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ples, and charged them, that while they paid tithe of mint, and anise, and cummin; they neglected the weightier matters of the law, justice, and mercy, and fidelity.
The Scribes and Pharisees, who knew that our Lord was highly esteemed as a teacher come from God, often applied to him for a resolution of their doubts in any cases of an intricate nature; and for this purpose, the person mentioned in the chapter before us, had recourse to the judgment of Jesus, on this point, which occasioned such controversy among his countrymen. Our Lord, conceiving this an important opportunity of conveying the knowledge of truth to the mind of a young man, who it seems was an amiable character, answers him in the words of the text;—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. Well might our Lord give the preference to this precept above all others, in the moral law, since it is indeed of primary importance as a religious duty. This will appear still more evident, if we consider, in the remainder of this discourse,
I. The nature of that religious affection, which, in scripture, is denominated the love of God.
II. The extent of this duty, which is here called the first and great commandment.
III. The necessity of cherishing the love of God, for improving our religious character.
IV. The means which may be successfully employed, to inspire our minds with this affection. And then apply the subject to practice.
I. With respect to the nature of the love of God, it may be understood, from the properties of the affection itself, and the object to which it is directed. Such is the constitution of our nature, that we are excited to love certain objects which possess estimable qualities ; and certain persons from whom we have received any valuable benefits. We delight in their society, we are pleased with their intercourse, we rejoice in their happiness. If
they are exalted above us in rank, we venerate their character, admire their virtues, and follow their example. A benefactor, who has bestowed on ús unmerited favours, becomes the object of our sincerest gratitude; and we endeavour to testify our sense of his kindness, by such acts of respectful demeanour, as we deem suitable to his dig. nity or worth. If we conceive such dispositions towards a fellow-creature, is it not possible also to cherish the same towards God, who possesses every perfection in himself, and who daily loadeth us with his benefits?
There is a prejudice, indeed, against the love of God, as if it were a chimerical idea, or fanatical delusion. How, may some say, is it possible to love a being whom we never saw; and “ who dwells in that high and holy place, to which no man can approach ?” But it is not necessary to excite this affection, that its object be present; for the firm persuasion of his existence, and the conception of his excellent qualities, are sufficient to stir up in our souls admiration or esteem of any character, whom we have only heard of by report, or read of in writing. Yet the sensation which we feel towards him is as real, as if we beheld him before our eyes. Now, the perfections of the Almighty are as clearly unfolded to our view, by the works of his hands, and by the declarations of his word, as the good qualities of our fellow-creatures, whom we venerate and esteem. He is infinite in power, consummate in wisdom, and bountiful in goodness; and therefore is as proper an object of our love, as any other being with whom we are acquainted. Nay, as he is transcendently excellent in every attribute, therefore he is entitled to our highest veneration, our supreme affection.- We own and feel the influence of amiable qualities in our fellow-creatures; and shall we be insensible to the display of perfect goodness in our Creator? Shall we love and delight in the presence of one to whom we are attached; and can we not also experience a joy unspeakable, when we approach him “in whom we live, and move, and have our being ?” Do we revere the character of one who has achieved some mighty acts, and exerted his talents for the public good; and shall we not vene
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 charac-, ter; 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 ricnly 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 whi 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 ;