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THE SECOND head of discourse which we are still upon Is this, That men are not released from the obligation to love God though he be invisible; and that it is not only an evil, but a most horrid and intolerable one too, not to love him, notwithstanding the excuse that we cannot see him. And this, as we observed, you have from the plain words of the text; inasmuch as all the force of the apostle’s reasoning depends upon it. For he is endeavouring to evince how unreasonable it is we should not love one another, because upon this would ensue that infernal thing our not loving God; rather than admit which, it is supposed that men would admit any thing. For the prosecution of this truth we proposed to evince, in the first place, that this is a very vain excuse:5151 See page 46. and have already shewn from many considerations, that it is not impossible to love God in these bodies of flesh, wherein we have such a dependence on the senses; neither is it unreasonable, or unfit that it should be enjoined as a duty. Against the contrary principle we have 64designed to insist on sundry considerations, and have observed already in the
First place, that we may be as sure of the existence of many invisible beings, especially of God, as we are of any that are visible. This we have shewn, and also that it is as easy to form conclusions respecting the nature of the former, as it is of the latter. Both these we laboured to evince from several instances: and concluded with observing to this effect, that since all perfections are originally in God, which we may discern by the intervention of the understanding, therefore it is as reasonable to love him, as any visible object how lovely soever; and more so indeed, because he is eternally and invariably the same. For, to add something further on this head,
I see and converse often with such or such a person, who because of certain amiable qualities that I discern in him, hath attracted and drawn my love: but I am never sure those qualities will remain in him always. I know not whether they be of that kind, yea or no, that they will remain. But I most certainly know, that he will not always remain with me the conversable object of my love. And therefore if sense, if the sight of what is lovely in him be the only ground of my love to him, I could never have loved him longer than my eye could see him. For as soon as he is gone out of my sight, I know not but he is gone out of being, out of the world, and so the object of my love may be quite lost. But I know that the eternal Being doth exist necessarily, and always. It is impossible that God should ever not exist, or ever be other than he was: and therefore if loveliness and amiableness were found there at any time, it is to be found there at all times; without variableness and shadow of change, yesterday, and to-day the same, and for ever.
And now upon all this, since it is very plain and evident, that we may be as certain concerning what we see not, as concerning what we do see; as sure of the existence of invisible, as of visible being; and more especially about the nature and existence, (as far as concerns us) of the blessed invisible God; it is plain that there our love ought to have its exercise, as much as any where else, supposing such excellencies to be found in the invisible things, as may equally recommend the object to our love. Therefore we add,
Secondly: That, invisible things are really of far higher excellency, than those which are visible. As the things that we cannot see have as certain a reality as those that we can see; so, I say, they are of higher excellency: and this blessed invisible Object infinitely more excellent, as we must acknowledge, 65while we acknowledge him to be God. If we speak of such things as lie within the compass of our being, how plain is the case and how evident the inference! Sure the invisible world must needs be of incomparably greater excellency and glory, than the visible world. And if you reduce all kinds of being in the whole universe to these two ranks and orders, visible and invisible; certainly the latter must be unspeakably more excellent.
We who are for our parts set in the confines of both worlds, visible and invisible; we in whose very nature both meet, unite, and touch one another, and are as it were comparted together; we who are of a nature partly visible, partly invisible, partly flesh and partly spirit, or as the language of Plato’s school was, Νους χους, mind and dust united into one compound; surely we should not be partial in our judgment of this case. Who should be impartial if we are not, who are set as a middle sort of creatures between the two worlds, and so are capable of looking into, and surveying the one and the other?
