Christ Precious to
Those Who Believe
The preciousness of Jesus Christ, to those who
believe—practically considered and improved.
By John Fawcett
"Yes, He is very precious to you who believe!" 1 Peter 2:7
Chapter 3. The evidence believers give, that Christ is precious to them.
God has magnified his love, and set forth the riches of his grace towards us, in a manner which should effectually allure our hearts to him. While we were enemies and rebels in open arms against him—he was pleased to send his beloved Son to die for our sins—in order to redeem us from sin and hell. He who is the brightness of his Father's glory, and the express image of his person, became a man of sorrows for our sakes. In the greatness of his condescension, he called himself the Son of man—but all the fullness of the God-head dwelt in him. He was declared to be God manifest in the flesh. He came down from his Father's bosom, and became man—not to condemn the world of mankind—but to give his life and blood for our sakes; to make his soul an offering for our sins, to suffer inconceivable anguish and sorrow, and to die for us, that he might bring us back to God and happiness. He poured out his soul to death, to secure us from the deserved wrath and vengeance of God. He was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities. The chastisement of our peace was upon him, that we through his stripes might be healed. He was stricken and smitten and afflicted by God—that he might open the way for us to partake of Divine mercy, and render the offended Majesty of heaven a more proper, and a more engaging object of our love.
He is the beloved Son of God, the first and the everlasting favorite of heaven, the highest object of his Father's delight; he is the great peace-maker between God and sinners, the chief messenger of divine love to men. If he had not undertaken to make peace by the blood of his cross, we would have continued the children of wrath forever. We would have been in the same state with the fallen angels, for whom no Savior is provided, and to whom no promise of pardon and reconciliation is made. To us the Child was born, to us the Son was given. He came to deliver us from our state of enmity and rebellion, to save us from sin and its dreadful consequences; from the curse of God's righteous law, and from everlasting destruction. His heart was pierced for the sake of sinful men. The messages of his own, and of his Father's love—he has written to us in lines of blood; he sealed the covenant of peace between God and man—with the blood of his cross, which he shed for us, to procure the remission of our sins. This is that divine Savior who, though disregarded by many, is precious to those that believe. I now proceed to consider—what evidence believers give, that he is precious to them.
Section 1. If Christ is truly precious to us—we will trust our everlasting concerns in his hands.
The apostle Peter, when he speaks of Christ being precious to those who believe, represents him under the idea of a foundation. "Behold I lay in Zion a chief corner-stone, elect, precious: and he who believes on him shall not be confounded. Yes, He is very precious to you who believe!" That is, precious under that consideration particularly; and you show it, by making it your chief design and care to be found built upon him, as the sure foundation.
They who trust in their own hearts, and go about to establish their own righteousness, like the unbelieving Jews—do, like them, stumble at the stumbling-stone. To such Christ cannot be said, in any sense, to be precious; since they set themselves directly to oppose the very design of his coming into this world, which was, that he might be "the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes." That man is no true believer in Jesus—who rests in the law, and endeavors to lay a foundation of hope contrary to that which is laid, even Jesus Christ. He seeks not righteousness by faith—but by the works of the law.
But he, to whom the Savior of sinners is precious, is dead to the law by the body of Christ, that he may live unto God. He places all his confidence for acceptance with the Father, and for everlasting life, in that divine Redeemer. He worships God in the Spirit, he rejoices in Christ Jesus, and has no confidence in the flesh. He knows whom he has believed, and is persuaded that that almighty Savior is able to keep what he has committed unto him until that day. In short, all his hopes center in Christ.
Hence the sacred writers so frequently speak of the actual out-goings of a gracious soul towards Jesus Christ, for salvation—of looking and coming to him—of receiving him—and of trusting in him. This is something more than giving credit to the testimony which is given concerning him; something different from a mere belief of the truth. But at the same time, he who really, and from his heart, believes what God's Word reveals concerning the nature of sin, his own vile and lost condition, together with the glorious way in which sinners are saved by Jesus Christ—will necessarily be induced to flee to him, to receive him, and to rest upon him for the salvation of his soul. It must be so in the very nature of things.
How could the enlightened sinner give evidence that Christ is precious to him, as one who is able to save to the uttermost, if he himself has no degree of hope, trust, or confidence in him, under that consideration. Hence, though this dependence on the Redeemer for salvation is distinct from the belief of the truth concerning him—it is distinct from it only as an inseparable effect is distinct from its cause. Faith and trust may be distinguished—but they cannot be divided. Some degree of hope or trust in Christ appears to be the necessary and immediate effect of believing what the gospel reveals concerning him. When the sinner understands and realizes what God says of the evil of sin, of the misery of fallen man, and of the appointed way of salvation by a glorious and all-sufficient Mediator; he, in consequence, flies for refuge to the hope set before him, and ventures the whole weight of his everlasting interests in his hands!
The convinced sinner is deeply impressed with a sense of the insufficiency of his own works; he has given up all hope of acceptance with God by anything which he has done, or ever can do; if we therefore suppose him to have no trust in the Savior of sinners, he must be in a state of absolute despair; and this is entirely inconsistent with that faith which, as we have seen, implies the choice and approbation of God's way of saving sinners by Jesus Christ. Hope and trust are the immediate and natural consequences of such believing views of the propriety and glory of the Divine remedy, as have been mentioned in the former chapter.
A great deal is said in the Old Testament concerning hope and trust. The term faith very rarely occurs. But the hope and trust so frequently spoken of by Moses, David and the prophets certainly comprehend and include what is called faith, by the writers of the New Testament. Hope and trust sweetly compose the soul of a regenerate man, and bring him into that state of rest and tranquility which is so desirable amidst the fluctuations and disquietudes to which human life is subject. All the rest we enjoy in this world, is connected with trust in God. "You will keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you; because he trusts in you." The special object of this trust is God, reconciled unto us through the mediation of his Son. Respect must be had to this mediation—where the goodness, the mercy, the grace, the name, the faithfulness, or the power of God is mentioned—as that on which the soul relies. For none of these can be the object of a helpless sinner's trust—but on account of that covenant which is confirmed and ratified by the blood of the Redeemer.
When the infinite mercy of God is spoken of in particular, as that in which we are to confide—we are to understand by it, his unbounded grace, setting forth Jesus Christ as the propitiation for our sins. Trust in this mercy, is what the apostle calls "receiving the atonement." Receiving it denotes our approbation of it, and our confiding in it, as the great effect of Divine wisdom, goodness, faithfulness, love and grace, which can never fail those who rely upon it.
It is not the part of wisdom, in natural things, to trust anyone with affairs of importance before we know him; if we would do so, though perhaps our concerns may be safe in his hands—yet every discouraging circumstance, every flying report, will be ready to shake our hearts, and fill us with fear. The Christian knows whom he has believed; or, as the word used by the apostle signifies, whom he has trusted. Athenians may build their altars to an unknown god; but Christians do not trust in an unknown Redeemer. "Those who know your name," O God our Savior, "will put their trust in you."
This trust consists in a committing of the guilty helpless soul to the care of Christ, who is commissioned by his almighty Father to take care of lost souls, and to save them with an everlasting salvation. It is a secret application of the heart to Christ, in which we resign our guilty persons to him—to be pardoned for the sake of his sufferings. We resign our naked souls to him—to be clothed in his righteousness. We resign our sinful and polluted natures to him—to be sanctified by the power of his grace, and to be made fit for everlasting glory.
We are encouraged thus to trust in him under a full persuasion of his ability to save to the uttermost. We know that he is mighty to save. We are assured that his obedience unto death was perfect and complete; that his blood cleanses from all sin; that his righteousness renders those who believe accepted with the Father, unto eternal life; that his power and grace are sufficient to conquer all our disorderly passions, to support us under all our temptations, to purify our hearts, to strengthen our endeavors in the practice of holiness, and to keep us safely to his heavenly kingdom.
This trust differs from a feeble belief of the words, the works, and the power of Christ, upon hearsay, or slight notice; it is built upon just and certain evidence. The believer has abundant testimony to the truth of Christ's being able to save. God himself has given witness from heaven, by miracles, visions, and voices. The apostles, prophets, and martyrs have filled the earth with their witness; and, by most convincing arguments, have proved the all-sufficiency of the Redeemer. The Christian has a witness in his own soul, to the power and grace of Christ, when he feels the sanctifying efficacy of the gospel upon his heart, and experiences Divine peace in his conscience, with the sweet foretastes of immortal felicity. Christ is precious on account of all those glorious qualifications which render him the fittest object of a sinner's hope and trust, and the believer gives evidence of this in his own case, by entrusting his everlasting concerns to his hands.
Section 2. If Christ is precious unto us—we shall delight to think of him, to hear of him, and to speak of him.
The Christian knows that his future blessedness will consist in being where Jesus is, and beholding his glory; and he concludes that frequent contemplation of him in the present state must have a tendency, through Divine grace—to prepare him for that happy state which he has in prospect. "For we all with open face, beholding, as in a mirror, the glory of the Lord—are changed into the same image from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord."
"To know God, and to love him, constitute a man holy upon earth; to know God, and to love him, will constitute a man happy in heaven. God is the supreme truth; and all the intelligence, all the knowledge of our minds ought to relate to him, as to their object. God is the supreme good, and all the motions of our wills ought to tend towards him, as towards their only and last end. On this principle, Jesus Christ has founded the religion and worship, which we profess." Fleschler
A learned, pious and aged divine, makes use of the following expressions, when speaking of the importance and utility and habitual contemplation on the glory and excellency of Christ: "If we desire to have faith in its vigor, or love in its power—giving rest, delight, and satisfaction to our souls, we are to seek for them in the diligent discharge of this duty; elsewhere they will not be found. Herein would I live; herein would I die. Hereupon would I dwell in my thoughts and affections, to the withering and consumption of all the painted beauties of this world; to the crucifying of things here below, until they become as worthless, dead, and deformed—and in no way fit for affectionate embraces."
