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The subject of the ensuing discourses is of that inestimable excellency and importance, that it deserves our deepest reflections and care to consider and apply it: it is the great mystery of godliness, the design of eternal wisdom, the chiefest of all God's works, that contains the glorious wonders of his mercy and power, wherein he renders himself most worthy of our supreme veneration and affection. Our most raised thoughts are infinitely beneath its dignity. Though the light of the gospel hath clearly revealed so much of it, as is requisite to be known in our earthly state, yet the sublimer parts are still secret, and reserved for a full discovery, by the brightness of our Saviour's appearance. Now if the excellency of things excites our spirits to be attentive in searching into their nature, this divine object should awaken all our powers and arrest our minds, in the serious, steady contemplation of it, being alone capable to satisfy their immortal appetite.
The importance of it is correspondent to its excellency; for it is no less than the recovery of us from extreme and eternal misery, and the restoring of us to the enjoyment of the blessed God; a felicity without comparison or end. If we have any regard to salvation, (and who would be so unhappy as to neglect it for unconcerning, frivolous vanity ?) it will be delightful to know the means by which we may obtain it, and to employ the flying moments of our short time in those things that are profitable for our last end, that we may not lose temporal and eternal life together.
Many of the ancient and modern divines have written of - this noble argument, from whom I have received benefit in the following composure; but none, as I know, hath considered all the parts together, and presented them in one view. There still remains a rich abundance for the perpetual exer
cise of our spirits. The eternal word alone was able to perfect all things by once speaking. Human words are but an echo that answers the voice of God, and cannot fully express its power, nor pass so immediately through the sense to the heart, but they must be repeated. Should these discourses be effectual to inflame us with the most ardent love to our Saviour, who ransomed us with the invaluable price of his own blood, and to persuade us to live for heaven, the purchase of that sacred treasure; I shall for ever acknowledge the divine grace, and obtain my utmost aim.
THE DIVINE ATTRIBUTES.
THE PRIMITIVE STATE OF MAN.
The felicity which the Lord Jesus procured for believers, includes a perfect freedom from sin, and, all afflictive evils, the just consequences of it; and the fruition of righteousness, peace and joy, wherein the kingdom of God consists. In this the evangelical covenant excels the natural. The law supposes a man upright, and the happiness it promises to exact obedience, is called life; it rewards innocence with immortality ; but the blessedness of the gospel is styled salvation, which signifies the rescuing of lapsed man from a state of misery, and the investing of him with unperishing glory.
In order to the discovering of the excellency of this benefit, and the endearing obligations laid on us by our Redeemer, it is necessary to take a view of that dreadful and desperate calamity which seized upon mankind; the wretchedness of our captivity illustrates the glory of our redemption. And since the misery of man was not the original condition of his nature, but the effect of his guilty choice, it is necessary to make some reflection upon his first state, as he came out of the pure hands of God; that comparing our present misery with our lost happiness, we may revive in our breasts the affections of sorrow, shame, and indignation against ourselves ; and considering that the heavenly Adam hath purchased for us a title to a better inheritance than was forfeited by the earthly one, we may, with the more affectionate gratitude, extol the favour and power of our Redeemer.
God who is the living foundation of all perfections, spent eternity in the contemplation of his own excellencies, before any creature was made. In the moment appointed by his wisdom, he gave the first being to the world. Three distinct
orders of natures he formed, the one purely spiritual, the other purely material, and between both one mixed, which unites the extremes in itself. This is man, the abridgment of the universe, allied to the angels in his soul, and to material things in his body, and capable of the happiness of both ; by his internal faculties enjoying the felicity of the intellectual, and by his external tasting the pleasures of the sensitive world. Man's greatest excellency was a perfect conformity to the divine pattern. God created man in his own likeness, in the image of God created he him.” This includes the natural similitude of God in the substance of the soul, as it is an intelligent, free, spiritual, and immortal being; this is assigned to be the reason of the law, that whoso sheddeth man's blood, by man shall his blood be shed; for for in the image of God made he man,” Gen. ix. 6;-a moral resemblance in its qualities and perfections; that happiness and dignity of man's state, which was the consequent of and accession to his holiness.
The natural resemblance I shall not insist on. For the distinct illustration of the other, we must consider God in a threefold respect--in respect of his absolute holiness, unspotted purity, infinite goodness, incorruptible justice, and whatever we conceive under the notion of moral perfections; with respect to his complete blessedness, the result of his infinite excellencies; as he is perfectly exempt from all evils which might allay and lessen his felicity, and enjoy those pleasures which are worthy of his pure nature and glorious state ;-in regard of his supreme dominion, which extends itself to all things in heaven and earth. Now in the participation of these the image of God did principally consist. The holiness of man was the copy of the divine purity; his happiness a representation of the divine felicity; and his dominion over the lower world the resemblance of God's sovereignty. I will take a particularl survey of them.
I. Man was conformed to God in holiness. by the expressions of the apostle concerning the sanctification of corrupt man, which he sets forth by the renewing of him in knowledge, righteousness, and holiness, after the image of their Creator. The renovation of things is the restoring of them to their primitive state, and is more or less perfect, by its proportion to or distance from the original. Holiness and righteousness are the comprehensive sum of the moral law, which not only represents the will, but the nature of God in
his supreme excellency; and in conformity to it the divine likeness eminently appeared. Adam was created with the perfections of grace. The progress of the most excellent saints is incomparably short of his beginning ; by this we may, in part, conjecture at the beauty of holiness in him, of which one faint ray appearing in renewed persons is so amiable. The primitive beauty is expressed in scripture by rectitude ; God made man upright.” There was an universal, cntire rectitude in his faculties, disposing them for their proper operations. This will more fully appear by considering the distinct powers of the soul, in their regular constitutions.
1. The understanding was enriched with knowledge. Nature was unveiled to Adam ; he entered into its sanctuary, and discovered its mysterious operations. When the creatures came to pay their homage to him, “whatsoever he called them, that was the name thereof," Gen. ii. 19. And their names expressed their natures. His knowledge reached through the whole compass of the creation, from the sun, the glorious vessel of light, to the glow-worm that shines in the hedge. And this knowledge was not acquired by study, it was not the fruit of anxious inquiry, but as the illumination of the air is in an instant by the light of the morning, so his understanding was enlightened by a pure beam from the Father of lights.
Besides, he had such a knowledge of the Deity, as was sufficient for his duty and felicity. His mind did not stick in the material part of things, but ascended by the several ranks of beings to the universal cause. He discovered the glory of the divine essence and attributes by their wonderful effects.
(1.) Almighty power. When he first opened his eyes, the stupendous fabric of heaven and earth presented itself to his view, and in it the most express and clear characters of that glorious power which produced it. For what could overcome the infinite distance between not being and being, but infinite power ? As there is no proportion between not being and being, so the cause which unites those terms, must be without limits. Now the divine world alone, which calls the things that are not, as if they were, caused the world to rise from the abyss of empty nothing. At God's command the heavens and all their host were created. And this led him to consider the immensity of the divine essence; for