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THE SPIRITUALITY OF THE DIVINE NATURE.
God is a spirit, and they that worship him, must worship him in spirit and in truth.—John iv. 24.
THESE are the words of our Saviour to the woman of Samaria, who was speaking to him of the difference between the Samaritans and the Jews, concerning religion; (ver. 20.) “Our fathers worshipped in this mountain; but ye say, that in Jerusalem is the place where men ought to worship.” Christ tells her, “The time was coming, when the worshippers of God should neither be confined to that mountain, or to Jerusalem; but men should worship the Father in spirit and in truth;” when this carnal, and ceremonial, and typical worship of God, should be exalted into a more spiritual, a more real, and true, and substantial religion, which should not be confined to one temple, but should be universally diffused through the world. Now such a worship as this is most agreeable to the nature of God; for he “is a spirit, and those who worship him, must worship him in spirit and in truth.” In the words we have,
First, A proposition laid down, “God is a spirit.”
Secondly, A corollary, or inference, deduced from it; “they that worship him, must worship him in spirit and in truth.” I shall speak of the proposition, as that which concerns my present design; 172and afterwards speak something to the corollary, or inference, deduced from it, together with some other inferences drawn from this truth, by way of application.
First, That “God is a spirit.” This expression is singular, and not to be paralleled again in the Scripture; indeed we have often mention made in the Scripture of “the Spirit of God,” and the “Spirit of the Lord, “which signifies a Divine power and energy; and of the Holy Spirit, signifying the third person in the Trinity; God is called “the God of the spirits of all flesh,” (Num. xvi. 22; xxvii. 16.) much in the same sense as he is called “the Father of spirits;” (Heb xii. 9.) that is, the Creator of the souls of men; but we nowhere meet with this expression, or any other equivalent to it, that “God is a spirit,” but only in this place; nor had it been used here, but to prove that the best worship of God, that which is most proper to him, is spiritual: so that the thing which our Saviour here intends, is not to prove the spiritual nature of God, but that his worship ought to be spiritual; nor indeed is there any necessity that i should have been any where said in Scripture, that “God is a spirit,” it being the natural notion of God; no more than it is necessary that it should b told us, that God is good, or that he is infinite, an, eternal, and the like; or that the Scripture should prove to us the being of a God. Ail these are manifest by the light of nature; and if the Scripture mentions them, it is ex abundanti, and it is usually in order to some farther purpose.
For we are to know that the Scripture supposeth us to be men, and to partake of the common notion of human nature, and therefore doth not teach us philosophy, nor solicitously instruct us in those 173things which are born with us; but supposeth the knowledge of these, and makes use of these common principles and notions which are in us concerning God, and the immortality of our souls, and the life to come, to excite us to our duty, and quicken our endeavours after happiness. For I do not find that the doctrine of the immortality of the soul is any where expressly delivered in Scripture, but taken for granted; in like manner, that the Scripture doth not solicitously instruct us in the natural notions which we have of God, but supposeth them known to us; and if it mention them, it is not so much in order to knowledge as to practice; and therefore we need not wonder that this expression, which doth set forth to us the nature of God, is but once used in Scripture, and that brought in upon occasion, and for another purpose, because it is a thing naturally known. Plato says, that God is σώματος,” without body.” In like manner, Tully: Nec enim Deus ipse qui intelligitur a nobis alio modo intelligi potest, nisi mens quædam soluta et libera; segregata ab omni concretione mortali; “We cannot conceive of God, but as of a pure mind, entirely free from all mortal composition or mixture.” And Plutarch after him, νοῦς οὕν ὀ θεὸς, χωριστὸν εἶδος τουτέστι ἀμιγὲς πάσης ὕλης, μεδενὶ πάθετῷ συμπεπλεγμένον, “God is a mind, an abstract being, pure from all matter, and disentangled from whatever is possible or capable of suffering.”
