Obrazy na stronie
PDF
ePub

1.

ART. the capacities of men, and even of rude men in dark times,

_in which most of the Scriptures were writ: but, though God

is spoke of as having a face, eyes, ears, a smelling, hands and feet, and as coming down to view things on earth, all this is expressed after the manner of men, and is to be understood in a way suitable to a pure spirit. For the great care that was used, even under the most imperfect state of revelation, to keep men from framing any image or similitude of the Deity, shewed that it was far from the meaning of those expressions, that God had an organized body. These do therefore signify only the several varieties of Providence. When God was pleased with a nation, his face was said to shine upon it; for so a man looks towards those whom he loves. The particular care he takes of them, and the answering their prayers, is expressed by figures borrowed from eyes and ears: the peculiar dispensations of rewards and punishments are expressed by his hands; and the exactness of his justice and wisdom is expressed by coming down to view the state of human affairs. Thus it is clear that God has no body: nor has he parts, for we can apprehend no parts but of a body: so, since it is certain that God has no body, he can have no parts: something like parts does indeed belong to spirits, which are their thoughts distinct from their being, and they have a succession of them, and do oft change them. But infinite perfection excludes this from the idea of God; successive thoughts, as well as successive duration, seem inconsistent both with eternity, and with infinite perfection. Therefore the essence of God is one perfect thought, in which he both views and wills all things : and though his transient acts that pass out of the divine essence, such as creation, providence, and miracles, are done in a succession of time; yet his immanent acts, his knowledge and his decrees, are one with his essence. Distinct thoughts are plainly an imperfection, and argue a progress in knowledge, and a deliberation in council, which carry defect and infirmity in them. To conceive how this is in God is far above our capacity: who, though we feel our imperfection in successive acts, yet cannot apprehend how all things can be both seen and determined by one single thought. But the divine Essence being so infinitely above us, it is no wonder if we can frame no distinct act concerning its knowledge or will.

There is indeed a vast difficulty that arises here; for those acts of God are supposed free; so that they might have been otherwise than we see they are: and then it is not easy to imagine how they should be one with the divine Essence, to which necessary existence does certainly belong. It cannot be said that those acts are necessary, and could not be otherwise : for, since all God's transient acts are the certain effects of his immanent ones, if the immanent ones are necessary, then the transient must be so likewise, and so

every thing must be necessary: a chain of necessary fate ART. must run through the whole order of things; and God him- I. self then is no free being, but acts by a necessity of nature. This some have thought was no absurdity : God is necessarily just, true, and good, not by any extrinsic necessity, for that would import an outward limitation, which destroys the idea of God; but by an intrinsic necessity that arises from his own infinite perfection. Some have from hence thought that, since God acts by infinite wisdom and goodness, things could not have been otherwise than they are: for what is infinitely wise or good cannot be altered, or made either better or worse. But this seems on the other hand very hard to conceive: for it would follow from thence, that God could neither have made the world sooner nor later, nor any other way than now it is : nor could he have done any one thing otherwise than as it is done. This seems to establish fate, and to destroy industry and all prayers and endeavours, Thus there are such great difficulties on all hands in this matter that it is much the wisest and safest course to adore what is above our apprehensions, rather than to inquire too curiously, or determine too boldly in it. It is certain that God acts both freely and perfectly: nor is he a Being subject to change, or to new acts; but he is what he is, both infinite and incomprehensible: we can neither apprehend how he made, nor how he executes his decrees. So we must leave this difficulty, without pretending that we can explain it, or answer the objections that arise against all the several ways by which divines have endeavoured to resolve it.

The third thing under the head I now consider is, God's being without passions. That will be soon explained. Passion is an agitation that supposes a succession of thoughts, together with a trouble for what is past, and a fear of missing what is aimed at. It arises out of a heat of mind, and produces a vehemence of action. Now all these are such manifest imperfections, that it does plainly appear they cannot consist with infinite perfection. Yet after all this, there are several passions, such as anger, fury, jealousy, and revenge, bowels of mercy, compassion and pity, joy and sorrow, that are ascribed to God in the common forms of speech, that occur often in scripture, as was formerly observed, with relation to those figures that are taken from the parts of a human body. Passion produces a vehemence of action : so, when there is in the providences of God such a vehemence as, according to the manner of men, would import a passion, then that passion is ascribed to God: when he punishes men for sin, he is said to be angry: when he does that by severe and redoubled strokes, he is said to be full of fury and revenge : when he punishes for idolatry, or any dishonour done himself, he is said to be jealous : when he changes the course of his proceedings, he is said to repent : when his dispensations of

[ocr errors]

ART. providence are very gentle, and his judgments come slowly

from him, he is said to have bowels. And thus all the varieties of Providence come to be expressed by all that variety of passions, which among men might give occasion to such a variety of proceeding.

The fourth head in this article is concerning the power, wisdom, and goodness of God, that he is infinite in them. If he can give being to things that are not, and can also give all the possibilities of motion, size, and shape, to beings that do exist, here is power without bounds. A power of creating must be infinite, since nothing can resist it. If some things are in their own nature impossible, that does not arise from the want of power in God, which extends to every thing that is possible. But that, which is supposed to be impossible of its own nature, cannot actually be: otherwise a thing might both be and not be; and it is perceptible to every man that this is impossible. It is not want of power in God, that he cannot lie nor sin : it is the infinite purity of the Divine nature that makes this impossible, by reason of his infinite perfection. Nor is it a want of power in God, that the truth of propositions concerning things that are past, as that yesterday once was, is unalterable. Among impossibilities, one is, to take from any being that which is essential to it. God can annihilate every being at his pleasure; for, as he gave being with a thought, so he can destroy it with another: and this does fully assert the infinite power of God. But if he has made beings with such peculiar essences, as that matter must be extended and impenetrable, and that it is capable of peculiar surfaces and other modes, which are only its different sizes and shapes, then matter cannot be, and yet not be, extended; nor can these modes subsist, if the matter of which they are the modes is withdrawn. The infinite power of God is fully believed by those who acknowledge both his power of creating and annihilating; together with a power of disposing of the whole creation, according to the possibilities of every part or individual of it; though they cannot conceive a possibility of separating the essential properties of any being from itself; that is to say, that it may both be, and not be, at the same time; since an essential property is that which cannot be without that substance to which it

belongs.

