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ON THE MOTIVES TO CHRISTIAN
Romans xii. 1.
I beseech you, therefore, brethren, by the mercies of
THERE are several motives which may influence the mind to obey and serve God; and these are distinguished from each other by their purity and excellence, and by the force with which they operate.
1. The first of these is, fear of the Divine punishments.
When we reflect on the tremendous effects of the anger of God, on the nature of eternal punishment, on the worm that never dieth, and the fire that is never quenched; when we consider how strongly, how frequently, and with what solemnity, eternal woe is denounced against impenitent transgressors, we are astonished that men are not absolutely overwhelmed with terror lest they should be condemned at the tribunal of God; yet, in fact, it is rarely that we percieve this fear operating in a very extensive degree. Loose and unfounded views of the mercy of God often prevent his terrors from affecting the mind. Every man flatters himself that his own case is not so peculiarly atrocious as to warrant a punishment so dreadful. At present he feels no particular suffering in consequence of the justice of God; and the vengeance which is threatened hereafter is remote and perhaps uncertain. Hence the fear of punishment is seldom a powerful restraint from sin. "Because sentence against an evil work is not executed speedily, therefore the heart of the sons of men is fully set in them to do evil."
There are cases, indeed, in which the terrors of the Lord operate with their due force. When conscience is roused from its insensibility; when the Spirit of God sets before the soul the denunciations of Divine wrath; when the imagination pictures to itself the horrors of eternal condemnation; when the understanding admits the probability, and is convinced of the justice, of the threatened punishment-at such times terror produces the most powerful effects: it enforces the severest penances; it bends the knee in constant supplication: it sometimes depresses the mind to the abyss of despair, or even drives it to distraction. “Thy terrors have I suffered with a troubled mind.” “When thou with rebukes dost chasten man for sin, thou makest bis beauty to consume away, like as it were a moth fretting a garment.” “My bones waxed old through my roaring all the day long: (for day and night thy hand was heavy upon me:) my moisture was turned into the drought of suminer."
There are particular constitutions on which terror is especially calculated to operate. There are peculiar states of mind in which the heart is more than commonly alive to these emotions. There are sins so gross and aggravated that the most hardened heart cannot reflect on them without anguish and dismay. Yet fear is an imperfect principle. It does not purify the mind-it may consist with the greatest love of sin. It may prevent the commission of crimes from no higher principle than that of self-love. The heart resumes its original bias when alarm and danger have passed away. However useful therefore, in its proper place, and to a limited extent, the fear of Divine punishment may be, it is not that motive which has the greatest efficacy in subduing sin.
II. Regard to our own interest is another motive to Christian obedience. Though less violent and powerful in its effects, it is more general and prevalent than the motive of terror; and though the importance and utility of it is not to be disputed, it must, in common with fear, be admitted to be an imperfect principle of action. There are few who have not even a deep sense of the nisery and evils of sin, and of the temporal and eternal advantages of righteousness. Most men have learned these lessons from their own experience; and all have seen the gall and bitterness of sin in the lives of others. A very slight acquaintance with the world is enough to prove the confusion which sin produces in society; the ruin to which it exposes families: the loss of reputation which follows it; ihe anguish of mind and remorse by which it is succeeded, and which are only the just forebodings of miseries more dreadful, and of an irretrievable destruction hereafter. On the other hand, the most inattentive observer cannot fail to perceive the respect which even bad men pay to the character of the righteous; the peace of mind which he enjoys; the useful and important station which he acquires in his own social circle; his resources in the deepest gloom and wretchedness; the hopes of eternal happiness which cheer his heart; and the tranquillity with which he anticipates the dissolution of his body. “Let me,” said Balaam, "die the death of the righteous, and let my last end be like his.” And doubtless this observation of the blessings which attend a life of righteousness has influenced many to renounce their sinful courses, and to live a sober, righteous, and godly life. I am so fully persuaded that this is among
habitual motives which the Spirit of God suggests for our growth in holiness, and I feel so strongly our need of every help in running the arduous race set before us, that I would not without great tenderness and jealousy, venture, in the slightest degree, to derogate from the importance of this principle. I fear lest I, or any of the ministers of Christ, should thus deprive our hearers of a motive of great efficacy, and unexceptionable in itself, without substituting one still more powerful in its place. Yet with this caution I must be allowed to observe, that this principle is not so pure in its origia as that which is to produce holiness ought to be : it is closely allied to mere selfishness; it does not sufficiently refer to the glory of God, and to the real intrinsic excellence of holiness. In its influence, also, it is comparatively weak: it will scarcely withstand a powerful temptation, or enable us to decline immediate indulgence, and subunit to painful self-denial. It does not lead to high Christian attainments: it is content to keep just within the pale of safety. It does not induce us to be fearless of unjust reproach: it leaves us dis. posed to compromise with the world, to dread the charge of enthusiasm, and to reduce religion to that moderate and easy profession which requires no exertion, incurs no risk, and demands no sacrifice or selfdenial. Without any higher motive, we should be satisfied to prevent distress of conscience, without aspiring to higher degrees of virtue. This alone cannot elevate the soul to any lofty undertakings, nor inspire it with benevolent zeal, nor prompt it to honourable exertions.
III. The third motive to Christian obedience which I shall notice, is the sense of duty: in which we recognize a higher and purer principle of action. Happy is that man who acts habitually from a conscientious determination to obey the will of God—who will not be influenced by any 'sensual or worldly object to deviate from the path which conscience enjoins him to pursue. Without this high and stedfast sense of duty there can
be no excellence, no virtue, no religion. Every real Christian has submitted himself to the direction of conscience. Without this the very ground and foundation of piety is wanting.
But it is not enough that we act from a sense of duty—that is, that we feel a powerful obligation to pursue a particular course of conduct, and to avoid whatever is inconsistent with it. We must inquire on what ground our sense of duty is founded-why we are obliged to adopt one course of conduct rather than another. It is possible to have a high sense of duty, and even to act cousistently from it, without any deep reverence to God-without any love to Christ, or any particular regard to him—without any of those affections which Christianity requires, or which are peculiar to it. Thus, men often endure the fatigues and dangers of a military life, or the anxieties and labour of high civil offices, from a sense of duty, which is not in the least degree connected with religious principle. The opinions and customs of the world require from men in those situations an eminent devotion to the service of the public; and they engage in that service with constancy and zeal, because the world is the master they serve, whose rewards they desire, and whose approbation is their highest glory. And thus in our domestic relations also, a man may discharge his duty assiduously, as a father, a husband, or a neighbour, and may feel much shame and conipunction for neglecting it, while, in reality he is acting from a regard to character, and from deference to the current maxims and opinions of society. The sense of duty is not seldom a motive to action, even in cases where the views of duty are confined and erroneous, or even radically corrupt.
IV. Let us next consider a principle much less liable to exception: gratitude to God for his goodness to us.—God is the fountain of all good, the source of all religion, and the centre of all excellence; and in proportion as our motives have reference to him, they ap