« PreviousContinue »
of his Intelligent creatures. In this case, the rule is as perfect, as in any other: and in this case, as well as every other, it is the highest honour, and the consummate rectitude, of all Intelligent creatures, to resemble their Creator. So far as we resemble him, we are secure of being right, excellent, and lovely.
At the same time, so far as we are like him, we are assured of his approbation and love, and of receiving from his hands all the good, which our real interests require. As he loves himself; he cannot but love his resemblance, wherever it is found.
3dly. In this conduct we unite with all virtuous beings.
This is the very conduct, which especially constitutes them virtuous, and without which their virtue, in every other sense, would cease to exist. For this they love and approve themselves : for this they will approve and love us. By these exercises of piety, then, we become, at once, entirely, and for ever, members of their glorious assembly; secure of their esteem, friendship, and kind offices; and entitled, of course, to a participation of their divine and immortal enjoyment. The best friends, the most delightful companions, the most honourable connexions, which the universe contains, or will ever contain, are in this manner made ours throughout the ages of our endless being.
4thly. We unite with God, and the virtuous universe, in voluntarily promoting that supreme good, which by his own perfections, and their instrumentality, he has begun to accomplish.
This work is literally divine: the supreme, the only, display of divine excellence, which ever has been, or ever will be, made: an immense and eternal kingdom of virtue and happiness : all that wisdom can approve, or virtue desire. To engage in it, is to engage in the best of all employments. To choose it, is to exhibit the best of all characters. It is to choose what God himself chooses; to pursue, what he pursues; to act, as he acts; and to be fellow-workers together with him in the glorious edifice of eternal good. The disposition required in this command, is the same, which in him, and in all his virtuous creatures, originated, advances, and will complete, this divine building in its ever-growing stability, beauty, and splendour.
5thly. We secure, and enjoy, the greatest happiness.
Love to God is a disposition inestimably sweet and delightful : delightful in itself; delightful in its operations ; delightful in its effects. All the exercises of it are in their own nature, and while they are passing, a series of exquisite enjoyments. They operate only to good; and are, therefore, highly pleasurable in all their various tendency. Their effects, both within and without the soul, are either pure, unmingled happiness, directly enjoyed by ourselves ; or a similar happiness, first enjoyed by others, and then returning to ourselves with a doubly endeared and charming reversion.
This disposition leads us unceasingly to contemplate the most exalted, wonderful, and delightful objects; the things, which God has already done, is daily accomplishing, and has disclosed to us in his promises as hereafter to be accomplished. Contemplation on the works of God, when they are regarded as being his works, is capable of furnishing us with dignified and intense enjoyment. To produce this effect, however, it is indispensable, that we should view them under the influence of this disposition. The mind can experience no pleasure in contemplating the actions of a being, whom it does not love. Love to God opens the gates of enjoyment; and of all enjoyment, furnished by the works of creation and providence, so far as it springs from the consideration, that they are his work. Through this enjoyment it conducts the mind to others; and to others still, in a train which knows no end. Wherever we are, or can be, delighted with displays of boundless wisdom and boundless goodness, with the perfect efforts of a perfect character, Love to God is the guide which conducts us to the divine possession.
Beyond this, He, who created us for this glorious purpose, and who delights to see it accomplished, cannot fail to be pleased with us, while engaged in it; and, therefore, will not fail to reward us with his blessing. In this path, then, we ascend to the divine favour; see the good of his chosen ; enjoy the gladness of his nation; and share the glory of his inheritance. Eternal glory, then, is the natural, the necessary, result of Love to God. Indeed, eternal glory is nothing but his eternal and unchangeable love to us, and our eternal and unchanging love to Him ; united with the same love, extended, and reciprocated among all virtuous beings. In the world to come, this divine disposition will become more and more sweet and delightful; and in every mind, be, in the beautiful language of our Saviour, a well of water, springing up unto everlasting life.
6thly. Without love to God, there can be no Virtue, or Moral Excellence.
Love is a single character; uniform in its nature, and in no way separable, even in contemplation, except, merely, as it is exercised towards different objects. These give it all those, which are considered as its different forms. In all these forms it is exercised by the same man, in exactly the same manner. If it be found in one of these forms, in any mind, it is, of course, found in the same mind, in every other form, whenever the object, which gives it that form, is presented to that mind. Thus he, who possesses Benevolence, when happiness is the object present to him, exercises Complacency whenever he contemplates Moral Excellence ; and Gratitude, whenever he turns his thoughts towards a Benefactor. Thus also, he, who loves God, loves his fellow-creatures of course; and, of course, governs himself with evangelical moderation and self-denial. In all these exercises of mind, and all others of a vir
tuous nature, a single, indivisible disposition exists, and operates. This disposition is the Love, required by the divine law; the Love, which St. Paul declares to be the fulfilling of the Law : not Love, of various kinds; not a train of dispositions, diversified in their nature, and springing up, successively, as new objects are presented to the mind: but Love, of exactly the same nature, diversified only by being exercised towards different objects.
