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THE HIDDEN THINGS OF GOD.
REV. H. MELVILL, A.M. ST. MARY-AT-HILL AND ST. ANDREW HUBBARD THAMES STREET,
JANUARY 25, 1835*.
" Verily thou art a God that hidest thyself, O God of Israel, the Saviour."—ISAIAH, xlv, 13
The inspired writers, as you all know, dwell, frequently and earnestly, on the inaccessible splendour that surrounds the Creator. “ Clouds and darkness are round about him." “ Touching the Almighty, we cannot find him out." “ He maketh darkness his secret place; his pavilion round about him were dark waters and thick clouds of the skies.” It is in language such as this that the Bible speaks of the Infinite and Eternal Jehovah ; and whensoever prophets and apostles desire to give us the sublimest view of our God, they proceed, not to diffuse description, but draw at once an awful veil between us and his majesty ; and whenever, in olden time, it pleased. God to give tokens of his visible presence, he came not down with the gorgeous retinue of celestial, pomp, but with the deep solemnity of mystic clouds he bowed the hearts of chosen people. It was a cloud which conducted the wanderings of the Israelites; it was a cloud which filled the tabernacle of the Lord. The symbols of God's greatness wear the robe of concealment; and he demands homage, not so much by what he has revealed, as by what the revelation pronounces obscure.
And it is to be observed that all this proceeds, not from unwillingness to disclose his greatness, but rather from the fact that, since this greatness is divine, it could not be endured by human vision. It was the inevitable consequence of his being God, that by shadowy tokens only he discovers himself to
To this he himself refers when, discoursing with Moses as his own friend. Moses had besought the Lord that he would show him his glory: but God said, “ Thou canst not see my face: for there shall no man see me and live:" and although he made “all his goodness" to pass before him, as being that which the creaturts of earth might behold, and yet breathe—when the august train of his glory swept by, he hid his servant in the cleft of the rock, lest lie should be withered to nothing by the unearthly blaze.
And if we pass to our own days, it will be remarked, that we think much, and speak ruch, of the mysteries which indubitably exist in the nature of God, and in his operations, whether of providence or of grace. But after all, it may
be that we scarcely regard those mysteries in their most important point of view. We rather consider them as secrets which overpass our ingenuity, than as things which yield a harvest of honour to the Creator, and advantage to ourselves. There is a likelihood of our not regarding these mysteries as necessary portions
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of the dealing between finite beings and the Infinite, and as forced into God's dispensation by his unmeasured superiority over the work of his own hand. Nay, we are well aware, that many go even so far as to renounce and decry Revelation altogether, just because it contains truths too big for human comprehension; forgetting or overlooking that, since it probably belongs to the very nature of God that he should“ hide himself,” their ground for rejection is virtually a ground of belief and of acceptance.
Now, our text seems to breathe the language of admiration and praise. It confesses God mysterious ; but, at the same time, its tone is that of grateful acknowledgement. And we think it a profitable subject of discourse opened by the passage, when you consider it as a burst of thanksgiving on the part of the prophet. We wish to examine into the fact that the God of Israel is a God that doth hide himself, with reference alike to its truth and its consequences : in other words, we desire to prove to you how true it is that God hideth himself, and yet that this concealment should move us to admiration, and thanksgiving, and awe. There are properly before us, then, two topics of discourse on which we design to address you: the first, that of God's hiding himself with regard to his own nature and properties; the second, that of hiding himself with regard to his dealings with his creatures; showing under both, that it should Le in the tone of triumph and of praise that we should exclaim, “ Verily, thou art a God that hidest thyself, O God of Israel, the Saviour.”
Now, in good truth, we know nothing of God in himself; we know him only in his attributes, and his attributes only as written in his Word, and shown in his works. We conceive of goodness, and power, and wisdom, and purity, and justice: we suppose these qualities all infinite, and bound up and concentrated, in one sublime and incommunicable essence: but since from this our conceptions can never rise, we feel that the Deity is near us at every instant—that, He is around us that in Him we live, and move, and have our being; and yet, at the same time, we know, that the distant borders of the universe are full of His presence; that there moves not a being on the very outskirts of creation, who is not drawing animation from His fulness : and thus God remains ever the greatest mystery to man. And when we afterwards launch out into the unfathomable deep of his perfections, or travel across the unlimited spreadings of his life-time, or walk the circle of his dwelling-place, we feel ourselves presently overborne by the stupendousness of the enterprize, and forced to confess that, whatever the powers of other orders of intelligences, the highest energies of our own quail before the immensity and magnificence of Jehovah.
