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The Jews often plotted against our Saviour Chrisr, and attempted to kill him, John X. They came so near to the execution of their bloody design, as to take up stones to çast at him, and knock him down ; and to bring him to the side of an high mountain to throw him headlong: but he always escaped out of their hands, and passed through the midst of them without any harm. It was impossible for them to lay hold of him, when they had undertaken and resolved it. The reason which the Spirit of God gives, is, because that “his hour was not yet come,” John yii. 18.
. The high priests and the Sadducees were inflamed with a hellish fury against the holy apostles: they laid hands on them, and cast them into the public prisons, Acts v. But because the time of their martyrdom appointed by God was ņot yet come, he sent his holy angels to free them from their chains, and set them at liberty. When Herod saw that the Jews thirsted for the blood of God's servants, the apos, tles, Acts xii. and that they delighted in their execurion, he cut off the head of James; afterwards he took Peter, clapped him in prison, and delivered him to four quaternions of soldiers, with intention to bring him to execution after the feast of Easter. But the hour was not yet come in which his holy apostle was to be crucified for the glory of him who was crucified for his salvation. Therefore the night imme. diately, before his designed execution, Peter was sleeping between two soldiers, bound with two chains, and the keepers before the door. On a sudden a great light shined in the prison, and the angel of the Lord came and smote him on the side, and raised him up, saying, “ Arise up quickly;" and his chains fell from his hands, and the angel said unto him,“ Gird thyself, and bind on thy sandals ;” and so he did: Then he saith unto him,“ Cast thy garments about thee, and follow me; and he went out and followed him, and be knew not that it was true which was done by the angel, but thought he had seen a vision. But when they were past
the the first and second ward, they came to the iron gate, which opened of its own accord; and when they were passed through one street, the angel departed from him: then Peter being come to bimself, said, Now I know of surety, that the Lord hath sent his angel, and hach delivered me out of the hands of Herod, and from all the expectation of the people of the Jews.”
In short, when the hour is not yet come, which God has marked out, and appointed to take unto himself his faithful servants, there is no miracle so great but he will shew it for their sake; he dries up the seas, he stops the lions' mouths, he denies to the fire its usual heat, he keeps them alive in the midst of the floods and flames, in the whale's belly, in the fiery furnaces, and in the deepest gulfs.
If we did but examine the memorials of our forefathers, and consider the things that we have seen with our eyes, and experienced from our infancy, we should find, that the means which God had employed, and which he does daily employ, for our deliverance, are no less wonderful than those of former ages. God's arm is not shortened, his almighty power is not lessened; he hath yet as much authority as ever, over men and devils; and divine Providence is no less watchful for the preservation of such as fear and worship him. If we had the eye of the soul as open as the eyes of our body, or if we could but perceive the things that are of themselves invisible, we should see, that God looks upon us continually with the eye of his love, and of his fatherly care ; and that he covers us with his hand, as with a buckler of proof, against all the darts of the world and of bell; we should see, tliat we are encompassed about with a wall of fire, and that the holy angels guard us on every side. We should then acknowledge, that it is God who holdeth our soul in life, and suffereth not our feet to be moved, Psa. lx. And we should cry out as David, “O
God, God, who is like unto thee? Thou which hast shewed me great and sore troubles, shalt quicken me again, and bring me. up again from the depths of the earth: thou shalt increase my greatness, and comfort me on every side,” Psa. Ixxi.
Although this wholesome and most useful doctrine be plainly taught in holy writ, and sufficiently confirmed by so many examples out of the word of God, some there are that oppose it with many needless objections.
In the first place, they say, that God promiseth length of days to such children as are obedient to their fathers and mothers ; from whence they think to infer that our life hath no certain time limited, that it is prolonged or shortened, as we prove obedient or disobedient to God and his holy laws.There is no difficulty to give an answer to this objection.
