« AnteriorContinuar »
reflect on the admirable effects it hath on the mind. Give me leave to single out some of the most distinguished.
First, It gives us practical and saving wisdom. The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom : a good understanding have they that do his commandments. A wise man feareth, and departeth from evil.' Nay, it is even called wisdom itself; The fear of the Lord, that is wisdom, and to depart from evil is understanding.' If it is .by fear and trembling that we are to work out our salvation,' then happy is he who fears God; happy he who trembles at the apprehensions of his displeasure, and is thereby roused to repentance, and newness of life, which shall bring 'peace at the last.' But still happier he, in whom fear comes before sin, and prevents the necessity of repentance. Such a man owes true wisdom to that which appears a weakness in other men, for no other reason but because their fears are sunk beneath the dignity of their nature, to things of little importance, of no power, or perhaps of such tendencies and dispositions, as ought to have made them desirable, instead of dreadful. He who fears God, fears to offend him : now, of all men, there is none wiser than he, who is ‘void of offence towards God, to whom vengeance belongeth, and who will surely repay.'
Thoughtless libertines may call this fear slavish and cowardly, if they please ; but since it preserves us in our duty, and guides us to happiness, we shall be bold to esteem it wisdom, rather than that sort of resolution, which laughs at hell, and is frightened at the stumbling of a horse; which insults God with blasphemous ribaldry and horrible wickedness, while it poorly trembles at a funeral in the next house. Little minds must have little fears, for want of sufficient sense and greatness of soul to aspire towards a nobler object of apprehension.
It is true, the love of God is a much nobler motive to act on, than the fear even of him. But this fear is the surest road to that love, and therefore is rightly called the beginning of wisdom.' Such is human infirmity, that repentance seldom begins in a mind accustomed to sin, on high and generous considerations, but rather on lower motives, suitable to that abject sense of things, which a course of wickedness never fails to leave behind it. Hence it is, that the fear of
God is, for the most part, necessary to begin the happy work with. No favours, no blessings, can win those, who have run on for a considerable time in a course of wickedness, 'to turn and behold the goodness of God.' They love and pursue other objects, more sensible and more present to their desires. But when God, to draw their attention to himself, presents his rod and displays his terrors, their fears immediately take the alarm. Their other passions are hushed and awed, and the whole force of attention listens to the chastising lesson, through the awakened dread of a still severer visitation. When, by this fatherly expedient, God hath put a stop to the career of sin, and is himself become the object of meditation; in proportion as repentance advances, he changes his looks, lays aside his rod, and presents himself to the heart, overwhelmed with fear, in a form so lovely, so expressive of pity, so full of mercy, as never fails to change the fear of the penitent into reverence, and melt his soul into love and shame, which puts the finishing hand to his reformation. There is nothing so apt to fill us with love, as forbearance and favour from one, who we know hath not only the power, but a right, to destroy us. But we seldom consider either this power or this right in God, till he makes us taste an earnest of it in some alarming correction. When this, however, is done, and hath, by the grace and blessing of him who laid it on us, roused us from sin, and new-set the heart to a course of piety and obedience, we have then little to fear from God, nothing indeed but what may proceed from the apprehensions of a relapse. Then God and our souls are become mutual objects of love. The gracious Being is all tenderness to a heart broken by repentance, and humbling himself before him. No friend, no father, can feel the bowels of compassion for us, that soften the heart of God to the true penitent. As the anger of God is now changed to pity, so ought the apprehensions of the truly reformed to be converted into hopes, his horrors into love, his doubts into trust, and his sorrows and tears into consolation and joy. “As the heaven is high above the earth, so great is the mercy of God towards them that fear
As far as the east is from the west, so far hath he removed their transgressions from them.'
Now, was that fear, which produced so happy a reforma
tion, a low or slavish passion? Did it argue him a coward, who durst no longer contend with God, nor risk his soul on a trial between Almighty vengeance, and human impenitence? Was he a fool for being reformed ? No; next to him who never greatly fell, this is of all men the wisest; and if he perseveres in his new course of virtue, in spite of all his spiritual enemies can do to beat him from it, we ought to pronounce him a man of true courage, a glorious conqueror of himself, though the fear of God should still continue to keep him on his guard. Such we have reason sufficient from the word of God to believe he will appear at that day, when the now stupidly triumphant libertine 'shall call on the hills to hide him, and the mountains to cover him, from the face of him that sitteth on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb. The fears of the penitent will then appear to have had infinitely more wisdom in them, than all the boasted reason, and conceited subtilties of the self-sufficient. Nay, these truly wise and virtuous fears will appear on that occasion to have had more of true courage in them, than the silly swagger of the infidel.
