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Some may think that the ultimate end of creation and providence, namely, God's own glory, which is attributed to him in this Article, is not in harmony with that pure benevolence which, in the first Article, was considered as essential to his moral perfection. How can God make his own glory his ultimate end without being selfish? And is it any more consistent with moral perfection, for a great and powerful being to be selfish, than it is for one that is little and powerless ? Can selfishness in the Creator be holiness, while in his creatures it is the sum total of a sinful character? I answer, By no means. It is in its own nature wrong; and far be it from me to impute so vile an affection to the Holy One. But what is selfishness ? It is not necessary to suppose, that all the love which one exercises towards himself falls under this description. The law of God does in effect require a man to make his own person one object of his regard, when it tells him to love his neighbor as himself. The love which he exercises towards himself is no more selfish, than that which he exercises towards his neighbor, in case he does not put himself above his neighbor. Nor would even this, in every instance, prove a man perverse : for if he should manifestly be superior to his neighbor in talent or moral excellence, he would be an object worthy of more regard. This idea will be better apprehended by looking at the great disproportion which exists between men and beasts. Benevolence requires that we put some value on the enjoyment of a beast ; but surely not as much as on our own. “How much,” said our divine Teacher, " is a man (an intelligent creature) “ better” (i. e. more valuable) “ than a sheep : and again, “ Ye are of more value than many sparrows."
Were a man to sacrifice thousands of sheep, and all the sparrows in the world, to preserve his own life ; more especially, were it done to promote the interests of his never dying soul, there would be nothing in it repugnant to pure, disinterested love ; for it would not prove that he possessed any undue regard to himself.
What has just been said will prepare the way for us to understand how God can make his own glory the chief end of all his works, without subjecting himself to the imputation of selfishness. When he determined to originate a dependent universe, he was the only being in existence to be gratified by it; and when the number of created intelligences shall have extended to its utmost limit, and their capacity for enjoyment shall have become ever so much enlarged, they will stili, if taken as an aggregate, in comparison with their infinite Creator, be as a drop of the bucket and the small dust of the balance. The eternal God does not overrate his own worth, nor value his glory too high. To make himself any thing less than his ultimate end, would be wrong ; it would be to relinquish his place as the sun and centre of the moral system. It would be a less evil, were the good of the whole creation to be given up, than for God to dishonor himself
, or mar his own blessedness. No creature ought to wish him to make such a sacrifice in his favor, or in favor of the whole created system. But in reality the created system could receive no benefit from such a sacrifice. Let the character of God sink, and creation sinks with it.
His perfect character unfolded, and preserved unsullied, is essential not only to his own blessedness, but to the well-being of his extensive and enduring kingdom.
While the Supreme Being makes an ultimate end of his own glory in all he does, this never prevents him from doing that which is best for the interests of the dependent universe ; for how can a being of such unbounded goodness glorify himself, except in doing good ? “Thou art good, and doest good.” Ps. cxix. 68. Will he be glorified by giving existence to a bad creation, or to a good one? We know that crea. tures of a bad character have a place among his works ; but is it therefore a bad creation ? When it first came from the hand of its Creator, it is said, “ God saw every thing that he had made, and behold it was very good.” And is it not still true, that every thing which God made, and every thing which he has done, up to the present hour, is very good. If the creation, as it came from the divine hand, was perfect, there is every reason to believe that an equal degree of perfection will eventually be seen in his providence. Can an infinitely wise God glorify himself by a system of events which is destitute of wisdom ? Scripture and reason say, it can not be. Let a being possessed of such attributes, as the scriptures ascribe to Jehovah, always glorify himself, and the best interests of the created system are made sure.
1. What a privilege is it to belong to the intellectual part of creation. Intelligent creatures are fitted for beholding those manifestations of the Creator's glory which are made by his works. They are the only creatures that can be made acquainted with the fact, that they have a Creator, to whom they are indebted for their existence. Their happi. ness, in distinction from that of his other creatures, can be promoted by the enjoyment of Himself, as well as of his gifts. Creatures who are susceptible of knowing and enjoying God, are immortal. And what a privilege must this be, provided we do not, like profane Esau, sell our birthright for a mess of pottage, and render our immortality a curse and not a blessing.
