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time and attention in investigating its admirable economy and arrangement: and there can be no question, thai a portion of our thoughts devoted to the study of the wondrous works of the Most High, must ultimately be conducive to the improvement of our intellectual powers, to our advancement in the Christian life, and to our preparation for the exalted employments of the eternal world.
In fine, since the researches of modern times liave greatly enlarged our views of the System of Universal Nature, and of the vast extent to which the operations of the Creator are carried on in the distant regions of space,—since the late discoveries of Naturalists and Experimental Philosophers, with respect to the constitution of the atmosphere, water, light, heat, the gases, the electric, galvanic and magnetic fluids, and the economy and instincts of animated beings, have opened to our view a bright display of Divine Wisdom, in the contrivance and arrangement of the different parts of our terrestrial habitation,—since improvements in the useful arts have kept pace with the progress of science, and have been applied to many beneficial purposes, which have ultimately a bearing on the
interests and the progress of religion—since a general desire to propagate the truths of Christianity in Heathen lands now animates the mass of the religious world—since the nations of both Continents are now aroused to burst asunder the shackles of despotism, and to inquire after rational liberty and mental improvement,— and since all these discoveries, inventions, and movements, and the energies of the human mind, from which they spring, are under the direction and control of that Omnipotent Being who made and who governs the world—they ought to be considered as parts of those Providential arrange- v men la, in the progress of which He will ultimately accomplish the illumination of our benighted race, and make the cause of righteousness and truth to triumph among all nations. And, therefore, the enlightened Christian ought thankfully to appreciate every exhibition, and every discovery, by which his conceptions of the attributes of God, and of the grandeur of his works, may be directed and enlarged, in order* that he may be qualified to " speak of the honour of his majesty, and talk of Ms power; to make known tr the sons of men his mighty acts, and the gtoriMv majesty of his kingdom."
Or THE NATURAL ATTRIBUTES OP THE DEITY, WITH PARTICULAR ILLUSTRATIONS OF HIS OMNIPOTENCE AND WISDOM.
On the Relation of the Natural Attributes of
A riRM conviction of the existence of God, an i a competent knowledge of his natural perfections,lie at the foundation of all religion, both natural and revealed. In proportion as our views of the perfections of Deity are limited and obscure, in a similar proportion will be our conceptions of all the relations in which he stands to his creatures, of every part of his providential procedure, and of all the doctrines and requirements of revealed religion.
By the natural or essential attributes of God, we understand such perfections as the following:—His Eternity, Omnipresence, Infinite Knowledge, Infinite Wisdom, Omnipotence, and Boundless Beneficence. These are the characters and attributes of Deity, which, we must suppose, form the chief subjects of contemplation to angels,and to all other pure intelligences—and xn investigating the displays of which, the sons of Adana>would h*ve been chiefly employed, had they continued in primeval innocence. These attributes form the ground-work of all those gracious relations in which the God of salvation stanHs to his redeemed people in the economy of redemption—they lie at the foundation of the whole Christian superstructure—and were they not recognized as the corner-stones of that sacred edifice, the whole system of .he Scripture Revelation would remain abaseless fabric. The full display of these perfections will be exhihited in the future world—the contemplation of this display will form one of the sublime employments " of the saints in light"—and to prepare us f ir engaging in such noble exercises, is one of the chief designs of the salvation proclaimed in the Gospel.
Tto Christian Revelation ought not to be cony eidercd as superseding the Religion of Nature, but as carrying it forward to perfection. It introduces the Deity to us under new relations, corresponding to the degraded state into which we hare fallen. It is superadded to our natural relations to God, and takes it for granted ^ that
these natural relations must for ever subsist. It is true, indeed, that the essential attributes of God, and the principles of Natural Religion, cannot be fully discovered without the light ol Revelation, as appears from the past experience of mankind in every generation \ hut it is equally true, that, when discovered by the aid of this celestial light, they are of the utmost importance in the Christian system, and are as essentially connected with it, as the foundation of a building is with the superstructure. Many professed Christians, however, seem to think, and to act, as if the Christian Revelation had annulled the natural relations which subsist between man and the Deity; and hence the zealous outery against every discussion from the pulpit, that has not a direct relation to what are termed the doctrines of grace. But nothing, surely, can be more absurd than to carry out such a principle to all its legitimate consequences. Can God ever cease to be Omnipotent, or can man ever cease to be dependent for existence on his infinite power? Can the Divine Being ever cease to be Omnipresent and Omniscient, or can man ever cease to be the object of his knowledge and superintendence? Can Infinite Wisdom ever be detached from the Almighty, or can man ever be in a situation where he will not experience the effects of his wise arrangements? Can Goodness ever fail of being an attribute of Jehovah, or can any sentient or intelligent beings exist that do not experience the effects of his bounty? In short, can the relation of Creature and of Creator ever cease between the human race, in whatever moral or physical situation they may be placed, and that almighty Being, "who giveth to all, life and breath, and all things?" If none ui these things can possibly happen, then the relations to which we refer must be eternal and unchangeable, and must form the basis of all the other relations in which we can possibly stand to the Divine Being, either as apostate or as redeemed creatures; and, therefore, they ought to be exhihited as subjects for our frequent and serious contemplation, as religious and mora) agents. But, unless we make such topies a distinct subject of attention, and endeavour to acquire a clear and comprehensive conception of our natural relations to God, we can never form a clear conception of those new and interesting relations into which we hare been brought by the mediation of Jesus Christ.