The wisdom of God consists first in his seeing all the possibilities of things, and then in his knowing all things that either are, or ever were, or shall be: the former is called the knowledge of simple intelligence or apprehension ; the other is called the knowledge of vision. The one arises from the perfection of the divine Essence, by which he apprehends whatever is possible; the other arises from his own decrees, in which the whole order of things is fixed. But besides these two ideas that we can frame of the knowledge of God, some have

I.

imagined a third knowledge, which, because it is of a middle ART. order betwixt intelligence and vision, they have called a middle knowledge; which is the knowing certainly how, according to all the possibilities of circumstances in which free agents might be put, they should choose and act. Some have thought that this was a vain and needless conceit; and that it is impossible that such knowledge should be certain, or more than conjectural; and, since conjecture implies doubt, it is an imperfect act, and so does not become a Being of infinite perfection. But others have thought that the infinite perfection of the divine Mind must go so far as to foresee certainly what free creatures are to do; since upon this foresight only they imagine that the justice or goodness of God in his providence can be made out or defended. It seemed fit to mention this upon the present occasion ; but it will be then proper to inquire more carefully about it, when the article of predestination is explained.

It is necessary to state the idea of the goodness of God most carefully; for we naturally enough frame great and just ideas of power and wisdom; but we easily fall into false conceits of goodness. This is that of all the divine perfections in which we are the most concerned, and so we ought to be the most careful to frame true ideas of it: it is also that, of all God's attributes, of which the scriptures speak most copiously. Infinite goodness is a tendency to communicate the divine perfections to all created beings, according to their several capacities. God is original goodness, all perfect and happy in himself, acting and seeing every thing in a perfect light; and he having made rational beings capable of some degrees of his light, purity, and perfection, the first and primary act of goodness is to propose to them such means as may raise them to these, to furnish them with them, to move them oft to them, to accept and to assist their sincere endeavours after them. A second act of goodness, which is but in order to the first, is to pity those miseries into which men fall, as long as there is any principle or possibility left in them of their becoming good; to pardon all such sins as men have committed, who turn to the purposes of becoming seriously good, and to pass by all the frailties and errors of those who are truly and upon the main good, though surprise and strong temptations prove often too hard for them. These two give us as full an idea as we can have of perfect goodness; whose first aim must be the making us good, and like to that original goodness : pity and pardon coming in but in a subsidiary way, to carry on the main design of making men truly good. Therefore the chief act and design of goodness is the making us truly good; and, when any person falls below that possibility, he is no more the object of pity or pardon, because he is no more capable of becoming good. Pardon is offered on design to make us really good; so it is not to be sought for,

D

ART. nor rested in, but in order to a farther end, wbich is the 1. reforming our natures, and the making us partakers of the

divine nature. We are not therefore to frame ideas of a feeble goodness in God, that yields to importunate cries, or that melts at a vast degree of misery. Tenderness in human nature is a great ornament and perfection, necessary to dispose us to much benignity and mercy: but, in the common administration of justice, this tenderness must be restrained; otherwise it would slacken the rigour of punishment too much, which might dissolve the order and peace of human societies. But since we cannot see into the truth of men's hearts, a charitable disposition and a compassionate temper are necessary to make men sociable and kind, gentle and humane. God, who sees our hearts, and is ever assisting all our endeavours to become truly good, needs not this tenderness, nor is he indeed capable of it; for, after all its beauty with relation to the state wherein we are now put, yet, in itself it implies imperfection. Nor can the miseries and howlings of wicked beings, after all the seeds and possibilities of goodness are utterly extinguished in them, give any pity to the divine Being. These are no longer the object of the primary act of his goodness, and therefore they cannot come under its secondary acts. It is of such great consequence to settle this notion right in our minds, that it well deserves to be so copiously opened; since we now see in what respects God's goodness is without bounds, and infinite; that is, it reaches to all men, after all sins whatsoever, as long as they are capable of becoming good. It is not a limitation of the divine goodness to say, that some men and some states are beyond it; no more than it is a limitation of his power to say, that he cannot sin, or cannot do impossibilities : for a goodness, towards persons not capable of becoming good, is a goodness that does not agree with the infinite purity and holiness of God. It is such a goodness, that if it were proposed to the world, it would encourage men to live in sin, and to think that a few acts of homage offered to God, perhaps in our last extremities, could so far please him, as to bribe and corrupt him.

This is that which makes idolatry so great a sin, so often forbid by God, and so severely punished, not only as it is injurious to the majesty of God, but because it corrupts the ideas or notions of God. Those ideas rightly formed are the basis upon which all religion is built. The seeds and principles of a new and godlike nature spring up in us as we form ourselves upon the true ideas or notions of God. Therefore, when God is proposed to be adored by us under a visible shape or image, all the acts of religion offered to it are only so many pieces of pageantry, and end in the flatterings and the magnifyings of it with much pomp, cruelty, or lasciviousness, according to the different genius of several nations. So

« PoprzedniaDalej »