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Knowledge of G0D.
THOUGH Religion in general be a thing that all Men naturally agree in, yet there is nothing, I think, that Men differ so much about, as about the particular Acts and Exercise of it: For all Nations in the World have some Religion; but there is scarce two amongst them all that have the same; yea, in one and the same Nation too, there are divers Modes of Religion professed and practised. No Nation or Country in the World but will afford us Instances of this; and our own, I think, as many as any other whatsoever: For could we but cast our Eyes into the several Corners of this Land, at this very Moment, what variety might we observe in these Acts which the several Parties amongst us account to be Religious! Some we should see sitting silently for a while together, without either speaking, or hearing of a Word spoken, until at length up starts a Man or a Woman, or some such thing, and entertains them with a Discourse made up of Censures and Malice, Blasphemy and Nonsense; and this is all the Religion they pretend to. Others we should find crowded together in several Corners, sometimes praying, sometimes discoursing, as it were, sometimes arguing the Case with Almighty God, and acquainting him with what happens in the World, and that with as much Confidence and Malapertness, as if he was their Fellow-Creature, and then very gravely walk home and please themselves with a vain conceit that they are more Religious than their Neighbours. Another sort of People there are amongst us, who are as Superstitious as the former were slovenly and irreverent in their Devotions: For these having been sprinkled with a little Holy Water, and performed their Obeisance to a Crucifix or Picture, presently fall a pattering over Ave Maria’s and Pater Nosters: to themselves, as fast as they can, whilst the Priest, in the mean while, says something too, but the People generally know not what it is, nor indeed what themselves say, it being all in an unknown Tongue. But howsoever, though they know not what they say, they think that God doth, and therefore satisfy themselves, that they have said something, though they know not what, and think that God is well pleased with what they have done, because themselves are so.
Others there are, and by the Blessing of God, far more than all the rest, in this Nation, who presenting themselves before the great Creator and Possessor of the World, in that solemn and reverent manner as the Constitutions of our Church directs, humbly confessing their manifold Sins against God, begging Mercy and Pardon from him, imploring his Favour, and praising his Name for all the expressions of his undeserved Love to Mankind: And all this in our vulgar Tongue, that we all understand, and so perform a reasonable Service unto God.
And, verily, if we consider the Institution on itself, of that religious Worship which we thus perform, it is certainly the best that ever was prescribed by any Church, as being most consonant to the general Rules of Devotion laid down in Scripture; as also most conformable to the Discipline and Practice of the Primitive Church. But we must not think that we serve God aright, because we be present with them that do so. I do not doubt but that there are many amongst us, who sincerely endeavour to worship God, whensoever they present themselves before him in publick. I wish that all of us would do so. But we must still remember, that we should serve the Lord elsewhere, as well as at Church, and on all other Days as well as upon the Lord’s Day And that if we would be truly Religious, our whole Man must be devoted to the Service of God, yea, and our whole Time too. We must not think that it is enough to do something, but we must do all things that are required of us, which notwithstanding we can never do, unless we know both that GOD whom we ought to serve, and that Service which we ought to perform unto him. And therefore David directs his Son to the right and only way to true Religion, saying, 1 Chron. 28. 9. And thou Solomon my Son, know thou the God of thy Father, and serve him with a perfect Heart, and with a willing Mind: Which Words, did we apply them to ourselves, would, by the Blessing of God, put us upon sincere Endeavours after real and universal Obedience to all the Commands of God: And perswade us not to content ourselves with vain Pretences to, and Professions of Religion, as most do; but strive to live up unto our Profession, and carry and behave ourselves so as becometh those who desire to be religious, and to serve God in good earnest. Which that we may do, let us observe the Rule and Method which David here prescribes to his Son: First to know God, and then to serve him with a perfect Heart and a willing Mind.
I shall not trouble the Reader with any critical division of the Words, for they naturally divide themselves into two Parts.
First, That we should know, and then that we should serve God with a perfect Heart, and with a willing Mind.
I shass begin with the First, not only because it is first placed, but because it necessarily must precede the Second; is being impossible for us to serve God aright unless we know him: For without this, all our Services will be but like the Altar which the Athenians Dedicated, Τῷ ἀγνώστῳ Θεῷ, To the unknown God. By which, Inscription, they manifested to the World, that they knew that they ought to serve some God, but that they knew not that God whom they ought to serve. But that we may so know him as to serve him aright, I shall first shew what it is a God which we must know, in order to our serving him aright.
