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SERMON CLVII.

GOD THE FIRST CAUSE, AND LAST END.

For of him, and through him, and to him, are all things; to whom be glory for ever. Amen.—Rom. xi. 36.

HAVING considered the more eminent and absolute perfections of the Divine nature, as also that which results from the infinite excellency and perfection of God, compared with the imperfection of our under standings, I come, in the last place, to treat of such as are merely and purely relative: as, that he is the first cause, and the last end, of all things; to which purpose I have chosen these words of the apostle for the subject of my present discourse, “For of him, and through him,” &c.

The dependance of these words upon the former, is briefly this. The apostle had been speaking before in this chapter, several things that might tend to raise us to an admiration of the wisdom, and goodness, and mercy of God, in the dispensation of his grace for the salvation of men, both Jews and gentiles, and therefore would have us ascribe this work wholly to God; the contrivance of it to his wisdom, and not to our own counsels, (ver. 34.) “For who hath known the mind of the Lord; and who hath been his counsellor?” And the bestowing this grace to his free goodness and mercy, .and not to any desert of ours, (ver. 35.) “Or who hath first given to him, and it shall be recompensed to him again?” Yea, and not only in the dispensation 227of grace, but of all good things; not only in this work of redemption, but also of creation; God is the fountain and original, and first cause, from whence every thing proceeds; and the last end, to which every thing is to be referred; “For of him,” &c. ἐξ αὐτοῦ, “from him,” the efficient cause producing all things; δἰ αὐτοῦ, “by or through him,” as the efficient conserving cause of all things; καὶ εἰς αὐτὸν, “and to him,” as the final cause of all things, and the end for which they were made.

The proposition I shall speak to, is, that God is the first cause, and last end.

First, I shall a little explain the terms.

Secondly, Confirm the proposition.

Thirdly, Apply it.

First, For the explication of the terms.

I. That God is the first cause, signifies,

1. Negatively, That he had no cause, did not derive his being from any other, or does depend upon any other being; but that he was always, and eternally of himself.

2. Positively, That he is the cause of all things besides himself, the fountain and original of all created beings, from whom all things proceed, and upon whom all things depend; or, that I may use the expression of St. John, (John i. 3.) which I know is appropriated to the second person in the Trinity, “By him all things were made, and without him was nothing made, that was made.” So that when we attribute to God, that he is the first, we mean, that there was nothing before him, and that he was before all things, and that all things are by him.

II. The last end.; that is, that all things refer to him; that is, the design and aim of all things that are made, is the illustration of God’s glory some 228way or other, and the manifestation of his perfections.

Secondly, For the confirmation, I shall briefly, according to my usual method, attempt it these two ways:

I. By natural light. The notion of a God contains in it all possible perfection. Now the utmost perfection we can imagine, is, for a being to be al ways of itself, before all other beings; and not only so, but to be the cause of all other things; that is, that there should be nothing but what derives its being from him, and continually depends upon him; from whence follows, that all things must refer to him as their last end. For every wise agent acts with design, and in order to an end. Now the end is that which is best, which is most worthy the attaining, and that is God himself. Now his being and perfections are already; and the best, next to the existence of his being and perfections, is the manifestation of them, which is called God’s glory; and this is the highest end that we can imagine, to which all the effects of the Divine power, and goodness, and wisdom, do refer.

And that these titles are to be attributed to God, is not only reasonable, when it is revealed and discovered, but was discovered by the natural light of the heathens. Hence it was that Aristotle gave God those titles of the first being, the first cause, and the first mover; and his master Plato calls God the author and parent of all things, the maker and architect of the world, and of all creatures, the fountain and original of all things. Porphyry calls him τὸ πρῶτον, “the first;” from whence he reasons to this sense, that he is the ultimate end, and that all things move towards God; that all motions centre 229in him; because (saith he) it is most proper and natural for things to refer to their original, and to refer all to him from whom they receive all. Antoninus, the emperor and philosopher, speaking of nature (which with the Stoics signifies God) had these words, which are so very like these of the apostle, that they may seem to be taken from him; ἐκ σοῦ πάντα, ἐν σοὶ πάντα, εἰς σὲ πάντα, “Of thee are all things; in thee are all things; to thee are all things.”

