Charles Simeon's Devotional Commentaries
The Benefits Arising from Faith in Christ
1 John 1:1–3. That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled, of the Word of life; (for the life was manifested, and we have seen it, and bear witness, and show unto you that eternal life, which was with the Father, and was manifested unto us;) that which we have seen and heard declare we unto you, that you also may have fellowship with us: and truly our fellowship is with the father, and with his Son Jesus Christ.
IT is impossible to read these words, and not be struck with the extreme earnestness of the Apostle in his mode of giving the testimony before us. It seems evident, that the truths which he affirms had been much controverted; and that the evidence on which they rested had been called in question. And the fact was, that many heresies had arisen even while he was yet alive. Some even went so far as to deny that Jesus had ever died and risen again: they asserted, that all those transactions, which were recorded of him by the Evangelists, had taken place in appearance only, and not in reality. Against such absurd and impious conceits, John, now at a very advanced age, bore his testimony with a zeal suited to the occasion. He was the only surviving witness of the events referred to; and hence he repeats, even to tautology, the evidence which he had had again and again, from all his senses, respecting the truth of all that he affirmed: and he urges upon the whole Christian Church the reception of his testimony, by representing the incalculable benefits which all who believed it would receive.
That we may enter fully into the declarations before us, let us consider,
I. His testimony.
This may be understood as relating to the Gospel generally.
The Gospel is certainly called "the word of life," and it was from eternity hid "with the Father," and at last, "at the beginning" of the Gospel dispensation, was manifested to the Apostles, who had every possible means of examining and ascertaining the truth of it; and who, in consequence of the fullest conviction in their own minds, "bare witness" to it as the means by which alone eternal life could be obtained. This sense, I say, the words before us may very properly bear: and, inasmuch as the Gospel is elsewhere denominated "the word of life," (which Christ is not;) and the words "from the beginning," generally, though not always in the Epistles of John, import, "from the beginning of the Gospel dispensation," it is by no means improbable that this may be the true sense of the passage.
On the other hand, his mode of expression is far less proper, if applied to the Gospel, than if applied personally to the Lord Jesus Christ; to whom the generality of commentators suppose the Apostle to refer. We therefore observe, that
It may be understood also as relating personally to the Lord Jesus Christ.
He, though not called "the word of life," is constantly known as "The Word," He also is called "The Life" and what seems more particularly to determine the point is, that he is in this very epistle called, "Eternal Life," "This is the true God, and Eternal Life" He too was from eternity "with the Father," and in due time "was manifest in the flesh." And it was his existence that was so determinately denied by the heretics whom the Apostle wished to silence. He, too, not only had lived in closest intimacy with his disciples before his crucifixion, but, after his death and resurrection, had appeared to them for forty days; and, when they doubted whether it were he, or whether it were not a spirit whom they saw, he said to them, "Handle me, and see; for a spirit has not flesh and bones, as you see me have." Now, if we consider the Apostle as speaking personally of him, we can account for the vast variety of expressions tending to confirm the testimony which be bore respecting him: whereas, if we apply the expressions to the Gospel, the terms are multiplied far beyond what the occasion called for, and the metaphors are stronger than he could with propriety use. Besides, if we understand him as speaking of Christ personally, there is a remarkable coincidence between the beginning of this epistle of John, and the beginning of his Gospel. "In the beginning was the Word: and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God." "In him was life; and the life was the light of men." And "the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us; and we behold his glory, the glory as of the only-begotten of the Father."
But, whether we understand the expressions as relating to the Gospel of Christ, or to his person,
It must of necessity be understood as declaring, that in Christ Jesus there is life, even eternal life.
The Apostle testified of Christ, as he says in a subsequent chapter of this epistle: "We have seen and do testify, that the Father sent the Son to be the Savior of the world." If we inquire more particularly what the substance of his testimony was, he informs us: "This is the witness of God which he has testified of his Son." "And this is the record, that God has given to us eternal life; and this life is in his Son: he who has the Son has life; and he who has not the Son of God has not life."
Thus we see, in fact, that, whether we understand the passage as speaking of the Gospel, or of Christ himself, it comes to the same point. If the Gospel be spoken of, it is as revealing Christ: if Christ be spoken of, it is as revealed in the Gospel; or, in other words, as being "the way, the truth, and the life."
Bear in mind then, that all that is spoken of Christ in the holy Gospels is true: the Apostles were ear-witnesses, and eye-witnesses, of it, even of all that they relate. "They did not follow cunningly-devised fables, when they made known the power and coming of the Lord Jesus, but were eye-witnesses of his majesty: for they were with him in the holy mount, when he received from God the Father honor and glory, and when there came to him a voice from the excellent glory, saying, This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased." Whether therefore they speak of his sufferings or his glory, their testimony may be relied on: and we may be sure that in Him is salvation, and in Him alone.
The extreme urgency of the Apostle in commending to us his testimony, leads us to contemplate,
II. The benefit of receiving it.
The Apostles themselves were brought into a most exalted state through faith in this Divine Savior.
"Hear what the Apostle speaks respecting it," "Truly," says he, "our fellowship is with the Father, and with his Son Jesus Christ." By the Lord Jesus Christ they were brought into a state of reconciliation with God; and were enabled to regard him in the endearing character of a Father. "Through Him too, and by the Holy Spirit, they had access to God" at all times, pouring out their hearts before him, making known to him their every want, and committing to him their every care. Through the same divine channel, God descended into their bosoms, revealing to them his will, communicating to them his grace, and shedding abroad in their hearts a sense of his love. Nay more, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit had come down and taken up their residence within them, dwelling in them as in a temple, and manifesting to them, as far as they were capable of beholding it, all the glory of the Godhead. From hence arose within them inconceivable peace and joy, which were to them an earnest and foretaste of their heavenly inheritance; for they "knew that Christ was in the Father, and in them also; and that they too were in him." Such had been their happy state from the first moment that they had believed in Christ; more sparingly indeed in the first instance, but progressively advancing as their knowledge of Christ became more intimate, and their affiance in him more entire.
And we also, by the same faith, are brought to a participation of all the same privileges.
"These things," says the Apostle, "we declare unto you, that you may have fellowship with us." And in what does that fellowship consist, but in a participation of all the same privileges and blessings which they enjoyed? And this is indeed the portion of all who receive their testimony aright. All believers are brought into one family, of which Christ is the Head. The moment we believe, "we come to Mount Zion, the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to an innumerable company of angels, to the general assembly and Church of the first-born which are written in Heaven, and to God the Judge of all, and to the spirits of just men made perfect, and to Jesus the mediator of the new covenant, and to the blood of sprinkling, which speaks better things than that of Abel." Now here we see the whole family: here is God the Father, and the Lord Jesus Christ the mediator; here also are the angels who never sinned, and all the hosts of the redeemed in Heaven, and all the saints that are still on earth: all are brought together into one family, and all have fellowship with each other as the head and the members of the same body: so that every individual believer now has the same fellowship with the Apostles, as they had with each other and with the prophets who had gone before them; and the same "fellowship too with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ." Does this appear too strong? It is not so strong as what our blessed Savior himself has spoken upon the subject. For he not only declares to us, that "both He and his Father will come to us, and make their abode with us;" but he declared to his Father also, "I have given them the glory which you gave me, that they may be one, even as we are one; I in them, and you in me, that they may be made perfect in one." Here, I say, the union of the different members of his body is compared with the union which exists between the different persons of the Godhead, than which nothing can be conceived so entire, so mysterious, so unchangeable.
Know you, then, that this is the state into which you will be brought, if only you receive the testimony of God respecting his dear Son. Believe truly, that "in him is life," and that through faith in him your souls shall live; and then all the fullness of these blessings shall be yours: nor shall even the beloved Apostle himself possess a blessing, of which you shall not, according to your capacity, partake with him.
And here let me say, that, if all the tautology which the Apostle makes use of in my text had been multiplied an hundred-fold, it would not have been too much for the occasion; since nothing can exceed the misery of those who reject this testimony, or the happiness of those who truly receive it.
Contemplate now, I pray you, the object which the Apostle had in view in all these earnest solicitations.
"These things," says he, "I write unto you, that your joy may be full." It was for this end that our blessed Lord himself had so strongly and so continually inculcated them: "These things speak I in the world, that they may have my joy fulfilled in themselves." And this is the object which I also would endeavor to attain. Beloved brethren, consider how unspeakable must be the joy of being brought into fellowship with the Apostles in all that they ever did, or ever shall, possess! All that access to God, all that fellowship with God, all that sense of Christ's incomprehensible love, all that enjoyment of his presence, and all that fruition of his glory! it is all yours by promise and by oath, if only you truly believe in Christ! O, put it not from you: defer not to seek it, yes, to seek it with your whole hearts! Then shall you know what it is to have a Heaven upon earth: for, though now you see not, the Lord Jesus with your bodily eyes, yet shall you, by believing, be brought into such communion with him, that your joy in him shall be unspeakable and glorified."
The Importance of Being Conformed to God's Image
1 John 1:5–7. This then is the message which we have heard of him, and declare unto you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all. If we say that we have fellowship with him, and walk in darkness, we lie, and do not the truth: but if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship one with another, and the blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanses us from all sin.
IN fulfilling the ministerial office, it is not sufficient that we set before our people the evidences of Christianity, or inculcate the performance of some moral duties: we are messengers from God to men; and we must "declare to them the message which we have received from him." We must not alter or conceal any part of that which we have been commanded to deliver; but must make known the whole counsel of God; and, having declared it with all plainness and fidelity, must urge the acceptance of it with all the energy we possess.
We have a message then from God to you: we are commanded to open to you the Divine character, and to call you by the most impressive arguments to become conformed to his image. In discharging this duty we proceed to set before you,
I. The character of God.
The term "light," in Scripture, has various acceptations; but there are two things which we shall notice as more particularly comprehended in it in the words before us. It is the property of light to discover all things; and it is perfectly pure and incapable of pollution: when therefore it is said, that "God is light," we must understand it as designating,
1. His infinite knowledge.
God is "a God of knowledge." "There is no creature which is not manifest in his sight." The transactions of darkness are not hid from him: he sees the adulterer, that avails himself of the darkness of the night to visit his guilty paramour. His eye is upon the thief, that lays his hand upon his neighbor's property. He notices the fraudulent dealer, who sells by false weights and measures, or takes advantage of the purchaser's ignorance to get rid of a bad commodity, and to exact of him a higher price than it is worth. Nor is it the actions only that God inspects; his eyes are not only on our ways, but on our very hearts. We are apt to think that "the thick clouds are a covering to him, so that he cannot see;" but "the darkness and light to him are both alike," "He searches the heart, and tries the thoughts," "He knows the things that come into our minds, every one of them," "He weighs our spirits," and discerns the precise quantity of good or evil that there is in all our thoughts and desires: yes, "He knows the imaginations that we go about, even now, years before" the thoughts are distinctly formed in our hearts. Our inmost souls are as much open to his view, as the sacrifices were to the priest, when he had flayed them for the purpose of examining the flesh, and cut them open to inspect their inward parts. In short, "with him is no darkness at all," "Hell and destruction are before him; much more the hearts of the children of men."
2. His unspotted holiness.
"Light" is perhaps the only thing which is incapable of being polluted; and therefore is peculiarly fit to represent the immaculate purity of God.
God is a holy Being; yes, "glorious in holiness," as well as in every other perfection. "He hates all the workers of iniquity," "He is of purer eyes than to behold iniquity," without the utmost abhorrence of it. In this respect also, as well as in the former, "there is no darkness at all in him," there is none in his nature; there is none in his dispensations.
Consider his nature: Which of his attributes has the smallest mixture of unholiness? His sovereignty is not a weak partiality, but a holy exertion of his will, according to his own determinate and eternal counsels. His justice is not a rigorous severity, but a holy regard to the honor of his broken law. His mercy is not a weak exercise of pity at the expense of justice and truth, but a holy display of his unbounded compassion, in a way that at the same time illustrates and magnifies all his other perfections.
Consider his dispensations: these, it is true, are oftentimes inscrutable to us; yet is he "righteous in all his ways, and holy in all his works." We are sometimes indeed ready, through unbelief, to question his wisdom and his goodness. When we see the wicked triumphing, and the righteous suffering under the accumulated trials of persecution from man and desertion from God, we are apt to be offended, and to ask, whether there be a God that rules in the earth? But in both these respects is his holiness expressly vindicated in the sacred writings: the martyrs that are now in glory, at the same time that they expostulate, as it were, with God on the subject of his forbearance towards their persecutors, address him as "holy and true," and David, when complaining bitterly of the dereliction that he suffered, takes especial care to acknowledge that, in the midst of all, his holiness is unimpeached; "O God, I cry in the day-time, but you hear not; and in the night-season I am not silent; but you are holy." When therefore we are not able to comprehend the reason of God's dispensations, we must still confess, that though "clouds and darkness are round about him, righteousness and judgment are the basis of his throne."
The next part of the message points out to us,
I. The necessity and benefit of a conformity to him.
The saints are said to be renewed after the Divine image: and it is worthy of particular observation, that the only two points in which this renovation is said to consist, are knowledge, and holiness. We see then from hence wherein that conformity, which we are to attain, consists: it consists in knowledge and in holiness, or, as my text expresses it, in "walking in the light as he is in the light," our minds must be enlightened with the knowledge of God's truth; and our hearts must be purified in the performance of his will.
Let us notice then,
1. The necessity of this conformity.
Many will pretend to have communion with God, while they are ignorant of the salvation revealed in the Gospel, and living in the habitual indulgence of sin. But, while they thus "walk in darkness," what "fellowship can they have with God?" What access can they have to him, when they do not so much as know the way of "access to him through the rent veil of the Redeemer's flesh?" and what regard can they feel in their hearts towards him, while they are under the allowed dominion of worldly and carnal lusts? Their profession is a system of falsehood and hypocrisy: "they lie, and do not the truth," they may work up themselves to ecstasies if they will; but they neither have, nor can have, any fellowship with God; for how "shall the throne of iniquity (or one in whom sin reigns) have fellowship with him?" "What fellowship has righteousness with unrighteousness? and what communion has light with darkness?"
2. The benefit of this conformity.
If a person be walking sincerely and progressively in the study of God's will, and in obedience to it, he possesses two great and unspeakable benefits; namely, communion with God, and acceptance before him.
He has communion with God. God loves the humble, diligent, obedient servant: "He will come to him," and "lift, up the light of his countenance upon him," and "manifest himself to him as he does not unto the world." He will "shed abroad his love in his heart," and "give him a spirit of adoption, whereby he shall cry, Abba, Father." The person himself may not be very conversant with raptures: but, whether he be more or less sensible of God's favor to him, it is manifest that he has fellowship with God: his knowledge of the Gospel proves that God has taught him; and his experience; of its sanctifying power proves that God has strengthened and supported him.
He has also acceptance before God: he is not like an unpardoned sinner: Jesus Christ has washed away his sins in the fountain of his blood; yes, every day, every hour, every moment, is he cleansing him from the pollution that adheres to his best services. This cleansing is a continued act of Christ: and through it the soul maintains its peace with God, and is regarded by God "without spot or blemish." Cleansed by Jesus from "the iniquity of his holy things," he is presented "faultless before the presence of God's glory with exceeding joy."
Such are the benefits of cleaving to Christ, and "walking as he walked," and a life devoted to God is not so properly the means of obtaining these benefits, as it is the evidence that we already possess them.
From this most instructive subject we may learn,
1. The connection between faith and works.
One man hopes to be saved by his works, while he disregards faith in Christ: another hopes that his faith will save him, though it never produce good works. But both of these deceive their own souls: for no man can do such works as the Gospel requires, unless he embrace the truths which it reveals: and, if he could do them, they would be utterly insufficient to justify him before God. On the other hand, "the faith that is without works, is dead," and as it differs not from the faith of devils, so will it bring us no better portion than theirs. Knowledge is necessary to produce holiness; and holiness is necessary to evince that our knowledge is truly spiritual and saving. It is not by separating them from each other, but by uniting them together, that we are to "walk in the light as God is in the light."
2. The connection between duty and happiness.
The greater part of the world expect happiness in the ways of sin: but God has warned us that there is "no peace to the wicked." There is no real happiness but in fellowship with God: and there is no fellowship with him, without a conformity to him. If then we would be happy in this world, we should be religious: we should study to know and do the will of God. Then we should be happy in sickness as well as in health, and in the prospect of death no less than in the midst of earthly enjoyments.
3. The connection between grace and glory.
The saints in glory are called "saints in light;" and in order to partake of their inheritance, we must be "made meet for it." An unregenerate sinner would not be happy, even if he were in Heaven. There is a total difference of character between them that are saved and them that perish: those who are saved, love God, and delight in him, and make it the labor of their souls to glorify him: whereas they who perish, would, if they were able, pluck him from his throne: it would be glad tidings to them if they were informed that he exists no longer. Such precisely is the difference between saints and sinners in this world; the one find all their happiness in serving God; the other say in their hearts, "We wish there were no God." Neither the one nor the other indeed attain the same degree of holiness or wickedness in this world that they will in the next: but in all other respects their characters will continue the same that they are in this life. If ever then we would have fellowship with God in Heaven, we must begin it here: and, if ever we would dwell with him in the regions of everlasting light, we must now be "brought out of darkness into the marvelous light of his Gospel," and "walk henceforth as children of the light and of the day."
Confession Necessary to Forgiveness
1 John 1:8, 9. If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us: if we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.
THESE words are rendered familiar to our ears by being read almost continually as introductory to the service of our Church. On this account they may appear perhaps the less interesting; though in reality they are, from that very circumstance, commended to us as deserving a more than ordinary attention. The truths indeed which are contained in them are extremely plain and simple: but they are of infinite importance to every child of man, inasmuch as they declare the pitiable condition of a self-applauding moralist, and the happy condition of a self-condemning penitent. We shall consider the substance of them under these two heads:
Let us consider,
I. The pitiable condition of a self-applauding moralist.
Persons of a high moral character are too often classed with the Pharisees of old, whose leading feature was hypocrisy. But,
Moral characters are proper objects of our love.
No one can doubt but that morality is highly estimable, even though it do not flow from those divine principles which give it its chief value in the sight of God. So at least Paul thought, when before the whole Jewish council he said, "Men and brethren, I have lived in all good conscience before God until this day." In this assertion he spoke of his life previous to his conversion. In another place, speaking of the same period, he informs us, that he was, "as touching the righteousness of the law, blameless;" and, that he had justly considered this as "gain to him." And such may morality well be considered, wherever it exists: it is a gain to the person himself, in that he is kept from many actual offences: it is a gain to all his neighbors, who cannot but feel a beneficial influence from such a life: and it is a gain to the whole world, as far as the light of such an example can extend. True it is, that when Paul fully understood the Gospel, he counted all his morality "but loss for Christ." Yet this does not at all derogate from the intrinsic excellence of morality: and to speak of morality in the contemptuous and degrading terms which many religious persons, and not a few incautious ministers too, use in reference to it, is extremely erroneous and blameworthy, inasmuch as it tends to lessen men's regard for moral virtue, and to render the Gospel itself odious as hostile to good works. I would that every disciple of Christ would consider the example of his Divine Master in reference to this very point; and not consider it only, but follow it. When the Rich Youth came to him, and was directed by him to keep the different commandments of the decalogue, he answered, "Master, all these have I observed from my youth." Now I would ask, What is the treatment which that young man would have experienced from the great mass of religious professors? I greatly fear that the general feeling towards him would have been that of contempt, rather than of love. But how did our blessed Lord and Savior regard him? We are told, "Then Jesus beholding him, loved him." And this is the spirit we should manifest towards all who are observant of the Divine laws, though they may not possess that faith in Christ which would stamp a new character upon the whole of their conduct. In proportion as any man excels in the different branches of moral virtue, he ought to be held as an object of respect, esteem, and love.
But when they trust in their morality, they deserve our pity.
I do not suppose that any persons would affirm, that they never had sinned at all. I rather conceive, that the Apostle speaks of persons affirming, that they never had sinned to such a degree as to deserve God's wrathful displeasure. This, alas! is too often the effect of morality; that it causes men to overlook their manifold defects, and to be filled with self-delight, when, if they had juster views of themselves, they would be bowed down rather with a sense of their own unworthiness.
Now such persons, how excellent soever they may be in other respects, are in a truly pitiable condition: for "they deceive themselves."
"They deceive themselves" in relation to the extent of their attainments. They do, in fact, say with the Rich Youth, "What lack I yet?" while "they lack one thing," even that very thing which is indispensable to their acceptance with God. Our Lord brought the young man to the test; and, by a command which he gave, tried him, whether God or the world were the higher in his esteem? It was a grief to the young man to renounce all hope of an interest in the Savior; but he knew not how to part with his possessions; and therefore abandoned the Lord Jesus rather than them. So, if moralists were brought to the test, they would show, and indeed they do continually show, that the love of Christ is not dominant in their hearts, and that they have never seen him as that "pearl of great price, for which they are ready to part with all."
They deceive themselves also in relation to their state before God. They imagine that they do not deserve, and consequently are not in danger of, his wrath and indignation. Thus it was with the Apostle Paul before his conversion. Hear his own acknowledgment respecting it: "I was alive without the law once; but when the commandment came, sin revived, and I died," that is, before I understood the spirituality of the law, I thought my obedience to it so perfect that I was in no danger of condemnation for my offences against it: but when my eyes were opened to see the extent of its demands and the defects of my obedience, I saw at once that I was deservedly under a sentence of death and condemnation.
Thus it is with multitudes who are exemplary in their moral conduct: in the midst of all their confidence they deceive themselves; and while they take credit to themselves for being right in the sight of God, they show, that they have never yet received "the truth as it is in Jesus," and that, consequently, "the truth is not in them."
Let us now turn our attention to,
II. The happy condition of the self-condemning penitent.
The "confession" which characterizes a true penitent, of course is not to be understood of a mere acknowledgment, but an acknowledgment accompanied with suitable contrition, and with a humble faith in the Lord Jesus. It imports such a confession as was made by the high-priest on the great day of annual expiation, when he laid his hands on the scape-goat, and confessed over him all the sins of all the children of Israel, while all of those whose sins he so transferred were "afflicting their souls before God." I may add, that this confession implies also a forsaking of the sins so confessed; as it is said, "He who covers his sins shall not prosper; but whoever confesses and forsakes them shall have mercy."
Now respecting all such penitents, I do not hesitate to say, that,
1. Whatever they need shall certainly be given unto them.
Two things the penitent pants after; namely, the forgiveness of his sins, and the renovation of his soul after the Divine image. And, behold, these are the very things promised to him in our text: "If we confess our sins, God will forgive our sins, and cleanse us from all unrighteousness." How reviving to the contrite soul is such a declaration as this! Here is no limitation as to the number or heinousness of the sins that may have been previously committed; nor any exception as to the measure of depravity which may have defiled the soul, or the degree of obduracy to which it may have attained. "Though our sins may have been as scarlet, or of a crimson dye, they shall all be washed away in the blood of Christ, and the soul become white as the driven snow." "Clean water also shall be sprinkled on us, even the Holy Spirit in his sanctifying operations, to cleanse us from all our filthiness and from all our impurity. A new heart shall be given us, and a new spirit be put within us: and God, by the mighty working of his own power, will cause us "to walk in his judgments and to keep his statutes." Here is all that the penitent can desire. The promises are perfectly commensurate with his necessities: and, "laying hold on these promises, he shall be able to cleanse himself from all filthiness both of flesh and spirit, and to perfect holiness in the fear of God."
2. For this, those very perfections of the Deity which are most adverse to them, are pledged.
If the penitent desire mercy, Justice frowns upon him, and demands judgment against him: and Truth requires, that all the threatenings which have been denounced against sin and sinners should be executed upon him. But, through the mediation of the Lord Jesus Christ, these perfections of the Deity are not only satisfied, but are converted into friends, yes, and made the strongest advocates for the penitent's salvation. What a wonderful declaration is this, that, "if we confess our sins, God is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness!" That mercy should be displayed in forgiveness, we can easily imagine: but how can justice? and how can truth? when, as has been before observed, both these attributes demand the sinner's condemnation? The Gospel solves this difficulty: it declares to us, that the Lord Jesus Christ has undertaken for us, and become our Surety, and by his own obedience unto death has satisfied all the demands of law and justice, and obtained for us the promise of eternal life: so that, if only we believe in him, and come to God through him, we may plead, even upon the very ground of justice and of truth, that God will fulfill to us all that he has promised to the Lord Jesus in our behalf, and impart to us all the blessings which his only dear Son has purchased for us. Through this mysterious dispensation, the very righteousness of God is magnified in the exercise of mercy; and "God is just, while justifying the sinner that believes in Jesus."
How blessed is the condition of the penitent when viewed in this light! Everything is secured to him that his necessities require! and everything confirmed to him by the very justice and faithfulness of Jehovah! Wipe away your tears, you weeping penitent; and "put off your sackcloth, and gird you with gladness," for God has here "given you the oil of joy for mourning, and the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness."
Attend however to a few words of parting advice.
1. Let your humiliation be deep and abiding.
It can never be too deep: there is no measure of self-loathing or self-abhorrence that can exceed what the occasion calls for. You may heretofore have thought yourself so pure, that "you had no sin" which could subject you to the wrath of God. Now you know, that "the bed was too short for you to stretch yourself upon, and the covering too narrow for you to wrap yourself in." "The pillows are plucked from your arms;" and "the untempered mortar with which you daub your wall, adheres no longer." You have now learned to estimate your character by another standard. You see now your defects. You compare your obedience, not with the mere letter, but with the spirit of the law: and from this view of your past life you know your just desert, and are convinced that the very best action, word, or thought of your whole life, if tried by the standard of God's holy law, would plunge you into merited and everlasting perdition. And so it is at this very moment, notwithstanding your change of character. You could no more bear the scrutiny of that perfect law, than you could in your days of unregeneracy. Let this thought never be forgotten: let it abide with you day and night. Job, before that God had appeared unto him, said, "If I justify myself, my own mouth shall condemn me," and after he had beheld God in his majesty and glory, his humiliation, so far from being removed, was deepened: and he exclaimed, "Behold, I am vile: I repent therefore, and abhor myself in dust and ashes." So let your increase both in grace and peace be marked by a proportionable increase in humiliation and contrition.
2. Let your affiance in God be simple and uniform.
Never for a moment entertain a thought of any worthiness in yourself, or suffer anything to be blended with your faith in Christ. Rely on him as entirely as if your whole life had been a scene of the most enormous wickedness. Renounce entirely everything of your own in point of dependence; and seek to "be found in Christ, not having your own righteousness, but the righteousness which is of God through faith in him." And let this abide with you to your latest hour. Let neither a relapse into sin deter you from coming thus to Christ; nor the most spotless continuance in holiness render such a mode of coming to him unnecessary in your eyes. This is the way in which you may come, however aggravated may have been your guilt; and this is the way in which you must come, however eminent your attainments. It is not possible for you to be too much on your guard against either doubting the sufficiency of Christ to save you, or attempting to unite anything with him as a joint ground of your hope. To err in either of these respects will be fatal: it will arm both justice and truth against you, and will make void all that the Lord Jesus has done and suffered for you. But rely simply and altogether upon him, and "you shall not be ashamed or confounded world without end."
The Advocacy and Atonement of Christ
1 John 2:1, 2. If any man sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous: and he is the atoning sacrifice for our sins: and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world.
THERE are two extremes to which men are apt to incline, namely, presumption and despair; and against both of these the Gospel is designed to guard us. The ungodly world at large imagine that God will never execute his threatened judgments: and some will take occasion even from the Gospel itself to expect impunity in the ways of sin. But the rich promises of the Gospel were never given for this end: it was never God's design that his "grace should be turned into licentiousness;" and therefore the Apostle affectionately warns us against such an abuse of it; "My little children, these things I write unto you, that you sin not." On the other hand, there are some persons, who, from a sense of their manifold backslidings, are ready to despond. To these the Apostle proceeds to speak: he sets before them the offices which Christ sustains on the behalf of sinners; and encourages them under every fresh contracted guilt to look unto him as a willing, suitable, and all-sufficient Savior.
To further this good work in your hearts, we will show,
I. The offices of Christ.
It will be proper to notice first that which is last mentioned in the text.
He is a "Atoning sacrifice for sin."
To understand what is meant by this, we should consider the state of man. We were fallen creatures, and, in consequence of our fall, obnoxious to the wrath of God. To restore ourselves to the Divine favor was impossible, because we could not offer any atonement for the sins we had committed. God, though ready to forgive, could not exercise mercy towards us in any way which did not accord with his justice, holiness, and truth. Christ therefore undertook to make satisfaction to the Divine justice, so that "mercy and truth might meet together, and righteousness and peace might kiss each other." This he did by substituting himself in our place. "He bore our sins in his own body on the tree," and "suffered, the just for the unjust." Our apprehension of this matter will be greatly assisted, if we consider how it was represented under the Mosaic economy. Bullocks, goats, and lambs were offered in sacrifice to God. The offender, when he brought his sacrifice, laid his hands upon its head, and transferred to it his guilt; and then it was put to death in his stead. This sacrifice God accepted on behalf of the offerer, and, out of respect to it, forgave his iniquities. This indeed was only a type: but it shadowed forth what was really done by Christ, who "came to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself." The whole language of Scripture accords with this explanation, and confirms the truth of this stupendous mystery.
He is also our "Advocate with the Father."
The office of an advocate is to appear for his client in a court of justice, and to plead his cause. Now this office also the Lord Jesus Christ executes in behalf of his people: He is gone up to the court of Heaven, where "he appears in the presence of God for us." The Holy Spirit also is our advocate: but there is a very wide difference between the advocacy of Christ, and of the Holy Spirit: the Spirit intercedes in us at the throne of grace; Christ intercedes for us at the throne of glory; the Spirit assists us to pray according to the will of God; Christ presents those prayers unto the Father, and renders them acceptable in his sight.
Now it was this advocacy of Christ which the Apostle had primarily in his view: and what he added respecting him as a atoning sacrifice for sin, was a subordinate subject, introduced to show the ground of his intercession, and the reason of its efficacy. It will be proper therefore to notice more particularly the connection between these offices, and the dependence of the one upon the other.
If we could conceive that Jesus had undertaken to be our advocate, and yet had made no atonement for sin, his advocacy would have been altogether in vain: for, what plea could he have found? he could not have denied, or extenuated, our guilt: nor could he have promised that we should ever make compensation for what we had done amiss. His mouth therefore must have been shut as well as ours. But, having offered himself a sacrifice for our sins, he has an adequate and effectual plea for all who trust in him. Are they accused by their great adversary? yes, does God himself testify against them? "True, he will say, they are sinners, that deserve your wrathful indignation: but behold the wounds in my hands, my feet, my side; these I endured for them; by these I expiated their guilt; yes, I gave my own life a ransom for them; and therefore deliver them from going down into the pit: I have satisfied the demands both of law and justice on their behalf, and on this account I look, not to your mercy only, but to your justice and your faithfulness to forgive them: out of respect to me, "you may be just, and yet the justifier of all those who believe."
This view of his offices will naturally lead us to consider,
II. The comfort to be derived from them under every fresh-contracted guilt.
That we may speak more perspicuously on this subject, we shall notice
1. The sensations which a view of those offices will produce.
Hope, joy, and peace, arise in succession to crown the exercise of faith. Until we are enabled to behold the crucified and exalted Savior, we droop, and question the possibility of our acceptance with God; but when we are enabled to believe in him, our fears are dissipated; our sorrows are turned into joy and exultation; and, after a season, the livelier motion of our affections, which was occasioned by the greatness and suddenness of the change, subsides into a solid and abiding peace. This is the order marked out both by Prophets and Apostles, and experienced by all who live by faith on the Son of God.
2. The suitableness of those offices to produce them.
The intercessions of sinful men have often availed for the benefit of those for whom they were offered: but Christ is a "righteous" advocate, who, having no sins of his own to obstruct his access to God, may come with boldness into his presence, and with a certainty of acceptance. Besides, he is ever "with the Father," ready to offer his intercessions the very moment that he sees any danger of a breach between him and us. Moreover he is the "Christ," whom the Father anointed to this very office. It was the duty of the high-priest, not only to offer sacrifice, but to carry the blood of the sacrifice within the veil, and to burn incense before the mercy-seat: thus the office of intercession belongs to Jesus no less than that of offering an oblation: and consequently we have in his appointment to this office a pledge that he shall not intercede in vain.
The consolations arising from this office are heightened and confirmed by the consideration of his atonement: for in his one offering of himself there is a sufficiency of merit to justify all that shall believe in him. His death was a atoning sacrifice , not for the sins of a few only, "but for the sins of the whole world;" so that if all the sins that ever were committed from the foundation of the world, or ever shall be committed as long as the world shall stand, had been committed by any single individual, he would have no reason to despair; since if only he believed in Jesus, they should all be blotted out even as a morning cloud.
What marvelous truths are these! What a foundation for hope, and joy, and peace! O that our meditations on them might be sweet, and that our souls might ever experience their refreshing influence!
1. The self-righteous.
What ground is here afforded for looking to our own repentances or reformations, as though they could restore us to the Divine favor? We deny not the necessity or importance of these things; but we utterly deny their efficacy to save the soul. There is no Savior but Christ: if any man sin, however exemplary he may have been on the whole, he must trust in the atonement and intercession of Christ: there is no distinction between one sinner and another: all must equally depend on Christ: all must enter at that door: all must build on that foundation: all must be saved by the name of Christ, and by that only.
2. The contrite.
Let not the greatness of your guilt dismay you. Remember Abraham's intercession for the cities of the plain, and that of Moses for the Israelites, when God forbad him, as it were, to pray for them. Yet neither Abraham nor Moses had redeemed their souls. But Jesus is our atoning sacrifice , as well as our advocate; and shall not He prevail? See how he prevailed for Peter, who, if the Savior had not interceded for him, would most probably have hanged himself in despair, as Judas did: but Christ said, "I have prayed for you, that your faith fail not," and in answer to this prayer, he was restored both to his apostleship and to the favor of his God. Thus effectual shall the Savior's intercession be for you. Consider in what manner he intercedes for you: when he prayed for himself in his extremity, he said, "Father, not as I will, but as you will," but in his intercession for you he says, "Father, I will that they whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, that they may behold my glory." Doubt not then, but that he "will pray the Father for you;" and that the Father, who has for so many thousands of years had respect to the bow in the clouds, and has forborne to deluge the earth again, will much more have respect to the Son of his love, and fulfill to your soul the promises of his grace.
The True Test of Love to God
1 John 2:3–5. Hereby we do know that we know him, if we keep his commandments. He who says, I know him, and keeps not his commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him. But whoever keeps his word, in him truly is the love of God perfected: hereby know we that we are in him.
THERE are many who imagine, that to enforce an observance of God's commandments, and to insist on obedience as an evidence of our faith, is legal. But the whole tenor of the Gospel shows, that our interest in it must be productive of holiness, since "faith without works is dead." In fact, there is no certain test whereby to try our faith in Christ, but our obedience to his commands. Of this the Apostle testifies plainly in my text: from whence I shall take occasion to show,
I. That it is the Christian's privilege to be fully assured of his acceptance with God.
The generality of persons conceive this to be impossible; and account the very idea to be presumptuous in the extreme. I will readily grant, that there are many who deceive themselves in relation to this matter: but still I cannot admit, that the unfounded confidence of hypocrites is any just ground for concluding that the upright may not know their state before God. Those who deceive themselves do not judge by a right test; and therefore it is that they are deceived: only let any one apply to himself the test which is prescribed in my text, and he need not fear but that the trial shall issue in a clear discovery of his state.
The whole Scriptures attest, that men may "know" their acceptance with God.
In the Old Testament, David confidently asserts, "O God, you are my God." And the Bride, in the book of Canticles, with equal assurance, exclaims, "My beloved is mine; and I am his." Under the New-Testament dispensation this privilege is yet more extensively enjoyed. John, writing to the whole Christian Church, says, in the third chapter of this epistle, "We know that we have passed from death unto life," "We know that we are of the truth, and may assure our hearts before him," "We know that he abides in us, by the Spirit which he has given us." In the fourth chapter he renews the same subject; saying, "We know that we dwell in him, and he in us, because he has given us of his Spirit." And in the last chapter he asserts the same, in a direct contrast with all the world besides: "We know that we are of God, and the whole world lies in wickedness. We know that the Son of God is come, and has given us an understanding, that we may know Him that is true: and we are in Him that is true, even in his Son Jesus Christ." Nor is there a real Christian in the universe who is not entitled to say with Paul, "I live; yet not I, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh, I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me."
The enjoyment of this privilege is at the root of all the believer's comfort.
It is in order to the Christian's enjoyment of this assurance, that the Holy Spirit is given to him as "a Spirit of adoption, that he may cry to God, Abba, Father;" and as "a witness to assure his conscience that he is a child of God." And it is altogether owing to this internal persuasion of his acceptance with God, that the believer can look forward with confidence to his future state in glory: "We know, that when our earthly house of this tabernacle shall be dissolved, we have an house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. Therefore in this we groan, earnestly desiring to be clothed upon with our house which is from Heaven; since, being clothed, we shall not be found naked." It is under the same conviction, also, that the Christian, even now in the midst of all his conflicts, is enabled to triumph over all his enemies; assured that none of them, nor all together, "shall ever separate him from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord."
Of course, you will all be anxious to know,
II. How this assurance is to be obtained.
It is not the fruit of any enthusiastic impression or conceit.
I do not deny, but that many "profess that they know God, while in works they deny him;" and that it is possible for men so to deceive themselves, as to possess all the confidence of the most established believer: yes, there are not wanting multitudes who carry this delusion with them even to the bar of judgment; and, even in the presence of their Judge, will claim his favor; saying, "Have we not prophesied in your name, and in your name done many wonderful works?" while they will only draw upon themselves that damnatory sentence, "Depart from me; I never knew you, you workers of iniquity." If any would attain a scriptural assurance, they must try themselves by the test proposed to them by John—the test of their obedience to God's commands.
This is a suitable way of attaining it.
How do we judge of a tree, but by its fruits? We should not be satisfied with beholding its foliage, however luxuriant it might be: we should desire to behold, and to taste, the fruit: and by that we should form our estimate of its real worth. In like manner, if a child or servant professed pre-eminent regard for us, we should naturally expect that regard to manifest itself by an observance of our commands. This, then, is the way by which God will judge of us, and by which we also must judge ourselves. Our Lord has plainly told us, "He who has my commandments, and keeps them, he it is that loves me," and again; "He who abides in me, and I in him, the same brings forth much fruit." Well, therefore, may our Lord accuse us of inconsistency, when we profess ourselves his, without obeying his commandments: "Why call you me, Lord, Lord, and do not the things which I say?" We may set this down as an unquestionable truth, that if "Christ be made unto us righteousness, he will be to us sanctification also." And if we say, "There is no condemnation to them that are in Christ Jesus," we must never forget the description there given of those persons; namely, that "they walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit."
It is also a certain way of attaining it.
From whence is it that any person is enabled to keep God's commandments? Our blessed Lord has told us that "without him we can do nothing." It is by its union with the vine, that a branch bears its fruit: and it is only by union with the Lord Jesus that we also can have a sufficiency for anything that is good. Have we then a clear evidence that we are bringing forth fruit to God? it is manifest that we are united to Christ: or, as my text expresses it, "Hereby know we that we are in him." From hence, also, we know that we are in favor with God: for, to what end has God loved us, and shed abroad his love in our hearts, but that we might "by that love be constrained to live unto Him who died for us." It is by our obedience that God's love is perfected in us;" for by that obedience its end is answered, its power is evinced, its operation is augmented: so that, as "by works our faith is made perfect," so, by works, God's love to us, and ours to him, are also perfected. I add yet further, that by obedience our right to Heaven is ascertained: for it is written, "Blessed are they that do his commandments, that they may have right to the tree of life, and may enter in through the gates of the city. Of course, it is not on the ground of merit that they acquire this right, but solely on the ground of God's gracious promises to those who believe in Christ. Nevertheless, this evidence is indispensably necessary to the believer; and on the production of that shall his title to Heaven be acknowledged: for "Christ is the author of eternal salvation to all them that obey him."
Who does not see, in this subject,
1. The importance of self-examination?
It is evidently taken for granted, in my text, that some self-deceivers will be found, who will "say, that they know Christ, while yet they keep not his commandments." And what shall I say to them? What can I say more, than what God himself speaks to them in my text, "That they are liars; and that the truth is not in them?" I grant that this sounds harsh; but it is the declaration of our God: and I dare not to soften or conceal what he has spoken. In many other passages does this loving Apostle use the same language; and I entreat you, brethren, to lay it to heart. Be assured, that, while you continue under this delusion, "the truth is not in you," the Gospel has not yet wrought effectually on your hearts, nor are you possessed of real integrity in your souls. No, indeed, you are "liars" and hypocrites, and must take your portion with such characters in the eternal world. Tell me, then, whether it do not become you to "examine yourselves," and to try your faith by this standard? Do not imagine that the knowledge here spoken of is a speculative acquaintance with divine truth: no; it is such a knowledge as both justifies and sanctifies the soul; it is that knowledge in comparison of which Paul "accounted all things as dung and dross." This is the knowledge which you must possess: and if you will think you have it, while your life and conversation give the lie to your profession, your doom is fixed: for thus says God, by the Prophet Hosea: "Israel says, my God, we know you: Israel has cast off the thing that is good: the enemy shall pursue him," yes, "every such person shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the glory of his power, when the Lord Jesus shall be revealed in flaming fire to take vengeance on them that know not God, and obey not the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ." I say, then, to every one of you, "Examine whether you be in the faith, and prove your own selves."
