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the same-men have filled the earth with the monuments of their own confessed weakness; and they have every where, and in every age, recognized this truth, that their help, their comfort, and their hope, rest not upon themselves, but upon some invisible agency more wise, more active, more powerful than the feeble being who trembles before it.
But "an idol,” says St. Paul, “ is nothing in the world.” That one word opens to the contemplative mind one of the most affecting views of the deep dereliction of the countless myriads, who in all ages have " walked in the vain show" of pagan mythologies, and who, though always deceived, have still confided in them. Thus pressed by his weaknesses, his guilt, and his fears, the heathen flies for succour to a figment of his own fancy, to that which is nothing in the world,” and has no existence among creatures in heaven or in earth. Even religion with him is illusive as a feverish dream, and when he calls upon his God, there is neither voice nor sound” responsive to his prayers; he spends life in pursuit of a phantom, and he dies in despair.
But if “ the gods of the heathen are vanity, the Lord made the heavens;" the object of true religion is the true God; and the true religion is that which so leads us to God as to connect all the wants of man as a moral and accountable being, a creature at once mortal and immortal, with the sufficiency not only of a real but of an infinite existence. "I am GOD ALLSUFFICIENT, walk before me and be thou perfect."*
But what is that religion which is the true way to
• Genesis xvii. old Translation.
God? and in what respects is that all-sufficiency of God imparted to those who in this way approach him ? These are most important inquiries.
Pure and holy creatures are always represented in Scripture in immediate intercourse with God. Philosophy considers their intercourse as mediate only through the creatures; and it would take no offence at their being represented as engaged in tracing the wonders of the planetary and sideral heavens; exploring the elements of earth, and deducing general laws from wide and scrutinizing surveys of natural phenomena; and whilst thus employed, as recognizing and magnifying the wisdom and power of the Creator. Here would be a fine intellect nobly employed; here would be exhibited that species of sentiment, a mingled feeling of admiration, and gratified taste, which is in truth the only devotional religion which the philosophy of man allows.
The doctrine of the Scriptures goes higher; it represents these pure spirits, whether angels who never sinned, or saints glorified, as with God; in his presence gazing upon glories revealed not only from his works, but from disclosures and manifestations of himself; rapt into ecstacy, inflamed with love, silent with awe, they “ see him as he is," and become “like him;" they behold his glory, and are “ changed into the same image.”
This kind of communion with God, “the fountain of life,” having both an external and an internal manifestation, each proper to itself, man in his first estate enjoyed as well as the angels, though the one was less radiant, the other less intense in his case, as suited to a feebler, though yet untainted nature. The expulsion of the first offenders from the visible
manifestations of the divine glory in Paradise, was but the outward sign of the forfeiture of their higher interior communion with God. The effect of sin is to separate between God and man; between his dependent spiritual nature, and the vital influence of the all-sufficient nature of God. “So he drove out the man;" and the wilderness of earth, “cursed” for his sake, and yielding thorns and briers, was a less painful contrast to the verdure and beauty of the garden of God, than that which was presented by a soul “naked, and sick, and void of God,” once so near, now
66 afar off.” As mere philosophy cannot comprehend the true nature of the communion of an innocent intelligence with God, so it is insensible to the true character of that separation between God and the soul of man which has been effected by human offence. This is only fully discovered by the Spirit which convinces
To this moment, every man unrecovered by grace, is, in this affecting sense, “ without God in the world.” The illustrations of this sad truth, which experience and observation furnish, are too painfully convincing. Nor is it necessary to go to the sensualist, he who is emphatically in the flesh," for confirmation of the fact; nor to the gay trifler, who places pleasure in the absence of all serious thought; nor to the sordid spirit, absorbed in, and incrusted with the cares of this life. This alienation from God is as conspicuous where the intellect and taste are awakened, as where they sleep; in the man of reflection and genius, as in those prostrate spirits whose sole inquiry through every day's existence is, “ What shall we eat, and wherewithal shall we be
clothed ?" It is, alas ! no uncommon case to see a man at once wise and wicked, sentimental and undevout, with a genius capable of seizing every form of beauty, and every character of grandeur, which both nature and morals present, and employing them to adorn and illustrate his own conceptions, and so that he shall be warmed by his subject into ardour, or melted into softness; and yet, when the excitement is spent, he shall subside into his own native earthliness, and revel in the gross indulgences of a masterful sensual appetite. It is not the mere employment of the thoughts on the works of God which leads to God. The spacious temple of this visible universe may be entered, scrutinized, and admired; calculation and measurement may be applied to its expansive dome, and its ever-burning lamps of celestial fire; the strength and proportions of its massive pillars may be displayed; the appendages of use and ornament with which it is filled, arranged with systematizing skill, and their discovered relations, uses, and wondrous workmanship, may give a lively interest to long and deep investigations; whilst the majesty of its great Builder shall still wholly fail to prostrate the spirit in humility, and not a penitential sigh shall be sent upward to heaven from a heart bowed down under an overwhelming sense of the fact, that, against this Being of power and glory, infinite, innumerable sins have been committed by the worm that treads his awful courts. Even the doctrines of religion itself may occupy the studies of men; they may spend days and nights in a critical and exact investigation of the written revelations made by God himself; they may become champions of the orthodox faith, and may contend for it with all the ardour and expertness of well-learned and earnest controvertists; they may obscure the forms and ordinances which God has instituted for the purpose of opening communion between them and himself, whilst yet the middle wall of an invisible but palpable partition, rises betwixt them and their Maker; and as to any effectual change in that moral habit which constitutes the alienation of man from God, they stand on the same level, and are undistinguished from the mass of an unthinking and openly ungodly world.
If this be the true state of fallen man, where then is the true way to God? Through whatever medium it lies, the gate which leads to it is a lowly penitence; that alone breaks the first opening through a barrier impervious and insuperable by other means. To “turn to God," is the phrase by which the holy Scriptures designate the first step back to him which can be taken by a revolted creature; and it is accompanied with “weeping and with supplication.” Seeking God, is another of those descriptive expressions which so strongly mark the feelings and the movements of an awakened spirit; the terms of which indicate not only something lost, but loss of the greatest goodof God himself, his image, his friendship, his felicitating influence. If a true sense of this loss can never be commensurate with the vastness of the privation, it cannot be a superficial and evanescent feeling. The departure of a soul from God is so great an evil in itself, and implies so much positive misery as the involved consequence, that if the case be truly, although still inadequately, revealed to us by that Spirit whose office it is to “convince of sin,” the