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SECRET THINGS BELONG TO GOD.
DEUTERONOMY XXIX. 29.
“ The secret things belong to the Lord our God; but those things
which are revealed belong unto us and to our children for ever, that we may do all the words of this law."
In this chapter, Moses solemnly reminds the Israelites of the wonderful works which they had seen accomplished by the hand of God, and urges them, as powerful motives to faithful obedience. In the succeeding paragraph, he foretels the miserable destruction which would follow their disobedience, in the most affecting language, and thus warns them not to disobey. Both subjects, he knew, would naturally excite in their minds, and in those of their posterity, many curious inquiries,
many dangerous speculations, concerning the designs and providence of God. In the text, therefore, he prohibits all these useless and pernicious wanderings of an unsatisfied and too inquisitive mind, and the doubts, the unbelief, the murmuring, and the revolt, to which they regularly give birth in sinful men. Secret things, he informs them, universally belong to God; but things revealed, to men
This singular and important declaration of Moses is not less necessary to us than it was to the Israelites; nor are we less
prone than they were to the vain and mischievous investigations which it forbids. We may, therefore, well employ our time in considering its import, and in endeavouring to bring it home to our hearts. To aid those who hear me in the performance of this duty, is the design of the following discourse.
In the accomplishment of this design, I shall attempt to show,
I. In what sense secret things belong to God.
III. The end, for which God has made this prescription known to mankind.
I. I shall attempt to show the import of the declaration, that secret things belong to God.
The phrase “ secret things” naturally includes and denotes whatever is concealed from the eye of man.
In the text, however, it is by being opposed to things revealed, limited to a narrower sense, and denotes only those things, which might be expected in a revelation from God, but which were yet withheld by design. They are, therefore, such things as respect the great subjects of revelation; the character and pleasure of God, and the faith, duty, and salvation of man. It is to be observed, that all things which God withholds, he withholds of design, neither negligence nor accident being applicable to him.
Of these things, it is said, that they belong to God. By this is intended, that, having retained them in his own possession, and not communicated them to mankind, they are his property only. Whoever, therefore, attempts to intermeddle with them, either by making them objects of his faith, rules of his duty, or means or sources of his salvation, plainly intrudes into his possessions ; occupies that which God has purposely withheld from him; and acts, of course, not in conformity, but in opposition to the divine will. = 54
II. I shall attempt to show what is intended by the declaration, that things revealed belong to men.
By things revealed, I intend whatever is communicated in the Scriptures, whether expressly, or by fair and necessary implication. The things, expressly communicated in the Scriptures, are those which are contained in the fair, natural, and obvious sense of the expressions ; the sense which arises, when the words are allowed to speak for themselves what they most naturally mean, and are not strained to mean more; neither abridged of their full import, and so made to mean, less; nor perverted, and so made to mean some other thing than that which is conveyed in their natural meaning; when they are not compelled to support an opinion or system which we love, or to oppose one which we hate; but are permitted to declare what God intended they should declare. This meaning will usually be found by him, who, with a competent knowledge of language, and a willingness to receive the truth of God, whatever it is, comes to the Bible to learn what is contained in it, and to form his opinions out of its declarations ; but will be very often missed by him, who resorts to it to gain support for a preconceived doctrine or system.
Things revealed are further those very things, and those only, which are declared concerning any subject. If God has chosen to reveal any doctrine partially, and to disclose only certain things. pertaining to it, then these are the only revealed things which concern this doctrine. We, perhaps, may imagine, that other things are necessary to finish the proper scheme of this doctrine, and to make it more rational, consistent, and satisfactory; and may endeavour to supply the defect by eking out the Revelation with additional opinions of our own. What we have thus added, we may fondly believe to be a proper part of the doctrine revealed. But nothing can be more delusive. The clay, which we endeavour thus to unite with the iron, will never cohere; but, however ingeniously moulded, and however carefully conjoined, will still be clay, brittle and perishing
With regard to doctrines implied in Scriptural expressions, I shall only observe that they must be clearly and certainly implied. When the inference is clear and immediate, or evinced by a very short and obvious train of reasoning, it may be generally received with safety ; but when the links are many, and the chain long, there will almost always be danger. Long courses of even mathematical reasoning will often be deceptive; how much more exposed we are to error in our moral reasoning, I need not explain.
Things revealed are said, in the text, to belong to men. By this I understand, that they are our possession and property, given to us by God for our use, direction, and benefit. They are intended to be the objects of our faith, the rules of our duty, and the means of our salvation. These are the ends, for which the revelation, in which they are contained, declares them to have been revealed : they are therefore the true ends, and are to be regarded as such in all our conduct. Whenever they are pursued by us, we conform to the will of God: whenever they are neglected, we disobey it.
As the things which are revealed, are the rules of our faith and practice, in order to the attainment of salvation,—so they are the only rules. The secret, and the revealed things in the text, include all things which pertain to these subjects. But the text declares, that secret things belong to God, and therefore not to us. Things revealed are, of course, the only things with which we have any concern, in order to become holy, or virtuous here, and happy hereafter. There is no other character, no other pleasure of God; there are no other objects of duty, rules of faith, or means of salvation, with which we have any concern. If we seek for others,—if we busy ourselves with others,—we shall not obey God, but disobey him.-We shall not become more, but less wise, virtuous, useful, and happy.
This will be obviously true, if we consider,
III. The end, for which God has made this prescription known to mankind.
This is expressed in these words, “ that we may do all the “ words of this law," as if Moses had said, God hath withheld all unrevealed things from us, and given to us all revealed things for this great end, that we may obey his holy will, made known to us in the Scriptures.
The means or measures, which God is pleased to adopt for the accomplishment of his purposes, are always the wisest and best means; and such, as if heartily pursued by us, will prove to be, in the most perfect manner, efficacious. The means, which he has adopted in the present case, are to withhold some things, and to reveal others. The things withheld are all withheld of design, and in accordance with the dictates of infinite, wisdom and goodness. The things revealed were with the same design, and with the same infinite wisdom and goodness revealed. Had the things withheld, or, as they are called in the text, secret, been revealed ; or had the things actually revealed, or any of them been not revealed, or revealed in any other manner, our situation, so far as our faith, duty, and salvation are concerned, would have been less advantageous, desirable, and happy. Had we been taught more or less, or been taught in any other manner, we should not have obeyed more willingly or perfectly,—we should not have adopted a sounder creed, or a better life,—we should not have obtained salvation with more ease, or in a greater number of instances,but should, in all these respects, have been more exposed to folly, to sin, and to ruin.
Every truth or doctrine which we know is attended or followed by many others, connected with it with more or less clearness or obscurity. Each of these, so soon as known by us, is in the like manner attended or followed by many others. Thus the doctrines, connected in one manner or other with those which we know, are multiplied, to a degree which cannot be measured, faster than those which we have already known. Thus, when we have advanced in science of any kind a small distance only, other doctrines and inferences connected with these are discerned by us in such numbers as bear scarcely any perceivable proportion to the few which we clearly understand. These often distract us by their multitude, perplex us by their obscurity, discourage us by the difficulty which attends our investigation of them, and mislead us by the specious but unsound evidence with which alone we are able to determine