« PoprzedniaDalej »
with some sinners against knowlege. By two ways men may discover whether they have a sense of the fear of God; one by acting agreeably to it, the other by conscience. Self-condemnation, for acting contrary to the fear of God, is an evident token of it. But if neither of these signs be discoverable, there is a farther account to be given; for it is not merely the speculative notions of God which produce this sense, but a persuasion that there is a real Being, to whom these ideas actually belong ; else the notion is idle and fruitless : this point enlarged on. And though there be not many atheists in the world, yet in many hearts there is a secret lurking infidelity, or rather the want of a due assurance in the reality of things invisible, which makes religion lifeless and inactive. In this case a just con: ception of God is wanting, and therefore a due sense of his fear. Having thus considered the true meaning of the fear of God, we are now to consider, II. what is affirmed of it, as the right rule to form our judgments by in matters of religion. It is the beginning of wisdom; taking wisdom here to mean true religion, as it often does in Scripture. By this expression we are not to understand merely that the notion of God is, in point of time, or order of nature, prior to religion ; which, though true, is not the whole of what is taught concerning the fear of God. All religion relates to God; therefore without the notion of a Deity there can be no religion : but there is religion which is folly and superstition; if therefore the fear of God only shows the necessity of religion, and then leaves us to chance in the variety of its forms, we may learn folly as well as wisdom through it. But the fear of God also teaches us wherein true religion, which is indeed wisdom, consists; and enables us to judge if our offering be fit for God. In natural religion this is clearly the case; because in that state there is no pretence to any other rule that can come into competition with this : it is from the notion of a God that men come to have any sense of religion, and it is by the same principle only that
they determine this to be a proper part of religion, that to be otherwise. When we consider God as governor of the world, we soon see that subjection to him becomes our interest and duty: but what is this obedience, and in what acts does it consist? For this we must recur to our natural notion of God : this point enlarged on. The attributes of God considered, and the consequent duties which they oblige us to perform : though some may be moral duties, as mutual love and benevolence, arising from the relation of man to man on mere principles of reason, yet this becomes part of religion from the above-mentioned consideration of God's nature. Take from the notion of God any of his moral perfections, and religion will degenerate in proportion. Hence to the superstitious man religion becomes a torment, and he thinks that the worse he uses himself, the more he shall please God. There are other kinds of superstition, which, though they have less of torment and anguish, have not more of reason or religion ; such are they which have turned religion into a trade, and found something to offer unto God in exchange for virtue and holiness : here the spring is corrupt, and the notion of God lost or not attended to: this point enlarged on. It is plain then, both from reason and fact, that a just conception and sense of God is the beginning of wisdom, the fountain of true religion. God is a Spirit, says our Lord, and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth. Here we are referred to the same principle, and by the best authority. This, it may perhaps be said, may be true on the foot of natural religion, where natural notions alone direct us: but what is it to us, who are instructed by the surer word of prophecy? To this it may be answered, revelation is founded on natural religion, and therefore cannot supersede it without destroying itself. The knowlege of God is in the nature of things antecedent to revelation ; for why should we attend to the voice of God, till we know who he is? Hence nothinor contrary to this notion of God can be admitted for revelation any more than for natural religion. There is indeed a difference, from inattention to which some have fancied natural religion opposed to revelation, though it is not so: the difference is this : in natural religion nothing can be admitted which is not deducible from our natural notions; for
every thing must be admitted for some reason ; and in natural religion no reason can take place, except this agreeableness of the thing to our natural sense : but revelation introduces a new reason, the will of God, which must have the authority of a law with us: this point enlarged on. Hence it is not necessary that all parts of a revelation should be such as may be proved by natural reason, provided they do not contradict it; as the will of God is sufficient reason for our submission. But the essentials of religion, even under revelation, must be judged by the same principle. No revelation can dispense with virtue and holiness ; for it may as reasonably dispense with our belief in the being of a God, as that he can or would vacate the obligations to virtue and holiness; hence all such doctrines, rites, and ceremonies, as tend to subvert true goodness and holiness, are clearly not of God's teaching or introducing. The surest way to keep ourselves steadfast in the purity of the gospel, is to fix our eye constantly on this rule : enthusiasm or destructive zeal could not have grown out of the gospel, had men done so; nor could religion have degenerated into folly and superstition : these points enlarged on. Some persons, finding so much folly, superstition, and uncertainty in religion, have rejected it altogether; which could not have happened, had they attended to the true notion of God, and not to the extravagancies of men, which affect not our duty. Are we absolved from our religion because others have corrupted theirs? If the people are deceived, and the priests ignorant or superstitious, that does not destroy the relation between us and God, or make it reasonable for us to throw off our obedience. The fear of God teaches us a very different sort of wisdom.
