|« Prev||Sermon VI. Preached September 27, 1676.||Next »|
UPON the latter part of the text lies the main weight of the discourse we have in hand. “How can he love God whom he hath not seen?” In which it is plainly implied, that we are still perpetually bound to love God, notwithstanding his being invisible. And the vehemence of the apostle’s expostulation here, implies it to be a most intolerable thing not to do so. And therefore we have observed,
That not to love God is a sin most horrid and heinous, notwithstanding the excuse that we see him not. Here we proposed in the
I. Place to shew the vanity and impertinence of this excuse; and then,
II. To demonstrate the heinousness of this sin, and its horrid nature.
In order to evince the impertinence of this excuse, there were two things which it was charged with; to wit, that it has nothing which a valid excuse should have; and if it could be admitted, it would draw the worst consequences after it.
1. It is insufficient, as we have observed, to allege this as an excuse for not loving God, that we see him not; because it 55Is not for this reason impossible, nor unfit, that God should require this by a law.4848 Here we shewed that if any thing be brought in excuse for not obeying the law, and the exception is not against the authority of the law-giver, but to the matter of the law, that which is alleged as a valid excuse, must he able to evince one of these two things: either that the thing enjoined by this law, is impossible to them on whom it is enjoined; or that at least though possible, yet it is unfit, and therefore unreasonable to be imposed. Neither of which will be admitted. It is indeed impossible to men considered under the reigning power of sin, and while they remain so. It is so only by a compound impossibility; as there is a compound necessity, by which a thing is said necessarily to be, while it is. But to love God though we see him not, is not a simple impossibility; for then it were impossible, that he should he loved by any one at all.
(1.) It is not impossible. For the sight of our eye is not the immediate cause of our loving any thing, but only the medium by which the mind discerns the loveliness of the object. For there are other means besides this of sight, to possess our minds with the love of certain things. And since there are such in the present case, which lead us to the love of God, and have actually led others to it, it is therefore possible to be done, and is by no means an improper thing to be the matter of a law. We now proceed
(2.) To shew that it is not an unreasonable law; or, that it cannot with any colour be pretended, that it was an unfit thing that God should lay a law upon men, dwelling in flesh as we do, obliging them to love an invisible being. We shall here first examine what can be pretended from God’s invisibility, to make it unfit to oblige men by a law to love him: and then lay down some considerations to evince, that it is most reasonable and fit that men should, notwithstanding, be under this obligation.
[1.] Let us examine what may be thought of as a pretence to the contrary, or alleged against the obligation of this law. Perhaps some may object against it after this manner: “The admitting what hath been proved, that it is no impossible thing that God should be loved by men who see him not; yet it doth not therefore follow that it is the fit matter of a law. Many things are possible, yet very unfit to be enjoined, especially those things which are unsuitable to the common inclination of a people. The wisdom of law-givers teacheth them to study the temper of their subjects, and to suit their laws to them; and it would be thought very unfit and improper to make laws, that should cross the common genius of the people; and to urge the observance of them. But now the dependance that 56 we have upon sense, cannot but infer a disinclination to the love of such things as sight cannot reach, nor come within the sphere and cognizance of our senses. To apply this to the present case. Every man, by consulting himself, may find a disinclination in his own heart to the exercise of love to God. “And what!” hereupon may the sensualist say, “must I be obliged to a perpetual war with myself? to run counter to all my most natural inclinations? to neglect the things which my own eyes tell me are lovely; and labour to love an invisible being, of whom I have none but cloudy thoughts, a very faint and shadowy idea? Who can imagine that I should be put into this sensible world, with such senses suitable thereunto, as I find about me; and that it must be expected from me that I must even renounce my senses, run counter to my very eyes, abandon the things which so presently court my love, and tell me so feelingly that they are delightful? In short, that I must retire from substantial good which I know, to seek after what appears to me as a dark shadow? and which whether there be any thing substantial in it, I know not?” Thus may the man devoted to sense pretend on such grounds, that God is not to be loved by such as we who dwell in bodies of flesh, and have so much dependence upon the things of sense. Well! let us examine this pretence a little, and see whether there is any thine in it to make the duty of loving God unfit to be imposed upon us in this our present state. And there are several things here to be considered in reference to this matter. As,
First. If we would have this inclination to signify any thing with relation to the fitness or unfitness of a law to be imposed upon us, we ought surely to examine whether that inclination be good or bad, and so judge. But can there be a worse inclination in any creature than to disaffect the Author and Original of its own being? And by how much the stronger the inclination is to evil, by so much the greater is the wickedness likely to prove. For do not we think every one more wicked as he is the more wickedly inclined, especially when he indulges his wicked inclinations? Doth not his evil inclination, I say, when indulged, add to, and not detract from his wickedness? If one be found to have killed another, the great thing inquired into, is the inclination indulged, the intention; whether or no it was through malice propense. If he did the thing without the design of ill to the party, without inclination or propensity to such an action, he is looked upon as innocent. An unintended fact is not punishable as a crime. Therefore to allege inclination in this case, is but to excuse one wickedness by another.57
Secondly. Consider what would become of this world, if men were to be ruled only by their own inclination, or if that were to be the only rule by which all laws relating to them were to be measured. What a dreadful state would you be in, if it were permitted to any man to rob, murder, rifle away your goods and destroy your lives, only because he is inclined to it? if every one might take from you what he would, and do any imaginable mischief to you or yours, merely because he hath a mind to it!