Having now seen, that the fear of God is the first, the most powerful motive to reformation, and the best preservative of vigilance, as long as there is any danger of a relapse; we shall easily perceive the meaning of my text, and be able to assign the reason, 'why in the fear of the Lord there is strong confidence.' That fear should beget confidence, seems, at first sight, to be against the nature of things ; but when we consider, that it is the fear of God, the obscurity clears up, and shews the sentiment to be one of those deep or dark sayings, wherein consisted great part of that wisdom, for which the ancient eastern sages were so famous. The fear of God produces an awful attention to his commands, and keeps us steady to our duty; duty, although at first performed through fear, if persevered in, naturally ends in piety; piety cannot long possess the heart, without improving into love; and love is no sooner brought to maturity, than it casteth out fear,' that is, all uneasy boding fears, and begets confidence ; confidence in whom? Why, in God; whose promises are truth itself, and whose power is boundless.
He who fears as he ought that infinite Being, who 'doth
what he will in heaven and earth, so that none can stay his hand, or say unto him, What dost thou ? takes care to put himself under the protection of that Being, as his servant and dependant; and, while he serves the Master of the world, enjoys all the security and assistance omnipotence can give him. If he is ignorant, his Master is omniscient; if he is weak, his Master is almighty; if he is at a distance when his enemies are scheming his ruin, his Master is there, for he is every where, and ready to disappoint their malice. In this situation, although he is but a creature, wisdom itself is his guide, and power itself his protection. Thus supported, thus guarded on all sides, whom or what hath he to fear, though earth and hell, though men and devils, were combined against him?
To be more particular, shall this man tremble at oppression, or fear the frowns of the great? Great do I call them who shall die, who shall be made as grass ?' No, they are wretchedly little; and he that fears God, shall hold both their malice and power in contempt. There is no room to fear a man, though he stands on a hillock a little higher than his neighbours, if we fear God, who is 'higher than the highest, and who,' we know, 'regardeth,', when the proud exalt themselves against his servant. The labourer need not dread the steward, since the common Master of both shall not always suffer the one to oppress the other, but shall level them in death, and rank them afterward, not according to the stations they acted in here, but according to the duty and respect they paid to his commands. Then shall he that humbled himself with the fear of God, be exalted; and he that exalted himself to a contempt of every thing good and sacred, be debased, and brought low, even to hell. God, at the same time that he inculcates the fear of himself by the greatness of his works, forbids the fear of men, who are as grass, and nothing, in comparison of him. 'I, even I, am he that comforteth you : who are thou, that thou shouldest be afraid of a man? and forgettest the Lord thy Maker, who hath stretched forth the heavens, and laid the foundations of the earth ?'
The fear of God will also arm us against the fear of censure. He need not much regard the opinions of men, who, through the apprehension of God's displeasure, is doing his
utmost to approve himself to the Searcher of hearts. If he hath the smallest hope of succeeding in an attempt so very exalted, he will be under no manner of uneasiness about their opinions or remarks, who only guess by appearances, and see no more than the mere surfaces of things. He will find little temptation to be vain when they applaud, or ashamed when they condemn, when they know nothing to the bottom, and judge of what they do know, by prejudices so gross, and rules so foreign to reason, that he hath the best chance to pick sense and truth out of their reflections, who interprets them, as he does dreams, by contraries. Mankind are miserably enslaved to foolish and wicked customs, which they prefer on all occasions, to reason, duty, religion ; nay, to what they value far above these, their present interest and convenience. By these customs they regulate their behaviour with an exactness never shewn in regard to the laws of God or man. And by these they judge of persons and things, esteeming every thing right that is in the mode, and wrong, that is out of it.
Now he that will not submit to be regulated by rules, the observation whereof costs the world both so much pains and money, nay, frequently their souls, is of course hated and aspersed, as a despiser of that which others respect, and consequently as a despiser of them. In this light he meets with far less toleration, than the pimp, the sharper, or the adulterer. If he will neither be drunk, nor make others drunk; if he will keep up a neighbourhood with none but the honest, and the religious; if he makes a difference between dining with a gentleman, when his wife sits at the head of the table, and dining with him, when his strumpet fills the same place; he is a madman, or a hypocrite, or a creature void of common manners and civility, with whom there is no living in society. But if this man truly fears God, he will hear their railleries just as he does the barking of so many dogs; or, in case he lays any stress on what they say, will construe all their censures into applauses, and bless God for bestowing that fear on him, which sets him free from a despicable state of slavery, prided in, and yet suffered with impatience by the rest of the world. What liberty, what courage, what a nobly singular sort of heroism, does the fear of God, in this remarkable instance, communicate to a good Christian! None but they who know