« PreviousContinue »
THE TESTIMONY OF GOD-THE PROBATION OF MAN-THE GRACE AND THE GOVERXMENT OF GOD.
Nothing, except personal salvation and the soul's communion with our God, can be of greater importance or of deeper interest to the Christian, than the testimony which God has rendered to himself in this world of darkness. Moreover, both salvation and communion depend on this testimony. What would man's condition be without it? What is his condition where this testimony has not penetrated ? What an immense privilege to possess the thoughts of God Himself, especially with regard to that which concerns us morally ; to be in relationship with God by means of the communication of His thoughts, to be called His friends, and to enjoy this privilege in reality by the possession of the most true, the most intimate testimonies of His thoughts and affections. And observe, that man being here the great object of his affections, these are developed in the ways of God with regard to man; ways which even the angels desire to look into.
In effect, man, according to the wisdom of God, is the being with regard to whom the character of God, and all His moral dealings, are displayed the most completely and in the most perfect and admirable manner. It is in no wise the intellectual capacity of man, or the inoral power of man, which rendered him so fit for this; because—even without taking the fall of man into account—it is not the judgment that he can form of what God is, which is the means of revealing God. From the fact, that man is a feeble and imperfect being, his judgment would always be below the truth, with respect to God, in proportion as he is himself below God. Moreover, innocent man would have neither the need nor the desire to form a judgment respecting God. He would simply enjoy the bounties of God with thanksgiving. On the other hand, sinful man is quite incapable of forming a sound judgment, even of his own state or of his position before God: he has not even the desire to do it. No! God reveals Himself, in His own ways, with regard to man. An angel does not furnish Him with the occasion for it as man does. An angel does not need mercy, grace, pardon, divine pighteousness, a Priest-power, which, while sustaining him in weakness, raises him from among the dead. An angel is not, in consequence of all this, made like unto Christ, a glorified man, identified with His interests by incarnation. An angel is a testimony to the creative and preserving power of God; he excels in strength; we sce in him a creature kept by God; so that he has not lost his first estate. Now, grace and redemption, patience, mercy, divine righteousness, do not apply to a state like this, but suit well with that of fallen man. The angels, therefore, desire to sound the depths of the wondrous ways of God towards man. It is of the heart of man, fallen to the lowest grade in the scale of intelligent beings, resembling, alas! the beast in his lusts, and Satan in his pride; a weak slave to his passions; 'strong, or rather arrogant, in his mind and pretensions; knowing good and evil, but possessing that knowledge in a conscience that condemns him; longing, by dint of suffering, after something better, but incapable of attaining it; feeling the want of another world than this material world, yet afraid of arriving at it; conscious that he ought to be in relationship with God, the only object worthy of an immortal soul, yet being at an infinite distance from God, through his lusts, and animated with such desire of independence that he will not admit God into the only place that þefits Him, if He is God, and consequently endeavours to prove that there is no God;—it is of the heart of man, capable of the highest aspirations (by which he feeds his pride) and of the most degrading lusts, revolting even to his own conscience;- it is of the heart of man that God forms
the harp which can sound forth, and shall sound forth for ever, all the harmony of His praises.
By the introduction of grace, and of the Divine power, that displays itself in the communication of a new life to man, and by the manifestation of the Son of God in human nature, fallen man is led to judge all evil according to the Divine affections that are formed in him by faith, and to enjoy good according to the perfect revelation of good in God Himself, manifested in Christ; while man joyfully gives God His place, because He is a God of love. Man resumes also the place of dependence, the only one that befits a created being—but of a dependence that is exercised in the intelligence of all the perfections of God, on whom he depends, and depends with gladness, as a son upon his father; like Christ Himself, who has taken this place in order that we might enter into it.