And if we contemplate both, even in ourselves, methinks it should be no difficult thing with us to determine which is of greater excellency, this bulk of flesh, or this spirit which in habits it, and keeps it from being a dead lump, an useless, rot ten, putrid carcass. Yea, if we should suppose the body of a man to be animated by some inferior vital principle to that of a reasonable spirit, yet this would be the more excellent part. It is true, we should then have before our eyes a certain sort of human brute, of which kind there are but too many in our age, at least that live and carry it as such. We should in short, to speak plainly, have somewhat before our eyes that wore the mere shape of a man, and could hear, and see, and smell, and taste, and move to and fro this way or that, and must ere long, after a few turns are fetched about, turn to dust, to rottenness, and corruption. But suppose we a spirit separately, such as is wont to animate a human body: here we have to contemplate something that can think, reason, and understand; that can form abstract notions of things, or compare one thing with another; something that can reflect upon itself, which our eye cannot do; that can control and correct the errors of sense; that can run through the vast compass of known things; is capable of solving problems and difficult questions; of laying down principles and maxims of truth, after having weighed and found them firm, so as that they may pass current: for such there are which pass unquestionably every where for undoubted principles. In a word, we have here a kind of being to contemplate, that is capable of taking up what lies within the compass of philosophy, policy, and the whole 66 human orb of learning; of being instructed in all the great mysteries of mechanical skill of every kind; and in short, that can turn itself every way; and is of a nature unperishable and immortal, not liable to, nor capable of corruption, but must last for ever and always endure. Who now would make any difficulty of owning, that this is a far more excellent thing than the other? this spirit, than that shape of a man which merely lives? But yet even this more excellent creature which we have been supposing, is somewhat diminished, and falls beneath a brighter order of beings, by its being proportioned to a human body. And upon this account man is said to be a little lower than the angels,5252 Psalm viii. 5. at least this is one account that may be given of this passage; for it is a diminution of the spirit of a man, that it is proportioned to its habitation, the body. But then consider those purely intellectual creatures, of whom we know not how to form a notion, which shall be more expressive than to call them Intelligences; inasmuch as they are, as far as we can apprehend them, beings of knowledge and light, and also of goodness and love proportioned to that light of theirs; what can match the excellency of such creatures as these, among the whole sphere of visible beings?
But let us further consider how vastly numerous that order of creatures is, as we may very well suppose, and partly collect from intimations of Scripture, where they are said to be innumerable. “The innumerable company of angels, and the spirits of just men made perfect.”5353 Heb. xii. 22. How much of glory and excellency must then be in the invisible world, beyond what we can possibly conceive of in this lower visible region! If we do but bethink ourselves and consider what a mere punctilio, a little point, this earth is in which we dwell, in comparison of that vast expanse that doth surround and encompass it about; how unspeakably, how inconceivably more numerous must we suppose the inhabitants to be, that replenish those vast superior regions quite out of sight, than those which inhabit and replenish this point of earth? How vast, I say, must we suppose the invisible world to be, if we consider the number of its inhabitants who are parts of God’s creation, whom we have reason to think do competently replenish all those vast regions that are, when our eye has gone as far as it can, far more exceeding the reach of our thoughts. What limits can we set to the creation of God in our most enlarged thoughts? Finite we must suppose it to be, but alas, we are never capable of measuring 67the bounds! And we have reason to believe it is every where replenished with such glorious invisible creatures as we speak of, in comparison of whom all the inhabitants of the earth, that ever where or shall be, are but an inconsiderable handful. Are we not then to think that the invisible world is far more excellent than that which is visible?
But then if we ascend to the great Author of all things, the blessed invisible Object that we are concerned to speak about, that vast profound abyss of all excellencies, perfection, and glory, how much more must we conclude there is of excellency in that sort of being in general which is invisible, than in that which is visible! If we consider him inhabiting his own eternity, if we consider his immensity who was before all time, whom “heaven and the heaven of heavens cannot contain,”5454 1 Kings iii. 27. every where existing, and never not existing; in whom there is an infinite fulness, a rich fountain of being, life, wisdom, power, goodness and holiness, and whatsoever we can conceive under the notion of excellency and perfection: to think of such a Being that was every where before all time was, and continuing to be the same when time shall be no more, where no worlds are, and where never any shall be, replenishing all the space that we can imagine, and that we cannot imagine, all, every where, and eternally full of being, life and glory! what an object have we now to contemplate, and think of in the invisible order of beings! And what? would we confine all excellency as well as reality to this little, minute, inconsiderable earth! the things that sense can reach unto! As if our senses were to be the measure of all excellency, perfection and reality, and it was the same thing for any thing to be nothing, or at least worth nothing, as to be out of our sight.
