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A FUNERAL SERMON.
On the Death of the late MR. WILLIAM GREENFIELD, who departed this life Nov. 5, 1831. Preached at Jewin-street Chapel, on Sunday Morning, Nov. 27, 1831.
BY THOMAS WOOD.
PSALM XCVII. 2.-Clouds and darkness are round about him: righteousness and judgment are the habitation of his throne.
"CANST thou by searching find out God? canst thou find out the Almighty unto perfection? It is as high as heaven; what canst thou do! deeper than hell; what canst thou know? The measure thereof is longer than the earth, and broader than the sea. If he cut off, and shut up, or gather together, then who can hinder him?" Job xi. 7-10. When our meditations are directed to the grandeur of the Deity, we feel our incompetence to utter his praise, or to perceive the extent of his glory: the subject is too sublime for human comprehension, and too boundless for the powers of finite beings to grasp. When we descend, in our thoughts, from the Creator to his works, we find ourselves still on the mere threshold of inquiry, and possess but a small portion of discernment. With regard to the dispensations of providence," the Lord hath his way in the whirlwind and in the storm, and the clouds are the dust of his feet," Nahum i. 3. "O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! how unsearchable are his judgments, and his ways past finding out!" Rom. xi. 33. From whatever point we attempt to explore the Divine Being, -by whatever light we survey his moral government of the world,on whatever principles we proceed, in our researches respecting the operations of his hand or the counsel of his will,—we shall be brought to this conclusion: "Clouds and darkness are round about him."
Under these circumstances, therefore, we must ever console our minds with scriptural ideas of his rectitude, remembering the important fact, that "righteousness and judgment are the habitation of his throne." Hence, then, we are naturally conducted by our text to the OBSCURITY and the EQUITY of Divine providence.
Let us consider
I. Its OBSCURITY.
"Clouds and darkness are round about him." God possesses various attributes, with which, according to human perceptions, his moral government of the universe is scarcely compatible.
1. How is the permission of sin to be reconciled with His infinite purity?
Much has been said, and much has been written, on the introduction of moral evil into the world; but, after every attempt which has been made to render the subject pellucid, it still remains shrouded in mystery, and altogether inexplicable to the most capacious mind. In human polity, the maxim is as general as it is clear and judicious, that "prevention is better than cure;" and yet, under the immediate view of the Almighty, with all power in his hand, and every creature under his control, transgression was permitted to enter heaven, in the revolt of angels from their allegiance to God, and to defile the earth by the offence of man. Infinite Wisdom can never be taken by surprise, or have its plans defeated by stratagem; and an Omnipotent arm can never be repulsed by a power dependent upon itself for existence. When, therefore, we look at the entrance of sin into the world, with all its odious and desolating consequences, and behold it in connexion with our ideas of Divine purity, we are constrained to say of the Holy One of Israel," Clouds and darkness are round about him."
2. How are we to reconcile Divine beneficence with the aboundings of human misery?
Is it not written, "The Lord is good to all: and his tender mercies are over all his works?" Ps. cxlv. 9. Is it not also written, "Yet man is born unto trouble, as the sparks fly upward?" Job v. 7. Is it not written, "God is love?" 1 John iv. 8. Is it not also written, "The whole creation groaneth and travaileth in pain together until now?" Rom. viii. 22. In whatever state or department of life we find any portion of the human family, we behold it visited with scenes of woe: and the most upright persons are sometimes exposed to the greatest tribulations. When we observe Ahab on the throne of Israel, and Naboth stoned to death under a false accusation of blasphemy,-when we see Pashur in authority, and Jeremiah smitten and
put in the stocks as a criminal,—when we are told of an impious Herod in the robes of royalty, and John beheaded,—of Felix invested with power, and Paul in his presence, a captive in chains,-of Christ persecuted, and Pilate honoured,-of Dives living in luxury, and Lazarus feeding upon the mere crumbs of his table,-the voluptuous sinner riding in state to perdition, and the good man begging his way to glory,-sense is shaken, reason reels, faith staggers, hope droops, and fortitude itself appears dismayed at the sight. For, though sorrow is universal, it varies in its degrees; and where we should naturally expect its alleviation, it often presses with the greatest force, and produces the deepest wounds. Then it will be truly said of God, "Clouds and darkness are round about him."
