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it is true, speaking of the love of God, hath sai l, that perfect love casteth out fear, but it hath not said that in the soul of man this love is ever perfect, what the scripture has thus declared of perfect love is no more than what is just. The love of God, were it perfect, that is to say, were it such as his nature, his relation, his bounty to us deserves, were it adequate either to its object or to our obligation, were it carried up as high as in a perfectly virtuous and rational soul it might be carried, would, I believe, absorb every other motive and every other principle of action whatever, even the fear of God amongst the rest. This principle, by its nature, might gain a complete possession of the heart and will, so that a person acting under its influence would take nothing else into the account, would reflect upon no other consequence or consideration whatever. Possibly, nay probably, this is the condition of some higher orders of spirits, and may become ours by future improvement and in a more exalted state of existence: but it cannot, I am afraid, be said to be our condi
The love of God subsists in the heart of good men as a powerful principle of action: but it subsists there in conjunction with other principles, especially with the fear of him. All goodness is in a certain degree comparative, and, I think, that he may be called a good man in whom this principle dwells and operates at all. Wherefore to obtain; when obtained, to cultivate, to cherish, to strengthen, to improve it, ought to form the most anxious concern of our spiritual life. He that loveth God keepeth his commandments, but still the love of God is something more than keeping the commandments: for which reason we must acquire, what many it is to be feared, have even yet to begin, a habit of contemplating God in the bounties and blessings of his creation. I think that religion can hardly subsist in the soul without this habit in some degree. But the greater part of us, such is the natural dulness of our souls, require some thing more exciting and stimulating than the sensations which large and general views of nature or of providence produce; something
more particular to ourselves, and which more nearly touches our separate happiness. Now of examples of this kind, namely, of direct and special mercies towards himself, no one, who calls to mind the
providences of his life, can be destitute. There is one topic of gratitude falling under this head which almost every man, who is tolerably faithful and exact in his reflections, will find in events upon which he has to look back; and it is this. How often have we been spared, when we might have been overtaken and cut off in the midst of sin? Of all the attributes of God, forbearance, perhaps, is that which we have most to acknowledge. We cannot want occasions to bring the remembrance of it to our thoughts. Have there not been occasions, in which, when ensnared in vice, we might have been detected and exposed, have been crushed by punishment or shame, have been irrecoverably ruined? occasions in which we might have been suddenly stricken with death in a state of soul the most unfit for it that was possible? That we were none of these, that we have been preserved from these dangers, that our sin was not our destruction, that instant judgment did not overtake us, is to be attributed to the long suffering of God. Supposing, what is undoubtedly true, that the secrets of our conduct were known to him at the time, it can be attributed to no other cause. Now this is a topic which can never fail to supply subjects of thankfulness, and of a species of thankfulness which must bear with direct force upon the regulation of our conduct, We were not destroyed when we might have been destroyed, and when we merited destruction. We have been preserved for further trial. This is, or ought to be, a touching reflection. How deeply therefore does it behove us not to trifle with the patience of God, not to abuse this enlarged space, this respited, protracted season of repentance, by plunging afresh into the same crimes, or others, or greater crimes? It shews that we are not to be wrought upon by mercy; that our gratitude is not moved; that things are wrong within us; that there is a deplorable void and chasm in our religious principles, the love of God not being present in our hearts.
But to return to that with which we set out. Religion may spring from various principles, begin in various motives. It is not for us to narrow the promises of God which belong to sincere religion, from whatever cause it originates. But of these principles, the purest, the surest, is the love of God, forasmuch as the religion which proceeds from it is sincere, constant, and universal. It will not, like fits of terror and alarm, (which yet we do not despise) produce a temporary religion. The love of God is an abiding principle. It will not, like some other, and these also good and laudable principles of action, as far as they go,) produce à partial religion. It is co-extensive with all our obligations. Practical christianity may be comprised in three words, devotion, self-government, and benevolence. The love of God in the heart is a fountain, from which these three streams of virtue will not fail to issue. The love of God also is a guard against error