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1. A reverential fear of God, is an essential branch of godliness. This is so necessary a part of a good man's frame, that there is no single phrase more frequently made use of in scripture to express religion in general, than the fear of God. It is a temper arising from an apprehension of his Majesty and supreme excellence. "Shall not his excellency make you afraid, and his dread fall upon you?" Job xiii. 11. From the infinite distance that there is between him and us; not only as he is "in heaven, while we are upon earth; but as all nations before him are as nothing, and they are counted to him less than nothing and vanity," Isa. xl. 17. It is founded in his absolute superiority over us, and our entire dependence upon him; that there is none we have so much to hope or to fear from, as we stand upon good or ill terms with him; because he hath a sovereign and irresistible power over us, and over every thing that concerns us. And it results from those relations wherein we stand to him; which bespeak authority and rightful claims on his part, and profound submission and awe on ours. We should have such a regard to God, as a subject hath to his sovereign, a servant for his master, a child for his father. "A son honoureth his father, and a servant his master; if I be a Father, where is mine honour ? and if I be a Master, where is my fear? saith the Lord of hosts," Mal. i. 6. But as the distance between God and us in all
these relations, infinitely exceeds the distance, that can be between any such relations upon earth; so our awe and reverence should proportionably be higher.
Upon such grounds as these, a reverential fear of God is due from all intelligent creatures. It was so from man in innocence; it is so from the highest angels in heaven; and will be the temper of holy men, and holy angels to all eternity. In token of this, those above, "fall before the throne on their faces worshipping God," Rev. vii. 11. And so the seraphims are represented, "as covering their faces with their wings, and saying one to another, Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts," Isa. vi. 2, 3. They who know God most, and bear most of his likeness, and share most fully in his favour, have the profoundest reverence for him, arising from the sense of his infinite perfection, unparalleled glory, and sovereign dominion; while they are above all such fear as gives uneasiness and anxiety; for their perfect love prevents that. Those who
sing the song of Moses and of the Lamb, express themselves as if they could hardly suppose it possible there should be any without this fear; "Great and marvellous, (say they,) are thy works, Lord God Almighty; just and true are thy ways, O King of saints: Who shall not fear thee, O Lord, and glorify thy name? for thou only art holy," Rev. xv. 3, 4. And if the saints and angels above, reverence the glorious Majesty in the heavens, certainly we should cultivate such a frame on earth. The apostle calls us to it upon the foot of the gospel, Heb. xii. 28, 29. "Wherefore we receiving a kingdom which cannot be moved," the spiritual kingdom of Christ, which is set up upon the dissolution of the Jewish economy, and is to continue to the end of time; "let us have grace whereby we may serve God acceptably, with reverence and godly fear. For our God is a consuming fire." He is so represented even by the gospel itself.
As we are sinners, our fear justly goes farther; from the holiness of his nature, the justice of his government, and the threatenings of his law. In such a state, we have room to apprehend the severe marks of his displeasure in time; and especially to "fear him, as able and ready to destroy both soul and body in hell," Matt. x. 28.
We are relieved indeed against these fears by the grace of the gospel, and the mediation of Christ; so that the greatest of sinners ought not so to dread the wrath of an offended God, as to despair of his mercy upon repentance. But still as long as they remain in their sins, they ought to represent to their minds the terrors of the Lord, as well as the riches of his grace, to excite them to return to their Father. The gospel, along with the good tidings it brings, makes a fuller representation, than ever was made before, of the severity of God's wrath against sinners: "The wrath of God is there revealed from heaven, against all ungodliness, and unrighteousness of men,' Rom. i. 28. And a sorer punishment is threatened in many places to those who reject the gospel, than to other sinners, John iii. 19. Matt. xi. 24. Heb. x. 28, 29. Surely this is done to awaken answerable fears in the minds of sinners. And
no man can upon good reason get above such fears, farther than he hath evidence of his own sincere return to God. For good men themselves, while the divine nature in them is so very imperfect, it may be expected, that the generality of them
will have a mixture of hope and fear about their own sincerity; and this mixture can hardly fail to produce some fears of God's wrath, along with their hopes of his mercy in Christ. And indeed the scripture represents it as useful for the best men in this life to entertain some apprehensions of their own apostacy, and upon that supposition, of their final ruin. St Paul tells us in his own case, that "he kept his body in subjection, lest after his preaching to others, he himself should be a cast-away, 1 Cor. ix. 27. And it is his advice to Christians in general, Heb. iv. 1. "Let us therefore fear, lest a promise being left us of entering into his rest, any of you should seem to come short of it." One eminent way, whereby "he who hath begun a good work in us, performeth it to the day of Christ," is by keeping alive an apprehension of the danger of apostacy, and so awakening our constant diligence and caution in our duty. But there will be no occasion for this in heaven; no fear, but that which is reverential, will follow us thither.
