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SERMON II.33   Preached May 31, 1676.

IN my Former Discourse I told you, that my design from this scripture was not to handle singly and apart either the love of God, or of our brother: but to speak of them comparatively, with respect to the greater or less facility attending the exercise of the one or the other, according to their different objects; the object of the one being visible, and of the other, invisible.

The First Observation raised from the words, after settling the acceptation of love, was this: That it is more difficult to live in the exercise of love to God, than towards men; because he is not the object of sight as we are one to another. In which doctrine, as we observed, there are two things to be considered.

I. That it is more difficult to love God, than our brother. This has been proved from experience, and the common observation of the world, in several particulars. The,

II. Branch contained in this proposition, which we are now to speak to is this; that one great reason of this difficulty is, that men cannot see God, whereas they do see one another. In the prosecuting of this part of my subject it will be more necessary to insist on the explication, than on the proof of it; and still more upon the application than on either of the former. Something I shall endeavour to say to all, as the time shall allow.


1. For the explication of this matter: namely, How we are to understand, that the not seeing God as we do men, is a cause of its being more difficult to love him than it is to love them, take these few propositions, As,

(1.) That it is not an impossible thing in itself to love the unseen God: for if the not seeing him, did make it impossible to love him, he could never be loved by any one; because he is seen by none with the bodily eye, as we see one another. But it is plainly implied in our text, that there are some that love God, notwithstanding his invisibility. And the apostle therefore endeavours only to evince the absurdity and guilt of not loving our brother, because from thence a man may be convicted of being no lover of God, which he accounts as a most intolerable thing. The not seeing him therefore doth not make it impossible to love God, but only renders it less easy. That is, it is not simply impossible, and therefore he who can do all possible things, can make the nature of man to love him; he, I say, can form the nature of man to the love of himself.

(2.) The not seeing of God cannot be understood to be a necessary cause of this sad thing. It is not such a cause as doth necessitate this evil, and horrid effect. For that would be to reflect upon God, as if he had made a reasonable and intelligent creature, that was by the necessity of his nature prevented from loving him. This would be to suppose, that the seeing of God with the bodily eye, were necessary to the loving of him; which would make it altogether impossible that he should be loved by any of us at all, since he is visible to none. Nay, we might say further, he was never to be loved by any being, no not by himself, on the same grounds. The cause therefore of this difficulty is such as doth not necessitate the thing caused: for that indeed would imply that the nature of man is such as would never admit of his loving God, and so there would be a contradiction in men’s very nature; to wit, that they should be capable of being blessed in him only, whom at the same time they are not capable of loving. For experience sheweth, that there is nothing else in which we can be blessed; nothing below, or besides God. Therefore this would infer, that man must be a creature made on purpose for misery; for it is evident he can be happy in no creature; neither in God could he be happy, if it were simply impossible he should ever love him, which is to cast the whole matter upon God himself. For if this were the case, then a man might say, “God hath given me such a nature as renders it impossible for me even to exercise love towards him.” But far be it from us that we should entertain such a thought of 16 God! that he should make man, a creature indued with an intellectual mind, and yet not capable of loving him, who is the Author and Original of his life and being! This it were even horrid to think of. And again,

(3.) Nor hath this always been the cause of such an effect; for there are some that are actually brought to love God, though they never saw him in the sense we speak of, to wit, with the bodily eye. It was not so with man from the beginning, that because he could not see God, therefore he loved him not, or was for that reason the less inclined to love him. He was formed at first for the lore of his Maker, so as to take the highest complacency in him, and to make him his supreme delight. Man, I say, was made thus upright; but he hath since been trying inventions, to see if he could be happy any other way, or upon other terms. And therefore since this is not the necessary, nor the constant cause of such an effect as this, we must add,

(4.) That it cannot be a cause of itself alone, but must needs be a cause in conjunction with some other cause; by the intervention of some other thing, by the concurrence of which this sad effect is brought about. For if it be true, that there have been men who have loved God, though they never saw him with the bodily eye, there must be some other cause of the want of love to God in those persons who love him not, besides his invisibility. Because otherwise, since God was always invisible, and never seen with the bodily eye, it would necessarily follow that he could never have been loved at all. And hence again we may observe,

