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and contemplating the number and variety of its works, exclaimed, O Lord, our Lord, how excellent is thy name in all the earth! who hast set thy glory above the heavens. When we consider thy heavens, the work of thy fingers; the moon and the stars which thou hast ordained; What is man that thou art mindful of him? and the son of man, that thou visitest him? Psal. viii. 1, 3, 4. Sometimes their attention was fixed on the immensity of God, and contemplating it, they exclaimed, Whither shall we go from thy spirit? or whither shall we flee from thy presence? If we ascend up into heaven, thou art there, if we make our bed in hell, behold thou art there: If we take the wings of the morning, and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea; even there shall thy hand lead us, and thy right hand shall hold us, Psal. cxxxix. 7, 10. But, however agreeable these objects of meditation may be, there is something mortifying and distressing in them. The more we discover the grandeur of the Supreme Being, the greater distance we perceive between ourselves and him. We perceive him indeed: but it is as an inhabitant of light which no man can approach unto, 1 Tim. vi. 16. and from all our efforts to know him we derive this reflection of the prophet, Such knowledge is too wonderful for me: it is high; I cannot attain unto it, Psal. cxxxix. 6.
But the meditation of the goodness of God is as full of consolation as it is of sublimity. This ocean of the Deity is an ocean of love. These dimensions, that surpass your knowledge, are dimensions of love. These distances, a part only of which are visible to you, are depths of mercy, and those words which God hath addressed to you, my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, are equal to these: As far as heaven is above the
earth; or more fully, as far as ye finite creatures are inferior to me the infinite God, so far are your ideas of my compassion and love to you inferior to my pity and esteem for you. Try; Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts; let not the multitude, or the enormity of his crimes terrify him into a despair of obtaining the pardon of them: Let him return unto the Lord, and he will have mercy upon him; and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon. For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts. Having thus determined the object, and restrained the meaing ning ofthe text, we shall proceed to adduce the proofs.
III. The prophet addresseth himself to two sorts of people; first, to the heathens, who knew no more of the goodness of God than what they had discovered by the glimmering light of nature: next, to some Jews, or to some christians, who indeed, knew it by the light of revelation, but who had not so high a notion of it as to believe it sufficient to pardon all their sins. To both he saith on the part of God; My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways. My thoughts are not your thoughts, you Gentile philosophers. You know my goodness only by your speculations on the nature of the Supreme Being: but all that you discover, in this way, is nothing in comparison of what the Messiah will teach you in the gosple. My thoughts are not your thoughts, you timorous consciences, you gloomy and melancholy minds. Behold I yet open to you treasures of mercy, which you thought you had exhausted: My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways: for as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are
my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts.
First, The prophet addresseth heathens, who had no other knowledge of God than a few speculations on the nature of the First Being; and who were never able to discover three mysteries of divine love. 1. The mean by which God conciliated his justice with his love.
2. His patience with those who abuse this mean. 3. His intimate union with those who fall in with the design of his patience.
1. The first mystery of love, which the wisest pagan philosophers could never discover, is the mean that God hath chosen to conciliate his justice with his love.
Let us carefully avoid the forming of low notions of God; let us not imagine that the attributes of God clash: No, God is perfectly consistent with himself, and his attributes mutually support each other. When we say, the love of God resisted his justice, we mean that, according to our way of thinking, there were some inconveniencies in determining the fate of mankind after the entrance of sin. In effect, what must become of this race of rebels? Shall God execute that sentence on them, which he hath pronounced against sin? But chains of darkness, a lake burning with fire and brimstone, weeping and wailing through an endless eternity, excite the compassion of a merciful God: Shall he then allow these unworthy creatures to live under his protection? Shall so many idle words, so many criminal thoughts, so many iniquitous actions, so much blasphemy, so many extortions, the shedding of so much innocent blood, shall all these go unpunished? But were these allowed, his love of order and his veracity would be blemished. These are difficulties which all the uni
verse could not solve. This is the book of which St. John speaks in his revelation, the book sealed with seven seals; I wept much, saith St. John, because no man was found worthy to open and to read the book; but worthy is the Lamb to take the book, and to open the seals, chap. v. 4, 9.
From the depth of divine mercy proceeds a plan for the solution of all these difficulties. The Son of God clothes himself with mortal flesh. He saith, from his infancy, In sacrifices for sin thou hast no pleasure! Heb. x. 6. No, neither burnt-offerings nor thousands of rams; neither altars overflowing with blood, nor ten thousands of rivers of oil; neither the first-born for the transgression, nor all the fruit of the body for the sin of the soul, Micah vi. 6, 7. no, none of these is an offering worthy of being presented to thy justice: Lo, I come to do thy will, O God, Heb. x. 7. Lo, I come to do that will, which requires the punishment of sin and the salvation of the sinner. Lo, I come to be led, as a lamb to the slaughter, and to be dumb as a sheep before her shearers. Lo, I am coming to suffer the very men, for whose salvation I come, to treat me as a malefactor; yea, moreover, I am coming to suffer the hidings of that adorable face, which hath always hitherto afforded me a fulness of joy, Psal. xvi. 11. I am coming to suffer a suspension of that love, which is all my delight, and to cry under excessive sorrows, My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me! Matt. xxvii. 46. We must necessarily sink under the weight of this subject, my brethren, and we must be content to see only parts of the ways of love. We must determine only to take a slight survey of the breadth and length, and depth, and height of the love of God, Eph. iii. 18. we must own that it passeth knowledge, and that these are things which eye
hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, 2 Cor. ii. 9. We must confess that if we were not able to give this general answer to the objections, that are made against the mysteries of religion, that is, that the attributes of God are infinite, and that it doth not belong to such finite minds as ours to limit the infinite God, we should be overwhelmed with the difficulties, to which the marvels of redemption are exposed. Let us rejoice in the prospect of that happy period in which our faculties will be expanded, and in which we shall make a more rapid progress in the study of the love of God. In the present period of infirmities let us be content with the solution in our text; My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts.
2. But, in what manner have these miserable sinners (and this will explain the second mystery of love, which reason could never have discovered) in what manner have these miserable sinners, whom the justice of God condemns to eternal torments, received the declaration of their pardon? With what eyes have they considered the miracle of an incarnate God? How have they regarded that altar, on which such a noble victim was sacrificed for their salvation? Have their eyes been fountains of tears to lament the crimes, which brought down such a deluge of punishments upon the head of the Redeemer of mankind? Have they received the Redeemer with such tenderness and gratitude as the wonders of his love required? No: The unbelieving synagogue, the Jews, or, to pass the Jews, Christians, we, my brethren, who profess to believe the mystery of the cross; we, who every day say,