Many, O LORD my God, are thy wonderful works which thou hast done, and thy thoughts which are to us-ward: they cannot be reckoned up in order unto thee: if I would declare and speak of them, they are more than can be numbered.
~ Psalm 40:5
How precious also are thy thoughts unto me, O God! how great is the sum of them! If I should count them, they are more in number than the sand: when I awake, I am still with thee.
~ Psalm 139:17-18
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!
~ Romans 11:33
And that he might make known the riches of his glory on the vessels of mercy, which he had afore prepared unto glory,
~ Romans 9:23
The Righteous Man’s Refuge, by John Flavel. The following contains Chapter Seven of his work.
Opening that glorious attribute of Divine Wisdom, as a second chamber of security to the saints in difficult times.
Sect. I. The next chamber of Divine protection into which I shall lead you is the infinite wisdom of God; I call it the next, because I so find it placed in scripture, Job 36:5. “He is mighty in power and wisdom.” Dan. 2:20. “Wisdom and might are his.”
This attribute may be fitly called the council-chamber of heaven, where all things are contrived in the deepest wisdom, which are afterwards wrought in the world by power, Eph. 1:11. “He worketh all things after the counsel of his own will.” Counsel in the creature implies weakness and defect; we are not able at one thought to fathom the depth of a business, and therefore must deliberate and spend many thoughts about it, and when we have spent all our thoughts, we are oft-times at a loss, and must borrow help, and ask counsel of others; but in God it notes the perfection of his understanding, for as those acts of the creature which are the results of deliberation and counsel, are the height and top of all rational contrivement; so in its accommodation to God, it notes the excellent results of his infinite and most perfect understanding.
Now this wisdom of God is to be considered either absolutely or relatively.
1. Absolutely in itself, and so it is, That whereby he most perfectly and exactly knows himself, and all things without himself, ordering and disposing them in the most convenient manner, to the glory of his own name.
Wisdom comprehends two things, 1. Knowledge of the nature of things which, in the creature, is called science. 2. Knowledge how to govern, order and dispose them, which, in the creature, is called prudence; these things in a man are but faint shadows of that which is in God, in the most absolute perfection; he fully knows himself, for his understanding is infinite, Psal. 147:5. and the thoughts he thinks towards us, Jer. 29:11. And as he perfectly understands himself, so likewise all things that are without himself, Acts 15:18. “Known unto God are all his works from the beginning of the world.” Together with all the secret designs, thoughts, and purposes which lie hid from all others, in the inmost recesses of men’s hearts, Psal. 139:2.
And as he perfectly knows all things, so he fully understands how to govern and direct them to the best end, even the exalting of his own praise, Psal. 104:24. Rom. 11:36. “For of him, and through him, and to him are all things:” of him, as the efficient cause: through him as the conserving cause: and to him as the final cause. And in this wise disposition of all things, he hath a gracious respect to the good of his chosen, Rom. 8:28. “All things shall work together for good to them that love God.” More particularly, the wisdom of God is to be considered by us in its excellent properties, among which these four following are eminently conspicuous, as it is the
3. Perfect, and
4. Only wisdom.
1. The wisdom of God is the original wisdom, from which all the wisdom found in angels or men is derived, and into that fountain we are directed to go for supplies of wisdom, James 1:5. “If any man lack wisdom, let him ask it of God.” There is indeed a spirit in man, but it is the inspiration of the Almighty that giveth understanding, Job 32:8. The natural faculty is ours, but the illumination thereof is God’s, the understanding of the creature is the dial, which signifies nothing till the sun shine upon it.
2. God’s wisdom is essential wisdom. Wisdom in the creature is but a quality separable from the subject; but in God it is his nature, his very essence, he can as soon cease to be God as to be most wise.
3. The wisdom of God is perfect wisdom, full of itself, and exclusive of its contrary; the wisest of men are not wise at all times; the greatest wits are not without some mixture of madness; it is an high attainment in human wisdom to understand our own weakness and folly; the deepest heads are but shallows, but the wisdom of God is an unsearchable depth, Rom. 11:33. “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!”
4. To conclude, the wisdom of God is the only wisdom: there is no wisdom without him, none against him, he is the only wise God, Jude, ver. 25.
