Abbildungen der Seite
PDF
EPUB

human mind is more apt to indulge, than to endeavour te bring the invisible Divinity within the range of our senses, and to contemplate him as such a one as ourseves. The necessity of this injunction, its reasonableness, and the folly and absurdity of the practice against which it is, directed, will appear from the following considerations. The Divine Being fills the immensity of space with his presence, and to his essence we can set no bounds. He inhabited eternity, before the earth or the heavens were brought into existence, rejoicing in the contemplation of his own excellences, and in the future effects of his power and benevolence. He is a spiritual uncompounded substance, and consequently invisible to mortal eyes, and impalpable to every other organ of sensation. His omnipotence neither man nor angel can scan, nor can they explore the depths of his wisdom and intelligence. When universal silence and solitude reigned throughout the infinite void—when not a sound was heard nor an object seen within the immeasurable extent of boundless space—at his command, worlds, numerous as the sand, started into being. Thousands of suns diffused their splendours through the regions of immensity; the ponderous masses of the planetary globes were launched into existence, and inpelled in their rapid courses through the sky; their surfaces were adorned with resplendent heauties, and replenished with myriads of delighted inhabitants. The seraphim and the cherubim began to chant their hymns of praise, and “shouted for joy” when they beheld new worlds emerging from the voids of space. Life, motion, activity, beauty, grandeur, splendid illumination, and rapturous joy, among unnumbered intelligences, burst upon the view, where a little before nothing appeared but one immense, dark, and cheerless void. And ever since duration began to be measured, either in heaven or on earth, by the revolutions of celestial orbs, the same omnipotent energy has been incessantly exerted in directing the movements of all worlds and systems, and in upholding them in their vast career. Of a being invested with attributes so glorious and incomprehensiblo, with power so astonishing in its effects, with goodness so boundless, and with wisdom so unsearchable, what image or representation can possibly be formed which will not tend to contract our conceptions, and to debase the character of the infinite and eternal Mind: “To whom will ye liken re, or shall I be equal, saith the Holy ONE.” When a person of dignity and of respectability of character is caricatured, and associated with objects ani circumstances that are mean, ridicu!ous, and grotesque, it has a tendency to degrade his character, an to lessen our veneration. For the respect we entertain sor any individual is founded on the view we take of him in all the

[ocr errors]

aspects in which he may be contemplated. For a similar reason, every attempt to represent the Divine Majesty by sensible images, must have a tendency to narrow our conceptions of his glory, to debase his character, and to lessen our reverence and esteem. What possible similitude can there be between that mighly being, who by his word lighted up the sun, and diffused ten thousands of such immense luminaries through the regions of creation, whose hand wields the planets, and rolls them through the tracts of immensity; between him who “meteth out the heavens with a span. and holds the ocean in the hollow of his hand,” and the most resplendent image that was ever formed by human hands! Even the sum himself, with all his immensity of splendour, although our minds were expanded to comprehend his vast magnificence, would form but a poor and pitiful image of Him, whose breath has kindled ten thousand times ten thousand suns. How much less can a block of marble or a stupid ox adumbrate the glories of the King eternal, immortal, and invisible! It will doubtiess redound to the eternal disgrace of the human character, in every region of the universe where it is known, that ever such an impious attempt was made by the inhabitants of our degenerate world, as to compare the glory of the incorruptible God to an image made like to corruptible man. Wherever such attempts have been made, there we behold human nature in its lowest state of debasement ; the intellectual faculties darkened, bewildered, and degraded ; the moral powers perverted and depraved ; grovelling affections predominating over the dictates of reason, and diabolical passions raging without control. Hence, too, the debasing tendency of all those attempts which have been made to introduce into the Christian church, pictures and images, to represent “The invisible things of God,” and the sufferings of the Redeemer. For. wherever such practices prevail, the minds of men will generally be found to entertain the grossest conceptions of the Divine Being, and of the solemn realities of religion. But the principal reason why any representation of God is expressly forbidden in this commandment, is, that whenever such a practice commences, it infallibly ends in adoring the image itself, instead of the object it was intended to represent. Or, in other words, the breach of this commandment necessarily and uniformly leads to a breach of the first. Notwithstanding the shock which the human mind appears to have received by the fall, it is altogether inconceivable, that any tribe of mankind should have been so debased and brutalized, as, in the first instance, to mistake a crocodile, or the stump of a tree, however beautifully carved, for the Creator of he iven and earth. Such objects appear to have been first used as symbols or representations of the Deity, in order to assist the hind in forining

