A SERMON CONCERNING The Wisdom of Fearing GOD; Preach'd at SALISBURY, ON SUNDAY, July XXX. 1693.

BEING The Time of the Assizes.

By E. YOUNG, Fellow of Winchester-College, and Chaplain in Ordinary to Their Majesties.

Publish'd at the Request of the Lawyers.

LONDON, Printed by T. W. for Walter Kettilby, at the Bishop's Head in St. Paul's Church-Yard, 1693.

TO THE Worthily Honoured THE SERJEANTS, And other Council of the WESTERN CIRCUIT.

SIRS,

WHEN I received Notice of your Desire, That this Sermon should be publish'd, under the Style of being publish'd at the Request of the Lawyers (as is prefixt in the Title Page) I look'd upon it as a Desire intended to express not so much [Page] your Approbation of the Preacher, as your Zeal for the Subject, and the stipulation of your Assistance to promote the Fear of God, and a declaration of your selves to be Professors of the Religious, as well as you are of the Civil Wisdom: This being a Design suitable to the Honour of your Profession, and to your known Personal Abilities; which as they give you grea­ter Power to serve the Interests of Religi­on, so they lay a greater Obligation upon you to do it. Wherefore in combination with your Piety, as well as obsequiousness to your Desire, I publish my Thoughts upon this Subject; not as mine, but (as they are by Espousal) Yours; to the end that Your Reputation may give them Credit, and make way for their Recepti­on, and conferr on them the Felicity of doing Good in the World. If they shall do any Good (which is a most desirable, [Page] but casual Event) I must impute it to your asserting them; for Authority may reach Mens Affections, when bare Argu­ments cannot: And therefore I humbly recommend them to that part of your Pa­tronage, and your selves to the Blessing of God for a Requital: Who am, with all Respect,

SIRS, Your very Humble Servant,
E. YOUNG.

A SERMON CONCERNING The Wisdom of Fearing GOD; PREACHED At SALISBURY, July 30. 1693.

JOB xxviii. 28.‘And unto man he said, Behold the fear of the Lord, that is wisdom, and to depart from evil is understanding.’

THE fear of the Lord, that is wisdom; is a Sentence we meet with in seve­ral places of Scripture, and delive­red by several of the holy Writers; so that it seems to have been in proverbial use a­mongst the Ancients; and it is a probable [Page 2] Conjecture, that they derived this Proverb by Tradition from GOD himself, and that Adam was the Man in the Text, to whom it was first spoken: For when Adam had ea­ten the forbidden Fruit, which he was in­duc'd to do from the hopes of being made wise by it, it was then (as some have thought) that God thus admonish'd him, The fear of the Lord, that is wisdom; this Admonition properly serving to set before him the gross­ness of his Mistake, when he thought that any thing which made him sin, could possibly make him wise.

If this were spoken to our First Parent, we cannot doubt, but that the Truth of it entred into his Soul with a full conviction: The shame and terror which he felt within himself; for having departed from the fear of God in one instance, throughly convinc'd him, that there was nothing so wise, as to fear him always.

And there are certain Seasons, wherein every Son of Adam, even the most loose and careless, does readily deliver himself up to the same Conviction: Scarce any one in the World, when lying under the sense of Guilt, [Page 3] or the fear of Punishment, or the destitution of Worldly Comforts, or the apprehension of Approaching Death, but will soon acknowledg, That the fear of God is the true Wisdom, and that all other Attainments are but Folly, in comparison of it. What therefore all men at some time or other confess for a Truth, and most men with a Regret, that they have no more consider'd it, That it is the prudent man's part to consider at all times, and to set it before him for a governing Principle of his Life.

We may observe by the way. That if the Fear of God be Wisdom, it is a happy step and advantage towards the Duty, that Nature has planted in us a common Ambition to be wise. To be wise, is the thing we long for above all other; as (on the contrary) to be accounted Fools is the most hated of all Re­proaches: And this is an Appetite as uni­verfal as Hunger it self: So that the diffe­rence betwixt Wise-men and Fools lyes not so much in the difference of their Affections towards Wisdom, but only in the Contro­versie about what Wisdom is, and wherein it consists. Which Controversie my Text [Page 4] comes in to determine, and I shall deliver the full sence of it in these two Propositions.

