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REV. DAVID TAPPA , d. d.
Majik xii. 30. Thou shah loi)C the Lord thy God %mth all thy hearty and ivith all thy soul, andxmth all thy mind, andnxi'ith all thy strength : this is the first and great commandment.
All religion IS founded in the existence, pciiections, and providence of one Supreme Being, the Crea-r tor and Governor of the world ; so this infinite Being must be the prime and terminating object of religion ; and a supreme regard to him must be the first duty, the crowning virtue of rational creatures. Agreeably, when our Saviour was asked by a Jewish lawyer, which is the first commandment of all, he replies in the words just read ; " Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart ;.... this is the first and great commandment." In discoursing on this very nobje and interesting subject, we will endeavour to illustrate the nature, the grounds, the measure, and the superior importance of love to God. With regard to the nature of the affection here enjoined, it must be understood to comprehend all those inward regards to the Deity, which his perfections, relations, and benefits demand. In other words, it includes the \^'hole of piety, viewed in its internal principles, or as seated in the mind ; just as love to our neighbour, required in the second great command,
46 O THE LOVE OF GOD. [Ser. IV.
comprises the whole principle of social virtue. Accordingly, the first ingredient in love to Gop is a just view and esteem of his character ; for so far as we entertain false and dishonourable ideas of the Supreme Being, our regards to him will be misplaced, degrad-? ing, and idolatrous ; they will really centre on a wrong object, an idol of our own imagination, It is therefore highly important, that our views of the divine character be founded in truth, that they be derived from the sar cred oracles, that they present the Deity to our minds in a glorious and amiable light, in the full-orbed lustre of his natural and moral perfections, Then, and only then, shall we perceive a beauty, a transcendent dignity in his nature, which will cornmand our rational, our superlative esteem. We m^y indeed possess a kind of selfish, enthusiastic love to God without this scriptural, impressive sight of his inherent excellence ; that is, we may love him with the mercenary affection of publicans and sinners, froni a flattering confidence of his special love and benefits to 14s, either enjoyed or expected ; or a pleasing idea, that he is just such a Being, as our^ selves. But this is only a reflection and refinement of self-love, and neither involves nor produces any genur ine esteem of the divine, character ; for proper esteen^ of a worthy object never grows out of mere self-rlove, but is ever founded on the apprehended worth of the party esteemed, Which leads us to observe, that true love to God unites the heart to his glory, and conse^ crates all its faculties to his service, The mind, in a just view and esteem of his infinite excellence, sees it to bs the noblest and happiest thing in the world to honour and please him 5 to contribute to the display of his glo^ rious perfections, and the advancement of his moral kingdom. Hence its active powers and pursuits are piainljr and habitually directe4 to this object ; insomuch
SuR.IV.j O THE LOVE OF GOD. 41
that the pious lover of God eats and drinks, and does jcvery thing to his glory. Hence too, he places his own highest delight and felicity in contemplating, serving, and imitating his Maker, and enjoying the emanations ^d assurances of his favour. We necessarily delight in those chaiacters, to whom our hearts are united bysincere esteem and affection ; their society, their friendship, their approving smile, their growing prosperity, afford us the highest enjoyment- By contributing to their pleasiu-e or interest we essentially promote our own. This happily illustrates the inseparable connexion between serving God and enjoying him, in the union of which the compilers of a celebrated religious compend have wisely placed the chief end of man ; for both these ideas meet in one indivisible point. By loving and glorifying God w'e immediately enjoy him, or find.our own happiness in these noblest exercises of our minds upon their higliest object, especially as connected with correspondent returns of love from this object. On the other hand, our felicity in the reg* ular and full enjoyment of our Maker eminently glorifies him, both as it displays the riches and triumph of his goodness }n harmony with his other perfections, and furnishes us with the greatest incentives and advantages to serve and praise him forever. This, by the way, forcibly represents the absurdity and self-contradiction of that sentiment, which states true love to God to imply a willingness to give up the enjoyment of him for the sake of his greater glory ! A sentiment as repugnant to the nature of the thing, as it is to the whole tenor of Scripture, and to the essential constitution of man, considered either as merely rational, or sanctified. Further, it is easy to see that gratitude to God for his favours is an important branch of the pious temper ; for
48 O THE LOVE OF GOD. [Ser. IV; if the essential perfections of Deity are a proper object of esteem and complacency, tlien the exercise of these perfections in acts of beneficence to us demands the correspondent feehngs and acknowledgments of gratitude ; gratitude as constant and progressive, as is the current of divine benefits. True love of God likewise involves a reverential and filial fear of his power, justice, and paternal displeasure ; a steady and cheerful trust in his governing wisdom, behevolence, and faithfulness ; a quiet resignation to his disposing pleasure, even in the most trying scenes ; an habitual and divine joy in his perfect and universal administration ; a prevaiUng and eifectual desire to comport with or be conformed to all his perfections ; to be obedient to his whole preceptive will, and to hold communion with him in his various ordinances and works. The w^ay is now prepared to consider, Secondly, The grounds or mothes of this divine affection. These are, first, the essential perfections of God ; and secondly, his relations and communications to us. 1. We are to love him primarily for his own loveliness ; or as the text intimates, we are first to love him, as the Lord, the infinitely glorious Jehovah ; and then, as our God, related to us by many endearing ties. In proof of this, I would observe, if the character of God is really amiable in itself, it is fit that we should regard it accordingly ; for it is certainly right to love what is right. We all find ourselves bound, and even constrained to love a worthy human character, at the first sight or hearing of it, previously to any thought of
