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4. Scriptural impressions of the character of the blessed God, are such as leave on the minds of redeemed sinners, the most soul-humbling ideas of the evil of sin; and, therefore, those apprehensions of God which associate ideas of simple pity, rather than of blame, in his feelings towards sinners, and those views of human nature which make its impotency, an excuse for sin, or for the neglect of an immediate compliance with duty, cannot be accordant with a true knowledge of him.
5. Correct views of the glorious character of God, are such as are productive of the purest specimens of Christian character. The various attributes of Christian piety, receive at different times and in different ages, places, and ranks of life, so different a degree of prominence, that what the visible church may regard at one period as the best test of holiness, will become at another of little account. When activity and effort, and the works of public benevolence and charity assume a prominency in society, less stress will be usually laid upon advancement in Christian knowledge; and when this becomes ascendant, the former and the department of private meditation and the varied forms of Christian experience, will be likely to be neglected. Thus the visible fruits of holiness are likely to fluctuate, as different manifestations of this principle are more earnestly and frequently insisted on; and what is here affirmed is, that just views of the character of God constitute the surest antidote to these inequalities, because they tend directly to hold up the necessity of an exemplification of the entire character of the follower of Christ. To glorify God by a close, and searching, and meditative communion with him in private, and the conscientious and daily exercise of repentance, faith, and love; by a firm resistance of all the temptations and allurements of the world, and an open, decisive, conscientious exhibition of evangelical principle, in all the walks of public and social life; by the acquisition of all the accessible treasures of Christian knowledge; and an acquaintance with intricacies of religious experience: and by an active and exemplary participation in all the works of faith and labors of charity and love, to which the Redeemer's people are called, will constitute but a general outline of what will be regarded as incumbent, and necessary, and indispensable, by him who possesses just and vivid impressions of the divine character.
To possess true and sanctifying, and refreshing views of the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, as these views are unfolded in the bible, and often manifested to the heart of the humble disciple, are necessary to the production of the sweetest peace of conscience, and the liveliest joy in the Holy Ghost, and the most substantial increase of grace. These pure and holy conceptions of God, must enter, my fellow-sinner, your light and unsubdued mind, or you are lost forever! These spiritual and saving convictions—these sin-destroying, heart-purifying, and soul-humbling discoveries of the divine character, you must have, fellow.christians by profession, or your hope is vain, and your faith is dead. O, do you suita'bly feel this when you enter your closets; when you visit the sanctuary; when you try your principles, your graces, and your life, by heaven's unerring rule? The difficulties attending the attainment and the lively preservation in the mind of such views of the divine character are not small. That we may be suitably convinced of this, let us,
II. Proceed to a brief consideration of some of the most obvious sources of danger and error on this subject.
1. Inadequate conceptions of the glorious character of God, must ever be attributable to finite beings; but erroneous and improper ones belong only to sinning intelligences. In the former case, as knowledge, purity, and affection, may have no limit but that which exists in the capacity of a dependent being; so this inadequacy may be productive of no evil, and give no wrong coloring to any other principle of revealed truth; but as the latter implies a criminal delinquency, so the effects are certainly injurious. All that concerns us here, is to endeavor to trace to their legitimate causes, those ideas of God which are in their own nature erroneous and criminal. There may exist temporary and accidental misapprehensions of the divine character in the minds of believers which are to be referred to physical rather than moral causes: and the chief distinction between renewed and unrenewed minds in their views of the divine character, is that the former are defective, the latter positively erroneous.
2. Man's native aversion to God, his total corruption, and the ascendancy in him of sense over reason, sin over holiness, and the creature over the Creator, sufficiently explain the reason why all just ideas of God are exiled from his mind; as the immersion of his affections in temporal things; his dislike to so pure and spiritual an object of thought and affection; and his consequent inattention to it, explain the reason why obscure and perverted ideas of that everpresent, ever-living, ever-bountiful and most glorious Being, whom he is required to know, and serve, and enjoy, as the perfection of all creaied good, are suffered to continue with him amidst the most solemn warnings, and the most earnest, and tender, and thrilling remonstrances to the contrary.