Now, there is nothing that should surprise us in this, if we would hut observe how little way our reason can make when labouring amongst things with which we are every day conversant: but we should be prepared to expect that it would be altogether incompetent to the unravelling the Incomprehensible. It will also be evident that we are a mystery to ourselves ; that every object around us baffles our penetration; that there is not an insect, and not a leaf, and not an atom, which does not master us as we attempt to apprehend its nature and its growth. We must admit there is a presumption which upbraids language in expecting to ascertain what God is, and how God subsists. If then, making trial of our powers on the commonest objects by which we are surrounded, we feel ourselves defeated in our philosophy by the worm or the water-drop; can
it be rational, when we turn ourselves to the study of God, to expect to find the Almighty a being which we may thoroughly comprehend ? It is enough that we observe the most gifted of our fellows applying themselves assiduously to the commonest facts, the most familiar occurrences; and yet able to do nothing more than trace such a connexion between cause and effect, we ought to be convinced that we possess not the capacity which can allow us to embrace the wonders of Deity : 80 that not only the stars as they march in their brightness, and the winds as they sweep in their rushings, and the waters as they flow in their tides ; but every sand-grain, and every bubble, and every beat of the pulse, and every blade of grass, and every floating insect—all join in preparing us for the fact, that the God of Israel must be a God that hideth himself.
We go on, however, to observe, that even where God makes announcements of his nature, they are such as quite to baffle our reason. We turn, for example, to the doctrine of the Trinity: we are not, perhaps, competent to judge whether the union of three persons in one essence could have been intelligible to man; it may be we have not the faculties by which so wonderful a fact can in any case be grappled with. We say that, whatever the amount of vouchsafed information, we must still have continued unacquainted with the mode how three can be one: but, at all events, it is certain that God has concealed this mode from us : he hideth himself even when he revealeth himself. And what we would ever maintain in respect of all this concealment of Deity is, that it should summon forth our thankfulness. What food would there be to human pride if even reason availed to the finding out of God! It seems clear that, so long, at least, as he is trammelled by a corrupt nature, man would soon cease to feel his own utter insignificance, if the Almighty brought himself down to the level of his understanding. We all know that even now reason is prone enough to think lightly of God, though compelled by such a doctrine as that of the Trinity to confess ourselves unable to cope with his nature. And if her search were successful, if her power were commensurate with her daring, in all likelihood she would scorn Him whose dwelling lay not beyond the reach of her soaring, and the sovereignty which she esteemed herself able thoroughly to investigate. There would have been a fairness in the objection, that a revelation which brought down the Infinite to the level of the finite must contain false representations, and deserve, therefore, to be placed under the outlawry of the world. We should have reason sitting in assize on revelation. and when man found there were given no account of God but what was, in every respect, easy and intelligible, why, it would scarcely be questioned that reason would give down as her verdict, and justice applaud loudly the decision, that the alleged communication from heaven wanted the signs and the essentials of so illustrious an origin. And thus, if there were no hiding of himself on the part of Deity, we must confess that the lawlessness of our race would have vastly outstripped its present dimensions; that pride, pampered by the discovery that God was comprehensible, would have dictated the opinion that there were no risk in despising his authority; or that infidelity, obtaining from revelation itself a plausible excuse for its rejection, would have taken out the point from all the threatenings of Christianity. And if such would have been the consequences had there been no hiding of Deity, should it not be with a burst of thankfulness that we exclaim, o Verily, thou art a God that hidest thyself, O God of Israel, the Saviour?'
We next observe, that so soon as God has been addressed as a God that hideth himself, he is addressed as “ the Saviour." And we are free to own, in respect to the scheme of our salvation, that, while everything is disclosed that has reference to ourselves, there is much hidden that has reference to God. It may be doubted whether redemption through the blood of our Lord Jesus Christ, is made sufficiently matter of simple faith, and simple faith only. Men are fond of striving to develope the secret reasons, as well as the obvious results, of the stupendous plan; and thus transgress the just bounds of inquiry. We are bound to rejoice in the countless benefits of the oblation of the Son of God, and to study diligently its pressing warnings against sin ; while there must always be an awful and overwhelming mystery, quite unapproachable by man, in the fact that, for the sake of an apostate race, the Son of God died upon the cross. And besides this general mysteriousness, there is a great deal hidden in respect of the atonement. We can form no adequate notion of the incarnation ; how the Godhead tabernacled in flesh; how Divinity and humanity could coalesce to make a Mediator ; how there could be a bearing of sin, and yet freedom from sinfulness-the impossibility of being overcome by temptation, and yet such a capacity of being tempted as should secure sympathy to ourselves. On all these points, the more we search the more we shall be persuaded, that it lies out of the power of human reason-at least, with the present amount of revela tion—to scan the wonders of the person, and to unravel the intricacies of the work of the Redeemer.
