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The compassion of God.
Psalm ciji. 13.
Like as a father pitieth his children, so the Lord pitieth them
that fear him.
, kind have invented to exculpate their unprofitableness under a gospel-ministry, there is one that deserves respect. Why, say they, do you address men as if they were destitute of the sentiments of humanity? Why do you treat christians like slaves? Why do you perpetually urge, in your preaching, motives of wrath, vengeance, the worm that never dies, the fire that is never quenched ? Isaiah lxvi. 24. Motives of this kind fill the heart with rebellion instead of conciliating it by love. Mankind have a fund of sensibility and tenderness.
a Let the tender motives, that our legislator hath diffused throughout our bibles, be pressed upon us; and then every sermon would produce some conversions, and your complaints of christians would cease with the causes that produce them.
I call this excuse frivolous : for how little must we know of human nature to suppose men so very sensible to the attractives of religion! Where is the minister of the gospel, who hath not displayed the charms of religion a thousand, and a thousand times, and displayed them in vain ? Some souls must be terrified, some sinners must be saved by fear, and pulled out of the fire, Jude 23. There are some hearts that are sensible to only one object
in religion, that is, hell ; and, if any way remain to prevent their actual destruction hereafter, it is to overwhelm their souls with the present fear of it: knowing therefore the terrors of the Lord, we persuade men.
Yet, however frivolous this pretext may appear, there is a something in it that merits respect. I am pleased to see those men, who have not been ashamed to say that the Lord's yoke is intolerable, driven to abjure a system so odious: I love to hear them acknowledge, that religion is supported by motives fitted to ingenious minds: and that the God, from whom it proceeds, hath discovered so much benevolence and love in the gift, that it is impossible not to be affected with it if we be capable of feeling
I cannot tell, my brethren, whether among these christians, whom the holiness of this day hath assembled in this sacred place, there be many, who have availed themselves of the frivolous pretence, just now mentioned ; and who have sometimes wickedly determined to despise eternal torments, under an extravagant pretence that the ministers of the gospel too often preach, and too dismally describe them. But, without requiring your answer to a question so mortifying, without endeavoring to make you contradict yourselves, we invite you to behold those attractives to-day, to which you boast of being so very sensible. Come and see the Supreme Legislator, to whom we would devote your services; behold him, not as an avenging God, not as a consuming God, not shaking the earth, and overturning the mountains in his anger, Job. ix. 4, 5. not thundering in the heavens, shooting out lightnings, or giving his voice in hailstones and coals of fire, Psal. xviii. 13, 14. but, putting on such tender emotions for you as you feel for your children. In this light the prophet places him in the text, and in this light we are going to place him in this discourse.
O you marble hearts ! so often insensible to the terrors of our ministry, may God compel yon today to feel the attracting promises of the gospel ! O
you marble hearts ! against which the edge of the sword of the Almighty's avenging justice hath been so often blunted; the Lord grant you may be this day dissolved by the energy of his love ! Amen.
Like as a father pitieth his children, so doth the Lord pity them that fear him.. Before we attempt to explain the text, we must promise one remark, which is generally granted, when it is proposed in a vague manner, and almost as generally denied in its consequences : that is, that the most complete notion, which we can form, of a divine attribute, is to suppose it in perfect harmony with every other divine attribute.
The most lovely idea we can form of the Deity, and which, at the same time, is the most solid ground of our faith in his word, and of our confidence in the performance of his promises, is that which represents him as an uniform being, whose attributes harmonize, and who is always consistent with himself. There is no greater character of imperfection in any intelligent being, than the want of this harmony: when one of his attributes oppo-seth another of his attributes; when the same attribute opposeth itself; when his wisdom is not supported by his power; or when his power is not directed by his wisdom.
This character of imperfection, essential to all creatures, is the ground of those prohibitions, which we meet with in the holy scriptures, in regard to the objects of our trust. Put not your trust in princes, nor in the son of man in whom there is no
help. His breath goeth forth, he returneth to his earth, in that very day his thoughts perish, Psal. cxlvi. 3, 4. Cursed be the man that trusteth in man, and maketh fesh his arm, Jer. xvii. 5. Why? Because it is not safe to confide in man, unless he have such a harmony of attributes, as we have just now described ; and because no man hath such a harmony. His power may assist you, but,
a unless he have wisdom to direct his power, the very means, that he would use to make you happys would make you miserable. Even his not harmonize with itself, in regard to you, if it were sufficient to supply your wants to-day, but not to-morrow. That man, that prince, that mortal, to whom thou givest the superb titles of Potentate, Monarch, Arbiter of peace, and Arbiter of war; that mortal, who is alive to-day, will die tomorrow, the breath that animates him will
evaporate, he will return to his earth, and all his kind regards for thee will vanish with him.
But the perfections of God are in perfect harmony. This truth shall guide us through this discourse, and shall arrange its parts: and this is the likeliest way that we can think of, to preserve the dignity of our subject, to avoid 'its numerous difficulties, to preclude such fatal inferences as our weak and wicked passions have been too well accustomed to draw from the subject, and to verify the prophet's proposition in its noblest meaning. Like as a fam. ther pitieth his children, so doth the Lord pity them that fear him. Would
you form a just notion of the goodness of God; (for the original term that our translators have rendered pity, is equivocal, and is used in this vague sense in the holy scriptures.) Would you form a just notion of the goodness of God? Then, conceive a perfection that is always in harmony with
I. The spirituality of his essence.
I. The goodness of God must agree with the spirituality of his essence. Compassion, among men, is that mechanical emotion, which is produced in them by the sight of distressed objects. I allow that the wisdom of the Creator is very much displayed in uniting us together in such a manner. Ideas of fitness seldom make much impression on the bulk of mankind; it was necessary therefore to make sensibility supply the want of reflection, and, by a counter-blow, with which the miseries of a neighbor strike our feelings, to produce a disposition in us to relieve him. Nature produceth but few monsters, who regale themselves on the sufferings of the wretched. Here, or there, hath been a Phalaris; who hath delighted his ears with the shrieks of a fellow-creature burning in a brazen bull: And some, whose minds were filled with ideas of a religion, more barbarous and inhuman than that of the Bacchanalians, have been pleased with tormenting those victims, which they sacrificed not to God, the father of mankind, but to him who is their murderer: But none, except people of these kinds, have been able to eradicate those emotions of pity, with which a wise and compassionate God had formed them.
But this sensibility degenerates into folly, when it is not supported by ideas of order, and when mechanical emotions prevail over the rational dictates of the mind. It is a weakness, it is not à love worthy of an intelligent being, that inclines a ten