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God, and sincerely respected all his laws. He had been free from great transgressions: and the failing, or offences of a lesser kind, which he had been surprised into, were not allowed of, nor persisted in.
This is what is implied in fearing God from the youth.
II. In the next place we are to observe the virtue of this.
1. It was partly owing to a quick discernment of the truth and value of things. The things of religion were controverted in his time. The grounds and reasons of the worship of Jehovah and Baal were debated. Or if the idolatrous worship of Baal was not begun in Israel, in his early youth, it is, nevertheless, likely that there were some questions put concerning the high places set up by Jeroboam, who had been followed in some measure by all, or most of the succeeding kings of Israel. Obadiah soon discerned the merits of the controversy. By the help of a good understanding he readily perceived who ought to be worshipped as the true God, and what is the most acceptable way of worshipping, and wherein true religion principally
2. He gave a serious attention to the things of religion, and carefully weighed and examined them. His right choice was not solely owing to a quick understanding and ready apprehension. But he used diligence and application. He perceived religion to be a weighty concern, and he bestowed many serious thoughts upon it. He was early sensible, that a right determination at first would have a great effect on the rest of his life.
If he had the advantage of good instructions from the beginning, he did not neglect them, but attended to them, meditated upon them, and iet those things which appeared reasonable sink down in his heart. Moreover, as he had opportunity, he studied the laws of God, recorded. in those scriptures, which were in the hands of the people of Israel. And he read with a mind open to conviction, resolving to receive what appeared to be the will of God, and act according to it: whether it should be for his own present interest, and tend to his promotion and advancement in the world, or not. By this means his judgment was well informed, and his resolutions settled upon a firm foundation.
I make no scruple of mentioning this particular here; for I think there is good ground for it. Without this, it is not easy to conceive how Obadiah's conduct should have been such as it was.
And certainly this ought to be observed by young persons. It is desirable to understand some art or business by which men may subsist in the world. It is also desirable to understand the things of religion. They who have a quick apprehension, have a great advantage, provided: they apply their thoughts this way. Nevertheless, there are few or none, but may attain to a competent knowledge of the great truths and obligations of religion, and the grounds of them, if they are attentive, and seriously inquisitive about them. Moses reminds the people of Israel:. "The commandment, which I command thee this day, is not hidden from thee, neither is it afar off: but it is nigh thee, that thou mayest hear it and do it," Deut. xxx. 11, 12. The revelation of the gospel, superadded to that of the law, is not designed to make the principles of religion more abstruse and difficult: but more easy, more intelligible, more affecting, which must be for the good of all men.
3. Obadiah's fearing the Lord from his youth was partly owing to a fixed purpose and resolution of acting according to the rule of right, and that no temptations of any kind should induce him to act contrary to his sedate judgment.
We may well put this into the character we are observing. In the course of his life there had offered to him temptations of various kinds: some suited to youthful affections, others more especially suited to the common and prevailing passions of mature age. But in every stage of life his conduct had been uniformly religious: and though he lived at a time when multitudes did evil, he had not followed them. Though the way of religion was then a strait path, and almost deserted, his feet had not declined from the way of it. We cannot but conclude from hence, that the resolution of Obadiah was very firm..
4. We do also reasonably suppose, that this steady good conduct was not without constant circumspection and watchfulness. Indeed, we are all encompassed with snares, which makes it needful to be upon our guard. Undoubtedly this person had "kept his heart with diligence, Prov. iv. 23. He had attended to the frame of his mind. He used his best endeavours to maintain the fervour of his love to God, and a sincere respect for his laws. His mind was carefully
kept free from ambition and covetousness: and he looked with a jealous eye upon every thing and person, that tended to abate his zeal for God and religion, and lessen his abhorrence for that which is evil.
This temper of watchfulness he had preserved always, by which means he had been greatly assisted in fearing God from his youth.
III. In the third place I should shew the benefit of so fearing the Lord. But I need not enlarge, having had frequent occasions to touch upon this point.
1. They who fear the Lord from their youth up, enjoy the pleasure and comfort of a religious life: which is no small advantage. For, as Solomon says of wisdom, "her ways are ways of pleasantness, and all her paths are peace," Prov. iii. 17. Such have the satisfaction of approving themselves to God, and doing the things that please the Sovereign of the world. Their minds are rightly disposed, and their conduct approves itself to their own judgment. And they avoid the bitterness of that repentance which is necessary for those who have greatly strayed from wisdom's ways.