a conception of his invisible attributes. But as they had a direct tendency to debase the mind, and to obscure the glory of the Divinity, in process of time they began to be regarded by the ignoront multitude as the very gods themselves, which they were at first intended to represent; and that tribute of adoration was paid to the symbol itself, which was originally intended to be given to the invisible God, through this sensible medium. And, when we contemplate kings and princes, poets and philosophers, heroes and sages, “young men and virgins, old men and children,” whole provinces, nations, and continents, prostrating themselves before the shrine of such despicable and abominable idols, and the idea of the true God almost banished from the world, we have reason to feel ashamed, and to be deeply humbled, that we belong to a race of intelligences that have thus so grossly prostituted their rational and moral powers. The only natural image or representation of God which is set before us for our contemplation, is, the boundless universe which his hands have formed; and his moral image is displayed in the laws which he has published, in the movements of his providence, and in the face of Jesus Christ his Son, who is “the image of the invisible God, and the brightness of his glory.” All these exhibitions of the Divine Majesty, we are commanded to study, to contemplate, and admire; and it is essentially requisite in order to our acquiring correct and comprehensive views of the object of our adoration, that no one of these displays of the Divinity should be overlooked, or thrown into the shade. There are some Christians, who imagine they may acquire a competent knowledge of the character of God, although they should never spend a single moment in contemplating his perfections as displayed in his visible works. In regard to such, I hesitate not to asfirm, that they are, to a certain extent, idolaters, and remain wilful idolaters, contented with the most inadequate and grovelling conceptions of the Deity, so long as they refuse to contemplate, with fixed attention, and with intelligence, the operations of his hands. If a man's ideas never extend beyond the bounds of his visible horizon, or beyond the limits of the country in which he resides, and if, at the same time, he has overlooked the most striking displays of divine wisdom and goodness within these bounds—his con. ceptions of the Divine Being himself, will nearly correspond with the conceptions he forms of his works. Is his views be even confined within the limits of the globe on which he dwells, his conceptions of God will still be grovelling, distorted, and imperfect. And, therefore, the idea which such an individual forms to himself of God, may be inferior to that which is due to one of the higher orders of created intelligences. And, if so, he has only an image of a creature in his mind, instead of a comprehensive conception of

the Great Creator. We have too much reason to believe, that there are multitutes on the religious world, who pass for enligh-ened Uhristians. whose ideas of the Supreine Ruler of the universe do not rise beyond the conceptions we ought to form of the powers and capacilies of Gabriel the archangel, or of one of the highest order of the seraphim. We can never expect, from the very nature of things, to be able to explore the depths of Jehovah's essence, or to comprehend the whole range of his dominions and government. But, a large por ion of his operations lies open to our inspection; and it is from an enlightened contemplation of what is presented to our view in the visible universe, that we are to form our conceptions of the grandeur of the Eternal Mind. For, it may be admitted as an axiom, both in natural and revealed theology, that our conceptions of God will nearly correspond with the conceptions we acquire of the nature and ertent of his operations. In the universe around us, we perceive an image of his infinity, in so far as a finite and material existence can adumbrate the attributes of an Infinite and Invisible Existence. When we list our eyes towards the midnight sky, we behold a thousand suns diffusing their splendours from regions of space immeasurably distant. When we apply a telescope to any portion of this vast concave, we perceive thousands more which the unasisted eye cannot discern. When we increase the magnifying powers of the instrument, we descry numerous orbs of light, stretching still farther into the unfathomable depths of space; so that there appear no limits to the scene of creating power. When the eye of reason penetrates beyond all that is visible through the most powerful telescopes, it contemplates a boundless region teeming with other resplendent suns and systeins, whose number and magnificence overwhelm the imagination; so that no limit can be set to the excursions of the intellect when it wings its flight over the wide empire of Jehovah. Over all this vast assemblage of material splendour, over its movements, and over all the diversified ranks of intelligence it supports, God eternally and unchangeably presides. He is an Infinite Being ;—and in this immense universe which he has opened to our view, he has given us an image of his infinity, which corresponds with the perfections which the inspired writers ascribe to him—and without a contemplation of which, the mind must have a very unworthy and circumscribed idea of the attributes of the Eternal Mind. Even in many of the objects which surround us in this lower world, we perceive an image of the infinity of the Creator—particularly in those living worlds which are contained in a few drops of water, some of the inhabitants of which are several hundreds of thousands of times smaller than the least grain of sand.—To the contempla

