« ПредыдущаяПродолжить »
petually refreshed and renewed. The libertine transgressor, however, will not read them; because he contemns them. The believing, but hardened sinner, dares not read them; because they threaten him, in every page, with the judgments of God, temporal and eternal.
But the sincere and thinking Christian, who in vain exerts his natural strength against his corruptions, flies to them as his only resource ; because in them he clearly sees what he is to do, and what to avoid; how closely all his thoughts, words, and actions, are inspected by infinite wisdom, how awfully and severely he is to be judged by Almighty God, in all his majesty, before angels and men;
and how gloriously he is to be rewarded, or how dreadfully punished, for the life he is now leading. He there also sees the infinite benefit that may be drawn from the contemplation of his covenant with God, and a strict adherence to the ordinances of pure religion. He can no where see virtue and vice painted in such heightening colours, nor exemplified in such striking characters. He is, therefore, to read and meditate on the word of God with all possible diligence, veneration, and affection; because he reads for his life and his soul.
But he is to remember, that he also is, in some measure, a controversial reader. He is engaged in controversy, of infinite importance, with his baptismal enemies; and these are subtle disputants indeed, who, by a species of sophistry not easily parried, endeavour to prove, that good is evil, and evil good; and that it is better to be vicious than virtu
In order to this, they draw their arguments not only from passion, affection, and the allurements of temptation, but even from an appearance of reason, nay, and sometimes from the very Scriptures themselves.
As the tempter hath not yet ceased to quote Scripture, they who search it against him, ought to do it by the rules laid down for the controversial perusal of it, that, as our Saviour did, they may baffle his misapplied quotations by others that cannot be wrested. This cunning adversary knows full well how to argue with them, from that part
of their nature which they are most inclinable to follow, and to help out his too pleasing plea, by alleging such passages of Scripture as magnify the mercy of God towards the infirmi
ties of men, and by relaxing such as most severely threaten vice with the effects of divine justice. If we may judge by the warm apologies frequently made for actions apparently wicked, we must conclude, a right rule of action is not naturally so clear a point in practice, with some, as it is in speculation, with others. And, considering with what delight at first, and triumph afterward, men frequently do such things, as their consciences strongly protest against, it is evident they stand in need of something farther, than they are yet aware of, to restrain the enormity, and correct the deprayity, of their affections. Revelation affords us this. To revelation therefore we ought to have recourse; but ought to search it with candour, lest we be deceived; and with diligence, lest we should, at any time, lose sight of those powerful aids it affords us towards a thorough reformation of our manners.
To conclude ; if any man, on a thorough examination, hath found the Scriptures to be the word of God, what hath he farther to do, than to read them with the diligence and humility of a learner? How should we listen, were God to speak to us face to face ? Just so should we listen, when he speaks to us out of his Scriptures, attentive only to hear and understand what he says; more fully persuaded of its truth, than of any other truths; and as ready to obey whatsoever he enjoins, as if the happiness of heaven was to be the immediate reward. If God speaks to us, does he not so speak, especially in matters of the last consequence, as to be understood? And if we understand him, surely we must believe and obey him. But, if in any thing he hath been silent, in that we should be silent too, taking it for granted, that it is a thing we ought not to know : or, if in some things he speaks mysteriously, we are only concerned to believe as far as we understand ; and to conclude, either that the divine author, for wise and good reasons known to himself, thought fit to leave the matter in some obscurity; or that the nature of the thing itself made greater plainness impossible to our clouded apprehension, and narrow capacities. When we have enriched our understandings with a clear conception, and lively impression, of all the fundamentals, we are not to think the Bible may be laid aside : no; these impressions are to be made still stronger, and our improvement carried higher, by a continual perusal of God's word, wherein, if we should spend our whole lives, we should, to the last find new beauty, new excellence, new force, darting on us from unnumbered passages, that, in all our former readings, were overlooked, as not containing any thing extraordinary. This is a bottomless mine of jewels, whereof the very rubbish is gold and silver, prepared to set off the lustre of its emeralds and diamonds. If we can be affected only with things sensible, in God's word we may find such as are spiritual clothed in a body, and so accommodated to ourselves, that while their beauty is admired, nothing else can give pleasure; while their terrors are apprehended, no earthly pains can be felt. Here all is great, all affecting, fit for God to utter, and man to hear with every faculty of his soul. Let us, therefore,
draw near, and hear what the Lord will say unto us; for the words he speaketh unto us, they are spirit, and they are life.'
