Gods providence, a sermon preached before the honourable House of Commons at their late solemne fast, Decemb. 28, 1642, in S. Margarets Church at Westminster by Ed. Corbett ...
Corbet, Edward, d. 1658.

1.Gods will hath an effectuall Influence upon all the Creatures.

The Nature and Condition of Gods will, with those distin∣ctions and difficulties disputed amongst the school-men, and be∣twixt the Arminians and Contra-Arminians, are either too high for humane understanding to reach, or else are piously resolved by Page  3 learned pens already.* I shall only touch upon the power and pro∣vidence thereof, so far as may conduce to the quieting of our thoughts in these distracted times, and to give us patience & com∣fort in the middest of all afflictions. And to this purpose David assures us, that our God is in heaven, he doth whatsoever he will, and S. Paul that God worketh all things according to the coun∣sell of his own will: And Iustin Martyr, with Saint Aug. that Gods will is the cause of all things. What confusion cannot he order? what wisdom cannot he frustrate? what weaknesse cannot he enable? Nothing so high that is above his command, nothing so low that is beneath his Providence. If the Potter have power of the same lumpe to make one vessell to honour, and another to dishonour, and to preserve or break in pieces what he hath made, when as the vessell depends upon the earth of which it consists, of the water by which it was tempered, of the wheele which fa∣shioned it, and of the fire which baked and hardened all: How much more shall the God Almightie who giveth to every crea∣ture matter and forme, vertue and activity and beautie, exercise his will upon them? How much more shall he build up and pull down, save and destroy, and dispose them as seemeth good unto him? Neabuchodonezor (one of the greatest and proudest Kings that ever was) will confesse as much. Dan. 4.32. according to his will he worketh in the Army of heaven, and in the inhabitants of the earth, and none can stay his hand or say unto him what dost thou? the Armies of heaven do acknowledge God in all their wayes, Legions of Angells who excell in strength, who are as full of power as of glory, and know no Law but their makers plea∣sure: The inhabitants of the earth, Men and Divells, whatsoever the Sun hath looked upon, or the creation hath raised from no∣thing, have this necessity upon them, to obey the Almighties will,* and while they rush against his Counsell, to fulfill it, which may appeare more distinctly by considering three particulars.

1. Every Creature depends on God.

Every creature is the effect of God secundum esse, essentially de∣pends upon him, or as Scotus speaks is dependance it self: of ne∣cessity Page  4 then they stand in need of Gods perpetuall help, the hand which made must support, and the power which raised from nothing must still preserve from nothing. Which Christ confirmes John. 5.17. My Father worketh hitherto and I work; and Saint Paul Hb. 1.3. He beareth up all things with his mightie word:*He beareth up all things with his mightie word: He beareth up all things, 1. Sustinendo as a pillar & sure foun∣dation upon which they stand. 2. Influendo as a fountaine from which they derive all their vertue and operations. 3. Constringen∣do as a soveraign bond by which the parts of all things hold to∣gether and are preserved as water in a vessell from dissolution and running into nothing, and he beareth up all things without any la∣bour or difficulty 〈 in non-Latin alphabet 〉 only by his pleasure, his will by the same word,* and breath, by which they were first made. The creature cannot stand one moment without Gods actuall suppor∣tance; All things would run into confusion without his power∣full influence who created all things. For the frame of the world, is not like a House which will stand it self after the Carpenter hath raised it, but receives continuall subsistence from the Au∣thor, must be preserved in being & working or else will suddain∣ly break and fall in peeces: It depends upon the Almightie as the figure of a Seale imprinted upon the water,* which being with∣drawn, the Impression is instantly defaced, or as the light in the aire which upon the Suns removall is presently extinct. Vpon which grounds the school-men affirme that preservation is a con∣tinued creation, that every thing is as it were newly borne, new∣ly produced; And although in themselves permanent yet in res∣pect of God are quasi in fieri: they are as it were under the hammer, they are in a perpetuall forge and dependance.