And whereas the disaffection to God is very common, and rooted and confirmed in men by their being disused to converse with things above the reach of their senses (which might tend to invite their hearts and attract their affections) how horrid a thing were it if such a vicious custom were to obtain the force of a law! or, if men were to be allowed to do so and so wickedly, only because they have been wont so to do! if the oftener the swearer, the drunkard, the fornicator and the murderer, have indulged their respective vices, the more lawful it should be for them to continue such practices! if men, in a word, should be so far a law to themselves, as to be permitted to do whatsoever they have been used to do! or, as Seneca says, if a reasonable creature should go like a sheep, not the way he ought, but that which he has been used to; what, I say, can be more unreasonable and unfit than this?
Thirdly. It must be considered, that though it is the wisdom of a ruler to regard the inclinations of a people in making laws, yet sure there must be a distinction made between things indifferent and things necessary. But is there any thing of higher and more absolute necessity than the love of God, though we see him not? Doth not our experience tell us, that we stand in need of somewhat that we do not see, in order to the continuance of our being? much more in order to our happiness. If you had nothing but what you see to maintain life, do you think it were possible for you to live another moment? I would appeal to the considerate reason of any man, whether he were not to be thought a madman that should say, “I will be alive the next hour?” Man! there is somewhat in visible and unseen that is the continual Sustainer of thy life; “in whom we all live, and move, and have our being.” Acts xvii. 28. Our own experience must convince us of this, that there is an invisible Being which hath dominion over our lives, otherwise every man could measure his own time. But do not we find men die before they are willing, and when they would fain live longer? Why, it is somewhat unseen that imposes this necessity upon them, “Here thou must expire!” No man hath 58 power over the spirit to retain it, neither hath he power in the day of death. Eccles. viii. 8.
And again, is it at all necessary to us to be happy? Our own experience tells us that we are not as yet happy and satisfied. And common experience tells all the world, that all the things they can see and set their eyes upon, can never make them happy in this world. And if we expect to be happy in another, when will our eyes lead us to heaven? when will sense, inclination, and following the customs of this world bring us to blessedness? It were a dreadful thing, if in a matter of so absolute necessity, custom or inclination were to be the measure of the law which must govern us. And again,
Fourthly. I add in the next place, that it is true indeed that rulers do consider the tempers and inclinations of a people under their legislature. And there is good reason they should do so, and not impose unnecessarily upon the people, things of mere indifferency, and so run the hazard of urging them into tumults about matters of very little consequence. But sure there is no such need or reason that the great Author and Lord of all things should so much concern himself what the inclinations of those are whom he is to govern. If they dislike his laws, and have an inclination to tumultuate or rebel against him let their dislike and inclination be as strong as it will, He that sitteth in the heavens will laugh, and have them in derision; when they say, Let us break his bands asunder, and cast away his cords from us. Psalm ii. 3, 4.
Fifthly. There is a very great difference in the consideration of laws already made, and of laws to be made. This law was made for man when he was no way disinclined to the love of God. It is a law as ancient as his being. He had it as soon as he had the nature of man. It is therefore a, part of the law of nature, and one of the most deeply fundamental things in that law; for it is made the summary, and wraps up all laws whatsoever in itself; for all is fulfilled in love. And what! was it reasonable or fit that this law, so suitable at first to the nature of man, should be then repealed, when he thought fit to break and violate it? That were a strange way of superseding the obligation of a law, that as soon as it is transgressed, it should oblige no longer! Then may any subject be a sovereign; since there would be no need of any thing more to make a law cease to oblige him, than for him to disobey it.
