God’s All-Sufficiency and Condescension in Revealing Himself

by Edwards Polhill

A short view of God's all-sufficiency and condescension in revealing himself—The various ways of manifestation—In the making of the world and man—After the fall, in the moral law; and in types and shadows—Lastly, and above all, in and by Jesus Christ.

GOD All-sufficient must needs be his own happiness; he hath his being from himself, and his happiness is no other than his being radiant with all excellencies, and by intellectual and amatorious reflexions, turning back into the fruition of itself. His understanding hath prospect enough in his own infinite perfections: his will hath rest enough in his own infinite goodness; he needed not the pleasure of a world, who hath an eternal Son in his bosom to joy in, nor the breath of angels or men who hath an eternal Spirit of his own; he is the Great All, comprising all within himself: nay, unless he were so, he could not be God. Had he let out no beams of his glory, or made no intelligent creatures to gather up and return them back to himself, his happiness would have suffered no eclipse or diminution at all, his power would have been the same, if it had folded up all the possible worlds within its own arms, and poured forth never an one into being to be a monument of itself. His wisdom the same, if it had kept in all the orders and infinite harmonies lying in its bosom, and set forth no such series and curious contexture of things as now are before our eyes. His goodness might have kept an eternal Sabbath in itself, and never have come forth in those drops and models of being which make up the creation. His eternity stood not in need of any such thing as time or a succession of instants to measure its duration; nor his immensity of any such temple as heaven and earth to dwell in, and fill with his presence. His holiness wanted not such pictures of itself as are in laws or saints; nor his grace such a channel to run in as covenants or promises. His majesty would have made no abatement, if it had had no train or host of creatures to wait upon it, or no rational ones among them, such as angels and men, to sound forth its praises in the upper or lower world. Creature-praises, though in the highest tune of angels, are but as silence to him, as that text may be read. (Psalm 65:1.) Were he to be served according to his greatness, all the men in the world would not be enough to make a priest, nor all the other creatures enough to make a sacrifice fit for him. Is it any pleasure to him that thou art righteous? saith Eliphaz. (Job. 22:3.) No doubt he takes pleasure in our righteousness, but the complacence is without indigence, and while he likes it, he wants it not.

That such an infinite All-sufficient One should manifest himself, must needs be an act of admirable supereffluent goodness, such as indeed could not be done without stooping down below his own infinity, that he might gratify our weakness. Those two Hebrew words, בָּשָּר, which imports flesh or weakness, and בִּשֵׁר, which is to annunciate and declare good tidings, are of a near affinity. In the mystery of the incarnation, God came down into our flesh; and in every other manifestation of himself, he comes down, as it were, into the weakness of creatures or notions, that we, who cannot hear or understand the eternal word in itself, or enter the light inaccessible, might see him in reflexes and finite glasses, such as we are able to bear. Every manifestation imports condescension. The world, as fair and goodly a structure as it is, is but instar puncti aut nihili, like a little drop or small dust to him. Creature reason, though a divine particle, and more glorious than the sun itself, is but a little spark for the infinite light to shew himself in. No words, no, not those in the purest laws and richest promises, are able to reach him; who, as an ancient hath it, is ὑπερούσιος, ὑπεράγαθος, ὑπέρσοφος, essence, goodness, wisdom, all in hyperbole, in a transcendent excess above words or notions. His name is above every name; nevertheless, he humbles himself to appear to our minds in a scripture image; nay, to our very senses in the body of nature, that we might clasp the arms of faith and love about the holy beams, and in their light and warmth ascend up to their great Original, the Father of lights and mercies.

God hath manifested himself many ways. He set up the material world, that he, though an invisible spirit, might render himself visible therein: all the hosts of creatures wear his colours. Sensible things, say the Platonists, are but the types and resemblances of spiritual, which are the primitive and archetypal beings. Every thing here below, say the Jewish Cabalists, hath some root above, and all worlds have the print and seal of God upon them. Eternity shadows forth itself in time; infinite power, wisdom, and goodness pourtray out themselves upon finite things in such legible characters, that, as soon as we open our eyes upon them, we see innumerable creatures pointing to the Creator, and teaching that wisdom, which Archytas the philosopher placed in the reduction of all things to one great original. Almighty power hath printed itself upon the world, nay, upon every little particle of it: all the creatures came out of nothing, and between that and being is a very vast gulf. It was an infinite power, which filled it up and fetched over the creatures into being; it was an Almighty word, which made the creatures at an infinite distance hear and rise up out of nothing. The old axiom, ex nihilo nihil fit, is nature's limit and a true measure of finite powers; but when, as in the creation, nature overflows the banks, when nullity itself springs up and runs over into a world, we are sure that the moving power was an infinite one. And as infinite power appears in the being of the creatures, so doth infinite wisdom in their orders and harmonies. The curious ideas and congruities, which before were latent in the Divine breast, are limned out upon outward and sensible things, standing in delicate order and proportion before our eyes. The world is a system of contraries made up into one body, in which disagreeing natures conspire together for the common good: each creature keeps its station, and all the parts of nature hang one upon another in a sweet confederacy. Mere natural agents operate towards their ends, as if they were masters of reason, and hit their proper mark, as if they had a providence within them. Such things as these teach us to conclude with Zeno, that λόγος, reason, is the great artist which made all; and to break out with the Psalmist, O Lord, how manifold are thy works? in wisdom hast thou made them all. And as the two former attributes show forth themselves in the creatures, so also doth infinite goodness: all the drops and measures of goodness in the creature lead us to that infinite goodness which is the fountain and spring of all. Pherecydes the philosopher, said, that Jupiter first transformed himself into love, and then made the world; he, who is essential love, so framed it, that goodness appears every where: it shines in the sun, breathes in the air, flows in the sea, and springs in the earth; it is reason in men, sense in brutes, life in plants, and more than mere being in the least particles of matter. The Manichees, who would have had their name from pouring out of manna, did brook their true name from mania, that is, madness, in denying so excellent a world to be from the good God. The light in their eyes, breath in their nostrils, bread in their mouths, and all the good creatures round about them, were pregnant refutations of their senseless heresy: the prints of goodness everywhere extant in nature, shew the good hand which framed all.