3. How are we to reconcile the order or time of man's decease, with an arrangement of both his seasons and circumstances by unerring Wisdom?
Were the victims of death restricted to the aged, to the decrepit, to the worn-out sufferers whose lives had long been a burden to themselves, and painful to their dearest friends to behold their grievous afflictions ;—were they limited to the apparently useless members of the community, to lunatics, or to the nuisances and terrors of the civilized body;—we might immediately concur in the order of their decease, as wise and merciful. But what shall we say of the death of a much-beloved son on whom the surviving parent is dependent for support, and who fondly hoped his latter days would be soothed and blessed by the prompt attention of filial kindness? What shall we say, when " one dieth in his full strength, being wholly at ease and quiet his breasts are full of milk, and his bones are moistened with marrow and another dieth in the bitterness of his soul, and never eateth with pleasure?" Job xxi. 23-25. What shall we say, when the pious, the laborious, the judicious, and the indefatigable interpreter of Holy Writ, is summoned out of time into eternity at an early age; and sceptics in religion, and scoffers at sacred things, remain to diffuse their ruinous principles in the world-to loosen the bonds of human society, and to sever man from God? What shall we say to the anguish of the widow, and the tears of her defenceless orphans, from whom their nearest, dearest, and most deeply interested friend, in all that pertained to their happiness, has been prematurely removed by the hand of death; while others survive, whose mental and physical energies have been enfeebled by growing years and increasing infirmities, so as to render them totally incapable of active service, either for the benefit of themselves or their immediate connexions? On the one side, we are presented with life in all its vigour, in all its ardour, in all its capacities for general utility; but extinguished in a moment,
and every earthly prospect blighted by the sad catastrophe. On the part of the decrepit, who outlives the strong, his being is rather to be termed existence than life, because his days have become "labour and sorrow," Psalm xc. 10; labour without recompense, and sorrow without hope of an improved constitution. What then, shall we say to these things? Shall we not be silent, because God hath done it? Psalm xxxix. 9. Or if we open our mouths to speak upon the subject, must we not express ourselves in the language of the Psalmist, and with him declare respecting the ways of the Lord in the dispensations of his providence, "Clouds and darkness are round about him?" But while the ways of the Almighty are thus obscure to human minds, we must recollect
II. They are all founded in EQUITY. Righteousness and judgment are the habitation of his throne."
Even mercy itself, which has sometimes been termed “the darling attribute of God," cannot be shewn to man at the expense or sacrifice of truth. Hence the observation of the late Mr. Booth: when speaking of the reign of grace in our salvation, he says, "Her wonderful throne is erected, not on the ruins of justice, not on the dishonour of the law; but, on the BLOOD OF THE Lamb."*
When Abraham pleaded in behalf of Sodom, he was fully convinced that nothing vindictive could influence the conduct of the Almighty: his language was, "Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right?" Gen. xviii. 25. Whoever errs, God cannot be mistaken: whoever deviates from the line of perfect rectitude, God will not swerve from his immutable holiness: whoever presumes upon the discovery of confusion in the works and ways of the Lord, God will ultimately prove himself the God of order. Observe,
1. We are now placed in a state of probation, and have not arrived at the summit of our destiny.
This world is the mere commencement of our being, preparatory to another and a better condition in eternity. We are now under a course of discipline, as so many pupils; or under circumstances of conflict, as so many soldiers; or subjected to toil and changing seasons, as so many travellers; or limited to a certain regimen, as so many patients whose restoration to health requires the restrictions under which they are put.
Can we, then, suppose the existence of trials without inconvenience? or, can we expect our feelings to be consulted at the risk of our lives? Sense must give place to faith; and God must have
Booth's Reign of Grace, chap. ii. p. 14.