Sixthly. Consider that our not seeing God is so far from having a necessary tendency to preclude the love of him, that if things were with men as. they should be, and as they have been with some in the world, it would very much promote our 59loving him. For though we cannot see him, yet we see many things that are great arguments, and should be powerful inducements to us to love him. It is true we do not see God with our bodily eyes, but we see the effects of his wisdom, his goodness, his mercy and patience every where; and of his mighty power over all, especially over those who are for God and lovers of him.
If we take a view, as we can do with these eyes, of the beautiful and glorious works of his creation, we continually be hold in the visible things that are made, the invisible power and Godhead, (Rom. i. 20.) which we are called upon to adore and love. And in the works of his providence and the ways of his dispensations towards men great arguments of love do daily occur. And into what raptures of affection do we find holy souls transported even by the help of their own eyes! the things seen, representing to them the great unseen Object of love. In what an extasy do we find David, upon the view of the beauty and glory of this creation! “How excellent is thy name in all the earth, O Lord our Lord, who hast set thy glory above the heavens!” What put him into this rapture? The sight of his own eyes. He beheld “the heavens the work of God’s hands, the moon and stars which he had ordained;” and therefore as he begins, so he ends the psalm in a transport; “How excellent is thy name in all the earth!” Psalm viii. And thus our own eyes may serve to be our instructors, and prompt us to the love of him the great Author and Original of all that glory, which we find every where diffused in this world.
The viewing God also in the ways of his providence, how hath it excited the love of holy men sometimes! When Moses and the children of Israel had seen that marvellous work of the sea divided, themselves conducted and brought safe through it, the waters made a wall on the right hand and on the left, and their enemies dead on the sea-shore, how did this set love on work in them! how is the blessed God adored and admired upon the account of what their eyes had seen of him! “Who, say they, is a God like unto thee? Who is like to thee among the gods, glorious in holiness, fearful in praises, doing wonders?” Exod. xv. 11. And after the people of God had seen that great salvation wrought that we find recorded in the fourth chapter of Judges, what a mighty raisedness of heart do we find in the next chapter, all shut up in this. “So let all thine enemies perish, O Lord, but let them that love him be as the sun when he goeth forth in his might.” Judges v. 31. Here was love set on work and raised to the height, so as even to pour out blessings upon all the lovers of God. What a phrase of60benediction is that, “Let all that love him be as the sun when he goeth forth in his might!” which proceeded from the view of his excellent greatness.
So that this pretence, that God is not seen, doth not make it unreasonable or unfit that the duty of love to him should be imposed upon men by his law. They are not for this reason necessarily disinclined to love him, and therefore this excuse for not loving him is neither reasonable nor fit, nor can exempt men from the obligation, as the objection supposes. Let us then see,
[2.] What can be alleged to prove, that the love of God is most fit and reasonable to be the matter of a standing and in dispensable law. And to this purpose, in order to shew how reasonable this is, we shall only note in general, that if any should object against the fitness of loving God on this ground, because he is not seen, and affirm that for this reason men should not be required to love him; what they have to say in this case, if it signifies any thing to the purpose, must be as strong an objection in all cases of like consideration, and must at last come to this; that it is unreasonable and unfit that men should be affected with any thing they cannot see. But the falshood hereof, and the reasonableness of this injunction upon men may be gathered from this fourfold consideration; to wit, that we may be as sure of the objects of the mind, as we can be of the objects of our sight; that those of the former sort are generally more excellent; that we are concerned in them, as much at least, and in many of them infinitely more, than in the others; and finally, that what can only be the object of the mind may be more intimately present with us, than those things which are the objects of sense. And if we can make out all these, which I hope we may, then it must be concluded that God is so much the more to be loved, yea infinitely more than any thing our eye can see or make a discovery of.
First. We may be as sure of the real existence of the objects of our mind, as we can be of any objects of our sight; or in other words, we may be as certain of the existence of in visible beings, as of visible ones. We may frame a notion of their existence with as much assurance; and form certain conclusions concerning their nature, though they are invisible to the bodily eye. We may especially be most sure of the existence of God, though we cannot see him; more indeed than we can be generally of the existence of visible things.
