« VorigeDoorgaan »
sion, and to adore the blessed sufferer in silent astonishment and love, too great and strong for words to utter.
After all our blessed Saviour hath done for us, if the Holy Spirit of God did not assist us, our ruin must be inevitable. The articles of the covenant, made by Christ between his Father and us, must be kept on our part; we must be thoroughly reformed, or we cannot be saved. Now we cannot, of ourselves, help ourselves.' We are not able to change our own nature from sinful to holy. It is the Spirit of God only that can do this; and this, of his infinite mercy, he does, by effectual faith, and saving grace, whenever it is done. Hence arises a new and great obligation to love, with which every one must find his heart strongly warmed, who is at all sensible of his own infirmities. How should we love a friend, who would attend us through all the difficulties of life, with infinite affection and goodness guiding us, as it were by the hand, in the midst of total blindness, through a road full of pits and precipices, and beset with .powerful enemies, whom, at every turn, he is obliged to fight with in our defence! giving us wise counsel to prevent the miserable effects of our own folly! restraining us, when we are rushing into vice and wickedness! guiding us out of the way of dangers we cannot see! keeping troubles and afflictions at a distance from us! or when, through our own blindness and obstinacy, we plunge into the midst of them, of his own strength, comforting and sustaining us under them ! bearing patiently with our endless and stupid insensibility of his goodness! notwithstanding his infinite purity, still vouchsafing his company to us, in order that he may reclaim us, although we are fit company only for brutes, and often doing all we can to qualify ourselves for the company of devils! With the watchfulness, and concern, and tenderness, of an indulgent father, using a thousand endeavours to retrieve us from sin, to save us from eternal misery, and to conduct us to eternal glory! All this, and infinitely more than we can express or conceive, the Spirit of God himself vouchsafes to do for us unworthy creatures. Here is love, here is friendship, in perfection. O that men would therefore praise the Lord for his goodness, and declare the wonders that he doth for the children of men !' But his bounty to us, as men, is not more stupidly overlooked by the most ignorant Pagans, than his mercy to us, as Christians, is ungratefully neglected and forgotten by those on whom it shines continually, from his word and ordinances, with all the charms of infinite tenderness and pity.
Our shameful unworthiness, our more than brutal insensibility, afford almost as large a field for reflection, as God's goodness. I shall not wander into a detail of the reproachful particulars ; but only observe, that we shall never know to what an height our love of God should be carried, till we humble ourselves with a just comparison between his goodness and our ingratitude.
To draw towards a conclusion, what is it that God expects in return for all his goodness ? •If we have the love of God, it will keep us unspotted from the world ;' and then God shall dwell in us, and we in him. From hence shall spring a sweet enjoyment of peace, and mutual love, to all eternity. On God's part every thing will be done to strengthen this blessed union. And, as to ours, we must be extremely careful that nothing presume to rival him in our affections; we must abhor what he hates; 'we that love the Lord must see that we hate the thing that is evil.' On the other side, we must love that which he loves ; and, like him, be watchful on all occasions to do good, and to shew mercy. We must receive his corrections with humility, and an unreserved resignation. Nay, we must not content ourselves with resignation only; we must be thankful for the severest of his dispensations, knowing, and calmly considering, that they are really so many marks of his fatherly affection for us. According to the known rules of friendship, no doubts, nor murmurs, nor sullenness, nor misconstructions, must be suffered so much as once to take possession of our minds. If they do, they will cool, and may soon extinguish, our affection for him.
But that our love for God may not only be kept alive, but advanced to higher, and still higher, degrees of warmth, it should be our business to reflect continually on the goodness and mercy of God ; in order to which, if we are not stupidly inattentive, we can never want a remembrancer, since every hour of our lives will bring us fresh instances of his tenderness, sufficient to remind a grateful heart of all his former goodness.
Next to this, no other expedient can be thought of, so useful to keep up the warmth of a lively love towards God, as the continual exercise of devotion, as well private as public. By this the intercourse between God and our hearts will be always kept open, and his mercies, of all kinds, feelingly recollected; for thanksgiving makes a necessary part of prayer. But no other kind of devotion strikes so directly, or so powerfully, at this excellent end, as that most exalted act of thanksgiving, the receiving the sacrament of the Lord's supper. In that we commemorate the greatest of the divine mercies, with a due sense of which when the heart is warmed, it is then in a proper disposition to consider and adore the goodness of God in all his other dispensations.
