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sinners, the severest denunciations of a judgment to CHAP. come against all that live in sin, the exactest precepts. of holiness in the world; and what can be desired more to discover the holiness of God, than we find in Scripture concerning him? If therefore acquaintance with the nature, perfections, designs of so excellent a Being as God is, be a thing desirable to human nature, we have the greatest cause to admire the excellency, and adore the fulness of the Scriptures, which give us so large, rational, and complete account of the being and attributes of God. And, which tends yet more to commend the Scriptures to us, those things which the Scripture doth most fully discover concerning God, do not at all contradict those prime and common notions which are in our natures concerning him, but do exceedingly advance and improve them, and tend the most to regulate our conceptions and apprehensions of God, that we may not miscarry therein, as otherwise men are apt to do. For it being natural to men so far to love themselves, as to set the greatest value upon those excellencies which they think themselves most masters of; thence men came to be exceedingly mistaken in their apprehensions of a Deity; some attributing one thing as a perfection, another a different thing, according to their humours and inclinations. Thus imperious, selfwilled men are apt to cry up God's absolute power and dominion as his greatest perfection; easy and softspirited men, his patience and goodness; severe and rigid men, his justice and severity: every one, according to his humour and temper, making his God of his own complexion; and not only so, but in things remote enough from being perfections at all; yet because they are such things as they prize and value, they suppose of necessity they must be in God; as is evident in the Epicureans' étapačia, by which they excluded Provi
STILLINGFLEET, VOL. II.
BOOK dence, as hath been already observed. And withal,
considering how very difficult it is for one who really believes that God is of a pure, just, and holy nature, and that he hath grievously offended him by his sins, to believe that this God will pardon him upon true repentance: it is thence necessary that God should make known himself to the world, to prevent our misconceptions of his nature, and to assure a suspicious, because guilty creature, how ready he is to pardon iniquity, transgression, and sin, to such as unfeignedly repent of their follies, and return unto himself. Though the light of nature may dictate much to us of the benignity and goodness of the Divine nature, yet it is hard to conceive that that should discover further than God's general goodness to such as please him : but no foundation can be gathered thence of his readiness to pardon offenders; which being an act of grace, must alone be discovered by his will. I cannot think the sun, moon, and stars, are such itinerant preachers, as to unfold unto us the whole counsel and will of God, in reference to man's acceptance with God upon repentance. It is not every star in the firmament can do that which the star once did to the wise men, lead them unto Christ. The sun in the heavens is no parhelius to the Sun of righteousness. The best astronomer will never find the day-star from on high in the rest of his number. What St. Austin said of Tully's works is true of the whole volume of the creation; There are admirable things to be found in them: but the name of Christ is not legible there. The work of redemption is not engraven on the works of Providence; if it had, a particular Divine revelation had been unnecessary, and the Apostles were sent on a needless errand, which the
world had understood without their preaching, viz. 18, 19. That God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto
2 Cor. v.
himself, not imputing to men their trespasses; and CHAP. hath committed to them the ministry of reconciliation.How was the word of reconciliation committed to them, if it were common to them with the whole frame of the world ? And the Apostle's quære elsewhere might have been easily answered, How can men hear with-Rom. x. 14. out a preacher ? For then they might have known the way of salvation, without any special messengers sent to deliver it unto them. I grant that God's longsuffering and patience is intended to lead men to repentance; and that some general collections might be made from Providence of the placability of God's nature, and that God never left himself without a wit-Acts xiv.14.
Luke vi. ness of his goodness in the world, being kind to the 35, 36. unthankful, and doing good, in giving rain and fruitful seasons. But though these things might sufficiently discover to such who were apprehensive of the guilt of sin, that God did not act according to his greatest severity, and thereby did give men encouragement to hearken out and inquire after the true way of being reconciled to God, yet all this amounts not to a firm foundation for faith as to the remission of sin, which doth suppose God himself publishing an act of grace and indemnity to the world; wherein he assures the pardon of sin to such as truly repent, and unfeignedly believe his holy gospel. Now is not this an inestimable advantage we enjoy by the Scriptures, that therein we understand what God himself hath discovered of his own nature and perfections, and of his readiness to pardon sin upon those gracious terms of faith and repentance, and that which necessarily follows from these two, hearty and sincere obedience ?
2. The Scripture gives the most faithful represent vi. ation of the state and condition of the soul of man. The world was almost lost in disputes concerning the
BOOK nature, condition, and immortality of the soul, before
-Divine revelation was made known to mankind by the
gospel of Christ; but life and immortality was brought to light by the gospel, and the future state of the soul of man, not discovered in an uncertain Platonical way, but with the greatest light and evidence from that God who hath the supreme disposal of souls, and therefore best knows and understands them. The Scriptures plainly and fully reveal a judgment to come, in which God will judge the secrets of all hearts, when every one must give an account of himself unto God; and God will call men to give an account of their stewardship here, of all the receipts they have had from him, and the expenses they have been at, and the improvements they have made of the talents he put into their hands. So that the gospel of Christ is the fullest instrument of discovery of the certainty of the future state of the soul, and the conditions which abide it, upon its being dislodged from the body. But this is not all which the Scripture discovers as to the state of the soul : for it is not only a prospective glass, reaching to its future state, but it is the most faithful looking-glass, to discover all the spots and deformities of the soul; and not only shews where they are, but whence they came, what their nature is, and whither they tend. The true original of all that disorder and discomposure which is in the soul of man, is only fully and satisfactorily given us in the word of God, as hath been already proved. The nature and working of this corruption in man had never been so clearly manifested, had not the law and will of God been discovered to the world : that is the glass whereby we see the secret workings of those bees in our hearts, the corruptions of our natures; that sets forth the folly of our imaginations, the unruliness of our passions, the distempers of
our wills, and the abundant deceitfulness of our hearts. CHAP. And it is hard for the most elephantine sinner (one of the greatest magnitude) so to trouble these waters, as not therein to discover the greatness of his own deformities. But that which tends most to awaken the drowsy, senseless spirits of men, the Scripture doth most fully describe the tendency of corruption, that the wages of sin is death, and the issue of continuance in sin will be the everlasting misery of the soul, in a perpetual separation from the presence of God, and undergoing the lashes and severities of conscience to all eternity. What a great discovery is this of the faithfulness of God to the world, that he suffers not men to undo themselves, without letting them know of it beforehand, that they might avoid it! God seeks not to entrap men's souls, nor doth he rejoice in the misery and ruin of his creatures ; but fully declares to them what the consequence and issue of their sinful practices will be; assures them of a judgment to come; declares his own future severity against contumacious sinners, that they might not think themselves surprised; and that if they had known there had been so great danger in sin, they would never have been such fools as, for the sake of it, to run into eternal misery. Now God, to prevent this, with the greatest plainness and faithfulness hath shewed men the nature and danger of all their sins, and asks them beforehand what they will do in the end thereof; whether they are able to bear his wrath, and wrestle with everlasting burnings? If not, he bids them bethink themselves of what they have done already, and repent, and amend their lives, lest iniquity prove their ruin, and destruction overtake them, and that without remedy. Now if men have cause to prize and value a faithful monitor, one that tenders their good, and would prevent their ruin, we have cause exceedingly to prize