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.

REAS. 2. Foolish things are made wise by Gods effectuall calling.

When God calls any Man effectually, he puts his fear into his heart as Jerem. speaks; And Salomon assures us that the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom:* when we delight in the com∣mandements of God, & devote our selves to the obedience there∣of, when we are eminent in good works, and abundant in service, and embrace Religion with any danger, with any difficultie, then are we wiser then our adversaries,* our teachers, our Elders, as David speaks, wiser then the great Achitophels the Pharisees of the world, who being puffed up with the pride of their strong braine, and blinded with an opinion of their profound knowledge will deride Christ himself when he tells them that it is impossible to serve God and Mammon.* For wisdome is the fruit of Devotion, and because David was holier therefore he was wiser then his E∣nemies: Piety raiseth the soule of man, and purgeth it from those lusts which do besot our knowledge, it inspires the understand∣ing with a high and heavenly light by which we discern the sub∣tilitie of the Divel, the corruption of our own hearts, the mistery of salvation; it breaths into our Actions sinceritie, and watchful∣nesse, and the life of wisdom. Though we understand the depths, and secrets of State, excell in Iudgement, sharpenesse of wit, faith∣fulnesse of memorie and in varietie of experience and observa∣tions; though we be living libraries, and have not Religion, we are blinde and stupid, and fooles in any true knowledge, the flower and spirit of all our wisdom is but learned follie, and beau∣tifull simplicitie. For tell me, O thou mightie Man of knowledge, who dost trample upon the Counsels of others with contempt, Page  19 and art the Oracle of God in the esteeme of Men.* Can thy Policie resist the Divell? or find out the wiles and devises of the old Ser∣pent, who is well read in all the Arts and advantages of the earth, and is as full of knowledge as of malice? Can thy worldly wisdom preserve thy life one moment longer then God hath decreed?* can it conduct thee the way to Heaven? or preserve thy soule from Hell? that pretious soule, which Saint Basil calls the delight of the Almightie, and Saint August. the miracle of miracles, that Di∣vine, spirituall, eternall soule, I tremble to speak it, our soules are eternall: when we have continued as many yeares, as there are drops in the Sea, we have not continued one moment in compa∣raison of Eternitie; were all the world a Mountaine of sand, and every thousand yeares one of those sands removed that Moun∣taine would have an end, but Eternitie would be no lesser; After all the ages which Men or Angels can number or conceive, Eter∣nitie doth but begin, it doth alwayes begin, and is nothing but beginning. And now let the eye of reason judge betwixt a Child of God, & a man of the world, betwixt the providence of heaven, and the wisdom of the flesh: what learning is it, to know all the secrets of Nature, and to be a very fool in the mysteries of Grace? What Policie is it to have a cleere sight into all the Kingdomes of the earth, and to be stark blinde in the Kingdom of Heaven? what profit is it to gaine the whole world and to lose our eter∣nall soules?* All the admirable knowledge and vertues of the Heathen are but glorious abominations in the judgement of Saint Aug. and Nicodemus one of the best of the Pharisees,* a Ruler of the Iews and a profest Doctor in the Law is stupid and childish in the principles of Christianitie;* if our Saviour talk to him of being borne againe, he presently thinks of entring into his Mothers wombe, the naturall Man, the Man endowed with all the excel∣lencies of which the soule is naturally capeable,*perceiveth not the things of the spirit of God, hath neither wisdom to make a right choice of the best end, nor understanding to find out the true meanes; Nay he esteems them foolishnesse, and so changeth the greatest blessing into a fearfull curse. Saint Paul will give us the reason of all because they are spiritually discern'd, they require single Page  20 eyes and soft hearts, and humble thoughts, they require a sancti∣fying spirit. The wisdom of Heaven, proceeds only from the God of Heaven, and therefore,

