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can help us to understand them : and if we search them in dependence on, and prayer for, his teaching, he will lead us into all truth, as far as our safety, peace, and duty require it. It may be proper here to caution the reader against fanciful interpretations, which surprise and amuse, but mislead men from the practical meaning of Scripture: and against those, who pretend to modernize divine truth; not choosing to “ speak according to the oracles of God;" but as they suppose the apostles would have done, if they had possessed the advantage of modern improvements: a supposition just as wise, as to attempt improving the light of the sun by astronomy! In short, every text has its proper meaning, as it stands related to the context; and its proper application to us : these we should seriously investigate, with fervent prayer for divine teaching ; without presuming to add to, alter, or deduct from, the revealed will of God (Deut. xxix, 29).
Lastly, We shall search the Scriptures, as the navigator consults his chart, and makes his observations; that he may discover where he is, and what course he must steer: or as any one looks into a glass, that he may both know what manner of man he is, and learn to adjust what is unbecoming : or as an heir reads his father's will, and the inventory of his effects and estates; that he may know what the inheritance is, and the nature of the tenure by which he must possess it. We should accompany our reading with impartial self-examination ; both in respect of our knowledge, judgement, dispositions, affections, motives, words, and actions, in every particular, at present and in times past; that we may learn the state and wants of our souls; and with self-application, as the persons spoken to, in every instruction, precept, sanction, counsel, warning, invitation, promise, &c.; according to our state, character, conduct, and circumstances : pausing to inquire, whether we have understood what we have read, and what we learned from it; that, beseeching the Lord to pardon what is past, and to help us for the future, we may, without delay or reserve, begin to practise what we know, waiting for further light in such matters as still continue doubtful or obscure to us. It would be easy to multiply directions; but the Scriptures thus studied aro “ able to make us wise unto salvation, by faith in Jesus Christ.”
On the Scripture Character of God.
Every attentive and intelligent student of the Bible will perceive, that revelation was vouchsafed to man, in order to deliver or preserve him from idolatry, by instructing him in the character and perfections of the one living and true God, and the way in which he would be worshipped ; as well as to teach other duties, and to influence him to perform them. The jealous care of Jehovah to distinguish betwixt himself and every idol, to secure the glory to himself, without allowing any of it to be given to another, and the terrible denunciations pronounced against, and severe judgments executed upon, idolators, must attract the notice of all who are conversant with the sacred oracles, and convince every impartial person, that idolatry is the greatest of all sins, atheism alone excepted.
Yet in this, as in oth things,' the “ wisdom of man (which is foolishness with God),” has led numbers to adopt a contrary opinion : so that, whilst an elegant and admired poet hath employed his fascinating ingenuity to persuade mankind, that God is worshipped with equal acceptance “ by saint, by savage, and by sage," or whether he be called “ Jehovah, Jove, or Lord *,
* Pope's Universal Prayer.
(which in this connection may signify Baal); it is also become a fashionable principle of modern rational divinity, that all such distinctions are immaterial, and all religions very much alike, if men be sincere in their way. So that numbers, seem to think what they call bigotry (though wholly free from intolerance or persecution) to be worse than any mental errors; even in respect of the object of religious worship: and that candour and liberality of sentiment are more important virtues than the supreme love and spiritual adoration of Johovah, as distinguished from all false gods !
But who does not perceive, that this principle, if carried to its obvious consequences, amounts to a rejection of the Bible, or at least puts it on the same footing with Hesiod's Theogonia, or the Koran? Who can avoid seeing, that it imputes bigotry and a contradicted mind to the prophets and apostles, and to every approved character of holy writ, without excepting that of our Lord himself? Nay, will it not follow from it, that Jehovah wrought many stupendous miracles to no manner of purpose ? For we must not only inquire, why Moses was so careful to distinguish the God of Israel from the idols of Egypt and of the nations ? or what induced David to expect assistance in meeting Goliath, who despised the armies of Jehovah," that all the earth might know that there was a God in Israel?” (1 Sam. xvii. 45-47,) or on what account Elijah was so earnest to determine whether the Lord or Baal were the true God? (1 Kings xviii.) but we must also demand, why he answered their expectations and prayers by miraculous interpositions, if the point to be decided were of little or no importance ?
