This is a case that much troubleth the people of God,--they cannot get right and suitable thoughts of God, which they earnestly desire to have, nor know not how to win at them; and certain it is, he only who is the Truth, and came out of the bosom of the Father, can help here. Therefore for our use-making of him for this end, it would be remembered,
1. That the mind of man, through the fall, is nothing but a mass of ignorance and blindness; that "the understanding is darkened," Eph. iv. 17, 18; "and naturally we are in darkness," 1 John ii. 9, 11; "yea, under the power of darkness," Col. i. 13; and, which is more, our minds are naturally filled with prejudice against God, and enmity, through wickedness naturally residing there, and which the prince of the power of the air, the spirit which worketh in the children of disobedience, increaseth and stirreth up.
2. That this evil is not totally taken away, even in the godly, but helped only in part; for they see and know but in part, 1 Cor. xiii. 13.
3. That hence it cometh to pass, that through the working of corruption, the soul of a believer can sometimes win to no right thought of God at all; or at best to some very narrow and unsuitable conceptions of him and his ways; yea, sometimes, all the thoughts they can get of God are vain and idle, if not misshapen and blasphemous.
4. That as we are, we cannot see God; "for no man hath seen him," Matt. xi. 27. John iv. 46; for he is an invisible God, 1 Tim. i. 17. Heb. xi. 27. "He dwelleth in light which no man can approach unto. Him no man hath seen, nor can see," 1 Tim. vi. 16. 1 John iv. 12.
5. That all that knowledge of God which is saving, is to be found in Christ, who is the "brightness of his glory, and the express image of his person," Heb. i. 2; "and the image of the invisible God," Col. i. 15; and is for this end come out from the bosom of the Father, that he might acquaint us with him, and with all his secrets, John i. 18. Matt. xi. 27, so far as is needful for us to know. He is God incarnate, that in him we may see the invisible. Thus "God is manifest in the flesh," 1 Tim. iii. 16; "and the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us," John i. 14.
6. That therefore if we would see and know God, we must go to Christ, who is the temple in which God dwelleth and manifesteth his glory; and in and through him, must we see and conceive of God. The light that we get of the knowledge of the glory of God, must be in the face of Jesus Christ, 2 Cor. iv. 6; that is, in the manifestations that Christ hath made of himself, in his natures, offices, ordinances, works, dispensations of grace, mediate and immediate, &c. And thus doth God, who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, "cause this light of the knowledge of his glory shine into our hearts," viz. in the face of Jesus Christ, that is, in the dispensations of grace in the gospel, which is the glorious gospel of Christ, 2 Cor. iv. 4, and, as it were, the face of Jesus Christ; for as by the face a man is best known and distinguished from others, so Christ is visibly, and discernibly, and manifestly, seen and known, in and by the gospel dispensations; there are all the lineaments and draughts of the glory of God which we would know, lively and clearly to be seen.
So then, if we would make use of Christ for this end, that we may win to a right sight of God, and suitable conceptions of his glory, we would consider those things:
1. We would live under the sense and thorough conviction of the greatness and incomprehensibleness of God, as being every way past finding out; and also under the conviction of our own darkness and incapacity to conceive aright of him, even as to what he hath revealed of himself.
2. We would know, that what the works of creation and providence declare and preach forth of God, though it be sufficient to make heathens and others that do not improve the same to a right acknowledging of him, inexcusable, as Paul teacheth us, Rom. i. 20; yet all that is short of giving to us that saving knowledge of him, which must be had, and which is life eternal, John xvii. 2.
3. We would know, that what of God is to be found out by the works of creation and providence, is more distinctly seen in Christ and in the gospel. Here is a greater and more glorious discovery of God, and of his glorious attributes, his justice, power, wisdom, goodness, holiness, truth, &c. than can be found by the deepest diving naturalist, and most wise moral observer of Providence, that is not taught out of the gospel.
4. Yea, there is something of God to be seen in Christ, in the gospel, which can be observed in none of his works of, creation or common providence; there is the grace of God that bringeth salvation, that is made to appear only by the gospel, Titus ii. 11; and there is a peculiar kindness and love of God towards man, which is only discovered by Christ in the gospel, Titus iii. 4. There is that manifold wisdom of God, that mystery which was hid from the beginning of the world in God; that principalities and powers in heavenly places, the greatest and wisest of naturalists must learn by the church, wherein that is preached and proclaimed, by the dispensations of the gospel, Eph. iii. 9, 10. His mercy pardoning poor sinners, justice being satisfied, cannot be cleared by nature. Nature cannot unfold that mystery of justice and mercy, concurring to the salvation of a sinner--only the gospel can clear that riddle.
