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Those who have most of the love of God may sometimes be perplexed with unsuitable thoughts concerning him, but they will use prayers and endeavours for avoiding them. If there are other objections against this doctrine, which the evidences adduced cannot be applied to, we should consider, that there may be perplexing objections raised oftentimes, even against demonstrable truths; that the difficulties of this subject are owing to the darkness of our views of God's works, and that intricacy of providence, which is perfectly consistent with the righteousness of it.
God's own testimony of his own holiness, is an infallible evidence for it, which no difficulties should hinder our assent to; and the considerations adduced shew that his works and actions agree with the testimony of his word, That as he cannot be tempted to evil, so neither tempteth he any man; this has been shown at large from the nature of God's works; I shall only add here a few things taken from the nature of sin. Sin is a forsaking of God. It is plain, he cannot tempt us to forsake himself, unless he give us ground to expect more happiness, by forsaking him than by being united to him; this is impossible reason and experience, as well as Scripture, shew that it is an exceeding evil and bitter thing to depart from the living God. Sin is the transgression of his law: How can he be thought to propose motives to us to disobey himself? Sin is a preferring his creatures to himself: How can he be thought to put any thing in the creatures, that should make us hope for more good in the effect, than in the cause ?
The use that we should make of this doctrine, was hinted already, in shewing the importance of it, and the evidences which prove that these thoughts of God which the text rebukes, though both unreasonable and dangerous, are very common and ordinary. The Spirit of God inculcates this doctrine upon us, to the end we may adore God's spotless purity, and loath ourselves for our inexcusable wickedness. The truths that have been insisted on, have a very proper ten
dency this way; it is certain we can scarce consider sin in any light that shews more the madness of it, than the affront it does to God, by preferring his creatures to himself: our giving them that preference is not an honouring them, but a monstrous and unnatural abuse of them. Their beauty and glory consists in manifesting that of their Author. This is the chief end, and true use of them. These visible things which are void of life and reason themselves are constantly importuning us who are privileged with both, to employ them in praising and serving him who is their Creator and ours; they offer themselves as steps by which our thoughts may ascend to him. When, instead of this, they are made instruments of rebellion against him, these dumb creatures, to allude to the apostle's expression, Rom. viii. 20, 21, 22. groan under the bondage of our corruption, and ravail in pain under the oppression of our vanity, to which they are not willingly made subject; they protest and exclaim against the bad use we make of them, contrary to the end of their being, and upbraid and reproach us for our ingratitude to God; our abuse of them, and cruelty to ourselves.
If men could excuse themselves for not placing their chief happiness in God, they might the more easily excuse all their other sins; for in effect, that is the source of all: since we have an inbred thirst after happiness, it is impossible but we must be seeking after it in something or other, if not in God, then certainly in his creatures; and if so, it is impossible but that fundamental disorder should put all the powers and affections of our souls into confusion. When a man has fixed his chief affections on creatures, and made them his chief end, it is impossible but he should have an inclination to the means of that end, though contrary to his true interest, and an aversion from things that are opposite to these his chief desires, though really never so excellent. Thus the love of sin creates a distaste of God's laws, instructions and revelations, because they are against
sin; and by this wretched chain, corruption proves a disease that both leads to death, and begets an aversion to the means of recovery. Thus God's creatures are made occasions and pretences for of fending him, though there is nothing in him or them to justify the neglect of the one, or abuse of the other; nothing, on the contrary, but what shews that such a practice is equally destructive and inexcusable.
