« AnteriorContinuar »
them ; concluding with some Marks and Directions for the latisfying and assuring our Consciences in these Matters.
The Epistle begins with a Caution to good Christians to expect, and to arm themselves against the Hatred of the World, in these words, Marvel not, my Brethren, if the World hate you. The occasion of this Warning was front what was laid in the foregoing Verse, of Cain's killing his Brother Abel; and that for no other reason, but because his own Worh were evil, and his Brother's good: for which reason he bids them not to wonder, or be surpriz'd, if the lame Lot befel them from the like Persons. The World bears such Ill-will to good Men, that 'tis no marvel if they meet with Hatred and hard Ufage from them; for as he that -was horn after the Flesh persecuted him that was born after the Spirit, even so it is now; Gal. 4. 29. There is that Opposition and Contrariety between Vertue and Vice, that they cannot well accord or consist together -, for what Fellow/hip (faith the Apostle) hath Light with Darknessf Or what Concord hath Christ with Belial} And therefore Christ told ms Disciples, If the World hate you, know that it hated me before it hated you; if ye-were of the World, the World would love his own; but because ye jtre not of the World, but I have chosen you out of the World, therefore the World hateth you: John 15.18,19. And elsewhere, at his sending them forth, he declar'd, that he sent them forth as Sheep among Wolves ., meaning, that the World would bear the fame Enmity and Hatred to them, and likewise have the fame Designs upon them, as the ravenous Wolf hath upon the innocent Sheep, namely, to divide and devour them. And therefore St. Peter warns Christians not to think it strange concerning the fiery Trial, as if some new and grange thing had happend unto them; 1 Pet.4. 12. for the wicked World would malign and persecute them. This is the common Lot of the Righteous here, to try their Patience and Constancy; and therefore we may not wonder at it, but rather took for and provide against it.
Now the beloved Disciple, having thus warn'd and forearm'd us against the Hatred of the World, proceeds to shew the great Benefit that will accrue to us from loving one another; for 'tis a Mark of our Regeneration, and gives us to understand that we are enter'd upon a new and spiritual Life: We know (faith he) that we have passed from Death to Life, because we love the Brethren. He that finds or feels this loving and charitable Disposition towards his Neigh*
bour, hour, hath the Seeds of Grace sown in his Heart, which will quicken him to a spiritual Life of Grace here, and that will shortly grow up into an eternal Life of Glory hereafter: Whereas, He that loveth not his Brother^ abideth in Death-, he is void of all spiritual Life, and remains still dead in Trelpasses and Sins. This he confirms in the next words, for whosoever hateth his Brother is a Murderer; and we know that no Murderer hath eternal Life abiding in him. He that hateth his Brother, conceives Mischief against him in his Heart, which when opportunity offers is ready to break forth in Slaughter and Bloodshed; soit did with Cain, whose Hatred and Envy led him on to flay his Brother Abel. Hence our Saviour in Mat. 5. interprets the hating of another to be the killing of him, because 'tis so in the Intention of the Heart, did not some outward Curb restrain him from it• , and he that harbours such mischievous ancUnurderous Intentions or Desires, can have nothing of the Temper of a good Christian, and much less any spiritual Life abiding in him: for he that truly loves another, will rather lay down his own Life for him, than take away his •, so Christ manifested his Love to us, and would have us do in like manner: Hereby perceive we the Love of God, because he laid, down his Life for us; and we ought to lay down our Lives fof the Brethren. Christ loved us even to Death, which he yielded to for our fakes and he hath requir'd us, if need be, to venture our Lives for one another.
But how contrary to this, is the Practice of such, who are so far from laying down their Lives for the Brethren, that they will scarce lay out any of their superfluous Substance to fave their Lives, or support them under their Necessities? sach as these can have nothing of the Love of God or their Brother rooted in them. So St. John's Question here plainly intimates; Whoso hath this World's Goods, and feeth his Brother have need, and shutteth up his Bowels of Compassion from him, how dwelleth the Love of God in him? He that is so sparing of a little part of his Substance to help his Brother in time of need, will be much more sparing of his Blood to serve him; both which are apparent Proofs of his want of any true Love to God or his Neighbour: and therefore the Apostle exhorts in the next words, to give better Demonstrations of our Love to both, faying, My little Children, let us not love in Word, or in Tongue only, but in Deed and Truth. True Love consists not in talking or boasting with the Mouth, but in the good Wishes of the
Yol.IV. Part3. I Heart, Heart, and the Bounty of the Hand; it lies not in Compliments, or in the outward Flourish of Words, but in Actions, and the visible Performance of good Works, without which all is no better than Hypocrisy and Dissimulation. 'Judas could fay, Hail Master, and kiss our Saviour, when he was just about to betray him ., and much like this are the Friendships of the Worlds who are never more forward to fay, Your humble Servant, than when they design most Evil, and are jult ready to over-reach or undermine their Neighbour. St4 James puts the Cafe, If a Brother or Sister be naked, or destitute of daily Food, and one of you fay unto him, Depart in Peace, be you warmed and filed, and notwithstanding give him not what is needful for the Body; what doth it profit? Jam. 2. 15,16. Such good words afford no Profit to them to whom they are given, nor will they afford any more to him that gives them and therefore our Love must link deeper than the Tongue, it must be rooted in the Heart, and from thence spring up and appear in the good Fruits of Beneficence and Charity: for hereby (faith our Apostle) we shall know, that we are of the Truth, and shall assure our Hearts before him; meaning, that we shall hereby approve our selves to be true and sincere Christians, such as we profess our selves to be, and no Hypocrites, who are wont to give good Words and fair Speeches, but falsify inv their Deeds and Actions: whereas when our Words and Deeds go together, we shall shew the Truth of our Profession, and approve our selves not only unto Men, who can iudg only by the outward Appearance, but unto God, who knoweth the Heart, and will judg us by the inward Inclinations and Intentions of it.
