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November 30, 1832.
SERMON. Thou thoughtest that I was altogether such an one as thyself.—Psal. l. 21.
Though there is nothing more necessary than the true knowledge cf God, there is scarcely any thing less common. Men have formed more erroneous and absurd notions of the Supreme Being, than of any other ohject, visible or invisible. They have likened him to birds, and four-footed beasts, and creeping things. But, more generally, they have changed the glory of the incorruptible God into an image made like to corruptible man.' Mankind have been more inclined to compare God to themselves, than to any other creature.
The words of the text are contained in an address, which begins thus, But unto the wicked, God saith.' It is no individual, or class of wicked men, that is addressed, but the wicked in general. It is true, as a gəneral observation, which admits of few exceptions, that the wicked are prone to think the Supreme Being to be like themselves. To illustrate this observation, I propose to show,
I. In what respect the wicked are prone to think God like themselves. And
II. Why they are prone to think so.
I. I am to to show, in what respect the wicked are prone to think God like themselves.
1. It is not to be supposed, that the wicked in general are inclined to think that God is possessed of human shape, parts and passions. If this were true of some of the more benighted and idolatrous, it is not credible that even the Heathen, generally, believed that the Supreme Being exists in the form of man, with human organs, affections and passions. True, they worshiped many inserior divinities, whom they represented to be like men.
But these demi-gods, it appears, were deceased heroes, warriors, and statesmen, whom, in their blind veneration they had cannonized, and made objects of worship. They all, however, acknowledged a Supreme God, to whom their inferior deities were in subjection, and whom there is not evidence that they viewed as possessed of the shape and other properties of human nature. But should it be believed that the most stupid of the heathen, like our modern Swedenborgians, really thought God to possess the form and limbs of a man, it will not be maintained that the wicked in general, have had such an absurd notion, especially those who have been at all favored with the light of divine revelation. 2. It is not to be supposed that the wicked, in general, are
, prone to think that the Supreme Being is altogether like then selves, as to his natural attributes. Though multitudes in the heathen world, and many in more enlightened regions, hare entertained very low and unworthy thoughts of the knowledge, power, and other natural attributes of God, yet the wicked generally believe, that as it respects bis natural attributes, he is vastly superior to man. They generally believe, especially those in Christian lands, that God has existed from eternity, that he is present in every place, that he knows all things, and can do all things. But,
3. There remains still one respect, in which the wicked are prone, generally, not to say universally, to think the Supreme Being altogether like themselves; and that is, his moral character. In this important respect, the wicked are very prone to compare God with themselves. They are generally inclined to believe, that his moral perfections, though vastly superior in degree, are, in nature and kind, like their own moral feelings.They think he feels as they feel, towards every moral object; that he loves what they love, and hates what they hate. They think he regards himself as they regard themselves. They are prone to think, that God's gooodness is like their goodness, his mercy like their compassion, his wrath like their anger. The wicked, generally, think that God acts from the same motives, upon the same principles, and to the same end, as themselves. It is in respect to his moral character, only, that the wicked think God altogether such an one as themselves. I am to show,
II. Why the wicked are prone to entertain such thoughts of God. It may well seem strange, that wicked men, with such just and enlarged views of the natural attributes of the Creator and Preserver of the world, as they often possess, should nevertheless, entertain such erroneous thoughts of his moral character.But this appears to be the fact; and it is thought that several satisfactory reasons inay be assigned for it. And,
1. One reason why the wicked think so erroneously of God, is their moral stupidity. Man is born as the wild ass's colt.' The attention of wicked men is engrossed with the objects of time, the pleasures of sense, and the cares and pursuits of this world. They seldom find time, if they had the inclination, to attend to spiritual and invisible objects. They seldom think upon God. In the language of the Psalmist, 'God is not in all their thoughts.' Hence their views of the divine character are very low, contracted, and confused. Did they take due time to contemplate upon that great and glorious Being, on whom all other beings are dependant, they might attain far more correct and becoming thoughts of his character. If the wicked would seek after God, by the light of reason, conscience, and sacred scripture, they could not fail to obtain some just thoughts of the moral character, as well as the natural attributes of the Sovereign of the universe. And hence it is, that awakened, enquiring sinners, find that their former thoughts of God were vain, and that, instead of being like themselves, bis true character is as opposite to theirs, as light is to darkness.