And as our Nature, so are our actions; we cannot utter one word, thinke one thought, turn our Eye, or move a finger, with∣out the concurrence of his power who giveth life and breath, and all things; much lesse can we of our selves performe any thing which is good, direct a wish, or tread one step towards heaven. As the Axe is in the hand of him that heweth, without whose eleva∣tion it neither cuts nor sinks into the timber, so are we all in the hand of that Master builder of Heaven and earth, we are dead and uselesse tooles without his Influence,* who giveth as well the Page  5 will as the work,* and in whom we live and move and have our being. Heavy bodies cannot sinke in the water, nor the fire burn that which is most combustible, if the God of Israel speak the word; the Watry Ocean becomes a dry pavement and the hard rock a springing well at the pleasure of the Almightie: the Sun of Heaven refreshed as a Giant to run his course, must stand still un∣till the God of heaven concur to the motion, the consideration whereof made Saint Ambrose break out into this language, Non minus est conservare mundum quam creare, it is as great a work to preserve the world as to create it: and Saint Chrysost.〈 in non-Latin alphabet 〉 it is a greater work: As it is more labour and strength to support a burden long in the aire, then at first to raise it from the earth, which may teach us:

To deny our selves, to yield up and resigne our soules unto Gods disposing Providence,* Every one professing with David here am I, let the Lord deale with me as seemeth good unto him. For Dependency is very humble and respective, it studies contentment and care to Comply, it commands the soule a holy silence, and in all afflictions keeps under the least rising of our hearts against the Almightie: It makes us kisse the rod,* and with the Christians in Tertullian, thank our Executioners. For shall we receive good at the hand of God, and shall we not receive evill? Is it his great mercy that we do not fll into nothing, or which is worse into eternall flames? and shall the calamities of this world which crosse perchance our hopes, & so prevent our pride, or draw from us some guilded earth, which happily would have made us more wicked, or at most destroy these Houses of clay which of themselves will fall in sunder? shall (I say) a temporall bodily chastisement,* the scourges of a loving father drive us to impatiency, or distrust,* or make us curse the day of our Nativi∣ty? A Souldier is tried in a conflict, and a Mariner shews his skill in a tempest. And shall a Christian faint or fear in the Seas of Adversitie, in the battels of affliction? we see, the candle shines brightest when the aire is darke and the fire burnes hottest when the weather is cold. Nature teaching these inanimate crea∣tures to rejoice as it were in danger, and to triumph over op∣pression: Page  6 It is emptie chaff which is tost up & down with the wind, not sound corne, and they are rotten trees which a storme over∣throwes. Let us consider that smooth and golden steps, lead for the most part unto lust and carnall securitie, they make us insen∣sible of Gods mercyes, and lesse regardfull of his Iudgements, and more conceited of our own greatnesse:* let us consider that the ways of the wicked prosper, they gallop over the green plaines of pleasure and plentie, their Houses are peaceable, and the rod of God is not upon them. And shal we envy the condition of wicked men? shall we complaine because our Kingdom is not of this world? shall we be angry with our blessings? Indeed when we consider the grievance it self we may look after a change of our Condition, for we carry about us flesh and bloud and who can say his heart is cleere? But yet we must remember the Author of our afflictions the hand which strikes, and the providence which directs them: we may with our Saviour desire the Cup to passe from us, but we must with our Saviour also desire not our own wills,* but Gods be done: Murmuring may enrage our Crosses and make them more heavie, but cannot remove them, it may encrease our guilt, and bring upon us new Iudgements, it cannot take them off, like a bird that is entangled in the lime twigs, the more shee struggles, the more shee doubles her danger.

2.God is All-knowing and Omnipresent with the Creatures.

