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instructed, O Jerusalem, lest my soul depart from thee! Why, why will ye die O house of Israel! Ps. lxxxi. 8; Jer. vi. 8. O were we wise, these expostulations would reign over our hearts! O! if there remained the least spark of reason in us, the frightful image of hell would henceforth make the deepest impressions on our souls!
Frightful ideas of judgment and hell! may you be always in my mind, when the world would decoy me to stain my ministry by its
vain and glaring snares! Frightful ideas of judgment and hell! may you strike all these hearers so as to give success to this sermon, and weight to our ministry! Frightful ideas of judgment and hell! may you ever follow us, so that by knowing the terror of avenging justice, and the unspeakable value of grace set before us, we may be rendered capable of participating eternal glory; which I wish you, my brethren, in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.
THE UNIFORMITY OF GOD IN HIS GOVERNMENT.
HEBREWS xiii. 8.
Jesus Christ, the same yesterday, and to-day, and for ever.
ST. Paul gives us a very beautiful idea of God, when he says, 'The wisdom of God is manifold,' Eph. iii. 10. The first great cause, the Supreme Being, has designs infinitely diversified. This appears by the various beings which he has created, and by the different ways in which he governs them.
What a variety in created beings! A material world, an intelligent world! Matter variously modified, or, as the apostle speaks, One kind of flesh of men, another Hesh of beasts, another of fishes, another of birds, celestial bodies, and bodies terrestial; one glory of the sun, another glory of the moon, and so on to an infinite multitude. There is a similar variety of spirits; men, angels, seraphim, cherubim, powers, dominions, archangels, and thrones.
ed to treat in his epistle to the Hebrews. Look, said he on the present period, reflect on past times, anticipate the future, run through all dimensions of time, dive into the abysses of eternity, you will always find the perfections of God in exact harmony, you will perceive an exact uniformity characterize his actions, you will acknowledge, that Jesus Christ is the true God and eternal life, the same yesterday, and to-day, and for ever,' 1 John v. 20.
Are you disposed, my brethren, to elevate your minds a little while above sense and matter? Can you sufficiently suspend the impressions, which sensible objects made on your minds last week, to give such an attention to this subject as its nature and importance demand? Let us then enter into the matter, and God grant while we are contemplating to-day the harmony of his perfections, and the uniformity of his government, we may be changed into his image from glory to glory, even as by his Spirit.' God grant, as far as it is compatible with the inconstancy essential to human nature, we may be always the same, and amidst the perpetual vicissitudes of life may have only one principle, that is to obey and please him! Amen
What a variety in the manner in which God governs these beings? To restrain ourselves to men only, are not some loaded with benefits, and others depressed with adversities? Does he not enlighten some by nature, others by the law, and others by the gospel? Did he not allow the antediluvians one period of life, the cities of the plain another, and us another; the first he overwhelmed with water, the next consumed by fire, and the last by an endless variety of means.
But, although there be a diversity in the conduct of God, it is always a diversity of wisdom. Whether he creates a material or an intelligent world; whether he forms celestial or terrestrial bodies,men,angels,seraphim, or cherubim; whether he governs the universe by the same, or by different laws; in all cases, and at all times, he acts like a God, he has only one principle, and that is order. There is a harmony in his perfections, which be never disconcerts. There is in his conduct a uniformity, which is the great character of his actions. His variety is always wise, or, to repeat the words just now mentioned, 'the wisdom of God is of many kinds.'
These expositions may be reduced to three classes. Some say, the apostle speaks of the person of Jesus Christ; others of his doctrine; and a third class apply the passage to the protection that he affords his church.
The first class of expositors, who apply the text to the person of Jesus Christ, are not unanimous to the strict sense of the work; some think, the apostle speaks of the human nature of Jesus Christ, and others say, he
These great truths we intend to set before
you to-day; for on these the apostle intend-speaks of his divine nature. The latter take the
I shall connect, as well as I can, the different explications of my text; I would rather conciliate them in this manner, than consume my hour in relating, and comparing them, and in selecting the most probable from them.