The believer will surely take pleasure in musing on the glories and excellencies of his adorable Redeemer. The object of our warmest affection will be much in our thoughts. "My meditation of him," says the Psalmist, "shall be sweet. In the multitude of my thoughts within me, your comforts delight my soul." It appears from the writings of holy David—that he employed a considerable portion of his time, amidst all the business and the cares which came upon him as the king and governor of a numerous people, in meditating on the Word, the statutes, and the testimonies of God; and he ever found something in them worthy of his high esteem, and his holy joy. "O how I love your law! It is my meditation all the day. I have seen an end of all perfection—but your commandments are exceeding broad." He was particularly delighted in contemplating the glories of the expected Messiah. "My heart," says he, "overflows with a beautiful thought! I will recite a lovely poem to the king, for my tongue is like the pen of a skillful poet. You are the most handsome of all. Gracious words stream from your lips. God himself has blessed you forever. O mighty warrior! You are so glorious, so majestic!"
It is the tendency of love to excite in the mind—many thoughts about the beloved object. A right knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ, will fill the mind with thoughts and meditations concerning Him—so as to excite the affections to cleave to Him with delight. A discovery of the glory of His person, of the perfection of His atoning sacrifice, and of the fullness of His grace—must inspire the heart with love to Him! He who lives the blessed life of faith in the Son of God, will frequently think of his Savior; of what he is in himself, of his love, of his humiliation, and of the manifestation of all the glorious excellencies of the Divine nature in him—for the recovery and salvation of men.
It is much to be lamented, that those who profess a sincere attachment to the Redeemer, should have their thoughts so little employed about him. Where a multitude of worldly cares, desires, fears and hopes prevail in the mind—they cumber and perplex it—so as to bring on a great disinclination to spiritual meditation. The advice of the apostle Paul is of great importance in this case, "If you then are risen with Christ—seek those things which are above, where Christ sits at the right hand of God. Set your affection (your mind, your thoughts,) on things above, not on things on the earth. For (with respect to this present world, according to what you profess) you are dead, and your life is hid with Christ in God." Earthly and sensual affections fill the hearts and heads of men, with multitudes of thoughts concerning those objects on which they are fixed, so as to leave no room, nor indeed inclination for spiritual and heavenly thoughts.
"Shall not my thoughts," says the believer, "be frequently employed in meditating on the love of that infinitely glorious person, to whom I am indebted for deliverance from the greatest misery—and for all the hope I have of being one day advanced to everlasting glory and felicity! He poured out his holy soul in agonies, under the curse of the avenging law—to make me a partaker of eternal blessedness. He perfectly fulfilled the precepts of that law, that I, by his obedience, might be made righteous!"
The grand blessing which our Lord solicits and demands for his disciples, in his last solemn intercession, is that they may behold his glory. It is that which will complete the blessedness of heaven, and fill its inhabitants with joy unspeakable and full of glory. Surely, then, it should be our delight to anticipate, in some degree, that celestial bliss, and to habituate our souls to this sacred exercise, which will be our business and our reward forever.
This glorious and adorable Redeemer, thought upon us long before the foundations of the world were laid. He bore us on his heart when he hung on the cross; when he was torn with wounds, and racked with pain; when he poured out his dying groans, and spilt his blood. He remembers us now, when he is exalted at the right hand of the Majesty in the heavens; and will never, never forget us, through all the ages of eternity! Surely, then, we ought to think of him! Impressed with a sense of his everlasting kindness—we should be ready to say, as the captives in Babylon, concerning their beloved city Jerusalem, "If I forget you, O blessed Jesus—let my right hand forget her skill. May my tongue stick to the roof of my mouth if I fail to remember you, if I don't make you my highest joy!"
What holy transports of soul, what divine delights have many Christians experienced, in meditating on the glories of the Redeemer! Ascending the mount of contemplation, their souls have taken wing, and explored the height and depth, the length and breadth of the love of Christ, which passes knowledge! They have seen, by the eye of faith—that he is infinitely lovely in himself, that he is the admiration of angels, the darling of heaven, and the delight of the Father. They have viewed him in the brightness of his ineffable glory, clothed with indescribable majesty and honor! They have been transported with the smiles of his countenance, and said of him, "He is the chief among ten thousand, and altogether lovely!"
They have then considered their own unworthiness, and said, "Can such a wretch as I be the object of his love? So vile a worm, so unprofitable a creature, so great a sinner, one so deserving of his everlasting abhorrence! Has he loved me, so as to give himself for me? O what marvelous kindness is this! Is my worthless name written in his book of life? Am I redeemed by his blood, renewed by his Spirit, beautified with his loveliness, and clothed in his righteousness? O wonder of wonders! Mystery beyond all mysteries! How can I forbear to love this adorable Savior? Can I withhold my choicest affections from him? Ah no! Had I a thousand lives, a thousand souls—they would all be devoted to him. You tempting vanities of this base world, you flattering honors, you deceitful riches, adieu! Jesus is my all! He is my light, my life, my unfailing treasure, my everlasting portion! Nothing below the skies is deserving of my love! Precious Redeemer, in you the boundless wishes of my soul are filled, and all my inward powers rejoice in you. I long to leave this tenement of clay, and to rest in the bosom of your love forever!"
That one who loves Jesus delights to hear of him, and to converse about him—cannot be doubted, since every man is best pleased with that conversation in which the object of his dearest affections is the principal theme. It is on this account, that the gospel is a joyful sound to him who believes—because it sets forth Christ in his glory! No sermons are so precious and so animating to him—as those in which the Redeemer's excellencies are most fully displayed. It is then that the Christian says, "I sit under his shadow with great delight, and his fruit is sweet unto my taste!" A sermon which is not enlivened with the honeyed name of Jesus, in which there is nothing of his atonement for sin, of his matchless love, and saving power—is heard with coolness and indifference; while the doctrine of the cross is as life from the dead!
Section 3. If Christ is truly precious to us—we shall be grateful for the benefits we receive from him.
It must be acknowledged, that, like many who are more forward to borrow than to pay back; we are frequently more ready to ask favors at the hand of God, than to return thanks for those we receive from him. An unhumbled heart sets a low value on Divine mercies; but those who are truly acquainted with themselves, who know what they are and have been, together with what the Lord has done for them, in raising them up from the depths of sin and woe—will call upon their souls and all that is within them—to bless the holy name of their gracious Deliverer. They will perhaps express their gratitude in some such language as the following—
"O Lord, I will praise you, for though you were angry with me, your anger is turned away, and you comfort me. Behold, God is my salvation, I will trust, and not be afraid; for the Lord Jehovah is my strength and my song; he also has become my salvation." Eternally blessed be the gracious Redeemer, who, from the plentitude of heavenly bliss, and the highest exaltation of glory, descended to base mortality, and became obedient to death, even the death of the cross, to ransom my perishing soul, to rescue me from death and damnation, and to give me a lot among the righteous! How can I pretend to have a regard for him, if I am not thankful for his benefits?
"Lord you have raised me up out of a horrible pit, out of the miry clay; you have set my feet upon a rock, and established my goings. You have graciously pardoned those hateful crimes which might have caused me eternal regret, and plunged me in everlasting misery. You have given that tranquility to my once troubled conscience, which is the anticipation of Paradise. You have given me hope of seeing your face hereafter with unutterable joy, and of dwelling at your right hand, where there are pleasures for evermore!
"Blessed be the Lord, who daily loads me with his benefits, while I am in the way to the promised inheritance. Yours, O Lord, is the air I breathe, the food I eat, and the clothing I put on. The intellectual powers of which I am possessed, the use of my reason, and a capacity of knowing, of loving, of serving, and of enjoying you—are among the best and choicest of your mercies. All the happiness, and indeed, all the usefulness of my life, either to myself or others, are from you.
"Long ago might I have been cast off, as an unprofitable servant, who knew his Master's will—yet did it not. But your mercy is greater than the heavens, and the instances thereof are more in number than the sands upon the sea-shore. They are renewed every morning, and multiplied every moment.
"While I attempt to celebrate your praise, may I live to the glory of my ever bountiful Benefactor. It would be the excess of ingratitude to employ the favors I receive from you, in the violation of your commands. Every blessing of your hand furnishes me with a motive to serve you. Lord, I would show forth your praise, not only with my lips—but in my life, by giving up myself to your service, and walking before you in holiness and righteousness all my days."
The religion we profess, is far from requiring us to put on a mournful countenance. On the other hand, it enjoins upon us cheerfulness, gratitude of heart, and joy in the Lord. It is an apostolic injunction, "Rejoice in the Lord always, and again I say, rejoice!" As if it had been said, 'Endeavor to maintain a habitual joy in Christ Jesus, and in the hopes and privileges you derive from him; for the honor of your Divine Master, and the prosperity of your own souls are intimately connected with it. There is enough in the object of your affections to furnish you with matter of joy, even in the worst circumstances which can attend you in this world. The worldly man rejoices in his possessions, the voluptuous man in his vain pleasures—but you are to rejoice in the Lord. Delight yourselves in him, and he will give you the desire of your hearts. Serve him with gladness, and come before his presence with singing!'
When the Ethiopian eunuch became acquainted with Christ and his salvation, how was his heart cheered with the discovery! A new sun seemed to arise, and a new world to display its beauties around him. Every object brightened before him, and he "went on his way rejoicing." Christians, go and do likewise. Call upon your souls to magnify the Lord, and let your spirits rejoice in God your Savior. His love, his goodness, his matchless and multiplied benefits demand this at your hands. If we derive not the same consolation from Christ and the gospel, which godly men have formerly experienced, it must be owing to the weakness of our faith, and the lack of sincerity, ardor and diligence in the service of God.
We are expressly commanded, "In everything, to give thanks." Whatever may be our present circumstances, our dependence on God, and our obligations to him, require us to be habitually grateful to our Divine Benefactor, since we never can be attended with such afflictions as not to have greater cause for thankfulness, than for complaint. We should reflect on our unworthiness of the least of all God's mercies, and on the riches of his undeserved grace, in loading us with benefits, which far over-balance all our afflictions. We should labor to keep up a cheerful, thankful frame of heart in every condition of life, for "the joy of the Lord is our strength!"
