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Yet Mr. Edwards, in his work upon the Religious Affections, endeavours to give it a different construction; and Mrs. Hutchinson, in a manuscript which is extant, explains it entirely in a Calvinistic sense. But consider: Gratitude is a moral feeling; gratitude is a natural and proper return for bounties received. Now it is doubtless very possible to feel grateful towards those whom we do not love. But suppose us to experience kindness from one who is already dear to us; I appeal to every generous and feeling heart, whether the sentiment of gratitude which we should cherish towards an indifferent person, is not now swallowed up and lost in the ardour of an increased affection. It is impossible for the most penetrating eye to distinguish between them. When St. Paul says,
The love of Christ constraineth us, because we thus judge, that if one died for all, then were all dead," he seems plainly to urge the greatness of the benefit bestowed as operating irresistibly on his affections. So in the Old Testament we find the Almighty continually calling on his people to remember his mercies towards them, and charging them with the plainest guilt for their insensibility. It is one of the most striking and characteristic features of Revelation, that instead of enjoining us to love a Being of abstract perfection, it has laid open to us the whole of that astonishing and intimate system of relations which connects man so closely with his Maker, under the Christian economy; for the very purpose (as it should seem) of affecting us with the view of his peculiar condescension and rich mercy towards us. Yet our interest in these things is just as personal as it can be in the most direct interposition for our happiness. Surely we do a dangerous violence to common sense, and to the universal feelings of mankind, in denying that love to God arises in part from a personal experience of his goodness.
A correct knowledge of the true fountains from whence our affections spring, is of great practical value in religion. We are thus enabled to distinguish whatever is rational and truly excellent, from those transports of fancy which sometimes assume to themselves titles to which they have no claim. We are enabled also, by well-directed exertions, to keep alive, strengthen, and elevate the holy dispositions, which, through the Divine goodness, have been engrafted in our hearts. The love of God is no mysterious sentiment inspired into the soul we know not how, and sustained and invigorated solely by supernatural influences. Like every thing else within us and around us, it is indeed, most truly, the gift of our heavenly Father; but it differs not, in any essential quality, from the other graces which his Spirit imparts; and it is for us, earnestly soliciting and humbly depending on his assistance, to cultivate diligently those means by which it may be cherished and increased.
If the contemplation of the goodness of God be the first natural cause of our love towards him, that love, it is manifest, will be proportionate to our acquaintance with his perfections. Let us, then, endeavour to improve in our knowledge of God. His moral excellence is indeed the proper object of affection; but we cannot consider it separately from his other attributes. They are all either subservient to or identified with it. They all contribute to fill up and perfect the great and inexpressible idea of Deity. Nor let us imagine that this knowledge is too high for us. Every page of holy Writ invites us, the voice of the whole creation calls us to pursue it. Has the everlasting God raised us from the dust, and breathed into us the breath of life; has He furnished us with faculties to apprehend, to imagine, to reason; has He made us“ beings of large discourse, looking before and after," curious to know, and intelligent to discover; has He set us in the midst of a theatre of wonders, building up the bright canopy of the heavens above, and spreading out the green earth beneath us; has He so finely constructed, sodelicately wrought the frame which we inhabit, that every sense shall drink in rapture and amazement;—and can we enjoy the gifts, yet forget the Giver; and while we stretch our researches through the varied provinces of nature, neglect Him who made and sustains them all? What is the whole tenor of Scripture, but a history of the character of God manifested in his dealings towards us? It is that awful and perfect character, equally wise and holy, equally elevated and amiable, which the highest spiritual intelligences esteem it their glory to contemplate. What language can express our folly, if we refuse to share so blessed a privilege!
But it is not necessary to enter very largely upon a topic which is enforced by the explicit testimony of holy Writ. “This is life eternal, that they may know thee, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent.” “O righteous Father, the world hath not known thee; but I have known thee; and these have known that thou hast sent me. And I have declared unto them thy name, and will declare it; that the love wherewith thou hast loved me, may be in them, and I in them.” These are the words of our ever-blessed Redeemer. Hear also St. Paul: “ Wherefore I also cease not to give thanks for you, making mention of you in my prayers; that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of Glory, may give unto
you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of him.” “ And this I pray, that your love may abound yet more and more in knowledge and in all judgment.” “For this cause we also do not cease to pray for you,
and to desire that ye might be filled with the knowledge of his will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding.","Grow in grace and in the knowledge of our Lord and Sayiour Jesus Christ.” For this cause I bow my knees unto the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, that He would grant you, according to the riches of his glory, to be strengthened with might by his Spirit in the inner man; that Christ may dwell in your hearts by faith; that ye, being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend, with all saints, what is the breadth and length and depth and height, and to know the love of Christ, which passeth knowledge, that ye might be filled with all the fulness of God.” What the Apostle prayed for earnestly, we ought to desire fervently; and what we fervently desire, we shall strenu'ously endeavour to obtain.
The love of God has its foundation in our personal experience of his goodness, as well as in the knowledge of bis perfections. Let us then so attend to and consider the mercies we receive, that we may grow daily more and more sensible to the bounty of him who bestows them. This is an exercise in which the more eminent saints appear, in all ages, peculiarly to have delighted. Indeed I know not any disposition which more decisively marks a truly Christian frame of mind, than a lively sensibility to the exceeding bounty of God in all his hourly and ordinary mercies, as well as in the more special instances of his providential care and kindness. Worldly persons seem to have little sense of the magnitude of the blessings they enjoy. They go on thoughtlessly and thanklessly wasting all the bounties of Providence; and, if but a few drops of bitterness are shed into the cup of their pleasures, are apt to think themselves hardly dealt with. But whoever has learned his religion at the feet of Christ Jesus; whoever has deeply felt the majesty of God and his own meanness; whoever has been duly humbled under a sense of his many and most grievous offences, his abuse of the mercies he has largely shared, his frequent forgetfulness of his best Benefactor, the faint and worthless service of his least sinful days;--whoever, in short, has just notions of himself, and sees things as they really are, will be deeply penetrated with the condescension, the long-suffering, and the goodness of that adorable Being, who has bestowed upon him every thing he possesses, all he has and all he hopes for. And if he has sinned wilfully against his Creator (as, alas! which of us has not?), and if he has suffered chastisement for his offences ("of which all are partakers”), how will his heart glow with gratitude towards the gracious Father who loved him even when he was most unworthy, and visited him with timely afflictions, lest he should perish for ever! Could the veil which now separates us from futurity be for a moment drawn aside; and those regions of everlasting happiness and sorrow, which strike so faintly on the imagination, be presented fully to our eyes; it would occasion, I doubt not, a sudden and strange revolution in our estimate of things. Many are the distresses for which we now weep in suffering or sympathy, that would awaken us to songs of thanksgiving:-Many the dispensátions which now seem dreary and inexplicable, that would fill our adoring hearts with astonishment and joy.