2. They who fear God from their youth may, and often do become eminent in piety. Their continued practice of virtue renders them perfect in it. So was this person. It appears from the account which we have of him here. The writer of the history in the book of Kings observes it to his honour expressly: "Now Obadiah feared the Lord greatly. His virtuous habits were confirmed, and almost above temptation. He had a post of high honour: but he possessed it without any sinful compliances. Nor did he at all conceal his regard for God and true religion: but was known to be a worshipper of the God of heaven. When his prophets, who were most zealous for God, and taught the people the knowledge of him, were in danger, at the hazard of all his own interests, he took care of them; he hid them from their persecutors, and provided for them. At the same time his disinterestedness and integrity in public affairs, and the discharge of civil offices, was so conspicuous, that he was chief minister to a prince who was an enemy to his religious principles. By which we perceive, that Obadiah knew how to give to Cæsar the things that are Cæsar's, without denying to God what was due to him. In a word, this person, who had "feared God from his youth," was now eminent in the various parts of good conduct, and ready to every good word and work.
3. They who fear God from their youth, especially if it be with much steadiness, are useful in the world many ways. Such men promote the good of society in their several stations. They also adorn, and recommend religion to others. By their means some are brought into a good liking of its ways: or are induced to consider and examine its pretensions, till they find them just and reasonable. Others are confirmed, and they persevere with joy and resolution. It is very likely, that many pious Israelites were animated and encouraged by the example of Obadiah: though their circumstances were such, that they could not all act with the same openness that he did. They were obliged to greater privacy. But yet they did not bow the knee to Baal, or render him any act of homage.
4. They who fear God from their youth have the happiness of being always prepared for the various events of providence. If they are removed hence, their end is peace, and their reward is sure. If they live, they go on to perform the duties of life: and are the best qualified of any men to bear the troubles and afflictions of this state with a calm and composed mind, and eomfortable trust in God. For "God is their refuge, and their portion in the land of the living," Ps. cxlii. 5. 66 They have none in heaven but him. Nor is there any upon earth whom they desire in comparison of him. And when flesh and heart fail, God is the strength of their heart, and their portion for ever," Ps. lxxiii. 25, 26.
APPLICATION. What has been now observed should induce all, whatever is their age of life, to fear the Lord.
They who are in early age have encouragement to give up themselves to God now, without delay, and to fear and serve him henceforward all the days of their life. There is great virtue in so doing. And it will be attended with very desirable advantages. None will discourage them from being early in this design. They who have feared God from their youth, will readily assure them, that it is the wisest thing that can be done. They who are now serious and religious at length, after trying the ways of sin, will likewise assure them, that if they neglect the present
opportunity, and defer to come to a full determination, and form effectual resolutions of obedience to all God's commandments; that delay will sometime be matter of grief and bitter lamentation.
This discourse may then be considered as an invitation to young persons, to be truly religious without delay: to weigh and consider the things of religion seriously, and to determine accordingly to "remember now their Creator in the days of their youth," Ecc. xii. 1, and to serve him constantly with inviolable fidelity.
But it suggests no discouragements to others who have as yet deferred. It does indeed shew, in some measure, the evil of procrastination. But it does not insinuate, that there is no hope or remedy for those who have long delayed.
They who have feared God from their youth have some distinction. They were early wise, and they have proceeded in wisdom's paths. But they are not taught to boast, or say scornfully, They are not as other men. They likewise have failings: and do own, that if God were strict to mark iniquity, they could not be justified in his sight. Their hopes therefore are founded in the mercy of God. They believe, and it is what they would recommend to the consideration of others, that "with God there is forgiveness, that he may be feared," Ps. cxxx. 4, and served by such weak and fallible creatures as we are.
Goodness is as certainly a property of the Deity, as any other. If sinful men "forsake the evil of their ways, and" unfeignedly "return to God," they will find rest for their souls: for "he will have mercy upon them, and will abundantly pardon,” Is. lv. 7.
A FUTURE STATE PROVEABLE BY REASON.
For the Lord God is a sun and shield. The Lord will give grace and glory: no good thing will he withhold from them that walk uprightly. Psalm lxxxiv. 11.
