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afflicted widow's profligate son. I heard it with a sensation I cannot express. I was struck to the heart: and though I had no idea that I was the very individual meant, I felt that it expressed the bitterness of a widow's heart, who had a child so wicked as I felt myself to be. My mind was instantly solemnized. I could not laugh: my attention was riveted on the preacher.—I heard his prayer and sermon with an impression very diflerent from that which had carried me into the place. From that moment, the truths of the Gospel penetrated my heart; I joined the congregation; cried to God in Christ for mercy, and found peace in believing; became my mother's comfort, as I had been her heavy cross, and, through grace, have ever since continued in the good ways of the Lord. An opening having lately been made for an advantageous settlement in my own country, I came hither with my excellent mother, and for some years past, have endeavoured to dry np the widow's tears, which I had so often caused to flow, and to be the comfort and support of her age, as I had been the torment and afflict ion of her days."
Secondly. Let me address parents. Perhaps here are some who are strangers to the pleasure of which we have been speaking. Will you allow me to ask—Whether your affliction has not been your fault? Have you discharged your duty towards your children, I will not say perfectly, but conscientiously! God works by means. And do men gather grapes from thorns, or figs from thistles? It would be little less than a moral miracle, if the children of some professors of religion were pious—such inconsistencies are they called to witness, which, in their influence, are worse than absolute neglect
But if, "-in simplicity and godly sincerity, not with fleshly wisdom, but by the grace of God, you have had your conversation in the world, and more abundantly to them-ward," and your "house is not so with God" as you desire,—yield not to despair. Never cease to pray and to admonish. Some shower of rain may cause the seed which has long been buried under the dryness of the soil, to strike root, and spring up. Manasseh had a pious education, and yet went great lengths in transgression: but m his affliction he sought the Lord God of his fathers, and he was found of him.—"Blessed are ye that sow beside all waters, that send forth thither the feet of the ox and the ass."
But all hail, ye highly favoured of the Lord, who enjoy this felicity! What satisfaction can equal that which a parent feels in seeing his children growing np intelligent and amiable, and pious and useful; approved of God, and acceptable to man r If there be a sight on earth sufficient to detain an angel in his passage, it is a father and mother surrounded with the pledges of their mutual af
fection, endeared by grace as well as nature, rising up and calling them blessed!
Parents! God grant you this heaven,till you are removed to another—where, presentmg yourselves at his throne, you will ay, "behold, I And The Children Thou Hut Giveh Me!" Amen.
THE LOVE OF CHRIST.
Ami to knoio the love of Chritt, which paueth kno-wletlge, that ye might be filed with fill thefulneto of God.—Ephes. iii. 19.
As 'the minister addresses the people on the behalf of God, so he addresses God on the behalf of the people. Preaching and prayer arc parts of his office, equally indispensahle; and there is an encouragmg relation between them. The one is the resource of the other. For a good minister of Jesus Christ does not look for success, as the consequence of his own reasoning or eloquence or energy; ha is convinced of the depravity of human nature, and has observed how often the most powerful instruments have, failed. What thai animates him? Why this—He knows that the means are of Divine appointment; that God giveth the inerease; that nothing h>tc» hard for him. He, therefore, invokes his aid, and pleads the promise; "For as the ran cometh down, and the snow from heaven, and returneth not thither, but watereth the earth, and maketh it bring forth and bud, that it may give seed to the sower, and bread to the eater: so shall my word be that goeth forth out of my mouth: it shall not return unto me void, but it shall accomplish that which 1 please, and it shall prosper in the thing whereto I sent it"—Paul is here praying for the Ephesians, in language the most sublime and significant "For this cause I how my knees unto the Father of our I.ord Jesus Christ, of whom the whole family in hearen and earth is named, that he would grant vou. according to the riches of his glory, to be strengthened with might by his Spirit in the inner man; that Christ may dwell in your hearts by faith; that ye, being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend with all saints what is the breadth, and length, and depth, and height; and to know the W of Christ, which passeth knowledge, that ye might be filled with all the fulness 9fG».
In the words which we have selected for our present improvement, three things demand our attention.
