'GOD IS WORTHY OF CONFIDENCE.
Job ixri. 21. Acquaint now thyself with him, and be at peace.
That is, with God. The case to which the text refers was this. Eliphaz—who addresses these words to Job— supposed that he was wholly a stranger to the true God; that he had altogether erroneous views of his government; that he regarded him as harsh and severe in his administration, and as unworthy of confidence. In his sufferings, Job had at some times indulged in remarks of considerable severity on the divine dealings. This was by no means the prevailing character of the man; but it was so interpreted by his friends, and Eliphaz now designs to assure him that he could never find peace until he should become more acquainted with the divine character, and should feel that God was worthy of confidence. He proceeds, therefore, in a.most beautiful manner to exhort him to be reconciled to God, and portrays the benefits which would result from such reconciliation. The meaning is, 'Become truly acquainted with the character and government of God. You have now no just views of him. You regard him as harsh, severe, tyrannical. You murmur, and complain, and are wretched.- Estranged from him, you must be miserable. But it is not too late to repent and return to him; and in so doing you will find peace.' Eliphaz—however improperly he applied this to Job—has here stated a doctrine which has been confirmed by all the subsequent revelations in the Bible, and by all experience, that happiness follows reconciliation with God, and that true peace is found only there. This doctrine must have been understood as early as religion was known after the fall. Man became alienated from God by the apostasy, and consequently miserable; and peace was to be found again only by reconciliation with him.
There are two great difficulties in the minds of men. The one is, they have no just views of the character and government of God; and the second is, if his true character is made known to them, they have no pleasure in it—no confidence in it. Both these difficulties must he removed before man can he reconciled to his Maker. No small part of the difficulty will be removed if we can show him that the character of God is such as to Deserve his confidence. To that task I now proceed,- and shall arrange my thoughts under three heads :—
I. The liability to error on our part in judging of the character and government of God; . . '
II. The real difficulties in the case; and
III. The evidence that he is worthy of our confidence. I would not attempt an argument of this nature, were
it not that I believe that the great difficulty with men is, that they have no confidence in God. This is the source of all our woes. Man" does not believe that the God of the Bible is worthy to be the Sovereign of the universe; that his government is equal; and that the terms of his favors are the best that could be. He confides in his own understanding rather than in God; forms his own plan of religion rather than embrace the one which God has revealed; and relies on his own merits for salvation rather than on the merits of him whom God has sent. .He goes not to him in perplexity; asks not his support in sickness; relies not on him in-the hour of death. The great evil in this world is a want of confidence in God; —a want of confidence producing the same disasters there which it does in a commercial community, and in the relations of domestic life. The great thing needful to make this a happy world is to restore confidence in the Creator—confidence, the great restorer of happiness every where.
Now, men can never be reconciled to God unless this confidence shall be restored. You and your neighbor are at variance. The dispute has been bitter and long. There has been a misunderstanding, and dissatisfaction, and a lawsuit, and a long strife resulting in a confirmed alienation. Now, suppose, in this difficulty, you are wholly right, and your neighbor wholly wrong. You have really done him no injury. You have not been unwilling to be on terms of friendship with him. But a long train of circumstances, which you could not have
well controlled, has operated to make him misunderstand your character, or suspect your motives. Evil minded men have for their own ends misrepresented you. They have reported to him things which you have not said, and they have magnified trifles until they seem to be mountains. Affairs have come to such "a slate, that he has no confidence in you, and believes your character to be wholly unworthy of respect. Now what is to be done in the case to bring about reconciliation? Not that you are to change your character. Not that you are to make acknowledgments where no wrong has been done. It is to restore to Ms mind just confidence in yourself— to explain matters; to show him what you are; to undo the evils which busy-bodies have done in giving him a wrong impression of you ;—and if, back of all this, he has had hard thoughts of you without the show of reason, and simply because he does not like a character of honesty and truth, he is to lay all that aside. Then peace would be restored. This is what is to be done in religion. It-is to convince men that God is worthy of confidence ;—and that all that has been said by infidels, and sceptics, and scoffers against him, is unjust and wrong; and then, if back of all these false representations of the character of God, you have been cherishing, any feelings hostile to his real character, to entreat you to lay them aside. This would be reconciliation.—And why should a man wish to cherish any hard thoughts of God without the shadow of reason—Hating Him From The Pure Love
OF HATING HIM?