text for a proof of his eternity; and accord ing to them the words are synonymous to these, I am Alpha and Omega, the Lord, which is, and which was, and which is to come, the Almighty,' Rev. i. 8
The former consider the apostle as speaking of Christ either as man. or as mediator; and according to them St Paul means to say, The Saviour, whom I propose to you. was the Saviour of Adam, of Abraham, and of the whole church, agreeably to what I have elsewhere affirmed. Him hath God set forth a propitiation through faith, for the remission of sins that are past.' Rom iii. 25; that is, his sacrifice always was the relief of sin
The second class of interpreters affirm, that St. Paul does not speak of the person of Jesus Christ: but of his doctrine. In this view the text must be connected with the words which immediately follow, be not carried about with divers and strange doctrines.' Why would not the apostle have Christians carried about with divers doctrines? Because Jesus Christ, that is Christianity, the religion taught by Jesus Christ. is always the same, and is not subject to the uncertainty of any
But other expositors ascribe a quite different sense to the words, and say, the apostle speaks neither of the person of Christ, nor of his doctrine, but of that protection which he affords believers. According to this, the text has no connexion with the following verse, but with that which goes before. St. Paul had been proposing to the believing Hebrews the examples of their ancestors and predecessors, some of whom had sealed the doctrine of the gospel with their blood. Remember' your guides, 'who have spoken unto you the word of God; whose faith follow, considering the end of their conversation. In order to induce them to imitate these bright examples, he adds. 'Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, and to-day, and for ever;' that is to say be supported, and rewarded his primitive martyrs, and he will confirm and 'crown all who shall have courage to follow their example.
It would be easy to multiply this list of various opinions but, as I said, I will connect the three different expositions which have been mentioned, and endeavour to show you the admirable harmony of the perfections of God, and the uniformity of his actions in regard to mankind. first as they appear in the economy of time, and secondly in that of eternity; and we will attempt to prove that God is the same in both.
worship, which he required of men; at another time he required a worship altogether spiritual and free from ceremonial usages. At one time his laws tolerated some remains of concupiscence: at another time he commanded the eradication of every fibre of sin. At one time the church saw sensible miracles, and grounded faith on them; at another time faith followed a train of reasoning, made up of principle and consequences. At one time the church participated worldly pomps and grandeurs; at another it experienced all the misery and ignominy of the world.
A work so different, and, in some sort, so opposite in its parts, is, however, the work of one and the same God. And what is more remarkable, a work, the parts of which are so different and so opposite, arises from one principle, that is, from the union and harmony of the divine perfections. The same principle, that inclined God to grant the church a small degree of light at one time, engaged him to grant a greater degree at another time. The same principle which induced him to require a gross worship under the economy of the law, inclined him to exact a worship wholly spiritual under the gos pel; and so of the rest.
1. We see in God's government of his church, various degrees of light communicated. Compare the time of Moses with that of the prophets, and that of the prophets with that of the evangelists and apostles, and the difference will be evident. Moses did not enter into a particular detail concerning God, the world in general, or man in particular. It should seem, the principal view of this legislator, in regard to God, was to establish the doctrine of his unity; at most to give a vague idea of his perfections. It should seem, lus chief design in regard to the world in general was to prove that it was the production of that God, whose unity he established. And, in regard to man in particular, it should seem, his principal drift was to teach, that, being a part of a world which had a begin ning, he himself had a beginning, that he derived his existence from the same Creator, and from him only could expect to enjoy a happy existence
Pass from the reading of the writings of Moses to a survey of the prophecies, thence proceed to the gospels and epistles, and you will see truth unfold as the sacred roll opens. You will be fully convinced, that as John the Baptist had more knowledge than any of his predecessors, so he himself had less than any of his followers
In these various degrees of knowledge communicated by God to men, I see that uniformity which is the distinguishing character of his actions, and the inviolable rule of his government The same principle that in
on which it has pleased God to found the faith of the church. 4. A variety in the laws. that he has thought proper to prescribe. At one time he gave only a small degree of knowledge; at another he drew aside the veil, and exposed to public view the whole body of truth and knowledge. At one time he prescribed the observation of a great many gross ceremonies along with that spiritual
