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snared in the work of their own hands" (Ps. ix. ).

We have a remarkable instance of the fulfillment of prophecy by a
train of apparently accidental circumstances in the case of Ahab. "In
the place," said the prophet, "where dogs licked the blood of Naboth,
shall dogs lick thy blood, even thine." Accordingly when Ahab went
up to fight against Ramoth-Cilead, it being foretold that he would
perish there, he disguised himself. But "a certain man" we are told
"drew a bow at a venture, and smote the king between the joints of
his harness." Being then taken out of the ranks and supported in
his chariot until evening, when he died, the blood ran out of the
wound into the chariot. Now, that chariot and his bloody armor were
washed subsequently in the pool of Samaria, and there dogs licked up
his blood according to the word of the Lord!

Thus it is that the most accidental circumstances are directed
and overruled by the Divine Being, and by means of a thousand
unforeseen and casual occurrences he can frustrate the best laid
schemes of wicked men, and bestow upon others the most unexpected
favors and deliverances.

4. By the agency of men. Good men, although they have some-
times been made to execute divine judgments, are more frequently
made instruments to effect the kind and benevolent purposes of
Heaven. They are taught to be "a peculiar people, zealous of good
works," and are induced to engage in many undertakings which result
in the most beneficial consequences to society. By them it is that
the knowledge of the true God is spread abroad through all lands, and
the gospel of salvation presented to those who are dead in trespasses
and sins. And it is with them indeed often a subject of wonder and


admiration how unexpectedly, and by what simple circumstances, they
have been rendered the ministers of the most signal benefits to the
poor and needy — to the despairing sinner — to the oppressed — to the
orphan and the widow. Thus God has raised up in every age of the
world, from among his people, the benefactors of mankind. Noah
preserved the whole human race, and became the heir and founder of
a new world — In Abraham and in his seed all the nations of the earth
are blessed — And by means of Luther, the dark ages of bigotry and
superstition have given place to the light of divine truth, and the
improvements of science and civilization.

Wicked men, on the other hand, are usually the instruments of
vengeance. It is their delight to do evil; and though God never
prompts them to evil, yet when they have determined upon any bad
action, it concerns him either to hinder it, or direct where the stroke
shall fall, and perhaps cause it, as we have already remarked, to
descend upon the wicked person himself. In this way one wicked
person is permitted to punish another, and sometimes even to inflict
chastisement upon children of God who are disobedient. Hence the
wicked are fitly called the sword of God. Thus David prays, "Deliver
my soul from the wicked which is thy stvord." They are also com-
pared to "a razor." "In that same day," says Isaiah, "shall the Lord
shave with a razor that is hired, namely, by them beyond the river,
by the king of Assyria, the head and the hair of the feet, and it shall
also consume the beard." It is, however, to ravenous birds and beasts
of prey that they are most frequently likened. "Remember this," says
the Lord in Jeremiah, "and show yourselves men: bring it again to
mind, O ye transgressors. Remember the former things of old: for
I am God, and there is none else; I am God, and there is none like
me; declaring the end from the beginning, and from ancient times the
things that are not yet done, saying. My counsel shall stand, and I
will do all my pleasure: calling a ravenous hird from the east, the
man that executeth my counsel from a far country: yea, I have spoken
it, I will also bring it to pass; I have purposed it, I will also do it."
"Behold," says Jeremiah, speaking of Edom, "he shall come up like a
lion from the swelling of Jordan against the habitation of the strong."
And Ezekiel says of Pharaoh, "Thou art like a young lion of the
nations, and thou art as a whale in the seas. Thus saith the Lord,
The sword ot the king of Babylon shall come upon thee — and by the
swords of the mighty will I cause thy multitude to fall." Again in
Isaiah: "Therefore Is the anger of the Lord kindled against his people.
And he will lift up an ensign to the nations from far, and will hiss unto
them from the end of the earth: and behold they shall come with
speed swiftly— their roaring shall be like a lion, they shall roar like
young lions; yea, they shall roar, and lay hold of the prey, and shall