It is the will of God in Christ Jesus, that we should in everything, give thanks. By the gift of his Son for us, and the bestowment of his saving blessings on us, he has laid a foundation for perpetual thankfulness, which is every way sufficient to justify the reasonableness of the demand.
Section 4. If Christ is truly precious to us—we shall prefer him above every other object; he will have the chief place in our affections.
The love which a Christian has to his Savior, penetrates and possesses his heart. This distinguishes it from the pretended love of hypocrites, which is only in word, or in some external actions, while their hearts are full of sinful self-love, so that it may be said of them as God once said of the Israelites, "This people honor me with their lips—but their hearts are far from me."
"Those religious performances which leave in our hearts the love of the world and its carnal pleasures, are rather a semblance of piety, than piety itself. We are only before God what we are in heart and affection. He must be the object of all our desires, the end of all our actions, the principle of all our affections, the governing power of our whole souls. All that does not flow from these dispositions, all that does not either conduct us to these, or establish us in them, however shining before men, is nothing but a sounding brass and a tinkling cymbal in God's eyes!" Masillon.
Divine love so possesses the heart, as not to allow a partitioning of it to inferior objects. Thus it is distinguished from that partial love which is sometimes found in unregenerate people, which is only transient, and never comes to perfection; because the heart is divided, and occupied with various worldly objects. The love of Christ is not rooted, nor predominant in their minds.
A believer may, and, indeed, ought to love his fellow-creatures. A father should love his children, a husband his wife, and a friend his friend; but the character of love to Jesus is, on the one hand, to allow no love contrary to itself, to have place in the heart; for "no man can serve two masters; and the friendship of this world is enmity against God." And, on the other hand, this divine affection does not allow any of the objects, the love of which is in some degree compatible with itself, to hold the chief place in the heart. This chief place is for the Lord, whom we ought to love with supreme ardor. To regard him only in a secondary way, is to provoke his resentment. The choicest affections of our souls ought to be supremely fixed upon him. "How is your Beloved better than others? Yes! He is altogether lovely. This is my Beloved, and this is my Friend!"
That love, which has but created things for its object, is degrading to the soul. It is a cleaving to that which can neither contribute to the happiness nor to the perfection of our nature; and, of course, which cannot give repose to our minds. For to love any object ardently, is to seek our felicity in it, and to expect that it will answer our desires. It is to call upon it to fill that deep void which we feel in ourselves, and to imagine that it is capable of giving us the satisfaction we seek. It is to regard it as the resource of all our needs, the remedy of all the evils which oppress us, and the source of all our happiness. Now, as it is God alone in whom we can find all these advantages, it is a debasing of the soul, it is idolatry to seek them in created objects.
If Christ is truly precious to us—we shall be induced to devote our souls and our bodies, our talents, our powers and our faculties, as a living sacrifice to him. To contemplate his adorable perfections will be our highest joy. We shall be ready to obey him in opposition to all the threats and the solicitations of men. We shall rely upon him, though all outward appearances seem to be against us; and rejoice in him, though we have nothing else to comfort us. If we enjoy health and plenty, friends and reputation, the Lord is still the object of our earnest desires and our supreme delight. "Whom have I in heaven but you? There is none upon earth that I desire besides you! As the deer pants for the water-brooks, so longs my soul after you, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God; when shall I come and appear before God?"
The religion of Jesus does not consist in dull and lifeless formality. "God is a spirit, and those who worship him must do it in spirit and in truth." Our hearts should be warmly and vigorously engaged in cleaving to him; we should be fervent in spirit, in serving the Lord. Such is the infinite excellency of Jesus Christ, the Author of eternal salvation, that there can be no suitableness in the exercises of our minds towards him, unless they are lively and powerful. Lukewarmness is nowhere so odious and detestable as here. There is something very significant in the apostles of Christ being said to be baptized with the Holy Spirit, and with fire—as it is expressive, among other things—of the fervor of those affections which the Spirit of God excited in their hearts.
The apostle Paul speaks of love, as of the greatest importance in religion. He represents it as the fountain whence proceeds all that is truly good. He speaks of it as that without which the greatest knowledge and gifts, and the most splendid profession, are vain and unprofitable. The sum of vital religion consists in this divine affection, and in those things which are the fruits of it. The children of God are described as those "who love the Lord Jesus Christ in sincerity."
This loving apostle, in whom the true spirit of Christianity was so fully exemplified, gave every kind of evidence that Jesus Christ was precious to him. It appears from all his writings that this servant of the Lord was, in the whole course of his life, after his conversion, inflamed, actuated, and, as it were, swallowed up, by a most ardent love to his Divine Master. Hence he esteemed all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of him, and counted them but dung that he might win Christ, and be found in him. He declares that he was overpowered by this divine affection, and carried forward by it in the service of him whom he so ardently loved, through all difficulties and sufferings. "For the love of Christ constrains us;" not only his love to us—but our love to him.
The knowledge a believer has of the excellency of Christ, tends to raise in his mind a high esteem of him. As it is impossible for any man to love an unknown object, so it cannot be expected that Christ should be supremely precious unto us, unless we know him to be excellent and desirable, beyond whatever may be compared with him. We shall not esteem him above all things, if we have not elevated views of his transcendent worth.
We may possibly delight in some objects of an inferior nature, as they contribute to our health, our ease, or our comfort. Our homes, our food, and our other temporal enjoyments are dear to us, because they minister to our comfort and convenience in the present life. We have a compassionate regard for the poor, though perhaps we see little real excellency in their character. We feel our affections of pity moved towards them, as fellow-creatures in distress. We have a natural attachment to our country and our kindred, because of their relation to us. But we love the Divine Savior with a very superior kind of love. We know that he is in himself possessed of the highest excellencies, and that he is able to bestow upon us the richest benefits. Our esteem of him rises in proportion to the knowledge we have of him. Godly men therefore ardently desire to increase in the knowledge of him, that their affections may be more intensely fixed upon him.
And though the believer's regard for his Savior is far from being wholly a selfish principle—yet the hope of interest in Christ's favor serves to draw forth and confirm his attachment to him. It seems impossible for any man to contemplate his supreme excellencies with delight—if he is destitute of hope. Christ is precious to those who believe—not to those who despair. The evil spirits said to Jesus, when he sojourned on earth, "We know you who you are—the Holy one of God;" but they know that there is no hope of their ever enjoying his favor; and therefore they continue in their enmity and rebellion against him. Terror, slavish fear, and despair are so opposite to love, that the apostle John does not scruple to say concerning the Supreme Being, that it is a sense of his love to us which draws forth our attachment to him: "We love him—because he first loved us."
Much has been said, and perhaps with propriety, concerning love to Jesus Christ for his own infinite excellency, as being the most distinguishing proof of a real gracious affection; but at the same time, it does not appear either from the Word of God, or from matter of fact—that sincere love to Jesus ever exists in any mind destitute of hope. So far as slavish fear prevails, it is a bar to love to Jesus; and therefore "he who fears" that Christ is not his friend—but may disown him at last, "is not made perfect in love." Hope of a saving interest in Christ opens the springs of affection; it draws and attracts the heart to its object. And therefore when we are required to give to our Maker and Sovereign, our whole heart and mind, and soul and strength, the manner in which the command is expressed is worthy of peculiar notice, "You shall love the Lord your God."
It is a maxim laid down by some respectable writers, that an unselfish love to God is essential to being a true Christian; or, as they express it, 'Whoever seeks anything in God beside God himself, does not sincerely love him.' It is allowed, that God is in himself—an object infinitely amiable—that, were it possible for an intelligent being to exist independent of God, it would be impossible for such a being to contemplate the Divine Nature and not to love it. But it should be remembered, that, even in the case supposed, consciousness of conformity to the nature and fitness of things, would be attended with pleasure; and pleasure is personal interest; so that, strictly speaking, pure unselfish love to God seems to be impossible.
Sincere Christians love God under the severest strokes of his providence. They find a pleasure in loving him, and in submitting to his sovereign will, which amply compensates them, and gives them the highest interest in this love. There are, as it should seem, not three different kinds of love to God—but three distinct degrees of the same love to him:
1. Our love may be drawn forth towards him by the temporal benefits which we receive from his indulgent hand. Yet temporal blessings are not the objects of our supreme love; but God, the giver of them.
2. Our love may be kindled and excited towards him by the spiritual blessings which he bestows upon us, according to the riches of his grace; such as his regarding and answering our prayers, his granting unto us discoveries of his mercy, in forgiving our sins, and the like. "I love the Lord," says the Psalmist, "because he has heard the voice of my supplication."
3. God is to be loved for his own infinite amiableness and excellency. But this love, being attended with pleasure, cannot be separated from mental interest. 'I love him,' says the most spiritual and heavenly-minded man upon earth, 'who is the health of my countenance, and my God. I will go to the altar of God; to God my exceeding joy.'
With respect to these three degrees of love, if the experience of Christians in common be attended to—it will perhaps be found, that most begin with the first, grow into the second, and end in the last.
And to the last, as to that degree which is most elevating, most honorable to God, and productive of the most noble effects—all godly men should aspire.
'A Christian's desire,' says one of our old divines, 'is to God chiefly, and to God simply; to God as the God of grace, for more strength and ability to serve him; and to God as the God of all comfort, for the pleasure of fellowship and communion with him.' Horton
If Jesus Christ is precious to us, the bent of our souls will be towards him. We shall choose him above and beyond every other object, as our most desirable portion, and exceeding great reward. If anything in this world be chosen by us, as our chief good—our hearts will run out in strongest affections towards it. We shall look for our felicity in that object, be it what it may; that object therefore, and not Christ, will be most precious unto us.
