A man in his fleshly mind is generally devising some method or other whereby he may escape a practical subjection to the gospel; some way or other whereby he may escape walking in the path of self-denial and mortification of the flesh, and the crucifixion of "the old man with the affections and lusts." He is generally seeking some way or other to indulge the flesh, and yet, at the same time, to stand in gospel liberty, to have everything that can gratify his carnal mind, and, at the same time, have a well-grounded hope of eternal life. But the Lord says, "No, these two things are not compatible; he that shall live with Christ must die with Christ; he that shall reign with Christ must suffer with Christ; he that shall wear the crown must carry the cross."
So, that whatever devices there be in a man's heart, or whatever ways and plans he shall undertake to bring his devices to pass, "the counsel of the Lord still shall stand." Divine sovereignty shall fulfil that which divine sovereignty has appointed, and the purposes of God shall stand upon the ruins of the purposes of the creature. And it is our mercy (so far as we are children of the living God), it is our mercy, that it should be so. Where should we have been this moment, if the devices in our hearts had succeeded? We should have been in hell. Where should we have been, since the Lord has been pleased, as we trust, to quicken our souls into spiritual life, if all our devices had succeeded? Our "eyes would have stood out with fatness," and we should have "had more than heart could wish."
We should have been now, if the Lord had left us to our own devices, indulging in some awful temptation, or already have disgraced our name before the Church of God; or, if we had escaped that, we should have a name to live, whilst our hearts were secretly dead before God; have had "a form of godliness, whilst we inwardly or outwardly denied the power thereof." And therefore it is our mercy that the devices of our hearts should not stand, but that "the counsel of the Lord" should prevail over all the purposes of our base nature.
When a man is brought to the right spot, and is in a right mind to trace out the Lord's dealings with him from the first, he sees it was a kind hand which "blasted his gourds and laid them low;" it was a kind hand that swept away his worldly prospects, which reduced him to natural as well as to spiritual poverty, which led him into exercises, trials, sorrows, griefs, and tribulations; because, in those trials he has found the Lord, more or less, experimentally precious. Jacob found it so; he blessed the Lord for the path he had led him in. Though his days had been few and evil, he could see how the Lord had "fed him all his life long unto that day," amid all the changing vicissitudes through which he had passed in body and soul; and he blessed that hand which had guided him through that difficult way, and yet brought him to a "city of habitation."