[ocr errors]

tion of such objects we are directed by God Hunself, in order to acquire an impressive view of his character and operations. “Lift up your eyes on high, and behold who hath created these orbs, that bringeth out their host by number: he calleth them all by names, by the greatness of his might, for that he is strong in power.”— And, the prophets, when reasoning against idolatry, present us with a train of thought similar to that to which I have now adverted. They describe the Almighty as “sitting on the circle of the heavens, and the inhabitants of the earth as grasshoppers in his sight.” They represent àim as “measuring the waters in the hollow of his hand, weighing the mountains in scales, and meting out the heavens with a span--besore whom all nations are as the drop of a bucket, and are counted to him less than nothin ; and vanity.” It is strange, indeed, that the duty of contemplating the image of God as impressed upon his works, should be so much overlooked by the great body of the Christian world, notwithstanding the obvious reasonableness of this duty, and the pointed injunctions in relation to it which are reiterated in every department of the word of God. It is still more strange, that the instructions of many religious teachers have a tendency to dissuade Christians from engaging in this duty, by the foolish contrasts they attempt to draw between she word and the works of God; so that the great mass of Christians are left to remain half idolaters for want of those expansive conceptions of God which a knowledge of his works is calculated to produce. t is also most unaccountable, on every principle of reason, and of Revelation, that the wilful neglect of this duty should never be accounted either as a sin, or as a want of that respect which is due to the Majesty of heaven. We have known persons rebuked, and even excluded srom a Christian Church, so holding a metaphysical sentinent different from their brethren respecting the divine plans and decrees; but we never heard of an individual being either reproved or admonished by a Christian society, for neglecting to contemplate the character of God as displayed in his works, although he had lived fifty years amidst the magnificence of creation, and had acquired little more knowledge of his Creator, from this source, than the ox which browses on the grass. Yet, to this neglect is to be imputed a great proportion of those grovelling conceptions, superstitious notions, and distorted views of the doctrines of religion which still disgrace the Christian world. This fact is still more unaccountable, when we consider that a knowledge of the abstrusities and technicalities of science is not requisite in order to the performance of this duty. It requires only the eve of sense, of reason, and of devotion to be directed to the scene of divine operation within us, and around us, and to be occasionally fixed on the

object we contemplate, in order to appreciate the perfections and the glory of the ever present Deity. Although there were no other striking objects around us, the single fact of the apparent revolution of the celestial concave, with all its magnificent orbs, around the earth every twentyfour hours, is sufficient to overpower the mind of every rational observer with admiration and wonder, is his attention were seriously directed to it only for a single hour. The ideas of maJessy, of grandeur, and of omnipotent energy which this single circumstance is calculated to inspire, are such as irresistibly to lead the mind to the contemplation of a Being whose perfections are incomprehensible, and whose ways are past finding out. Yet, I believe, it may be affirmed with truth, that more than one half of the Christian world are ignorant that such a fact exists;* such is the indifference and the apathy with which many religionists view the wonderful works of

od.

It was chiefly owing to such criminal inattention to the displays of the Divine Character in the works of creation, that the inhabitants of the Pagan world plunged themselves into all the absurdities and abominations of idolatry. “For the invisible things of God, even his eternal power and godhead, are clearly seen in the things that are made,” if men would but open their eyes, and exercise their powers of intelligence. “The heavens declare the glory of Jehovah,” they declare it to all the inhabitants of the earth. “There is no speech nor language where their voice is not heard : their line is gone out through all the earth, and their words to the end of the world.”

“In reason's ear they all rejoice,
And utter forth a glorious voice;
For ever singing, as they shine,
* The hand that made us is ulivine.'”

But the Heathen world did not listen to the instructions thus conveyed, nor did they apply their understandings, as they ought to have done, to trace the invisible things of God, from the visible displays of his character and persections, in the universe around them. “They became vain in their inmaginations, and their foolish hearts were darkened; and professing themselves to be wise, they became fools.” While “the harp and the viol, the tabret, the pipe, and the wine were in their feasts, they regarded not the works of the Lord, nor considered the operations of his hands.” “Wherefore they were given up by God to indulge" in vile affections, and “to worship and serve the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed for ever.” And, even under the

• Here I refer simply to the apparent motion of the heavens—leaving every one to form his own opinion as to the other alternative—the motion of the earth. In either case the minol is overpowered with ideas of grandeur and of Almighty power. See this topic more particularly illustrated in “Christ. Philosopher,”

Christian dispensation, we have too much reason to $. that effects somewhat analogous to these have been produced, and a species of mental idolatry practised by thousands who have professed the religion of Jesus; owing to their inattention to the visible operations of Jehovah, and to their not connecting them with the displays of his character and agency as exhibited in the revelations of his word.

the third coxim ANDMENT.

