§ 1. An Objection answered about the various Dispensations of God: The Principle the same. § 2. God's Work of a piece, and Truth the same under divers Shapes. § 3. The Reason of the Prevalency of Idolatry. § 4. The Quaker's Testimony the best Antidote against it, viz. Walking by a divine Principle in Man. § 5. It was God's End in all his Manifestations, that Man might be God's Image and Delight.
§ 1. Obj. BUT it may be said, If it were one principle, why so many modes and shapes of religion, since the world began? For the patriarchal, Mosaical, and Christian, have their great differences ; to say nothing of what has befallen the Christian, since the publication of it to the world.
Answ. I know not how properly they may be called divers religions, that assert the true God for the object of worship; the Lord Jesus Christ, for the only Saviour; and the light, or Spirit of Christ, for the great agent and means of man's conversion, and eternal felicity, any more than infancy, youth, and manhood, make three men, instead of three growths or periods of time, of one and the same man. But passing that, the many modes, or ways of God's appearing to men, arise, as hath been said, from the divers states of men, in all which, it seems to have been his main design to prevent idolatry and vice, by directing their minds to the true object of worship, and pressing virtue and holiness. So that though mediately he spoke to the patriarchs, mostly by angels, in the fashion of men, and by them to their families, over and above the illumination in themselves ; so to the prophets, for the most part, by the Revelation of the Holy Ghost in them, and by them to the Jews ; and since the Gospel Dispensation, by his Son, both externally, by his coming in the flesh, and internally, by his spiritual appearance in the soul, as he is the great Light of the world; yet all its flowings mediately through others, have still been from the same principle, co-operating with the manifestation of it immediately in man's own particular.
§ 2. This is of great weight, for our information and encouragement, that God's work, in reference to man, is all of a piece, and, in itself, lies in a narrow compass, and that his eye has ever been upon the same thing in all his dispensations, viz. to make men truly good, by planting his holy awe, and fear in their hearts: though he has condescended, for the hardness and darkness of men's hearts, to approach, and spell out his holy mind, to them, by low and carnal ways, as they may appear to our more enlightened understandings: suffering truth to put on divers sorts of garments, the better to reach to the low state of men, to engage them from false gods, and ill lives; seeing them sunk so much below their nobler part, and what he made them, that, like brute beasts, they knew not their own strength and excellency.
§ 3. And if we do but well consider the reason of the prevalency of idolatry, upon the earlier and darker times of the world, of which the Scripture is very particular, Gen. xxxi. xxxv.; Exod. xx.; Levit. xxi.; Deut. xxix. xxx. xxxi. xxxii.; Josh. xxii. xxiii. xxiv., we shall find that it ariseth from this: That it is more sensual, and therefore calculated to please the senses of men; being more outward or visible, or more in their own power to perform, than one more spiritual in its object. For as their gods were the workmanship of men's hands, they could not prefer them, that being the argument which did most of all gall their worshippers, and what of all things, for that reason, they were most willing to forget. But their incidency to idolatry, and the advantages it had upon the true religion with them, plainly came from this, That it was more outward and sensual: they could see the object of their devotion, and had it in their power to address it when they would. It was more fashionable too, as well as better accommodated to their dark and too brutal state. And therefore it was that God, by many afflictions, and greater deliverances, brought forth a people, to endear himself to them, that they might remember the hand that saved them, and worship him, and him only; in order to root up idolatry, and plant the knowledge and fear of him in their minds, for an example to other nations. Whoever reads Deuteronomy, which is a summary of the other four books of Moses, will find the frequent and earnest care and concern of that good man for Israel, about this very point; and how often that people slipt and lapsed, notwithstanding God's love, care, and patience over them, into the idolatrous customs of the nations about them. Divers other Scriptures inform us also, especially those of the prophets, Isa. xliv. xlv.; Psalms xxxvii. cxv.; and Jer. x., where the Holy Ghost confutes and rebukes the people, and mocks their idols with a sort of holy disdain.