carry it away safe, and none shall deliver it." It is worthy of remark
also that dragons, eagles, lions, and various savage beasts, form the
symbols by which ambitious and wicked kings and rulers are com-
monly represented in the prophecies. And in that remarkable and
affecting Psalm, the 22d, where the sufferings of Christ are spoken of
as being caused by the wicked, the latter are represented under the
same striking figure: "Be not far from me, for trouble is near; for
there is none to help. Many bulla have compassed me: strong bulls
of Bashan have l>eset me round. They gapod upon me with their
moutlis, as a ravening and a roaring lio7i. I am poured out like water,
and all my bones are out of joint: my heart is like wax: it is melted
in the midst of my bowels. My strength is dried up like a potsherd,
and my tongue cleaveth to my jaws; and thou hast brought me into
the dust of death. For dogs have compassed me; the assembly of the
•wicked have inclosed me: they pierced my hands and my feet."

Now it is very evident that the Divine Being can and does accom-
plish many of the important objects of government by means of
wicked men — and this, not by making them wicked, or suggesting to
them wicked designs, but simply by bringing those who are appointed
to suffer within their power, and permitting the wicked to follow their
own natural inclinations; just as a criminal would be subjected to the
rage of a wild beast. Hence the apostle says in reference to our
Saviour: "Him, being given up by the declared counsel and fore-
knowledge of God, you have apprehended, and by the hands of sinners
have crucified and slain." The "giving" or " vp" was God's
doing — but the taking, crucifying, and slaying was the work of sin-
ners, acting according to their own evil disposition. Yet in murder-
ing the Prince of Life, they accomplished the purposes of God, else he
•would not have given his Son into their hands. This, however, does
not at all alTect them as it regards the question of their own guiltiness
or accountability. It is the delight of the ungodly to do evil — to kill
and to destroy, and it is an important part of the divine government
to protect the righteous from their machinations, so that they are
never permitted to hurt them, except for some special reason. Hence
•when Pilate said to Jesu.s, "Do you not know that I have power to
crucify you, and power to release you?" he replied. "You could have
no power over me, unless it were given you from above." The wicked,
then, are kept as it were caged or chained, and are not permitted to
do or attempt evil to others except when God pleases, nor any nioro
evil than he pleases, or than is necessary for their own punishment,
or that of other wicked men, or the chastisement of his own people.
01 finally for the manifestation of the long-suffering and justice of the
divine character. Thus God. to inflict a certain degree of punishment
upon Ahaz, said he would bring upon him the king of Assyria. But


when the king of Assyria came, he in his pride and ambition blas-
phemed the Lord and wished to take and destroy Jerusalem altogether.
"0 Assyrian," says God, "the rod of mine anger, and the staff in their
hand is mine indignation. I will send him against a hypocritical
nation, and against the people of my wrath will I give a charge to take
the spoil. However, he meaneth not so, neither doth his heart think
so: but it is in his heart to destroy and cut off nations not a few.
Wherefore it shall come to pass, that when the Lord hath performed
his whole work on Mount Zion and on Jerusalem, I will punish the
fruit of the stout heart of the king of Assyria and the glory "of his
high looks. Shall the axe boast itself against him that heweth
therewith? or shall the saw magnify itself against him that shaketh
it? as if the rod should shake itself against them that lift it up,
or as if the staff should lift up itself, as if it were no wood. There-
fore shall the Lord, the Lord of hosts, send among his fat ones lean-
ness; and under his glory he shall kindle a burning like the burning
of a fire."

