« PreviousContinue »
to the blessed consummation announced in these words of an apostle: "Nevertheless, we, according to his promise, look for new heavens, and a new earth, wherein dwelleth righteousness.' All the holiness which is found in our degenerate world, proceeds from his inspiration. He will not cease to exert his power till his work is finished; and then man will be fair as in paradise, bright as the angels, and glorious even in the eyes of God himself. Redemption will terminate in the everlasting triumph of holiness. "The Son of man shall send forth his angels, and they shall gather out of his kingdom all things that offend, and them that do iniquity, and shall cast them into a furnace of fire; there shall be wailing and gnashing of teeth. Then shall the righteous shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father."†
Lastly, It is a proof of the holiness of God, that he has made purity of heart an indispensable qualification for eternal happiness. His grace frees the believer from the guilt of sin; but its pollution continues the object of his abhorrence, and must be removed that men may be admitted into fellowship with him. Hence they are partially sanctified in this world, and at death are made perfect in holiness. Nothing is more injurious to the character of God, than to suppose that the design of the mission of Christ was to repeal the moral law, or to relax the severity of its demands. He endured the curse, and abolished it in respect of believers, but he made no change in the precepts. Their obedience, although imperfect, is indeed acceptable to their heavenly Father; but it is not because a higher degree is not required, but in consideration of the perfect righteousness of the Redeemer, upon which only their title to the divine favour is founded. But infinite as is his merit, and powerful as is his intercession, they avail not to any who continue in sin. He acknowledges none to be his disciples but those who do honour to him as their Lord: "Ye are my friends, if ye do whatsoever I command you." The faith with which salvation is connected, is not a mere assent to the doctrines of the gospel, but associates the heart with the understanding, and diffusing a living influence over the powers of the soul, enlists them all in the service of God. Such also is the influence of hope, for he who is possessed of it, "purifies himself even as Christ is pure." It has no place in an unregenerated man; it is a counterfeit, a base imitation of it, with which those are amused who are attached to the pleasures of the world. The beatific vision is promised only to the saints: "The pure in heart shall see God." In this world there is a mixture of moral good and evil; but heaven, the region of light, is separated by an impassable gulf from the kingdom of darkness: the felicity of its inhabitants will result from their perfection, the order of their faculties, and their exercise upon the noblest objects; in the love of God, and the love of one another: "There shall in no wise enter into it any thing that defileth, neither whatsoever worketh abomination, or maketh a lie; but they which are written in the Lamb's book of life." "Blessed are they that do his commandments, that they may have a right to the tree of life, and may enter in through the gates into the city. For without are dogs, and sorcerers, and whoremongers, and murderers, and idolaters, and whosoever loveth and maketh a lie." There is no promiscuous admission into heaven; the society is select; the members are fitted for their place and their employment; and when the throne of God is surrounded by millions of angels who have kept their first estate, and of human beings who have been redeemed from corruption by the blood of his Son and the operation of his Spirit, he will once more rejoice in his works, and pronounce them to be good.
I have endeavoured to shew in what sense God is said to be holy, and have produced proofs that this excellence is justly attributed to him.
+ John xv.
2 Peter iii. 13.
+ Matt. xiii. 41-43.
Rev. xxi. 27. xxii. 14, 15.
From this review of his perfections, it appears, that he is an incomprehensible Being; and lost in admiration of his infinite greatness, we are constrained to adopt the words of Zophar the Naamathite: "Canst thou by searching find out God? canst thou find out the Almighty unto perfection? It is as high as heaven; what canst thou do? deeper than hell; what canst thou know? The measure thereof is longer than the earth, and broader than the sea."* His existence we are able to demonstrate by arguments which carry full conviction to our minds; but the manner of it surpasses conception. All creatures had a beginning; but as he always will be, so he always has been. What do we know of a past eternal duration? When we turn our thoughts to this subject, we are confounded. An eternal succession which is past, seems to us to be impossible; and when we speak of an unsuccessive duration, we use words to which we can affix no distinct meaning. We believe that he is present in all places; but we do not believe that his essence is extended, because it is immaterial. Here also our minds are overwhelmed. Presence without extension is inconceivable to us, and in our apprehension, imports the occupation of a certain portion of space. He is omniscient; but while we readily assent to this proposition, we are beset with difficulties, and are utterly incapable of understanding how he can certainly foreknow events which are called contingent, or depend upon the free agency of men. He is almighty; but we can form no idea of creating power,-power which produces something out of nothing. Mysteries present themselves when we are considering all his perfections, even those of which we find a resemblance in ourselves, because there is no proportion between finite and infinite.
