Great in counsel, and mighty in work: for your eyes are open on all the ways of the sons of men…
I. CONSIDER THE SUBJECT SPECULATIVELY.
1. My first proofs shall be taken from the nature of God. The nature of God proves that He is great in counsel. Consider the perfect knowledge that He hath of all possible beings, as well as of all the beings which do actually exist. The knowledge of all possible beings, diversified without end by the same intelligence that imagines them: What designs, or, as our prophet expresseth himself, What greatness of counsel doth it afford the Supreme Being? But let us not lose ourselves in the world of possible beings; let us confine our attention to real existences. I am willing even to reduce them to two classes. Let each of you imagine, as far as his ability can reach, how great the counsel of an intelligence must be, who perfectly knows all that can result from the various arrangements of matter, and from the different modifications of mind. The Supreme Being perfectly knows what must result from every different arrangement of the parts of bodies infinitely small; and He perfectly knows what must result from every different arrangement of the parts of bodies infinitely great. What treasures of plans! What myriads of designs! or, to use the language of my text, What greatness of counsel must this knowledge supply! But God knows spirits also as perfectly as He knows bodies. If He knows all that must result from the various arrangements of matter, He also knows all that must result from the different modifications of mind. Human spirits, of which we have but an imperfect knowledge, are thoroughly known to Him. He knows the conceptions of our minds, the passions of our hearts, all our purposes, and all our powers. But what is this object of the Divine knowledge? What is this handful of mankind, in comparison of all the other spirits that compose the whole intelligent world, of which we are only an inconsiderable part? God knows them as He knows us; and He diversifies the counsels of His own wisdom according to the different thoughts, deliberations, and wishes of these different spirits. We have proved then, by considering the Divine perfections, that God is great in counsel, and we shall endeavour to prove by the same method that He is mighty in work. These two, wisdom and power, are not always united; yet it is on their union that the happiness of intelligent beings depends. In God, the Supreme Being, there is a perfect harmony of wisdom and power: The efficiency of His will, and the extent of His knowledge are equal Carry your thoughts back into those periods in which the Perfect Being existed alone. Sound reason must allow that He hath so existed. What could then have been the rule or model of beings which should in future exist? The ideas of God were those models. And what could cause those beings, that had only an ideal existence in the intelligence of God, actually to exist out of it? The efficiency of His will was the cause. The will of the same Being then, whose ideas had been the exemplars, or models, of the attributes of creatures, caused their existence. The Supreme Being therefore, who is great in counsel, is mighty in work. This being granted, consider now the ocean of God's power, as ye have already considered the greatness of His counsel. God not only knows what motion of your brain will excite such or such an idea in your mind, but He excites or prevents that idea as He pleaseth, because He produceth or preventeth that motion of your brain as He pleaseth. God not only knows what objects will excite certain passions within you, but He excites or diverts those passions as He pleaseth. God not only knows what projects your passions will produce, when they have gained an ascendency over you, but He inclines you to form, or not to form, such projects, because, as it seems best to Him, He excites those passions, or He curbs them.
2. Let us take another method (and here I allege the second proof of the truth of my text, that is, the history of the world, or of the Church): Let us take, I say, another method of proving that God, who is great in counsel, is also mighty in work. What counsel can ye imagine too great for God to execute, or which He hath not really executed? Let the most fruitful imagination exert its fertility to the utmost; let it make every possible effort to form plans worthy of an infinite intelligence, it can invent nothing so difficult that God hath not realised.
(1) God hath the power of making the deepest of His children's afflictions produce their highest happiness.
(2) God establisheth His Church by the very means that tyrants use to destroy it.
(3) God turneth the victories of Satan to the ruin of his empire. Here fix your attention upon the work of redemption, for the perfections of God, which we celebrate to-day, are more illustriously displayed in it than in any other of the Creator's wonders.
II. CONSIDER THE GREATNESS OF GOD'S COUNSEL, AND THE OMNIPOTENCE OF HIS WORKING, IN A PRACTICAL LIGHT. When we have proved that God is great in counsel, and mighty in work, in my opinion, we have sufficiently shown, on the one hand, the extravagance of those madmen who pretend to exercise wisdom and understanding, and counsel against the Lord: and, on the other, the wisdom of those who, taking His laws for the only rules of their conversation, commit their peace, their lives, and their salvation, to the disposal of His providence. Only let us take care that we do not flatter ourselves into an opinion that we possess this wisdom while we are destitute of it: and let us take care, while we exclaim against the extravagance of those madmen, that we do not imitate their dangerous examples. But what! Is it possible to find, among beings who have the least spark of reason, an individual mad enough to suppose himself wiser than that God who is great in counsel, or, is there one who dare resist a God mighty in working? But who then, ye will ask me, who are those men, who presumptuously think of overcoming God by their superior knowledge and power? Who? It is that soldier, who, with a brutal courage, defies danger, affronts death, resolutely marches amidst fires and flames, even though he hath taken no care to have an interest in the Lord of hosts, or to commit his soul to His trust. Who? It is that statesman, who, despising the suggestions of evangelical prudence, pursues stratagems altogether worldly; who makes no scruple of committing what are called State crimes; who, with a disdainful air, affects to pity us, when we affirm that the most advantageous service that a wise legislator can perform for society is to render the Deity propitious to it; that the happiest nations are those whose God is the Lord. Who? It is that philosopher, who makes a parade of I know not what stoical firmness; who conceits himself superior to all the vicissitudes of life; who boasts of his tranquil expectation of death, yea, who affects to desire its approach, for the sake of enjoying the pleasure of insulting his casuist, who hath ventured to foretell that he will be terrified at it. Who? It is that voluptuary, who opposeth to all our exhortations and threatenings, to the most affecting denunciations of calamities from God in this life, and to the most awful descriptions of judgment to come in the next, to all our representations of hell, of an eternity spent in the most execrable company, and in the most excruciating pain; who opposeth to all these the buzz of amusements, the hurry of company, gaming at home or diversions abroad. Let us abhor this disposition of mind; let us entertain right notions of sin; let us consider him who commits it as a madman, who hath taken it into his head that he hath more knowledge than God, the fountain of intelligence, more strength than He beneath whose power all the creatures of the universe are compelled to bow. When we are tempted to sin, let us remember what sin is. Let each of us ask himself, What can I, a miserable man, mean? Do I mean to provoke the Lord to jealousy? Do I pretend to be stronger than He? Can I resist His will?
Parallel VersesKJV: Great in counsel, and mighty in work: for thine eyes are open upon all the ways of the sons of men: to give every one according to his ways, and according to the fruit of his doings: