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But it does not appear very likely, that this is what is here particularly intended by the wise man. The fear here spoken of, seems to be apprehensiveness, diffidence, with the fruits thereof, care, caution, and circumspection; as opposite to security, inconsideration, confidence, and presumption. In this text is meant a temper of mind, which is often recommended by the wise man in other words. "The simple believeth every word; but the prudent man looketh well to his goings," chap. xiv. 15. And, "keep thy heart with all diligence; for out of it are the issues of lifeLet thine eyes look right on, and let thine eyelids look straight before thee. Ponder the path of thy feet, and let all thy paths be established," chap. iv. 23, 25, 26.
This property of fearing always, may be expedient and useful in a variety of occasions; in the things of this present life, and in the great concerns of our salvation.
It would undoubtedly be of bad consequence with regard to the affairs and business of this world, for men to be void of thought and consideration; to presume upon success, and depend upon good treatment, and honest dealings from all men; and rely upon the kind and faithful assistances of friends and servants, and others with whom we may be concerned, without any previous trial or examination.
And it must be expedient and useful for men, to be so far apprehensive of dangers and accidents, so sensible of the changes and vicissitudes that attend all earthly things, and so far aware of the unskilfulness, unfaithfulness, art, and subtilty of other men, as shall induce them to take care of their own affairs themselves, and use a prudent caution and circumspection.
A like temper may be very useful in the things of religion. And to this the words of Solomon may be applied, if they are not to be directly interpreted in this sense.
Indeed there is a fearfulness, and timorousness of mind, which religion condemns; which is mean and unreasonable, groundless, and indiscreet; when we are too apprehensive of the evils and afflictions of this life, or fear men more than God. Then we are to be blamed; then we act indiscreetly; when for fear of the displeasure of men, and the small evils they can inflict upon us, we do that which will offend God, and expose us to the long and grievous pains and miseries of another state, with the loss of all that happiness which we might have secured by resolution and courage in the way of religion and virtue.
But there is a fear and apprehension, which may be very useful. It is a fear of offending God, and a diffidence of
ourselves and our own strength. It is founded in a persuasion of the great importance of right behaviour in this world, and a sure knowledge of the consequences thereof, either happiness or misery in a future state. It is also owing to a consideration of the power of things sensible, good and evil, agreeable or disagreeable, to bias and influence the mind; and that, oftentimes, on a sudden, and to a degree beyond most men's expectations; whereby many are diverted from right conduct, and act contrary to former convictions, and their best purposes and resolutions.
He who fears always is one who is never unmindful of what is the great design of life, and what will be the consequences of it. He is desirous of obtaining eternal salvation, even a better happiness than this present world affords any prospect of. And he dreads the being finally rejected of God, and excluded from his presence. And as the reason of things, and the express declarations of the word of God, assures us that final happiness, or misery, depends upon mea's behaviour here; he is desirous, that his behaviour may be such as shall be approved in the end by the impartial and equitable Sovereign and Judge of the world.
But he is aware that there is no small difficulty in executing this design. He therefore fears always. In every state and condition, whether prosperity or adversity, he knows there are snares and temptations. For which reason he is at no time secure; but has continually a kind of distrust of himself, and is apprehensive, lest the ease and pleasure of the one should make him forget God and another world; and lest some things in the other condition, of which the afflictions are various, and very moving, should induce him to cast off the fear of God, and say, religion is vain.
He has his fears and apprehensions, arising from solitude, and from company; when alone, and when in conversation. He is aware that there are some snares peculiar to retirement, others to business. Nor is there any age, or time of life, but has its temptations.
He is not without his fears, when he engages in the worship of God, lest his services should be defective and unacceptable; and lest through neglect, inattention, or prejudices, the opportunity afforded him should be unprofitable. And indeed, Solomon has a direction and caution to this purpose: "Keep thy foot, when thou goest to the house of God; and be more ready to hear, than to give the sacrifice of fools," Eccl. v. 1.
In undertakings for the honour of God, and the interests
of religion among men, he is sometimes in doubt and suspense, whether his zeal, though well-meant, be right and just. And he admits a re-examination of his design, that The may act according to knowledge, and upon the grounds of a well informed judgment; lest what he does should in the issue be rather prejudicial, than advantageous to the good cause he would promote.
After worshipping God with sincerity and fervour, and partaking in those ordinances and privileges which God has ordained for our improvement, he does not trust to the strength he has thereby gained; but still allows of apprehensions, lest he should act contrary to what he has seen to be fit and right; or some way fail to execute the purposes and resolutions which he has made and renewed in the presence of God.
And as he was beforehand afraid that he should not approve himself as he ought, so likewise, when through care and attention, he has, as he hopes, performed agreeably to his aims and wishes, he is upon his guard, lest some improper opinion and self-sufficiency should arise in his mind, inconsistent with that humility which he would ever maintain.