The incomprehensibility of the divine nature is not a reason why we should desist from inquiry, and devote our whole attention to other subjects. It would surely be folly to say, We cannot acquire perfect knowledge, and we will therefore make no effort to attain it in any degree.' Partial knowledge is beyond all doubt better than ignorance, and in the present case, is of infinite importance. There is no subject which we thoroughly understand. Our senses give us clear notions of external things, and we are conscious that there is a thinking active principle within us; but we have no acquaintance with the essence of either matter or spirit. Yet, although we cannot tell what they are, the knowledge of their properties convinces us of their existence, and suffices for all practical purposes. Shall we say that God is not almighty and omniscient, because we cannot find out his power to perfection, and this knowledge is too wonderful for us? Or shall we disbelieve the moral character of God, merely because difficulties occur to us respecting the existence of moral evil, and his concern in sinful actions? Would it be justifiable to neglect and undervalue principles, of the truth of which we have the clearest and most satisfying evidence, and which are capable of being improved to the most important practical purposes, solely because we do not comprehend them in their full extent, and in all their bearings?
But the incomprehensibility of the divine nature should teach us humility, caution, and reverence. When in the course of our investigations, we arrive at a conclusion which astonishes and confounds us, we ought not for this reason to reject it as illegitimate and false; and when revelation informs us of some fact which reason could not have discovered, and by which it is perplexed, it would ill become us to pronounce it to be impossible. It is confessed by all, that we have no knowledge of the essence of the Diety: on what ground then are some men so bold as to affirm, that there can be no distinction in it to which there is nothing analogous in created beings; that its unity is inconsistent with a plurality of persons? The same reflection should silence our objections against any of his perfections or dispensations. Let us not
*Job xi. 7-9.
presume to apply our short line to immensity. "Surely," said Agur, "I am more brutish than any man, and have not the understanding of a man. neither learned wisdom, nor have the knowledge of the holy. Who hath ascended up into heaven, or descended? who hath gathered the wind in his fists? who hath bound the waters in a garment? who hath established all the ends of the earth? what is his name, and what is his Son's name, if thou canst tell?"'*
Between the knowledge of God in this life, and that which will be enjoyed in the state of vision, the difference is great; but as the former should not be undervalued because it is imperfect, the latter should not be magnified beyond the reality. Some Scholastic Doctors have maintained, that although our present knowledge is only apprehensive, as they call it, or partial; yet in the world to come, it will be comprehensive or perfect. It is indeed said, that then "we shall see face to face, and know even as we are known;" but to infer that we shall know God as fully as he knows us, is to be misled by the sound of words, and to disregard the restriction of the sense which the subject necessarily requires. The saints in heaven will see God with the eye of the mind, for he will be always invisible to the bodily eye; will see him more clearly than they could see him by reason and faith, and more extensively than all his works and dispensations had hitherto revealed him; but their minds will not be so enlarged as to be capable of contemplating at once, or in detail, the whole excellence of his nature. To comprehend infinite perfection, they must become infinite themselves. Even in heaven, their knowledge will be partial, and at the same time, their happiness will be complete, because their knowledge will be perfect in this sense, that it will be adequate to the capacity of the subject, although it will not exhaust the fulness of the object. We believe that it will be progressive, and that as their views expand, their blessedness will increase; but it will never reach a limit, beyond which there is nothing to be discovered; and when ages after ages have passed away, he will still be the incomprehensible God.