2. A supreme love to God, is another eminent branch of godliness. This is of such importance, that Christ sums up all the first table in it, Matth. xxii. 37, 38. "Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment." This supposes an apprehension of God as most amiable and good; for we love any thing under that notion; and God deserves our highest love, as being supremely good. He is in himself most excellent; fit to be our chief happiness; and hath actually shewn himself our best friend; upon all which accounts our supreme love is due to him.
1. There should be the highest esteem and veneration for God, as he is in himself possessed of all possible excellencies. We feel ourselves ready to esteem real worth, when we see it, even though we are not ourselves direct gainers by it; we should justly blame ourselves, if we did not secretly value a man of steady virtue, a public benefactor, a wise and a good prince, though we are not like to be the better for him ourselves, and have no knowledge of him but by fame or history. And if we love and esteem a worthy man, shall we not have the highest veneration for that blessed being, who "is light, and in whom there is no darkness at all ?" 1 John i. 5. In whom all excellencies meet together, which can any where be found scattered among creatures; and who possesseth them all
in the most perfect manner, without any mixture or alloy, and without a possibility of losing them. His goodness and excellency tarnishes all the beauty and excellence of creatures; because he is good in such a sense as none can be acknowledged good besides. "There is none good but one, that is God," Matth. xix. 17. He alone is perfectly, originally, necessarily, and unchangeably good. He has every excellence in the highest degree; almighty power, unerring wisdom, infinite goodness unblemished truth, spotless holiness; every thing fit to raise the wonder, and engage the delight of an intelligent being. His glory shines out in the works of creation and providence, and so is laid open to every eye: and in the dispensation of grace, it is farther manifested to us so, "as eye had not seen before, nor ear heard, nor had entered into the heart of man." We love God then, when we entertain high and admiring thoughts of him, according to these discoveries which he hath made of himself: when we venerate him as the most perfect being; and give him the glory of his several excellencies, as we turn our thoughts either to the works of nature, or to the wonders of grace, or the prospects of glory. This love of God for his own perfection, though it is not ordinarily the first act of love to be discerned in a recovered sinner: yet is indeed the greatest and the most noble of all others: the new nature disposes to it, and will certainly rise to it; if not at first, yet in its consequent acts: it may sometimes be discerned in good men, even while they are in doubt about their own interest in God; they yet esteem and value him, and are careful to speak well of him. This for certain will be the main temper of heaven, where "the four and twenty elders fall down before him that sits on the throne, and worship him that liveth for ever and ever, and cast their crowns before the throne, saying, Thou art worthy, O Lord, to receive glory, and honour, and power; for thou hast created all things; and for thy pleasure they are, and were created," Rev. iv. 10, 11.
2. There should be a supreme affection for God, as the most suitable good to us. Though a mind rightly disposed, will esteem real excellence, even where there is no apprehension of self-interest; yet doubtless it gives new life to affection, when we can consider such excellence, as some way or other conducing to our own happiness; and by how much the more completely an object is suited to our interest and advantage, so
much the more will our hearts be united to it. Accordingly love to God includes this, that we centre in him as our chief good that we are of the Psalmist's temper, Psal. lxxiii. 25. "Whom have I in heaven, but thee? and there is none upon earth, that I can desire besides thee." When any thing is judged a suitable good to us, love will act differently, according as that good is apprehended either to be yet only attainable, or as in actual possession. And so here,
Love to God expresses itself in strong desires of his favour, while an interest in him is doubtful, or the contrary feared. Such a soul will say, I see that God alone can be a satisfying portion to me; in his favour is my life; without that, though I had all the world, I should still be destitute and miserable. This engages to earnest desires, that he may have God for his reconciled God and Father, and that he may share in his 'pardoning mercy, and covenant-love. He is content to part with all for this, rather than miss of it, and it is his resolved aim and business to secure this, more than any thing else. He can say with David, Psal. exix. 58. "I intreated thy favour with my whole heart. Lord lift up the light of thy countenance upon me," Psal. iv. 6. He cannot be easy, while a cloud remains upon his Father's face: It is as death to him to apprehend him displeased; nor can he be satisfied, till he is reconciled. He cries with earnestness like David, in Psal. li. 11, 12. "Cast me not away from thy presence, and take not thy Holy Spirit from me. Restore unto me the joy of thy salvation; and uphold me with thy free Spirit."
On the other hand, love to God acts in a way of delight, as far as a man can hope, that he may call God his. He can be at rest in God, when he has such views of him; and rejoices in divine favour, more than if he could call the whole world his. Nothing animates his praises more, than that God has inclined him to centre in such a portion, Psal. xvi. 5, 6, 7. "The Lord is the portion of mine inheritance, and of my cup: thou maintainest my lot. The lines are fallen unto me in pleasant places; yea, I have a goodly heritage, I will bless the Lord, who hath given me counsel;" this counsel, to fix upon so good a portion. In this he can rejoice in the darkest hours for outward things. Although the fig tree shall not blossom, neither shall fruit be in the vines, the labour of the olive shall fail, and the fields shall yield no meat, the flock shall be cut off from the fold, and there shall be no herd in the stalls;