2. How dreadful to be a man, a rational creature, and yet an atheist! To be made on purpose to behold the Creator's glory manifested in his works, and yet not discover this glory; to be furnished with a tongue to speak of his glory and talk of his power, and yet employ that tongue in denying his very existence! How is it possible that a creature, endowed with mental faculties and all the external senses, should deliberately declare (what I have heard such an one declare) that he can see nothing to satisfy him of the existence of a Supreme Being ! Most men, however, will acknowledge that speculative atheism is folly. And, I would ask, is practical atheism any more reasonable? The practical atheist professes to know God, but in works he denies him. After acknowledging there is a God, he lives as if there were none. God is not in all his thoughts. He lays his plans without taking His glory into the account, or asking the guidance of His wisdom. He neither gives thanks for the bounties of his providence, nor humbles himself under his corrections. To the characters now in question let me say, Your belief and practice, if you would be consistent, must agree. Do not, however, adopt the belief of the atheist, in order to produce that agreement. No, rather retain your present belief, and adopt the practice of the godly man, and then you will be correct and consistent, both in your faith and practice.
3. Are creation and providence the works of God; then it should be the object of philosophy and history to make us acquainted with him in these operations of his hand. The works of the Lord (both of creation and providence) are great, and sought out of all them who have pleasure therein. Philosophy, by developing the laws of nature, discovers to us the wisdom, power, and benevolence of Him who made the world. The philosophical researches of David led him up to God the fountain of all wisdom. For a specimen of this, read the 104th Psalm. Is it reasonable that the master or the scholar should forget God?, that while they seem enamored with the work, they should give no honor to the Workman ? If the human mind had not been alienated from God, philosophical treatises and instructions would have been very different from what they now are. Nor would the historian have led us through such a series of divine providences, without making some explicit mention of the systematic agency of Him who worketh all things after the counsel of his own will. But if authors studiously conceal that Almighty Agent, who gave existence and laws to the natural world, and who directs and controls all events, this gives, to their readers no right to be infidels.
GOD HAS ESTABLISHED A MORAL GOVERNMENT OVER HIS INTELLI. GENT CREATURES, AND, TO REGULATE THEIR CONDUCT, HAS GIVEN THEM A PERFECT LAW.
The work of providence, which forms in part the subject of the preceding Article, was described as including moral government. This department of divine providence is, of all others, the most interesting, and is that which we are more specially concerned to understand. God's government over moral agents will furnish the principal matter not only for this, but for all the subsequent Articles of our system. Had moral agents been left out of his plan, the created universe would not, in any proper sense, have displayed his glory. He did not need, as we have seen, to create the world for the sake of displaying his glory to himself; for he knew what was in himself ; so that the work of creation could do nothing to increase his knowledge of his own divine fullness. But without the existence of rational creatures, there would have been no eye formed to behold the manifested glory of the invisible God. No other creatures can even know that they have a Creator. They alone are capable of tracing effects to their causes, so as to arrive at the First Cause. Their capacities are limited, and yet they can form a conception of objects which have no limitation. They can be made acquainted with the infinite greatness and excellence of Him, who is from and to everlasting. They, and they alone, are capable of delighting themselves in their Creator, and deriving their happiness immediately from him, that is, from a contemplation of his ineffable glory.
Intelligent creatures have capacities not only for enjoying, but also for. honoring their Creator, in quite a different manner from the rest of his works. This superiority of intelligent, and especially of holy creatures, over such as are unintelligent or sinful, is implied in these words of David; " All thy works shall praise thee, O Lord, and thy saints shall bless thee.' Ps. cxlv. 10. The saints, the holy ones, (by which we are here undoubtedly to understand all created intelligences that now possess, or that ever shall possess a holy character,) will actively praise or glorify God, so as the sun, moon, and stars, and other unintelligent parts of creation can not, and so as sinful intelligences will not do it.