II. From Scripture. Hither belong all those places where he declares himself to be “the first and the last.” (Isa. xli. 4.) “Who hath wrought and done it, calling the generations from the beginning? I the Lord, the first, and with the last; I am he.” (Isa. xliii. 10.) “Before me there was no God formed, (or, as it is in the margin, there was nothing formed of God, ) neither shall there be after me.” (Isa. xliv. 6.) “I am the first, and I am the last; and besides me there is no God.” (Isa. xlviii. 12, 13.) “I am the first; I am also the last: my hand hath laid the foundation of the earth; my right hand hath spread the heavens:” which is as much as to say, he hath made the world, and was the first cause of all things. (Rev. i. 8.) “I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end, saith the Lord; which is, and which was, and which is to come.”

But more expressly, (1 Cor. viii. 6.) “But to us there is but one God the Father, of whom are all things, and we by him,” καὶ ἡμεῖς εἰς αὐτόν, “and we to him, and for him.” (Acts xvii. 24.) “God, that made the world, and all things therein.” (Ver. 25.) “He giveth to all life, and breath, and all things.” (Ver. 28.) “In him we live, and move, and have our being.” (Ver. 29.) “Forasmuch then as we are the offspring of God.”

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Hither we may refer those texts which attribute the same to the second Person in the Trinity, as the eternal wisdom and word of God, whereby all things were made, (John i. 3.) “All things were made by him, and without him was nothing made that was made.” (Ver. 10.) “And the world was made by him.” (1 Cor. viii. 6.) “And one Lord Jesus Christ, by whom are all things, and we by him.” (Eph. iii. 9.) “God, who created all things by Jesus Christ.” (Col. i. 16, 17.) “By him were all things created that are in heaven, and that are in earth, visible and invisible, whether they be thrones, or dominions, or principalities, or powers; all things were created by him, and for him; and he is before all things, and by him all things consist.” (Heb. i. 2.) “By whom also he made the worlds.” And, (ver. 3.) “Upholding all things by the word of his power.

Thirdly, and lastly, To apply this doctrine.

Use. First, If God be the first cause of all things, who did at first produce all creatures, and does since preserve them, and govern them, and disposeth of all their concernments, and orders all things that befal them: from hence let us learn, .

1. With humility and thankfulness to own, and acknowledge, and admire, and bless God, as the author and original of our being, as the spring and fountain of all the blessings and good things that we enjoy. If we do but consider what these words signify, that God is the first cause of all things, we shall see great reason to own and acknowledge, to adore and praise him, and that with the greatest humility, because we have not given him any thing, but have received all from him; he is the cause of all things, who did freely, and of his own good will and pleasure, communicate being to us without any 231constraint or necessity, but what his own goodness laid upon him. (Rev. iv. 11.) “Thou art worthy, O Lord, to receive glory, and honour, and power; for thou hast created all things, and for thy pleasure they are and were created.” We could not before we were deserve any thing from him, or move him by any argument, or importune him by entreaties to make us; but he freely gave us being, and ever since we depend upon him, and have been preserved by him, and cannot subsist one moment without the continued influence of the power and goodness which first called us out of nothing. He is the author of all the good, and the fountain of all those blessings, which for the present we enjoy, and for the future hope for.