What power of Man or Angell can cloud the Eyes of the Al∣mightie? what darknesse hideth from his face with whom the night shineth as the day;* the darknesse and light are both a like. A heathen will tell thee God is neare thee, he is with thee, he is with∣in thee; a father will tell thee, God is never from thee, the Shool∣men will tell thee, God is more present with thee then thou art with thy self, and give good reasons for what they say: And a∣bove all Saint Paul will tell thee Heb. 4.13. All things are naked and open unto the Eyes of him, with whom we have to do: No∣thing can escape his knowledge,* we are as it were divided and bowelled, without our clothes, without our skin, in the sight of Page  7 God. But when we are lockt in our chambers, the windowes shut, the curtaine drawn over our heads, when we are compassed about with stone walls, who then shall see us? Nemo te videt (saith Saint Bernard) non tamen nullus: No man indeed can see thee, but he seeth thee before whose tribunall thou must one day stand and give an account for every idle word. Thy good Angells see thee, and greeve at thy sinne, the Divell seeth thee, and rejoyceth at thy follie. The stones in the wall see thee, and are ready when God pleaseth to fall upon thee and to grinde thee to powder. But Gods power doth not rest here, his all seeing Eye is not termi∣nated in words and actions. He searcheth the raines,* he reads cleer∣ly the book of our soule, he heares our thoughts. this House of our body, walls of flesh cannot exclude the rayes of that Omnipotent Majestie, David in the 94. Psa. 81. will call them fools, who think o∣therwise; & he will give a reason for it in the 92. v. He that planted the eare shall not he heare? or he that formed the eye shall not he see? he that made the heart, shall not he know the wayes and works thereof? But Gods Eyes are purer yet, and I have not ex∣pressed the least part of their brightnesse: God understands our thoughts a far off Psal. 139.2. from all eternitie, saith Lyranus up∣pon that place, as soone as he had existence himself, and he was never without existence, he did know all the purposes, the secret motions, the deepest roote and grounde of all our cogitations. But alas who can measure that which is infinite? Our great God knoweth more yet, and which may make us adore and admire and tremble, beholds us in our proper and corrupt condition, he discerns much filth and great staines in the fairest soule, he seeth our carnall thoughts, our worldly thoughts, our presumptuous thoughts, our suspitious thoughts, our partiall thoughts, our curi∣ous thoughts, our vaine thoughts,* he seeth our wisest thoughts are foolishnesse, and our best thoughts have enough to condemne us. But O worme that I am, ashes, and nothing, and worse then nothing; why do I endeavour to fathome the depth of Gods knowledge, to describe that light which looketh further and further and hath no end of looking further. Whatsoever God seeth (and he seeth whatsoever hath been, and whatsoever is, Page  8 whatsoever will be or may be, he seeth whatsoever is to be seene and whatsoever is not to be seene) he rules and governs and com∣mands,* he directs to his own glory and mans salvation. Philoso∣phy will teach us that Angels can discover bad thoughts, by wicked actions, and judge of the soul by the temper of the body: But to see us from everlasting, and to see us in our. native fowle∣nesse and deformity, to know our thoughts before they were and so long before they were to dispose of them to his own ends, this is that altitudo of which Saint Paul speaks, into which the further we descend, the lower we may sink, and the more we know, the more we are ignorant.

O thou Christian then whosoever thou art, having fought a good fight, made conscience of thy ways, and kept thy selfe straight in the middest of a crooked generation, do not hang down thy head or remit one jot of thy zeale in goodnesse for the reproaches of Men, or the unjust censures of all the world, rather revive and quicken thy industry in every good cause, inflame thy holy life, and in despite of all the sharp arrowes of calumniation, run joyfully in the race of Gods service, raise thy languishing thoughts with David in the consideration of thy own sinceritie and innocence and single heart, comfort thy self with the ex∣ample of Christ,* who despised the shame for the joy which was set before him, and satisfie thy soule with Jobs resolution, behold now my witnesse is in Heaven, and my record is on high. When thou art going to any lewd Act, profane company, vaine pleasure, remember the God of Israel looks upon thee: If profit unhappily move thee to injustice, oppression or any other service of the Divell, if rotten lusts, unconstant honour, base ends, lay siege unto thy soul and endanger thy spirituall safety call to mind the presence of the Almightie. This one weapon of Divine Ar∣mory is powerful enough to confound a whole world of tempta∣tions and to conquer Hell it self. For will any man cut a purse be∣fore the Iudges face, and when he is sitting upon the Bench? will any man commit adultery in the open streets? Nothing hinders vice so much as nakednes: & if Seneca speak true, the greatest part of sins are committed for want of witnesses. How tender were Page  9 the primitive Christians herein? Who would not tell a lie to save their lives as Justin Martyr relates.* Saint Augustin proceeds further and will not admit a lie for the salvation of a mans soule. But Job hath a straine above all and will not have a lie told for the glory of God: that glory which is the greatest Good, which is the end of all things, which Moses preferr'd before his own e∣verlasting happinesse. O mercyfull Father how are we degene∣rated from those pious resolutions! what Spirit hardens our hearts? and devoures the conscience of these later generations which make lying a Profession, and are constant in nothing else? which maintaine the lawfulnesse thereof, and confirme on truths with Oathes and Imprecations. In Davids time the fool said in his heart there is no God, he durst not speak it with his tongue: But our Atheisme is raised to that height and boldnesse that we dare professe it in our words and Actions, we dare brag of our un∣cleannes in contempt as it were of heaven and in scorn of the Al∣mightie. Adde to this the filthines of sinne which our Saviour tells us Math. 15. defiles the Man, 〈 in non-Latin alphabet 〉 makes him Common which, by an Hebraisme, is profane, uncleane, beastly. Agreeable to which is that of Saint James lay aside all filthines and super∣fluitie of naughtines, filthines in the abstract, 〈 in non-Latin alphabet 〉 naughtines which is an excrement a nastie thing as odious and detestable in the nostrills of the Almightie, as our very excrements are to us. Vpon which ground Devout Anselme professed that he would rather be in Hell and free from sinne,* then polluted with the fil∣thines thereof possesse the Kingdome of Heaven. Now if every sinne be of this blotting beastly condition, if the Almightie be∣holds them in their vilest shape, in their greatest deformitie, what shall we think of those crying sinns, of unfaithfulnesse,* blasphe∣my, whoredom, murther, how do they difile us? what beasts and black Divells do they make us? what shall we think of this great and famous City lately the Governernesse of Truth, and Crown of true Religion, but now the sink and stinking dirt of all Heresies? My Author is in print and passeth without contradiction, and in a lan∣guage which forraigne Nations may understand: And this he further speaks as neare as I can translate him. I dare be bold to say Page  10 that more sects are risen in London in a yeare and half past then in the whole Christian world since the Apostles times in 1600 yeares: Irenaus reckons up about 20 diverse sects of Hereticks, Tertullian 27. Theo∣doret 76. Epiphan. 80. August. 88. Damas. 100. Philast. 128. All which being dead and buried many centuries of yeares since, are raised at this time and recalled from Hell by Handicrafts men, and the baser sort of people not without the great evill of the Londoners; Neither is there yet an end of multiplying Religions. I must confesse I stand amazed at the relation. And know not whether I should be angry with the book, or sorry for the Author, wish to the one lesse bitter∣nesse, or to the other more charitie.

