I. THE LARGE AMOUNT OF ACCIDENT which enters into the fabric of human life. Take, for example, a bad railway accident. How accidental it seems that one man should just miss that train and be saved, and that another should just catch it and be killed; that one should take a seat in the carriage which is crushed, and another in the carriage which is left whole; that one should be sitting exactly where the bent and twisted timber pierced him, and another exactly where no injury was dealt, etc.! It is the same with the battle-field, with the thunderstorm, with the falling house. One is taken, and another left; and the taking of the one and the leaving of the other seems to be pure accident - not the result of reason or forethought, but entirely fortuitous.
II. OUR CORRECTED THOUGHT CONCERNING IT.
1. Of accident in the sense of chance we know there is nothing. Everything is "under law;" and even where there is no law apparent, we are assured, by the exercise of our reason, that there must be the operation of law, though it is out of our sight. In this world of God's, pure chance has not an inch of ground to work upon.
2. There is usually much more play of reason and habit in "accidental events" than seems at first sight. Things result as they do because habit is stronger than judgment, or because foolish men disregard the counsel of the wise; because thoughtful men take the precautions which result in their safety, and because thoughtless men take the action which issues in their suffering or death.
3. The providence of God covers the entire field of human life. May we venture to believe that the hand of God is in the events and issues of life? I think we may.
(1) It is clearly within the range of the activities of an Infinite Being to whom nothing is small as nothing is great.
(2) His Fatherhood would lead him to follow the course of every one of his children with parental interest, and to interpose his hand wherever he saw it was wise to do so.
(3) Scripture warrants the conclusion: "Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his saints;" "The way of man is not in himself; it is not in man that walketh to direct his steps;" "Not a sparrow falleth to the ground without your Father: ye are of more value than many sparrows."
III. THE LARGE MEASURE OF UNCERTAINTY THAT REMAINS AND MUST REMAIN. Human science has introduced many safeguards, but it has also introduced new perils. The "chapter of accidents" is as long as it ever was in the contemporary history of mankind. God is supreme, but he lets many things happen we should antecedently have supposed he would step in to prevent; he lets good men take the consequence of their mistakes; he permits the very holy and the very useful to be overtaken by sad misfortunes and even by fatal calamities. We cannot guarantee the future; we cannot ensure prosperity, health, friends, reputation, long life. To one that seems to be heir to all these good things they will fall; to another who seems equally likely to inherit them they will be denied: one is taken, the other left. Therefore let us turn to -
IV. THE ONE GOOD THING ON WHICH WE CAN ABSOLUTELY COUNT. There is "a good part which shall not be taken away." This is a Christian character; its foundations are laid in repentance and faith; it is built up of reverent study, of worship, of the obedience of love. Its glory is in resemblance to Jesus Christ himself. This is within every man's reach, and it cannot be taken; it must be left. He who secures that is safe for ever. No accident can rob him of his heritage. His treasure and himself are immovable; for "he that doeth the will of God abideth for ever." - C.
The one shall be taken, and the other shall be left.
(Bishop Moberly.)1. The meaning of the text being established, we have next to inquire what the lessons are which it is designed to teach us. When it is considered in relation to its context, it becomes plain that the primary intention of the passage is to denote the suddenness with which the day of the Lord will come upon the inhabitants of the earth. "Of that day and hour knoweth no man, no, not the angels of heaven, but My Father only." There will be no perceptible check or change in the current of human affairs to warn us of its coming. Men will be engaged to the very last in the ordinary occupations of life, "as in the days of Noe" and "as in the days of Lot," "eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage." Nor shall the great and final partition of good and evil be preceded or prefigured by any partial and gradual severance. Men and women shall be united in their daily tasks, and even in the most familiar intercourse of domestic life, between whom there shall be a great gulf fixed in that day.
2. There is a further lesson which may be derived from the text, and which it is also without doubt intended to convey. It is one which is set forth more or less plainly in other places of Holy Scripture. The children of this world and the children of light cannot be absolutely distinguished, so long as we see through a glass, darkly. Our estimate of another's character is after all nothing better than an inference from phenomena, and our powers of inference are at least as fallible in this as in all other matters. The warmest friendships, the most endearing ties, can afford us no unmistakable guarantee that those with whom we are thus outwardly united, are both almost and altogether such as we are.