First, Therefore he that would serve God aright, must believe and know that he is, Heb. 11. 6. that is, That there is such a supreme and all-glorious Being in, and over the World that we call God, that made, preserves, governs, and disposes of every Thing in the World, as seemeth best to him: And that it is not only probable that there is such a One, but that it is the must certain and necessary Truth in the World; without which, there would be no such thing as Truth or Certainty. For indeed if God was not, nothing could be; He alone being the Basis and Foundation of all Being in the World, yea, and of all Motion too, Acts 17. 28. And therefore every thing that lives, every thing that moves, nay, every thing that is, argues God to Be, which therefore is the first great Truth, upon which all the rest depend; without which nothing would be True, much less wou’d our Services be so: So that the first thing to be done in order to our serving God, is to know and believe that he is, and that he ought to be served and adored by us.
Secondly., It is necessary to know his Essence too, as well as his Existence; what, as well as that he is; what he is in himself, and what he is to us; that in himself he is what he is, in and of himself, the source of all Wisdom, the Abyss of all Power, the Ocean of all Goodness, the Fountain of all Happiness, the Principle of all Motion, and the Center, yea, Perfection of all Perfections in the World; whose Nature or Essence is so Pure, so Glorious, so Immense, so Infinite, so Eternal, so every way Perfect, Transcendent, and Incomprehensible, that the more we think of him, the more we contemplate upon him; the more we praise and admire him, the more we may. And the highest Apprehensions that we can have of him, is still to apprehend him infinitely higher than all our Apprehensions of him. And therefore that Man best knows God, that knows him to be beyond his Knowledge; and that knows he can never know him enough.
But we must know too what he is to us, even the Author and Giver of every good thing we have, and who in himself is whatsoever we can desire to make us happy: And therefore it is that in the Covenant of Grace, when he would assure us that we shall have all things that we can enjoy, he only promises to be our God, Heb. 8. 10. which is as much as we can desire, and indeed as himself can promise; for in promising himself, he hath promised whatsoever he is, whatsoever he hath, whatsoever he doth, nay, whatsoever he can do as God. And thus are we to look upon God as the only Object of all true Happiness, and the only Centre wherein all the Desires and Inclinations of our Souls can rest.
Thirdly, It is necessary also to know the several Attributes and Perfections which he hath revealed of himself in Scripture; that he is so Wise as to know whatsoever can be known; so Powerful as to do whatsoever can be done: So Great and Glorious in himself, that we have all just cause to fear him; so Kind and Gracious in his Son, that it is our Duty also to trust in him; so True, that whatsoever he says is True because he saith it; so Good, that whatsoever he doth is good because he doth it; so Just as to punish every Sin that is committed, and yet so Merciful as to pardon every Sinner that repenteth; that he is Pure without mixture, Infinite without Bounds, Eternal without Beginning, Everlasting without End, and every way Perfect, without Comparison.
Fourthly, We must know also the Works of God, what he hath done, wherein he hath manifested himself to us. But what hath God done? or rather, what hath he not done? It was he that raised this stately Fabrick of the World we live in, out of the Womb of Nothing, It was he that extracted Light out of Darkness, Beauty and Perfection out of a confused Chaos. It was he that bedecked the glorious Canopy of Heaven with those glittering Spangles the Stars. It was he that commanded the Sun to run his course by Day, and the Moon to ride her Circuit by Night about the World, to shew the Inhabitants thereof the Glory of their All-glorious Maker. It was he that hung the Earth upon Nothing, and spread upon the Surface of it a curious Carpet, embroidered with all manner, not of painted, but real Flowers, and Plants, and Trees. It was he that at first produced all Things out of Nothing; and it is he that still preserves all Things in their Being. It is he that orders the Affairs of Kingdoms, manageth the Intrigues of State, directeth the Events of Wars, and disposes of every particular Person as himself sees good. In a word, Whatsoever was ever made in Heaven above, or on Earth beneath, it was he that made it; and whatsoever is still done in Heaven above, or on Earth beneath, it is he that doth it, so that nothing ever was, or is, or ever will be, or can be done, but what is done by him, as the First and Universal Cause of all Things.
