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original revolt, and is incompatible with the sentiments of reverence, dependence, gratitude and submission which all creatures, and particularly guilty creatures should feel towards their Maker. He saves us ; but it is not as some imagine, by a milder law, which supposes our moral power although impaired, not to be utterly lost; for in this case we should have claimed the recompense as our due; but by appointing his Son to fulfil the old law in our room, and bestowing the reward solely in consideration of his merit. He sanctifies us; but our holiness is not the result of our own exertions aided by his grace, but exclusively of the agency of his Spirit, who forms new dispositions within us as passive subjects of his power; so that the greatest saint has nothing in himself to flatter his vanity more than the most profligate sinner. The whole plan of our restoration is so contrived as to leave this impression upon our minds, that we are absolute debtors to God; that our sins are our own, but our virtues are his gifts; and that as from him our salvation originated, so to him all the glory of it should be ascribed. The lofty looks of men are humbled, and the haughtiness of man is made low, and the Lord alone is exalted. *
In all these instances we perceive wisdom in the device of worthy ends, and of the fittest means. There is another proof of the wisdom of God in redemption, to which I shall briefly advert, as it will afterwards occur in another view as a display of his power. Had he employed in the publication of the scheme of redemption, men of learning, eloquence, and worldly influence, the success of Christianity might have been attributed to natural causes, and it might have been regarded in future ages as a contrivance of the first preachers to impose upon mankind with a view to their personal interests. By committing it to the ministry of men, illiterate, obscure, and contemptible in the eyes of the world, he has demonstrated the divinity of its origin, and furnished an argument by which our faith is confirmed, and the unreasonableness of infidelity is evinced. The cause must have failed in the hands of such advocates, had they not enjoyed the patronage of heaven. Thus it appears that the foolishness of God is wiser than men, or that by means which human reason would have rejected as incompetent, the most important end has been gained; while by the opposite plan, which would have approved itself to our wisdom, the design would have been defeated. While the talents and energies of men were brought forward to view, the agency of God would have been concealed.
We should learn to be modest and cautious in our judgment of the works and dispensations of the Almighty. In examining a work of man, all the parts of which, so far as we understood them, appeared to be skilfully contrived, it would be rash to condemn those which we did not understand. Much greater is the presumption of those who subject the wisdom of God to their limited and erring reason. It requires no great humility to acknowledge that many things may be accounted for, although we cannot tell how; that what we call irregularity may be consistent with order, and that apparent blemishes may be real excellencies; that a scheme comprehending time and eternity is beyond the reach of our faculties; and that there is no searching of an infinite understanding.
In this wisdom we should confide. Vain are the thoughts and counsels of man; and vain are his anxieties about the morrow. They vex themselves in vain, who acknowledge no providence but their own foresight, and burden themselves with the care of their own happiness. None can enjoy true peace, none can feel themselves secure, but they who commit their way to the Lord He will guide them by his counsel, and afterward receive them to his glory. We know that under his direction all things are working together for good.
Isa. ii. 11.
Power of God-Idea of Power-Counexion of Cause and Effect-Some apparent limitations of
the Divine Power stated and explained-Displays of Power in the Works of Creation, of Provje dence, and of Redemption.
Some subjects may have no connexion with our duty and our happiness, and yet may excite no small share of curiosity. We are strongly impelled to extend the boundaries of knowledge, and to push our inquiries into regions where no valuable fruit can be gathered. Surrounded with mysteries on all sides, we may anxiously wish that the veil were lifted up, which conceals from our eager eyes the wonders of the material and spiritual world. It would gratify us to be admitted behind the scene, and to inspect the machinery by which the great revolutions in nature are effected; to discover how the immense bodies which we see pursuing their course in the fields of space, were first set in motion, and by what cause they have been retained for ages in their respective orbits, so that there is no irregularity or interference. It would be delightful to trace the process of vegetation, which is renewed from year to year, and invests the earth with beauty, while it ministers abundantly to our wants. It would be still more desirable to become intimately and fully acquainted with ourselves, to understand what the living principle within us is, and by what tie the constituent parts of our nature are so closely united, that notwithstanding the essential difference between matter and spirit, they feel a mutual sympathy, and co-operate with perfect harmony. But although success should equal our highest expectations, we have no reason to think that the enlargement of our views would in any degree fit us better for acting our part as accountable beings, and contribute to prepare us for the future state, in which our well-being will not depend upon intellectual attainments, but upon possession of genuine piety and holiness.
