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latry in the place of paganism, and
fections; they only substitute a more
know what to expect from any man, if we were acquainted with his sentiments concerning the God whom he adores; provided we could ascertain the degree, in which he was sincere and earnest in his religion. It would have been absurd to expect much lionesty 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 their absurd idolatries, and more influenced by them, than professed christians are by the Bible; because they were more congenial to corrupt nature. It is likewise 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, among those idolaters, who have been erroneously, considered as the most inoffensive of the human race.
But these 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
creature of their own imagination, though not the work of their own hands: for in what does such an ideal Being, though called Jehovah, differ from that called Jupiter or Baal? The character ascribed to him may indeed come ncarer the truth than the other, and the delusion may be more refined: but if it essentially differ from the scriptural character of God, the effect must be the same, in a measure, on those who earnestly desire to imitate, resemble, and please the object of their adoration.
When sinful men presume to delineate the cha, racter 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 their own character, and indulgent to their master-passion, (which perhaps they mistake for an excellency,) they will naturally ascribe to the Deity what they vulue 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 object of his complacency, and entitled to his favour; or at least not deserving 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
2 Charles II,
faith upon their conduct will be either inconsiderable or prejudicial. Thus men “ think that God “is altogether such a one as themselves,'” and a self-flattering carnal religion is substituted for the humbling, holy, and spiritual gospel of Christ.
The different ideas which men form of God, whilst the scriptural 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 damn 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. The 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 suppose him very favourable to the self-wise, and such as are superior to vulgar prejudices, however he may act towards 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 with respect to religious duties, and in the terns of life.
1 Psalm ). 21.
These observations suffice to shew 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 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 ac. curate and, apparently, most impartial reasonings upon this subject; except as they are conducted with a constant regard to the revelation which God has made of himself.
Thus the Jews knew not the God whom they zealously worshipped: they totally mistook his character, and therefore 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.' Would we then know God, in a saving and sanctifying manner,“ we must not “ lean to our understanding," nor“ trust “ in our own hearts;" 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 of
i John vjïi. 54, 55.
xvi. 2, 3. * John xvii. 3. 2 Cor. ii. 18. iv. 3-6.
their glory and harmony; remembering that “his “ testimony is sure, making wise the simple:" and likewise, that "no man knoweth the Father, save “the Son, and he to whomsoever the Son will "reveal him.""
If then we carefully “search the Scriptures,” we shall find that this subject constitutes a principal part of their contents; and that there are two ways in which the Lord makes himself known to
1. By express declarations :--and 2. By lis works and dispensations, as illustrating and exemplifying such 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 erpress declarations concerning himself. There is a majesty in the passages of holy writ, that relate to the natural perfections of God, which vastly exceeds whatever is admired as sublime in pagan writers. Jehovah speaks of himself, as “ The high and
lofty One, who inhabiteth eternity.” “ Heaven is his throne, and the earth his footstool.” “ The “ heaven of heavens cannot contain him." “ nations before him are as nothing; they are "counted to liim as less than nothing, and vanity.”
* Matt. xi. 25-30.