Fifthly, It is necessary also to know so as to believe, that though there is but One God, yet there are Three Persons; all and every one of which is that One God. I do not say it is necessary to understand, or comprehend this Mystery, for that we cannot do; but we are not therefore the less to believe it, because we cannot understand it: For there are many other things in Divinity; yea, many things in Natural Philosophy, and in Geometry itself, which we cannot understand, and yet for all that, both know and believe them to be true. But how much more cause have we to believe this, which God himself hath asserted of himself! Nay, and besides that, we have the same Obligations to serve and honour every Person, as we have to serve and honour any one Person in the Sacred Trinity, our Saviour himself having expresly told us, That all Men should honour the Son even as they honour the Father, Joh. 5. 23. But that we cannot do, unless we believe the Son to be God as well as the Father; and, by consequence, unless we acknowledge this Fundamental Article of our Christian Faith, into which we were all baptized.
Secondly, We must consider what kind of Knowledge we ought to have of God, in reference unto our serving him aright.
For we must not think that it is enough to know in general that there is a God, and that he is Wise and Powerful, Great and Glorious, True and Faithful, Good and Gracious; these things a Man may know in general, so as to be able to discourse of them, and dispute for them too, and yet come short of that Knowledge which is requisite to our true serving of God: Which should be such a Knowledge as will not only swim in the Brain, but sink down into the Heart; whereby a Man is possessed with a due sense of those things he knows, so that he doth not only know, but in a manner feel them to be so. Thus David, who, in the Text, calls upon his Son to know the God of his Fathers, intimates elsewhere, what Knowledge he means; saying, Oh taste and see that the Lord is good, Psal. 34. 8. Where we may observe, how he requires our Spiritual Senses to be employ’d in our Knowledge of God, so as to see that he is good, yea, and taste it too; that is, feel and experience it in our selves; which though it may seem a Paradox to many of us, yet there is none of us but may find it to be a real Truth, and attain unto it, if we be but careful and constant in our Meditations upon God, and sincere in performing our Devotions to him; for, by these means, our Notions of God will be refined, our Conceptions cleared, and our Affections, by consequence, so moved towards him, that we shall taste and experience in our selves, as well as know from others, that he is Good, and that all Perfections are concentred in him.
But this practical and experimental Knowledge of God, doth necessarily presuppose the other, or the general Knowledge of him, so as to be acquainted with the several Expressions which God in Scripture hath made use of, whereby to reveal himself and his Perfections to us; as when he is pleased to call himself the Almighty God, the All-wise and Infinite, the Just and Gracious God, and the like; or to say of himself, I am that I am, that is, in and of my self Eternal. Unless we first know that these and such like Expressions belong to God, and what is the true meaning and purport of them, it is impossible for us to arrive at that Knowledge of him, which is necessary to our serving him aright. And so I come to the last thing to be consider’d here concerning the Knowledge of God, even that it is necessary to our serving him; so that none can serve him that does not first know him, and therefore that the Method as well as Matter of David’s Advice is here observable, Know thou the God of thy Fathers, and serve jim; or, first know him, and then serve him with a perfect Heart, and a willing Mind.
And, verily, one would think that this is a Truth so clear, so evident of it self, that it needs no Proof or Demonstration; for how is it possible for us to know how to serve God, unless we first know that God whom we ought to serve? For all our Services unto god should be both proper to his Nature, and suitable to his Perfections; and therefore unless I first know his Nature and Perfections, how can I adjust my Services to them? As for Example, I am to fear his Greatness and trust on his Mercy, and rejoyce in his Goodness, and desire his Favour: But how can I do this, unless I know that he is thus Great and Merciful, Good and Favourable.
Moreover, as a Man cannot serve God. when he hath a Mind to do it, so neither will he have a Mind or Heart to serve him unless he unless knows him. For the motions of the Will are always regulated by the ultimate Dictates of the practical Understanding, so that a Man chuses or refuses, loves or hates, desires or abhors, according as he knows any Object that is presented to him to be Good Or Evil. And therefore how can I chuse God as my chiefest Good, unless I first know him to be so; or love him as I ought, above all things, unless I first know him to be better than all things; or perform any true Service to him, unless first know him to be such a one, as deserves to have true service performed unto him.
