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while we are imperfectly so; so he displays these perfections by many ways, wherein we cannot pretend to imitate him, as he is infinitely exalted above us ; and he may do many things without impeachment of his perfections, as he is an absolute sovereign, which will by no means warrant us to do the like. To instance in the attribute of justice. God has a full right and property in all his creatures, and therefore an absolute authority to govern, and to dispose of them in any way he pleases ; they have no rights but what are borrowed from him, and therefore none that can justly be pleaded against him. He must be just to himself
, in maintaining his own unalienable rights : but he may do what he will with his own, as far as his own wisdom and goodness will allow, or farther than he has been pleased to lay himself under engagements by promise. Justice in us requires our strict observance of all the rights which God or our fellow-creatures have from us, as he our Lord and lawgiver hath settled them.
The sum of all is this : As far as we are in a disposition to act like God, where we have allowance and ability to aspire at and express a conformity, so far we are partakers of a divine nature. I now proceed,
II. To point at some principal instances, wherein the new nature is a resemblance of God. I shall not so much enlarge upon particulars here, as I should otherwise do, because most of them will occur again more distinctly to be considered, when several branches of the Christian temper, come to be treated of in order.
1. As it is a holy disposition, it is a conformity to a holy God. Holiness comprehends all moral excellencies, and an aversion to all moral evil; and therefore may be considered as including every particular excellence that can be mentioned. It bespeaks a general rectitude of nature, and a separation from moral evil of every kind. The new nature is said to be “created after God in true holiness," Eph. iv. 24. God's holiness is his possession of every moral excellence in the most perfect manner, and so as to be at an infinite distance from every moral evil, or what can be called sin. No attribute is nore frequently ascribed to him in scripture ; and with peculiar marks of distinction. “ Thou only art holy," Rev. xv.
“ He cannot be tempted with evil,” Jam. i. 13. " He
is of purer eyes than to behold evil, and he cannot look upon iniquity,” Hab. i. 13. that is, without disapproving it. · is glorious in holiness,” Exod. xv. 13. He reckons it his peculiar glory. But though his holiness is so complete and absolute in the degree of it, and so necessary in the ground of it, that in that respect no creature can be like him ; yet it is represented as a thing in his design, “ that we should be partakers of his holiness,” Heb. xii. 10. And it is a precept to us, that "
as he which hath called us is holy, so we should be holy in all manner of conversation," 1 Pet. i. 15. This last passage may serve in some measure to explain, how we are required to bear God's image in holiness. We cannot perfectly be like him in this character in degree, but we should aspire to “ be holy in all manner of conversation :” that is, As God's holiness, signifies the universal rectitude of his nature, and his utter aversion to all evil; so we should be adorned in heart and life, with the whole chain of graces and virtues becoming our nature, and abhor evil of every kind. We should not only be solicitous about one or another particular excellence, but an universal rectitude; nor satisfy ourselves with declaring war against a particular sin, but be at mortal enmity with every known sin. That, and that alone, is a gospel conformity to divine holiness; and where the divine nature is formed, there is that likeness, though not without imperfection in all.
2. As it is a disposition “ founded in light and knowledge,” it bears in our measure a resemblance of God. Thus, the new man, is said to be “renewed in knowledge, after the image of him that created him,” Col. iii. 10. It is the peculiar glory of the blessed, God, that he sees all things, and all their relations in one entire unerring view ; so that it is not possible that he should be mistaken or misled at any time, that he should do any thing rashly or at random. The acts of his will, (to speak of God after the manner of men, and in a way accommodated to our apprehension,) are always suitable to the perfect light of his understanding. Man in innocence, had light sufficient to discern all that was right and fit for him to do, and was disposed to follow that light : this was the rectitude, the orderly state of his nature. But by the apostacy, the light which was in him is becoine darkness ; ignorance and error mislead him, or the light of his mind is ineffectual, and overpowered in its influence by headstrong appetites and passions. Now the first step towards a man's coming to himself again, and recovering the image of God upon him, is the re-entrance of light into the mind, and that with such efficacy, as to renew the dispositions of the soul by it. Hence, as God's perfect holiness is described by his being perfect light, “God is light, and in him is no darkness at all,” 1 John i. 5. so our sinful state is described, by walking in darkness ; and our renewed state, by “walking in the light, as he is in the light,” ver. 6, 7.
