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BY JAMES RICHARDS, D. D.
PRACTICAL ILLUSTRATION OF GOD'S UNIVERSAL
1 Kings, xxii. 34, 35. And a certain man drew a bow at a venture, and smote the king of Israel between the joints of the harness ; wherefore he said to the driver of his chariot, Turn thine hand and carry me out of the host, for I am wounded. And the battle increased that day; and the king was stayed up in his chariot against the Syrians, and died at even, and the blood ran out of the wound into the midst of the chariot.
I know of no doctrine either more absurd, or more impious, than that of fatalism; a doctrine which shuts out of the universe an intelligent first cause, and makes all events the result of a blind and irresistible necessity. So adverse is this to reason, that it would be dificult to find its parallel, except in the doctrine of Epicurus; the doctrine of chance, which equally excludes an intelligent cause from the government of the world.
But though both of these opinions have been embraced by men calling themselves philosophers, and exerting no little influence among their cotemporaries, I have no apprehensions that they will be received by any in this assembly. We are too well fixed in the belief of an all-wise, almighty, and infinitely benevolent Being, to be drawn into errors of so bold and blasphemous a character. There is not one of us, I am persuaded, who does not feel assured that the Lord made the heavens and the earth, and all that is therein; and that he made them for some specific and wise design. There is not one of us who does not believe that He who made all things, must of necessity uphold and govern all, and govern for the same end for which he created. Nor can any man doubt whether the Creator has power sufficient to reach the end which his wisdom and goodness at first designed. Still it may be a question, how far his providen. tial agency is concerned ju the government of the world? whether it extend to all things absolutely—to things small, as well as to things great ? to things apparently casual, as well as to those which fall out according to some known and settled law; to the volitions and actions of men, no less than to the winds and storms of heaven, and to the rising and setting of the stars ?
There is a doctrine in the rorld which gives God a general superintendence of his works; but which denies his providential agency in minute occurrences;-a doctrine which supposes it inconsistent with the dignity of the Supreme Majesty to attend to every mote that flies, and to concern himself with all the slighter changes which take place in the natural and moral world. But such an opinion, it is plain, overlooks an important article, in which the greatness of God appears; viz. that he can attend to the minute as well as to the vast; and that without the least labor or confusion; that while he presides over planetary worlds, over suns and systems, scattered throughout the immensity of space, preserving among them the order which he at first ordained, he can fix his eye on every floating atom, as fully as if no other object engaged his attention. Nay it is this stupendous fact, that God literally takes care of every sparrow, every insect, every particle of dust—that he sees them perfectly, through every moment of their existence; while his band continually sustains and directs them,- 1 say it is this stupendous fact, more than any thing else, which shows the immensity of his wisdom and power. For what must his capacity and energy be. whose eye is at the same time in every point of space; and whose almighty hand works throughout his vast dominions, controlling all things, and bringing them to such an issue as he at first intended ? Such knowledge and power infinitely surpass our comprehension.
There is, however, another doctrine, which, while it subscribes to a providence thus minute and extensive, in the natural world, denies it in the moral. It doubts not that every thing in the natural world takes place according to God's holy, wise, and pre-determined counsel. The abettors of this scheme are not only willing, but desirous it should be so. They think it better that all events in the natural world should be under the control of infinite wisdom and goodness, than that they should be left to chance or necessity. But they cannot admit this with respect to the moral world. I mean with respect to rational beings; their volitions, their actions, and their consequent destinies. To suppose a providence here, extending to every moral being, and to his every action; and extending in such a manner as to give certainty to his conduct, and to his final state, they think would overturn the liberty of the creature, and impeach the holiness of God. Thus they introduce into the moral world a system of chance, and hold that there is no certainty in the actions of the creature, arising out of the nature of his being, and the circumstances which surround him, because this certainty would infringe his liberty, and render him a mere machine. For if it be absolutely certain that he will act in one way, it is equally certain, say they, that he will not act in another way, and morally impossible that he should; which, in their view, is to establish a necessity in his actions, incompatible with freedom and accoun. tability
Plausible, however, as this appears, it is mere human speculation, and pointedly opposed to the revealed truth of God. With this sacred volume before me, I trust it can be made to appear that God reigns in the moral world, no less extensively than in the natural; and though his agency here
may be different, because the subjects of it are different, yet it is no less certain in its results ; so that nothing does or can take place among men or angels, without being embraced in his counsels, and controlled by his almighty providence. I hope to show from the scriptures, and from the soundest principles of reason, not only that such is the fact—but that it is a fact most consoling and encouraging, and ought to be cherished by every mind.
