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Three things are necessary to explain the text. ' 1. The meaning must be restrained. II. The object must be determined.
III. The proofs must be produced. And this is the whole plan of my discoursé.
1. The words of my text must be restrained. Strictly speaking, it cannot be said, that God's thoughts are not our thoughts, and that his ways are not our ways ; on the contrary, it is certain, that, in many respects, God's ways are our ways, and his thoughts our thoughts. I mean, that there are many cases, in which we may assure ourselves God thinks so and so, and will observe such or such a conduct. The doctrine of the incomprehensibility of God is one of those doctrines, which we ought to defend with the greatest zeal, because it hath a mighty influence in religion and morality : but it would become a subversion of both, were it to be carried beyond its just bounds. Libertines have made fewer proselytes by denying the existence of God than by abusing the doctrine of his inconceivableness. It makes but little impression on a rational man, to be told, that matter is éternal; that it arranged itself in its present order; that chance spread the firmament, formed the heavenly 'orbs, fixed the earth on its bàsis, and wrought all the wonders in the material world. It makes but little impression on a rational man, to be informed, that the intelligent world is to be attributed' to the same cause to which libertines attribute the 'material world ; that chance formed spirit as well as matter, gave it the power, not only of reflecting on its own essence, but also of going out of itself, of transporting itself into the past ages of eternity, of rising into the heavens by its meditation, of pervading the earth, and investigating its darkest recesses. All these extravagant propo
sitions refute themselves, and hardly find one partisan in such an enlightened age as this, in which we have the happiness to live.
There are other means more likely to subvert the faith. To give grand ideas of the Supreme Being; to plunge, if I may be allowed to say so, the little mind of man into the ocean of the divine perfections; to contrast the supreme grandeur of the Creator with the insignificance of the creature; to persuade mankind that the great Supreme is too lofty to concern himself with us, that our conduct is entirely indifferent to him; that it signifies nothing to him whether we be just or unjust, humane or cruel, happy or miserable : To say in these senses, that God's ways are not our ways, that his thoughts are not our thoughts, these are the arms that infidelity hath sometimes employed with success, and against the attacks of which we would guard you. For these reasons, I said, that the meaning of the text must be restrained, or that it would totally subvert religion and morality.
We have seldom met with a proposition more extravagant than that of a certain bishop *, who, having spent his life in defending the gospel, endeavored at his death to subvert it. This man, in a book intituled The imperfection of the human mind, and which is itself an example of the utmost degree of the extravagance of the human mind, maintains this proposition, and makes it the ground of all his scepticism: that before we affirm any thing of a subject we must perfectly understand it. From hence he concludes, that we can affirm nothing of any subject, because we do not perfectly
• Peter Daniel Huet, bishop of Avranches, a countryman of our author's. He was a man of uncommon learning, and in justice to christianity, as well as to his lordship, it ought to be remembered, that he wrote his demonstratio evangelica in the vigor of his life : but his traite philosophique de la foiblesse de l'esprit humaine, of which Mons. Saurin com. plains, was written inore than forty years after, when he was ninety years of age, and was superanuated. Father Castell, the Jesuit, denies that it was written by Huet at all
understand any. And from hence it naturally follows, that of the Supreme Being we have the least pretence to affirm any thing, because we have a less perfect knowledge of him than of any other subject. What absurd reasoning! It is needless to refute it here, and it shall suffice at present to observe, in general, that ignorance of one part of a subject doth not hinder the knowing of other parts of it, nor ought it to hinder our affirmation of what we do know.. I do not perfectly understand the nature of light; however I do know that it differs from darkness, and that it is the medium by which objects become visible to me. And the same may be affirmed of other objects. ,
In like manner, the exercise of my reasoning powers produceth in me some incontestible notions of God, and, from these notions, immediately follow some sure consequences, which become the immoveable bases of my faith in his word, of my submission to his will, and of my confidence in his promises. These notions, and these consequences, compose the body of natural religion. There is a self-existent Being. The existence of all creatures is derived from the self-existent Being, and he is the only source of all their perfections. That Being, who is the source of the perfections of all other beings, is more powerful than the most powerful monarchs, because the most powerful monarchs derive only a finite power from him. He is wiser than the most consummate politicians, because the most consummate politicians derive only a finite wisdom from him. His knowledge exceeds that of the most knowing philosophers, or of the most transcendent geniusses, because the most transcendent geniusses and the most knowing philosophers derive only a finite knowledge from him. And the same may be said of others. There are then some into contestible notions, which reason gives us of God.
From these notions follow some sure and necessary consequences. If all creatures derive their being and preservation from him, I owe to him all I ain, and all I have, he is the sole object of my desires and hopes, and I am necessarily engaged to be grateful for his favors, and entirely submissive to his will. If creature-perfections be only emanations from him, the source of all perfections, I ought to have nobler sentiments of his perfections, than of those of creatures, elevated howsoever the latter may be. I ought to fear him more than I ought to fear the mightiest king, because the power of the mightiest king is only an emanation of his. I ought to commit myself to his direction, and to trust more to his wisdom than to that of the wisest politician, because the prudence of the wisest politician is only an emanation of his : and so of the rest. Let it be granted, that God is, in many respects, quite incoinprehensible, that we can attain only a small degree of knowledge of this infinite object, or, to use the words of our next, that his thoughts are not our thoughts, nor his ways our ways : yet it will not follow, that the notions, which reason gives us of him,, are less just, or, that the consequences, which immediately follow these notions, are less sure ; or, that all the objections, which libertines and sceptics pretend to derive from the doctrine of the incomprehensibility of God, against natural religion, do not evaporate and disappear.
If reason affords us some adequate notions of God, if some necessary consequences follow these notions, for a much stronger reason, we may derive some adequate notions of God, and some sure consequences, from revelation. It is a very extravagant and sophistical way of reasoning, to alledge the darkness of revelation upon this subject, in or* der to obscure the light that it doth afford us.
These words, my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are my ways your ways, do not mean, then, that we can know nothing of the divine essence; that we cannot certainly discover in what cases he will approve of our conduct, and in what cases he will condemn it: they only mean, that finite minds cannot form complete ideas of God, know the whole sphere of his attributes, or certainly foresee all the effects they can produce. Thus we have endeavored to restrain the words of the text.
II. We are to determine their object. The prophet's expressions would have been true, had they been applied to all the attributes 'of God: however, they are applied. here only to one of them, that is, to his goodness. The connection of the text with the preceding verses proves this. Seek ve the Lord while he may be found, call ye upon him while he is near. Let the wicked forsake his way, and the tenrighteous man his thoughts : and let him return unto the Lord, and he will have mercy upon him, and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon, ver. 6,7. The text immediately follows: For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways saith the Lord. It is clear, I think that the last words, my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, directly relate to the preceding clause, the Lord will have mercy upon him, and our God will abundantly pardon. Wherein do the thoughts of God differ from ours ? In this sense they differ: In God there are treasures of mercy, the depth of which no finite mind can fathom. In him goodness is as inconconceivable as all his other attributes. In God, a sinner, who seems to have carried his sin to its utmost extravagance, and to have exhausted all the