So that natural light informing us that “God is a spirit,” there was no need why the Scripture should inculcate this: it is an excellent medium or argument to prove that the worship of God should chiefly be spiritual; and although it was not necessary that it should have been mentioned for itself; 174that is, to inform us of a thing which we could not otherwise know; yet the wisdom of God, by the express mention of this, seems to have provided against an error, which some weaker and grosser spirits might be subject to. You know God is pleased, by way of condescension and accommodation of himself to our capacity, to represent himself to us in Scripture by human imperfections; and gives such descriptions of himself, as if he had a body, and bodily members. Now, to prevent any error or mistake that might be occasioned hereby, it seems very becoming the wisdom of God, some where in Scripture expressly to declare the spiritual nature of God, that none through weakness or wilfulness might entertain gross apprehensions of him. In speaking to this proposition, I shall,
I. Explain what is meant by “a spirit.”
II. Endeavour to prove to you that “God is a spirit.”
III. Answer an objection or two.
IV. Draw some inferences or corollaries from the whole.
I. For the explication of the notion of a spirit; I shall not trouble you with the strict philosophical notion of it, as, that it is such a substance as is penetrable; that is, may be in the same place with a body, and neither keep out the body, nor be kept out by it; and that the parts which we imagine in it cannot be divided; that is, really separated and torn from one another, as the parts of a body; but I will give you a negative description of it. A spirit is not matter, it doth not fall under any of our senses, it is that which we cannot see nor touch; it is not a body, not flesh, and blood, and bones; for so we find spirit in Scripture opposed to flesh and 175body; (Isa. xxxi. 3.) “Their horses are flesh, and not spirit.” So Luke xxiv. when Christ appeared to his disciples after his resurrection, they were terrified, and supposed it had been a spirit: (ver. 39.) but he said, “Behold my hands and my feet, that it is I myself; handle me, and see, for a spirit hath not flesh and bones, as ye see me have.” The most usual description of a spirit is by these negatives; it is not a body, hath not flesh and bones, doth not consist of matter, or of any thing that falls under our senses, that we can see or touch.
II. For the proof of this proposition, that “God is a spirit.” This is not to be proved by way of demonstration, for there is nothing before God, or which can be a cause of him; but by way of conviction, by shewing the absurdity of the contrary. The first and most natural notion that we have of God, is, that he is a being every way perfect-; and from this notion we must argue concerning the properties which are attributed to God, and govern all our reasonings concerning God by this; so that when any thing is said of God, the best way to know whether it be to be attributed to him, is to inquire whether it be a perfection or not; if it be, it belongs to him; if it be not, it is to be removed from him; and if any man ask, why I say God is so, or so, a spirit, or good, or just? the best reason that can be given, is, because these are perfections, and the contrary to these are imperfections. So that if I shew, that it would be an imperfection for God to be imagined to be a body, or matter, I prove that he is a spirit, because it is an imperfection, that is, an absurdity, to imagine him anything else: to imagine God to be a body, or matter, doth evidently contradict four great perfections of God.176
1. His infiniteness, or the immensity of his being. Grant me but these two things, that there is something in the world besides God, some other matter, as the heavens, the air, the earth, and all those things which we see; and grant me that two bodies cannot be in the same places at once; and then it will evidently follow, that wherever these are, God is shut out; and consequently God should not be infinite, nor in all places; and so much as there is of another matter in the world besides God, so many breaches there would be in the Divine nature, so many hiatuses.
2. The knowledge and wisdom of God. It can not be imagined how mere matter can understand, how it can distinctly comprehend such variety of objects, and at one view take in past, present, and to come. Tully, speaking of spirits, saith, Animorum nulla in terris origo inveniri potest; “Their original cannot be found upon earth; for (saith he) there is no material or bodily thing,” Quod vim memoriæ, mentis, cogitationis habeat, quod et præterita teneat, et futura provideat, et complecti possit præsentia; quæ sola divina sunt, “Which hath the power of memory, of understanding, of thought; which can retain things past, foresee things future, and comprehend things present; all which powers are purely Divine.”
