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of those sins which oppose the fear of God by way of excess, and that is slavish fear.
Of superstitious fear, in respect of things natural, casual, and religious,
which do oppose the fear of God by way of excess.
is a superstitious fear, which likewise by way of excess, doth oppose the fear of God. I shall rank this under three heads ;-Superstitious fear in respect of things natural;--Superstitious fear in respect of things casual ;-Superstitious fear in respect of things religious.
1st. In respect of things natural: and here I shall principally touch upon two things, both which are evident to experience.
1. The superstitious fear, which many persons do exercise in reference to those eclipses, or natural changes which may be in the heavens. We have had in our times a large experience of the vanity of men's fears in that respect. Jer. 10. 2. 6. Thus saith the Lord, learn not the way of the heathen, and be not dismayed at the signs of heaven, for the heathen are dismayed at them.” When the children of Israel were to be transported into Babylon among the Chaldeans, who were most skilful in those arts, then doth God fortify them against judicial astrology, and bids them not to be dismayed at the signs of the heavens. I confess, this is an heathenish fear; but alas we find, that for these many hundred years this hath continued among the christians, notwithstanding those antidotes that have been prepared against it. And what is the reason of it? It is this, because those persons look upon these eclipses and conjunctions of the heavenly bodies to be prodigious, and to portend and import some disastrous and sad events : I shall only say thus mueh, all such eclipses proceeding from natural causes, are not in the least prodigious. It is natural, that the sun and moon should meet at determinate seasons; and it is natural that when they do meet, the opacous body of the moon should make a partial eclipse of the sun.
It were prodigious indeed, if in the conjunction of these two bodies there should be no eclipse; and therefore for a person superstitiously to fear such things, he may upon the same reason fear sad events every night that ensues, because then the sun is eclipsed from us by the interposition of the earth ; and therefore this is a great folly. I confess it was a prodigy, that the sun was darkened at the passion of Christ, for then the moon was not in conjunction with, but in opposition against the sun: and it was a prodigy, when there was darkness among the Egyptians for three days. But here, since all things in this manner proceed from the concatenation that is between causes and effects, there is no reason to tremble. And therefore God, in scripture, doth sometimes deride this fear, and sometimes dissuades from it, sometimes derides it as matter of scorn and greatest vanity, and sometimes dissuades from it and condemns it, as here in the text recited to you.
2. There is a superstitious fear in reference to natural things, and that principally upon the account of dreams; for there are many among us whose fears commence from their fancies, who do not rest while they sleep, but while their reason is asleep their fears are awake: these are the persons that have no dreams but what are accompanied with an interpretation, or with a prediction; and if one event happens to be true, it is a rule for an hundred with them. Now the vanity of such persons the scripture takes notice of, and as an antidote against it, take these two things. (1.) Those that make use of their dreams as a rule for their acts, give the greatest advantage to satan ; the reason is this, because he then is able to exercise his power when the creature is unable to resist him. If once you grant that there may be impressions upon your fancy (in dreams) of things that are to come, the devil then takes the reins into his own hands, and he will tempt you when you cannot oppose him. (2.) As you give advantage to satan, so it is the greatest injury to a man's self; for such a soul is under perpetual fear, and makes hinıself miserable.
2dly. There is a superstitious fear in reference to casual things (and this is beneath a sermon, but yet necessary for some persons) some are transported with every trilling contingency; if the salt falls towards them, or if a hare crosseth them in the way, presently they grow pale or red upon it, as if there were some evil that must ensue ; this is the quintessence of folly.
3dly. And principally, there is a superstitious fear in reference to religious things, and this opposeth the fear of God, and it consisteth usually in one of these two things.
1. When a person is afraid to do that which God allows, or which God commands; and thus men make more sins than the ten commandments. So we read of the Jews, they fancied the name Jehovah was not to be expressed but only by the highpriest, and that once a year, and that only in the “holy of holies;" and we read of the primitive christians, they were scrupulous about days, months, and meats, as if there were some tie upon conscience which did retrench them from these things.
2. As they are abstemious from what God allows, so they are exact in that which God doth not require, and this is eminently among the papists at this day. I might largely speak of this sin, I will only say thus much of it;-All the services of a superstitious person are unacceptable to God ;-All the services of a superstitious person are odious to him.
(1.) A superstitious person's services are unacceptable to God. When a man is carver of his own obedience, he doth enter upon God's right, and so his services are unacceptable. There is an expression in Col. 2. 18. “Let no man beguile you of your re- ' ward in a voluntary humility and worshipping of angels, intruding into those things which he hath not seen, vainly puffed up by his fleshly mind." There are two things which we may observe there, one is from that expression, a voluntary humility; the word in the Greek Eußateu'w is a voluntary in humility, one that is a volunteer that offers up will-worship to God, the apostle saith he doth intrude into those things which he hath not
The word which we translate, intrude may (with a great correspondency to the original notation of the word) be rendered thus, invading; that is, such a person doth invade God's right, and insolently set foot upon God's possession, as actors in a tragedy, where they went in a lofty and strutting manner; from
thence the Greek word signifies to enter upon the right of another; such a person invades God's right, and thereby renders all his services unacceptable.
(2.) The services of a superstitious person are odious to God. There is one scripture which is most convincing, where the Lord speaks concerning the sacrifices of the Jews, and shows how he doth dislike them, “ he that offers a sacrifice is as if he cut off a dog's neck, and he that makes an offering as if he offered swine's blood;" Isa. 66. 3. where the Lord declares, that he looked upon
their sacrifices to be no other than mere slaughter, and their priests to be the butchers; for although the substance of their sacrifices were ordained by God, yet because they innovated in the form, all these sacrifices as they were thankless, so they were hateful to God. Certainly this is one of the profundities of satan, to lead a soul by superstitious fear into these practices. And usually you shall observe, that profane youth is turned into a superstitious old age; so that sin which was let out at the gate, returns in ‘at the postern, and poor men work the work of death and hell when they fancy that they are in the way to heaven. As you shall see sometimes a poor dove, when its eyes are sealed and dark, it will mount up to heaven, but alas it is with an undiscerning wing, with fear and trembling; the dove doth not consider that this flight of her's is made as a trail for the hawk to prevail over her. So here, many blind ignorant souls mount up to heaven in their superstitious devotions (as they think) but they are made but a trail for satan. Superstition is the ivy of religion, that seems to embrace it, but it dispirits it, and eats out its sap and moisture: therefore learn to quench and cast this out of the soul. The sum of all is, let us labour to keep alive in our souls an ingenuous and filial fear of God, let us fear his goodness that we may not displease him, let us fear his justice, so as we may not provoke him; let us fear him in all his perfections, let us fear him as the angels fear him, as he is the holy and the pure God; and he that fears God thus, that fear from the imperfection of a man, shall at last be raised to the perfection of an angel; that fear shall be like the sun, whose light breaks forth into greater clearness, till it arrives to perfect day.