Our inquiries into the character of the Author of the universe are more sublime in their nature, and more important in their tendency. Every discovery is full of interest, because it is connected with our conduct and our hopes. It is therefore necessary to proceed in the investigation with the utmost caution and circumspection, lest by admitting any thing foreign into our idea of God, or leaving out any thing essential, we should weaken or extinguish those sentiments of reverence and love, in which genuine piety consists. We ought to be the more upon our guard, because we are admonished by the errors of others, who have set limits to his perfections, have given undue prominence to one, to the concealment of the rest, or have placed him at such a distance from us, as to repress all the feelings and exercises of devotion. A Being, eternal, immutable, and omnipresent, is an object of awful contemplation; but something is wanting to create an interest in him, to make us feel ourselves personally concerned in his character and proceedings. Aware that there is such a Being, we might occasionally turn our thoughts to him, but should have no motive to cultivate an acquaintance with him, if we believed that we had nothing to fear from his displeasure, or to hope from his favour. We must consider him as an active Being, who having given us life, continues to sustain us by his providence, and has us and all nature at his command. Power must enter into the idea of God, or our thoughts of him will be as cold and unaffecting as are those which respect persons to whom we stand in no relation,
and on whom we are completely independent. Without power, his wisdom would be employed in arranging admirable but unexecuted plans; his goodness would expire in benevolent but ineffectual wishes; his justice would be merely a will to recompense actions according to their desert. Power is an essential attribute of God, and necessarily mixes with our practical views of his other perfections. Had not power belonged to him, his other perfections would not have been known; not a single world would have filled up a portion of the mighty void; there would have been neither man nor angel to employ his mind on the height of this great argument'; nothing would have existed but himself, and he would have dwelt alone in eternal repose.
The power of God is his ability to do every thing which may be done, every thing which is consistent with the other perfections of his nature. led to assign this attribute to him, by what we experience in ourselves, and observe in the operations which are going on around us. It has been said, indeed, that " when we think that we perceive our mind acting upon matter, or one piece of matter acting upon another, we do in fact perceive only two objects or events contiguous and successive, the second of which is always found, in experience, to follow the first; but that we never perceive, either by external sense or by consciousness, that power, energy, or efficacy, which connects the one event with the other. By observing that the two events do always accompany each other, the imagination acquires a habit of going readily from the first to the second, and from the second to the first; and hence we are led 10 conceive a necessary connexion between them. But, in fact, there is neither necessity nor power in the objects we consider, but only in the mind that considers them; and even in the mind, this power or necessity is nothing but a determination of the fancy, acquired by habit
, to pass from the idea of an object to that of its usual attendant.” In this manner does Hume endeavour to prove that we can form no idea of power, or of any being endowed with power, much less, as he adds, of one endowed with infinite power. It is acknowledged that we do not perceive the connexion between cause and effect, and that, so far as we can distinctly trace it, it consists in constant sequence; that is, we perceive only that the one always follows the other. At the same time, it is certain that there is constant sequence where no person ever supposed the relation of cause and effect. Night follows day, or day follows night, according to the original order which we assign to them ; but who ever imagined that the one is the cause of the other, that light produces darkness, or darkness produces light? It is evident, therefore, that there is something more in the relation of cause and effect than constant sequence, although this should be all that we are able to discover. It is certain, that although between the volition of iny mind and the raising of my arm, I cannot explain the connexion, they are not independent events, because the one uniformly follows the other, while my volition has no effect upon any other piece of maiter not belonging to my body. It is certain, that when my arm raises a stone, or when one stone impelling another, moves it from its place, the idea of power is suggested to my mind, in the one ease, by the exertion of muscular strength, and in the other, by the visible change which is effected. To tell us that this is an act of imagination, which has acquired the habit of passing from the one event to the other, and that we have no idea of power, although there is not one more distinct in our minds, is to insult our understandings, and to attempt to deceive us by a palpable falsehood. It would be as much to the purpose, to tell us that we have no idea of sound and colour; but this would not serve the interests of atheism, by destroying the argument from cause and effect for the existence of an Author of nature. Power undoubtedly exists; all men believe it; it is one of their earliest and strongest conceptions; and if we do not find it in the immediate, or what we commonly call the second cause, we must seek it somewhere else
Were a man to reason fairly and consequentially from the doctrine, that the relation of cause and effect, as far as known to us, is merely constant sequence, he would conclude, that since the idea of power is forced upon us by observation and experience, since it is impossible to get rid of it, since it is absurd to resist the natural suggestions of our minds, if power is not in second causes, it must be in the First Cause; that his energy pervades all nature, and its several parts are instruments wielded by his arm. Thus, a speculation which originated in hostility to all religion, when corrected and conducted by right reason, terminates in the establishment of Theism. “Of him, and through him, and to him, are all things."*
We are conscious of possessing power over our minds and our bodies. We can direct our thoughts to a particular subject, and move our bodies backward and forward, to the right or to the left. We can produce effects upon other bodies by the exertion of our natural strength. We observe also many changes going on in the earth and in the heavens, which we refer to an adequate cause. If from the idea of power which we have thus acquired, we remove every circumstance which indicates imperfection, as effort, labour and fatigue, and if we farther conceive it to be unlimited, embarassed by no obstacle, and capable of producing every possible effect, we have the most complete idea of the power of God which we are able to form. The proofs, that power is one of his perfections, will afterwards be mentioned. Some have doubted his goodness and justice, and some have called in question his wisdom, because in some instances they could not perceive it; but his power has been acknowledged by all who believe his existence. That it is infinite power, or omnipotence, can as little be doubted. As there is nothing in the universe which he did not create, it is impossible that he should meet with any opposition from any part of it, or at least with successful opposition. All created power is necessarily dependent upon him, subject to his direction and control, and can no more hinder his designs, than an atom could stop the motion of a planet. No man ever was so absurd as to suppose that the power of the mightiest creature is superior or equal to that of the Creator, from which it is derived. Besides, whatever extent may be assigned to power, if there are bounds which it cannot pass, effects to which it is not adequate, it is not the highest power which our minds can conceive, and consequently the being of whom it is predicated is not God.
