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distempers in the soul; or when this fear is absolutely lost, the soul (if I may so speak) is starved, and loseth its life and strength. Now in the excess there is a two-fold fear, which opposeth the fear of God. First. Slavish fear; Secondly. Superstitious fear.
First. Let us consider slavish fear, which is of three sorts ;That slavish fear which is merely terminated upon the wrath of God;- That which respects the power of man ;- That which I may call pusillanimity, that proceeds from the apprehensions of the insuperable difficulties which do attend a religious state.
These are the three sorts of slavish fear, which I shall endeavour to depress; in respect of God, men, and ourselves.
1. A slavish fear in respect of God is this, when the soul is only taken up with the apprehensions of those treasures of wrath which God is able to pour forth upon it. A fear that looks upon God as an irreconcileable enemy, or as an implacable judge ; this fear I would endeavour to eradicate, by presenting these considerations.
(1.) It springs from infidelity, when faith is not exercised upon those representations of God, which the scripture makes known. In the gospel the mercy of God is represented to us as that which is his glory, his delight, his treasure. As his must not violate his justice, so his justice must not devour his mercy. His mercy is an attribute as essential as his righteousness. But now when the soul disbelieves this, then it fears God as a slave fears his master.
(2.) This slavish fear it is accompanied with dishonourable thoughts of God. It is a disparagement to his essence; such a person represents God to himself under the notion of a tyrant, , he draws him with a black coal, and this is no less than blasphemy. For a despondent sinner to think thus with himself, that God will exact perfection from a man answerable to the measure of an angel, or that God will triumph in the mere torments of his creatures, or that he delights in their ruin, it is a sin equal to atheism ; yea, it is in some respects worse than atheism. Atheism is a denial of the Deity; but for one to entertain such apprehensions of God, it is the reproach of the Deity. I remember what I read of Plutarch (saith he) *I had rather posterity should say there never had been such a man as Plutarch, than to say, there had been one Plutarch that was so cruel, that
As his mercy he would devour his own children.' I know it is an inexpressible sin for a man to deny a Deity; on the other side, to grant a Deity, and to entertain such thoughts of him ariseth to the same degree of wickedness. Such a person doth absolutely discharge the gospel, as if there were no chancery or moderation for the lapses and unavoidable infirmities of the best men.
(3.) Wherever this slavish fear is, it doth corrupt all the services which proceed from him in whom it is. For the bane of all the religion in the world is either mercinariness, or slavishness; when a man serves God merely that he may obtain worldly blessings, or when a man serves God as the heathens served the devil, ne noceat, lest he should hurt them. Christians should be led by sanctified affections; but this fear kills all delight. They come to the duties of religion as bears to a stake, and they go from them as birds out of a snare; what is the reason of it? Because they have such apprehensions, and such a slavish fear of God.
(4.) When it riseth to extremity, it produceth hatred against him, both in respect of his essence and attributes. A felon wisheth that there was no judge, no law; so doth this person that slavishly fears God, he wisheth that God were not omnipotent, that he might not have power to torment him; that he were not omniscient, that he might not know the evil of his heart and ways. Hatred always strikes at the being of that which is hated; when fear degenerates into despair, and that despair causeth hatred, that hatred at the last will cause a person to curse the fountain of blessedness : for thus it is in hell.
(5.) This slavish fear renders a sinner completely miserable in this world. All errors about the nature of God are pernicious and dangerous; but those errors which are accompanied with fear, they are like a wound which hath an inflammation in it, it will bring death more painful and more speedy; so it is here, those errors concerning the nature of God, which are accompanied with such a fear of his justice, as if there were no reserves of mercy for relenting and reforming sinners; these beget an hell upon earth, bring a soul into the very suburbs of hell, into the confines of eternal darkness; and therefore labour against this fear. I do not speak against the fear of God's justice all this while, I would only rectify that fear, not abolish it; let us so fear God's justice as to hate sin, and yet still so as to love his mercy and goodness. The sum is this, the fear of God should have for its circumference the reverence of God and all his attributes, for its centre it should have godliness and practical holiness; the limit of our fear should be an awful regard of God's excellencies and perfection, and the end of our fear should be a constant obedience to him; then our fear is angelical when it is kept within its bounds. So much for the first brànch, that slavish fear which is terminated upon God's justice.
2. There is a servile fear which respects the power of man, when the soul is so possessed with the fears of the power of the creature, that it draws back to destruction, that it dares not own its faith in the face of a tyrant: and to such persons, that they may correct their fear, I shall present three considerations.