When the God of Hezekiah delivered him from the power of the Assyrians, by the slaughter of one hundred and eighty-five thousand men, whilst Sennacherib was slain by his own sons in the house and worship of Nisroch his god ; the distinction between Jehovah and every idol was strongly marked. These are a few, out of very numerous instances and evidences, which might be brought from the Old Testament, to confirm the point in question. When our Lord told the woman of Samaria, that “her nation knew not what they worshipped, for salvation was of the Jews” (John iv. 22—24); when Paul proposed to declare unto the polite and philosophical Athenians, that “unknown God, whom they ignorantly worshipped," and to distinguish the Creator and Judge of the world from all their idols (Acts xvii. 23—31); and when he informed the Corinthians that their idol sacrifices were offered unto devils, and not to God (1 Cor. x. 20); they plainly showed, that such candour, as is now contended for, was no part of their plan, but absolutely incompatible with it.
Indeed, the apostle has informed us, that idolatry originated from men's aversion to God; “ they liked not to retain him in their knowledge” (Rom. i. 18—23. 28). His holy character and spiritual service suited not with their carnal minds; and therefore deities were invented of another sort, and a worship coincident with their corrupt inclinations. When we consider how Christian festivals are generally celebrated, we shall cease to wonder, that Israel preferred the golden calf to Jehovah, and joyfully “sat down to eat and drink, and rose up to play," instead of attending the sacred ordinances of the living God: and a competent knowledge of humam nature will enable us easily to account for the predilection, which that people ever manifested for the gods of the nations, and their jovial and licentious rites. For the religion of the Gentiles, instead of producing any salutary effect on their conduct, led them to practise the grossest enormities, not only without remorse, but in order to appease or find acceptance with their deities; and thus it tended to corrupt both their principles and morals. No doubt, the great enemy of God and man, both from ambition of engrossing the worship of idolators, and from the malignity of his nature, aided their invention, in forming the characters and imagining the exploits of their deities, partly in resemblance to his own abominable propensities, and partly according to the worst vices of mankind : that so the most destructive crimes might be sanctioned, and the vilest affections, as it were, consecrated, by conformity to the objects of their worship. No wonder that they were ferocious in.war, and debauched in their general conduct, when their religious observances comprised the most savage cruelties, the most shameless.licentiousness, and the greatest excesses of intemperance; and when at last they could not equal in these respects, the gods whom they had invented for themselves !
Indeed, if religion be supposed to produce any effect on the conduct of mankind, every person of common sense must allow, that the character and actions ascribed to the object of worship, must be of the greatest possible importance : for as these are, so will the sincere worshipper be. To please, to resemble, to imitate the object of adoration, must be the supreme aim and ambition of every devotee; whether of Jupiter, Mars, Bacchus, Venus, Moloch, or Mammon; as well as of every spiritual worshipper of Jehovah : and we may,
therefore, know what to expect from every man, if we are acquainted with his sentiments concerning the God that he adores : provided we can ascertain the degree in which he is sincere and earnest in his religion. It would be absurd to expect much honesty from him, who devotedly worshipped Mercury as the god of thieving ; much mercy from a devotee of Moloch ; love of peace from the worshipper of Mars; or chastity from the priestess of Venus: and, whatever philosophical speculators may imagine, both the Scriptures and profane history (ancient and modern) show, that the bulk of mankind, in heathen nations, were far more sincere in, and influenced by their absurd idolatries, than professed Christians are by the Bible; because they are more congenial to corrupt nature. Nay, it is a fact, that immense multitudes of human sacrifices are, at this day, annually offered according to the rules of a dark superstition; and various other flagrant immoralities sanctioned by religion amongst these idolaters, who have been erroneously considered as the most inoffensive of the human race. • But these proportional 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: and in what doth 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 Scripture character of God, the effect must be the same, in a measure, as to those who earnestly desire to imitate, resemble, and 'please the object of their adoration.
Indeed, 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 themselves, 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 objects of his complacency, and entitled to his favour; or at least not deserve ing 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 inconsiderable, or prejudiciał. Thus men “ think that God is altogether such as themselves,” (Psalm l. 21), and a self-Aattering, carnalized religion is substituted for the humbling, holy, and spiritual gospel of Christ.
The different ideas which men form of God, (whilst the Scripture 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
* Charles II.
damņ a man for taking “a little pleasure in an irregular 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 : a 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 deem him very favourable to the self-wise, and such as are superior to vulgar prejudices, whatever he may do in respect of 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 in respect of religious duties, and in the common concerns of life.
