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THE LAW OF GOD.
THE FIRST AND GREAT COMMANDMENT.
REVERENCE OF GOD.
AND UNTO MAN HE SAID, THE FEAR OF THE LORD, THAT IS WISDOM, AND TO DEPART FROM EVIL IS UNDERSTANDING.
JOB XXVIII. 28.
In the last Discourse I examined the nature of love to God, as manifested in those three great exercises of it, which are commonly spoken of under this name : viz. benevolence, complacency, and gratitude. I shall now consider another exercise of this affection, of sufficient magnitude to claim a particular discussion in a System of Theology. This is reverence to the same glorious Being.
The context is an eulogium on wisdom, uttered in the noblest spirit of poetry. After describing, in a variety of particulars, the surprising effects of human ingenuity, and declaring that, extraordinary as these may seem, the ingenuity which has produced them is utterly insufficient to discover the nature of this glorious attainment, Job asserts its value to be greater than any, and than all the most precious things which this world contains. In this state of human insufficiency, he informs us, God was pleased to interfere, and by a direct revelation to declare to man, that the fear of the Lord is wisdom, and to depart from evil is understanding.' VOL. III.
By wisdom, throughout the Scriptures, in the common language of such men as understand the meaning of their own language, is universally intended that conduct, in which the best means are selected to accomplish the best ends ; or the spirit which chooses these ends, and selects these means for their accomplishment. In the former case, the name refers to the conduct only; in the latter, to the character. The best of all ends which it is possible for intelligent creatures to pursue, is the combined and perfectly coincident one of glorifying God, and promoting the good of the universe. The spirit with which this is done in the only effectual manner is that which is here styled the fear of the Lord. The means by which it is done, are partly the spirit itself, in its various exercises and operations; and partly extraneous means, devised and employed by the same spirit.
A subordinate, but still very important, end, which is or ought to be proposed to himself by every intelligent creature, and for which the most efficacious means ought to be employed by him, is his own eternal happiness. The fear of the Lord is (equally) wisdom,' in this view; as being the only disposition which can either be happy in itself, or receive its proper reward from God.
Every person who has read the Scriptures of the Old Testament must have observed that this phrase, the fear of the Lord,' and others substantially involving the same words, as well as the same meaning, are oftener used to denote the moral character which is acceptable to God, than any, perhaps than all, other phrases whatever. It must also have struck every such reader, that this phrase is often used to denote all moral excellence; particularly, that supreme branch of this excellence, which is denominated piety. This is plainly the drift of the text, and of many other corresponding passages of Scripture. Thus it is said, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning' or the chief part,ʻof wisdom,' Psalm cxi. 10. fear of the Lord is a fountain of life,' Prov. xiv. 27. The fear of the Lord is his treasure,' Isa. xxxii. 6. In these and a multitude of other declarations, of a similar import, it is plainly indicated, that the fear of the Lord' is the sum and substance of that morally excellent character, which is the object of the divine complacency.
It must, at the same time, be equally obvious to every
attentive reader of the Bible, that love to God has there exactly the same character ; being, in the language of St. Paul, * the fulfilling of the law;' and in that of St. John, the same thing as being born of God,' and knowing God;' in the sense, in which such knowledge is declared by our Saviour to be · life eternal.'
But there are not two distinct moral characters, severally thus excellent; thus the objects of the divine complacency, and the foundations of eternal life. Moral excellence is one thing ; and moral beings bave but one character which recommends them to God. As this is thus differently spoken of under the names of the love of God, and the fear of God, both in the Old and New Testament; it is sufficiently evident to a mind, even slightly attentive, that the fear of God, and the love of God, are but one character, appearing under different modifications. Accordingly, saints, or holy persons, are spoken of sometimes as those who fear God, and sometimes as those who love God : each of these exercises being considered as involving the other ; and both as parts only of one character.
That this view of the subject is perfectly just is easily explained by a consideration of its nature. There are two totally distinct exercises, which in the Scriptures, as well as in common language, are denoted by fearing God, which may be called dread and reverence.
