Page images

and the most knowing philosophers derive only a finite knowledge from him. And the same may be said of others. There are then some incontestible 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 favours, and entirely submissive to his will. If creature-perfections be only emanations froin him, the source of all perfections, I ought to have nobler sentiments of his perfections, than of those of creatures, elevated howsoever the latter may be. I ought to fear bim 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 is 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 text, 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 pret":nd 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, a d 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 whiat cases he will approve of our conduct, and in what cases he will condemn it: they only mean, that finite minds carinot form complete ideas of God, know the whole sphere of his attributes, or certainly foresee all the effects they can

Aa 2


produce. Thus we have endeavoured to restrain the words of the text.

[ocr errors]

II. We are to determine their object. The prophet's ex. pression 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 ye upon him while he is near. Let the wicked forsake his way, and the righteous 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 inconceivable 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, shail 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 with, out 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,

natural hat perfect of the

3, 4. Who is this leader, whom God gave to be a witness to the people, that is, to manifest his attributes to the Gentiles? 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 in the land that I have given them, they, and their children, and their children's children for ever; and iny servant David shall be their prince for ever,Exek. xxxvii. 25. I purposely pass by many 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 passage, 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 give you the sure mercics 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 losing 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, and con templating the number and variety of its works, exclaimed,

O Lord

O Lord, our Lord, howo ercellent is thy name in all the earth! who hast set thy glory above the heavens. When we consider thy heavens, the work of thy fingers; the moon and the stars which thou hast ordained; What is man that thou art mindful of him ? and the son of man, that thou visitest him ? Psal viii. 1, 3, 4. Sometimes their attention was fixed on the immensity of God, and contemplating it, they exclaimed, Ihither shall we go from thy spirit ? or whither shall we free from thy presence ? If we ascend up into heaven thou art there, if we make our bed in hell, behold thou art there: If we take the wings of the morning, and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea; even there shall thy hand lead us, and thy right hand shall hold us, Pral. cxxxix. 7, 10. But, however agreeable these objects of meditation may be, there is something mortifying and distressing in them. The more we discover the grandeur of tue Supreme Being, the greater distance we perceive between ourselves and him. We perceive him indeed: but it is as an inhabitant of light which no man can approach unto, 1 Tim.: vi. 16. and from all our efforts to know him we derive this reflection of the propher, Such knowledge is too wonderful for me: it is high; I cannot attain unto it, Psai. cxxxix. 6. .

But the meditation of the goodness of God is as full of consolation as it is of sublimity. This ocean of the Deity is an ocean of love. These dimensions, that surpass your knowledge, are dimensions of love. These distances, a part only of which are visible to you, are depths of mercy, and those words which God hath addressed to you, my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, are equal to these: As far as heaven is above the earth ; or more fully, as far as ye finite creatures are inferior to ine the infinite God, so far are your ideas of my compassion and love to you inferior to my pity and esteem for you. Try; Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts; let not the multitude, or the enormity of his crimes terrify him into a despair of obtaining the pardon uf them: Let him return unio the Lord, and he will have mercy upon him ; and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon. For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the Lord. l'or as the heateins are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts.


Having thus determined the object, and restrained the meaning of the text, we shall proceed to adduce the proofs.

III. The prophet addresseth himself to two sorts of people ; first, to the heathens, who knew no more of the goodness of God than what they had discovered by the glimmering light of nature: next, to some Jews, or to some christians, who indeed, knew it by the light of revelation, but who had not so high a notion of it as to believe it sufficient to pardon all their sins. To both he saith on the part of God; My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways. My thoughts are not your thoughts, you Gentile philosophers. You know my goodness only by your speculations on the nature of the Supreme being : but all that you discover, in this way, is nothing in comparison of what the Messiah will teach you in the gospel. My thoughts are not your thoughts, vou timorous consciences, you gloomy and melancholy minds. Behod I yet open to you treasures of mercy, which you thought you had exhausted: My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your trays my ways : for as the heavens are higher than the curth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts.

First, The prophet addresseth heathens, who had no other knowledge of God than a few speculations on the nature of the First Being ; and who were never able to discover three mysteries of divine love.

1. The mean by which God conciliated his justice with his love.

2. His patience with those who abuse this mean.

3. His intimate union with those who fall in with the design of his patience.

1. The first mystery of love, which the wisest pagan philosophers could never discover, is the mean that God hath chosen to conciliate his justice with his love.

Let us carefully avoid the forming of low notions of God; let us not imagine that the attributes of God clash: No, God is perfectly consistent with himself, and his attributes mutually support each other. When we say, the love of God resisted his justice, we mean that, according to cur way of thinking, there were some inconveniencies in determining the fate of mankind after the entrance of sin. In effect, what must become of this race of rebels ? Shall God execute that sentence on them, which he hath pronounced against sin? But chains of darkness, a lake burning with fire and


« PreviousContinue »