Let us advert to our text. “ A certain man drew a bow at a venture, and smote the king of Israel between the joints of the harness ; wherefore he said unto the driver of his chariot, turn thine hand, and carry me out of the host, for I am wounded. And the battle increased that day, and the king was stayed up in his chariot against the Syrians, and died at even; and the blood ran out of the wound into the midst of the chariot.” But I hear it asked, “What has this to do with providence? A man draws a bow at a venture, not knowing where the king of Israel is--or what chariot he occupies in the opposing host, and the arrow passes between the joints of the harness, (that is, between the joints of the armor with which the king was clad,) and the wound proves mortal; but in this there is nothing miraculous-nothing in which the common laws of nature appear to be suspended, or contravened-nothing, in short, a whit more wonderful than what has a thousand times occurred; the most that can be said, is, it was somewhat remarkable that the arrow from a bow drawn at a venture, should have been pointed towards the king of Israel, while he was in disguise, and of course unknown to the archer; and that this arrow should have passed between the king's armor, and at a place where it would prove mortal;—still there is nothing here which evinces an extraordinary interposition of providence, or which shows that the event might not have happened, allowing the laws of nature to be what they are, though no providence at all were concerned." I admit the leading facts in this statement, and it is on the very ground of what is involved in it, connected with the history of the case, that I build the doctrine of a particular providence, extending to the minutest events of our lives. For if it can be proved that God's hand and counsel were concerned in the death of Ahab, and all the leading circumstances of it were ordered according to his sovereign will, then surely we shall have ngcause to doubt that his hand and counsel are equally concerned in all other events relating to his creatures, notwithstanding the concurrence of human volitions and second causes, of whatsoever character they may be.
What, then, are the facts in this case ? Is it not certain that God had determined Ahab should fall at Rimoth-Gilead ? that he should fall in battle with the Syrians ? and that the dogs should lick his blood on the very spot where dogs had licked the blood of Naboth, whose death he had procured, and whose vineyard he had seized upon with violence ? All these circumstances, it will be recollected, had been distinctly predictedand predicted not merely as events which should certainly come to pass, but as judgments which God himself would bring upon Ahab. “Behold I will bring evil upon thee," saith the Lord by Elijah, when he denounced against Ahab his displeasure for the murder of Naboth. And Mica. iah assures him, not only that the Lord had spoken evil concerning him, but that he had suffered a lying spirit to enter into the false prophets, for the very purpose of bringing that evil to pass. But though the death of Ahab was fixed upon in the divine purpose, and all the circumstances of it fully determined, yet we see no causes at work for its accomplishment, which at all interfered with the uniformity of the divine administrationnone which touched the liberty of the creature, or which differed in any respect, so far as we know, from the ordinary method of God's government.
The first thing which we notice in the history, is the ambition of Ahab. After a three year's peace between Syria and Israel, Ahab, begins to think of former injuries, and to meditate an attack upon Ramoth-Gilead, with a view to recover it out of the hands of the Syrians. At an interview which he had with Jehoshaphat, king of Judah, he proposed to him to unite in this war, and to go with him to battle to Ramoth-Gilead. Jehosha phat consented, but feeling more than Ahab his dependence on God, he said, “ Enquire, I pray thee, at the word of the Lord to day.” Willing to gratify him, Ahab gathered his prophets together, in number about four hundred -all of them, no doubt, the prophets of Baal-and said to them, “Shall I go against Ramoth-Gilead to battle ? or shall I forbear ?" With one voice,
and with great confidence they answered, "Go up, for the Lord sball deliver it into the hands of the king.' Nothing could have been more grateful to the pride and selfishness of Ahab than this answer; nor does he appear to have the least doubt of its being inspired by the God of truth, and the God of battles. But Jehoshaphat was not satisfied, and said, “ Is there not here a prophet of the Lord besides, that we may inquire of him?" Ahab replies, “ There is yet one man, Micaiah, the son of Imlah; but I hate him, for he doth not prophecy good concerning me, but evil.” A circumstance, permit me to remark, which in all ages has occasioned the Lord's prophets to be but ungrateful messengers to some. Micaiah, however, was sent for, and after being adjured by Ahab to tell him nothing but was true, in the name of the Lord, he frankly assures him that his four hundred prophets were actuated by a lying spirit, whom God had permitted to go forth for the very purpose of persuading him to his ruin; and that he would eventually fall at Ramoth-Gilead. No other effect was produced upon Ahab by this awful prediction, than to awaken his anger against this prophet, already hated for his former fidelity. He command.ed him, therefore, to be put in prison, and to be fed with the bread and water of affliction, till he himself should return in peace. But, poor deluded man, he never returned. Without any constraint upon his faculties, he voluntarily marched to the field of conflict, sanguine of success; and like many a warrior, perhaps, was already rioting, in