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most to edification. Some places are more difficult, some may seem very bare for an ordinary reader; but if you would look on it all as God's word, not to be slighted, and read it with faith and reverence, no doubt ye would find advantage.
2. Set a special mark, one way or other, on those passages you read, which you find most suitable to your case, condition, or temptations; or such as ye have found to move your hearts more than other passages. And it will be profitable often to review these.
3. Compare one scripture with another, the more obscure with what which is more plain, 2 Pet. i. 20. This is an excellent means to find out the sense of the scriptures ; and to this good use serve the marginal notes on Bibles. And keep Christ in your eye, for to him the scriptures of the Old Testament (in its genealogies, types, and sacrifices) look, as well as those of the New.
4. Read with a holy attention, arising from the consideration of the majesty of God, and the reverence due to him. This must be done with attention, (1.) To the words ; (2.) To the sense : and (3.) To the divine authority of the scripture, and the bond it lays on the conscience for obedience, 1 Thess. ii. 13.
5. Let your main end in reading the scriptures be practice, and not bare knowledge, Jam. i. 22. Read that you may learn and do, and that without any limitation or distinction, but that whatever you see God requires, you may study to practise.
6. Beg of God and look to him for his Spirit. For it is the Spirit that dictated it, that it must be savingly understood, 1 Cor. ii. 11. And therefore before you read, it is highly reasonable you beg a blessing on what you are to read.
7. Beware of a worldly fleshly mind : for fleshly sins blind the mind from the things of God; and the worldly heart cannot favour them. In an eclipse of the moon the earth comes between the sun and the moon, and so keeps the light of the sun from it. So the world, in the heart, coming betwixt you and the light of the word, keeps its divine light from you. 8. Labour to be exercised unto godliness, and to observe your
For an exercised frame helps mightily to understand the scriptures. Such a Christian will find his case in the word, and the word will give light to his case, and his case light into the word.
9. Lastly, Whatever you learn from the word, labour to put it in practice. For to him that hath shall be given. No wonder they get little insight into the Bible, who make no conscience of practising what they know. But while the stream runs into a holy life, the fountain will be the more free.
Simonides, a heathen poet, being asked by Hiero king of Syracuse, What is God ? desired a day to think upon it; and when that day was at an end, he desired two days; and when these were past, he desired four days. Thus he continued to double the number of days in which he desired to think of God, ere he would give an answer. Upon which the king expressing his surprise at his behaviour, asked him, What he meant by this ? To which the poet answered, The more I think of God, he is still the more dark and unknown to me.' Indeed no wonder that he made such an answer; for he that would tell what God is in a measure suitable to his excellency and glory, had need to know God even as he is known of him, which is not competent to any man upon earth. Agur puzzles the whole creation with that sublime question, What is his name? Prov. xxx. 4. But though it is impossible in our present state to know God perfectly, seeing he is incomprehensible; yet so much of him is revealed in the scriptures as is necessary for us to know in order to our salvation. The text tells us, and it should be reme
membered, that the Lord Jesus, the Son of God, who lay in the bosom of the Father, and who only can reveal him, is here the speaker, that God is a Spirit. It is but little of the nature of spirits that we, who dwell in tabernacles of clay, are so intimately connected with flesh and blood, and so naturally impressed with sensible objects, can know. We cannot fully understand what our own spirits or souls are ; and less do we know of the nature of angels, who are of a superior nature to us ; and far less can we know of the spiritual nature of the Divine Being, which is utterly incomprehensible by men or angels. However, as all our ideas begin at what is infinite, in considering the nature of spirits, so we are led to conceive of God as infinitely more perfect than any finite spirit*. All we can know of spirits is,
* It will not be improper here to subjoin the following observation of the celebrated Mr. Addison. 'If we consider the idea which wise men, by the light of reason, have framed of the Divine Being, it amounts to this, That he has in him all the perfections of a spiritual nature ; and since we have no notion of any kind of spiritual perfection but what we discover in our own souls, we join infinitude to each kind of these perfections, and what is a faculty in a human soul becomes an attribute in God. We exist in place and time, the Divine Being fills the immensity of space with his presence, and inhabits eternity. We are possessed with a little power and a little know1. That a spirit is the most perfect and excellent of beings, more excellent than the body, or any thing that is purely material.
2. That a spirit is in its own. nature immortal, having nothing in its frame and constitution tending to dissolution or corruption.
3. That a spirit is capable of understanding, willing, and putting forth actions agreeable to its nature, which no other being can do.
Now these conceptions of the nature of spirits lead us to conceive of God,
1. As a being that is more perfect and excellent than all other spirits and beings. Hence ho is said to be incorruptible, Rom. i. 23.; immortal and invisible, 1 Tim. i. 17. He has understanding and will; and so we conceive of him as the creator and governor of all things; which he could not be, if he were not an intelligent and sovereign spirit.
2. Though angels and the souls of men are spirits, yet their excellency is only comparative, that is, they excel the best of all material beings in their nature and properties. But God, as a spirit, is infinitely more excellent than all material beings, and all created spirits. Their perfections are derived from him; and therefore he is called “the Father of spirits,' Heb. xii. 9. and 'the God of the spirits of all flesh,' Numb. xvi. 22.; and his perfections are underived; and he is independently immortal. Hence it is said of him, that “ he only hath immortality,' 1 Tim. vi. 16. He is an infinite spirit; and it can be said of none but him, that' his understanding is infinite,' Psal. cxlvii. 5.