2. The blessedness of practical Christianity?
To what a glorious state does true religion raise us! Men in all ages have accounted the Virgin Mother of our Lord blessed, because she was God's chosen vessel, to bring into the world the Lord of Glory. But I speak not too strongly, if I say, that the practical Christian is yet more highly honored, and more truly blessed, than she, so far as her external relation to him was concerned: for our Lord, in answer to one who had congratulated her on her distinguished honors, saying, "Blessed is the womb that bare you, and the breasts which you have sucked," replied, "Yes, rather, blessed are they that hear the word of God, and keep it." True, indeed, such persons may not always possess a full assurance of their interest in Christ: God may, for wise reasons, permit their minds to be agitated with doubts and fears; and Satan may, for a season, greatly harass and distress them. But, while they walk in darkness, the Lord will be a light unto them; yes, he has authorized his servants to address them in these encouraging words: "Who is among you that fears the Lord, that obeys the voice of his servant, that walks in darkness and has no light? let him trust in the name of the Lord, and stay upon his God. Yes, brethren, if only you are conscientiously endeavoring to approve yourselves to God in a holy and unreserved obedience, you need not fear. This very disposition emanates from God: it is itself a fruit and evidence of his love; and it shall assuredly issue in everlasting felicity: for, as sure as God is true, "light is sown for the righteous, and gladness for the upright in heart."
Christ An Example to His Followers
1 John 2:6. He who says he abides in him ought himself also so to walk, even as he walked.
AMONG the various excellencies which distinguish Christianity from all other religions, one of very considerable importance is, that the Author of it condescended to exemplify in his own person everything which it required of its most faithful adherents. Different philosophers established rules for their followers: but no one ever professed himself a pattern, and much less a perfect pattern, of all that under any circumstances could be required of him. But the Lord Jesus Christ has perfectly fulfilled his own law, as for other ends, so also that he might "set us an example to follow his steps." True it is indeed that He is the sole Author of our salvation from first to last: but he does not on that account dispense with our obedience to his law: on the contrary, he says, that "all who abide in him, must walk as he walked."
There are some who deny that the law is to the believer a rule of life. But supposing this error could not be refuted by direct testimony, which it easily and abundantly may, what would the advocates of it gain, if once they admitted, what I suppose no man would deny, that Christ is an example for us to follow? Did not he "fulfill all righteousness," even to the utmost extent of the moral law? And if he did, and is an example to us, must not we obey the law in the same manner, and to the same extent? We are not indeed to fulfill it for the same ends; because he alone, as the Mediator between God and man, can save men by his obedience unto death: but in all that he did as a man, we are to follow his steps: and if we neglect to do so, we show, that we have no part or lot in his salvation.
The words I have read will lead me to set before you the principles, and the practice, of every true Christian.
I. His principles.
The Christian is united unto Christ by faith, as a branch to the vine; and his one great concern is to "abide in Christ."
For this he labors as the one ground of his hope.
He knows that he has nothing, and can have nothing, in himself. He needs no one to tell him this: he has learned it, as from the inspired volume, so also from his own experience. He has found on numberless occasions how weak and sinful a creature he is: and is well assured, that, if he had not "Jehovah himself for his righteousness and strength," it would be impossible for him ever to be saved. Hence he views with delight the Lord Jesus Christ as the great Head of the Church. "It has pleased the Father, that in Christ should all fullness dwell," and in this respect he is altogether like-minded with the Father: for it pleases him in his inmost soul to have such a Head of vital influence, and such a Depository of all spiritual blessings. He is sensible that the branch derives all its life and fertility from its union with the vine: and that, if once separated from the stem, it would wither and die. This idea he endeavors to realize: and "the life which he lives in the flesh, he lives altogether by faith in the Son of God," "receiving out of his fullness" a constant supply of grace and peace. If, as a blind and ignorant creature, he need wisdom; or as a guilty creature, he need righteousness; or as a polluted creature, he need sanctification; or as an enslaved creature, he need redemption: he looks for it all in Christ, whom he regards as furnished with all for the use of his Church, and as empowered to communicate it all to every one that trusts in him.
In this he glories as his most exalted privilege.
Humiliating as this life of dependence at first sight appears, he considers it as his highest honor, and as raising him even above Adam in Paradise. Adam, when in Paradise, was indeed perfect: but to him was committed the task of working out a righteousness for himself, and of maintaining by his own inherent powers his steadfastness in the divine life. And hence he fell, and died, and involved both himself and all his posterity in ruin. But the believer has a righteousness wrought out for him by his incarnate God; and "his life," instead of being committed to his own keeping, "is hid with Christ in God," where Satan cannot reach it; and therefore, since Christ has engaged that none shall ever pluck out of his hands those whom the Father has committed to him, he shall endure unto the end: and, "when Christ, who is his life, shall appear, shall assuredly appear with him in glory." Thus, in respect both of honor and security, is the believer elevated even above Adam himself; since he has not a creature-righteousness wherein to stand before God, or a created power to uphold him; but a righteousness that is divine, and an arm that is omnipotent. To form a right judgment of his state, we must attend to what our blessed Lord himself has spoken on this subject. Indeed his words are so strong, that no man would dare to utter them if not warranted by his authority. What would you say, if I were to affirm, that the life of faith resembles the very life which the Lord Jesus Christ lived when on earth; and that the believer has the same dependence on the Lord Jesus Christ, as Christ himself, during his incarnate state, had on the Father; and the same security in him too; would you not be almost ready to shut your ears, and to accuse the preacher of blasphemy? Yet is this what we are authorized by Christ himself to declare. Hear his own words: "He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood, dwells in me, and 1 in him. As the living Father has sent me, and I live by the Father, even so he who eats me, even he shall live by me." Say, beloved, is not here a ground of glorying? and, if the believer did not glory in this privilege, would not the very stones cry out against him?
While with confidence we affirm these to be the Christian's principles, we with no less confidence proceed to declare,
II. His practice.
It is thought by many that a life of faith is unfriendly to morality; since if all our righteousness is in Him, what need have we of any of our own? and, if he be engaged to keep us, what need have we of any care or watchfulness to keep ourselves? But this reasoning is altogether fallacious: since every one who by faith abides in Christ, acknowledges it his bounden duty to "walk as he walked."
He acknowledges it, I say, as his bounden duty.
He does not conceive of Christ as liberating him from the obligations of morality: for though he is free from the law as a covenant, he is not free from it, nor would wish to be freed from it, as a rule of life. He considers himself as "not without law, but under the law to Christ." Were he permitted to violate the commands of God, he would account it a curse rather than a privilege. Such a liberty would appear to him only like a permission to drink poison, which, however sweet to the taste, would prove "the gall of asps within him." So far from imagining himself freed from the restraints of the law, he considers all that Christ has done for him as laying him under ten-fold obligations to holiness both of heart and life. His motives to obedience are changed indeed: but his obligations to it are not a whit diminished, yes, rather, are greatly heightened; because he well knows, that the very end for which his Savior died was, to redeem us from all iniquity, and to purify unto himself a peculiar people zealous of good works."
He makes it his constant and determined aim.
The true believer is not a mere follower of Christ, but an imitator also: and it is his delight to set the Savior before him as his great Exemplar. When he sees how entirely the soul of Jesus was wrapped up in his work, and that it was "his meat and drink to do his Father's will," he pants, and sighs, and with shame and sorrow of heart exclaims, O that there were "in me the mind that was in Christ Jesus!" When he beholds the ardor of Christ's love to man, his unwearied labors, his patient sufferings, his exertions in every possible way, he girds up his loins, and follows the footsteps of his Lord; and though he knows that he can never attain to his perfection, yet he proposes to himself no object short of that, and strives to be "holy as he was holy," and "perfect as he was perfect," nor does the glory of Heaven itself appear more desirable in his eyes, than does a conformity to the Savior's image in righteousness and true holiness. In a peculiar manner, he notices the tempers of his Divine Master; his meekness, his patience, his forbearance, his love to enemies, his compassion even to his very murderers: he sees what a fallen creature he himself is, and he cries mightily to God for grace and strength, that he may be enabled to mortify every feeling that is opposite to love, and to "purify himself even as his Lord and Master was pure."
Now as this subject gives us a deep insight into the whole of the Gospel system, I will embrace this opportunity,
1. Of establishing the principles of those who are in doubt.
The Christian world has been much divided on the subject of faith and works: and we may easily conceive that some, who are well affected towards the Gospel, may feel a doubt, whether in our statements of the truth we do not elevate faith too high, and sink morality below its proper level. But the text, I conceive, will settle this point at once. I grant, that they who require good works in whole or in part to justify us before God, do in appearance show a high sense of their value: and that they who decry them in this point of view, and declare that such a dependence on them will invalidate the whole Gospel, and sink us into perdition, do in appearance betray an indifference towards them. But I would ask, Does any advocate for the merit of good works ever propose to himself so high a standard as that in my text? and, if any one inculcate the necessity of walking to the very uttermost as Christ walked, do they not account him "righteous overmuch?" Yes assuredly, they always have a lower standard than that which is proposed to them in the Gospel. On the other hand, they who exalt the Lord Jesus Christ, and live by faith on him, will admit of no rule of conduct which does not embrace the whole law, and lead to a perfect conformity to the Lord Jesus Christ. And hence it is, that the followers of Christ are as much condemned for their unnecessary zeal and strictness, as for the supposed licentiousness of their principles. Here then the point is brought to the very test, which the advocates of human merit profess to approve. Let the two opposite systems be tried by this touchstone; 'Which requires of its votaries the sublimer and more enlarged morality?' and we consent, that this issue, fairly tried, shall determine the point forever. They who live in any measure of self-righteousness and self-sufficiency, will walk as the world walks; but they who abide in Christ as their only hope, will with all their might endeavor to walk as Christ walked.
2. Of directing the energies of those who have embraced the Gospel.
Be not faint or weary in well-doing: but set the Lord ever before you, and endeavor to resemble him in the whole "spirit of his mind," and the whole course of his conduct. Of course, what he spoke as the Great Prophet of the Church, or did as the Redeemer of the world, was peculiar to himself, and can be no pattern for us: but in all that he either spoke or did as man, we are to follow him without reserve. If we propose to ourselves any lower standard, or except any one of God's commandments from our rule of duty, we are not Christ's disciples. See what is said in our text, "He who says he abides in him, ought himself also so to walk, even as he walked," and again in the following chapter: "Whoever abides in him, sins not. Whoever sins, has not seen him, neither known him." Here then you see what all your profession of faith will amount to, if it do not approve itself by its fruits: it will be a self-delusion, and a lie altogether. Come then, beloved, and address yourselves to your high and heavenly work. You see your calling: O strive to "walk worthy of it!" yes, "worthy of the Lord," whose you are, and whom you profess to serve. Thus will you vindicate the Gospel from the charges which ignorant and ungodly men bring against it; and will prove to all around you that it is indeed "the wisdom of God, and the power of God unto salvation."
The True Light
1 John 2:8. The darkness is past, and the true light now shines.
OUR blessed Lord is supposed by many to have enlarged the demands of the moral law. That he speaks of giving a new commandment is certain: "A new commandment I give unto you, that you love one another: as I have loved you, that you also love one another." John also speaks to the same effect in the words before my text; though, in the words immediately preceding, he had declared, that it was not a new commandment. The reconciling of this difficulty will suggest the true explanation of our text. The command given us to love our neighbor as ourselves, was not a new commandment. It was a part of the moral law; and of the law originally written on the heart of man in Paradise. Yet in some respects it was a new law: both as it respected the Lord Jesus who enacted it, and as it respected us on whom it was enjoined. Let us hear what the Apostle himself says: "Brethren, I write no new commandment unto you, but an old commandment which you had from the beginning. The old commandment is the word which you have heard from the beginning. Again, a new commandment I write unto you: which thing is true in him, and in you." It was new as it respected the Lord Jesus Christ, who had proposed his own conduct as the model (which, of course, it could not be, until he himself had completed his work on earth), and had enforced it with his own authority as Mediator, which also must be subsequent to his entrance on the mediatorial office. And it was new also as it respected us, because it was never before conceived to extend to the "laying down of our lives for the brethren," and because it was enjoined with new motives, such as could never have existed before, even the testifying of our love to Christ, "who has loved us, and given himself for us." Previous to the coming of our Lord, a veil of obscurity hanged over these things: but now they were made clear, "because the darkness was past, and the true light now shined."
In considering the change which is here spoken of, I shall notice it,
I. As verified at that day.
The darkness of the Mosaic dispensation was then dispelled.
That was a dark and shadowy dispensation altogether. God himself was not made known by it as the common Father of all, but as the friend only of one peculiar people, whom he favored above all others. The way of acceptance with him was very indistinctly seen in the sacrifices which were offered; there being but little spoken to direct the attention of the offerers to that great Sacrifice, from whence alone they derived all their efficacy. Nor were the requirements of the moral law by any means clearly revealed; the very commandments themselves consisting only of prohibitions, and those prohibitions extending, for the most part, only to overt acts. Hence Paul himself, educated as he was by the first master of his day, and pre-eminently conversant as he was with the Mosaic writings, did not, until his eyes were opened by the Spirit of God, understand the spiritual import of the law, or the extent (if the command, "You shall not covet." Besides, there were many enactments for the direction of magistrates in the administration of justice, which, when erroneously construed as rules of duty in private life, seemed to authorize revenge; as, "an eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth."
But our blessed Lord threw the true light on the whole of that economy. He declared plainly, that he was "come to fulfill the law," and "to give his life a ransom for many." He directed the people to look to him as "the way, by which alone any one could come to the Father; as the truth," in whom all the types and shadows of the law were realized; and "as the life," by whom alone any sinner in the universe could live. He explained also the moral law, and freed it from all the glosses of the Scribes and Pharisees, by which it had been obscured; declaring, that it extended to the thoughts and desires of the heart, no less than to the overt act. In particular he made known the great duty of love, as comprehending the whole law in all its branches, and in its utmost extent. Thus in relation both to doctrine and morals it might be truly said, that "the darkness was past, and the true light then shined."
The darkness was also dispelled from their minds.
All by nature are in darkness; and, even though the light shines around them, they are not able to apprehend it; "the eyes of their understanding being altogether darkened." Of all while in a state of unbelief it is expressly said, that "the God of this world has blinded their eyes." But by the Gospel, accompanied with power from on high, they had been "turned from darkness unto light, and from the power of Satan unto God." They now acknowledged Jesus as their Savior; and had obtained "reconciliation with God through the blood of his cross." They had now an insight into that stupendous mystery, which all "the angels in Heaven are desiring to look into," the redemption of the world by the sacrifice of our incarnate God; and, together with that, had acquired just views of the state in which a redeemed sinner ought to live. In a word, they had been "brought out of darkness into marvelous light." So that they were able to appreciate the necessity and the excellency of the commandment which was now enjoined.
But let us contemplate this glorious change,
II. As fulfilled also among ourselves.
Certainly, the true light does shine among you.
The Lord Jesus "Christ is fully preached among you." His person, his work, his offices are set before you. You have seen from time to time the types, as completed in their great Antitype; and the prophecies, as fulfilled in him to whom they had respect, even "Jesus of Nazareth, the Son of Joseph." The covenant of grace, which was made with him in our behalf, has been opened to you, and all the great and precious promises that are contained in it unfolded to your view. Salvation, in all its freeness, and in all its fullness, has been offered to you; and all the perfections of God, as pledged for your encouragement, have been brought in review before you. Nor has the nature of evangelical obedience been either partially or sparingly declared. The distinction between the letter and the spirit of the law has been copiously displayed; and all the high requirements of the Gospel been made known; and not declared only, but enforced also by every species of argument that could address itself to your understanding, your conscience, or your will. I say not, that these things have been so fully manifested as they ought to have been, or might have been: because, if my own views had been more enlarged, and my own soul been more deeply impressed with these things, my ministrations would no doubt have been more luminous and beneficial: but this I can say, that I have "not knowingly withheld anything that could be profitable unto you;" nor, according to the measure of light and grace given unto me, "have I shunned to declare unto you the whole counsel of God." In this respect therefore I may say, that, if at any time there have been darkness here, that darkness is past: and the true light shines among you, in such a degree, at least, as is sufficient to "guide all your feet into the way of peace."
But can it be said that the darkness is passed away from the souls of all?
Would to God that my text were true in this extent also. Beloved brethren, are not many of you still in the darkness, if not of Judaism itself, yet of the Judaizing teachers, who insisted on combining some obedience of their own with the merits of Christ? Are not the beauty, and glory, and excellency of our holy religion so indistinctly seen by many among you, that it produces scarcely any effect upon your hearts and lives? If we look at morals, are not your views of them also very imperfect? Read our Lord's Sermon on the Mount, and see whether your heart go along with it in all that it inculcates respecting patience, forbearance, meekness, forgiveness? Read Paul's description of love in the 13th chapter of his First Epistle to the Corinthians, and see whether that be the standard at which you aim, and by which you estimate your attainments? Have you any idea of your duty to your brethren requiring, that, if it may subserve their spiritual and eternal interests, you should lay down your life for them? I will not ask what speculative notions you may have of these things; for in that respect your views may be correct enough: but what is your practice? it is by that that your character must be tried: and, when tried by that, say whether you are not found altogether wanting. That there is great danger of self-deceit in reference to this matter, is clear from what the Apostle says in the very words following my text: "He who says he is in the light and hates his brother, is in darkness even until now. He who loves his brother, abides in the light; and there is none occasion of stumbling in him; but he who hates his brother is in darkness, and walks in darkness, and knows not where he goes, because that darkness has blinded his eyes." You perceive that a man may be very confident that he is in the light; and yet be so defective in respect of love, as to be in utter darkness, and going he knows not where. I pray you, guard against so fatal a delusion as this; and never conceive yourselves to be "children of light," until your whole spirit and temper, candidly examined, attest that you are "walking as children of the light."
It may be that you would wish to have two questions solved:
With answering them, I will conclude the subject.
1. How shall I obtain the change spoken of in the text?
Many directions I might give you; and all proper in their place: but there is one, which, if it do not supersede all others, will at least prove amply sufficient for this occasion. Our blessed Lord says, "I am the light of the world: he who follows me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life." Here the direction is from such authority as cannot be withstood, and at the same time so complete, that, if followed, it cannot but succeed. In truth, all other directions, in comparison of this, are like advising persons to light a taper of their own, when they might come forth at once to the noonday sun. By the Lord Jesus Christ the whole darkness, whether from without or from within, shall be dispersed at once. The nature and perfections of God, the spirituality and extent of the law, the use of the whole of the Mosaic ritual, together with the whole work of redemption, will all be made visible as the light itself, to one who obtains just views of Christ. The whole system of morals too will he rendered clear and luminous; and all the sublime motives and encouragements to obedience be reflected with irresistible efficacy upon the soul. This then I say; Go to the Lord Jesus Christ: follow him: contemplate him; believe in him as having in himself all fullness for the supply of those who trust in him: and you shall soon "be guided into all truth," and experience in the richest abundance the glory and blessedness of his salvation.
2. How shall I improve that change, supposing it to have been wrought within me?
This is a question which every child of light should ask: and, as our blessed Lord answered the former, so shall the Apostle Paul answer this. Speaking to persons who were truly enlightened, he says, "You are all the children of the light and of the day: we are not of the night nor of darkness. Therefore let us not sleep, as do others; but let us watch and be sober: for they that sleep, sleep in the night; and they that be drunken, are drunken in the night: but let us who are of the day be sober, putting on the breast-plate of faith and love, and for an helmet the hope of salvation." You can easily perceive that a change of views should be followed by a corresponding change of conduct; and, consequently, that henceforth you should "have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather reprove them." The mercy given to you, has not been given for yourselves alone, but for others also; before whom you ought to "shine as lights in a dark place," yes so to shine, that all who "behold your light may be constrained to glorify your Father that is in Heaven."
The Different Growth and Privileges of God's Children
1 John 2:12–14. I write unto you, little children, because your sins are forgiven you for his name's sake. I write unto you, fathers, because you have known him that is from the beginning. I write unto you, young men, because you have overcome the wicked one. I write unto you, little children, because you have known the Father. I have written unto you, fathers, because you have known him that is from the beginning. I have written unto you, young men, because you are strong, and the word of God abides in you, and you have overcome the wicked one.
THE word of God is intended for every individual of mankind, that all, being acquainted with their own state, may know what God says respecting them. On this account it is the duty of ministers to mark with accuracy the discriminating features of every character, and, by "rightly dividing the word of truth," to "give to every one his portion in due season." John affords us a good example with respect to this: for, not content with "separating the precious from the vile," he arranges the saints themselves into distinct classes, according to their several attainments, and declares to each those peculiar marks wherein they differ from each other.
There is indeed a tautology in this place, such as does not occur in any other part of the inspired volume. Whether this was intended, or whether a considerable part of the thirteenth verse was inserted by the mistake of an early transcriber, we cannot say: but the whole of that verse, except the last clause, might be omitted without any loss, because every word in it is repeated afterwards.
Our intention is simply to address the several classes of Christians here specified; first drawing their respective characters, and then setting before them their distinctive privileges and attainments.
I. We speak to "you, little children."
In order to come under this title, it is necessary that you should have been "begotten with the incorruptible seed, the Word of God," and been brought into God's family by the renewing influences of his Spirit. It is not supposed that you have grown to any stature in the family of Christ, but, on the contrary, that you have either recently "come out of darkness into the marvelous light of the Gospel," or, at least, made very little advance in the divine life. You are, however, born again. You have seen your guilt and helplessness; you have fled to Christ for refuge: you have sought for mercy through the blood and righteousness of your incarnate God. You have obtained a new nature: and, though you are yet weak in all your faculties and all your powers, there is no part in you that is wholly unrenewed. Your understanding, though dark, is enlightened with some rays from the Sun of Righteousness. Your affections, though far from pure, are yet, on the whole, turned to God, and heavenly things. The Divine image, though far from perfect, is, in a measure, formed upon your souls; so that it already appears whose you are, by the resemblance which you bear to your heavenly Father.
Hear then the privileges which belong to you. In the first place, we declare from God himself, that "your sins are forgiven you." Whatever they may have been, however numerous, however heinous, (God makes no distinction, nor can we presume to make any,) they are all "blotted out of the book of God's remembrance," nor shall so much as one of them ever appear in judgment against you. From the first moment that you believed in Christ, and became truly regenerate, this was your happy portion: you were not to wait for it until a life of holiness should confirm your title to it: a free and full pardon was yours, the very instant you became a child of God. But remember for whose sake this pardon has been bestowed upon you. It has not been for your own sake; for you deserved nothing but wrath; yes, if God at this moment were to enter into judgment with you according to your present deserts, you must inevitably perish. God has had respect to his dear Son: and "for his sake" has forgiven you. The pardon you enjoy, was bought with the precious blood of Christ. It is altogether on account of what Christ has done and suffered for you, that you have found acceptance. "There is no other name given under Heaven whereby you, or any other sinner, can be saved, but the name of Jesus Christ."
Further, it is said of you, that "you have known the Father." Your views of the Gospel are at present very partial, and confused. You merely see that you were sinners before God: and that God, in infinite mercy, sent his only-begotten Son to die for you; and that through the death of Christ you are to obtain mercy. Hence you are emboldened to look unto God as reconciled to you in Christ Jesus; and with a spirit of adoption to cry, Abba, Father. Thus, though you see as yet but little of the work and offices of Christ, you know the Father as a just, yet merciful, and gracious God.
II. We would next address "you, young men."
As in the natural world children grow up to manhood, so in the spiritual world there is a similar progress to maturity. We might proceed to draw the necessary distinctions between your infantile and adult state: but the privileges annexed to your state in the words of our text, will serve at the same time to mark the progress which you have made in the divine life; and therefore we shall confine ourselves to them.
You then are declared to be "strong," and in this you differ widely from your former state: for whereas you formerly were liable to be "tossed to and fro by every wind of doctrine," and to be overcome by every temptation, you now have obtained a stability both in knowledge and in grace. Not that you are stronger in yourselves than you were formerly: but you have learned how weak you are; and have been led to rely wholly on the Lord Jesus Christ; and "through him have been enabled to do" what, in your self-confident state, you were unable to perform. Hence "you are strong; but it is in the grace that is in Christ Jesus, and in the power of his might." Your conscious weakness is the means of your strength. You can say with the Apostle, "when I am weak, then am I strong."
It is characteristic of your state also, that "the word of God abides in you." When you were children, you knew but little of the word of God; but you have studied it: you have "desired it, and delighted in it, as unadulterated milk; and by means of it have grown up" to maturity. You have found that there is no weapon so powerful as that. You have learned, not only from the Savior's example, but from your own experience, that one single arrow taken out of that quiver is sufficient to vanquish all the hosts of Hell. Hence you have been led to treasure up the promises in your memory; and to have recourse to the inspired volume for direction and support in every emergency.
Further, it is said, that "you have overcome the wicked one." In your earlier days Satan beguiled and vanquished you in ten thousand instances; but now you have attained the knowledge of his devices. He himself, if we may so speak, has at last taught you how to repel his assaults, and to resist him with success. You are become expert in the spiritual warfare. You know how to wield "the sword of the Spirit." You know when and where to expect your enemy. You know the way in which he manages his assaults. And you have learned to combat him upon your knees. This, though a disadvantageous posture in earthly conflicts, you have found to be the best that can possibly be resorted to in the spiritual warfare. Hence you have had the comfort of seeing that wicked fiend, who assaulted you with the subtlety of a serpent, and the fury of a roaring lion, flee from your face intimidated and confounded."
O remember these your high privileges, and labor continually to walk worthy of them!.
III. Lastly, we would speak to you also who are "fathers" in Christ.
As age and experience elevate a man to a higher rank in the community than he possessed while in the vigor of his youth, so it is in the Church of God. Not that age, or even long continuance in the Church of Christ, can entitle a man to the appellation of "father," for some are not born to God until they are far advanced in life; and others, through carnality or sloth, have made so little progress in religion, that they have need to be treated as babes, when, for the time that they have professed godliness, they ought to have attained the age and stature of fathers. Those only are deserving of this honorable name, who have maintained a long and successful conflict with the powers of darkness.
Respecting you then it is said, that "you have known him that is from the beginning." Whom he intended to designate under this expression, the Apostle himself tells us: it is Christ, who "was in the beginning with God, and was God." Now the distinction between you and young men principally consists in this; that by your numerous conflicts you have been compelled to make use of Christ in all his offices, and have thereby attained a more extensive knowledge of his love and mercy, his power and grace, his truth and faithfulness. From your own experience therefore you can trust in him yourselves, and can exhort others also to trust in him with the most unlimited confidence, and to glory in him as their "all in all."
See then, fathers, that you improve your knowledge for this end: and soon you shall "see him as you are seen, and know him as you are known."
1. To those who are included under any of the foregoing titles.
Let the least and meanest in God's family rejoice in the unspeakable blessings given unto them. But let not the most advanced imagine, that they are not yet to proceed to higher attainments. All must "war a good warfare;" all must seek to "grow in grace, and in the knowledge of the Lord Jesus," all must "be faithful unto death, if ever they would obtain a crown of life."
2. To those who have never yet been brought into the family of God.
Dearly beloved, the forgiveness of sins is the exclusive privilege of God's children. This is manifestly implied in the address to little children. O then seek to be made new creatures in Christ Jesus! Our Lord tells you repeatedly that "you must be born again," and that, "if you be not, you never can enter into the kingdom of Heaven." Pray then that you may "be born of the Spirit;" and that you may be interested in the Redeemer's death. So shall you be numbered with the children of God, and be made partakers of their inheritance for evermore.
Love of the World Forbidden
1 John 2:15–17. Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world. And the world passes away, and the lust thereof: but he who does the will of God abides forever.
WHATEVER our attainments may be in the divine life, we still need the voice of warning and exhortation, to keep us from the evils to which we are exposed. As believers, we have been brought out of "a world which lies in wickedness," but still we are encompassed with temptations, and bear about with us a corrupt nature which is ever liable to be ensnared by them. In persons most advanced in the divine life "the flesh lusts against the Spirit, as well as the Spirit against the flesh; so that they cannot do all that they would;" and may be easily seduced to do things, which, according to their better judgment, they would not.
The Apostle has been addressing the whole Christian Church according to their age and stature in the divine life, under the names of Little Children, Young Men, and Fathers; and now, to the one as well as to the other of these classes, he gives the injunction in our text. Let all classes therefore among you also receive the word as addressed personally to yourselves, while we consider,
I. The injunction here given.
There are few subjects, if any, in the whole course of our ministrations, that require a more careful and temperate discussion than that before us. The solemnity with which it is introduced, and the extraordinary emphasis with which it is impressed on our minds, evince beyond a doubt the great importance of it: while, as if it were of no importance whatever, or there were no danger of erring in relation to it, every one puts the construction upon it which suits his own habits and inclinations, and takes for granted that his views of it are correct. But the truth is, that there is in this subject a need for the nicest discrimination, lest, on the one hand, we make the prohibition more strict than Jehovah himself intended it to be; or, on the other hand, give to it a latitude which is contrary to his mind, and ruinous to all who practically adopt it. A man who lives in monastic seclusion will be ready to say, that this passage forbids all fellowship with the world: while a person living in an unrestrained commerce with the world, will see in it nothing that condemns the most unrestrained compliance with the maxims and habits of the world, provided they be not palpably and grossly immoral. In like manner they will differ as widely respecting the extent of the prohibition as the object of it; the one supposing that every degree of inclination towards the world is forbidden; the other, thinking himself at liberty to "wallow in earthly indulgences as a sow in the mire." It is obvious therefore that we should enter on this subject with extreme caution; determining with the greatest care,
1. The import of the terms.
What are we to understand by "the world?" In answer to this question, I should say, it comprehends all the things of time and sense, as standing in opposition to the things which relate to a better world. The Apostle Paul suggests to us this very distinction, when he says that we are to "look, not at the things which are seen and are temporal, but at the things which are not seen and eternal." This will appear more clear, while we consider what is meant by "loving" the world. We are not to understand by it every degree of attachment to it, but only such a degree as is inordinate, and such a degree as puts its object in competition with the things which are invisible and eternal. Among the things of time and sense must be reckoned a man's fellowship with his own family. Shall we then say, that a man ought to have no pleasure in the society of his own wife and children? Such an absurdity carries its own refutation along with it. Hence then I take the term, not in a positive, but comparative, sense; and regard it as importing, that we are not to give to any object of time and sense that kind or measure of affection which is due only to things of eternal moment.
The Apostle's own explanation of his meaning will throw further light on this matter. "The lust of the flesh, the lust of the eye, and the pride of life," are very generally understood as importing all those things which administer to sensual gratification; and those things which, when beheld, are apt to fascinate us with their attractions; and those things which men chiefly affect, as elevating them in the estimation of mankind; or, in other words, pleasure, and riches, and honor. And if to these we apply what was before specified as implied in the term "love," we shall be prepared to determine with very considerable accuracy,
2. The extent of the prohibition.
The word "love" comprehends three things; esteem, desire, and delight: and, if we apply it in this extent to the various things above-mentioned, we shall, I think, understand with clearness the Apostle's meaning in our text. Some measure of love, I again say, the things of this world are entitled to: they may be esteemed, as gifts from a gracious God; they may be desired, as means of honoring him, and benefitting our fellow-creatures; and they may be delighted in, as conducive to our comfort, when rightly improved: for "God has given us all things richly to enjoy." But,
They are not to be esteemed, as though they possessed any intrinsic good. They are all in themselves empty, vain, perishing, and utterly incapable of administering any real comfort to the soul, or even of benefitting us at all, any farther than God shall be pleased to make use of them for that end.
They are not to be desired so as in the least degree to interfere with our pursuit of higher and better things. "Our affections are to be set on things above, and not on things on the earth." The two cannot, and must not, be put in competition with each other. The one, how dear soever in itself, must be despised and hated in comparison of the other: father, mother, wife, children, yes and our own life also, must be of no account with us, if they at all stand in our way of serving and honoring our God. His claims are paramount to every other; and there is nothing either in Heaven or on earth to be desired in comparison of him.
They are not to be delighted in, as things in which, to whatever extent they were multiplied, we could be satisfied with taking up our rest. Job seems to have had singularly clear and just views of this subject: "If," says he, "I have made gold my hope, or have said to the fine gold, You are my confidence; if I rejoiced because my wealth was great, and because my hand had gotten much; this were an iniquity to be punished by the judge, for then I should have denied the God that is above." Whoever he be that, on account of his earthly comfort, says, "Soul, take your ease," is justly branded as "a fool," and to all eternity will find occasion to bewail his folly.
With the help of these distinctions I think we may fix, with some precision, the true import of the injunction before us, and may proceed in a satisfactory manner to consider further,
II. The reasons with which it is enforced.
In confirmation of what he says respecting the world, the Apostle declares,
1. That it is not worthy of our love.
If we look at its nature, how base is it! "it is not of the Father, but of the world." What is there in the whole circle of the world that can boast of an heavenly origin? Nothing, not an atom of it either comes from God, or leads to God, any farther than it is sanctified unto us by the covenant of grace. It is enjoyed by heathens, as well as by Christians: and what does it do for them? Yes, what does it advance the real welfare of the great mass of the Christian world? It altogether arose out of the fall of man. In Paradise, the world was nothing; and God was all. It was not until sin had entered into the world, that the world and its lusts were put in competition with God, or that a love to present things had attained an undue ascendant over the soul. And were man still in his primeval innocence, all pleasures, riches, and honors would be of no account, any farther than God was enjoyed in them, and they were made subservient to his glory
Again; if we look at its duration, it is altogether transient: "the fashion of this world passes away, and the lust thereof; but he who does the will of God abides forever." What has the lover of this world of all that he has ever enjoyed? and how long will the savor of his present enjoyments abide with him? How long can he secure the continuance of them? and what will remain of them the moment he has departed hence? On the other hand, if he love God, and do his will, he has a continual feast: his gratifications never cloy: his bliss will bear reflection, and be renewed by the retrospect: the consciousness that he has a taste for such enjoyments will itself be a source of very sublime happiness; of a happiness which he will possess under the most afflictive circumstances, and which will sooth even the pangs of death itself: and this source of enjoyment, instead of being confined to this present life, will be infinitely enlarged, and afford inexhaustible supplies of bliss to all eternity.
Say then, brethren, whether this world is worthy of a Christian's affections? I do not hesitate to say, it is not: for it affords nothing that is capable of satisfying an immortal soul; and the poor gratifications it does afford, are all perishing even while they are in our hands.
2. That a love to it is absolutely incompatible with love to God.
How solemn is the declaration, "If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him?" This, if delivered on man's authority, might be deemed uncharitable; but it is declared on the authority of God himself: and a very little reflection will convince us of the truth of it. Can any man conceive that an angel, if sent down from Heaven to sojourn here for a time, would set his affections on things below? no; we are well assured, that he would have far juster views of earthly vanities, than to set his heart upon them: his taste would be too refined for such gross aliment. He would fulfill the duties that were assigned him, whatever they might be: but his heart would be with God; with God supremely, and with God alone. Thus then it should be with us: and thus it must be, if we be Christians indeed: for "we cannot serve God and Mammon," "the very friendship of the world is enmity with God." As the will or desire to serve the king's enemies, if it were clearly proved, would constitute us traitors to our king and country, even though we had not succeeded in our efforts, so the very will and desire to be the friends of the world is itself sufficient to prove and "constitute us enemies of God." As the love of God grows in the soul, the love of the world abates: and, as the love of the world revives, the love of God decays: the two are as opposite to each other as light and darkness: and neither can prevail but by the expulsion of the other.
Again then I ask, is not here abundant reason for the injunction in my text? If the love of God and of the world could exist together, there were some reason for harboring both: but as they are in direct and unalterable opposition to each other, we cannot but unite with the Apostle in this beneficial admonition, "Love not the world."
While, however, I cordially unite in this sentiment, I would add,
1. Be careful in passing judgment upon others.
There is scarcely any subject on which men are so prone to exercise a censorious disposition as this. They are ready to make their own habits, or at all events their own views, a standard for others: and the more strict any persons are in relation to themselves, the more apt they are to pass an uncharitable judgment upon others. But we are not capable of judging rightly for others, unless we can put ourselves exactly into their situation. A person in lower life has little conception of what may be proper for a person of opulence and distinction. Besides, there are a thousand circumstances which may produce somewhat of a diversity of conduct in persons of equal rank and station. Persons in an inferior station are ready to think that the possession of things that are valuable or splendid, is wrong: but the text does not say, that we must not possess the world; for we may possess crowns and kingdoms: nor does it say that we may not use the world, or even find pleasure in it: for we may use it, and find pleasure in it too; since, as has been before observed, God has "given us all things to enjoy, and richly to enjoy." The prohibition relates to the heart and the affections, which are not to be set on the world, or on anything in it, in comparison of God. And who can judge the heart? The man who lives in a palace may have far less love of the world, than his censorious neighbor that is living in a cottage. Let us judge ourselves as severely as we please: but let us leave our neighbor to be judged by him who knows the heart. "To his own master he stands or falls," the rule for us to walk by is plain enough: "Judge not, that you be not judged."
2. Be firm and determined in your own course.
What you are to love, is here plainly declared: "The love of the Father" is put in opposition to the love of the world: and "the doing of God's will," in opposition to the seeking of any transient enjoyment. Let this then be your care, "even to love and serve, not the creature but the Creator alone." Here you need fear no excess. On the contrary, as the prohibition extends to the world and to all that is in it, so the command of loving God extends to him, and to all that is in him; his whole mind, his whole will, all his perfections, all his purposes, all his dispensations. In this respect you may learn of worldly men. See how faithful they are in their adherence to the world; how active in its cause, how laborious in its pursuits, how immersed in its enjoyments, how insatiable in their desires after its richest communications. And, if you tell them that they are seeking after a mere phantom, they account you either splenetic or mad. Be then firm against those who would deride your pursuit of heavenly objects; and serve your God, as they serve theirs, wholly, uninterruptedly, and in defiance of all that can be said to turn you from your ways. In a word, "Be steadfast, immoveable, always abounding in the work of the Lord;" and know, that when they shall reap only vanity for their recompense, you shall find that "your labor has not been in vain in the Lord."
The True Grounds of a Christian's Stability
1 John 2:19. They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would no doubt have continued with us: but they went out, that they might be made manifest that they were not all of us.
THERE have been many apostasies from the Church of God, in every age. Of those who for a time were Christ's disciples, "many went back, and walked no more with him." Of such apostates the Apostle Paul also complained: and of such John speaks, in the words before us. There had, many years before, been teachers who "went forth from the Apostles in Judea, subverting the souls of men by inculcating the necessity of circumcision," so now, there were some who separated themselves from John, and the Church under his care; and, either by their false doctrines or unholy lives, brought disgrace upon the Gospel, and obliged the Apostle to guard the whole Christian Church against them. He calls them antichrists; because, in fact, whatever they might pretend, they were the greatest enemies to Christ. Not that they had ever been truly upright before God: for, if they had been really one in heart and spirit with God's Church and people, they would never have gone out from them; but God suffered them thus to depart, that the Church might no longer be injured by them, or be involved in their disgrace.
But John had a further reason for exposing these apostates. It had been foretold by our blessed Lord, that, previous to the destruction of Jerusalem, "there should arise false Christs, and false prophets, who, if it were possible, should deceive the very elect;" and that the prevalence of those persons should be "a sign that the destruction of the Jewish Church and polity was near at hand." John refers to it in that view: "Little children, it is the last time: and as you have heard that antichrist shall come, even so now are there many antichrists; whereby we know it is the last time." Then he adds, "They went out from us; but they were not of us: for if they had been of us, they would no doubt have continued with us: but they went out, that they might be made manifest that they were not all of us."
To elucidate these remarkable words, I will show,
I. Why the insincere are suffered to become apostates.
All who are insincere do not become apostates: for we are told, that the tares will grow together with the wheat, even to the harvest. But God is pleased to leave some of those who join his Church to apostatize from it;
1. That they may be exposed to merited disgrace.
Those who are insincere in their profession of religion greatly dishonor God, and do incalculable injury to his Church and people. It is but just, therefore, that they should be left to expose themselves, and to "make it manifest that they never truly belonged to the Church of Christ." They were as branches of the living vine, it is true; but they were only dead branches, whose end was to be broken off, and burned. True, they were not distinguished from others by their brethren; who could see no further than the outward act, and were led from Christian charity to put the most favorable construction on all which they did. Not even Judas, who was a thief from the beginning, was suspected by his fellow Apostles: in fact, they all questioned their own sincerity, rather than his. Much less was Demas discoverable from others: indeed, so eminent was his profession, that he was twice joined with Luke, by the Apostle Paul, in his salutations to the Churches: but we can have no doubt but that the world was really uppermost in his heart during the whole time of his profession, though, perhaps, unperceived even by himself: and at last he betrayed to all his lurking preference, and "forsook the Apostle Paul, having loved this present world." But, as "among the heathen, who did not like to retain God in their knowledge, God gave up many to a reprobate mind;" so he gave up these also to the evils of their own hearts, that on them might come the shame and condemnation which they so richly merited: "They received not the love of the truth, that they might be saved; and God gave them up to their own delusions, that they might apostatize and perish."
2. That they may be a warning to others.
Lot's wife is particularly presented to us in this view. She came out of Sodom with her husband; but her heart was there; and she looked back, and was made a pillar of salt; that is, an everlasting monument of God's righteous indignation, and a warning to all future generations. Hence our Lord says, "Remember Lot's wife." In like manner, the abandonment of the Israelites in the wilderness to their own lusts, and to the punishment consequent upon them, was ordained of God to be a warning "to us, upon whom the ends of the world are come, to the intent that we should not lust after evil things, as they did." In truth, every instance of apostasy speaks loudly to us, "not to look back, after we have once put our hand to the plough;" since, if we do "turn back, it will be unto perdition," and "our last end will be worse than our beginning."