PROVERBS, CHAP. IX.- VERSE 10.
The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom; and the knowlege
of the Holy is understanding.
The advantages which we may expect to reap from religion are many
and great, but not all equally certain : some are exposed to the chances and casualties of human life, and depend on circumstances that are not under our own conduct and government: hence it is that the best men are sometimes exposed to the severest trials and sharpest afflictions. But there are two things which sincere religion can never fail of attaining; one of which is the greatest ingredient, nay, the very foundation of all happiness in this world; the other is, the happiness and immortality which wait for us in the world to come: this blessing we can only enjoy now through faith and hope; but the other is present with us, the certain consequence and necessary attendant on a mind truly virtuous and religious; I mean the peace and tranquillity, the ease, and satisfaction of mind, which flow not so much from a sense of our having punctually and exactly discharged our duty in all respects, which is more than ever we may hope for, but from a due sense of God and religion, and the uprightness of our desires and intentions to serve him. `, This advantage is not, properly speaking, a reward given or bestowed on the virtuous; but it arises from the nature of things, from the frame and contexture of our souls : it is virtue's own child, her natural offspring, and can never leave or forsake her : for as long as men have a sense of virtue and vice, good and evil, so long will they condemn and punish themselves for transgressing their obligations ; so long will they find peace and satisfaction in their obedience.
Since then nature has given us notice of the being of the Almighty, and shown us the relation we stand in towards him, and consequently the duty and service which we owe him ; it necessarily follows that this sense, rightly adjusted and duly pursued in a regular and honest discharge of our duty towards God, must breed in our minds true peace and comfort; and consequently, that true religion must be the source and spring even of our temporal happiness and enjoyment. But yet look into the world, and the face of things has quite a different appearance : religion is fearful, suspicious, full of doubts and misgivings of heart, never satisfied with itself, always seeking, but seldom finding where to fix itself in rest and tranquillity : hence it comes to pass that some, not rightly considering the nature and causes of things, misconceive concerning religion itself, and think it better to lay aside all pretences to it, than perpetually to fluctuate in the troubled ocean of doubts and uncertainties, that encompasses it round about. And thus superstition, by making many miserable in the pursuit of religion, makes others, to avoid being lost in that gulf, throw themselves into another of atheism and irreligion, which is a much deeper. In these two extremes, of infidelity on one side, and superstition on the other, true religion is lost, and together with it that peace and comfort, and ease of mind, which belong to it: for view God from which of the two extremes you please, his appearance must be dreadful : you may see him in the terrors of majesty and power; but the kinder rays
which flow from his mercy and goodness and benevolence towards mankind, will be intercepted from your eyes.
The atheistical unbeliever, if ever he so far forgets himself as to suppose the being of a God for a time, sees nothing of him but the judge and the avenger, and hastens back to his infidelity to screen him from the wrath and justice, which even in imagination were insupportable. Superstition is so perpetually encompassed with'a thick cloud of its own fears and suspicions, that it cannot discern the beauties and holiness of the Creator : every frightful spectre, that walks in its own imagination, is