2. The wisdom of God must be considered relatively, and that in a double respect:
1. To his promises.
2. To his providences.
Sect. II. Let us view it in its relation to the promises, where you shall find it made over by God to his people for divers excellent uses and purposes in times of distress and danger. As,
1. It was made over to them in promises for their direction and guidance when they knew not what to do, or which way to take. So Psal. 25:9. “The meek will he guide in judgment, and the meek will he teach his way:” and Isa. 58:11. “The Lord shall guide thee continually;” and Psal. 33:8. “I will guide thee with mine eye.” And with this the Psalmist encourages himself, Psal. 73:24. “Thou shalt guide me with thy counsel, and. afterwards receive me to glory.” O what an invaluable mercy is this! we should make shipwreck both of our temporal and eternal mercies quickly, were it not for the guidance of Divine wisdom.
2. To extricate them when involved in difficulties. So 2 Pet. 2:9. “The Lord knoweth how to deliver the godly out of temptation.” They know not how, but their God doth; they are often at a loss, but he is never. So 1 Cor. 10:13. “There hath no temptation taken you, but such as is common to man, but God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that which you are able, but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that ye may be able to bear it.”
3. To over-rule and order all their troubles to their good and real advantage. So runs that most comprehensive promise, Rom. 8:28. “All things shall work together for good to them that love God.” In the faith whereof Paul concludes, Phil. 1:19. Even this shall work for his salvation. Thus the people of God were sent into captivity for their good, Jer. 24:8. and Joseph into Egypt, Gen. 1:20. “Ye thought evil against me, but God meant it unto good, to bring to pass as it is this day, to save much people alive.”
2. Let us view the wisdom of God in its relation to his providences, for there it shines forth eminently, Ezek. 1:18. The wheels were full of eyes, i.e. the motions and providential revolutions in this lower world are very judicious and advised motions; Non cæco impetu volvuntur rotæ; it hath an end and design which no man understands till it open itself in the event.
The enemies of the church are oft-times men of the finest brains and deepest policies: Herod a fox for subtlety, Luke 13:32. Julian and Ahithophel, with many others, who have digged as deep as hell in their counsels, and laid their designs so sure that they doubted not to be masters of it; yet their hands could not perform their enterprize.
The wisdom of providence has still befooled them, and baffled the cunningest head-pieces that ever undertook any design against the church, as fast as ever they arose; and here the wisdom of providence is remarkable in three things especially.
1. In revealing and discovering the secret conspiracies and counsels of the church’s enemies, and thereby frustrating their designs, Gen. 27:41, 42. Providence (as one calls it) is the bird of the air, that carries tidings, and whistles deeds of darkness; Job 12:22. “He discovereth deep things out of darkness, and bringeth out to light the shadow of death.” And this God hath done both immediately and mediately. 1. Immediately, 2 Kings 6:11. What counsel soever the king of Syria took in his bed-chamber was still discovered by the word to the prophet. So true is that, Job 34:22. “There is no darkness nor shadow of death where the workers of iniquity may hide themselves.” Thus the design of Herod is revealed to Joseph in a dream.
But commonly he doth it by means; as,
1. By giving knowledge of it to some that are under obligations of duty or affection to reveal it to those that are concerned in the danger. So Paul’s sister’s son, Acts 23:16 revealed the conspiracy against his life, and so the plot miscarried by revealing it before it was ripe for execution.
2. By the failure of some circumstance, the whole is brought to light; there be many fine threads upon which the designs of politicians hang; if one break, the whole design is unravelled. Thus the wisdom of God sometimes prevents his people’s ruin, by taking away the speech of the trusty from him, and making their own tongues to fall upon themselves.
3. By their own confession, so Psal. 64:5, 6, 7, 8. where you have the plot laid, ver. 5. “They encourage themselves in an evil matter, they commune of laying snares privily, they say, who shall see them?” The deep contrivance of it, ver. 6. “They search out iniquity, they accomplish a diligent search, both the inward thought of every one of them, and the heart is deep.” Their plot destroyed, ver. 7. “But God shall shoot at them with an arrow, suddenly shall they be wounded.” The method or way of providence in destroying it, ver. 8. “So they shall make their own tongue to fall upon themselves, all that see them shall fly away.” Thus hath the wisdom of our God wrought for us this day, beyond all the thoughts of our hearts; and oh that it might make such impressions upon all our hearts, as follow in ver. 9, 10. “All men shall fear, and shall declare the work of God, for they shall wisely consider his doing. The righteous shall be glad in the Lord, and shall trust in him, and all the upright in heart shall glory.”