5. We would remember, that all the beams of that glory which are necessary and useful for us to know, are, to speak so, contracted in Christ, and there vailed, to the end that we may more steadily look upon them. We may go to our Brother, who is flesh of our flesh, and there, through the vail of his flesh, see and behold what otherwise was invisible. As we can look to the sun better shining in a pail of water, than by looking up immediately; so can we behold God and his glory better in Christ, where there is a thin vail (to speak so) drawn over that otherwise blinding, yea, killing glory, than by looking to God without Christ; for, alas! we could not endure one glance of an immediate ray of divine glory: it would kill us outright.
6. We must then go to Christ, and there see God; for he who seeth him seeth the Father also, John xiv. 9. Particularly, we must go the face of Jesus Christ, that is, that whereby he hath made himself known, the noble contrivance of the glorious gospel, wherein all things are so carried on, as that God is glorified in his Son, in the salvation of poor sinners. The whole work of salvation is laid on Christ, and the Father is glorified in him, who is his Servant and his Chosen, whom he upholdeth and furnisheth for the work, Isa. xlii. 1,2. He is called the covenant itself. He is the undertaker in the covenant of redemption and in the covenant of grace; all is founded on him; all the good things of it are given out by him; all the grace by which we close with it, and accept of him according to it, is given by him. Now, in this gospel contrivance are all the lines of the glorious face of Christ to be seen; and in that face must we see and discern the glory of God, all the rays of which are centered in Christ, and there will we get a noble prospect of that glorious object. So that all such as would make use of Christ for this end, that they might come to have right and suitable thoughts and apprehensions of God, must be well acquainted with the whole draught and frame of the gospel; and so acquainted therewith, as to see Christ the substance, ground and all of it, and to see him in every part of it.
7. Whatever we know or learn of God by his works of creation and providence, in the world or about ourselves, we would bring it in here that it may receive a new tincture and a deeper impression. That is done, when we find and learn something of Christ there, and are brought nearer Christ thereby, and made thereby to discover something more of the glory of God in the face of Christ; or are made to understand better something of the revelation that is made of God in the gospel, or moved thereby to improve it better.
8. In all this matter, we must not go without our guide, lest we wander in this wilderness, and it prove a labyrinth to us. We must take Christ with us all along; he must teach us to understand his own face, and to read the glorious characters of that excellent glory which is to be seen in his face. He must be our interpreter, and teach us how to read this book, and how to understand what is written therein; he must give the discerning eye, and the understanding heart; even the spirit of wisdom and understanding, to take up the mysteries of God.
9. And for this cause, we should by faith lay hold upon the promises of the Spirit, whereby we may be made spiritual, and have our understandings enlightened more and more, to understand the mysterious characters of divine majesty and glory.
10. In all this exercise we should walk with fear, and carry with us impressions of the dreadful majesty and glory of God, that we may tremble and fear, and stand in awe, and read what we read of this glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ, this glorious Bible, with reverence and godly fear. And thus we may be helped to win to right and suitable thoughts of God; yet withal we should, for
Consider a few things further; as,
1. That we must not think to "search out the Almighty unto perfection," Job xi. 7.
2. Nor must we think to get any one point of God known and understood perfectly; corruption will mix in itself, do our best; and our shortcomings will not easily be reckoned up.
3. We must beware of carnal curiosity, and of unlawful diving into this depth, lest we drown.
4. We should not dream of a state here, wherein we will not need Christ for this end. Yea, I suppose, in glory, he will be of use to us, as to the seeing of God; for even there, as he is to-day, so shall he for ever abide, God and man in two distinct natures and one person, and that cannot be for nought; and as God will be still God invisible and unsearchable, so we, though glorified, will remain finite creatures, and therefore will stand in need of Christ, that in his glorious face we may see the invisible. He must be our lumen gloriae.
5. We should think it no small matter to have the impressions of this sight upon our hearts, that we cannot see him; and that we, in this state of sin, cannot get right and suitable apprehensions of him. I say, the impression of this on our spirits, that is, such a sight of impossibility to get him seen aright, as will keep the heart in awe, and cause us walk before him in fear and reverence, and to humble ourselves in the dust, and to tremble whenever we make mention of his name, or begin to meditate on him, knowing how great an one he is, and how dangerous it is to think amiss of him, and how difficult to get a right thought of him.