Nay, Lasty, Nothing that we do can be accepted as a Service to God, unless it be both grounded upon, and directed by a right Knowledge of him. God would not accept of blind Sacrifices under the Law; much less will he accept of blind Services now under the Gospel and therefore he expects and requires now, that whatsoever we do, either to or for him, be a λογικὴν λατρεία,. a reasonable Service, Rom. 12. 1. That our Souls as well as Bodies, yea, and the Rational as well as Sensitive Part be employ’d in all the Services which we perform to him; which certainly can not be, unless we first know him; so that there is an indispensable Connection betwixt our knowing and serving God; it being as impossible for any Man to serve him, that doth not first know him, as it is to know him aright, and not to serve him.
But howsoever indispensable this Connection be in its own nature, the Church of Rome can make a shift to dispense with it; yea, so far as to assert, That Ignorance is the Mother of Devotion: But you must excuse them, for they do not mean by Devotion as we do, the real serving of God, but only the performing of some outward Services to him. And such a kind of Devotion, I confess, Ignorance may be the Mother of: But a Man must be grosly ignorant that thinks this to be Devotion, which is but a piece of Pageantry, a mocking instead of serving God. And, for my part, I cannot but tremble to think what a dismal, what a dreadful Account the Heads of that Church must hereafter give for daring to keep the People in so much Ignorance as they do; so as to render them uncapable of serving God, that so they may be the more ready to serve the Church; that is, the Interests and Designs of the Court of Rome.
But let them look to that; whilst we, in the mean while, study to know God before all things else, considering,
First, God therefore made us that we might know him, and that we might know that he made us. And therefore it is that he hath made Rational Creatures capable of reflecting upon him that made us so: Neither did he only make us at first, but he still preserves us; we feed daily at his Table, and live upon his Bounty. And the very Beasts, that any of us keep, know those that keep them; and shall we be more brutish than Brutes themselves, and not know him that keeps and maintains us? O how justly may God then call Heaven and Earth to witness against us, as he did once against his People Israel! Isa. 1. 2, 3, 4.
Secondly, There is none of us but have attained to Knowledge in other things: Some of us have searched into Arts and Sciences, others are acquainted with several Languages, none of us but are, or would be expect in the Affairs of this World, and understand the Mysteries of our several Trades and Callings; what, and shall he alone, by whom we know other things, be himself unknown unto us? What is, if this be not, a just Cause, wherefore God should infatuate and deprive us of all our Knowledge in other things? seeing we labour more to know them, than him from whom we receive our Knowledge.
Thirdly, Ignorance of God is itself one of the greatest Sins that we can be guilty of, and which God is most angry for, Hos. 4. 4. And there God himself imputes the Destruction of his People, to the want of Knowledge, v. 6. Nay, and it is that Sin too that makes way for all the rest. For what is the Reason that many so frequently Blaspheme God’s Name, slight his Service, transgress his Laws, and incense his Wrath against them, but meerly because they do not know him, how Great, how Glorious, how Terrible a God he is? For did they but thus rightly know him, they could not but regard the Thoughts of doing any thing that is offensive to him: And therefore the true Knowledge of God would be the best Security and the most sovereign Antidote in the World against the Infection of Sin, and the prevalency of Temptations over us; neither would it only preserve us from Sin, but put us upon Duty and Service, and direct us also in the performance of it. Insomuch that the hardest Duty will be easy to one that knows God; the easiest will be hard to one that knows him not. Hard, did I say? Yea, and impossible too; for although a Man may know God, and yet not serve him, it is impossible that any Man should serve God unless he knows him; Knowledge itself being both the first Duty that we owe to God, and the Foundation of all the rest.
And therefore, to conclude, if any desire to perform the Vow they made in their Baptism, to love and fear, to honour and obey the Eternal God that made them? If any desire to be Christians indeed, and holy in all manner of Conversation? If any desire to trust on the Promises, and observe the Precepts of the Great Creator and Possessor of the World, to live above the Snares of Death, and to antedate the Joys of Heaven? If any desire to live the Life, and to die the Death of the Righteous, to serve God here, so as to enjoy him hereafter? Let all such but study the Scriptures, and frequent the publick Ordinances; be constant and sincere in Prayer and Meditation, neglecting no Opportunity of acquainting themselves with God, but make use of all means possible, to get their Hearts possessed with a reverential Apprehension of God’s Greatness and Glory, and with a due sense of his Goodness and Perfections, and their Work will soon be done; for if they thus know God, they will serve him too with a perfect Heart, and a willing Mind.
