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A famous Scots divine*, the glory of his time, who died in the 26th year of his age, upwards of a hundred years ago, opens a sermon on the being and attributes of God in the following rapturous and sublime manner
“ We are now, says he, about this question, what God is? But, who can answer it? Or, if answered, who can understand it? It should astonish us in the very entry, to think that we are about to speak, and to hear, of his majesty, whom eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, nor hath it entered into the heart of any creature to consider what he is. Think ye that blind men could understand a pertinent discourse on light and colours? Would they form any suitable notion of what they had never seen, and what cannot be known but by seeing? What an ignorant speech would a deaf man make of sound, which a man cannot conceive but by hearing it? How, then, can we speak of God, who dwells in such inaccessible light, that though we had our eyes opened, yet they are far less proportioned to his resplendent brightness, than a blind eye is to the sun's light?”. • Here we see this pious writer is obliged to answer one question (if it may be called answering) by asking a series of other questions; thereby confessing at first his absolute inability to give any view of the immediate essence of God, a priori, as it is generally phrased. He, therefore, immediately betakes himself to the other method, a posteriori, to give a view of him through the medium of his works.
* Rev. Hugh Binning minister of Govan near Glasgow, who dielin 1655. VOL. 1
But what, says he, may convince souls of the divine majesty? Truly, I think, if it be not evident by its own brightness, all the reason that can be brought, is but like a candle's light to see the sun by. Yet because of our weakness, the Lord shines upon us in the creatures, as in a glass; and it is become the best way to take up the glorious brightness of his majesty, by reflection in his word and works. God himself dwells in light that cannot be approached unto. If any look straight to that sun of righteousness, he shall be astonished and amazed, and see no more than in the very darkness.”
“ The best way to behold the sun is in a pail of water; and the surest way to know God is in his
rks, those living mirrors of his power and goodness. If thou listen not to the speech which day uttereth unto day, and night unto night, declaring that one self-existent being gave thee being; if thou hearest not the language that is gone out into all the earth, and be not, as it were, noised and possessed with the sounds of every thing about thee, above thee, beneath thee, yea, and within thee, all singing a me, lodious song to that excellent name which is above all names; and conspiring to give testimony to the fountain of their being; if this, I say, be not as sen. sible to thee as if a tongue and a voice were given to every creature to express it, then, indeed, we need not reason the matter with thee, who has lost thy senses! Do but retire inwardly, and ask in sobriety and sadness, what thy conscience thinks of it? Undoubtedly it shall confess a divine majesty, or at least
tremble at the apprehension of what it will not confess, or slenderly believes."
“ There is an inward feeling and sense of God implanted in every soul, and all without us confirms it. Whatever a man can behold above him, about him, beneath him, the most mean and inconsiderable creatures are pearls and transparent stones, that cast abroad the rays of that glorious brightness which shines on them; as if a man were inclosed in a city, built all of precious stones, that in the sun shine all and every parcel of it, the streets, the houses, the roofs, the windows*, all of it, reflected into his eyes. those sun-beams in such a manner, as if all had been one mirror.”
The being of God may, therefore, be laid down as a fact generally acknowledged by all sober men. But what his being consists in, or what his attributes are, is the question; and surely, if it had been a proper one for man to ask, Moses would have been resolved therein. He was going, in the authority of the Lord, to persuade a great king to let 600,000 of his subjects go, and was to persuade these subjects, to follow whither he, at the Lord's command, should lead them. Well then might he say within himself, “ Who am I to speak such a thing to a king? Who am I to lead out such a mighty people? Peradventure, when I mention to them the God of their fathers, and say he hath sent me, they will not believe me, or they will ask me, what is his name? Or how shall we distinguish him from other Gods, and the idols of the nations? What shall I say, in that case?”
*There is a peculiar beauty in the repetition of the words “ all, and all of it" here, which shews how full the author was of kis subject, and desirous to amplify and use all the force of language and figures, in order, if possible, to make his simile and images roach it.
The Lord answered, I AM THAT I AM*.-Should I declare my essence to them it would be incomprehensible! It is a secret! It is wonderful, and beyond the reach of human capacity! Tell them the great Omnipotent first Being, the Father and Maker of all, hath sent thee; whose perfections are unfathomable, and whose existence has been from eternity, the same to day, yesterday and for ever! I AM THAT I AM hath sent thee. Tell them that I am inscrutable to all but myself, and derive my existence from none besides. This short, though mysterious, answer will teach them more than all human eloquence could do. It will teach them to ask no more, but to rest satisfied, and wonder and adore and obey!
From this answer, given by the Almighty himself, it would appear that henever intended the human race should throw away time, in metaphysical researches into his unsearchable essence. To know that he is, and is a rewarder of all that diligently seek him, is the sum total of what we are now concerned to know. To be convinced that he is self-existent, over all, and possessed of every endearing quality, without limitation and in full assemblage, is enough for specu- . lation. The rest should be all practice; namely faith in his promises, hope in their accomplishment, charity and good will to his creatures, resignation to
his government, and a patient continuance in well doing, looking forward to the consummation of our earthly pilgrimage, when we shall be taken into his beatific presence to know, and to see, and to love more abundantly.
Nevertheless, though we are to check vain curiosity, yet such a knowledge and belief as I have mentioned above, are absolutely necessary to our felicity here.
There is implanted in the soul of man, a natural affectation of whatever is great, marvellous, and new. Who would stoop to survey a little brook that murmurs at his feet, when the mighty ocean lies expanded to the sight? Who woull gaze upon the feeble rays of a common star, when a comet, or some strange phenomenon, blazes through the vault of night? The contemplation of things great, wonderful and new, as it delights and fills the soul with uncommon elevation, so it teaches us to believe that if there is an object capable of delighting us forever, he must have these qualities. He must be all perfection. He must be such, that if we should contemplate and adore him for ever, the great, the wonderful and the new would never be exhausted, nor suffer diminution in him!
Now this active energy was undoubtedly stamped on our minds, to raise us above the objects of sense, nor suffer us to rest beneath our native love. From Heaven the soul descended, and thither must return, before she can find an object fully commensurate to her more generous affections! Else, wherefore burns within us this constant hankering after something