imagination, upon the spoils he should take, and the glory he should win. No precaution on his part was omitted for his personal safety. His royal robes are laid aside, to prevent his being an object of attention to the enemy; and his armor buckled on, the common defence against arrows, and other missive weapons. But all was in vain; God had purposed his fall. The two armies meet; the battle is joined. What see we now? The Syrian captains turn aside to fight with Jehoshaphat, supposing him to be the king of Israel; for their master had charged them to fight neither with great nor small, save only with the king of Israel. But Jehoshaphat is protected amid a thousand arrows. The Syrians discover their mistake, and retire. But where is Ahab? Perhaps in some neighboring chari. ot, witnessing this disconcerted movement, and felicitating himself upon his policy in entering the field of battle in disguise. Who knows but in the pride of his heart he is smiling at the prediction of the prophet, confidently supposing that his precaution will prove an ample shield against the foe. But lo! “a man draws a bow at a venture"-a man who does not see the king of Israel in the crowd. But there is an eye which sees him; and which, without disturbing the order of providence, directs the arrow to the fatal point. Ahab receives a wound, of which he dies at even. The battle is lost to Israel, and the trumpet blown, requiring every man to return to his country and his city. The king is brought back from the field, and buried. And while his servants washed his blood-stained chariot and armor at the pool of Samaria, the dogs came and licked his blood, on the very spot where dogs had licked the blood of Naboth; thus fulfilling the word of the Lord by the prophet Elijah.
What think we now of providence? Does it not go into events pertaining to the moral world, no less certainly, no less minutely, than into events of the natural world ? Look at the train of causes issuing in the death of Abab; all of which were necessary as means to an end, and just as certainly determined as the end itself. Ahab must needs go upto Ramoth-Gilead, or he could not tall in battle there; he must go up voluntarily, or the order of God's providence would be disturbed, and a part of his counsel defeated; for God had said, “Who shall persuade Ahab ?" And if he must go voluntarily, there must be a motive of sufficient strength to determine him ; for it is impossible for a free agent to act without such a motive. But what was Ahab's motive? It is found in his own ambition to recover Ramoth-Gilead, and in the united voice of his prophets, who bid him go up and prosper. How came these prophets to predict his success, and with such entire unanimity? A wicked spirit was permitted to go forth for the very purpose of becoming a lying spirit in the mouth of these prophets. This is plainly asserted in the history; nor does it create any greater difficulty as to the holiness of God's government, than that Christ should have permitted the demons, at their request
, to enter the herd of swine and hurry them down a steep place into the sea; or than that God should suffer wicked men to act out their violence on others around them. In neither case is God the author of the wickedness, but permits it, and overrules it for his glory.
As Ahab must go up to Ramoth-Gilead to battle, that the divine purpose may be accomplished—so must the Syrians come forth to meet him, with a full determination to resist his attack. And if the man who drew a bow at a venture had not been there, one link in the chain of causes appertaining to the king's death would have been wanting; or if he had drawn his bow at another moment, or given the arrow an hair'sbreadth different direction, the death of Ahab might not have followed as the result. Here were a thousand agents at work, and for aught we know, millions of volitions concerned in bringing about the predicted event. But they were all in God's hands, and came at length to the issue, which he in his wise and holy counsels had determined. Nor can we say that any one of them was not necessary, and necessary in such a sense, that its absence might, without a miracle, have destroyed the influence of all the rest.
But whatever may he thought of this remark, two things here are certain:- 1st, That God had purposed the fall of Ahab at Ramoth-Gilead, and that dogs should lick his blood, where they had licked the blood of Naboth. And 2d, That in the accomplishment of these events, three distinct orders of beings were employed, all of which acted freely, and without constraint. The evil spirit acted freely in becoming a lying spirit, in the mouth of Ahab's prophets; and whatever of wrong there was in this, it was all his own. The prophets of Ahab, and Ahab him. self acted freely, in the part which they took in this affair, as did also the man who drew a bow at a venture. And the very dogs acted freely, though not as accountable agents, in licking the blood of Ahab at the pool of Samaria. No constraint appears any where. Every one acts according to his nature and circumstances; and the whole series of events embraced in this little portion of history, may be regarded as an illustration of that unsearchable providence which governs the world. True it is, that these events took place in an age of miracles, and that Micaiah, was employed to tell what was passing among the spirits in the invisible state; and both he and Elijah predicted the death of Ahab; but in the causes, chiefly concerned in the fulfillment of this prediction, there seems to be nothing aside from the ordinary course of providence, nothing more remarkable ihan what occurs in every period of the world.
Now, then, is it not manifest, that the free actions of creatures go as much into God's plan of operation, and are as much under his control,