2. The wisdom of God discovers itself in behalf of that people who are his own, in diverting the danger from them, and putting by the deadly thrusts their enemies make at them; thus it spoils their game by an unforeseen rub in the green, and that especially three ways.
1. By making their counsels to jar among themselves, in which jars is the sweetest harmony of providence; thus the counsel of Ahithophel jars with the counsel of Hushai, 2 Sam. 17:5, 7. by which means David escaped: The Pharisees clashed with the Sadducees, Acts 23:7. and by that means Paul escaped.
2. By cutting out other work, and starting some new design, which puts them, as a fresh scent does the dog, to a loss. Thus the people of God in Jerusalem were delivered by a diversion, 2 Kings 19:7. “Behold, I will send a blast upon him, and he shall hear a rumour and shall return to his own land, and I will cause him to fall by the sword in his own land: so Rabshakeh returned.” By this means also was David delivered from the hand of Saul, 1 Sam. 23:27. And in this method of providence, that scripture is often fulfilled, Prov. 21:18. “The wicked shall be a ransom for the righteous, and the transgressor for the upright.”
3. By cutting off the capital enemies of his church, by whose seasonable destruction they are delivered. Thus fell Julian, that bitter enemy of the Christians, when he was preparing to put his last and most bloody design against them in execution. And thus fell Haman, Nero, and many more in the very height and heat of their designs against the church.
4. The wisdom of God gloriously displays itself in causing the designs of the wicked, like a surcharged gun, to recoil upon and destroy themselves: it often falls out with the undermining enemies of the church, as it sometimes doth with them that dig deep mines in the earth, who are destroyed and buried in their own works, Psal. 9:15, 16. “The Heathen are sunk down in the pit that they made, in the net which they hid is their own feet taken. The Lord is known by the judgments which he executeth, the wicked is snared in the work of his own hands. Higgajon, Selah.” There is a double mercy in this providence, one in delivering the saints from the danger, the other in causing it to fall upon the contrivers, and is therefore celebrated with a double note of attention: in these observable strokes, the righteousness of God shines forth in repaying his people’s enemies in their own coin.
Thus Haman did eat the first-fruits of that tree which his own hands planted, and thus Jerusalem becomes a burdensome stone to all that burden themselves with it, Zech. 12:3.
4. Admire and adore the wisdom of your God in those great and unexpected advantages, which arise to you out of those very dangers and designs of your enemies that threatened your ruin; the hands of your very enemies are sometimes made the instruments of your advancement and enlargement; your persecutions become your privileges, the motto of the palm-tree fitly becomes yours, Suppressa resurgo. In three things the wisdom of God makes advantage out of your troubles.
1. In fortifying your souls and bodies with suitable strength, when any eminent trial is intended for you; so it was with the apostles, 2 Cor. 1:5. “As the sufferings of Christ abound in us, so our consolation by Christ.” God lays in suitably to what men lay on mercilessly: Christ would not draw the poor timorous disciples out of Jerusalem unto hard encounters, until first he had endued them with power from on high, Luke 24:49.
2. The wisdom of your God can, and often doth make your very troubles and sufferings, instead of so many ordinances, to strengthen your faith and fortify your patience. So the heads of Leviathan became meat to his people inhabiting the wilderness, Psal. 74:14. And so the plots of Balak and Balaam were designed by God to be as a standing instructing ordinance for the encouragement of his people’s faith in future difficulties, Mic. 6:5. “O my people, remember now what Balak king of Moab consulted, and what Balaam the son of Beor answered him from Shittim unto Gilgal, that ye may know the righteousness of the Lord.” q. d. You cannot but remember how those your enemies courted me with multitudes of offerings to deliver you up into their hands, and how faithfully I stood by you in all those dangers; that plot discovered at once the policy of your enemies, and the righteousness of your God.