  • I. That the fear of the Lord is wisdom; and,
  • II. That it is the Only Wisdom; for so much the emphasis of the Relative im­ports,—The fear of the Lord that is wis­dom: As much as to say, There is no Wisdom without it.

I. I begin with the first,—The fear of the Lord is wisdom.

To fear God (if we will state the nature of it) consists in the having such a due sense of the Majesty, and Holiness, and Justice, and Goodness of God, as shall make us throughly fearful to offend him; for each of these Attributes of God are proper to raise a suitable Fear in every considering Mind: His Majesty, a Fear lest we affront it by be­ing irreverent; his Holiness, a Fear lest we offend it by being carnal; his Justice, a Fear lest we provoke it by being presumptuous; and his Goodness, a Fear lest we lose it by being unthankful. But through all, the cea­sing to offend God is necessary, for otherwise [Page 5] we cannot be said to fear Him: And there­fore in the Holy Scripture we have the Fear of God defined by departing from evil; as if its very Essence consisted in this necessary Effect. So Solomon tells us, The fear of God is to depart from evil: And the same definition is imply'd in the Text, where the fear of the Lord, and to depart from evil, are used only as two different expressions to signifie the same thing.

And from this Observation it follows, that Wicked Men can never be said to fear God, tho' they do certainly fear his Punishment; but where the Punishment only is feared, there the Person is properly hated. I con­fess, that to hate God carries a Horror in the very sound of it, and implies a Guilt of such a dye, as few Sinners will own to have been in their Intention. But when we consider that a Man cannot continue in deliberate Sin, but that in the mean time his Heart must needs give him to wish, that there were no God to punish him; and that such a Wish is Formal Hatred: all we can conclude upon it is this, That our Sins are seldom stinted by our own Intention, but when we give Guilt [Page 6] leave to go so far, it will go farther without our leave; and so those ill habits will insen­sibly lead us on to pure Enmity with God, in which, at first, we intended no more than the bare pleasing of our Passions. But the Fear of God is a sure Guard against all these Mischiefs; for, when once this Fear has made us take care not to offend God, our Souls will naturally tend to love him, from the prospect of those gracious Promises, wherein such as fear him are secure of a growing Interest.

Now, the Wisdom of fearing God will be manifested, 1sty, by considering the Rea­sonableness, and, 2dly, the Advantages of it.

1st, I shall consider the Reasonableness of the Duty. God Almighty gave us the passi­on of Fear on purpose to make us wise; and its subserviency to Wisdom is visible in the whole course of Human Affairs: For, set aside Fear, and there is no Providence in ma­nagement, no Weight in Counsel, no Pru­dence in Election, no Discretion in Acting; all runs to Rashness and Folly, and ends in exposing us to all manner of Evils. As there­fore in a Town alarm'd by an Enemy, a [Page 7] Sentinel is set to watch their Approaches, and to prevent the danger of a surprize; so, in regard of those many Evils and Dangers to which we are obnoxious in this Life, God has set Fear in our Soul for a Sentinel, to watch when and which way they come, and to give us Caution that we may avoid them. But the same God that has given us Fear for a Caution against Evils in general, has, in the mean time, given us notice, That His Dis­pleasure is the greatest of all Evils: and there­fore as we account it a point of Wisdom to be watchful against other Evils, so it is necessa­rily the chiefest point of Wisdom to be watchful against this.

