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It is this holy reverence that is the means of bringing in sanctifying virtue into our souls from God, upon our thoughts of him. None that think of God with a due reverence, but he shall be sensible of advantage by it. Hereby do we sanctify God in our access unto him; and when we do so, he will sanctify and purify our hearts by those very thoughts in which we draw nigh to him.
We may have many sudden, occasional, transient thoughts of God, that are not introduced into our minds by a preceding reverential fear. But if they leave not that fear on our hearts, in proportion unto their continuance with us, they are of no value, but will insensibly habituate us unto a common bold frame of spirit, which he despises.
So is it in the case of thoughts of a contrary nature. Thoughts of sin, of sinful objects, may arise in our minds from the remainders of corruption, or be occasioned by the temptations and suggestions of Satan. If these are immediately rejected and cast out of us, the soul is not more prejudiced by their entrance, than it is advantaged by their rejection through the power of grace. But if they make frequent returns into the minds of men, or make any abode or continuance in their soliciting of the affections, they greatly defile the mind and conscience, disposing the person unto the farther entertainment of them. So if our occasional thoughts of God do immediately leave us, and pass away without much affecting our minds, we shall have little or no benefit by them. But if, by their frequent visits, and some continuance with us, they dispose souls unto a holy reverence of God, they are a blessed means of promoting our sanctification. Without this, I say, there may be thoughts of God unto no advantage of the soul.
There is implanted on our nature such a sense of a divine power and presence, as that on all sudden occasions and surprisals, it will act itself according unto that sense and apprehension. There is 'vox naturæ clamantis ad Dominum naturæ ;''a voice in nature itself, upon any thing that is suddenly too hard for it, which cries out immediately unto the God of nature.' So men, on such occasions, without any consideration, are surprised into a calling on the name of God, and crying unto him. And from the same natural apprehension it is, that wicked and profane persons will break
forth on all occasions into cursed swearing by his name. So men in such ways have thoughts of God without either reverence or godly fear, without giving any glory unto him, and, for the most part, unto their own disadvantage. Such are all thoughts of God that are not accompanied with holy fear and reverence.
There is scarce any duty that ought at present to be more pressed on the consciences of men, than this of keeping up a constant holy reverence of God in all wherein they have to do with him, both in private and public, in their inward thoughts and outward communication. Formality hath so prevailed on religion, and that under the most effectual means of its suppression, that very many do manifest that they have little or no reverence of God in the most solemn duties of his worship, and less, it may be, in their secret thoughts. Some ways that have been found out to keep up a pretence and appearance of it, have been and are destructive unto it.
But herein consists the very life of all religion. The fear of God is in the Old Testament the usual expression of all the due respect of our souls unto him; and that because where that is not in exercise, nothing is accepted with him. And thence the whole of our wisdom is said to consist therein; and if it be not in a prevalent exercise in all wherein we have to do with him immediately, all our duties are utterly lost as to the ends of his glory, and the spiritual advantage of our own souls.
What of God or in God we are to think and meditate upon. reasons of it; oppositions to it; the way of their conquest. Thoughts of the omnipresence and omniscience of God, peculiarly necessary. The reasons hereof. As also of his omnipotency. The use and benefit of such thoughts,
THESE things mentioned have been premised in general, as unto the nature, manner, and way of exercise of our thoughts on God. That which remains is to give some particular instances of what we are to think upon in an especial man
ner; and what we will be conversant withal in our thoughts, if so be we are spiritually minded. And I shall not insist at present on the things which concern his grace and love in Christ Jesus, which belong unto another head, but on those which have an immediate respect unto the divine nature itself, and its holy essential properties.
First, Think much of the being and existence of God. Herein lies the foundation of all our relation and access unto him, Heb. xi. 6. He that cometh unto God, must believe that he is.' This is the first object of faith; and it is the first act of reason; and being the sole foundation of all religion, it is our duty to be exercised unto multiplied thoughts about it, renewed on all occasions. For many who are not direct atheists, yet live without any solid well-grounded assent unto the divine being; they do not so believe it as to be practically influenced with the consideration of it. It is granted, that the inbred light of nature, in the due exercise of reason, will give any rational creature satisfaction in the being of God. But there is in the most an anticipation of any thoughts of this nature by tradition and education, which hath invited men into an assent unto it, they know not how. They never called it into question, nor have as they suppose any cause so to do. Nature itself startles at the first thoughts of denying of it; but if ever such persons on any urgent occasions come to have real thoughts about it, they are at a loss, and fluctuate in their minds, as not having any certain indubitable conviction of its truth. Wherefore, as our knowledge of the Divine Being is as to the foundation of it laid in the light of nature, the operation of conscience, and the due exercise of reason about the works and effects of infinite power and wisdom; so it ought to be increased, and rendered useful by faith in divine revelations, and the experience of divine power through them. By this faith we ought to let in frequent thoughts of the divine being and existence: and that on two reasons, rendering the duty necessary in an eminent manner, in this age wherein we live.
