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but many questions have arisen out of it, from diversity of opinion, which have been the causes of endless dispute. Error is of luxuriant growth, and propagates abundantly. Wherever men are not content with the plain declarations of the Scriptures, but are desirous of understanding that which it is impossible should be made clear to human apprehension, the natural consequence must be infinite perplexity. In the Scriptures the gracious providence of God is called a mystery; as indeed all that relates to him, all that he does, his wisdom and
power and his goodness, as well as the works of his hands, are all mysterious. But we must make a distinction between the mysteries inseparable from the essence of divinity, and those which the vanity, the absurd curiosity, and the weakness of man, are for ever aiming to create. The declarations of God are plain. It is clear that man may of-, fend ; that God may be displeased; that a Sa, viour may purchase redemption for us. But when we forsake the plain sense of Scripture, and substitute our own fallible reasoning, we forsake a clear and direct path for the mazes of intricacy.. Then our light is turned into darkness.
One of the great and peculiar principles of
the Christian religion is that reciprocal love between God and man which it inculcates. It gives the most positive assurance of the affection of the supreme Being for all his creatures, and demands from the creature, in return, every possible degree of reverence and regard towards the Creator. No religion that has obtained any influence over the world has declared the Almighty to be so immediately and deeply interested in the welfare of mankind. None of the heathen systems ever represented the Author of nature in so engaging a light ; yet this is perfectly consonant to reafon. Equally fo is it that the leading principle of religious obedience on the part of man should be love : for both these representations of the affection of God for his creatures, and the duties which ought to flow from the conviction of such obligations on the mind of man, are analogous to our present state. The natural affection of parents for their offspring is a most powerful principle of action ; and the best and most acceptable return they receive, is that obedience which springs from motives of love. The Almighty, by the Christian revelation, is represented to us as the universal, the beneficent parent of mankind. His superintendence is ever actively employed for our good ; his wisdom in contriving the means, and his power in producing it. The visible works of God are providentially designed to operate for the use of man. For him the earth is abundant in vegetation and animal life. The air replete with health. All that can delight the external senses, all that can gratify the natural wants of our present state, is abundantly bestowed on us. But above all, infinitely above all, is our gratitude invited and claimed by that astonishing instance of almighty affection, in the revelation of his will ; in the miffion of his beloved Son ; and in his offers of eternal happiness and glory.
These obligations are analogous to our prefent relations in life. The force of human love, whether parental or of inferior degrees, is weakened by absence, and diminished by defcent. · Parents commonly love their children with a stronger affection than children entertian for their parents. The passion grows weaker in every branch of human connection. In the fame manner the love of the Almighty is infinitely greater than the love of any earthly parent. There is certainly no motive of human action more difficult to be preserved in a regular and constant state than this of loving
God; because his perfections are not the object of sense. Yet we are influenced by the sentiments of our nature to seek our own good; and those pleasing and benevolent affe&ions, which serve to soothe and foften the evils of life, which constitute the highest poflible ftate of human happiness, if sublimed by constant meditation, will ultimately lead us to the knowledge of that great and good Being, who alone can gratify the wishes, and complete the substantial, the unfading happinefs of the rational foul.
From the Christian dispensation alone have we acquired any exhortation to the love of the Deity. This is a principle altogether unknown to all ancient religions or philosophy. It is remarkable, that in all the Pagan systems of past, and even of the present age, fear has been the motive of divine worship. Under false religions men have served God because they dreaded his power, and were apprehensive of his vengeance. The Christian dispensation proposes its threatenings only to finners; but invitės the good by the foftest persuasion. It endeavours to excite us by amiable affections and as attraction is a great, yet gentle agent of the natural world, love is the softest principle that draws the soul towards God. The Scrip
tures say, where there is perfect love there is no fear. Perfeet love cafteth out fear. It represents the Almighty as a liberal benefactor, and a most affectionate parent. It therefore claims the debt of gratitude. We love God, says St. John, because he first loved us; and in claiming every affection of the heart, it proceeds on this excellent and most reasonable principle, that to love God is to keep his commandments.
The sacred writings have been explicit in providing us with the means of proving our integrity in the practice of this duty, which are no less comprehensive than they are infallible. The love of God is said to confift in obeying his commands from a desire of reni dering ourselves pleasing to him. Our motive of practical virtue must therefore be a preference for good; because it is acceptable to that great Being who is the object of our most fincere affection ; and this is not only the most certain test of our resolution, but it is also the best security against fin.
As the design which the Christian schenie proposes is of the first importance, it is consistent with the most exalted attributes of a Deity. To advance the intellectual nature of man, to improve his moral faculties, and to