Now, a spirit is an immaterial substance, Luke xxiv. 39.; and seeing whatever God is, he is infinitely perfect in it, he is a most pure spirit. Hence we may infer,
1. That God has no body nor bodily parts. Object. How then are eyes, ears, hands, face, and the like, attributed in Scripture to God? Answ. They are attributed to him not properly, but figuratively; they are spoken of him after the manner of men, in condescension to our weakness; but we are to understand them after a sort becoming the Divine Majesty. We are to consider what such bodily parts serve us for, as our eyes for discerning and knowing, our arms for strength, our hands for action, &c. and we are to conceive these things to be in God infinitely, which these parts serve for in us.
Thus, when eyes and ears are ascribed to God they signify his omniscience; his hands denote his power, and his face the manifestation of his love and favour.
ledge, the Divine Being is almighty and omniscient. In short, by adding infinity to any kind of perfection we enjoy, and by joining all these different kinds of perfections in one being, we form our idea of the great Sovereign of nature.'
2. That God is invisible, and cannot be seen with the eyes of the body, no not in heaven ; for the glorified body is still a body, and God a spirit, which is no object of the eyes, more than sound, taste, smell, &c. 1 Tim. i. 17.
3. That God is the most suitable good to the nature of our souls, which are spirits; and can communicate himself, and apply those things to them, which only can render them happy, as he is the God and Father of our spirits.
4. That it is sinful and dishonourable to God, either to make images or pictures of him without us, or to have any image of him in our minds, which our unruly imagination is apt to frame to itself, especially in prayer. For God is the object of our understanding, not of our imagination. God expressly prohibited Israel to frame any similitude or resemblance of him, and tells them, that they had not the least pretence for so doing, inasmuch as they saw no similitude of him, when he spake to them in Horeb,' Deut. iv. 12, 15, 16. And says the prophet, ' To whom will ye liken God? or what likeness will ye compare unto him ? Isa. xl. 18. We cannot form an imaginary idea of our own souls or spirits, which are absolutely invisible to us, and far less of him who is the invisible God, whom no man hath seen or can see. Therefore to frame a picture or an idea of what is invisible, is highly absurd and impracticable: nay, it is gross idolatry, prohibited in the second commandment.
5. That externals in worship are of little value with God, who is a spirit, and requires the heart. They who would be accepted of God must worship him in spirit and in truth, that is, from an apprehension and saving knowledge of what he is in Christ to poor sinners. And this saving knowledge of God in Christ is attainable in this life : for it is the matter of the divine promise, ‘I will give them an heart to know me, that I am the Lord,' Jer. xxiv. 7. It is written in the prophets, They shall be all taught of God, John vi. 45. And therefore it should be most earnestly and assiduously sought after by us, as, unless we attain to it, we must perish for ever.
That we may know what sort of a spirit God is, we must consider his attributes, which we gather from his word and works, and that two ways: 1. By denying of, and removing from God, in our minds, all imperfection which is in the creatures, Acts xvii. 29. And thus we come to the knowledge of his incommunicable attributes, so called because there is no shadow or vestige of them in the creatures, such as infinity, eternity, unchaugcableness. 2. By attributing unto him, by way of eminence, whatever is excellent in the creatures, seeing he is the fountain of all perfection in them,
Psal. xciv. 9. And thus we have his communicable attributes, whereof there are some vestiges and small scantlings in the creature, as being, wisdom, power, &c. amongst which his spirituality is to be reckoned.
Now, both these sorts of attributes in God are not qualities in him distinct from himself, but they are God himself. God's infinity is God himself, his wisdom is himself; he is wisdom, goodness, 1 John i. 5. Neither are these attributes so many different things in God; but they are each of them God himself: for God swears by himself, Heb. vi. 13. ; yet he swears by his holiness, Amos iv. 2. He creates by himself, Isa. xliv. 24. ; yet he creates by his power, Rom. i. 20. Therefore God's attributes are God himself. Neither are these attributes separable from one another; for though we, through weakness, must think and speak of them separately, yet they are truly but the one infinite perfection of the divine nature, which cannot be separated therefrom, without denying that he is an infinitely perfect being.
We have said that God is a spirit; but angels and the souls of men are spirits too. What then is the difference between them? Why, God is an infinite, eternal, and unchangeable spirit; but angels and souls are but finite, were not from eternity, and are changeable spirits. Now, these three, infinity, eternity, and immutability, are God's incommunicable attributes, which we are next to explain.
First, God is infinite. Infinity is the having no bounds or limits within which a thing is contained. God then is infinite, t. e. he is whatsoever he is without bounds, limits, or measure, Job xi. 7. * Canst thou by searching find out God ? canst thou find out the Almighty unto perfection?' We cannot define the presence of God by any certain place, so as to say, Here he is, but not there ; nor by any limits, so as to say, Thus far his being reacheth, and no further : but he is every where present, after a most inconceivable manner, even in the deepest darkness, and the closest recesses of privacy. He fills all the innumerable spaces that we can imagine beyond this visible world, and infinitely more than we can imagine.
Now God is infinite, (1.) In respect of his being : for of his nature our finite understandings cannot possibly form any adequate conception. This lies hid in rays of such bright and radiant glory, as must for ever dazzle the eyes of those who attempt to look into it. (2.) In respect of place; and therefore he is every where present: 'Can any man hide himself in secret places, that I shall not see him ? saith the Lord : do not I fill heaven and earth? saith the Lord,' Jer. xxiii. 24. (3.) In respect of time and duration : for the