3. Freedom and liberty. For the laws of matter are necessary, nor can we imagine any αὐτεξούσιον, any arbitrary principle in it. This puzzled the Epicureans, as we see in Lucretius; “For if (says he) all things move by certain and necessary laws, and there be a connexion of the parts of matter unto each other, so that if you move this, that must necessarily be moved, whence (saith he) is liberty?” Unde est hæc inquam fatis avulsa voluntas; “Whence 177is this principle of will, whose motions are not under any law of necessity?”
4. Goodness. This follows from the former; for he is not good who does not know what he does, nor does it freely; so that take away understanding and liberty, and you take away goodness: now take away from God infiniteness, and knowledge, and liberty, and goodness, and you divest him of his glory; you take away his most essential perfections. So that these great absurdities following from the supposing of God to be mere matter or body, we are to conceive of him as another kind of substance; that is, a spirit. So that I wonder that the author of the Leviathan, who doth more than once expressly affirm, that there can be nothing in the world but what is material and corporeal, did not see that the necessary consequence of this position is to banish God out of the world. I would not be uncharitable, but I doubt he did see it, and was content with the consequence, and willing the world should entertain it: for it is so evident, that, by supposing the Divine essence to consist of matter, the immensity of the Divine nature is taken away; and it is also so utterly unimaginable how mere matter should understand, and be endowed with liberty, and consequently with goodness, that I cannot but vehemently suspect the man who denies God to be a spirit, either to have a gross and faulty understanding, or a very ill will against God, and an evil design to root out of the minds of men the belief of a God. I come in the
III. Third place, to consider the objections.
1st Obj.—Why then is God represented to us so often in Scripture by the parts and members of men’s bodies? Answ. I shall only say, at present, that 178all these descriptions and representations of God are plainly made to comply with our weakness, by way of condescension and accommodation to our capacities.
2d Obj.—How is it said, that “man was made after the image of God,” if God be a spirit, of which there can be no likeness nor resemblance? Answ. Man is not said to be made after the image of God, in respect of the outward shape and features of his body, but in respect of the qualities of his mind, as holiness and righteousness; or of his faculties, as understanding and will; or, which the text seems most to favour, in respect of his dominion and sovereignty over the creatures; for, in the two former respects, the angels are made after the image of God. Now, this seems to be spoken peculiarly of men, (Gen. i. 24.) “Let us make man in our own image, after our own likeness, and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and the fowls of the air,” &c.
IV. I come now to draw some inferences or corollaries from hence, and they shall be partly speculative, partly practical.
First, Speculative inferences.
1. That God is invisible. The proper object of sight is colour, and that ariseth from the various dispositions of the parts of matter which cause several reflections of light. Now, a spirit hath no parts nor matter, and therefore is invisible. (1 Tim. i. 17.) “Unto the eternal, immortal, invisible, the only wise God.” (Heb. xi. 27.) “He endured, as seeing him who is invisible;” as seeing him by an eye of faith, who is invisible by an eye of sense. (1 Tim. vi. 16.) “Whom no man hath seen, nor can see.”
When Moses, and the elders of Israel, are said to have seen God, and Jacob to have seen him face 179to face, (Exod. ii. 6. Gen. xxxii. 30.) it is meant of an angel covered with Divine glory and majesty; as we shall see if we compare these with other texts. When Moses is said to have “spoken to him face to face,” that is, familiarly; and so Micaiah (1 Kings xxii. 19.) is said to have “seen God upon his throne, and all Israel scattered up and down;” this was in a vision. And it is promised, that in heaven we shall see God; that is, have a more perfect knowledge of him, and full enjoyment; as, to see good days, is to enjoy them. Those texts, where it is said, “No man can see God and live,” (Exod. xxxiii. 20. and John i. 18.) “No man hath seen God at any time,” do not intimate that God is visible, though we cannot see him; but seeing is metaphorically used for knowing, and the meaning is, that in this life we are not capable of a perfect knowledge of God. A clear discovery of God to our understanding would let in joys into our souls, and create desires in us, too great for frail mortality to bear.