I. An Interesting Subject.—It is w"W of Christ II. A Desirable Attain*!**It is to know it III. A Blessed Oo.weqoBNCE.—It is "to be filled with <Ji MP* ness of God."
I. A VERY INTERESTING SUBJECT.—It is
the "love of Christ" The love of Christ would furnish us with a thousand sources of reflection; but we shall confine ourselves to one view of it only. It is the incomprehensibility of this love. This is the view of it which the apostle himself here takes. He tells us it "passeth knowledge." This is the noblest commendation he could have pronounced; and it would be easy to prove, that it is as just as it is glorious.
Witness the number of its objects. It is bat a few that the bounty of a human benefactor reaches and relieves. We pity an individual. We take up a family. We explore a neighbourhood. The liberality of a Thornton flows in various channels, through different parts of a country. The compassion of a Howard visits the miserable in other lands, after weeping over the dungeoned victims of his own. But a "multitude, which no man can number, out of every nation, and people, and tongue, and kindred," will for ever adore the riches of the Redeemer's love. We shall hereafter see that his love has not been circumscribed by the piety of our fears, by the uncharitableness of our censures, or the mistakes of our creed. "All nations shall be blessed in him, all generations shall call him blessed. . As the stars of heaven, and as the sand on the sea shore, so shall his seed be." This is indeed Christ, the Saviour of the world.
Witness the value of its benefits. You feel your obligation to some of your fellowcreatures, and let them not be forgotten: they have pleaded for your reputation; they have befriended your business; they have relieved your distress; they have preserved yonr life: but which of them has restored you to the favour of God? Which of them has obtained eternal redemption for you? It is impossible, while we are here, sufficiently to estimate the effects of his love. We know but imperfectly the evils from which he has delivered us. What do we know of the vileness of sin, the sting of death, the curse of the Law, the wrath of God! We know but imperfectly the contents of those exceeding great and precious promises, to which he has entitled us. We know but imperfectly the import of the hope "laid up for us in heaven;" the meaning of " a crown of glory that fadeth not away; of "beholding his face in righteousness;" of "awaking up after his likeness;" of " a glorious body like his own." * Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, nor have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him." "Oh how great is thy goodness, which thou hast laid up for them that fear thee; which thou hast wrought for them that trust in thee before the sons of men!"
Witness the unworthiness of the partakers. Whatever others may think of themselves, a
Christian will readily acknowledge that he had done nothing to recommend himself; that he had done every thing to provoke and justify the Divine displeasure; that he was not only miserable, but guilty, and criminal even in his distress. Oh! this magnifies the love of Christ—it was entirely self-moved I Love, among creatures, originates from some excellency, real or imaginary. In our alms we look after something that seems to deserve what we profess to give. Mere want and wretchedness are not sufficient for our compassion, without some plea. Persons, therefore, endeavour to convince us that they have been unfortunate rather than criminal; they know that more is won from us by extenuation than confession. We wait for application. We refuse till the suppliant owns his dependence, and feels our consequence. There is little—little, indeed, of true charity among men! But " He is found of them that sought him not" He awakens our attention. He presses us to receive. "Scarcely for a righteous man will one die, yet, peradventure, for a good man some would even dare to die." But we were ungodly. We were enemies by wicked works—yet "for the vilest of the vile he dies!"
Witness Me expensiveness of its sacrifices.! The only quality in the love of many is itsj cheapness. It will endure no kind of seltdenial. If they embrace an opportunity of 1 doing good, they will never seek one. They may dip their hand into a full purse, and give a trifle of what they are convinced they cannot expend upon themselves; but they shun the trouble of inquiry, and the pain of sympathy: they will not visit the fatherless and the widows in their affliction. Few resemble the poor woman in the Gospel, who, while others gave of their abundance, and could go home to a well-spread table afterward, gave all that she had, even all her living for the day; determined that her charity should be sure, however uncertain her subsistence. But His love drew him from heaven to earth. He who was rich, for our sakes became poor; a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief.— Trace him in the humiliation of his life. Behold him in his agony in the garden. See his soul exceedingly, sorrowful, even unto death. See him nailed to the cross, exclaiming, "My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me!"
