Page images

will also excite true gratitude, and that every thing contrary to this truth is opposed to the pious love of gratitude.

When the benevolent mind sees Infinite Benevolence designing and effecting the greatest possible good to being in general, and promoting the greatest happiness of the whole, who " is good unto all, and bis tender mercies are over all his works,” and beholds him decreeing, and doing, and causing to be done, every thing that is necessary to answer and effectu. ally secure this end, this eternal purpose, he finds unbounded scope for the highest and most sweet gratitude to this infinitely good Being, who is glorifying himself to the highest degree, and producing the greatest possible happiness in the created universe forever. He gives thanks to God for his infinite goodness manifested in his works, and in his revealed design and fixed plan, including his own glory and the highest good of the created universe. His mind is enraptured in gratitude to God for his regard and benevolence to the sum of all being, Himself, the First and the Last, the Almighty, in that he has made all things for himself, for his own glory, and is unalterably determined, and infinitely engaged, to glorify himself by all his works, and by all creatures, and, in conjunction with this, to effect the greatest possible happiness of the creation. This manifestation of the divine holiness and infinite benevolence is the greatest, the supreme object of the gratitude and thankfulness of the pious, benevolent heart.

And when the pious, good man attends to the infinitely guilty and wretched state into which mankind have fallen, and how exceedingly odious and vile they are, being total and obstinate enemies to God, his law, and government, and violently opposed to all hiis benevolent designs, and beholds God so loving the world as to give his only-begotten Son to save them, that whoever believes on him should not perish, but have everlasting life, and that a most glorious, happy, and eternal kingdom shall be raised out of the ruins of an apostate world, to the glory of divine grace; and that the greatest good shall be brought out of all the evil that has been or will exist to all eternity, so that the issue shall be infinitely better than if there were no evil; and that this is all included in the eternal plan which was fixed by Infinite Wisdom and Goodness, when all this comes into view, it will excite the most sincere and strong exercises of grateful love, which will continue and increase forever.

And when the pious man attends to the goodness of God to him in particular, and is sensible that it is the effect of God's eternal counsel and his benevolent design of good to him, and that it flows from him on whom he is absolutely

dependent, who orders all things, so that his hand is to be seen in every event that takes place, - all this is peculiarly adapted to excite his grateful love, while he says, “ Not unto me, but unto thy name, be all the praise and glory.” And what a foundation is here laid for holy, increasing gratitude forever!

Gratitude to God consists in a true sense and pleasing approbation of the goodness of God to universal being and to ourselves, and in making all the acknowledgments and returns of which we are capable, in loving and giving ourselves away to him, to be used for his service, glory, and praise forever.

The man who has no disinterested benevolence, but is wholly selfish, is not capable of the least degree of this true gratitude. He can love those who love him, but this is nothing but self-love, at bottom; for, by the supposition, he seeks himself, and is devoted to none but himself, in all his exercises, and is not pleased with benevolence for its own sake, or any further than he may reap some personal benefit by it, to gratify his self-love. He is displeased with that goodness which passes by him and does good to others, or seeks and promotes the general good.


I know that, whatsoever God doth, it shall be forever; nothing can be put to it, nor any thing taken from it; and God doth, it that men should fear before him.-Ec. iii. 14.

These words have been explained in the foregoing discourse, and the truths contained in them have been found to be the following: that God hath, in his wisdom and goodness, by his unchangeable decree, foreordained whatsoever comes to pass; that this truth, considered in its extent and consequences, is the only proper and sufficient foundation of the true piety of men.

The last-mentioned truth is now under consideration, and has been in part illustrated and proved, by instancing in true love to God. We now proceed to consider other branches of piety which are included in love and grow out of this root or stock, and may be considered as different modifications of this same love, and to show that God, viewed as described in the text, is the only proper object of them.

2. The fear of God is an exercise of piety. This is put in our text, and in many other places in holy writ, for the whole of true piety, as has been observed. The reason of this doubtless is, because it is in a peculiar manner suited to express the pious exercises of a fallen creature, infinitely vile and guilty, and justly exposed to eternal destruction, into which he will infallibly fall

, unless he be rescued by sovereign grace, who, with humility and self-diffidence, knowing that he is wholly lost in himself, trusts wholly in Christ, the only Savior of sinners, whom he has offended, and is constantly offending, yet trusts in him alone, even in his infinite power and sovereign goodness, for pardon, righteousness, holiness, strength, and redemption. And thus it is peculiarly adapted to express the mode or manner of the pious, religious exercises of sinners who believe in Christ and are friends to God and the Redeemer, or the holiness of repenting, believing sinners, that is, real Christians.