3.God governs all things to their ends.

*Gods Providence is as generall as his Creation, governing all things by the same infinite power by which they were made. This glorious fabrick of the world would soone lose its beautie and the great familie and rich furniture thereof fall into confu∣sion, if the hand of Providence did not guide their motions and by a sweet command conduct them to their ends.* The waters would overflow the earth, the fire would ascend above its proper spheare, Lions and beasts of strength and Crueltie would quickly devoure the generations of Men: Nay the creatures have destru∣ction enough within themselves, and for want of enemies abroad would become their own Executioners.* Divines & naturalists have spoken so much of the parts of man, the use & order of the actions and fabrick of rationall creatures, of the vertue of plants & stones, that wonder is fitter herein then words, &, he doth best relate that storie who most admires it; I shall therfore only tell you, Galen by the light of Nature did extoll the wisdom of Godin the making of a Gnat, in the very thigh of a Gnat that which we do so little re∣gard, which we do so much scorne, which many of us never took notice of, the thigh one of the least & low'st parts of a gnat, a poor, imperfect creature, yet confesseth the hand of God and magni∣fieth that Name which Christians many times blaspheme; the Page  11 basest worme which creepeth in the dust hath matter enough to silence the wisest Man, and by how much the lesser any creature is, by so much it raiseth the greater wonder. As a small watch re∣quires a curious hand, and pictures of the least volume shew most of all the limners skill. Let us consider the whole species of man∣kind, every child of Adam from the Creation to the last Iudge∣ment, and when we have considered let us be astonished, and cry out with Saint Paul, How unsearchable are his Iudgements who gives to so many millions of millions a distinct Face?* by which the Husband knowes his wife, the Father his Child, the Creditor his Debter, the Magistrate the Delinquent, the Subject his Prince, by which we know our Friends from our Enemies: and without which Treason, Incest, Parricide, Every wicked∣nesse would fill the world, and confusion overwhelm all Govern∣ment, there is not a Lillie grows in the Field,* not a drop sinks from the cloudes, not a haire falls from our Head or a sparrow lights on the ground without the Eye of Providence; grasse hath measure and the sands of the Sea are numbred, the whole disposing of a Lot is of the Lord. He guideth the stroke of every sword in a battel, and not a bullet flies to any other place then he hath appointed.

Those things which be most free and absolute, the hearts and wills of Men follow the Influence of Divine Providence, they do whatsoever liketh them, But yet they can do no more and in no other manner then God hath Decreed, He guideth them to his own Ends yet guideth according to that Nature he hath put into them, they voluntarily performe, what certainly shall come to passe. He causeth good actions, he permitteth bad actions, he rules and orders all. Absolon shall refuse the good Counsell of A∣chitophell if God have so determined,* and Elie's Sonnes shall not obey the voyce of their Father if the Lord resolve to slay them. The Heart of the King is in the hand of God as the Rivers of water, the Kings heart, who hath all things at command, and is of all men most free, and whose wrath is as the roaring of a Lion,* his heart, his will, his favours, his frown, his power, his pur∣poses, are call'd by Gods Providence as the waters are carried in Page  12 their channels at the pleasure of those who have skill to derive them. Posidonius in the life of Saint Augustine gives us two me∣morable examples to this purpose The good Father being to vi∣sit and instruct the people of a certaine place,* and having a guide to direct the way and conduct him thither, did notwithstanding mistake the Common and usuall roade and ignorantly fall into a by-path and so escaped the bloudy hands of some Donatists who knowing of his journey lay in ambush to take away his life:* At an∣other time this Holy Bishop preaching to the Congregation, and forgetting the Argument, which first he proposed, fell upon the Errors of the Manichees, which he never intended, and by that meanes converted one Firmus his auditor who afterwards fell down at Saint Augustines feet,* weeping and confessing that he had lived a Manichee many yeares, and now, by Gods mercy and his last Sermon was reduced to the Catholick beliefe. We all know that Augustus made the generall taxe to enrich his own coffers, but God used it as a meanes to fulfill the Prophesie of Christs birth at Bethlahem. Nay God is the cause why things are not, why a wise Councell of State-Physitians cannot cure the wounds of a bleeding Kingdom, why a peace desired betwixt two contrary Armies finds no successe, why the Enemies which were round about the People of Israel could not desire their Land, the men being absent thrice every yeare,* and none but women to op∣pose them. It is God who hinders and gives way to every work, nothing is independant on him who depends on nothing.

