THE DISPESATIOS OF GOD VIDICATED.

BY Dr. James Inglis
ISAIAH, V. 4.
"What could have been done more to my vineyard, that I have
not done in it?'*
This inquiry may be urged in reply to all the expressions
of dissatisfaction with the ways of God, in which mankind
are so prone to indulge themselves. The existence of this
proneness to be dissatisfied — this spirit of impious complain-
ing, is a fact too obvious to be denied or concealed; nor is it
an easy matter to number the grounds which seem to a dis-
ordered imagination to justify the permission of it. Strange
to tell, the greatest advantages we receive at the hand of
Heaven are too frequently made the subjects of inculpation;
and God is reproached for his very goodness. Some there
are, for instance, who would appear to murmur at the liber-
ty with which man is endued as a moral agent. They are
displeased that it is left at his option whether to be virtu-
ous or vicious, and consequently happy or miserable; pre-
ferring that he should be impelled by resistless necessity in-
to those courses which issue in tranquillity and enjoyment.
Others there are who repine at the superiour advan-
tages enjoyed by the generations of old, for whose guid-
ance, instruction, and confirmation, miraculous deeds were
wrought; who require that, as in the days of former years,
the sea should be turned into dry land — streams should be*
made to gush from the rock of the desert — tlie luminaries
of Heaven interrupted in their bright career; the living
180
struck lifeless by a word; and the dead raised from their
graves. Who can discern no propriety or utility in "all
things continuing as they were from the beginning of the
world,"* without any of those occasional and auspicious
suspensions, revolutions and mutations which excited the
wonder, strengthened the faith, quickened the devotion, and
sanctified the lives of the men of antiquity. othing now
occurs, say they, to provoke the conviction and acknow-
ledgment that •*this is the finger of Go(i."f
Others are offended because in the present state of things
the tares and the wheat grow together indiscriminately; be-
cause prosperity and adversity are alike indecisive of man's
moral contlition; the race not always being to the swift, nor
the battle to the strong; success frequently being wanting
to the exertion of the upright, while she follows in the train
of the most unworthy; because, as they reason, this imdis-
tinguishing treatment of the good and the wicked, with-
draws encouragement from virtue, and administers it to vice.
And others, again, cavil at the Almighty, because, when
iniquity abounds, he sees fit, in certain cases, to abandon
things to their natural operation; to permit corruption to
engender corruption, vice to feed on vice, misery to become
more miserable, and the counsels of folly to eventuate in
the perdition of the fool; instead of interposing his irresisti-
ble exertions in some preternatural or novel manner, to
restore righteousness, order, and peace to their station in
the world.
Many of you, doubtless, will perceive at a glance, that
these views are entirely erroneous. What is it that can
give rise to them? Where are we to look for the causes of
this j)erverse spirit of dissatisfaction? This must be an-
swered in the first place; and afterward I will advance a few
particulars that may place, in a striking point of light, the
9 ^reat impropriety of such views of the divine procedures.
In the first place. — What is it? Self-conceit — an inordi-.
* 2 Peter, iii. 4. f Exodus, viii. 19.
181
iiate estimation of our own understanding — is no incon-
siderable source of this vicious propensity. It often hap-
pens that men think themselves wiser than their Maker; at
least, we can account for their conduct on no otlier princi-
ple. They constitute their judgment the criterion of fitnt-ss
and unfitness in the dispensations of providence. "Such a
method appears to them to be the most eligible for the gov-
ernment of the world; therefore, it is the most eligible.
They would have adopted such a particular plan, had things
been under their direction; therefore, the Deity ought to
have adopted it." This language may be thought too ex-
travagant to be imputed to any of God's rational creatures;
but if there be such a thing as language in conduct, it cer-
tainly is the language of a multitude of inflated mortals,
who presume with their measured capacities to embrace in-
finitude. The human intellect is well fitted to the sphere
through which it was designed to range; but let it not as-
pire to scale the Heaven of Heavens.
