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understand any. And from hence it naturally follows, that of the Supreme Being we have the least pretence to affirm any thing, because we have a less perfect knowledge of him than of any other subject. What absurd reasoning! It is needless to refute it here, and it shall suffice at present to observe, in general, that ignorance of one part of a subject doth not hinder the knowing of other parts of it, nor ought it to hinder our affirmation of what we do know. I do not perfectly understand the nature of light ; however I do know that it differs from darkness, and that it is the medium by which objects become visible to me.
And the same may be affirmed of other objects.
In like manner, the exercise of my reasoning powers produceth in me some incontestible notions of God, and, from these notions, immediately follow some sure consequences, which become the immoveable bases of my faith in his word, of my submission to his will, and of my confidence in his promises. These notions, and these consequences, compose the body of natural religion. There is a self-existent Being. The existence of all creatures is derived from the self-existent Being, and he is the only source of all their perfections. That Being, who is the source of the perfections of all other beings, is more powerful than the most powerful monarchs, because the most powerful monarchs derive only a finite power from him. He is wiser than the most consummate politicians, because the most consummate politicians derive only a finite wisdom from him. His knowledge exceeds that of the most knowing philosophers, or of the most transcendent geniusses, because the most transcendent geniusses and the most knowing philosophers derive only a finite knowledge from him. And the same
may be said of others. There are then sume'ir. contestible notions, which reason gives us of God.
From these notions follow some sure and necessary consequences. If all creatures derive their being and preservation from him, I owe to him all I am, and all I have, he is the sole object of my desires and hopes, and I am necessarily engaged to be grateful for his favors, and entirely submissive to his will. If creature-perfections be only emanations from him, the source of all perfections, I ought to have nobler sentiments of his perfections, than of those of creatures, elevated howsoeverthelatter may be. I ought to fear him more than I ought to fear the mightiest king, because the power of the mightiest king is only an emanation of his. I ought to commit myself to his direction, and to trust more to his wisdom than to that of the wisest politician, because the prudence of the wisest politician is only an emanation of his : and so of the rest. Let it be granted, that God is, in many respects, quite incomprehensible, that we can attain only a small degree of knowledge of this infinite object, or, to use the words of our next, that his thoughts are not our thoughts, nor his ways our ways : yet it will not follow, that the notions, which reason gives us of him, are less just, or, that the consequences, which immediately follow these notions; are less sure ; or, that all the objections, which libertines and sceptics pretend to derive from the doctrine of the incomprehensibility of God, against natural religion, do not evaporate and disappear.
If reason affords us some adequate notions of God, if some necessary consequences follow these notions, for a much stronger reason, we may derive some adequate notions of God, and some sure consequences, from revelation. It is a very extravagant and sophistical way of reasoning, to alledge the darkness of revelation upon this subject, in order to obscure the light that it doth afford us. These words, my thoughts are not your thoughts; neither are my ways your ways, do not mean, then, that we can know nothing of the divine essence; that we cannot certainly discover in what cases he will approve of our conduct, and in what cases he will condemn it: they only mean, that finite minds cannot form complete ideas of God, know the whole sphere of his attributes, or certainly foresee all the effects they can produce. Thus we have endeavored to restrain the words of the text.
II. We are to determine their object. The prophet's expressions would have been true, had they been applied to all the attributes of God: however, they are applied here only to one of them, that is, to his goodness. The connection of the text with the preceding verses proves this. Seek ye the Lord. while he may be found, call yé upon him while he is near. Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts : and let him return unto the Lord, and he will have mercy upon him, and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon, ver. 6, 7. "The text immediately follows: For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways saith the Lord. It is clear, I think that the last words, my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, directly relate to the preceding clause, the Lord will have mercy upon him, and our God will abundantly pardon. Wherein do the thoughts of God differ from ours ? In this sense they differ : In God there are treasures of mercy, the depth of which no finite mind can fathom. In him goodness is as inconconceivable as all his other attributes. In God, a sinner, who seems to have carried his sin to its utmost extravagance, and to have exhausted all the
treasures of divine grace, shall still find, if he return unto the Lord, and cast himself at the foot of him, who abundantly pardoneth, a goodness, a compassion, a love, that he could not have imagined to find.
When we speak of the goodness of God, we mean, not only that perfection, which inclines him to communicate natural benefits to all creatures, and which hath occasioned the inspired writers to say, that All creatures wait upon him, that he may give them their meat in due season, Psal. civ. 27. that he left not himself without witness in doing good, Acts xiv. 17. But we mean, in a more especial manner, the grace of the gospel, of which the prophet speaks in the beginning of the chapter; Ho, every one that thirsteth, come ye to the waters, and he that hath no money, come ye, buy and eat : yea, come buy wine and milk without money, and without price : Incline your ear, and come unto me : hear, and your soul shall live : and I will make an everlasting covenant with you, even the sure mercies of David. Behold I have given him for a witness to the people, a leader and commander to the people, ver. 1, 3, 4. Who is this leader, whom God gave to be a witness to the people, that is, to manifest his attributes to the Gen. tiles? What is this everlasting covenant? What are these sure mercies of David ? Two sorts of authors deserve to be heard on this article, though on different accounts, the first for their ignorance and prejudice, the last for their knowledge and impartiality. The first are the Jews, who in spite of their obstinate blindness, cannot help owning that these words promise the advent of the Messiah. Rabbi David Kimchi gives this exposition of the words: the sure mercies of David, that is the Messiah, whom Ezekiel calls David. They shall dwell give you
in the land that I have given them, they, and their children, and their children's children for ever ; and my servant David shall be their prince for ever, Ezek. xxxvii. 25. I purposely pass by many
I similar passages of other Jewish Rabbies. The other authors, whom we ought to hear for their impartial knowledge, are the inspired writers, and particularly St. Paul, whose comment on this pas sage, which he gave at Antioch in Pisidia, determine its meaning. There, the apostle, having attested the truth of the resurrection of Jesus Christ, affirms that the prophets had foretold that event; and, among other passages, which he alledged in proof of what he had advanced, quotes this, I will
the sure mercies of David, Acts xiii. 34. From all which it follows, that the object of our text is the goodness of God, and, in an especial manner, the love that he hath manifested unto us in the gospel; and this is what we undertook to prove.
Such views of the grandeurs of God are sublime and delightful. The divine perfections are the most sublime objects of meditation. It is glorious to surmount the little circle of objects that surrounds us, to revolve in a contemplation of God, in whose infinite perfections intelligent beings will for ever find matter sufficient to employ all their intelligence. Behold the inspired writers, they were fond of lo sing their capacities in this lovely prospect. Sometimes they stood on the borders of the eternity of God, and viewing that boundless ocean, exclaimed, Before the mountains were brought forth, or ever thou hadst formed the earth and the world : even. from everlasting to everlasting thou art God. A thousand years in thy sight are but as yesterday when it is past, and as a watch in the night, Psal. xc. 2, 4. Sometimes they meditated on his power,