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Our natural ignorance of God, manifests itself still more evidently, by the confessions both of real and nominal christians. The former, before they knew God, and were admitted to behold his glory shining in the face of Jesus Christ, bitterly complained as Isaiah, Verily thou art a God that hidest thyself; or mournfully asked with David, How long wilt thou hide thy face from me? It is plain then, that, by nature, they were as others, without God (practical atheists) in the world, and have as much reason as St. Paul to declare, that the world by wisdom knew not God.
As for nominal christians, though they daily pray that the fellowship of the Holy Ghost may be with us all, it is evident they are utter strangers to communion with God by his Holy Spirit. For if we affirm, that he blesses his children with a spiritual discovery of his presence, and, manifests himself to them as he doth not to the world, they say we are mad, or call us enthusiasts. This behaviour, shews beyond all confessions, that they are totally unacquainted with the light of God's countenance: For what greater proof can a blind man give, that he has no knowledge of the sun, than to suspect his neighbour of lunacy, for affirming that sunshine is a delightful reality.
From this moral demonstration of our natural ignorance of God, I draw the following conclusion. If the Lord, who is a mild and condescending king to all his loyal subjects, a father full of endearing and tender love to all his dutiful children, hides his face from mankind in a natural state; and if what little they know of him, is only by conjecture, hear-say, or inference; it is a proof, that they are under his displeasure; and consequently, that they are rebellious fallen creatures.
This is the knowledge of God mentioned, Rom. i. 21. It is sufficient to leave without excuse those who do not improve it, till they attain to the saving knowledge mentioned, John xvii. 3. I John v. 20.
For, what but rebellion could thus separate between beings so nearly related, as an infinitely gracious Creator, and favourite creatures, whose soul is, according to an heathen, divinæ particula auræ ; and according to Moses, the very breath of God? We may then rationally conclude with the evangelical prophet, that our iniquities have separated between us and our God, and that our sins have hid his face from us, eclipsed the sun of righteousness, and brought such darkness on our souls, that, by nature, we know neither what we are, nor what we should be; neither whence we come nor whither we are going; neither the grand business we have to do, nor the danger that attends our leaving it undone.
If by nature mankind know not the Lord to be their God, is it surprising that beasts should not know mankind to be their lords? Nevertheless reason agrees with scripture in maintaining, that man, by far the noblest work of God here below, should, according to the reason and fitness of things, bear rule over all the sublunary creation. But alas! even in this respect, How is the crown fallen from his head! Inferior animals have as little regard for him, as he has for his God.
Notwithstanding his artful contrivances, greedy birds and mischievous beasts eat up, trample down, or destroy part of the fruit of his rural labour. In warmer climes, armies of locusts, more terrible than hosts of men, frequently darken the air, or cover the ground, and equally mock at human power and craft. Wherever they light, all verdure disappears, and the summer's fruitfulness is turned into wintry desolation.
If locusts do not reach this happy island; caterpillars, and a variety of others seemingly insignificant, but really formidable insects, make a more constant,
though less general attack upon our trees and gardens. In vain are they destroyed by millions, they cannot be fully conquered; and the yearly returning plague forces the considerate spectator, to acknowledge the finger of a sin-avenging providence.
Happy would it be for man, if rebellious animals were satisfied with the produce of his fields and orchards But alas! They thirst after his blood, and attack his person. Lions, tigers, rattle-snakes, crocodiles, and sharks, whenever they have an opportunity, impetuously attack, furiously tear, and greedily devour him. And what is most astonishing, the basest reptiles are not afraid to breed in his stomach, to live in his very bowels, and to consume his inward parts while swarms of flying, leaping, or creeping insects, too vile to be named, but not to humble a proud apostate, have the insolence to fix upon his skin; and by piercing or furrowing his flesh, suck his blood, and feast upon him from his cradle to the grave.
Domestic animals, it is true, do man excellent service; but is it not because he either forces, or bribes them to it, by continual labour and expence, with which he breaks and maintains them? What business have multitudes of men, but to serve the drudges of mankind? What are smiths, farriers, farmers, servants, grooms, hostlers, &c. but the slaves of brutes, washing, currying, shoeing, feeding, and waiting upon them both by day and by night?
And yet, notwithstanding the prerogative granted to Noah's piety, Gen. ix. 2. and the care taken of domestic animals, do they not rebel as often as they dare? Here, sheep deemed the quietest of all, run astray, or break into the fields of a litigious neighbour : There, the furious bull pursues and gores, or the raging dog sets upon the inoffensive traveller. Το day you read, that an impetuous, foaming steed hath hurried away, thrown off, and dragged along his unfortunate master, whose blood sprinkling the dust,
and brains dashed upon the stones, direct the search of his disconsolate friend: And to-morrow you may hear, that a vicious horse has darted his iron fenced hoof into his attendant's breast or forehead, and has lamed or killed him on the spot.
And would the wise governor of the world, the kind protector of his obedient creatures, permit this rebellion, even of the tamest aminals, and basest vermin against man, if man himself was not a daring rebel against him?
That a contemptible insect should dare to set upon, and be able to devour a proud, monarch, an Herod in the midst of his guards, is terrible: But the mischief stops not here. Numerous tribes of other base animals are armed with poisonous tongues or stings, and use them against mankind with peculiar rage. To say nothing of mad dogs, have not asps, vipers, tarantulas, scorpions, and other venomous serpents and insects, the destructive skill of extracting the quintessence of the curse which sin, our moral poison, hath brought upon the earth? when we come within their reach, do they not bite or sting us with the utmost fury? and by infusing their subtle venom in our blood, spread they not anguish and destruction through our agonizing frame? answer, ye thousands, who died in the wilderness of the bite of fiery serpents: and ye multitudes, who in almost all countries have shared their deplorable fate.
Let us descend to the vegetable world. How many deceitful roots, plants, and fruits deposite their pernicious juices in the stomach of those, who unwarily feed upon them! Did not Elisha, and the sons of the
* Some will say that viper's flesh is useful in physic. I grant it; but is the poison of that creature useful? This must be proved before the argument can be invalidated.
prophets narrowly escape being poisoned all together, by one of them fatally mistaking a pot-herb? And do not many go quickly, or slowly to their grave by such melancholy accidents ?
Minerals and metals are not the last to enter into the general conspiracy against mankind. Under inoffensive appearances, do not they contain what is destructive to the animal frame? and have not many fallen a sacrifice to their ignorance of the mischief lurking in arsenic, and other * mineral productions? Nor are metallic effluvia less hurtful to hundreds; and the health of mankind is perhaps more injured by copper alone, than it is preserved by all the mineral waters in the world. It is acknowledged, that numbers are poisoned by food prepared in utensils made of that dangerous metal: and how many are insensibly hurt by the same means, is only known to a wise and righteous providence.
Thus God leaves us in the world, where mischief lurks under a variety of things apparently useful, without giving us the least intimation of destruction near. To say that infinite goodness can deal thus with innocent creatures, is offering violence to our reason, and an affront to divine justice. Conclude then with me, reader, that we have lost our original innosence, and forfeited our creators favour.
But if the generality of mankind escape all the various sorts of poison, do they escape the curse of toil and sweat? and is not a great majority of them,
• It is objected, that excellent remedies are prepared with antimony and mercury. But it is well known that the persons who use them only expel one poison with another as the decayed Constitutions of those who have frequent recourse to such violent medieines abundantly prove.