« AnteriorContinuar »
permitted to enjoy a being? since, not to put a traitor to death is a singular mercy. But then, not only to continue his being, but to adorn it with privilege, and from the number of subjects, to take him into the retinue of servants, this was yet a greater love. For every one that may be fit to be tolerated in a prince's dominions, is not therefore fit to be admitted into his family; nor is any prince's court to be commensurate to his kingdom. But then, farther, to advance him from a servant to a friend, from only living in his house to lying in his bosom, this is an instance of favour above the rate of a created goodness, an act for none but the Son of God, who came to do every thing in miracle, to love supernaturally, and to pardon infinitely, and even to lay down the sovereign while he assumed
The text speaks the winning behaviour and gracious condescension of Christ to his disciples in owning them for his friends, who were more than sufficiently honoured by being his servants. For still these words of his must be understood, not according to the bare rigour of the letter, but according to the arts and allowances of expression: not as if the relation of friends had actually discharged them from that of servants; but that of the two relations Christ was pleased to overlook the meaner, and without any mention of that, to entitle and denominate them solely from the more honourable.
For the farther illustration of which, we must premise this, as a certain and fundamental truth, that so far as service imports duty and subjection, all created beings, whether men or angels, bear the necessary and essential relation of servants to God, and consequently to Christ, who is "God blessed for ever." And this relation is so necessary, that God himself cannot dispense with it, nor discharge a rational creature from it; for although consequentially, indeed, he may do so, by the annihilation of such a creature, and the taking away his being, yet supposing the continuance of his being, God cannot effect that a creature, which has his being from, and his dependence upon him, should not stand obliged to do him the utmost service that his nature enables him to do. For to suppose the contrary would be irregular, and opposite to the law of nature, which, consisting in a fixed unalterable relation of one nature to another, is, upon that account, even by God himself, indispensable: forasmuch as, having once made a creature, he cannot cause that that creature should not owe a natural relation to his Maker, both of subjection and dependence, (the very essence of a creature importing so much,) to which relation, if he behaves himself unsuitably, he goes contrary to his nature, and the laws of it, which God, the author of nature, cannot warrant without being con
trary to himself. From all which it follows, that even in our highest estate of sanctity and privilege, we yet retain the unavoidable obligation of Christ's servants; though still with an advantage as great as the obligation, where the service is perfect freedom: so that, with reference to such a Lord, to serve, and to be free, are terms not consistent only, but absolutely equivalent.
Nevertheless, since the name of servants has of old been reckoned to imply a certain meanness of mind, as well as lowness of condition, and the ill qualities of many who served have rendered the condition itself not very creditable, especially in those ages and places of the world in which the condition of servants was extremely different from what it is now amongst us, they being generally slaves, and such as were bought and sold for money, and consequently reckoned but amongst the other goods and chattels of their lord or master; it was for this reason that Christ thought fit to waive the appellation of servant here, as, according to the common use of it amongst the Jews, (and at that time most nations besides,) importing these three qualifications, which, being directly contrary to the spirit of Christianity, were by no means to be allowed in any of Christ's disciples.
1st, The first whereof is that here mentioned in the text, namely, an utter unacquaintance with his master's designs, in these words, "The servant knoweth not what his lord doeth." For seldom does any man of sense make his servant his counsellor, for fear of making him his governor too. A master for the most part keeps his choicest goods locked up from his servant, but much more his mind. A servant is to know nothing but his master's commands, and in these also not to know the reason of them.
Neither is he to stand aloof off from his counsels only, but sometimes from his presence also; and so far as decency is duty, it is sometimes his duty to avoid him. But the voice of Christ in his gospel is, “Come to me all ye that are heavy laden." The condition of a servant staves him off to a distance; but the gospel speaks nothing but allurement, attractives, and invitation. The magisterial law bids the person under it, "Go, and he must go;" but the gospel says to every believer," Come, and he cometh." A servant dwells remote from all knowledge of his lord's purposes. He lives as a kind of foreigner under the same roof; a domestic, and yet a stranger too.