And let us draw near by prayer; for, without God's assistance, we can neither bring with us that humility and candour, nor that diligence, so necessary to a profitable study of the Scriptures; neither are we to depend altogether on the strength of our own talents, as sufficient to interpret the word of God, inasmuch as they are naturally dead to true religion, and shut up against the knowledge of divine things. The Spirit of God, that inspired the sacred penmen, is the best interpreter of his own dictates. Let us, therefore, beseech him to open our understandings, that we may underderstand the Scriptures.' Let us earnestly beseech him, who hath caused all holy Scriptures to be written for our learning, to grant that we may in such wise hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them, that by patience, and comfort of his holy word, we may embrace, and ever hold fast, the blessed hope of everlasting life, which he hath given us in our Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.
THE UNITY OF GOD PROVED.
ISAIAH XLIV. 8.
Is there a God besides me? Yea, there is no God; I know not any.
I once little imagined it could ever be necessary to prove in a congregation, calling themselves Christians, that there is but one God; a point so fundamental to the whole of our religion, that not a single article of our faith can be true, if this be false. If without the belief of God we must be Atheists, it is as plain, that without the belief of his Unity we must be Pagans. There was nevertheless of old, and is at this day, a numerous sect, that styles itself Christian, and yet believes in, and worships, more gods than one.
But I hope, before this Discourse is brought to an end, it will evidently appear, that reason must be disclaimed, and Scripture renounced; or a plurality of gods rejected, as both senseless and impious. It is hard to say, whether, had God never vouchsafed us the light of revelation, we should even at this day, have, by the force of reason only, been able to make his Unity a clear point to our understandings. The ancient Egyptians, Greeks, and Romans, did not do it; and the knowing Chinese, as well as the barbarous Americans and Africans, are still far from doing it. The Scriptures therefore afford us the best lights, and the most satisfactory proofs, in this most important point of knowledge. However, now that God hath been pleased to discover the great truth, reason is surprised at herself for having been so long in the dark about it, and is able to demonstrate the point she could not find out. If this is the case, it will be worth our while to let her open the cause a little, before a superior advocate is called to its defence.
In order to determine the question, whether there is one only, or more gods, we must know what God is, and here a difficulty may seem to arise, inasmuch as this Being cannot
be defined. But it is none. It is enough to say, he is the infinite Being, which, at the same time that it excludes all possibility of a definition, sufficiently distinguishes him to our understandings from all other beings, and shews what it is alone, which we are to pray to, and adore.
Now that which demonstrates his being, points out to us, with equal clearness, the unity of that Being; and shews us, that, as there is a God, so there can be precisely but one.
That we ourselves, and all other things which fall under the observation of our senses, or offer themselves, by any medium of knowledge, as objects of our more internal faculties, one only excepted, are finite and bounded beings, is a truth which a very little reflection will convince us of. They are bounded in their extent, and passive powers, if material; in their active powers, if mental. Such beings could not have been the primary causes, either of themselves, or other things: of themselves they could not, because the act of creating supposes existence in the agent, previous to that act; nor of other things, because it requires unlimited power to raise any thing out of nothing. Neither could they have been self-existent, because in that case they must have been unlimited, and independent as to existence, which is absurd; for no two things can be unlimited or infinite in any one respect, inasmuch as each could not possess the whole of any one attribute. Although it were possible to conceive, that two or more beings might have two or more attributes unlimited, and that each of them might have a share of any one; yet to suppose that each can have all, is a flat contradiction. But he, who is self-existent, hath independent, and therefore unlimited, existence; or, to express it better, he hath perfect existence, which can neither be so multiplied, or divided, as to leave perfect existence to another. A selfexistent being must exist necessarily and eternally; necessarily, because, if we take away the necessity of his existence, it becomes indifferent whether he exists or not, unless by the will of another, which is wholly contrary to the idea of self-existence; and eternally, because no being can arise out of nothing, but by the will and power of a prior cause, which totally destroys the supposition of self-existence. A necessarily self-existent being must therefore exist through all duration. He must also exist through all space; for if