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which He has shown to mankind in that, while we were yet sinners, He gave His only Son to die for our salvation.
This obedience, indeed, of affection, this free-will offering of ourselves is, so far as we are able to judge, the most material distinction between the best and the worst, the happiest and most miserable among the creatures of God, the angels who have kept their first estate, and those spirits for whom everlasting fire is prepared. Those guilty and most unhappy beings have faith, we know, for they "believe and tremble."* We know likewise that, when in the exercise of their malice towards mankind, they were checked by the commanding voice of the Messiah, they too could pray to Him for a little longer forbearance of punishment; they too made haste to relinquish their victims at a word, and yielded to the injunctions of their conqueror an immediate and terrified obedience.
But they are not prayers like these, they are not services of this description which, in the nature of things, can be well pleasing or acceptable to the Almighty. Which of you would choose such obedience in a servant? In a son, which of you would endure it? The fear of God is indeed, in the words of Solomon, "the beginning of wisdom." Of knowledge and of faith it is the first fruit, and the primary foundation of active and habitual holiness. But if our knowledge and our faith bring forth no further increase; if our holiness advances no higher in its Heavenward progress, so far will be such a faith from availing to our salvation, that better had it been for our souls had we never known nor believed!
Nor is it only as affording a noble and more acceptable principle of action than fear, that the love of God is thus valuable in God's eyes, and thus indispensable to those who call themselves His servants. Those actions which proceed from love, however powerless in themselves (as powerless all our actions must be) to contribute to the happiness, or augment the glories of Him whom the angels serve, and whose praise all creation shouts forth with
St. James ii. 19.
† Prov. i. 7.
her ten thousand voices, have yet in the nature of things, and judging from the analogy of the visible world, a claim on Him to whom they are offered. We feel ourselves that the affection of a servant or a child, endears to us and renders valuable in our eyes, even the poorest and humblest effort by which that affection is expressed or manifested. Nor can we doubt that infinite as is the distance between man and his Maker, yet by Him to whom all His works are known, the love even of His weakest servant must be regarded with a similar complacency, and that the affection which we feel within ourselves towards our unseen and Almighty Benefactor is reflected back from Him towards ourselves with an intenseness so much greater than our own, as God excels us in the clearness of His views and the benevolence of His nature. It is faith which enables us to contemplate God, but it is love which diminishes the distance between God and ourselves; and it is love alone which, under Christ, can bring us to Heaven, or, when we are entered there, can make Heaven a place of happiness.
But enough has been said to show the necessity and value of a genuine love for God; and I would now proceed to point out, to the best of my ability, the most probable and efficacious means of awakening such a love within ourselves; as well as the effects which it may be expected to produce on our thoughts, our tempers, and our daily and hourly actions. And to obtain a knowledge of these, little more, perhaps, is necessary than to examine the causes which produce and increase in us an affection for earthly objects; inasmuch as, notwithstanding the mysterious nature of many of God's dealings with us, and more particularly of that spiritual and sanctifying influence which He exerts over our minds, and without which, it must never be forgotten, no amiable or holy principle can be generated in our breasts; yet in this love, whensoever derived, there is in truth nothing mysterious; and the love which we feel for God can differ from the love which we feel for an earthly parent in nothing but the intensity of its obligation, and the infinite worthiness of its object.
Examine then your hearts, all you that have parents,
and ask them why you love your father and your mother? why you delight to serve and please them? why you obey their wishes from affection, not from fear? why you esteem all which you can do but too little to promote their happiness, and rejoice to incur inconvenience yourselves so it may evince your attachment towards them?