Nor does the man who fears always presume after the greatest successes. And though he has proceeded for some time in a course of obedience to God's commandments, and temptations have not hitherto greatly prevailed against him, he studiously declines conceit and assurance. He is still ever apprehensive of some new and unlooked for danger; and doubts, whether some time lesser temptations may not prevail, after greater have been vanquished.
Like some general, who, the more victories he has gained, is the more cautious of engaging an enemy; lest the honour of former successes should be lost and forfeited by some unhappy disaster.
This is the man, who, in a religious sense,a feareth always. And now we may just observe the connection, which
Walk circumspectly at all times, and in all relations and circumstances ́ of life——Let not success betray you into security. Perhaps you have not ' for some time been importuned by temptations, or you have overcome them, ⚫ and made some good progress in religion. But do not therefore lay aside your vigilance, since there may happen such an alteration in your circumstances, or in your temper, that you may have as much occasion for it, as ever you had in your lives, if not more. "Blessed is the man that feareth always," Prov. xxviii. 14; who has ever upon his mind such an apprehen⚫sion of the great evil of sin, and his liableness to it, while he is in the body, as to be continually watchful against it. By thus fearing always he will be • able to rejoice always, both in the consciousness of his own integrity, and the hope of the heavenly reward.' Mr. H. Grove's second volume of Additional Sermons, Serm. xvii. p. 450.
some think there is between this and the preceding observation, though it is not very clear and certain. "He that covereth his sins shall not prosper; but whoso confesseth and forsaketh them shall find mercy. Happy is the man that feareth always:" that is, if he would secure the mercy he has found, the advantage he has gained, it will be of use, to preserve a fear of offending, and to be cautious and circumspect in all his actions.
II. Which leads us to the second point, the happiness of this temper and disposition of mind. Happy is the man that feareth always."
The happiness of such an one is this; he will not fall into mischief. He will exceed his own fears and apprehensions. He will behave better, and wiser, than he imagined. It is very probable, that this fear of offending will prevent a great deal of grief and vexation. And he will never know by experience, what that remorse and anguish of mind is, which is the fruit of great and repeated transgressions. His apprehensions of falling, and dread of guilt, with the consequences of it, will secure him from those great and dreadful evils.
Probably, the life of such an one will be even and uniform. It will consist of a regular course of religious devotion, public and private; and of a great number, and large variety of beneficial actions, and kind offices to others.
He will scarce be able to refrain himself from giving some hints and instructions that shall be useful to others. Especially, if he see any secure and presuming, he will warn them affectionately and earnestly. But being sensible of his own weakness, and ever apprehensive of acting, some time, amiss himself; his admonitions, and warnings, and reproofs, if they should be needful, will be tempered with mildness and gentleness.
It seems not unlikely, that this property, of fearing always, should produce an amiable character, which shall gain a man some good degree of esteem, and qualify him. for more usefulness, than very eminent attainments could do without it. The modesty and meekness of his behaviour will not only cast some lustre upon himself, but likewise adorn religion, and give it an agreeable and lovely appearance.
And though he never, whilst in the body, and in this state of trial, dares pass a definitive sentence in favour of himself, but refers that to the all-knowing Judge; yet it is likely, that continued innocence, and persevering integrity, will
lay a foundation for growing joy, and solid satisfaction of mind, which will be preferable to all the advantages of this world.
Such is the happiness of this person, and of this temper of mind.
III. In the third place we are to observe, how this temper, of fearing always, contributes to a man's happiness.
And it is very easy for any one to perceive this. For such an one will be circumspect and watchful; which, certainly, must be a good mean of security. He that looks well to his going, who is thoughtful and considerate, will, in all probability, act more wisely and discreetly, than the rash and unthinking.
Moreover he will be serious and diligent in the use of all proper means of security and stedfastness. He will frequent the assemblies of divine worship, and will pray and hear, not only out of form and carelessly, but with attention, and with a view of gaining confirmation and establishment. He considers acts of worship as means of improvement, and preparatory for the duties of life. And hereby he gains strength for resisting of temptations, and grows ready to every good word and work.
Nor does he neglect private meditation; but often thinks of God and another world. He contemplates the works of God, and studies his word. He considers the perfection and extent of the divine law. He observes the reasonableness of every part of it, and fixes in his mind an abhorrence of all sin upon a reasonable foundation.
He frequently contemplates the glory set before the right and persevering in the gospel of Christ; and thereby he is animated to duty, and set more and more at variance with every thing that might deprive him of so great a recompence.
He dreads the thought of being hardened in sin, and therefore cherishes tenderness of spirit.
He often reflects on his ways, and calls himself to an account for what he has done in public and private; and fails not to renew his repentance. If any thing unbecoming has escaped him, he does not palliate and justify it, or seek for excuses and apologies; but he condemns himself for it, and laments it. His humility is thereby increased, and his future circumspection is rendered more exact and vigilant.
Nor would he shun the advices and reproofs of others; but would gladly accept the reprehensions and admonitions of a knowing and faithful friend.