That in the language of the Holy Spirit, the word that siga nifies there to prolong, signifies not always to make a thing longer than it was, or should be, but only to make it of a long continuance. So that God promises not here, that the children who shall obey his sacred laws shall enjoy a longer life than otherwise it ought to be, but only that he will do them the favour to let them live long and happy in this world. We may prove this exposition by St. Paul's words, who paraphrases the first commandment of the second table in this manner, “ Children, obey your fathers and mothers in the Lord, for it is just : Honour thy father and thy mother, which is the first commandment with promise, that it may be well with thee, and that thou mayest live long upon the earth.”—This promise is to be understood with some exception; if God should judge it expedient for his glory, and for the good of his children: for there are many pious and obedient children, whom God withdraws out of the world in the flower of their age, to give them an happy life, which shall have no other limits than eternity,
In the next place, they allege the remarkable history of king Hezekiah, unto whom Isaiah was sent with this mese sage, “ Set thine house in order, for thou shalt die, and not. live.”. Nevertheless, God was entreated by his prayers and, tears, and prevailed upon to suffer him to live longer. Therefore the prophet told him, that God had added fifteen years to his days. . To this objection I answer :
· That, according to the ordinary course of the world, and the disposition of the natural causes, Hezekiah was to die of that disease ; for the scripture saith expressly, that Hezekiah was sick unto death; that is to say, that his disease was mortal in regard of the second causes, and the ordinary course of nature. Therefore these words, “Set thine house in order, for thou shalt die, and not live,” ought to be understood with this exception: Thou shalt die, if I do not deliver thee by a miracle, and if I do not employ mine almighty power to heal thee, and restore thee to thy former health.
This may be also understood in another manner: Thou shalt die, if thou dost not repent, and turn unto me with prayers and tears. In the same sense God caused it to be proclaimed in the streets of Nineveh, “ Within forty days Nineveh shall be destroyed.”
Let not any man conclude from hence, that Hezekiah's repentance was the cause of the lengthening of his days, and therefore that it was a casualty very uncertain. On the çontrary, we may understand, that God, who had appointed, by his eternal decree, that this wise and religious prince should live beyond the disposition of his body, had also resolved to draw from his heart sighs and groans, and tears from his eyes; for God knew all his works from eternity, Acts i.
Others argue against this doctrine, more impertinently,
That That if God had numbered our days, and prescribed our life its bounds, it is in vain to take so much pains, and to make so much ado about our bodies distempered with sickness ; and that it is to little purpose to administer aay remedy to them, or to pray for the recovery of their health. In like manner such may affirm, that it is to no purpose to eat or drink, and to hinder mad persons from casting themselves down a precipice, or from swallowing poison, because they shall live neither more nor less than God hath ordained from all eternity. This objection may seem very plausible at first, although it be most absurd, and so foolish that it must needs proceed from great ignorance or malice; for it is not to be doubted, that when any one aims at an end, he designs and supposes by consequence to attain unto it by the ordinary means. For example, God had appointed in his eternal cour:sel to preserve Jacob and his family from that famine which raged the space of seven years: in order urto that end, he sends Joseph into Egypt, to gather up provision the seven years of plenty. Isaiah the prophet had told Hezekiah, from God, that he should live the space of fifteen years more; therefore he commanded him to apply to this prince's sores and boils a lump of dried figs. God had promised to David, that he should be king over the house of Israel; to confirm this promise, he had been anointed with oil by tlie prophet Samuel. This promise doth not hinder him from seeking the means to preserve himself from Saul's unjust persecution. And when Nathan tells him, that God had promised to establish his posterity upon his throne after him, this doth not stop his prayers, or cool his devotion : on the contrary, it was that which quickened him the more, and inflamed his soul with love and thankfulnessto God; therefore he expresseth himself in this manner, « O Lord of hosts, God of Israel, thou hast revealed to thy servant, saying, I will build thee an house ; therefore hath thy servant found in his heart to pray this prayer unto thee," &c. 2 Sam. vii.