2dly, The name of servant imports a slavish and degenerous awe of mind, as it is in Rom. viii. 5, “ God has not given us the spirit of bondage again to fear." He who serves has still the low and ignoble restraints of dread upon his spirit, which in business, and even in the midst of action, cramps and ties up his
activity. He fears his master's anger, but designs not his favour. "Quicken me," says David," with thy free Spirit." It is the freedom of the spirit that gives worth and life to the performance. But a servant commonly is less free in mind than in condition; his very will seems to be in bonds and shackles, and desire itself under a kind of durance and captivity. In all that a servant does, he is scarce a voluntary agent but when he serves himself; all his services otherwise, not flowing naturally from propensity and inclination, but being drawn and forced from him by terror and coaction. In any work he is put to, let the master withdraw his eye and he will quickly take off his hand.
3dly, The appellation of servant imports a mercenary temper and disposition, and denotes such an one as makes his reward both the sole motive and measure of his obedience. He neither loves the thing commanded, nor the person who commands it, but is wholly and only intent upon his own emolument. All kindnesses done him, and all that is given him, over and above what is strictly just and his due, make him rather worse than better. And this is an observation that ne fails, where any one has so much bounty and so little wit as to make the experiment. For a servant rarely or never ascribes what he receives to the mere liberality and generosity of the donor, but to his own worth and merit, and to the need which he supposes there is of him; which opinion alone will be sure to make any one of a mean servile spirit insolent and intolerable.
officers to be passed through, so many thresholds to be saluted, so many days to be spent in waiting for an opportunity of, perhaps, but half an hour's converse.
And thus I have shewn what the qualities of a servant usually are, (or at least were in that country where our Saviour lived and conversed, when he spake these words,) which, no doubt, were the cause why he would not treat his disciples (whom he designed to be of a quite contrary disposition) with this appellation.
Come we therefore now, in the next place, to shew what is included in that great character and privilege which he was pleased to vouchsafe both to them and to all believers, in calling and accounting them his friends. It includes in it, I conceive, these following things,
1. Freedom of access. House, and heart, and all, are open for the reception of a friend. The entrance is not beset with solemn excuses and lingering delays; but the passage is easy and free from all obstruction, and not only admits but even invites the comer. How different, for the most part, is the same man from himself, as he sustains the person of a magistrate, and as he sustains that of a friend! As a magistrate or great officer, he locks himself up from all approaches by the multiplied formalities of attendance, by the distance of ceremony and grandeur; so many hungry
But when he is to be entertained, whose friendship, not whose business, demands an entrance, those formalities presently disappear, all impediments vanish, and the rigours of the magistrate submit to the endearments of a friend. He opens and yields himself to the man of business with difficulty and reluctancy, but offers himself to the visits of a friend with facility, and all the meeting readiness of appetite and desire. The reception of one is as different from the admission of the other, as when the earth falls open under the incisions of the plough, and when it gapes and greedily opens itself to drink in the dew of heaven, or the refreshments of a shower; or there is as much difference between them, as when a man reaches out his arms to take up a burden, and when he reaches them out to embrace.
It is confessed, that the vast distance that sin had put between the offending creature and the offended Creator, required the help of some great umpire and intercessor, to open him a new way of access to God; and this Christ did for us as Mediator. But we read of no mediator to bring us to Christ; for though, being God by nature, he dwells in the height of majesty and the inaccessible glories of a Deity, yet, to keep off all strangeness between himself and the sons of men, he has condescended to a cognation and consanguinity with us, he has clothed himself with flesh and blood, that so he might subdue his glories to a possibility of human converse. And, therefore, he that denies himself an immediate access to Christ, affronts him in the great relation of a friend, and as opening himself both to our persons and to our wants, with the greatest tenderness and the freest invitation. There is none who acts a friend by a deputy, or can be familiar by proxy.
2. The second privilege of friendship is a favourable construction of all passages between friends, that are not of so high and so malign a nature as to dissolve the relation. "Love covers a multitude of sins," says the apostle, (1 Pet. iv. 8.) When a scar cannot be taken away, the next kind office is to hide it. Love is never so blind as when it is to spy faults. It is like the painter, who, being to draw the picture of a friend having a blemish in one eye, would picture only the other side of his face. It is a noble and a great thing to cover the blemishes and to excuse the failings of a friend; to draw a curtain before his stains, and to display his perfections; to bury his weaknesses in silence, but to proclaim his virtues upon the house-top. It is an imitation of the charities of heaven, which, when the creature lies prostrate in the weakness of
OF THE LOVE OF CHRIST TO HIS DISCIPLES.