I. We see in the economy of time four remarkable varieties. A variety in the degrees of knowledge given to the church 2. A variety in the worship required of it. 3. A variety in the nature of the evidences.clined him to grant a little light to the age of Moses, inclined him to afford more to the time of the prophets, and the greatest of all to the age in which the evangelists and apostles lived. What is this principle? It is a principle of order, which requires that the object proposed to a faculty be proportioned to this faculty; that a truth proposed to an in. telligence be proportioned to this intelligence. What proportion would there have been
between the truths proposed to the Israelites, when they came out of Egypt, and the state in which they then were, had God revealed all the doctrines to them which he has since revealed to us? Could a people born in slavery, employed in the meanest works, without education, meditation, and reading, attain a just notion of those sublime ideas, which the prophets have given us of the Deity? How could God have enabled them to conceive rightly of these truths unless he had more than assisted them, unless he had new made them? And how could he have recreated them, if I may speak so, as far as was neces sary to fit them for understanding these truths, without annihilating their faculties, and without violating that law of order, which requires every one to make use of his own faculties? What proportion would there have been between the state of the Israelites and their abilities, had God revealed to them some doctrines taught us in the gospel? These would have been, through the stupidity of the people, useless, and even dangerous to them. Thus we may justly suppose of some prophecies concerning the Messiah; had they represented him in such a manner as the event has shown him to us, the representation, far from attaching them to the worship of God, would have tempted them to conform to that of some other nations, which was more agreeable to their concupiscence. Particularly, of the doctrine of the Trinity, which makes so considerable a part of the Christian system, we may justly suppose what I have said. A people who had lived among laters, a people, who had been accustomed not only to multiply gods, but also to deify the meanest creatures, could such a people have been told without danger, that in the Divine essence there was a Father, a Son, and a Holy Spirit? Would not this doctrine have been a snare too powerful for their reason? If they so often fell into polytheism, that is, into the notion of a plurality of Gods, in spite of all the precautions that Moses used to preserve thein from it, what, pray, would have been the case, had their religion itself seemed to favour it ?
If we follow this reasoning, we shall see, that when the church was in a state of infaney, God proportioned his revelation to an infant state, as he proportioned it to a mature age, when the church had arrived at maturity. This is an idea of St. Paul, When I was a child, I thought as a child,' 1 Cor. xiii. 11. I thought the perfections of the great God had some likeness to the imperfections of men, at least, I was not sufficiently struck with the immense distance between human imperfections and divine excellence; I represented God to myself as a being agitated with human passions, and capable of wrath, jealousy, and repentance: But when I became a man, I put away childish things; God made me understand, what he described himself to be under these emblems, for the sake of proportioning himself to my capacity, condescending, as it were to lisp with me, in order to learn me to speak plainly. When I was a child, I thought as a child;' I thought it was a matter of great consequence to man to have fruitful fields, heavy harvests, and
victorious armies; I thought a long life, protracted through several ages, the greatest felicity that a mortal could enjoy: But when I became a man, I put away childish things;' God then revealed to me his design in proposing motives to me adapted to my weakness; it was to attract me to himself by these incitements; then I understood, that the longest life, how happy and splendid soever it might be, fell infinitely short of satisfying the wants and desires of a soul, conscious of its own dignity, and answering to the excellence of its origin: I was convinced, that a soul aspiring to eternal felicity, and filled with the noble ambition of participating the happiness of the immortal God, considers with equal indifference the highest and the meanest offices in society, riches and poverty, the short duration of twenty years, and the little longer of a hundred. When I was a child, I thought as a child;' I thought the Messiah, so often promised in the prophecies, so often represented in types, and expected with so much ardour by the church, would come to hold a superb court, to march at the head of a numerous army, to erect a throne, to seat himself there, and to make the Romans, the conquerors of the whole earth, lick the dust: But when I became a man I put away childish things;' God informed me, that a Messiah, sent to make me happy, must come, to restrain my avidity for the world, and not to gratify it, to check my passions, and not to irritate them; he instructed me, that a Messiah, appointed to redeem mankind, must be fastened to a cross, and not seated on a throne, must subdue the devil, death, and sin, and not the Romans; must be despised and rejected, and not encircled with a pompous court.