In the case of the two individuals referred to, it will easily be seen that the one who supposed he was injured, would be liable to form very erroneous estimates of the character of the other. A man is not in very favorable circumstances for estimating character when he is engaged in a quarrel, nor is he then very likely to do justice to the motives and the actions of his neighbor. A thousand things are concerned in forming our judgments, against which we should, in such circumstances, guard ourselves. Now, how is it in our estimate of the character of God? Are we in no danger of being influenced by improper feelings? This is the point before us. It does not require long consideration, and I shall therefore remarks—full of complaint and murmuring—show the effect of this condition on his mind in unfitting him to come to such conclusions as should lead him to confide in God.
(3.) A third source of liability to error in judging of the character of God is, that we always regard ourselves as the aggrieved and injured party. We do not allow ourselves to suppose it possible that God should be right and we wrong;. but whatever injury is done, we allow ourselves to suppose has been done by him. If God treats us as if we were great sinners, we do not allow ourselves for a moment to suppose that we are such, but instantly revert to our ideas of our own morality and integrity; if he threatens to punish us forever in hell, we do not allow ourselves for a moment to suppose that we deserve such a treatment; but regard it at once as proof that he is arbitrary and stern; and while this is the case, how is it possible for a man to put confidence in God, or to feel that he ought to be reconciled to him? His opposition he regards as in no small degree meritorious; and he feels that he would be wanting in self-respect to cherish any other views of his Maker than he actually does.
(4.) A fourth source of liability to error, or to a want of confidence in God, lies back of all this. It is not merely that we-do not understand his true character, but it is that we are not pleased with that character when it is understood. We have by nature no pleasure iti God. He is too holy, too just, too pure, too true, to satisfy creatures sueh as we are; and there is no fact better established, in the history of man, account for it ay you may, and draw what inferences from it you choose, than that man by nature has a strong opposition to the character of God, even when that character is understood. He does not like to retain him in his knowledge. He loves sin too much, and hates restraint, and desires his own gratification, and has no sympathy with the divine perfections and attributes. Now, with this state of mind, he looks on God and all that he does, through a distorted medium^ and is constantly seeking some ground of accusation; something that shall to him answer the purpose of self-defence.
These are some of the liabilities to error in judging of the divine character, and it is to be feared that the views which not a few have of God, have been formed under some such feelings as these. It is evident, however, at a glance, that all the views of the divine character which are formed under influences like these are likely to be wrong, and should constitute no real difficulty in the question whether we shall put confidence in him. I proceed, therefore,
II. To the second general point of enquiry—the real difficulties in the case. I mean where a man has no prejudice; no embittered feeling; no cherished opposition: where he is not suffering under any ill in such a way as to sour his mind or pervert his understanding, and where he would wish to see such evidence that he- may put unwavering confidence in God.
I think it is to be admitted that such a man may have great difficulties. There are many things which he cannot understand. There are many things which he cannot reconcile with such a view. Briefly, for this is a point on which we ought not long to dwell, such a man will advert to such facts as the following, viz:
That sin should have been allowed to come into the system formed by a holy God. That since he had power to create or not, as he chose, and since worlds have been made that were holy, and are still holy,jthat all should not have been made so. That misery has come into the universe, and that death, with many forms of wo, has been commissioned to cut down one whole race, and that, in doing it, the whole earth is strewed with hospitals, and sick-beds, and graves. That the immortal mind should be allowed to jeopard its infinite - welfare, and that trifles should be allowed to draw it away from God, and virtue, and heaven. That any should suffer forever—lingering on in hopeless despair, and rolling amidst infinite torments without the possibility of alleviation, and without end. That since God can save men, and will save a part, he has not purposed to save all; that on the supposition that the atonement is ample, and that the blood of Christ can cleanse from all and every sin, it is not in fact applied to all. That, in a. word, a God who claims to be worthy of the confidence of the universe, and to be a being of infinite benevolence, should make such a world as this—full of sinners and sufferers; and that when an atonement had been made, he did not save all the race, and put an end to sin and wo forever.