But the remarkable assertion of the Apostle, relative to the stability of the upright, leads me of necessity to show,
II. What security the upright have, that they shall never be left so to dishonor their holy profession.
It is of great importance that this subject be understood aright. The doctrine of the perseverance of the saints, as it is called, is by many accounted extremely dangerous and delusive; but if it be duly explained, and placed on its proper grounds, it will commend itself as perfectly unexceptionable, and as indisputably true.
It is affirmed by some, that there is in true believers an indefectible principle of grace, which renders it impossible for them to fall.
I confess, I think this a very erroneous view of the subject; and I think that the passages of Scripture adduced in proof of this doctrine do not warrant the conclusions drawn from them. Our Lord, we are told, asserts, that "the Holy Spirit shall be, in his people, a well of water springing up unto eternal life." But this only marks its constant tendency, without determining its absolute and certain issue. Peter also says of Christians, that "they are born again, not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible," but he tells us, in the very next words, what that seed is; it is not an inward indefectible principle of grace, but "the word of God, which lives and abides forever." And this throws the true light upon another passage which is cited in confirmation of this point, even on that assertion of John, "Whoever is born of God does not commit sin; for his seed remains in him: and he cannot sin, because he is born of God." A man really born of God does not, and will not, commit sin, as once he did: for the tendency and operation of divine grace will be, to keep him from it. But the absolute indefectibility of the grace received by him is not here asserted: nor is it asserted in our text, when it is said, that, if those apostates had been really and vitally united to the Church, "they would have remained with the Church." The doctrine itself is true; but the ground, on which some endeavor to establish it, is, in my apprehension, unsound and erroneous: for I do not conceive that there is, or ever was, upon the face of the whole earth, a man who could say, "I have within me an indefectible principle of grace, so that I cannot fall, or cannot perish." Even Adam in Paradise could not say that: and sure I am that Paul did not entertain that sentiment, when he said, "I keep my body under, and bring it into subjection, lest that, by any means, after having preached to others, I myself should be a cast-away."
The stability, of which my text speaks, stands on other grounds: it arises from,
1. The immutability of God's purpose.
"God's counsel shall stand; and he will do all his pleasure." And this counsel he has exercised in reference to the salvation of men; some of whom he has "chosen before the foundation of the worldy," yes, and "chosen unto salvation," through faith in his dear Son: and "those, whom from eternity he has predestined to the adoption of children, he calls and justifies in time, and glorifies in the eternal world." And, as in his nature "he changes not," so, in reference to these things, "there is with him no variableness, neither shadow of turning," and on this our hope, and the hope of all his people, is founded: for, seeing that, "in order to show to us the immutability of his counsel, he has confirmed his promise with an oath, we, who have fled to Christ for refuge, have from that very circumstance the more abundant consolation." On this ground, all his people maybe confident that "he will perfect that which concerns theme;" and that "He who has begun the good work in them, will perform it unto the day of Jesus Christ." On this ground, the very least and weakest of his saints may hope that they shall "endure unto the end;" since they are assured that God "will never, never leave them, or forsake them."
2. The sufficiency of his grace.
Were man expected to keep himself, there is no one who must not sit down in despair. But we expect that God will exert in our behalf that very power which raised up his dear Son from the dead; and that "his strength shall be made perfect in our weakness." We know that "his grace is sufficient for us," how great or numerous soever may be the difficulties with which we have to contend. We are assured, that "none can ever pluck us out of his hands;" and that, as "he will not depart from us," so his fear put into our hearts will be sufficient to keep us from ever departing from him; and, consequently, we may even now exult and triumph over our enemies, almost as we shall do in Heaven itself; saying, "Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Yes, we may be persuaded that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord."
It may be asked, Wherein does the difference between the two views appear?
Things often commend themselves more by an easy and familiar illustration, than by a long train of argument. We will therefore, with permission, use the simplest illustration that can well be imagined. Only let it be first remembered what it is that we are undertaking to illustrate. It is this. Man, by conversion, is brought into a state which the natural man, by his own powers, can never attain. When he is brought into that state, some think that an indefectible principle is infused into him; and that, in consequence of that abiding and indefectible principle, he is, and must of necessity be, preserved from falling. I admit that he shall be kept from falling; but I deny that it will be through the necessary influence of grace already received. I assert, on the contrary, that he is in himself as liable to fall as ever, and that it is from an extrinsic source he derives all his stability: and that, consequently, while he has the strongest possible hope in God, he ought to keep in abiding and undiminished exercise a holy fear: yes more, I must say, that, if once he lose that fear, and become self-confident, he is already on the very verge of destruction.
Now, then, take the illustration which is familiar to the mind even of a child. A kite soaring on high is in a situation quite foreign to its nature; as much so as the soul of man is, when raised above this lower world to high and heavenly pursuits. A person at a distance sees not how it is kept in its exalted station: he sees not the wind that blows it, nor the hand that holds it, nor the string by whose instrumentality it is held. But all of these powers are necessary to its preservation in that preternatural state. If the wind were to sink, it would fall: if the hand should cease to hold it, or the string should break, it would fall. It has nothing whatever in itself to uphold itself: it has the same tendency to gravitate to the earth as ever it had; and, if left for a moment to itself, it would fall. Thus it is with the soul of every true believer. It has been raised, by the Spirit of God, to a new, a preternatural, a heavenly state; and in that state it is upheld by an invisible and Almighty hand, through the medium of faith. And upheld it shall be; but not by any power inherent in itself. If left for a moment, it would fall as much as ever. Its whole strength is in God alone; and its whole security is in the unchangeableness of his nature, and in the efficacy of his grace. In a word, "it is kept by the power of God, through faith, unto salvation."
There is, indeed, one particular, in which the illustration fails; namely, that the kite is upheld without any concurrence of its own; whereas the soul, notwithstanding its entire dependence on God, does yet, in fact, "work out its own salvation." I grant this: I grant, that what God effects for the soul, he effects through the instrumentality of its own volition and action. But it must be remembered, that "it is He, and He alone, who works in the soul either to will or to do;" and, consequently, that the work is as much his, as if the believer himself were purely passive: only, indeed, inasmuch as the believer's concurrence is necessary, he has the greater cause to implore of God that aid, "without which he can do nothing."
If it be said, that here is a distinction without a difference; and that, since the certainty of the saint's salvation is admitted, it signifies not what the means are by which he is saved; I reply, that, on the supposition of the grace which has been once received being absolutely indefectible, a man will feel no occasion for fear: but, if he depend solely and entirely on God, he must exercise fear as well as faith. In the one case, confidence alone is encouraged; but, in the other, humility: in the one case, faith alone is called for; in the other, it must be blended and tempered with holy fear. And this very distinction is marked by the Apostle Paul; "You stand by faith: be not high-minded, but fear."
Let me, then, in conclusion say, Behold,
1. What need we have to cry mightily to God for grace.
Perish we must, if God uphold us not. And it is in the continued exercise of prayer alone that we can hope for those supplies of his grace which are necessary for us—"Pray, then, without ceasing;" and beg of him to "hold up your goings in his paths, that your footsteps slip not."
2. What need we have to guard against the means and occasions of sin.
We are in the midst of a defiling and ensnaring world; and have need of continual care and watchfulness, to "keep our garments clean." If we become careless, Satan will not fail to take advantage of us, and to draw us into sin. David and Peter show us very abundantly how frail we are, and how prone to fall, if once we enter into temptation. Hence we are told to "come out from the ungodly world, and not to touch the unclean thing," if we would have the presence and the blessing of our God. Our eyes, our ears, "our hearts, we must keep with all diligence;" for it is by resisting Satan that we must overcome him: and then only, when we, on our part, contend manfully with him, are we authorized to hope that "God will bruise him under our feet."
The Unction of the Holy One
1 John 2:20. You have an unction from the Holy One, and you know all things.
IT is a melancholy fact, that, in every age of the Church, persons have arisen from the bosom of the Church herself, not only to "speak perverse things, and draw away disciples after them," but even to introduce "damnable heresies, and to deny the Lord that bought them." Such antichrists had been foretold by our Lord himself; and, even in the apostolic age they existed in great numbers. These persons, for a length of time, could not be distinguished from the truly pious: for though the more eminent Christians, who had "the gift of discerning spirits," might see something materially wrong in the spirit and temper of their minds, yet, inasmuch as their defects were not generally visible, nor of so determined a character as to call for public censure, they were suffered to grow up as tares among the wheat, until, by their own willful apostasy, they manifested their character before all. From their contagion, however, the truly upright were preserved. And that which was made instrumental to their preservation was, "an unction from the Holy One," whereby they were enabled to "discern all things," and consequently, by "proving all things, to hold fast that which was good."
From hence we see,
I. The distinguishing privilege of true Christians.
They "have an unction from the Holy One."
The Lord Jesus Christ is undoubtedly that "Holy One" from whom the unction proceeds. By this name he is frequently designated, both in the Old Testament and the New: and, in order to the execution of his mediatorial office, he himself was "anointed with the Holy Spirit," and fitted for the discharge of all that he had undertaken. It was foretold that he should be so anointed; and the prediction was visibly fulfilled at the time of his public consecration to his high office. Of this Spirit he received "without measure," and the holy oil, poured out upon his sacred head, "descends to the skirts of his garments." But at his ascension to Heaven this divine unction was committed to him in a more particular manner, in order that he might pour it out upon his people, who were to be anointed to some of the same offices which he himself sustained. This was foretold by David: and the accomplishment of it is declared by the Apostle Paul: but there is a difference between the passage as uttered by the prophet, and as cited by the Apostle; a difference worthy of particular observation. David says, "You have ascended on high; you have led captivity captive; you have received gifts for men," but Paul, in quoting it, says, "When he ascended up on high, he led captivity captive, and gave gifts unto men." The truth is, that Jesus received this gift, on purpose that he might give it: and he does give it, according to the promise which he made to his people, and according to the promise which the Father himself made to them in Abraham two thousand years before.
This is their distinctive privilege.
"Sensual or natural men have not the Spirit," and it is in consequence of their not having it, that "they separate themselves," precisely as those did who are spoken of in the text. But every true believer has this divine unction abiding in him: and it is from the very circumstance of his having received this unction, that the believer is emboldened to claim, as it were, a relation to his God. Without this, he would not be able to perform any part of his duty aright: he could not "walk" acceptably to God, but by the Spirit: he could "not even pray as he ought," he could "not so much as call the Lord Jesus Christ his Lord, but by the Holy Spirit." To this divine unction he is indebted for the very existence of life in his soul: and the man who has it not, is even dead before God. And hence he may affirm, without the remotest danger of mistake, that, "if any man be led by the Spirit of God, he is a Son of God;" and, on the contrary, that "if any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of his."
To estimate aright this high privilege, we must further consider,
II. The benefit they derive from it.
When it is said, that "they know all things," we must of course not so interpret the words as to include the knowledge of arts and sciences, or even a scientific knowledge of religion itself. The Apostle means only, that by this divine unction the Christian attains an acquaintance with all things that are necessary,
1. For his preservation from error.
Human wisdom is not sufficient for this: and the more it is relied upon, the more likely it will be to deceive and ruin us. To be "wise in our own conceit," and to "lean to our own understanding," are marks of extreme weakness and folly; and those who habitually indulge these evils, are sure, at last, to fall: for God, who has promised to guide and instruct the humble, has declared, that "he will take the wise in their own craftiness." That we may see what a preservative this divine unction is, let us bear in mind, that he who has it, "has in himself the witness" of all the most important truths of Christianity; so that, when a deceiver endeavors to subvert his faith, he has in his own bosom a conviction which nothing can shake. He may not be able to answer the arguments that are brought against him, any more than he could maintain a disputation with one who should assert, as some have done, that there is no heat in fire: but he can no more be turned from his persuasion, than he could be made to believe that there is no sun in the firmament, or that he could exist without food. An adversary might dilate upon the dignity of human nature until his voice failed him: but he could never persuade a Christian that the heart is any other than what God has declared it to be—"deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked." He might expatiate upon the sufficiency of man's righteousness to justify him before God: but he could never induce a true penitent to rely on anything but the righteousness of the Lord Jesus Christ, "the righteousness which is of God by faith." He might assert, as confidently as he would, the ability of man to fulfill the will of God: but the man that has this divine unction knows "that without Christ he can do nothing." Thus he has, if I may so speak, a compass whereby to steer even in the dark, and can traverse the seas in safety; while those who have only the dictates of human wisdom for their guide, are left to run on rocks and shoals, to their eternal ruin.
2. For his final salvation.
This divine unction, duly improved, shall be sufficient for everything to which the Christian is called. By it, he shall mortify the whole body of sin. By it, he shall be able to sustain every affliction that can come upon him. By it, he shall be changed into the perfect image of his God.
We must not, however, misunderstand the Apostle, as though this unction of the Holy One superseded an attention to the word of God, or the necessity of continual diligence on our part. The word of God is, after all, our only directory: and to imagine, as some do, that the light within renders the written word unnecessary, is a very dangerous error. The light within is necessary, just as the light of the sun is for the discovery of time upon the dial: but as the dial is of no use without the sun, so neither will the sun suffice without the dial. And, whatever office the Holy Spirit executes, he executes it by and through the written word. Nor let it be supposed that we can acquire divine knowledge without much studious application to the word of God: for Solomon tells us, that it is not by either prayer or study, separately, that we can attain knowledge: it must be by both combined: "If we cry after knowledge, and search for it as for hid treasures, then shall we understand the fear of the Lord, and find the knowledge of God."
It is proper I should yet further guard against an idea, that this divine unction supersedes the necessity of diffidence on our part: for though it is true, that, on the great leading and fundamental doctrines of the fall, and of the recovery by Jesus Christ, the inward witness of these truths may suffice to preserve us, there are ten thousand errors, into which we may fall, even while we think that we are taught by the Holy Spirit. From damning error and apostasy he will keep his people; but not from all error: for then there would be no room left for diversity of opinion in the Church of God. But we shall never "see eye to eye" in this life. There will still be room left for difference of sentiment, in matters of minor importance: and mutual forbearance in relation to them will be necessary, even to the end. In things essential, there should be unity; in things non-essential, liberty; and in everything there should be charity.
1. Those who doubt the doctrine of our text.
To speak of a divine unction, as given to us to secure us from error, and to bring us to salvation, appears, to many, to be a wild and enthusiastic conceit. They believe that the Holy Spirit was given formerly to the Church for the working of miracles; but they will not believe that he is continued to the Church, for the purpose of guiding, and comforting, and sanctifying the soul. But to any one who doubts his need of the Holy Spirit, I would say, What did our blessed Lord mean, when, in counseling the Laodicean Church, he said, "Anoint your eyes with eye-salve, that you may see?" I do not conceive it possible to explain away that passage; or for any one, who believes the Scripture, to doubt but that there is an unction of the Holy One, which we all need, in order to the attainment of a spiritual discernment. It is the office of the Holy Spirit to "glorify Christ, by taking of the things that are Christ's, and showing them unto us." Let not prejudice, then, keep any from seeking this inestimable benefit; but let all entreat of God to send down upon them "a spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of Christ;" and so to "guide them into all truth," that they may "be saved in the Lord with an everlasting salvation."
2. To those who profess to be living in the experience of it.
Have any of you been thus anointed, and thus preserved? Then give God the glory of it; and say with the Apostle, "He who has established us in Christ, and has anointed us, (you observe the union of the two, as in the text,) is God." But remember, that the world can only judge of your professions by your practice. You profess, that "by the unction of the Holy One you know all things," let it be seen, then, that by the unction of the Holy One you do all things. It is by your fruits that you must be judged, both by God and man. See to it, then, that you guard against that conceit which so prevails in heretics and apostates. To your latest hour you must retain a childlike spirit, and particularly in the simplicity and docility of your minds. You must guard, too, against every corrupt bias. "If your eye be single, your whole body will be full of light: but if your eye be evil, your whole body will be full of darkness." In particular, be careful not to make the truths of God an occasion of needless contention. For the fundamentals of religion you must indeed contend, and that earnestly, if need be; but even in reference to them, it would be better to recommend to your adversaries, and to cultivate for yourselves, the study of the Holy Scriptures with prayer. In this way, you will "grow both in knowledge and in grace;" and "your light will shine brighter and brighter unto the perfect day."
Believers Are Sons of God
1 John 3:1. Behold, what manner of love the Father has bestowed upon us, that we should be called the sons of God.
RELIGION is altogether a mystery: every part of it is deeply mysterious. The restoration of a fallen soul to God! The means of effecting that restoration—the death of God's only dear Son, as a sacrifice for sin; and the operation of his Spirit in the sinner's heart! The effect produced—the translation of a soul from the family of Satan to the family of Almighty God! This is the point which the Apostle is contemplating in my text: and it fills him, as we might well expect, with the profoundest wonder and admiration: "Behold, what manner of love the Father has bestowed upon us, that we should be called the sons of God!"
That we may enter into the Apostle's views, and attain somewhat of his spirit, I will endeavor to show,
I. What is comprehended in the relation of sons.
No one need to be informed on this subject, as far as it relates to men. But in the relation as borne to God, there is much which needs to be elucidated. In it are comprehended,
1. An adoption into his family.
By nature, we belong to a far different family: for "we are of our father the devil," and, being "children of disobedience," we are also "children of wrath." But God takes to himself a people out of that wretched mass, and adopts them as his own; giving to them the name of sons, the privileges of sons, the endearments of sons, and acting towards them in all respects as a loving Father—It is in and through the Lord Jesus Christ that he effects this. In "sending his Son to redeem them that were under the law," he did it, "that we might receive the adoption of sons."
2. A participation of his nature.
When man adopts any person, he may deal with the adopted person as his son; but he can never really make him a son. But when God sets apart any for this high relation, he creates them anew, and makes them entirely "new creatures." He imparts to them his Holy Spirit, and makes them "partakers of the divine nature;" so that they become, in reality, his sons; being "begotten of him," and "born unto him." Hence, with the new relation, there spring up in their souls new views, new dispositions, new desires, new habits altogether: and in God also there arises, not a mere arbitrary good-will, but a paternal interest, a special regard, such as exists in every part of the creation between the parent and the progeny. All this, then, is comprehended, (this change of nature on their part, and this peculiar regard on his,) when we speak of any as made "sons of God."
3. A title to his inheritance.
This does not necessarily exist among men; but with God it does. Every one that is born of him, is begotten to an inheritance, even an inheritance that "fades not away." "If we are sons, we are also heirs, heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ." There is this peculiarity also attaching to the children of God: they are all his "first-born." They are the brethren of Christ; and partakers with him in all that he himself inherits—his throne, his kingdom, his glory.
And now let us contemplate.
II. The wonderful love of God, in bringing us into that relation to himself.
When it is said, "We are called the sons of God," it means that we are really made so. And this change is altogether the effect of God's unbounded love. Behold, then, what manner of love this is:
1. How sovereign!
It is wholly unmerited on our part. There never was, there never could be, anything in us to attract the Divine regards, since "every imagination of the thoughts of our hearts was only evil continually." In the selection of his objects, God was as free as in the choice of Abraham from amidst an idolatrous world, or of Isaac and Jacob in preference to their elder brethren. In conferring this high honor, God has respect only to his own will, and to the glory of his own name. This is marked with peculiar strength and force by the Apostle Paul, when, speaking on this very subject, he says, "God has predestined us to the adoption of children by Jesus Christ to himself, according to the good pleasure of his will, to the praise of the glory of his grace, wherein he has made us accepted in the beloved." In truth, "He loved us because he would love us," and because "he loved us with an everlasting love, therefore with loving-kindness has he drawn us."
2. How beyond all human expectation!
If man adopt any one, it is because, having no progeny of his own, he feels a want of someone to succeed to his estates: and in conferring this favor, he has respect to some qualities in the person selected by him. But God has no need of us. We can never add either to his happiness or glory. Or, if he needed any creatures to be objects of his favor, he could create any number, either of angels or men, as it should please him, and make them the happy objects of his choice. But it is not thus that he has acted. He has chosen from among men, corrupt and sinful men, multitudes, who shall in time, be born to him, and in eternity enjoy him. Nor is it of the best of men that he has made his selection, but often of the vilest. Even a murderous Manasseh has been made a vessel of honor, and a monument of grace; while millions of persons, less guilty, have been passed by. If we ask the reason of this, our Lord assigns the only reason that can be given: "Even so, Father, for so it seemed good in your sight." The potter has power over the clay, to do with it as seems him good: and "shall the thing formed say to him that formed it, Why have you made me thus?" True it is, that, in reference to this matter, we must say, as David did in reference to the favors conferred on him, "Is this the manner of men, O Lord God?" No; it is not the manner of men; nor ought it to be: because man has a claim on his fellow-man; but we have no claim whatever on God. He might have left us to perish, precisely as he did the fallen angels, and never have saved so much as one: and, if he have saved one, that person has reason to exclaim with wonder, 'Why have I been taken, while so many others have been left?' God, in all this matter, does as it pleases him; and "he gives not account to us of any of his matters," "His ways are not as our ways, nor his thoughts as our thoughts: but as the heavens are high above the earth, so are his ways higher than our ways, and his thoughts than our thoughts."
3. How utterly incomprehensible!
So the Apostle declares the love of Christ to be: it has "a breadth, and length, and depth, and height, that passes knowledge," and defies the search of the brightest intelligence of Heaven. To all eternity will the wonders of this grace be unfolding; and to all eternity will it remain as far from being fully comprehended, as it was at the very first moment it was revealed. Indeed, we must comprehend the infinite distance between the glorious Creator and his rebellious creatures; and then go on yet further, to comprehend all the wonders of redemption, before we can comprehend the smallest portion of this mystery. We must close our meditations, after all, with that with which we have commenced them: "What manner of love is this which the Father has bestowed upon us!"
"Behold" then, brethren, "behold" it: "Behold" it, I say,
1. With due solicitude to ascertain the fact.
God has bestowed this favor upon millions: but has he bestowed it upon us? In this inquiry we are deeply interested: nor should any one of us leave it as a matter of doubt for one single hour. But you will ask, 'Can this point be ascertained?' By the world around us, I readily acknowledge, it cannot be ascertained: and, if we profess to have been brought into this relation to God, we must not wonder that the world ascribe our pretensions to the workings of pride and presumption. For they know nothing of God, or of his operations upon the souls of men: how, therefore, should they be able to judge of our claims in this matter? The Apostle, in the words following my text, justly adds, "Therefore the world knows us not, because it knew him not." But we may ascertain the point ourselves; for we have a standard by which to try ourselves; and we may examine ourselves by it without any difficulty. John elsewhere says, "To as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name; who were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God." Here are the very relations of which we are speaking, and the means by which we are brought into it, and the test whereby we are to try ourselves. Inquire, then, whether you have ever "received the Lord Jesus Christ" into your hearts by faith, and whether you are "living altogether by faith on him?"—If you have never come to Christ as lost sinners, and cast yourselves wholly upon him, you know infallibly that you are not yet brought into this relation of "sons of God." But if Christ be "all your salvation and all your desire," then you possess this high privilege; for "we are all the children of God by faith in Christ Jesus," and, if you look up to God for the gift of his Holy Spirit, he will shine upon his own work, and "give you his Spirit, to witness with your spirits, that you are indeed the children of Gods." Again then I say, Leave not this matter in suspense; but "examine yourselves, whether you be in the faith, and try your own selves: and never rest, until you can adopt the words of our text with a special reference to your own souls.
2. With a becoming zeal to walk worthy of this high calling.
Certainly, this relation brings with it corresponding duties. If you are made sons of God, it is that you may serve and honor him as dear children. How this is to be done, Paul informs us: "Be blameless, and harmless, as sons of God, without rebuke, in the midst of a crooked and perverse nation, among whom you shine as lights in the world, holding forth the word of life." Well, indeed, may the world cry out against your vain conceit, if you are not walking worthy of your high calling. God has called you, that you should be holy: and "if you have in you the hope of which we have been speaking, then will you purify yourselves, even as Christ is pure." Look to it, then, that you walk as becomes saints, in all holiness and righteousness before God and man. By this test will you be tried at the last day; and all your professions of faith in Christ will be found a delusion, if you show not your faith by your works. But, if God have, indeed, bestowed this honor upon you, then will his love have a constraining influence upon your souls; and you will strive to be "holy, as he is holy," and "perfect, even as your Father which is in Heaven is perfect."
The Inestimable Privileges of Believers
1 John 3:2. Beloved, now are we the sons of God, and it does not yet appear what we shall be: but we know that, when he shall appear, we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is.
OUR Lord was hated, reviled, and persecuted unto death: but we see how glorious was his person, and how exalted his character. In the same manner his followers are treated with contempt: but God declares their state to be the most honorable upon earth. To this effect John represents them as slighted by man and honored by God.
I. The present state of believers.
The Scripture speaks of believers in the most exalted terms. They are not merely servants, but "sons of God."
This they are by adoption.
Every believer was once a child of wrath. But God takes whom he will into his own family: he adopts them as his sons, and makes them heirs of his glory.
They are brought into this relation also by regeneration.
Once they had only a carnal mind that was enmity against God; but they have been born again of the Holy Spirit; they are renewed after the image of their heavenly Father.
They enjoy this state "now."
Rich and poor, learned and unlearned, partake alike of this honor; nor does God withhold it from any on account of their remaining infirmities; even now, while the world despises them, does God own his relation to them.
What an unspeakably blessed state is this!
How different is it from the state they were once in! How great, the privileges which they enjoy by means of this relation! How sweet the sense of this relation often is to their souls! To what a glorious state does it lead them in a better world! Well might the Apostle break forth in wonder and admiration.
Yet, blessed as it is, it falls infinitely short of what it will be in,
II. Their future state.
Very little is known respecting this.
We can form no idea of spiritual and glorified bodies. We cannot imagine how extensive will be the capacities of the soul. We have very faint conceptions of perfect holiness and perfect happiness. Even one who had seen Christ transfigured, says, "It does not appear," etc.
Yet there are some things revealed to us.
We shall see Christ, not merely by faith, but with our bodily eyes; not veiled as formerly, but in all his glory. We shall resemble him too in all his imitable perfections. This resemblance will result from our sight of him. Even "our bodies shall be fashioned like unto his glorious body." This shall be fully accomplished at the great day of his appearing.
These things we may be said to "know."
We have already experienced the earnest of them in our hearts. When we believe in him, we have views of him which we had not before; these transform the soul into his image. Our Lord has given us the fullest assurance of these things. Paul also leaves us no room to doubt.
1. How wonderfully different the lot of believers and unbelievers!
Believers are the children of God. Unbelievers are the children of the wicked one. Believers can form no adequate conception of the happiness that awaits them. Unbelievers have no idea of the misery to which they are hastening. How different will be the appearance of each in that day! How different their feelings on seeing Christ upon his judgment-seat! For what different ends will their capacities of soul and body be enlarged! What a different state will they experience to all eternity! Let none defer calling upon God for mercy. Let all seek his regenerating grace, and an admission into his family. If we will believe in Christ these blessings shall be ours.
2. How bright the prospects of the true Christian!
The Christian's warfare will soon be over: then will come a blessedness which he cannot now conceive; another day may bring him to the full possession of it. Let these prospects animate every pious soul. Let none suffer their minds to be drawn away by the things of time. Let every one stand ready to take his flight. Let the beloved Apostle be our example.
The Fruits and Effects of Hope
1 John 3:3. Every man that has this hope in him, purifies himself, even as he is pure.
THE people of God are but little known to an ungodly world: instead of being considered according to their true character, they are regarded as hypocrites, enthusiasts, and disturbers of their brethren's peace. But this is easily accounted for: the world know not God; and therefore it is no wonder that they know not his people. But the saints themselves have a very inadequate conception of the honor that is put on them, or of the glory that is reserved for them. They know indeed that they are sons of God; but they have very little idea of what is comprehended in that relation: and as to their eternal state, they can form no precise judgment respecting it; they only know, in the general, that they shall be like God, and be with him forever. Yet though so little known to the world, and to themselves, they have marks whereby they may be clearly distinguished; they may be known by their uniform endeavors after holiness. To this effect the Apostle speaks in the words before us; from which we shall take occasion to consider,
I. The Christian's hope.
Christ is the fountain and foundation of a sinner's hope: without Christ, all must have perished: nor has the most eminent saint any more hope than a fallen angel, except as he is interested in the merits of Christ. But through him the believer has a glorious hope;
1. That he is a child of God.
Christ, having purchased us with his own blood, has reconciled us to God, and made us his children. He teaches his followers to consider themselves as standing in this relation to God, not merely like the angels who are his sons by creation, but in a more exalted manner by regeneration and adoption: and he teaches them to expect from him throughout their whole lives the blessing suited to that high dignity.
Now the true Christian hopes that he is brought into this happy state, and that he shall receive from God all those endearing tokens of affection which the relation of sonship emboldens him to expect. This hope of his is founded partly on the merits of his Savior, and partly on the internal evidence which he has, that he is interested in the Savior. The mere circumstance of Christ having laid down his life for him, would not be a sufficient ground for him to number himself among the family of God: but when he has the testimony of his own conscience that he has sought acceptance with God through the death of Christ, then he is enabled to indulge a hope that the privileges annexed to such a state belong to him.
2. That he shall be with God, and like him, forever.
The blessings which the saints enjoy are not confined to this life: "Being sons of God, they are also heirs; heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ." "Though they know not yet what they shall be, they know that, when they shall see him, they shall be like him; for they shall see him as he is." The time is coming, when they shall all be introduced into his immediate presence, and be with him and like him forever. This also is an object of the Christian's hope—He believes that this is the heritage of the saints; and that "what God has promised, he is able, and willing, to fulfill."
That this is no barren hope, will appear from,
II. The effect it produces in him.
Every Christian will endeavor to purify himself to the uttermost.
The Christian cannot willfully live in any known sin: he will search out his corruptions, in order to subdue them; and his duties, in order to fulfill them—He will propose to himself the Lord Jesus Christ as his pattern: and though he can never hope to attain absolute perfection in this life, he will not rest satisfied with anything short of that. He would gladly he "holy as God is holy, and perfect, even as his Father in Heaven is perfect." He considers how the Lord Jesus acted in reference to God: how in reference to man; and what tempers he manifested in the whole of his deportment—then he labors to follow his example, and to "walk in all things as he walked."
To these endeavors he will be stimulated by his hope in Christ:
He cannot endure to think himself a child of God, and yet act like a child of the devil: he cannot please himself with a prospect of enjoying and resembling God in a future life, without seeking communion with him and a resemblance to him in the present world. He will feel himself impelled to holiness by a sense of duty; by a sense of gratitude; yes, moreover, by a love of holiness itself.
We must not however imagine that it is by any power of his own that he thus "purifies himself;" the duty and the exertion are his: but the power, both to will and to do, proceeds from God alone.
We shall improve this subject,
1. For conviction.
All profess to have a hope in Christ: but before we conclude that to be well-founded, we must examine what fruits it produces: Are we seeking after universal holiness? Are we contented with no measure of holiness short of perfection itself? Are we setting the Lord Jesus before us, and taking him for our pattern in all our tempers, and in our conduct towards God and man? This is the criterion by which John himself teaches us to judge of our hope: and James confirms it—by declaring, that, if in any one point (the not bridling of our tongue, for instance) we allowedly deviate from this path, "our religion is vain." O consider this, lest your hope be only as the spider's web, that will be swept away with the broom of destruction!
2. For encouragement.
Though we must not think our hope well founded, unless it produce in us the fruits of righteousness, yet we must not imagine that our righteousness is to be the ground of our hope, or even our warrant to hope in Christ. The only ground of our hope must be found in Christ, and in the promises which God has made to those who believe in him. We must go to Christ as sinners; and then he will enable us to live as saints. This distinction is clearly marked in the text: our hope in Christ is to precede, not to follow, the purification of our hearts: and our holiness is to be the fruit, not the root, of our hope. The same distinction is made by Paul also, who, having spoken of our sonship with God, says, "Having therefore these promises, let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness both of flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God." We must not wait until we are cleansed, and then embrace the promises: but first embrace the promises; and then make use of them for the cleansing of our souls.
What encouragement does this afford to those who feel the corruption of their hearts, and who, if their own purity were to be the foundation of their hope, would be in utter despair! Go then, how polluted soever you are, and seek pardon and sanctification at the hands of Jesus; and you shall find him "faithful and just to forgive you your sins, and to cleanse you from all unrighteousness."
Christ Manifested to Take Away Sin
1 John 3:5. You know that he was manifested to take away our sins; and in him is no sin.
AMONG the numberless advantages which the light of revelation has conferred upon us, one of particular importance is, the strength of the motives which it suggests to us for the mortification of sin. A heathen could devise no argument beyond what related to our own welfare, and that of society at large. But Christianity discovers to us wonders, of which unassisted reason could form no conception: it declares to us, that Almighty God himself assumed our nature for the express purpose of counteracting the effects of sin, and of destroying its power. To those therefore who have embraced Christianity, here is an argument that is wholly irresistible, if once it be admitted into the mind, and suffered to have its due operation upon the soul. John avails himself of it in the passage before us. He is showing to the Christian world that they must aspire after universal holiness, and purify themselves "even as their incarnate God was pure," and the more effectually to enforce his exhortations, he makes this unanswerable appeal to all of them without exception: "You know that he was manifested to take away our sins; and in him was no sin."
The destruction of sin being the great scope and end of our ministry also, we will,
I. Open to you his appeal.
The great end of our Savior's incarnation was to take away sin.
Sin has separated man from God, and God from man: nor was it possible that they should be re-united in mutual love and amity, unless this evil were removed. But removed it could not be, either as to its guilt or power, by any efforts of man: nor could all the angels in Heaven render to him any effectual aid. God therefore of his own love and mercy "laid help for us upon one that was mighty," even upon his coequal, co-eternal Son, whom he sent into the world on this benevolent errand, to "put away our sins by the sacrifice of himself," and to "subdue our iniquities" by the efficacy of his graced.
For this the Lord Jesus Christ was well fitted, by reason of his own spotless character. This I conceive to be particularly intimated in our text. The connection between the two clauses of the text does not at first sight appear; but we apprehend, that the mention of the spotless character of Jesus is intended to convey this idea, namely, that, being himself without sin, he was fitted for the work assigned him; and could present to God such an offering as our necessities required. Under the law it was especially appointed, that the sacrifices should be without spot or blemish. The Paschal lamb was set apart four days before it was offered, on purpose that it might be scrutinized to the uttermost, and thus be proved fit for its destined use. The Lord Jesus too went up to Jerusalem four days before his crucifixion, and underwent the strictest examination at different tribunals, and was declared innocent, by Pilate his judge, by his fellow-sufferer on the cross, by the Centurion who presided at his execution: all his enemies thus unwittingly attesting, that he was indeed "a Lamb without blemish and without spot," and that, being "just himself," he was every way fit to "suffer in the place of us the unjust."
In another view too his spotless character subserves this great end of his mission: for, "being without deceit himself, he has set us a perfect example," and the best possible way of avoiding sin is, to imitate his example, and to "tread in his steps."
This was known and acknowledged through the whole Christian world.
No one who believed in Christ was ignorant of the end for which he had come into the world. Hence the Apostle could appeal to all without exception, and could say, "You know that he was manifested to take away our sins." The whole Scriptures bore testimony to this. All the types of the Mosaic law shadowed it forth. All the prophecies from the beginning of the world attested it. It was in this way that "the Seed of the woman was to bruise the serpent's head." "To finish transgression, to make an end of sin," and to establish universal righteousness, this was to be the work which should distinguish his reign: "A scepter of righteousness was to be the scepter of his kingdom." The very name that was given to him imported this: "he was called Jesus, because he was to save his people from their sins."
This truth being acknowledged by all at this time, no less than in the apostolic age, we shall make the same appeal to you; and,
II. Found upon it a particular address.
As Christians you all "know" that Christ came to deliver you from sin: but do you all consider it, as you ought?
1. You who live in willful and habitual sin.
Do you consider what has been done to rescue you from your bondage? Do you consider that the Son of the living God, "Jehovah's fellow," the Creator of the universe, has come down from Heaven, and assumed your nature, and died upon the cross for your redemption? Ask yourselves then, whether he would have done this, if sin had been so small an evil as you judge it to be? Can you conceive that such means would have been used for your recovery, if the state into which sin had brought you was not beyond measure terrible? Had no misery awaited you, or a misery only that was light and transient, do you suppose that God would have had recourse to such a method of delivering you from it; or that, after he has used such means to take away your sin, you incur no danger by holding it fast? You may "make a mock of sin," if you please; but you will not think so lightly of it when you come to stand in the presence of your Judge. When the Lord Jesus Christ shall remind you of what he endured to deliver you from it, what will you say to him? Will you then make the foolish excuses that you now do? No, truly: your mouths will then be shut: you will be amazed and confounded at your present folly and impiety: and it will be no consolation to you then that there are so many in the same condemnation with yourself. The antediluvian scoffers, when warned of the approaching deluge, thought it impossible that such a judgment should ever be inflicted; or consoled themselves, perhaps, that they should be in no worse plight than others. But when the deluge actually came, did they find their own terrors less appalling, or their sufferings less acute, because they were endured by others also? Nor will you in that day find the wrath of God a whit more tolerable because of the multitudes that shall bear it with you. Had the Savior never come, you would have had to endure the wrath of God; but since he has come, and been despised and rejected by you, you shall have to bear "the wrath of the Lamb," even of that Lamb whom you "crucified afresh," and Hell itself will be sevenfold more terrible, in consequence of the means which have been used to deliver you from it. Yes, the punishment of Sodom and Gomorrah will be light in comparison of yours. O that you were wise, and would consider this, before it be too late!
2. You who found your hopes of mercy on your own self-righteous endeavors.
What can you think of yourselves, when you recollect the principles which you yourselves acknowledge? You know that Christ was manifested to take away your sins: how then do you presume to imagine, that you can remove them by any efforts of your own? Is there any such virtue in your own tears or alms-deeds, that you will rely on them, rather than on the atoning blood of Christ? Or is there any such strength in your own resolutions, that you will trust to them for the subduing of sin, rather than to the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ? Does it never strike you, that while you are entertaining such proud thoughts as these, you are thrusting the Lord Jesus Christ from his office, and virtually declaring, that, whatever he may be to others, he shall be no Savior to you? Why will you thus presume to set aside the very ends for which He came into the world? Why, when he has actually girded himself with the towel, and presented himself before you, will you say with Peter, "You shall never wash my feet!" Know you not, that "unless he wash you, you have no part with him!" Be assured, he never came to make you your own saviors, but to offer you a free and full salvation. And if you will conceit yourselves to be "rich and increased in goods, and in need of nothing, when you are wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked," nothing re-remains for you but to reap the bitter fruits of your pride and folly.
3. You who, while you profess to believe in Christ, are walking unworthy of your holy profession.
I call on you also to consider this subject. You profess that the Lord Jesus Christ has borne your sins, and that you therefore expect that no condemnation shall come upon you. But do you think that he will be satisfied with performing half his office? Do you suppose that he will take away your sins as far as relates to their guilt, and leave them unmortified as it respects their power? This he never will do: and he declares to you that he never will. Only hear how strongly John speaks on this subject in the words following my text: "Whoever abides in Christ, (as you profess to do,) sins not: whoever sins has not seen him, neither known him. Little children, let no man deceive you. He who does righteousness, (as you profess to do,) is righteous, even as he is righteous. He who commits sin is of the devil." What now will you say, who are still under the dominion of pride, envy, malice, wrath, and whose conduct in your families, instead of exhibiting the image of the Lord Jesus, and constraining all to admire the excellence of vital godliness, causes religion to stink in their nostrils? What will you say who have lewd hearts and licentious tongues? or you who are covetous and worldly-minded, and who are in such bad repute for truth and honesty, that men would rather deal with a worldly character than with you? You may boast as you will about the freeness and fullness of the Gospel salvation; but you shall never taste of it, unless you "put off the old man with his deeds, and put on the new man, which after God is created in righteousness and true holiness."
4. You who are bowed down with desponding fears.
I must not overlook you; for the text speaks powerfully to you also. In the habit of your minds you are saying, "My sins are too great to be forgiven; or, my lusts are too strong to be subdued." But is Christ unable to effect the work he has undertaken? Was he manifested to take away your sins, and has he proved incompetent to the task? Are we not told that "the blood of Jesus Christ will cleanse from all sin?" And that "his grace is sufficient" for all who trust in him? What then is there in your case that renders you an exception? Oh, do not so dishonor your adorable Savior, as to doubt his sufficiency for the work that has been assigned him. Know that his blood is a sufficient "atoning sacrifice , not for your sins only, but also for the sins of the whole world;" and the weakest creature in the universe is authorized to say, "I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me." Put away then your unbelieving fears; and look to him to "accomplish in you all the good pleasure of his goodness." So shall you find that "he is able to save you to the uttermost;" and soon you shall join in that blessed song, "To Him that loved us and washed us from our sins in his own blood, and has made us kings and priests unto God and our Father, to him be glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen."
The End of Christs Incarnation
1 John 3:8. For this purpose the Son of God was manifested, that he might destroy the works of the devil.
THE author of this epistle survived all the other Apostles; so that, long before his death, the professed followers of Christ had had ample opportunity of showing what the effects of religious principle would be, after that the impulse of novelty should have ceased: in some the sacred fire would burn with undiminished ardor; but in others it would languish so as to leave room to doubt whether it were not altogether extinguished. Hence, in this General Epistle, John lays down a variety of marks, whereby men might judge of their state before God. In the chapter before us he shows the indispensable necessity of holiness, and the extreme danger of imagining ourselves in a state of acceptance with God, while destitute of his image on our souls: he shows this, as from other topics, so especially from this, that the indulgence of any sin counteracts the very end for which Christ came into the world; since "he was manifested on purpose to destroy the works of the devil."