The Fear of God is of so great importance to us, that God seems to have intended a gra­cious intimation of it in every motion of our Natural Fears. Our Natural Fears (we know) are either sudden or deliberate; the sudden are such as come upon us surprizingly, and without deliberation, and of these we may observe, that they are very often immode­rate, boundless, and ungovernable; and as they prevent our deliberation in their co­ming, so they often baffle it being come, and [Page 8] are not to be controul'd by any power of Reasoning. How wonderfully will a man sometimes be affected at the hearing of a sud­den noise in the Night? his Blood runs back, his Spirits sink, his Soul melts within him, and a Horror passes thro' every part of his Body. Now, such a Fear as this seems ab­solutely unreasonable, a Wise and Good Man would not fear any Accident of Life, no, nor Death it self, at such a rate; and yet a Wise and Good Man cannot sometimes hinder such a Fear from rising upon a meer Bugbear occasion. Now, how unreasonable soever this Fear seems to be, it carries a most reasonable Admonition along with it. And as the Sentinel, when set, has a Word given him, whereby to distinguish his proper Of­ficer; so GOD, when he set this Fear in us, seems to have given it his own Word, a Word which it whispers to us upon each of its sur­prizing motions, (viz.) Thus it is that a man ought to fear God; Thus it is that a Man ought to fear God, because ev'n as a man fea­reth, so is his displeasure: Ev'n as a Man fea­reth, when he feareth most boundlesly, most extravagantly, so is his displeasure; his Displeasure [Page 9] bears proportion to such a Fear as this, tho' nothing in Nature does so besides it. Thus God has made nothing in vain, no, not our vainest Fears, from whom, if we will give our selves leisure to reflect, we may learn so important a Lesson.

Our deliberate and just Fears are as just to the same intimation; and each of their mo­tions point out God to the first glance of our Reasoning: For, if it be reasonable to fear Want, how much more reasonable is it to fear Him, whose Bounty is the Fountain of all our Supplies? If it be reasonable to fear Disappointments, how much more to fear Him, whose Providence disposes the issue of all we project? If it be reasonable to fear Disgrace, how much more to fear Him, whose estimation imports more towards it than that of all the World beside? If it be reasonable to fear Pain, and other Inconveniences of Life, how much more to fear Him, whose Pleasure determines both all our Ease, and all our Sufferings? In a word, if it be reasona­ble to fear them that can kill the body, how much more him, who after he hath killed, can cast into hell? This then is the Moral, and this is the [Page 10] Lesson of all our Fears, Fear God: And if it be not Wisdom to do so, it is equally no Folly to kick against the Pricks, to embrace a Scorpion, to run under a falling Tower, into the mouth of a Lyon, into the bottom­less Pit.

Thus much for the Reasonableness of the Duty; let us, 2dly, consider its Advantages.

And to give my Thoughts a Track in this wide Field, I shall confine them to this Par­ticular, viz. That the Fear of God is the cure of all other Fears; and when I have said this, I have imply'd a mighty Advantage, because Fear (when loose from God) is undoubtedly both the greatest Burden and the greatest Snare that Human Life is acquainted with. I call Fear the greatest Burden of Life, because of its natural torturing power; and I call it the greatest Snare of Life, because of its moral corrupting power. Let us reflect a little upon them both.

1. Fear carries with it such a torturing power, that could we but estimate the Con­ditions of all men together, we should find that the World is at all times more misera­ble from what it fears, than from what it feels. [Page 11] Nay, Fear is such a Tyrant, that let us feel never so much, it will still heap on weight, and make that which may be worse than that which is. As the Author of the Book of Wis­dom tells us concerning the Egyptians, That when they lay under their grievous Plague of Darkness, yet their Fear was more grievous than the Darkness.

But, 2. Beside this torturing power, Fear has in it a corrupting and debauching power, whereby its moral Mischiefs come to be ex­cessive; for, Fear is the main Rock upon which most men split their Faith, their Ho­nour, their Integrity; all are sacrificed to some sort of cowardly compliances, and Men become vitious perhaps less from the love of being so, than from want of Courage to be otherwise. And this is a sufficient Reason why, Rev. 21. 8. the Fearful are set first in the List of those that go to Perdition.

So that tho' Fear was given us on purpose to make us wise, yet it never effects that pur­pose, till such time as it is fixed upon God, and receives Virtue from that supreme Ob­ject, to govern its motions, in reference to all the rest; for the fear of God, like a wise [Page 12] Monarch set up in a disturbed State, com­poses all the Tumults of vulgar Fears, and keeping them subordinate to it self, renders them both harmless and useful to their pro­per Ends.

