Page images
PDF
EPUB

and our hopes to his goodness. This is in a great degree a matter of habit: and, like all good habits, particularly mental habits, is what every person must form in himself and for himself by endeavour and perseverance. In this great article, as well as in others which are less, every man must be the author to himself of his train of thinking, be it good or bad. I shall only observe that, when this habit, or, as some would call it, this turn and course of thought is once happily generated, occasions will continually arise to minister to its exercise and augmentation. A night's rest, or a comfortable meal, will immediately direct our gratitude to God. The use of our limbs, the possession of our senses ; every degree of health, every hour of ease, every sort of satisfaction which we enjoy, will carry our thoughts to the same object. But if our enjoyments raise our affections, still more will our hopes do the same; and most of all, beyond comparison, those hopes which religion inspires. Think of man, and think of heaven ; think what he is, and what it is in his power hereafter to become. Think of this again and again ; and it is impossible but that the prospect of being so rewarded for our poor labours, so resting from our past troubles, so forgiven for our repented sins, must fill our hearts with the deepest thankfulness; and thankfulness is love. Towards the author of an obligation which is infinite, thankfulness is the only species of love that can exist.

But, moreover, the love of God is specifically represented in Scripture as one of the gifts of the Holy Ghost. The love of God shed abroad in the heart is described as one of the works of the Spirit upon the souls of Christians. Now whatever is represented in Scripture to be the gift of the Spirit is to be sought for by earnest and peculiar prayer. That is the prac

VOL. V.

[ocr errors]

D

a

tical use to be made of, and the practical consequence to be drawn from, such representations; the very purpose probably for which they were delivered : the mere point of doctrine being seldom that in which Scripture declarations rest. Let us not fail therefore; let us not cease to entreat the Father of mercies, that the love of him may be shed abroad in our hearts continually. It is one of the things in which we are sure that our prayers are right in their object; in which also we may humbly hope that, unless obstructed by ourselves, they will not be in vain.

Nor let it be said that this aid is superfluous, forasmuch as nature herself had provided sufficient means for exciting this sentiment. This is true with respect to those who are in the full, or in anything near the full, enjoyment of the gifts of nature. With them I do allow that nothing but a criminal stupefaction can hinder the love of God from being felt. But this is not the case with all ; nor with any at all times. Afflictions, sickness, poverty, the maladies and misfortunes of life, will interrupt and damp this sensation, so far as it depends upon our actual experience of God's bounty. I do not say that the evils of life ought to have this effect: taken in connexion with a future state, they certainly ought not; because, when viewed in that relation, afflictions and calamities become trials, warnings, chastisements; and, when sanctified by their fruits, when made the means of weaning us from the world, bringing us nearer to God, and of purging away that dross and defilement which our souls have contracted, are in truth amongst the first of favours and of blessings : nevertheless, as an apostle himself confesses, they are for a season grievous ; they are disheartening; and they are too apt to produce an unfavourable effect upon our gratitude. Wherefore it is upon these occasions, most especially, that the aid of God's Spirit may be required to maintain in our souls the love of God.

Let those, therefore, who are conscious to themselves that they have not the love of God within them as they ought to have it, endeavour to acquire and to increase this holy principle by seriousness of mind, by habitual meditation, by devout reading, devout conversation, devout society. These are all aids and helps towards inducing upon the mind this most desirable, nay, rather let me call it this blessed, frame and temper, and of fixing us in it: and, forasmuch as it is declared in Scripture to be shed abroad in the heart by the Spirit of God, let us labour in our prayers for this best gift.

The next consideration upon the subject is, the fruit and effect of this disposition upon our lives. If it be asked how does the love of God operate in the production of virtuous conduct, I shall answer, that it operates exactly in the same manner as affection towards a parent or gratitude towards a human benefactor operates, by stirring up a strong rebuke in the mind upon the thought of offending him. This lays a constant check upon our conduct. And this sensation is the necessary accompaniment of love; it cannot, I think, be separated from it. But it is not the whole of its influence. Love and gratitude towards a benefactor not only fill us with remorse and with internal shame, whenever, by our wilful misbehaviour, we have given cause to that benefactor to be displeased with us, but also prompts us with a desire upon all occasions of doing what we believe he wills to be done, which, with respect to God, is in other words a desire to serve him. Now this is not only a restraint from vice, but an incitement to action. Instructed, as in Christian countries mankind generally

are, in the main articles of human duty, this motive will seldom mislead them.

In one important respect the love of God excels all moral principles whatever; and that is in its comprehensiveness. It reaches every action; it includes every duty. You cannot mention another moral principle which has this property in the same perfection. For instance, I can hardly name a better moral principle than humanity. It is a principle which everyone commends, and justly: yet in this very article of comprehensiveness it is deficient when compared with the love of God. It will prompt us undoubtedly to do kind, and generous, and compassionate, things towards our friends, our acquaintance, our neighbours, and towards the poor. In our relation to, and in our intercourse with, mankind, especially towards those who are dependant upon us, or over whom we have power, it will keep us from hardness, and rigour, and cruelty. In all this it is excellent. But it will not regulate us, as we require to be regulated, in another great branch of Christian duty, self-government and self-restraint. We may be exceedingly immoral and licentious in sinful indulgences without violating our principles of humanity; at least, without specifically violating it, and without being sensible of violating it. And this is by no means an uncommon case or character, namely, humanity of temper subsisting along with the most criminal licentiousness, and under a total want of personal self-government. The reason is, that the principle of conduct, though excellent as far as it goes, fails in comprehensiveness. Not so with the love of God. He, who is influenced by that, feels his influence in all parts of dutý, upon every occasion of action, throughout the whole course of conduct.

The thing with most of us to be examined into and ascertained is, whether it indeed guide us at all; whether it be within us an efficient motive. I am far from taking upon me to say that it is essential to this principle to exclude all other principles of conduct, especially the dread of God's wrath, and of its tremendous consequences; or that a person, who is deterred from evil actions by the dread of God's wrath, is obliged to conclude that, because he so much dreads God, he cannot love him. I will not venture to say any such thing. The Scripture, it is true, speaking of the love of God, hath said, that “perfect love casteth out fear;" but it hath not said that in the soul of man this love is ever perfect: what the Scripture hath thus declared of perfect love is no more than what is just. The love of God, were it perfect,—that is to say, were it such as his nature, his relation, his bounty to us deserves,—were it adequate either to its object or to our obligation ; were it carried up as high as in a perfectly virtuous and rational soul it might be carried; would, I believe, absorb every other motive and every other principle of action whatever, even the fear of God amongst the rest. This principle, by its nature, might gain a complete possession of the heart and will, so that a person acting under its influence would take nothing else into the account, would reflect upon no other consequence or consideration whatever. Possibly, nay, probably, this is the condition of some higher orders of spirits, and may become ours by future improvement, and in a more exalted state of existence : but it cannot, I am afraid, be said to be our condition now. The love of God subsists in the heart of good men as a powerful principle of action : but it subsists there in conjunction with other principles, especially with the fear of him. All goodness is in a certain degree comparative; and, I think, that he may be called a good man in whom

« PreviousContinue »