1. Do not contemne thy weak brother.

God can raise his thoughts, or direct his follie to a happie end, he can make him an Instrument of glorie,* who is now a subject of weaknesse, and can strike a streight stroake with a crooked stick.* Let us remember that we our selves in times past were un∣wise, disobedient, deceived, serving lusts, and divers pleasures, that we continue clay of the same lumpe, branches of the same root, and the same Grace which supports one, may raise another: For who made us to differ? or what have we that we have not recei∣ved?* Although the Iews be now a by-word amongst the heathen, and have lien long under Captivitie: Although they are broken off from the stock,* yet God is able to graff them in againe and to let the day of his glory shine forth upon them. Nay God will re∣member his covenant with Abraham and Jacob, his calling is without change, No sin can frustrate his Election. Those who are Enemies to the Common-wealth of Israel, and are darknesse it self, may be enlightened by the sunne of righteounesse: God may have Children amongst Turkes and Pagans, the wildernesse may nourish sheep,* and the hard Iron afford soveraign spirits: The theef upon the Crosse became a Saint, and persecuting Saul was changed into Paul an Apostle. Other mens imperfections therfore may be our instructions, they may be arguments of great devotion, they must not be objects of any derision: the least sin deserves contempt, but the greatest sinner charitie: let us hate the vice but help the man, pittie him, pray for him, let us exend our breasts of compassion, wheresoever is hope of Conversion. But above all let us not despise our zealous brother, who out of a pious apprehension of the joys of Heaven and of the torments of Hell, of the love of Christ, and wickednesse of sin, makes a consci∣ence of the least transgression, startles at all appearance of evill, is strict and tender, and fearefull in all his conversation, who lookes upon the world with contempt,* and for the Gospell sake will kisse the rod, and welcome death. Calvin dedicates his Commentary Page  21 on the 1. to the Cor to one Caracciolus a Marquesse of Italy, of great honour and Estate, blessed with a noble and chast wife, and with many sweet Children, and full of peace and earthly happi∣nesse; notwithstanding parted with his Countrey, bid fare-well to his pleasant and rich possessions, forsook his wife and children, and friends, and all for the love of Christ and libertie of his con∣science; following the Counsell of Saint Hieron,* to his beloved Heliodor, if thy little Grandchild hang about thy neck, if thy mother with her haire untied and her garments rent, shew thee those breasts which gave thee suck, if thy father cast himself down upon the threshold to keep thee in, tread upon thy father and with drie Eyes flye unto thy Saviour. It is Religion in this case to be cruell, and the greatest pittie to be pittilesse.*Ignatius the Martyr was of the same minde, I would to God (saith he) I might enjoy those beasts which are prepared to eate me up, I will make much of them, and use them with all kindnesse, that they may devoure me presently: Let the fagot, the gallowes, the furie of wild beasts, the rack, the tearing and unjointing of all the body, let the tor∣ments of the Divell come upon me, so that I may gaine Christ Iesus: it is better to dye for Christ, then to be Emperour of the whole world. Call not then devotion weaknes, or zeale folly, rank not them in the Kalender of fooles who prefer Salvation be∣fore the world, and by a bold assertion of the Truth, fight for Mar∣tyrdom. God is never more honoured then when the Kingdom of Heaven suffers such violence: The Church never shewed more wisdom than when her zeale flamed highest. It was an ancient Complaint of Justin Martyr in the behalfe of the primitive Chri∣stians, that they were condemned and put to death,*〈 in non-Latin alphabet 〉 upon an ill report, and 〈 in non-Latin alphabet 〉 for the Name of Christian, and 〈 in non-Latin alphabet 〉 for the profession of goodnesse: And in this kingdom there was a time when vertue and pietie were accoun∣ted crimes, and the Name of Puritan a greater accusation than drunkennes or whoredom: Luther that glorious light of the Gos∣pell, was called the Trumpet of rebellion.* The Prophet Eliah the Troubler of Israel, and Saint Paul was made the filth of the world and the off-scouring of all things.

