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rate the Lord God Almighty, “who is wonderful in
« counsel, and excellent in working ?” Do we celebrate the bounty of a disinterested benefactor; and shall we not praise and magnify the loving-kindness of the Lord, which has been new to us every morning, and fresh every moment of our existence? Do we always retain a most affectionate regard to a beneficent friend, who may have relieved us in embarrassments, and delivered us from danger? and shall we not be much more impressed with a sense of that tender mercy, by which “ God so loved the world, as to send his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life ?” In short, the love of God is nothing more, than the exercise of our affections, on those various attributes of his nature, which are fitted to excite them; it is nothing more than transferring our delight and esteem, our reverence and gratitude to God, with higher emotions than those which we feel, when they are directed towards men.
Such being the nature of the love of God, it should express itself in those acts which are proper to cherish it in the soul. These may comprehend the following particulars, admiration of his perfections ; complacency in his favour ; delight in his presence ; imitation of his character; obedience to his precepts; and desire of his enjoyment. The man who entertains proper sentiments of the divine perfections, will be led to esteem them above all other objects of his contemplation. Often will he consider the magnificent display of power exhibited before his eyes, in the system of nature; often will he recognize the over-ruling hand of the Almighty, in directing the fate of nations, and the fortunes of individuals; and often will he examine the merciful scheme revealed in the gospel, for saving mankind from deserved misery. He will reflect, that God governs the world with unerring wisdom, and unbounded goodness; that he has provided for the supply of the wants of all his creatures; and given to man especially all things richly to enjoy, pertaining both to life and to godliness.—That every event is under the superintendence of that vigilant eye, which
never slumbers nor sleeps; and that God is continually upholding all things, to promote the purposes of his own glory, and the good of all his obedient creatures. When the pious man thus reflects on the divine perfections, as exerted in the support and protection of every thing that lives, he cannot but admire the loving-kindness of the Lord, which is over all his works.
When, moreover, he considers, that God is particularly concerned for promoting the welfare of those who fear and obey him; that he keeps them as the apple of his eye, and conducts them through the various vicissitudes of life, with the constant design of making all things work together for their good ; his heart will rejoice in his Almighty guardian, who thus encompasses him with his favour as with a shield. It is certain, that the righteous enjoy the divine blessing; that their steps are ordered by the Lord, and that the light of his countenance shines upon them, to give them peace. They know, that they endeavour to approve themselves to the searcher of hearts, by the uprightness and integrity of their lives; and are persuaded, that he who is the witness of their actions, looks down from on high with complacency, and is well pleased to behold their endeavours after well-doing. They therefore
go on their way rejoicing, and regard the favour of God, as an encouragement sufficient to animate them in the path of his commandments.
But a pious man will be emboldened, by the consciousness of possessing the divine favour, to approach the presence of his God, in the more immediate acts of devotion. He will often elevate his heart to the throne of the eternal, and acknowledge the benefits which he enjoys; he will express his gratitude for those daily blessings of which he partakes; and by sublime meditation, he will stir up his heart and soul, and all that is within him, to realize as far as possible the superintendence of the Almighty, in every event and accident of life.-Nay, he will by the eye of faith penetrate the veil which conceals the celestial regions, and descry that glory which awaits the faithful in the kingdom of heaven. Thus, he will walk with God, and study to enjoy his presence, by holding daily communion with the Father of his spirit.
As the pious man knows, that his Father who is in heaven is perfect; and that, in order to obtain his approbation, it is necessary in some measure to resemble him in moral excellence; therefore, he studies to imitate those perfections of the divine character, which he is taught to admire. It is a property of human nature, to endeavour to attain those qualities which we admire in others; and especially to assimilate ourselves to those whom we love and esteem. But there is no human character void of blemishes and imperfections; all have some defect, which stains the lustre of their better dispositions, and renders them unamiable in our eyes. But the Divine Being is free from every corruption of nature which cleaves to us, evil cannot dwell with him, and he is a perfect model for every intelligent creature. The more therefore, the good man contemplates the character of Deity, the greater is his desire to attain conformity to his image; well knowing that no intercourse can be established with him here, nor continued hereafter, unless “ he is transformed by the renewing of his mind; that he may prove what is the good and acceptable, and perfect will of God.”
