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world. It familiarises the soul with objects so noble, it infuses into it desires so elevated, it fills it with pleasures so pure and heavenly, that it is impossible to be detained any longer with the poor importunate cares and wishes that occasion so continual a bustle among mankind; or to regard, without a sort of contempt mingled with compassion, that childish eagerness with which wealth and honours, and all the gilded baubles of this life are pursued by so many. Wherever these things, and such as these are in high estimation, we may be quite certain “the love of the Father” is not. The lamps which cheered our darkmess fade at the approach of the rising sun. The pursuits which delighted our ignorance, are understood and despised when we attain to “the knowledge of the glory of God in Christ Jesus.” I cannot but observe here, and it can scarcely be considered as a digression from the subjest, how wisely it has been ordained of God, that actions, rather than sentiments, shall be the proofs of our allegiance to him. Whoever is at all acquainted with the speculations of philosophical writers respecting the will, must be aware that no man can with propriety be said to desire or will any thing, which lies within the reach of his own powers, unless he so prefers that he really endeavours to obtain it. For the will is governed by motives; and if a man says he desires to do one thing, while he actually does another, it is plain that he speaks inaccurately: his preferring the second, is a proof that he does not, in any strictness of expression, desire the first. If a man says his earnest desire is to be virtuous, while he continues to live on in sin, it is plain he deceives himself; for (through God's assistance, freely offered to all), he might be virtuous if he would, that is, if he really desired so to be: and the truth is, he does not desire it; though, if he could be virtuous, and still continue to enjoy the pleasures of sin, he probably
would desire it. Yet we hear men talk of a thousand wishes, which they think real, though in truth they exist only in their imaginations; and there can be no doubt that many bad men take great comfort to themselves from their supposed desires to be good. Now God, who knows what is in man, could not but know (I speak with reverence), that if the sentiments and dispositions of the heart were made the test of holiness, men would deceive themselves respecting these, just as we find they do respecting their wishes; that they would fancy they loved God, while they really loved the world; and imagine they loved their fellow: creatures, while they really loved themselves. For contrary affections are just as incompatible, and in strictness of language as absurd, as contrary desires. God, therefore, has declared, that actions shall be the test of our sentiments, exactly as they are of our wishes. And this is the more observable, because the dispositions of the heart, and notes. ternal actions, evidently furnish tle qualifications for heaven and happi. ness; so that it might have been supposed (with apparent reason) that a revelation from God would enjoin only the attainment of certain tem: pers of mind, as the proper condtions of our acceptance. We see, however, that a different test has been established; and surely it." no mean proof of the truth of Chritianity, that the most accura" researches into the constitution of man enable us to verify its wo dom. The commands of God will always be found to be perfective of the nature which he has given " not contradictory to it. Having *. joined us to love him, we may.” well persuaded that he has revealed himself to us in a manner fitted" awaken that affection. The sour". indeed, from which it flows are Of the same kind when directed town" God, as we feel them to be when exercised towards any of our fellowcreatures;–the knowledge of his
goodness, and our own personal experience of it. That moral excellence is the proper object of love has not been denied, I believe, by any writer; and I suppose it is not necessary to establish, by argument, a fact which never has been disputed. But there have not been wanting writers, justly celebrated for wisdom and piety, who insist that the only proper and worthy source of love to our Maker, is to be found in a knowledge of his perfections. This opinion, when accurately examined, is not so entirely indefensible as at first it appears to be; for the sense which we have of the goodness of God towards us may, perhaps, without any great impropriety, be said to awaken our love to him chiefly by giving us a more near and lively view of his perfections. I confess, however, that the distinction has always seemed to me far too refined to be of any practical value; and even, unless very cautiously received, to be opposed to the general language of Scripture. When St. John says, “We love him because he first loved us,” can the sense of the Apostle be reasonably doubted Surely in this place the most obvious meaning is the right one. Yet Mr. Edwards, in his work upon the Religious Affections, endeavours to give it a different construction; and Mrs. Hutchinson, in a manuscript which is extant, explains it entirely in a Calvinistic sense. But consider:—Gratitude is a moral feeling; gratitude is a natural and proper return for bounties received. Now it is doubtless very possible to feel grateful towards those whom we do not love. But suppose us to experience kindness from one who is already dear to us; I appeal to every generous and feeling heart, whether the sentiment of gratitude which we should cherish towards an indifferent person is not now swallowed up and lost in the ardour of an increased affection. It is impossible for the most penetrating eye to distinguish between them. When St. Paul says, “The love of