sleep and weariness, spreads the covering of night and darkness over it to conceal it in that condition; but as soon as our spirits are refreshed, and nature returns to its morning vigour, God then bids the sun rise, and the day shine upon us, both to advance and to shew that activity.
ducement; how much of it is to be attributed
Should we try men at that rate that we try
It is the ennobling office of the understanding, to correct the fallacious and mistaken reports of sense, and to assure us that the staff in the water is straight, though our eye would tell us it is crooked. So it is the excellency of friendship to rectify, or at least to qualify, the malignity of those surmises, that would misrepresent a friend, and traduce him in our thoughts. Am I told that my friend has done me an injury, or that he has committed any indecent action? Why, the first debt that I both owe to his friendship, and that he may challenge from mine, is rather to question the truth of the report, than presently to believe my friend unworthy. Or, if matter of facts breaks out and blazes with too great an evidence to be denied, or so much as doubted of, why still there are other lenitives that friendship will apply, before it will be brought to the decretory rigours of a condemning sentence. A friend will be sure to act the part of an advocate, before he will assume that of a judge. And there are few actions so ill (unless they are of a very deep and black tincture indeed) but will admit of some extenuation at least from those common topics of human frailty, such as are ignorance or inadvertency, passion or surprise, company or solicitation, with many other such things which may go a great way towards an excusing of the agent, though they cannot absolutely justify the action. All which apologies for, and alleviatious of, faults, though they are the heights of humanity, yet they are not the favours, but the duties of friendship. Charity itself commands us, where we know no ill, to think well of all. But friendship, that always goes a pitch higher, gives a man a peculiar right and claim to the good opinion of his friend. And if we justly look upon a proneness to find faults, as a very ill and mean thing, we are to remember, that a proneness to believe them is next to it.
See this exemplified in his behaviour to his disciples, while he was yet upon earth; how mities! At the last and bitterest scene of his ready was he to excuse and cover their infirlife, when he was so full of agony and horror so had most need of the refreshments of upon the approach of a dismal death, and disciples; and when also he desired no more society, and the friendly assistance of his of them, but only for a while to sit up and pray with him; yet they, like persons wholly with his passionate entreaties, forget both his untouched with his agonies, and unmoved and their own cares, and securely sleep away Now, what a fierce and sarcastic reprehension all concern for him or themselves either. may we imagine this would have drawn from the friendships of the world, that act but to a human pitch! and yet what a gentle one did In Matt. xxvi. 40, it receive from Christ! no more than, "What, could you not watch with me for one hour?" And when from this admonition they took only occasion to redouble their fault, and to sleep again, so that, upon a second and third admonition, they had nothing to plead for their unseasonable drowsiness, yet then Christ, who was the only person concerned to have resented and aggravated this their unkindness, finds an "The spirit indeed is willing," could not. extenuation for it, when they themselves had said, I know your hearts, and am satisfied says he, "but the flesh is weak." As if he of your affection, and therefore accept your will, and compassionate your weakness. So so answerable to our wants, so suitable to our benign, so gracious is the friendship of Christ, frailties. Happy that man, who has a friend to point out to him the perfection of duty, and yet to pardon him in the lapses of his infirmity!
3. The third privilege of friendship is a shall have diffused his life, his self, and his sympathy in joy and grief. When a man whole concernments so far, that he can weep his sorrows with another's eyes; when he has and to support his griefs; and when, if his another heart besides his own, both to share joys overflow, he can treasure up the overplus and redundancy of them in another breast;
We have seen here the demeanour of friendship between man and man; but how is it, think we now, between Christ and the souĺ that depends upon him? Is he any ways short in these offices of tenderness and mitigation? No, assuredly, but by infinite degrees superior. For where our heart does but relent, his melts; where our eye pities, his bowels yearn. How many forwardnesses of ours does he smother, how many indignities does he pass by, and how many affronts does he put up at our hands, because his love is invincible, and his friendship unchangeable? He rates every action, every sinful infirmity, with the allowances of mercy; and never weighs the sin, but
so that he can, as it were, shake off the solitude of a single nature, by dwelling in two bodies at once, and living by another's breath; this surely is the height, the very spirit and perfection of all human felicities.
It is a true and happy observation of that great philosopher, the Lord Verulam, that this is the benefit of communication of our minds to others, that sorrows, by being communicated, grow less, and joys greater. And, indeed, sorrow, like a stream, loses itself in many channels; and joy, like a ray of the sun, reflects with a greater ardour and quickness, when it rebounds upon a man from the breast of his friend.