These, and kindred difficulties, meet the mind when we think on this great subject; and they meet us when we endeavor to urge our fellow-sinners to be reconciled to God, and to put confidence in him. On this ground they hesitate. These are real, not imaginary difficulties. They are probably felt by every mind that ever reflected on the subject—and they are unexplained, unmitigated, unremoved. I confess, for one, that I feel them, and feel them more sensibly and powerfully the more Hook at them, and the longer I live. I do not understand these facts; and I make no advances towards understanding them. I do not know that I have a ray of light on. this subject which I had not when the subject first flashed across my soul. I have read, to some extent, what wise and good men have written. I have looked at their various theories and explanations. I have endeavored to weigh their arguments—for my whole soul pants for light and relief on these questions. But I get neither; and in the distress and anguish of my own spirit, I confess that I see no light whatever. I see not one ray to disclose to me the reason why sin came into the world; why the earth is strewed with the dying and the dead, and why man must suffer to all eternity. I have never seen a particle of light thrown on these subjects that has given a moment's ease to my tortured mind; nor have I an explanation to offer, or a thought to suggest, which would -be a relief to you. I trust other men—as they profess to do—understand this better than I do, and that they have not the anguish of spirit which I have; but I confess, when I look on a world of sinners and of sufferers; upon death-beds and graveyards; upon the world of wo filled with hosts to suffer forever;— when I see my friends, my parents, my family, my people, my fellow-citizens—when I look upon a whole race, all involved in this sin and danger, and when I see the great mass of them wholly unconcerned, and when I feel that God only can save them and yet that he does not do it, I am struck dumb. It is all dark—dark—dark to my soul—and I cannot disguise it.
Yet even here, in the-midst of this gloom, I cast about my eyes to see if I can find no evidence that God is worthy of my confidence; no evidence that though "clouds and darkness are round about him, righteousness and judgment are the habitation of his throne." Is there nothing on which my soul may rest, and of which I may speak to my fellow-men, when their minds are involved in the same perplexity? And when I come to them as the ambassador of God, and ask them to be reconciled, is there nothing which I can say to convince them that God is worthy of that confidence, and to satisfy them that in all this gloom they may repose on their Creator? I have found for myself a rock in this heaving ocean; a star on which the eye may be fixed in the dark night. I proceed,
•III. In the third place to state, in the briefest manner possible, the process of my own reflections on this point, or the reasons why confidence should be placed in him, and why men should be exhorted to become acquainted with him, and be at peace.
My faith rests mainly on God's own word; on the testimony of himself in regard to his real character and plans; on the assurances which I find there, that, notwithstanding all the difficulties in the case, he is holy, true, just, good, and worthy of universal love and confidence. It is the assurance of him who knows his own character, and who declares most solemnly that all that he does is consistent with the rules of eternal equity and right. He has given what I believe to be a revelation of his character, and has made such declarations respecting it as to claim the confidence of mankind. Here my mind rests. Conscious of my liability to err; knowing how short-sighted I am; feeling that man must be incompetent to sit in judgment on the government and plans of God; and knowing that there may be developments yet that shall make all that is now dark, clear; all that is obscure, light, I put my trust in his assurances, and the mind finds repose. ...
But I find also in his government, as it is actually administered, not a little to confirm this confidence, and to
126 PRACTICAL SERMONS.
calm the distresses of the soul; not a little that I think may be so stated as to show to men that he is worthy of their confidence. I shall state some of tlrese things now, in the conclusion of this discourse. It can be merely, however, to. glance at thoughts which should be expanded to much greater length. They are such as these :—
(1.) The government of God is one of law—always presumptive proof that a government is worthy of confidence. It is not a government of mere will, or caprice; not a government of passion, and therefore not one of arbitrary tyranny. Where there is law which is known, and which is rigidly adhered to, there may be confidence. It shows that the sovereign has confidence himself in his own principles; that he is willing that they should be known; that he does not mean to be governed by caprice. He publishes his principles of administration, and submits them to the -world; and in such a fact there, is proof that there is stability. A mob is- governed by Bo law; a tyrant is controlled by no principle but his will; or if laws are proclaimed, they are proclaimed only to be set aside by caprice. But it is not so with God. His is a government of law, and has been from the beginning. We know what he requires; we know what he will do in given circumstances. Those laws are not set aside by will; they are not disregarded by caprice or passion. In such a government there is presumptive ground, at least, for confidence. - - .
