Remember them which have the rule over you, who have spoken to you the word of God: whose faith follow…
St. Paul gives us a very beautiful idea of God, when he says, "The wisdom of God is manifold." The first great cause, the Supreme Being, hath designs infinitely diversified. This appears by the various beings which He hath created, and by the different ways in which He governs them. But, although there be a diversity in the conduct of God, it is always a diversity of wisdom. Whether He creates a material or an intelligent world; whether He forms" celestial or terrestial bodies, men, angels, seraphims, or cherubims; whether He governs the universe by the same, or by different laws; in all cases, and at all times, He acts like a God: He hath only one principle, and that is order. There is a harmony in His perfections, which He never disconcerts.
I. We see in THE ECONOMY OF TIME four remarkable varieties.
1. We see in God's government of His Church various degrees of light communicated. Compare the time of Moses with that of the prophets, and that of the prophets with that of the evangelists and apostles. In these various degrees of knowledge, communicated by God to men, I see that uniformity which is the distinguishing character of His actions, and the inviolable rule of His government. The same principle that inclined Him to grant a little light to the age of Moses, inclined Him to afford more to the time of the prophets, and the greatest of all to the age in which the evangelists and apostles lived. What is this principle? It is a principle of order, which requires that the object proposed to a faculty be proportioned to this faculty; that a truth proposed to an intelligence be proportioned to this intelligence.
2. What justifies the government of God on one of these articles, on the various degrees of light bestowed on His Church, will fully justify Him in regard to the worship required by Him. Conceive of the Jews, enveloped in matter, loving to see the objects of their worship before their eyes, and, as they said themselves, to have gods going before them. Imagine these gross creatures coming into our assemblies, how could they, being all sense and imagination (so to speak), exercise the better powers of their souls without objects operating on fancy and sense? How could they have made reflection, meditation, and thought, supply the place of hands and eyes, they who hardly knew what it was to meditate? How could they, who had hardly any idea of spirituality, have studied the nature of God abstractly, which yet is the only way of conducting us to a clear knowledge of a spiritual being?
3. The same may be said of the evidences, on which God hath founded the faith of His Church. What a striking difference! Formerly the Church saw sensible miracles, level to the weakest capacities; at present our faith is founded on a chain of principles and consequences which find exercise for the most penetrating geniuses. How many times have infidels reproached us on account of this difference! Represent to yourselves the whole world let loose against Christians; imagine the primitive disciples required to believe the heavenly origin of a religion, which called them first to be baptized in water, then in blood. How necessary were miracles in these adverse times, and how hard, with all the encouragement given by them, must the practice of duty be then! Weigh these circumstances against yours, and the balance will appear more equal than ye have imagined.
4. In like manner we observe a similar uniformity in the various laws prescribed to the Church. At all times, and in all places, God required His Church to love Him with all the heart, and with all the soul, and with all the mind: but He did not inform His people at all times and in all places the manner in which He required love to express itself. Expressions of love must be regulated by ideas of Deity;. Ideas of Deity are more or less pure as God reveals Himself more or less clearly.
5. Our fifth article is intended to justify the various conditions in which it hath pleased God to place His Church. At one time the Church enjoys temporal pomp and felicity, at another it is exposed to whatever the world can invent of misery and ignominy. Let us reason in regard to the Church in general, as we reason in regard to each private member of it. Do you think (I speak now to each individual) there is a dungeon so deep, a chain so heavy, a misery so great, a malady so desperate, that God cannot deliver you, were your deliverance suitable to the eminence of His perfections? Why, then, doth He at any time reduce us to these dismal extremities? Order requires God, who intends to save you, to employ those means, which are most likely to conduct you to salvation, or, if you refuse to profit by them, to harden you under them. He wills your salvation, and therefore He removes all your obstacles to salvation. Let us reason in regard to the Church in general, as we do in regard to the individuals who compose it. A change in the condition of the Church doth not argue any change in the attributes of God. The same eminence of perfections which engageth Him sometimes to make all concur to the prosperity of His Church, engageth Him at other times to unite all adversities against it.
II. We have considered Jesus Christ in the economy of time, now let us consider Him in THE ECONOMY OF ETERNITY. We shall see in this, as in the former, that harmony of perfections, that uniformity of government, which made our apostle say, "Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, and to-day, and for ever." The same principle that formed His plan of human government in the economy of time, will form a plan altogether different in that" of eternity. The same principle of proportion which inclines Him to confine our faculties within a narrow circle during this life, will incline Him infinitely to extend the sphere of them in a future state. The same principle which induces Him now to communicate Himself to us in a small degree, will then induce Him to communicate Himself to us in a far more eminent degree. The same principle that inclines Him now to assemble us in material buildings, to cherish our devotion by exercises savouring of the frailty of our state, by the singing of psalms, and by the participation of sacraments, will incline Him hereafter to cherish it by means more noble, more sublime, better suited to the dignity of our origin and to the price Of our redemption. The same principle which inclines Him to involve us now in indigence, misery, contempt, sickness, and death, will then induce Him to free us from all these ills, and to introduce us into that happy state where there will be no more death, neither sorrow nor crying, and where all tears shall be wiped away from our eyes. Proportion requires that intelligent creatures should be some time in a state of probation, and this is the nature of the present dispensation: but the same law of proportion requires also, that after intelligent creatures have been some time in a state of trial, and have answered the end of their being placed in such a state, there should be a state of retribution in an eternal economy. By this truth let us regulate our faith, our morality, and our ideas of our future destiny.
1. Our faith. Let us adore only one God, and let us acknowledge in Him only one perfection, that is to say, a harmony, which results from all His perfections. If this idea be impressed on our minds, our faith will never be shaken, at least it will never be destroyed by the vicissitudes of the world, or by those of the Church. Why? Because we shall be fully convinced, that the vicissitudes of both proceed from the same cause, I mean the immutability of that God who saith by the mouth of one of His prophets, "I, the Lord, change not."
2. God hath only one principle of His actions, that is proportion, order, fitness of things. Let love of order be the principle of all your actions; it is the character of a Christian, and would to God it were the character of all my hearers. A Christian hath only one principle of action. In Scripture-style this disposition of mind is called "walking with God," "setting the Lord always before us." Glorious character of a Christian, always uniform and like himself! He does nothing, if I may be allowed to speak so, but arrange his actions differently, as his circumstances vary.
3. Finally, this idea of God is very proper to regulate that of your future destiny. Do we wish for a full assurance of a claim to eternal happiness? Let us then by our conduct form an inseparable relation between our eternal felicity and the invariable perfections of that God who changeth not; let us spare no pains to arrive at that happy state, let us address to God our most fervent prayers to engage Him to bless the efforts which we make to enjoy it; and, after we have seriously engaged in this great work, let us fear nothing.
Parallel VersesKJV: Remember them which have the rule over you, who have spoken unto you the word of God: whose faith follow, considering the end of their conversation.