« PreviousContinue »
that fear is not sufficient for salvation. This false reasoning, however, may be found in some systems of morality. Terror, say they, may, indeed, make a part of a course of wisdom, but it is only the beginning of it, as it is said, the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom ; but neither does fear signify terror, in this passage, nor does the beginning mean a priority of time; it means the principal point. The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom ; that is, the principal point; that without which no man is truly wise, that is, obedience to the laws of religion, agreeably to the saying of the wise man, Fear God, and keep his commandments ; for this is the whole duty of man, Eccles. xii. 13.
It seems needless to remark what idea we ought to form of this fear: for it is plain, the more a soul is filled with it, the nearer it approacheth to perfection. It seems equally unnecessary to prove that terror is a very different disposition from this fear: for on the contrary, the most effectual mean of not fearing God in the first sense is to fear him in the last. Fear not, said Moses formerly, for God is come to prove you, that his fear may be before your faces, Exod. xx. 20. Fear not, that ye may fear; this is only a seeming contradiction : The only way to prevent fear, that is, horror, on account of the judgments of God, is to have his fear before your eyes, that is, such a love, and such
deference for him, as religion requires. Agreeably to this, it is elsewhere said, perfect love, (and perfect love in this passage, is nothing but the fear of which I am speaking) perfect love casteth out fear ; that is, a horror on account of God's judgments : for the more love we have for him, the stronger assurance shall we enjoy, that his judgments have nothing in them dangerous to us.
3. But beside these two notions of fear, there is a third, which is more nearly allied to our text, a notion, that is neither so general as the last, nor so particular as the first. Fear, in this third sense, is a disposition which considers him who is the object of it as alone possessing all that can contribute to our happiness or misery. Distinguish here a particular from a general happiness. Every being around us, by a wise disposal of Providence, hath some degree of power to favor, or to hinder, a particular happiness. Every thing that can increase, or abate, the motion of our bodies, may contribute to the advancement, or to the dimunition, of the particular happiness of our bodies. Every thing that can elucidate, or obscure, the ideas of our minds, may contribute to the particular. happiness or misery of our minds. Every thing that can procure to our souls either a sensation of pleasure, or a sensation of pain, may contribute to the particular happiness or misery of our souls. But it is neither a particular happiness, nor a particular misery, that we mean to treat of now : we mean a general happiness. It often happens, that all things being considered, a particular happiness, considered in the whole of our felicity, is a general misery and on the contrary, it often happens, that, all things being considered, a particular misery, in the whole of our felicity, is a general happiness. It was a particular misfortune in the life of man to be forced to bear the amputation of a mortified arm : but weighing the whole felicity of the life of the man, this particular misfortune became a good, because had he not consented to the amputation of the mortified limb, the mortification would have been fatal to his life, and would have deprived him of all felicity here. It was a particular calamity, that a believer should be called to suffer martrydom:
but in the whole felicity of that believer, martyrdom was a happiness, yea an inestimable happiness: by suffering the pain of a few moments, he hath escaped those eternal torments which would have attended his apostacy : the bearing of a light affliction, which was but for a moment, hath wrought out a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory, 2. Cor. iv. 17.
Let us sum up these reflections. To consider a being as capable of rendering us happy or miserable, in the general sense that we have given of the words happiness and misery, is to fear that Being, in the third sense which we have given to the term fear. This is the sense of the word fear, in the text, and in many other passages of the holy scriptures. Thus Isaiah useth it, Say ye not a confederacy, to all them to whom this people shall say a. confederacy: neither fear ye their fear, nor be afraid. Sanctify the Lord of hosts himself, and let him be your fear, and let him be your dread, chap. viii. 12. 13. So again, Who art thou, that thou shouldst be afraid of a man that shall die, and of the son of man that shall be made as grass? chap. li. 12. And again in these well-known words of our Saviour, Fear not them which kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul : but rather fear him which is able to destroy both soul and body in hell, Matt. x. 28. To kill the body is to cause a particular evil; and to fear them which kill the body is to regard the death of the body as a general evil, determining the whole of our felicity. TO fear him which is able to destroy the soul, is to. consider the loss of the soul as the general evil, and him who is able to destroy the soul as alone able to determine the whole of our felicity or misery. In this sense we understand the text, and this sense, seems most agreeable to the scope of the place.
The prophet was endeavoring to abase false gods in the eyes of his countrymen, while the true God was suffering their worshippers to carry his people into captivity. He was aiming to excite the Jews to worship the God of heaven and earth, and to despise idols even amidst the trophies and the triumphs of idolaters. He was trying to convince them fully that idols could procure neither happiness nor misery to mankind; and that, if their worshippers should inflict any punishments on the captives, they would be only particular evils permitted by the providence of God: Be not dismayed at the signs of heaven because the heathen are dismayed at them. One cutteth a tree out of the forest with the axe to make idols; another decks them with silver and with gold, and fastens them with nails and with hammers that they move not. They are upright as the palm-tree, but speak not. They must needs be borne, because they cannot go. Be not afraid of them, for they cannot do evil, neither also is it in them to do good, ver. 2, &c. Remark here the double motive of not fearing them: on the one hand they cannot do evil ; on the other, neither is it in them to do good. This justifies the idea, that we give you of fear, by representing it as that disposition, which considers its object as having our happiness and our misery in its power. Instead of
. fearing they should destroy you, announce you their destruction, and say unto them, in the language of the Babylonians, who worship them,* the Gods that have not made the heaven, and the earth, even they shall perish from the earth, and from under these heavens, ver. 11. Having thus shewn that heathen gods could not be the object of that fear, which considereth a being as able to procure happiness and misery : the prophet represents the
*These words are in the Chaldean language in the original.
God of Israel as alone worthy of such an homage, He , hath made the earth by his power, he hath established the world by his wisdom, and hath stretched out the heavens by his discretion. When he uttereth his voice there is a multitude of waters in the heavens, and he causeth the vapors to ascend from the ends of the earth : he maketh lightnings with rain, and bringeth forth the wind out of his treasures. Molten images are falshood and vanity. The portion of Jacob is not like them ; for he is the former of all things, and Israel is the rod of his inheritance; the Lord of Hosts is his name, ver. 12, &c. The prophet, his own mind being filled with those ideas, supposes every other mind filled with them too; and in an ecstacy exclaims, Who would not fear thee, O King of nations ? for to thee doth it appertain?
Fear, then, taken in this third sense, is an homage that cannot be paid to a creature without falling into idolatry. To regard a being, as capable of determining the happiness, or misery, of an immortal soul, is to pay the honors of adoration to him. As it can be said of none but God, it is my happiness to draw near to him, Psal. Ixxiii. 28. so of him alone can it be truly said, it is my misery to depart from him. Moreover, this homage belongeth to him in a complete and eminent man
He possesseth all without restriction that can contribute to our felicity, or to our misery. Three ideas, under which we are going to consider God, will prove what we have affirmed.
I. God is a Being, whose will is self-efficient.
II. God is the only Being, who can act immediately on spiritual souls.
III. God is the only Being, who can make all creatures concur with his designs. From these