We have seen how we ought to know God; we are now to consider how we ought to serve him; without which, indeed, our Knowledge of him will avail us nothing. For, as the Apostle argues, though I speak with Tongues of Men and Angels, and have not Charity, I am become as sounding Brass, and a tinkling Cymbal, 1 Cor. 13. 12. So here: Though we should have the highest Notions and Speculations in Divinity, that Men or Angels ever had; though we should understand the highest Mysteries in Religion, and dive into the profoundest Secrets of Christian Philosophy; though we should excel the greatest School-Men, and the most learned Doctors that ever lived; and were able to baffle Heresies, dispute Error and Schism out of the Christian Church, and evince the Truth of the Articles of our Faith, by more than Mathematical Demonstrations; Yet, if after all this, our Knowledge be only Notional, not moving our Affections, nor putting us upon the Practice of what we know, it is but as sounding Brass, and tinkling Cymbal; it may make a noise in the World, and get us Applause amongst Men, but it will stand us in no stead at all before the Eternal God; yea, it will rise up in judgment against us another Day, and sink us lower into the Abyss of Torments. And therefore, tho’ Men may, God doth not look upon this as the true Knowledge of himself. Neither can any one be properly said to know God that doth not serve him with a perfect Heart, and a willing Mind. And therefore having discoursed of that Knowledge which is necessary to our serving God, I shall now endeavour to shew, how we ought to serve God according to our Knowledge.
In speaking unto which, I must beg the Reader’s most serious and Christian attention, as to a Matter which concerns our Lives; yea, our Eternal Lives in another World: I hope there is none of those that pretends to Instruct, so Brutish and Atheistical, as not to desire to serve God: None so Proud and Self-conceited, as to think that they serve him well enough already, or at least know how to do it. I write only to such as desire to be instructed, read Books of practical Religion with no other Design but to serve God, and to learn how to serve him better. And if this be our only Design, as I hope it is, let us manifest it to the World, and to our Consciences, by attending to, and fixing what we read upon our own Hearts. For I may venture to say, that this is the noblest and most necessary Subject that I can write, or any one can read of; and that which, if seriously weighed, rightly considered, and truly practised, will most certainly bring us to the highest Happiness which our Natures are capable of, or our Persons were at first designed for.
Now, for our clearer proceeding in a Matter of so great Importance, we will best consider, what it is to serve God? A Question very necessary to be treated of and resolved, because of the general Mistakes that are in the World about it: Many People fancying the Service of God to consist in some few particular Acts; as in saying their Prayers, reading the Scriptures, going to Church, and giving an Alms now and then to the Poor, especially if they be but zealous and resolute in the Defence of the Party or Faction they are of, so as to promote it to the highest of their Parts, Estates, or Power, then they think they do God good service, and that this is all he requires of them. Others think they serve God by serving of his Creatures, as in praying to Saints, bowing to Images, and falling down before the Eucharist, when it is carried in Procession: Nay, many there are, who think they serve God when they dishonour him, wresting his Scriptures, corrupting his Doctrines, opposing his Vicegerents, seducing his People and Servants into Error, and all for the promoting of some Temporal Interests, or groundless Opinions. But we might know that the Service of God is a Thing of an higher Nature, and nobler Stamp than such silly Mortals would perswade us it is: Consisting in nothing less than,
1. In devoting of our selves, and all we have, or are, or do unto the Honour of the Eternal God; resigning our Hearts wholly to him, and subduing all our Passions and Affections before him. For seeing we were wholly made by him, and wholly depend upon him, if we would serve God at all, we must serve him with all we are; every Faculty of our Souls, and Members of our Bodies employing themselves in those Services which he hath set them, so as to live as none of our own, but as wholly God’s; his by Creation, it was he that made us; his by Preservation, it is he that maintains us; and his by Redemption, it is he that hath purchased us with his own most precious Blood; and therefore being thus bought with a price, we should glorify God both in our Souls and Bodies which are his, 1 Cor. 6. 20.