2. That he is the living God: spirit and life are often put together in Scripture.
3. That God is immortal. This the Scripture at tributes to him, (1 Tim. i. 17.) “To the King immortal, invisible.” (1 Tim. vi. 16.) “Who only hath immortality.” This also flows from God’s spirituality; a spiritual nature hath no principles of corruption in it, nothing that is liable to perish, or decay, or die. Now this doth so eminently agree to God, either because he is purely spiritual and immaterial, as possibly no creature is; or else because he is not only immortal in his own nature, but is not liable to be reduced to nothing by any other, because he hath an original and independent immortality; and therefore the apostle doth attribute it to 180him in such a singular and peculiar manner, “who only hath immortality.”
Secondly, Practical inferences.
1. We are not to conceive of God as having a body, or any corporeal shape or members. This was the gross conceit of the Anthropomorphites of old, and of some Socinians of late, which they ground upon the gross and literal interpretation of many figurative speeches in Scripture concerning God, as where it speaks of his face, and hand, and arm, &c. But we are very unthankful to God, who condescends to represent himself to us according to our capacities, if we abuse this condescension to the blemish and reproach of the Divine nature. If God be pleased to stoop to our weakness, we must not therefore level him to our infirmities.
2. If God be a spirit, we are not to worship God by any image or sensible representation. Because God is a spirit, we are not to liken him to any thing that is corporeal; we are not to represent him by “the likeness of any thing that is in heaven above,” that is, of any birds; “or in the earth beneath,” that is, of any beast; “or in the waters under the earth,” that is, of any fish; as it is in the second commandment. For, as the prophet tells us, there is nothing that we can liken God to; (Isa. xl. 18.) “To whom will ye liken God? or what likeness will ye compare to him?” We debase his spiritual and incorruptible nature, when we compare him to corruptible creatures. (Rom. i. 22, 23.) Speaking of the heathen idolatry, “Who, professing themselves wise, became fools, and changed the glory of the incorruptible God into an image made like to corruptible man, and to birds, and to four-footed beasts, and creeping things.” They became fools; this is the folly of 181idolatry, to liken a spirit, which hath no bodily shape, to things that are corporeal and corruptible. So that, however some are pleased to mince the matter, I cannot see how the church of Rome, which worships God by or towards some image or sensible representation, can be excused from idolatry; and the church of England doth not, without very just cause, challenge the Romish church with it, and make it a ground of separation from her.
3. If God be a spirit, then we should “worship him in spirit and in truth.” This is the inference of the text; and, therefore, I shall speak a little more largely of it; only I must explain what is meant by worshipping “in spirit and in truth,” and shew you the force of this consequence, how it follows, that because God is a spirit, therefore he must be worshipped “in spirit and in truth.”
1. For the explication of it. This word spirit is sometimes applied to the doctrine of the gospel, and so it is opposed to letter, by which name the doctrine of Moses is called, (2 Cor. iii. 6.) “Who hath made us able ministers of the new testament, not of the letter, but of the spirit;” not of the law, which was written in tables of stone, but which Christ by his Spirit writes in the hearts of believers. Sometimes to the worship of the gospel; and so it is opposed to the flesh: (Gal. iii. 3.) “Having begun in the spirit, are ye now made perfect by the flesh?” that is, by the works of the ceremonial law, which is therefore called flesh, because the principal ceremony of it, circumcision, was made in the flesh, and because their sacrifices, a chief part of their worship, were of the flesh of beasts; and because the greatest part of their ordinances, as washing, and the like, related to the body. Hence it is the apostle calls the worship of the Jews, “the law of a carnal commandment,” 182(Heb. vii. 16. and Heb. ix 10,) Carnal ordinances, speaking of the service of the law, “which (saith he) stood in meats, and drinks, and divers washings, and carnal ordinances.” Now, in opposition to this carnal and ceremonial worship, we are to worship God “in the spirit.” The worship of the Jews was most a bodily service; but we are to give God a reasonable service, to serve him with the spirit of our minds, as the apostle speaks; in stead of offering the flesh of bulls and goats, we are to consecrate ourselves to the service of God: “this is a holy and acceptable sacrifice,” or reasonable service.