Let us inquire,
I. What are those works which Christ came to destroy.
Satan, envious of the happiness of man in Paradise, endeavored to bring him to the same state of guilt and misery to which he himself was reduced. How successful he was, it is needless now to mention: we all without exception experience in ourselves the sad effects of Adam's fall. Two things in particular that wicked fiend has introduced:
This was unknown to man, until Satan invaded the peaceful regions of Paradise, and prevailed on Eve to eat of the forbidden tree. He questioned the prohibition itself, or at least the equity of it; and then, denying that any evil consequences would ensue, he urged the vast advantages that would be derived from transgressing the Divine injunction; and thus "beguiled Eve by his subtlety." From that time he has practiced upon others in a similar way, "blinding their eyes," and putting all manner of wickedness into their hearts. It is at his instigation that all the children of disobedience execute their wicked purposes: he, as their father, teaches them, and constrains them, as it were, to fulfill his will.
Even the godly he tempts, and labors to deceive by innumerable "wiles," and most subtle "devices," and, "if it were possible, he would deceive the very elect."
This also he introduced; for by sin came death, as its proper "wages," and its necessary consequence. Satan had assured our first parents that "they should not die," but in this he showed himself "the father of lies," and by it he became "a murderer from the beginning." The very instant they obeyed his voice, they died: temporal, spiritual, eternal death became their portion, and the portion of the whole human race: nor would any child of man have ever seen the face of God in peace, if the Lord Jesus Christ had not interposed to "destroy this work of the devil." As to the great mass of mankind, they are experiencing all the bitter effects of that first transgression: inheriting a corrupt nature, they follow the bent of their own inclinations, and rush on blindfold to everlasting perdition. "The devil has taken them in his snare, and leads them captive at his will." Hence he is called Apollyon, and Abaddon, as being the great and universal destroyer.
Nor does he relinquish his endeavors to destroy even the best of men: "he goes about, as a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour," there are not any so holy, but he shoots his "fiery darts" at them, and torments them with cruel buffetings, and "desires to have them that he may sift them as wheat," and, were he permitted, he would soon reduce even the soundest of men to chaff.
Let us next inquire,
II. How he destroys them.
He came into the world, and "was manifested" in human flesh on purpose to destroy them: and he effects their destruction,
1. By the virtue of his sacrifice.
The death of Christ was a true and proper atonement for sin; it was "a atoning sacrifice for the sins of the whole world," and by it "he finished transgression, made an end of sin, and brought in everlasting righteousness." Nor has he merely cancelled our debt, or removed our obligation to punishment, but has "abolished death, and brought life and immortality to light." "On the cross he triumphed over all the principalities and powers of Hell;" and, "by death, overcame him that had the power of death, and delivered them, who, through fear of death, were all their life-time subject to bondage." Yes, when our final victory over sin and death shall be celebrated in Heaven, to this shall we ascribe it altogether; "You were slain, and have redeemed us to God by your blood."
2. By the operation of his grace.
"Dead as we are in trespasses and sins, we are quickened by Christ;" and immediately begin in his strength to conflict with sin and Satan. The warfare we maintain is attended with many difficulties; so that we are sometimes ready to cry out, "O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from this body of sin and death?" but in our lowest state it is our privilege to add, "I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord." "In him we are strong;" and through his gracious communications "we can do all things," "none can be effectually against us, while he is for us." Having infused into our souls a principle of life, "he dwells in us," and "is himself our life," and carries us forward "from conquering to conquer," until sin and "Satan are bruised under our feet," and "death itself is swallowed up in everlasting victory."
1. How infatuated are they who live in willful sin!
Do they consider whom they serve, and against whom they fight? Do they consider that they are doing those very works which proceed from and characterize the devil, and which Christ was manifested to destroy? Reflect on your conduct, brethren, in this view, and then judge, whether you do well to continue in it.
2. What reason for humility have even the best of men!
There is no man who has not daily occasion to lament his short-comings and defects. We are not any of us so watchful, but Satan finds some opportunities to deceive us; nor so expert in our warfare, but he wounds us occasionally by "his fiery darts." And when that wicked fiend has "got an advantage over us," with what exultation is he filled, even though he knows that he can never ultimately prevail against our blessed Lord! Be watchful, brethren, that you do not so gratify your malignant adversary, or so grieve the Spirit of your adorable Savior. Put yourselves more habitually under the protection and guidance of your Divine Master; and "through him you shall be more than conquerors."
3. How unbounded are the obligations we owe to Christ!
Who but he could have ever redeemed us from sin and death? Who but he could have ever destroyed for us those works of the devil? Think what would have been the state of the world, if he had never become incarnate; what slaves we must have been if he had not liberated us; and what a death we must have undergone, if he had not died in our stead! Truly, if we felt our obligations as we ought, we should scarcely pass a moment without adverting to them, and magnifying him with songs of praise and thanksgiving. Let us dwell on the delightful thought, which, wherever it is entertained, creates a Heaven upon earth: and in a little time our deliverance shall be complete; and we shall unite with all the hosts of Heaven "in singing Hallelujah to God and to the Lamb forever and ever."
The Christian's Deliverance from Sin
1 John 3:9. Whoever is born of God does not commit sin; for his seed remains in him: and he cannot sin, because he is born of God.
MANY mistakes in religion arise from not considering sufficiently the style and manner in which the inspired writers are accustomed to express themselves. They speak strongly on all subjects; and never contemplate, for a moment, the niceties of criticism; or dream of their words being weighed in a balance, so as that there shall be the minutest possible precision in their weight and import. They are content with speaking in popular language, and with conveying their sentiments in terms which every candid mind shall fully apprehend. Paul, speaking of the danger of persons who are once enlightened, falling away from the truth which they have received, says, "It is impossible to renew them again to repentance." We are not to suppose, from this, that the restoration of such an apostate is a work which God is not able to effect; but only, that it is a work which we cannot reasonably hope to see effected by him. The same kind of interpretation must be given to the words which we have just read: we are not to suppose that a regenerate person is brought into such a state, that there is an absolute and physical impossibility for him to commit any the minutest sin: such an impossibility as that did not exist even in Paradise, when man was absolutely perfect; no, nor does it exist in Heaven itself; since millions of once holy angels actually did fall, and were cast out of Heaven for their transgression. Not intending his words to be strained to such an extent as that, the Apostle declares,
I. The state of the regenerate man.
To consider the Apostle as saying only that a regenerate man ought not to commit sin, would be to make him speak what is altogether foreign to the context; the whole of which evidently shows his meaning to be, that the regenerate man does not commit sin.
But, in what sense are we to understand this assertion?
If taken in its utmost latitude, this assertion would contradict the whole Scriptures. "There is not a just man upon earth, that does good, and sins not." "In many things we all offend." John himself declares, that "if we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us;" and then, intimating that the scope of his observations was to deter men from sin, he adds, "But if any man sin, we have an Advocate with the Father, who is also the atoning sacrifice for our sins."
It is evident, therefore, that we cannot so construe his words, as to infer from them that a regenerate man has attained a state of sinless perfection. Nor, in reality, do his words properly admit of that sense: for the word which we translate "commit sin" must, of necessity, imply a continued act. In verse 7, he says, "Let no man deceive you. He who does righteousness (it is the same word as is used in our text) is righteous, even as Christ is righteous." This can never mean, that the person who performs one righteous act must necessarily "walk in all things as Christ walked," it must import a habit, and not a mere insulated act: and that is its proper meaning in the text; 'Whoever is born of God, does not willfully and habitually commit sin.' The whole scope of the context, from the third verse, sanctions, and indeed requires, this interpretation. It is said, in verse 3, that the person who has a scriptural hope of his adoption into God's family, will "purify himself, even as Christ is pure," and the person who does not labor to attain this purity, is declared, in verse 8, to belong to a very different family, even that of Satan: "He who commits sin, is of the devil." And in the verse after the text, this contrast is brought to a point: "In this the children of God are manifest, and the children of the devil: whoever does not practice righteousness, is not of God."
The assertion, thus explained, is verified in every regenerate man.
A man "born of God" does not commit sin in the way that he was accustomed to do in his unregenerate state. Previous to his conversion, sin was the element in which he lived. He might, in respect to an external conformity to the law, be blameless, even as the Apostle Paul was, before his heart was changed: but he never truly gave himself up to God, or took his perfect law as the rule of his conduct: he never lived for God, or made it the one object of his life to glorify God: self was the source and end of all his actions. But from the instant of his conversion, his one inquiry is, "Lord, what will you have me to do?" Not that he then becomes perfect: for to his latest hour he will find, as the Apostle did, that "there is a law in his members warring against the law of his mind, and occasionally bringing him into captivity to the law of sin, which is in his members," yes, to his latest hour, there are things done by him which he would not, and things left undone by him, which he would gladly do: so that he is often constrained to cry, "O wretched man that I am! Who shall deliver me?" But though, through the influence of his indwelling corruption, he may have occasion to mourn over many deviations from the perfect path of duty, he never does, nor ever will, return to the love and practice of sin: if he offend in anything, he will lament it, and implore forgiveness for it, and labor with renewed diligence and circumspection to "stand perfect and complete in all the will of God."
If such be the state of the regenerate man, it will be profitable to inquire into,
II. The means by which he has attained to it.
"He who is born of God does not commit sin; for his seed remains in him."
Let us distinctly mark,
1. What seed this is.
Many imagine that the "seed" here spoken of, is an imperishable spark of grace, which not all the floods of persecution or corruption can ever quench. But it is not of grace that the Apostle speaks, but of the word of God. The word is that "seed" of which we are born: and that is incorruptible, as Peter has said: "We are born again, not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible, of the word of God, which lives and abides forever."
2. How it operates to its destined end.
This seed "abides" in those who are born of God. Its operation, in the first instance, was to humble, quicken, and sanctify the soul. Being once implanted in the soul, it grows there, and continues to produce the very same effects which it put forth in the first instance. Did it come with power to convince of sin? it enlightens the mind progressively, and gives juster views to the conscience, and augmented sensibility to the soul. Did it lead to the Savior, and inspire with a desire to serve and glorify him? it continues to give brighter discoveries of his love, and to impress the soul with a more fixed determination to live to his glory: and in this way it keeps the believer from ever returning to his former paths.
That this is the true import of the words, is manifest from what is spoken by John in the preceding chapter: "I have written unto you, young men; because you are strong, and the word of God abides in you, and you have overcome the wicked one." Here the same "seed" of which they were born, namely, the word of God, abides in them; and, in consequence of that, their victories over sin and Satan are carried forward with increasing energy and effect. Such, at least, were David's views of this matter; and therefore to all young men he gave this direction: "With which shall a young man cleanse his way? even by taking heed thereto, according to your word." And what he recommended to them, he practiced also himself; as he himself immediately declares: "Your word have I hid within my heart, that I might not sin against you."
Thus then it is that the regenerate person is kept from committing sin, as he was accustomed to do in his unregenerate state: "The word of truth abides in him," both as an authoritative director, and an unerring rule; and "by it he is made free," and "sanctified."
The blessedness of the believer's state will yet further appear, while we consider,
III. His security for the continuance of it.
"He cannot sin, because he is born of God." Now it is well known, that many identify the new birth with baptism, at least so far as to maintain, that if they be not actually the same thing, they are always simultaneous and inseparable. But let this sentiment be brought to the test: let it be seen, whether it can be said of every one that is baptized, that he does not commit sin, yes, and that he cannot commit sin, because he is baptized. I would ask, Is there a man in the universe that dares to make such an assertion as this? or, if there were, would not the experience of the whole world flatly contradict him? I will not say that God may not convert a person at the time of his baptism, as well as at any other time. God may make use of any rite, or any ordinance, or any occurrence whatever, to effect his own purposes: but to say that he always creates a man anew, in the way, and to the extent, that my text speaks of, under the ordinance of baptism, is as contrary to truth as any assertion that ever proceeded from the lips of man. And as long as these words remain in the Bible, that a man "cannot sin, because he is born of God," so long it must be obvious to every dispassionate mind that there is a new birth perfectly distinct from baptism, and totally independent of it.
As for the idea, that sin, when committed by a regenerate person, is not sin, it is too wild, and too impious, to deserve a thought.
But it is a great and glorious truth, that a person truly born of God cannot sin, as he did before he experienced that change. If it be asked, Why he cannot sin? I answer,
1. Because God has engaged he shall not.
God has said, that "sin shall not have dominion over his people, because they are not under the law, but under grace." And his faithfulness is pledged to "cleanse them from all unrighteousness." It is a part of his covenant; every iota of which he will assuredly fulfill. This, however, is not to be so understood, as if God would never permit his people to err in any respect: for the very best of men have erred, and grievously too, under the influence of strong temptation, and of the remaining corruptions of their own hearts. But God, under such circumstances, will chastise them, until they shall return to him with deep humiliation and contrition, and until they renew their application to the blood of that great Sacrifice which takes away the sins of the world. "It is not his will that one of his little ones should perish;" "nor will he suffer anyone to pluck them out of his hands."
2. Because he will supply him with grace, that he may not.
This, also, is a part of God's covenant which he has made with us in the Son of his love. If this covenant were kept out of view, there are two things which we might justly apprehend: the one is, that God would depart from us; the other is, that we should depart from him. But on both parts God has undertaken for his people. He says, "I will make an everlasting covenant with them, that I will not turn away from them to do them good; and I will put my fear in their hearts, that they shall not depart from me." It was not by a mere act of his power that he converted them at first: he enlightened their understanding, and renewed their heart, and "made them willing in the day of his power." So will he even to the end deal with them as rational beings, and "draw them with the cords of a man." "He will keep them, indeed, by his own power," but it shall be through the instrumentality of their own exertions. He will keep them; but they shall also "keep themselves; so that the wicked one shall not touch them." Thus secured by God's engagement for them, on the one hand, and by the mighty working of his power in them, on the other hand, it may truly be said of them, "They cannot sin, because they are born of God."
Yet let me improve this subject,
1. In a word of caution to the secure.
The doctrine of Final Perseverance, if unscripturally maintained, will be productive of the most fatal consequences to the soul. Shall any man say, 'I am born of God: and therefore can never perish, though I live in sin?' Let him rather say, 'The sins which I commit, prove to demonstration, that I am not born of God. I may have been partially affected with the word, as the stony-ground hearers; and have produced some kind of fruit, like the thorny ground: but, inasmuch as I "bring forth no fruit to perfection," I am at this very moment a child of Satan, and an heir of perdition.' Would you have an evidence that you are born of God? Inquire whether you are delivered from the love and power of sin, and following after universal holiness. These are the marks whereby alone you can form any sound judgment: and if you will judge of yourselves by this test, you will remove from the doctrine of Final Perseverance the chief objection that is urged against it; and will render it a blessing, instead of a curse, to your own souls.
2. In a word of encouragement to those who are writing bitter things against themselves.
Some, because they feel in themselves remaining infirmities, will conclude that they cannot possibly have been born of God. But we must not so interpret the text, as to imagine that God's people must be absolutely perfect. Were none but the perfect born of God, where should we find a child of God on earth? It is the willful and deliberate habit of sinning, and not a mere infirmity, that is declared to be incompatible with a state of grace: and therefore let not a sense of weakness and infirmity cause any one to despond. Yet, on the other hand, it will be well to entertain a holy jealousy over ourselves; and to avoid too great a laxity in our interpretation of this passage, as well as too great strictness: for if there be in us, what is found in too many professors of religion, an habitual predominance of evil tempers or dispositions of any kind, we are certainly not born of God, but are children of the devil. At the same time, let it be remembered, that the word of inspiration is that great instrument whereby God effects his purposes on the souls of men. By that he begins, and carries on, and perfects, his work within us. Let that, therefore, be precious to us, yes, "more precious than thousands of gold and silver;" and "let it dwell richly in us, in all wisdom," so shall we experience it to be "the rod of God's strength," and "have every thought of our hearts brought into captivity to the obedience of Christ."
Love of the Brethren
1 John 3:14. We know that we have passed from death unto life, because we love the brethren.
LOVE is said to be "the fulfilling of the law," and it certainly is also the great end of the Gospel. But love is of different kinds: there is a love of benevolence, a love of beneficence, and a love of delight. The two former are due to all mankind: the latter is due to the saints alone; because they alone possess that character in which God delights, or in which it becomes us to feel delight. It is of this last kind of love that the Apostle speaks in my text, a "love of the brethren," and of it he speaks in the highest terms imaginable. To illustrate his views of it, I will show,
I. What is that change which every true Christian has experienced.
It is not a change of opinions merely, or a transition from one Church to another; but a change,
1. In his state before God.
The unregenerate man is "dead in trespasses and sins." Even "by nature he is a child of wrath;" and, by practice, he has involved himself in the deepest guilt and condemnation—But in conversion, a marvelous transition takes place: "he passes from death unto life." By believing in Christ, he obtains a remission of all his sins; they are blotted out of the book of God's remembrance; and there "no longer remains any condemnation to him on account of them." From being a child of Satan, and an heir of wrath, he is made a child of God, and an heir of glory.
2. In the entire habit of his soul.
During his unconverted state, he lived to self alone: he had no thought or desires beyond this present world: he was altogether "alienated from the life of God," "an atheist in the world." As the body, when separated from the soul, is dead, and performs not any one function of the animal life; so his soul, being separated from God, is dead, and never once performs any spiritual act whatever. But in his conversion, a similar change is wrought. His powers are quickened: his understanding, his will, his affections, are all called forth into act and exercise on spiritual subjects: so that "old things pass away, and all things become new." This change is not unlike that of a river which, by an invisible agency, is turned so as to flow in a direction opposite to its natural course, even upward, towards its source and head. Being thus "renewed in the spirit of his mind," "he lives no longer to himself, but unto Him who died for him, and rose again."
It will now be proper to inquire,
II. How far the test, here proposed for the ascertaining of this change, may be depended on.
Beyond a doubt, this change may be ascertained to the satisfaction both of ourselves and others.
It is not to be supposed that so great a change should be effected both in the state and habits of a man, and he himself be unconscious of it. It is a matter of the deepest interest with him; and he will never be satisfied, until he "knows" that he has attained this great object of his desires. There are many marks by which it may be discovered, even as a tree by its fruits. The test here proposed is amply sufficient for this end. The only danger is, of mistaking the test itself, and putting something else in the place of it.
"The love of the brethren," duly understood, will serve as an unerring test.
Two things must be borne in mind, as distinguishing the true test from all its counterfeits. The "love of the brethren" is a love to them purely for Christ's sake, and a love displaying itself towards them in all its proper offices. It is not a love to them on account of their having embraced our sentiments, or their belonging to our party; nor will it show itself merely in speaking well of them, and in espousing their cause: it is called forth by the single circumstance of their being the friends and servants of the Lord Jesus Christ: and it will show itself in such a deportment towards them, as we would maintain towards the Lord Jesus Christ himself, if he were circumstanced as they are. The description given of love in the 13th chapter of the First Epistle to the Corinthians, is precisely that which the Christian will realize in his conduct towards Christians of every denomination: and then only is it a proper test of our conversion to God, when it so operates. But, supposing it to be of this kind, then may we "know" from it, without a shadow of doubt, that "we have passed from death unto life," for such love can proceed from God alone: it springs from no root whatever but faith in Christ: and, consequently, its existence and operation in the soul proves us to be true believers, children of God, and heirs of glory.
1. Those who are strangers to this peculiar regard.
If the existence of it in the soul prove that we have passed from death unto life, the non-existence of it may well lead you to fear that this change has never been wrought in you. Examine yourselves, therefore, and try your own selves. In truth, this test is of peculiar importance to you: for, if you will look within, you will find that, by nature, you are rather alienated from persons on account of their relation to Christ, than drawn to them: the want of congeniality of taste and sentiment sets you at a distance from them; and a consciousness of this may well lead you to conclude that you are yet dead before God. The Apostle tells us this, in the very words following my text; "He who loves not his brother, abides in death." O consider this, before it be too late: and seek that change, without which you must forever perish!
2. Those who think themselves under its influence.
It must be confessed that persons are very prone to deceive themselves on this point; and to imagine that they love the brethren, when their regard is merely partial towards their own party, and when it is associated with many dispositions contrary to love. Remember then, I pray you, that your love, in order to be genuine, must be heavenly in its origin, holy in its exercise, and uniform in its operations—See, I pray you, whether your love be of this kind, before you venture to build upon it such a confident persuasion as that mentioned in my text.
3. Those who are truly alive to God.
Show, in your whole spirit and temper, what the effect of the Gospel is. It was said of the primitive Church, Behold how these Christians love one another! Let the same mark be visible in you, and the same confession be extorted from all your adversaries: bear in mind all the offices of love, that it "bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things." You must not expect your brethren to be perfect: for you yourselves are not perfect: and therefore the allowances which you need from others, you must make for them: and you must take care, in thought, word, and deed, that nothing be done by you contrary to love. Be sure, therefore, that "your love be without dissimulation;" and that it show itself "not in word and in tongue, but in deed and in truth."
The Love of Christ A Pattern For Us, To Each Other
1 John 3:16. Hereby perceive we the love of God, because he laid down his life for us: and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren.
IN contemplating Christianity as a system, we scarcely know whether to admire more, the depth of its mysteries, or the height of its requirements. Of all mysteries, that specified in our text, the death of our incarnate God for the sins of men, is beyond all comparison the greatest: and, of all requirements, there is not one so arduous as that, which also is here inculcated, of laying down our lives for the brethren. The two taken together present Christianity in a most endearing view; and exhibit it as alike conducive to the perfection of our nature and the completion of our bliss. Let us notice,
I. The extent in which God has manifested his love to us.
If we survey the works of creation, we shall see love inscribed upon them all. There was not one which the Creator himself did not pronounce to be "very good," and, if there be anything within the whole compass of it that is noxious to man, it was not so according to its original constitution, but has been rendered so by sin. If we mark also the dispensations of providence, we shall find in all of them too the same blessed character of love: for the very anger of God, is only an exercise of paternal love; and his judgments, an effort to bring his offending creatures into a state of reconciliation and acceptance with him. But it is in redemption that his love is chiefly displayed: for, in order to effect it, Jesus Christ assumed our nature, and actually "laid down his life for us."
In order that we may behold somewhat of the love displayed in this stupendous act, let us consider,
1. What our situation was that rendered such an effort necessary.
We were fallen, after the example of "the angels that kept not their first estate;" and with them we must have taken our portion to all eternity. To deliver ourselves was absolutely impossible: nor could the whole creation afford us any effectual aid. The judgments denounced against sin must be executed, either on the sinner himself, or on one capable of standing in his place, and of satisfying all the demands of law and justice. But where could such an one be found? The first archangel was unequal to the task. None but God himself could interpose with effect, even that God, whose law we had violated, and whose majesty we had offended. Such was our helpless and hopeless state, when Almighty God determined to rescue us from our misery, by sending his only dear Son into the world to offer up himself a sacrifice for sin, and, by dying in our stead, to redeem us from all the penal consequences of our transgression.
2. What by that effort is accomplished for us.
Our guilt is expiated—And God is reconciled unto his offending creatures—We may now go to him in the name of his dear Son. We may plead the merit of his obedience unto death. The vilest sinner in the universe has no occasion to despair. All that is necessary for his acceptance with God has been done; and he needs only to "lay hold on the hope set before him," and to embrace the salvation that is freely offered him. If only we believe in Jesus, justice itself is become our friend and our advocate: because its utmost demands having been satisfied in Christ's obedience unto death, it claims, on behalf of all who believe in Jesus, the transfer of those rights to which, through the intervention of our Surety, we are entitled.
3. What wonders of love are contained in it.
To what, but love, can we trace this merciful interposition of the Deity in our behalf? was there anything in us to merit, it at God's hands? We, alas! were in the very state of the fallen angels, "ungodly," "sinners," "enemies," filled with all evil, and destitute even of a good desire. But, if God could find no inducement from anything that was in us to exercise this mercy towards us, was there none to be found within his own bosom? No, not any. He would have been equally happy and equally glorious, if neither men nor angels had ever existed: and, if neither his happiness nor his glory have been at all affected by the ruin of the one, neither would it have been by the ruin of the other, if we, like them, had been left to perish to all eternity. To his sovereign love and grace alone can we trace this stupendous act of mercy: and to that it is uniformly traced in the Holy Scriptures: "God so loved the world, that he gave his only-begotten Son," "Herein is love; not that we loved God; but that he loved us, and sent his Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins," "God commends his love towards us, in that, when we were yet sinners, Christ died for us." To all eternity will this be the one subject of wonder, and adoration, and thanksgiving to all the hosts of the redeemed; "To Him that loved us, and washed us from our sins in his own blood, be glory and dominion forever and ever."
Our meditations on this subject will be the best preparation for considering,
II. The extent in which we should exercise love to our brethren.
To imitate our blessed Lord and Savior, as far as possible, is our bounden duty: and especially are we commanded to do so in the exercise of love. Again and again does he require us to "love each other as he loved us," and the duty is enforced from the very same consideration as is proposed to us in the text.
Consider then our duty,
1. Towards "our brethren" of mankind at large.
There is not a human being towards whom we do not owe a debt of love: and were it in our power, there is not a pain which we should not alleviate, nor a want which we should not supply. This is particularly noticed in the words following our text: "Whoever has this world's goods, and sees his brother have need, and shuts up his affections of compassion from him, how dwells the love of God in him?"
But if this be our duty towards them in reference to their temporal wants, how much more is it in reference to the concerns of their souls! How should we weep over the unhappy state of the heathen world, immersed as they are in darkness, and subjected to the entire dominion of the God of this world! What efforts should we not make for the enlightening of their minds, and for the discovering to them that love, that stupendous love, with which our God has loved both us and them! Say, brethren, do you not blush when you look back upon your conduct in this respect, and see what contracted views you have had of your duty towards them, and how little you have endeavored to discharge your duty, even as far as it has been seen and acknowledged by you? Consider more especially your duty towards your Jewish brethren, from whom you have received all the light which you yourselves enjoy: should it be no grief to you to see that highly-favored people so blinded by prejudice, that, with the Scriptures in their hands, they despise, and even execrate, that very Savior who has shown such love to them? Why do we not feel for them? why do we not exert ourselves in their behalf? why do we not endeavor to repay to them the debt of love which we have received from their forefathers? The Apostles, and multitudes of their descendants in the ministry, laid down their lives for us, accounting themselves richly recompensed if they might but lead us to the knowledge of the true God, and of Jesus Christ whom he has sent. O that there were in us a corresponding sense of our duty, and that we could, with one heart and one mind, rise to the performance of it!
2. Towards our brethren of the Church in particular.
There is an especial duty towards those who are united to the Church of Christ: "We are to do good unto all men, but especially unto them that are of the household of faith." We owe to them a pre-eminent degree of love, because they are so near to us, and because they are so dear to God, and more especially because there is such an identity of interest between Christ and them. They are our brethren in a higher sense than others, being children of the same heavenly Father, and heirs of the same glorious inheritance. From all eternity have they been objects of God's electing love; and now, the monuments of his grace, the very temples in which he deigns to dwell. Every one of them is a member of Christ's mystical body, yes, "one spirit with him," so that whatever we do for them, we do for Christ himself, as much as if he were personally present with us, and the visible object of our attentions. What love then do we not owe to these? I hesitate not to say, that our very life should be of small estimation with us in comparison of their welfare; and that martyrdom itself, if endured for the benefit of their souls, ought not to be an object of dread, so much as of desire and joyful self-congratulation. We see this love in Aquila and Priscilla, and in Epaphroditus also; but more especially in the Apostle Paul, who was contented to be "in deaths oft" for the benefit of the Church, and who, in the near expectation of martyrdom, could say, "If I be offered upon the sacrifice and service of your faith, I joy and rejoice with you all."
For the further improvement of the subject,
1. Let us contemplate our obligations.
The love of God, which ought to be ever uppermost in our minds, alas! how light an impression does it make upon us! Even the mystery of the incarnation of God's only dear Son, and of "his laying down his life for us," is heard without any emotion, and regarded with little more concern, than if it were only "a cunningly-devised fable." What shall I say then, brethren? Must there not be something essentially wrong, where such insensibility exists? are we not ashamed? are we not confounded, when we consider the state of our souls in this respect? Let us rise to a sense of our duty. Let us view our obligations to Almighty God: let us dwell upon them night and day; and let us never rest until our whole souls go forth in love to him, who has loved us, and given himself for us.
2. Let us address ourselves to our duties.
Methinks, the duty of love should be no burden to us: it is in itself most delightful; and brings always its own reward along with it. Let us then exercise it in all its branches. Let every disposition contrary to love be mortified and subdued: all envy, hatred, malice, wrath, uncharitableness, let it all be banished from our hearts; and let the love which hopes all things, believes all things, endures all things, be the one reigning principle in our souls.
Let this principle too be brought into activity for the benefit of all mankind. Our time, our talents, our property, our very life, let it all be consecrated to the Lord for the glory of his name, and for the welfare of his Church and people. Let us not be indulging vain excuses, and saying, 'This will require sacrifices, which I am unwilling to make: that will require abilities which I do not possess.' What sacrifice is there beyond that of life? Even that it is our duty to make for the world and for the Church; and therefore every subordinate sacrifice should be of no account. And as for talents and abilities, if only we will use those which we have, God will glorify himself by them, and render them subservient to the welfare of mankind, if only we will endeavor to improve them with diligence, and to exercise them with fidelity.
You see what God would have us both to be and do: he would have us overwhelmed with a sense of his love to us, and abounding in the most self-denying exercises of love to all mankind. Come, brethren, gird yourselves to the occasion. Your God and Savior demands it at your hands. The whole universe also joins in one common cry, "Come over to us, and help us." And he who most abounds in offices of love to others, shall receive the richest recompense into his own bosom from that God whose name and nature is "Love."
No Love to God Without Love to Man
1 John 3:17. Whoever has this world's good, and sees his brother have need, and shuts up his affections of compassion from him, how dwells the love of God in him?
UNDER the law there were two great commandments: the first was, to love God with all our heart, and mind, and soul, and strength, and the second was, to love our neighbor as ourselves. And under the Gospel they are still in force, or rather, I should say, are enjoined more emphatically than ever, being enforced with new motives, so as to bear the stamp and character of "a new commandment." They are on no account to be separated in our practice and regards; neither can one be obeyed without the other. True, indeed, many will flatter themselves that they obey the one, while they are notoriously regardless of the other. But they only deceive their own souls: and this so palpably, that the Apostle appeals to the offenders themselves, and makes them judges in their own cause: "Whoever has this world's good, and sees his brother have need, and shuts up his affections of compassion from him, how dwells the love of God in him?" He may pretend to love God; but the love of God is not in him: for "if he does not love his brother whom he has seen, he can never truly love God whom he has not seen;" and consequently he is destitute of all religion.
In confirmation of this truth, I shall show,
I. That he can have no true piety, who is destitute of love to God.
The Apostle takes this truth for granted; and makes it the foundation of his appeal. But I lament to say, that it needs to be brought home to our consciences with more force than we are accustomed to assign to it in our own minds.
That God deserves our love, cannot be denied.
View him in his works of creation. No sooner had he formed everything, than he pronounced it "very good." See man in his compound state both of body and soul: how fearfully and wonderfully are we formed in our corporeal frame!—and with what astonishing powers are our souls endued, insomuch that we are capable of appreciating in a measure all that we behold with our eyes, and can soar also to the contemplation of the invisible God himself, and are capable of knowing, loving, serving, and enjoying him.
Behold the earth and all that it contains; how formed for the service and the use of man!—Yes, and all the heavenly bodies also, how do they too in their orbits (for in all probability the whole solar system forms but a part of other systems, with which it moves) administer to the comfort and happiness of man!
And is not the Creator of all this worthy of our love?—View him in his works of providence. All this has God up-held, if not in its primeval grandeur, yet in its ministrations to the good of man; and that too notwithstanding all the provocations which he receives continually at our hands. All our faculties both of body and mind are continued to us—while the whole terraqueous globe affords us sustenance, and the heavenly bodies, according to their capacities, minister to our necessities and comforts. True, the world was once drowned with water; and the cities of the plain were consumed with fire: but this only shows us what might have been daily expected, if God had dealt with us in any respect according to our deserts.
Should not then such a long-suffering and gracious God be made an object of our most intense regard?
But view him in his great work, the work of redemption: and what shall we say of him there? View him as taking our very nature, and becoming in all things like unto us, sin only excepted. View him as dying upon the cross, and expiating our guilt by the sacrifice of himself—View him as sending down from Heaven his Holy Spirit to dwell in our hearts, and by his enlightening, quickening, transforming energies, to render the work of Christ effectual for the salvation of all who will believe in him—But here I seem to exceed the utmost bounds of credibility. Yet so it is; and this is the God who calls us to set our love on him. What then shall I say of the man who complies not with this reasonable demand? I appeal to you, my brethren, whether such a man, supposing such an one could be found, can have any true religion?
Perhaps you will say, It is impossible that such a monster should exist. Then let us submit the matter to a test, the test proposed to us by the Apostle himself.
To do this, we affirm,
II. That he can have no true love to God, who is destitute of love to man.
Love to God must of necessity comprehend in it these three things: a regard for his authority; gratitude for his mercies; and zeal for his glory. Let us see then whether the man who "shuts up his affections of compassion from his fellow-creatures," has any one of these? Has he,
1. Any regard for God's authority?
God most solemnly enjoins under the Old Testament compassion for our indigent brother, and a willingness to relieve him—He requires the same under the New Testament—He informs us who the person is to whom we are to manifest this love, even every child of man—He tells us from whom he expects this grace, even from the poor, who are constrained to get their own living by manual labor, as well as from the rich and great—He has enforced this duty by every kind of argument: by promises the most engaging—and by threatenings the most tremendous—He has declared that it shall form his rule of judgment in the last day, and determine our eternal destinies.
Now then what regard can he have to God's authority who lives in the neglect of this duty? He says, in fact, My goods are my own, and I will dispose of them as I please: and, "as for God, I know him not; neither will I obey his voice."
2. Any gratitude for his mercies?
Our blessed Lord, reminding us what temporal blessings his heavenly Father bestows upon us, calls us to an imitation of him in our conduct towards our fellow-men, that so we may approve ourselves as his children by our resemblance to him—Still more particularly is his redeeming love proposed to us I,; this view both as a motive and a pattern; a motive which we should in no wise withstand; and a pattern which to the very utmost we should follow, even to "the laying down of our lives for the brethren." To stimulate us to it the more, he tell: us, that he will receive everything as done to himself; that he will account himself our debtor for it; and that he will submit to be accounted "unrighteous" if he fail to acknowledge and reward it in the last day. For our further encouragement he assures us, that, however light we may think of such a service, it is "a sacrifice with which he is well pleased."
Now if all this do not prevail with us to show kindness to our brethren, what shall we say? Have we any gratitude to God? No;, we are more stupid and senseless than the beasts themselves.
3. Any zeal for his glory?
We are commanded to "make our light shine before men, that those who behold it may be constrained to glorify our Father which is in Heaven." And our Lord assures us, that "herein is the Father glorified, when we bring forth much fruit," yes, that "all our fruits of righteousness are by him to the glory of God the Father." But in a more particular manner is our liberality to the saints spoken of in this view, inasmuch as it calls forth "abundant thanksgivings to him" from the persons relieved, and causes them to glorify God for our professed subjection to the Gospel of Christ, the proper tendency of which is to generate these heavenly dispositions, and to augment the happiness of all mankind.
Now suppose a man to neglect this duty, what zeal can he have to promote the glory of his God? He may fancy himself religious; but he has no more love to God than Satan himself; for, if "faith without works is no better than the faith of devils," the religion of such a man is no better than the religion of devils. For so has God said: "In this the children of God are manifest and the children of the devil: whoever does not righteousness is not of God, neither he who loves not his brother."
Let me now add,
1. A word of caution.
It is easy to mistake alms-deeds for Christian liberality. But the Apostle cautions us against all such mistakes—Nothing is truly Christian but what proceeds from love to God as reconciled to us in Christ Jesus, and is done for the advancement of his glory.
2. A word of encouragement.
Abound in this duty, and it shall bring a rich reward.
A Good and Evil Conscience
1 John 3:20, 21. If our heart condemn us, God is greater than our heart, and knows all things. Beloved, if our heart condemn us not, then have we confidence toward God.
IN the description given us of the day of judgment, we are informed that the Judge will be seated on his throne; that certain books will be opened; and that sentence will be passed on every one according to what was recorded in them. Such a tribunal there is, already erected in the bosoms of men. Conscience is seated there as supreme judge: it keeps an account of every day's transactions: it summons men to its bar: it exhibits the record before their eyes; and, in perfect correspondence with their actions, it passes on them its authoritative sentence. Thus it anticipates the future judgment, and forces men to read in its decisions their final doom. To this effect the Apostle speaks in the passage before us; in elucidating which, we shall show,
I. How far the testimonies of our conscience may be depended on.
The testimonies of conscience are not always just.
With many there is a sleepy conscience, which suffers men to go on in their own ways without shame, and without remorse. So inactive and so callous is this faculty within them, that it is justly represented as "seared with a hot iron." Indeed, if it were not thus with them, how could they go on so cheerfully as they do, in an open course of sin, or in a willful neglect of God?
With many also there is a partial conscience. They discern what is wrong in others, but not in themselves: or they notice some evils, but not others. Herod would not violate his oath; but he would murder a prophet. And the Pharisees would not put into the treasury the money that was the price of blood; but they would persist in persecuting the innocent Jesus even unto death. And such a conscience have many among ourselves: it would be clamorous if they were to commit some flagrant enormity; while it bears no testimony at all against secret lusts, or against any evils which are sanctioned by an ungodly world.
With some also there is an erroneous conscience. Paul "thought he ought to do many things contrary to the name of Jesus," and would have stood condemned in his own mind, if he had not labored to the uttermost to extirpate the Christian name. And our Lord has told us that many would "think they did God service by killing" his faithful followers. Doubtless there are many who, both in civil and religious actions, are instigated by (what we may call) a good principle, while yet a clearer view of their duty would represent those actions in a very different light.
There is also with many a scrupulous conscience. They both do and forbear many things from a sense of duty, when the things themselves are altogether indifferent in the sight of God. Thus it was with those who were afraid to eat meats that had been offered to idols, or who observed the times and seasons that had been prescribed in the Mosaic law. Superstition indeed is less common in this age: yet wherever the mind is tinctured with it, there will arise many occasions of condemnation or acquittal in a man's own mind, when the sentence passed is altogether founded in an ignorance of Christian liberty, or Christian duty.
Hence it is evident that conscience may condemn when it ought to acquit, and acquit when it ought to condemn.
Its sentence, however, is always just, when it accords with the Holy Scriptures.
The Scriptures are an infallible standard, to which everything may be referred, and by which its quality may be determined. In order therefore to ascertain whether the testimonies of conscience be just, we should try them by this touchstone. We should learn from the sacred volume what are the leading features of conversion; what is essential to the Christian character; and what, though wrong in itself, will consist with real integrity. When we have thus attained an adequate knowledge of the rule of duty, and our conscience judges by that rule in estimating our conduct, then may we safely acquiesce in its determinations, and conclude it to be right, whether it acquit or condemn.
There is, however, and ever must be, more credit due to its sentence when it condemns, than when it acquits; because, in condemning, it may have respect to any single act, and found its sentence on that, without the smallest danger of mistake: but, in acquitting, it must comprehend the whole circle of a Christian's duty, and testify that, on the whole, there is no allowed deviation from it. Here therefore is great scope for error; insomuch that Paul himself, though he knew of no allowed evil in himself, would not be too confident respecting his state; but committed himself to the judgment of a merciful and gracious God.
To procure a just attention to its voice, we proceed to show,
II. The benefit and comfort of having its testimony in our favor.
Nothing is more terrible than an accusing conscience. Its testimonies are,
1. A source of present distress.
When God gives it a commission to scourge a man, it executes the office with great effect. How did it increase the troubles of Joseph's brethren; and torture the soul of the unguarded Darius; and appal the impious Belshazzar, so that his knees smote one against the other! How did it make Felix tremble on the seat of judgment! and Judas actually to become his own executioner! When it operates with a just and beneficial influence, it will force the most obdurate to cry out with anguish, and the most confident to weep with great bitterness.
Many among ourselves perhaps have felt its stings, until we have groaned in our spirit, and even "howled upon our bed," anticipating, and almost tasting, the bitterness of Hell itself.
2. A pledge of eternal misery.
When conscience is enlightened, it sees innumerable abominations in the heart: and when sanctified, it feels an utter abhorrence of what it does see. But yet "God is greater than our hearts" both in respect of penetration to discover sin, and of holiness to hate it. He "knows all things" that have been done amiss, and that too, with all the particular aggravations that have attended every omission of duty, and every commission of iniquity. Not our actions only, but our very thoughts, are "sealed up in his bag," to be brought forward against us at the last day. The present testimonies of conscience are a previous and preliminary sentence, declaring now upon few and partial grounds, what God himself will hereafter declare on a complete review of our whole lives.
We say not indeed that there is no room for repentance: God forbid: the accusations of conscience are the voice of God within us, calling us to repentance: and the most guilty conscience that ever tormented the soul of man, may in an instant be purged by the blood of Jesus: but if conscience summon us to its bar, as God summoned Adam and Cain to answer for their conduct, its decisions shall be ratified in the day of judgment, unless they be reversed through penitence and faith in Christ: what it "binds on earth, shall be bound in Heaven; and what it looses on earth, shall be loosed in Heaven."