And as we are to serve him with all we are, so also with all we have, Honour the Lord with thy Substance, and with the first fruits of all thine increase, Prov. 3. 9. Whatsoever we have, we receive from his Bounty, and therefore whatsoever we have we should employ for his Glory: Our Parts, our Gifts, our Estates, our Power, our Time; whatsoever we can call ours, is his in our Hands, and therefore to be improved, not for our selves but him; as our Saviour shews in the Parable of the Talents which the Master of the House distributed amongst his Servants, to some he gave one, to some five, to others ten, that every one might employ his Proportion to his Master’s use, neither squandering it away, nor yet laying it up in a Napkin. It is God that to the grand Master and Possessor of the World, who parcels it out amongst his Creatures, as himself sees good; but wheresoever he entrusteth any thing, he expects the improvement of it for himself, And so, I suppose, doth every one of us from such Servants as we keep; we expect that what we put into their Hands, be laid out, nor for themselves, but for us; and that they spend their Time in our service, not their own: And if they do otherwise, none of us but will say, they do not serve us, but themselves. How then can we expect that God should look upon us, as serving him, when we do not do so much for him, as we expect from our own Servants, though our Fellow-Creatures? Or how can we think that we serve him as we ought, unless we serve him as much as we can? Or that God should look upon us as his Servants, unless we employ and improve whatsoever we have, not for our own Pleasure, Profit or Applause, but for his Honour and Glory, from whom we did receive it? Let us remember our Saviour’s Words, Mat. 5. 16. Let your Light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in Heaven.
2. Hence the serving of God consisteth also in the performing of sincere and universal Obedience to all his Laws and Commands, which is but the natural consequent of the former: For if our whole Man, both Soul and Body, and whatsoever we have, or are, ought to be devoted to his Glory; it must needs follow, that whatsoever we do, should be conformable to his Precepts; which also is no more than every one of us expects from our Servants: For those whom we have covenanted with to be our Servants, and whom we keep upon that very account; that they may serve us, we all expect that they should observe all our Commands, and do whatsoever in Justice, and by our Covenants, we can enjoyn them. But how much more more then must we ourselves be obliged to obey all the Laws and Precepts of him that made us, whose Creatures we are, and whose Servants, by consequence, we ought to be.
I say, all his Laws and Precepts, for we must not think to pick and chuse, to do some things, and leave other things undone: For we should take it ill if our Servants should serve us so; if when we send them upon several Businesses, they should mind only one of them, and neglect all the other, we should questionless look upon them as very idle and careless Servants: But let us consider and bethink ourselves, whether we have not served our Master, the Eternal God, as bad as our Servants have, or can serve us. He hath given us several Laws to observe, and hath set us several Works to do, and we, perhaps, can make a shift to do something that is required of us; but never think of the other, and perhaps, the principal things too that he expects from us.
Just as if when Moses had broke the two Tables of Stone, whereon the Ten Commandments were written, one Man should have come and snatched away one piece, a second ran away with another piece, and a third with another, till at length ten several Persons had gotten several Pieces, wherein in the Ten Commandments were severally written; and when they had done so, every one of them should have striven to keep the Law that was written in his own Piece, never minding what was written in the others. Do you think that such Persons as these are, could be reputed the Servants of God, and to observe his Laws, when they minded only one particular Branch or Piece of them. The Case is our own; we hearing of several Laws and Commands which the most high God hath set us, get some one of them by the end, and run away with that, as if we were not concerned in any of the rest. But let us still remember, that the same Finger that wrote one of the Commands, wrote all the other too. And therefore he that doth not observe all, as well as one, cannot properly be said to observe any at all. Neither indeed doth he serve God in any thing: For though he may do something that God requires, yet it is plain, that he doth not therefore do it, because God requires it; for if he did so, he would do all things else too that God requires. And therefore such a Person doth not serve God at all in what he doth no, he serves himself rather than God, in that he doth it not in obedience to God, but with respect unto himself; as to get himself a Name and Credit amongst Men, or perhaps to satisfy his troublesome Conscience, which would not let him be at quiet unless he did it.
But now one that would serve God indeed, hath respect to all his Commandments, Psal. 119. 6. And walks in all the Commandments and Ordinances of the Lord blameless, as Zacharias and Elizabeth are said to have done, Luke 1. 6. And thus, Whosoever would serve the Lord in any thing, must serve him in all things that be requireth. And this is that which David means in this Advice to his Son, saying, Know thou the God of thy Fathers and serve him; that is, observe and do whatsoever he enjoyns, and that too, with a perfect Heart and a willing Mind.
And so I come to the Second thing to be consider’d here; that is, The manner how we ought to serve God, even with a perfect heart and with a willing Mind.