Page  22Take heed therefore of rash and ungodly censures in matter of Religion, which requires our prayers, and patience, and charitie, abhorres reproaches:* Thou mayst abuse a Court with the Name of faction; and under the calumnie of Brownist condemne a Saint: Salvation ought to be the businesse of our whole life: We cannot be more studious to preserve our soules then the Divell is to de∣stroy them, we cannot be too carefull about that work, in which our greatest care is not enough.

2. Do not undervalue Gods Ordinances.

Divine Institution adds a price, and holy regard to every work: The time, the place, the matter, the manner, every circum∣stance receives weight from Gods command, and he who is not carefull to observe the least, doth not obey God when he per∣formes the greatest:* If Naaman wil be cleansed, he must wash seven times in the water of Jordan,* six times washing will not remove the Leprosie: whosoever will be cured must enter, First into the Poole after the Angel hath troubled the water; he that comes after shall have no benefit; Gods order must be observed, his number regard'd contempt in any circūstance ruines all the work; It is no just excuse to prefer some before others when all ought to be done, it is not the Dutie of a Servant to chuse his work, and rather to dispute his Masters will, then obey it. Let the Ordi∣nances of Heaven be never so meane, so poore in regard of their outward condition; They are worthy of pretious account, of ho∣nourable esteeme, of carefull observance, in respect of their Au∣thor, and those sacred ends for which they were injoyn'd: Com∣mon bread becomes the food of life in the Sacrament of the Lords supper,* and water, a vulgar and corruptible Element, Seales in Baptisme the remission of sinns:* The very same words of Man which passe as wind and only beate the Aire, comming with Gods Authority and blessing shall melt a heart of Flint,* shall prosper in the work for which they were sent, are sharper then any two edged sword, are lively and mightie in operation If the liquor be cordiall, what matter if the vessell be earthen? If the Page  23 Tabernacle be all gold within, what though the covering be of badgers skin? A Scholler will not judge a book by the bulke and out-side, but by the contents. A Souldier will not chuse a sword by the luster of the hilt, but by the goodnesse of the blade. The Author legitimates the work, the will and end is All in every a∣ction. Crassus whip'd his Mason,* because he sent him a fitter Mast for his service, but not the same he required: and Manlius be∣headed his sonne because contrary to command he gave battel to the enemy & obtained the victory. And will God endure disobe∣dience at the hands of sinfull Men? Is he lesse jealous of his ho∣nour then the Creature? shall he command, and threaten, and be∣seech? Shall he bring salvation to our doores, to our bosomes and shall we despise it? Take heed, curses attend contempt,* Famin fol¦lows abuse of fulnesse, and unthankfulnesse in Peace & knowledge, brings war and ignorance.* Our Saviour only called John and James, and they without tarrying left their ship and their Father, and followed him: Parents, and Fortunes, and Lives give place to Gods command, we must disprove nothing which he approves, nor like any thing which he dislikes. For we are not our own, and therefore we must not set up our own wills, nor judge by our own reason, nor work for our own ends: but we must sacrifice our selves to God, our wills to his will, our reason to his knowledge, our whole endeavours to his Glory. It is enough for us that he would have it so: His will is wisdom, and Justice, and power, and rea∣son, and all things.