From the review of the perfections of God, it farther appears, that he is an all-sufficient Being; and this implies, that he is all-sufficient to himself, and all-sufficient to his creatures.
He is all-sufficient to himself. As the first of Beings, he could receive nothing from another, nor be limited by the power of another. Being infinite, he is possessed of all possible perfection. When he existed alone, he was all to himself. His understanding, his love, his energies, found an adequate object in himself. Had he stood in need of any thing external, he could not have been independent, and therefore would not have been God. He created all things, and is said to have created them for himself; but it was not that any defect might be supplied by them, but that he might communicate life and happiness to angels and men, and admit them to the contemplation of his glory. He demands the services of his intelligent creatures, whom he has endowed with powers which qualify them for the duties enjoined; but he derives no benefit from their good offices, and all the advantage redounds to themselves. "I will take no bullock out of thy house, nor he-goats of thy folds." "If I were hungry, I would not tell thee; for the world is mine, and the fulness thereof." With respect to moral duties, which have a greater intrinsic value than sacrifices and gifts, hear how the Scripture speaks: "Can a man be profitable unto God, as he that is wise may be profitable unto himself? Is it any pleasure to the Almighty that thou art righteous? or is it gain to him that thou makest thy ways perfect?" He expects glory from his creatures; but is he like a poor mortal, who lives upon the admiration and praise of his fellows? The glory which he requires, is merely the devout ‡ Job xxij. 2, 3,
Prov. xxx. 2-4.
† Ps. i. 9-12.
acknowledgment of the infinite excellencies which he possessed before there was an eye to behold them, or a tongue to speak of them; and what are the thanksgivings and adoration of ten thousand worlds to him, who pronounces them all to be vanity, and less than nothing? He makes use of instruments and means to accomplish his ends; not, however, from a deficiency of power, but in some cases, to display it more strikingly through the inadequacy of the means, and in all, to maintain the order of the created system, and the dependence which he has established of one thing upon another. He loves his creatures, but there is no mixture of selfishness in his love: he desires their happiness, but it is from benevolence, and not from any respect to his own. An infinitely perfect Being has all his resources in himself. Creatures can give him nothing, because all that they possess is already his; and they can take nothing from him whose existence is necessary and immutable.
God is all-sufficient to his creatures. They live in him, and move in him. His arm sustains, his goodness supplies, and his wisdom guides them. It is owing to his care that the universal system is upheld, and its laws continue to operate for the general good. All the happiness which is enjoyed by creatures of different kinds, emanates from his bounty. Happiness of the most common kind, the happiness which is experienced through the medium of the senses, is the fruit of his beneficence. He has created objects to delight the eye, the ear, the smell, and the taste; he gives a relish to life, and crowns it with abundant blessings. The all-sufficiency of God appears in the ample, and I may say, profuse distribution of good. All are furnished with the means of enjoyment; not even the meanest creature is neglected. And this bounty is never exhausted; it is continued from day to day, and from year to year: when a new generation come forward, the store-house of Providence is as well replenished for them, as it was for their predecessors.
The all-sufficiency of God may be considered in relation to man, and to the better part of his nature, the soul. Its true happiness consists in the enjoy ment of God. His favour is life, and his loving-kindness is better than life. He is called the "portion of the soul," to intimate that the impressions of his love, the manifestations of his glory, are the chief objects of its desire, and the source of its highest satisfaction. Hence his favour is preferred by the saints to the choicest and most abundant earthly delights. "There be many that say, Who will shew us any good? Lord, lift thou up the light of thy countenance upon us. Thou hast put gladness in my heart, more than in the time that their corn and their wine increased."* He who is possessed of this portion, has better reason than the philosopher who had made an important discovery in science, to exclaim in a transport of joy, I have found it, I have found it.' He has found that good, of which the wise men of ancient times talked and dreamed, but the nature of which they did not understand; that good which the soul of man was created to enjoy, and for which it feels a thirst that all the waters of creation could not quench; that good which is comprehensive of all good, with which no other is worthy to be compared, after which no other will be desired, and which will continue in every stage of our existence to impart joy ever full and ever new. So satisfied is he who has obtained it, that he envies no man, however prosperous, because he knows no man who has such reason to be happy as himself, but he who has been equally prudent in his choice. He never says to the worldly man, “Oh that my condition were like thine, that I were rich, and crowned with honours as thou art!" but wishing him to share in his blessedness, which admits of being communicated without suffering diminution, he earnestly invites him to become a partaker: "O taste and see that the Lord is good." In the absence of external comforts, in poverty, affliction, and destitution, when no ray of earthly Ps. iv. 6, 7.