Nothing, on the other hand, is a richer blessing than a good conscience: its testimonies are,
1. A source of unspeakable comfort.
Paul tells us that he found this to be a well-spring of happiness within him; "Our rejoicing is this, the testimony of our conscience, that m simplicity and godly sincerity, not with fleshly wisdom, but by the grace of God, we have had our conversation in the world." Indeed, such a testimony is a continual feast to every one that enjoys it. Having an inward witness of our own sincerity, we may "assure our hearts before God," we may "have boldness of access to him with confidence," we may "ask of him what we will, and it shall be done unto us." Such a testimony inspires a "confidence towards God" in everything that relates to our present or future welfare; it fills the soul with a "peace that passes all understanding," "a joy that is unspeakable and glorified." How desirable then is it to be able now to appeal to God, like Job, "You know that I am not wicked;" or with Peter, "You know all things; you know that I love you!" And how blessed to say with Hezekiah in a dying hour, "Remember now, O Lord, I beseech you, how I have walked before you in truth, and with a perfect heart, and have done that which is good in your sight!"
2. An earnest of eternal happiness.
The witness of our conscience is, in fact, the witness of the Spirit of God: for it is the result of a divine illumination, whereby we discern the agreement of our experience with the word of God, and of a divine communication, rendering that agreement an occasion of joyful confidence. What then can this be but a foretaste of that bless which shall be consummated in Heaven? In this view these divine communications may be considered as "the first-fruits of the Spirit," and "the earnest of the Spirit;" because they are, as it were, the beginnings of Heaven in the soul, and they assure to us a complete and everlasting possession of it. Even in the day of judgment itself this holy confidence will remain: they who possess it now, will go forth with joy to meet the bridegroom; "they will stand before him with great boldness," and, assured of their relation to him, will exclaim, "This God is our God forever and ever."
1. How careful should we be in every part of our conduct!
Everything we do is written in the book of God's remembrance; and our own consciences will hereafter, if not now, attest the truth of God's testimony. How anxious then should we be, that every day and every hour should record something good, rather than what will distress us in the day of judgment! Let us then beg of God to "put truth in our inward parts," let us exercise ourselves day and night to keep a "conscience void of offence both towards God and man," and let us say with Job, "My heart shall not reproach me as long as I live."
2. How attentive should we be to the voice of conscience!
Conscience, if we would listen to it, would tell us many plain and wholesome truths. If we would submit to its reproofs, it would keep us from much evil, and lead us safely to Heaven. Let none of us then stifle it, or bribe it, or despise it: but let us rather get it well informed, and cherish with care its beneficial admonitions. Let us carefully conform ourselves to its dictates," and "judge ourselves, that we may not be judged of the Lord."
3. How thankfully should we bathe in the fountain of Christ's blood!
There is not a day or an hour wherein conscience does not contract some defilement: nor is there a probability of pacifying it, but by continual applications to "the blood of sprinkling." Let us then rejoice that there is "a fountain opened for sin and impurity;" and let it be our care day and night to cleanse ourselves in it from every fresh contracted stain. If we neglect this, "our mind and conscience will be defiled;" but if we "abide in him, we shall have confidence in expectation of his appearance; nor shall we be ashamed before him at his coming."
Faith in Christ Enjoined
1 John 3:23. This is his commandment, That we should believe on the name of his Son Jesus Christ.
SOME Christians, from a mistaken zeal for the Gospel, are ready to associate the idea of legality with the very mention of the term "commandment;" forgetting that the commandments, if obeyed from love, are of the very essence of the Gospel; obedience to them being its necessary fruit, its appropriate end, its highest glory. John had as ardent a love to the Gospel, and as vigilant a jealousy for its honor, as Paul himself: yet does he lay the greatest stress on an obedience to the commandments, saying, in the very words before my text, "Whatever we ask, we receive of God, because we keep his commandments, and do those things that are pleasing in his sight." But the very Gospel itself is here presented to us under that character, as much as "love" itself, which is the sum and substance of the law: "This is his commandment, That we should believe on the name of his Son Jesus Christ, and love one another, as he gave us commandment." In fact, the Gospel should be particularly endeared to us under this character. And, that it may be so, I will set before you,
I. The duty here commended to us.
If faith in the Lord Jesus Christ is a grace bestowed, so is it also a duty enjoined. We are commanded of God,
1. To receive Christ as he is revealed in the Gospel.
He is spoken of as the person foretold from the beginning of the world, "the Seed of the woman," "the Seed of Abraham," "the Shiloh," "the Son of David," the Virgin's child, the Messiah that was to come. And it is our bounden duty, after comparing the history of the New Testament with the records of the Old, to receive him under this character.
But he is said also to sustain certain offices corresponding with the typical representations of him under the Mosaic economy. He was to be "a Prophet like unto Moses;" he was to fulfill and execute also all the services of the priesthood; and he was to "sit on the throne of David," as King over his Church and people. In all these views, then, we must inspect his pretensions: and from all that we read concerning him, we must be convinced, that in him were all these offices united; that he is indeed the Prophet, who has revealed to us the mind of God; the Priest also, that has offered himself a sacrifice for the sins of men; and the King, that will bring the whole world under his scepter, and reign unto the very ends of the earth.
In a word, he is declared to be a Savior, the only Savior of our fallen race. And, from all that he wrought for the bodies of men in healing all manner of diseases, and from the effects which he produced also upon their souls, both during his sojourning on earth, and after his ascension to Heaven, we must thankfully acknowledge him under that endearing character; and confess him, as the Samaritan converts did, "This is indeed the Christ, the Savior of the world."
2. To depend upon him for all the blessings which he is commissioned to bestow.
A speculative acknowledgment of Christ, without a practical application to him for all the benefits of his salvation, will be of little use. The offices he sustains have respect to the necessities of fallen man: and under a sense of our need, we must look to him to fulfill those offices for us. Is he a Prophet? We must look to him to instruct us by his word and Spirit, and to guide us into all truth. Is he a Priest? We must rely on the atonement which he has offered for us, and seek, through his prevailing intercession, all those good things which he has purchased for us, and which God, for his sake, is ever ready to bestow. Is he a King? We must put our-selves altogether under his government and protection, and live only for the glory of his great name. We must renounce every other hope, and rely on him for everything; looking to him, and to him only, as "our wisdom, our righteousness, our sanctification, and our complete redemption." In a word, "the life which we now live in the flesh, we must live altogether by faith in the Son of God, who has loved us, and given himself for us."
But, in contemplating this duty, I would call your attention particularly to,
II. The authority by which it is enjoined.
If to act faith on Christ were merely conceded to us by permission, it were a great and invaluable gift.
Suppose the Israelites, when perishing with thirst, to behold the rock stricken, and the water gushing out like a river; would they need any command to drink of its refreshing streams? Would not a permission be amply sufficient? Methinks, if it had even been prohibited, they would have broken through the commandment, to slake their raging thirst. At all events, we are sure they would not have needed a command to avail themselves of the opportunity afforded them. Or let us take another supposition. There is, we are told there is, an impassable gulf between Heaven and Hell. But, suppose there were a bridge built over it, and an open door made into the highest heavens, and a free permission given to the fallen angels to escape from their dungeons, and to resume the thrones of glory from which they fell; how long, think you, would they continue in their abodes of misery? Would so much as one of them need a command to leave his sad abode, and to return to the enjoyment of his primitive felicity? Then why should not a permission suffice for us? A permission is given us; "Him that comes to me, I will in no wise cast out." And what do any of you want more? Do you not need the waters of life as much as Israel ever did? And are you not under the same condemnation with the fallen angels? Yes, truly: the only difference between them and you is this, that they are already suffering the punishment of their sins; but over you the penalty is suspended, and only waiting the command of God to fall upon you to the uttermost. Surely, then, there should be in you the same anxiety to escape from the wrath to come; and a bare permission should suffice to induce you to embrace the salvation set before you in the Gospel.
But what shall we say, if God has recommended to us this salvation in a way of advice?
This he has done: "I counsel you," says our Lord, "to buy of me gold tried in the fire, that you may be rich; and white clothing, that you may be clothed, and that the shame of your nakedness may not appear; and anoint your eyes with eye-salve, that you may see." By the prophet, too, it is said, "Ho! every one that thirsts, come you to the waters, and he who has no money; come you, buy and eat; yes, come, buy wine and milk without money, and without price. Wherefore do you spend money for that which is not bread? and your labor for that which satisfies not? Hearken diligently unto me, and eat you that which is good; and let your soul delight itself in fatness." Such was the advice given by Peter to those who, on the day of Pentecost, inquired, "Men and brethren, what shall we do?" He bade them "repent, and be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of their sins," which, he assured them, should be conferred on all who followed his advice. And what was the effect? No less than three thousand persons instantly complied, and embraced with thankfulness the offered benefit. So the jailer, when Paul gave the same advice to him in answer to a similar inquiry, arose immediately, and, with all his household, was baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Why, then, should any of us delay? Why should anything more than a mere word of advice be necessary for any one of us?
But, alas! more is necessary: and therefore God, in tender mercy, has enjoined it in a way of positive command.
Yes, this is his commandment, that we believe on the name of his Son Jesus Christ. We are averse to this humiliating way of salvation, and, if we dared, would eternally reject it. But God sent us this solemn warning, that, "if we believe in Christ, and are baptized in his name, we shall be saved: but that, if we believe not, we shall assuredly and eternally be damned." And even after we are made, in a measure, willing to embrace this salvation, we are apt to put it from us, under an idea that we are unworthy of it, and that it were presumption in us to appropriate to ourselves so rich a blessing. But God silences at once all objections of this kind. He leaves us not at liberty even to deliberate upon the subject. He tells us plainly, that "as long as we continue in unbelief, we are in a state of condemnation, and that his wrath abides on us." And he further informs us, that there is but "one way of salvation," "one only foundation" whereon to build our hopes; and that the embracing or rejecting of that Savior will determine our eternal state; since "there is life in Christ alone; and he only who has the Son of God, has life; whereas he who has not the Son of God, has not life," nor can by any possibility obtain it in any other way than by faith in him.
Behold then, brethren, what the duty is that is here enjoined; and know, that it will be at the peril of your souls to disobey it.
1. What a merciful command this is.
Suppose that God had commanded us to make compensation for our past iniquities, and to earn his favor by a course of perfect obedience; who among us could ever have entertained the slightest hope of mercy at his hands? Or suppose that he had required us to do so much as one single act that should merit his favor? Who among us must not have been cast down in utter despair? But all he requires is, that we should receive thankfully what he offers freely. So far as respects everything for the removal of our guilt, or for the providing of a perfect righteousness for us, all that is wrought for us by the Lord Jesus Christ, and is offered to us as a free gift from God. O beloved, what an unspeakable mercy is this! O! never turn your backs on this salvation! for, "how shall you escape, if you reject it?" It is precisely such as your necessities require; and, if you will but accept it as the free gift of God to your souls, it shall be yours forever.
2. What inconceivable benefit will flow from your obedience to it.
In the words following my text there is another command connected with it; namely, that "we should love one another, as he gave us commandment." But this, in fact, is the fruit, of which the other is the root. True "faith will invariably work by love," so that, not only will salvation be secured to us by faith; but holiness also, in all its sublimest branches, will be wrought in us. Those who object to salvation by faith, do so under an apprehension that it will leave us regardless of moral duties. But I ask, where is love found in any degree in comparison of that which is produced by faith? Where, since the foundation of the world, was holiness in all its branches seen, in comparison of that which shined forth in the Apostles and in all the primitive saints? I say then, that in this view, the exercise of faith is of inestimable value. But who shall declare the benefits resulting from it in the eternal world? Who shall make known to us all that is implied in "obtaining the salvation that is in Christ Jesus with eternal glory?" My dear brethren, be thankful that these blessings are yet offered to your acceptance; and pray earnestly to your God, that you fall not short of them through unbelief.
The Mutual In-Dwelling of God and His People
1 John 3:24. He who keeps his commandments dwells in him, and he in him. And hereby we know that he abides in us, by the Spirit which he has given us.
THERE is, in the Epistles of John, a most remarkable simplicity, insomuch that he seems to speak truths level with the comprehension of a little child: yet is there in him a vast profundity of sentiment, which no common mind can fathom. Not that he establishes his points by labored argumentation. He does not offer himself to the bar of reason; but, conscious of his own inspiration, he requires the submission of human reason to his dictates. In my text, he asserts truths of the deepest import; namely, the mutual in-dwelling of God in his people, and of his people in him; and the consciousness which God's people have of this mystery being realized in their own experience. These are things of which men in general have very little conception: but, on the authority of this holy Apostle, I will proceed to show,
I. The exalted privilege of God's people.
The character of God's people is here declared, in very simple terms.
"He who keeps God's commandments" is the person to whom the privilege belongs. Not that any man can keep them perfectly: but the true Christian does desire to fulfill them in their utmost extent; and, allowing for human infirmity, he does keep them uniformly, and without reserve. He would not exclude one command from the Decalogue, or contract its import in any respect.
But the commandments here more especially referred to, are those of faith and love. In the preceding verse these are particularly specified. "This is his commandment, that we should believe on the name of his Son Jesus Christ, and love one another, as he gave us commandment." Now, certainly, these are the two commandments, which, above all others, serve as a test, whereby to try the Christian character; and obedience to them is that by which the Lord's people are universally and exclusively distinguished. They are known by it universally: for there is not a Christian upon earth who does not live simply by faith on the Lord Jesus Christ; or who does not love, with a peculiar and transcendent affection, all whom he supposes to belong to Christ. On the other hand, this character belongs to them exclusively: for there is no other person in the universe who so entirely relies on Christ, or who so pre-eminently regards the mystical members of his body.
Of these it is said, that "God dwells in them, and they in him."
There is between God and them an union which does not exist in the whole world besides. Perhaps, the union of light with the air which it pervades, is the closest that will be found in nature: but, though the light pervades every particle of the air, and dwells in it, we cannot say that the air dwells in the light. But the in-dwelling of God and his people is mutual; he abiding in them, and they in him. Of course, however, this must be understood, not as relating to the essential natures of God and man, but only to a mystical communion subsisting between them; God dwelling in them, in a way of vital operation; and they in him, in a way of implicit affiance. God has repeatedly promised that he will dwell in his people by his good Spirit; enlightening their minds, sanctifying their souls, and filling them with heavenly consolations. In truth, this is the very office which the Holy Spirit, the Third Person of the ever-blessed Trinity, sustains in the economy of redemption: and it is in this way that he applies to us all that the Lord Jesus has purchased for us. We, on the other hand, in the exercise of faith and love, ascend, as it were, to Heaven, and deposit all our cares in the very bosom of our God: so that it is "not so much we that live, as Christ that lives in us;" "our life being hid with Christ in God," and "Christ himself being our very life." I grant, that to a mere nominal Christian all this will appear little better than mystical absurdity, and enthusiastic jargon. But true it is, whether men will believe it or not: and, if its being incomprehensible by us be any reason for denying it, we must, on the same principle, deny the existence and operation of our souls within our corporeal frame. It is not on one or two insulated passages that this great mystery is founded: it is declared again and again, in terms too plain to be denied, and too numerous to admit of doubt.
Nor is this a mere theory, demanding their assent: for my text further declares,
II. The assured sense which they may possess of their own personal interest in it.
This mutual in-dwelling may be perceived and known: "it may be known," as the Apostle tells us, "by the Spirit which God has given us." It may be known,
1. By the operation of the Holy Spirit within us.
The Holy Spirit is given unto us as "a Spirit of adoption, whereby we are enabled to cry, Abba, Father." He is given to us as a witness, to "witness with our spirits that we are the children of God." He is given to us as "a seal," to mark us as God's property; and to produce such an impression on our souls, that we may know, and that others also may know, "whose we are, and whom we serve." He is given unto us as "an earnest of our heavenly inheritance," that we may have already the foretaste of Heaven in our souls. Now, how can these operations proceed within us, and we not be conscious of them? It is to no purpose to say that the world knows nothing about them: for our blessed Lord has promised, that "he will manifest himself unto us as he does not unto the world," and it is by these very operations that he makes to us this glorious discovery: "Lord," said one of his Apostles, "how is it that you will manifest yourself unto us, as you do not unto the world? And Jesus answering said unto him, if a man love me, he will keep my words: and my Father will love him; and we will come unto him, and make our abode with him."
2. By the very works which that Holy Spirit produces in us.
David prayed, "Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me." And James says, "The spirit that dwells in us lusts to envy." And in this sense we may understand our text: "We know that he abides in us, by the spirit which he has given us; that is, we know the cause by the effects. Now, consider the effects, as before contemplated. We perceive not only the manifestations of God's love to us, but the drawing of our souls to him; so that in the habit of our minds we are going forth to him, and delighting ourselves in him. Is this the fruit of nature? Can it have proceeded from any power, but that of the Holy Spirit dwelling in us? Will any one see iron suspended in the air, and not refer it to the magnet? Be assured, when such an effect as this exists, we can trace it to no other source than the agency of the indwelling Spirit within us. Again; the disposition to obey the commandments of the Lord, and especially the sublime commandments of faith and love—is this of man? is the desire from man? How much less, then, can the attainment be? No, truly: "it is God who works in us both to will and to do of his own good pleasure," and when we have in ourselves the evidence that we are "keeping these commands," we may as well doubt who it was that formed the universe, as who the Author is of the work that has been wrought within us. We must say, "He who has wrought us to the self-same thing, is God."
Permit me to impress this subject more fully upon you,
1. In a way of complaint.
There is great reason to complain of the world at large, for deriding these things as enthusiasm, when they will not examine the grounds on which they are founded. I will grant, that, never having experienced anything of the kind in their own souls, they can have no just conception of them. But they might read the Scriptures: they might see what the inspired writers have spoken; and what was the recorded experience of the primitive saints. If persons in a tropical climate were to deny the existence or properties of congealed water, it would be no proof at all that there are not mountains of ice, capable of breaking, by concussion, the largest ship. As well might children deny what their fathers have known by experience, as ignorant and ungodly men denounce as visionary what truly converted characters know to be true. To those, then, who with ignorant incredulity ask, Can such things be? I would answer, with Philip to Nathanael, "Come and see." Come to the Holy Scriptures, and you shall find them there: and come to God himself, in the exercise of faith and love; and you shall find the experience of them in your own bosoms.
2. In a way of caution.
There are two errors, against which I would most affectionately guard you all: the one is, against professing this assurance on inadequate grounds; and the other is, against the maintaining of this assurance in an unhallowed way. There are persons who conceive that God dwells in them, because they have had some dreams or visions to that effect. But I apprehend that Satan himself is not capable of suggesting any more fatal delusion than this. And I must declare unto you, that he who builds his hopes on dreams or visions, will find his hope, and his religion too, no better than a dream or vision at last. It is from the spirit that God has given us, and not from a dream or vision, that we are to gather our interest in God: and I entreat you to satisfy yourselves with no evidences, but such as are plain, obvious, incontrovertible.
There are others who, professing to have God abiding in them, manifest a spirit altogether opposite to that which would result from a divine agency—a spirit of pride and self-preference, a spirit of moroseness and bigotry, a spirit of unwatchfulness and security. The presumptuous boldness of these persons is perfectly appalling: one is shocked to hear such unfeeling language as will proceed from their lips, and to behold such unhumbled confidence as they will venture to express. But I entreat you, brethren, never thus to pervert the word of God, and never thus to abuse the sacred truths of his Gospel. Remember, I pray you, that whatever supersedes a holy fear, is of the devil; and whatever leads you to neglect a continued watchfulness, is no other than a damning delusion.
3. In a way of encouragement.
A person under the influence of temptation will not be able to behold in himself those evidences, which yet, in his life, are visible to all. Such an one may find in this passage nothing but an occasion of self-condemning fear. He may say, 'I do not keep the commandments of God, and therefore I know that I have no part or lot in this matter: and "the very spirit that is within me testifies that I have not God abiding in me." ' But, my brethren, judge not yourselves too hardly. Do not suppose, that, because there are imperfections in your obedience, it is therefore not sincere; or that because the Spirit shines not upon you in full luster, you shall never behold the light of day. Be content, at present, to want the consolations which God sees fit to withhold: and occupy yourselves with the pursuit of those things which, in God's good time, will serve to prove what at the present you cannot see. Endeavor, in humble dependence upon God, to keep the commands of faith and love. Look to the Savior, and live by faith in him: look to his peculiar people, and abound in all acts and offices of love to them. Look to the spirit and temper of your own minds altogether: and in the constant exercise of prayer seek the transformation of your souls into the Divine image. Then, though you be not able to see that God is in you, a foundation will be laid for the future discovery of it: or, though it should still, for wise and gracious purposes, be hid from you, you will have the benefit at a future day, when God will surely shine upon you, and "reward every man according to his works." This is the advice given by the prophet, who says, "Then shall you know, if you follow on to know the Lord: his goings forth are prepared as the morning; and he shall come unto us as the rain, as the latter and former rain unto the earth."
God an Effectual Help
1 John 4:4. Greater is he who is in you, than he who is in the world.
CONSIDERING the opposition made to Christianity in the apostolic age, it is surprising that it gained so speedy, so extensive, and so permanent a footing in the world. That its establishment was effected through miracles, there is no doubt: but miracles, unless attended with a divine power to the hearts of the beholders, could effect nothing. The very raising of Lazarus from the dead served only to embitter the minds of many against him who had effected it. That which gave energy to the word, and caused it to work effectually for the conversion of men, was the power of the Holy Spirit. Moreover, after that men had embraced the Gospel, every possible method that Satan could devise was used to turn them from it: but millions maintained their steadfastness, even to the end: for, as John informs us, "greater was He who was in them than he who was in the world."
This truth being still as important as ever, I shall,
I. Confirm the assertion as relating to former times.
"Great," it must be confessed, "is he who is in the world."
"Many false prophets," even while the Apostles were yet living, "had gone out into the world," and great were the efforts which they made to turn men from the faith of Christ. Our blessed Lord had foretold that such persons would arise, and that their efforts would be productive of incalculable injury to his Church and people. "Many prophets shall arise, and deceive many." "For there shall be false Christs, and false prophets, and shall show great signs and wonders; insomuch that, if it were possible, they shall deceive the very elect. Behold, I have told you before." In accordance with this prediction, we find that "the faith of many was overthrown;" "whole houses were subverted;" and great multitudes were "turned back unto perdition." At a future period we expect still more extensive ravages of the flock, through these wolves in sheep's clothing: for the Spirit speaks expressly, "that in the latter times some will depart from the faith; giving heed to seducing spirits, and doctrines of devils, speaking lies in hypocrisy, having their conscience seared with a hot iron."
But it is Satan, in reality, that is the great agent in all these transactions: and the men who are more immediately engaged, are his instruments. In "these false apostles, these deceitful workers, who transform themselves into the Apostles of Christ, it is Satan himself transformed into an angel of light." It is "the prince of the power of the air, even the evil spirit himself, who works in all those children of disobedience."
But "greater far is He who is in the Church."
"The strong man armed keeps his palace, and his goods, for a time, in peace. But there is a stronger than he, who comes upon him, and overcomes him, and takes from him his armor wherein he trusted, and divides his spoils." He rescued millions from the dominion of that wicked one, and preserved them from the assaults of their cruel adversary. And "greater He still is," than that wicked fiend, and all his adherents.
He is greater in wisdom: for though the "devices" of Satan are inconceivably numerous, and "his wiles" beyond all conception subtle, yet he discerns them all, and knows how to counteract and defeat them all. He is greater also in power: for though Satan is "an angel that excels in strength," and has millions of wicked spirits, like unto himself, acting in confederacy with him, and under his special control, He who sits in the heavens laughs him to scorn; and says to him, "Hither shall you go, and no further." Earnest as Satan's desire was to destroy Job, he could effect nothing, until permitted by the Deity; and then could he not move an hair's breadth beyond his appointed bounds. Not even the herd of swine could he destroy, until he was liberated from the restraint which our Lord's superior power had imposed upon him.
That we may improve the assertion for our own use, I will,
II. Confirm it as applicable to the present day.
The same wicked spirit works mightily in the world at this time.
Various are the instruments he employs, and incessant are his exertions to destroy the souls of men.
He works by open infidelity. It is well known what efforts he has made throughout the whole of Europe, and with what prospects of success; insomuch that his agents boasted that they should soon crush our blessed Lord, and extinguish his religion. And in our own country, if the legal authorities had not interposed to uphold the laws, there is reason to fear that impiety and blasphemy would have filled every corner of our land.
He works, too, by secret discouragements. In every place, he assaults the souls of those who are desirous of being liberated from his dominion. He would persuade them that they are, on some ground or other, excepted from the general invitation to accept of mercy. They are not among the elect; or are too unworthy to obtain God's favor; or have committed the sin against the Holy Spirit, so that their day of grace is passed. All such suggestions are for the purpose of effecting that in individual characters, which, by infidel principles, he endeavors to accomplish on the community at large.
He works also by specious admixtures; mutilating and debasing the true Gospel, by confounding it with the law, and introducing into it terms subversive of its fundamental principles. It matters little to him, how he effects his purpose: if it be by a bold denial of all religion, or a desponding rejection of offered mercy, or a perversion of the Gospel under a pretended zeal for good works, he equally attains his end: and therefore he varies his assaults according to the diversified characters of men, if by any means he may draw them from Christ, and finally effect their ruin.
But a mightier power is in us also.
God is still with his Church and people; and still works in them, "mighty to save."
He is greater to instruct, than Satan is to deceive. The deepest of Satan's devices he can unveil, to the very weakest of his people; and can overrule them for the accomplishing of his own gracious purposes towards them. Satan hoped, by destroying the Messiah, to subvert his kingdom: but God made it the very means of establishing that kingdom. It was "by death that our Lord overcame him that had the power of death;" and on the very cross he spoiled principalities and powers, "triumphing over them openly in it."
He is greater also to uphold, than Satan is to cast down.—The efforts which Satan made to intimidate the Apostle Paul were such as appeared sufficient to daunt the strongest mind: but observe how God enabled his servant to triumph in every assault: "We are troubled on every side, yet not distressed: we are perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; cast down, but not destroyed; always bearing about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus, that the life also of Jesus might be made manifest in our body."
He is greater too to save, than Satan is to destroy.—Satan would have "sifted Peter as wheat," but God would "not suffer his faith to fail." In the Epistle to the Church of Smyrna, it is said, "Behold, the devil shall cast some of you into prison, that you may be tried: and you shall have tribulation ten days." Mark how Satan is here restrained. If he could have had his own will, he would have cast, not "some," but all; not "into prison," but into Hell; not for "ten days" but forever. No "tribulation" short of that would satisfy his malignant mind. But "wherein he, or his emissaries, deal proudly, our God is above them," and the very means which he uses for our destruction will God make use of for the promoting and effecting of our salvation.
Two questions, we may suppose, you will be ready to ask:
1. How shall I know by which spirit I am moved?
This question is easily answered from the preceding context. We are bidden to "try the spirits, whether they be of God." And this shows the propriety of suggesting the question before us. We have also the answer given: "Hereby know you the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh, is of God: and every spirit that confesses not that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh, is not of God." Here, then, is a plain test, by which the matter may be tried. Whoever, or whatever, would keep you from a total surrender of your souls to Christ, is from the devil: and whatever would lead you to it, is from God. All the false prophets before spoken of are antichrists: for "there are many anti-christs," and whatever be the particular line they adopt, their object is the same; namely, to keep you from glorifying the Lord Jesus Christ. But whatever means our God is pleased to use, his object is, that Christ should be glorified in us. This is the matter contested between God and Satan; as Paul also explicitly declares: "The God of this world has blinded the minds of them that believe not, lest the light of the glorious Gospel of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine unto us. But God, who commanded light to shine out of darkness, has shined in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ." This exactly accords with the testimony of John, and completely answers the question that has been proposed. Know then, that if infidelity would pervert you, or despondency discourage you, or self-righteousness deceive you, they have "the mark of the beast upon them, as clear and visible as the sun at noon-day. The object of them all is, to keep you from Christ. But, whatever leads you to Christ, to believe in him, and serve him, and glorify him, you need no other evidence of its being from God. Reject therefore, with abhorrence, every anti-Christian spirit: and receive with gratitude every motion which bears upon it the character and impress of your heavenly Father.
2. How may I secure the final victory?
This also it is easy to answer: "You are of God, little children, and have overcome them; because greater is He who is in you, than he who is in the world." "They were of God," and relied altogether upon him: and therefore they overcame. Do you the same; and the victory shall be yours also. Never will God forsake those who trust in him: never will he suffer Satan to "pluck one of them out of his hands." He may leave them to endure many conflicts: but he will be with them, and support them with great might, and make them "more than conquerors" over all their enemies. No one need to be discouraged on account of his weakness; for "God will perfect his own strength in their weakness." "His hand is not shortened, that it cannot save; nor is his ear heavy, that he cannot hear." Still is he as able, and as willing, to save his people as ever; "nor shall one of his little ones ever perish." Look on your enemies then, my dear children, (that is the meaning of the word translated "little children," it does not here refer to age or stature, but is a term of endearment, and is so used by our Lord himself to his disciples;) and say to every one of them, "Who are you, O great mountain? Before Zerubbabel you shall become a plain." Only "be you of God;" and all the powers of darkness shall fall before you, and "Satan himself be bruised under your feet shortly."
The Spirit of Truth, and the Spirit of Error
1 John 4:6. Hereby know we the spirit of truth, and the spirit of error.
IN matters of eternal moment, every man must think for himself. We should take nothing upon trust; but bring to the test of Scripture the doctrines we hear, and the persons who profess to instruct us in the mind of God. This may appear presumptuous, in persons who have not made theology their peculiar study: but it is not presumptuous in any one who has the Scriptures in his hands, and a Divine Instructor to apply to. It was to the Church at large, and not to any particular person, that John said, "Beloved, believe not every spirit; but try the spirits, whether they be of God." Even in the apostolic age, "many false prophets had gone out into the world," and certainly there are not a few at this day, who, while they profess to preach the Gospel, hold forth an extremely erroneous standard of truth and duty. But the Gospel itself affords us a sufficient test, whereby to try whatever is set before us. Moreover we should feel the same jealousy respecting ourselves, and use the same precautions in estimating our own character. There is "a spirit of truth;" but there is also "a spirit of error," and the two may easily be mistaken for each other; and, through that mistake, a most erroneous judgment be formed of our conduct. To keep you from any such mistakes, I will show,
I. The different spirits by which men are actuated.
There is, in some, "a spirit of truth."
In some there is a simplicity of mind, that desires nothing but what is right and true. They are open to conviction: they will weigh with candor whatever is set before them: they will not knowingly harbor any prejudices or prepossessions. They take pains to acquire knowledge: they, in particular, search into the fountain of all knowledge, the book of God: and, conscious of their need of divine instruction, they will look up to God for the teachings of his Spirit, and readily submit to whatever they find to be his revealed will. They are like Cornelius, who, though a heathen, hesitated not to send for Peter, who was a Jew, and to receive without gainsaying all that that divine instructor was commissioned to reveal.
There is, in others, "a spirit of error."
There is in some a perverseness of mind, which, instead of affecting truth, loves rather paradox and disputation. There is in them an inaptitude to receive instruction. They have certain principles in their mind, which bias them on all subjects; and they have a certain pleasure in being singular. Things which are plain and obvious to others are not so to them, because their minds are fertile in supplying objections: to find which, they will travel far out of their road; and, having found them, they will lay a far greater stress on them than such trifling difficulties can in any way deserve. Hence, on almost all subjects, they are at issue with their nearest friends, unless indeed they have prevailed to draw others into the same vortex with themselves.
But, as these imagine themselves to be influenced by a very opposite spirit, it will be proper for us to inquire,
II. How we are to discriminate between them.
As in natural substances we may, by a chemical process, discover of what they are compounded; so may we, by the application of certain tests, find how far the foregoing ingredients enter into the composition of our minds. In the context, two tests are proposed; namely, the world, and the Gospel; and by these "we may know" the two different spirits which we have been considering.
1. Take the world, then, as a test.
If we have "a spirit of truth," there will be a readiness to see and acknowledge the vanity of all things here below. The whole world, and all that it contains, will appear to us lighter than vanity itself. Its views will appear erroneous in the extreme: its habits, altogether contrary to the mind of God. Eternity will be taken into the account in every estimate of the things of time; and everything be viewed with a direct reference to that.
On the other hand, let the world be brought as a test to one who is blinded by "a spirit of error;" and how manifest will be the delusion under which he is laboring! He cannot see that the world is so vain or so mistaken as enthusiasts imagine: there is nothing so evil in its ways: its pursuits are highly rational; its pleasures altogether innocent; its friends and votaries in a state of acceptance with God. Nothing in it is to be condemned, except its excesses and its crimes. In a word, as the Pharisees "derided our Lord" when he spoke of covetousness, because "they were covetous," so the man who is led by "a spirit of error" shuts his eyes against the plainest truths, and will admit nothing which thwarts his own worldly and carnal inclinations.
2. Take the Gospel as a test.
This is still more calculated to try the hidden dispositions of the soul. If we are actuated by a spirit of truth, we shall receive whatever God has spoken in his word, as little children. We shall not dispute against it, because it does not accord with our pre-conceived opinions; but shall rather form our opinions from it, than presume to sit in judgment upon it. The deepest truths which are there revealed will not offend us. It will be no stumbling-block to us, to find that God himself has become incarnate, and died upon the cross under the guilt of his creatures' sins: our only inquiry will be, Is this revealed? if it be, then is it true, whether we can understand it or not. Nor shall we be averse to the way of obtaining salvation simply by faith in Christ; because, if it be pointed out as the only way of access to God, and the only means of obtaining blessings from him, then is it with all readiness and humility to be complied with, nor will a thought be suffered to rise against it. This is "the honest and good heart," which our blessed Lord commends as the proper soil wherein to sow the seed of life, and as the principle which we must cultivate with all possible care.
But far different will be the conduct of one who is carried away by "a spirit of error." The blessed word of God to him is rather a field wherein to exercise and display his own ingenuity. Nothing is acceptable to him that does not commend itself to his reason: he sits in judgment upon everything, pronouncing this reasonable, and that unreasonable; and the great mystery of redemption, through the blood and righteousness of our incarnate God, he regards as foolishness. This is the spirit of Arians, and Socinians, and numberless others, who, instead of receiving the sacred oracles with the simplicity of a little child, deal with them as they would with a merely human composition; receiving what they like, merely because it accords with their own views, and rejecting all the rest as erroneous and absurd.
Thus by these tests we may distinguish "what spirit we are of." They call into action the hidden principles of the heart; and give occasion for the manifestation of them, in a way that is clear, and that admits of no doubt.
Let me now proceed to mark,
III. The importance of distinguishing them aright.
A just discernment of these spirits will enable us,
1. To account for the conduct of others.
It appears strange, at first sight, that a religion so worthy of God, and so suitable to man, as Christianity is, should not be readily received, and universally obeyed. How can it be, that its principles should be so generally controverted, and its practice so generally condemned? Is there any want of evidence, that the religion itself is from God? or, is there anything really unreasonable in a life of faith and holiness? No, the fact is, that the pride of human nature is averse to receive a free salvation; and the corruption of human nature knows not how to bear the restraints which the Gospel imposes on it. Hence the spirit of man rises against the Gospel itself; and either fashions it to a standard of his own, or rejects it altogether, as unworthy to be received. Here then, at once, we see whence it is that worldlings continue worldly, and infidels retain their infidelity. They say in their hearts, "Who is lord over us? They hate to be reformed: "they hold fast deceit," they shut their eyes against the light: they "cast God's word behind them;" and say, in effect, "We will not have this man, the Lord Jesus Christ, to reign over us." This explains that phenomenon which proves such a stumbling-block to Jews and Gentiles. They say, 'If your religion be so clear, whence is it that there is such a diversity of opinions respecting it?' The answer is, 'Among those who are humble and contrite, there is no difference as to any fundamental part of doctrine, or practice: and, if there be among others, it is because they are led away by a "spirit of error," and "blinded by the God of this world."
2. To form a correct judgment of our own.
To attain a knowledge of ourselves, we must diligently mark our own motives and principles of action. We see in others a bias; and we must observe how far there may be any undue influence upon our own minds. If we will candidly examine ourselves, we shall see that, in ten thousand instances, there is a leaning to self, through the workings of pride, or interest, or passion; and that, to be perfectly impartial in our views and actions, is an attainment of no common magnitude. To have no wish but to conform ourselves to the will of God, is a measure of grace that is but rarely found; so rare is "a spirit of truth" in its full extent, and so prevalent "a spirit of error." Hence there is no man who has not occasion to humble himself for his defects; nor any who has not to watch continually against the deceitfulness of his own heart.
Let me further IMPRESS this subject on your minds, by adding,
1. A word of caution.
The persons who most need to have this subject brought home to their own hearts, are the most backward to bestow a thought upon it; so blinded are they by the very evil against which they ought to guard. But I would affectionately remind them, that confidence in error will not make error cease to be what it is; and that a pertinacity in error may cause God to give them over to judicial blindness and hardness. We read, that "God gives over some to a strong delusion, to believe a lie, that they may be damned, because they believe not the truth, but obey unrighteousness." Their "believing a lie" does not make it true; nor does its being "a delusion" prevent their being "damned" for yielding to it. O brethren! provoke not God so to abandon you; but beg of him to give you more simplicity of mind, and to put "truth in your inward parts."
2. A word of advice.
You know, that in natural substances there are a great variety of component parts, which are hidden from the natural eye; but which, as we have before hinted, may, by a chemical process, be brought to view. By the application of certain tests, the parts may be separated, and new combinations of them be formed. In like manner, by the application of tests to your souls, you may discover the hidden principles of your hearts. See what it is to which your mind has an affinity: mark what it embraces; and what, on coming into contact with some other thing, it is disposed to relinquish. There are both "flesh and spirit" in the renewed man; and, by diligent observation of the way in which they are called into action, and of the degree in which they operate, you may ascertain your real character before God. If the world drives out spiritual considerations, and more tenaciously occupies the mind, you will see reason for self-abasement before God. If, on the contrary, the blessed truths of the Gospel readily fill your mind, and exclude the world, then have you reason for gratitude and thanksgiving. We are assured that "they who are after the flesh, do mind, and savor, the things of the flesh; but they that are after the Spirit, the things of the Spirit." "Try then yourselves" by these tests, and "examine" carefully your state before God: for, "if your own heart condemn you, God is greater than your heart, and knows all things; but if your heart condemn you not, then have you confidence towards God."
The Love of God In Giving His Son For Us
1 John 4:9, 10. In this was manifested the love of God toward us, because that God sent his only-begotten Son into the world, that we might live through him. Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins.
OF all the endearing characters that are given us of God, that by which he is designated in the words immediately preceding our text, is the most comprehensive and most glorious; "God is love." It might seem indeed that this appellation but ill-accorded with the sterner attribute of justice: but in the execution of his wrath against impenitent transgressors, his love to the whole creation appears, no less than in his dispensations of grace and mercy to the penitent: even as the love of a judge towards the whole community appears in condemning a murderer, as much as in protecting the weak, or acquitting the innocent. There is however one exercise of his love which infinitely exceeds all others; and that is, the gift of his only-begotten Son to die for us. This is the subject set before us in the text, and which the return of this day calls more especially to our remembrance.
Let us consider,
I. The love of God as it is here exhibited.
Instead of entering at large into the subject of our Savior's incarnation, we shall confine ourselves strictly to the consideration of the Father's love in the different steps of it, as mentioned in the text. How astonishing is it,
1. That he should desire the restoration of our souls to life!
Why should he ever entertain such a thought as this? Could we profit him at all? or would he suffer any loss by leaving us to perish? If he chose to have human beings to behold and participate his glory, could he not in an instant call forth millions into existence, and communicate to them the blessings we had forfeited? Had he determined that we should never fall, and that he would impose on us a necessity to continue in our primeval state, we should have the less wondered at his love: but that he should foresee our fall, and yet determine to restore us; that he should behold us actually fallen, and yet pity us; that, when our first parents fled from him, he should follow them with invitations to accept of mercy; and that, when they shifted off all blame from themselves, and cast it eventually even upon God himself, he should still retain his desire to save them; how amazing was this love! Had he proposed only to remit their punishment, and to blot out their existence, this had been a wonderful act of love: but to desire the restoration of such creatures to his favor, that they might live with him in glory for evermore, is truly such an exhibition of love, as far surpasses the utmost stretch of our conceptions. How differently did he act towards the angels, when they fell! He never entertained a thought of restoring them: but, when man fell, then, as if he himself could not be happy without us, he concerted with his eternal Son to deliver us, and to save us with an everlasting salvation.
2. That he should send his only-begotten Son into the world to effect this!
What ways of accomplishing this object God might have found, it is not for us to say: but it is reasonable to believe, that nothing less than the incarnation of his only-begotten Son could effect it. And how wonderful it was that he should ever adopt such a measure as that! that he should spare his only dear Son from his bosom, and send him into a world that was already cursed by sin! that he should send him to assume our very nature; to be "made in the likeness of sinful flesh;" yes, to be made in all points like as we are, sin only excepted! However he might desire our recovery, it seems absolutely incredible that he should ever condescend to use such means to effect it: yet we are told that he actually did so; and that he sent, not an angel, not all the hosts of angels, but even "his only-begotten Son, into the world, that we might live through him."
3. That, in order to the effecting of it, he should make Him a atoning sacrifice for our sins!
For the honor of God's moral government, it was necessary that his hatred against sin should be made manifest, and that, if mercy were exercised towards fallen man, it should be only in a way that would consist with the rights of justice, and preserve the honor of God's broken law. This could only be done by a vicarious sacrifice, a sacrifice of equal value with the souls of all mankind. Such a sacrifice could be made by none but our incarnate God; who therefore assumed our nature, that he might expiate sin by the sacrifice of himself, and make himself "a atoning sacrifice for the sins of the whole world." What love then was here; that God should send his only-begotten Son into the world for such an end as this! Had he sent him to instruct us by his doctrine and example, it had been a stupendous act of love: but to send him on purpose that he might bear our sins in his own body on "the tree," and die in our stead, "the just for the unjust, to bring us to God;" this is a love that is utterly incomprehensible: it has heights and depths that can never be explored.