But in order that the character of God, that which He is, should unfold itself in man's condition, and that our hearts and consciences should take knowledge of it, man inust pass through the various phases which furnish the occasion for God thus to display Himself in grace. Man inust be, on the part of God, an innocent and happy creature; through his own will
, a fallen and guilty one, and in a condition in which all the grace of God manifests itself, and in which He unfolds all the riches of His grace, in righteousness; while His sovereign good pleasure raises man to a height which depends entirely on that good pleasure, and which glorifies God Himself in the result produced, but glorifies a God of love. The result is, that His sovereign goodness has displayed itself towards the most entire misery, and has brought into communion with Himself the most perfect excellence.
We will briefly examine these ways of God towards man.
God, created man innocent; that is to say, having neither malice nor corruption, nor evil desires, and without the discernment of good and evil-a discernment which he did not even need; for he only had to enjoy with gratitude the good that surrounded' him. At the
same time, he was bound to obey; and his obedience was tested by his being forbidden to eat of one tree only, which stood in the midst of the garden.
Some have supposed that he had the knowledge of good, and that he gained the knowledge of evil. This is a mistake as to the force of the expression. He gained the knowledge of the inherent distinction between good and evil. He began to judge of that which is good and of that which is evil. To eat of the forbidden fruit was only evil, because he had been forbidden to eat of it; the act was not evil in itself. God took care that, in a state of sin, conscience should accompany man.
When in the state of innocence, man might have opportunity to enjoy visits from God, and to converse with God; but God did not dwell with him, nor he with God.
Man did not fall till he was tempted. The enemy suggested to his heart a distrust of God, and this distrust, by separating his heart from God, made way for his self-will and his lusts, as well as for the pride which desired to be equal with God. Now, self-will, lust, and pride are the characteristics of the present state of the natural man. Thus man separated himself from God by becoming, as to his will, independent of Him; that is to say, so far as sin can make us independent; so far as moral degradation makes us independent, of the sovereign good.
In this state, man could not bear to be in the presence of God. Far from it; that presence which threw divine light on man's condition, and made him sensible of what he had become; that presence which reminded him of his transgression, and of that which he had lost, was necessarily to him the most intolerable of all things. Man might cover himself, to his own eyes, from the shame of sin, but before God he knew that he was as naked as if not a fig-leaf had been found in the garden of Eden.
The question of God: “ Adam! where art thou?" was equally touching and overwhelming. Why, when he heard the voice of God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, with the divine familiarity of a goodness which could enter into communication with an innocent nature, why did not man run to meet him? Where was he? In sin and nakedness.
Now the Word of God lays man bare-a terrible truth when the conscience is bad! A truth, before which all pretension to independence vanishes, as falsehood does before the truth; leaving only the disgraceful guilt of the pretension itself, as well as that of the folly and ingratitude which sought this independence—the madness and ingratitude in which they desired to be independent of the supreme good.
Remark here, that the promise is made to the last Adam (not to the first), to the seed of woman; and that it precedes the banislıment of the fallen Adam from the earthly Paradise. Thus, we see that man had fled from the presence of God, before God drove him out from the abode of peace in which He had placed him. But the authority of God must be maintained. Sin could not remain unpunished. Judgment must be exercised. The holiness of God abhors sin and repels it. The righteousness of God maintains his authority, according to that boliness, in executing just judgment on the wrong-doer Man was exiled from Paraclise, and the world began. Sin against one's neighbour, has been consummated in the world; as sin against God, in Paradise; and the death of the righteous (Abel) presents a striking figure of the death of the Lord Himself.
Driven out from the presence of God, man, in despair, sought to arrange and embellish the world; it was all that remained to him: and civilisation, the arts, and the attractions of a luxurious life, have occupied and developed the intelligence of a being who, no longer having any relationship with divine holiness and perfection, loses himself in that which is beneath him, while boasting in the fruits of his perverted intelligence.
But, without the repression of the human will by a superior force, civilisation - although it may for a moment deceive the judgment of man as to the state of his heart, by occupying his mind, -cannot check the power of his lusts, nor the violence of the will that seeks to satisfy them and to open a way for his passions in