In the making of man in his original integrity, there was yet a greater manifestation. In other creatures there were the footsteps of God, but in man there was his image; a natural image in the very make of his soul, in the essential faculties of reason and will, upon which were derived more noble and divine prints of a Deity than upon all the world besides. And in that natural image there was seated a moral one, standing in that perfect knowledge and righteousness, in which more of the beauty and glory of God did shine forth, than in the very essence of the soul itself. His mind was a pure lamp of knowledge, without any mists or dark shades about it, his will a mirror of sanctity and rectitude without any spot in it; and, as an accession to the two former images, there was an image of God's sovereignty in him, he was made Lord over the brutal world; without, the beasts were in perfect subjection to him: and within, the affections. Now to such an excellent creature, in his primitive glory, with a reason in its just ἀκμὴ or full stature, the world was a very rare spectacle; the stamps and signatures upon the creatures looked very fresh to his pure paradisical eyes: from within and from without he was filled with illustrious rays of a Deity: he saw God everywhere: within, in the frame and divine furniture of his soul, and without, in the creatures and the impresses of goodness on them: he heard God everywhere; in his own breast in the voice of a clear unveiled reason, and abroad in the high language and dialect of nature. All was in splendour; the world shone as an outward temple, and his heart was in lustre like an oracle or inward sanctuary; everything in both spake to God's honour. Such an excellent appearance as this was worthy of a Sabbath to celebrate the praises of the Creator in. But, alas! sin soon entered, and cast a vail upon this manifestation; on the world there fell a curse, which pressed it into groans and travailing pains of vanity; the earth had its thistles, the heavens their spots and malignant influences, all was out of tune, and jarring into confusion. In man all the images of God more or less suffered; the orient reason was miserably clouded, the holy rectitude utterly lost: without, the beasts turned rebels; and within, the affections. Nevertheless God, who is unwearied in goodness, would further manifest himself. Promises of the Messiah, and of grace in him, brake forth unto lapsed man; and as appendants thereof, there came forth sacrifices and other types to be figures of heavenly things, and a kind of Astrolabe to the pious Jews, that by earthly things they might ascend unto celestial. Also the moral law was given forth by God: the spiritual tables being broken, material ones were made; holiness and righteousness being by the fall driven out of their proper place, the heart of man, were set forth in letters and words in the decalogue. This was so glorious a manifestation, that the Rabbins say that mountains of sense hang upon every iota of it. The Psalmist, in the 19th Psalm, having set forth how the sun and heavens shew forth God's glory, raises up his discourse to the perfect law, which, as it enlightens the inward man, is a brighter luminary than the sun which shines to sense; and, as it comprises all duties within itself, is a nobler circle in morality than the heavens, which environ all other bodies, are in nature. "The commandment," saith the Psalmist, "is exceeding broad," (Ps. 119:96:) it is an ocean of sanctity and equity, such as human reason, the soul and measure of civil laws, cannot search to the bottom. Love to God and our neighbour is the centre of it; and as many right lines as may be drawn thither, so many are the duties of it. Whatsoever it be that makes up the just posture of man towards his Maker or fellow-creatures, is required therein. Human laws are δίκαια κινούμενα, moveable orders, such as turn about with time; but the moral law is by its intrinsical rectitude so immortalized, that, as long as God is God, and man, it cannot be altered.

After all these manifestations, God revealed himself to the world in and by Jesus Christ; this is the last and greatest appearance of all. In the inferior creatures there is a footstep of God, but not his image; in man there is his image, but a finite, a created one: but Jesus Christ is the infinite uncreated image of God. The nearer any creature doth in its perfections approach to God, the more it reveals him; life shews forth more of him than mere being, sense than life, reason than all the rest: but, oh! what a spectacle hath faith, when a human nature shall be taken into the person of God, when the fulness of the Godhead shall dwell in a creature hypostatically! Here the eternal word which framed the world was made flesh; the infinite wisdom which lighted up reason in man assumed a humanity; never was God so in man, never was man so united to God, as in this wonderful dispensation; more glory breaks forth from hence, than from all the creation. We have here the centre of the promises, the substance of the types and shadows, the complement of the moral law, and holiness and righteousness, not in letters and syllables, but living, breathing, walking, practically exemplified in the human nature of Jesus Christ.

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