Thou shall not take the name of the Lord thy God

in vain.

The name of any person is that which distinguishes him from other individuals. Whatever word is employed to distinguish any object, whether animate or inanimate, is its name. In like manner, the Name of God is that by which he is distinguished from all other beings. It includes those terms which express his nature and character, as Jehovah—those titles by which his relation to his creation is designated, as “The Creator of the ends of the earth,-The Father of mercies, The God of salvation,” &c.—the attributes of which he is possessed, as his Eternity, Omnipotence, Holiness, Justice, &c.—the works which he has exhibited in heaven and on earth– the movements of his Providence, and the Revelations of his word. By every one of these, the character of God is distinguished from that of all other beings in the universe. In relation to this name or character of the Divine Being, it is solemnly cominanded that “we are not to take it in vain,”—that is, we are not to use any of the titles or designations of the Divine Majesty, for trifling, vain, or evil purposes ; nor are we to treat any displays of his character with levity, profaneness, or irreverence.

We violate this command, when we use the name of God, in common discourse, in a light and irreverent inanner, when we interland our conversations with unnecessary oaths and asseverations in which this name is introduced; when we swear to what we know to be false, or when we multiply oaths in reference to vain and trifling concerns; when we imprecate curses and damnation on our fellow-creatures; when we approach God in prayer, without those feelings of reverence and awe, which his perfections demand; when we swear by any object in heaven or in earth, or by the false deities of the heathen world ; when we treat his wonderful works with indifference or contempt; when we endeavour to caricature, and misrepresent them, or attempt to throw a veil over their glory; when we insinuate that his most glorious and magnificient works were made for no end, or for no end worthy of that infinite wisdom and intelligence by which they were contrived; when we overlook or deny the Divine Agency, which is displayed in the uperations of nature; when we murmur and re

[ocr errors]