3. His wisdom is discovered to your advantage, in permitting your dangers to grow to an extremity, on purpose to magnify his goodness, and increase your comfort in your deliverance from it. Psal. 126:1. “When the Lord turned our captivity, we were as them that dreamed.” Proportionable to the greatness of your dangers will your joys be.
Section III. Well then, if the wisdom of God shines forth so gloriously in the times of his people’s trouble, be persuaded by faith to enter into this chamber also; it is a chamber where a believing soul may enjoy the sweetest rest and quietness in the most hurrying and distracting times; shut the door behind you, and improve this attribute to your best advantage.
1. Enter into this chamber by faith, believe firmly that the management of all the affairs of this world, whether public or personal, is in the hands of your all-wise God; more particularly, exercise your faith about the wisdom of God in these things:
1. Believe that the wisdom of God can contrive and order the way of your escape and deliverance, when all doors of hope are shut up to sense and reason; we know not what to do, said good Jehoshaphat, but our eyes are unto thee; q. d. Lord, though I am at a loss, and see no way of escape, thou art never at a loss. The Lord, (saith Peter) knoweth how to deliver the godly out of temptation: Divine Wisdom hath infinite methods and ways of deliverance unknown to man, till they are opened in the event.
2. Believe that the wisdom of God can turn your greatest troubles and fears into the choicest blessings and mercies to you: I know (saith Paul) that this shall turn to my salvation, Phil. 1:19. meaning his bonds and sufferings for Christ. Divine wisdom can give you honey out of the carcase of the lion, cause you to part with those afflictions, admiring and blessing God for them, which you met with fear and trembling, as suspecting your destruction was imported in them.
3. In consideration of both these, resign up yourselves to the wisdom of God, and lean not to your own understandings: “Commit thy way unto the Lord, and thy thoughts shall be established,” Prov. 16:3. When Melancthon was oppressed with cares and doubts about the distracting affairs of the church in his time, Luther thus chides him out of his despondency, Desinat Philippus esse rector mundi, do not thou presume to be the governor of the world, but leave the reins of government in his hands that made it, and best knows how to rule it: let God alone to chuse thy lot and portion, to order thy condition, and manage all thy affairs, and let thy soul take its rest in this quiet chamber of Divine Wisdom. But then,
2. Be sure to shut thy door behind thee, and beware, lest unbelief, anxieties, fears, and doubts, creep in after thee to disturb thy rest, and shake thy faith in this point; we are apt, in two cases, to be stumbled in this matter.
1. When subtle and cunning enemies are engaged against us; this was David’s case, 2 Sam. 15:31. “One told David, saying, Ahithophel is among the conspirators with Absalom; and David said, O Lord, I pray thee, turn the counsel of Ahithophel into foolishness.” When he heard Ahithophel was with the conspirators, it greatly puzzled him. Though a whole conclave of politicians be against us, yet if God be with us, let us not fear.
2. When our own reason intrudes too far, and offers its dictates too boldly in the case, we are apt to say in the arrogancy of our own reason, we cannot be delivered; but oh that we would learn to resign it up to the wisdom of God. The Lord knows how to deliver the godly. When the question was asked the prophet, Ezek. 37:3. Can these dry bones live? he answers, Lord, thou knowest. That is excellent counsel, Prov. 3:5. “Trust in the Lord with all thine heart; and lean not to thine own understanding.”
3. Improve the wisdom of God for yourselves in all difficult and distressful cases.
1. Beg of God to exercise his wisdom for you, when enemies conspire against you: so did David, 2 Sam. 15:31. “Lord, turn the counsel of Ahithophel into foolishness!” Oh it is the noblest and surest way to vanquish an enemy: it was but asked and done.
2. Comfort yourselves with this whenever you are at a loss in your own thoughts, and know not what to do, then commit all to Divine conduct; let God steer for you in a storm; he loves to be trusted, Psal. 37:5. “Commit thy way unto the Lord, trust also in him, and he shall bring it to pass.”
3. Encourage yourselves from this when the church is in the greatest danger, and most sorely shaken; O that is a blessed promise, Zech. 3:9. “Upon one stone shall be seven eyes.” Meaning Christ, and the church built on him as the chief corner-stone; the seven eyes are the seven eyes of providence, which are never all asleep.