"Bee from his head, his hands, his feet,
Saviour Jesus! never was sorrow like thine; and, therefore, never was love like thine! It "passeth knowledge."
Witness the perpetuity of its attachment How rare is a friend that loveth at all times. How many fail, especially in the day of trouble. Who has not leaned on a broken reed, and bled for his dependence t Who has not
had reason to complain, with Job, "My brethren have dealt deceitfully as a brook, and as the stream of brooks they pass away; which are blackish by reason or the ice, and wherein the snow is hid: what time they wax warm, they vanish: when it is hot, they are consumed out of their place?" But loving his own who are in the world, he loves them unto the end, and will aflord them proof of it whenever they need his aid. He has said, "I will never leave thee nor forsake thee." "For this is as the waters of Noah unto me: for as I have sworn that the waters of Noah should no more go over the earth; so have I sworn that I would not be wroth with thee, nor rebuke thee. For the mountains shall depart, and the hills be removed; but my kindness shall not depart from thee, neither shall the covenant of my peace be remo'-CJ, saith the Lord that hath mercy on '^icc." Nothing appears to the Christian more wonderful than this. "O," says lie, "how have I tried him! How incorrigible have I been under affliction! How ungrateful for all my mercies! How unedified by moans and ordinances! How often have I charged him foolishly and unkindly, while he was displaying his wisdom and goodness; and blamed him for doinsr the very things I had a thousand times implored! O, had he human passions! Were he a creature only! I had long ago been forsaken. But he is GoJ, and not man; therefore I am not consumed."
Witness the tenderness of its regards. To know this you must be familiar with the language of the Scripture; your very souls must melt into such expressions as these: "He shall come down like rain upon the mown grass. Ho shall gather the lambs with his arm, and carry them in his bosom, and gently load tht«e that are with young. A bruised reed will he not break, and smoking flax will he not quench. In all their affliction he was afflicted. He that toucheth them toucheth the apple of his eye. He is touched with the feeling of our infirmities." You must be—I was going to say, a father, and a tender one—" Like as a futher pitieth his children, so the Lord pitietli them that fear him. For he knoweth our frame; he remembereth that we are dust" You must be—I was going to say, a mother, and the tenderest that ever breathed—" As one whom his mother comforteth, so will I comfort you." You must hold communion with him, you must be intimate with him, in order to know—the mildness of his censures; the gentleness of his reproofs; the kindness of his communications; the delicacy of his encouragements. O ye models of sensibility: ye Josephs! ye Jonathans! ye Davids! ye Rachels! be ashamed of your tears! Your hearts are flint compared with his: "his heart is made of tenderness; his bowels melt with love?"
Blessed Jesus! we know thou hast loved oa; but we know not how much—and angels know not how much—It "passeth knowledge."
II. Here Is A Desirable Attainment. It is to know it
But does not the Apostle say, that his love "passeth knowledge!" How then does he pray, that we may know it! Can we know that which is unknowable? I answer, we may know that in one respect which we cannot know in another; we may know that by grace which we cannot know by nature; we may know that, in the reality of its existence, which we cannot know in the mode; we may know that, in the eflects, which we cannot know in the cause; we may know that, in its uses, which we cannot know in its nature; we may know that increasingly, which we cannot know perfectly.