If man had continued in his primitive slate of integrity, he would have been for ever exercised in tracing the Power, the Beneficence, and other attributes of Deity, in the visible creation alone. Now that his fallen state has rendered additional revelations necessary, in order to secure his happiness—is he completely to throw aside those contemplations and exercises which constituted his chief employment, while he remained a pure moral intelligence? Surely not. One great end of his moral renovation, by means of the Gospel, must be, to enable him to resume his primitive exercises, and to qualify*him for more enlarged views and contemplations of a similar nature, in that future world, where the physical and moral impediments which now obstruct his progress will be completely removed.
It appears highly unreasonable, and indicates a selfish disposition of mind, to magnify one class of the Divine attributes at the expense of another, to extol, for example, the Mercy of God, and neglect to celebrate his Power and Wisdom—those glorious perfections, the display of which, at the formation of our globe, excited the rapture and admiration of angels, and of innocent man. All the attributes of God are equal, because all of them are infinite; and, therefore, to talk ofdarltng attributes in the Divine Nature, as some have done, is inconsistent with reason, unwarranted by Scripture, and tends to exhihit a distorted view of the Divine character. The Divine mercy ought to be celebrated with rapture by every individual of our fallen race ; but with no less rapture should we extol the Divine Omnipotence; for the designs of mercy cannot be accomplished without the intervention of Infinite Power. All that we hope for, in consequence of the promises of God, and of the redemption accomplished by Jesus Christ, must be founded on the conception we form of the operations of Omnipotence. An example or two may not be unnecessary for illustrating this position.
We are warranted, by the sacred oracles, to entertain the hope, that these mortal bodies of ours, after they have mouldered in the dust, been dissolved into their primary elementary parts, and become the prey of devouring reptiles, during a lapse of generations or of Centuries,—shall spring forth from the tomb to new Hfe and beauty, and be arrayed in more glorious forms ihan they now wear ; yea, that all the inhabitants of our globe, from Adam to the end of time, though the bodies of thousands of them have been devoured by cannibals, have become the food of fishes and of beasts of prey, and have been burnt to cinders, and their ashes scattered by the winds, over the different regions oCmZS and land,—shall be reanimated by the voice of the Son of God, and shall appear, each in his proper person and identical
body, before God, the Judge of all. Now, the firmness of our hope of so astonishing an event, which seems to contradict all experience, and appears involved in such a mass of difficulties and apparent contradictions, must be in proportion to the sentiments weentertain of the Divine Intelligence, Wisdom, and Omnipotence. And where are we to find the most striking visible displays of these perfections, except in the actual operations of the Creator, within the range of our view in the material world?
Again, we are informed, in the same Divine records, that, at some future period, the earth on which we now dwell shall be wrapt up in devouring flames, and its present form and constitution for ever destroyed; and its redeemed inhahitants, after being released from the grave, shall be transported to a more glorious region ; and that " new heavens and a new earth shall appear, wherein dwelleth righteousness." The Divine mercy having given to the faithful the promise of these astonishing revolutions, and most magnificent events, our hopes of their being fully realized must rest on the infinite wisdom and omnipotence of Jehovah ; and, consequently, if our views of these perfections be limited and obscure, our hope in relation to our future destiny will be proportionally feeble and languid ; and will scarcely perform its office "as an anchor to ihe soul, both sure and steadfast." It is not merely by telling a person that God is All-wise, and All-powerful, that a full conviction of the accomplishment ot such grand events will be produced. He must be made to see with his own ey*s what the Almighty has already done, and what he is now doing in all the regions of universal nature which lie open to our inspection; and this cannot bo effected without directing his contemplations to those displays of intelligence and powsjr which are exhihited in the structure, the economy, and the revolutions of the material world.