self-interest, or to the idea of deriving any benefit from it ; yea, in opposition to private and selfish afiection. Thus the excellent character of a Washington has commanded the esteem of distant nations, yea, of selfish
Ser. IV.] O THE LOVE OF GOD. 49 Britons, who, though obliged to view him in the late revolution as theu' most formidable enemy, yet felt themseh es equally obliged to admire and extol those great and good qualities, which ennobled the man. How much greater then must be the obligation, which binds us all to revere and love the infinitely perfect Original, on account of his transcendent greatness and goodness ! It is God's infinite perfection, which makes him to be a God, which constitutes all his glory and beauty. If therefore we overlook this, we overlook God himself; we set aside every thing in him, which is a ground of esteem or affection ; consequently all our love, if we have any, must centre and tenninate in self. In a word, it is self-evident, that no man can truly esteem and love the excellent character of Deity, unless he loves it on account of its excellence. This love to God for his own most amiable perfections, and especially for his holiness, w^hich may be called the sum and crown of his perfections, is the most noble, prominent, and discriminating feature of true religion. But still it is not the only feature ; the religion of fallen, imperfect man is not wholly made up of disinterested love either to GcD, or the created. system. For, In the 2d place, we are to love him not only as the Lord, but as our God. This points out the secondai}^ ground to this duty. We aie to love him as our
Creator, who gave us our existence and faculties, and to whom therefore they ought to be affectionately devoted > as our Preserver and Benefactor, who, by upholding, actuating and comforting us every moment, acquires a new title, w'ith each successive instant, to our best affections and service ; as our Lawgiver and Judge, w^ho has an undoubted right to give law to his own creatures^ who has accordingly summed up his requirements isi the great law of love, and who can and will rewaid q€
50 O THE LOVE OF GOtT. [Ser. IV. punish their obedience or transgression ; finally, as our merciful Father and Redeemer, who, by giving his own Son to die for our redemption, has bought us to himself at an infinite price, and thereby laid us under the most forcible and endearing obligations to glorify God with our bodies and spirits, which are his. The love and benefits of God in our creation and preservation, especially in our redemption and everlasting salvation, are constantly held up in Scripture as arguments to engage our love and obedience ; and all the saints on sacred record are represented, as feeling the animating, constraining influence of these motives. A thankful sense therefore of the temporal, spiritual, and everlasting mercies of God, and a subordinate regard to our own interest, as affected thereby, do not betray a mean and unchristian selfishness, as some seem to represent, but form an esse'ntial trait in the truly pious character. If Moses, tlie first character for virtue in the Old Testament, was^ in some degree incited to duty by the future recompense of reward ; if St. Paul and other eminent Christians were constrained by the mercies of God, and the love of Christ in redemption, to live to his
glory ; if the Redeemer himself was animated by the joy set before him ; then it cannot be base or crfminal for his disciples to be influenced by the same. We proceed now' to asceitain the measure of this love to God. We are to love him ''with all the heart, and with all the soul , and with all the mind, and with all the strength.'' This noble cluster of emphatical and nearly synonymous expressions is designed more forcibly to express this one great idea, that God ought to be loved to the highest possible degree of our natural capacities. We must love him *' with all our hearts," that is, with a cordial, unfeigned, governing aflection, in opposition to a double or divided heart, a part of which seems
Ser. IV.] O THE LOVE OF GOD. 51 devoted to God and religion, while its supreme love and service are given to some other object. We must love him "with all our souls;" that is, with all the faculties of our souls. The understanding must be occupied in the contemplation of him ; the judgment must hold him in the highest esteem ; the will must embrace him, as its chief good; and the affections meet and rest in him, as their central and ultimate object. We must love him ** with all our minds ;" that is, a well informed mind must be the guide, and a willing mind the spring and soul of our piety. Finally, we are to love him with ** all our strength ;" that is, our affection must be vigorous and operative ; it must seize and strain every nerve, and exert the whole strength of our souls and bodies in the service of the glorious and beloved object. In a word, these strong phrases do not imply, that divine lo^'e ought to swallow up our faculties in such a manner, as to extinguish ail our other passions, or shut out every innocent earthly object and entertainment, or keep the mind in a constant passionate rapture of religious zeal and joy ; they only intend, that love to