You love them, you will doubtless answer, because they have first loved you; because from them you derive your life and all its chequered series of interest and enjoyment; because they nursed you when you were weak, instructed you when you were ignorant, endured you when you were froward, trained you up, it may be, to distinction and prosperity in the life which now is, and taught you to look forward to everlasting happiness in the life to come. For these and similar reasons you love your father and your mother. You do well! Continue to love them more and more, for they well deserve your best affection! But know, children of God, your Heavenly Father hath done for you greater things than these! But do you not also find that this feeling of filial love is increased and strengthened by a frequent recollection of the benefits which you have received from your parents; and that your hearts have grown warmer towards them the more you lived in their society; the longer and oftener you conversed together; and the more and greater the acts and evidences of mutual kindness which passed between you? Is it not, unhappily, most true, that long absence and habitual disregard will always greatly damp and often entirely extinguish that affection which ought to exist, and under other circumstances, would naturally have existed between the members of the same family? Beware, then, how you neglect that species and degree of intercourse with your Heavenly Father, to maintain which His mercy permits and His word invites, and His grace, if you make use of it, enables you! Beware lest, by thinking of Him but seldom, but seldom addressing Him in prayer, and seldom hearing His voice in His Holy Scriptures and His public ordinances, you estrange yourself, by degrees, entirely from His love, and allow the pursuits and pleasures of the world to establish an empire in your heart left empty of
holier affections! It is by daily prayer and daily thanksgiving, by patient study of God's word, and by patient meditation on our own condition, and on all which God has done and will do for us, that a genuine and rational love for Him is kindled in our hearts; and that we become unfeignedly attached to the Friend of whose kindness we have had so much experience.
It is, indeed, to be expected, and it therefore should by no means be allowed to discourage the inexperienced Christian, that at first, and in the earlier stages of our approach to God, we should experience but little of that ardour of devotion, those pleasures of earnest piety which are, in this world, the reward of love as well as its most convincing evidence. Our prayers at first will often be constrained; our thanksgivings cold and formal; our thoughts will wander from our closets to the world, and we shall have too frequent occasion to acknowledge with shame and sorrow the imperfection of those offerings which we as yet can make to our Benefactor. A religious feeling, like every other mental habit, is slowly and gradually acquired. A strong and lasting affection is not ordinarily the growth of a day; but to have begun at all is, in religion, no trifling progress; and a steady perseverance in prayer and praise will, not only, by degrees, enlist the strength of habit on the side of holiness, but will call down, moreover, and preserve to us that spiritual support and influence, without which all human efforts must be vain, but which no one will seek in vain, who seeks for it in sincerity and by the appointed channels.
But though the absence of fervour be not the produce of permitted and habitual sin, undoubtedly it must be ruinous to every well-founded hope of acquiring a genuine, love for Him who is of purer eyes than to behold iniquity. In disputes between men we are taught by every day's experience that it is hard to love those whom we have injured; and that the more we feel ourselves in the wrong, the more inclined we are to view with dislike as well as apprehension, the person who has cause to be offended with us. And thus it is that every additional act of transgression indisposes our hearts the more to a faith in the
gracious offers of our King, and to an acceptance of them; and the more impossible it seems that we should be pardoned, the more sturdily and desperately do we proceed in courses of which we know that the end is death, but the dereliction of which, as we apprehend, would be now altogether fruitless.
Such a state of mind, of all others to which a sinner can be reduced on this side the grave, is surely the most terrible. It is one, however, which is more common among men than the generality of mankind imagine; and it is a danger which cannot be too often or too earnestly represented to all those who dwell carelessly, lest their habitual offences should shut the door against reconciliation; and not only so grieve the Holy Spirit as to deter Him from returning, but, even if He should vouchsafe to return, render their hearts insensible to all the ordinary methods of His mercy.
An amendment of life, indeed, and a conduct conformable to the will and word of the Most High, is the only mark I know of to distinguish a genuine love of Him from those vain and enthusiastic flights of fancy which have their origin in the fancy alone; which are consistent with indulgences the most impure, and passions the most unrestrained and unconverted; in which the devil would gladly persuade the sinner to rest contented through life, but the vanity of which will be made apparent in that season when the axe will be laid to the root of all false pretences and unfounded hopes, in the hour of death and in the day of judgment. And it is happy for us that a point of such importance is one on which the sincere inquirer can scarcely by possibility deceive himself, inasmuch as the effects of a genuine love are such as can hardly be counterfeited, and are such, indeed, as without the inspiration and assistance of Him whose name is love, the nature of man is unable to bring forth to perfection. And among these the following are some of the most conspicuous.
In the first place, he who really loves God, will be content to depend on Him, and acquiesce with cheerfulness in all His dispensations of severity or mercy. That we do, in fact, depend on God for all which we receive, and all