« VorigeDoorgaan »
PROVERBS, CHAP. IX.-VERSE 10.
r of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom; and the knowlege
of the Holy is understanding.
advantages which we may expect to reap from religion y and great, but not all equally certain : some are ex
the chances and casualties of human life, and depend imstances that are not under our own conduct and ent: hence it is that the best men are sometimes to the severest trials and sharpest afflictions. But there things which sincere religion can never fail of attain
of which is the greatest ingredient, nay, the very n of all happiness in this world; the other is, the
and immortality which wait for us in the world to is blessing we can only enjoy now through faith and t the other is present with us, the certain consequence sary attendant on a mind truly virtuous and religious; • peace and tranquillity, the ease, and satisfaction of sh flow not so much from a sense of our having
and exactly discharged our duty in all respects, vre than ever we may hope for, but from a due sense
religion, and the uprightness of our desires and o serve him. This advantage is not, properly reward given or bestowed on the virtuous; but it he nature of things, from the frame and contexture
it is virtue's own child, her natural offspring, and ave or forsake her : for as long as men have a ue and vice, good and evil, so long will they punish themselves for transgressing their obli
gations; so long will they find peace and satisfaotion in the obedience.
Since then nature has given us notice of the being of th Almighty, and shown us the relation we stand in towards him and consequently the duty and service which we owe him ; i necessarily follows that this sense, rightly adjusted and duly pursued in a regular and honest discharge of our duty towards God, must breed in our minds true peace and comfort; and consequently, that true religion must be the source and spring even of our temporal happiness and enjoyment. But
look into the world, and the face of things has quite a different appearance : religion is fearful, suspicious, full of doubts and misgivings of heart, never satisfied with itself, always seeking, but seldom finding where to fix itself in rest and tranquillity: hence it comes to pass that some, not rightly considering the nature and causes of things, misconceive concerning religion itself, and think it better to lay aside all pretences to it, than perpetually to fluctuate in the troubled ocean of doubts and uncertainties, that encompasses it round about. And thus superstition, by making many miserable in the pursuit of religion, makes others, to avoid being lost in that gulf, throw themselves into another of atheism and irreligion, which is a much deeper. In these two extremes, of infidelity on one side, and superstition on the other, true religion is lost, and together with it that peace and comfort, and ease of mind, which belong to it: for view God from which of the two extremes you please, his appearance must be dreadful : you may see him in the terrors of majesty and power; but the kinder rays which flow from his mercy and goodness and benevolence towards mankind, will be intercepted from your eyes.
The atheistical unbeliever, if ever he so far forgets himself as to suppose the being of a God for a time, sees nothing of him but the judge and the avenger, and hastens back to his infidelity to screen him from the wrath and justice, which even in imagination were insupportable. Superstition is so perpetually encompassed with a thick cloud of its own fears and suspicions, that it cannot discern the beauties and holiness of the Creator : every frightful spectre, that walks in its own imagination, is
mistaken for the Deity; and superstition adores it, as the wild Indians are said to worship the devil, not for love, but for fear. The case then being thus, that mankind is in a great measure robbed of the present comfort and pleasure of religion, either by infidelity or superstition; it is very well worth our while to search into the causes that lead to this unhappiness, to see what it is that has corrupted this living spring, this fountain of delight, and turned its waters into gall and bitterness.
The words of the text, rightly understood, will not only afford us an occasion for this inquiry, but will also direct us in it; and by showing us the principles of true religion, will help. us to discover the errors and misconceits which are introductive of irreligion and superstition.
• The fear of the Lord,' says the wise king, is the beginning of wisdom; and the knowlege of the Holy is understanding. This is not the only place where he expresses himself in this manner : the same thing, with some small variety in the expression, is more than once repeated again in the book of Proverbs: it is to be met with also in the Psalmist, in the very same words almost : and the thought occurs frequently in the inspired writers : so that this seems to be a common maxim or principle of religion, that runs through all the sacred records, and by which all good and wise men have guided themselves in the great and momentous concern of religion.
In speaking to these words, I propose to myself these two things : First, to show that the text, and other the like
of holy Scripture, will be found, on examining the sense and reason of them, to contain this general proposition, that a just conception of God, of his excellencies and perfections, is the true foundation of religion.
Secondly, that this just conception of God is the right rule to form our judgments by in all particular matters of religion, and the only thing that can secure us from either atheism or superstition.
First, I will endeavor to show you that the text, and other the like passages of Scripture, will be found, on examining the sense and reason of them, to contain this general proposition,
en for the Deity; and superstition adores it, as the wild s are said to worship the devil, not for love, but for fear. se then being thus, that mankind is in a great measure of the present comfort and pleasure of religion, either by y or superstition; it is very well worth our while to nto the causes that lead to this unhappiness, to see what at has corrupted this living spring, this fountain of and turned its waters into gall and bitterness. vords of the text, rightly understood, will not only an occasion for this inquiry, but will also direct us in y showing us the principles of true religion, will help. over the errors and misconceits which are introductive in and superstition. par of the Lord,' says the wise king,' is the begindom; and the knowlege of the Holy is understandi is not the only place where he expresses himself in r: the same thing, with some small variety in the is more than once repeated again in the book of it is to be met with also in the Psalmist, in the very
almost: and the thought occurs frequently in the ters: so that this seems to be a common maxim or religion, that runs through all the sacred records, h all good and wise men have guided themselves in i momentous concern of religion. g to these words, I propose to myself these two
that a just conception of God, of his excellencies and perf tions, is the true foundation of religion ; • The fear of the Le is the beginning of wisdom.'