God must steadily keep the throne in our breasts, and duly regulate and sanctify all our inferior affections and pursuits. Let us now, in the last place, attend to the superior importance of this divine principle. Love to our Maker is here styled the first and great commandment. It is so in regard of its object. As God is infinitely more excellent, than all other beings, so love to him must proportionably transcend ail other obligations and virtues. That affection, which embraces an infinite object, the sum of all being and beauty, seems to possess a sort of infinity, an amplitude, an elevation, a glory derived from and congenial to that of its object. Further, as
52 6 TUE love of GOD. [Ser. IV. the infinite perfections of God, and his consequent authority over his rational creatures, are the foundation of all their religious and moral obligations ; so a due respect to these divine perfections and this authoritymust be the ground v^ork of all religion, the prime moving spring of universal obedience. Without this regard to God, there is no holy, acceptable obedience in any instance whatever ; but where this exists, it ever leads to genuine religious obedience in every particular ; it forms the only sure, efficacious, and inflexible principle of virtue. Again. The love of God appears greater than the love of our neighbour in another respect, namely, because the latter is to be loved chiefly for the sake of the former, or as the oflfspring and image of God, and the object of his paternal affection. We are also to love our neighbour in subordination to God, so as to be ready to give up the most valuable and favourite creature, when it comes in competition with the will, the favour, the interest of the Creator. This is doubtless the
import of that remarkable text, Luke xiv. 26, and was exemplified in Abraham, when he offered up the dear^ est earthly object. Blessed be God, we, who are parents, are not called, as was Abraham, to offer up an only son with our o^vn hands ; yet we are sometimes called to resign our beloved children, who are dear as a right hand, to the stroke of death. In such cases true love to God will unite our wills to his, will swallow up our natural and earthly affections in a supreme regard to his pleasure, his approbation and honour, and this will make us ultimately feel and act, as if we hated and despised the most beloved creature, compared with the infinite Creator. Finally. The love of God is the first and great command, as it is the principal source or ingredient of our
Seb. IV.] O THE LOVE OF GOD. 53 happiness. This divine affection directly tends to as,similate us to its glorious and blessed object ; to enlaige, purify, and elevate our minds j to improve us in the various branches of moral goodness, vi^hich constitutes the health, the perfection, the felicity of our rational nature- Divme love unites us to God its object, and gives us tlie happifying enjoyment of him. As God is the soAereign good, the adequate portion of our souls, so love introduces us to the possession of this good ; it introduces us to an object, sufficient to employ, to entertain, to absorb all our faculties of contemplation and enjoyment. It unites us to a Friend, who is infinitely wise, faithful, and good ; who has no unkindness to be suspected, no sorrows to be condoled, no change
to be feared ; who is forever glorious and happy, and forever our own, and is always at hand to guard, assist, and comfort us. How great the happiness arising from an intercourse of love with such an object even in this state of distance and imperfection ! But how unspeakably greater the bliss of seeing him face to face in the light of future glory ; of beholding, loving, and enjoying him in an immediate, perfect, progressive manner forever and ever! Well might the Psalmist in the view of this blessedness exclaim, *' As for me, I will behold thy face in righteousness ; I shall be satisfied when I awake, with thy likeness ; for in thy presence is fulness of joy; at thy right harui there are pleasures for evermore." In the review of this subject, it is natural to reflect on the goodness as well, as propriety and justice of that divine constitution, which makes love to God the first duty of man. The divine Legislator herein has equally consulted and inseparably united his own rights and dignity, and our interest and happiness ; for this pious regard to the Deity is the main qualification for and ingredient in rational felicity.
54 O THE LOVE OF GOD. [Ser. IV. We likewise infer the destructive tendency of impdety and atheism, both to societies and individuals, by undermining the foundation of order, virtue, and rational felicity. We infer too the dangerous error of those moralists, vv^ho place the whole duty of man in the personal and social virtues, while they overlook, and perhaps ridicule, as mere superstition or enthusiasm, the exercises of love and devotion towards God. It appears from our doctrine, that piety is the basis and soul of moral excellence and human happiness ; that it is perfectly fit in itself, is necessary to the uniform, persevering, and acceptable discharge of social and private obligations, and is essentially pre-requisite to the final
approbation and enjoyment of God. Let our accomplishments in other respects be ever so amiable or splendid, if we are eminently just and kind, generous and honourable towards our fellow men, and our character to human view is quite unexceptionable and noble ; yet if we treat the original beauty and good, the supreme Parent and Benefactor, with cold indifference or pointed opposition, we betray a very unnatural and monstrous state of mind, which is utterly inconsistent with real honesty and goodness. Let those, who have hitherto lived as without God in the world, labour to feel their guilt and danger, and earnestly seek the recovery of that divine temper, which is the root of human perfection and felicity. Let those, who possess it, be daily employed in feeling the sacred flame ; let the daily breath of their heaits and of their lives echo that becoming and elevated language of piety, "Whom have I in heaven but thee? and there is none upon earth, that I desire, besides thee. My flesh and my heart faileth ; but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever."
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