When he made us at first, he designed us for happiness; and when we, by our sin and wilful miscarriage, fell short of the happiness which he designed us for, he sent his Son into the world for our recovery, and gave his life for the ransom of our souls. He hath not only admitted us into a new covenant, wherein he hath promised pardon and eternal life to us; but he hath also purchased these blessings for us by the most endearing price, the blood of his own Son, and hath saved us in such a manner as may justly astonish us. Upon these considerations we should awaken ourselves to the praise of God, and, with the holy Psalmist, call up our spirits, and summon all the powers and faculties of our souls, to assist us in this work. (Psal. ciii. 1-4, &c.) “Bless the Lord, O my soul, and all that is within me, bless his holy name; bless the Lord, O my soul, and for get not all his benefits; who forgiveth all thy iniquities, who healeth all thy diseases, who redeemeth thy life from destruction, who crowneth thee with loving-kindness and tender mercies;” it is he 232that “satisfies our soul with good things,” that hath promised eternal life and happiness to us, and must confer and bestow this upon us; “therefore our souls, and all that is within us, should bless his holy name.”

2. If God be the first cause, that is, orders all things that befal us, and by his providence disposeth of all our concernments, this should teach us with patience and quietness to submit to all events, to all evils and afflictions that come upon us, as being disposed by his wise providence, and coming from him: we are apt to attribute all things to the next and immediate agent, and to look no higher than second causes, not considering that all the motions of natural causes are directly subordinate to the first cause; and all the actions of free creatures are under the government of God’s wise providence, so that nothing happens to us besides the designs and intention of God.

And methinks this is one particular excellency of the style of the Scripture above all other books, that the constant phrase of the sacred dialect is to attribute all events (excepting sins only) to God; so that every one that reads it, cannot but take notice that it is wrote with a more attentive consideration of God than any other book, as appears by those frequent and express acknowledgments of God as the cause of all events; so that what in other writers would be said to be done by this or that person, is ascribed to God. Therefore it is so often said, that the Lord did this and that, stirred up such an enemy, brought such a judgment. And we shall find that holy men, in Scripture, make excel lent use of this consideration, to argue themselves into patience and contentedness in every condition. So Eli: (1 Sam. iii. 18.) “It is the Lord, let him do 233what seemeth him good.” So Job, he did not so consider the Sabeans and Chaldeans, who had carried away his oxen and his camels, and slain his servants; nor the wind which had thrown down his house, and killed his sons and his daughters; but he looks up to God, the great governor and disposer of all these events; “The Lord giveth, and the Lord hath taken away, blessed be the name of the Lord.” So David, (Psal. xxxix. 9.) “I was dumb, and spake not a word; because thou, Lord, didst it.” So our blessed Saviour, when he was ready to suffer, he did not consider the malice of the Jews, which was the cause of his death, but looks to a higher hand; “The cup which my Father gives me to drink, shall not I drink it?”

He that looks upon all things as coming from second causes, and does not eye the first cause, the good and wise Governor, will be apt to take offence at every cross and unwelcome accident. Men are apt to be angry, when one flings water upon them as they pass in the streets; but no man is offended if he is wet by rain from heaven. When we look upon evils as coming only from men, we are apt to be impatient, and know not how to bear them; but we should look upon all things as under the government and disposal of the first cause, and the circumstances of every condition as allotted to us by the wise providence of God; this consideration, that it is the hand of God, and that he hath done it, would still all the murmurings of our spirits. As when a seditious multitude is in an uproar, the presence of a grave and venerable person will hush the noise, and quell the tumult; so, if we would but represent God as present to all actions, and governing and disposing all events, this would still and 234 appease our spirits, when they are ready to riot and mutiny against any of his dispensations.

Use the second. If God be the last end of all, let us make him our last end, and refer all our actions to his glory. This is that which is due to him, as he is the first cause, and therefore he does most reasonably require it of us.

And herein, likewise, the Scripture doth excel all other books; that is, doth more frequently and expressly mind us of this end, and calls upon us to propose it to ourselves as our ultimate aim and design. We should love him as our chief end; (Matt. xxii. 37.) “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind.” Thus to love God, is that which in the language of the schools is loving God as our chief end. So, likewise, the apostle requires that we should refer all the actions of our lives to this end: (1 Cor. x. 31.) “Whether ye eat or drink, do all to the glory of God;” that we should “glorify him in our souls, and in our bodies, which are his.” He is the author of all the powers that we have, and therefore we should use them for him; we do all by him, and therefore we should do all to him.