While counterfeit wisdom is one source of this perverse
propensity, real ignorance is undoubtedly another. I do not
mean that imperfection which characterizes every finite
mind when contrasted with boundless intelligence; nor yet
that imbecility which unavoidably adheres to the intellectu-
al faculties of fallen man. I mean the absence of that
knowledge which results from the diligent study of divine
things, from humble, devout, and assiduous meditation on
the ways and works of God. **The works of the Lord are
great,"" says the Psalmist, "sought out of all them tliat have,
pleasure therein;"* but there are numbers who have no
pleasure in them, and will be at no trouble to investigate
them. And yet these of all others, are the very men most
ready to criticise and censure them.
Further. — A certain hastiness or temerity of temper be-
trays not a few into this sin against God. A hasty decision
is very rarely a correct decision. A wise and candid man
* Psalm, cxi. 2.
182
will be cautious how lie permits himself to pass sentence on
the conduct of his neighbour — to charge him with folly —
or to ascribe evil motives to his transactions. How much
more so when he thinks or speaks of the ways of him whose
understanding is infinite — whose faithfulness reacheth un-
to the clouds — whose compassions fail not — whose purity is
totally insusceptible of a stain. But, inasmuch as wise and
candid men are rare; and inasmuch as no man upon earth
is always as wise and always as candid as he ought to be;
the dispensations of God's providence and grace are apt to
be estimated with a precipitancy of decision wiiich cannot
be too pointedly censured. It is with reference to this
fault, among others, that the author of Ecclesiastes has
given us the following advice: <'Be not rash with thy mouth,
and let not thy heart be hasty to utter any thing before God;
for God is in Heaven, and thou upon earth; therefore let thy
words be few."*
Jgain: — how often does it happen that men murmur be-
cause they forget; and call Heaven unkind because their
own memories are faithles;?, or their own perceptions dull?
Such is the wretched disingenuousncss, or the carnal stupid-
ity of our nature, that those mercies of God, which are new
every morning, and repeated every evening, are wont to
pass by unobserved, or noticed only for a moment. What
one of God's works is it that does not record his tender mer-
cies.' What one among the nations of men is it in which he
hath left himself "without witness?"! «0 how great is his
goodness to the children of men?" — too many of whom, in
the mean while, unmindful of the rock whence they are hewn;
of the shield that protects; and the sun that lights, warms,
and nourishes them, ask, "why is not that goodness greater?"
Once more: — Vitiated habits and affections dispose men
more powerfully, perhaps, than any other cause, to com-
plain of the ways of Heaven. When men become so inured
to vice — so perfectly enthralled by the spirit that works and
* Eccles. V. 2. t See Psalm cxlv.
183
rules in the children of disobedience* as ^<tocall good evil, and
evil good; to put darkness for light, and ligiit fur darknessj
bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter;"* it is not to be imag-
ined tliat they can avoid running into perpetual mistakes
in attempting- to reason respecting the divine operations;
neither is it to be imagined tliat they will forbear murmur-
ing against an order of tilings which imposes unwelcome
restrictions on the right of sinning. othing is more com-
mon than to hear persons who have involved themselves in
crimes cognizable by the civil tribunals, declaiming against
the whole system of the jurisprudence uiider which they suf-
fer, and reviling those wiio are appointed to administer it.
I am, in the next jdace, to offer a few particulars that may
place in a clear and striking point of light, the great impro-
priety of indulging in this querulous temper, in relation to
the divine works and ways.
And first; let it never be forgotten that he who made all
things, is inconceivably wise. He hath ordained all his
works by number, weight, and measure. The Lord is a
God of knowledge. His understanding is infinite. He is
light; and in him is no darkness at all. The system of
the universe argues the perfect intelligence of its Creator.
His revelation establishes irrefutably the same truth. We
are taught that all things are naked and open to his eye, in
all their indefinitely multiplied connections and dependencies;
that he cannot be in ignorance; that he is incapable of er-
ror; that all his work^. are done in truth; that whatsoever
he doeth, nothing can be put to it, nor any thing taken
from it.
Second. — It is of equal importance to keep in mind con-
tinually, that the Divine Goodness is unsearchable; and
that its operations are directed by that infinite understand-
ing and perfect knowledge, of which I have just been speak-
ing. It is a provident goodness; a methodized benevolence,
if I may venture to say so without irreverence. It proceeds
* Isaiah, v. 20.