2. What justifies the government of God on one of these articles, on the various degrees of light bestowed on his church, will fully justify him in regard to the worship required by him. Let Jesus Christ, as far as the subject will allow, be opposed to Moses; contrast Moses giving a hundred ceremonial precepts along with one precept of morality, with Jesus Christ giving a hundred moral precepts with one ceremony. Compare Moses, imposing on the Israelites heavy burdens grievous to be borne,' Matt. xxiii. 4, with Jesus Christ, proposing an easy yoke and a light burden, chap. xi. 30. Oppose Moses enjoining festivals, purifications, sacrifices, and observances without number, to Jesus Christ reducing all the ritual of his religion to baptism and the Lord's Supper, to a worship the least encumbered, and the most artless and simple, that ever a religion proposed declaring, 'Now is the hour, when the true worshippers shall worship the Father in spirit and in truth,' John iv. 23. Notwithstanding this seeming difference, God acts on the uniform principle of order. Uniformity, if I may express myself so, is in him the cause of variety, and the same principle, that engaged him to prescribe a gross sensible worship to the Israelites, engages him to prescribe a worship of another kind to Christians.
Conceive of the Jews, as we have just now described them, enveloped in matter, loving
to see the objects of their worship before, ferior to ours? The same principle, then, that their eyes, and, as they themselves said, to inclined the Supreme Being to exact of his have gods going before them,' Exod. xxxii. church a gross ceremonial worship, under 1. Imagine these gross creatures coming ancient dispensations, engages him to reinto our assemblies, how could they, being all quire a worship altogether spiritual, and desense and imagination (so to speak), exercise tached from sensible objects, under the disthe better powers of their souls, without ob- pensation of the gospel. jects operating on fancy and sense? How could they have made reflection, meditation, and thought, supply the place of hands and eyes, they, who hardly knew what it was to meditate? How could they, who had hardly any idea of spirituality, have studied the nature of God abstractly, which yet is the only way of conducting us to a clear knowledge of a spiritual Being?
3. The same may be said of the evidences, on which God has founded the faith of his church; and this is our third article. What a striking difference! Formerly the church saw sensible miracles, level to the weakest capacities; at present our faith is founded on a chain of principles and consequences, which find exercise for the most penetrating ge- . niuses. How many times have infidels re
If there ever was a religion proper to spirit-proached us on account of this difference! How often have they inferred, that the church never saw miracles, because there are none wrought now! How often have they pretended to prove, that, had miracles ever been wrought, they ought to be performed still! But this triumph is imaginary, and only serves to display the absurdity of those who make parade of it.
ualize men; if ever a religion was fitted to
A wise being, who proposes a truth to an intelligent creature ought to proportion his proofs not only to the importance of the truth proposed and to the capacity of him to whom evidence is offered, but also to his own end in proposing it. If he intend only, by proposing a truth, to make it understood, he will give all his arguments as much clearness and facility as they are capable of having: but if he designs, by proposing a truth, to exercise the faculties of him to whom it was proposed; if he intends to put his obedience to the trial, and to render him in some sort worthy of the benefit which he means to bestow; then it will be necessary indeed to place the arguments, on which the truth is founded, in a strong and conclusive point of view; but it will not be necessary to give them all the clearness and facility of which they are capable.
Why, then, you will say, did not God give to the contemporaries of Jesus Christ, and his apostles, such an exercise of capacity as he gives to Christians now? Why should a truth, made so very intelligible then by a seal of miracles, be inaccessible to us, except by the painful way of reasoning and discussion? I deny the principle, on which this objection goes. I do not allow, that God exercised them, who lived in the time of Christ and his apostles, less than he exercises us. Weigh their circumstances against yours; represent Christianity destitute of those arguments, which arise in favour of it from the rejection of the Jews, and the conversion of the Gentiles; imagine men called to own for their God and Redeemer a man, who had no form, nor comeliness,' Isa. liii. 2, a man dragged from one tribunal to another, from on a cross. one province to another, and at last expiring How needful were miracles in these sad times, and, with all their aid, how hard was it to believe! Represent to your selves the whole world let loose against Christians; imagine the primitive disciples required to believe the heavenly origin of a religion, which called them first to be baptiz
whose degrees of knowledge were so far in-ed in water, then in blood. How necessary
were miracles in these adverse times, and how, hard, with all the encouragement given by them, must the practice of duty be then! Weigh these circumstances against yours, and the balance will appear more equal than you have imagined. There is, you will perceive, a uniformity in God's government of both, even when his government seems so very dissimilar.