Christ constraineth us, because we thus judge, that if one died for all, then were all dead,” he seems plainly to urge the greatness of the benefit bestowed as operating irresistibly on his affections. So in the Old Testament we find the Almighty continually calling on his people to remember his mercies towards them, and charging them with the plainest guilt for their insensibility. It is one of the most striking and characteristic features of Revelation, that instead of enjoining us to love a Being of abstract perfection, it has laid open to us the whole of that astonishing and intimate system of relations which connects man so closely with his Maker, under the Christian economy; for the very purpose (as it should seem) of affecting us with the view of his peculiar condescension and rich mercy towards us. Yet our interest in these things is just as personal as it can be in the most direct interposition for our happiness. Surely we do a dangerous violence to common sense, and to the universal feelings of mankind, in denying that love to God arises in part from a personal experience of his goodness. A correct knowledge of the true fountains from whence our affections spring, is of great practical value in religion. We are thus enabled to distinguish whatever is rational and truly excellent from those transports of fancy which sometimes assume to themselves titles to which they have no claim. We are enabled also, by well-directed exertions, to keep alive, strengthen, and elevate the holy dispositions, which, through the Divine goodness, have been engrafied in our hearts. The love of God is no mysterious sentiment inspired into the soul we know not how, and sustained and invigorated solely by supernatural influences. Like every thing else within us and around us, it is indeed, most truly, the gift of our heavenly Father; but it differs not, in any essential quality, from the other graces which his Spirit imparts; and it is for us, earnestly soliciting and humbly depending on his assistance, to cultivate diligently those means by which it may be cherised and increased. If the contemplation of the goodness of God be the first natural cause of our love towards him, that love, it is manifest, will be proportionate to our acquaintance with his perfections. Let us, then, endeavour to improve in our knowledge of God. His moral excellence is indeed the proper object of a section ; but we cannot consider it separately from his other attributes. They are all either subservient to or identified with it. They all contribute to fill up and perfect the great and inexressible idea of Deity. Nor let us imagine that this knowledge is too high for us. Every page of holy Writ invites us, the voice of the whole creation calls us to pursue it. Has the everlasting God raised us from the dust, and breathed into us the breath of life; has he furnished us with faculties to apprehend, to imagine, to reason; has he made us “beings of large discourse, looking before and after,” curious to know, and intelligent to discover ; has he
set us in the midst of a theatre of .
wonders, building up the bright canopy of the heavens above, and spreading out the green earth beneath us; has he so finely constructed, so delicately wrought the frame which we inhabit, that every sense shall drink in rapture and amazement;—and can we enjoy the gists, yet forget the Giver; and while we stretch our researches through the varied provinces of nature, neglect Him who made and sustains them all : What is the whole tenor of Scripture, but a history of the character of God manifested in his dealings towards us? It is that awful and perfect character, equally wise and holy, equally elevated and amiable, which the highest spiritual intelligences esteem it their glory to contemplate. What language can express our folly, if we refuse to share so blessed a privilege!
But it is not necessary to enter very largely upon a topic which is enforced by the explicit testimony of holy Writ. “This is life eternal, that they may know thee, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent.” “O righteous Father, the world hath not known thee; but I have known thee; and these have known that thou hast sent me. And I have declared unto them thy name, and will declare it; that the love where with thou hast loved me, may be in them, and I in them.” These are the words of our ever-hlessed Redeemer. Hear also St. Paul: “Wherefore I also cease not to give thanks for you, making mention of you in my prayers; that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give unto you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of him.” “And this I pray, that your love may abound yet more and more in knowledge and in all judgment.” “For this cause also I do not cease to pray for you, and desire that ye might be filled with the knowledge of his will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding.” “Grow in grace and in the knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ.” “For this cause I bow my knees unto the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, that he would grant you, 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 length and breadth and depth and heighth, and to know the love of Christ, which passeth knowledge, that ye may be filled with all the fulness of God.” What the Apostle prayed for earnestly, we ought to desire fervently ; and what we fervently desire, we shall strenuously endeavour to obtain.