Now friendship is the only scene upon which the glorious truth of this great proposition can be fully acted and drawn forth. Which, indeed, is a summary description of the sweets of friendship; and the whole life of a friend, in the several parts and instances of it, is only a more diffuse comment upon, and a plainer explication of, this divine aphorism. Friendship never restrains a pleasure to a single fruition. But such is the royal nature of this quality, that it still expresses itself in the of kings, as we do this or that; and this is our happiness; and such or such a thing belongs to us, when the immediate possession of it is vested only in one. Nothing certainly in nature can so peculiarly gratify the noble dispositions of humanity, as for one man to see another so much himself, as to sigh his griefs, and groan his pains, to sing his joys, and, as it were, to do and feel every thing by sympathy and secret inexpressible communications. Thus it is upon a human account.
Let us now see how Christ sustains and makes good this generous quality of a friend. And this we shall find fully set forth to us in Heb. iv. 15, where he is said to be a "merciful high priest, touched with the feeling of our infirmities;" and that "in all our afflictions he is afflicted," (Isa. lxiii. 9.) And, no doubt, with the same bowels and meltings of affection, with which any tender mother hears and bemoans the groanings of her sick child, does Christ hear and sympathize with the spiritual agonies of a soul under desertion, or the pressures of some stinging affliction. It is enough that he understands the exact measures of our strengths and weaknesses; that "he knows our frame," as it is in Psalm ciii. 14; and that he does not only know, but emphatically, that "he remembers" also, "that we are but dust." Observe that signal passage of his loving commiseration; as soon as he had risen from the dead, and met Mary Magdalen, (Mark, xvi. 4,) he sends this message of his resurrection by her, "Go, tell my disciples, and Peter, that I am risen." What, was not Peter one of his disciples? Why, then, is he mentioned particularly, and by
himself, as if he were exempted out of their number? Why, we know into what a plunge he had newly cast himself by denying his Master; upon occasion of which he was now struggling with all the perplexities and horrors of mind imaginable, lest Christ might, in lik manner, deny and disown him before his Father, and so repay one denial with another. Hereupon Christ particularly applies the comforts of his resurrection to him, as if he had said, Tell all my disciples, but be sure especially to tell poor Peter, that I am risen from the dead, and that, notwithstanding his denial of me, the benefits of my resurrection belong to him, as much as to any of the rest. This is the privilege of the saints, to have a companion and a supporter in all their miseries, in all the doubtful turnings and doleful passages of their lives. In sum, this happiness does Christ vouchsafe to all his, that as a Saviour he once suffered for them, and that as a friend, he always suffers with them.
4. The fourth privilege of friendship is that which is here specified in the text, a communication of secrets. A bosom secret and a bosom friend are usually put together. And this from Christ to the soul, is not only kindness, but also honour and advancement; it is for him to vouch it one of his privy council. Nothing under a jewel is taken into the cabinet. A secret is the apple of our eye; it will bear no touch nor approach; we use it to cover nothing but what we account a rarity. And therefore, to communicate a secret to any one, is to exalt him to one of the royalties of heaven. For none knows the secrets of a man's mind, but his God, his conscience, and his friend. Neither would any prudent man let such a thing go out of his own heart, had he not another heart besides his own to receive it.
Now it was of old a privilege, with which God was pleased to honour such as served him at the rate of an extraordinary obedience, thus to admit them to a knowledge of many of his great counsels locked up from the rest of the world. When God had designed the destruction of Sodom, the Scripture represents him as unable to conceal that great purpose from Abraham, whom he always treated as his friend and acquaintance; that is, not only with love, but also with intimacy and familiarity, (Gen. xviii. 17,) “And the Lord said, Shall I hide from Abraham the thing that I go about to do?" He thought it a violation of the rights of friendship to reserve his design wholly to himself. And Saint James tells us, (James, ii. 23,)" that Abraham was called the friend of God;" and therefore had a kind of claim to the knowledge of his secrets, and the participation of his counsels. Also, (Exodus, xxxiii. 11,) it is said of God, "that he spoke to Moses as a man speaketh to his friend." And that, not only for the familiarity and
facility of address, but also for the peculiar communications of his mind. Moses was with him in the retirements of the mount, received there his dictates and his private instructions, as his deputy and viceroy; and when the multitude and congregation of Israel were thundered away, and kept off from any approach to it, he was honoured with an intimate and immediate admission. The priests, indeed, were taken into a near attendance upon God; but still there was a degree of a nearer converse, and the interest of a friend was above the privileges of the highest servant. In Exod. xix. 24, "Thou shalt come up," says God, "thou, and Aaron with thee; but let not the priests and the people break through to come up unto the Lord, lest the Lord break forth upon them." And if we proceed farther, weshall still find a continuation of the same privilege, (Psalm xxv. 14,) "The secret of the Lord is with them that fear him.” Nothing is to be concealed from the other self. To be a friend, and to be conscious, are terms equivalent.
