Page images

say, to the

is able to render to himself a better account of the hope that is in him. . This is the advantage we draw from this great article of faith : an article introduced to serve true religion, founded on an evidence of such force, that it can make its way to every understanding, and wants no help from philosophy to support it.

Thus you see how the gospel has supplied the defect of natural religion in this momentous point : how wisely this provision of the gospel was made, let experience bear witness. Wherever the gospel prevails, the hopes of immortality are clear and distinct: the preaching the resurrection of Christ conveys to the lowest member of the church of Christ a clear conception of his own future condition.

The resurrection itself was indeed a great and stupendous work; but the hand that performed it was greater. No one, who believes that God made all men at first, can possibly doubt of his power to raise them again from the grave. Allow, you will


of God all that can be desired; yet still the resurrection remains to be proved as to the fact : and proved it is by the concurrent testimony of eye-witnesses, who have given not only their words, but their very lives, in confirmation of this truth : and surely they were in very good earnest, when they embraced and taught the doctrine on such hard terms. And methinks no serious man should be


hard of belief in this case. Did the article of the resurrection make any alteration in our notions of God or of religion ; did it bring any new burden on us of any sort, it would be no wonder to see men very careful how they admitted it: but now that it requires nothing at our hands but what reason and nature require, is attended with no burden or expense to us, pretends only to establish and confirm the hopes of nature, what pretence for being so very scrupulous ? Admit the article, your hopes are much improved, your duty nothing increased; reject the article, your duty is the same, and your hopes much less.

How kind a provision has the gospel made for our weakness! how powerfully has it supported the interest of true religion, by furnishing the world with so plain and yet so strong a proof of a future state, and a judgment to be executed in

righteousness, by the man Christ Jesus, whom God raised from the dead, and hath ordained to be the Judge of all the world! Let us hold fast this hope : let this hope be our constant encouragement in doing the work of the Lord ; let us do his work cheerfully and heartily, knowing for certain that our labor shall not be in vain in the Lord.'



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 of human life, and depend on circumstances over which we have no control : hence it is that the best men sometimes have the severest trials and sharpest afflictions. But there are two things which sincere religion is sure to obtain, one of which is the foundation of all happiness here; the other is the happiness and immortality hereafter : this blessing we can only enjoy now through faith and hope; the other is a necessary attendant on a mind truly good and religious, viz. the peace and tranquillity of mind which flow not so much from an exact discharge of our duties, but from a due sense of God and religion, and an upright desire of serving him. Properly speaking, this is not a reward given to the virtuous; but it arises from the very nature of things, from the frame and contexture of our souls; it is virtue's own natural offspring, which can never forsake her. Since nature then has given us notice of the being of the Almighty, and shown us, from our relation to him, the service which we owe him, this sense, properly pursued in an honest discharge of our duty, must breed in our minds true peace and comfort; and therefore true religion must be the source even of our temporal happiness. Yet the face of things in the world has a different appearance : religion is fearful, suspicious, dissatisfied with itself, always seeking, but seldom finding where to rest : hence the misconceptions of men concerning religion itself, who think it better to give it up intirely, than perpetually to fluctuate in doubt: and thus superstition, by making many miserable in the pursuit of religion, makes others, to avoid that gulf, throw themselves into the deeper one of atheism and irreligion : thus true religion is lost, and its companion, peace of mind : for view God from either extreme, and you see him in terrors; you behold not the kinder rays of his mercy : the cases of these two extremes enlarged on. It is therefore worth while to search into the causes of this unhappiness, whence arises the corruption of this living spring. The text, rightly understood, not only affords occasion for this inquiry, but directs us in it; for by showing us the principles of true religion, it helps us to discover the errors which produce irreligion and superstition. Two things proposed : I. to show that the text and other like

passages of holy Scripture will be found on examination to set forth that a just conception of God, his excellencies and perfections, is the true foundation of religion: II, that this just conception of God is the right rule to form our judgments by in all particular matters of religion, and alone can secure us from either atheism or superstition.-I. The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. Some might think it sufficient to observe that fear, whatever limited or enlarged notion of it we may have, is not a voluntary passion, but necessarily relates to and arises from the notion or conception we have of the thing feared ; and that there is the same distinction between the different kinds of fear : these points enlarged on, and the sources of a base and slavish fear, and of a filial fear and veneration shown : hence, we cannot understand the sense of the

proposition, without a notion of the thing feared : thus the fear of a tyrant and thrat of a father are different; but without knowing the difference between a tyrant and a father, we shall not be able to distinguish these passions. The same rule is applicable to the expression in the text. Allowing this fear of the Lord to mean a right and dụe fear, the wise king presupposes a

proper conception of the Lord, whence only that fear can flow, which is the mother of wisdom and understanding; for misconceptions concerning God and his attributes will not produce wisdom, as is manifested in the follies of the heathen world. The proposition therefore amounts to this ; a just notion and conception of God is the beginning of wisdom. This exposition being deduced from the order and nature of things, let us try the other method, which is more familiar, and see if any exposition will not lead to the same thing. Now we are to consider what is meant by the fear of the Lord: the reason of which inquiry arises from our experiencing in ourselves different kinds and degrees of fear, which have different effects and operations. Of what sort then is the fear of the Lord ? That it is not an abject slavish fear all expositors agree in, because God is no tyrant; which every man of sense will admit as a good reason : and this is but adjusting the sense of fear from the true notion and conception of God. Scripture mentions various properties of religious fear : the fear of the Lord is clear, says the Psalmist : other passages cited, all which being tried in the same way, are deducible only from the notion and conception of God, and are unintelligible without it. The fear of God therefore is not to be expounded from the nature of fear, considered as a distinct passion of the mind, but by considering the natural effect that a just notion of God has on a rational mind; for it means that frame and affection of soul which arises from such a notion : it is so called, because as majesty and power are the principle ingredients in the idea of God, so are fear and reverence in the affection that arises from it; pot but that love, honor, and admiration, are included in the notion. And doubtless in this latitude the wise king said, in the fear of the Lord is strong confidence. The only appearance of a difficulty in this way of arguing is this : if the fear of God be such as has been stated, none should be void of it but those who want right notions of God; and yet we know it is not so

« PreviousContinue »