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For to proceed securely either way, we must proceed upon our experience in the nature of things : but the thing that it concerns us nearest to study is man himself, whose nature we are principally to regard, and shape our conduct accordingly in the measures we take for his benefit. We have already had chapters upon Imagination and Understanding, Conviction and Persuasion, Knowledge and Conception : wherein we have endeavored to explain the distinction between Reason and Apprehension to show, that one cannot always follow close upon the other; and that most men constantly, and all men generally, are guided in their motions by the latter. We have seen that the virtues themselves do not become perfect until they grow into desires, raising spontaneously without needing the help of reason to recommend them. Therefore it is of the utmost importance to have a well-ordered imagination, to lay in such stores there as it can receive, and as may invigorate and direct our conduct : for without this, our knowledge cannot be practical, at least so as to serve us upon occasions wherein we shall need it the most.
To have the full use of our understanding, the body must be free from pain and disorder, the spirits alert, the mind quiet and serene, and nothing external to ruffle or disturb us : but in this situation there is no difficulty how to behave. The seasons most needful to provide against are those of hurry and business, sudden emergencies, alluring pleasures, turbulent passions, dangers, distresses, afflictions, and vexations: when we cannot strike out new lights, nor pursue lengths of meditation, but must avail ourselves of such ideas as shall start up spontaneously to the thought. Therefore when leisure permits and opportunity favors, it behoves us to exarnine what reason would recommend in all circumstances we may be likely to fall under, and furnish our minds with such apprehensions as may be most effectual for the purpose; no matter whether they contain the whole grounds whereon we proceed. And even in our systems of Theology and Religion, designed for ordinary use, regard must be had not only to the nature of things and to what we know, but likewise to the nature of Man and what he is able easily to conceive.
Having found it necessary to consult all parts of our nature, as well our inferior faculties presenting the familiar images and trains of thought rising habitually before our view, as the scientific and rational, in order to frame a set of sentiments that may serve us upon ordinary occasions; it will be proper to begin with completing our theology. And this brings us to the three remaining Attributes of Purity, Majesty, and Holiness; which had no place among the esoterics as being not discoverable by contemplation of the divine nature alone, nor the administration of Providence, but rather negative of what is in man, than affirmative of anything in God. For Purity by the derivation implies an exemption from all foul and heterogeneous mixture : so water is pure when clear of mud and soil, and unmingled with other liquors; gold is pure when undebased by any alloy; and the mind is pure when untouched by sordid passions or bestial desires. But these things are capable of having dregs and foulnesses introduced among them, therefore Purity is an excellence, nor can we complete our idea of perfection in them without it. Whereas the divine
. essence, being simple and individual, cannot mingle with anything foreign to itself; and being impassive, not affected by objects of sensation and reflection, can receive no change of state from passions or desires of any kind. One should wonder then why a particular Attribute is assigned the supreme Being, to preserve him from a debasement it is not in his nature to undergo : we might as well make an Attribute of abstemiousness because he lives without eating, or of hardiness because he wears no clothes to keep hiin warm.
Nevertheless, it is not so material in this case to consider what is the divine essence, as what is the form and condition of our own imagination. For we cannot behold God intuitively: we can comprehend him no otherwise than by such representation as we are able to frame of him in our thoughts. With the utmost stretch of our understanding, we cannot delineate him exactly, but still find him incomprehensible ; and that miniature we carry about in our hearts for constant use, falls short even of the drawing in our understanding: whence our representation no more contains the full character of the original, than the print of a picture or statue does that of the hero it was designed to resemble.
So that at best we are all but idolaters, and the materials employed
in making up our golden image are drawn from our own fund: for we pick what golden particles we can find in ourselves, whatever we esteem an excellence or greatness, or power, or perfection in man; and raising them to the highest degree we can conceive, thereout form our idea of God. But without due care some of the dross belonging to us will cling to the ingredients, and fix itself insensibly among the composition. This is the Idol we worship, to which we look up for protection, and the continual contemplation whereof assimilates our character gradually to itself: therefore it is of the utmost importance to keep this idea clear of all manner of grossness, weakness, or impurity.
The Heathen world supposed their Gods not excepting Jove himself the supreme Monarch over all, subject to the vices, the follies, the humors, and the brutal appetites of man: because they found the like among their lieroes and excellent persons, the sons and grandsons of God. The Stoics held the material universe to be God, asserted that he was the most perfect animal, of a round form and perpetual activity, whirling round every four and twenty hours: because they could conceive no understanding without material organs to serve for instruments of its operations. There have been Christians called Anthropomorphites, who ascribed to God a human shape, because I suppose they had so inuch of the Epicurean as to hold that intelligence could not subsist without a brain, and senses, and members such as our own.