5. By the ministry of .^xgels. Angelic beings have often been
employed to carry into effect the divine counsels. Indeed, it is not
improbable that many of the phenomena of the material universe which
we are wont to attribute to visible or ordinary causes, are really occa-
sioned by- their agency. When David, for instance, committed sin in
numbering Israel, and the Lord gave him the choice of three evils —
seven years' famine, to be defeated during three months by his ene-
mies, or three days' pestilence, he chose the latter: and the Lord sent
a pestilence, and there died 70,000 men. Yet we are told that this was
done by an angel, and that the Lord then said to "the angel that
destroyed, It is enough, stay now thine hand. And the angel of the
Lord stood by the threshing floor of Oman the Jebusite. And David
lifted up his eyes, and saw the angel of the Lord stand between the
earth and the heaven, having a drawn sword in his hand stretched out
over Jerusalem." It is said also that it was the "angel of the Lord"
who smote Herod. The Scriptures indeed abound with illustrations
of this. And that the peculiar class of beings denominated angels,
are made instruments of the divine government, can not be doubted.
They have indeed in numberless instances been employed to perform
miracles. Thus, an angel is said to have preserved Daniel from the
lions, and to have revealed to him visions of the future. An angel
delivered a message to Zacharias, and caused him to be dumb in con-
sequence of his unbelief. Yet we are expressly informed that they
are "ministering spirits sent forth to minister to the heirs of salva-
tion;" and we know not in how many various ways they may, without
contravening any of the ordinary or established laws of the universe,
defend and protect the just, disappoint the designs of the wicked, and


give such a direction to the course of things as to accomplish the
most important results.

Upon these delicate themes and thinj^s invisible we presume not to
speculate, nor to say by how many unknown and secret agencies the
Divine Being preserves and governs the world. It is sufficient to
know that God may and has accomplished his designs by the means
which we have specified, and to be assured that the "eyes of the Lord
are over the righteous, and his ears open to their supplication;" that
"the steps of a good man are ordered by the Lord, and he delighteth
in his way; and though he fall, he shall not be utterly cast down, for
the Lord upholdeth him with his hand:" that "although the wicked
plotteth against the just, and gnasheth upon him with his teeth, the
Lord shall laugh at him; for he seeth that his day is coming:" and
that "the Lord shall deliver the righteous: he shall deliver them from
the wicked, and save them because they trust in him — because they
have made the Most High their refuge; he shall cover them with his
feathers, and under his wings they shall trust: his truth shall be their
shield and buckler."


"The Lord is good: a strong hold in the day of trouble; and he
knoweth them that trust in him." — Naiium.

"The general providence of God" is a phrase employed by many
to denote the agency which we have considered under the head of
Preservation. Special providences, on the other hand, have usually
been confounded with the interpositions of the Divine Being in the
government of the world. It is easily perceived, however, that there
are no just grounds for such a distinction between government and
preservation, or for such an application of the terms general and
special, since the agency employed in the preservation of men may
be as special as acts of government.

Nor is it to be supposed that a general superintendence over the
world consists in a mere supervision of universal laws or principles,
while special providences are the particular instances in which these
laws are administered and applied; for we can have no idea of the
Divine agency in the affairs of men except as it is exerted in individ-
ual cases; nor can we at all regard the control of laws and princi-
ples as an end or a peculiar department of the Divine government,
when it is only the means by which ulterior purposes are accom-
plished in relation to intelligent and accountable beings who are the
only legitimate subjects of that control or interference which is
termed providential.

The truth is, that as generals are made up of particulars, we can
not conceive of a general providence without involving the idea of a


special one; nor can we imagine how the Divine Being can govern
the whole human family without governing every particular indi-
vidual who composes it. If, therefore, there be room for the distinc-
tion now under consideration, it is to be found in the peculiar char-
acter of the agency employed, or the degree in which it is exercised,
rather than in the fact of such exercise itself.

In this view of the matter the distinction spoken of becomes a very
just and important one. For nothing is more certain than that while
the Creator governs and sustains all men, he pays more particular
regard to a certain portion of the human family, which thus becomes
the object of his peculiar care. This particular portion is composed
of those who put their trust in him. And that God does so distinguish
them is plainly asserted by the sacred writers. Paul declares that
He "is the Saviour of all men, especially of those tcho believe:" —
thus employing the very term by which the distinction is character-

We can as easily conceive this to be the case, as that God can be
omnipresent — that he can "fill heaven and earth," and yet be more
immediately and in a special and peculiar sense present in heaven,
which is represented as his "dwelling-place," and as the "throne of
his glory;" or that a monarch can superintend and administer the
affairs of a vast empire, and pay respect to the interests of the whole
community, while at the same time he views with peculiar com-
placency his immediate followers and dependents, and treats with
special favor and affection the members of his own family.