'Tis a sad mistaken Project (tho' yet it be a common one) to cast off the Fear of God in order to be free; for, in so doing, Men only pass from one Fear which is without Torment, to a multitude that are without Relief: As Cain, when he had departed from the Presence of God, became terrified with the presence of every thing he met. And tho' all men in Cain's case are not so fearful as Cain was, yet they make the mischief equal by being more stupid than he.

How galling must the Fears about the things of this Life needs be to one who car­ries no eye to the Blessings of a future? They make the World look like a Shaft thrust in­to a man's Body, which grieves and tortures while it stays in, and when it is drawn out, draws away Life along with it: But he that fears God has a Preservative against the fear of all Worldly Evils; for he fears them not before they come, because he is secure of [Page 13] the Good Providence of God on his side, and when they come, he has wherewithal to break their blow, because he has assurance of Re­compence at least, if not of Relief.

But especially, how amazing must the fear of Death be to him that fears not God? Death! that, like a dark passage to a com­fortless Prison, puts an end to all he would have, and a beginning to all he would not. I confess indeed, that Sin, ev'n while it is drawing on such formidable Consequences as these, has likewise Arts to fence off their Affrightment: For, as there is sometimes an Excess of Fear, that betrays all the Succours of Reason, so there is sometimes on the other hand such a Hardiness, and want of Fear, as stifles all the Actings of Reason: And hence it comes to pass, that some Men, who are al­together careless how they live, do yet seem as indifferent about the Concern of dying. The Scripture gives us the Emblem of such hardy Spirits, in a Horse rushing to the Battel, and an Ox going to the slaughter; Creatures that are not frighted with Consequences, be­cause they are not capable of thinking: Which may likewise serve for an intimation [Page 14] to us, That when a man fears not God, and at the same time fears not Death, it is not Courage in him, but Brutality; for, it is impossible there should be any Guard against the Fear of Dying, to those who are reaso­nable, and aware of the Issues of Dying, but only the Fear of God, which secures against all other Fears: And as to this in particular, it makes Death resemble a Viper, when its Poyson is whipt out; its very form indeed brings some Horror to our Nature, but Rea­son tells us in the mean time, That it is so far from doing harm, that it is altogether medicinal and restorative.

By the way, it is remarkable, how this Pas­sion of Fear will not suffer it self to be slight­ed by any of the Children of Pride, and there­fore it takes a mocking Revenge upon those that seem to slight it most: for we may ob­serve, concerning such as fear not GOD, and pretend likewise not to fear Death, that yet they extreamly fear the vain Breath of the vainest Men, which they falsly set up to be the Standard of Honour: This Breath (as despisable as it is) they fear as much as any others can fear Death, and will run them­selves [Page 15] into greater Mischiefs to escape it. Whereas, in truth, nothing is honourable neither, but only the Fear of God, and such Offices as are consequential to it, if God him­self may pass for the Standard, who says, Them that honour me I will honour. And there­fore whatsoever is acted contrary to this Principle, and whatsoever Men dare, contra­ry to the Rules of Piety, it can be no other than dishonourable and weak.

As for the debauching power of Fear, it is deplorable what Multitudes it brings under captivity to Sin. The Fear of being laught at, of being reproach'd, of being frown'd up­on; the Fear of Contempt, of Hardships, of Poverty, of Shame, of Death, are each of them Cords that draw Men daily from their Integrity; and tho' they are all of different strengths, yet by means of opportunity they all equally serve the Ends of the Tempter; insomuch, that as many are debauch'd by the Fear of being laugh'd at, as by the Fear of being undone.

But the Fear of God is Armour of Proof against all these Temptations; it fortifies the Mind, and works it to firmness, such a firm­ness [Page 16] as was glorious in the three Israelites in Babylon, who when the Question was put, Whether they would worship the Image, or be cast into the Furnace, they replied with all composedness, Oh Nebuchadnezzar, we are not sollicitous to answer thee about this matter: As much as to say, The Question which thou, O King, takest to be so puzling to us, by reason of its Terror, is not worthy the shortest of our Deliberations; we can resolve in an instant what to do in this case, because we were resolved long ago to suffer any thing rather than God's Displeasure.