To confirm this view of our subject, we need only call your attention to that assertion of Paul, that "in this God commends his love to us;" and to that pious reflection of his, "He who spared not his own Son, but delivered him up for us all, how shall he not with him also freely give us all things?" These passages abundantly prove, that, as the gift of Christ to us was the fruit of the Father's love, so it was an instance of his love, that infinitely outweighs all else that he ever has done, or ever can do, for sinful man.
Let us now consider,
II. Our love to God as put in competition with it.
It is evidently supposed in our text that some might be blind and impious enough to ascribe their salvation rather to the love which they bore to God, than to that which, of his own free and sovereign grace, he bore to them. Hence the Apostle says, "Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us." It is indeed surprising that any child of man should ever entertain such an idea as this which the Apostle explodes: but experience proves, that there is no merit so great, but man will arrogate it to himself; and no tribute so just, but he will refuse it to his God. We proceed then to notice this sentiment in a two-fold view:
1. The erroneousness of it.
Let us for a moment inquire, What is the state of fallen man? Has he of himself any love to God? So far from it, we are told, that "the carnal mind is enmity against God; and that it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be." There is not any one thing relating to God, which the natural man loves: not his perfections; not his word; not his ordinances; not his people; not his ways: he is in his heart adverse to them all. But it may be said, that many are brought to love God at last. True: but how is this effected? by any power in man? or by any previous good inclination in man? No, "It is God that gives us both to will and to do, of his own good pleasure," it is "he, and he alone, that makes us to differ," either from others, or from our former selves: we neither have anything, nor can have anything, but what we receive from him. How then can that which we receive from God be the cause or ground of his conferring it upon us?
The text, it is true, speaks of God's sending his Son into the world to die for us: and it may be thought, that no one would ascribe that gift to any merit of his own. We grant it: but, if men do not ascribe to their own merits the gift of a Savior, they ascribe to their own merits the gift of salvation itself: yes, exceeding vehemently do they arrogate to themselves this honor: and when they are constrained to acknowledge, that in their unregenerate state they have done no good works to deserve salvation, they will maintain, that God has respect to some good which he has foreseen in them, and makes some natural or acquired excellence in them the reason and the measure of his favor towards them. But we can scarcely conceive any expressions more strong than those by which God cautions his people against this vain conceit. Hear what he said respecting it to his chosen people the Jews—Hear also what Jesus said to his own immediate Disciples, who had certainly as good ground for boasting as any of us can have—Hear further what John says in a few verses after our text, and which is applicable, not to one age or people, but to the saints of God in every age; "We love him, because he first loved us." But indeed it is the voice of Scripture from one end to the other, that "God has mercy on whom he will have mercy," and that "there is a remnant according to the election of grace." To be making this truth a constant subject of our ministrations, as some do, is highly injudicious; but, when it comes fairly in our way, we must maintain it, as necessary for the abasing of man's pride, and for the exalting of God's honor and glory.
2. The impiety of it.
God is a jealous God: his very "name is Jealous," and "his glory he will not give to another. Now the great end for which he has redeemed man, was the advancement of his own glory. Paul, in the space of a few verses, repeats this almost to satiety, if we may so speak—But to ascribe the gift of a Savior, or of salvation, either in whole or in part, to our love to him, is to rob him of his glory; and to establish a ground for glorying in ourselves, when he has declared, "that no flesh shall glory in his presence." Now, in reference to ourselves, we are backward to acknowledge that there is any great sin in this. Let us then transfer our thoughts to the fallen angels, and contemplate them as acting in this manner. They have sinned, as we have: and are as incapable of restoring themselves to the Divine favor, as we are: Let us then suppose God to say, 'I will send my only-begotten Son into those regions of misery, to bear their punishment, and to expiate their guilt: and I will send my Holy Spirit into their hearts, to change their natures, to renew them after my image, and to fit them for my presence.' Suppose, when God, of his own sovereign grace and mercy had done this, those wicked fiends should arrogate the glory to themselves, and say, 'God has saved us, because he foresaw what holy dispositions we should exercise, and how richly we should merit his favor;' What should we think of them? Should we not say, that their guilt was augmented ten-fold; and that the punishment they might expect would be proportionably severe? Where then is the difference between them and us? What have we, more than they, to merit the Divine favor? Or what can we have more than they, except it be given us from above? Know then, that, if God would burn with indignation against them for such pride and ingratitude, so will he against us, if we refuse to give him the glory due to his name. If Herod was made a monument of wrath for accepting from others a tribute due only to his God, much more shall we, if we, reversing what he has spoken, shall presume to say, "Herein is love, not that God loved us, but that we loved him, and earned by our love an interest in his favor."
We conclude with some suitable advice:
1. Contemplate frequently this love of God to you.
The angels are not interested in the wonders of redemption as we are, and yet are ever "desiring to look into them." Shall we then be regardless of them? Shall we not search into them; and meditate upon them; and speak of them; and glory in them; and make them "all our salvation, and all our desire?" Shall we not especially consecrate to the contemplation of them this season which has been set apart by our Church for that express purpose? O make not this a time for carnal feasting, but for holy meditation, and for delight in God!
2. Get your hearts filled with love to him.
If our love be not the cause, it nevertheless should be the consequence, of his love to us. Of this, none can entertain a doubt. Who that is in the smallest degree impressed with the Savior's love to us, does not see the reasonableness of that awful denunciation, "If any man love not the Lord Jesus Christ, let him be Anathema Maranatha?" Yes, on whoever that curse may fall, we must all acknowledge the justice of it; and in the day of judgment, when it shall be yet more awfully denounced on the enemies of Christ, there will not be a saint or angel in the universe who will not add his Amen to it. O let us now muse on his love to us, until the fire of Divine love kindle in our hearts, and we speak with our tongues the high praises of our God!
3. Seek to abound in love to each other.
This is the improvement which the Apostle suggests in the words following our text." In the love of Christ to us is both the reason and the model, for our love to each other. Was his love to us unmerited? we also should freely exercise love even to the evil and unthankful. Did his love lead him to forego the glory and felicity of Heaven, and to submit to the accursed death of the cross for us? such should be our love to our fellow-creatures: there should be no measure of labor or self-denial which we should not willingly exercise for the good of others; yes, even to the laying down of our life for them. Here then we see the proper duty of this season: search out the poor, the sick, and the afflicted, that you may administer to them the consolations they stand in need of: and especially exert yourselves to see what you can do for the souls of men—This is the work that will most assimilate you to Christ, and will best prove the sincerity of your love to him.
Christ the Savior of the World
1 John 4:14. We have seen and do testify that the Father sent the Son to be the Savior of the world.
WERE it announced to us, in a time of war, that the enemies of our country were vanquished, that those who had menaced us with utter destruction were all taken captive, and that we might henceforth enjoy an honorable and lasting peace; our first inquiry would be, What ground is there for crediting the report? If we were assured, that several persons, who had been present at the battle and had seen the captive enemies, were sent by the conqueror on purpose to make known to us the glad tidings, we should be filled with transports of joy, and congratulate one another on the glorious event. Such tidings, and thus authenticated, we have to declare unto you; not indeed in reference to an earthly enemy, but in reference to our great adversary, the devil; whom Christ, our Almighty Deliverer, has subdued. The Apostles were sent by their victorious Lord to proclaim the news: and they have come to us, affirming that they were eye-witnesses of the truths which they have been commissioned to declare. They acknowledge, indeed, that "Satan bruised his heel; but they affirm, that he bruised Satan's head." Satan so far prevailed as to have him crucified: but by his very death our blessed Lord overcame him that had the power of death, that is, the devil; yes, "on the cross itself he triumphed openly over that wicked adversary, and spoiled all the principalities and powers of Hell;" and in his ascension "he led captivity itself captive."
But that we may ascertain more correctly the nature and truth of their testimony, we shall show,
I. What evidence we have of the fact reported in the text.
It would divert us too far from our subject to enter into the question of the credibility of the Apostles; suffice it to say, that, as they had no possible inducement to deceive us, so they have never, on any occasion, betrayed the smallest wish to deceive us. Their veracity is unimpeached, and may fully be relied on.
But, it may be asked, Were they themselves well-informed on the points whereof they affirm? We answer, They saw the things which they attest: they did not receive them from the report of others, but were assured of them by ocular demonstration. They saw all which they affirm concerning Christ: they saw,
1. His personal glory.
Others, even his bitterest enemies, beheld him as a man like unto themselves; but some of his Apostles had ocular proofs of his Godhead: they saw him transfigured on Mount Tabor, his face shining brighter than the meridian sun, and his garments all illumined by the radiant effulgence of his Deity; and they heard the Father's voice from Heaven attesting him to be his only, his beloved Son. This vision was given to them for their more perfect satisfaction: and they record the circumstance in proof, that what they reported concerning him they knew to be true.
2. His matchless perfections.
Not they only, but his very enemies, were astonished at his wisdom, and constrained to confess, that "never man spoke like him." His power and goodness were alike manifest in the authority which he exercised over diseases, devils, and the very elements. Hence, on different occasions, his Disciples expressed their full conviction that he was the promised Messiah, the Savior of the world: "We believe and are sure that you are that Christ the Son of the living God."
3. His shameful death.
His crucifixion was seen by all: but there were some circumstances connected with his death, which tended very strongly to corroborate the opinion which his Disciples had formed of him. The effusion of blood and water from his wounded side in two distinct streams, particularly impressed them with the idea, that he died to cleanse men, not only from the guilt, but also from the power and pollution, of sin. And the prodigies preceding and following his dissolution were such, that the Centurion who attended the crucifixion exclaimed, Truly this was a righteous man, this was the Son of God.
4. His triumphant resurrection.
At the precise moment of his resurrection, none were present except the soldiers who were placed to guard his tomb: but within a few hours he was seen by several of his Disciples: and for the space of forty days he appeared to them on a great variety of occasions. By these manifestations of himself, the incredulity of the Apostles was overcome: and much stress was laid upon them by the Apostles in confirmation of their word.
5. His glorious ascension.
Many were permitted to behold this glorious event: and this, together with the descent of the Holy Spirit whom Christ had promised to send down, convinced the Disciples, beyond a possibility of doubt, that Jesus was the Christ. From this time, (the time of the Spirit's descent,) the Apostles began to preach Christ as the Savior of the world: and they constantly founded their testimony upon the fact of their having been eye-witnesses of everything that they declared. Indeed, such stress did they lay on this circumstance, that, in choosing a successor to Judas in the apostleship, they took care to have one who was on a par with themselves in this particular: and, in speaking of Christ, they dwell on this circumstance with most triumphant satisfaction. It was for the purpose of qualifying Saul to bear the same convincing testimony, that the Lord Jesus appeared personally to him in the way to Damascus: and, when his ministry was undervalued on account of his supposed inferiority in these respects, he triumphantly appealed to his opposers, "Am I not an Apostle? Have I not seen Jesus Christ our Lord?"
If then such a number of faithful witnesses, all concurring in the same testimony, and all qualified to give their testimony from a personal inspection of the things attested, can establish any truth whatever, we must confess that the fact asserted in the text is established beyond the possibility of doubt, and that "God the Father has sent his Son to be the Savior of the world."
The fact being proved, we proceed to show,
II. For what end we bear our testimony respecting it.
To set forth Christ as the Savior of the world was the one labor of all the Apostles. The same also is our blessed employment; and we make that our constant theme, or, at least, the sum and substance of our discourses;
1. That you may have just views of the Father's love.
We behold the goodness of our God in everything around us: but not all the creation can exhibit it in so bright a view as the cross of Christ: there, even in the face of a crucified Jesus, shines all the glory of our God. Love, in particular, is there portrayed in its most endearing colors. The gift of God's only dear Son to die for man, was the most stupendous effort of love that ever was, or can be, exhibited—It is greater love than was ever shown even to the angels themselves: and, while it brings us nearer to the throne of God than they, it will furnish us with everlasting songs in which they can never join.
2. That you may renounce all erroneous methods of seeking acceptance with him.
If this glorious truth had never been revealed, we might well have made the same inquiries as Balak. But what room is there for such inquiries now? Do we despise this unspeakable gift of God? or do we conceive that we shall be able to establish a firmer foundation for our hope, than that which is laid in the blood and righteousness of the Lord Jesus Christ?—O reject not the offered mercy of your God! Say not, 'The Savior of the world shall not save me.' This is what you do, in fact, say, when you go about to "establish any righteousness of your own." To guard you against so fatal an error, Paul testified with all the energy he could express: and we also testify, that there is no other foundation to be laid, nor any other name to be trusted any, but that of Jesus Christ.
3. That you may embrace the Lord Jesus with your whole hearts.
View him as sent down from Heaven, even from the bosom of the Father: view him as dying in your place and stead: view him as saving a ruined world. Can you forbear to love him? Can you refrain from seeking an interest in him? Are you not ready to cry out, "Hosanna to the Son of David; Hosanna in the highest?" Behold him, I say; admire him; adore him; trust in him; "cleave unto him with full purpose of heart;" "count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus your Lord." Alas! you are but too little affected with his love; and need to be reminded of it continually: "we determine, therefore, with God's help, to know nothing among you but Jesus Christ and him crucified," and to set before you his love, until it constrains you to love him, and to live to him.
Hear once more our testimony. We testify, that Christ is indeed the Son of God, even "Emmanuel, God with us." We testify, that the one errand on which he came, was to save a ruined world. We testify, that he has done all that was necessary for the salvation of our souls; and that "he is both able and willing to save to the uttermost all that come unto God by him"—O compel us not to complain, as he did, "We testify of that we have seen, and you receive not our witness!" but let us behold you inquiring after him, until you can say with the Samaritan converts, "we have seen ('heard') him ourselves, and believe that this is indeed the Christ, the Savior of the world." It is true, you cannot now see him, as the Apostles did, face to face; but by faith you may "see him that is invisible," and if only you behold him now by faith, you shall one day see him, as you are seen, and "know him, as you are known."
The Distinctive Character of a Christian
1 John 4:16. We have known and believed the love that God has to us.
NEVER was there a truth so deep, so comprehensive, so endearing, conveyed in so short a space as that immediately following our text; "God is love." It is engraved on the face of universal nature: the heavenly bodies, in their various courses, proclaim it: the earth, with all its productions, declares it: the human race, in particular, both in the frame of their bodies and the faculties of their souls, unanimously attest it. Every work of God's providence displays it; and every word of his grace. Even the judgments which he threatens, and those which he executes, must be traced to love as their source; for though, as it respects the individuals that suffer, whether men or devils, he shows only his displeasure; yet, as justice executed on criminals is mercy to the community, so is the punitive justice of the Deity an act of love to the whole intelligent creation.
But glorious as this truth is, it is but little known: the revelation which was designed to illustrate and confirm it, is lightly regarded: and those things which incessantly engage the admiration of angels, are scarcely considered by men as worthy of the slightest attention.
Some there are however who know how to appreciate this truth. While it is overlooked by the wise of this world, it is known, believed, and loved, by every true Christian, whatever be his condition or attainments in all other respects: if he be low and illiterate, he yet has a just apprehension of it in his mind; and if he be great and learned, he values this above all his other knowledge.
From the words before us we shall be led to show,
I. The distinctive character of the Christian.
The love referred to in the text, is that which God manifested in the gift of his dear Son to die for us.
In the context, the Apostle particularly directs our attention to this point. He elsewhere declares, that the Father's love to our ruined race was the motive that induced him (if we may so speak) to send his Son into the world: and another Apostle refers to that event as the brightest exhibition which God himself could give of his love to man. Great as many of his bounties are, this infinitely excels them all.
The true Christian knows and believes this love.
Others may talk of it with accuracy, according to the statement given of it in the Scriptures; but it is the Christian alone that justly apprehends it. The light of others, like that of the moon, is inoperative, uninfluential: but the Christian's light is like that of the sun: it diffuses a genial warmth through the soul, and causes every grace to flourish and abound. Were it sufficient to say, "I believe," all who repeat the Creed would be believers; and there would be no room for that question of our Lord, "When the Son of man comes, shall he find faith upon the earth?" But to exercise a living faith is a very distinct thing: this is peculiar to the true Christian: he knows and believes the love which God has exercised towards us: he "believes it" as the foundation of all his hopes—he "knows it" as the source of all his joys.
But that we may not deceive ourselves, we proceed to show,
I. How we may know whether that character be formed in us.
If a man know and believe that anything of a very interesting nature, whether good or evil, has befallen him, he cannot fail of being, in some measure at least, suitably affected with it. Now, if we have known and believed the love that God has to us, we must of necessity have been filled,
1. With wonder and admiration.
This subject has excited universal wonder through all the hosts of Heaven: how then can it fail to astonish us, if we truly know it and believe it? Did the Apostle John express such wonder at our adoption into God's family, as to say, "Behold, what manner of love is this with which the Father has loved us?" Was Paul so overwhelmed with astonishment at the idea of the Gentiles being admitted into the Church as to exclaim, "O the depths!" and shall not we be amazed at a miracle of mercy that is infinitely more stupendous, that has a depth and length and breadth and height that surpass the conception of men or angels? What are all other gifts in comparison of the gift of his only dear Son? "Having not spared him, but delivered him up for us all, how shall he not with him also freely give us all things?" Know then, that, if you have never been lost in wonder at this "unspeakable gift," and at the unsearchable riches of grace and love contained in it; yes, if this be not in a measure your daily experience, you have never yet attained the Christian character: whatever you may have professed, or however you may have lived, you have yet to learn the first great lesson in the school of Christ.
2. With love and gratitude.
Men in general speak of the great mystery of redemption as a common thing; and will repeat the Creed, or the truths contained in it, with as much indifference, as if the Gospel were nothing but "a cunningly-devised fable." We might live with them for years, and never once hear them speak with rapture on this glorious theme. But "you have not so learned Christ, if so be have heard him and been taught by him as the truth is in Jesus." "The love of Christ," if truly known and believed, will "have a constraining efficacy, to make us live to him who died for us." The moment we feel it aright, we shall inquire, How can I requite it acceptably? What shall I render to the Lord for all these wonders of love and mercy? Contracted as our views of this mystery may be, "we shall count all things but loss and dung for the excellency of the knowledge of it." It will be the one subject of our meditations, the one theme of our praise.
3. With a desire to know our own personal interest in it.
The man that has no fears or jealousies about his interest in the love of God, has no just conception of it at all. He may descant learnedly on the Scriptures, but he knows nothing of the mystery contained in them. To be in suspense and doubt whether we are accepted in the Beloved, is to a true Christian more painful than the severest bodily suffering could be. On the other hand, to be able to say, "Christ has loved me and given himself for me;" "My Beloved is mine, and I am his;" this is a very Heaven upon earth: and when the Christian can adopt this language, and feel "the love of God shed abroad in his heart by the Holy Spirit," "his soul is indeed satisfied as with marrow and fatness," he cares for nothing, and desires nothing: created objects lose all their luster, when once he has thus beheld the Sun of Righteousness shining in his glory.
1. Those who have not this evidence within them.
There can be no difficulty in making the foregoing inquiries. But it is a fearful thing to find on examination that we have not the grace of God in us. O think not lightly of the distinction that has been pointed out! for it will form a ground of distinction in the day of judgment, and determine our abode either in Heaven or in Hell. Remember, too, that you will in that day be wholly without excuse. Others may say, 'It was my misfortune rather than my fault that I did not know and believe the love of God in Christ Jesus; for I never had it faithfully declared unto me.' But to you there has been no want of instruction to enlighten, no want of evidence to convince you: so that your ignorance and unbelief involve you in the deepest guilt. O continue not in such a state as this! but pray that "the Spirit of wisdom and revelation may be given to you, and that the eyes of your understanding may be enlightened," that "you perish not for lack of knowledge."
2. Those who can adopt the language of our text.
If you can with truth declare that you have known and believed the love of God, then we must say to you, "Blessed are you; for flesh and blood has not revealed this unto you;" but "God has shined into your hearts to give it unto you." Be thankful for this distinguishing mercy: and seek to "grow in grace and in the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ." Paul, after preaching the Gospel twenty years, "accounted not himself yet awhile to have attained, but still desired to "know Christ in the power of his resurrection, and in the fellowship of his sufferings." Do you then press forward, and emulate the angels who are incessantly "desiring to look into these things." Make not the love of God a matter for speculation, but for admiration and praise. It is that which will be the subject of your songs in the eternal world; let it therefore now inflame your souls with gratitude, and animate you to unremitting diligence in the service of your God. Strive to exercise love to him, seeing that he has shown such love to you.
God Is Love
1 John 4:16. God is love.
THE character of Jehovah is drawn in a great variety of expressions in Holy Writ: He is represented as great and good, and just and merciful, and by every other attribute that is worthy of his Divine Majesty. But, in the words before us, which are twice repeated in this chapter, all his perfections are concentrated in one abstract idea, as if they were all but one, and that one was "love." Now, there is no light in which men so rarely conceive of the Deity as this. In truth, it is more as an object of terror than of love that he is viewed at all, especially by the generality; the desire of their hearts being, for the most part, like that of the Jews of old, "Make the Holy One of Israel to cease from before us." Let us, however, collect our minds for the contemplation of the subject before us, while I endeavor to exhibit God in the character which is here ascribed to him, and to show you that "he is wholly and altogether love." He is so,
I. In the perfections of his nature.
What shall we say of his wisdom?
It is love, concerting measures for the communicating of his own nature and blessedness to creatures that should be formed for this very end. It was for this end that he created myriads of holy angels in Heaven. It was for this end that he formed the earth; and placed upon it beings endowed with faculties capable of knowing, loving, serving, and enjoying him. He would have been equally happy and glorious, though no creature had ever existed, to behold his glory, or participate his bliss. As he was eternally self-existent, so he would have been eternally self-sufficient: nor was it possible for any creatures, however numerous or exalted, to add anything to him. But, from the fullness of love that was in him, he determined to form creatures susceptible of all the blessedness which he had ordained for them: and in the execution of this office his wisdom engaged with great delight.
And in what light must we view his power?
This also was love, putting forth all its energies to accomplish the things which wisdom had devised. No other object had it in view, than the adapting of all things to their proper ends, that nothing might be wanting to any creature in the universe; but that everything, from the highest archangel to the meanest insect, might, according to its capacity, enjoy a fullness of bliss. The whole inanimate creation, the celestial bodies which move in their orbits, and this terrestrial globe with all its diversified accommodations, are all subservient to this end; and all evince, that the power which called them into existence was only a modification of love.
In no other view can we conceive of his holiness.
This also was love, making known to his creatures what was his mind and will, and showing them the precise path in which they must walk, in order to enjoy the happiness which be had ordained for them. On their conformity to him their happiness must, of necessity, depend: and God, in order that no creature might be at a loss to know his will, proclaimed it to them, and enjoined the observance of it as a law; thus constraining them to seek their own happiness, not from self-love only, but as an act of obedience to him.
Even his justice, too, must be regarded in the same light.
This enforced the law with sanctions; with a promise of eternal life, if it were obeyed; and with a threatening of eternal death, if it were transgressed. And what was this, but love, shutting up his creatures to a necessity of preserving the happiness for which they were formed; and rendering it, as might have been supposed, impossible that they should ever decline from it?
If these provisions have failed in producing the blessedness for which they were designed, that, as we shall see presently, makes no difference in the design of God, or in the real character of all the Divine perfections. They all had one object in view, and all were exercised for one end; and all, if justly viewed, were love—love in the first conceptions; and love operating for the happiness of all, in whose behalf those conceptions had been formed, and those powers had been called forth into activity.
We will yet further trace the same blessed character,
II. In the dispensations of his grace.
Hitherto we have seen God as showing kindness to his creatures in a state of innocence: but now we must contemplate him as acting towards them in their fallen state. And, O! what love will now be opened to our view! View him in,
1. The gift of his only-begotten Son.
When all the purposes of his grace towards us had been frustrated by man's transgression, what, O! what did love suggest for our recovery? "He sent his only-begotten Son into the world, to stand in our place and stead;" and to "die," he "the just, for us the unjust," that he might restore us to God, in a way consistent with all the perfections of the Deity. This wonderful act is, in the former part of this chapter, traced to the very source of which we speak: "In this was manifested the love of God towards us, because that God sent his only-begotten Son into the world, that we might live through him. Herein is love; not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins." Our blessed Lord also teaches us to regard the love of God as the one source of this unspeakable gift: and Paul speaks of Jehovah himself referring to it, as the most stupendous display of his love that ever was, or ever could be, exhibited to fallen man: "God commends his love towards us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us."
2. The gift of his Holy Spirit also.
In vain would Christ himself have died for us, if the Holy Spirit also had not come down to reveal that Savior to us, and, by the mighty working of his power, to draw us to him. But shall this be wanting to us? No, the very same love which sent the Lord Jesus Christ into the world to redeem our souls, sends the Holy Spirit also, to apply that redemption to us: so that here is a concurrence of all the Three Persons of the Godhead in this labor of love; each occupying a part in this mysterious work; and contributing, according to their respective offices, to effect this great salvation. Say, brethren, whether it be possible ever to comprehend the heights and depths of this love? No, truly, it is altogether incomprehensible, far exceeding the utmost conceptions of any finite capacity.
3. The gift of his ordinances.
This, it is true, appears as nothing, in comparison of the gifts before-mentioned. But yet, methinks, it should by no means be overlooked. For the ordinances are indeed the golden pipes by which the golden oil is conveyed to us from the two fore-mentioned olive-trees, in which all fullness is treasured up for us. It is by stated ordinances that you are gathered together to hear the word of God, and to receive the communications of his grace: and it is by the appointment of an order of men to minister in holy things, that you derive advantages for the instruction of your souls in divine knowledge. True, indeed, ministers are but earthen vessels: but the treasure which they convey to your souls is that which you would have but little leisure or inclination to search after for yourselves. Say, brethren, have not some of you often come to the house of God merely to observe a form which common decency required, and yet been so favored as to find there "the pearl of great price," in comparison of which all earthly things are as dross and dung? And say, whether you have not reason to adore the love which has provided for you such means of grace, such advantages for glory?
But on these things it is needless to insist, because they carry their own evidence along with them.
The same may be seen,
III. In the whole administration of his moral government.
Here, doubtless, through our self-love, we are less apt to see the love of God. But it really exists; and to a humble mind it is as clearly visible, in the execution of his judgments, as in the dispensations of his grace.
Let the nature and end of God's law be first considered.
We have already said, that his law was a transcript of his mind and will; and that its proper use was, to show to all the intelligent creation, how God was to be served, and their own happiness secured. We have also already shown, that the sanctions which were added to this law had the same tendency; namely, to secure the observance of it among free agents, who were left at liberty to obey or disobey, as they should feel disposed. And all this, we conceive, will readily be acknowledged to have been the fruit of love.
Now, the law itself being approved, the enforcement of it must partake of the same character.
As for those who suffer the penalty of transgression, as millions both of angels and men do at this moment in Hell; and as millions who are yet unborn will, it is to be feared, to all eternity; we readily grant, that they cannot enter into the subject before us. The men who suffer for transgressing human laws are ready to entertain hard thoughts, both of the laws themselves, and of those who enforce them. But they cannot be considered as competent judges: they are partial; and their self-love blinds them. The community at large, who reap the benefit of the laws, see their excellence; and are thankful that they live under the protection of laws, wisely enacted, justly executed, and impartially enforced. There is not, in any civilized nation upon earth, a considerate man who does not account it a rich blessing to have his life and liberty and property secured against the assaults of rapacious robbers and blood-thirsty murderers. And the very persons who violate the laws, and for their transgressions pay the forfeit of their lives, might have received as much benefit from the laws as others, if they would themselves have yielded subjection to them: so that, while suffering the penalties of transgression, they have no reason to complain of the laws; but only of themselves, for having wantonly and wickedly transgressed them. Now thus it is with those who are suffering the vengeance of everlasting fire for their violations of God's law. The enactments themselves were intended for their benefit; and the penal sanctions would have conduced to their comfort, as much as to the comfort of any other person in the universe, if they would have yielded obedience to them. It is their own fault that they have brought out evil from good; and rendered that an occasion of misery, which was intended by God to be a source of bliss. Of themselves they may complain; but of the laws they must speak with unqualified approbation and gratitude. If a doubt exist on this point, let any man ask himself, how he would like to live in any place where the authority of all laws, human and divine, was set aside, even for the space of three days? Who would not, long before the expiration of that time, be crying out for the domination and government of equal laws?
I say then, that, as the law of God was made equally for all, and all may receive equal benefit from it, all ought to regard it as the fruit of love; and to honor it in their hearts, as "holy, and just, and good."
It is possible that because, in the present state of the world, far more are lost than saved, some may object that God has loved the few at the expense of the many. But though this is the case at present, there will, at no distant period, be multitudes far more numerous than all that have already existed; and "they will all be righteous," from the least to the greatest of them. If Israel, in the space of about two hundred years, multiplied from seventy-six to two millions, when so many efforts were made to destroy them; how shall they not multiply during the millennium, when the command "Increase and multiply," shall meet with no impediments; and when life will be so prolonged, that a "person dying an hundred years old will appear" to have been cut off under "a judicial curse?" Carry on this annual augmentation, not for ten or twenty years, but for a thousand years; and you will clearly see, that the numbers who have lived previous to that day will bear no proportion to those who shall then come upon the earth; and, consequently, that the number of those who will perish will bear no proportion to that of those who shall be ultimately saved. But, if the objection were true as to the comparative numbers of those who shall be saved, and of those who shall perish, I would still say, that this would not at all invalidate the declaration in my text. The law is equally good, even though every transgressor of it should perish; and the loss of every soul must be ascribed, not to any want of love in God, but to the wicked obstinacy of man, who will not avail himself of the salvation which God has offered him. Before there existed a creature in the universe, God was love: and after he had created both angels and men, he still continued love: and love he will be, when he shall judge the world: and one of the most painful considerations, which will corrode the minds of those in Hell, will be, that it is love that condemns them, love that punishes them, and love that consigns them to the fate they have deserved; yes, that love to the whole universe demands their ruin. For supposing only that God should from this moment promise impunity to the transgressors of his law, where is there one who would not find a speedy relaxation in his efforts to obey it, and a consequent diminution of his happiness? But sinners cannot be so received. If God could admit to his bosom the violators of his law, the enemies of his Son, and the despisers of his grace, Heaven itself would cease to be a place of happiness; and God himself (I speak it with reverence) would cease to be an object worthy of our esteem. But these things, I say, cannot be; and therefore cannot be, because "God is love".
Let us then learn, from this exalted subject,
1. What should be the disposition of our minds towards God.
Is he love; and that too in all his diversified perfections, and in all his mysterious dispensations? Surely then we should love him, and see nothing but love in all his ways. No commandment of his should ever be accounted grievous; but we should fly, like the angels themselves, to obey the very first intimation of his will. As for any difficulties or dangers that may lie in our way, they should only be regarded as opportunities afforded us to show our love to God, and our zeal in his service. When trials of the most afflictive nature arise (for "we are all born to trouble, as the sparks fly upwards"), we must bear in remembrance, that they are sent by a God of love, and that they are nothing but blessings in disguise. We must remember, that "whom he loves, he chastens, and scourges every son whom he receives: and that, if we be without chastisement, whereof all are partakers, then are we bastards, and not sons: for what son is he whom the Father chastens not?" We know that our own children do not exactly appreciate our motives, while they are suffering under our displeasure, or when restraints are imposed upon them for their good. We must be content, therefore, to consider the darkest of God's dispensations as fruits of his love; and must feel assured, that, however "clouds and darkness may be round about him, righteousness and judgment are the basis of his throne." In a word, we must ever bear in mind, that God is deserving of all our love; and we must endeavor to love, and serve, and glorify him, with every faculty we possess.
2. What should be the disposition of our minds towards each other?
This is the point particularly insisted upon in the former part of this chapter; and, indeed, it is founded upon the very truth before us: "Beloved, let us love one another: for love is of God; and every one that loves is born of God, and knows God. He who loves not knows not God; for God is love." And in another place, the Apostle yet more expressly deduces from it the lesson I am inculcating: "Beloved, if God so loved us, we ought also to love one another." Let me then call you, brethren, to be "imitators of God as dear children." And in what would you so much wish to resemble him as this? To have your every act, your every disposition love, what could more tend to the perfection of your nature, and the happiness of your souls, than this? In truth, love, if carried to a due extent, would make a Heaven upon earth. O! cultivate it, my brethren, from your inmost souls; and, to whatever extent you have carried it, learn to "abound more and more." Yet mistake not the proper offices of love. It is not necessary that love should always be exercised in a way of approbation, or in a way that shall be pleasing to those who are the objects of it. God corrects his children, and is displeased with them when they act amiss: and you also may manifest your displeasure in a way of correction towards those who are under your authority, when the occasion fairly calls for it. But love must be your governing principle in all things; and its influence must regulate your whole life. It must show itself in the suppression of everything that is selfish, and in the exercise of everything that is amiable and endearing: you must show it, by "bearing all things, believing all things, hoping all things, and enduring all things." O that I knew what to say, that should prove effectual for this blessed end! This I will say, that by this disposition you must be known as God's children: for, if you possess it not, whatever else you may possess, you are in heart no better than murderers: "He who loves not his brother, abides in death: whoever hates his brother is a murderer; and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him." On the other hand, "if you dwell in love, God dwells in you, and you in him." And, when you have this evidence of a transformation into God's image, then may you "have boldness in reference to the day of judgment." Let it only be said, that "as He is, so are you in this world;" and we will predict, without fear of disappointment, that, as He is, so shall you be also in the world to come.
The Believer's Resemblance to God In Love
1 John 4:16, 17. He who dwells in love, dwells in God, and God in him. Herein is our love made perfect, that we may have boldness in the day of judgment: because as he is, so are we in this world.
THAT "God is love," is a truth that can admit of no doubt. The proper improvement to be made of this truth is also obvious: if he be love, we should love him, trust in him, serve him, submit to him. But there is one improvement of this subject which does not readily occur to the mind: it is this: If God be love, we should be careful to imitate and resemble him. Now this, though less obvious than the other deductions, is the point on which John principally dwells: "Beloved, let us love one another: for love is of God; and every one that loves is born of God, and knows God. He who loves not, knows not God: FOR God is love." The same line of argument he pursues in the words before us; showing that our conformity to God, in this great character of love, will be the measure of our nearness to him, and of our confidence before him.
The words before us will lead me to mark,
I. The resemblance which the believer bears to God in love.
The Apostle having said that "God is love," adds, "As he is, so are we in this world." Now, in his nature we cannot resemble the Supreme Being; but in his operations we may. We must therefore mark,
1. The operations of God's love.
Love, though a simple idea, may be profitably considered under a threefold distinction: a love of benevolence, a love of beneficence, and a love of delight. This distinction will lead us to make some discriminations which are of great importance to a full understanding of the subject. "We say then of God, that his benevolence is universal. There is not a creature in the universe which he did not originally form for happiness; and to which he does not wish happiness, so far as it is capable of enjoying it. The fallen angels are gone beyond the reach of happiness; as are all those also who have brought upon themselves the final sentence of God's righteous indignation. But there is not a sinner whom he is not willing to save; and whom he would not save, provided he repented of his sins, and sought for mercy in God's appointed way. God has sworn to this; saying, "As I live, says the Lord God, I have no pleasure in the death of a sinner; but rather that he turn from his wickedness, and live. Turn you, turn you, from your evil ways; for why will you die, O house of Israel?" So far is God from desiring the death of a sinner, that "he wills that all should come to repentance, and live," and when any will not repent, he takes up a lamentation over them; saying, "O that my people had hearkened unto me, and Israel had walked in my ways!" Our blessed Lord's weeping over Jerusalem, even after that it was given up to final desolation, gives us a just picture of Jehovah's mind towards the most abandoned of the human race.
As God's benevolence is universal, so is his beneficence unbounded: "He opens his hand, and fills all things living with plenteousness." Of his common bounties all partake, in rich abundance: "He makes his sun to rise on the evil and on the good; and sends his rain upon the just and upon the unjust." That greatest of all mercies, the gift of his only dear Son, was bestowed on all, as is the gift also of his Holy Spirit: for, as Christ died for all, so does the Holy Spirit strive with alle; there not being a good desire in the heart of any man, which has not been formed there by his all-powerful agency; and formed there in order to the bestowment of still greater good, if those first motions had been duly improved. Nor should all the glory and blessedness of Heaven itself be withheld from a human being, if only he would humble himself before God, and seek for mercy, and grace, and strength, in God's appointed way.
In respect of delight, however, God's love is personal and partial. It is not possible that a holy God should find delight in unholy creatures: for, he is of purer eyes than to behold iniquity," without the utmost abhorrence. "He is angry with the wicked every day," and, though he would still have compassion on them if they would turn unto him, he contemplates with satisfaction the judgments which their impenitence will bring upon them: "I will hide my face from them; I will see what their end shall be: for they are a very froward generation, children in whom is no faith"—It is his faithful and obedient people alone in whom he can take any pleasure. On them he does look with sweet delight; as the prophet says: "The Lord your God in the midst of you is mighty: he will save: he will rejoice over you with joy: he will rest in his love: he will joy over you with singing," "As a bridegroom rejoices over the bride, so will your God rejoice over you." In a word, he esteems them as "his peculiar treasure above all the people upon earth," and as composing the brightest jewels of his crown.
2. The resemblance which the believer's love bears to it.
His benevolence also is universal, extending to all, whether friends or enemies, whether known or unknown: he has learned to "bless those who curse him, to do good to them that hate him, and to pray for those who despitefully use him and persecute him." In his beneficence too, so far as his circumstances will admit of it, he is unbounded. The first object of his attention will, doubtless, be those of his own household, and his more immediate neighborhood: but he will not rest there; he will take an interest in the welfare of all mankind, so far as to pray for them, and to assist in conveying to them the blessings of salvation. He feels himself a debtor to the whole human race; and he pants to discharge his debt to the very utmost of his power. But in the objects of his delight he is more confined and partial. He cannot possibly take those for his friends who are the enemies of God. He comes out from an ungodly world, and is separate from them. And this he does, not from any idea of his own superior goodness, but because he is afraid of being drawn into temptation; and because he is told, on infallible authority, that "the friendship of the world is enmity with God." He has a different taste from the world around him, and lives in a different element; so that it. would be repugnant to his nature to occupy himself as they are occupied. This is the ground upon which Paul interdicts all unnecessary communion with them: "Be not unequally yoked together with unbelievers: for what fellowship has righteousness with unrighteousness? and what communion has light with darkness? and what concord has Christ with Belial? or what part has he who believes with an infidel?" This shows clearly that the household of faith have a claim on his regards, beyond any other people upon earth; and that, if his love be of a proper kind, the saints will have a decided preference in his estimation, and the "excellent of the earth will be all his delight."
Such is the believer, while sojourning in this world: he is actuated by love, even as Almighty God is; so far, at least, as he is under the influence of divine grace. But his love varies in its exercise, as the love of Jehovah himself varies according to the circumstances or qualities of the object beloved.
To encourage this godlike disposition, I proceed to show,
II. The blessedness of him in whom this resemblance is found.
This is set forth by the Apostle in very exalted terms. But it must first be remembered, that the believer is here supposed to "dwell in love," he does not put it forth only on some particular occasions, but cherishes it habitually in his bosom, and maintains it as the constant habit of his mind. Now, where a person dwells in it, he will be happy;
1. In his enjoyment of the present.
There is a mutual in-dwelling between him and God; "he dwelling in God," by faith and love; and "God dwelling in him," by the abiding influence of his good Spirit.
But these expressions are far too weighty to be passed over with so slight a notice. The believer "dwells in God!" We know what ideas we associate with a house in which we dwell: we regard it as our own: we go to it with freedom at all times: in it we expect to find whatever is suited to our daily necessities, and sufficient for our daily wants: we are at ease in it, and feel ourselves secure from the tempests that rage around us. There, after all the troubles and fatigues of life, we lay us down to rest, and find that repose which fits us for the duties of every succeeding day. Now, familiar as this illustration may appear, it is that which the Scriptures employ as peculiarly fitted to convey to our minds the truth which we are considering: "O Lord, you have been our dwelling-place in all generations," and again; "Because you have made the Lord, even the Most High, your habitation, there shall no evil befall you." This confidence the believer feels: he looks to God as his God: he has access to him at all times; goes to him without restraint; "enters into the inmost chambers of his divine perfections; and shuts the door about him; hiding himself from every storm" which may beat around him; and finding in him that rest, and those supplies of grace, which his necessities require.
At the same time, "God dwells in him," as in his temple. Frequently does God designate his believing people by this gracious appellation; and promise them his presence, as in his temple of old: "What agreement," says he, "has the temple of God with idols? for you are the temple of the living God: as God has said, I will dwell in them, and walk in them; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people." Now this exactly marks the favors which God will grant to the truly loving soul. You remember that God abode in his temple by a visible symbol of his presence: that there, on the day of annual expiation, the high-priest entered into his immediate presence, and beheld his glory: thither the prayers of all his people were addressed: there were all their sacrifices accepted: and from thence were all his answers given. Behold, then, under this image, the exalted privilege of the believing soul! God is with him in a way that he is not with any other creature in the universe. To him is the glory of God revealed: his every sacrifice of prayer or praise comes up with acceptance before God; and rich communications of grace and peace descend from God to him. Take these two ideas—the believer dwelling in God, as in his house; and God dwelling in him, as in his temple—and you have a complete view of his felicity, as it is enjoyed from day to day.