3. God can effect glorious designes by weak and improbable meanes.

What cannot the God of Heaven compasse to set forth his own glory and to advance his servants good?*Flies and Frogs and Lice the very corruption and dung of the earth are too strong for Pharaoh a potent Prince: these vile and loathsome Creatures shall conquer a Nation of armed Men. When all Aegypt and any ground upon which an Aegyptian breath'd did swarm with Flies,* the Land of Goshen, a little spot of earth and in the middest of the Page  24 Countrey was not molested with any: Not with Flies which of all Creatures are most passeable and least to be resisted: Walls and Rivers, and Armies cannot oppose their motion, denie them en∣trance: And yet these active irrationall Creatures did not touch upon Goshen when they were round about it, they did know the people of God, and distinguish betwixt his Friends and Enemies. Read the 2. Cap. of Joel,* how a great and mightie people were prepared for battel, before whom the Land was as a garden of Eden, and behinde whom a desolate wildernesse. V. 3. They shall come as the noise of a flame of fire, and devoure men like stubble; V. 5. they shall march like strong men, & go forward in their way without resistance; V. 7. they shall fall upon the sword and not be wounded. V. 8. The earth shall tremble before them, and the Hea∣vens shake. V. 10. And yet this powerfull terrible Army, in the 25. V. consists only of Grashoppers,* and Caterpillars, vile despi∣sed wormes, which are strong to execute the word of God. V. 11. & are invincible Souldiers when the Lord of Hosts is Generall. What more contrary to good than evill? or what more opposeth happinesse than sinne?* Yet the evill of Joseph's brethren, God dis∣posed to good, and the greatest sinne that ever was, the Crucifying the Lord of life by the Divine Counsell produced the greatest blessing. Nay, the bitter waters shall be made sweet by salt, and the sacrifice shall burne when water is powred upon it:* our very afflictions as over mastered and rul'd by God have this injunction upon them to further our salvation: Our wounds are remedies, and those who contradict the precepts of the Almightie obey his Providence. Reasons may be these.

1. No meanes are Helpes to God.

The Lord of Hosts can conquer without an Army (Zach. 4.6. Neither by power nor might, but by his spirit he can subdue e∣very Mountaine of opposition) and bring about whatsoever he hath determined. Indeed in the ordinary course of Providence, second causes do concur, and in their spheare derive to every ef∣fect a proper vertue: Yet here also the God of Providence hath Page  25 the governing power; he is the Author of all the good which is produced, and may be said to work himself though with other meanes: For all the world of Creatures are but Instruments at the most such as contribute no assistance to the Almightie God; they depend upon him for their Being, they work by his conti∣nuall influence, and receive their ends from his eternall Order. The same reasons which moved God, to make the Creatures, move him still to use them, not necessitie or want of power, but love & goodnesse. Did he cast out Divels with his finger, Luke 1. and can he not beate down Men with his hand? Did he make the world when there was no help, and can he not rule the world without any help? Is his arme shortned who is omnipotent? or his Providence decayd who is wisdom it self? The shadow of Peter shall heale multitudes of all diseases, Act. 5.* And the letter Thau upon the foreheads of his people shall preserve them; Ezech. 9. God is not like the Children of Men, who can do nothing without their Tooles; he can work above meanes, and he can work against meanes: sometimes he disableth the greatest meanes, and sometimes he useth no meanes at all.

2. God can help the meanes.

He that can work without meanes, can improve and advance the weakest meanes, can raise and quicken every temper, and dis∣pose little occasions to great purposes. Luther an obscure Fryer, did shake the whole Kingdom of Hell and Antichrist, by whom God gave Truth a resurrection, & a conquest over heresie. The whole world against Athanasius, and Athanasius against it;* half a hundred of yeares spent in doubtfull triall, which of the two in the end would prevaile, the side which had all, or that part which had no Friend but God and Death. And to come a little nearer home, and it would be strange ingratitude in this place, to forget that general deliverance which this whole land obtain'd by the doubt∣full language of a few carelesse syllables:* And which is more to be ad∣mired, when the vault was ready, the powder laid, the trayne made, the match prepared, the Executioners of all bloudy in re∣solution Page  26 and in the rage of their Fury. Then the hand of God made a scrip of Paper to frustrate all the work, and to vanquish Rome and Hell it self:* we all know that Ezechias being sick unto death, was cured with a bunch of Figgs, which having a pecu∣liar Nature to drie Vlcers, in time would have Matured the Boyl; but the suddaine cure was the hand of God; if the Iron be blunt, God puts more strength unto it: If our gracious Creator will fa∣vour the building of the Temple, no raine shall fall for ten yeares space, in the day-time to hinder the workmen. The woman in the Revel. the Spouse of Christ shall be holpen by the Earth, the dullest of Elements, the basest of the people· Naaman shall be healed by the common waters of Jordan, the blinde-man cured by clay and spittle, Physick fitter in common reason to have de∣stroy'd the Eyes, than to have restored the sight. When God speaks terror, 300. Men shall vanquish a mightie Hoast, and emptie pitchers shall affright an Army as much as roring Cannons: Nay a blast, a rumor, a Fancy, shall overthrow the greatest power on earth; The Moabites had a Fancy that they saw the bloud of their Enemies, when they saw nothing but the sun shining in the water: And yet this Fancy was their overthrow,* 2. King. 3.22 So easy it is for God to raise strength out of weaknesse, to pull down the pride of flesh and bloud, and to make a shadow, a trifle the In∣strument of great Deliverance. And therefore,