Now from hence our Apostle takes occasion to set forth,
First, The great Evil and Danger of an accusing Conscience in this Matter, in these words; If our Hearts condemn us, God is greater than our Hearts, and knoweth all things. And,
Secondly, The great Benefit and Comfort of an absolving Conscience, in the following words; Beloved, if our Hearts condemn us not, then have we Confidence towards God, Both which being of great Use and Importance to us, will deserve to be particularly consider'd. And,
First, Of the Evil and Danger of an accusing Conscience; Ij our Hem condemn us, God is greater than our Heart, and
knoweth htoweth all things: where 'tis suppos'd that the Heart or Conscience of a Man may and often does accuse him for the lack of that Love to God and his Neighbour, which he ought to bear and shew to both. Thus, for Example, when a Man wilfully omits his Duty to God, by neglecting his Prayers, or turning his back upon his Word and Sacraments, or when he wilfully commits what God hath forbidden him, by profaning his Name, or polluting his Sabbath; Conscience mult and will take him aside, and rate him soundly by himself.
Again, When a Man violates his Duty to his Neighbour by Acts of Fraud, Rapine, Oppression or Uncharitablenefs, his Heart will secretly smite and reprehend him for these things- , and tho he may escape any earthly Tribunal, yet Conscience, as God's Deputy, will arraign and fit in Judgment upon him, yea and condemn and pass Sentence upon him for such Enormities, how secretly or cunningly soever they have been acted or conceal'd by him. This is so well known and felt too by the vilest and boldest Offenders, that it needs no other Proof than the retiring into their own Breasts, and consulting their own Experience in these Matters. Judas found it t6 his own Ruin for betraying his Saviour, and others have found the fame for shedding innocent Blood j yea, the most profligate Sinners have not been able to escape these sharp Girds and Twitches of a gall'd and guilty Mind.
But the present Anguish of a guilty Conscience is nothing to the future Vengeance that attends it ., for if our Heart condemn us, God is greater than our Heart, and knoweth all things 1 He is greater in Knowledg, and knows more by us than we do by our selves ., he is greater in Power, and can do more to punish than we can; he is greater in Justice, and will be more impartial than our Hearts will be to us, There are many Failures of Duty both to God and Man, that often escape our own Observation, and so give us little or no trouble, which yet are recorded in the Book of God's Remembrance, and must be accounted for :, there are many vain Thoughts, rash Words, and unadvis'd Actions that pass away unregarded, which yet are perfectly known to God, and will come into the Reckoning of the last Day. So that if our own Hearts condemn us for that which we know by our selves, God will surely condemn us, who knoweth much more- , our Hearts may condemn us for things that fall not under the Cognizance of any earthly
Tribunal for who knoweth the things of a Man, save the Spirit of Man that is in hint? i Cor. 2. 11. But God will condemn us for things that flip the Censure and Condemnation of our own Hearts, and will arraign us at his Tribunal, for Matters that escape not only earthly Courts, but the Bar of our own Conscience.
Indeed, where Conscience condemns, there God will condemn also, because God and Conscience judg by the fame Rule and Conscience being God's Vicegerent, to judg for and under him, he will approve the Proceedings, and confirm the Sentence of our own Hearts.
But tho God always condemns where Conscience does, yet he sometimes goes farther, and condemns where that doth not: for his is a higher Court, that searches deeper into Matters than any earthly Powers can ., yea, to this all Principalities and Powers'must submit, and from this there lies no Appeal.
In short, God Almighty, the great Judg of all the Earth, will ratify the Sentence of his Deputy and where our Hearts condemn us for any known Breaches of his Laws, there he will do the fame; but he being greater than our Hearts, and knowing more, where Conscience is either ignorant or silent, he will add to and carry the Condemnation higher: which shews the Misery of a mis-giving and selfcondemning Heart, and may teach us with St. Paul to exercise our selves herein, to keep a Conscience void of Offence both towards God and Man. And this will lead me, in the next place, to consider,
Secondly, The Comfort and Happiness of a clear and absolving Conscience, from these words -, Beloved, if our Hearts condemn us not, then have we Confidence towards God: where a good Conscience is describ'd by the Heart's not condemning us i which can only be from a Consciousness of our own Innocence, or a Freedom from any Guilt. When we cannot charge our selves with the wilful Violation of God's Laws, but can reflect upon our Ways without Remorse, and our Minds approve and acquit us for what we have done; them are we faid to have an absolving, clear and good Conscience*
But who can fay, His Heart is clean, lam free from Sin? Does not the righteous Man sall several times a day? And if we think or fay that we have no Sin, we deceive our felves, and the Truth is not in us: How then can our Hearts forbear to condemn us for such frequent and daily Miscarriages? It*