This special regard must be considered as extending itself to every
thing which can in any degree affect the character or happiness of
those who are the subjects of it, whether it be to the bestowment of
favors or the infliction of merited punishment, which may be in dif-
ferent cases or at different periods equally proofs of peculiar kind-
ness. Hence while it is declared by Paul to the Hebrews that "the
Lord is a rewarder of them who diligently seek him," he reminds
them of the exhortation "which," says he, "reasons with you as with
children — 'My son, do not think lightly of the Lord's chastisement,
neither faint when you are rebuked by him: for whom the Lord loves
he chastises, and scourges every son whom he receives,' " and pro-
ceeds to argue that if they were without that necessary chastisement,
of which all sons are partakers, it would be a proof of neglect and
would imply that they were regarded as bastards or aliens, and unde-
serving of the care exercised over the proper members of the family.

Such, then, is the special care bestowed by the Divine Being upon
the "household of faith." He is their "Father in heaven" and they
are his "children." He views with peculiar interest their condition
and their conduct — "His eyes are over the righteous and his ears are


open to their supplication." He shall "hide them in the secret of his
presence from the pride of man: he shall keep them secretly in a
pavilion from the strife of tongues." For the Lord "loveth the right-
eous" and "taketh pleasure in his people — he will beautify the meek
with salvation" and "fulfill the desire of them that fear him." Again,
he is the "king" that reigns "in Sion" and "Israel is his dominion."
He "shows his word unto Jacob, his statutes and his judgments unto
Israel. He has not dealt so with any nation; and as for his judg-
ments, they have not known them." Or, he is the "Shepherd of Israel"
and "leads Joseph like a flock" — he leads him to the lofty "rock" for
shelter; he feeds him in the "green pastures" and makes him to drink
of the "river" of his pleasures.

When indeed we wish to form a proper idea of the special care
which God has over his people, we have but to contemplate his former
dealings with the literal Israel, and remember who are "Israel" now.
As he admitted his ancient people to peculiar privileges; as he deliv-
ered them from their enemies, and made them the instrument both of
vengeance and of salvation, while he failed not to punish their trans-
gressions and to reward their obedience; so is he now the Father and
the God — the King, the Shepherd, and the Saviour of his people; and
"his face" is still "against them that do evil;" — he will yet "destroy
the wicked" and "cut off the remembrance of them from the earth;"
and when they "draw out the sword, and bend their bow to cast down
the poor and needy, and slay such as be of upright conversation, their
sword shall enter into their own heart and their bows shall be broken."

In all a^es have the righteous been the subjects of God's special
providence, and a more particular regard has been paid to them both
in their preservation and government than to any other portion of the
human family. It may be well to observe, too, that on account of
the relation which subsists between God and his people, an interfer-
ence on their behalf is suspended upon certain conditions which have
no place where the world at large is concerned. They are the chil-
dren of God, and as such are expected to ask for what they need.
This is not the case with un])elievers, who will not, of course, call
upon one of whom they have not heard or in whom they have not
believed. To the latter, therefore, the bounties of heaven are dis-
pensed, and all necessary aid administered in the general care which
God has over all his creatures; while the latter are admitted to the
high privilege of making their requests known to God, and of receiv-
ing from him greater and more precious favors. Thus he causes his
Eun to rise upon the evil, sends rain upon the unjtist, and permits
the wicked to enjoy unasked prosperity, that his goodness may lead
them to reformation. But it is the righteous who are to pray for
"daily bread," and daily preservation, who find it a "good thing to.


give thanks unto the Lord — to speak of his loving-kindness in th«i
morning and of his faithfulness every night;" and who can experi-
ence deliverance from the Lord "because they trust in him." The
enjoyment of the wicked arises from the long-suffering of God; but
if the righteous "have not," it is only because they "ask not," or
because they ask tor improper things or purposes.