Now if God maintained such intimacies with those whom he loved under the law, (which was a dispensation of greater distance,) we may be sure that under the gospel, (the very nature of which imports condescension and compliance,) there must needs be the same, with much greater advantage. And therefore, when God had manifested himself in the flesh, how sacredly did he preserve this privilege! How freely did Christ unbosom himself to his disciples, (Luke, viii. 10,) “ Unto you," says he, "it is given to know the mysteries of the kingdom of God; but unto others in parables; that seeing they might not see;" such shall be permitted to cast an eye into the ark, and to look into the very holy of holies. And again, (Matt. xiii. 17,) Many prophets and righteous men have desired to see those things which ye see, and have not seen them; and to hear those things which ye hear, and have not heard them." Neither did he treat them with these peculiarities of favour in the extraordinary discoveries of the gospel only, but also of those incommunicable revelations of the divine love, in reference to their own personal interest in it. In Rev. ii. 17, "To him that overcometh will I give to eat of the hidden manna, and will give him a white stone, and in the stone a new name written, which no man knoweth, saving he that receiveth it." Assurance is a rarity covered from the inspection of the world a secret that none can know but God, and the person that is blessed with it. It is writ in a private character, not to be read nor understood but by the conscience, to which the Spirit of God has vouchsafed to decipher it. Every believer lives upon an inward provision of comfort, that the world is a stranger to.
5. The fifth advantage of friendship is counsel and advice. A man will sometimes need not only another heart, but also another head besides his own. In solitude there is not only discomfort, but weakness also. And that saying of the wise man, (Eccles. iv. 10,) "Wo to him that is alone," is verified upon none so much as upon the friendless person : when a man shall be perplexed with knots and problems of business and contrary affairs, where the determination is dubious, and both parts of the contrariety seem equally weighty, so that, which way soever the choice determines, a man is sure to venture a great concern how happy then is it to fetch in aid from another person, whose judgment may be greater than my own, and whose concernment is sure not to be less! There are some passages of a man's affairs that would quite break a single understanding. So many intricacies, so many labyrinths, are there in them, that the succours of reason fail, the very force and spirit of it being lost in an actual intention scattered upon several clashing objects at once; in which case, the interposal of a friend is like the supply of a fresh party to a besieged yielding city.
Now, Christ is not failing in this office of a friend also. For in that illustrious prediction of Isaiah, (ix. 6,) amongst the rest of his great titles, he is called "mighty Counsellor." And his counsel is not only sure, but also free. It is not under the Gospel of Christ, as under some laws of men, where you must be forced to buy your counsel, and oftentimes pay dear for bad advice. No, "he is a light to those that sit in darkness." And no man fees the sun, no man purchases the light, nor errs, if he walks by it. The only price that Christ sets upon his counsel is, that we follow it, and that we do that which is best for us to do. He is not only light for us to see by, but also light for us to see with. He "is understanding to the ignorant, and eyes to the blind;" and whosoever has both a faithful and a discreet friend, to guide him in the dark, slippery, and dangerous passages of his life, may carry his eyes in another man's head, and yet never see the worse. In 1 Cor. i. 30, the apostle tells us, that Christ is made to us not only "sanctification and redemption," but "wisdom" too: we are his members: and it is but natural, that all the members of the body should be guided by the wisdom of the head.
And, therefore, let every believer comfort himself in this high privilege, that in the great things that concern his eternal peace, he is not left to stand or fall by the uncertain directions of his own judgment. No, sad were his condition, if he should be so; when he is to encounter an enemy made up of wiles and stratagems, an old serpent, and a longexperienced deceiver, and successful at the trade for some thousands of years.