These observations suffice to show us the reason why “ the world by wisdom knew not God," and 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 which is 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 hath made of himself.
Thus the Jews knew not the God they zealously worshipped: they totally mistook his character, and therefore they 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, (John viii. 54, 55; xv. 21-24; xvi. 3)., If we would, therefore, know God in a saving and sanctifying manner, (John xvii. 3 ; 2 Cor. iii. 18; iv. 3—6), we must not “ lean to our own understandings," nor « trust in our own Searts;" 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 the glory and harmony of them ; remembering, that “ his testimony is sure, and giveth wis, dom to the simple," and likewise, “ that no man knoweth the Father, save the Son, and he to whomsoever the Son will reveal him,” (Matt. xi. 25—30.)
If then we carefully." search the Scriptures," we shall find that this subject constitutes a principal part of their contents; and that the Lord makes himself known to us in two ways. 1. By express declarations; and 2. By his works and dispensations, as illustrating and exemplifying his 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 perfeca tions of God, which vastly exceeds whatever is admired as sublime in Pagan writers. Jehovah speaks of himself, “ as the high and lofty One who inha-' biteth 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;" yea, knoweth their thoughts afar off;" there is no fleeing from his presence; “ the light and darkness to him are both alike dwelleth in light inaccessible, no man hath seen or can see him ;” “ He 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 change 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 in this respect their declarations do not so materially differ from the deductions of man's reason on this subject, or at least from what it approves and allows; and it is principally to be observed, that such an infinite Agent can, with most perfect ease, superintend the affairs, whether vast or minute, of the universe : whereas, some philosophers have supposed that such an attention would be either a degradation or an incumbrance 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! But as 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 ; so these natural perfections do not so much constitute any part of the Divine character, as define and describe Him to whom it 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 'weigħed ;” “ a God of truth without iniquity; just and right is he.” “ Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right?" " for he is of purer eyes than to behold evil.” So that he is declared to be both infinitely holy in his nature, and unalterably righteous in his government of the world : for • God is jealous, and the Lord revengeth; the Lord revengeth and is furious; he will take vengeance on his adversaries,” &c. (Nah. i. 2-6). We are indeed told by speculating men, that such expressions are only an accommodation to human infirmity, and that there are no such passions in the Divine nature. Now, if this merely were intended to direct our interpretation of them, and to remind us, that all that perturbation which anger and revenge excite in our minds, and all those effects which flow from them, were to be excluded from our apprehensions of the Deity, it would be very proper. But surely the only wise God knows best how to speak of himself; and we may safely “ speak according to his oracles.” Abhorrence of evil, and indignation against evil doers, are not sinful passions, but requisite to a holy character; and to execute vengeance on criminals is the indispensable duty of a ruler. We pretend not to explain how these things subsist in, and are executed by the Divine mind; but we know who hath said, “ vengeance is mine, and I will recompense;' and we hesitate not to repeat his words, without attempting to explain away their awful import.
When we have added to this delineation, the enlarged goodness and liberality of the Lord, who delighteth in communicating being and blessedness, and '“ openeth his hand to fill all things living with plenteousness;" we perceive a character completely amiable, adorable, and glorious, and peculiarly animating to all obedient creatures ; and must allow the reasonableness of the command, “ thou shalt love the Lord with all thy heart," &c. Yet is it most tremendous to sinners, who must be discouraged, and verge to despair, in proportion as they become acquainted with it; except as they attend to the discovery of his plenteous, rich, and everlasting mercy. Mercy respects misery, and transgression as the cause of it; it pities and relieves misery, and pardons sin; and without this attribute, even the providential goodness of God would tend to aggravate our guilt, and increase our condemnation. Mercy, therefore, is in Scripture spoken of, as the peculiar glory of God, and the grand subject of the believer's confidence, joy, and grateful praise. Yet when the Lord proclaims his name as
6 merciful and gracious, slow to anger, long-suffering, ready to forgive," &c. he commonly gives some intimation, “ that he will by no means clear the guilty,” or the impenitent and unbelieving, (Exod. xxxiv. 6,7; Nah. i. 2–7; Rom. iii. 19-31; 2 Pet. ii. 4-9): and all his declarations of compassion and love to