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Concerning our imitation of the di
MATT. v. 48.
is in heaven is perfect.
N these words we have, first, the absolute per- SERAT. fection of the divine nature supposed, 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 these two particulars, I propounded to proceed in this method.
I. To shew how we are to conceive of the divine perfection.
II. To lay down some 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
ferfections 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 shew that the duty here intended by our SAviour is not impossible to us, and then to draw Come useful inferences from the whole.
The two first I have already spoken ; to I now cxxxl. proceed to the third particular, which is, to shew
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. For though these words do suppose the absolute perfection of the divine nature, yet because there are several perfections of God which are incommunicable, and a creature, as such, is utterly incapable of them, these cannot be supposed to be intended for a pattern to us. As the necessity and independency of the divine nature ; and the self-sufficiency of it to his own happiness ; to be the original cause of all things; and consequently supreme Lord and Governor; the immensity and eternity of his being; these, and perhaps several other perfections, are incommunicable to a creature ; and it would be an unsufferable pride, and a kind of high treason against the divine Majesty, and a fottish ignorance of the necessary bounds and limits of our own state, as we are creatures, to think to resemble God in these excellencies, of which the condition of a creature is utterly incapable. This was the sin of Lucifer; an ambition to step 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 station of creatures, not affecting an independency and sovereignty like the most High, and to be omnipotent as he is, “ to “ have an arm like God, and to thunder with a * voice like him," as the expresion is in Job: but to endeavour to resemble him, pro modulo creatures “ according to the rate and capacity of a creature, in those divine qualities, and in such measures and,
degrees degrees, as our finite and dependent nature is ca-serm.
More especially and chiefly in the moral perfections of the divine nature, such as are his goodness, and mercy, and patience, his justice, and truth, and faithfulness; these, and only these, the scripture seems 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, such as those which I have named; for with these, and hardly with any other, is the holiness of God joined in scripture, as “ holy “ and righteous, holy and true,” &c. And therefore when God says, “ be ye holy, for I am holy," it signifies that we are to imitate God, in his goodness, and mercy, and patience, and righteousness, and faithfulness, and truth ; for these are the holiness of the divine nature, which set him at the greatest 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 those that are in misery, or are liable to it. The patience of God is his mercy in sparing those who have deserved punishment, and are liable to it. And the goodness of God is then greatest, when it is exercised towards the evil and unthankful; those who are so far from deserving it, that they have given great and just provocations to the contrary.
And this affectionate temper of mind, which is so remarkable in God towards the unworthy and unthankful fons of men, our Saviour recommends to our imitation here in the text. “Be
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 something spoken before ; and if we look back to ver. 44. we shall find our Saviour there enjo'ning his disciples " to love their enemies, to bless " them that curse them, to do good to them that « hate them, and to pray for those that despighe
fully use them, and persecute 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 God, to be good to the evil and un thankful, ver. 45.“ That ye may be the children “ of your heavenly Father, who maketh his sun to " rise on the evil and the good ; and his rain to “ fall on the juft, and on the unjust.” God is good to all, and exerciseth 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
ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which “ is in heaven is perfect.” So that though the universal perfection of the divine nature be here supposed, yet the attributes of his goodness, and mercy, and pacience, are here particularly pointed at, and pro. pounded to us for our pattern ; and the precept of imitating the divine perfection is more especially to be understood of those perfections which our SAVIOUR had been discourling of before, viz. the goodness and mercy of God. And that this is undoubtedly fo, is evident from St. Luke's rendring this precept, Ch. vi. 36. “ Be ye therefore oixlip
poves, beneficis ready to do good, full of kind“ ness and benignity; merciful, as your Father which o is in heaven is merciful;" that is, endeavour you