To this purpose it might be thought sufficient perhaps some to observe that fear, whatever limited or enlarged noti you understand it in, is not a voluntary passion : we cannot afraid or not afraid of things just as we please ; but fear nece sarily relates to, and arises from, the notion or conception w have of the thing feared: we fear any being in proportion & the
power and will which we conceive that being to have eithe to hurt or to protect us.
The different kinds of fear likewis are no otherwise distinguishable from one another, than by con sidering the different conceptions or ideas of the things feared for fear, being the necessary effect of such conceptions, mus differ according to the difference of the conceptions. If we join to great power great malice and a settled resolution to do mischief, such an object strikes with terror and confusion, and breeds in our minds a base and slavish fear: if we add to great power, great goodness and benevolence, such an object creates an awe and reverence, and fills our hearts with filial fear and veneration. When therefore we say the fear of this or fear of that does so or so, we can have no sense of the proposition, without having a notion of the thing feared. The fear of a tyrant, and the fear of a father, are very different passions : but he that knows not the difference between a tyrant and a father will never be able to distinguish these passions. When therefore we read that the fear of God is the beginning of wisdom,' we can have no understanding of the words without having a just conception of God, by which alone we can judge of the nature of godly fear, and of its operations. Allowing therefore that the wise king, by “the fear of the Lord,' means a right and due fear, it necessarily supposes a right and due conception of the Lord, from which only that right and due fear can flow, which is the mother of wisdom and understanding : for if men misconceive concerning God, either as to his holiness and purity, to his mercy or justice, their fear of him will not produce wisdom; which is evident from the infinite follies of the heathen world, which grew out of their false fear and reverence of their gods. This proposition therefore, the fear
ow that the text, and other the like passages
of 2, will be found, on examining the sense and rea
contain this general proposition, that a just con1, of his excellencies and perfections, is the true eligion. at this just conception of God is the right rule gments by in all particular matters of religion, ing that can secure us from either atheism or
endeavor to show you that the text, and other of Scripture, will be found, on examining the of them, to contain this general proposition,
of God is the beginning of wisdom,' is equivalent to this, A just notion and conception of God is the beginning of wisdom.
Having deduced this exposition from the order and vature of things in themselves, let us try the other method, which is more familiar, and see whether we can come to any exposition of these words, which will not lead to the same thing.
• The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom :' we are to consider what is meant by the fear of the Lord.' The reason of the inquiry is evidently this, that we experience in ourselves different kinds and degrees of fear, which have very different effects and operations : some stupify the senses, and rob us
of all wisdom and understanding : others render us active and industrious, and give an edge to our invention how to shun and avoid the thing we fear. Of what sort then is the fear of the Lord? Is it an abject slavish fear? No, certainly : all expositors agree to warn you against this sense and interpretation of fear. But were you to ask the reason why the fear of God is not a slavish fear, there is only this reason to be given you, because God is no tyrant; and I suppose every man of sense will admit this for a good reason : and what else is this but adjusting the sense of fear from the true notion and conception of God? The properties of religious fear, which are mentioned in Scripture, are various : “ The fear of the Lord is clean,' says the Psalmist : *The fear of the Lord is to hate evil,' says Solomon; and again, “It is a fountain of life;' and again, 'In the fear of the Lord is strong confidence. Try all these in the same way, and you will find they are deducible only from the notion and conception of God, and are not to be understood without it. The fear of God therefore is not to be expounded from the nature of fear, considered as a distinct passion of the mind; but by considering the natural effect that a just sense and notion of God has on the mind of a rational creature : for the fear of God signifies that frame and affection of soul which is the consequence of a just notion and conception of the Deity. It is called the fear of God, because as majesty and power are the principal parts of the idea of God, so fear and reverence are the main ingredients in the affection that arises from it; not but that love and honor and admiration are included in the notion.
And in this latitude the wise king most certainly understood it, when he said, 'In the fear of the Lord is strong confidence :' for confidence is no effect of fear, properly so called; but it is a natural effect of a just sense of the Almighty's power and goodness.
There is but one thing that occurs to me that seems to look like a difficulty in this way of arguing, which is this: if the fear of God denotes that sense and affection of mind which is the natural effect of a true notion and conception of God, it should seem that none should be void of the fear of God, but those only who want right notions of God; and yet we know there are sinners against knowlege, who discover no fear of God, though they can discourse as rationally as others on his attributes and perfections. There are two ways by which men may discover that they have a sense of the fear of God: one indeed is by acting agreeably to it but there is another, which is by conscience: self-condemnation, for acting contrary to the fear of God, is an evident token of the sense of that fear. But if there are any instances where neither of these signs are discoverable, there is a farther account to be given; for it is not merely the speculative notions of God which produce this sense, but there must be a persuasion also that there is a real Being to whom these ideas actually belong: without this the notion is idle and fruitless: we may raise in our fancies very terrible objects; but they produce little or no effect, as long as we contemplate them as the mere creatures of our imagination. In like manner the notion of a God may cause little change in the fool's heart, which says there is no God. And though I am far from thinking that there are many atheists in the world, yet there is in many a heart a secret lurking infidelity, or rather a want of a due belief and persuasion of the reality of the things invisible; which makes religion appear so cold and formal, so void of life and activity. Where this is the case, there wants a just conception of God; and no wonder there should want also a due sense of the fear of the Lord. But let us proceed to the second thing, which was to show,
That this just conception of God is the right rule to form our judgments by in matters of religion, and the only thing that can secure us from either atheism or superstition.