Let us apply this to the subject before us. Though the love of Christ passeth knowledge, we may know much more of it than we do. The knowledge of a Christian is gradual, and growing. He is always a learner. He will know many things in eternity of which he • ignorant in time. He will know many things as he advances in the divine life of which he is ignorant at the commencement There are many things which, for a time, he cannot receive; but in proportion as divine grace works in him, to humble the pride of his heart; to render him willing to be saved in the I/ird's own way; and to place himself under his guidance; crooked thmgs are made straight, and rough places plain. Thus his path resembles " the shining light, that shineth more and more unto the perfect day." Thus it is promised: "Then shall ye knowA if ye follow on to know the Lord." An in-' stance of which we have in Nathanael: he had little knowledge ; but he was "an Israelite indeed, in whom was no guile;" he was open to conviction, and willing to come to the light; and therefore, says our Lord, "Because I said unto thee, I saw thee under the fig tree, believest thou? thou shall see greater things than these. And he saith unto hun. Verily, verily, I say unt» you, Hereafter ye shall see heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of man." We therefore observe, with regard to your knowledge of this love,
First Your ideas of it may be more clear and consistent There is a kind of mistiness which envelops the minds of some people: they see every thing dimly ; or, like the man, when his eyes were half-opened, who saw men as trees walking. A confusion seemsto reign in all their religious conceptions: they have no distinguishing views of the diflerence between the Iaw and the Gospel; justification and sanctification; the ground of the one, and the means of the other. They cannot reconcile duty and privilege; dependence and activity; a sense of our unworthiness, with a confidence of our acceptance. It is impossible for us to determine, with how much ignorance in the judgment real grace may be found connected ; yet it is very desirable to have judicious and consistent views of divine things; a clear and full knowledge of the Gospel. "It is a good thing," says the Apostle, "that the heart be established with grace."
Secondly. Your views of it may be more confidential and appropriating. Your doubts and fears, with regard to your own interest in it, may yield to hope; and that hope may become the full assurance of hope. The Saviour you now admire you may be able to claim as your own; and to exult, "This is my beloved, and this is my friend. I will greatly rejoice in the Lord, my soul shall be joyful in my God; for he hath clothed mo with the garments of salvation, he hath covered me with the robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom decketh himself with ornaments, and as a bride adorneth herself with her jewels."
Thirdly. Your views of it may be more impressive, more influential. It is to be lamented, that our speculative religion so far exceeds our experimental and practical. How often does the will refuse to bow to the dictates of the judgment What a war is there often in our bosoms, between conscience and inclination. Who knows not the difference there is between a principle slumbering in the head, and alive in the heart, and at work in the life ?" The living know that they shall die," that their time here is short and uncertain, and that "what a man soweth, that shall he also reap." But where is the efficacy of the belief? And though they look for such things, how few are there who live in a state of holy preparation for them! We find no difficulty in admitting that God does all things welt in the government of the world, and in the management of our individual concerns. The natural consequence would be, to preserve us from murmuring and envying; to induce us to cast all our care upon Him who careth for us; and to feel a peace "which passeth all understanding, keeping our heart and mind through Christ Jesus." But whose creed gets into his temper, and actuates his conduct!—The grand thing is, so to know the love of Christ, as to walk becoming it; to be what it requires; for all our feelings to echo back the language of the Apostle: " I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth 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." For our whole life to be a kind of shout—" Unto him that loved us, and washed us from our sins in his own blood, and hath made us
kings and p
be glory a
the fulnes) his naturo, his glorifr Apostle si gracious original i
He is nor Ii —
will be. His state is neither mgi.
but dawn: the darkness is going oil', and the splendour is coming on. He is thankful for what he lias; but he wants more of the presence and the image of God. He wants to be "filled (I use the language of Scripture) with the Spirit;" to be "filled with all joy and peace in believing;" to be "filled with all the fruits of righteousness, which are by Jesus Christ unto the glory and praise of God." This is what the apostle Peter recommends, when he says: "Giving all diligence, add to your faith virtue ; and to virtue knowledge; and to knowledge temperance; and to temperance patience; and to patience godliness; and to godliness brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness charity. For if these things be in you, and abound, they make you that ye shall be neither barren nor unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ" This is what Paul exemplified in his own person: "Not as though I had already attained, either were already perfect: but I follow after, if that I tnay apprehend that for which also I am apprehended of Christ Jesus. Brethren, I count not myself to have apprehended : but this one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth, unto those things which are before, I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus." And this is what he here means by "all the fulness of God."
But what has the knowledge of the love of Christ to do with thisi It is indeed easy to see how it will add to the plenitude of our comfort: how it will inspire us with " a joy that is unspeakable and full of glory." And need you be told, that "the joy of the Lord is our strength:" and that the Christian is never so active in duty as when he enjoys a sense of his privileges?