First, With a perfect Heart: That is, With Integrity and Sincerity of Heart, not from any By-ends, or sinister Designs but out of pure Obedience to the Laws of God, as he is the Sovereign of Heaven and Earth, and, in Christ, our Lord and our God. A thing much to be observed in all our Services, without which, indeed, they are no Services at all. Insomuch, that should we pray our Tongues to the Stumps, and fast our Bodies into Skeletons; should we fill the Air with Sighs, and the Sea with Tears for Sin; should we spend all our Time in hearing of Sermons, and our whole Estates in relieving the Poor; should we hazard our Lives, yea, give our Bodies to be burnt for our Religion, yet nothing of all this would be accepted as a Service unto God, unless it be performed out of sincere Obedience to his Laws, and with a single Eye, aiming at nothing but his Glory, which ought to be the ultimate End of all our Actions, 1 Cor. 10. 31.
Secondly, We must not only serve with a perfect Heart, but with a willing Mind too; בְנֶפֶשׁ חֲפֵצָה properly with a willing Soul; that is, our Will, and all the Affections of our Souls should be carried after, and exercised in the Service of Almighty God. Our Desires are to be enflamed towards it, our Love fixed upon it, and our Delight placed in it. Thus the Israelites are said to have sought the Lord with their whole desire, 2 Chron. 15. 15. And we are commanded to love the Lord our God, and so to serve him with all our Heart, and with all our Soul, Deut. 11. 13. Yea, we are to delight to do the Will of God, Psal. 40. 8. As our Saviour did, saying, It is my Meat to do the Will of him that sent me, and to finish his Work, Joh. 4. 34. Thus are we too to esteem the Service of God above our necessary Food, pleasing our selves in pleasing him, and so make his Service not only our Business, but our Recreation too; and whosoever doth not so, whatsoever he doth for God, he cannot be said to serve him, because he doth it against his Will, and against the Bent and Inclination of his Soul. And therefore, though, as to the outward Act, he may do that which God commands, yet inwardly he doth it not; because his Soul is still averse from it, by which means it ceaseth to be the Service of God; because it is not performed by the Whole Man, even Soul and Body, both which are necessarily required in our Performance of real Service to him that made them both.
Thirdly, What is the Reason why we ought to serve God so? Because he searcheth the Hearts, and understandeth all the Imagination of the Thoughts: that is, He is throughly acquainted with every Thought in our Hearts, and with every Motion and Inclination of our Souls, infinitely better than our selves are. And therefore it is in vain for us to think to put him off with outward and formal, instead of inward and real Service. For he doth not only see what we do, but knows too what we think, while we are doing of it; and doth not only observe the Matter of our Actions, but the manner also of our performing them. It being his great Prerogative to search the heart, and to try the reins, and to have all things naked and open unto him, Heb. 4. 13. So that he sees what the Soul doth within doors, in the secret Closets of the Heart, as clearly as what it doth without, in the open Streets of the World; every Affection of the Soul being as manifest unto him, as the Actions of the Body are: And therefore Hypocrisy is the most foolish and ridiculous Sin imaginable, making as if we could Cheat and Deceive God, and hide our Sins from the All-seeing Eyes of Omniscience itself, or make God believe that we are Holy, because we appear to be so to Men.
But to bring this home more closely to ourselves. We have been all at Church, perhaps, performing our Service and Devotions to him that made us; it is true, as to our outward Appearance, there hath been no great difference betwixt us, we have been equally present at these Publick Ordinances, and we do not know but one hath prayed and heard the Word of God both read and preached as well as another; so that seemingly our Services are all alike as to us; but are they so to God too? that I much question: For he hath taken especial notice all along, not only of the outward Gestures of our Bodies, but likewise of the inward Behaviour of our Hearts and Souls before him: And therefore, as I hope he hath seen many of us serving him with a perfect heart, and willing mind; so, I fear, he hath found too many of us tardy, coming before him as his People come, and sitting before him as his People sit, while our Hearts in the mean time have been about our Covetousness; and hath plainly seen, that though your Bodies have been at Church, our Souls have been elsewhere, thinking upon our Relations, or Estates, or something or other, besides what our Thoughts should have been employ’d about in so solemn a Duty as the Publick Worship. But know this, Oh vain man, whosoever thou art, art, that God will not be mocked: And though thou hast not seen, or perhaps so much as thought of him, he hath seen thee and thy Thoughts too; yea, at this very Moment looks upon thee. And what wilt thou answer him, the great Judge of the whole World, when he shall tell thee to thy Face, and call his Omniscience to witness, That he saw thee at this, as at other times, play the Hypocrite with him, making as if thou servedst him, when thou servedst him not; and instead of serving him with a perfect Heart, and a willing Mind, servedst him neither in Heart nor Mind. Let us all remember this when we approach God’s House, and also bethink ourselves afterwards whether we have not been guilty of this Sin? if we have, we may be sure God knows it, and we shall hear of it another Day. But to prevent what justly may be our Doom, let us repent of our former neglects in this kind; and, for the future, whensoever we are serving God, let us still look upon him as looking upon us, and fix in our Hearts this one thing, That God knows all things in the World. And therefore let us not think to put God off with such careless and perfunctory Services as heretofore too many of us have done but if we desire to serve him at all, let us serve him with a perfect Heart and a willing Mind.