1. Trust not in Meanes.

The way to have any thing taken from us, and not blest, is to trust in it, and depend too much upon it: The Prophet Ierem. is po∣sitive herein,* cursed be the Man who trusts in Man, and who maketh flesh his Arme. The reason followeth, and which draw∣eth his heart from God: For when we make flesh our arme, ac∣count it our support and strength, and relie upon it for delive∣rance. Our hearts are withdrawn and departed from the living God, we Deifie the Creature and as much as in us lies we unGod that Creator. The Lord himself in effect, speaks as much in his discourse with Gedeon, Iudg. 7. The people which are with thee Page  27 are too many for me to give the Midianites into their hands lest Israel make their vaunt against me, and say my hand hath saved me.*Self-sufficiency and Creature-confidence is of a vaunting and re∣bellious Spirit. It sets up it self, and De-thrones the Almightie. Woe to them, saith Isay. in the 31. C. that go down into Egypt for help, and trust in charets because they are many, and in horses because they are strong: And if you would know what this woe is, the Prophet will acquaint you in the 3. V. When the Lord shall stretch out his hand, the helper shall fall, and he that is holpen shall fall, and they shall all together faile. Curses and woes fol∣low them which rest in, and lean to earthly things, and the fruit of carnall confidence is destruction. Out of God there is nothing but the Creature, which is changeable, emptie, and insufficient, which borrowes all the worth it hath, and by very trusting in it, proves uncomfortable. How many Parents lose their children, by setting their hearts too much upon them? who miscarry oftner than Men of the greatest parts? Let us not therefore cry up the hands of Zerubbabel, nor the greatnesse of an Army, nor the wisdom of a Parliament, but let us exalt the power of the Almightie, adore his Providence, trust in his goodnesse; let every Christian endea∣vour to joyne his soule close unto God, and as it were to square it fit for him, to bring his trust only to the God of trust, and to set him in his own place, the highest in the heart. For the conjunction of the soule with God is the life thereof, and while we be care∣full to preserve that union, the Gates of Hell cannot prevaile a∣gainst us, we stand impregnable. But if the Divell come once be∣twixt God and our soules, and it is his greatest study so to Do. If the love of the creature and confidence therein make the least separation and unloose our hearts from their chiefest good, then our rock and sure footing is gone: we lie open to that roaring Lion and to those waters of iniquity, which will quickly sink us in per∣dition: Despaire, Idolatrie, Atheisme, and the whole bodie of sin have free passage into our soules: We cannot step from God, but Sathan steps to us; Every degree of departing from God is distrust and unbeliefe, and what will not an unbelieving heart commit?

Page  282. Serve Gods Providence in the use of meanes.