O my brethren! brethren in want of gratitude and good. ness! I am equally dissatisfied, on this occasion, with you and myself; with you for being able to hear, with your usual coolness, a discourse on the love of God; a subject sufficient of itself, although ever so defectively handled, to raise in every heart, not wholly destitute of religion, such strong emotions of shame for its own unworthiness, and of tenderness for God's inconceivable goodness, as no command over the eyes, the face or hands, could conceal. And I am indeed deeply dissatisfied with, and ashamed at, myself, for the miserable poverty of thought, and languor of expression, wherewith I have handled the most affecting of all subjects. I cannot help regarding this with the utmost grief, as an experimental proof of my being unwarmed with a sufficient measure of that glorious grace I have been recommending. Were not this really the case, Why was not every period on fire? Why was it not attended with ardour when it was spoken, and with transport when it was heard ? Wretches that we are! We speak and listen here, in the presence of God, on the subject of all his mercies, with such a temper and indolence, as we never shew, even in regard to the trifling incidents of meat, drink, or dress. The tongues of angels, and songs of seraphims, are unable to express our obligations; and yet an infant, or an idiot, might utter all the sense of them we feel in our ungrateful hearts.
Since then, either through my weakness, or your insensibility, I do but speak to the air, I will here put an end to
the vain attempt, and leave it to the great Benefactor to do justice to his own infinite favours, by preaching to you on the inexhaustible subject, through his works, his word, and his grace. Let every fresh instance of his goodness, and your ingratitude, put you feelingly in mind of all that is past, that, comparing the one with the other, you may learn to love him, and detest yourselves.
And let us, in the mean time, earnestly beseech the ever merciful and gracious Being to crown all his other blessings with this, a grateful heart, and an eternal love of him, to whom we owe ourselves, and all we enjoy, or hope for, through Christ Jesus our Redeemer. Now, to God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Ghost, be all might, majesty, dignity, and dominion, now and for evermore. Amen.
ON THE FEAR OF GOD.
Prov. xiv. 26.
In the fear of the Lord is strong confidence. BEFORE we can have a right notion of the fear of the Lord' here spoken of, we must know what fear itself is. Now this is a matter of more difficulty than is commonly imagined. It may seem a little surprising, that we should still be at a loss to understand the passions and affections of our own minds, which we feel every moment, through which we receive the greater part of our happiness and misery, which are the immediate motives and springs of all our actions. But man is in all other respects, as well as this, a mystery to himself. It proceeds from our not rightly understanding the passion of fear, that we are so much at a loss to settle the true distinction between courage and cowardice. He is commonly esteemed brave, who is void of fear; and he a coward, who is afraid of danger. Were this a true account of the matter, every man would be both a hero and a coward; a hero, because there is no man who is not fearless in
respect of some things; and a coward, because there is no man that is not frighted at some things.
Fear was made an ingredient in our nature for wise purposes; and therefore we must conclude it hath its proper object and end, in respect of which it is certainly wisdom, not cowardice, to be afraid. Cowardice then consists in nothing else than placing our fears on a wrong object, and fearing that which is neither dangerous nor dreadful, but in our own imaginations.
When the author of the apocryphal book of Wisdom says, 'Fear is a betraying of the succours which reason offereth,' he defines not the passion itself, but speaks of its excess, which we call a panic; for his account of it is as true of all the other passions, when wrong applied, or transported beyond the check of reason. There is not one of them that does not, in that case, for the time, put it out of a man's power to think deliberately, and judge soundly.
We shall, I believe, define fear more justly, if we call it that passion of the mind, whereby an uncertain evil, or somewhat that may hurt us, is apprehended. We are not afraid of evils or beings we have no notion of. Neither do we fear that evil, which we are sure will happen to us, no more than we do that which we actually suffer. The sense we have of such, is grief or sorrow. It is true, however, that this sensation is usually attended with fear; but then that fear never arises in our minds, excepting when we are uncertain as to the greatness of the evil, not yet thoroughly tried, or of our own strength and patience in bearing it. Fear is never found without some uncertainty ; and therefore is always accompanied with hope, and always rated by the seeming probability, as well as greatness, of the evil.
If fear then is the child of ignorance, ought it not to be despised for the meanness of its birth? By no means, provided it helps us to avoid the mischiefs arising from the blindness of its parent; which indeed it does ; and in so doing is our only substitute for wisdom. It teaches us to grope the way we do not see; or to sit still, till some prospect of safety in stirring is afforded. In this respect it is extremely useful to beings so short-sighted as we are, by furnishing caution, where prudence and deliberation, where experience, is wanting. It is plain, that he who, thus cir