And that we may the better understand ourselves as to this duty, I shall endeavour to give satisfaction to a question or two, which may arise about it.

First, Whether an actual intention of God’s glory be necessary to make every action that we do good and acceptable to God?

Answer.—1. It is necessary that the glory of God, either formally or virtually, should be the ultimate end and scope of our lives, and all our actions; otherwise, they will be defective in that which in moral actions is most considerable, and that is, the 235end. If a man should keep all the commandments of the gospel, this excepted, of making God’s glory his supreme end, only with a design to gain reputation, or some other advantage in the world, this very thing would vitiate all, and render him unacceptable to God.

2. It is very requisite and convenient, as a good sign, that we should very frequently actually think upon, and intend, this end; for if it be very much out of our thoughts, we have some reason to be jealous of ourselves, that we do not intend it at all.

3. It is so far from being necessary, that we should in every action have this intention of God’s glory, that it is not morally possible that we should, no more than it is possible, that a man that goes a journey of a thousand miles, should every step he takes have actual thoughts of his journey send; nor is it more necessary; for consideration of the end, is only so far necessary, as it is necessary to guide and quicken us in the use of means; as it is not necessary for a man to think of his journey’s end, farther than to direct and excite him to go thither. And this appears farther by the contrary; it is not necessary to make a sinful action, that a man should formally, much less actually, intend God’s dishonour; it is enough to constitute a man a wicked man, if he willingly transgress God’s law, the doing whereof does, by consequence, reflect a dishonour upon him; so, on the other hand, it is sufficient to make an action good and acceptable, if it be conformable to God’s law, and such as by consequence redounds to God’s glory.

Second question. Whether the glory of God may or ought to be considered as an end separate and distinct from our own happiness?

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Answer.—I shall speak but briefly to this, because I have elsewhere spoken to it; but in that little which I have to say for satisfaction to this question, I will proceed by these steps:

I. By the glory of God, we mean the demonstration, or illustration, or manifestation, of some or alt of his perfections, more especially his goodness, and mercy, and justice, and wisdom, and power, and holiness.

II. It is plain, that the manifestation of some of these perfections is a thing that may be separated from the happiness of a creature; for his holiness, and justice, and power, may and shall be manifested in the final and eternal ruin of impenitent sinners.

III. The manifestation of any of God’s perfections, ought many times to be propounded by us as an end distinct and separate from our respective happiness; such a happiness as respects only some particulars, and some particular duration, in opposition to absolute and eternal happiness. In this sense our Saviour says, that he “sought not his own glory, but the glory of him that sent Him:” by which he does not mean, that he quitted everlasting glory and happiness; but that, in order to the glory of God, he did for a time lay aside his own glory, and divest himself of it while he was in this world; for the apostle tells us, that he was encouraged to do this out of a respect to a greater glory. (Heb. xii. 2.) “Who, for the joy that was set before him, endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God.” And in this sense we are to understand the command of self-denial in the gospel, with reference to our particular or temporal, not our eternal interest; and 237that it is no more, is plain from the argument our Saviour uses to encourage this self-denial, the promise of a far greater happiness than that we deny; no man that “forsakes father or mother for my sake, but shall have eternal life:” and proportionably we are to understand those commands of loving Christ more than ourselves; that is, more than any temporal interest.

IV. The manifestation of any of God’s perfections, neither ought nor can reasonably be propounded by us as an end separated from, or opposite to our eternal blessedness; that is, we cannot naturally or reasonably desire the glory of God should be advanced, though it were to our final ruin, either by annihilation or eternal misery.

