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many days at the same time, by lodging her egg every day at the same place where he had hid himself from the cut-throats. Examples might be easily multiplied in the case; but the truth is too plain and obvious to the observation of all ages to need them. And can we but acknowledge a divine and special Providence overruling all these matters, when we see the most apt and potent means for the Church's ruin frustrated, and the most silly and contemptible means succeeded and prospered for its good?
Providence in Conversion.
Now, there are divers things in those providences, which are versant about this work, and exceedingly sweet and taking ; as, viz.,
The wonderful strangeness and unaccountableness of this work of Providence in casting us into the way, and ordering the occasions, yea, the minutest circumstances about this work. Thus you find in Acts viii. 26–30. The eunuch, at that very instant when he was reading the prophet Isaiah, hath an interpreter, one among a thousand, that joins his chariot just as his mind was, by a fit occasion, prepared to receive the first light of the knowledge of Christ.
So for the conversion of the Samaritans it is observed (John iv. 4) Christ must needs go that way, because it lay just in the road betwixt Judea and Galilee, and at the sixth hour, i. e, high noon, He rests Himself upon Jacob's well, still seeming to have no other design but His own refreshment, by sitting and drinking there ; but, oh! what a train of blessed providences follow this, which seemed but an accidental thing!
First, the woman of Sainaria, and then many more in that city, are brought to believe in Christ, as you find in ver. 29 and 41.
It is noted by Melchior Adams, in the life of Junius, how very an Atheist he grew in his younger years; but, in order to his conversion to God, a wonderful preservation of his life, in a public tumult at Lyons, in France, must first make way, which forces from him the acknowledgment of a Deity : then his father sends for him home, and with much gentleness persuades him to read the Scriptures; he lights upon the 1st of John, and with it he sensibly feels a divine, supernatural majesty and power seizing his soul, which brought him over by a complete conversion to Jesus Christ. Thus, as the woman of Tekoa told David, "doth God devise means to bring back His banished.”
Lavater tells us, that many Spanish soldiers, going into the wars of Germany, were there converted to Christ, by falling into the cities and towns where godly ministers and Christians were.
Mr Robert Bolton, though an excellent scholar, yet in his younger years was a very irreligious person, and a jeerer of holy men ; but, being cast into the company of the godly Mr Peacock, was by him brought to repentance, and proved a famous instrument in the Church of Christ.
A scrap of paper accidentally coming to view hath been used as an occasion of conversion. This was the case of a minister of Wales, who had two livings, but took little care of either. He being at a fair, bought something at a pedlar's standing, and rent off a leaf of Mr Perkin's catechism to wrap it in, and reading a line or two in it, God sent it home so as it did the work.
The marriage of a godly man into a carnal family, hath been ordered by Providence for the conversion and salvation of many therein. Thus we read, in the life of that renowned English worthy, Mr John Bruen, that, in his second match, it was agreed that he should have one year's diet in his mother-inlaw's house : during his abode there that year (saith Mr Clark), the Lord was pleased, by his means, graciously to work upon her soul, as also upon his wife's sister, and half-sister, their brothers, Mr William and Mr Thomas Fox, with one or two of the servants in that family.
PROVIDENCE IN CONVERSION.
The reading of a good book hath been the means of bringing others to Christ. And thus we find many of the German divines converted by reading Luther's books : yea, and what is more strange, Mr Sleiden, in his Commentary, tells us, that Vergerius, though he were present an eye and ear-witness to that doleful case of Spira, which one would think should move a stone, yet still continued so firm to the Pope's interest, that when he fell into some suspicion among the cardinals, he resolved to purge himself by writing a book against the German Apostates ; but, whilst he read the Protestant books, out of no other design but to confute them, whilst he is weighing the arguments, is himself convinced, and brought to Christ. He, finding himself thus overcome by the truth, imparts his conviction to his brother, a zealous Papist also ; this brother deplores the misery of his case, and seeks to reclaim him ; but Vergerius, entreating him to weigh well the Protestant arguments, also yields; and so both immediately betook themselves to preach justification by the free grace of God through the blood of Christ.