(2.) That government is stable and firm. What it is in one place it is in another. What he requires of one he requires of all; what he forbids in one place he does every where. What he prohibits in heaven, he does on earth and in hell; what he approves in heaven, he approves in all worlds. What in one generation he approves or forbids, he approves or forbids in all; what in one complexion or climate, he does every where. Virtue that he rewards in one age, he rewards in all; and vice that he punishes in one clime, he punishes every where. The deed that excites his displeasure beneath rags, excites his displeasure beneath the purple; and the victim that he smiles upon on the throne, pleases him not less in the cottage. The light which comes to our eye from the Bun, is governed by the same laws as the light which is
GOD IS WORTHY OF CONFIDENCE. 127
borne from the remotest star; and the same laws apply to water on the rose-bud and in the dew-drop which control it in the deep ocean. We know, therefore, what to expect. We see a government that is settled and firm; and such a government has at least some of the elements to produce confidence.
(3.) All the operations of his government, and all his laws, tend to promote the welfare of his subjects. None are originally designed to produce misery; none do produce misery except when violated. There are, for example, certain laws pertaining to health. They require temperance, purity, industry, absence from exciting and violent passions. All these laws tend to the welfare of the individual, and if obeyed, injure no one. There are certain laws pertaining to the acquisition of property. These laws, if obeyed, injure no one, but would promote the welfare of all. These are laws requiring truth, honesty, temperance, chastity, love, kindness, charity. None are injured by their observance. None ever have been. None ever will be. It is a matter of the clearest demonstration,, that if all those laws had been observed in the exact sense of their requirements from the creation of the universe, no one would have been injured by them; and you cannot find one of the laws of his kingdom whose observance would not have been attended with benefit, or where its violation has not been, an injury sooner or later. This is so clear that it needs no argument; and is not such a government worthy of confidence? Has it not a claim on the love and obedience of those who are its subjects? To see the full force of this, you have only to remember that it was in the power of God to have made laws directly the reverse, and to have so ordained them that the observance of each one would have been followed with a sigh or a groan. When I suffer, therefore, and when, under the influence of suffering, I am disposed to complain of God, let me remember that that suffering is somehow connected with the violation of law, and that the Creator has ordained no law, in the exact observance of which such misery would have followed. la such a God, and in such a government, can we see no reasons for confidence?
(4.) I look a step farther. I see a great number of
128 PRACTICAL SERMONS.
arrangements designed to meet the evils which have in, fact grown up in the system—evils iu all cases the result of some violated law. I know the great difficulty lies just here, and you will ask me why those evils were allowed to come into the system? Why were they not prevented? This is the gordion knot which we can neither cut nor untie. I answer frankly that I do not know. I have not one ray of light to shed here. I am involved in deep midnight, as I believe all mankind are; and I see not that one explanation has ever been offered that has helped the matter in the least. But when the evil has entered the system, what is the conduct of the sovereign-then? Has he suffered it to go on unheeded, unrebuked, and with no effort to arrest it? Are there no devices, no contrivances to stay the evil, and ultimately to remove it? If the original law were good, he would be under no obligation to interpose to arrest the evil resulting from its violation; but if he did interpose, it would be so much proof standing out by itself that he was worthy the confidence of the sufferers. This, then, introduces us into a new department of the divine administration, and a department that extends as far as we are concerned with evil and wo. It is the department of remedies for the evils of the violated system;—a remedial arrangement designed to anticipate the coming evil, and to prevent its being finally and wholly destructive. Such are the remedies in the case of disease designed to meet and mitigate it, or to remove it; and such is the great remedy for all the maladies of men in the atonement. It is almost susceptible now of demonstration, and the proof is increasing every year—that there is not a form of disease to which the human system is liable for which some salutary remedy has not been provided; it is capable of complete demonstration that there is not an evil of any kind which sin has introduced, pertaining to the shattered body and the darkened soul, for which a complete remedy has not been provided in the plan of redemption. Wo, in this life, may all be mitigated by that plan, and completely removed hereafter; the soul, contaminated by sin, may become yet wholly pure; death, the great evil, may be wholly destroyed, and the time come when the grave shall not have a tenant, and when the -whole, earth shall not have a tomb.' But if this be so, then there is ground of confidence in the government of God. To such a being I would not be a stranger.
(5.) We come to a fifth feature of his administration. It is, that in that plan of- complete recovery, none are excluded from his favor who desire his favor. I trust you will uoderstand me, and not give me credit for any more proof under this point than I deserve. I do not say that none are finally excluded from the favor of God. I am not able to come to such a conclusion. But this is my position, that none are excluded from his favor who DeSire his favor-; that none of those who are lost had any Wish to be his friends. This is the question of most thrilling interest to us. It is not whether any have been lost, or will be. It is not whether Achan, Judas, Simon Magus, Cesar Borgia, Richard III., and Voltaire went to heaven. It is whether it can or cannot be demonstrated that any have been sent to hell who sincerely Desired To Go To- Heaven; whether any have, been refused forgiveness of sin who sincerely Wished It; whether any have been thrust away from the cross who Sincerely Asked to be saved by the blood of the Redeemer; whether any have truly plead for mercy, and have been denied ; whether, in the world of wo, it can ever be said—
"Here's a soul that perished, suing
For the boasted Saviour's aid."