2. In his anticipations of the future.
Love, exercised in the way before described, is "perfect;" that is, it is of the most perfect kind, and has attained a growth which marks a high measure of excellence: or, as the text expresses it, "Herein is our love made perfect, or manifested to be perfect." And where such love is, there is, and will be, a sweet assurance of our acceptance in the day of judgment. The latter verse of my text, as it stands in our translation, is so obscure, as scarcely to admit of explanation: but with a very slight alteration it is extremely clear. It may be read thus: "Herein is our love made perfect: so that we have boldness in (I. e. in reference to) the day of judgment: because as He is, so are we in this world." And this is a blessed truth. The man who has attained this measure of love, has within himself a most decisive evidence of his own conversions. None but God could accomplish within him such a blessed work; as the Apostle says, "Love is of God." Hence, though he well knows his own remaining imperfections, he cannot but regard God as his Father: and he is perfectly assured, that a God of love will never cast away one who pants and labors constantly for a conformity to the Divine image: and hence "he has boldness in reference to the day of judgment;" being fully assured, that the Savior, in whom he has believed, and by the operation of whose grace he has become what he is, will "confess him before his Father," and "present him faultless before the presence of his Father's glory with exceeding joy." This is the disposition which infallibly "accompanies salvation;" as Paul has said: "Beloved, we are persuaded better things of you, and things that accompany salvation, though we thus speak. For God is not unrighteous, to forget your work and labor of love, which you have showed towards his name, in that you have ministered to the saints, and do minister. And we desire that every one of you do show the same diligence, to the full assurance of hope unto the end." My dear brethren, be diligent in this work, and this blessedness shall be yours. Only take care, that, in the habit of your minds, and in your daily walk, you "be in the world as God himself is;" and then you may look forward with comfort to the future judgment, assured that "you shall not be ashamed before him, at his coming."
In reflecting on this subject, we cannot but see,
1. What enemies to themselves they are, who indulge unhallowed tempers!
I will not say, they are enemies to God, whose law they violate; or to their fellow-creatures, whose peace they disturb: but I will say, they are enemies to themselves; for they actually drive God from them; and cause him, who would dwell in their hearts as their Comforter and their God, to become their enemy: as it is said, "If any man defile the temple of God, him will God destroy." And what must be their prospects in relation to the eternal world? Can they enjoy any of the true Christian's confidence? or, if they possess any confidence at all, is it not a horrible delusion? Religious professors speak much about their doubts and fears: and truly many of them have abundant reason to doubt and fear; for their tempers bear no resemblance whatever to "the meekness and gentleness of Christ," yes, many of these professors have less self-government than the ungodly world; and they make all unhappy that are about them. As to their fears, they are right enough; but as to their doubts, it may well be questioned whether they are right: for if they were Christ's, they would "put on Christ," and "crucify those affections and lusts" which are so abhorrent to his religion. They may talk of their faith: but if their faith do not work by love, it is no better than the faith of devils. The fruit of the Spirit is, love, joy, peace, long-suffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance," and if these fruits do not characterize our life and conversation, I hesitate not to say, that "our religion is vain," for James says, "If any man (high or low, rich or poor, old or young)—if any man among you seem to be religious (and make ever so fair a profession), and bridles not his tongue, but deceives his own heart, this man's religion is vain." I must therefore warn all, but religious professors in particular, that "what they sow, they shall reap: he who sows to the flesh, shall of the flesh reap corruption; and he alone who sows to the Spirit, shall of the Spirit reap life everlasting."
2. What a noble ambition has the true Christian!
It is no inferior pattern that he is content to follow. He looks to see what God himself is to his creatures; and that would he be to the utmost extent of his power. "He would be an imitator of God himself;" and "as God is, so would he be in this world." Is God love? He would be love also; he would act nothing but love, and breathe nothing but love. O noble ambition! blessed object! sweet end of life! What a Heaven would earth be, if all were of this mind and spirit! Come, beloved, and rise to the occasion. See what God is to the world at large: and be you, according to your power, alike benevolent, alike beneficent—See also what God is to his Church in particular: and be towards every member of that Church, so far as the individual himself is worthy of it, alike complacent and affectionate. In a word, let your endeavor be, not only to be godly, but God-like; "holy as he is holy;" and "perfect, as your Father which is in Heaven is perfect."
Influence and Importance of Love
1 John 4:18. There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear: because fear has torment. He who fears is not made perfect in love.
THE essence of all true religion is love—love to God, working by love to man. Both tables of the law are fulfilled in this: and to bring us to such a state of mind is no less the intent of the Gospel, than of the law itself. John, than whom no inspired writer more fully unfolds the glories of the Gospel, abounds, more than any other Apostle, in exhortations to love. The preceding context more particularly insists on love to man: but the words before us, with the following context, speak rather of love to God. "We love him, because he first loved us. If a man say, I love God, and hates his brother, he is a liar: for he who loves not his brother, whom he has seen, how can he love God, whom he has not seen. And this commandment have we from him, That he who loves God, love his brother also." Were we to interpret the text as speaking of love to man, it would not admit of any satisfactory explanation: but, as referring to God, it sets love before us in a very instructive point of view, in that it marks,
I. Its influence, as a principle.
"Fear" is that passion which is chiefly dominant in the breast of fallen man.
Adam, before his fall, knew nothing of it: but, after his transgression, he fled from the face of God, and hid himself among the trees of the garden: and from that time, all the appearances of God or of angels to men have generated fear in the first instance; so that the persons most favored with such visions, have needed to be encouraged by that reviving expression, "Fear not." Indeed, the whole religion of the heathen world has its foundation in fear: love to their deities is never an operative principle in their hearts. Even among ourselves, until we are truly converted to God, the Supreme Being is rather an object of fear than of love; insomuch that we love not to hear of him, or to reflect on our future appearance before him. It is on this account that all which relates to God, his perfections, his purposes, yes, and even the mysteries of his grace and the wonders of his love, are, by universal consent, banished from our mutual fellowship and daily conversation: and, however cheerful a society may have been in their communications with each other, the introduction of such topics as death, judgment, Heaven, and Hell, would cast a damp upon it, and induce a gloom, or a contemptuous smile, on every countenance. The Scripture tells us, that this is the case with all; that "men, through the fear of death, are all their life-time subject to bondage," and that they are "like the troubled sea, whose waters cast up mire and dirt," utterly destitute of any solid peace or rest.
There may, indeed, be in men a thoughtless indifference: but this is only while they can shake off reflection. No man can think of God and of eternity without many fears and misgivings: and the very efforts which men use to dissipate all serious thought, clearly show, that they do not dare to think, and that God is to them an object of dread, and not of love.
But "love will cast out fear."
The two passions are opposed to each other, and counteract each other, as light and darkness: "there is no fear in love," nor any love in fear: if love arise in the soul, fear will be dispelled, like the clouds of the morning: but if fear prevail again, it will draw over the soul the curtains of night. Fear is excited by a view of God, as formidable in himself, and as hostile to us: but love views him as altogether lovely in himself, and as loving to us; and, consequently, banishes from the soul the sensations which a different view of the Deity had produced. Love regards him as a Father, a Friend, a Savior, "a Portion," an "eternal great reward." What room is there for fear, when such views are realized in the soul? I speak not, indeed, of a filial fear; because that is a very essential part of love: but a slavish fear, a "fear that has torment," can find no place in a bosom that is filled with love. To a person who truly loves God, the thought of him will be sweet to the soul: and the more intimate he feels his access to God, the more sublime will be his joy. As for death, to such an one it has lost its sting: it is even numbered among his richest treasures: "All things, says he, are mine, whether life or death." And so far is he from dreading the approach of the eternal state, that "he looks for, and hastes unto, the coming of the day of Christ;" and "longs to be dissolved, that he may be with Christ." I say not, that this feeling is constant, or without any alloy; but that to effect this is the proper influence of love; and that it will be effected in proportion as love abounds in the soul.
This view of love naturally leads us to consider,
II. Its importance as a test.
It is our privilege to be "made perfect in love."
Love, like every other grace, is weak in its beginnings. But it should not be always so: like patience, it should "have its perfect work, that we may be perfect and entire, wanting nothing." The command of God is, that we should "love him with all our heart, and mind, and soul, and strength." And if we owe to him this measure of love as our Creator, much more do we as our Redeemer. After this, therefore, we should aspire: and, whatever our attainments in it be, we should be laboring daily to increase more and more; having more of a Spirit of love; and more of that "Spirit of adoption, whereby we cry, Abba, Father."
Of its precise measure we may judge, by the remains of fear abiding in us.
Examine with what feelings you contemplate God: examine what it is that chiefly operates to keep you from offending him, and what it is that chiefly stimulates you to duty: examine what your views are of death and judgment; whether they be dreaded as objects of fear, or desired as completing and consummating your bliss.
As for that horror to which some persons are subject at the sight of a reptile or an insect, it has nothing to do with the present subject: it is a mere constitutional weakness, to which a child of God may be exposed as well as others. Love will not produce much effect on that, except as it will habituate the mind to confide in God, and to commit everything to him. But in all things that are the proper objects of faith, love has full scope for exercise; and will present them to the mind in so favorable a view, as to cast out all fear in relation to them.
Behold then, I say, the two emotions are like the scales of a balance: where fear preponderates, love will be found but light: but where love abounds, fear will in vain strive for an ascendant. To judge of love by its own direct workings, may not be easy; because the warmth of our feelings towards God may depend, in a measure, on the constitutional temperament of our minds: but by its influence in dissipating and dispelling our fears, we may attain a correct judgment respecting it: if it be "perfect, it will cast out our fears;" but "if we fear, we are not yet made perfect in love."
1. Those who have neither love nor fear.
We have before said, that there may be persons of this character, who have so hardened their hearts, and seared their consciences as to have contracted an insensibility to God and eternal things. And I am constrained to acknowledge, that many are found in this state even in a dying hour. But if they be deaf to the voice of conscience here, it will be heard at the instant of their departure hence. Could we but behold the obdurate sinner, or the scoffing infidel, on his first entrance into the presence of his God; does his boldness continue there? No, he cries to "the rocks to fall upon him, and the hills to cover him from the face of the Lamb," whose warnings he disregarded, and whose threatenings he despised. Yes, beloved; though now more fearless than the devils (for they believe and tremble), you will then know what "a fearful thing it is to fall into the hands of the living God."
But is it fear that I wish to excite in your minds? Certainly not, except as a preparatory work. I wish your religion to begin with fear: but God forbid that it should end there. No, it must be carried on by love, if ever it shall terminate in joy. Yet, until we are made sensible of our lost condition as sinners, we shall in vain hope to attain the peace and happiness of saints.
2. To those who are under the influence of both fear and love.
These opposite feelings are compatible with each other, in the earlier period of our conversion. The day springs not forth at once in the natural world; nor does piety arrive at its meridian height at once in the spiritual world. But, to imagine that the entertaining of doubts and fears is a mark of humility, is quite erroneous: such a doubtful state of mind is rather an indication of ignorance and pride, than of true humility. For, granting that the progress which we have made in the divine life may be very small, still our duty is to lay hold on the divine promises, and to cast ourselves altogether on the Lord Jesus Christ as the appointed Savior of the world. The smallness of our attainments, or the strength of our corruptions, may well beget humility: but they should never lead us to doubt the sufficiency of Christ to save us. Were we in the lowest state to which a sinner can be reduced, our duty would be to believe in Christ, and to flee to him as to the refuge set before us. It is faith which is the parent of love; and not unbelief: and therefore I say to all, Limit not the mercy of your God; but "against hope, believe in hope." It is worthy of observation, that the language of doubts and fears is confined to the Old-Testament dispensation. Such bondage becomes not our happier lot: it is dishonorable to God, and injurious to ourselves. Cast it off then; and seek to enjoy the full liberty of the Gospel. "The Son who has made you free, would have you free indeed."
I would, indeed, guard you against that kind of confidence which is founded on vain delusions. There are some who, from impulses, or visions, or other delusive imaginations, attain a confidence which they will not for a moment suffer to be questioned. But this is not the confidence of love. Love is jealous of itself; and is glad to have its actings scrutinized with the utmost exactness. Love affects the honor of God; and is infinitely more anxious that he should be glorified, than that its own defects should be concealed. The getting rid of fear is not at all the object of love, but the effect of it. Let the one endeavor of your souls be to glorify your God; and with the growth of your love shall your peace and joy be multiplied, both in time and in eternity.
God's Love the Source of Ours
1 John 4:19. We lore Him, because He first loved us.
THERE is, as there ought to be, a great and visible difference between the Lord's people and others. But no one of them has any ground for glorying in himself: for, to every one of them may that question be applied, "Who made you to differ? and what have you which you have not received?" Truly, whatever attainments any man may have made, he must say, with the Apostle Paul, "By the grace of God I am what I am." To this effect John speaks in the words before us; in which we are taught to trace the love which the saints bear to their God, not to any superior qualities in their own nature, but to God's free and sovereign grace: "We love Him, because He first loved us."
Now, this being a truth indispensably necessary to be known and felt, I will endeavor to point out.
I. Its doctrinal use.
Our love to God springing from, and being founded on, God's love to us, it is,
1. An indispensable evidence of his love to us.
Supposing a person to affirm that God loves him as one of his peculiar people, I ask, What evidence have you of that fact? Your mere assertion is not sufficient to satisfy my mind: nor should a mere persuasion of it be sufficient to satisfy your mind. If God has really loved you, wherein has he manifested that love? What has he done for you? Has he revealed himself to you as reconciled in the Son of his love? Has he poured out his Spirit upon you, as "a Spirit of adoption, enabling you to call him Abba, Father?" And has he enabled you to surrender up yourself to him in all holy obedience to his will? In a word, Has he brought you to "love him," and to serve him in truth? If, in "his loving-kindness, he has drawn you" to himself, then you may be satisfied that "he has loved you with an everlasting love," but without this evidence, your persuasion, how confident soever it may be, is a fatal delusion. The Jews of old affirmed that God was their Father: but our blessed Lord said to them, "If God were your Father, you would love me." So I say to you, "It God have loved you, you must of necessity have been brought to love him."
2. A decisive proof of his love to us.
Suppose now a different character to be manifesting from day to day his love to God, and yet to be doubting and questioning God's love to him; I would ask, Whence did you obtain those dispositions which you manifest? Were they natural to you? or did you form them in your own heart? or did any fellow-creature implant them there? By nature, you are as much a child of wrath as any other person in the universe. So corrupt are you by nature, that "every imagination of the thoughts of your heart is evil, only evil, continually." If there be only a good desire towards him, it has been imparted to you by God himself; who, of his own good pleasure, has wrought in you both to will and to do. If you behold the heavens and the earth, you conclude that they have been formed by an Almighty power: and the same conclusion must you form from everything which you see in the new creation. If you can say from your heart, "Whom have I in Heaven but you? and there is none upon earth that I desire in comparison of you," you may without hesitation add, "He who has wrought me to the self-same thing, is God."
To appreciate this truth aright, we must consider,
II. Its practical importance.
Truly, it is of the utmost importance,
1. For the forming of our judgment.
It is well known, that confidence in God is our bounden duty: nor is it less clear that we are called to cherish in our bosoms a diffidence respecting ourselves. But professors of religion are very apt to separate these habits, instead of combining them; and to carry both the one and the other to an undue extreme. One indulges confidence, and carries it to presumption: another affects diffidence, and extends it to despondency. But from both these extremes we should flee; maintaining no confidence which is not warranted by God's word; and never carrying our diffidence so far as to invalidate his truth. We must have a scriptural foundation for our hopes: and with God's promises before us, we must moderate our fears. Hope and fear have each its appropriate place in the believer's bosom, and should both be called into action in his experience. They should be like the scales of a balance, rising or falling according to our secret walk before God. If we are really living near to God, in the enjoyment of his presence and in the performance of his will, our hope may grow to assurance, yes, and to "a full assurance." On the other hand, if we are far from God in secret, and harboring any lust in our bosom, our fear ought to preponderate, and to be within us a friendly and faithful monitor. Yet, again I say, that whether we "rejoice or tremble," extremes must be avoided: for we never can have such ground for joy, but that we have reason for trembling; or such ground for trembling, but that we have reason to rejoice. The person most confident of God's love should search and try his ways, to see whether he be requiting God aright, and walking worthy of his profession: and the person who is most doubtful of God's love should be careful not to write bitter things against himself, as though he were an outcast from God: for, if his attainments may justify a fear, his desires most assuredly justify a hope. And, after all, the doubting Christian has the advantage of his presumptuous brother: for, though he has less of present comfort, he has, through God's abounding mercy, a greater measure of security.
2. For the directing of our ways.
Here it is taken for granted, that every Christian loves his God. In that, we cannot err. Whether we have a greater or less persuasion of God's love to us, our duty is plain in reference to him. His love to mankind at large is clear enough: for "he has so loved us, as to give his own Son to be a atoning sacrifice for our sins." Here then is ground enough for our love to him, and our affiance in him. Let all, then, stand upon this broad basis. I deny not but that personal favors call for love and gratitude: but I say, that the mercies we all enjoy in common with each other, are grounds of love; and I call every one of you to devote yourselves to God with all possible fidelity and affection. Esteem him above all—Desire him above all—Delight in him above all—And, if our Lord put the question to you which he put to Peter, "Love you me?" let your whole life and conversation testify in your behalf, so that you may appeal to him and say, "Lord, you know all things, you know that I love you."
The Commandments Not Grievous
1 John 5:3. His commandments are not grievous.
IT is a painful office which I have to discharge at this time. I must vindicate religion from an aspersion too generally cast upon it; and stand up in justification of Almighty God himself against the accusation of being a hard Master. The Apostle evidently supposed that there were in his day, and would from time to time arise, persons ready to calumniate their Maker, as having imposed upon them burdens which they were not able to bear, and as having exacted an obedience which it was unreasonable for him to require. Our own observation abundantly confirms and justifies the supposition: so that I need make no apology for proceeding to show,
I. Whence it is that we are apt to account God's commandments grievous.
That the great mass of mankind does account them grievous, is a fact too notorious to admit of doubt. And whence is it? Is it that they are indeed unreasonably severe? No; it springs,
1. From our inveterate love of sin.
Man, in his fallen state, is altogether corrupt: his carnal mind is enmity against God, so that it neither is, nor can be, subject to the law of God, so as to render to it any willing obedience.
We are alienated from God himself. As Adam, after he had sinned, fled from God, so, at this time, the language of fallen man to God is, "Depart from us; we desire not the knowledge of your ways." And, when the faithful servants of God endeavor to bring them to a better mind, they reply, "Prophesy not unto us right things; prophesy unto us smooth things; prophesy deceits: make the Holy One of Israel to cease from before us."
To every particular command, not of the law only, but of the Gospel itself, the heart of man is averse. Repentance is too painful a work: faith in Christ is too humiliating: an unreserved surrender of the soul to Christ is too strict and rigorous. Man wishes to be a God unto himself. "Who is Lord over us?" is the reply of all, when urged to renounce their evil ways, and to turn unto their God. They will not endure restraint, but "will walk after the imagination of their own evil hearts." Fire and water are not move opposed to each other, than they are to the commands of God; and hence they regard every injunction, whether of the Law or Gospel, as a yoke too grievous to be borne.
2. From the real difficulty which there is in obeying them.
To man in Paradise the commands of God were easy, because his whole soul was in unison with them: but to fallen man they are not easy, even after he is renewed by grace. Paul justly says, "The flesh lusts against the spirit, and the spirit against the flesh; and these are contrary the one to the other: so that you cannot do the things that you would." Indeed, the metaphors by which the Christian life is set forth in the Holy Scriptures clearly show, that it is not maintained without great difficulty. A race is not won without great exertion, nor a warfare gained without severe conflicts. Indeed, the terms in which our duty is set forth clearly show, that obedience, in our present fallen state, is no easy task. We are called to "mortify our members upon earth," and to "crucify the flesh with the affections and lusts." We are enjoined to "pluck out the right eye, and to cut off the right hand or foot, that may offend us." No wonder therefore that the unregenerate man accounts such commandments grievous: for it must be confessed, that they are altogether against the current of corrupt nature; and that, in order to obey them, we are constrained to urge our way continually against the stream.
But, while I acknowledge the difficulty which even the best of men experience in obeying the commandments, I can by no means admit that they are, or ought to be, considered, "grievous." Indeed, a little reflection will show us,
II. How far they are from deserving such a character.
1. They are all most reasonable in themselves.
Can anything be more reasonable than that we should improve for God the faculties we have received from him; and that we should serve Him, in whom we live, and move, and have our being? Is it unreasonable to require of us that we love the Savior, who has so loved us as to give himself for us? or that, when "he has bought us with his own precious blood, we should glorify him with our bodies and our spirits, which are his?"
If it be said, that we are required even to lay down our lives for Christ's sake, I answer, True, we are: but has not he laid down his life for our sake? Has he not done this for us, too, when we were enemies? Is it not reasonable, then, that we should be ready to die for him who is our greatest Friend? If he endured all the curses of God's broken law for us, yes, and for our sakes sustained all the wrath of Almighty God, should we think it a hard matter to encounter the wrath of feeble man, who, at most, "can only kill the body, and after that has no more that he can do?" Were there no recompense beyond the grave, we could not justly complain of this command: but what shall we say, when we reflect on the crowns and kingdoms which every victorious servant of the Lord shall have awarded to him? Does any man account it a hard matter to sustain a momentary pain or trouble, in order to procure a prolongation of his bodily life? How, then, can anything be considered hard that ensures to us the possession of eternal happiness and glory?
2. They are all, without exception, conducive to our happiness.
Truly, if we would designate obedience to God's commandments by its right name, we must call it rather privilege than duty. Was it not Adam's privilege in Paradise to know, and love, and serve his Creator? and is it not a privilege to all the saints and angels in Heaven to be incessantly occupied in singing praises to God and to the Lamb? Or if we look at the duties of repentance, and faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, shall we not esteem them high privileges? Offer them to the unhappy souls that are shut up in the prison of Hell under the wrath of Almighty God, and then tell me, whether they will not be regarded as privileges. But I will venture to ask of persons in this present life; Who among you ever spent a day or an hour in humiliation before God, and does not at this moment look back to it as the best season of his life? Who does not regret that such a season has passed away without a due improvement of it? and who would not be glad to have it renewed, protracted, perfected? In truth, holiness in all its branches is the very perfection of our nature, and the restoration of our pristine happiness: and if we were as holy as the glorified saints and angels are, we should be not one atom inferior to them in peacefulness and bliss. Say, then, whether the commandments of our God deserve to be accounted grievous? No, in truth: "they are all holy, and just, and good;" and "in keeping of them there is great reward."
1. Those who entertain prejudices against religion as a hard service.
Why will you not believe our blessed Lord and Savior, when he says to you, "My yoke is easy, and my burden is light?" You will say, perhaps, This is contrary to experience; for every one finds how difficult it is to be truly religious. But what is it that makes it so? It is nothing but your own corruption that renders a conformity to God's commandments difficult: and, if once you obtain a new heart, and have the law of God written on it by his Holy Spirit, I will pledge myself that you will find obedience to be as food to the hungry, health to the sick, and life to the dead. Nor was there ever a human being turned effectually from sin to holiness, but he found religion's "ways to be ways of pleasantness and peace."
2. Those who profess to serve God according to his Gospel.
Men will judge of religion, in a great measure, by what they see in you. If they behold you rendering service to God on as contracted a scale as you think will consist with your ultimate safety, they will be confirmed in their notions of religion as a painful yoke, to which no one submits but from necessity. And if they behold you going to the world for happiness, they will feel assured, that, whatever you may affirm to the contrary, religion of itself is not sufficient to make you happy. On the other hand, if they behold you devoting yourselves wholly and unreservedly to the Lord, and walking cheerfully in his holy ways, they will be constrained to acknowledge, that there is something in religion which they have never tasted, and of which they at present can form no just conception. Remember then, I pray you, how many eyes are upon you, and how great may be the influence of your conduct in the world. You may unhappily cast a stumbling-block before men, and involve them in ruin; or you may recommend the ways of God, and be the means of saving many souls alive. Get the love of God in your hearts, and then all will be comparatively easy. You will still, indeed, "find a law in your members warring against the law in your minds," but, on the whole, you will "delight in the law of God after your inward man;" and be able so to walk, that all who shall behold your light shall be constrained to "acknowledge, that God is with you of a truth."
Overcoming the World
1 John 5:4, 5. Whoever is born of God, overcomes the world: and this is the victory that overcomes the world, even our faith. Who is he who overcomes the world, but he who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?
CHRISTIANITY is a warfare: every follower of Christ is by profession a soldier. The enemies whom he is engaged to combat are, the world, the flesh, and the devil. It is of one of these more especially that my text speaks; and that is, the world. Mankind at large are led captive by it. The Christian combats and overcomes it. In this respect he differs from, and surpasses, all the human race. These things are plainly affirmed in the passage before us: which will lead me to show,
I. The victory which every true Christian gains.
The Christian is here described as "born of God."
He is not only born of the flesh, like other men, but has a new nature imparted to him from above, and which he alone possesses. The Spirit of the living God, who moved upon the face of the waters, and reduced the whole chaotic mass of this world to order and beauty, has moved upon his soul, to restore it to the image of his Creator, in which it was originally formed, in righteousness and true holiness. The person here spoken of as born of God, is also characterized as believing that Jesus is the Son of God. This shows what the process of the Holy Spirit is, in transforming the soul. He makes us to feel our guilt before God: he reveals the Lord Jesus Christ to us, as the appointed Savior of the world: he enables us to believe in him, and to confess him openly before men, as all our salvation and all our desire. Thus the regenerate person shows himself to be a believer in Christ; and the believer in Christ approves himself to be regenerate. And hence the terms, as characterizing the child of God, are convertible, and of the same import.
He overcomes the world.
From the moment that he experiences the regenerating influence of the Holy Spirit, he enters into conflict with the world, and overcomes it. He overcomes both its allurements and its terrors. Everything in the world, the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eye, and the pride of life, is fascinating to the corrupt heart of man, and gains an ascendant, over all, while in their natural and carnal state. But the regenerate person has higher gratifications, which he affects as his supreme good, and for which he sacrifices all that this world can give him. He feels that earthly vanities debase the soul: and he will no longer be led captive by them. He says to them all, "Depart from me, I will keep the commandments of my God."
In like manner, he triumphs over its terrors also. The world will take up arms against those who dare to oppose its maxims and its habits. Sometimes, by contempt and ridicule it will endeavor to check the Christian's progress; and sometimes by the most envenomed hostility and bitter persecution. But the regenerate person braves all the world's hostility, and will be deterred by nothing from following the path of duty. If the whole creation were to rise up against him, he would say, Whether it be right to hearken unto you more than unto God, judge you: for I cannot but do what my God has enjoined.
There are those who will have regeneration to consist in baptism. But I would ask, Can it be said of every baptized person, that he overcomes the world? Does not the whole state of the Christian world contradict this? Are there any, among heathens themselves, more captivated by its allurements or enslaved by its terrors, than millions of baptized persons are? This shows, incontrovertibly, that, whatever blessing God may see fit to confer on any particular persons in baptism, baptism itself is not, and cannot be, regeneration: for, if it were, every baptized person must, of necessity, overcome the world; which we see and know is far from being true in fact.
There is a peculiarity in the expression in my text, which will serve to throw considerable light on this subject. It is said, "Whatever is born of God" overcomes the world. In conversion a new nature is formed within us: a new principle, new judgment, new taste, is imparted to us: and the whole of that is, in its very nature, opposed to the world, even as light is to darkness: and, as light struggles with darkness until it has overcome it, so does that new and heaven-born principle, which is imparted to us in conversion, conflict with, and overcome, the world; so that the bonds in which, during our unregenerate state, we were held, are broken, and we are enabled to walk at liberty, in the way of God's commandments. This may be well explained by an expression of our blessed Lord, who says, "Whoever drinks of the water that I shall give him, shall never thirst; but the water that I shall give him, shall be in him a well of water, springing up into everlasting life." The meaning of which passage is, not that the Holy Spirit which he imparts shall infallibly bring us to everlasting life, but that that will be its constant tendency and operation. A fountain is always sending forth its waters upwards: and so shall the Holy Spirit within us always operate to raise the soul from earth to Heaven. Let the two passages be compared; and they will show, not what baptism does, but what the new nature, which the Spirit of God imparts in conversion, will effect, in all that are truly regenerate.
Let us now point out,
II. The means by which he achieves it.
The Christian, to his latest hour, is no stronger in himself than others. He is, from first to last, like a new-born infant in its mother's arms. But, as we have already seen, he believes in Christ; and, through the faith which is thus formed in his soul, he is enabled to maintain his conflicts even to the end: "This is the victory that overcomes the world, even our faith."
1. From faith he derives his motives.
He believes all that the Scriptures have spoken respecting the world, and all who belong to it: "It lies in wickedness," and will finally "be condemned." He believes, too, that a very principal end for which our blessed Savior gave himself for us was, "that he might deliver us from this present evil world." Under this conviction, he engages on the side of his Lord and Savior; and determines, through grace, that what HE so desired, shall surely be effected. Hence he draws the sword, and throws away the scabbard. He will "not be conformed to this world: but will seek to be transformed by the renewing of his mind, that he may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God." If at any time he be tempted to taste of its cup, he puts it from his lips, as David did the waters from the well of Bethlehem; saying, 'Be it far from me, O Lord, that I should do this: Is not this the blood of my Lord and Savior, who not only jeopardized his life, but laid it down for me? I will not drink it.' In like manner, if bonds and imprisonments await him for his fidelity, he will say, "I am ready, not only to be bound, but also to die, at any time, and in any manner, for my Lord's sake." "Constrained by the love of Christ," he "wars a good warfare," and thus "endures unto the end."
2. From faith he receives his strength.
By faith he is united to the Lord Jesus Christ, as a branch to the vine; and by faith also he receives, out of his fullness, grace, according to his necessities. "In Christ he is strong" and invincible: and "through Christ he can do all things." To the natural man the Christian's conduct is perfectly inexplicable. He cannot conceive how a poor weak creature like himself should be able so to overcome all the allurements of sense, and all the terrors of an infuriated world. But the Christian soldier has armor provided for him, even armor of an heavenly temper; and through that he is enabled to sustain the unequal combat, and to triumph over all his enemies. Thus does he "fight the good fight of faith;" and thus is he made "more than conqueror, through Him that loved him."
But in this victory he stands alone; as you will see, while I show,
III. His exclusive claim to this prowess.
God himself appeals to us: "Who but the regenerate ever effects this?"
Look through the world, and see, "Who is he who overcomes the world, but he who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?" It must be remembered, that a mere speculative faith in Christ is not that which is here spoken of, but such a faith as leads us altogether to rely on Christ for everything, and to devote ourselves entirely to his service. And now, I ask, where will you find one single person, except the regenerate believer, who so overcomes the world? You may find some who seclude themselves from it: but they flee from the combat altogether. You may find some who retire from it in disgust: but they are overcome by it. The person for whom I inquire is, a man who lives in the world, and fulfills all his civil, social, and personal duties in it; and yet is enabled to discard all its maxims, to set at nothing all its customs, to despise all its vanities, to mortify all its corruptions, and, while in it, not to be of it, any more than the Savior himself was? Where will you find one who makes the word of God his sole directory; and determines to adhere to that, in opposition to all the contempt that can be poured upon him, or the persecution which he may be called to endure? Search among the despisers of spiritual regeneration, and see if you can find one of this character: search among the despisers of a life of faith, and see if you can find one. You may search all the records of the world, and I will defy you to find one. God himself sets you at defiance. Go, search him out: "Who is he who thus overcomes the world?" I tell you there is not one on earth, except "he who is born of God," and "he who believes in Jesus" as his only hope. There may be found persons who fly from the world: but they do not act "as good soldiers of Jesus Christ." The people who fight and overcome, are those only who have been before described: and it is through faith in Christ alone that they maintain the conflict; "it is by the cross of Christ alone that the world is crucified unto them, and they unto the world."
On the other hand, What truly regenerate man does not effect it?
Every one that is born of God does effect it. Whatever be his age or condition in life, it makes no difference; whether he be a king on his throne, or a beggar on the dunghill, this is his spirit, and this his conduct. In the external habits of men there must, of necessity, he a great difference: because it is not possible for a monarch to live precisely in the style and manner of a private man: but, in the internal principles and feelings there will be no difference whatever between the rich man that lives in splendor, and the poor Lazarus that lies at his gate. The hearts of all, whether young or old, rich or poor, learned or unlearned, will rise superior to the world; they will all account themselves "pilgrims and sojourners here;" and "have their conversation in Heaven," where their treasure is, and where they hope to spend a blissful eternity in the presence of their God.
Behold then here,
1. A test, whereby to try your state.
You cannot wish for a better touchstone than this. You see that every Christian in the universe will stand this trial; and that no other person whatever can. To a certain extent, the unregenerate and unbelieving may resemble the regenerate believer: but when you bring them to this test, the difference between them will instantly appear. I would not speak disrespectfully of any person, or any body of men; nor would I presume to sit in judgment upon them. But I will submit a question to you, which I think deserves consideration. It is well known that names of reproach are given to those who are more religious than their neighbors, and names of honor assumed by those who differ from them. At the present day, their respective titles are, the orthodox, and the evangelical: (what they may be at a future period, we know not: in every age they vary: and my object is, not to designate persons, but characters:) and these are supposed to differ very widely from each other in principle: but it is in practice, rather than in principle, that they differ: for you may hold what principles you will; and if you will be of the world, you will be reputed orthodox: but if you will not be of the world, whatever your principles may be, you may be infallibly sure that you will be ranked with the evangelical. Here, in fact, is the true point of distinction between the nominal and the real Christian: the nominal Christian is of this world: and the real Christian is not of this world, nor has any desire to be of it: for he knows, that even "to desire its friendship, is to be an avowed enemy of God."
2. A rule, whereby to regulate our conduct.
"We must he dead unto the world," even as our Lord himself was. And does this appear unreasonable, or impracticable? Let anyone imagine a number of angels, sent down from Heaven, to occupy different stations in the world for a season: how would they conduct themselves? They would take each his station, whether it were to rule a kingdom, or to sweep the streets. They would look down with contempt upon all the vanities of the world; and would stand at the remotest distance from its contagion. They would be intent only on serving God in their respective places, that they might be approved by him when they should be called to give up their account. Now, what should hinder us from considering ourselves in this precise point of view? True, we have corruptions, which the angels have not: but these corruptions are to be mortified, and not indulged: and though our duty is rendered the more difficult by means of them, it is not a whit altered. Nor need we despair of attaining at least some measure of victory over the world; because the Spirit within us has always this bearing; and because the Lord Jesus Christ, in whom we believe, has said, "My grace shall be sufficient for you." This, then, I would recommend to every regenerate soul; "Love not the world, nor anything that is in the world," but let the same mind be in you as was in Christ Jesus, and endeavor in all things to "walk as he walked."
Justification and Sanctification By Christ
1 John 5:6. This is he who came by water and blood, even Jesus Christ; not by water only, but by water and blood. And it is the Spirit that bears witness, because the Spirit is truth.
THERE are in the Scriptures, and especially in the history of our blessed Lord, many circumstances recorded, which appear to have been accidental and of no moment, while they were in reality ordained of God, and of the utmost importance for the advancement of his glory. For instance, the soldiers offering him vinegar upon the cross, and dividing some of our Lord's clothing, and casting lots for the remainder; what trifles do these circumstances appear, when compared with all the other events of that day! Yet by means of them were the most improbable prophecies fulfilled, and the strongest possible testimony given to the Messiahship of Jesus. Another circumstance I will mention as deserving of particular notice, namely, that of the soldier, without any order from his superiors, piercing our Lord with his spear after he was dead. This, as far as respected the soldier, was a mere wanton act either of cruelty or contempt; of cruelty, if he doubted whether he was not yet alive; and of contempt, if he believed him to be really dead. But that act of his, while it fulfilled a very remarkable prophecy, was productive of consequences which are replete with instruction to the whole world. On his inflicting the wound, there came forth from our Savior's side both water and blood, not blended together, but in streams visibly distinct from each other. John, who was the only Disciple present, took particular notice of this. He saw it with his own eyes: and, in his Gospel, he records it as a most remarkable event, to which he could bear the most assured testimony, and of which he was extremely anxious that every one should be informed: "One of the soldiers with a spear pierced his side: and forthwith came out blood and water. And he who saw it bare record; and his record is true: and he knows that he says true, that you might believe." It is to this that the Apostle alludes in the words of our text; "This is he who came by water and blood, even Jesus Christ; not by water only, but by water and blood," and the same anxiety does he manifest to impress it deeply on our minds, when he adds, "The Spirit bears witness to it; and the Spirit is truth." Let me then, in conformity with his example, call your attention to,
I. The truth here specified.
In this event there was a deep stupendous mystery, inasmuch as it declared, in a very striking way, the great ends of our Savior's death. Take the Apostle's assertion,
1. As simply declared.
Our Lord "Jesus Christ came by water and blood." He came as "a teacher sent from God," to instruct us in the knowledge of his will, to lead us also by his own example, and by the gift of his grace to strengthen us for the attainment of universal holiness. This is called "coming by water," for, as water is of use to cleanse and purify, so his doctrine was to cleanse and purify our souls from every species of defilement.
But it was not merely as a teacher that Jesus came, but to make an atonement also for sin. This he was to do by offering himself a sacrifice for us upon the cross: and this he did, shedding his own most precious blood, that through it we might be purged from guilt, and be reconciled to our offended God. In this he differed from all who had ever come before him. The different prophets that had been sent from God, came solely for the former purpose: and John the Baptist, who baptized such multitudes in the Wilderness, professed that the whole scope of his ministry was to lead men to repentance. But Jesus had a higher end in view. Repentance, however deep, and reformation, however extensive, would have been of no avail, if an atonement had not been offered to God for the sins of men: and this office neither men nor angels could undertake: he alone was sufficient for it: his Divine nature would give a virtue and efficacy to his blood, which no other blood could have, and would render it a sufficient atoning sacrifice for the sins of the whole world. For that end therefore he assumed our nature, and died upon the cross; so that, as my text expresses it, "he came by blood."
2. As solemnly confirmed.
There is a peculiar emphasis to be observed in the Apostle's mode of repeating his assertion. The circumstance of the blood and water flowing in distinct streams from the wounded side of our Savior, was intended emblematically to declare the united ends of his death. The Apostle therefore would not suffer it to be overlooked, lest by a partial view of Christ, as a Prophet only, we should lose the blessings which he came to purchase for us. The mode appointed by the law for the purifying of the leper, will place this matter in a just point of view. Two birds were taken: one of them was killed over running water, and his blood was mingled with the water. The blood and water were then sprinkled seven times upon the leper, and the living bird, being dipped in the blood and water, was let loose into the open field, and the leper was pronounced clean. This was intended to show how man should be cleansed from sin. The Lord Jesus Christ should shed his blood as an atonement for sin: he should also send forth his Spirit upon man: by neither of these separately should he fulfill the office of a Savior; and by neither of these separately should man be restored to the favor of his God. The union of the two was necessary for all; and the two united should be effectual for all: so that, however deep any one's leprosy may have been, he shall, the very instant he has been so purified, be pronounced clean.
This then all must carefully notice, if they would possess the full benefits of Christ's salvation.
In addition to his own testimony, the Apostle further confirms his assertion, by adducing,
II. The testimony which the Holy Spirit bears to it.
In two ways the Holy Spirit, "the Spirit of truth," has borne witness to the doctrine inculcated in our text:
1. By established ordinances in the Church of God.
This doctrine was not unknown to the Church of Israel in the wilderness; for there were ordinances appointed on purpose that it might be known, and be kept in everlasting remembrance. The Paschal Lamb which was slain from year to year reminded them, as indeed all the daily sacrifices did, that they were redeemed by blood. And, in their passage through the Red Sea, they were baptized unto Moses in the cloud and in the sea, to show them, that they must also be washed from their pollutions by the Spirit of God; as indeed all the washings and washings appointed by the law yet further taught them. Under the Christian dispensation, the same truths are constantly inculcated by the two sacraments appointed for our observance. Our baptismal washing reminds us, that "Christ came by water;" and the sacramental cup, which is "emblematic of his blood which he shed for the remission of our sins," reminds us, that "he came by blood." And our Apostle himself, in the second verse after my text, declares, that these ordinances were appointed for these very ends by the Spirit of God, who by them, and with them, bears testimony to the truth asserted in our text: "There are three that bear record on earth; the Spirit, and the water, and the blood: and these three agree in one," they agree in attesting that the Lord Jesus "Christ came by water and blood; not by water only, but by water and blood."
How can we be sufficiently thankful for such clear and unquestionable testimonies to these important truths! Here is nothing left to arbitrary interpretations of a few select passages, which an advocate for some favorite doctrine might be supposed to pervert for the purpose of establishing his own sentiments: here are ordinances which speak for themselves, and which cannot be perverted: the spiritual import of them cannot admit a doubt: so that we may consider the truth of our text as fully declared, and incontrovertibly established.
2. By visible operations on the souls of men.
The Holy Spirit has yet further attested this truth by his immediate agency on the soul. He came down in a visible shape, in cloven tongues, as of fire, upon the Disciples on the day of Pentecost, in order to qualify them to proclaim these truths in all manner of languages; and, in confirmation of their word, he converted not less than three thousand souls to God in one day, enlightening all their minds, renewing all their souls, and filling them all with the richest consolations. When Peter opened the Gospel to the Gentiles also in the house of Cornelius, the Holy Spirit again bore witness to the truth in the same manner. The manner in which this is noticed by the historian, is worthy of particular observation. Peter, in his discourse respecting Christ, said, "To him give all the prophets witness, that through his name whoever believes in him shall receive remission of sins." Then we are told, "While Peter yet spoke these words, the Holy Spirit fell on all them which heard the word." Here you perceive, it was at the very moment when Peter was proclaiming Jesus as a Savior, not as a teacher, but as a Savior, who was "come not by water only, but by water and blood," that the Holy Spirit descended visibly upon all to attest that blessed truth. So, in like manner, at the present day, the Holy Spirit bears witness to this truth in every place: he works by it to the conversion of men to God, to the enriching of them with peace and joy, to the transforming of them into the Divine image, and to the bringing of them safely to glory. No other doctrine is ever honored by him for these ends; but this is invariably, wherever it is proclaimed with that fidelity which becomes a servant of Christ. The people, who receive this doctrine into their hearts, are themselves made living witnesses of its truth, being enabled by it to live as no other persons can live, and to shine as lights in a dark benighted world. In every age this doctrine has been, and to the end of the world it shall be, "preached with the Holy Spirit sent down from Heaven."