Moreover, as God hath informed us, that the best test we can produce of our love to him is, “ by keeping his commandments;" therefore, the good man studies to obey the precepts which are given to regulate his temper, and direct his conduct. As we would not willingly displease the person who is the object of our attachment; so the true Christian is anxious “ to avoid every appearance of evil,” since he knows that God hateth all the workers of iniquity. And as he is well pleased with sincere endeavours after conformity to his laws; every faithful servant of his heavenly Master will exercise himself in maintaining a conscience void of offence,” and abound in the fruits of righteousness, which are to the praise and glory of God.
Finally, as it is the natural desire of every one who cherishes a predilection, for another to enjoy his society ; so the truly good man longs for admission into those bles
sed mansions, where he shall see God face to face, and know him even as he is known. There only can he be satisfied with the divine likeness, and be happy in his presence, " where there is fulness of joy, and at whose right hand there are pleasures for evermore.” Thus, in these several respects will every one who loves God, express this affection, by admiration of his perfections; complacency in his favour; imitation of his character; obedience to his precepts; and desire of his enjoyment. It is by observing such dispositions in ourselves, that we must judge, whether the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts.
Having thus described in a few particulars, the nature of the love of God, and in what manner it may be expressed, I proceed to shew,
II. The extent of this duty, which is here called the first and great commandment.
There have been two errors prevalent among mankind, respecting the height to which they should carry this affection. Some have conceived, that as God alone is worthy of our love; as he alone possesses such excellence as entitles him to our admiration; therefore it is proper, that our whole lives should be devoted to his more immediate service. Such sentiments have been often entertained by those who have retired from the world, and shut themselves up in solitude, to indulge a mistaken turn for religious contemplation. In countries, where popery is established, many of the monastic orders have signalized themselves, by their attachment to rigorous austerities; and by devoting themselves solely to medita
But such will-worship, however well intended, is not required, nor countenanced by Christianity. Our Saviour and his apostles spent their lives in society, in performing the duties of public life, and “ going about doing good.” They did not forsake the intercourse of men, under pretence of cherishing the love of God; and therefore we may be assured, that seclusion from the world is not required of us, for performing this duty, and keeping this first and great command
tion and prayer.
ment.-Neither does the love of God imply, as some enthusiasts would teach, that no other object in nature is worthy of our attachment. This notion is both irrational and impracticable. It is irrational, because God hath so constituted our natures, as to be susceptible of affection for our friends and kindred; nay, the Christian religion contains many injunctions for loving one another with pure hearts fervently, and taking an interest in each other's welfare. In accordance with this principle, our Lord himself, whose character was perfect, and whose example is left us as a model which we should imitate, entertained a kindness for several amiable persons of his acquaintance. Thus, it is said, that “ Jesus loved Mary and her sister, and Lazarus ;" that “ St. John was the disciple whom he loved,” in an especial manner. And so much did the primitive Christians resemble their Lord in the exercise of this benevolent affection, that it was remarked by their enemies who persecuted them to death, with what attachment they loved one another. And it were well if we imitated their conduct; then should we afford better evidence than we often do, that the principles of true religion animated our breasts.
The love of God does not exclude the love of man ; but begets it, as an inseparable effect resulting from a common cause. But while it is admitted, that our fellow.creatures may share in our affectionate regards; yet it is no less true, that they are entitled only to a subordinate place in our estimation. We must not love them with equal sentiments of admiration, complacency, and delight, as we should conceive for our beneficent Creator. We may be endeared to them with some degree of attachment; but we must « love the Lord our God, with all our heart, and with all our soul, and with all our mind.” As he is possessed of every perfection, we should therefore employ all the faculties of our souls, in forming right conceptions of his nature, and the whole dispositions of our hearts, in giving him the glory due unto his 'name. There must be no reserve in withholding from him any affection which is proper to be exercised in his service. --Accordingly, we must ayoid another error,