I have thus far shewn the Reasonableness and the present Advantages of the Fear of God, in order to evidence the Wisdom of it; but I must carry the Argument a little far­ther. For, altho' allMen did not only desire to be wise (as certainly they do) but would al­low us this Point too, That the fear of God is wisdom; yet this would not convince them, that they must necessarily fear God, in order to be wise, unless it appear likewise that they cannot be wise any other way: For, as when there are several Meats of several tasts, one Man's chusing what he likes best does [Page 17] not tax the Discretion of a second for chu­sing of another kind; so, supposing there are several kinds of Wisdom, ungodly men may acquit their Pretences to Wisdom, by chu­sing to be wise after their own Palate, and in their own way. I shall shew therefore in the next place, That no such Choice is to be had; but that the Fear of God is so essen­tial to Wisdom, that there is no Wisdom without it.

It is the design of holy Job, in the Cha­pter of my Text, to put us in mind, that there is a mighty Difference betwixt to know and to be wise: He tells us, That Man findeth out the veins of silver, and the ore of gold, and the beds of sapphires: That He cutteth out rivers among the rocks, and his eye seeth every precious thing: That He bindeth the floods from over­flowing, and the thing that is hid he bringeth forth to light. But amidst all this, Where (says he) shall wisdom be found? and where is the place of understanding? Man knoweth not the price there­of, neither is it to be found in the land of the living. In which Passage the Holy Man intimates, that Wisdom is the pure Gift of God, and that it cannot be found by the most curious [Page 18] Enquiries into Nature: And we may add, That neither can it be found by the most cu­rious Enquiries into Truth it self, whether Moral or Divine, till such time as Grace ac­companies the Enquiry: For, a Man may know all the Offices and Bounds of Virtue, and all the Precepts and Ends of Religion, and yet not be wise, because Wisdom is not the Speculation of these things, but the Love and Practice of them. Wisdom is not only Light, but Strength, to the Understanding, whereby it is enabled to govern the Passions, and make the Life regular; whereas a bare Knowledge leaves the Understanding as weak in Government, and the Life as irregular as before; and (indeed) serves to nothing so much as the more inexcusable conviction of our Folly.

In ancient Rome, when the Empire was come to its height, and Learning and Arts were grown into reputation among them, it was the Fashion for such as aim'd at the Credit of being Accomplish'd Gentlemen, to fre­quent Conferences, and entertain the Com­pany with Discourses of Philosophy, and all other Specimens of Study and Wit: In con­sequence [Page 19] to this it hapned, that others, who had neither Parts nor Industry to accomplish themselves on this manner, and yet were ambitious to have a share in every thing that made Men look Great; made it their Pra­ctice to buy some Learned Slaves out of Greece, and to carry those about with them into Company, and there whatsoever Wit or Learning the Slaves could produce, that their Masters look'd upon as their own, and took the Glory of it unto themselves. How ridiculous soever the affectation of this Pra­ctice may seem, it is but too just an Emblem of the Generality of Mankind, priding them­selves in the attainment of mistaken Wisdom: For, while we please our selves with the knowledge of Arts, and Laws, and Policies, and Business, nay, of Virtue and Religion too, yet in the mean time our Understand­ing, the Faculty where this Treasure of Knowledge lyes, is very often no other than a Slave, held in servitude to our Lusts and Passions: These rule and command, like the Roman Gallant, and that only serves, like the poor Greek, to furnish Matter for our Vanity; insomuch, that we are not really the wiser [Page 20] for all the Wisdom we carry about us. And thus it must be; nor can it ever be other­wise, till such time as the Fear of God presides over what we know, and directs it to the Purposes of a Holy Life.

