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him most amiable in his goodness, most terrible in SERM. his justice, most glorious and venerable in all his ways of providence: whatever perfections in essence, state, or practice, either philosophers (by rational collection from innate notions, or from contemplation of natural effects, or upon observing occurrences in human affairs) or other institutions from the relics of primitive tradition, by politic reflection upon things, from other fountains, or by other means whatever, have by parts (imperfectly, obscurely, and faintly) attributed to God, all those our religion, in a full, clear, and peremptory manner, with advantage beyond what I can express, doth ascribe and assert unto him; not intermixing therewith (as other doctrines and institutions may be observed to do) any thing unworthy of him, or misbecoming him; adjoining nothing repugnant to that which natural light discerneth or approveth; but shewing somewhat beyond what it can descry, concerning God's incomprehensible nature and manner of subsistence, his unsearchable counsels of wisdom, his admirable methods of providence, whereby he hath designed to commend his goodness to us, and to glorify his justice; which sorts of truths exceeding man's reach to devise or comprehend as it becometh God (who so far transcendeth us in wisdom and knowledge) to reveal them; so they, wondrously conspiring with the perfections of God otherwise discernible by us, do argue or confirm the divinity of the doctrine, which acquainteth us with them for a doctrine, how plausible soever, which should teach us nothing about God, that by other means could not be found out, and whose bottom common sense might not fathom, there were no urgent cause why we should
SERM. derive it from heaven, or why we should not rather XVI. deem it the invention of some witty or subtile man. But such a doctrine as this, (which as it telleth us nothing about divine things that contradicteth reason, so it informeth us many things which no understanding of man had ever conceived, none can penetrate,) we may justly presume to come from a superior wisdom, we must at least avow it worthy of God; in the contrivances of man's wit or fancy about things of this nature, as in divers instances it hath happened, most probably many flaws and incongruities presently would have appeared; they would have clashed with themselves, or with the dictates of common reason: that, for instance, God should out of his own bosom send down his eternal Son to partake of our nature, and appear in our flesh, that with utmost advantage he might discover God's will and merciful intentions toward us, that he might set before us an exact pattern of good life; that by his obedience and patience he might expiate our sin, and reconcile God to mankind; that he might raise in us a hope of, and lead us in the way to, happiness; this indeed is a mystery, and a depth of wisdom, which we should never have thought of, nor can yet thoroughly sound by thinking, which we better may admire, than we can understand: but neither doth good reason disallow it, nor can disprove it; yea, good reason so far confirmeth it, as it cannot but admit it to import nothing but that which is plainly true and most credible, the immense goodness and justice of God; concerning which nothing ought to seem strange or uncouth to us, since even by the care expressed in matters of ordinary providence divine goodness appeareth so unaccount
ably vast and high, that upon consideration thereof SERM. worthily might Job and the Psalmist exclaim; What XVI. is man, that thou shouldest magnify him? and Job vii. 17. that thou shouldest set thy heart upon him? Lord, Ps. cxliv. 3. what is man, that thou takest knowledge of him? or the son of man, that thou makest such account of him?
Now thus to instil into the minds of men a right and worthy notion of God, is palpably a great excellency of any doctrine or religion: for beside that a true knowledge of God (even barely considered as in way of theory most perfective of our understanding, it being conversant upon the noblest object of contemplation) is in itself very desirable; and upon the same ground error in divine things is no small evil or defect; both these, such knowledge and such error respectively, are very considerable, as having a powerful influence upon action; .for according to men's conceptions about God is their practice, religious and moral, very much regulated; if men conceive well of God, they will be guided and moved thereby to render him a worship and an obedience worthy of him, and acceptable to him; if they are ignorant of him, or mistake about him, they will accordingly perform services to him, or pretences of service, which shall neither become him nor please him; (God by such misconceptions being trans- Isa. Ixvi. 3. formed into an idol, their religion will become vile Exis or vain superstition.) And since all men apprehend the example of God a perfect rule of action, that as ἔχειν τὰς they cannot do better than to resemble and imitate him, such as they conceive God to be, such in good measure they will endeavour to be themselves, both ἀρίστας. in their disposition and demeanour; whence infal-Clem.
1. 13. 14. Εὐλόγως τοῖς μὲν
νοήσεις ἀνάγε κη, τοῖς δὲ
BARROW, VOL. v.
Strom. vii. (p. 511.)
SERM. libly the virtues and defects which lie in their noXVI. tion will exert and diffuse themselves into their life.
2. A second great excellency peculiar to the Christian institution is this, that it faithfully informeth us concerning ourselves, concerning our nature, our original, our end, all our state, past, present, and final; points about which otherwise by no reason, no history, no experience, we could be well resolved or satisfied: it teacheth us that we consist of a frail mortal body, taken from the earth and fashioned by God's hand, and of an immortal spirit, derived from heaven, and breathed out of God's mouth; whereby we understand the dignity of our nature and nobleness of our descent, our near alliance and our great obligation to God; and consequently how it concerneth us to behave ourselves, both in regard to God and toward ourselves, in a manner answerable to such a relation, worthy of such an high birth and quality: it sheweth us, that we were originally designed by a voluntary obedience to glorify our Maker, and in so doing to partake of joy and felicity from him; that accordingly we were created in a state agreeable to those purposes, wherein we were fit to serve God, and capable thereby ever to continue happy: but that by our unworthy distrust and wilful disobedience we cast ourselves from thence, and lapsed into this wretched state of inward blindness, error, and disorder, of outward frailty, sorrow, and trouble: it acquainteth us further, how being thus estranged from God, and exposed to the effects of his just displeasure, we are yet again, by his exceeding mercy and favour, put into a capacity of recovering ourselves, of being re
instated in a condition happy far beyond that from SERM. which we fell, by returning unto God, and complying with his will declared unto us; as also how continuing obstinately in our degeneracy and disobedience we shall assuredly plunge ourselves deeper into an abyss of endless misery: it fully representeth unto us, what shall be our future state and final doom, how it shall be suited to our demeanours and deserts in this life; what a strict trial, what a severe judgment, all our actions (even our passant words and our secret thoughts) must hereafter undergo; and how, upon the result, we shall become either exceedingly happy or extremely miserable for ever. It is indeed this doctrine only, which fully resolveth us about this weighty inquiry, which hath so much perplexed all men, and with so much irresolution exercised philosophers, wherein the final end and happiness of man consisteth, and what is the way of attaining it; assuring us, that it consisteth not in any of these transitory things, nor in a confluence of them all, but in the favour and the enjoyment of God, with the blessings flowing thence; that this happiness is only by a sincere and constant obedience to God's holy laws, or by the practice of such a piety and such a virtue which this doctrine prescribeth, to be obtained. These most important truths, so useful both for the satisfaction of our minds, and the direction of our lives, this doctrine unfoldeth I call them truths, and that really they are such even their harmony and consistence between themselves, their consonancy with inferences from all sorts of principles, which we can apply for learning of truth, with what about these matters reason collecteth, tradition reporteth, experience