3. As it is a disposition to righteousness, to do justice to all, it is a conformity to God. “ The new man is after God, created in righteousness,” Eph. iv. 24. This is a perfection often ascribed to God. “He is righteous in all his ways, Is there unrighteousness with God ? (says the apostle ;) God forbid,” Rom. ix. 14. Though sometimes“ clouds and darkness are round about him," so that we may not be able at present, to give a thorough account of the justice of his proceedings ; " yet for certain, righteousness and judgment are the habitation of his throne,” Psal. xcvii. 2. And as this is a necessary perfection of his own nature, so he cannot but love it in his creatures. “ The righteous Lord loveth righteousness, Psal. xi. 7. When the temper of our souls is to do righteousness, to give God his rights, and our fellow-creatures theirs, according to all the claims they have from us in our several stations and relations, this is a resemblance of God; and such a one as the scripture makes necessary to prove our relation to him. “ In this the children of God are manifest, and the children of the devil. Whosoever doth not righteousness, is not of God, neither he that loveth not his brother” 1 John iii. 10. Which last character leads me to observe, that the Christian temper is eminently a godlike temper.
4. As it includes goodness, love, and mercy, in it. These are illustrious attributes of God, wherein he particularly glories, and of which he has given most bright and frequent instances. In these we are eminently called to imitate him, So
great is the benignity of his nature, that it is said of him more than once, God is love : and correspondent to this divine excellence, St John calls upon us ; “ Beloved, let us love one another ; for love is of God; and every one that loveth, is born of God, and knoweth God. He that loveth not, knoweth not God; for God is love," 1 John iv. 7, 8. “ God is
love ; and he that dwelleth in love, dwelleth in God, and God in him, ver. 16. And the exhortation to imitate God, which another apostle gives, though expressed in general terms, yet plainly appears by the connection, to refer particularly to this excellence, Eph. iv. 31, 32. “Let all bitterness, and wrath,' and anger, and clamour, and evil speaking, be put away from you, with all malice: and be ye kind one to another, tender hearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ's sake hath forgiven you. Immediately it follows, chap. v. 1, 2. “Be fore followers of God as dear children, and walk in love." When we love all good merr with a particular affection, because of God's holy image upon them, we write in our measure after his copy,
for he does so too. But he is also good to all; his tender mercies are over all his works; creation, providence and redemption, are full of the displays of his good-will and grace; he is rich in mercy to the miserable, to the unworthy, to his enemies. The evidences then of a godlike temper in us, will be the more conspicuous, by how much the more diffusive, and free, and disinterested our affections are; by how much the readier we are to shew compassion to the miserable, forbearance to the injurious, and a hearty good-will to our enemies. This last instance of likeness to God, is prest upon us in the strongest terms by our blessed Saviour, Matth. v. 44, &c. “ I say unto you, love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you and persecute you : that ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven.” (That is, Shew yourselves to be so by acting like him ;) For he maketh his sun to rise upon the evil, and upon the good
and sendeth rain on the just, and on the unjust. For if ye love them [only] which love you, what reward have ye? do not even the publicans the same?" And he closes all with those emphatical expressions, ver. 48. “ Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect." By which we may understand him to mean one of these two things : either that in this branch of imitation, every good man should aim at the fullest conformity to God possible: here be perfectly like God as far as you can ; there is no danger of over-doing : or that there is no part of the image of God, which we can bear in this life, that is more perfective of our natures. 5. As it comprehends truth and faithfulness. It is the glory of God to be a God of truth, Deut. xxxii. 4. and of his people, that they “are children that will not lie,” Isa. Ixii. 8.
God is faithful to all his promises and engagements ; “ faithful is he that hath promised.” And it becomes us to be so in all the engagements we lay ourselves under to God or man ; when we “vow to pay unto the Lord; and if we have sworn to our own hurt, yet not to change;" that is, if we have engaged ourselves even to a disadvantageous bargain with our neighbours, we must stand to it; which is made one character of a citizen of Zion, Psal. xv. 4. God is sincere in his declarations; and so should we be in all our professions of respect either to God or man. If we profess honour and regard, either to God or man with our lips, while our heart is set a contrary way, this is altogether an ungodlike conduct.
I will conclude with some inferences.
1. We may collect, what we should esteem the most substantial part of religion ; that which constitutes a divine nature
This is the end of religion ; and I may say, the very soul of it. Some of the wiser heathens were sensible of this, and the scripture in the text, you see, makes it to be the design of the gospel. Would to God, that none who pretend to religion, would rest short of this, or substitute something else in the room of it; either that which is merely external, or those things which are rather the means of religion than religion itself. And indeed, we may have some light from this to discern what truths are of most importance in religion, and what errors are most fatal ; those which most directly and evidently, tend either to the promoting or obstruction of the diyine nature in us.
2. We may see with thankfulness, the advantages we have for a divine life beyond the heathen world, by the fulier notices given us in scripture of the divine perfections, after which we are to copy. If men can be sunk so low, as to think God altogether such a one as themselves, in their depraved inclinations, it is no wonder if this sets them loose from all the restraints of virtue and goodness, Psal. I. 21. This was the case of the heathen world. They became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened ; and changed the glory of the incorruptible God into an image made like to corruptible man, and to birds, and fourtooted beasts, and creeping things,” Rom. i. 21, 23. And along with this debasing of