sense, that we may thus be prompted to think of Him, and to seek Him.
(5) It is needful that the present course of Providence should not be perfectly clear and satisfactory, that we may be well assured concerning a future account, and forced in our thoughts to recur thither for a solution of our doubts and difficulties.
II. SOME PRACTICAL APPLICATIONS GROUNDED ON THE FOREGOING REASONS.
1. It should render us modest and sober in our judgment about providential occurrences, since it is plain arrogance or imposture to assume perfect skill in what passeth our capacity to learn.
2. It should make us cautious in passing judgment or censure on events, since it is temerity to give sentence on what is incapable of evidence.
3. It should repress wanton curiosity, which would only make us lose our time, etc.
4. It should keep us from conceit and confidence in our own wisdom.
5. It should preserve us from infidelity, and despair on account of any cross accidents.
6. It should prevent our taking offence at such.
7. It should guard us against security, or presuming on impunity for our miscarriages; for seeing that God does not always fully discover His mind, it is vain to suppose that, because He is now patient, He will always be so.
8. It should quicken our industry in observing and considering the works of Providence: the fainter our light is, the more attentive should we be in looking.
9. It should oblige us to be circumspect and wary in our conversation.
10. Also constantly to seek God, and to depend on Him for protection, and for the conduct of His grace, the only clue in this labyrinth.
11. In fine, it should cause us humbly to admire and adore that wisdom which governs the world in ways no less great and wonderful than just and holy.
(L Barrow, D.D.)
Parallel VersesKJV: O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! how unsearchable are his judgments, and his ways past finding out!