« PreviousContinue »
Doth he send us error ? it is to make us respect that truth which we have resisted.
Doth he abandon us to our vices? it is to punish us for some other vices which we have committed voluntarily and freely; so that, if we could comprehend it, his love for holiness never appears more clearly, than when he abandons men to vice in this manner.
Doth he raise up kings? it is always to oblige them to administer justice, to protect the widow and the orphan, to maintain order and religion. Yet, he often pei mits them to violate equity, to oppress their people, and to become the scourges of his anger. By them he frequently teacheth us how little account he makes of human grandeurs, seeing he þestows them sometimes upon unworthy men, upon men allured by voluptuousness, governed by ambition, and dazzled with their own glory, upon men who ridicule piety, sell their consciences, negotiate faith and religion, sacrificing the souls of their children to the infamous passions that govern theinselves.
Doth he prolong our life? it is because he is long suffere ing to us, 2 Pet. iii. 9. it is because he opens in our favour the riches of his goodness, and forbearance, to lead us to repentance, Rom. ii. 4.
Doth he call us to die? it is to open those eternal books in which our actions are registered; it is to gather our souls into his bosom, to bind them up in the bundle of life, 1 Sam. xxy. 29. to mix them with the ransomed arinies of all nations, tongues, and people, Rev, vii. 9.
Such are our ideas of the omnipresence of God. Thus God seeth all, influenceth all, directeth all. In this sense we are to understand this magnificent language of scripture. Will God indeed dwell on the earth? behold the heaven, and the heaven of heavens cannot contain thee, 1 Kings viii. 27. Thus saith the Lord, The heaven is my throne, and the earth is iny footstool, Isa. Ixvi. 1. Where is the house that ye build unto me do not I fill heaven and earth, saith the Lord ? am I God at hand, and not a afar off? Can any hide himself in secret places that
shall not see him? Jer. xxiii. 23, 24. This is what the heathens had a glimpse of, when they said, that God was a circle, the centre of which was every where, and its circumference no where. That all things were full of Jupiter. That he filled all his works. That, fly whither we would, we were always before his eyes. This is what the followers
of Mahomet meant, when they said, that where there were two persons, God made the third: where there were three, God made the fourth. ' Above all, this was our prophet's meaning throughout the Psalm, a part of which we have explained. “ O Lord, thou hast searched me and known “ me. Thou knowest my down-sitting and mine 'uprising, “ thou understandest my thought afar off. Thou compas“ sest my path and my lying down, and art acquainted with « all my ways. For there is not a word in my tongue, but “lo, O Lord, thou knowest it altogether. Thou hast be“ set me behind and before, and laid thine hand upon me. “ Such knowledge is too wonderful for me, I cannot attain “ unto it. Whither shall I go from thy spirit ? or whither « shall I flee from thy presence? If I ascend up into heaven, “ thou art there. If I make my bed in hell, behold thou « art there. If I take the wings of the morning, and dwell " in the utterinost part of the sea ; even there shall thy hand “ lead me, and thy right hand shall holá me. If I say, “ Surely the darkness shall cover me; even the night shall be “ light about 'me. Yea, the darkness hideth not from thee, “ but the night shineth as the day : the darkness and the « light are both alike to thee,” ver. 1, &c.
But perhaps, during the course of this meditation, you may have murmured at our presenting an object, of which all the preaching in the world can give you only imperfect ideas. Suspend your judgments we are going to shew you whither this discourse, all glimmering as it is, ought to conduct you. We are going to see what salutary consequences follow our efforts, even the weak efforts, that we have been making to explain the grandeur and omnipresence of God. Let us pass to the conclusion, the chief design of this discourse.
1. Our first reflection is on the difficulties we meet with in fixing our minds on such subjects as we have been hearing. You have doubtless experienced, if you have endeavoured to follow us, that you are weary, and wander when you would go beyond matter. Our minds find almost nothing real, where they meet with nothing sensible. As if the whole essence of beings were corporeal, the mind loseth its way when it ceaseth to be directed by bodies, and it needs the help of imagination to represent even those things which are not susceptible of images ; and yet whatever is most grand and noble in the nature of beings is spirit. The sublimest objects, angels who are continually before God, se
who cover the ministers of his willid times ten thou
raphims who cover their faces, in his presence, Isa. vi. 2, cherubims who are the ministers of his will, thousand thousands which minister unto him, ten thousand times ten thousand which stand before him, Dan. vii. 10. what is most glorious in man, what elevates him above other animals, a foul made in the image of God himself; the Being of beings, the Sovereign Beauty: all these beings are spiritual, abstract, free from sense and matter. Moreover, what pleases and enchants us in bodies, even that comes from a subject abstract, spiritual and corporeal. Without your soul, aliments have no taste, flowers no smell, the earth no enamel, fire no heat, the stars no brilliancy, the sun no light. Matter of itself is void, and gross, destitute of all the qualities with which our imagination clothes it, and which are proper to our souls. What ought we to conclude from this reflection? My brethren, have you no idea of your dignity, and primitive grandeur ? Have younot even yet some faint resemblances of beings formed in the Creator's image? you ought, feeble as you are, confined as you are in a manner to matter, you should deplore your misery, you should groan under that necessity, which, in some sort, confounds your souls with a little dust, you should sigh after that happy state in which your rapid, free and unclogged spirits shall meditate like themselves. This is the first duty we should prescribe to you. .