Prayer, therefore, is of the greatest importance to the children of
God Their petitions should be as frequent as their wants; and their
thanksgivings, as their blessings. Yet from their comparative igno-
rance of their true interests and circumstances, it is very certain that
they often not only fail to ask when they ought, but desire things
which would be injurious to themselves or imcompatible with the
happiness of others. It is in these instances that the Divine Being,
like a kind parent, may bestow necessary blessings unrequired, and
withhold those things which, however ardently desired, would be fatal
to the possessor. Nevertheless it is highly requisite that Christians,
since they know the will of Cod, should ask those things which are
"according to his will." It is only by so doing, in an humble reliance
upon the Divine promise, that they can have the assurance of being
heard; and such are the only petitions which are just or proper, as
the will of God is the only rule of rectitude, and there can be no
higher or better wish than this, that "the will of God should be done
on earth as it is in heaven."

We have not space at present to enter as fully upon the subject of
prayer in connection with special providences, as its importance
deserves. It may be further observed, however, in relation to the
objections of those who doubt the efficacy of prayer, that in order to
form just views respecting it, it is necessary that several essential
matters be attended to. It must be remembered that not only suit-
able requests are to be made, but that these are to be made in a proper
manner — with earnestness, sincerity, and perseverance. Proper re-
quests are sometimes presented in such an indifferent and careless
way as plainly to show that the petitioner cares little about the things
for which he prays, and consequently does not deserve them. At
other times prayers are offered up, with the most earnest and ardent
zeal, for things which are nowhere promised, and which, requiring
miraculous or supernatural power for their accomplishment, are wholly
inconsistent with the present economy of Heaven. Again, as it is
impossible for men to know with accuracy what things they really
need, or the proper times at which they should be granted, or even
the channels through which they should be conveyed, so it would be
plainly presumptuous in them to prescribe definitely in any of these
matters to an Omniscient and Omnipotent Being. Christians undoubt-
edly are entitled to plead the promises of God; but there are no


express promises or special revelations to any particular individual,
as many have absurdly supposed while under the influence of self-
love or the visions of a heated imagination; and men often err in
expecting the fulfillment of promises which have been already fully
accomplished, and have no relation whatever to them, or even to the
age in which we live. There are certain general promises upon which
Christians may securely depend; such as that "God will never leave
them nor forsake them" — and that "all things shall work together for
good to them who love God;" and they manifest a much greater degree
of confidence in the Divine Being, when, depending upon his regard
and love for them, and sensible that he is best acquainted with their
circumstances and their wants, they make their desires known to him,
putting themselves at the same time absolutely in his hands — with a
full persuasion that he will grant the wishes they have expressed, or
what shall be better for them.

Sceptics and unbelievers have nothing to do with prayer either in
theory or practice. "God hears not sinners; but if any man be a
worshipper of God and doeth his will, him he hears." Sceptics pro-
fanely regard prayer as an experimenting upon the Divine promises,
or a putting the Lord God to the proof; and their ignorance and folly
will perhaps be apparent to themselves only when they experience the
Divine faithfulness in the accomplishment of the solemn declaration
that "indignation and wrath, tribulation and anguish shall be to every
soul of man that doeth evil." It is the people of God who are admitted
to communion with him, and who have been in all ages, as we have
alicady remarked, the object of his peculiar care, and for whose sake
he has so often specially interfered in the affairs of men.

When, indeed, we reflect upon the history of the human family, we
can not fail to be struck with the important influence which the
righteous have exerted over the condition and destiny of mankind.
Noah became the means of preserving the whole race of Adam from
extinction; and the existence of ten just persons in the city of Sodom
would, through the intercession of Abraham, have saved it from

Online LibraryAlexander CampbellThe Millennial Harbinger abridged (Volume 1) → online text (page 6 of 70)