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of religion among men, he is sometimes in doubt and suspense, whether his zeal, though well-meant, be right and just. And he admits a re-examination of his design, that he may act according to knowledge, and upon the grounds of a well informed judgment; lest what he does should in the issue be rather prejudicial, than advantageous to the good cause he would promote.
After worshipping God with sincerity and fervour, and partaking in those ordinances and privileges which God has ordained for our improvement, he does not trust to the strength he has thereby gained; but still allows of apprehensions, lest he should act contrary to what he has seen to be fit and right; or some way fail to execute the purposes and resolutions which he has made and renewed in the presence of God.
And as he was beforehand afraid that he should not approve himself as he ought, so likewise, when through care and attention, he has, as he hopes, performed agreeably to his aims and wishes, he is upon his guard, lest some improper opinion and self-sufficiency should arise in his mind, inconsistent with that humility which he would ever maintain.
Nor does the man who fears always presume after the greatest successes. And though he has proceeded for some time in a course of obedience to God's commandments, and temptations have not hitherto greatly prevailed against him, he studiously declines conceit and assurance. He is still ever apprehensive of some new and unlooked for danger; and doubts, whether some time lesser temptations may not prevail, after greater have been vanquished.
Like some general, who, the more victories he has gained, is the more cautious of engaging an enemy; lest the honour of former successes should be lost and forfeited by some unhappy disaster.
This is the man, who, in a religious sense,a feareth always. And now we may just observe the connection, which a Walk circumspectly at all times, and in all relations and circumstances of life-Let not success betray you into security. Perhaps you have not for some time been importuned by temptations, or you have overcome them, ' and made some good progress in religion. But do not therefore lay aside 'your vigilance, since there may happen such an alteration in your circumstances, or in your temper, that you may have as much occasion for it, as ever you had in your lives, if not more. "Blessed is the man that feareth always," Prov. xxviii. 14; who has ever upon his mind such an apprehen'sion of the great evil of sin, and his liableness to it, while he is in the body, 'as to be continually watchful against it. By thus fearing always he will be ' able to rejoice always, both in the consciousness of his own integrity, and the hope of the heavenly reward.' Mr. H. Grove's second volume of Additional Sermons, Serm. xvii. p. 450.
some think there is between this and the preceding observation, though it is not very clear and certain. "He that covereth his sins shall not prosper; but whoso confesseth and forsaketh them shall find mercy. Happy is the man that feareth always:" that is, if he would secure the mercy he has found, the advantage he has gained, it will be of use, to preserve a fear of offending, and to be cautious and circumspect in all his actions.
II. Which leads us to the second point, the happiness of this temper and disposition of mind. Happy is the man that feareth always.'
The happiness of such an one is this; he will not fall into mischief. He will exceed his own fears and apprehensions. He will behave better, and wiser, than he imagined. It is very probable, that this fear of offending will prevent a great deal of grief and vexation. And he will never know by experience, what that remorse and anguish of mind is, which is the fruit of great and repeated transgressions. His apprehensions of falling, and dread of guilt, with the consequences of it, will secure him from those great and dreadful evils.
Probably, the life of such an one will be even and uniform. It will consist of a regular course of religious devotion, public and private; and of a great number, and large variety of beneficial actions, and kind offices to others.
He will scarce be able to refrain himself from giving some hints and instructions that shall be useful to others. Especially, if he see any secure and presuming, he will warn them affectionately and earnestly. But being sensible of his own weakness, and ever apprehensive of acting, some time, amiss himself; his admonitions, and warnings, and reproofs, if they should be needful, will be tempered with mildness and gentleness.
It seems not unlikely, that this property, of fearing always, should produce an amiable character, which shall gain a man some good degree of esteem, and qualify him for more usefulness, than very eminent attainments could do without it. The modesty and meekness of his behaviour will not only cast some lustre upon himself, but likewise adorn religion, and give it an agreeable and lovely ap
And though he never, whilst in the body, and in this state of trial, dares pass a definitive sentence in favour of himself, but refers that to the all-knowing Judge; yet it is likely, that continued innocence, and persevering integrity, will
lay a foundation for growing joy, and solid satisfaction of mind, which will be preferable to all the advantages of this world.
Such is the happiness of this person, and of this temper of mind.
III. In the third place we are to observe, how this temper, of fearing always, contributes to a man's happiness.
And it is very easy for any one to perceive this. For such an one will be circumspect and watchful; which, certainly, must be a good mean of security. He that looks well to his going, who is thoughtful and considerate, will, in all probability, act more wisely and discreetly, than the rash and unthinking.
Moreover he will be serious and diligent in the use of all proper means of security and stedfastness. He will frequent the assemblies of divine worship, and will pray and hear, not only out of form and carelessly, but with attention, and with a view of gaining confirmation and establishment. He considers acts of worship as means of improvement, and preparatory for the duties of life. And hereby he gains strength for resisting of temptations, and grows ready to every good word and work.