If our regard for the Redeemer is supreme, as it ought to be, our whole hearts will go out after him in the most intense longings, and with the most pleasing desires. The heart of a believer is restless until it finds its Savior; until it obtains a solid hope and persuasion of his love, a growing conformity to him, and sincere delight in him. The soul rests and acquiesces in him alone, and is not happy without the enjoyment of some tokens of his love. The language of such a one is, 'If I have Christ for my friend, and my everlasting portion—I have all. When his face is hidden, and his comforts withdrawn, I seek him with restless desire, and often cry, O that I knew where I might find him! After a season of darkness, when the light of his countenance is again lifted up upon me, I say, Return unto your rest, O my soul, for the Lord has dealt bountifully with you.' (For several hints in this part of the work, I am indebted to Isaac Watts, in his excellent Discourse on the Love of God.)
The sense we have of our continual and absolute need of Christ, has a tendency to engage our affections to Him. At our first conversion, when we were turned from darkness to light—we saw ourselves lost—and that none but Christ could save us. We felt the wounds of a guilty conscience—and we knew that He alone could heal them. We trembled before the offended Majesty of God—and we were persuaded that He alone could deliver us from the wrath to come. We saw that there was no remission of sin, no reconciliation with God, no salvation but through Christ Jesus—hence He became, at that period, all in all to us.
We still see the absolute necessity of this precious Savior in every respect, so that without him we can do nothing, as he himself has told us. We have need of him, when we are dark—to enlighten us; when we are dull and lifeless—to quicken us; when we are straitened—to enlarge us; when we are weak—to strengthen us; when we are tempted—to support us; when we have fallen—to raise and restore us; when we are full of doubts and perplexity—to comfort us and give us peace; when we are disquieted with fears—to encourage us; when we are staggering at the promises through unbelief—to confirm our faith. As none but Christ can do these things for us—he must be precious to our souls.
The following aspiration shall close the present section: 'Reign, blessed Jesus, in my heart, reign supreme, and without a rival. I would sincerely love you above all things in heaven or earth. I see that you are infinitely glorious in your own self, and worthy of the highest esteem and love. You are the only all-sufficient good, the overflowing spring of grace and blessedness. All things beneath and besides you—are vanity and emptiness. In comparison with you, they are less than nothing. You have drawn my heart towards yourself, and made me willing to make choice of you, as my Savior, and my Portion. I would renounce all that the world calls good or great, that I may be entirely yours. Be my everlasting inheritance, and I shall desire nothing that a whole world of creatures can bestow. Whom have I in heaven but you? There is nothing on earth that I desire in comparison of you!
'I am but a stranger in this world, wherever I may be situated, or however I may happen to be distinguished. And surely it is my privilege that I am so. When I look not upon myself as a stranger and a pilgrim, when I am captivated with anything in this place of my exile—I forget myself, and act far beneath my character, as a candidate for an immortal crown.
'I hope I have counted the cost of being one of your disciples; I hope I have laid in the balance—all which this world can flatter me with, and compared it with the gain of godliness. The odds I find to be infinite. I would therefore bid adieu to the gaudy pomps and empty vanities of life, and give my heart to you. I hear the voice of infinite mercy directing me to set my affections on things above. I would obey the celestial Monitor. What can present scenes afford, to tempt me to relinquish the choice I have been enabled to make? What can they offer, as an equivalent to his favor, whose smiles enlighten the realms of bliss, and fill all inhabitants of heaven with unbounded and everlasting delight?'
Section 5. If Christ is truly precious to us—we shall sincerely desire his presence, and long to enjoy intimate communion with him.
It is well known, that this is the tendency of a sincere attachment, whoever is the object of it. Hence we desire to have the company of our dear friends and relations. Absence is one of the sharpest pains of love. Our blessed Redeemer has said, "He who loves me shall be loved by my Father, and I will love him, and will manifest myself to him." If he is precious unto us, we shall earnestly desire the fulfillment of that promise, that he would make known unto us more and more—of the loveliness of his person, and of his special kindness and love to our souls. Distance from him, the suspension of his favor, or the hidings of his face—will give us pain.
We shall often say, 'Lord, when will you come unto me, according to your promise? Let me find you graciously near, assuring my soul that I am yours, and that you are mine forever. Fill my heart with those heavenly comforts and holy joys—which you bestow on those who love you. I cannot bear this absence from you. Come, Lord Jesus, dwell in my heart by faith, that I being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend with all saints, what is the breadth and length, the depth and height of your love; and to know your love which passes knowledge; that I may be filled with all the fullness of God.
When the eyes of men are opened to see their sin, their danger by it, and the insufficiency of their own works to justify and save them—no object is so desirable to them as the Lord Jesus Christ. The riches, the honors, and the pleasures of the world—are but vanity and emptiness to them, in comparison with him. He is therefore said to be the "desire of all nations," because men in all nations under heaven, who are made sensible of their need of him, uniformly desire acquaintance with him, and a saving interest in him above everything else. Their desires, like so many needles touched by the loadstone, have all a tendency to be attracted to him as their center. They all meet in him—as the same blessed object.
Were those who are illuminated by his Spirit and grace, collected together from the remotest corners of the earth, it would be found, on the strictest examination, that their desires have all the same tendency. Now, that which is the object of our ardent desire—is precious in our estimation. To win our hearts, the divine Redeemer died. To draw men unto himself, was the end he had in view when he became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross. "And I, if I be lifted up from the earth—will draw all men unto me." Surely such a Savior is worthy of our warmest desires, and our most fervent love. All others are in such a state of blindness and infatuation with the world, as to see no beauty or excellency in Jesus, that they should desire him. But to those who believe—he is so precious that the desire of their souls is to him, and to the remembrance of him. But as bread and water are made necessary and desirable by hunger and thirst—so this desire after Christ springs from a sense of need.
'Come down from on high, O Sovereign of my heart; take possession of me for yourself. Inspire me with that holy flame of spiritual affection, that my soul may offer up the perpetual incense of holy love and desire towards you.
'O may all the alluring trifles and vain delights of this world stand aloof from my heart; for I have devoted it to my Redeemer for a habitation. Keep your distance, O captivating delusions, from the gates of my heart, where he only should dwell. There may he reign alone, over all my desires forever!
'I seek after him in his public ordinances; I search for him daily in my retired devotions; I there give my soul a greater latitude, where no eye beholds me, where no ear can hearken to my vows. There I tell him all my heart—in secret groans and cries. He knows what my sighs mean, and what are my fears, and my painful sorrows. There I blush before him—for my secret sins, and pour out the tear of penitential sorrow. There I utter my bitter complaints, of the disorderly passions I daily feel within me; I lament over the vanity of my thoughts, and spread before his eyes—all my soul's sores and diseases. I lay myself low in the dust at his feet, and tell him with humble confusion of face—how much I have done to dishonor him, how unworthy I am of his notice, and yet how I long for communion with him.
'O when shall these days of sin and temptation, these tedious seasons of absence and distance from my God and Savior, have an end? I breathe out from time to time, the most earnest desires after him, and after the endearing sensations of his love. My soul thirsts for God, the living God; when shall I come and appear before God?'
My passions fly to seek their King,
And send their groans abroad;
They beat the air with heavy wing,
And mourn an absent God.
Round the creation wild I rove,
And search the globe in vain;
There's nothing here that's worth my love,
Til he returns again.
Pensive I climb the sacred hills,
And near him vent my woes;
Yet his sweet face he still conceals,
And still my passion grows.
How long shall my poor fainting soul
Seek you, my Lord, in vain?
Reveal your love, my fears control,
And ease me of my pain.
Your presence, gracious Lord, can cheer
This dungeon where I dwell;
'Tis paradise when you are here;
When you are gone, 'tis hell.
Immortal joys your smiles impart;
Heaven dawns in every ray;
One glimpse of you will ease my heart,
And turn my night to day!
Section 6. If Christ is truly precious to us—we shall be concerned that others may know and love him.
It is the nature of love—to wish well to the beloved object; and, if possible, to do good to him who has a place in our hearts. Now, since the blessed Redeemer can receive no good from us—all we can do is to be heartily concerned for the manifestation of his excellencies and honors among men. And this concern we shall surely feel—if our hearts are right in his sight.
The apostle Paul, in whom every part of the Christian character was exemplified to a proper degree, expressed a most earnest solicitude for the conversion and salvation of the Jews. On this subject we find him declaring the sentiments and feelings of his heart, in the following solemn and moving manner: "I say the truth in Christ, I am not lying; my conscience also bears me witness in the Holy Spirit. That I have great heaviness, and continual sorrow in my heart—for I could wish that myself were accursed from Christ, for my brethren, my kinsmen according to the flesh." The sense of these last words appear to be this, 'As Christ subjected himself to the curse, that he might deliver us from it, I think I could be content to be made an anathema after his example, and be like him exposed to all the execration of an enraged people, and even to the infamous and accursed death of crucifixion, if my brethren and kinsmen according to the flesh might hereby be delivered from their blindness, unbelief and impenitence, and be partakers of the blessings of the Redeemer's kingdom.' This is true Christian heroism, in its highest purity and excellence.
While we talk of our regard for the Redeemer, what sentiments of compassion do we feel for those who are strangers to him? Are we willing to submit to the most pressing difficulties, and do we think nothing too great to be done, too great to be borne—if their conversion and salvation might thereby be promoted?
Among the heathens, we find whole nations, who trained up their children in a regard for the public good, as the highest object and the noblest end of all their cares. We meet with heroes among them, who eternalized their names by their zeal for the welfare of their fellow-citizens. We find Phocion, who, in taking that poison which was presented to him by his cruel persecutors, exhorted his son to take the same poisons—because he owed more to his country than to his father. Aristides, who, in going out to a banishment to which he was unjustly condemned, lifted up his eyes to heaven, and prayed, that the Athenians might never have cause to remember the cruelties they had exercised on him. Codrus, who, having learned that the oracle had promised victory to the people whose prince should perish in war, devoted himself to death. It would be easy to extend the list, by mentioning Camillus, Sertorius, Paulus Aemilius, and others, famous in the page of ancient history, for this virtue. But the apostle of the Gentiles excelled them all, as far as the gospel he preached surpasses the dictates of the heathen moralists.