It is plain, at the first view, that the God who is represented in our text, in his absolute independence, decrees and works, as it has been explained, is suited to lead men to fear before him, according to this general, comprehensive sense of fear, including the whole of piety; and that all those doctrines which are opposed to this have a contrary tendency, and are not consistent with the fear of God, in this sense of it. But it may, perhaps, give some further light on this subject, by more particularly considering the fear of God in a more restrained sense, and as a branch of true love or piety.

It is of importance to observe here, that fear is used in different and opposite senses in the Bible, because there are two sorts of fear: one, that which implies holy love, and is essential to true piety; the other is opposed to love, and is, therefore, the fear of those who are not friends to God, but enemies. This latter is intended by fear in the following passages : “ There is no fear in love, but perfect love casteth out fear, because fear hath torment: he that feareth is not made perfect in love.” (1 John iv. 18.) "For God hath not given us the spirit of fear, but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind." (2 Tim. i. 7.). “ For ye have not received the spirit of bondage again to fear; but ye have received the spirit of adoption, whereby we cry, Abba, Father.” (Rom. viii. 15.)

These different kinds of fear may be in some measure illustrated by the following instance : An excellent father has a son and a servant, both of whom have been guilty of injuring him, and have fallen under his just displeasure. The son heartily repents, and loves his father, and is restored to his favor. But he keeps constantly in view the evil which he justly deserves, and which his father is able to inflict; he feels that he depends entirely upon his father's goodness for an escape from that evil, and that he stands in need of his constant aid and assistance to preserve him from offending again and from that evil which he dreads so much. Both his father's displeasure and the evil consequence are dreadful to him. knows his father is able to punish in the most dreadful manner; he sees some of the family suffering the punishment every day, and others going in the way which will bring it upon them, unless they repent and reform in season, and has feelings answerable to what he sees. He knows he deserves to be thus punished as much as the worst of them, and depends entirely upon his father's goodness to prevent it. He loves his father with all his heart, he approves of his conduct, and knows he does every thing right. He loves to have him supreme and independent in the family, and to have him order every thing, and to see his will done in all cases; he loves to be absolutely dependent upon him, and to have all the family so; and, in the exercise of this love, and in the views now mentioned, he humbles himself before his father, and fears and trembles before him.

The servant who has offended his master fears the rod; he dreads the punishment which is threatened, and knows he can inflict it; but he has no love to the father, his master; he wishes to be out of the family, and not dependent on him in any degree. He tries to pacify, and please his master in his outward conduct, from the love of himself, because he fears the rod, and wishes to escape punishment. Thus he lives in continual slavish fear of his master, which disinterested love to him would cast out.

Every one must see the difference between the filial fear of the son, who loves his father, and the servile fear of the servant, who loves himself only, and the opposition of one to the other. And surely the difference and opposition between the godly fear of those who love God with disinterested be. nevolence, and the servile fear of those who do not love him, but are enemies to him, is much greater, and far more evident and striking.

Here it may be observed, that this servile fear, by which men are restrained from a careless, bold practice of open sin, and their attention to a future state, and pressing concern to escape hell and obtain salvation, is excited and kept up, this servile fear is necessarily awakened, and fills the soul with painful concern, when sinners are convinced of the truth of the doctrine in our text, and are made in some measure to feel it to be true. So long as God, in his greatness, omnipresence, and terrible majesty, is not in their view, and they do not feel or see their absolute dependence upon him for all good, and even to escape hell and obtain heaven, but feel as if they had their life in their own hands, in this respect they will not be afraid of God, but live in ease and security. But when they come to feel that they are in the hands of God, and that he will destroy or save them, as he pleases, they being absolutely dependent on him, they will begin to fear and stand in awe of him. And the more fully convinced they are of the truth contained in our text, the greater will be their fear and terror respecting their state and situation. This every one can witness who has been an observer of others in these matters, or has attended to his own feelings. And it may be asked, Where has any person been found, who has disbelieved the doctrine of God's decrees, of his foreordaining whatsoever comes to pass, who has been under any soul. distressing fear of God, or of eternal destruction ?

But pious, godly fear implies love to God, in a view of his infinite greatness and importance, and a sense of his infinitely beautiful and glorious character, unchangeably wise, good, upright, just, true, and faithful, having decreed whatsoever comes to pass, and executing his decrees in creating, preserve ing, and governing all his creatures and all their actions, for his own glory, and the greatest good of the universe; or, which is the same, the greatest happiness and glory of bis

« PreviousContinue »