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revelation any more than for natural religion. There is indeed a difference, from inattention to which some have fancied natural religion opposed to revelation, though it is not so: the difference is this : in natural religion nothing can be admitted which is not deducible from our natural notions; for every thing must be admitted for some reason; and in natural religion no reason can take place, except this agreeableness of the thing to our natural sense : but revelation introduces a new reason, the will of God, which must have the authority of a law with us: this point enlarged on. Hence it is not necessary that all parts of a revelation should be such as may be proved by natural reason, provided they do not contradict it; as the will of God is sufficient reason for our submission. But the essentials of religion, even under revelation, must be judged by the same principle. No revelation can dispense with virtue and holiness ; for it may as reasonably dispense with our belief in the being of a God, as that he can or would vacate the obligations to virtue and holiness; hence all such doctrines, rites, and ceremonies, as tend to subvert true goodness and holiness, are clearly not of God's teaching or introducing. The surest way to keep ourselves steadfast in the purity of the gospel, is to fix our eye constantly on this rule : enthusiasm or destructive zeal could not have grown out of the gospel, had men done so ; nor could religion have degenerated into folly and superstition : these points enlarged on. Some persons, finding so much folly, superstition, and uncertainty in religion, have rejected it altogether ; which could not have happened, had they attended to the true notion of God, and not to the extravagancies of men, which affect not our duty. Are we absolved from our religion because others have corrupted theirs ? If the people are deceived, and the priests ignorant or superstitious, that does not destroy the relation between us and God, or make it reasonable for us to throw off our obedience. The fear of God teaches us a very different sort of wisdom.
PROVERBS, CHAP. IX.- VERSE 10.
The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom; and the knowlege
of the Holy is understanding.
The advantages which we may expect to reap from religion are many and great, but not all equally certain : some are exposed to the chances and casualties of human life, and depend on circumstances that are not under our own conduct and government: hence it is that the best men are sometimes exposed to the severest trials and sharpest afflictions. But there are two things which sincere religion can never fail of attaining; one of which is the greatest ingredient, nay, the very foundation of all happiness in this world; the other is, the happiness and immortality which wait for us in the world to come: this blessing we can only enjoy now through faith and hope; but the other is present with us, the certain
consequence and necessary attendant on a mind truly virtuous and religious; I mean the peace and tranquillity, the ease, and satisfaction of mind, which flow not so much from a sense of our having punctually and exactly discharged our duty in all respects, which is more than ever we may hope for, but from a due sense of God and religion, and the uprightness of our desires and intentions to serve him. This advantage is not, properly speaking, a reward given or bestowed on the virtuous; but it arises from the nature of things, from the frame and contexture of our souls : it is virtue's own child, her natural offspring, and can never leave or forsake her : for as long as men have a sense of virtue and vice, good and evil, so long will they condemn and punish themselves for transgressing their obligations; so long will they find peace and satisfaction in their obedience.
Since then nature has given us notice of the being of the Almighty, and shown us the relation we stand in towards him, and consequently the duty and service which we owe him ; it 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 yet 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 wbile 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 passages 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,
that a just conception of God, of his excellencies and perfections, is the true foundation of religion ; • The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.'
To this purpose it might be thought sufficient perhaps by some to observe that fear, whatever limited or enlarged notion you understand it in, is not a voluntary passion : we cannot be afraid or not afraid of things just as we please ; but fear necessarily relates to, and arises from, the notion or conception we have of the thing feared : we fear any being in proportion to the power and will which we conceive that being to have either to hurt or to protect us.
The different kinds of fear likewise are no otherwise distinguishable from one another, than by considering the different conceptions or ideas of the things feared : for fear, being the necessary effect of such conceptions, must 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