184
upon a plan. It acts with a design. It is shaped to an end
becomin.g the holiness and majesty of the ineffable nature in
which it is found. In virtue of his essential power and un-
controled dominion, God could do numberless things, no
doubt, which he refrains from doing, knowing that it would
not be right or fit to do them. Who will deny, for example,
that he might, if he should see proper, make all his moral
creation holy and happy by one general and instantaneous
act? Perhaps this very thing he would do, were he to be
actuated by a goodness of no higher or purer character than
the mere impulse of natural benignity. But goodness, in
the Deity, is, undeniably, something infinitely more noble
and refined than this. It is no blind and indiscviminating
inclination. It is a worker together with the wisdom that
is from everlasting.
Thikd. — Co-eternal wisdom and goodness having con-
curred in ordering all things, it would be, beyond all apolo-
gy, unreasonable in any man or angel to expect that the
appointed plan should be interrupted, enlarged, abridged, or
in any way, how inconsideiable soever, altered, except at
the bidding of necessity. But who is to be the judge of this
necessity? Shall miracles be r' peated to gratify the unbe-
liever and the doubter until they shall cease to be miracles,
and the order of things interrupted by them, become in its
turn miraculous? Shall the dead be raised for their convic-
tion who have resolved to be convinced by nothing sliort of a
visible resurrection? '*Shall the earth be forsaken, and the
rock removed out of his place,"* to accommodate the4ilans
of the restless projector? Shall the good Lord — the only
wise God — who has the greatest conceivable objects con-
stantly in view in all his acts and determinations, step aside
from the path he has marked out for himself in deference to
the murmurs of discontented mortals?
Fourth. — As the pr* sent state is a state of trial or disci-
pline, the divine dispeiisations are moulded and directed ac-
• Job, xviii. 4,
185
cordingly. Who will undertake to affirm that heaven with-
holds from him what the circumstances of such a state re-
quire; or appoints him what they render inexpedient or im-
proper? What duty is assigned to you — wliat obligation
imposed on you — which you are essentially incapacitated to
discharge? Ignorance cannot incapacitate you; for, on
every indispensable point, ignorance is vincible. atural
corruption cannot incapacitate you; tor if you believe on the
Son of God, he will make you free from the law of sin and
death, and his Spirit will mortify natural corruption. Of
all people upon earth, Christians have the least cause to be
dissatisfied. If others are ungrateful when they murmur
and complain, they more. Have they not redemption by
the blood of Jesus, even the forgiveness of sins? Have they
not the unction of the Holy Ghost to heal their moral
diseases — to renovate their hearts ami their principles — and
to make them victorious in the conflicts of temptation?
Have they not the lively oracles of truth — and the ministry
and sacraments of reconciliation? <»What could have been
done more to Christ's vineyard, that he has not done in it?'*
«0 foolish people, and unwise!" thankless people, and
dead to every generous and upright sentiment; who permit
themselves to complain of those trials through which their
faith, "being much more precious than gold that perisheth,
though it be tried with fire, may be found unto praise, and
honour, and glory, at the appearing of Jesus Christ."*
1 hope the few intimations which have been thrown to-
gether on this subject may induce us to act an ingenuous,
honest, and candid part towards Heaven. Let him who is
your Creator, Redeemer, and Sanctifier, have credit for the
ample care he has been pleased to take of your present and
everlasting interests. Every privilege you enjoy, and
many, assuredly you do enjoy, brings in its train, a result-
ing duty. Your life is admitted to be a succession of labours
and struggles. But make the expected use of it, and it wil}
• 1. Peter, i. 7.
186
comluct you to an eternity of rest. Cultivate faith and ho-
liness. Fear God, and keep his commandments. For great
will be your condemnation, if, at the last great vintage, tl»e
Lord of the vineyard shall see cause to make the expostula-
tory appeal, "what could have been done more to my vine-
yard that I have not done in it? wherefore, when I looked
that it should bring forth grapes, brought it forth wild
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