(5.) That the other cause therefore, which is considerable in this case, must needs be the degeneracy of man’s nature. It is not to be imagined, that man in a state of integrity should be incapable of loving God further than he could see him: or that the sight of his eye should be the conductor of his affections, and of the motions of his soul, which is a reasonable intelligent spirit. But the nature of man is not now, what it was. Certainly the case was better with him formerly, than it is now in this lapsed state, in which we must confess him to be; since there is so great an alteration in his very nature. This even the heathens themselves have seen, confessed, and lamented. I remember Plato brings in Socrates, somewhere speaking to this sense, upon a supposition of the pre-existence of his soul: “There was a time, says he, when I could have seen, and did see the first beauty, the highest and most perfect comeliness, and loveliness; but now being subject to the body, all that impression is vanished and gone.” And divers ethers have complained of that great darkness and ignorance, 17which was in them; and of the bonds and chains that held their souls fast, so that they could not tell how to exercise the powers of them towards invisible things. It cannot be then, but the matter must be resolved into this; that if our not seeing God is the reason why he is so little loved, it is because our nature is grown so corrupt and degenerate, that what we see, takes with us most. And again,

(6.) We may add hereupon, that this degeneracy of the nature of man must needs stand very much in the depression of the mind, or intellectual powers, and the exaltation of sense. For the mind and. the understanding, by the light which God had placed there, were to guide and govern the man; instead of which, sense usurped the throne and took the government of him into its own hands. During the distraction and interruption of that order, which God had originally set between the superior and inferior powers of man’s soul, sense, I say, usurped the throne, and took the government into its own hands, and man has ever since basely yielded, and subjected himself to its dominion, so that nothing moves him now but what is sensible. In this therefore the degeneracy of man very much consists, that sense dictates, and is become the governing principle of his life. And,

(7.) We add further, for of this more will be said when we come to the use or application, that the not seeing God can be only a temporary cause of our not loving him; inasmuch as it is only a cause, with the intervention or concurrence of another cause, I mean, the disturbance of that primitive order, which God had settled between one faculty and another, belonging to the nature of man. Our not seeing God could never have prevented us from loving him, if things had not been so deplorably out of course with us, or if this confusion of order had never been brought in among us. Therefore this cause is only temporary, that is, so long as this great depravation of our nature doth prevail. But there are those, with whom it either doth not, or shall not prevail always. There are some, blessed be God, in whom this distemper and disorder of the soul of man is cured. For God hath sent his Son, the Redeemer, into the world on purpose to undertake this cure, and to rectify and set things right in men’s spirits. And “Christ gave himself for us that he might redeem us from all iniquity.”44   Tit. ii. 14. and therefore surely from this monstrous kind of iniquity, the most horrid of all the rest, to wit, that most unrighteous unequal thing, that man should not love his own Original, and the Author of his life and being. Therefore it 18 was the resolution of the Redeemer, “I will die, but I will remedy this matter. I will give myself, I will sacrifice all that I have, but I will bring this matter to rights again.” I say then it is only a temporary cause, which has been assigned of men’s not loving God, subsisting only so long as man’s nature continues depraved: which is not only curable, but in part is actually cured, when the work of regeneration is set on foot, and the Spirit of the Redeemer has begun to obtain in the soul; and it is completely cured, when the new creature becomes mature, and is risen up to its full growth and perfection. But in the mean time, so long as this distemper in the nature of man continues, our not seeing God is one great reason why we love him not. For that way of apprehending God, which should be the same with respect to invisible objects, that sight is with respect to those which are visible, is wanting. And this apprehension will still be wanting, that must supply the room of sight, so long as this degeneracy remains in us. While it is thus with us, that we are subject to the power of sense which has usurped the throne, the soul is destitute of those clear conceptions, those lively and vivid apprehensions, that issue in love to God. And so the great neglects of God, and the intolerable disrespect and affronts that are put upon him in the world, are, in a great measure, according to the present degenerate state of man to be resolved into this cause, namely, that he is not seen. Hence it is, that so many persons neither love, nor regard him at all.

2. Having thus explained the point we are upon, I now proceed to evince this truth, that one great reason, why men are not so apt to love God as they are one another, is because he is not the object of sight as we are. And this I shall do from the following considerations, namely,—that the object is such as would certainly command our love, if it could be apprehended aright; and—if it be not so, it must proceed from some defect in ourselves.

(1.) That the object is such as would certainly command our love, if it were rightly apprehended. For he is most amiable in himself; and has infinitely more obliged man, than they can, ever oblige one another.

God, I say, is most amiable In himself, who is chiefly to be loved by all, though he is not actually so; as he is confessed to be the Supreme Object of our understanding, while in reality he is least known. “God is light,”55   1 John i. 5. says the apostle in one place of his epistle; and “God is love,”66   1 John iv. 16. as he affirms in two others; a Being of pure light, and glorious love. Would 19he not be loved therefore, if apprehended aright? “Who is like unto thee, O Lord, among the gods!” as we find Moses speaking with admiration, “Who is like thee, glorious in holiness, fearful in praises, doing wonders?”77   Exod. xv. 11. God is a Being wherein the most perfect wisdom, goodness, power, truth and righteousness, make so admirable a temperature, that it is not possible he should not be loved, if he were but known.