THE Lord God is a sun." He is not only glorious and excellent in himself: but from him issue streams of knowledge, and wisdom, joy and comfort. Whatever the sun is to the material world, that God is in the most eminent manner to his people.
He is also "a shield." God is not only a light to guide and direct, but likewise a shield to protect and defend. He can secure us in the midst of dangers, and defend from the violent and artful designs and attempts of enemies.
"The Lord will give grace and glory: no good thing will he withhold from them that walk uprightly." He will bestow every kind of good, both favour and honour. Nor will he give sparingly: but will plentifully enrich, and abundantly bless them that walk uprightly.
By which uprightness is not meant absolute perfection, but sincerity; serving God in truth, and with a willing mind; and having a respect to all his commandments: not only observing, very punctually, ordinances of positive appointment, and the stated seasons of public worship: but living in the practice of all righteousness. It is, to be faithful to God in all circumstances, in prosperity and adversity, and in the general tenour of our life and conversation. Such as these God will abundantly bless.
Having thus briefly explained these words, I shall mention some observations.
I. Here is a property of the Divine Being, which deserves our serious attention. As God is full and perfect in himself, so he favours, and has a special regard for righteous and upright
The Psalmist, and other good men, who lived under the Mosaic dispensation, did, possibly, expect temporal advantages for the truly religious, more than it is reasonable for us to do under the gospel. But in general the observation must be right: the truth of it may be depended
upon, and ought to be maintained in all times: that "God loveth righteousness: his countenance beholds the upright," Ps. xi. 7. These he approves and favours; whilst he is displeased with such as wilfully transgress, or contemptuously neglect and disregard his holy laws.
II. We should improve this truth for our establishment in the steady and delightful practice of all holiness.
Virtue, real righteousness, has an intrinsic excellence: it is fit in itself, and very becoming. But we ought to take in every other consideration that tends to secure the practice of virtue, and perseverance therein, in this state of temptation. We should strengthen ourselves by a respect to the divine will, as well as by a regard to the reason of things.
When we do so, mindful of the divine authority, desirous of his favour, and fearing his displeasure, we may be said to walk with God. There will be then a comfortable fellowship between God and his rational creatures. We steadily and conscientiously eye his commands. He graciously approves us, and the way we are in: and will manifest himself favourably
III. We may hence receive encouragement to trust in God, and serve him faithfully in every circumstance of life, even though we are in some difficulties and troubles, as the Psalmist now
For virtue, though well pleasing to God, may be tried and exercised. The reward is sure, though deferred: and it may be the greater in the end, if by afflictions it be refined, improved and perfected.
IV. This text may teach men to be cautious how they injure, offend, or grieve any sincere and upright persons whom God approves.
It is spoken of as a remarkable instance of the folly of bad men: "Have all the workers of iniquity no knowledge, who eat up my people, as they eat bread, and call not upon God!"
Ps. xiv. 4.
We ought to be careful how we offend any walking in the way of righteousness: though they appear to us to be mistaken in some things. It must be imprudent to oppose those who have God for a sun and shield. At the same time it appears to be our duty to uphold to the utmost of our power the cause of the righteous. This seems to be what David engages to do, if settled in peace and prosperity. O my soul, thou hast said unto God: Thou art my Lord. My goodness extendeth not unto thee, but unto the saints that are in the earth, even to the excelÏent, in whom is all my delight," Ps. xvi. 2, 3. I have always trusted in God: and it has been my unfeigned desire to serve him. Not that I thereby merit of him. Nor is he advan
taged by my services. But I shall think it a happiness, if ever I have it in my power to protect and encourage upright men, whom I sincerely love and esteem.'
V. We are also led to observe upon these words, that from the divine perfections may be argued a future state of recompenses.
This observation I intend to enlarge upon.
1. In the first place I shall propose an argument for a future state from reason.
2. I shall consider some objections against this doctrine.
3. I will endeavour to answer divers inquiries relating to this matter.
4. And then conclude with some inferences.
1.) The argument from reason in behalf of a future state of recompenses is to this purpose. It appears to us agreeable to the perfections of God, that he should shew favour to good and virtuous men. But it is obvious to all, and more especially evident to careful observers, that good and bad men are not much distinguished in this world. This, I say, is obvious to all, and especially manifest to those whose observations are of the greatest compass: who have considered the consequences of virtue and vice, relating to this life: who have compared the conduct of good and bad with the prosperous or afflictive circumstances they have been in: who have taken notice of the rules and maxims, the successes and disappointments of the great and small, the high and low of mankind.
