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therefore some of the schools have used a middle term to express this affection, and have called it an initial fear of God; a disposition so far from being offensive to him, that it seems to be properly that broken and contrite heart, with which a soul under the conviction of sin ought to look upon its judge; and what the scripture emphatically calls the beginning of wisdom;' a temper which, in the same proportion as we apprehend the justice of God to be pacified by our repentance, will gradually improve into that filial reverence accompanied with love, which is the proper affection of a confirmed piety.
These distinctions of the fear of God give us a clear and easy reconciliation of those seeming inconsistencies of scripture, with respect to this affection: for when St. John tells us, that 'perfect love casteth out fear;' and again, that he that feareth is not made perfect in love; these assertions can no otherwise consist with those scriptures which enjoin the fear of God, and recommend it as the whole of our duty, than by understanding the former either of that servile dread which reprobates and devils have of God, or rather of that initial fear which attends the imperfect conversion of a sinner; the latter, of that filial reverence, which is the strength and ornament of the soul in a composed state of religion.
The nature of the duty thus explained, let us, II. Consider the influence this affection will have on the conduct of our lives. In general, the effect of this fear will be a sincere universal obedience to the commands of God.
The only motives that can be imagined of our obedience to the laws of any person, are either the value and certainty of the rewards he proposes, together with an assurance of his inclination and ability to confer them: or an apprehension of his justice and severity in punishing our disobedience. Now neither of these, exclusive of the other, is the true principle of our obedience to God: for if our observance of the divine laws proceeded merely from an opinion of his inclination to our happiness, whenever his providence or justice should think fit to visit us with any great affliction, he would no longer appear that kind benevolent being we before worshipped; and consequently the motive that engaged our submission would lose its force on us. It was with this imperfect principle of duty that Satan reproached the integrity of Job. Doth Job (said he) serve God for naught? Hast thou not made a hedge about him,
and about all that he hath? Thou hast blessed the work of his hands, and his substance is increased in the land. But put forth thine hand now, and touch all that he hath, and he will curse thee to thy face.' [Job i. 9, 10, 11.]
Indeed, if the divine laws were proposed to our observance, with no other motive than the advantages attending it, they would be little more than an advice, and have but a very weak influence on the far greater part of mankind, who are more inclined to pursue their happiness in the satisfactions that lie before them in this life, than to wait on the promises of a distant reversion. It is therefore necessary to engage also the fears of men by the annexion of such penalties as, by the weight and certainty of them, will overbalance the persuasions of temporal pleasure.
On the other side, if our obedience were the effect only of a dread of the power and vengeance of God, it would be no better than the submission of a slave to the tyranny of an insolent master, and must want that choice and inclination, which alone can make our obedience acceptable to God. As he requires a submission to the authority of his commands, so he expects that submission should be accompanied with an entire trust in his goodness, and affection to his service: by the former, we adore him as the Lord and Governor of the world; by the latter, as our Father which is in heaven. The proper motive, therefore, of our Christian obedience, is that fear which is made perfect by love; that filial reverence I have described and recommended, which has in it a just mixture of both these affections, and acts upon our lives with the force of both. This is a principle, adapted to every passion and faculty of our nature, to every state and condition of our life; and, when rightly formed, will direct us to the just performance of our duty in all; will equally prepare our patience for the day of adversity, and engage our gratitude to the mercies of God; will suggest tears to our repentance, and hallelujahs to our praise; will make us receive his favours as the blessings, his punishments as the corrections, of a father. The awe of his majesty will keep us from presumption, and the promises of his mercy from despair; for as is his majesty, so is his mercy. Both these attributes will be equally in our view, and concur to form the disposition of the soul. If this principle were thoroughly fixed in the minds of men, we should be ashamed of hypocrisy, and tremble at
profaneness; neither hope our treachery could escape the notice, nor our blasphemies the vengeance, of God. Our secret actions would be as regular as our public; our devotions as great in the closet, as they appear in the temple. We should perform every instance of our duty, not with eye-service as menpleasers, but with the same sincerity with which we comply with the desires of our friend or our father: the least of his commands would appear venerable to us, and the most difficult not grievous. In sum, this affection will give warmth to our zeal, and spirit to our devotions; will animate our faith, enliven our hope, and extend our charity; will deter us from sin, and encourage us in duty.
