Genuine piety in the heart prompts the inquiry which burst forth from the lips of the converted Saul of Tarsus, “Lord, what wilt thou have me to do?” It asks to know the will of God, for the purpose of doing it, as naturally as the infant’s appetite craves the appropriate food. The men of the world walk in their own ways, and fulfil the desires of their own minds; but the man of piety desires to walk in the way of the Lord, and to do that which is pleasing to him. Hence he delights to meditate on his law. The Bible would not be a book adapted to the state of his mind, if it did not contain precepts for the regulation of his conduct.

The infant’s appetite not only craves food, but appropriate food; and this fact is alluded to in the words of Peter, “As new-born babes, desire the sincere milk of the word, that ye may grow thereby.”[1] The Bible, the word of God, supplies the sincere milk which the child of grace needs and craves. It not only gives precepts, but precisely such precepts as are adapted to the holy affections of the new-born soul, and tend to increase and strengthen them. Paul delighted in the law of God, not simply because it was his law, but because it was holy, just and good.[2] The pure morality of Christ and his doctrine, even infidels acknowledge; and precisely the same morality appears in the decalogue, and in the two great precepts on which hang all the law and the prophets. The decalogue, written on the tables of stone by the finger of God, has been thought by some to be the first specimen of alphabetical writing known in the world. Whether this be true or not, it is certainly among the earliest specimens of which we have any knowledge. The fact, that at so early a period a law so pure and perfect was given to mankind, is very remarkable, and can be satisfactorily accounted for only on the supposition that it emanated from God. The intrinsic excellence of this law corresponds well with the solemnity and grandeur of its promulgation from Sinai. The pious man admires its perfection and delights in its holiness, and sees in it a proof that the Bible which contains it is indeed the word of God.

When the desires are properly regulated within, all the out-goings of the soul will be in accordance with the will of God; and they will be so adapted to the circumstances of our being, as to show that the power which made the things that are without, is the same that works within us to will and to do. All the works of God, in heaven above, where the sun, moon and stars declare his glory, and in the earth beneath, which is full of his goodness, are fitted to excite our admiration and gratitude. We admire the habitation which our Creator has provided for us, so splendid and so richly furnished, and we sit, with overflowing gratitude, at the table which his Providence has spread before us with such profusion and variety.

The doctrine of General Providence suffices for the exercise of gratitude in the pious heart. The general arrangements of the world in which we are placed show the benevolence of him who planned them; and we should have just cause of gratitude to him for the wise and beneficial arrangements, even if we conceived of him as leaving the world to the operation of the general laws which he has instituted, and giving no direction to them in the minute details of our daily experience. But genuine piety is no less displayed by resignation in the hour of suffering, than by gratitude in the general experience of enjoyment. Yet resignation to God under afflictions would be impossible, if they were not viewed as coming from the hand of God. Job was resigned under his affliction, because he considered it sent by God. “Shall we receive good at the hand of God, and shall we not also receive evil?” To the exercise of resignation, a belief in particular Providence is necessary. The general arrangements of Providence, which, because of their benevolence, have called forth our gratitude, may fail, in the particular exigency of our present condition, to meet our necessities. We suffer in consequence of this failure, and piety prompts us to bear the suffering with resignation to the will of God; but this would be impossible if we did not believe that the particular event happens according to the will of God. We must view Providence, not merely as instituting general laws, but as directing the times and circumstances in which the operation of these laws shall cross our path.

In order to the further exercise of piety, the providence in which we believe must not only be particular, but it must be exercised with design. Resignation to blind fate is not piety. We must not only feel the hand of God in our affliction, but we must realise that it has been laid on us with design. We have to do, not so much with our Father’s hand as with our Father’s heart. It is not necessary to exercise of piety, that we should be able to penetrate his design; but we must believe its existence. We are not required to understand or explain all the mystery attendant on the doctrine of predestination; but a belief of the doctrine is necessary to an intelligent exercise of pious resignation. A wise Providence, and to such only is intelligent piety resigned, operates with design.

Human depravity is prone to make an improper use of divine truth. The doctrine concerning God’s will of purpose is made a pretext for neglecting his will of command, and an apology for past disobedience. The transgressor pleads, “who hath resisted his will?” But sincere piety leaves God to execute his will of purpose in his own way, and makes the will of precept its rule of duty. It leaves God to his work, and delights in it as the work of God. Where it cannot comprehend his design, it still trusts in him, and rejoices in the assurance that he does all things well. It recognizes him as operating in all things without; and, in viewing all these operations, finds occasion for admiration, gratitude and resignation. But whenever a question of duty arises, it is decided, not by the inquiry, What has God done? or, what has he purposed to do? but, What has he commanded? The union of resignation and obedience in the same heart, is a test of true piety. Happy is he in whom their influence is combined. He can delight to do the will of God, and find a heaven in his obedience; and he can rejoice even in tribulation, and feel a bed of thorns, if God has laid him on it, to be a bed of down.

[1] 1 Peter ii. 2.

[2] Rom. vii. 12.

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