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THE LOVE OF GOD.
1. JOHN. IV. 19.
We love him, because he first loved us.
RELIGION may, and it can hardly I think
may, be questioned but that it sometimes does, spring from terror, from grief, from pain, from punishment, from the approach of death ; and
provided it be sincere, that is, such as either actually produces, or as would produce a change of life, it is genuine religion, notwithstanding the bitterness, the violence, or if it must be so called, the baseness and unworthiness of the motive from which it proceeds. We are not to narrow the promises of God: and accept
ance is promised to sincere penitence, without specifying the cause from which it originates, or confining it to one origin more than another. There are however higher and worthier and better motives, from which religion may begin in the heart; and on this account especially are they to be deemed better motives, that the religion, which issues from them, has a greater probability of being sincere. I repeat again, that sincere religion from any motive will be effectual; but there is a great deal of difference in the probability of its being sincere, according to the different cause in the mind from which it sets out.
The purest motive of human action is the love of God. There may be motives stronger and more general, but none so pure. The religion, the virtue, which owes its birth in the soul to this motive, is always genuine religion ; always true virtue. Indeed, speaking of religion, I should call the love of God not so much the groundwork of religion, as religion itself. So far as religion is disposition, it is religion
itself. But though of religion it be more than the groundwork; yet being a disposition of mind, like other dispositions, it is the ground work of action. Well might our blessed Saviour preach up, as he did, the love of God. It is the source of every thing which is good in man. I do not mean that it is the only source, or that goodness can proceed from no other, but that of all principles of conduct it is the safest, the best, the truest, the highest. Perhaps it is peculiar to the Jewish and Christian dispensations, (and, if it be, it is a peculiar excellency in them) to have formally and solemnly laid down this principle, as a ground of human action.
1 shall not deny, that elevated notions were entertained of the Deity by some wise and excellent heathens : but even these did not, that I can find, so inculcate the love of that Deity, or so propose and state it to their followers, as to make it a governing, actuating principle of life amongst them. This did Moses, or rather God by the mouth of Moses, expressly, formally, solemnly. This did Christ, adopting, repeating, ratifying what the law had already declar
ed; and not only ratifying, but singling it out from the body of precepts, which composed the old institution, and giving it a pre-eminence to every other.
Now this love, so important to our religious character, and, by its effect upon that, to our salvation, which is the end of religion; this love, I say, is to be engendered in the soul, not so much by hearing the words of others, or by instruction from others, as by a secret and habitual contemplation of God Almighty's bounty, and by a constant referring of our enjoyments 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