If the propriety of these sentiments be admitted, it will follow that the more we arc accustomed to contemplate the wonders of Divine intelligence and power, in the objects with which wo are surrounded, the more deeply shall we be impressed with a conviction, and a confident hope, that all the purposes of divine mercy will ultimately be accomplished in our eternal felicity. It will also follow, that, in proportion as the mind acquires a clear, an extensive, and a reverential view of the essential attributes of the Deity, and of those truths in connection with ihem, which are objects of contemplation common to all holy beings, in a similar proportion will it be impress, ed, and its attention arrested, by every other divine subject connected with them. And it is, doubtless, owing to the want of such clear and impressive conceptions of the essentia' character of Jehovah, and of ihe first truths of religion, Uiu the bulk of mankind are so little impressed and influenced by the leading doctrines and duties: connected with tho plan of the Gospel salvation, and that ihey entertain so many vague and untenable notions respecting the character and the objects of a superintending Providence. How often, for example, have we witnessed expressions of the foolish and limited notions which are frequently entertained respecting the operations of Omnipotence? When it has been asserted that the earth with all its load of continents and oceans, is in rapid'motion through the voids of space— that the sun is ten hundred thousand times larger than the terraqueous globe—and that millions of such globes are dispersed throughout the immensity of nature—some who have viewed themselves as enlightened Christians, have exclaimed at the impossibility of such facts, as if they were beyond the limits ofDivine Power, and as if such representations were intended to turn away the mind from God and religion ; while, at ihe same time, they have yielded a firm assent to all the vulgar notions respecting omens, apparitions, and hobgoblins, and to the supposed extraordinary powers of the professors of divination and witehcraft. How can such persons assent, with intelligence and rational conviction, to the dictates of Revelation respecting the energies of Omnipotence which will be exerted at" the consummation of all things," and in those arrangements which are to succeed the dissolution of our sublunary system? A firm belief in the Almighty Power and unsearchablo wisdom of God, as displayed in the constitution and movements of the material world, is of the utmost importance, to confirm our faith, and enliven our hopes, of such grand and interesting events.
Notwithstanding the considerations now stated, which plainly evince the connection of the natural perfections of God with the objects of the Christian Revelation, it appears somewhat strange, that, when certain religious instructors happen to come in contact with this topic, they seem as if they were beginning to tread upon forbidden ground; and, as if it were unsuitable to their office as Christian teachers, to bring forward the stupendous works of the Almighty to illustrate his nature and attributes. Instead of expatiating on the numerous sources of illustration, of which the subject admits, till the minds of their hearers are thoroughly affected with a view of the essential glory of Jehovah— they despateh the subject with two ur three v.-i-"if propositions, which, though logically true, make no impression upon the heart; as if they believed that such contemplations were suited only to carnal men, and mere philosophers ; and ts if they were afraid, lest the sanctity of the pulpit should be polluted by particular descriptions of those operations of the Deity which are perceived through the medium of the corporeal senses. We do not mean to insinuate, that the essential attributes of God, and the illustrations >f them derived from the material world, should
form the sole, or the chief topics of discussion, in the business of religious instruction—but, if the Scriptures frequently direct our attention to these subjects—if they lie at the foundation of all accurate and extensive views of the Christian Revelation—if they be the chief subjects of contemplation to angels, and all other pure intelligences, in every region of the universe—and if they have a tendency to expand the minds of professed Christians, to correct their vague and erroneous conceptions, and to promote their conformity to the moral character of God—we cannot find out the shadow of a reason, why such topics should be almost, if not altogether, overlooked, in the writings and the discourses of those who profess to instruct mankind in the knowledge of God, and the duties of his worship.
We are informed by our Saviour himself, that "this is life eternal, to know thee ihe living and true God," as well as "Jesus Christ whom ho hath sent." The knowledge of God, in the sense here intended, must include in it the knowledge of the natural and essential attributes of the Deity, or those properties of his nature by which he is distinguished from all " the idols of the nations." Such are, his Sel£exislence, his All-perfect knowledge, his Omnipresence, his Infinite Wisdom, his Boundless Goodness, and Almighty Power—attributes, which, as we have just now seon, lie at the foundation of all the other characters and relations of Deity revealed in the Scriptures. The acquisition of just and comprehensive conceptions of these perfections, must, therefore, lie at the foundation of all profound veneration of the Divine Being, and of all that is valuable in religion. Destitute of such conceptions, we can neither feel that habitual humility, and that reverence of the majesty of Jehovah, which his essential glory is calculated to inspire, nor pay him that tribute of adoration and gratitude which is due to his name. Devoid of such views, we cannot exercise that cordial acquiescence in the plan of his redemption, in the arrangements of his providence, and in the requirements of his law, which the Scriptures enjoin. Yet, how often do we find persons who pretend to speculate about the mysteries of the Gospel, displaying—by their flippancy of speech respecting the eternal counsels of the Majesty of Heaven—by their dogmatical assertions respecting the Divine character, and the dispensations of providence—and by their pertinacious opinions respecting the laws by which God must regulate his own actions—that they have never felt impressive emotions of the grandeur of that Being, whose" operations are unsearchable, and his ways past finding out 7" Though they do not call in question his immensity and power, hi* wisdom and goodness, as so many abstract pro* perties of his nature, yet the unbecoming familiarity with which they approach this august Being, and talk about him, shows that thev have
never associated in their minds, the stupendous displays which have been given of these perfections, in the works of his hands; and that their religion (if it may be so called) consists merely in a farrago of abstract opinions, or in an empty name.