2. The self-righteousness, and self-complacency of wicked men, furnish another reason why they think the moral character of God like their own. It is natural for fallen man to think more highly of himself, than he ought to think. Nothing is more common, than for the wicked to think well of their own characters. Though they may not justify some of their outward actions, yet they generally maintain that their inward feelings and exercises of heart have been very good. Nothing gives them greater offence, than to call in question the purity and goodness of their motives and moral exercises. Even when convicted of being selfish in all their affections and volitions, this does not destroy their self-complacency; for to be satisfied with themselves, it is only necessary to maintain that all virtuous feelings originate in self-love, and that it is impossible for either creatures, or the Creator to act on the principle of disinterested benevolence.
As the wicked thus take it for granted, that their own moral feelings are right, it is natural for them to think that God feels as they do ; for undoubtedly God feels right. So long as they esteem their own affections and exercises to be good, they will, of course, think those of the Supreme Being to be of the same kind, if ever so much wider in extent, and higher in degree.The complacency which the wicked feel in their own charac
ters, naturally lead them to think the divine character to be altogether the same.
3. The last season to be mentioned, why the wicked think God like themselves, as to his moral character, is, they wish him to be so. There are two reasons why they wish the divine character to be like their own; this is the only character which they love, and the only character which they do not fear. This is the only character which they love. While they take complacency in their own characters, they cannot love an opposite character. If they believed that all the benevolent feelings of God's heart were in direct opposition to all the selfish feelings of their own ; they would be sensible of positive hatred to the divine character. And as the character which they attribute to God, is the only one they love ; so it is the only one they do not fear. If they should suffer themselves to believe, that God sustnins such a character as they dislike; they would be constrained to see that they are not the friends of God, and consequently have no ground to expect his friendship and favor. Hence they fervently wish that God may be like themselves.
This wish has a mighty influence upon all their thoughts of the Supreme Being. Though their deceitful hearts may be insensible to it; yet this wish causes them to shut their eyes against all the evidence there is of the true character of God, and to imagine they see force and weight in the most weak and sophistical arguments used to show that he is altogether such an one as themselves. This is the original source of all the orroneous and absurd thoughts which the wicked have ever entertained of the divine character. If they had always been pleased with the true character of God, they would always have believed him to be such a being as he is. It is because the wicked do not like to retain God in their knowledge, and his ways are always grievous to them, that they say in their hearts,' i. e. desire there were no such God. And it is owing to this, desire, that they form such unworthy and inconsistent notions of his character. It is because the carnal mind is enmity against God, that the wicked so generally think him to be altogether such an one as themselves.
The subject which has been thus imperfectly illustrated, is of a very practical nature, and may be improved in the following Inferences and Reflections.
1. If it is chiefly with respect to the moral character of God,
that the wicked entertain such erroneous thoughts; we may hence learn how far it is right for men to judge of God by themselves. God is a spirit: and consequently, men can form no idea of him, but through the medium of the powers and operations of their own minds. So far as men are capable of having any clear idea of the Divine Spirit, it must be derived from their acquaintance with their own spirits. It is right, therefore, for men to conclude, that the natural attributes of God resemble the powers and faculties of their own minds, though infinitely superior in degree, and altogether incomprehensible in their mode of operation. It is right to suppose that thought in God, is like thought in man--that knowledge in God, is like knowledge in man-and that volition in God, is like volition in man. The highest and most just idea wbicla men can form of the natural attributes of God, is to suppose then similar to the powers and faculties of their own minds, enlarged to an inconceivable degree, and divested of all weak. ness and imperfection.
But as to the moral perfections of God, men have no right to judge of them by the exercises of their own hearts, except when their hearts are what they should be, perfectly free from sin. If men liad never sinned, they might as safely conclude that the moral perfections of God are like the feelings of their own hearts, as that his natural attributes are like the faculties of their own minds. But, as men are fallen, sinful creatures, it is not safe for them to judge of the moral perfections of God by their own unsanctified feelings. They ought to think that the exercises of God's heart, are similar to what an enlightened conscience and the sacred scriptures teach them, the exercises of their own hearts ought to be. It is only when in the exercise of true holiness, that men have a right to think the feelings of God's heart are similar to those of their own.
2. The proneness of the wicked to think the moral feelings of God like their own, will account for their extreme ignorance of their own hearts. They often imagine that their hearts are holy. They think that their affections and exercises, wbich originate in self-love, are virtuous and conformed to God. Instead of being sensible of hatred to God, they imagine they have always loved him. There is nothing more difficult, than to convince them that the carnal mind is enmity against God.'
This ignorance of the state of their own hearts may be accounted for by their erroneous thoughts of the divine character.