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regard, and a veneration for the frame, the grandeur, the dignity of our own beings, may perhaps merit the first place: I am fure, to hold them in contempt, is to weaken what we ought to defend; for to undervalue the gift, is to reflect on the giver. The man who thinks superior rank and title no grace or ornament to his family, will not believe he is, in any manner, bound by his actions to support the honour of it; and he who despises human nature, will, I fear, contribute little himself towards its dignity or improvement.
The heathen world placed all their true and rational enjoyment of present bliss, and all their uncertain hopes of future happiness, in acting up to the dignity of human nature, which they thought capable of being by virtue exalted into the divine: and in pursuance of this opinion, we see, those kings and lawgivers, those fathers and deliverers of their country, whom they reverenced and esteemed while living, when dead they wor. shipped and adored.
As the light of the Gospel had not yet appeared to guide and direct their steps, as Revelation had not discovered to them the knowledge of the true God, it was by no means to be wondered at, that Reason should point out to them the fairest images and most exact representatives of him, as the proper objects of their adoration.
But if the pride and self-sufficiency of the ancients, if the stoic enthuliasm did perhaps
inspire men with too high an opinion of a nature, which, with all its boasted privileges, had little title to perfection, yet have the modern and more enlightened ages of Chrif. tianity fallen into a worse extreme, by an utter contempt and disregard of it. Human nature has, for a long time, been the constant mark at which the fullen and discontented have aimed; the pen of the satyrist, and the wit of the declaimer, have been em. ployed to brand it with infamy and disgrace, to degrade man to the meanest class of beings, and fink him even below the animal creation.
In vindication, therefore, of that religion we profers, and that nature which, as we all partake of, we ought all to love, to honour, and to defend, let us turn our eyes a little on the bright side of it; let us not despair of tracing out the image of God in man; and to this end we will consider him at present only in regard to those three glorious attributes of the Deity, wherein the resemblance is more immediately visible; his power, his knowledge, and his goodness.
God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him, says Moses; and immediately he subjoins, and God said, have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the forels of the air, and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth. He gave
him dominion over every thing; a dominion which, though forfeited by the sin of our first parents, was yet graciously continued to their
pofterity; though it was restrained and limited, yet was it not utterly loft: God, in his miercy, has thought fit still to preserve to man that empire which he at first appointed him; though we sinned against him, and were no more worthy to be called his sons, yet has he not withdrawn his patriomony; man still retains his sovereignty over the creation, and every thing is put in subjection under him. But to what do we owe this power, to what are we indebted for this glorious fuperiority, but to the second thing I purposed to consider, our knowledge.
Was the understanding of man once removed or diminished, his power would fand on a very weak and tottering foundation: human knowledge, though when compared to the great fountain of wisdom it shrinks into a point scarce discernible, is surely a field of a noble extent, and abounding with infinite variety. The mind of man is capable of the sublimest truths, is able to raise itself above the air by which it is surrounded, and the world it inhabits, to seek a fitter mansion, and point out the place of its nativity; circumscribed as it is within its present bounds, who shall determine its height, when none ever yet arrived at the summit. We complain of the narrowness of the circle, yet who ever touched the circumference of it? Who shall determine it impofible for God to endue a mind with qualities even far above all we have yet ever seen or known? What may we not expect where there
is infinite wisdom to contrive, and infinite power to execute?
Thus clothed with majesty and power, and adorned with wisdom and knowledge, man may seem no unworthy representative, no poor or contemptible image of his Creator; but when we proceed to the great and distinguishing charatteristic of the Deity, his Goodness, how defective shall we find him, how mean a copy, how unlike to the divine original! Power and Knowledge may sublift in the world without Goodness; and hourly experience convinces us, that the most exalted and the most intelligent are not always the best of men; though to be good is indeed to be really powerful; to be virtuous, truly wise. The justice of God manifested itself in the punishment of the first man, by the loss of that power and knowledge, in search of which he sacrificed his innocence; and the moment man ceased to be good, he ccased to be powerful, to be wise, and to be happy.
But tho' the goodness of man was of fo short a duration, that of God was still immutable. By the crime of our first parent, the whole race of mankind was made subject to fin and death; and, in process of time, so eífaced was the image of the Creator, that scarce could the lea:t feature or likeness of the father be traced out in his pofterity. When God, out of his inanite mercy and benevolence, was pleased once more to shew himself to mankind in the person of his beloved Son, to present us with a fairer copy and tran!cript of himself, he sent
Christ in the brightness of his glory, and the express image of his person. With this light to guide and direct, this example to influence and adorn it; human nature seemed restored to its former dignity and lustre, to re-assume its native charms, and shine once more in its original beauty; and indeed, in the first ages of Christianity, though galled by adversity, crushed by the oppressive hand of power, and groaning under chains and persecution, it broke through the cloud of misfortunes, and amazed mankind with that noble conftancy and resolution, that steady perseverance in the cause of Christ and his religion, which appeared in the primitive faints and martyrs. By degrees indeed this zeal abated, this glorious warmth decayed, and men returned again from the thorny and difficult road of virtue, to the smoother paths of vice and folly; but, thanks to God, in all ages and nations there have not been wanting some to ftem the torrent of impiety; and though it must be confeffed we are dege. nerated from the virtue, the goodness, and the piety of our forefathers, yet let us not despair; in arts and sciences things we know have lain hid for a long series of time, which have at length been discovered; and why then may not virtue and religion, which have been concealed and buried, break forth amongst us with fresh luftre, and shine with more distinguished glory? Why may not the image of God be again traced out in the mind of man? Let us look for it in the present, let us hope for it from the rising generation.