But where this inattention is not constant and entire, and where human reason is not directly employed to disprove the fact of his existence and his absolute perfection, these fatal misapprehen. sions often arise from attempting to derive the true knowledge of God from other sources than divine revelation, and to the exclu. sion of it. The innumerable absurdities and follies into which heathen philosophers and polished nations, in common with barbarous tribes, have fallen, where revelation has not been enjoyed, or its pure light has been forsaken, seem to be insufficient to convince modern infidels, and rational philosophizing Christians, that to the benighted eye and the depraved heart of man, the volume of nature and of providence can give no just and sufficiently practical impressions of God; and hence, through the direct and indirect influence upon society of vain speculations, the pride of philosophy, and the efforts of boasted reason, every man meets with many barriers in his way to the acquisition of those simple, and scriptural ideas of of God, which the world in its wisdom does not know. The less sincere and inquisitive, though perhaps called Christians, have, consequently, few purely scriptural apprehensions of the divine character.
3. Vice, and passion, and self-indulgence darken the understanding, and deaden the moral faculty. It is not more certain that a diseased eye will impair the vision, or intoxication derange the exercise of sense and reason, than that immoral conduct, the indulgence of those appetites and passions which have a tendency to bring the soul under the dominion of the senses; that loose and vain thoughts and imaginations will obscure the true lustre of Jehovah's countenance, and impair the ability, as well as enfeeble the desire, to associate the mind with spiritual contemplations. Our Saviour touched a principle of philosophical truth, not less than of moral order, when he said, that the only way to know the truth, was to do the will of Gud. A neglect of the laws of moral virtue, and mental discipline, is not only wrong, then, as implying like intoxication and violation of the law, but as it exposes the immortal soul, to all the dangers of an utter deprivation of saving grace and everlasting life, as the other does the body to fatal injury. Of that most potent and purifying knowledge of the divine character, which has often subdued the hardest heart, and reformed the most wicked life, and sanctified the highest powers of intellect, how many of the wise and the learned among us never have known and never will know any thing, simply because the established range of their thoughts, amidst the extended pursuits of politics and legislation, of commerce and of science, are as truly, though not as perversely, remote from the sacred fountain of true knowledge, as the walks of the sceptic or the open transgressor.
4. Another source of the misapprehension of God's character, among professedly. religious people, is to be found in their inattention to, and ignorance of, the divine law. The ignorance to which we here refer, is not of a kind to be obviated by a frequent exhibition of its terrors, or a terrific display of its penal sanctions, nor a dry and cumbrous exposition of its principles; bat by a deep, and close, and practical unfolding of all its requisitions and its attributes, in the light, and life, and glory which it assumes in the bible. Many deluded men have thought to protect the lustre of the divine character,by touching lightly on this sublime and searching exhibition of his attributes; as if it were not the grandest manifestation of moral excellence. Others have thought it necessary to set forth the gospel, as an abatement of its rigors, and the promulgation of a less elevated standard of righteousness. But the obvious, the ruinous reaction, of every such expedient, upon the moral character of Jehovah, loudly proclaims the illegitimacy of its origin. Without a thorough apprehension of the holiness of God, as shedding forth its vital energy in the law, conviction is impossible. Sinners will regard its terrors, when uttered by man, as åt best, but well-meant exaggerations, and its Author as a pliant kind-hearted Parent, if they do not understand this immutable standard of right and wrong. Its towering and uncompromising demands need otten to be so brought to his view, as to make the Christian tremble; that Christ may be endeared to his heart, his whole soul humbled and purified, that in sweeter tones the accents of the cross may whisper peace. And the sinner, what other resource is left for him, but at length to be smitten and subdued by the voice of God, speaking through its earnest and awful denunciations? If, then, my beloved friends, you would not miss forever the gate of heaven, take heed that you enter, painful as it may be, into all the disclosures and teachings of that code, to know which is rightly to apprehend the character of God.