How unreasonable were such an imagination as this! And indeed well might we be ashamed, and count it a reflection upon our profession of the Christian name, that we may so of ten read Pagans discoursing in transports of the Intellectual Pulchritude, of the beauty and excellency of mental and invisible things; while our hearts, in the mean time, are taken with nothing but what our eyes can reach to see, or our senses judge of. With what raptures do some of them speak of the first pulchritude, and the self-pulchritude, or that which is lovely of itself. Plato in particular calls him, “The Being that is with itself, always agreeing to itself always existing uniformly, never varying from itself, and lasting always.” Thus he speaks of the first ORIGINAL BEAUTY, meaning the 68 great Object that we now speak of, to wit, the invisible God. But what a degeneracy is it to measure the objects of our love by the sight of the eye! whereas there is nothing fair or good, as philosophers speak, but what hath its derivation from the first pulchritude; or as it hath a kind of precarious beauty and comeliness derived to it from him, who is the first and original Beauty. If then we seriously bethink ourselves of this, we cannot but acknowledge that the prime Object of our lovelies among the invisible things. If we will but use our thoughts, we must say thus: this, I say, must be the conclusion, if we will not profess brutality, and renounce our humanity; that is, deny that we are human and reasonable creatures.
But because here it may possibly be said, “That admitting there be so great excellency and glory in the invisible sort of beings, yet we are to love where we are concerned; we are to place our love among things with which we have to do, and upon which we have dependence; but how little can we have to do with things invisible, and out of our sight?” Therefore I add,
Thirdly: We are a great deal more concerned about invisible, than visible things. They are of much more importance to us, as well as of greater excellency considered in themselves. It will certainly be found one day, that faith, holiness, humility, meekness, mortifiedness to this world, a mastery over insolent and brutish passions, tranquillity, peace, and composure of spirit, those great ornaments of the hidden man of the heart, are of unspeakably more concernment, than all the things of the visible world besides. These are of greater importance to our present comfort, and to our future and eternal well-being, than whatsoever our senses can bring to our notice. But the invisible God is so most of all, who is infinitely beyond and above all.
And what! will any pretend, that they have no concern with God, because they cannot see him? no concern with him, “in whom we live, and move, and have our being, and in whose hand our breath is,” without whom we cannot move a hand or lift a foot, or think a thought, or live a moment? Have we no concern with him? none in this present state? Or are we the less concerned with God, because we see him not? May we not be convinced, if we will allow ourselves to think, that it is some what invisible, which our life and being depend upon? For we know ourselves to be depending beings. We do know and feel, yea our own thoughts and hearts must instruct us in this, that we are not self-subsistent. We have not in our own hands the measure of our time, nor the command of our own 69concernments. We find ourselves controled and over-ruled in many things every day. There are many thousands of things that we would have otherwise, if we could tell how. There is something invisible to which we owe our breath, and that hath dominion over us, whether we mind it or not. And have we no concern with that Being, which hath such immediate power over our lives, and all our comforts, in this present state and world? But what talk we of measuring our concernments by this present state? Have not our own souls a secret consciousness in them, that they are made for eternity? for a world where they are to be perpetual inhabitants, after a little short time is over? And have we not therefore now in this life, most to do with invisible things, especially with the great invisible Lord, both of the visible and invisible creation?
We should soon know ourselves to be most concerned with what is invisible, and most of all with God, if we would but understand the state of our case. We know ourselves to be creatures. We did not come into this world of our own choice, or by our own contrivance. We made not ourselves, neither was it the object of our choice, whether we would be of this or that rank or order of creatures; but were put into that rank of beings wherein we are, by a superior and higher hand. Yea considering what sort of being it is we have, and what a nature the great Author and Parent of all nature hath furnished us with, it is easy for us by a little reflection to come to this knowledge, that we are not what he made us; that we are fallen creatures as well as reasonable ones; that we have incurred the displeasure of him that made us; that we are absolutely at his mercy; that there is such a darkness and blindness upon our minds and understandings, and such a stupidity and death possessing our very souls, that can never be supposed to have been in the first formation of such a creature by the hands of God. Lastly, we may find, that we are become impure and corrupt; that there are per verse sinful inclinations and affections, which we ourselves can-? not but disapprove of, and disallow upon reflection: and that hereby we are under a very egregious guilt, and so subject to wrath and eternal punishment. If we would but allow ourselves to consider this as our state, we should soon know that we have more to do with the invisible God, than with all the world of visible things. Yea further, how amiable would he appear in our eyes, if we did but understand ourselves! if we would but take notice what dark, blind creatures we are, how would it recommend him to us, who is represented as the light of our eyes, and the life of our hearts! In a word, if we would 70 but consider what deformed creatures we are, how impure, and alluding to the expression in Job,5555 Job ix. 31. so plunged in the ditch, that our own clothes might abhor us, Oh how delectable would the thoughts of him be! how lovely would he be in our eyes that brings such overtures of purification to us! I will sprinkle clean water upon you, and ye shall be clean from all your filthiness; and from all your idols will I cleanse you.5656 Ezek. xxxvi. 25. And he that offers this, will certainly effect it in all those, who are designed for a blessed commerce with him for ever, in order to make them perfect in his own comeliness.