Besides, he has infinitely more obliged men, than they ever have or can oblige one another. Take any man whatsoever, whose soul you may suppose to be utterly destitute of the love of God, how low and abject soever be his state, yet you may say, “Thou impious wretch! thou hast not the love of God in thee; though he hath done more for thee, than all the men in the world whatever could do, even though they should all join together to oblige thee. For is he not the Author of thy life, and being? Could the invention of all the men in the world have formed such a creature as thou art out of nothing? Is he not a continual Spring of life to thee? Thou livest and movest, and hast thy being in him every moment. And it is with this design, that God doth continue to thee thy breath and being, that thou mightest feel after him, though thou canst not see him, and also labour to find him, though he be not far from every one of us. Thou art his offspring as even heathen poets tell us:88   See Acts xvii. 27, 28. no creature could ever have made thee. No man is always doing thee good every moment, and at all times; but thou art continually sustained by the divine hand. The great God who made thee, feeds thee with breath from moment to moment, and is always exercising towards thee sparing and sustaining mercy; for his patience and bounty always concur together, in every moment’s addition to thy breath.” It were altogether impossible then but that God should be loved, more than all other beings, if he were but known. And then,

(2.) Since an object so excellent in himself, and beneficent towards us, must have been loved by us, if there were not some defect in ourselves, therefore it plainly appears that there is a defect; and it is owing to this, that sense has got dominion over us, and the ruling sway within us. For if he be not loved by any one, it must proceed from hence, that those lively apprehensions are wanting, which sense is the instrument of with reference to visible objects. This is in itself most plain, that such an object as the blessed God is, could not but attract our love, if there were not some great defect in ourselves, 20 or if sense had not the power and dominion over us. And that it has such power and dominion, may be seen by comparing these two things together: to wit, that generally the objects of sense do make great impressions upon us; but the things that fall not within the reach thereof, or exceed its sphere, usually make little or none at all.

[1.] The things of sense, I say, do usually make a great impression upon us, and are the things that have the deepest influence and operation upon the minds of men, so long as they are destitute of the grace of God. Hence it is, that men, who are yet in an unregenerate state, are said to be “in the flesh.”99   Rom. vii. 5. And a wicked man is spoken of as one, that is lost in the flesh; so that there is nothing comes near him, nothing affects the soul, nothing reacheth his heart, but what some way or other doth slide in upon him, through the mediation of his external senses. It is true, sense is the instrument of conveying to us the knowledge of many things that are not the objects thereof. But when any are spoken of under this character, of being in the flesh, it bespeaks the degeneracy of man while unrenewed to be so great, that he is a creature so wrapt up in the flesh, as that nothing can come at him, but what is sensible. And therefore of such persons it is said, “They savour the things of the flesh.”1010   Rom. viii. 5. While this is the state and case of any man, it is no wonder that things, which are not the objects of sight, should move his heart but little. It is evident to all that make any observations upon themselves, how mighty a power sensible things have upon them. A danger that we see, how do we start at it! Without using any intervening thoughts, as soon as we sec it we dread it. How apt are we also to be amused, by the variety of sensible objects! How apt to be ensnared and enticed by them! There fore such as have a due care of themselves, what a watch and guard do they set upon their sense! For this purpose holy Job is said to “make a covenant with his eyes.”1111   Job xxxi. 1. And we also read of a heathen philosopher, that would outdo Job, by putting out his eyes, that he might be able to contemplate the better; acting herein agreeable to this Arabian proverb, shut the windows, that the house may be light. Thus it is evident how great a power sense has over us, to draw us this way and that. And,