4. In like manner, we observe, in the fourth place, a similar uniformity in the various laws prescribed to the church. One of the most famous questions, which the theological debates of the latter ages have produced, is that which regards the difference between the morality of the Old and New Testament. Without pronouncing on the different manners in which the question has been answered, I wil content myself with proposing what, I think, ought to be answered. The morality of both dispensations, it may truly be med, in one sense is absolutely the same: but in another sense it is not so. The great principles of morality, both among Jews and Christians, are absolutely the same. There not only is no difference: but there can be none. It would be incompatible with the perfections of the Creator, to suppose, that, having formed an intelligent creature, capable of knowing him, he should dispense with his obligation to this precept, the ground and source of all others, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind," Matt. xxii. 37. This was the morality of Adam and Abraham, Moses and the prophets, Jesus Christ and h's apostles.
But if we consider the consequences that result from this principle, and the particular precepts which proceed from it. in these respects morality varies in different periods of the church. At all times, and in all places, God required his church to love him with all the heart, and with all the soul, and with all the mind: but he did not inform his people at all times and in all places the manner in which he required love to express itself. Expressions of love must be regulated by ideas of Deity. Ideas of Diety are more or less pure as God reveals himself more or less clearly. We have seen what a difference there is between Christians and Jews in this respect. We have even proved, that it was founded on the perfections of God, on those laws of proportion, which he inviolably pursues. The laws of proportion, then, which God inviolably follows, and the eminence of his perfections also require, that, as he has made himself known to Christians more fully than he revealed himself to the Jews, so he should require of the disciples of Christ a morality more refined, and more enlarged. Variety, therefore, in this branch of divine government, comes from uniformity, which, as I have often said, is the grand character of his actions.
Let us not pass over this article lightly, it will guard you against the attacks of some corrupters of morality I speak of those, who, wishing to recall such times of licence as God permitted, or tolerated, before the gospel, retrench the present morality, under pretence that what was once allowable is always al
lowable. These persons are never weary of repeating, that some favourites of Heaven were not subject to certain laws; that it does not appear in any part of their history, either that God censured their way of living, or that they repented when they were dying. Hence they infer, that some maxims, which are laid down in our usual sermons, and treatises of morality, originate in the gloom of a casuist, or the caprice of a preacher, and not in the will of God. But remember this saying of Jesus Christ, In the beginning it was not so, Matt. xix. 8. The end of religion is to inform and refine man up to the state in which he was at the beginning,' that is in a state of innocence. This work is done by degrees. It began in the first age of the church, it will be finished in the last. As God made himself known to believers before the gospel only in part, he regulated the requisite expressions of love to himself by that degree of knowledge of his perfections, which he had given them; for his attributes are the ground of this love. He has made known these attributes more clearly under the gospel, and he apportions the expressions of love accordingly.
But if this article affords us armour against some corrupters of morality, it affords us at the same time, some against you, my dear brethren. When we endeavour to animate you to pious actions by the examples of loses, David, and many others, who lived under the old dispensation, you allege, that they were saints of the highest class, and that an attainment of such piety as theirs is impossible to you. But recollect our principle. The expressions of our love to God must be regulated by our knowledge of his perfections. The perfections of God are revealed more clearly to hristians than they were to Jews. Among those, that were born of women, there was not a greater prophet than John the Baptist; but he, that is least in the kingdom of heaven, is greater than he,' Luke vii. 28. The least in love, then (if I may venture to speak so), the least in love in the kingdom of heaven must be greater than John the Baptist, as John the Baptist was greater than his predecessors. As John, therefore, had a purer inorality than the prophets and the patriarchs, so I ought to have a morality purer than that of the patriarchs and the prophets, yea, than John the Baptist himself. A degree of love to God, then, which would have been accounted flame in them, is lukewarmness and ice in me, to whom God has revealed himself as a being so amiable, and so proper to inflame his intelligent creatures with love to him. A certain attachment to life, and to sensible objects, then, which would have been tolerable in them, would be intolerable in me, who, replete as I am with just and high ideas of the Deity, ought only to be aspiring after that state, in which I shall be united to God more closely, than in this valley of imperfections and miseries I am
allowed to be.
5. Our fifth article is intended to justify the various conditions, in which it has pleased God to place his church. At one time the church enjoys temporal pomp and felicity, at another it is exposed to whatever the world