“And in truth.” Either in opposition to the false worship of the Samaritans (as “in spirit” is opposed to the worship of the Jews), as our Saviour tells the woman, that “they worshipped they knew not what;” or (which I rather think) in opposition to the shadows of the law; and so it is opposed, (John i. 17.) “The law was given by Moses, but grace and truth came by Jesus Christ.”
Not that the external service of God is here excluded, not that we are to shew no outward reverence to him; but that, as, under the law, the service of God was chiefly external and corporeal, so now it should chiefly be inward and spiritual; the worship of God, under the gospel, should chiefly be spiritual and substantial, not a carnal, and bodily, and ceremonious devotion.
2dly, For the force of the consequence, it doth not lie in this, that just such as God is, such must our worship of him be; for this would exclude all bodily and outward worship; our worship of God must therefore be invisible, eternal, &c. for so is he; and besides, the will of God seems rather to be the rule of his worship than his nature: but the force 183of it is this; God is of a spiritual nature, and this is to be supposed to be his will, that our worship should be as agreeable to the object of it, as the nature of the creature, who is to give it, will bear. Now, saith Christ to the woman, the Jews and the Samaritans limit their worship to a certain place, and it consists chiefly in certain carnal rites and ordinances; but, saith he, though God have permitted this for a time, because of the carnality and hardness of their hearts, yet the time is coming, when a more spiritual, and solid, and substantial worship of God is to be introduced, which will be free from all particular places and rites; not tied to the temple, or to such external ceremonies, but consisting in the devotion of our spirits, even the inward frame and temper of our hearts; all outward circum stances (excepting those of the two sacraments which are positive) being left by the gospel to as great a liberty, as natural necessity and decency will permit.
We must worship God, and therefore it is naturally necessary that we should do it somewhere, in some place; now seeing somebody must determine this, it is most convenient that authority should determine it according to the conveniency of cohabitation. We must not be rude, nor do any thing that is naturally indecent in the worship of God: this authority should restrain; but farther than this, I doubt not but the gospel hath left us free; and to this end, that the less we are tied to external observances, the more intent we should be upon the spiritual and substantial parts of religion, the conforming of ourselves to the mind and will of God, endeavouring to be like unto God, and to have our souls and spirits engaged in those duties we perform to him. So that our Saviour’s argument is this; 184“God is a spirit;” that is, the most excellent nature and being, and therefore must be served with the best. We consist of body and soul, it is true, and we must serve him with our whole man, but principally with our souls, which are the most excellent part of ourselves; the service of our mind and spirit is the best we can perform, and therefore most agree able to God, who is a spirit, and the best and most perfect being.
So that the inference is this, that if God be a spirit, we must “worship him in spirit and in truth;” our religion must be real, and inward, and sincere, and substantial: we must not think to put off God with external observances, and with bodily reverence and attendance; this we must give him, but we must principally regard that our service of him be reasonable, that is, directed by our understandings, and accompanied with our affections. Our religion must consist principally in a sincere love and affection to God, which expresseth itself in a real conformity of our lives and actions to his will; and when we make our solemn approaches to him, in the duties of his worship and service, we must perform all acts of outward worship to God with a pure and sincere mind; whatever we do in the service of God, we must “do it heartily as to the Lord.” God is a pure spirit, present to our spirits, intimate to our souls, and conscious to the most secret and retired motions of our hearts: now because we serve the Searcher of hearts, we must serve him with our hearts.
Indeed, if we did worship God only to be seen of men, a pompous and external worship would be very suitable to such an end; but religion is not intended to please men, but God; and therefore it must be spiritual, and inward, and real.185
And wherever the external part of religion is principally regarded, and men are more careful to worship God with outward pomp and ceremony, than in “spirit and in truth,” religion degenerates into superstition, and men embrace the shadow of religion, and let go the substance. And this the church of Rome hath done almost to the utter ruin of Christianity: she hath clogged religion and the worship of God with so many rites and ceremonies, under one pretence or other, that the yoke of Christ is become heavier than that of Moses; and they have made the gospel a more carnal commandment than the law; and whatever Christians or churches are intent upon external rites and observances, to the neglect of the weightier parts of religion, regarding meats and drinks, &c. to the prejudice of righteousness and peace, wherein the kingdom of God consists, they advance a religion as contrary to the nature of God, and as unsuitable to the genius and temper of the gospel, as can be imagined.