"Brethren," says he, to the converts at Rome, "My heart's desire and prayer to God for Israel is, that they might be saved." They were in a state of impenitence and unbelief; they made light of Christ, and persecuted his followers, having a zeal for God—but not according to knowledge. The apostle longed after them all in the affections of Jesus Christ. The steady belief in God's secret purposes, was no check upon his ardor for their conversion. He sought it of him, who alone could effect it; he sought it with the greatest earnestness and constancy. He knew their destruction was inevitable, if they continued in unbelief and impenitence. The salvation of souls appeared to him in all its magnitude, as that which had employed the counsels of Jehovah from eternity; that which the Son of God spent his life and shed his blood to procure; and that which is of infinite importance to sinners themselves. Hence arose the ardor of his mind, in this noble cause.
He to whom Jesus is precious, who has himself experienced the power and sweetness of his saving love—will be ready to say to others, with the Psalmist, "O taste and see that the Lord is good! Blessed are all who trust in him." Such a one will use his endeavors to bring his fellow-sinners under the means of grace. He will reveal his love to them, and compassion for them—by seasonable hints, exhortations and entreaties. He will earnestly pray that the Word which they hear may savingly profit them. He will be careful to lay no stumbling-block before them. He will try to convince them of their danger, and to inform them where their only help lies. He will strive to recommend the good cause, and to win their souls to make choice of it, by the meekness of wisdom, the labor of love, and the attractive power of a humble and holy life.
Section 7. If Christ is truly precious to us—we shall be grieved when he is dishonored.
The sins of those who pretended some regard for the gospel—but lived not under the influence of its sanctifying truths, excited the sorrow of the apostle Paul, because the author of that gospel was precious to him. "Of these," says he to the Philippians, "I have told you often, and now tell you, even weeping, that they are the enemies of the cross of Christ!" He could not think of them, though they were enemies, without weeping, nor make mention of them in his letter, without bedewing the page with tears.
It is the burden of a Christian's heart, that the commands of him who made the world, who gave being to all things, and who gave himself for us that he might redeem us from all iniquity, should be trampled upon, and disregarded by men in general; and more especially, that this should be the case with any who profess to hope for salvation by him.
A pious man is more particularly grieved for the sins of that city, town, congregation, or family—to which he belongs. When Lot sojourned among the Sodomites, "that righteous man, dwelling among them, in seeing and hearing, vexed his righteous soul from day to day on account of their unlawful deeds." And the prophet Jeremiah most pathetically wished that his head were waters, and his eyes fountains of tears—that he might weep day and night, for the sins, and consequent calamities of his countrymen. In another place he thus addresses them, "But if you will not hear—my soul shall weep in secret places for your pride, my eyes shall sorely weep, and run down with tears."
A true Christian is a child of God; and it must grieve and distress him to see his heavenly Father so greatly offended and dishonored as he is by many. He is a disciple of Jesus, and loves his Divine Master; hence he cannot but be distressed that men should make light of him, of his gospel, his authority and commands. He is fully persuaded that those who sin against him—wrong their own souls; and that all who hate him—love death, and that which will issue in their own destruction. Under such considerations as these, the Psalmist broke out in the following strong expressions, "Rivers of waters run down mine eyes, because men keep not your law."
The stain of sin can only be washed away by blood; this intimates that sin deserves death. It is not the length of time employed in committing sin, which ought to decide as to the degree or the duration of its punishment; but the nature and the atrociousness of the offence.
Sin is a slighting every instance of God's goodness, with which we are surrounded. The earth which sustains us, the sun which enlightens us, the food which nourishes us, and, in short, all the creatures designed to our use—are so many motives to obedience, and consequently are so many aggravations of our guilt and ingratitude, in rebelling against so good and gracious a God.
But let us consider the greatness of that Being, against whom sin is committed. Approach to his throne; his eyes are as a flaming fire; the majesty of his glory fills heaven and earth. Regard the celestial multitudes, who are the ministers of his will. And especially consider, that this great God is united to mortal flesh, to the end that he might suffer for us—all that which the fury of men, all that which the rage of Devils could imagine to be most rigorous. Now think what the nature of sin is, as committed against such a Being. To hate such a God, to despise such a Savior, to trample on his laws, to disregard his gospel, and to be unawed by his threatenings—is deserving of the deepest hell. That burning lake, that eternal misery, with its unfathomable deeps, Devils with their rage, hell with its horrors—have nothing in them, which seems too severe for rebels capable of such astonishing ingratitude!
Charles the Ninth, king of France, sent a message to the Prince of Conde, a zealous Christian, and gave him three things to choose—to go to mass, or to be put to death, or to suffer banishment for life. The Prince nobly answered, 'The first I will never choose, God helping me, for I abhor the idolatry of the mass; but for the two other, I leave it to the choice of the king, to do as he pleases. For there is more evil in the least sin, than in the greatest misery.'
I cannot forbear observing, that there are many causes for this grief at the present day; and if the Redeemer is indeed precious to us, our hearts must be affected while we are witnesses to the dishonor done to him by multitudes about us. If we look into the professing world, we shall find many, who, on account of their scandalous lives, may justly be denominated the enemies of the cross of Christ. They profess to know him, and to believe in him—but in works they deny him.
Many openly oppose the important doctrines of his proper deity; of his atonement for sin; of the work of his blessed Spirit on the hearts of men, in bringing them near to God; and of justification and salvation by his death. This cannot but give pain to those who, with the apostle Paul, are fully persuaded that another foundation for the hope of sinners, no man can lay, than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ; who believe, according to the Scriptures, that there is no other name under heaven, given among men, whereby we must be saved. It appears to them, that an opposition to these leading truths of the gospel carries in it an attempt to rob the Redeemer of his glory, to take the crown from his head, and to overthrow that whole system of evangelical truth which is held forth in the New Testament: since the leading design of this system is, "That we might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing, we might have life through his name."
There are others again, who profess to believe the truth, and yet show little or no regard to it, in a practical way. The power of godliness is, in many places, manifestly on the decline. Iniquity abounds, and the love of many has waxed cold. That love which is the very bond of perfectness, is rarely to be found; few indeed there are—who love one another fervently with a pure heart. Most seem to content themselves with mere speculations in religion, and that dead faith which the Word of God condemns, as unprofitable. While in others, the cares of this world, the deceitfulness of riches, and the lusts for other things choke the Word which they hear, so that it becomes unfruitful. Instead of having their hearts in heaven, they mind earthly things, and seem to be intent on gaining the world—though they lose their own souls in the vain pursuit! Others turn aside from the holy commandment which was delivered unto them, and fall into such scandalous practices as give great occasion to the enemies of the Lord to blaspheme.
He who loves the Lord Jesus Christ in sincerity, or, in other words, he to whom the divine Redeemer is precious, must be greatly distressed to think that he should be thus wounded in the house of his professed friends.
If we look into the world at large, we find everything to shock and disquiet a serious mind. The whole world, says the apostle John— lies, is buried or entombed, in wickedness!
The abominable sin of drunkenness is practiced everywhere, by those whose god is their belly, and who glory in their own shame. The unclean spirit seems to have full possession of others, who live in the detestable, infatuating, and ruinous vice of lewdness, and are hurried on by their ungovernable passions, from bad to worse, from one degree of wickedness to another. The mouths of many are full of cursing and bitterness; their common discourse is interlarded with profaneness and blasphemy. The hearts of those who fear God are wounded, and their ears are stunned by multitudes, who, on all occasions, take His holy and sacred name in vain, and call for damnation on their own souls! Our streets, our roads, and all our public places are crowded with these diabolical monsters in the shape of men, who seem to have studied the language of the bottomless pit! "They blaspheme You; Your enemies take Your name in vain." Psalm 139:20. "Do not take the name of the Lord your God in vain, because the Lord will punish anyone who takes His name in vain." Exodus 20:7
The profanation of the Lord's day is grown to an amazing height. Nothing tends more to the increase of vice and wickedness. It is an inlet to sin of every kind. What sense of God and of duty is likely to be kept up, when divine worship is wholly neglected, and that day is entirely devoted to sensual gratification in the service of sin and Satan—which ought to be employed in acts of piety? The profanation of the Sabbath has, in many instances, been a leading step to an infamous end.
The man to whom Jesus is precious, must be disquieted on account of these and many other abominations, which are constantly practiced in the world. What proof do we give of regard to his law, his name, or his honor—if we are unmoved by these things? "I beheld transgressors, and was grieved, because they kept not your law." Doddridge's moving verses on these words of the pious Psalmist shall close this section.
Arise, my tenderest thoughts, arise;
To torrents melt my streaming eyes:
And you, my heart, with anguish feel
Those evils which you can not heal.
See human nature sunk in shame;
See scandals poured on Jesus' name;
The Father wounded through the Son;
The world abused; the soul undone.
See the short course of vain delight
Closing in everlasting night;
In flames which no abatement know,
Though briny tears forever flow.
My God! I feel the mournful scene;
My affections yearn o'er dying men
And fain my pity would reclaim,
And snatch the fire-brands from the flame.
But feeble my compassion proves,
And can but weep where most it loves;
Your own all-saving arm employ,
And turn these drops of grief to joy.
Section 8. If Christ is truly precious to us—we shall be ready to deny ourselves for him.
"If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. Luke 9:23. If we judge of our regard for Jesus merely by the fervency and frequency of our emotions towards him, we shall, at some seasons, perhaps, have painful suspicions respecting our sincerity. He himself has been pleased to give us a safe and proper rule of judgment in this case: "If you love me, keep my commandments. He who has my commandments and keeps them, he it is that loves me." His Word and will have a prevailing, governing influence on the hearts and lives of those to whom he is precious. A steady desire and endeavor to avoid those things which are displeasing in his sight—is a practical proof that he is dear to us.