The love of God has its foundation in our personal experience of his goodness, as well as in the knowledge of his perfections. Let us then so attend to and consider the
mercies we receive, that we may grow daily more and more sensible to the bounty of him who bestows them. This is an exercise in which the more eminent saints appear, in all ages, peculiarly to have delighted. Indeed I know not any disposition which more decisively marks a truly Christian frame of mind, than a lively sensibility to the exceeding bounty of God in all his hourly and ordinary mercies, as well as in the more special instances of his providental care and kindness. Worldly persons seem to have little tense of the magnitude of the blessings they enjoy. They go on thoughtlessly and thanklessly wasting all the bounties of Providence; and, if but a few drops of bitterness are shed into the cup of their pleasures, are apt to think themselves hardly dealt with. But whoever has learned his religion at the feet of Christ Jesus; whoever has deeply felt the majesty of God and his own meanness; whoever has been duly humbled under a sense of his many and most grievous offences, his abuse of the mercies he has largely shared, his frequent forgetfulness of his best Benefactor, the faint and worthless service of his least sinful days;–whoever, in short, has just notions of himself, and sees things as they really are, will be deeply penetrated with the condescension, the long-suffering, and the goodness of that adorable Being, who has bestowed upon him everything he possesses, all he has and all he es for. And if he has sinned wilfully against his Creator (as, alas! which of us has not ), and if he has suffered chastisement for his offences ("of which all are partakers”), how will his heart glow with gratitude towards the gracious Father who loved him even when he was most unworthy, and visited him with timely afflictions, lest he should perish for ever! Could the veil which now separates us from futurity be for a moment drawn aside; and those regions of everlasting happiness and sorrow, which strike so faintly on
the imagination, be presented fully to our eyes; it would occasion, I doubt not, a sudden and strange revolution in our estimate of things. Many are the distresses for which we now weep in suffering or sympathy, that would awaken us to songs of thanksgiving:—Many the dispensations which now seem dreary and inexplicable, that would fill our adoring hearts with astonishment and joy. But though it is highly desirable that we should attend diligently to God's dealings with us, and acquire a very lively sensibility to every instance of his goodness; it is, at the same time, important, that this personal wakefulness be accompanied with an habitual regard to the general character of his providence : otherwise it may happen that the pressure of temporary affliction may shake the very foundations of our faith. A settled conviction, sounded upon rational evidence, of the beneficence of our Creator, is the key-stone of all religion. This blessed persuasion, increasing with an increasing knowledge of the nature of his government, is the first source of Divine love. More strictly rational than the second, yet abounding less in ardour and animation, it gives in stability what it borrows in feeling. A love of God founded only on the perception of his excellence, would move our hearts but faintly; flowing only from a grateful sense of his goodness to ourselves, it might be fluctuating and fitful. Both therefore must be united ; and a more beautiful instance can hardly be imagined of the harmony with which the different principles of our nature concur in the service of our Maker. It affords an example, too, which is highly characteristic, of the way in which God has ordained that our faculties and feelings shall act together to build up the perfect Christian. The seeds of holiness are sown in this life, but they grow up and flourish for eternity. It is impossi
ble to contemplate the two great sources of our love to God, without perceiving that, as each is in its nature capable of increasing without limits, the sentiment to which they give birth must be, in like manner, infinite. God is unchangeable; but one idea of his perfections is capable of perpetual enlargement, and his promises assure us of an unceasing accumulation of benefits. Here, indeed, our views are faint and our affections languid; yet even in this life we are gradually maturing for heaven, and travelling towards that kingdom where the tabernacle of God is planted. In proportion as our natures are renewed and sanctified, we feel a growing complacency in contemplating the adorable image of our Maker, and receive his increasing mercies with still increasing sensibility. And when this “earthly house of our tabernacle shall be dissolved,” and we shall rise in the likeness of our Redeemer, holy and incorruptible, will the love that cheered our pilgrimage below fail us in those celestial regions : When we stand before the throne of God and of the Lamb, every faculty vigorous, and every feeling awake to rapture; when the mysterious volume of Providence shall be unrolled, and the wisdom and goodness of the great Father of all things fully vindicated; when the recollection of the past, the perception of the present, and the anticipation of the future, shall unite to overwhelm us with joy and wonder; when we shall behold our Saviour “face to face,” and “ know even as we are known;” then will love be indeed triumphant, immeasurable as the perfections of our Maker, and inexhaustible as his bounties. Love is the great principle of the Gospel; but it has been the first commandment under both dispensations. The Law was published, indeed, in thunders from Mount Sinai, and the punishments it denounced were the sanctions which enforced its precepts. Yet even then “God left not himself without witness;”
the love of him was enjoined with the most affecting solemnity; and when our Redeemer republished that Divine precept, he borrowed it from the Pentateuch. This concurs with every natural indication to shew that, whatever other principles of action may be useful to a being so ignorant and infirm as man, love is the true end of all religion. Our advancement in holiness may be safely measured by the growing influence of this affection; and it is the peculiar glory of Christianity, that, by opening to us the great doctrine of reconciliation through a Saviour, and introducing with that doctrine a service more rational and more spiritual than belonged to the former covenant, it has given to this heavenly principle a practical authority and predominance, which it could not generally obtain under a darker economy. Love is, even in this world, an unfailing source of happiness. It is so in the natural constitution of things; just as fear is a source of pain, and confidence of courage. Whoever truly loves God, has a secret fountain of joy within his bosom, which the distresses of this life can never quench, though they may sometimes a little disturb it. It is this inward peace, this heartfelt satisfaction, which alone truly deserves the name of happiness. It was this which sustained the apostles and martyrs of the first ages, and made them, in the midst of suffering, more than conquerors. It is this which still pours its sacred influence around us, and sheds a mild a holy light upon the path of out pilgrimage. * Perfect love casteth out fear." How full of encouragement and peace is this blessed declaration! And it is the language of nature in our hearts, as well as of the word of God. It is undoubtedly permitted to every one of us to attain to an assurance of his acceptance and favour with his Maker; –a blessing so great, that it bears with it every other. Do we really desire to poor