And though we have now, I believe, universally discarded all corporeal mixture from the divine essence, except in speaking figuratively of the hand, the eye, the ear, the mouth which we know to be figurative expressions at the instant of employing them : yet when I hear the enthusiasts and illuminated people talk so feelingly of the finger of God immediately touching their hearts, and insist upon the evidence of sense for their revelations; I cannot help suspecting they have an idea of something corporeal and sensible operating upon them; and if they call this the immediate act of God, what is it but making God corporeal? I can just remember when the women first taught me to say my prayers; I used to have the idea of a venerable old man, of a composed, benign countenance, with his own hair, clad in a morning gown of a grave colored flowered damask, sitting in an elbow chair. I am not disturbed at the grossness of my infant theology, it being the best I could then entertain: for I was then much about as wise as Epicurus, having no conception of sense or authority possible out of a human form. And perhaps the time will come when, if I can look back upon my present thoughts, I may find the most
elevated of them as unworthy of their object as I now think the old man in the elbow chair.
2. We now conceive of God as a Spirit, without mixture of anything material to serve him either for organ or instrument : but then we take our notion of Spirit from those among whom we are conversant, that is, from one another; whom we find acting to accomplish something expedient, or to gratify some desire, directed by the notices of their judgment or senses, and characterized by their sentiments and affections : so we apprehend him attentive to the contingencies of chance and free-will, receiving information from his all-discerning eye, proceeding upon the judgments of perfect reason, actuated by those we style the noble affections, concerned for the well-being of bis race of men, solicitous to compass his gracious purposes, and to receive the tribute of their willing obedience. Still the lineaments of our image are fetched from human nature, and so they must always be : for we have no colors to employ, nor archetypes to copy, but what were handed to us from experience. And though by the careful exercise of our understanding, we may improve gradually in the fineness of our strokes, yet we cannot retain the delicatest of them in our imagination; which will discern only the grosser parts and see the colors changeable.
Therefore we are forced to discourse and think of God as earnest and anxious, delighted or grieved, angry, compassionate, jealous, or favorable, honored, served, hurt, or resisted, by our manner of behavior : apprehending him sometimes an indulgent parent who will not mark what is amiss, at others an unrelenting judge who will call to judgment every idle word ; confining our eye to the amiable or terrible part of his character, according as we happen to be in the humor, or as things fall out round about us. This necessity of ascribing our own affections and sentiments to God, and the variable quality of our ideas, operating insensibly to ourselves, will introduce those of the unworthy sort, and make us attribute the imperfections, the frailties, or even the soulness of created spirits to him, before we are aware : so as to work sometimes a lasting delusion, but oftener a temporary disquietude and misapprehension in our minds.
3. This mischief cannot be totally escaped, for those who pretend to the highest perfection complain of their obscurities, their aridities, their despondencies, their desertions, and all mankind besides can see their delusions and their wildness both of thought and conduct; nor are the most soberly judicious without their lamentations at being unable to preserve constantly the same equal tenor of mind : nevertheless, it may be lessened and in great mea
sure remedied by diligence and good management. For we have seen before, in our examination of human nature, that reason has some power to give a tincture of her own colors to the inferior faculties; and by her continual though gentle efforts, to work an alteration in the habits and trains of thinking. This then is the service we may expect to draw from our esoterics : first to contemplate the divine essence, the dispositions of providence and courses of nature as well external as internal, from thence to gather the reasonable expectation of the events, and natural consequences of actions in particular situations of circumstances we are likely to come into : and then secondly to consider what affections apprehended in the Disposer of all things would produce the same effect.
Thus if the philosopher sees that provision is made for all events within the plan of providence by a complicated multitude of causes, most of them undiscernible by us, and taking a contrary turn to what we should expect: he will represent God as watchful over contingencies, to rectify their errors, and guide them continually by bis secret influence into their proper channels. If he discovers that the same good or evil will naturally follow upon certain actions as would be distributed by man according as gratified or angry; he will inculcate the opinions of those affections in the Deity. If he knows that unbecoming notions of God must introduce disquietude, disorder, and unhappiness among mankind; he will describe him as extremely jealous of his glory. If he observes that ample provision is made for the wants, conveniencies, and enjoyments of the creatures.; he will paint him as a kind and indulgent parent. If he finds reason to believe that every evil terminates in greater good; he will delineate him compassionate and tender, remembering mercy in judgment, correcting for our benefit. If he perceives the laws of nature steadfast, not to be broken through; he figures him a resolute governor and inflexible judge. If he experiences our industry and spirits rise in proportion as we can fancy ourselves of importance to the person upon whose account we exert them; he tries to work a persuasion of God being desirous of our services, delighted with our gratitude, solicitous for our well-being, earnest to have us conduct ourselves wisely, disappointed at our deserting him, grieved at our disrespect, troubled to see us run into mischief, and anxious to prevent our misconduct. And so of the rest : employing the springs of imagination to effect that very temper of mind and tenor of conduct, which the most refined reason and extensive understanding would recommend, upon the contemplation of nature, expedience and rectitude.