Yea, not only the reading of a book, or hearing of a minister, but (which is most remarkable) the very mistake or forgetfulness of a minister hath been improved by Providence for this end and purpose. Augustine, once preaching to his congregation, forgot the argument which he first proposed, and fell upon the errors of the Manichees, beside his first intention; by which discourse, he converted one Firmus, his auditor, who fell down at his feet weeping, and confessing he had lived a Manichee many years.
Another I knew, who, going to preach, took up another Bible than that he designed, in which, not only missing his notes, but the chapter also in which his text lay, was put to some loss thereby; but, after a short pause, he resolved to speak to any other scripture that might be presented to him, and, accordingly, read the text, “The Lord is not slack concerning his promise” (2 Pet. iii. 9); and though he had nothing prepared, yet the Lord helped him to speak both methodically and pertinently from it; by which discourse a gracious change was wrought upon one in the congregation, who hath since given good evidence of a sound conversion, and acknowledged this sermon to be the first and only means thereof.
The accompanying of others, in a neighbourly, civil visit, hath been overruled to the same end. Thus many of the Jews accompanied Mary into Bethany, designing only to manifest their civil respect; but there they met Christ, saw the things which He did, and believed on Him (John xi. 45).
Mr Firmin, in his “Real Christian," tells us of one who had lived many years in a town where Christ had been as clearly and as long preached as in any town in England. This man, when he was about seventy-six years of age, went to visit a sick neighbour. “A Christian friend of mine," saith the author, "came to see him also; and finding this old man there, whom he judged to be one that lived upon his own stock, civility, good works, &c., he purposely fell into that discourse, to shew how many persons lived upon their duties, but never came to Christ. The old man, sitting by the bed-side, heard him, and God was pleased to convince him, that he was such a person, who had lived upon himself, without Christ, to that day; and would say afterwards, Had I died before threescore and sixteen, I had perished, for I knew not Christ.”
The committing of a godly man to prison hath been the method of Providence to save the soul of a poor keeper. So Paul (Acts xvi. 27) was made a prisoner, to make his keeper a spiritual freeman. The like success had Dr Barnes, in Queen Mary's days, who afterwards celebrated the Lord's Supper in prison with his converted keeper.
The scattering of ministers and Christians, by persecution, from cities and towns, into the ignorant and barbarous parts of the country, hath been the way of Providence to find out
and bring home some lost sheep to Jesus Christ (Acts viii. 1-4). The like signal event hath since followed upon the like scattering of godly ministers, whereof are many pregnant instances at this day.
A servant running away from his master, likely upon no other design but to live an idle life, yet falling into such places and companies as Providence ordered in a design to him unknown, hath thereby been brought to be a servant of Christ. This was the very case of Onesimus, who ran away from his master Philemon, to Rome, where, by a strange providence, possibly a mere curiosity to see the prisoners, he there falls into Paul's hands, who begat him to Christ in his bonds (Philemon ver. 10-16).
Going to hear a sermon in jest hath proved some men's conversion in earnest. The above-named Mr Firmin, in the fore-cited book, tells us of a notorious drunkard, whom the drunkards called “Father," that one day would needs go to hear what Wilson said, out of no other design, it seems, but to scoff at that holy man: but, in the prayer before sermon, his heart began to thaw, and when he read his text, which was, “Sin no more, lest a worse thing come unto thee" (John v. 14), he could not contain; and in that sermon the Lord changed his heart, though formerly so bitter an enemy, that the minister on lecture-days was afraid to go to church before his shop door. “Lo, these are parts of His ways : but how small a portion is known of Him!"
The dropping of some grave and weighty word, accidentally, in the presence of rain carnal persons--the death of a husband, wife, or child-a fit of sickness, with a thousand other such-like oceasions-chave been thus improved by Providence to the con. version of souls.
And no less remarkable and wonderful are the designs of Providence, in ordering the removes, and governing the motions of ministers from place to place, in order to the conversion of