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TASTE FOR DEVOTION.
John, iv. 23, 24.
But the hour cometh, and now is, when the
true worshippers shall worship the Father in spirit and in truth: for the Father seeketh such to worship him. God is a Spirit ; and they that worship him, must worship him in spirit and in truth.
TASTE and relish for religious exer
cise, or the want of it, is one of the marks and tokens by which we may judge whether our heart be right towards God or
God is unquestionably an object of devotion to every creature which he has made capable of devotion ; consequently, our minds can never be right towards him, unless they be in a devotional frame. It
cannot be disputed, but that the author and giver of all things, upon whose will and whose mercy we depend for every thing we have, and for every thing we look for, ought to live in the thoughts and affections of his rational creatures. “ Through thee have I been holden
up ever since I was born; thou art he that took me from my mother's womb; my praise shall be always of thee.” If there be such things as first sentiments towards God, these words of the Psalmist express them. That devotion to God is a duty, stands upon the same proof as that God exists. But devotion is an act of the mind strictly. In a certain sense, duty to a fellow-creature may be discharged if the outward act be performed, because the benefit to him depends upon the act. Not so with devotion. It is altogether the operation of the mind. God is a spirit, and must be worshipped in spirit, that is, in mind and thought. The devotion of the mind
may be, will be, ought to be, testified and accompanied by outward performances and expressions : but, without the mind going along with it, no form, no solemnity can
avail, as a service to God.
It is not so much a question under what mode men worship their Maker ; but this is the question, whether their mind, and thoughts, and affections, accompany the mode which they adopt or not.
I do not
that modes of worship are indifferent things ; for certainly one mode may be more rational, more edifying, more pure than another; but they are indifferent, in comparison with the question, whether the heart attend the worship, or be estranged from it.
These two points, then, being true; first, that devotion is a duty ; secondly, that the heart must participate to make any thing we do devotion ; it follows, that the heart cannot be right toward God, unless it be possessed with a taste and relish for his service, and for what relates to it.
Men may, and many undoubtedly do, attend upon acts of religious worship, and even from religious motives, yet, at the same time, without this taste and relish of which we are speaking. Religion has no
savour for them. I do not allude to the case of those who attend upon the public worship of the church, or of their communion, from compliance with custom, out of regard to station, for example's sake merely, from habit merely; still less to the case of those who have particular worldly views in so doing. I lay the case of such persons, for the present, out of the question ; and I consider only the case of those, who, knowing and believing the worship of God to be a duty, and that the wilful neglect of this, as of other duties, must look forward to future punishment, do join in worship from a principle of obedience, from a consideration of those consequences which will follow disobedience; from the fear indeed of God, and the dread of his judgments (and so far from motives of religion), yet without any taste or relish for religious exercise itself. That is the case I am considering. It is not for us to presume to speak harshly of any conduct, which proceeds, in any manner, from a regard to God, and the expectation of a future judgment. God, in his Scriptures, holds out to man terrors, as well as promises ; punishment after death, as well as reward. Undoubtedly he intended those motives which he himself proposes, to operate and have their influence. Wherever they operate, good ensues; very great and important good, compared with the cases in which they do not operate; yet not all the good we would desire, not all which is attainable, not all which we ought to aim at, in our Christian course. The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge ; but calling it the beginning, implies that we ought to proceed further ; namely, from his fear to his love.
To apply this distinction to the subject before
the man who serves God from a dread of his displeasure, and therefore in a certain sense by constraint, is, beyond all comparison, in a better situation, as touching his salvation, than he who defies this dread, and breaks through this constraint. He, in a word, who obeys, from whatever motive his obedience springs, provided it be a religious motive, is of a character, as well as in a condition, infinitely preferable to the character and con