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the absence or distance of God from us; in the loss or lessening of his favor, &c. 5. Another property of this love is, to bear the highest good-will towards God, in those interests and concerns, which out of his abundant goodness and condescension he considers as his own: this topic enlarged on. The nature of this love being explained, if we perceive that we practice the particular duties thereby recommended, we may to our comfort infer that we are proportionably endued with it; if not, we ought with remorse and sorrow to suspect that we abide in a state of disaffection or indifference towards God. If we find the former good disposition, we should strive to cherish and improve it; if the second bad one, we should, as we would avoid misery and ruin, endeavor to remove it. II. To the effecting which purposes certain means conducive thereto are propounded: some, which may remove obstacles; others, which may immediately promote the duty. Of the first kind are those which follow. 1. The destroying all loves opposite to the love of God; extinguishing all affection to things odious and offensive to him; mortifying all corrupt, perverse, and unholy desires. 2. If we would obtain this excellent grace, we must restrain our affections towards all other things, however innocent or indifferent in their nature: instance of the rich young man in the gospel: character of St. Paul in this respect, &c. 3. To this may be added the freeing of our hearts from immoderate affection to ourselves; that is, from any conceit of ourselves, from any high confidence in what we may have within us or about us : this topic enlarged on. These are the chief obstacles, the removing of which conduces to the begetting and increasing the love of God in us; especially if we add those positive instruments which are more immediately and directly subservient to the production of it: these are,
1. Attentive consideration of the divine perfections, with an endeavor to obtain a right and clear apprehension of them.
2. Consideration of God's works of nature, of providence, and of grace.
3. Serious regard and reflexion on the peculiar benefits by the divine goodness vouchsafed to ourselves.
4. An earnest resolution and endeavor to perform his commandments, although on the inferior considerations of reason.
5. Assiduous prayer, that he in mercy would please to bestow his love on us, by his grace working in us. Conclusion.
Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart.
This text is produced by our Saviour out of Moses's law in answer to a question, wherewith a learned pharisee thought to pose or puzzle him ; the question was, Which was the great and first commandment in the law 2 a question which, it seems, had been examined, and determined among the doctors, in the schools of those days, (for in St. Luke, to the like question intimated by our Saviour, another lawyer readily yields the same answer, and is therefore commended by our Saviour, with a recte respondisti, “thou hast answered rightly;’) so that had our Saviour answered otherwise, he had, we may suppose, been taxed of ignorance and unskilfulness, perhaps also of error and heterodoxy; to convict him of which seems to have been the design of this Jewish trier or tempter (for he is said to ask repáčov abröv, trying, or tempting him.) But our Saviour defeats his captious intent, by answering, not only according to truth and the reason of the thing, but agreeably to the doctrine then current, and as the lawyer himself out of his memory and learning would have resolved it: and no wonder, since common sense dictates that the law enjoining sincere and intire love toward God is necessarily the first and chief, or the most fundamental law of all religion ; for that whosoever doth believe the being of God, according to the most common notion that name
i bears, must needs discern himself obliged first and chiefly to perform those acts of mind and will toward him, which most true and earnest love do imply: different expressions of love may be prescribed, peculiar grounds of love may be declared in several ways of religion; but in the general and main substance of the duty all will conspire, all will acknowlege readily, that it is love we chiefly owe to God; the duty which he may most justly require of us, and which will be most acceptable to him. It was then indeed the great commandment of the old (or rather of the young and less perfect) religion of the Jews, and it is no less of the more adult and improved religion which the Son of God did institute and teach : the difference only is, that Christianity declares more fully how we should exercise it; and more highly engages us to observe it; requires more proper and more substantial expressions thereof; extends our obligation as to the matter, and intends it as to the degree thereof: for as it represents almighty God in his nature and in his doings more lovely than any other way of religion, either natural or instituted, hath done, or could do ; so it proportionably raises our obligation to love him : it is, as St. Paul speaketh, r0 réAos ris rapayyektas, the last drift, or the supreme pitch of the evangelical profession and institution to love; to love God first, and then our neighbor “out of a pure heart, and good conscience, and faith unfeigned :’ it is the bond, or knot of that perfection which the gospel enjoins us to aspire to : it is the first and principal of those goodly fruits, which the Holy Spirit of Christ produceth in good Christians. It is therefore plainly with us also the great commandment and chief duty : chiefly great in its extent, in its worth, in its efficacy, and influence: most great it is, in that it doth (eminently at least, or virtually) contain all other laws and duties of piety; they being all as branches making up its body, or growing out of it as their root. St. Paul saith of the love toward our neighbor, that it is r\#pupa row vápov, “a full performance of the laws’ concerning him: and that “all commandments, &rarepaxatoivras, are recapitulated, or summed up in this one saying, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself:’ and by like, or greater reason are all the duties of piety comprised in the love of God; which is the chief of those two hinges, “on which,’ as our Saviour here subjoins, ‘the whole law and the prophets do bang.’ So great is this duty in extent: and it is no less in proper worth; both as it immediately respects the most excellent and most necessary performances of duty, (employing our highest faculties in their best operations,) and as it imparts yirtue and value to all other acts of duty : for no sacrifice is acceptable, which is not kindled by this heavenly fire; no offering sweet and pure, which is not seasoned by this holy salt; no action is truly good or commendable, which is not conjoined with, or doth not proceed from the love of God; that is not performed with a design to please God, or, at least, with an opinion that we shall do so thereby. If a man perform any good work not out of love to God, but from any other principle, or for any other design, (to please himself or others, to get honor or gain thereby,) how can it be acceptable to God, to whom it hath not any due regard 2 And what action hath it for its principle, or its ingredient, becomes sanctified thereby, in great measure pleasing and acceptable to God; such is the worth and value thereof. It is also the great commandment for efficacy and influence, being naturally productive of obedience to all other commandments; especially of the most genuine and sincere obedience ; no other principle being in force and activity comparable thereto; (fear may drive to a compliance with some, and hope may draw to an observance of others; but it is love, that with a kind of willing constraint and kindly violence carries on cheerfully, vigorously, and swiftly to the performance of all God's commandments: “If any man loves me,’ saith our Saviour, “he will keep my word:’ to keep his word is a natural and necessary result of love to him : “This is the love of God,” saith St. John, “that we keep his commandments, and his commandments are not grievous;" it is the nature of that love to beget a free and delightful obedience :) such then is the subject of our discourse ; even the sum, the soul, the spring of all our religion and duty. And because it is requisite, both for our direction how to do, and the examination of ourselves whether we do as we ought, that we should understand what we are so far obliged to ; that we may be able to perform it, and that we be effectually disposed thereto, I shall use this method ; I will first endeavor to explain the