The former of these emotions is that which is experienced by men, conscious of their guilt, feeling that they have merited the anger of God, and realizing the danger of suffering from his hand the punishment of their sins. In this it is plain that there can be no moral excellence. All that can be said in favour of it is, that it may serve as a check to sin ; and prove, among other means, useful to bring sinners to repentance. In itself it is mere terror; and, in the language of the Scriptures only makes us 'subject to bondage.' The latter of these emotions is a compound of fear and love, usually styled reverence ; and is often that exercise of the mind, in which its whole attachment is exerted towards God. Fear, in this sense, is a strong apprehension of the greatness, and the purity of God, excited in the mind of a person who loves him supremely. A lively example of a similar emotion is presented to us by the reverence with which a dutiful child regards a highly respected earthly parent. Accordingly, the fear of God, in this sense, is commonly styled filial; in the former sense, it is often termed servile, or slavish; as being of the same nature with the dread which a mercenary servant stands in of an imperious master.
It is perfectly evident, that the distinction between these two emotions is founded entirely on the character of those by whom they are severally exercised. Reverence to God is experienced only by those who love him ; and is plainly the fear exercised by an affectionate mind only. Were love the only character of the mind, dread could not possibly find a place in it.
• There is no fear in love,' says St. John, but perfect love casteth out fear. He that feareth is not made perfect in love.' As Christians in this world are not made perfect in love, the fear spoken of in this passage, viz. that which I have called dread, is, in greater or less degrees, experienced by them. Wicked men are incapable of reverencing God, and only feel a dread of his anger and of punishment.
The reverence, which is the immediate subject of consideration, ordinarily exists in the mind of a good man whenever his contemplations are turned towards the Creator, or towards those objects which are peculiarly his, and in · which he is peculiarly seen. It is a steady, solemn, and delightful owe, excited in the mind by every view which it takes of the perfections and operations of this great and glorious Being. In our contemplations on his character, he himself becomes immediately the object of our thoughts. In all other cases we see him through the medium of his works, his word, or his ordinances. In all these, and in these alone, are we able to discern his real character. In all these we behold him awfully great, and wise, and good. In his works, we are witnesses of that boundless benevolence which chose, that boundless knowledge which contrived, and that boundless power which produced their existence; all of them seen daily, in every place, and in every object. It is impossible for the mind which is not totally destitute of piety, to behold the sublime, the awful, the amazing, works of creation and providence; the heavens with their luminaries, the mountains, the ocean, the storm, the earthquake, and the volcano; the circuit of the seasons, and the revolutions of empires; without marking in them all the mighty hand of God, and feeling strong emotions of reverence towards the Autbor of these stupendous works. At some of
them all men tremble : at others all men are astonished. But the sanctified mind, while it is affected in the same manner, blends its fear with love, and mingles delight even with its apprehensions; is serene amid the convulsions which only terrify others; and encouraged, while all around are overwhelmed with dismay
In the word of God, these attributes are, in some respects, exhibited in a still more affecting manner. Here, the designs of this awful Being are unfolded, and his works presented to us, as a vast system of means, operating in a perfect manner to the production of the most divine and glorious ends. Here, the pure and perfect rectitude of the Creator, his unlimited wisdom, and overflowing goodness, are still more divinely manifested in the law by which he governs the universe, and in the scheme of restoring mankind to holiness by the redemption of his Son, disclosed to us in the Gospel. The boundless nature of these things invests them with a magnificence and sublimity, wonderfully increasing the reverence excited by the things themselves; but nothing seems to me more fitted to awaken this emotion than a sense of that spotless purity, in the view of which the heavens are unclean, and the angels chargeable with folly. In this solemn contemplation of this awfully amiable attribute, it seems difficult to forbear exclaiming, What is man, who drinketh iniquity like water !' The same emotion mingled with stronger feelings of alarm, is produced also by a contemplation of those amazing events, which are proclaimed by the voice of prophecy concerning the future destination of man ; the conflagration, the judgment, and the retributions of the righteous and the wicked.
In the ordinances of religion the very same things are presented to the view of the mind, which so deeply affect it in the works, and especially in the word, of God, and are presented to us in a manner peculiarly interesting. Here, we in a peculiar manner draw nigh to God, and apply to ourselves with unrivalled force the great, the awful, and the glorious things which excite our reverence. They are, of course, all seen in the clearest light, and felt with the deepest impression. Our reverence, therefore, is apt be here felt in a peculiar degree; not a little enhanced by the sympathy exercised by multitudes feeling the same impression.