To deny ourselves is—to give up our own supposed wisdom, that we may be entirely under the guidance of God; to resign our own wills that we may be subject to his will; and to yield our passions to his government. To deny ourselves is—to forego everything sinful to which self is inclined; to practice every good thing to which self is averse; and to be ready to give up everything dear to ourselves at the call of God—as our ease, our friends, our goods, our health, or even our life. It is a disowning, or renouncing ourselves for Christ; making ourselves nothing—that he may be all. This cannot be done unless he is precious to us, or, which is the same thing, unless he is the object of our supreme affection. But if this is the case, we shall give up ourselves, with all that we have, to him, without making any reserve. We shall, on a deliberate counting of the cost, choose the religion of Jesus, with all that appertains to it; choose it as attended with all its difficulties. So Moses chose to suffer affliction with the people of God, rather than to enjoy the pleasures of sin which are but for a season, esteeming the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures of Egypt.
This is what our Lord means by the strong figurative expressions of plucking out the right eye, and cutting off the right hand; that is, parting with everything dear to us, when it stands in competition with him, or is opposed to his service or his honor. For he justly reminds us, that "no man can serve two masters; either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other." He constantly teaches us the necessity of preferring him and his interest and service—to the dearest objects on earth. "For he who loves father or mother, son or daughter more than me, is not worthy of me. Whoever doesn't take up his cross and follow me—is not worthy of me." When matters come to such a crisis, that a man must either break with his nearest and dearest relations and friends—or break with Christ—he who prefers their favor and friendship to Christ's, and will not give up temporal endearments for his sake—is not worthy to be owned as one of his real disciples, nor can he partake of the spiritual and eternal blessings which belong to such. He who prefers his own ease and safety in this world—to the truths and the service of Christ, cannot be justly deemed one who sincerely loves him, or one to whom he is precious.
The same lesson of instruction is taught us by the parable of the treasure hidden in a field, which, when a man has found it—he goes and sells all that he has, and buys that field. And likewise by that of a merchant-man, seeking fine pearls, who having found one pearl of great price—he goes and parts with all, that he may possess that pearl. He is willing to give up the riches, the honors and pleasures of this world—for the enjoyment of that inestimable treasure which he has discovered.
To have a heart to forsake all for Christ, is the same thing, in effect, as actually doing it—so far as there is occasion, and so far as we are put to the trial. What our Lord speaks of "selling all that we have," is to be understood of a disposition of mind to be ready and prepared to do it, if it be necessary. Many of the primitive Christians showed their regard for the Savior and his followers, by actually doing this, though their example is no farther binding upon us, than as it relates to that disposition of mind which all the followers of Jesus should possess, namely—a readiness to part with all for his sake, whenever there is a proper call to it.
Self-denial, in respect to things in themselves sinful, should be universal, otherwise we do not give proper evidence of the sincerity of our love for Christ. Many go very far in a profession of religion, and yet live in the habitual indulgence of some sin, either great or small, secret or open. Judas made so fair a show, that all the other disciples questioned their own sincerity, rather than his. Yet Judas was covetous! Herod was a hearer of John the Baptist, nay, heard him gladly, and did many things which John recommended; yet Herod was resolved to live in incest. It is the same in many other cases. O reader, examine yourself, and beware of splitting upon this rock. If your heart is not sound in the statutes of Heaven, you are in danger of being put to shame another day.
Let us labor then, to mortify corrupt affections, and not willfully indulge ourselves in any sinful habit, custom, or practice. Without habitually resigning ourselves to God, and laboring to subdue sinful passions and inclinations, supposing we are real Christians, we cannot expect our souls to prosper in the use of the means of grace. If Agag is spared, from whatever motive, our sacrifices, like those of Saul, will neither be acceptable to God, nor profitable to ourselves.
Satan and sin unite their art
To keep me from my Lord:
Dear Savior, guard my trembling heart,
And guide me by your Word.
The path to your divine abode
Through a wide desert lies;
A thousand snares beset the road,
A thousand dangers rise!
Whenever the tempting foe alarms,
Or spreads the fatal snare,
I'll fly to my Redeemer's arms,
For safety must be there!
Dear Lord, obedient to your call,
I would the world resign,
Deny myself, give up my all,
And be forever thine!
Section 9. If Christ is truly precious to us—we shall be distressed that we are not more conformed to his blessed image and holy will.
In proportion as he is precious to us, will be our aversion to sin and all unholiness. In the undertakings, the sufferings, and the death of our Redeemer for us—we have such a representation of the evil of sin, and of the dreadful punishment due to it, as must tend to inspire our hearts with holy hatred against it.
We see in the wounds, the sorrows, and the crucifixion of the Savior—the dreadful malignity of sin. We see how hateful it is to God, since he punished it so severely in his beloved Son, when in our place, he bore it in his own body on the tree. We read the nature of sin—in characters of blood—on the cross of Christ. All the labored declamations of moralists on the intrinsic deformity of vice, can never represent it in such proper colors as it is seen here.
Those who have a due sense of the spirituality of the divine law, and who strictly examine their own hearts and lives by that perfect rule of righteousness, will ever see abundant reason for humiliation and self abasement before God.
From sincere love to Jesus Christ, will arise—hatred of those things which are contrary to his will, and which oppose and hinder us in our endeavors after conformity to him. The vain imaginations of our own evil hearts—will be matter of grief and sorrow to us, "I hate vain thoughts—but I love your law."
The Christian is grieved and distressed that his thoughts and affections are so much taken up concerning the affairs of the present life, and that he should be so insensible and unmoved at many times, in respect to eternal realities; that his heart should be so hard, so dull and unaffected about matters of infinite importance. He mourns to think that his love to God is so cold, that his desires after him are so languid, that his zeal for him is so low, and his gratitude for favors received, is so small.
His heart is pained within him—that he should feel himself so insensible and unmoved under the sound of the gospel. That he should sit and hear of the astonishing love of God in Christ Jesus, and of His giving his beloved Son to bleed and die for his own sins—without being melted into penitence, or inspiring him with love and zeal for Jesus. His heart is pained—that he should be so unaffected with the amazing kindness and compassion of Jesus Christ, manifested in His dying agonies, His bloody sweat, His ignominious cross, His loud and bitter cries, His pierced side, and bleeding heart—and all this for His bitter enemies—to deliver them from deserved and eternal destruction, and to bring them to the possession of everlasting glory and felicity!
'Surely,' says he, 'if there is a call for the exercise of fervent affections anywhere—it is here at the foot of the cross! O how disquieted I am— to think that I should be so stupid and insensible, even when I could wish my heart to be most ravished! Can anything be presented to my thoughts more important, more wonderful, or more interesting? And yet how superficial and ineffectual, at some times—are the impressions which are made upon my mind by these views!
"Blessed Jesus! how cold, how feeble, how languid is my love to You—who is altogether lovely! Alas! how readily are my fluctuating passions captivated by worldly things! O that I might feel the force of that motive—of loving You, who has first loved me! May Your love, O precious Savior, constrain me, and attach me intimately to Yourself—when I consider what you have done for me! Do, by a gentle but powerful influence—attract my desires. Though my eyes have never seen Your lovely face, though no accent of your voice has reached my ear—yet you can make yourself more intimate to my soul, than any of the objects of sense. O, let me not live so estranged from You! Warm my cold, and frozen heart—and kindle in my bosom, a flame of holy fervor towards you.
Keep me, O my God, in every hour of temptation. Unsupported by your preventing hand—I fall. But, armed with your protection, I shall stand fast, be strong, and victorious. O strengthen me to war a good warfare, that at length I may be overcome, through Him who loved me. Be at my right hand to save me, lest the enemy should triumph over me, and I be made the reproach of the foolish. I dread the thought of being left to myself! In the hour of temptation I have a thousand times experienced my own weakness and instability. Every divine impression has seemed to be obliterated. The celestial scenes which before engaged my attention have disappeared; paradise, and the glories of heaven, have fled like an airy vision; and the most important truths of Christianity have been concealed from my view—as if I had never known them! Lord, what is man! My soul is humbled within me, because of my foolishness."
At some seasons, the believer's mind is so oppressed with a sense of his own vileness—that he is ready to sink into despondency and dejection. In his retired moments he pours out his complaints in such language as this: 'The clogs of guilt, and the clouds of darkness hang heavy on my soul. What language can express the depth of my distress on account of sin! The spirit of a man may sustain his infirmities; but a wounded spirit—who can bear? A sense of the vilest ingratitude to the best of Beings, stings my heart, and deprives me of repose. All is gloomy within; all is discouragement without. What returns have I made for favors received? I cannot bear the sight of my own vileness. I abhor myself, and repent as in dust and ashes. The several periods of my life have been marked with repeated instances of ingratitude to him, who is the giver of every good and perfect gift, whom I desire to love, and to obey with my whole heart. My unstable soul has been perpetually departing from God, inclining to folly, and verging towards that which is evil. This, this is wretchedness indeed! For this I condemn myself almost without ceasing. My spirits droop, my heart desponds, my soul is disquieted within me. Lord, be merciful to me, pardon my iniquity—for it is great!' Yet amidst these gloomy, these self-condemning thoughts, light sometimes breaks in upon the mind, and then
The humble Christian feels within
A spring of consolation from above,
And secret cordials, which repair his strength,
Raise and uphold his fainting, languid heart.
Among the many considerations which excite the believer's sorrow for the evil propensities of his mind, and the sins of his life—is that of the Redeemer's death for his offences. To think of the love of Jesus to my poor soul, manifested in his sorrows, his sufferings, his agonies, and the shedding of his precious blood—pierces my heart, and makes me loathe myself in my own sight. While I look to him upon the cross whom I have pierced by my offences, surely I ought to mourn, and be in bitterness, as one who mourns for his first-born. Shall not I shed tears of grief for those sins, for which my Redeemer shed his precious blood!
It is true, the constitutions of men are different, some have tears at command, and others can scarcely weep on any occasion. But the lack of tears, should in this case, be made up by inward grief. Yet I must beg permission to say, that if men can shed tears on lighter occasions (and all the causes of sorrow are light—in comparison with this) but never shed a tear on account of their ingratitude to a dying Savior, it seems to indicate a lack of love to him, and that they have not a just sense of the evil and malignity of sin. The penitent woman, mentioned in the gospel, sat at the feet of Jesus weeping; she washed his feet with her tears, and wiped them with the hair of her head.