[2.] On the other hand, it is also obvious to experience, how little power, in general, those things have usually over us which fall not under the senses. Not only the objects of our love, but of our other affections signify nothing, make no impression 21if they be invisible. Therefore it is spoken of as a characteristical note of the saints, that “they look not at the things which are seen, which are but temporal, but at the things which are not seen, and are eternal.”1212   2 Cor. iv. 18. We read particularly of Noah, who “being warned of God of things not seen as yet, moved with fear, and through faith prepared an ark for the saving of his house.”1313   Heb. xi. 7. Do but consider; here was one man, and only one in a whole world, that was actually moved by the discovery and report of things not seen as yet, who when he was warned by God of such and such things coming, though unseen at present, admitted into his soul a pious preventing fear. I say there seems to have been but one such man in a whole world, and he is thereupon recorded with honour in the book of God for it. So rare a thing is it that a man should be influenced by things not subject to sight, that if there be but one Noah, any one such person in the world, Record him for it (saith God) to future ages, for his excellency in this, that he took notice of the monition, or warning from God, as to things not seen as yet, so as to do what was agreeable to the exigence of the case. Accordingly he stands at this day as an eminent example to all succeeding ages. And you find, that it is the same faith which distinguished! those who belong to God, and is the principal rule of their life; to wit, “the substance of things hoped for, and the evidence of things not seen.”1414   Heb. xi. 1. Plain therefore and visible it is to us, and so it must be to all the world, that most persons are governed by their senses; while things not sensible never move, nor signify any thing with us. How plainly doth experience every day speak in this case! When we tell men of a judgment to come, a dreadful tribunal where they must all appear, and an endless state of things, that is before them; we are to them as men that mock. They cry out, “Surely, you are but in jest; you mean not as you say, when you tell us of such dreadful things; we see nothing like it, nothing tending that way.” Thus in like manner it is said, that when the inhabitants of Sodom were admonished by Lot, that fire and brimstone were ready to come down upon their heads to punish the most flagitious enormities of that people, “he was to them as one that mocked.”1515   Gen. xix. 14. So we are told this will be the language of scoffers in the latter days, “Where is the promise of his coming?”1616   2 Peter iii. 4. As much as to say, “You have told us often of the great and terrible day, when the sign of the Son of Man shall be seen in the heavens, and that there shall be most terrible concomitants of 22 his appearance; but we see nothing like it, no token of its approach, “all things continue as they were from the beginning of the creation.” Thus the judgment of sinners is framed only by what is seen; and what is not seen, is not at all minded; not regarded by them. So David says, “Because they have no changes, therefore they fear not God.”1717   Psalm lv. 19. They say, “All things are as they were. There is no alteration fallen out so important, as seems to portend such dreadful things, as you talk of. The sun runs its course as it has been wont, and there is the same succession of day and night, summer and winter, as in former times. Who therefore can make us believe, that there is such a day coming as that, which is so much talked of?”

Now, since we find, that God is such a one as you have heard; namely, most amiable in himself, and beneficent towards us, and consequently that he would most certainly be beloved, if there were not some great defect in us which hinders so blessed an effect; and since we find, that there is such a defect, that we have promoted sense to be the ruler in us, and that sensible things make a deep impression on us, while things that are not subject to the senses have little, or no regard from us; we have all the reason in the world to conclude, that the great reason why men love not God is, because they do not see him. He is out of sight, and they regard him not.

I THOUGHT to have insisted on many things by way of use, as I proposed, after having explained, and evinced, this second branch of my first proposition; but i shall now only hint at some things, which I propose to speak more largely to in the next discourse.

IN the first place, we may infer and gather from hence, that the apostacy and degeneracy in which this world has been, and is still involved, is very dreadful; in that it hath destroyed man’s right disposition towards God. If it had wrought only so far as to deface men’s limbs, and turn them into monstrous shapes, it had not been by many degrees so tremendous; but it hath deformed the mind, and spoiled the temper of the spirit as it hath reference to God most of all, which is a thing never enough to be deplored.

Again secondly, we may further infer, that there is a necessity for something or other to supply the room of our not seeing God, as man did in the state of innocence; inasmuch as he is not seen by us now in this lapsed state, so as to furnish us with such apprehensions of him as to engage us to love him. There 23must be something analogous to sight, some communications of God’s grace, that must influence our hearts to love him; without which it is impossible.

Moreover thirdly, I would observe, It is a wonderful mercy that God hath not wholly concealed himself from men: that though he cannot be seen by the bodily eye, yet he hath vouchsafed to shew us, how we may attain to the knowledge of him. No man, saith John the Baptist, hath seen God at any time; the only begotten Son, which is in the bosom of the Father, he hath declared him.1818   John i. 18. How then ought divine grace to be admired for this!

We may hereupon, fourthly, see the great necessity of much gospel-preaching, and that very lively and serious too. There are a great many that are apt to say, “What needs such ado? why must we have sermons so often?” Surely the exigence of the state of man is but little considered by them that say so. Do not we need to be often put in mind of the invisible God, when men love him not, because they see him not? If they should hear of him neither, what would become of them? Certainly they misunderstand the state of things among us, who think every little in this kind is too much.

Finally: We may see how little reason we have to be in love with this state of dependence upon sense, which amuseth our souls, usurpeth the power over them, and so disturbs and muddles our minds as to divert them from their true objects. How little reason have we to be fond of living in, and walking after the flesh; which is to live the life of a creature, as it were, buried alive. Surely, I say, we have no reason to be fond of such a life.

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