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GOD SAW THAT THE WICKEDNESS OF MAN WAS GREAT IN THE EARTH, AND THAT EVERY IMAGINATION OF THE THOUGHTS OF HIS HEART WAS ONLY EVIL CONTINUALLY. GES. VI. 5.
XN the short and comprehensive history of the time before the flood, we are told how sin first arose; how it came to maturity; and how it was punished. The words of this text do not give us a systematical account of it; but we may thence collect, what is the seat of it, and how it operates in the constitution of man: a subject which demands a close and serious scrutiny. For the nature of man is still the same: evil now keeps its place as in the beginning; it arises in the same manner, and gathers strength from the Same causes.
Of all the things we see, nothing can be truly understood in its first principles. God alone can see things in their beginnings, who is himself the alpha and omega, the beginning and the end of all things. We can trace them so far only as he hath been pleased to disclose them to us j not for physical, but for moral purposes.
The wickedness of man is here said to consist in the evil workings of his imagination: the imagination therefore is that faculty, in which the wickedness of man hath its beginning. To understand this better, we must examine what the imagination is, how it works, is worked upon, and with what effects; a matter of more concern to us, than all the curious disquisitions that can be written upon the understanding. He that can discover the seat of a disease, and tell us how it may be cured, or how it may be prevented, is a more useful man in an hospital, though in a lower office, than the curious demonstrator, who can descant on the structure and eeconomy of the human frame. And here, one hint from the word of God, who knoweth whereof we are made, and in what respects we are become degenerate, will carry us farther in an hour, than our conjectural researches in the whole course of our lives.
Let us then first obtain what light we can from the sense of the words which the wisdom of God hath used in the text, to denote the imagination and thoughts of man. The terms of the original are translated, I believe, as accurately as they can be; and only want a little explaining. The word we render imagination, has the sense of forming and figuring, as a potter forms the clay, or a seal gives the impression; and when applied to the mind, denotes its faculty of receiving and forming images. When it receives them it is passive; when it forms them it is active. The other word, which signifies the thoughts, has the sense of adding, computing, or putting things together: and as all the faculties of the mind can work together, like the members of the body, this operation of the head is very much under the influence of the heart, which is the seat of the passions: so that what the head can form in image and figure, the heart and affections can compound and put together. If the images of the mind are rightly compared, the result is truth; if improperly, unnaturally, or unfairl)', the result is error. The old logicians, in tracing the operations of the mind, have told us very truly, that the mind compares two ideas, and thence forms ajudgment. If a man does this falsely for himself, he is deluded: but if his intent is to deceive, he does the same thing for others; and having presented to them a false composition of ideas, he leads their judgment wherever he pleases. To put the images of the mind truly and faithfully together, is the greatest wisdom of man; and it is what the word of God hath taught us how to do throughout the images of nature; particularly in the .parables of Christ, by which he instructs the world; to put images falsely together, is the artifice of Satan, by which he deceives the world; and by which wicked men never fail to deceive one another. v
The subject now before us is so deep and curious, that it would admit of much subtile disquisition; which, however, I shall avoid as much as I can, and endeavour to make it plain and profitable, by shewing the right use of the imagination, with the .dangers we are under, and the punishment we suffer from the abuse of it. After which, if I can prescribe such rules as will secure us from the evils of the imagination, the moral end I have in view will be answered.
Truth being the great object of the understanding, the use of the imagination is to give us pictures and images of truth; and without the aid of such pictures, we can receive but little information. Give the mind a well-adapted image, and in that image it will see truth: an objeet so beautiful in itself, that it will see it with delight; and the influence between the imagination and the affections being reciprocal, a great advantage is obtained, if the affections are once interested in the cause of truth; or, (as the Scripture speaks) "receive the/ore" of it. 2 Thess. ii. 10. He is 'one of the best friends to mankind, who presents images to the head, with design to amend the heart. Emblems, of a moral signification, furnish a most excellent mode of instruction; especially to minds young and inexperienced: for while new ideas are acquired, and the fancy is amused, the heart gets understanding, and becomes prepared for action.' Great pains have therefore been taken in this way by antient moralists: but the method itself is of such sovereign use, that our blessed Saviour observed it in all his discourses; he never spake without a parable; that is, without some natural illustration of truth; and the like method is followed in all the teaching of the Bible; where divine and moral truth is conveyed to the mind under some sign or figure of it; the exampics of which are without end.
This mode of instruction is not only necessary, as being accommodated to the faculties of man; but it is of all others the most agreeable; because the mind is delighted with every kind of imitation; and accordingly, they that undertake to delight the mind, whatever their intention may be, always have recourse to imitation in some shape or other.
There are occasions, when it is not possible to get access to the judgment, and to set the truth before it, but under some image of the truth. Of this we have an example in the address of the prophet Nathan to King David, which may stand for all the rest The prophet set before his imagination a parable, wherein wickedness and cruelty were so discernible, that the judgment of the king immediately pronounced upon the case, without being aware that he was passing sentence upon himself; and when he saw it was impossible to retract, he was brought to shame and penitence; to which, it is probable, he never could have been brought by any other way of reasoning: and all this was effected by applying properly to his imagination. There are few minds, however ill disposed, which may not be wrought upon in this oblique manner; and the ignorant are sooner instructed by it than by any other -r which makes it so proper for the teaching of children. More may thus be learned in an hour from a plain simple teacher, than in a year, under the dry and abstracted language of the wisest philosopher. In the Parable of the Sower, a volume of Christian instruction is communicated under a short forua. It sets, before the eyes a case in the course of nature, parallel to the preaching of the Gospel: and when once the similitude is pointed out, a train is kindled, which runs to a great length, and without which it is not easy for the mind to get forward. For there are subjects, which the best and the wisest of mankind cannot understand, till they are taught after the manner of children. There are things of a sublime and spiritual nature, which our reason would understand as they are in themselves; but it cannot be; for here the judgment can get nothing without the-help of the imagination. For the conceiving of many things. which the Gospel reveals, the glass of the .natural Creation must be used; and they must lie viewed as they are thence reflected to the understanding. From the light of the day, we leara to value the light of divine truth; from the &un^ too bright for the eyes to look upon, we learn, that God is too great for the tnind to ocoprehend :. from the element of air and