pine at his moral dispensations, or treet the mighty movements of his providence, whether in ancient or in modern times, with a spirit of levity, with ridicule, or with conteinpf; when we treat the revelations of the Bible with indifference or with scorn ; when we make the declarations of that book, which unfolds to us the sublime and adorable character of Jehovah, the subject of merriment and jest; when we endeavour to throw upon them contempt and ridicule, with the view of undermining their divine authority ; and when we sneer at the public and private worship of God, and at the ordinances which he hath appointed. —In all these and many other ways, the name of God is profaned, his character reproached, and that reverence of the Divine Being, which is the foundation of all religion and moral order, undermined and subverted. When the name or the titles by which a fellowmortal is distinguished, are made the subject of banter and ridicule in every company, when they are brought forward for the purpose of giving an edge to a sarcastic sneer; and when his employments and the works he has constructed are contemned, and associated with every thing that is mean and degrading ; it is an evidence of the low estimation in which he is held by the individual who does so, and has a tendency to debase his character in the eyes of others. On the same principle, the profanation of the name of God, has an evident tendency to lessen our admiration of the Majesty of Heaven, and to banish from the mind every sentiment of veneration and reverence. The man who can deliberately violate this command, from day to day,+thus offering a continual insult to his Maker—proclaims to all around, that he has no emotions of reverence and affection towards that Almighty Being, whose power upholds the fabric of heaven and earth, and who dispenses life and death to whomsoever he pleases. “He scretcheth out his hand against God, and strengtheneth himself against the Almighty.” He proclaims to every reflecting mind, that pride, ennuity, rebellion, and irreverence, are deeply seated in his heart, and that “the sear of God,” and the solemnities of a future judgment “are not before his eyes.” Were the violation of this law to become universal among men—the name of God, among all ranks, ages, and conditions of life, would be associated, not only with every trifling discourse and altercation, but with every species of ribaldry and obscenity. The lisping babe would be taught to insult that Mighty Being, from whom it so lately derived its existence; and the man of hoary hairs, even in the agonies of death, would pass into the eternal state, imprecating the vengeance of his Maker. All reverence for Jehovah would, of course, be banished from society; no temples would be erected to his honour ; no silen. adorations of the heart wonld ascend to his throne; no vows would be paid : no forms of worship appointed; no tribute of thanksgiving and gratitude would be offered to his name, but the voice of profanity and of execration, among high and iow, rich and poor, the young and the old, in every social intercourse, and in every transaction, would resound throughout all lands. No motives to excite to moral action, would be derived from the authority and the omnipresence of God, and from a consideration of his future retributions; for his character would be reproached, and his authority trampled under foot by all people. “They would set their mouths against the heavens in their blasphemous talk,” and they would say, “How doth God know, and is there knowledge in the Most High 7” “What is the Almighty that we should serve him, and what profit shall we have, if we pray unto him " " The Lord doth not see, neither doth the God of Jacob regard us.” His wonderful works would either be overlooked, or treated with contempt, or ascribed to the blind operation of chance or of fate. They would be represented as accomplishing no end, as displaying no wisdom, and as controlled by no intelligent agency. Their apparent irregularities and defects would be magnified, and expatiated upon with diabolical delight; while the glorious evidences they exhibit of infinite wisdom and beneficence would be thrown completely into the shade. The dispensations of his providence would be viewed as an inextricable maze, without order or design, directed by chance, and by the ever-varying caprice of human beings. His venerable word would universally become the subject of merriment and laughter-a topic for the exercise of ribaldry and ridicule, and a theme for enlivening the unhallowed song of the drunkard. The most solemn scenes which it displays, and its most joyful and alarming declarations, would be equally treated with levity and contempt.—Such are some of the impious practices, and horrible effects which would follow, if the name of Jehovah were universally profaned. The very name of religion would be blotted out from the earth. its forms abolished, its sanctions disregarded, its laws violated, virtue and piety annihilated, the flood-gates of every evil burst open, and moral order entirely subverted. On the other hand, universal reverence of the name and character of God would lead to the practice of all the duties of piety and morality. The Most High would be recognised with sentiments of veneration at all times; and the silent adorations of the heart would flow out towards him in all places; in the house, and in the street, in the bosom of the sorest, and in the fertile plain, in the city, and in the wilderness, under the shades of night, and amidst the splendours of day. in every place, temples would be erected for his worship, hallelujahs of praise would asceni, and “incense and a pure offering” be presented to his name. With reverence and godly fear, with expansive views of his magnificence and glory,

with emotions of affection and of awe would his worshippers approach him in prayer, in praise. in

conteinplation, and in all the services of his sanotuary. '1'be whole earth would be consecrated as one grand temple, from which a grateful homage would ascend from the hearts and from the lips of millions of devout worshippers, in all places, from the rising to the setting sun. In

the domestic circle, in the social club, in the convivial meeting, in the streets, in “the high places of the city,” in the public walks, in the councils of the nations, and in every other intercourse of human beings, the name of God would never be mentioned nor his character alluded to, but with feelings of profound and reverential awe. His works would be contemplated with admiration, with reverence, and with gratitude, as proclaiming the glory of his kingdom, the depths of his wisdom, and the extent of his power. His mighty movements among the nations would be regarded with submission and reverence, as accomplishing the eternal purposes of his will, and

his holy word would be perused by all classes of men with affection and delight, as the oracle which proclaims the glories of his nature and the excellence of his laws, the blessings of his salvation, and the path which conducts to eternal feli

city in the life to come. Such are some of the delightful effects which would follow, were a sentiment of profound reverence to pervade the

whole mass of human beings:—and correspond

ing sentiments of love and affection for each other,

would be the necessary and unceasing accom

paniments of respect and veneration for their common Parent.

The Fourth commi ANDMENT.

“Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Sir days shalt thou labour, and do all thy work; but the seventh day is the Sabbath of the Lord thy God,” &c.

This commandment obviously enjoins the setting apart of one day in seven, as a day of rest from worldly labour, and as a portion of time to be devoted to the devotional exercises of religion, and particularly to the public worship of God. It was given forth, not merely to display the Sovereignty of the Lawgiver; but to promote both the sensitive and the intellectual enjoyment of man. “The Sabbath,” says our Saviour, “was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath.”

It was made for man, in the first place, as a day of rest. In this point of view, it is a most wise and merciful appointment, especially when we consider the present condition of mankind, as doomed to labour, and toil, and to the endurance of many sorrows. When we reflect on the tyrannical dispositions which prevail among annkind, on the powerful influence of avarice over the human mind, and on the almost total absence

« ZurückWeiter »