So far as God affords us helpes and meanes, we must not be wanting in our Dutie to actuat their power, and to employ them to the best advantage; we must go along with Providence, and serve occasion and opportunities, and be exactly carefull of all meanes,* although we must not trust in any. God promised Josuah, not to leave him nor forsake him, yet he bids him be strong and of a good courage: the Israelites must fight it out, when God had given the Enemy into their hands. Indeed sometimes he will have us only spectators of his Actions, he will tell Jehosaphat and the people of Judah,* they shall not need to fight in the battel; stand still, move not, and behold the salvation of the Lord towards you: when he is pleased to shew a strange deliverance, and to get honour in the confusion of his Enemies, as he did on Pharaoh in the red Sea;* then there shall be no concurse of second causes, he will fight himself, and do his own work with his own hands; but most commonly he requires the service of the Creatures, which he doth not want, and sets down a course of meanes which he will not alter; and then it concerns us to answer Providence with in∣dustrie, to put forth our strength, and to use such meanes as God vouchsafes. If we have the honour to be Gods Instruments, we must do the office of Instruments and be active: we must cast our care on God for the issue, but we must sweat our selves in the prosecution. Hell it self shall never prevaile against the flock of Christ,* yet they must strive to enter in at the narrow Gate, they must work out their own salvation with fear and trembling. Ele∣ction to the end, includes the meanes, & whosoever will be happy in another world, must first be good in this. Presumption is as dangerous as distrust, and he may justly lose the fruite of a happy end, who neglects the use of lawfull meanes.

3. Confide in God in the want of meanes.

It was a pious speech of Luther in an Epistle to Melancton, God is able to preserve his own cause from falling, or to raise it when it is Page  29 fallen, God is never more neere his people, than when deliverance seemes furthest off, they can be in no condition where he is at a stand and cannot help them. This war which, we think, will de∣voure us all, may be an Instrument of preservation as the whale which swallowed up Jonas,* was a meanes to bring him to the shoare. The depths of Mercy are beyond the depths of misery, and God hath his own ways of helping his Children, when all things else deny them help. The violence of the wind turn'd back the Darts of Bugenius his Armie into their own faces for the vi∣ctory of Theodosius.* A number of little fishes will come to feed the Rochellers in a hard siege. Moab and Ammon, the Enemies of Ju∣dah, shall destroy one another. So mightie is God in power, and ex∣cellent in working. Say that our sins are many and our transgres∣sions great, yet Gods mercys are more, and his glory will be greater in pardoning. No faults, can damme up the endles good∣nesse of the Almightie, we cannot offend so much as he can par∣don. Say that our enemies are many, and mightie, and cruell, yet Ahab with a few yong Men,* vanquished Benhadad's great Ar∣my, and 32 Kings with him. The Divell is stronger by Man's wickednesse than by his own power. Say what we can, and say the worst we can, that England is sore wounded, and poore Ire∣land is giving up the Ghost. Yet remember that Repentance pre∣serv'd Ninive which in 40 days was to be destroy'd,* that Fayth delivered Daniel out of the Lions mouth. That he, who will raise our bodies, can mend our worst condition. Was Abraham decei∣ved, who trusted in God for a Sonne against the course of Na∣ture? Or David, who being compassed about with the waters of affliction hoped for better times?* Or the 3 Children who beleev'd that God would deliver them out of the fiery furnace?*O Lord my God in thee have I put my trust, save me from all that persecute me and deliver me. And deliver us all he will, if we all pray unto him; for faithfull prayer is Omnipotent. And pray unto him we shall,* if we all trust in him, for trust is the roote and life of succesfull prayer: Let us all therefore Pray, and Trust, and Trust, and Pray, that our heavenly father would work a good understanding betwixt King Charles and his great Counsell, that he would look with the Eye of Page  30 compassion upon dying Ireland, that his mercyfull hand would make up the breaches of distracted England, that his goodnesse would take away the cause of all calamities, our many, and great, and crying sins. And after our prayers let us trust againe, that see∣ing it is all one with the Lord, to save with many or with few, to help with meanes or without meanes: He will in due time produce a sweet correspondence betwixt the King and people; he will deliver bleeding Ireland, out of the hands of bloudy Rebells. He will re∣store distressed England to a happy condition, he will pardon our iniquities, and remember them no more. Let us pray therefore, and trust continually, and let us never cease to trust and pray.