If we keep our love of outward things within such bounds, as to do no prejudice to the love of God and our neighbour, or even to the true love of ourselves; this would be that true mortification which God requires, and for which the grace of Jesus Christ is of fered to us; it is only superstition, and particularly that of the church of Rome, that commands men to abstain from things that God made to be received'. with thanksgiving. The apostle foretold this as one of the errors of the last days. No doubt, abstinence even from things in themselves lawful, has its own use on many occasions; but excessive austerity that way, is the extreme most men are least liable to. In the mean time we may observe, that he whose life should be the pattern of ours as to temperance and all other duties, though he was a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief, did not refuse to join with men for their good in the use of the lawful comforts as well as necessaries of life. This indeed exposed his spotless character to the censure of morose hypocrites, because he did not affect that useless austerity, on which they valued themselves so much but it shews, that spiritual comforts and temporal comforts are far from being inconsistent. But wretched is their case, who abuse that liberty they have from God into an occasion of bringing themselves under bondage to his creatures. They can give no pleasure or trouble independently of him; whatever pleasure they give, it is him they should make us love; whatever trouble they give, it is him they should make us fear; and our love and fear should not hinder, but help each
other; because as we cannot abuse his goodness with out rendering ourselves obnoxious to his justice, we should consider that perfect goodness and perfect justice are so far from being inconsistent, that they are inseparable.
The truths that have been insisted on, afford various motives for adoring both these glorious attributes. As to God's justice, some of the observations that have been proposed, might be usefully applied by many, for convincing their hearts, through God's grace, both of the righteousness of future punishments and the certainty of them. Wickedness affronts God, and abuses his creatures; it makes men incapable of the enjoyment of the former at all, or of the latter with true satisfaction; and therefore, since it both wrongs God, and his creatures, and makes a man incapable of happiness in him, or real contentment in them, it deserves the loss of both, and naturally tends to it. They who entirely neglect God here, surely have no ground to expect to enjoy him hereafter. And as to his creatures, they may find it hard to persuade themselves, if they consider, that God will be eternally multiplying on them those benefits in the next world, which they so heinously abused in this. Now it is evident, that even supposing God should put no positive punishment on wicked men, but only deprive them for ever of all his favours which they have abused, that itself would be enough to cause such everlasting anguish and melancholy, as cannot. well be described or conceived. To be left to our own natural emptiness, to violent desires, without any objects to satisfy them, to suffer the total loss of God, and all his good creatures, is both a loss very terrible in itself, and is so evidently the just demerit and native fruit of final impenitence, that it is a wonder how wicked men can overcome the apprehensions of it.
This may contribute to illustrate the principal use of this doctrine, which (as was hinted formerly) is to help us to a right sense of God's infinite mercy, in
the work of redemption; this we can never have without a persuasion of his righteousness in the works of providence. While men's hearts blame him for their sins, they can never love him aright for his mercies, particularly for his greatest mercy, which is deliverance from sin, and its fruits: whereas on the other hand, to entertain just thoughts of God, and of ourselves (that is, to take all the blame of our sin and misery to ourselves) and to acknowledge sincerely that he is perfectly free from it, is the way through God's grace, to such gratitude to him for his unspeakable gift, as makes the most rational and haypiest disposition of mind, that redeemed sinners are capable of.
It is worth the observing here, that many who are prejudiced against revealed religion, acknowledge that natural religion is very plain and rational. It is evident the difficulties against the apostle's doctrine are difficulties of natural religion; it is not the Scripture only that tells us we are sinful, guilty, corrupt creatures experience tells it, and reason teaches us, that an infinitely perfect God must be perfectly free, both from the blame of our sin, and the misery which it tends to experience and reason teach us, that we are sinners and deserve punishment; it is the gospeł that teaches us the remedy. It is unreasonable to make the difficulties of natural religion prejudices against revealed religion: the subject insisted on serves to give a right impression of both, by giving a just view of God's actions and of those of his creatures; if that view of them were familiar to us, through God's grace, the love of his creatures, instead of hindering our love to him, would be a help to it. This would be a happy stratagem for turning these earthly things, which corruption makes our enemies, to be really our friends; all the pleasures in these streams, would make us love the fountain; and all the trouble in them would make us long for him, long for that unmixed, unqualified bliss, where there is no more need of temperance, because there is no possibility of ex