There are some things which to superficial thinkers may seem to be inconsistent with infinite power, and to prove that although the power of God far transcends that of the mightiest creatures, it is subject to certain limitations. Of these I shall briefly take notice, before I proceed to lay before you the evidences of this perfection which are afforded by his works.
First, God cannot work contradictions, as to make a thing to be and not to be at the same time; to make a part greater than the whole; to make what is past, present; or what is present, future. It is self-evident that such things are not the objects of power. As it is no impeachment of the perfection of the eye, that it cannot see what is invisible, or of the perfection of the ear, that it cannot hear what is not audible, so it implies no imperfection in the power of God, that it cannot do what cannot be done. The reason that God cannot work contradictions, is not that he is deficient in power, and consequently could work them if his power were greater, but that the things themselves are in their own nature impossible.
Secondly, God cannot feel pain, or be weary, or die. But surely it will not be supposed that this impossibility is inconsistent with infinitude or power. Such things are proofs of weakness in those who are subject to them. The nature, therefore, of which they cannot be predicated, is the most powerful in the universe, and possesses life and activity in the highest perfection. Passiveness cannot co-exist with absolute perfection. Exemption from every infirmity is implied in the idea of omnipotence.
* Rom. xi. 36.
Thirdly, God cannot lie, or deny himself. But this, you will observe, is not a physical, but a moral impossibility, and therefore is no limitation of omnipotence. It is not owing to the want of power to deceive his creatures, but to the incompatibility of the act with the purity and goodness of his nature. Truth is essential to him as well as power, and the exercise of power is always in conformity to truth. He is so holy, and so good, that he will not impose upon men by false representations, or excite hopes which it is not his intention to realize. We know that there is no such difficulty in the simple act of deceiving, as to require an extraordinary degree of power. It is usually the refuge of the weak, and few resort to artifice who can accomplish their purposes by direct and honourable means. No greater effort is necessary to utter à falsehood than to speak truth, and it is often easier not to perform our promises than to perform them. He who gave us our senses could render them the vehicles of fallacious perceptions, and he could pervert our mental faculties so as to lead us to the most erroneous conclusions, but he will not.
Lastly, It would be no objection against the infinite power of God, if we should discover what appeared to us imperfections in his works, if in living and inanimate substances, we should find certain parts which seemed unfinished, or useless, or not so well adapted to the end in view as we might conceive them to have been. To a modest inquirer, a doubt might occur whether he was a competent judge in such cases; and at any rate, he who considered that the hand of God made the eye and the ear, would feel no difficulty in conceiving that it was not from want of power but from design, that other parts were not executed with the same consummate skill. We observe decay and death among the works of God; and we might be led to infer, from their frail and transitory nature, that however admirably they are executed, their Maker must have wanted power to render them permanent. But, besides that this inference gratuitous. ly assumes, that he meant to give them permanence but could not, we also observe, that although the individuals perish, the species remains; that new human beings, new animals, and new vegetables regularly come into existence; and we have a proof in their production, that decay and death are not owing to weakness, but to design or permission, because the same power which creates new beings, could have given perpetual duration to the old. Once more, moral evil has found its way into the universe, and disturbed the order which its Author had established. His laws have been violated; the exercise of his goodness to his creatures has been interrupted to a certain extent; the beauty of his works has been impaired; and disease, death, and misery, abound in the world. But no believer in revelation, or even in the doctrines of natural religion, can think that it was introduced against his will, or because he could not prevent it. There can be no doubt that he foresaw and permitted it: it would be repugnant to the idea of an all-perfect Being, to suppose that it arose unexpectedly to derange his plan, or that he attempted in vain to exclude it. Since he was pleased to make man a free agent, the possibility of the abuse of his freedom was the necessary consequence: a creature capable of acting in different ways might do wrong. God could have excluded moral evil, either by withholding liberty from man, that is, by giving him a different constitution, making him a totally different creature; or by controlling the exercise of it in such a manner as not to take it away. But he chose to make him free, and to leave him to act as his own mind should direct him. The existence of moral evil, therefore, is no evidence of a deficiency of power in the Supreme Ruler. It would be more plausible to consider it as an objection against his wisdom in forming a plan, of which evil has been the result; but here also, it would not be difficult to