If, then, it be admitted, that it is essentially requisite, as the foundation of religion, to have the mind deeply impressed with a clear and comprehensive view of the natural perfections of the Deity, it will follow, that the ministers of religion, and all others whose province it is to communicate religious instruction, ought frequently to dwell, with particularity, on those proofs and illustrations with tend to convey the most definite and impressive conceptions of the glory of that Being whom we profess to adore. Bui from what sources are such illustrations to be derived? Is it from abstract reasonings and metaphysical distinct ion-* and definitions, or from a survey of those objects and movements which lie open to the inspection of every observer? There can be no difficulty in coming to a decision on this point. Wr might affirm, with the schoolmen, that "God is a Being whoso centre is every where, and his circumference no where;" that "he comprehends infinite duration in every moment ;* and that " infinite space may be considered as the tentorium of the Godhead ;" but such fanciful illustrations,when strictly analyzed, will be found to consist merely of words without ideas. We might also affirm with truth, that God is a Being of infinite perfection, glory, and blessedness—that he is wi'hout all bounds or limits either actual or possible—that he is possessed of power .sufficient to perform all things which do not imply a contradiction—tSat he is inde|iendent and self-sufficient—that his wisdom is unerring, and that he infinitely exceeds all other beings. But these, and other expressions of a similar kind, are mere technical terms, which convey no adequate, nor even tolerable, notion of what they import. Beings, constituted like man, whose rational spirits are connected with an organical structure, and who derive all their knowledge through the medium of corporeal organs, can derive their clearest and most affecting notions of the Divinity, chiefly through the same medium, namely, by contemplating the effects of ins perfections, as displayed through the ample range of the visible creation. And to this source of illustration, the inspired writers uniformly direct our views—" Lift up your eyes on high, and behold! who hath created these orbs? who bringeth forth their host by number, and caileth them all by their names? The everlasting God, the Lord, by the greatness of his might, for that he is strong in power."—-" !e hath made the earth by his power; he hath established the world by his wisdom; he hath stretehed out the heavens by his understanding." The*t writers do not perplex our minds by a mul
titude of technical terms and subtle reasonings but lead us directly to the source whence our most ample conceptions of Deity are to be derived, that, from a steady and enlightened contemplation of the effects, we may learn the greatness of the Cause; and their example, in '.his respect, ought, doubtless, to be a pattern for evey religious instructor.
Illustrations of the Omnipotence of the Deitt.
In order to elucidate more distinctly what hai been now stated, I shall select a few illustrations of some of the natural attributes of the Deity. And, in the first place, I shall offer afew considerations which have a tendency to direct and to amplify our conceptions of Divine Power.
Omnipotence is that attribute of the Divine Being, by which he can accomplish every thing that does not imply a contradiction—how ever far it may transcend the comprehension of finite minds. By his power the vast system of universal nature was called from nothing into existence, and is continually supported, in all its movements, from age to age. In elucidating this perfection ol God, we might derive some striking illustrations from the records of his dispensations towards man, in the early ages of the world—when he overwhelmed the earth with the deluge, which coveredMhe tojfcof the highest mountains, and. swept the crowded population of the ancient world into a watery grave—w hen he demolished Sodom and Gomorrah, and the cities around them, with fire from heaven—when he slew all the first-born of Egypt, and turned their rivers into blood—when he divided the Red Sea and the waters of Jordan before the tribes of Israel —when he made the earth to open its jaws and swallow up Korah and all his company—and when he caused Mount Sinai to smoke and tremble at his presence. But these and simitar events, however awful, astonishing, and worthy of remembrance, were only transitory exertions of Divine Power, and are not calculated, and were never intended, to impress the mind in so powerful a manner as those displays of Omnipotence which are exhibited in tj1e ordinary movements of the material universe. We have no hesitation in asserting, that, with regard to this attribute of the Divinity, there is a more prnnd and impressive display in the works of Nature, than in all the events recorded in the Sacred History. Nor ought this remark tobe considered as throwing the least reflection on the fulness and sufficiency of the Scripture revelation ; for that revelation, as having a special reference to a meroi economy, has for its object to give a more particular display of the moral than of the natural pe r