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“What dost thou chiefly learn by these
OUR DUTY TO GOD.
MATTHEW, xxII, 40. On these two commandments hang all the law
and the prophets. Our Church Catechism, after requiring the catechumens (that is, the persons to be instructed) to make themselves thoroughly acquainted with the letter and spirit of the ten commandments, proceeds to inquire, by way of examination into the attainment of the scholar, what is chiefly taught by them. To which the reply is short and clear, viz. that we learn thereby two essential things in general: 1. Our duty towards God; 2. Our duty towards our neighbour: or, in other words, we are hereby instructed in the contents of the two tables of the divine law, the first of which is confined to such precepts as treat more immediately of our duty towards
God; and the other wholly relates to what we owe to mankind in general, and ourselves. And in the due observance of both, consists our religious character, as obedient servants of God in Christ ; since, under these, all the duties of active Christianity are included : on these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.
Not satisfied with the bare repetition of these precepts, our Catechism proposes a further question to the learner, in order to try what general idea he entertains from the particulars of each division of the tables, in case the attention to the subject of each separate commandment may have perplexed his mind as to the proper application of them, as above divided and distinguished. It begins, accordingly, with desiring an account of the chief and principal of all other duties—our duty towards God. This is always to be attended to most diligently, and before all other duties whatsoever, because it is called by our Lord himself, the first and great commandment, Matt. xxii. 38: and this is a doctrine most essential to be early ingrafted in the mind of youth, as the only principle that gives any real virtue to every other moral exertion. For though there is a species of morality which inclines men to pay regard to the duties which they owe to one another, yet if that proceeds not from a motive of love and duty to God, it cannot be truly termed religious
or Christian morality; it cannot be acceptable to God, by reason that it proceeds from a false principle, and therefore will not be rewarded by him hereafter. As it originates in self-love, or a love of the world, so it receives all its reward in its own gratification in the present time; whereas God is pleased only with that obedience which is derived from the power he himself bestows upon us to do right. We must first establish the love of God in our hearts, from the grateful sense that he first loved us; and when Christ assures us, that, by our loving one another, we shall prove ourselves to be his disciples, it implies this conclusion, that such love must proceed from our respect to him, and regard to the precept delivered by him in the preceding verse: A new commandment I give unto you, that ye
love one another; as I have loved
also love one another. (John, xiii. 34.)
The principle that makes our obedience to God's commands truly Christian, and pleasing to him, being his authority in the command, it is that only which will enable us to fulfil any part of the law in a proper manner. Love, in its purest sense, even as it affects our conduct towards each other, and in which only it can be applied to serious subjects, is a natural passion or affection of the mind, inclining us to esteem, show kindness to, and desire the fellowship and
conversation of some person, whom we imagine to be possessed of such qualities as deserve our esteem and regard. As it is used in a spiritual sense, and relates to the Deity, it may more properly be defined a gracious habit, wrought in the soul by God, which engages us to delight in, value, and enjoy an interest in his favour, and communion with him, as our chief good, and the fountain of all perfection : and this temper disposes us to do good to all, especially such as resemble the object of our love in holiness, and therefore are said to bear his image. In short, it is that principle of humble respect and grateful attachment which flows from the heart. Love to God is what alone will influence our obedience to the four first commandments, called the first table; and love to our neighbour, grounded in the love of God, or working for his sake, will engage us to fulfil the rest.
In order, therefore, that we may acquire and cherish this holy principle, this first mover of all real goodness, it will be useful to you to be informed in what it consists ; and here you will be led to consider how very essential it is to your peace and perfection, both here and hereafter.
The method I mean to pursue for your instruction at present, upon this important and delightful subject, will be to make a short and easy comment on these words of our Church
Catechism. The reply, then, to the question, “What is our duty towards God?" informs us it is, first, to believe in him ; for, he that cometh unto God, saith the Apostle (Heb. xi. 6), must believe that he is—THAT THERE IS A GOD. Having, in a former Lecture on this particular part of the subject, dwelt very fully on the most general and admired proofs drawn from deep learning, and the exertion of the human understanding, to satisfy the doubting or unbelieving on this primary article of our faith, I shall only observe, at this time, Him doth all his works declare; and they who cannot see God in his works, will never be convinced by all the refined arguments that can possibly be employed. As no man in his right mind can doubt but that the world, and all its wonders, is the work of an all-powerful and wise Being, so, by this conviction, they do implicitly confess the existence of God, or their belief in him. Now, the natural result of our belief in so powerful a Being, will be, that we must fear him; for, fear is the consequence of considering a power superior to ourselves. A consciousness of our own imperfection occasions awe and anxiety in the mind, or a degree of care, either of giving satisfaction or offence to those above us: if we act so as to apprehend it moves the latter, it creates the passion of fear in us; and if we are governed by such rules as we have reason to