1. The abounding of atheism, both notional and practical. The reasons of it have been given before, and the matter of fact is evident unto any ordinary observation. And on two accounts with respect hereunto we ought to abound
in thoughts of faith concerning the being of God. 1. An especial testimony is required in us, in opposition to this cursed effect of hell. He, therefore, who is spiritually minded, cannot but have many thoughts of the being of God, thereby giving glory to him. Isa. xliii. 9-12. Let all the nations be gathered together, and let the people be assembled: who among them can declare this, and shew us former things? let them bring forth their witnesses, that they may be justified; or let them hear, and say, It is truth. Ye are my witnesses, saith the Lord, and my servant whom I have chosen : that ye may know and believe me, and understand that I am he before me there was no God formed, neither shall there be after me. I, even I, am the Lord, and beside me there is no Saviour. I have declared, and have saved, and I have shewed, when there was no strange God among you: therefore ye are my witnesses, saith the Lord, that I am God.' xliv. 8. Fear ye not, neither be afraid; have not I told thee from that time, and have declared it; ye are even my witnesses. Is there a God besides me? yea, there is no God : I know not any.' 2. We shall have occasion of them continually administered unto us. Those atheistical impieties, principles, and practices, which abound amongst us, are grievous provocations unto all pious souls. Without frequent retreat unto thoughts of the being of God, there is no relief nor refreshment to be had under them. Such was the case of Noah in the old world, and of Lot in Sodom, which rendered their graces illustrious.
2. Because of the unaccountable confusions that all things are filled withal at this day in the world. Whatever in former times hath been a temptation in human affairs unto any of the people of God, it abounds at this day. Never had men, profane and profligate, greater outward appearances to strengthen them in their atheism, nor those that are godly greater trials for their faith, with respect unto the visible state of things in the world. The psalmist of old on such an occasion was almost surprised into unbelieving complaints; Psal. lxxiii. 2-4, &c. And such surprisals may now also befal us, that we may be ready to say with him, 'Verily I have cleansed my heart in vain, and washed my hands in innocency; for all the day long have I been plagued, and chastened every morning. Hence when
the prophet Habakkuk was exercised with thoughts about such a state of things as is at this day in the world, which he declares, chap. i. 6-12. he lays the foundation of his consideration in the fresh exercise of faith on the being and properties of God, ver. 12, 13. And David makes that his retreat on the like occasion, Psal. xi. 3—5.
In such a season as this is, upon both the accounts mentioned, those who are spiritually minded will much exercise their thoughts about the being and existence of God. They will say within themselves, Verily there is a reward for the righteous; verily he is a God who judgeth in the earth.' Hence will follow such apprehensions of the immensity of his nature, of his eternal power and infinite wisdom, of his absolute sovereignty, as will hold their souls firm and steadfast, in the highest storms of temptation that may befall them.
Yet are there two things that the weaker sort of believers may be exercised with, in their thoughts of the divine being and existence, which may occasion them some
1. Satan knowing the weakness of our minds in the immediate contemplation of things infinite and incomprehensible, will sometimes take advantage to insinuate blasphemous imaginations in opposition unto what we would fix upon, and relieve ourselves withal. He will take that very time, trusting unto our weakness and his own methods of subtlety, to suggest his temptations unto atheism, by insnaring inquiries, when we go about to refresh our souls with thoughts of the divine being and excellencies. But is there a God indeed? How do you know that there is a God? and may it not be otherwise? will be his language unto our minds. For from his first temptation by way of an insnaring question, 'Yea, and hath God said it, ye shall not eat of every tree of the garden? he proceeds still much in the same methods. So he did with our Saviour himself, ' If thou be the Son of God.' Is there a God? how if there should be none? In such a case the rule is given us by the apostle; Above all take the shield of faith, whereby ye shall be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked;' Eph. vi. 16. Toй Tovnou, of the wicked one,' that is the devil. And two ways will faith act itself on this occasion.
1. By a speedy rejection of such diabolical suggestions