Sometimes the objects of our mind and sight meet in one, there is somewhat visible and somewhat invisible. As for instance, 61in actions that are capable of moral consideration, there is the action itself, and there is also the rectitude or irrectitude of that action. Now here is at once an object of my sight and of my mind; and I may be as certain of the one, as of the other, in many instances. As, suppose I see one strike, wound, or kill an innocent person; or, suppose I see one affront a magistrate,” injuriously or barbarously; here I have the object of my eye and mind at once. That the action was done I am certain, for I saw the stroke; and I am no less sure of the affront, though that be an object of the mind. As soon as I see such an action done, do not I apprehend it to be ill done? Is not the thing which my mind apprehends, as real as that which my eyes see? Am I not as sure that it was ill done, as that the action was done at all? though the one falls under my eye, and the other only under the cognizance of the mind.
Again, if we look no further than ourselves, our own frame and composition, we may be as certain of the existence of what we see not, as of what we do see. We have a body. We are sure we have a body, for we can see it. It is many ways the object of our senses, or the external organs that are planted there. But we cannot see our minds, yet I hope we are nevertheless sure that we have minds. We are as certain that we have somewhat about us that can think, can understand, as we are that we may be seen and felt. I go not about to determine now what it is that thinks whether material or not, mortal or not; but every man that will consider, is as sure that he has a mind which he cannot see, as that he has a body which he can see.
To bring this matter home to our present purpose concerning the supreme invisible Being, the blessed God. It is most apparent that we may be as certain of his existence as of any thing; and unspeakably more certain of his constant existence, than we can be of any being whatsoever. There is no man that will use his understanding, but must allow this. For, suppose an object of sight before me, I am certain that it doth exist; for I see it. Now the following conclusion may be as certain to any one that considers, to wit, something is, therefore something hath ever been. I will appeal to any understanding man, whether this be not as certain as the other. For if we should suppose a time when nothing ever was, when nothing existed, any man’s understanding must tell him, it was impossible that any thing should ever have been, Suppose a season when nothing was, and then was it possible any thing of itself should arise out of that nothing, when there was nothing at all conceivable? that a thing should be before it was, and do something when it was nothing? Therefore it is hence most necessarily 62 consequent, that there must needs be some original, eternal Being, subsisting of itself, that was always and never began to be; and therefore was necessarily, and so can never cease to be.4949 This argument is urged at large, with great force and strength in the Author’s admirable Treatise, entitled the Living Temple. Part 1, Chap. 2.
Let this be but weighed, and let any sober understanding judge, whether this conclusion be not as certain as the former. That is, compare these two conclusions together, I see something, therefore something is; and this also, something is, therefore something hath ever been, some original Being that always was of itself, and could not but be. A man, I say, feels as great a certainty in his own mind concerning this, as concerning the other. He must renounce his understanding as much in one case, as his eyes in the other, if he will not grant this to be certain, that as some beings now exist, there has been always an original, self-existing Being.
And then supposing the existence of the thing already, I may form as certain conclusions concerning the attributes of what I cannot see, as of that which I can see. To apply this also to the invisible, eternal Being: look to any visible thing, and your eyes can tell what are its visible accidents. I look upon the wall, and see it is white. I know it is so, because I see it is so. Cannot I as certainly conclude concerning this original, eternal Being, that he is wise, holy, just and powerful? I know that there is such a thing as wisdom, and justice, goodness, and power in the world. I know that these things are not nothing, and that they did not come out of nothing; therefore they must needs originally belong to the original Being. Is not this as certain, and as plain, as any visible accident of any thing is to a man’s eye? Must not these attributes necessarily first be in God, as in their original Seat and proper Subject? yea, a great deal more certainly, than any kind of quality we can suppose to be lovely in the creature can agree to it: because as for the original Being, that existed of itself; and therefore is necessarily and by consequence eternally, and invariably whatever it is. Therefore since these perfections are originally in God himself, or derivations from him, what should rationally keep a man in suspense, when by the intervention of his mind he sees such an invisible object, but that he should fall in love with that, as well as with any visible object, that commends itself as lovely to the sight. And I should next add,
Secondly, That invisible excellency is infinitely greater than 63any visible excellency can be. As there is a reality in unseen things, and especially in this invisible Object, as much as in any thing we see with our eyes; so there is generally a higher excellency in invisible objects, than in those that are visible, and infinitely more in this than in other invisible objects. But this and the other considerations I cannot reach to now.
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