As for the Opinion of the World in this present matter, which conferrs the Chara­cter of Wisdom upon several human Endow­ments, however found separate from the Fear of God; well may it pass for a Courtesie, but its passing for a Due we have this Con­sideration to hinder, (viz.) That not any of those Endowments, no, nor all of them to­gether, can prevent a Man from being a Fool.

And this is a Truth I shall chuse to prove by Example, Example being a good Remem­brancer, and this being a matter which we are not so like to doubt of, as to forget.

I shall begin with the Example of the Rich Man, mentioned St. Luke 12. who ac­cording to the vulgar Standard, must cer­tainly pass for a Wise Man; for, he under­stood Business, and Improvements, and Ma­nagery, as we may guess by the encreasing of his Estate, and the enlarging of his Barns. And another piece of reputed Wisdom he [Page 21] was Master of too, that is, he resolv'd to en­joy what he had: And yet how emphati­cally is this man call'd Fool, in his perempto­ry Summons from God? Thou fool! this night shall thy soul be required of thee; and then whose shall those things be that thou hast provided?

The next I shall mention is Achitophel, a man of such sagacity and insight into Affairs, that (as the Sacred Story tells us) his Coun­sel upon all occasions was, As if a man had enquired at the oracle of God; and yet this Great Man, for all his mighty Talent of Wis­dom, had so little as to make a violent end of himself upon a small Affront, and so at one Act to cut himself off both from all the Enjoyments of this Life, and all the Hopes of a Future: Too great a Proof of being a Fool!

I shall end with the Example of Solomon, whose Character for Universal Wisdom is this; That there never was the like before him, nor ever shall be after him; and yet so soon as he turned his Back upon the Fear of God, see whither he sunk; His heart clave unto strange women; he had seven hundred wives, and three hundred concubines: and forasmuch as most [Page 22] of them were Idolaters, he comply'd with them all, in worshipping their several Idols. And now say how the weakest man in the World could have shew'd himself a greater Fool than Solomon did in these Extravagan­ces. Well might he take it for his Motto, as he does in the Book of Ecclesiastes (which he is supposed to have written after his Re­covery out of this Infatuation) All is vanity,—but the fear of God.

And tho' perhaps few of those that fear not God have Appetites to carry them to the Extravagances of Solomon, and fewer to the Desperateness of Achitophel: yet none of them can escape the Folly of the first Instance; that is, to have their Soul stript of all its En­joyments together, without the provision of any to succeed.

And therefore we may conclude, That whatever commendable things Human Wis­dom may do by the bye, yet it certainly fails of its main pretence; that is, of ma­king a Man wise: For, it is not some Acti­ons, done with the semblance of Discretion, in matters of smaller moment, but the Di­scretion a man shews in actions of chief con­cern, [Page 23] that must give him his Character. And what then must be the Character of those that always want Discretion in the main?

And now I shall leave the whole matter upon your Thoughts, under the illustration of this sensible Image, (viz.) Human Wisdom, (in the prospect of its whole management) looks like a man shewing great Skill in the choice of curious Paintings and Hangings, and other Rarities, wherewith to furnish his House, when all the while an Enemy is bur­ning the Town: For, thus it is that Human Wisdom provides noble Furniture for the Soul, but never reflects that the Soul it self lyes perishing at the same instant. Know­ledge, and Art, and Reasoning, and Expe­rience, and Dexterity, are excellent Furni­ture, and these Human Wisdom brings in. But, in the mean time, what need of all this Sail to run against a Rock? What needs the Pomp of all these excellent Qualities to be undone, when a Man may be undone less reproachfully without them? For, it is cer­tain that all these Qualities do not in the least prevent a Man's being undone; 'tis on­ly [Page 24] the Fear of God that can do that; and therefore we may most confidently deter­mine, That the Fear of God is the only Wis­dom.

This is Wisdom, not in Semblance, but in Deed; not Parcel-Wisdom, but Wisdom entire; not Wisdom for the Bye, but Wis­dom for the Main; not Wisdom for a Day, but Wisdom for Ever.

To God, that is the Only Giver of this Wis­dom, and of every Perfect Gift, be all Glory, &c.

AMEN.

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