1Ki_18:12. I thy servant fear the Lord from my youth.
IT is comfortable to reflect, that in the worst of times there are some who fear God, and that the state of religion is rarely so bad as it appears. The days of Ahab were peculiarly unfavourable to the existence of real piety in Israel: for, in addition to that king’s personal aversion to every thing that was good, he was stirred up by Jezebel his wife to destroy every prophet in the land: and so bitter was he against Elijah in particular, that he sought him in all the adjacent countries, and even exacted an oath of their governors that they could not find him. But in the midst of all this wickedness, there was one even of Ahab’s household, and he “the governor of his house,” who retained his integrity, and used all his influence to protect the servants of the Lord. This man, constrained in vindication of his own character to bear testimony to himself, was enabled to declare to the Prophet Elijah, “I thy servant fear the Lord from my youth.”
In considering the subject of early piety, we shall notice,
Wherein it should consist—
[We would not on any account disparage devotional feelings: but we must entertain some jealousy respecting them as a criterion of early piety. We know their immense value; — — — but we know also how susceptible of strong impressions the youthful mind is, on whatever subject it is occupied — — — and that the characteristic mark of a very numerous set of unprofitable hearers is, that “anon they receive the word with joy.” We must therefore look for some better and safer test of piety than this.
Nor would we by any means undervalue a clear knowledge of the Gospel. A view of ourselves as sinful creatures, altogether helpless and hopeless in ourselves, and a view of Christ as the only and all-sufficient Saviour of the world, and an habitual consciousness that we must receive every thing out of his fulness, all this, I say, is absolutely essential to the Christian character — — — but then it may all exist in the mind as a theory, without entering into the heart as a principle of life. Not only do the thorny-ground hearers evince this melancholy truth, but daily observation and experience compel us to acknowledge it — — —
There is however a test which is subject to no such uncertainties, namely, “the fear of God.” By this we mean a reverential awe of the Divine Majesty, a dread of offending him, and a determination through grace to obey every one of his commandments — — — This must be an abiding principle in the soul, operating as forcibly upon us in our most secret actions, as the presence of a fellow-creature would in reference to any thing which would expose us to universal execration.
Let it not however be supposed that we are now speaking of a slavish fear, arising from an apprehension of God’s judgments: we speak of a filial fear, which is excited as much by a sense of “his goodness,” as by a dread of his displeasure. And it is remarkable, that, when the Prophet Hosea foretold the piety that should reign under the gospel dispensation, and in the millennial period, he characterized it in the very way that we have now done: “They shall seek the Lord, and David their king; and shall fear the Lord and his goodness in the latter days [Note: Hos_3:5.].”]
That we may be led to cultivate piety in early life, let us consider,
The great advantages of it—
“Godliness has the promise of the life that now is, and of that which is to come:” and the earlier it is acquired, the more will its inestimable value appear. Consider its use,
To the person who possesses it—
[When religion has acquired a just ascendant over a young person, it will determine his connexions; (he will not be unequally yoked with unbelievers as friends, and much less in that relation of life which death only can dissolve:) it will also form his habits, leading him to the study of the Holy Scriptures, to constant prayer, to holy watchfulness and self-denial, and to a conscientious regard for God in every thing that he does — — — It will also facilitate his attainments: it is scarcely to be conceived what difficulties they have to struggle with through life, who have spent their early days in sensual indulgences: but those who have been early trained in the exercise of self-denial are enabled with comparative ease to restrain forbidden appetites, and to mortify unhallowed affections. Not that a life of holiness is easy to any one: it is a constant warfare, as long as we continue in the body: but the more we exercise ourselves in it, the more effectual will our efforts be, and the more certain our victory.]
To the world around us—
[Early piety attracts particular attention, and produces great effects, in encouraging the young, and in putting to shame the old. Only compare the benefits which the world receives from one who has the fear of God in his heart, with the evils it derives from one who lives, as it were, “without God:” how many are instructed, and comforted, and edified by the one, whilst multitudes have reason to curse the day that ever they beheld the other! It is truly said by Solomon, that “one sinner destroyeth much good.” Yes, one sinner encourages and hardens many others in their iniquities, and places a stumbling-block in the way of all who desire to return to God: and, if he afterward have repentance given him from the Lord, he would in vain attempt to undo a thousandth part of the evil that he has done: many of his former associates in iniquity cannot be found; many are gone into the eternal world beyond a possibility of redemption; and if he were to warn all those to whom he could get access, the greater part of them would only laugh at him, and think him mad. All these distressing consequences of iniquity are avoided by him who devotes his early years to the service of his God: and perhaps, instead of having to reflect on the ruin that he has brought on others, he will find many in the day of judgment to whom his words and his example have been a source of good.
What may be done by a single person even under the most unfavourable circumstances, we see in Obadiah: no less than an hundred of the Lord’s prophets did he conceal and nourish at his own expense, and at the risk of his own life; when, without his interposition, they would all have been put to death. And though we may never be in a capacity to render such a public service to the Church of God, we may be the means of keeping many from destruction, and of saving their souls alive.]
Those who are fearing God in their youth—
[We rejoice that there are many Obadiahs amongst us, and perhaps some Timothys also, who even “from their childhood have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make them wise unto salvation through faith that is in Christ Jesus.” Happy people, and greatly to be envied, in thus consecrating to the Lord “the first-fruits” of your days! Regard not then the scoffs and ridicule of those who have no fear of God before their eyes. The day is coming when they will reproach themselves more than ever they reproached you, and applaud your choice far more than ever they condemned it [Note: Wisd. 5:3–6.].]
Those who have lost their youth without having yet obtained the fear of God—
[Ah! what have you lost! But blessed be God that you have not yet been given up to final condemnation. O listen to the voice of God, who says to you, “To-day, if ye will hear his voice, harden not your hearts.” Learn to improve the present hour, for you know not how soon your day of grace may terminate, and all possibility of salvation be cut off for ever.]