The Ministry of Chance
1 Samuel 6:9
And see, if it goes up by the way of his own coast to Bethshemesh, then he has done us this great evil: but if not…

The world believes in chance, and without doubt there is some ground for its belief, but whether that ground constitutes a real foundation we may doubt. What does chance mean? It means that it is something which happens, falls out, without being foreseen or intended. Nothing happens unforeseen by the Great Mind that rules over all. All chance is "direction which thou canst not see;" but though we do not see it the direction was not the less there.

1. The doctrine of chance has been applied to the formation of the world. It has been said that the world is the result of the interaction of the atoms through all the past Eternity, at last falling by chance into an orderly arrangement. Let us suppose an immense number of alphabets were thrown together — a sufficient number of them, for instance, to make up the Bible, say a million of letters or so — and that someone were to be appointed to throw them up every second through a hundred million of years, is there any likelihood that they would come down once in such an order as to make the Bible, or a single book of the Bible, or a single chapter of the Bible, or a single verse? Never. Yet that is just what Lucretius supposed to happen with the making of the world from the interaction of the atoms. There must be intelligence; there must be design to elicit that which we call the world. The Greek word which we translate "world" signifies something arranged, something orderly, and hence beautiful.

2. Tendencies, that is, laws, are capable of being observed and provided for. And this is the great business of man, as Bacon observed, "Man the minister and interpreter of nature, does and understands as much as his observations on the order of nature, either with regard to things or the mind, permit him, and neither knows nor is capable of more." That is, he is to find out just what order that is which God has given to nature, and guide himself accordingly. If things were only to fall out by chance it would be utterly impossible to foresee or to guide ourselves in view of any event. If we found that the hard brick of today was soft as its original clay tomorrow, and that without any perceptible reason; or the strong timber was attacked with a weakness at varying and uncertain intervals; or that the slate which threw oft the rain of yesterday was become a sieve to the torrent of today; or that the window which was translucent had suddenly become opaque; if we could assign no reason for these sudden changes, and all other things were alike in this, we should be utterly incapable of any useful work. If the human mind were powerful enough to take in and calculate all the various forces which enter into the movements of each, it would be able to show the reasons for the slightest change in the direction and force of the wind, of the smallest flock of the cloud, and of every flash of the aurora of the north sky, and of every variation in the health of the hypochondriac. It is yet possible that science may be able to predict what was, in former days, only possible to prophecy.

3. But it may be asked, "What do you make of a miracle? Is not that such a breach of the order and continuity of nature as would be equivalent to the intrusion of chance?" We say no, for a miracle is only the operation of a higher law — it is only the result of the influence of the Great Mechanic, who, surely, should not be left out of our calculation of what is possible in this complex world of ours. Science should modestly admit that there may be direction which she cannot see — that there is a Providence "which shapes our ends, rough hew them as we will" — that outside the framework of nature there is an intelligent Mind, and that there may be reasons for its interference just as strong as those which operate on the factory director to mend a broken wheel or to reduce a too violent motion. This sphere, called in our imperfect vocabulary that of miracle, is far removed from that of chance, where uncertainty, doubt, and incapacity ever reign. But it may be suggested here that we should enter into some inquiry about prayer, and about its power to resist the usual order of nature, and thus, as it were, to set aside the government of law. Now, here I would say that, in connection with prayer, we must bear in mind that with its answer, in the Scriptures, the ministry of angels is closely associated. Verily, it is a poor science which takes cognizance alone of the seen and tangible, the weighable and measurable, while there are around us in the ambient ether, or within us in the recesses of the mind, the ministering spirits, "sent forth to minister to them who shall be heirs of salvation." But it is to be observed, that whatever is done by these ministering spirits, is done, not to the production of confusion in the world, but in entire accordance with the lower laws which science observes. To our thought there can be no disorder introduced, when the superior forces are taken into account. Let us take the case of the resurrection of Christ. Science, which took no account of the Spirit of holiness, no account of the Spirit of God with which He was filled above measure, said it was not possible that He should rise again; but the Apostle tells us, it was not possible that He should be holden of death. God was in Him with such presence and power that death was overcome, and life, violently taken away, was restored. Without the Divine power in Christ, the scientific men of the day were perfectly right in assuming the impossibility of the resurrection; but (and here is no chance, but the presence of mighty cause) they were all astral in thinking that there was no resurrection for Him. It was absolutely certain that He should rise again; there was a cause mightier than death operating to His restoration. All this is certainly according to law, as Paul says: "The law of the spirit of life in Christ Jesus hath made me free from the law of sin and death." It may be observed that, at least, in those cases which have been dwelt upon by pious persons as answers to prayers, naturalists have invariably reasoned that the same results would have happened without the intervention of prayer at all — which means that they, at least, did not find that any disorder occurred by any power which prayer exercised. These interventions in answer to prayer, by angelic agency or otherwise, seem to give no reason to affirm that chance has any scope or play in the world. This being understood, we may also say a word regarding the frequency of such spiritual agency's operations. Are they of frequent, or only of casual and fitful occurrence? Were they confined to Palestine and prophetic periods, or are they in operation at all times and spheres of the world? It reply, we say, without doubt, they are always working as they are always living, and working according to law, that is, according to the direction of God. But we may surely affirm that they do not interfere with any law of nature, nor are they to be relied on in answer to any prayer offered up to guard us against calamities which we might have avoided, or which we have brought on ourselves by want of proper foresight.

