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on the plains of Mamre ; and he sat in the tent door in the heat of the day. And he lifted up his eyes and looked, and lo, three men stood by him; and when he saw them, he ran to meet them from the tent door, and bowed himself toward the ground.”
A like providential arrangement placed Lot in the gate of Sodom to receive the angels on their arrival at that city. " And there came two angels to Sodom at even; and Lot sat at the gate of So. dom: and Lot seeing them, rose up to meet them ; and he bowed himself to the ground.”—Gen. xix. 1.
By this providential method of reception, there was an opportunity afforded to the men of Sodom to behold the strangers in the appearance of men, and to manifest a specimen of that wickedness on account of which the Lord was about to bring destruction on the cities of the plain. The angels might have come with an angelic appearance, or they might have come as men by night, and unseen by the men of Sodom. But coming in either of these ways an occasion would not have been given to the men of Sodom to manifest the abominations of their hearts. The strangers, therefore, by this appointment of Providence, were seen by the men of the city, and a scene of revolting wickedness was acted immediately before the pouring out of vengeance. “ But before they lay down, the men of the city, even the men of Sodom, compassed the house round, both old and young, all the people from every quarter."
Here we have an instance of the sovereignty of God in his Providence. He here acts in a manner which it would be wicked in any mortal to imitate. He does not tempt any man to sin, but he brings them into situations that manifest what is in them. He adopted a method by which the guilt of Sodom was proved and aggravated. He might have adopted a method by which this would have been avoided. Now, this it would be utterly unlawful for men to do. As far as in our power we should avoid every thing that we think calculated to be the occasion of leading men into sin. We should on no account attempt to prove a man to be a hypocrite by presenting him with a temptation, which we judge would manifest him. This is the province of a sovereign God only. We should give no occasion of stumbling either to Jew or Gentile, or to the church of God.
By this method of the angelic appearance, there was also, both to Abraham and Lot, an opportunity given to manifest hospitality. That it had this de. sign, as well as to be an excitement to hospitality in the people of God, is evident from the use made of the fact by the Epistle to the Hebrews: “ Be not forgetful to entertain strangers ; for thereby some have entertained angels unawares.”—Heb. xiii. 2.
PROVIDENTIAL RESTRAINTS FROM EVIL.
Gen. xx. 6.
As God by his Providence sometimes opens a way to manifest the evil that is in the hearts of men, and even of his own people; so he also sometimes restrains them from committing the evil which they purpose, or which they would commit if occasion was presented. A providential interference often prevents men from rashly doing what they would have done, if no such interference had taken place, and which would have been irremediably injurious to themselves or others. A remarkable instance we have of this in the withholding of Abimelech from taking to wife Sarah, the wife of Abraham. He had taken her into his house, but God, by the restraints of his Providence, withheld him from accomplishing his purpose, and from the dishonour of Abraham. “I also," says God,"withheld thee from sinning against me : therefore suffered I thee not to touch her.” By his overruling Providence God prevented the accomplishment of so great an evil. Had this deed been accomplished, it might have been forgiven; but the evil of it could never have been repaired. Had Abimelech given the injured husband his king. dom, it would have been a compensation utterly unequivalent. God then prevented an injury that could never have been repaired. His Providence then threw an obstacle in the way of the accomplishment of the foul deed.
By a like pusillanimity, Isaac exposed the honour of his wife Rebekah, and by a like providential restraint, God preserved her uninjured. Though the men of Gerar had asked Isaac about his wife, and he had said that she was his sister, yet he was long in the land without injury to his wife's honour. And at last, by a providential event, Abimelech discovered that Rebekah was the wife of Isaac. Gen. xxvi. 8. “ And it came to pass when he had been there a long time, that Abimelech, king of the Philistines, looked out at a window, and saw, and, behold, Isaac was sporting with Rebekah his wife. And Abimelech called Isaac, and said, Behold, of a surety she is thy wife: and how saidst thou she is
my sister ?”
How beautifully, how wonderfully, does the Providence of God co-operate with his purposes of grace! God rules as absolutely on earth as he does in heaven. Nothing takes place but what he has ordained for his own glory, and for the good of his own people. Believers are in the world in the midst of their enemies, who have all earthly power in their hands, yet the Lord preserves them uninjured in every instance in which it is not for his own glory and their good that they should suffer.
THE RAM CAUGHT BY THE HORNS IN THE
THICKET.-Gen. xxii. 13.
This was a very extraordinary occasion; and, as the nature of the case did not allow Abraham to be provided with a beast for a sacrifice, we might have expected that God would provide one for him by miracle. He could as easily have caused a ram to come of himself from any part of the adjacent country, as he had formerly brought the animals to Noah in the ark. But not so ; he did not choose to do the thing by miracle. He furnished the sacrifice by his Providence. “ And Abraham lifted up his eyes, and looked, and, behold, behind him a ram caught in a thicket by his horns: and Abraham went out, took the ram, and offered him up for a burnt-offering in the stead of his son.” What could be more purely accidental than this? Was there any thing wonderful that a ram should happen to be entangled in the brambles where he was feeding ? What could be more natural ? Why should it be thought that Providence was concerned in the matter? It is, indeed, a very trifling thing, and a fact easily to be accounted for. But why did it happen on this occasion ? Why was not the ram caught yesterday? Or why did it happen before to-morrow? Why was it on this day—in this hour-in this minute? A day sooner, or a day later, would not have answered the
The ram must be caught, and held inextricably fast, at the moment that Abraham needed him. Why was the ram caught here? Had it been at a distance, or out of the view of Abraham, it might as well not have been caught at all. It is caught at this moment, at this very spot where it is needed. Why was the caught beast a ram, and not a deer, or some other horned animal ? Because such an animal would not have answered for the sacrifice that was to be offered. Why was it not a he-goat ? Because, though such an animal was a suitable sacrifice in some circumstances, a ram was most suitable on