'Break, break, O my stony heart! And you my eyes—why are you not fountains of tears, that I might weep day and night? Lord, I abhor myself on account of the defilement which cleaves unto me. Behold I am vile, I will lay my hand upon my mouth, and put my face in the dust! I have experienced a thousand proofs of your goodness, the remembrance of which fills me with shame, because of my ingratitude. I cannot in any instance charge you with severity. Your laws are not rigorous or grievous—but holy, just, and good. And yet I have frequently violated the sacred rules which my heart approves. But the height of my folly lies in having so often sinned against infinite goodness and love. I have abused your kindness, and affronted your clemency. O Lord, I beseech you, pardon my iniquity, for it is great.'
Such exercises of mind as these, strongly indicate the sincerity of our love for the divine Savior.
Alas! how wide my spirit flies,
And wanders from her God!
My soul forgets her heavenly prize,
And treads the downward road.
How my wild passions rage within,
Nor your commands obey;
And flesh and sense enslaved to sin,
Draw my best thoughts away.
Shall creatures of a meaner frame
Pay all their dues to thee;
Creatures which never knew your name,
Nor ever loved like me?
Great God! create my soul anew,
Conform my heart to thine;
Melt down my will, and let it flow,
And take the mold divine!
Then shall my feet no more depart,
No more my senses rove;
Devotion shall be all my heart,
And all my passions love!
Section 10. If Christ is truly precious to us—we shall adhere to him in all conditions.
We shall persevere in his ways and service, amidst all the various trials with which we may be exercised. If people who make a profession of religion live any considerable time in this world of affliction and trouble—they must meet with many trials of their sincerity and steadfastness. It evidently appears from the sacred Scriptures, that the all-wise God designedly brings his children into a state of trial and difficulty for their good; and particularly that it may be made manifest to themselves and others, that they belong to him, by their being enabled to endure this course of severe discipline, without fainting in the day of adversity.
After the patriarch Abraham had stood his ground amidst many other sharp exercises, it pleased God, towards the close of his life, to try him, by giving him that singular and solemn command, to take his only son Isaac, whom he loved, and to offer him up for a burnt sacrifice. Abraham fully demonstrated the sincerity and strength of his faith—by his readiness to obey this mysterious command.
When the children of Israel had nothing to drink but the bitter waters of Marah, it is said that there "the Lord tested them." Their being destitute of provisions for the support of life, was to answer the same end; until at length, in their greatest extremity of distress, "the Lord said unto Moses, Behold, I will rain bread from heaven for you." He afterwards told them, that the design of their being led through the wilderness for the space of forty years—was to humble them, to test them, and to know what was in their hearts, whether they would keep his commandments or not. The wilderness was great and terrible, wherein were fiery serpents, and scorpions, and drought; where there was no water to supply them—but what was "brought out of the flinty rock." The Lord thus dealt with them, not from a lack of regard to them—but as he repeatedly declared, for the purpose of trying them, that "he might do them good in their latter end. For the Lord your God tests you—to know whether you love him with all your heart, and with all your soul."
When they were settled in the land of promise, the Lord said to them, "I will not henceforth drive out the nations which Joshua left when he died, that through them I may test Israel, whether they will keep the way of the Lord, to walk therein—or not." Some such method as this God is pleased to take with his spiritual Israel in all ages.
We have a very singular and instructive instance of the end and use of adversity—in the case of Job. That holy man was severely tried; yet, in the depth of his calamity, we hear him say, "My foot has held his steps; his way have I kept, and not declined; neither have I gone back from the commandment of his lips. I have esteemed the Words of his mouth more than my necessary food. Though he slays me—yet will I trust in him. He knows the way that I take; when he has tried me, I shall come forth as gold."
Now, the man is blessed, who endures temptation; the outcome will be glorious; for when he is tried, he shall receive the crown of life. We are therefore admonished not to think it strange, concerning the fiery trial which is to try us, as though some strange thing happened unto us. By our steady adherence to Christ and his cause, in the midst of all—we have the fairest opportunity given us, of proving how precious he is to our souls.
True Christians have such views of the transcendent excellency of the Redeemer, that they are powerfully drawn after him, and attached to him—in all conditions of life into which they may be brought. They see him as worthy to be followed, though they should be called to forsake all for him, and to endure the severest persecutions for his sake. Others, in time of temptation, fall away. But true Christians endure the storm, for the love which they bear to his name. Through the views which they have of his superlative amiableness and excellency—they are thoroughly disposed to be subject to him, and engaged to labor with earnestness and activity in his service, amidst all the difficulties, trials, and troubles which they may meet with in so doing. It is the discovery of his divine excellency, which makes them adhere to him; for this so deeply impresses their minds, that they cannot forget or forsake him. They will follow him wherever he goes, and the solicitations and the persecutions of men, and the guile and malice of Satan—are employed in vain, to draw them away from him.
Some "have had trial of cruel mockings and scourgings, yes, moreover, of bonds and imprisonments. They were stoned, they were sawn asunder, they were slain with the sword; they wandered about in sheep skins, and goat skins; being destitute, afflicted, tormented; of whom the world was not worthy; they wandered in deserts, and in mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth." Yet all could not wean their hearts from Jesus, nor extinguish their love to him! They were enabled to maintain their attachment to him in the midst of all—because he was precious to their souls!
Section 11. If Christ is precious unto us—we are concerned to make his glory the end and aim of all our actions.
Our blessed Lord died—that those who live by his death should not live unto themselves, making their own honor, ease, or pleasure—the end of their living in this world; but that they should devote their lives to the service, the interest, and the glory of their great Lord and Savior, who died in their place, to take away their sins by the sacrifice of himself, and who rose again for their justification.
We have a choice example of this, in the apostle Paul. When a prisoner at Rome, he wrote to the brethren at Philippi, to establish them in the truth which they had received, and to exhort them not to be shaken in mind by the persecutions which he endured; for he was persuaded these would, in the outcome, be for the furtherance of the gospel. "I eagerly expect and hope that I will in no way be ashamed, but will have sufficient courage so that now as always Christ will be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death." He then adds, "For to me to live is Christ—and to die is gain." As if he had said, 'I have expressed my hope that Christ shall be glorified in me, whether I die or live, and in this hope I am encouraged, because he is the supreme end of my life. I value life only as it may be employed to the purpose of his honor. The interest and the glory of my Redeemer are the great ends I pursue, with unabating ardor and delight; that in publishing his blessed gospel, and suffering for his sake, I may gain over souls to him, and so promote his honor in the world.'
As the life of a Christian is derived from Christ, so it is directed to him. It is most certain, that, when he is actuated by the noble principles which the gospel inspires—that the honor of his Savior's name, and the advancement of religion, lie nearest his heart. And this seems to be the special import of the words above recited, from the connection in which they stand, "To me to live is Christ;" —that is, 'he is all and in all to me; I live only for him.'
The whole of the apostle's life serves to illustrate this declaration. In the midst of shame, hunger, nakedness, chains, and imprisonment, he was happy if his Lord and Master might be honored thereby. He did not count his life dear unto himself, so that he might finish his course with joy, and the ministry which he had received of the Lord Jesus, to testify the gospel of the grace of God. When his friends endeavored to dissuade him from going to Jerusalem, because of the dangers to which he would be exposed in that city, he said, "Why all this weeping? You are breaking my heart! For I am ready not only to be jailed at Jerusalem but also to die for the sake of the Lord Jesus!"
This heavenly man lived and breathed only for the honor of the Redeemer, and for the advancement of his kingdom in the world. The Jews hated him to the point of rage and madness. The Gentiles threatened him, sought his life, and persecuted him everywhere. When at Rome, in the hands of Nero, as in the paws of a raging lion, he was tranquil and serene; concerned for nothing so much as the honor of Christ. Whence was that calmness of mind which he invariably manifested on such occasions? Was his heart made of iron or steel? Was he insensible to the troubles which agitate other men? No—he was no stoic. His soul was all tenderness and sensibility. But a supreme regard to Christ carried him above all. The Savior's love constrained him. Jesus was precious unto him. Where his honor was in question, Paul would neither be influenced by the desire of life, nor the dread of death. A regard for the glory of his Divine Master, overcame all. Noble spirit! This is Christian heroism in all its sublimity; infinitely superior to the brutal ferocity of your Alexanders and your Caesars. Their only aim was to aggrandize themselves, though this should be done by cruelty and oppression. The highest wish of this blessed apostle—was to glorify the Redeemer, in promoting the welfare, the liberty and happiness of those whom he died to save.
But it is not enough to admire so fine an example. We ought in our inferior stations, so far as we are able—to imitate it. We know who has repeatedly told us—that unless we prefer him to all that is dear to us in this world—we cannot be his disciples. The steady and reigning design of our souls should be—that we may live to Christ, and make his honor the end of all our actions. We should count our services, our exertions, our labors, and even our sufferings delightful, if this end may be any way promoted by them. All we possess, should be consecrated to him who gave himself for us. The members of our bodies, and the faculties of our souls should be employed for him. Our tongues should sing his praises, our ears should hearken to his voice, our eyes should review his wonderful works, our feet should run in his ways, and our hands should be employed in the execution of everything in our power, which is pleasing in his sight. In all places, in all companies, in every undertaking, civil or religious, it should be our aim to glorify him. The general rule laid down by the apostle Paul, should be always kept in remembrance, "Whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do—do all to the glory of God!" And in another place, he speaks much to the same purpose, "Whatever you do, in word or deed—do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father by him."
We should never forget that we are not our own—but are bought with a price, for this very end—that we should glorify God with our bodies, and with our spirits which are his. All the operations of his grace upon us are for the same purpose—that we should show forth the virtues and the praise of him who has called us out of darkness into the marvelous light. This will be our delightful employment through the revolutions of a blissful eternity. That Jesus who is precious to us has said, "If any man serves me—him will my Father honor;" and surely, those who expect to be glorified with him in heaven, should make it their business, their aim, and their constant endeavor—to glorify him upon earth. To present our bodies, together with our souls to him, a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable in his sight—is a reasonable service.