But take it with regard to holiness. Some would suppose that the knowledge we have been speaking of is a mere notion; or, if it has any tendency, it is of a licentious, rather than of a sanctifying nature; that it must tend to set men loose to duty, rather than to make them practical Christians. Hence they imagine the Christian an Antinomian, where, if they could read his heart, they would find in him most of the devotedness of real piety. had reason to cowannot make these things brethren have dsfoid unexceptionable to the and as the streaor "the natural man receiveth which are bUgs of the Spirit of God: for they wherein thmess unto him: neither can he wax wanem, because they are spiritually disarc coo/. But he that is spiritual judgeth all ing jigs, yet he himself is judged of no man." knows others, though others know not L The reason is, he has been in their state, but they have never been in his. They are not, therefore, acquainted with the nature and force of those principles and motives which are peculiar to him as a new creature. But he feels and glories in them. Paul knew that the only way to be filled with the fulness of God, is "to know the love of Christ, which passeth knowledge." It was this that fully possessed and governed himself and his fellow-labourers: "Thelove of Christ constraineth us; because we thus judge, that if one died for all, then were all dead: and that he died for all, that they which live should not henceforth live unto themselves, but unto him which died for them, and rose again." "And my experience," says the Christian, "confirms it If my heart is contracted, this love enlarges it; if cold, this love inflames it; if burning, this love adds fuel to the fire. This makes difficult things easy, and bitter ones sweet This turns all my duty into delight This determines me to confess him before men, and emboldens me to go forth to him without the camp, bearing his reproach. This induces me, not only to avoid, but to abhor sin. This disarms temptation of its power, and weans me from a world that crucified my Lord and Saviour.
"Hia dying crimson, like a robe.
What remains then, but to make this love your lesson, and your study i For this pur pose, daily impress your minds with the importance of knowing it Remember that all other knowledge is dross, compared with this gold. A man may know much, to his own pride, and the admiration of others: he may be familiar with the secrets of nature; he may have the knowledge of the arts and sciences; he may be a deep politician, and a profound linguist; he may know the Scripture, in the history; and Christianity itself, in the theory—and live and die a fool. A man may go to hell, silently, by hypocrisy; openly, by profaneness: he may go self-righteously, with the pharisee; or learnedly, with the scholar! A man knows nothing with regard to his soul and eternity, if he knows not the love of Christ, which passeth knowledge—" This is life eternal."
If you would make proficiency in this knowledge, the following things are necessary:
Retirement is necessary. "Through desire, a man, having separated himself, secketh and intermeddletn with all wisdom." This is peculiarly the case here. This subject is not for the crowd, but the closet Friendship deals much in secrecy; especially the friendship between the Saviour and the soul. "I will allure her, and bring her into the wilderness, and there will I speak comfortably unto her." It is thus that he manifests himself to his people, and not unto the world.
Application is necessary. You must not only retire, but place the subject before your mind. You must survey it m its attributes and relations. You must learn to meditate, and meditate till the exercise becomes habitual and delightful. Then you will be able to say, "My meditation of him shall be sweet How precious also are thy thoughts unto me, O God! how great is the sum of them! If I should count them, they are more in number than the sand: when I awake, I am still with thee."
Intercourse is necessary. There are Chr»tians far superior to you in age and attainments; and these are not confined to your own level in the world. Many below you in condition may be above you in experience; and have much to tell you of a Saviour's grace. By mingling with them your doubts may be removed, your confidence strengthened, and "your hearts comforted, being knit together in love, and unto all riches of the full assurance of understanding, to the acknowledgment of the mystery of God, and of the Father, and of Christ; m whom are hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge."
Reading is necessary. We forbid not other books; but the Scripture is the word of Christ, which is to "dwell in you richly in all wisdom." This testifies of Him; and of nothing so much as his unexampled love.
Hearing is necessary. If the minister be a Christian minister, (and it is at your peril to place yourselves under any other—for vou are to take heed not only how you hear, "but also what you hear)—he will "determine to know nothing among you, but Jesus Christ and him crucified."
Prayer is above all things necessary. In other schools the pupils learn sitting; but in the school of Christ they all leam upon their knees. "If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him." Hence Paul prayed for the Ephesians —Hence your ministers pray for you—God help you to pray for yourselves—" That you may know the love of Christ, which passeth knowledge and be filled with all the fulness of God?'