« PreviousContinue »
On the proper Disposition of the Heart towards
Acts, xvii. 28.
In Him we live, and move, and have our Being.
THERE is nothing which all nature more loudly
proclaims, than that some Supreme Being has framed and rules this universe. Day uttereth speech of it to day, and night showeth knowledge of it to night. Our birth and our life, our sensations and our actions, the objects which we behold, and the pleasures which we enjoy, all conspire to testify that some wonderful intelligence has disposed and arranged, and still supports and animates, the whole frame of nature. This is what scarcely any man of sober mind ever called in question. It was the dictate of nature to the most savage and barbarous, as well as to the most civilized nations. The American and the Indian in his desert, as well as the Grecian sage and the Roman conqueror, adored, each after his own mode, a Sovereign of the Universe. — The Psalmist observes, that the fool hath said in his heart there is no God.* Among the follies, however, with which the human race is chargeable, this is one whichi, in the course of ages, seemed to have made the smallest progress. It was reserved for modern times and evil days, to engender in one region of the earth, a system of false philosophy, which should revive the exploded principles of atheism, and study to pour forth their poison among the nations, not only to the extinction of religion, but to the subversion of established governments, and of good order among mankind.
* Psalm xiv, 1.
Dismissing all delusions of this nature as unworthy the attention of any reasonable unperverted mind; holding it for certain that nothing can be more real than the existence of a Supreme Divinity, it follows of course from this belief, that there are dispositions correspondent to Him which ought to be found in every human mind, among the young and the old, among the high and the low, the rich and the poor. It is absurd to suppose, that while the relations in which we stand to our fellow-creatures, whether as equals, superiors, or inferiors, naturally call forth certain sentiments and affections, there should be none which properly correspond to the first and greatest of all Beings; to Him, whom, though we see him not, we all recognize; to Him in whom, as it is beautifully expressed in my text, we live, and move, and have our being.
The proper disposition of mind with respect to God, is generally expressed by the term of Love to him. This is very justly founded on the solemn injunction of our blessed Lord.* 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. Hence, it is common among religious
writers to include the whole of pious affections towards God in Love. But when this term is applied to the Almighty, we must be careful to understand aright what it imports. We all know what it is to love any
of our fellow-creatures; but such an affection as we bear to them, cannot in a literal sense be transferred to God. Among them it is sometimes connected with the fervency of passion, it commonly imports some similarity of nature, and some degree of fond and intimate attachment; all which it were highly improper in us to affect towards the Supreme Being, whose ways are not as our ways, nor his thoughts as our thoughts. I am afraid that the application of Love in a strict sense, and sometimes in too fervent and passionate a strain towards God, has, among some serious and well-disposed minds, given rise to no little enthusiasm in religion.
When therefore we treat of Love as applied to God, it must be analysed or resolved into those sentiments which are proper and suitable for us to encourage towards the God whom we adore. That Love of him which religion requires, and which our Saviour has so solemnly enjoined, is a compounded affection, and the dispositions which it includes are principally three; reverence, gratitude, submission. Of the nature and foundation of each of these I am to treat in the sequel of this Discourse, and shall endeavour to illustrate them as forming that temper and disposition of mind, which we ought always to preserve towards the Great Author of our existence.
I. The foundation of every proper disposition towards God must be laid in Reverence, that is, admiration mixed with awe; what, in its lower
degrees among men, is called Respect; but carried to its highest point with relation to God, may be termed profound Veneration. In this disposition towards Him we ought habitually to be found not only in the exercises of immediate devotion, but amidst the ordinary occurrences of life. Every thing indeed that we see around us gives perpetual occasion for it. We find ourselves in an immense universe, where it is impossible for us, without astonishment and awe, to contemplate the glory and the power of Him who hath created it. From the greatest to the least object that we behold, from the star that glitters in the heavens to the insect that creeps upon the ground, from the thunder that rolls in the skies to the flower that blossoms in the fields, all things testify a profound and mysterious wisdom, a mighty and all-powerful hand, before which we must tremble and adore. Neither the causes nor the issues of the events which we behold, is it in our power to trace; neither how we came into this world, nor whither we go when we retire from it, are we able of ourselves to tell; but in the mean time find ourselves surrounded with astonishing magnificence on every hand. We walk through the earth, as through the apartments of a vast palace, which fill every attentive spectator with wonder. All the works which our power can erect, all the ornaments which our art can contrive, are feeble and trifling in comparison with those glories which nature every where presents to our view. The immense arch of the heavens, the splendour of the sun in his meridian brightness, or the beauty of his rising and setting hours, the rich landscape of the fields, and the boundless expanse of the ocean, are scenes which mock every rival attempt of human
skill or labour. Nor is it only in the splendid appearances of nature, but amidst its rudest forins, that we trace the hand of the Divinity. In the solitary desert, and the high mountain, in the hanging precipice, the roaring torrent, and the aged forest, though there be nothing to cheer, there is much to strike the mind with awe, to give rise to those solemn and sublime sensations which elevate the heart to an Almighty, All-creating Power.
In short, we can no where cast our eyes around us without meeting what is sufficient to awaken reverence of the Deity. This reverence becomes the more profound, that the Great Being who is the object of it, is to us invisible and unknown. We may seek to discover him, but he hides himself from us; his footsteps we clearly trace, but his face we can never behold. We go forward, but he is not there; and backward, but we cannot perceive him: on the left hand, where he worketh, but we cannot behold him; he hideth himself on the right hand, that we cannot see him. * We know that he is not far from every one of us; yet he shrouds himself in the darkness of his pavilion; he answereth from the secret place of thunder.t Before this incomprehensible Being, this God terrible and strong, we become in a manner annihilated; we are sensible that in his sight we are only as the drop of the bucket, and the small dust in the balance; and in his presence can only rejoice with trembling. For we know that the mighty arm which upholds the universe, and which surrounds us with wonders on every side, can in a moment crush us to the dust, if we become objects of displeasure to heaven. Awful are the
Job, xxiii. 8, 9.
t. Ps. lxxxi. 7.