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PROVERBS ii. 4, 5.
If thou seekest her as silver, and searchest for her as for hid treasure; then shalt thou understand the fear of the Lord, and find the knowledge of God.
IN every message and command of heaven to men, their improvement and happiness are obviously designed. Pursuant to this design, a plan of redemption was intimated to the first offending pair, and gradually disclosed, during the patriarchal, Mosaick, and prophetick ages, till the "sun of righteousness arose with healing in his beams ;" and the meridian light of gospel grace burst upon a benighted world.. "When the fulness of the time was come, God sent forth his son, made of a woman, made under the law, to redeem
them that were under the law, that we might receive the adoption of sons." Thus "begotten to a lively hope," we are furnished, at the same time, with ample instructions to form us to virtue and glory. Do we inquire "what we must do to be saved?" Evangelical faith, repentance, and obedience are defined and enforced, in reply. Would we ascertain how these essential qualifications are to be acquired and increased? All needful information is given in the various passages of scripture, which prescribe means adapted to the purpose. Of this import are the repeated injunctions to " consider our ways;" to "be" instant in prayer ;" to "keep the sabbath and reverence the sanctuary;" to hear and read the word; to "bridle our tongues," with many others that might be mentioned. Of this import are the more general and figurative addresses, which, by allusions to sublunary affairs, exhibit and recommend, in the aggregate, all the methods suggested by reason, or authorized by revelation, to facilitate the choice and pursuit of "the true riches." Such is the manifest intention of the inspired preacher of Israel, when he says, "My son, if thou wilt receive my words, and hide my commandments with thee; so that thou incline
thine ear unto wisdom, and apply thine heart to understanding; if thou seekest her as silver, and searchest for her as for hid treasure; then shalt thou understand the fear of the Lord, and find the knowledge of God."
To" understand the fear of the Lord, and find the knowledge of God," are expressions which need no comment. Like those in the preceding grades of the climax, they evidently denote the spirit and character of true religion. Here then, the spirit and character of true religion are presented to the mind, as objects to be sought and obtained, in a manner perfectly analagous to that, in which we seek and obtain temporal good; that is, by the diligent use of proper means.
As this discourse is intended to call attention to the subject of religious means at large, and to prepare the way for others more in detail, their nature, tendency, and result may profitably employ our meditations.
1. To any one, who is conversant with the sacred pages, it will be apparent, that two kinds of duties are there enjoined; and that these duties, though ultimately tending to the same point, are perfectly distinct in their nature and ends. Of the first class, the christian
character is the proximate object; of the last, the christian inheritance. By confounding these objects together, some are betrayed into an undue estimation of instrumental observances, while others are led to depreciate and decry them, as "nothing worth." Now the antidote to both these mistakes is carefully to discriminate between the means of religion, and religion itself. Are you inclined to place the whole of your moral obligations in the "forms of godliness," and to imagine, that in them consists a compliance with the terms of salvation? This discrimination will teach you, that the exercises which they impose, are, at best, but preludes and helps to conversion and sanctification, and can be no further beneficial than they excite devout affections of heart, and induce virtuous habits of life. Do you verge to the opposite extreme, and suspect the means of religion to be useless and criminal, except when resorted to in a believing, penitent frame of mind? The same discrimination will apprise you, that a believing, penitent frame of mind is the identical attainment to which they are directed; that to seek it, necessarily involves the idea of present destitution; and therefore, that this theory inverts the order of nature, as well as the injunction