1. Be careful to receive these truths into your hearts.
It cannot be that, when so much care has been taken to reveal them to us, we should be at liberty to neglect them: yet are they most grievously neglected by the great majority of the Christian world. The blood of Christ is actually denied by many as an atonement for sin: and of those who do not systematically deny its virtue, many are yet unmindful of it as a source of salvation to their own souls. And as for the influences of the Holy Spirit, they are derided by the generality as the dreams of a heated imagination. Ah! brethren, let it not be thus with you. Trample not in this ungodly manner upon "the blood of the covenant," whereby alone you can be purged from guilt: and "do not such despite to the Spirit of God," by whose all-powerful influence alone you can ever be truly sanctified and saved—But rather seek to be yourselves living witnesses of their truth and efficacy. Seek by the sprinkling of the blood of Christ upon your souls to obtain peace with God and in your own consciences: and seek by the effusion of the Spirit of God upon your souls to be renewed in your inward man, and rendered meet for Heaven. So shall you in this world be "epistles of Christ, known and read of all men;" and in the world to come be everlasting trophies of his redeeming love.
2. Beware that you never attempt to separate what God has joined together.
Some there are of a self-righteous turn, who look to sanctification only as the means of recommending them to God; while others of an Antinomian cast think of little but of justification through the Redeemer's blood. But both of these are involved in most grievous errors; and, if they obtain not juster views of Gospel truth, will perish forever: for, on the one hand, there is no fountain opened for sin and for impurity, but that which was opened on Mount Calvary; nor, on the other hand, can any one that is unsanctified behold the face of God in peace: for "without holiness no man shall see the Lord." If any take refuge in the doctrines of predestination and election, let them know, that God has ordained the means as well as the end; and that, if we are "elect according to the foreknowledge of God the Father," it is "through sanctification of the Spirit unto obedience, and the sprinkling of the blood of Jesus Christ." Whichever of these truths any man confide in as of exclusive importance, we would say to him, as our Lord said to the self-deceiving Pharisees, "These ought you to have done, and not to leave the other undone."
The Doctrine of the Trinity Vindicated
1 John 5:7. There are three that bear record in Heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Spirit: and these three are one.
NEVER was there any record so well attested, so worthy of acceptance, so necessary to be believed, as that which God has given of his Son. Upon the receiving or rejecting of it depends the eternal welfare of all mankind. The riches of wisdom, and love, and mercy that are contained in it, surpass all the comprehension of men or angels. With respect to the truth of it, every species of testimony that could be given to it by friends or enemies, by angels from Heaven, by men on earth, yes, even by devils themselves, has been given in the most abundant degree. But it has been confirmed by other testimony still, even by the Three Persons in the adorable Trinity.
From the words before us, we shall be led to show,
I. Who they are that are here said to "bear record."
Much has been written, and well written, to disprove the authenticity of this text. Certainly, if the genuineness of this text be admitted, and the sense be given to it which those who adduce it as establishing the doctrine of the Trinity, maintain, it will put an end to all controversy on the subject of the Trinity. But we need not be anxious about the validity of this individual passage, as though the doctrine of the Trinity rested upon it; since, if the text were expunged from the Bible, there are a multitude of others which maintain most unequivocally the same important truth.
To establish the mysterious doctrine of a Trinity in Unity, we shall lay down, and substantiate, three positions:
1. There is but one God.
The unity of God may be deduced even from reason itself: but it is repeatedly affirmed in Scripture; nor must a doubt of it ever be suffered to enter into our minds. It is true, that in a subordinate sense there are gods many, and lords many; because angels, and magistrates, and the idols of heathens, are sometimes called by these names on account of the resemblance they bear to God in the authority vested in them, and the respect paid to them: but there is One Supreme Being, who alone is self-existent, and from whom all other beings, whether in Heaven or earth, derive their existence. He, and he only, is God.
2. Though there is only one God, yet there are three distinct Persons in the Godhead.
In reference to this subject, we use the term persons, because there is no other so suitable: but we mean not that these persons are in all respects as distinct from each other as Peter, James, and John; but only that in some respects they are distinguished from each other, though they exist together in one undivided essence.
It is certain that there are three persons mentioned in the Scripture: for baptism is ordered to be administered, not in the name of God merely, but "in the name of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit." These three are represented as distinct from each other; for the Son has told us, that "he will send the Holy Spirit from the Father." They are moreover spoken of as performing separate offices in the work of redemption; the Father elects; the Son redeems; the Spirit sanctifies; and Peter, comprising in few words the whole mystery of redemption, ascribes to each of these persons his proper office. They are also declared to be sources of distinct blessings to the Church; the Apostle prays, that "the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God the Father, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit, may be with us all.
3. Each of these persons is God, without any difference or inequality.
We shall not occupy any time with proving the Godhead of the Father; but, taking that for granted, shall establish the Godhead of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.
To each of these belong the same names as unto the Father. Is the Father God? so is the Word, (as Christ is called in the text). He is "Emmanuel, God with us," God manifest in the flesh, the mighty God, God over all, blessed for evermore. To Him is also given the incommunicable name, Jehovah; for we are to call him, "Jehovah our Righteousness." To the Holy Spirit also these names belong. Ananias, in lying unto the Holy Spirit, lied unto God. And we, in being the temples of the Holy Spirit, are the temples of God. The words also which were confessedly spoken by Jehovah to the Prophet Isaiah, are quoted by Paul as spoken by the Holy Spirit.
To each of these the same attributes also are ascribed as characterize the Father. Is the Father eternal, omnipresent, omniscient, almighty? So is the Son—and so is the Holy Spirit.
What now is the conclusion to be drawn from these premises, but that which is asserted in the text, that "there are Three that bear record in Heaven; and that those Three are One?"
Having shown that by the Three Witnesses we are to understand the Triune God, we proceed to show,
II. What that is concerning which they bear record.
We may well expect that the importance of the matter to which these Divine Witnesses have borne record, is suited to the majesty of the Witnesses themselves. Accordingly we find, that,
Their testimony relates to the salvation that is in Christ Jesus.
God, who had passed by the angels that fell, has looked in mercy upon fallen man, and has given us eternal life, in and through his Son Jesus Christ. He sent his dear Son to die in our stead, and, by his own obedience unto death, to work out a righteousness whereby we might be saved. The merit whereby we are to be justified, and the grace whereby we are to be renewed, he treasured up for us in Christ; and he calls all men to receive these blessings out of his fullness. This way of salvation is open for all, and sufficient for all: but, this rejected, no other remains for us.
This is the sum and substance of the Gospel; and this it is to which the Sacred Three bear record.
Nor is their testimony at all more than the subject requires.
If God himself had not revealed such things, who could ever have imagined them? who could ever have thought of God becoming incarnate, and, by his own death, expiating the guilt of his own creatures? Who could ever have devised a plan so calculated to exalt the perfections of God; so suited to answer the necessities of man; and so efficacious to renew us after the Divine image?—Besides, supposing these things to have been reported, who would ever have believed them, if they had not been thus divinely attested? Notwithstanding the testimonies given by the Sacred Three, there is yet reason to adopt that reiterated complaint, "Who has believed our report?" Professions of faith indeed abound among us; but a true believer, whose feelings and conduct accord with his professions, is "a sign and a wonder" in Christendom itself.
It remains yet to be declared,
III. In what manner they bear record.
Each of these Divine Persons has borne record at divers times, and in different manners.
The Father thrice bore witness to Christ by an audible voice from Heaven; declaring at the same time his acquiescence in him as the Savior of men; and requiring us at the peril of our souls to "hear" and receive him in that character. Moreover, in raising Christ from the dead, he yet more emphatically testified, that he had discharged the debt for which he had been imprisoned in the grave, and was "able to save to the uttermost all that should come unto God through him."
The Lord Jesus Christ continually bore witness to himself. When asked, "If you be the Christ, tell us plainly;" he answered, "I have told you, and you believe me not." "Before Pontius Pilate he witnessed the same good confession," though he knew that it would issue in his death. After his resurrection, he called himself "the true and faithful witness," and testified, "I am he who was dead and am alive again, and have the keys of death and of Hell."
The Holy Spirit also bore witness to him, when he descended in a bodily shape, like a dove upon him: and again, when he came down in the likeness of fiery tongues upon the Apostles, and converted three thousand to the faith of Christ. Similar testimonies he still continued to give; and at this very day, when any are converted to the faith, it is owing to the testimony which the Holy Spirit bears to Christ; "the Spirit testifies of him," and thereby produces conviction or consolation in the soul.
Thus the Sacred Three bear record in Heaven, and by their united testimony encourage our acceptance of the salvation offered us in the Gospel.
1. How unreasonable and dangerous is unbelief!
If only men, who are credible and competent witnesses, attest a thing, we think it right to believe them. What an insult then is it to the Sacred Three to doubt their testimony! Yet this, alas! is the treatment which their record meets with in the world. Some reject it as "a cunningly-devised fable;" while others, professing a regard to it in general, deny the most important part of it, the necessity of being saved by Christ alone. Even those who in their hearts approve the Gospel, are too apt to doubt the freeness and sufficiency of the salvation revealed in it. Let every one consider the extreme sinfulness of such conduct, and abhor the thought of "making God a liar".
2. What obligation lies upon believers to bear an open testimony to the truth!
It is evident how earnestly God desires that his dear Son should be known, and that the salvation wrought out by him should be embraced. Now believers are his witnesses in the midst of a blind deluded world. Ought they then to be ashamed or afraid to bear their testimony for God? What if the world agree to call the Gospel a delusion, and to consider all as hypocrites or fanatics who embrace it? Should that deter us from making a public profession of his truth? Should we not rather be the bolder in confessing Christ, in proportion as others are bold in denying him?
But let us not confine our profession to creeds and forms: the best and most acceptable way of declaring our affiance in Christ, is by manifesting to the world its efficacy on our hearts and lives. This will make them think that there is a reality in the Gospel; and may contribute to win many who never would obey the written word.
3. How exalted must be the glory which believers will enjoy in Heaven!
It cannot be conceived that the Three Persons of the Godhead would have devised and executed such a wonderful plan of salvation, if the end to be accomplished by it were not exceeding glorious. Surely all that the love of the Father can devise, all that the blood of Christ can purchase, all that the Holy Spirit can impart, is prepared for us in the eternal world, and shall be bestowed on us according to our measure and capacity to receive it. Yes, in Heaven we shall see God as he is, and have the brightest discoveries of his glory: and, while we have the richest enjoyment of his presence and love, we ourselves shall be witnesses for him, how far his mercy could reach, what astonishing changes it could effect, and what blessedness it can bestow on the most unworthy of mankind.
The Believer's Inward Witness
1 John 5:10. He who believes on the Son of God has the witness in himself.
THE truth of our holy religion is confirmed by every kind of evidence that the heart of man can desire. Not only was it established by an appeal to prophecy, but by miracles without number. Nay more, as the religion of Moses had at the very time different rites appointed in commemoration of the principal events with which that dispensation was marked; as the feast of the Passover, to commemorate the destruction of the Egyptian first-born, and the preservation of Israel,—and the feast of Pentecost, to commemorate the giving of the law,—and the feast of tabernacles, to commemorate their living in tents in the wilderness—so has Christianity been attested by the Holy "Spirit" given to the Apostles, and "the water" of baptism, which was administered on that very day, and "the blood" of the cross commemorated by the cup which is drank by all in the supper of the Lord.
But, convincing as these testimonies are, the true believer has one peculiar to himself, one abiding in his own bosom, arising from his own experience: "He who believes on the Son of God has the witness in himself;" the witness of Christ, and of his salvation; of its necessity, its suitableness, its sufficiency. He has in himself the witness of,
I. Its necessity.
The generality of persons see no need of such a salvation as the Gospel has provided. Many have no conception that they merit condemnation at the hands of God: or that there can be any occasion for more than a mere exercise of mercy, without any atonement offered to divine justice for their sins, or any righteousness to be imputed to them for their justification before God. But the believer has views of his own exceeding sinfulness, and of his utter incapacity to reconcile himself to God, and of his need of a Savior to effect salvation for him. He is conscious, that no repentance of his can ever suffice to expiate his guilt, nor any good works of his prevail for the purchase of Heaven: and hence he is in his own apprehension as much lost without a Savior, as the fallen angels are, for whom no Savior has been provided.
II. Its suitableness.
Looking into his own bosom to explore his wants, and then examining the Holy Scriptures to see what provision God has made for him, he sees that the one corresponds with the other as the wards of a lock with the key that opens it. He has no want in himself for which he does not see in Christ a suitable supply: nor does he behold in Christ anything which he does not need. Is Christ both God and man? Such an one does the believer see that he stands in need of; even man to take on him what man was bound to do and suffer; and God to render that work effectual for our salvation. Did the believer need an atonement for his guilt, a righteousness wherein to stand before God? Did he need a divine power to renew his soul? Did he need an Advocate with the Father to intercede for him? Did he need an Head of vital influence to impart unto him all seasonable supplies of grace? This, and ten thousand times more than this, does he find in Christ, whose fullness corresponds with his necessities, as an impression with the seal; in neither of which is there a jot or tittle either superfluous or defective. The every office of Christ, and every character is precisely that which the believer needs; to the hungry, Christ is bread; to the thirsty, a living fountain of water; to the sick, a Physician; yes and life to the dead.
I. Its sufficiency.
The believer feels in himself that he is a partaker of those very benefits which Christ came to bestow. He is alive from the dead, and is enabled to live as no unregenerate man can live. Let any one behold a river which a few hours ago was running down with a rapid current to the sea, running back again with equal rapidity to the fountain head; and will he doubt how this is effected? He may not be able to say what influence that is by which it is produced, or how that operation is effected: but he sees that there is a power which has wrought this: he sees it in its effects, just as he sees the trees agitated by the wind, though he knows not whence that wind comes, or where it goes. He cannot declare how the Spirit which Jesus has imparted to him, operates upon his soul: but he can no more doubt who it is that has thus created him anew, than who it is that formed the universe. He is a perfect wonder to himself; a spark kept alive in the midst of the ocean, a bush ever burning, yet never consumed. He is a living witness for the Lord Jesus, that he is able to save to the uttermost all that come unto God by him.
Behold then here,
1. The true nature of the Gospel.
The Gospel is a remedy. The whole world are sick: and in Christ Jesus there is all that every sinner needs.
2. The blessedness of those who truly receive it.
All are in one great hospital: and those who submit not to the physician die: but those who take his prescriptions live. True, they are not cured at once: it is possible too that they may suffer occasional relapses for a little season: but through the care of their heavenly Physician, their recovery is progressive; and when the good work is perfected within them, they are removed to that happy world, of which "no inhabitant will ever have occasion to complain that he is sick." And what a witness will the believer have within himself at that day! At that day there will be among all the millions of the saints but one feeling of perfect health, and but one ascription of praise "to him who loved them, and washed them from their sins, and made them kings and priests unto their God and Father forever and ever."
The Gospel Record
1 John 5:11, 12. This is the record, that God has given to us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. He who has the Son has life; and he who has not the Son of God has not life.
IN matters that are established by human testimony, we necessarily proportion our assent to the number and credibility of the witnesses. And if we will act in the same manner towards the Holy Scriptures, we shall not entertain a doubt, either of their Divine authority in general, or of the way of salvation contained in them. Moses and all the prophets concur with the Apostles in directing our eyes to Christ as the only Savior of the world: but in the words before us we have the testimony of One whose information cannot be doubted, and whose veracity cannot be impeached; of One who is too good to deceive, and too wise to be deceived. This witness is no other than Jehovah himself.
Let us then consider,
I. His testimony concerning his Son, and concerning the way of salvation through him.
This record embraces two points; and asserts,
1. That "God has given to us eternal life."
Since the fall of Adam, man has lost all right to life. In him we died, and through him condemnation is come upon us all. Moreover, we have all increased our guilt and condemnation by our own personal transgressions. But God willed not that we should perish, and therefore sent his only dear Son to deliver us: and, having opened a way for our return to him through the blood and righteousness of his Son, he has published the glad tidings, and offered freely to give eternal life to as many as would receive it in his appointed way. He has not offered it to us as a blessing to be earned or merited, but as a free unmerited gift to be received.
2. That "this life is in his Son."
This life, comprehending all the blessings of grace and glory, is in Christ as the Proprietor, the Dispenser, and the Guardian of it. He is the Proprietor of it. As the light is primarily in the sun, so is all good originally and essentially in Christ. "In him was life," says John; "and the life was the light of men." The same writer says of him again at the conclusion of the chapter from whence the text is taken, "This is the true God, and eternal life." He also is the Dispenser of it. As life was in him essentially as well as in the Father, so was it committed to him officially, in order that he might impart it to whoever he would. He himself arrogates to himself this honor; and all his Apostles acknowledge themselves indebted to him for all that they possessed. He is moreover the Guardian of it. When life was entrusted to Adam, he, though perfect, and in Paradise, was soon robbed of it through the devices of Satan. And if it were now committed to us, we in our present fallen state should not be able to preserve it one single hour. God has therefore graciously committed it to his dear Son, that, by being "hid with Christ in God," it might be inaccessible to our subtle enemy. By this mysterious, this merciful dispensation, "our souls are bound up, as it were, in the bundle of life with the Lord our God." Christ "lives in us," and "is our very life," and hence, "because he lives," and as long as he lives, "we shall live also."
Thus has God testified, that eternal life is to be sought as a free gift from him, and to be only in, and through, and for the sake of, the Lord Jesus Christ. But to see the full importance of this record, we must consider,
II. The declaration grounded upon it.
A more solemn declaration is not to be found in all the inspired volume. But let us consider,
1. What is meant by "having the Son of God?"
The more simply this is explained, the more intelligible it will appear. Christ is represented as God's gift to man: and we then receive that gift when we believe in Christ; or, in other words, when we receive him for all the ends and purposes for which he is given. This is the explanation which John himself gives us: and consequently we may then be said to "have" Christ, when we have received him, and are making use of him, as the source and substance of our spiritual life.
2. What depends on our "having" the Son of God.
Behold! nothing less than everlasting happiness or misery depends on this point.
He who has felt a desire after eternal life; and has sought it earnestly through Christ; and has received it from God as a free unmerited gift; and is looking to Christ to impart it to him yet "more abundantly," and to preserve it in his soul; he who thus "lives by faith in the Son of God," has both a title to life, and the very beginning and earnest of eternal life in his soul. He can claim eternal life upon the footing of God's word. He can plead the promises of God; and may be fully assured that he shall not be disappointed of his hoper. Indeed he has eternal life already begun in his soul. He was once dead like others; but now he "is passed from death unto life." The very act of living by faith in the Son of God proves to a demonstration, that he is alive, and that Christ lives in him. He may not indeed have a comfortable sense and assurance of his happy state; but he really lives, and shall live forever.
On the other hand, he who has not so received and lived upon the Lord Jesus Christ, has no life in his soul: he is yet "dead in trespasses and sins," and, so far from having any title to life, he is under a sentence of condemnation, and "the wrath of God abides on him." "Not having the Son of God, he has not life." Whatever he may have, he has not life. He may have learning, riches, honor, and even morality itself, according to the general acceptance of the term, but he has not life: and if he die in his present state, he must perish forever: yes, if he were the first monarch upon earth, he would in this respect be on a level with the meanest of his subjects; he would descend from his pinnacle of honor to the lowest abyss of shame and misery.
1. How plain is the way of salvation!
Supposing the way of salvation to be such as has been already stated, how can words express it more clearly than it is expressed in the text? There is no learning requisite to explain it: it is level with the comprehension of the most unlettered man in the universe. Nothing is requisite for the understanding of it but humility of mind, and a willingness to be indebted for everything to the free grace of God in Christ Jesus. If there be any difficulty, it arises only from the pride of our hearts that would mix something of our own with the finished work of Christ. The fact is, that salvation by faith alone is so plain and simple, that we are offended at it on account of its plainness and simplicity. But let the weak rejoice, that what is hid from the wise, is revealed to them.
2. How suitable is the way of salvation!
If salvation had been to be merited and earned by our good works, who among us could have entertained a hope? If our works, imperfect as they are, were only to have eked out the merits of Christ, who could tell us the precise quantity and quality of the works that would have sufficed? In what doubt and suspense must we have been held all our days! And how would this way of salvation have suited persons in the situation of the dying thief, who are called away without having sufficient time to "make up their tale of bricks?" But a gift is suitable to all: a free salvation commends itself to all: and the more humbled we are under a sense of our own guilt and weakness, the more suitable will it appear, that we should receive all from Christ, and give all the glory of our salvation to him.
3. What infatuation is it to substitute any other plan of salvation in the place of that which God has offered us!
Suppose for one moment (though it is a horrid and blasphemous supposition) that we were wiser than God, and that we knew better than he did what was fit for him to do; still are we also "stronger than he?" and can we oblige him to alter his decrees? Vain hope! We may entertain as strong prejudices as we will, and load the Gospel with opprobrious names; still that will be true and irreversible, "He who has the Son, has life; and he who has not the Son of God, has not life." Let all of us then cease to weave a spider's web, and accept with gratitude "the salvation that is in Christ Jesus."
Use of the Scriptures to Believers
1 John 5:13. These things have I written unto you that believe on the name of the Son of God; that you may know that you have eternal life, and that you may believe on the name of the Son of God.
THE Scriptures of the New Testament were written doubtless for the whole world. Yet perhaps we may say, that the Gospels were written more immediately for unbelievers, in order to convince them of the Messiahship of Jesus; and that the epistles were written rather for believers, to bring them to a life becoming their high and holy calling. This idea seems to be sanctioned by John: for, at the end of his Gospel, he says, "These are written that you might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that, believing, you might have life through his name." But, at the end of this epistle, he says, "These things have I written unto you that believe on the name of the Son of God." In truth, he had in his mind all the different classes of believers—children, young men, and fathers: "I write unto you, little children, because your sins are forgiven you for His name's sake. I write unto you, fathers, because you have known him that is from the beginning. I write unto you, young men, because you have overcome the wicked one." Of course, there is much in this, as well as in all the epistles, profitable to unconverted men: but I must, on the present occasion, attend rather to believers, and mark of what use this epistle is intended to be to them. It is intended,
I. To assure them, that in Christ they have all that they can need.
All who truly believe "have eternal life," they have,
1. The substance of it, treasured up for them in Christ.
The Lord Jesus Christ is the depository in which eternal life is placed: as the Apostle says in the preceding context; "This is the record, that God has given to us eternal life; and this life is in his Son." The Lord Jesus purchased it for us, by his own obedience unto death: and to him it was granted, for our use and benefit; "that he might bestow it on as many as have been given him by the Father." "In Him, through the good pleasure of the Father, it dwells, even all the fullness of it." "Whatever can be conceived to be comprehended in eternal life, to him it is all committed; and out of his fullness it must be received."
2. A title to it, conferred on them by Christ.
The Lord Jesus, when he sent forth his Disciples to the Gospel to the whole world, commissioned them to declare to all, without exception, "He who believes, and is baptized, shall be saved." No one was required to bring any measure of worthiness with him as a title: on the contrary, there was to be but one plea for all mankind; namely, the promise of God to the believing soul. On that all were to rest; and that was to be the one ground of hope to every child of man. Life was to be, "not of works, but of grace," and "it was to be by faith, that it might be by grace." The only thing required on our part, was to receive thankfully what God offered freely in the Son of his love. In receiving Christ therefore by faith, we have a title to everything else; according as it is said, "All things are yours; and you are Christ's."
3. The actual possession of it, derived to them from Christ.
Of this, also, the Apostle speaks strongly, in the preceding context: "He who has the Son, has life: and he who has not the Son of God, has not life," that is, life is the exclusive possession of the believing soul. This is no less plainly affirmed by our Lord himself: "Truly, truly, I say unto you, He who hears my words, and believes in Him that sent me, has everlasting life, and shall not come into condemnation; but is passed from death unto life." Whatever is comprehended in all the glory and felicity of Heaven, is now begun in the believer's soul: "He has the witness of it in himself;" yes, and "the earnest" and foretaste of it. In fact, as an embryo in the womb has all the parts of which manhood is the perfection, so grace is glory begun; and glory is grace consummated.
But the Scriptures are of yet further use to believers,
II. To confirm and augment their affiance in him.
It is necessary that they should grow in faith, as well as in every other grace. The faith of all should daily become,
1. More simple in its exercise.
The world at large have very little idea how difficult it is to exercise a pure "sincere faith." It is easy to say, 'I believe:' but to "renounce all confidence in the flesh" is inconceivably difficult. A stone does not more naturally fall to the ground, than we cleave to our own wisdom, strength, and righteousness, as grounds of hope, and sources of acceptance before God. To derive all from the Lord Jesus Christ, and depend on Him alone, as an infant on its mother's care, is the very summit of Christian perfection. And where is the person that has attained to it? But, to aid us in this attainment, the Holy Scriptures are of wonderful use: they show us the fullness that is in Christ, and the emptiness of the creature, that is only as "a broken cistern, that can hold no water," and they set before us all the great and precious promises of our reconciled God, who has engaged to "work all his works in us," and to "perfect that which concerns us." After being made to feel, in ten thousand instances, the weakness of human nature, we are made at last to "have our strength in the Lord alone," and to be willing that "his strength should be perfected in our weakness."
2. More firm in its actings.
Our faith, when tried, is apt to waver. Peter, when the waves began to rise, brought on himself this just rebuke, "O you of little faith, wherefore did you doubt?" And Sarah too "laughed" through unbelief, when, at her advanced age, she was taught to expect a progeny, and to become a mother of nations. Yes, and Abraham himself, through the weakness of his faith, repeatedly desired Sarah to deny her relation to him, lest an acknowledgment of it should lead to his ruin. Thus we all find it, when we come into heavy trials. But by seeing in the Scriptures what God has done for his people in every age, and what he has engaged to do for them even to the end of the world, we learn, at last, to trust our God in all possible circumstances, and to be "strong in faith, giving glory to God."
3. More uniform in its operations.
Faith ought not to consist in acts, so much as to be one continued habit of the mind. The believer should live upon the Lord Jesus Christ, as a branch upon the vine. Whether winds or frosts menace its existence, the branch still cleaves to the stock, and derives from it the sap which is necessary to its preservation: and so must the believer cleave to the Lord Jesus Christ; and say with the Apostle, "I live; yet not I, but Christ lives in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh, I live by the faith of the Son of God, who has loved me, and given himself for me." In himself he must "be dead," if I may so speak; and "his life must be hid with Christ in God," it is by having "Christ as his life," that he will insure his future "appearance with Christ in glory."
1. Study then, my brethren, the blessed word of God.
"Search the Scriptures," says our blessed Lord; "for in them you think you have eternal life: and they are they that testify of me." Yes, "the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy," and of the whole Scriptures. It is in them that you will behold his whole character portrayed; and by them will you have his whole work carried on and perfected within you. Study them, then, with prayer. Nothing will be gained from them without prayer. From human compositions, you may acquire all that they contain by the mere force of intellectual exertion: but the Scriptures are "a sealed book," until God himself shall open them to your minds. But, if God shine upon his word, and enable you to comprehend the truths contained in it, you will derive from thence such views of Christ, as shall change you into the Divine image, and "fill you with all the fullness of God." "As new-born babes, then, desire the sincere milk of the word, that you may grow thereby."
2. Apply to yourselves everything that is the proper object of faith.
All the glory of Heaven is unfolded in the Scriptures to the believing soul. Make the Scriptures, then, a ladder, whereby to ascend to Heaven. Go thither, and there "behold Him that is invisible." There get a sight of his covenant: there see your own "name written in the Lamb's book of life." There survey the throne prepared for you, with the crown of glory, and the golden harp already tuned for your touch. Survey it all as yours—your property, your portion, your inheritance. Rise thus upon the wings of faith, and all that is here on earth will vanish from before your eyes, or become like a mere speck in the unbounded regions of space. This is the proper office of faith; and this is the privilege of the believing soul, even to have "your citizenship in Heaven;" and to occupy "your seat there with Christ," almost as you will do when you shall be personally dwelling in the realms of bliss. Truly, it is no mean thing to be a Christian. If you believe in Christ, "all things are yours; whether Paul, or Apollos, or Cephas, or the world, or life, or death, or things present, or things to come, all are yours; and you are Christ's, and Christ is God's."
Answers to Prayer
1 John 5:14, 15. This is the confidence that we have in him, that, if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us: and if we know that he hear us, whatever we ask, we know that we have the petitions that we desired of him.
PRAYER is universally acknowledged to be a service proper for sinful men to perform; yet few have any just idea of its efficacy. If a man were to speak of having received an answer to his prayers, he would be considered as an enthusiast, who was deceiving his own soul. Yet it is clear that we are taught to expect answers from Almighty God, and that too even in relation to the specific petitions which we have presented before him. The words which we have just read abundantly attest this, and naturally lead me to show,
I. The confidence which a believer may enjoy in drawing near to God.
He may possess a confidence,
1. Respecting the acceptance of his prayers in general.
God has been pleased to make himself known to us under this very character, "A God that hears prayer." And in the most explicit terms has he assured us, that "no man shall seek his face in vain," Ask, and you shall have; seek, and you shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you: for every one that asks, receives; and he who seeks, finds; and to him that knocks, it shall be opened." In truth, if this hope were not held out to us, it would be in vain to approach our God at all. Thus far, therefore, the world at large will admit the efficacy of prayer: they will acknowledge that some good will proceed from it; though their idea is, that the benefit will accrue rather from the meritoriousness of the act of prayer, than from any attention paid to the prayer itself. But we must go further, and assert, that the believer is warranted to enjoy a confidence also,
2. Respecting specific answers to each particular petition.
This is plainly declared in the passage before us, and therefore it may certainly be expected. But here it will be proper to mark the different limitations with which the subject must be understood. If these be not carefully noted, I grant that much error may prevail in relation to it; but if these be kept in view, we may take to ourselves all the comfort which this subject is calculated to convey.
First, then, the text itself limits our petitions, and supposes them to be in accordance with the will of God: "If we ask anything according to his will." It were absurd to imagine that we could, by any request of ours, prevail on the Deity to do anything which was contrary to his will. This limit, therefore, must be admitted of course. Besides, our prayers must be offered in the name of Jesus Christ. He is our Mediator; nor is there any access to God for us, except through him. Hence he himself, in order to the acceptance of our prayers, requires that they be offered in his name. They must also be offered up in faith. A man that doubts and "wavers in his petitions must not expect to receive anything from the Lord." Our Lord therefore declares this to be essential; "Whatever you ask in prayer, believing, you shall receive." And peculiarly strong is his declaration in another place, where he says, "What things soever you desire, when you pray, believe that you receive them, and you shall have them." Our prayers, too, must be presented with a pure and holy end; not for the gratification of any unhallowed feeling of our own, but with a view to the honor of our God.
Moreover as proper limits must be assigned to our prayers, so a proper latitude must be conceded to God for his answers to them. He is not bound in relation to the time when he shall answer them, or the manner in which he shall answer them. He may suffer us to wait long before he answers us; that so we may feel the deeper need of his mercy, and be better prepared to receive it, and be led more devoutly to praise him when he has answered. In answering us, too, it must be left to him to grant what, in his infinite wisdom, he may judge most conducive to our welfare. "He heard his dear Son always;" yet he did not take the bitter cup out of his hands; but enabled him to drink it, and for his sake took it out of the hands of a dying world. He did not extract the thorn from the flesh of his servant Paul; but he made use of it, to prevent the risings of pride, which would have been an infinitely sorer plague; and enabled him to rejoice and glory in it, as the means of honoring more abundantly his Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Even to an angel he refused the specific request; but "answered him with good and comfortable words," which were eventually a more suitable and substantial blessing.
Take these limitations, then, with respect to our prayers, and these exceptions respecting God's answers to them; and then we need not fear to entertain the confidence described in our text: we may not only be "sure that God hears us, but we either have, or shall have, the petitions that we desired of him."
And now you will readily see,
II. The encouragement which this affords him to abound in that duty.
What is there that man can need at the hands of God? Whatever it may be, he is at liberty to ask it: and may be confident, that, in answer to his petitions, it shall be granted to him. Need you, believer,
1. The forgiveness of your sins?
Call them to remembrance from your earliest infancy, and spread them all before him: fear not, either on account of their number or malignity; but go with confidence to your God, in the name of Jesus; and "he will blot them out as a morning cloud," and "cast them all behind him, into the very depths of the sea."
2. A supply of grace, to sanctify your soul?
Look not at the inveteracy of your lusts, as though they were too great to be subdued; but look rather at the extent of God's gracious promises; and expect that he will enable you to "cleanse yourselves from all filthiness both of flesh and spirit, and to perfect holiness in the fear of God." Restrain not prayer before him; and he will transform you into "his perfect image, even from glory to glory," "by the mighty working of his Spirit, who raised Christ himself from the dead."
3. All the glory and blessedness of Heaven?
"Be not straitened in yourselves, my brethren; for you are not straitened in God." He himself says to you, "Open your mouth wide, and I will fill it," and therefore spread before him your every want, assured that, as he is able, so also is he willing, to "give you exceeding abundantly above all that you can ask, or even think."
If it be said, that such confidence is not warranted at this day, I ask, Are our privileges diminished under the Christian dispensation? or, Are we less entitled to expect these blessings, than the Jews were, under their less perfect economy? I grant, that we are not authorized to expect such visible interpositions as they enjoyed: but ours shall not be a whit less real, or less certain. We have not the Urim and Thummim, whereby to consult God, and obtain an answer that shall be legible by acknowledged marks upon the breast-plate; but God will nevertheless hear us when we call upon him; and cause us also, in doubtful circumstances, to hear a voice behind us, saying, "This is the way; walk you in it." Though therefore I acknowledge, that, as being under a theocracy, the Jews enjoyed privileges peculiar to themselves, I affirm that, so far as those privileges will conduce to our spiritual welfare, we possess them in as high a degree as ever they did; and it is our own fault if we avail not ourselves of them, for the advancement of our souls in peace, in holiness, and in glory. Did the Prophet Elijah shut and open the windows of Heaven? it is recorded to show the efficacy of prayer, for whatever it be made, and by whoever it be offered.
I would not however conclude without suggesting a caution, in reference to your exercise of this confidence.
Take care to exercise it with modesty and holy fear. It is possible enough to mistake our own feelings for an answer to prayer; and to persuade ourselves that God is directing us, when we are following only the imaginations of our own hearts. Let us, on all occasions, take the written word for our guide; and, in all doubtful circumstances, wait the issue, before we presume to refer them to God as expressions of his will in answer to our prayers. The truth in our text is to be improved rather for our encouragement to commit our ways to God, than for the purpose of determining positively what God has done, or will do. Let us take it with this limitation, that God will fulfill our requests, if they will really conduce to our welfare and to his glory; and then we cannot err, nor can our confidence ever be misplaced.
The Christian's Knowledge of Christ
1 John 5:20. We know that the Son of God is come, and has given us an understanding, that we may know him that is true, and we are in him that is true, even in his Son Jesus Christ. This is the true God, and eternal life.
IT is thought by many, that the doctrines of the Gospel are uncertain speculations, and that the experience of them in the soul is nothing more than an enthusiastic conceit. We acknowledge that the mysteries of religion are in many respects beyond the grasp of our reason; and that the inward feelings arising from them can be judged of by those only in whose bosom they are found: yet neither the one nor the other can on this account be considered as uncertain: on the contrary, whenever they are mentioned in the Scriptures, they are spoken of as matters that are plain and unquestionable. In the text, and the two verses that precede it, the Apostle thrice repeats the assertion, "We know,"—"We know that he who is born of God sins not," "We know that we are of God," and then, in reference both to the Gospel itself, and to his experience of its truth, he adds a third time, "We know that the Son of God is come," etc.
From these words we shall be led to notice three things which Christians know in relation to their Lord and Savior:
I. His advent.
The first Christians knew assuredly that the Messiah was come.
To state all the grounds of their conviction, would be superfluous, and indeed impossible in a single sermon. We shall confine ourselves to those which were most obvious and incontrovertible, namely, the prophecies that were accomplished in him, and the miracles that were wrought by him. When they saw that so many, so various, so minute, and (to appearance) so contradictory prophecies all united in him, and were fulfilled by him, they could not doubt but that Jesus was the person to whom they all referred. When, moreover, they beheld such numerous, such undoubted, such benevolent, and such stupendous miracles wrought by him in confirmation of his word, it was impossible for them to withhold their assent to the justice of his claims, unless they were altogether blinded by Satan and their own lusts.
But we have, if possible, yet clearer evidence than they.
Many of the most remarkable prophecies were either not quite accomplished, or but just accomplished, when our Lord died; so that the fulfillment of them might then be questioned. But who can doubt whether Daniel's weeks of years have not expired many centuries ago? Who can doubt whether "the scepter which was not to depart from Judah, until Shiloh should come," has not departed long since? Who can doubt whether the second "Temple to which the Messiah was to come," has not long since been demolished?
But a further and most satisfactory proof of Christ's Messiahship is, that his Gospel was propagated so extensively, in so short a time, by such instruments, in opposition to all the prejudices and passions of mankind; and that, though every effort of men and devils has been exerted to root out Christianity from the earth, none have ever been able to prevail against the Church.
On these grounds then, in addition to the former, we may say, "We know that the Son of God is come."
Moreover, we know also,
II. His character.
Many had been the impostors who had laid claim to the title of the Messiah. In opposition to all of these, the Apostle twice designates our Lord as "the true, the only true," Messiah; and, in the close of the text, specifies more particularly,
1. His personal character.
Jesus is "the true God." John, more than all the Apostles, seems to have been studious to assert the divinity of Christ. With this he opens his history of Jesus: "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God." The whole Scriptures also concur to establish this important doctrine, that he who was "a Son born, was also the mighty God;" that he was Emmanuel, "God with us;" even "God manifest in the flesh," yes, "God over all blessed forever." Nothing can be more clear than this fundamental point. Indeed the very name, "Son of God," so far from militating against his equality with the Father, was in the apprehension of the Jews themselves an assertion of that equality.
2. His official character.
Christ, as God, has life in himself essentially: but he is also "the Author of eternal salvation" to all his followers. As there is no other God but he, so is there no other Savior. It was he who purchased eternal life for us: none can claim any part of his glory in this respect: "his life was the ransom paid for us;" and by his obedience unto death we obtain righteousness and life. Moreover it is he who imparts eternal life to us: we receive it from him, who "is exalted to give it," and from "whose fullness alone it can be received." As we cannot merit it, so neither can we obtain it, by any efforts of our own: it is purely the gift of God through Christ: and Christ, as "Head over all things to the Church," bestows it on whoever he will. We know from Christ's own express assertion (and stronger evidence than that we cannot have), that he is "the way, the truth, and the life;" and to all eternity shall we ascribe our salvation "to him that loved us, and washed us from our sins in his own blood."
But it is yet further the privilege of all Christ's followers to know,
III. Their interest in him.
The knowledge which his people have of him is not a mere speculative acquaintance with his history, but an intimate connection, or rather, a oneness with him. They are "in Christ,"
1. By a federal relation.
As Adam was a head and representative to all his descendants, so is Christ to all his spiritual seed. They have communion with him in all his transactions upon earth, and in Heaven: they are circumcised in him, baptized in him, dead with him, quickened with him, risen with him, seated in Heaven with him. We cannot indeed be said to have done or suffered the same things as Christ, (for to assert that we had fulfilled the law, or made atonement for sin, would be blasphemy,) yet by virtue of our relation to him as our Head and Representative, everything which he either did or suffered, is, as far as respects the beneficial effects of it, considered as though we had done or suffered it: and on this account we may claim, on the footing of justice as well as of mercy, all that he purchased for us, and merited on our behalf."
2. By a vital union.
The union of a member with the head, or of a branch with the vine, justly characterizes our onion with Christ. Separate from him, we can do nothing: we can perform no one act, of the spiritual life, nor bring forth any spiritual fruit. The body and the soul are not more closely united than Christ and his people: he lives in them; he is their very life; they are one spirit with him.
Now this, no less than their federal relation to Christ, is known to all true Christians. They do not indeed at all times equally enjoy a sense of it in their minds; but, in proportion as they live near to God in the exercise of faith and love, they "have the witness of these things within, themselves." Temptation or sin may so weaken the assurance, that it shall be scarcely discerned: but when these obstructions are removed, and the believer is walking closely with God, a holy confidence will almost invariably crown his labors, and fill his soul with peace.
We shall conclude this subject with answering two questions:
1. How do Christians obtain this knowledge?
The text informs us: It is not from human teaching, or the power of reason, that this light springs up in the soul: it is Christ who "gives us an understanding to know him," He, who opened the heart of Lydia, and the understandings of his own Apostles, enlightens the minds of believers at this day, and "reveals unto babes and sucklings the things that are hid from the wise and prudent." If then we would obtain this knowledge, let us not lean to our own understanding, but pray to him to open our eyes, and to "guide us into all truth."
2. What benefit do they derive from it?
A merely speculative knowledge of Christianity expands the mind, and leads it to high and heavenly contemplations. But no tongue can utter the benefits arising from an experimental acquaintance with Christ: What just views does it give us of everything in the world! What peace does it bring into the conscience! How does it disarm death of its sting! And what bright prospects does it open to us in the eternal world! O let a desire after the full blessings of salvation animate us in our inquiries after truth! Let us seek to have more enlarged views of Christ, and of our interest in him; and thus shall we be prepared for that complete vision of his glory, in comparison of which our present knowledge is but as a taper before the sun.