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Concerning our imitation of the divine perfections.
MATT. v. 48.
Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.
N thefe words we have, firft, the abfolute per- SER M. fection of the divine nature fuppofed, not only CXXXI. in those before mentioned, of goodness, and mercy, and patience; but in all other excellencies whatsoever.
Secondly, The perfection of GOD is propounded as a pattern for our imitation.
In the handling of thefe two particulars, I propounded to proceed in this method.
I. To fhew how we are to conceive of the divine perfection.
II. To lay down fome rules, by which we may rectify and govern our opinions concerning the attributes and perfections of GOD.
III. To fhew how far we are to imitate the perfections of GOD, and particularly what those divine qualities are which our SAVIOUR doth here more especially propound to our imitation.
IV. To clear the true meaning of this precept; and to fhew that the duty here intended by our SAVIOUR is not impoffible to us; and then to draw fome useful inferences from the whole.
The two first I have already spoken; to I now CXXXI. proceed to the third particular, which is, to fhew how far we are to imitate the perfections of GOD, and particularly what thofe divine qualities are, which our SAVIOUR doth here more efpecially propound to our imitation. For though these words do fuppofe the abfolute perfection of the divine nature, yet because there are feveral perfections of GOD which are incommunicable, and a creature, as fuch, is utterly incapable of them, these cannot be fupposed to be intended for a pattern to us. As the neceffity and independency of the divine nature; and the felf-fufficiency of it to his own happiness; to be the original cause of all things; and confequently fupreme Lord and Governor; the immenfity and eternity of his being; these, and perhaps feveral other perfections, are incommunicable to a creature; and it would be an unfufferable pride, and a kind of high treafon against the divine Majefty, and a fottish ignorance of the neceffary bounds and limits of our own state, as we are creatures, to think to resemble GoD in thefe excellencies, of which the condition of a creature is utterly incapable. This was the fin of Lucifer; an ambition to ftep into the throne of God, and to be like the most High.
So that in our imitation of the divine perfection, we are to keep within the ftation of creatures, not affecting an independency and fovereignty like the moft High, and to be omnipotent as he is, "to "have an arm like GoD, and to thunder with a "voice like him," as the expreffion is in Job: but to endeavour to resemble him, pro modulo creaturæ, "according to the rate and capacity of a creature, in thofe divine qualities, and in fuch measures and,
degrees, as our finite and dependent nature is ca- SER M. pable of.
More especially and chiefly in the moral perfections of the divine nature, fuch as are his goodness, and mercy, and patience, his juftice, and truth, and faithfulness; these, and only thefe, the fcripture feems to comprehend under the name of holinefs; not all the excellencies of the divine nature in general, but those which we call moral excellencies and perfections, fuch as those which I have named; for with these, and hardly with any other, is the holiness of God joined in fcripture, as "holy "and righteous, holy and true," &c. And therefore when GOD fays, "be ye holy, for I am holy," it fignifies that we are to imitate GOD, in his goodnefs, and mercy, and patience, and righteousness, and faithfulness, and truth; for these are the holinefs of the divine nature, which fet him at the greateft distance from that which we call moral impurity and fin.
For that which our SAVIOUR here in the text more peculiarly recommends to our imitation, is the goodness of GOD, of which his mercy and patience are two eminent branches. The mercy of GOD is his goodness to thofe that are in mifery, or are liable to it. The patience of GOD is his mercy in fparing those who have deserved punishment, and liable to it. And the goodness of GOD is then greatest, when it is exercifed towards the evil and unthankful; those who are so far from deferving it, that they have given great and just provocations to the contrary. And this affectionate temper of mind, which is fo remarkable in GoD towards the unworthy and unthankful fons of men, our SAVIOUR recommends to our imitation here in the text. "Be
SERM. ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which CXXXI." is in heaven is perfect." Be ye therefore; this particle of inference, therefore, hath a plain relation to fomething spoken before; and if we look back to ver. 44. we fhall find our SAVIOUR there enjo`ning his difciples to love their enemies, to blefs "them that curfe them, to do good to them that "hate them, and to pray for thofe that defpightfully use them, and perfecute them." And by what other argument doth he inforce the practice of this difficult duty, but by telling us, that this i to be like Gon, to be good to the evil and unthankful, ver. 45. "That ye may be the children "of your heavenly Father, who maketh his fun to "rife on the evil and the good; and his rain to "fall on the juft, and on the unjust." GOD is good to all, and exercifeth great mercy and patience even towards the evil, and unjust. And then he concludes, that if perfection itself be fit to be a pattern, we should labour after these qualities; "Be cc ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which "is in heaven is perfect." So that though the univerfal perfection of the divine nature be here supposed, yet the attributes of his goodnefs, and mercy, and patience, are here particularly pointed at, and propounded to us for our pattern; and the precept of imitating the divine perfection is more especially to be understood of thofe perfections which our SAVIOUR had been difcourfing of before, viz. the goodnefs and mercy of God. of GOD. And that this is undoubtedly fo, is evident from St. Luke's rendring this precept, Ch. vi. 36. "Be ye therefore oixlip
moves, benefici, ready to do good, full of kindnefs and benignity; merciful, as your Father which is in heaven is merciful;" that is, endeavour you