1. We cannot, either naturally or reasonably, desire God should be glorified by our annihilation.

(1.) Not naturally. Because such a desire would be directly contrary to the natural desire of self-preservation, which God himself hath planted in us, and is most intimate and essential to our nature,

(2.) Not reasonably. Because it is utterly unimaginable how God can be glorified by the annihilation of a creature. All the attributes that we can imagine can be manifested herein, are power ad sovereignty; his power hath already been as much manifested in creating .and making the creature out of nothing, as it can be by reducing it into nothing; for to create, is the very same demonstration of power as to annihilate. And as for his sovereignty, God will never manifest that in contradiction to his goodness, or wisdom, or any other perfection of the Divine nature. To unmake a creature, and take away the being which he had given, would argue either a failure of his goodness toward the creature, 238or that he did repent that he had made it, which would reflect upon his wisdom and constancy. I do not say, that injustice God cannot annihilate a creature; far be it from me: for what he gave was his own, and he might without any wrong to the creature take it again.

2. Much less can we naturally desire that God should be glorified in our eternal misery. The reasons which I give about annihilation are stronger here; therefore we cannot naturally desire it, nor reasonably, for the demonstration of his power, or sovereignty, or justice, or holiness, which, I think, are all the attributes which we can imagine to be glorified hereby: not as the manifestation of his power; for that would be as much manifested in the happiness, as misery of the creature: not of his sovereignty; for God will not manifest that in contradiction to his goodness, upon which nothing can reflect more, than merely, pro arbitrio, for his pleasure, to make an innocent creature for ever miserable: not his justice and holiness; for these presuppose sin and demerit in the creature, out of hatred to which he makes it miserable; but God hath declared that he esteems himself more glorified by the obedience and happiness of his creatures, than by their sin and destruction; and if it were reasonable to desire the justice and holiness of God might be glorified in my eternal ruin, which I have deserved by sin; this would plainly follow from it, that it were reasonable to sin, that justice might abound: which of the two is a greater absurdity than that which the apostle condemns of “sinning that grace may abound.”

V. There is a strict and inviolable connexion between the greatest glory of God and our obedience 239and happiness; I say, between his greatest glory, because he esteems himself more glorified by the obedience and happiness of his creatures, than by their ruin and misery: and that we may believe it, we have his oath for it; “As I live, saith the Lord, I delight not in the death of a sinner, but rather that he should turn and live.” And it is observable, that the apostle, in 1 Cor. x. 31-33, “Whether ye eat or drink, or whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God: giving none offence, neither to the Jews, nor to the gentiles, nor to the church of God: even as I please all men in all things, not seeking mine own profit, but the profit of many, that they may be saved;” explains the glorifying of God, by edifying and promoting the salvation of others.

VI. We may consider the glory of God, as some ways distinct from our happiness; that is, we may consider the manifestation of his goodness, and mercy, and wisdom, in our happiness, as that which results from it; but this is not enough to make it a distinct end, but the same diversely considered; as the public good is that which results from the general good of particular persons, but cannot reasonably be propounded by any man, as an end distinct from the general happiness of particular persons, without ruining and destroying the notion of public good.

VII. Though considered as we are particular beings, we can have no greater end than our own happiness, in which God is eminently glorified; yet, as we are part of the whole creation and workman ship of God, which is the noblest consideration of ourselves, the glory of God, which results from the manifestation of all his perfections in and about his creatures, is precisely our ultimate end, and yet not 240an end really distinct from our own happiness; and therefore, it is most proper, and becoming, and agreeable to the wise style of Scripture, to give our end its denomination, not from the more particular and narrow, but the more noble consideration of ourselves, as we are parts of the whole creation and workmanship of God; as it is more generous and becoming for the members of a civil society to mention the public good as their end, than their private happiness and advantage, though that be so really and effectually promoted by the public good.

Thus I have finished what I proposed on this argument, and concerning the attributes of God in general; “Of whom, and through whom, and to whom, are all things: to him be glory for ever. Amen.”

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