Thus 1 have endeavoured to shew both what it is to serve God, and how we ought to do it: Now let us not think it sufficient that we know how to serve God, unless we serve him according to our Knowledge. Let us remember our Saviour’s Words: If ye know these things, happy are ye if you do them, Joh. 13. 17. Which Happiness, that all who read this, may attain unto, let me advise them, in the Name of the Eternal God that made them, to renounce and forsake their former Masters, Sin, Satan and the World, whoever may have hitherto been inflaved to them, and now dedicate themselves wholly to the Service of him, that made them for that very purpose, that they might serve him; yea, and who hath composed our Natures so, that the highest Happiness that we are capable of, consists in our serving him And therefore let us not think that he calls upon us to serve him, because he wants our Service; no, be it known unto all, that he is infinitely happy in the enjoyment of his own Perfections, and needs not the Services of such poor silly Mortals as we are, who have nothing but what we receive from him: And therefore he doth not call upon us to serve him, because he cannot be happy without us, but because we cannot be happy without him: Not because he wants our Service, but because we want it; it being impossible for us to be Happy, unless we be Holy; or to enjoy God, unless we serve him.
Wherefore all ye that desire to go to Heaven, to have him that made you reconciled unto you, and smile upon you; or that desire to be really and truly Happy, set upon the Work which God sent you into the World about, put it not off any longer, make no more vain Excuses, but from this Day forward, let the Service of God be your daily, your continual Employment and Pleasure: Study and contrive each Day how to advance his Glory and Interest in the World, and how you may walk more strictly, more circumspectly, more conformably to his Laws than ever. But whatsoever Service you perform unto him, be sure to do it with a perfect Heart, and with a willing Mind. Think not to put him off with Fancy instead of Faith, or with outward Performances instead of real Duties: But remember that he searcheth the Hearts, and tryeth the Reins of the Sons of Men, and observes the inward Motions of the Soul, as well as the outward Actions of the Life: And therefore wheresoever you are, whatsoever you bethink your selves, that he that made you, still looks upon you; taking notice, not only of the matter of the Actions which you do perform, but also of the manner of your performing them; and therefore be sure to have a special care in all your Services for, or unto God, that your Hearts be sincere before him, and your Minds inclined to him, that so you may serve him with a perfect Heart and a willing Mind.
But to conclude; Whoever ye are that read this Discourse, I have here shewn you the things that belong unto your Everlasting Peace, having acquainted you with the Method and Manner of your serving God in Time, in order to your Enjoyment of him to Eternity; how you are affected with what you have read, and whether you be resolved to practice it, yea, or no, ’tis only the Eternal God that knows. But this I know, that if you will not be perswaded to serve God, yea, and to serve him too with a perfect Heart, and a willing Mind, you will one Day wish you had, but then it will be too late. And therefore if you will put it to the venture, go on still, and with the unprofitable Servant, hide your Talents in a Napkin, or lavish them out in the Revels of Sin and Vanity; let thy Belly be still thy God, and the World thy Lord, serve thy Self or Satan, instead of the living God: But know that for all this, God will bring thee into Judgment; after which, expect nothing else but to be overwhelmed with Horror and Confusion to Eternity.
Whereas on the other side, such amongst you as shall sincerely endeavour from henceforth to serve God with a perfect Heart, and with a willing Mind, I dare, I do assure them, in the Name of God, their Labour shall not be in vain in the Lord: For God suffers not his Enemies to go unpunish’d, nor his Servants unrewarded.
And therefore go on with joy and triumph in the Service of so Great and so Good a Master, and devote your selves wholly to his Service, and employ your Talents faithfully for his Glory. Remember the time is but short and Christ himself will receive you into Eternal Glory, saying, Well done, good and faithful Servant,
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