(1.) Consider, as the throne endures no rivals, so that fear which is a homage and tribute which we should pay only to the Sovereign Creator of the world, should not be given to the creature. He that doth immoderately fear the creature, dethrones God and deifies man. It is no less than sacrilege to alienate the affections from God; and it is no less than idolatry, to place our affections inordinately upon the creature, Isa. 8. 12, 13. “Neither fear ye their fear, nor be afraid ; sanctify the Lord of hosts himself, and let him be your fear, and let him be your dread.” As the beams of the sun discourage the fire, and will not suffer it to burn; so will the fear of God swallow up all our fear of the creature; the greater fear will devour the less.
(2.) Consider, this immoderate fear of the creature is the root of apostacy. Such a man will rather save his life than his soul, such a person carries his faith about him at the mercy of every one that threatens to kill him : for this is a maxim, he that is a coward will be an apostate. That man doth not fear God, that dares not die for him ; that man that hath not got above the love of life, and above the fear of death, will never be a martyr, he will never hold out for God; therefore such a person is in the very next degree to an apostate.
(3.) Consider the unreasonableness of this fear. To fear the sentence of a man when God is our Judge; to fear the power
of man, when God is our defence; to fear death, which is but the entrance into an eternal life; what is this, but as little children, to fear the vizard more than the man that wears it? Austin speaks excellently concerning this temper, saith he, these persons Timent carcerem, non timent gehennam ; timent cruciatum temporalem, non pænas ignis æterni ; timent modicum mori, non æternum mori ; that is, they fear the prison, but they fear not hell; they fear temporal torments, but they fear not the flames of unquenchable fire; they fear the first, but not the second death; and is not this an unreasonable thing? There is one scripture which I shall desire to press upon such persons, Rev. 21. 8. “But the fearful, and unbelieving, and abominable, and murderers, and whoremongers, and sorcerers, and idolaters, and all liars, shall have their part in the lake, which burneth with fire and brimstone, which is the scond death.” Here the fearful are placed in front of those which shall be cast into the lake, which burns with fire and brimstone for ever. This is the second sort of slavish fear, which I would depress.
3. Another sort of slavish fear which should be eradicated, is this, that fear which some persons take up from the apprehension of insuperable difficulties that attend a religious state; like the Israelites that would not venture upon the paradise of Canaan, because it was defended by giants.
So there are many persons among us, that if you could look into their hearts you would find this principle; they consider the weakness of their natures, the slipperiness of their places, and the instability of their wills; the rage of their affections, and the frequency of temptations, and from thence they thus argue, . I shall never be able to conquer all these; therefore since I shall not be able to attain the prize, I will venture no charges; and since I cannot finish a religious course, I will not begin it; and thus they waste and melt away their days in discouraging fears or worldly business. Sometimes possibly they will make a trial, but they find if they are resolute one day, they are staggering the next; if they are strong one day they are weak another, and at best like Peter, when he was walking upon the water, he slipped with one foot and sunk with the other : therefore they are of the temper of those in the prophet Jeremiah, “they said there was no hope, and therefore they will follow their own ways;" Jer. 2. 25. I shall never conquer these lusts, never be able to perform these duties, therefore I will sit still, and go no further. To such persons I would offer these three considerations.
(1.) Do you not believe that there are degrees of torments in hell? And therefore, supposing this granted, that you cannot attain to that perfection which God requires, will you therefore loosen the reins to all wickedness? A cooler hell is a kind of heaven; there are some lashed with scorpions, others whipped but with rods, I speak as to the degrees of torment.
. (2.) Was ever the Spirit of God defective to those that sincerely endeavoured? Hath not God promised to give his Spirit to those that ask it ?
(3.) Is not divine grace strong enough to conquer the power of hell, and the deceitfulness of our hearts ? Is not the efficacy of the divine nature sufficient to repel temptations, and to resist corruptions ? Consider, will a small candle when it is enlightened scatter all the darkness that is about us; and will not a beam of grace in the soul scatter and triumph over temptations and corruptions ? Sure I am that sin is not an infinite evil in itself; but grace hath an infinite power, there is an omnipotency goes along with it. And therefore it is very great madness for a person to say thus, I will not endeavour against my corruptions, because I fear I shall never get the victory over them; it is just as if a man in the midst of a great storm, for fear of it should leap into the sea, this you know were madness : so for a man, because he fears he cannot by his own power and strength, get victory over his corruptions; therefore he will leave himself to the swing of them. Suppose a man when he is half a mile distant from his enemy, should draw his sword and brandish and flourish it in the air, as if he would wound him by these flourishings, you would look upon this man as mad: but if this man should mount an ordnance, and level it against his enemy, and then should shoot at him, you would think this were but reasonable ; although the act of shooting be the man's, the force of the act proceeds from the powder, fire, and cannon, which discharge the bullet. So for a man indeed to resolve against his lusts by his own power, and by the strength of his own resolutions, this can do no good : but for a man by the sword of the Spirit, and by the strength of Christ, to go out against his corruptions; this is as the discharging of a cannon, there is some reason to expect that execution should be done, because such a person is carried forth by the power of God. Thus I have opened the first head