Since, therefore, this is the true principle of Christian obedience, the only foundation on which the whole superstructure of religion can rise with a proper strength and beauty, let us labour to form in our minds such just apprehensions of the Deity, as may possess our souls with this reverence towards him. Such as are our conceptions of God, such will be our affection towards him; and such as is the affection of the heart, such will be the service and obedience we shall pay him. Let us, therefore, take care neither to affront his majesty by want of reverence, nor dishonour his goodness by a servile dread of his power. Both are defects equally destructive of true religion; the one tending to extinguish it, by inclining the mind to a contempt of God; the other, to corrupt it by superstition. As, therefore, the reflection on his goodness should reconcile us with delight to the duties he enjoins; so must we remember that we are to serve him with fear; and, even in those acts of our worship which principally engage the mind in contemplating the wonders of his love, not forget the honour due to his majesty, but even rejoice unto him with reverence; and while we approach him with the confidence of sons, humble ourselves before him with the resignation of creatures and the contrition of sinners. And,
Lastly, let it not discourage any of us, that our conversion from a state of sin to God, is attended with terrible apprehensions of his severity and power, since (as I observed) this is not that slavish dread which destroys religion, but the beginning of wisdom; an impression of divine grace on the soul, which, if duly cultivated, will end in confidence in the mercy, and pleasure in the service, of God. The divine nature will gra
dually appear more amiable to us, and even our present fears will improve our affection: the mercy of his pardon will endear him to our gratitude; and as we have much forgiven, we shall love much.
In the present state of our infirmity, the soul, I am afraid, can rarely arrive to that just temperament of affection with which man, in his innocence, adored his Maker. Our imperfect conceptions of the Deity, and the frequent failings and offences to which the best of us are conscious, will debase the honour we pay him, with some alloys of a servile mixture. The proper and adequate reverence due from the soul to God, is perhaps reserved for the perfection of that state, when we shall see him as he is, in the full beauty of his goodness, no longer armed with the terrors of our Judge, no longer offended with our transgressions, but appeased, reconciled, and united to us through Christ.
Let it be our care, in the mean time, so to fear him here, that we may behold him without dread and astonishment hereafter; that when we shall be called to the awful tribunal of our Judge; when the sinner shall desire the mountains to fall on him, and the hills to cover him from the terrors of his presence, we may be able to approach the throne of his majesty with the confidence of sons, and be received among the redeemed of the Lord into that eternal state of happiness, where all our fears and labours shall cease, where everlasting love shall be our employment, and everlasting peace our reward.
[DR. JOHN ROGERS.]
SIXTH SUNDAY AFTER EPIPHANY.
HOPE OF RESEMBLING CHRIST.
1 JOHN iii. 3.-Every man that hath this hope, purifieth himself, even as he is pure.
[Text taken from the Epistle for the Day.]
THE Apostle, in this chapter, endeavours to comfort the Saints, from a consideration of the transcendent greatness of God's love, which appeared in those excellent privileges that accrued
to them from it.
The first of which the Saints enjoy even in this life, namely, to be the sons of God,' the adopted children of the Almighty, to be admitted into the nearest and dearest relation to the great Creator and Lord of heaven and earth. 'Behold, what manner of love the Father hath bestowed upon us, that we should be called the sons of God!' The second great privilege is to be enjoyed by the Saints in the life to come; and that is no less than a likeness to Christ himself' in glory; a participation of those grand, sublime prerogatives that Christ is endowed withal. We know that when he shall appear, we shall be like him in glory,' v. 2.. Now, because this great enjoyment was as yet future, and so visible but at a distance, and consequently not so efficacious an argument of comfort-he tells them, that the Saints could view it as present in the glass of their hopes, by which they could draw from it a real comfort with an actual fruition.
It is, indeed, the nature of earthly comforts to afford more delight in their hopes than in their enjoyment. But it is much otherwise in heavenly things, which are of that solid and substantial perfection, as always to satisfy, yet never to satiate: and therefore the delight that springs from the fruition of those, is still fresh and verdant. Nay, we may add this yet further, that the very expectation of heavenly things, if rational and well-grounded, affords more comfort than the possession and enjoyment of the greatest earthly contents what
The Apostle having thus told them of their hope, and what a real hold it took of the things hoped for; that he might prevent mistake, and dash presumption, tells them also, that an assured hope of future glory did not at all lead men to present security, but was so far from ministering to sloth, that it did rather quicken and excite them to duty; so that he that has this hope in him, purifieth himself;' he does not lie still, and acquiesce in this, that he shall be happy and glorious in the world to come; and therefore, in the mean time, forgets to be virtuous in this; but it raises him to a pursuit of a more than ordinary strain of duty and perfection; he purifies himself, even as Christ is pure;' this is his hope, this is his design; he expects to be like Christ in the brightness of his glory; and therefore he exerts his utmost diligence to resemble him in the purity of his life too.