Then again, if we consider how liable we are to his wrath, how fast bound with the cords of our own guilt, how amiable would that notion and name of God be to us, which was proclaimed to Moses, “The Lord, the Lord God, merciful and gracious, long-suffering, and abundant in goodness and truth, keeping mercy for thousands, forgiving iniquity, transgression, and sin.”5757 Exod. xxxiv. 6, 7. But we measure things by the sight of our own eye, because we will not allow ourselves to take any cognizance of the true state of our own case. Whereas if we did but consider the matter, and give ourselves leave to think and inquire, we should know there are things which concern us unspeakably more, that are out of sight, than what come under our view day by day; and that especially we are most concerned with him who is least in our sight, and most remote from the view of our external eye. And then add to all this,
Fourthly: That invisible things are a great deal more capable of being intimate to us, or we may be infinitely more conversant with them, than it is possible for us to be with things that are seen. We love a friend whom we have often seen; and it may be, the oftener we have seen him the more we love him. But we cannot be with this friend always. The dearest friends must part. We cannot have him perpetually in our bosom to converse with in a friendly manner. A great many things must concur to the entertainment of our friends with delight, and to converse with them with pleasure. For instance, they must be in a pleasant humour, and at leisure for converse. We many times wait for visits, and they are not given; or we design them, but are disappointed. Messengers may be sent to this or that place, one after another; and yet two friends, that would converse, cannot be brought together. Besides, when we are conversing with such lower objects of our love, we must make use of speech, and are fain to employ words, those necessary but imperfect instruments, or media of conversation. But we cannot convey by words our full and clear 71apprehensions to others, so as to let them know all that we would have them know. And most of the controversies in the world, about matters of opinion in religion, do arise from hence, that men cannot be brought to understand one another. I cannot tell how to make another master of my thoughts, but one way or other the notion will be misrepresented, and so not lie so distinctly clear in another’s mind, as it doth in his that would propagate it. But if we could this way infuse into them a full and clear knowledge of what we ourselves do intend, yet we cannot thereby infuse a living sense, nor convey the affections that are in our own bosoms to another by words.
But how intimately conversant may we be with the invisible God, and that blessed Spirit that understands not only our words, but our sighs and groans, and the living sense thereof that is unutterable. God can also be conversant with us whithersoever we go, wheresoever we are, so that as soon as we are minded to retire, we find him with us. As soon as we retire into ourselves with a design to converse inwardly with the living God, he is immediately present with us, and it is as easy to converse with him as with our own thoughts. As soon as we think, so soon are we with God, and as soon is he with us. In the twinkling of an eye we find him. We look unto him and are lightened. Thus with a cast of the eye the soul is filled; it finds itself replenished with a divine and vital light, that diffuseth the sweetest and most pleasant influences and savours through the soul.
Surely then, what is invisible, and most of all the blessed God, is most fit for our converse: an omnipresent God, who is every where present with us in the very first instant: so that there are no bodies, or other circumscribing circumstances to withhold and divert that commerce between him and us; but he is with us in our walking in the way, in our sitting down in our houses, in our lying down in our beds, in any wilderness, in any den or desert. Certainly it can be no way unfit, that he should be chosen for our converse, and for the great Object of our love, though we cannot see him. Our not being able to see him detracts nothing from the reasonableness of placing our love there, upon all these accounts. Therefore the pretence for our not loving God because he is invisible, is altogether in sufficient, and carries nothing in it that a valid excuse should have to make it so. I should now proceed to shew the intolerable absurdities of not loving God because he is invisible; but the time doth not give me leave to speak to them.72
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