This disposition is the only real excellence of mind. There is no ultimate good, but happiness; and no disposition originally good, but that which rejoices in it, and voluntarily promotes it. Benevolence is, therefore, the only original excellence of mind; and is the foundation of all the real excellence of Complacency and Gratitude ; which are only subordinate forms, or exercises, of the same character.
7thly. A higher, nobler, state of being is enjoyed by him, who loves God, than can possibly be enjoyed by any other.
God is the Origin, and Residence, of all that is great, or good, in the universe. All other greatness and goodness are mere emanations from the greatness and goodness of Jehovah. To have no delight in these glorious attributes, boundlessly existing in the Infinite Mind, is to be destitute of the noblest and best of all views and affections ; of affections and views, fitted in their own nature to improve, ennoble, refine, and enrapture, the mind; and to form it into a most honourable resemblance to the Sum of all perfection. Without this disposition, we are sinners; enemies to God; spots in his kingdom; and nuisances to the universe : are debased, guilty, and hateful, here; and shall be endlessly guilty and miserable hereafter.
8thly. In this manner we obey God.
God, whose we are, and whom we are bound to serve, has been pleased to express his pleasure to the Intelligent universe in these iwo commands. He, who published them, is our Maker, our Preserver, and our Benefactor. We are his property ; created by his hand; formed for his use; made for his glory. His right to dispose of us according to his pleasure is, therefore, supreme; and such as cannot be questioned. It is a right, of course, which, although so exercised, as to demand of us very great, and long-continued self-denial, is ever to be submissively, patiently, and cheerfully, acknowledged by us. Whatever God is pleased to require us to do, or to suffer, we are to do with delight, and suffer with ab. solute resignation. I do not mean, that we can be required, either with justice or propriety, to do, or to suffer, any thing which is unjust or wrong. 'To require this of Intelligent creatures, is literally impossible for a Mind infinitely perfect. But I mean, that what
I ever this perfect and great Being actually requires, we are absolutely bound to do, or suffer, in this manner.
At the same time, it is a source of unceasing satisfaction and delight, to discern, from the nature of the subject itself, that all,
which is actually required, is holy, just, and good; supremely honourable to Him, and supremely beneficial to his Intelligent creatures. This, I Aatter myself, has been sufficiently shown in this and the preceding discourses. It is delightful, while we are employed in obeying God, to perceive immediately, that our conduct is in all respects desirable ; the most desirable, the most amiable, the most delightful, of all possible conduct : in a word, the only conduct, which really deserves these epithets.
Obedience to a parent, possessed of peculiar wisdom and goodness, is, to every dutiful child, delightful in itself; not only, when the thing, required by him, is in its own nature pleasing ; but also when it is indifferent, and even when it is difficult and painful.The pleasure, enjoyed, is in a great measure independent of that which is done ; and consists, primarily, in the delightful nature of those affections, which are exercised in obeying, and in the satisfaction of pleasing Him, whom we obey, by the respect and love, manifested in our obedience. The Parent of the universe is possessed of infinite wisdom and goodness. To please him, therefore, is supremely desirable and delightful. But the only conduct, in which we can possibly please him, is our obedience; and our only obedience is to love him with all the heart, and our neighbour as ourselves.
Thus, whether we regard ourselves, and wish to be virtuous, excellent, honourable, and happy; or whether we regard our fellow-creatures, and wish to render them happy; to unite with them in a pure and eternal friendship; to receive unceasingly their esteem and kind offices; and to add our efforts to theirs for the promotion of the universal good; or whether we regard God; and desire to obey, to please, and to glorify Him ; to coincide voluntarily with the designs, formed by his boundless wisdom and goodness; and to advance with our own cordial exertions the divine and immortal ends, which he is accomplishing; we shall make it our chief object to love the Lord, our God, with all the heart, and with all the soul, and with all the strength, and with all the understanding.
THE LAW OF GOD.-THE FIRST AND GREAT COMMANDMENT.
REVERENCE OF GOD.
Job Ixviii, 28. And unto man he said, The fear of the Lord, that is wisdom, and to
depart from evil is underslanding.
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 Under. standing.
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 em. ployed, by the same Spirit.
Á 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 Vol. III.