“ Verily, thou art a God that hidest thyself,” is what we are forced to exclaim, even when contemplating God as “the God of Israel, the Saviour." But then, in what tone should we make the exclamation? We can assert of that which is thus hidden, that it is alike for God's glory and our benefit that it is hidden. The points to which we have referred are not points which it concerns man accurately to understand, though it is at their own peril not to believe : and there is nothing by which God is so much honoured, and the soul so much advantaged, as by our taking him at his word. Faith—which is nothing else than the triumph of spirit over flesh-pours the largest contributions into the treasure house of Deity, and is also our best discipline as probationers for eternity. And if there were no difficulties in redemption, nothing to contend against, nothing to struggle with—if, in short, God had not hidden himself, there would have been none of that glory which now redounds to him from the revealed dispensation that we walk by faith, not by sight; none of that moral advantage which flows to ourselves from the being required to lean constantly on an invisible staff, and to tread the waters as though walking on a pavement of brass.
Besides the fact that the mysteries of redemption exercise faith, and therefore demand thankfulness, we observe generally, in reference to the Bible, as before in reference to the Divine nature, that it is the sublimity which produces the obscurity. We could not rise up from the perusal of Scripture without a deep conviction that it is the Word of the living God, had we found no occasion on which reason was compelled to humble herself before the simple fact, that faith has been the only act which came within the range of our moral achievement. And whilst, therefore, we see going forward on all sides the accumulation of the evidences of Christianity, and history and science are bringing their stores, and emptying them at the feet of religion, and the very wrath of the adversar
(being but the accomplishment of prophecy) is proving that we follow no cunningly-devised fable; it appears clear that nothing was so to be expected as that God should hide himself while he is revealing himself as the Saviour; and we take it as the last link in the chain of the lengthened demonstration, that, whatever there is in the Bible which is disclosed, there is much kept back which, added to the other reasons of concealment, witnesses to the inspiration of the Scriptures and should it not be as a chorus to the song of noble thanksgiving, that we use the words, " Verily, thou art a God that hidest thyself, O God of Israel, the Saviour?"
But again if God, when discovering himself as the Saviour, hid much in regard to the mysteries of redemption, there has been, also, hidden much in regard to its individual application. How secretly the Holy Spirit enters into the heart of man! How completely has God hidden, except as displayed in its effects, the intense and energetic operations of this Divine Person! Who shall bring to light the secret springs of a soul's conversion? "The wind bloweth where it listeth, and thou hearest the sound thereof, but canst not tell whence it cometh nor whither it goeth: so is every one that is born of the Spirit." Who can define how the uncreated gales of the Spirit, sweep over the dull caverns of the human heart; how they breathe in them the melodies of glad tidings; and awaken strains of glory, and honour, and praise unto Him who is invisible? But though the agency be hidden, such strains are awakened; aye, and we are bound to say that the very concealment heightens the ascription of praise. The man feels in himself a new creation; and perceiving that Satan's kingdom has been overthrown by a stone, like that in prophecy, cut out of the mountain without hands, he dares not look at second causes: it were impious to speak of it as human; the secrecy stamps the divinity. He recognizes Deity in the Saviour, just because the Saviour hides himself; and so, throwing himself down at once before the footstool of the Eternal, he pours forth the exulting and grateful confession, "Verily thou art a God that hidest thyself, O God of Israel, the Saviour!"
Now, it seems unnecessary that, after thus considering what God hath hidden with respect to himself in the works of grace, we should dwell at any length on what he hath similarly hidden in the works of nature. We have already observed that every thing within, above, and around us, is matter of inscrutable mystery. We stand in the midst of a mighty temple, the whole visible frame of nature rising around us, like the walls of a gorgeous sanctuary: and we gaze on the beautiful arch of heaven, on the sun walking in brightness, on the moon, and the stars, and the dark cloud of the thunder: but what know we of this magnificent array? What account can man give of the hidden springs of such vast machinery? Who will tell us what is that light which makes all things visible? Who will explain that secret wondrous energy which retains, century after century, so many worlds, each in its separate orbit? Whose 'penetration is not utterly baffled by the growth of a blade of grass-by the falling of a stone-by the floating of a feather? When asked, we state reasons, and assign causes; but this is only shifting off the difficulty. It were easy to talk of the gravity of matter, and the laws of nature: philosophy is at fault: the learned man knows little more than the savage, of the amazing processes which go on daily in the laboratory of nature, while he may be sitting on the lofty pinnacle of science, a child shall propose questions which shall perplex and confound