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sentence of death, when the condemned have repented and believed. God can have no' darling attribute that shall eclipse the other portions of his character ; can issue no clashing edicts ; and did not send his Son to sooth, and flatter, and defend the rebel, whom his justice condemned, leaving him still in all his stubbornness and his pride.
Why this zeal to create confusion in the counsels of the Godhead, and sunder the attributes that cluster in Jehovah ? Simply to gratify men who cannot be pleased with God as he is. But would they be pleased with God were his character altered ? They could not love an unjust God, unless indeed he would pledge himself never to treat them unjustly. And on ceasing to be a God of truth, he could not give that pledge. The sinner will reason, When God shall cease to be offended with me for wronging my neighbour, he will not be offended with my neighbour for injuring me. "If I may hurt another, and escape with impunity, my oppression escapes also. If I may pray upon the contents of his purse, and trample upon his rights, and sport with his enjoyments; then is there a world let loose, to trifle with my interest, and make inroads upon my rights, and blasts my come forts.
Thus is there spread a ruin as wide as the whole creation of God. Angels lose their confidence in him, and all heaven is made unhappy, while the despair of the pit is changed for the hope of impunity. We assert then, that not the grossest infidelity, nor even atheism, holds out a prospect more dreary, than a gospel, that thus libels the character of Jehovah, and, by one grand mistake, sunders the whole of this alienated world forever, from the authority, and the rule, and the inspection, of an intrusive and disgustful divinity.
And when the error is on the opposite extreme, and the mercy of God is obscured, though a different motive may have led to this exhibition, and a different result may follow, still is that motive a mistaken one, and that result unhappy. God has not directed his ministers to keep the minds of his people filled with one or two selected attributes of his nature, but would have his whole character developed. Some may be deterred from embracing religion, from the impression that they must love a God whose character is cold, calculating, severe, and vindictive. And if sanctified under such a gospel, it is doubtful whether their religion will not be, either gloomy and desponding, or coldly doctrinal and polemic.
The character of God will not be found at last to have shaped itself to our mistaken views of him; but will be, when we come to deal with him in the judgment, what it always was. The attributes and the glories that may now be obscured, eclipsed or nutralized, will all be there to cluster and harmonize in the burning glories of the Godhead on the day of retribution. A God will then meet us as holy,
and just, and true, as the law, and the lightnings of Sinai would make him; and still as merciful, and gracious, and long-suffering, as Pisgah, and Tabor, and Calvary have declared him. He will confess himself in that day the Author of all the anathemas and all the promises of inspiration. Time will not have altered his character, nor the exigencies of betrayed and ruined souls moved him from a single purpose. There will gather in his brow all the majesty that makes devils afraid, and all the sweetness that makes angels glad ; the one will look the lost into despair, and the combined glories of the whole, look the saved into ecstasy. Then will be felt the full import of the text; the only true God will be known, and to know him will be eternal life.
I have three reasons to offer for thinking this subject of great importance.
1. Men will have a moral character according with their views of God. As the truth sanctifies, just so surely does error contaminate, and no truths or errors so assuredly as those that relate to God. They invariably pour their influence through our whole creed, and touch every spring of action. Hence if men think rightly of God, I cannot but hope that the truth will one day sanctify them; but if otherwise I have fearful apprehensions of their ruin.
The basest of menact from principle, though from bad principle. They are profane, and false, and lewd, and dishonest, because some false views of God have begotten in them the hope of impunity. From a loose ministry, or vicious parentage, or vile associate, they have imbibed the principles that go to mould their deeds and their habits into the image of death. You may pass down if you please through all the ranks of immorality, from the young man in the gospel, who loved the world more than Christ, to the abandoned outlaw, and you will find as many different shades in their faith, as in the turpitude of their deeds. And every unregenerate man stands prepared to have his faith corrupted. He loves darkness rather than light, because his deeds are evil. He is on the watch, to hear something said of God, that may assist him in loosening the bonds of moral obligation. Hence many a youth has issued from the house of prayer, modest, civil, and decent, fearing an oath, respecting the sabbath, doing homage to religion, and giving high promise of future worth and usefulness; but some wretch corrupted his views of God, and immediately he cast off restraint, and went out to scatter through society fire-brands, arrows and death. Hence if we regard the eternal life of our children, and the youth in our streets, we shall furnish them a gospel, and a library, and give them that instruction, which will lead them to a correct knowledge of God.
2. Believers will have a religious character according with their views of God. Nothing has been more obvious in the history of man, than the conformity of his religious character, to that of the God he believed in and worshiped. Pass through the territories of paganism, and, such as you find their gods, such are their worshippers. Are they fierce, and jealous, and lewd, and bloody, or mild and placable, such invariably are their devotees. And as you come up through the lower grades of nominal christians, ask them their views of God, and their answer will give you substantially the purity of their religious character. God is our highest object of respect and of imitation, and to be like him, the highest object of holy aspiration. Hence if in our esteem, his character is more or less pure and lovely, such we shall wish our own to be. He who sees in God no attribute but mercy, and never thinks of him but as a father, will be less likely to hate sin, and less careful to be holy, than the man who thinks of God as a sovereign, and a judge, as well as a father.
And the case will be similar as to enjoyment. No false views of God will render us as happy as correct views. If we see only the mild and merciful traits of the divine character, we may have joy, but it will not be solid and lasting. And if we look at God merely in the attitude of sovereignty, and may never call him our Father, or see his mercy commingled with his terrors, we shall be forever in bondage. There are no doubt many on their way