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Henry Charles Beeching, ed. (1859–1919). Lyra Sacra: A Book of Religious Verse. 1903.

By John Milton (1608–1674)

God’s Providence

MANY 1 are the sayings of the wise,
In ancient and in modern books enrolled
Extolling patience as the truest fortitude;
And to the bearing well of all calamities,
All chances incident to man’s frail life,        5
Consolatories writ
With studied argument, and much persuasion sought,
Lenient of grief and anxious thought;
But with the afflicted in his pangs their sound
Little prevails, or rather seems a tune        10
Harsh, and of dissonant mood from his complaint,
Unless he feel within
Some source of consolation from above,
Secret refreshings that repair his strength,
And fainting spirits uphold.        15
  God of our fathers! what is man
That Thou towards him with hand so various,
Or might I say contrarious,
Temperest Thy Providence through his short course,
Not evenly, as Thou rul’st        20
The angelic orders, and inferior creatures mute,
Irrational and brute?
Nor do I name of men the common rout,
That, wandering loose about,
Grow up and perish, as the summer fly,        25
Heads without name, no more rememberèd;
But such as Thou hast solemnly elected,
With gifts and graces eminently adorned,
To some great work, Thy glory,
And people’s safety, which in part they effect;        30
Yet toward these thus dignified, Thou oft
Amidst their highth of noon,
Changest Thy countenance and thy hand, with no regard
Of highest favours past
From Thee on them, or them to Thee of service.        35
  Not only dost degrade them, or remit
To life obscured, which were a fair dismission,
But throw’st them lower than Thou didst exalt them high;
Unseemly falls in human eye,
Too grievous for the trespass or omission;        40
Oft leavest them to the hostile sword
Of heathen and profane, their carcases
To dogs and fowls a prey, or else captived;
Or to the unjust tribunals, under change of times,
And condemnation of th’ ingrateful multitude.        45
If these they ’scape, perhaps in poverty
With sickness and disease thou bow’st them down,
Painful diseases and deformed,
In crude old age,
Though not disordinate, yet causeless suffering,        50
The punishment of dissolute days; in fine,
Just or unjust alike seem miserable;
For oft alike both come to evil end.
  Just are the ways of God,
And justifiable to men,        55
Unless there be who think not God at all.
If any be, they walk obscure;
For of such doctrine never was there school,
But the heart of the fool,
And no man therein doctor but himself.        60
All is best, though we oft doubt,
What the unsearchable dispose
Of highest wisdom brings about,
And ever best found in the close.
Note 1. “God’s Providence” is from “Samson Agonistes,” 652–704; 293–299; 245–48. [back]