Again. Wrong ideas of Jehovah's character are not unfrequently imbibed through the improper use of scriptural allusions and the application of analogical reasonings. God rests the glory of his character on the sufficiency and integrity of the bible. This book, without a single particle of human imperfection throughout the entire range of its discoveries of him, comes, with all the inspirations of truth and eternal beauty, to form in man a character for purity, meekness and benevolence, of, to him, a new and unknown kind. But it must employ language which he can understand; and, to do this, it must savor of the times, the mind and the heart of him who so wrote as he was moved by the Holy Ghost.” To catch resemblances and allusions, applied only where and to the extent in which they would convey unerring truth, and draw them out in a thousand shapes, and make these the bases of doctrinal and practical principles, is to darken and disgrace the character of God.
Some have attempted to illustrate the divine character, by saying that it was eminently a parental one. Now there are some respects in which such a reference may most justly and beautifully hold; but who does not perceive, that is in its main features such an illustration is carried out as the parental character is, exemplified in its best earthly specimens, and if this is made the basis of telling what he would or would not do towards his erring children, that the most injurious impressions will be made! The same remark applies to all similar analogies: and as there is no being like God, no relations like those which we sustain to him, and he to us, so we should resist every train of thought or reasoning which tends to liken him, in our permanent impressions of his character, to any other being whatever; remembering that as the heavens are high above the earth, so is he above all his works.
5. The moral attributes of God may be obscured by erroneous views of the character and offices of Christ, and the nature of the gospel. In the gospel, the moral character of Jehovah is unfolded in its clearest manifestations: and the incarnation is
every sented as such a “ dwelling of all the fulness of the Godhead bodily"
in the person of the Mediator, as would give new discoveries of Deity to angels as well as men. In a visible exemplification of its spotless perfection, and a direct recognition of its immutable authority, how was the law and its great Author to be glorified by the life and walk of a divine Redeemer? In the sacrifice of the cross, how was justice to acquire a radiance brighter than it could receive in the perdition of a thousand worlds? And the love of God, how in the exhibitions of a grace and mercy which can find no sins too great to be forgiven, no offenders too mean to be noticed, and no blessings too precious to be freely given for Christ's sake! Faithfulness, wisdom, and truth, also, how were they to be illustrated in a thousand forms by means of that blessed gospel which is the revelation of the manifold wisdom of God? Every misapprehension of the work and reign of the divine Redeemer, of the nature of the Christian sacrifice, and the essential glory of the gospel, must of course, tend to darken and pervert this grandest exhibition of the divine character.
Again. The true character of God may be obscured through an attempt to account for such things as he has not thought proper to explain, and and make the deep things of God accordant with human feelings. Thus, to reconcile the 'existence of moral evil with the wisdom and goodness of God, some have denied his ability to prevent it without the destruction of the freedom of moral agency; while others, regarding its existence as a necessary evil to the attainment of the greatest good, have referred it to the direct agency of God himself. Some have attempted to limit the range of the divine prescience, to obviate the supposed difficulties of believing in his absolute foreknowledge of all sin as well as holiness; and others, under the idea of making the full and actual ability of every moral subject co-extensive with the divine requisition, have denied the justice of any other principle in the divine administration. At one time, bis wisest and best exertions are represented as having failed through the perverseness of his creatures, and at another his own choice and determination to have been dependent upon the contingent actions and choices of sinful men. But we need not enlarge: these illustrations are sufficient to show you how wisdom above what is written,-how reason, proposing to illuminate the bible, on this highest and most fearful of all subjects, may obscure the divine glory, at least to the minds of plain unlettered Christians; and perplex and bewilder those whom an humble faith in testimony of God's word, should enable to use their best energies in far safer and holier efforts.
Once more. The true character of God may be entirely misapprehended, through a mistaken idea of his attributes, and the elevation of one at the expense of others. Thus the dominion of God over us, is often founded not so much in his right over us as a Ruler, and his propriety in us as a Creator, as in his goodness and mercy towards us, and our dependence upon him. Thus his title to our love and veneration, is made to consist more in his goodness and benevolence, than in his purity and his justice. To augment the riches of his