It grieves me, Lord, it grieves me sore,
That I have lived to you no more,
And wasted half my days;
My inward powers shall burn and flame
With glowing zeal for your great name,
I would not speak—but for my God,
Nor move—but to his praise.
Section 12. If Christ is truly precious to us—we shall long to be with him.
We shall not only entertain joyful hopes of future felicity—but we shall live in expectation of the promised inheritance. We shall feel, at certain seasons, ardent desires of seeing Him upon his throne of glory—to whose humiliation, agonies and death, we are indebted for all our salvation. We shall wish to join the happy society who, without ceasing, celebrate his praise, crying, "Worthy is the Lamb who was slain, to receive power, and riches, and wisdom, and strength, and honor, and glory, and blessing! For he has redeemed us to God by his blood!"
The weather-beaten traveler longs to be at home—that he may enjoy the company of those who are most dear to him. The mariner, after having been exposed to many storms and tempests, in a long and dangerous voyage—longs to reach the port of rest. The desired haven is much in his thoughts, and the nearer he approaches it, the more constantly and ardently he looks out for it. Just so, does the believing soul long to be in the immediate presence of him, whom having not seen he loves.
'The hearts of believers,' says the judicious Dr. Owen, 'are like the needle, which cannot rest until it comes to the point to which it is directed, by the mysterious virtue of the magnet. For being once touched by the love of Christ, and receiving from it an impression of secret, ineffable virtue—they will ever be in motion, and restless, until they come to him, and behold his glory. That soul which can be satisfied without it, and cannot be eternally satisfied with it—has neither part nor lot in the matter.'
'I have waited,' says the Christian, 'for your salvation, O Lord—when will you admit me into your holy habitation? How long shall I lie at this great distance from you?'
Whoever considers what it is—to behold the glorious face of Jesus in heaven, to contemplate a beauty which never fades, to be enriched with a beneficence which can never be exhausted, and blessed with a love which is unmerited and infinite—will find abundant reason to say again and again, "I have a desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far! Why is the time of my absence from him prolonged? When shall the days of my pilgrimage have an end? When shall I see the face of my Redeemer, without a veil between? Many of my friends are gone before me; and now, secure of the conquest over all their enemies, they possess the rewards of victory, and are triumphing in the regions of immortality. They survey what was once to them—the battlefield, and look back with unutterable pleasure on the dangers which are now past. Their united foes are forever vanquished, and they inherit uninterrupted tranquility and repose. Their eyes behold the King in his beauty. They are in his presence where there is fullness of joy, and at his right hand where there are pleasures for evermore! O how I long to join their blessed society. Come, Lord Jesus, come quickly! This must be the language of my soul—until the solemn, the sweet moment of your appearance arrives!"
Supposing we were to have no pleasure on this side heaven—yet the prospect of being happy there, to all eternity, should teach us to be calm and patient under every calamity here, and even to bear these light afflictions, which are but for a moment, with a holy joy. There we shall see Jesus, live with him, and enjoy the glorious light of his countenance, not for a day, a month, an age—but forever. And who can tell the pleasure, peace, joy, and transport of a glorified saint, in the immediate presence of his ever-adorable and all-gracious Redeemer? When he is admitted into his glorious palace above the skies—with what surprise and astonishment must he be seized? We can conceive but very imperfectly, of the first impressions made upon him by the objects into the midst of which he finds himself transported. He there sees multitudes from all nations, countries, and languages, uniting in the admiration of infinite love, casting themselves before the throne of God, laying their crowns at his feet, and crying, from the abundance of a heart penetrated with the perfection of a Being so worthy of their homage and adoration, "Blessing, and glory, and honor to him who sits upon the throne, and to the Lamb forever and ever!" May we not suppose such a newly arrived inhabitant of the celestial place to say within himself, 'Is this heaven—and am I here!'
The glory of heaven is described to us by a variety of figures, and metaphorical expressions. We can only judge of happiness and misery, according to what we are conversant with in the present state. But in a future state, the veils of flesh and blood shall be taken away. The darkness which now beclouds our minds will be dispelled, and all the scales of ignorance will fall from our eyes. We shall no more see as through a glass darkly—but face to face. Then we shall know what is meant by the marriage-supper of the Lamb, and by sitting down with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of God.
In heaven, there are angels, archangels, cherubim and seraphim, thrones, dominions, princedoms. In heaven, there are patriarchs, prophets, apostles, and martyrs, myriads of saints, a great multitude which no man can number. In heaven, there are the throne of glory, the fullness of joy, the rivers of pure and everlasting delight, the pleasures which flow from God's right hand for evermore! The departing saint no sooner leaves his earthly tabernacle, than he mingles with the morning stars and sons of light. The supreme excellent God unveils himself, and allows him to gaze on his infinite beauty. That Supreme Being displays there, the bright assemblage of his adorable perfections. There is the eternal Father; there the well-beloved Son, clothed in a body like our own; and there the blessed Spirit.
The Christian longs to be in heaven upon many accounts; but chiefly—that he may see and enjoy his God without interruption; next to this, that he may forever be favored with the blessed communion of saints. When he lays aside his frail garments of mortality, he is clothed with the white robes of purity, glory, and honor. He immediately feels the force, and breathes the raptures of immortal love. The ecstatic moments, crowned with joy and ever-blooming life, now begin their everlasting round.
The believing prospect of future glory—is the great persuasive to holy obedience, and constant patience under the trials of life; since nothing can be too much to do or to suffer, in the view of that blessed state. How happy is the condition of the man who waits, with firmness and steadiness, for that crown of glory—to which he has a clear and certain right! He can draw from a well-grounded hope of it—pleasures suitable to an intelligent creature, and an immortal soul! He, in the midst of so many pains, so many miseries, so many labors with which this mortal life abounds, feels in his bosom—that source of consolation which is connected with a firm expectation of eternal felicity! How is he fortified against the terrors of death! Death to him is disarmed of its sting, and the grave of its boasted victory. What can we wish, more suited to our circumstances in these regions of mortality—than to know that our Redeemer lives, and that we shall shortly live with him, where death shall be known no more!
To an impenitent sinner—death appears as the messenger of God's vengeance, who comes to lead him to that tribunal where all his crimes will be examined and punished! When that dreadful moment arrives, the blandishments of the world vanish like a dream; a gathering gloom veils the face of nature, and eclipses all its beauty. No created enjoyment can cheer the sullen hours, while he stands shivering on the brink of an unknown, unfathomable eternity. These solemnities are new to him, and infinitely more dreadful than he had ever imagined. The king of terrors stands conquering before him—and draws his sable curtain round the bed of languishing.
The time of our abode in this transitory world is very uncertain, and the final event of things very solemn and important. The ancient heathens, to avoid the thought of death, forbore to mention the very name of it. And as it was impossible to live upon earth without having occasion to speak of the end of life, they expressed by a paraphrase, that which they were so reluctant to name. Instead of calling it death, they termed it a submitting to destiny, a falling by the stroke of fate, a departing, and a sleeping. But to change the name of a frightful object—will not much diminish the horror of it. The two expressions last mentioned are adopted, and, at the same time, sanctified by the inspired writers. Paul speaks with holy tranquility of the time of his departure being at hand. And death is called a sleep, as it is, to a godly man, the period of his entering into rest. And it has this name given it with a peculiar respect to the resurrection, when those who sleep in the dust of the earth—shall awake, and arise, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt.
May I have that love for Jesus, which will render it a desirable object to depart—that I may be forever with him! This is the only way to die with comfort. May the great purposes of life be answered in me, and at length the hour of death be welcomed with cheerfulness, that I may then have nothing to do but to resign my spirit into the hands of my Savior! I shall then bid adieu to this tenement of clay, to have no farther connection with it. It requires something more than human fortitude to support the soul under the immediate views of this separation. Here the resolution of nature and the aids of reason fail.
But faith can triumph over the grave,
And trample on the tombs;
My Jesus, my Redeemer lives,
My God, my Savior comes!
Then, O my soul, your deliverance will be complete from all that now enfetters you. My bonds will fall off; I shall be perfectly free from all the snares of sense and sin, which have formerly entangled me. I shall be oppressed with no weights, held down by no clogs of guilt, weakness or affliction. My whole soul, and my body too, after the great resurrection day, will enjoy the glorious liberty of the children of God. How unspeakable will be the pleasure of having every faculty and affection at my command, and of having the free exercise of all!
When the poor prisoner has his fetters knocked off, and full liberty is given him to leave his loathsome dungeon, and breathe the free air—how great is his joy! The bird escaped from the cage, claps its wings, and with alacrity takes its aerial flight. This is a faint emblem of the joy I shall feel, when mortality shall be swallowed up of life. The language of the happy society will be in that day, "Our soul has escaped as a bird out of the snare of the fowler; the snare is broken, and we are escaped! They will then feel themselves free from all confinement, and no longer say, "When we would do good—evil is present with us."
My soul is winged with fervent desire after the bright vision of my Savior's face, and intensely longs for her dismissal from the regions of mortality. Oh, when shall the blissful time arrive! I sigh for permission to enter the world of perfect light and love. I am still in a state of warfare; yet various as the sources of suffering are, the conflict—in which I am supported by the hope of future rest—can neither be long nor altogether painful. The great object of my expectation cannot be very far distant. A few years, a few months, nay, even a few days may bring me into that state of being, where the Fountain of everlasting light displays his glories, and where neither clouds nor darkness can ever intercept his radiant brightness! I long, with increasing desire, that my kind Father would sign my release, and speedily dismiss me from this scene of combat. When shall the storms of life be past? When shall I reach the haven where I long to be? When shall I enter the regions of perfect light and felicity, the paradise of God, where the tree of life forever blooms, and where an unbounded spring of joy, in all its glory, forever flows!
Come, blessed angel, raise my soul
To this divine abode;
Hasten—for my spirit longs to see
My Savior and my God!