Indeed Ticho-Brach, and Kepler two famous Mathematicians, seeme to Crosse this doctrine, attributing much to the Influences of the Starrs, and to that great conjunction of Saturne and Jupiter. From whose pens some in these times give out many ominous conjectures: and in truth few can be ignorant that the heavenly bodies have great power over inferior Creatures and are the par∣tiall causes of many alterations here below; but such crosse acci∣dents do frequently happen in the Matter on which they work, especially in the bodie and actions of men which are swayd by reason and education and Religion. And God doth so controll and check them at his pleasure, that our sinns are more to be Page  13 feared then the Starrs,* and nothing certaine can be concluded from their aspects, but that they work together for the best to them that love the Lord.* They make somewhat to fore-tell Mans inclination▪ and are signes of spirituall events, but they bring no fatall necessity with them, and things contingent are as far above their power, as they are below the Almightie's. If we can be∣leeve that the 1000. yeares mentioned in the Rev. for the binding up of Sathan, is yet to come as divers do strongly perswade us,** we need not cast the great fury and confusion of all the world, upon the starrs, we need not wonder at those Civill dissentions by which we devoure our selves, and when no other enemy could do us any harme, we labour our own destruction. For the old Serpent is such an enemy to goodnesse and is now so madly furious because his time is short, that he brings foorth all his wicked instruments which are in the 4. quarters of the world to compasse the Tents of Saints about and the beloved City, to strik Religion at the heart, and to banish, if it were possible, the Church of Christ from off the earth; & yet thankes be to our gra∣cious God his power is limited both in regard of time and mea∣sure and manner, he can go but to the end of his chaine, witnesse Jobs afflictions; He may expresse his malice, he cannot effect his will: For wickednesse it self is under subjection, and all the strength the Divell hath rests in God; I am confident that these rageing waters which do so overflow the banks of Christendome are trialls of the Godly, punishments of sin, and instruments of Divine Providence. I do not more beleeve that the sun is in the Heaven, or that I am speaking to this Congregation then I do be∣leeve that all the calamities which are fallen upon this Land, shall turne to the benefit of Gods people,* that Antichrist shall concur to his own subversion, and the very enemies of Truth shall ad∣vance it, then that scarlet whore, who hath so long made the Nations drunk with her fornications shall fall, and it is most pro∣bable that her ruine is neare at hand: when a more full and entire calling of the Gentils then hitherto hath been, shall be accom∣plished, and their reasons are prevailing with me, who yet expect such a calling: when the Iewish Nation shall be fully reduced to Page  14 Christian Religion and it is a granted truth amongst the best Di∣vines that such a conversion is yet to come,* then shall the Church of Christ break through the clouds of affliction, prevaile over Antichrist and all the instruments of hell, and flourish more in do∣ctrine and manners,* in peace and power and glory then ever it hath done since men first inhabited the earth. What Aristotle therefore relates of Phydias the famous Carver, I shall apply to Divine Providence, for as he being to make the Image of Mi∣nerva, did with such curious Art work his own face upon the sta∣tue, that whosoever should scrape out the face, must of necessitie deforme the whole Image: so the great Architect of Heaven and earth, hath in such a wonderfull manner engraven as it were his own glorious face, his power, his wisdom, his goodnesse, upon the whole fabrick of the world, and upon every part thereof, that this Divine face of God cannot be separated from any Creature without the Creatures ruine and annihilation. I will conclude this point, and my first Proposition with Davids Confession. Psal. 40. v. 5. O Lord my God thou hast made thy wonderfull works so many that none can count in order thy thoughts towards us, I would declare and speak of them, but they are more then I am able to expresse.