3. There is, however, a third inference to which we are naturally led by the words before us, and to which I desire particularly to direct your attention at present. However closely and undistinguishably men are mingled together in this world, however various, minute, and delicate are the shades of character by which they are severally differenced, however hopeless it may appear, I will not say for man, but for Absolute Wisdom and Absolute Justice, to draw a broad line between the children of this world and the children of light, the text seems to imply, what we are elsewhere taught, that they will ultimately be divided into two and only two classes. But I think the text goes beyond this, at all events in the way of implication. For it not only tells us that such a sharp line as I have described will ultimately be drawn between the evil and the good, but it seems also to tell us that the line exists already, although we may be unable to discern it. For inasmuch as it represents the day of judgment as coming upon men unprepared, discovering them in the midst of their daily avocations, finding persons of the most opposite characters united in the closest intercourse without a suspicion of their incompatibility, and then at once awarding to every man his everlasting doom; is it not reasonable to infer that the grounds of that award exist already, although they are not in every instance cognizable by us? At this point, however, we are met by a difficulty. Our experience of the world and of human life appears to teach us a different lesson. No doubt there are good men and there are bad men on the face of the earth — good men who are acknowledged to be so even by those who are far otherwise, and bad men who are confessed to be so even by themselves. But the great mass of mankind seems to belong to an intermediate and indifferent body, consisting of those who are neither saints nor reprobates, neither fit for eternal life nor deserving of eternal death. The longer the world lasts, the more complicated the developments of society become, the more does this appear to be the case. The visible confusion of the moral world may only serve to cover a clear and well-defined line of demarcation. And, as much, on the one hand, that is outwardly and materially honest, and just, and pure, and lovely, and of good report, when traced to its true source would be found to be of the earth, earthy; so we must remember that "the Lord knoweth them that are His"; that, "the kingdom of God," which "is within" us, "cometh not with observation"; and that as "the wind bloweth where it listeth, and thou hearest the sound thereof, but canst not tell whence it cometh, or whither it goeth; so is event one that is born of the Spirit." But we shall do well to recollect, in addition, that we see men ordinarily in a transitional and undeveloped state. The good or the evil that is in them may not have had time to come to a head, or may be over. shadowed by old habits which hang about a man like parasites, but which can hardly be said to form a part of his proper self. But as each man's probation draws near its close, it may be that his character is altogether simplified and stereotyped. Then it is that the awful decree goes forth: "He that is unjust, let him be unjust still." Mere experience, then, can decide nothing against the teaching of holy Scripture on this point, although it may not actually confirm it. On the other hand, it is worthy of observation, that a great thinker, whose name marks an era in the history of modern philosophy, in endeavouring to frame a religious system a priori, was led to a result altogether coincident with the doctrine under consideration. After raising the two following questions: first, Whether man can be neither good nor evil? and then, Whether man can be partly good and partly evil? he decides against the former, in opposition (as he confesses) to the prima facie dictates of experience, upon the ground that moral neutrality in any voluntary act is an impossible conception; and he disposes of the latter, by observing that no act has any intrinsic moral worth, unless it spring from a deliberate adoption of the moral law as our universal principle of action. I have cited this writer's testimony mainly because he cannot be accused of any undue partiality towards the distinctive peculiarities of the Christian system. But it is not difficult to translate his arguments into Scriptural language. For, on the one hand, it is our Lord Himself who proposes the dilemma, "Either make the tree good, and his fruit good; or else make the tree corrupt, and his fruit corrupt": and, on the other, His apostle tells us that "Whosoever shall keep the whole law, and yet offend in one point, he is guilty of all."
(W. B. Jones, M. A.)I. WHAT IS IMPLIED IN GOD'S ACTING AS A SOVEREIGN.
1. His acting as a sovereign implies that He always acts after the counsel of His own will, without consulting the will, or pleasure, or counsel of any other being.
2. His acting as a sovereign implies that He always acts not only without the counsel, but without the control, of any created beings.
II. IN WHAT RESPECTS HE ACTS AS A SOVEREIGN IN TAKING AWAY THE LIVES OF MEN. Here it may be observed —
1. That He acts as a sovereign in respect to appointing the time of every one's death.
2. God acts as a sovereign in determining not only the time, but the place of every one's death.
3. God acts as a sovereign in respect to the means of death.
4. God acts as a sovereign in regard to the circumstances of death. He takes one, and leaves another, under the very same circumstances. He takes one, and leaves another, according to the order in which He has been pleased to place their names in death's commission, regardless of all exterior circumstances or distinctions.
5. God acts as a sovereign in calling men out of the world, whether they are willing or unwilling to leave it.
6. God displays His awful sovereignty by calling men out of time into eternity, whether they are prepared or not prepared to go to their long home.
III. WHY GOD ACTS AS A SOVEREIGN IN THIS VERY IMPORTANT CASE. Several plain and pertinent reasons may be mentioned.
1. Because He has an independent right to act as a sovereign in taking away the lives of men. He is the former of their bodies, and Father of their spirits. In Him they live, and move, and have their being.
2. God acts as a sovereign in the article of death, because He only knows when and where to put a period to human life.
3. Another reason why God disposes of the lives of men as a sovereign, in all those respects which have been mentioned, is because He is under indispensable moral obligations to dispose of His own creatures in the wisest and best manner.Application:
1. If God acts as a sovereign in taking away the lives of men, then the aged have great reason of gratitude for the continuance of life.
2. If God acts as a sovereign in taking away the lives of men, then they ought to maintain a constant and realizing sense that their lives are uncertain.
3. If God acts as a sovereign in taking away the lives of men, then they ought to avoid every mode of conduct which tends to stupify their minds, and create an insensibility to the uncertainty of life.
4. If God acts as a sovereign in taking away the lives of men, then it is not strange that He causes so many sudden and unexpected deaths.
5. It appears from what has been said that there is a solid foundation for the most cordial and unreserved submission under the heaviest bereavements. They come from the hand and heart of a holy, wise, and benevolent Sovereign, who has a right to take one, and leave another, and who never afflicts willingly, or grieves the children of men.
(N. Emmons, D. D.)
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