Nor does he neglect private meditation; but often thinks of God and another world. He contemplates the works of God, and studies his word. He considers the perfection and extent of the divine law. He observes the reasonableness of every part of it, and fixes in his mind an abhorrence of all sin upon a reasonable foundation.
He frequently contemplates the glory set before the upright and persevering in the gospel of Christ; and thereby he is animated to duty, and set more and more at variance with every thing that might deprive him of so great a recompence.
He dreads the thought of being hardened in sin, and therefore cherishes tenderness of spirit.
He often reflects on his ways, and calls himself to an account for what he has done in public and private; and fails not to renew his repentance. If any thing unbecoming has escaped him, he does not palliate and justify it, or seek for excuses and apologies; but he condemns himself for it, and laments it. His humility is thereby increased, and his future circumspection is rendered more exact and vigilant.
Nor would he shun the advices and reproofs of others; but would gladly accept the reprehensions and admonitions of á knowing and faithful friend.
This course of thinking and acting, cannot but be of advantage, and conduce to the happiness described under the foregoing particular.
IV. I am now to add some remarks and observations. They will be such as these.
1. The temper of mind, spoken of in this maxim of Solomon, and styled "fearing always," is frequently recommended to christians in the New Testament.
Our Lord cherished it in his own disciples by exhortations and arguments. They were not so perfect after he had been long with them, but he set before them the duty of watching. It is one of those things which he inculcated upon them a little before he took his leave of them. " And what I say unto you, I say unto all: Watch," Mark xiii. 37. And "Watch and pray, that ye enter not into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak," Matt. xxvi. 41. They had been too positive and presuming. He assures them that they had better be, with regard to themselves, more diffident and distrustful; that they might be more upon their guard, and more constant and earnest in prayer to God for his protection and help.
This fear of offending, this distrust of ourselves, this apprehensiveness of the power of temptations, is implied in that petition of the prayer which Christ taught his disciples: "And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil."
"Brethren," says St. Paul to the Galatians;" if a man be overtaken in a fault, ye which are spiritual, restore such an one in the spirit of meekness, considering thyself, lest thou also be tempted," Gal. vi. 1; that is, mindful of thy own weakness, and that it is not impossible, but thou also mayst at some time, and some way or other, be tempted with effect, so as to fall.
Among divers considerations, which the apostle Paul mentions to dissuade the Corinthians from too great intimacy with the idolatrous heathens, he inserts this also: "Wherefore let him that think he stands, take heed, lest he fall," 1 Cor. x. 12.
And with great affection and earnestness he says to the Philippians: "Wherefore, my beloved, as ye have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your salvation with fear and trembling," Philip. ii. 12.
St. Peter exhorts those to whom he writes, " to pass the time of their sojourning here in fear." Again, "Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary, the devil, as a roaring
lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour," 1 Pet. i. 17; ch. v. 8.
And the apostle to the Hebrews: "Take heed, my brethren, lest there be in any of you an evil heart of unbelief, in departing from the living God. But exhort one another daily, lest any of you be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin," Heb. iii. 12, 13.
2. We may observe in the Old and New Testament divers instances of this temper of fearing always, in the sense of a religious fear, as we have explained it; a fear of offending, through the power of external temptations, and the weakness and inconstancy of our minds.
Possibly somewhat of this temper is implied in that expression of Job," " All the days of my appointed time will I wait, till my change be," Job xiv. 14.
For this reason it is, that good men in the Old Testament sometimes speak of their guarding the senses, the inlets of external temptations, or occasions of sin. Job says, "he had made a covenant with his eyes," xxxi. 1. And the Psalmist: "I am purposed, that my mouth shall not transgress," Ps. xvii. 3.
Joseph, as is well known, feared to trust too much to his own resolution; and therefore shunned the company of the seducer.
This fear is the ground and principle of divers prayers of pious men; as Keep back thy servant also from presumptuous sins. Let them not have dominion over me. So shall I be free from every great transgression," Ps. xix. 13. Again, "Incline my heart unto thy testimonies, and not unto covetousness. Turn away my eyes from beholding vanity. And quicken me in thy way," Ps. cxix. 36, 37. And," Set a watch, O Lord, before my mouth; keep the door of my lips. Incline not my heart unto any evil thing," Ps. cxli. 2, 4; that is, let not my heart incline to any evil thing; let me not be prevailed upon by any temptations, to do that which is evil.
To this purpose is that request of Agur: "Two things have I desired of thee. Deny me them not, before I die. Remove far from me vanity and lies. Give me neither poverty nor riches. Feed me with food convenient for me. Lest I be full, and deny thee, and say: Who is the Lord? and lest I be poor, and steal, and take the name of the Lord my God in vain," Prov. xxx. 7—9.
This good man feared always. He was apprehensive, that he had not sufficient resolution and virtue to behave