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SERMON XXII.

THE FEAR OF THE LORD, THE ONLY SURE GUIDE TO

A COMPLETE KNOWLEDGE AND UNIFORM PRACTICE

OF VIRTUE.

PSALM čxi, 10.

The Fear of the Lord is the Beginning of Wisdom. WISDOM, when it occurs in the Book of Psalms and Proverbs, does not always signify, as in common life, the choice of proper means for accomplishing a certain end, but most frequently a right moral conduct, or that ability to discern our duty and disposition to practise it, which lead to universal righteousness. In this sense the author of the ninetieth Psalm seems to use the term, when he prays; " So teach us to number our days, that we may apply our hearts unto wisdom.” And it is evidently in the same sense, that the writer of the Book of Proverbs uses it, when he says ; “ Happy is the man that findeth wisdom;" that is, as the succeeding words show; happy is the man, who hath acquired a knowledge of his duty, and practises it, " and the man that getteth understanding; for the merchandize of it is better than the merchandize of silver, and the gain thereof than fine gold. She is more precious than rubies; and all the things thou canst desire are not to be compared unto her:

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length of days is in her right hand and in her left hand riches and honour. Her ways are ways of pleasantness, and all her paths are peace. She is a tree of life to them that lay hold upon her, and happy is every one that retaineth her.” On the other hand, vice is called folly, and described to be as odious and mischievous, as wisdom is useful and valuable. The beginning of this wisdom, we are told in the text, is the fear of the Lord; that is, a regard to God, a belief of his being, and respect to his authority, lay the best foundation for a right moral conduct : such a fear is the surest guide to the discovery of our duty, and furnishes the best motives for the practice of it. This is the assertion of the Psalmist; and what I now propose is, to examine the justness of it in respect to the three great divisions of our duty, into divine, personal, and social.

That a respect for God should lead to the performance of the duties we owe to him, there seems no reason to question ; for it is it's natural and obvious tendency. To revere a friend in our hearts, and to show him respect in our external behaviour; to comply as far as we are able with his wishes, and to avoid whatever is offensive, are considered to be so intimately connected, as to be regarded as one and the same thing. He that should profess to feel the one, and not manifest the other, must be pronounced insincere.

It is possible, however, that men may have recourse to very erroneous methods of expressing their respect for the divine Being, which may be so far from being acceptable to him or agreeable to their duty, as to be directly contrary, to both. Thus, some conceiving of him as an angry and revengeful being, who delighted in severity, have attempted to appease his anger and to recover his favour, when they had offended him, by acts of severity to them. selves, by retiring from society into solitude, by abstaining from food, or using such as was scanty or unwholesome, by afflicting their persons, or by practising some such other methods of mortification and self denial, as their own imaginations might recommend. The idea such persons have formed of the Deity is that of a man of an unrelenting temper, who can never be induced to pardon those who have offended or injured him, except they have suffered much for their offences. They have, therefore, thought, that to become miserable was to render themselves acceptable, and that the more wretched they could make themselves, the better they were prepared for being restored to his favour. Such

persons may, indeed, be said to fear God, and to do these things from that motive; but they have wholly mistaken the character of the great Father of mankind, and fallen hereby into the most wretched superstition. The leading object of his government is to communicate pleasure, to multiply

our enjoyments rather than to lessen them, to make men happy and not miserable; nor can we please him better than by cooperating with him in this benevolent design. It is true there is evil in his dispensations as well as good, but it is only evil as the means of doing good, as the instrument of correcting the temper and purifying the character of his children. Whenever it has not this tendency, he neither employs it himself, nor approves of it's being employed by others. If men have offended him by their ill conduct, the best atonement they can make is repentance and amendment. Acts of self denial and mortification, which answer no other purpose than that of rendering the perrson, by whom they are practised, wretched, must be offensive in his sight. These mistakes, however, which proceed from unworthy notions of the divine Being, are not to be attributed to the fear of God, as recommended in Scripture, which is founded

upon
rational and exalted views of his

government and character. This teaches us to seek the favour of God by endeavouring to resemble his character in purity and moral excellence, and to avoid his displeasure by abstaining from every thing that is base and dishonourable. It teaches us to hate evil and to love goodness, as the only sure means of recommending ourselves to his regards.

Into how much folly, vice, and wretchedness men will be plunged, who are destitute of this salutary fear, or fix their fear upon a wrong object, the

!

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