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Bnt these effects on the moral character of mankind are not peculiar to gross idolatry. If men fancy that they worship the true God alone, and yet form a wrong notion of his character and perfections ; they only substitute a more refined idolatry in the place of paganism, and worship the creature of their own imagination, though not the work of their own hands : for in what does such an ideal Being, though called Jehovah, differ from that called Jupiter or Baal? The character ascribed to him may indeed come nearer the truth than the other, and the delusion may be more refined; but, if it essentially differ from the scriptural character of God, the effect must be the same in a measure on those who earnestly desire to imitate, resemble, and please the object of their adoration.
When sinful men presume to delineate the character of God for themselves, however learned or sagacious they may be, their reasonings will inevitably be warped by the general depravity of fallen nature, and by their own peculiar prejudices and vices. Partial to their own character, and indulgent to their master-passion, (which perhaps they mistake for an excellency,) they will naturally ascribe to the Deity what they value in themselves; and suppose him lenient to such things as they indulge and excuse: they will be sure to arrange their plan in such a manner as to conclude themselves the object of his complacency, and entitled to his favour ; or at least not deserving his abhorrence, and exposed to his avenging justice: they will consider their own judgment of what is fit and right as the measure and rule of his government: their
religious worship will accord to such mistaken conclusions; and the effect of their faith upon their conduct will be either inconsiderable or prejudicial. Thus men“ think that God is altogether such a
one as themselves,"l and a self-flattering carnal religion is substituted for the humbling, holy, and spiritual gospel of Christ.
The different ideas which men form of God, while the scriptural character of him is overlooked, result from the various dispositions and propensities which they derive from constitution, education, and habit. The voluptuary will imagine, with a certain dissolute monarch, that God will not • damn a man for taking a little pleasure in an irre'gular manner:' nor can the ambitious warrior, or covetous oppressor, be convinced that the supreme Being will demand a strict account of all the blood shed, or the injustice committed, in their respective pursuits. The speculating philosopher may imagine a Deity too dignified to notice the conduct, or too clement to punish the crimes of puny mortals: at least he will suppose him very favourable to the self-wise, and such as are superior to vulgar prejudices, however he may act towards debauchees and sanguinary tyrants. Thus men's ideas of God are framed according to their own prevailing propensities : and then those ideas of him reciprocally tend to form their characters and influence their conduct, both with respect to religious duties, and in the common concerns of life.
These observations suffice to shew us the reason why “the world by wisdom knew not God;" and
1 Psalm 1.21.
? Charles II.
to prove that it is impossible, in the very nature of things, for a fallen creature to know him except by revelation, and by faith appropriating the instruction thus vouchsafed: for self-love and carnal affections will so bias the mind, as to defeat the design of the most patient investigation, and to deduce erroneous conclusions from the most accurate and, apparently, most impartial reasonings upon this subject ; except as they are conducted with a constant regard to the revelation which God has made of himself.
Thus the Jews “knew not” the God whom they zealously worshipped: they totally mistook his character, and therefore despised and rejected “the “ effulgency of his glory, and the express image” of his invisible perfection ; and they hated and persecuted, most conscientiously, his spiritual worshippers. Would we then know God, in a saving and sanctifying manner, we must not “ lean to our “ own understanding,” or “ trust in our own “ hearts;" we must not resort to the schools, or sit at the feet of renowned philosophers, ancient or modern; but we must apply to the word of God himself, that we may thence learn, in humble teachableness and implicit faith, what we ought to think of his perfections, and of their glory and harmony; remembering that “ his testimony is sure, making “ wise the simple ;” and likewise, that “no man “ knoweth the Father, save the Son, and he to " whomsoever the Son will reveal him.”3
If then we carefully“ search the scriptures,” we
John, viii. 54, 55. xv, 21--24, xvi. 2, 3. Acts, xxvi. 9. ? John, xvii. 3. 2 Cor. iii. 18. iv. 3-6. * Matt. xi. 25-30.
shall find that this subject constitutes a principal part of their contents; and that there are two ways in which the Lord makes himself known to us : 1. By express declarations ; and 2. By his works and dispensations, as illustrating and exemplifying such declarations. A few hints on each of these will constitute the remaining part of this Essay: it being chiefly intended to assist the serious student of the scriptures, in profitably considering this important subject, as he proceeds with his daily researches.
I. We consider the Lord's express declarations concerning himself. There is a majesty in the passages of holy writ, that relate to the natural perfections of God, which vastly exceeds whatever is admired as sublime in pagan writers. Jehovah speaks of himself as “the high and lofty One, who “ inhabiteth eternity.” “Heaven is his throne, and “ the earth his footstool.” “ The heaven of heavens “ cannot contain him." “ All nations before him
are as nothing ; they are counted to him as less “than nothing, and vanity.” “From everlasting “to everlasting he is God;" “ the Almighty, the “ all-sufficient God.” His wisdom is infinite:” “ There is no searching of his understanding :" “ He knoweth all things.” “He searcheth the “ hearts of all the children of men; he knoweth their
thoughts afar off.” “ There is no fleeing from “his presence.”
“ The light and darkness to him “ are both alike." “He dwelleth in light inacces“ ble; no man hath seen or can see him.” “ doeth what he will in the armies of heaven, and
among the inhabitants of the earth.” His is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever.”
“ He is most blessed for evermore :" for “ with him “ is no variableness or shadow of turning." These and numberless other declarations, expressly and emphatically ascribe eternity, self-existence, omnipresence, omnipotence, omniscience, immutability, incomprehensible greatness and majesty, and essential felicity and glory in full perfection, to the Lord our God.
But the instructions of scripture do not materially differ from the deductions of reason on this subject, or at least from what it allows and approves. It is therefore principally to be observed, that such an infinite Agent can with most perfect ease superintend the affairs of the universe, whether vast or minute: whereas some philosophers have supposed, that this would be either a degradation or an encumbrance to him ; thus virtually ascribing to him imperfection, and attempting to deprive him of his throne, as if he were not qualified to fill it !- It is, however, a consideration of peculiar importance, that infinite power, knowledge, and greatness, if they could subsist without infinite truth, justice, and goodness, would be terrible indeed beyond conception, yet not at all adorable or amiable: and these natural perfections do not so properly constitute any part of the divine character, as define and describe Him to whom that character belongs. Accordingly we continually read in the sacred scriptures, that Jehovah " is righteous in all his
ways, and holy in all his works." “ He is” not only " a God of knowledge,” but “ by him actions
are weighed.” “ A God of truth, and without ini
quity; just and right is he.” “Shall not the Judge “ of all the earth do right?” for “he is of purer