How frequent and copious upon this head is Solomon, who had himself enjoyed so much power and grandeur, and had been very curious in his remarks upon men and things!" All things have I seen in the days of my vanity. There is a just man that perisheth in his righteousness and there is a wicked man that prolongeth his life in his wickedness," Ecc. vii. 15. And, "there is a vanity, which is done upon the earth, that there be just men, unto whom it hap
peneth according to the work of the wicked," ch. viii. 14. "And there be wicked men, unto whom it happeneth according to the work of the righteous. No man knoweth love or hatred by all that is before him. All things come alike to all. There is one event to the righteous, and the wicked :—to him that sacrificeth, and to him that sacrificeth not. As is the good, so is the sinner-This is an evil among all things that are done under the sun. There is one event unto all," ch. ix. 1-3.
And afterwards: "This wisdom have I seen under the sun and it seemed great unto me. There was a little city, and few men within it: and there came a great king against it, and besieged it, and built great bulwarks against it. Now there was found in it a poor wise man and he by his wisdom delivered the city. Yet no man remembered that same poor man," ver. 13-15. If the place had been saved by some rich citizen, the performance would have been applauded: and honour, and many distinguishing advantages would have been heaped upon him. But the great and eminent wisdom of the poor man was despised and forgotten, because of his mean condition. Such is the partiality of men! such their respect for outward appearances! So that suitable recompenses are not to be looked for from fellow-creatures, in proportion to virtue, or wisdom, from any considerations whatever, either of gratitude or interest.
These and other things said by Solomon, are not proposed with a view to disparage the divine government. For, notwithstanding all these disorders and inequalities in the present scene of things, he is persuaded of the righteousness, and of the remunerative, rewarding providence of God in due time. For which reason he shuts up his book with that important advice: "Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter. Fear God, and keep his commandments. For this is the whole of man :" his whole duty, or his whole interest and happiness. "For God will bring every work into judgment, whether it be good, or whether it be evil." And indeed, in the course of his observations, in that work, he more than once asserts the righteousness of God, and his favourable respect to good men. Though a sinner do evil an hundred times, and his days be prolonged: yet surely I know, that it shall be well with them that fear God, which fear before him," viii. 12.
I forbear to recite any passages at length from any of the Psalms: in which the prosperity of bad men, and the afflictions and sufferings of the righteous are taken notice of. See Ps. xvii. and lxxiii.
With regard then to this inquiry: whether the reason of men, or light of nature, teaches à future state of recompenses: we may put the issue upon this one question: "Can we maintain the perfections of God, and the wisdom of his government, upon the supposition, that there is to be no future state of recompense for good or bad? Would it be agreeable to his wisdom, his righteousness, and goodness," that all things should always come alike to all? and that there should be finally one and the same event to the good and the bad ?" If it be not, then we may be assured there is another state after this. For we are persuaded of the perfection of the Deity. We have antecedent proof of this in the reason of things. God is as certainly wise, and holy, as he is knowing and powerful. It may be righteous and equitable to permit virtue to be tried with afflictions and sorrows for a while: but it cannot be consistent with the perfection and rectitude of the Divine Being, the creator and governor of the world, to suffer good men to perish finally in their righteousness.
It may be said, that virtue has a reward in this world. For it is in itself an excellence and perfection: and cannot but be chosen by every rational and considerate person. And, if it be chosen and preferred, it must be an advantage, and contain in itself its own reward.
And it must be owned, that virtue is excellent, and therefore is approved. But yet it is exposed to many difficulties in this world, where iniquity is frequent: where there is abundance of partiality, and ingratitude, and perpetual emulation and contention: where success and prosperity are not annexed to any good dispositions, nor to the most valuable services. As Solomon "Wisdom is better than weapons of war. But one sinner destroyeth much good," Ecc.
says: ix. 18.
Nor can it be allowed to be fit, that he who has a strict regard to the reason of things, who conscientiously endeavours to perform his duty to God and man, and laments all the neglects and trangressions which at any time he falls into, should upon the whole, and in the end, at the most, have only some small degree of happiness above those who without reluctance break through all the obligations of reason and religion. Would this be answerable to the descriptions