hope breaks the gloom, and all is lost that the heart once loved, and the world still prizes, he is inspired with triumphant joy by the thought of his interest in God: "Although the fig-tree shall not blossom, neither shall fruit be in the vines; the labour of the olive shall fail, and the fields shall yield no meat; the flock shall be cut off from the fold, and there shall be no herd in the stalls: Yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will joy in the God of my salvation."* Although heaven and earth were annihilated, and nature presented a universal blank, the christian would not be forlorn. He could say, while surrounded by the dreadful vacuity, My inheritance is entire. They have perished, but thou, O Lord, shalt endure; they have vanished away, but thou art the same, and thy years shall not fail. Whom have I in heaven but thee? and there is none upon earth whom I desire besides thee.'
The all-sufficiency of God secures the undecaying and never-ending felicity of the saints. An earthly portion is wasted by use; and many a man who spent the former part of his days in abundance, suffers want in old age. Infinite perfection cannot be exhausted. Giving doth not impoverish it, and withholding doth not enrich it. If it be true that the saints will not be stationary in the world to come, their progress will be from good to better and better; an expansion of their noblest faculties, and a perpetual accession of bliss. There is a fountain of living water in heaven, because God is there in the fulness of his love; a fountain which sends forth its pure and refreshing stream unimpaired and uninterrupted in its course. "The sun shall be no more thy light by day; neither for brightness shall the moon give light unto thee; but the Lord shall be unto thee an everlasting light, and thy God thy glory. Thy sun shall no more go down; neither shall thy moon withdraw itself: for the Lord shall be thine everlasting light, and the days of thy mourning shall be ended."t
Lastly, From this review of his perfections, it appears that God is the Sovereign Lord of the universe. No dominion is so absolute as that which is founded on creation. He who might not have made any thing, had a right to make all things according to his own pleasure. In the exercise of his uncontrolled power, he has made some parts of the creation mere inanimate matter, of grosser or more refined texture, and distinguished by different qualities, but all inert and unconscious. He has given organization to other parts, and made them susceptible of growth and expansion, but still without life in the proper sense of the term. To others he has given not only organization, but conscious existence, organs of sense and self-motive power. To these he has added in man the gift of reason, and an immortal spirit, by which he is allied to a higher order of beings who are placed in the superior regions. He might have created a world composed of different materials, and peopled it with beings different in form and in qualities. He might have bestowed upon man a less or a greater portion of intellect, and adapted his situation to the change. Over the world which he has created, he sways the sceptre of omnipotence. "I praised and honoured him that liveth for ever, whose dominion is an everlasting dominion, and his kingdom is from generation to generation and all the inhabitants of the earth are reputed as nothing: and he doeth according to his will in the army of heaven, and among the inhabitants of the earth; and none can stay his hand, or say unto him, What doest thou?"+
A creature, considered simply as such, has no rights. He can demand nothing from his Maker; and in whatever manner he may be treated, has no title to complain. But in speaking of the dominion of God, we ought not to lose sight of his moral perfections. He is just and good, and will not subject his creatures to sufferings without a cause, and punish the innocent as if they Hab. iii. 17, 18. + Isa. Ix. 19, 20. Dan. iv. 34, 35.