4. There being no such thing, then, as chance, and no violation of the laws of matter by higher power, it is clearly our duty to know what those laws are — especially those which regulate the business, trade, profession, or calling of each. It may be that, after we have done our best, we shall still be ignorant of many things which it greatly concerns us to know, our ignorance of the same bringing to us loss, disaster, even death. But that we might, by exercising foresight, avoid great calamities is certain. One-half, two-thirds, three-fourths of the accidents that occur, destructive of life and limb, should have been avoided. Why should scaffolds be continually falling, dashing human beings to the earth shattered corpses, when a rope of sufficient thickness, or a pole of sufficient firmness, would have prevented the catastrophe? Why should the shop fall under its load, when a trifling bond would have hem its walls perpendicular? Why should a house be burned, when a little care would have cured a defective flue? Why should the ship sink in the ocean, when a good lookout would have avoided collision with the iceberg or the other ship crossing the course. Be it observed, not one of these nor similar accidents but might have been foreseen and prevented. In every case the material employed followed explicitly the laws of its own being. The falling scaffold, the sinking building, the burning city, all took place according to law. When any great disaster happens to a building, we cannot, on that account, say that Heaven is enraged against it, or that it is a judgment on it for the immoralities there nurtured. The judgment is against the folly, the perverseness, the sin of imprudence, carelessness, want of foresight, or wickedness implied in the faulty construction for the sake of gain. Say not that those on whom the tower of Siloam fell were greater sinners than the others in Jerusalem on whom no such judgment came. What we are concerned with is the vast importance of prudence and care in regard to every building where human lives might, with such provision, be imperilled.

5. But still there is one thought which it is important for us to impress upon you. Place yourselves in no peril to which duty does not call — nay, let us broaden the injunction, walk in no path to which duty does not beckon the way, though absolutely safe. We have no promise that we shall have safety save in the paths of right — nay, not even of bodily safety there. Though the outer man perish the inner man will live unhurt amid the war of elements, the wrack of matter, and the crash of worlds.

(J. Bonnet, D. D.)

Parallel Verses
KJV: And see, if it goeth up by the way of his own coast to Bethshemesh, then he hath done us this great evil: but if not, then we shall know that it is not his hand that smote us; it was a chance that happened to us.

WEB: Behold; if it goes up by the way of its own border to Beth Shemesh, then he has done us this great evil: but if not, then we shall know that it is not his hand that struck us; it was a chance that happened to us."

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