It is an observation of Sir Edwin Sands, that, as children are pleased with toys, so (saith he,) it is a pitiful and childish spirit that is predominant in the contrivers and zealots of a ceremonious religion. I deny not, but that very honest and devout men may be this way addicted; but the wiser any man is, the better he understands the nature of God and of religion, the farther he will be from this temper.
A religion that consists in external and little things, cloth most easily gain upon and possess the weakest minds; and whoever entertain it, it will enfeeble their spirits, and unfit them for the more generous and excellent duties of Christianity. We have but a finite heat, and zeal, and activity; and if we let out much of it upon small things, there will 186be too little left for those parts of religion which are of greatest moment and concernment; if our heat evaporate in externals, the heart and vitals of religion will insensibly cool and decline.
How should we blush, who are Christians, that we have not learned this easy truth from the gospel, which even the light of nature taught the heathen? Cultus autem deorum est optimus itemque sanctissimus atque castissimus, plenissimusque pietatis, ut eos semper pura integra et incorrupti mente et voce veneremur.—Tully. “The best, the surest, the most chaste, and most devout worship of the gods, is that which is paid them with a pure, sincere, and uncorrupt mind, and words truly representing the thoughts of the heart.” Compositum jus fasque animi, &c. “Serve God with a pure, honest, holy frame of spirit; bring him a heart that is but generously honest, and he will accept of the plainest sacrifice.”
And let me tell you, that the ceremonious worship of the Jews was never a thing in itself acceptable to God, of which he did delight in; and though God was pleased with their obedience to the ceremonial law after it was commanded, yet antecedently he did not desire it; but that which our Saviour saith concerning the law of divorce, is true likewise of the ceremonial, that it was permitted to the Jews “for the hardness of their hearts,” and for their proneness to idolatry. God did not command it so much by way of approbation, as by way of condescension to their weakness; it was because of “the hardness of their carnal hearts,” that God brought them under “the law of a carnal commandment,” as the apostle calls it. (See Psal. li. 16, 17. Jer. vii. 21.)
The reason why I have insisted so long upon this, is, to let you understand what is the true nature of 187Christ’s religion, and to abate the intemperate heat and zeal which men are apt to have for external and indifferent things in religion. The sacrifices and rites of the Jews, were very disagreeable and unsuitable to the nature of God. (Psal. l. 13.) “Will I eat the flesh of bulls, or drink the blood of goats?” Spirits neither eat nor drink; it was a very unsuitable way of service to kill oxen and sheep for God; and there is the same reason of all other rites, which either natural necessity or decency doth not require. Can any man in earnest think that God, who is a spirit, is pleased with the pompous bravery and pageantry which affects our senses? So little doth God value indifferent rites, that even the necessary external service of God, and outward reverence, where they are separated from spirit and truth, from real holiness and obedience to the indispensable laws of Christ, are so far from being acceptable to God, that they are abominable; nay, if they be used for a cloak of sin, or in opposition to real religion, and with a design to undermine it, God accounts such service in the number of the most heinous sins.
You, who spend the strength and vigour of your spirits about external things, whose zeal for or against ceremonies is ready to eat you up; you, who hate and persecute one another because of these things, and break the necessary and indispensable commands of love, as an indifferent and unnecessary ceremony, “Go and learn what that means, I will have mercy, and not sacrifice,” which our Saviour doth so often inculcate, and that (Rom. xiv. 17.)
The kingdom of God is not meat and drink,” &c. And study the meaning of this, “God is a spirit, and they that worship him, must worship him in spirit and in truth.”188
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