§ 4. Now that which is farthest from idolatry, and the best antidote against it, is the principle we have laid down, and the more people's minds are turned and brought to it, and that they resolve their faith, worship, and obedience into the holy illuminations and power of it, the nearer they grow to the end of their creation, and consequently to their Creator. They are more spiritually qualified, and become better fitted to worship God as he is: who, as we are told, by our Lord Jesus Christ, Is a Spirit, and will be worshipped in spirit and in truth, and that they are such sort of worshippers which God keepeth to worship him, in this gospel-day. " The hour cometh," saith he, " and now is." That is, some now do so, but more shall. A plain assertion in present, and a promise and prophecy of the increase of such worshippers in future. Which shews a change intended from a ceremonial worship, and state of the church of God, to a spiritual one. Thus the text: "But the time cometh, and now is, when true worshippers shall worship the Father in spirit and in truth." Which is as much as to say, when the worship of God shall be more inward than outward and so more suitable to the nature of God, and the nobler part of man, his inside, or his inward and better man: for so those blessed words import, in " spirit and in truth." In spirit, that is, through the power of the Spirit. In truth, that is, in realities, not in shadows, ceremonies, or formalities, but in sincerity, with and in Life, being divinely prepared and animated ; which brings man not only to offer up right worship, but also into intimate communion and fellowship with God, who is a Spirit.
§ 5. And if it be duly weighed, it will appear, that God in all his manifestations of himself, hath still come nearer and nearer to the insides of men, that he might reach to their understandings, and open their hearts and give them a plainer and nearer acquaintance with himself in spirit: and then it is that man must seek and find the knowledge of God for his eternal happiness. Indeed, all things that are made shew forth the power and wisdom of God, and his goodness too, to mankind; and therefore many men urge the Creation to silence Atheistical objections: but tho' all those things shew a God, yet man does it, above all the rest. He is the precious stone of the ring, and the most glorious jewel of the globe; to whose reasonable use, service, and satisfaction, the whole seems to be made and dedicated. But God's delight (by whom man was made, we are told by the Holy Ghost) is in the habitable parts of the earth, with the sons of men, Prov. viii. 31. And with those that are contrite in spirit, Isa. lxvi. 1, 2: "Thus saith the Lord, The heaven is my throne, and the earth is my footstool : where is the house that ye build unto me ? and where is the place of my rest ? For all those things hath mine hand made, and all those things have been, saith the Lord: but to this man will I look, even to him that is poor and of a contrite spirit, and trembleth at my word." And why is man his delight, but because man only, of all his works, was of his likeness? This is the intimate relation of man to God: somewhat nearer than ordinary; for of all other beings, man only had the honour of being his image; and, by his resemblance to God, as I may say, came his kindred with God and knowledge of him. So that the nearest and best way for man to know God, and be acquainted with him, is to seek him in himself, in his image; and, as he finds that, he comes to find and know God. Now man may be said to be God's image in a double respect. First, As he is of an immortal nature ; and, next, as that nature is endued with those excellencies in small, and proportionable to a creature's capacity, that are by nature infinitely and incomparably in his Creator. For instance, wisdom, justice, mercy, holiness, patience, and the like. As man becomes holy, just, merciful, patient, &c. By the copy he will know the original, and by the workmanship in himself he will be acquainted with the holy workman. This, reader, is the Regeneration and New Creature we press, (Gal. vi. 15, 16: "For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision availeth any thing, nor uncircumcision, but a new creature. And as many as walk according to this rule, peace be on them, and mercy, and upon the Israel of God,") and according to this rule, we say, men ought to be religious, and walk in this world. Man, as I said just now, is a composition of both worlds; his body is of this, his soul of the other world. The body is as the temple of the soul, the soul the temple of the Word, and the Word the great temple and manifestation of God. By the body the soul looks into and beholds this world, and by the Word it beholds God, and the world that is without end. Much might be said of this order of things, and their respective excellencies, but I must be brief.
[Continued, Chapter VIII.]