2. Our next reflection is on the majesty of our religion. That must certainly be thought the true religion which gives us the noblest ideas of God. Let our religion be judged by this rule. Where do we see the attributes of the Supreme Being placed in so clear a light? what can be more noble than this idea of God? what can be conceived more sublime than a Being whom nothing escapes, before whom all things are naked and open, Heb. iv. 13. who, by one single look, fully comprehends all beings past, present, and to come, all that do exist, all that possibly can exist? who thinks, in the same instant, with equal facility on bodies and spirits, on all the dimensions of time and of matter? What more noble can be conceived than a Being who imparteth himself to all, diffuseth himself through all, influenceth all, giveth life and inotion to all? What can be conceived more noble than a Being who directeth the conduct of the whole universe, who knoweth how to make all concur to his designs, who knoweth how to connect alike with the laws of order and equity, the virtues of the righteous, the vices of the wicked, the praises of the happy, the blasphemies of the
victims sacrificed to his vengeance in hell ? When we find in any heathen philosopher, amidst a thousand false nocions, ainidst a thousand wild imaginations, some few leaves of the flowers with which our bibles are strewed, we are ready to cry a miracle, a miracle, we transmit these shreds of the Deity (if I may be allowed to speak so) to the most distant posterity, and these ideas, all defective, and all defiled as they are, procure their authors immortal reputation. On this principle, what respect, what veneration, what deference ought we to have for the Patriarchs and the Prophets, for the Evangelists and the Apostles, who spoke of God in so. sublime a manner ! However, be not surprized at their superiority over the great pagan geniusses : had the biblical writers, like them, beén guided only by human reason, like them they would have wandered too. If they spoke so nobly of God, it was because they had received that spirit who searcheth all things, yea the deep things of God, 1 Cor. ii. 10. It was because all scripture was given by inspiration, 2 Tim. iii. 16. It was because the prophecy. came not in old time by the will of man, but holy men bf God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost, 2 Pet. i. 21.
3. Make a third reflection. This attribute of God removes the greatest stumbling-blocks that sceptics and inw. fidels pretend to meet with in religion. It justifies all those dark mysteries which are above the comprehension of our feeble reason. We would not make use of this reflection to open a way for human fancies, and to authorize every thing that is presented to us under the idea of the marvellous. All doctrines that are incomprehensible are not divine, nor ought we to embrace any opinion merely because it is beyond our knowledge. But when a religion, in other respects, hath good guarantees, when we have good arguments to prove that such a revelation comes from heaven, when we certainly know that it is God who'speaks, ought we to be surprized, if ideas of God, which come so fully authenticated, absorb and confound us? I freely grant, that, had I c011sulted my own reason only, I could not have discovered some mysteries of the gospel. Nevertheless, when I think on the immensity of God, when I cast my eyes on that vast ocean, when I consider that immense all, nothing astonishes me, nothing stumbles me, nothing seems to me inadmissible, how'incomprehensible soever it may be. When the subject is divine, I am ready to believe all, to admit all, to receive
all; provided I be convinced that it is God himself who speaks to me, or any one on his part. After this I am no more astonished that there are three distinct persons in one divine essence; one God, and yet a Father, a Son, and a Holy Ghost. After this, I am no more astonished that God foresees all without forcing any; permits sin without forcing the sinner; ordains free and intelligent creatures to such and such ends, yet without destroying their intelligence, or their liberty. After this, I am no more astonished, that the justice of God required a satisfaction proportional to his greatness, that his own love hath provided that satisfaction, and that God, from the abundance of his compassion, designed the mystery of an incarnate God; a mystery which angels admire while sceptics oppose; a mystery which absorbs human reason, but which fills all heaven with songs of praise ; a mystery which is the great mystery, by excellence, 1 Tim. iii. 16. but the greatness of which nothing should make us reject, since religion proposeth it as the grand effort of the wisdom of the incomprehensible God, and commandeth us to receive it on the testimony of the incomprehensible God himself. Either religion must tell us nothing about God, or what it tells us must be beyond our capacities, and, in discovering even the borders of this immense ocean, it must needs exhibit a vast extent in which our fecble eyes are lost. But what surprizes me, what stumbles me, what frightens me, is to see a diminutive creature, a contemptible man, a little ray of light glimmering thiough a few feeble organs, controvert a point with the Supreme Being, oppose that Intelligence who sitteth at the helın of the world ; question what he affirins, dispute what he determines, appeal from his decisions, and, even after God hath given evidence, reject all.doctrines that are beyond his capacity. . Enter into thy nothingness, mortal creature. What madness aniinates thee? How darest thou pretend, thou who art but a point, thou whose essence is but an atom, to measure thyself with the Supreme Being, with himn who fills heaven and earth, with him whom heaven, the heaven of heavens cannot contain? 1 Kings viii. 27. Canst thou by searching find out God? Canst thou find out the Almighty to perfection? high as heaven what canst thou do? deeper than hell what canst thou know ? Job xi. 7. He stretcheth out the north over the empty place, and hangeth the earth upon nothing. He bindeth up the waters in his thick clouds, the pillars of heaven tremble, and are astonished at his reproof: Lo
gritain? 1 Kings thou find out in do? deeper thout the north.