If there have been any such instances, it is right to ask where the evidence is to be found. Is it in the Bible? To me it speaks a wholly different language. Have those who have gone down to death ever said this? Have Nero and Caligula, Herod and Cesar Borgiaj Paine and D'Alembert any where left it on record that they had sincerely applied for pardon and salvation through the atonement and were rejected, and that they became monsters in iniquity because God would not save them? Such a record remains yet to be adduced. Go to the multitudes of profligates and atheists; the dissolute and the profane; the unprincipled and the vile, and ask them the question, 'Are you thus because you went in humble prayer before God, and sued for pardon and salvation in the name ©f the Redeemer, and were rejected?' And what would be the answer? A volley of curses, perhaps, that the question was asked at all; certainly such a spirited response as Would effectually clear them from the suspicion that they had ever done such a weak thing as to pray. The truth is simply this. No means will induce them to come and ask for pardon. We plead with men ;. we urge argument and entreaty; we appeal to their consciences, their hopes, their fears; we point them to heaven, and we warn them of hell, but all in vain. The great mass press on in the broad road to death, and scarce one takes the pains even to turn his head and to say—whatvhe feels—that he scorns the idea of seeking salvation through a Redeemer. Meantime here and there one leaves-" the herd," comes back, and asks for mercy; and I appeal to the whole history of the world—from the publican and the dying thief to the present time—in proof that no one who came in that manner was ever rejected. And to the same universal history I appeal with the same confidence in proof that no one of the lost ever sincerely desired to be saved. But if so, here is at least one ground of confidence in God. What could we ask more?
(6.) I have one other remark only to make now—for the time will not admit of more. It is, that they who know most of the character and government of God, and who are best qualified to judge, repose most entire confidence in him. Angels in heaven doubt not his goodness, and mercy, and truth, and in their bosoms there dwells no distrust. Multitudes on earth who were once alienated and even miserable because they were alienated; who murmured against God, and who, in murmuring, found no relief; and who rebelled in the day of adversity, and thus plunged themselves into deeper sorrows, have returned, and now see that he is worthy of their highest trust. Since their return; since they have become 'acquainted' with him, they have been at peace. They have not doubted that he was qualified to rule ; and they have committed to him the interest dearest to mortals—the interest of the immortal soul—and felt that all was safe. Prophets and apostles did this; confessors and martyrs did it; and there are tens of thousands now on earth, and millions in heaven who have done it. God they have found true to his promises. The afflicted have found him a support; the dying have leaned on his arm; and the living now find him all that the heart desires to find in their God. I make use of this as an argument. It is the argument of history; of experience. You will not doubt that it is a legitimate argument, for they have had all the feelings of distrust, and complaining, and murmuring, which any can have now, and they have passed through all the circumstances which we can conceive of to test our confidence in God. It has been enough. They have been upheld, and have found it true that he would 'never leave nor forsake them.'
My hearers, I have desired so to set this subject before you as to describe your state of mind, and to show you the propriety of being reconciled to God. I know not that I have succeeded in removing one difficulty from the mind; but I would trust that the remarks which I have made will not increase the perplexity. To you candidly I commit the remarks made; with God I leave them for his blessing. The conclusions which I think we have reached, are these—
(1.) It is a duty to be reconciled to God :—a duty to him, for his government is just and right, and opposition to him is wrong.
(2.) It is unwise to maintain the state of mind in which many indulge—chafed and fretted against God, and yet using no means to ascertain his true character, and to be at peace.
(3.) The world is doing its Creator great injustice. It charges him with cruelty and wrong; holds him to be unworthy of confidence and love; is filled with hard thoughts and fretted feelings; and is venting complaints and murmurings. Thousands murmur in their hearts; thousands complain openly; thousands curse him on his throne. What a world!
(4.) It is foolish as well as wicked to resist him. What can resistance avail against almighty power! Justice and wisdom, truth and love constrain us, therefore, to say to each one of you, 'Acquaint now thyself with him, and be at peace!'