All those creatures that are raised into the scale of intelli. gence, are susceptible of holiness, even that holiness which is the highest glory of their Creator. They are capable of seeking the same ultimate end-the good of the great universe, comprehending God and all his intelligent family. Finite beings can love an infinite objeet, though not with infinite strength.
It must be obvious to all, that creatures furnished with rational faculties are capable of a government entirely different from that which regulates the motions of mere matter, whether inert or animated. While inert matter is moved and kept in order by the law of gravitation, and animals by an unintelligent instinct, men and angels can be influenced by motives addressed to their understanding. Such creatures as these are called moral agents. They can be influenced by a moral law, a law which points out the difference between right and wrong; urging to the one and dissuading from the other, by proper rewards and penalties. Under such a law all created intelligences must be placed; else the Creator could not be glorified by giving them existence.
Since they hold such a high rank in his works, that it may in truth be said of all the rest, that they were made in subserviency to them, what can be regarded as a matter of equal importance with the government by which they shall be ruled. To have given them intelligence, and yet left them without the restraints of a righteous law, would have been to create a moral chaos, out of which light and order never could have arisen. And would not an eternal void have been preferable to such a creation?
The law which the Supreme Ruler has given to the subjects of his moral government is, like himself, absolutely perfect. In this part of his empire he has revealed it in the most explicit manner, and reduced it to writing, so that it may be “known and read of all men." The law of God, and indeed all law, properly consists of three parts, viz. injunctions, rewards, and penalties.
1. A law always supposes injunctions or precepts. The laws of God all enjoin some duty, something which we are under obligation to do. These injunctions are delivered either in the form of requirements
to do those things which are right or of prohibitions, to refrain from doing those things which are wrong. In the decalogue we have a specimen of both the forms. In the fourth and fifth commandments we are re. quired to do what is right, while in the others we are forbidden to do what is wrong. But the prohibitory commands always imply require. ments, and the others do in effect contain prohibitions. The command which forbids us to take God's name in vain, requires us to reverence his name; and the command which requires us to keep holy his day, forbids to profane it. The word of God is all of it useful to make us acquainted with our duty. Both Testaments are full of injunctions, which are, in a sensé, epitomized in the ten commandments; and these again are so abridged as to be comprised in two; one of which contains the substance of the first, and the other of the second table of the law. " Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength." This is the first of these two brief commands. The second is like, namely this, “ Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.” Mark xii. 30, 31. On this comprehensive summary of the divine law, given us by an infallible teacher, I would make a few remarks.
(1.) There is nothing in it which is local, nothing that restricts it to any particular individual, or nation, or world. These two commands form the substance of God's universal law, which is obligatory on every intelligent creature he has made.
(2.) This summary of God's universal law, shows us that there can be no obedience, without its reaching to the heart. Love has its seat nowhere except in the heart; and yet love is what the law always requires. All the duty we owe to God, is here comprised in loving God; and all the duty we owe to our neighbor, in loving our neighbor. "Love is the fulfilling of the law :" and in the absence of this the law is not in the least degree obeyed.
(3.) From this summary of the moral law, it appears that our love is required to be so expanded as to take in the whole universe of intelligent beings; for God and our neighbor comprehend the whole. In the affecting story of the good Samaritan, Christ teaches us to consider every one of our fellow men, let him belong to whatever nation or reli. gion he may, as our neighbor, whom we are bound to love as ourselves. Nor are our neighbors, according to the sense of the divine law, all confined to our own race or world. The inhabitants of heaven extend their love to the earth ; therefore it is that there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over a sinner of the human race who repents. If they ought to consider us as their neighbors, we ought to regard them as ours.
(4.) In examining this summary of the divine law, we perceive that the love, by which it is fulfilled, is impartial and disinterested.
We are required to extend our love to all, and to proportion it according to the greatness and worthiness of the object. On this principle it is, that supreme love is claimed for the Supreme Being : “ Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart.” The law allows and even requires a man to love himself; but it tells him to love his neighbor too, and to love him as much as he does himself. According to this holy rule, I am not allowed to exercise any selfish affection towards myself, or to