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The blessedness of the believer's state will yet further appear, whilst 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, yea, 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 connot 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
9 Rom. vi. 14.
unrighteousness ?.” It is a part of his covenant; every iota of which he will assuredly fulfil. 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, till they shall return to him with deep humiliation and contrition, and till they renew their application to the blood of that great Sacrifice which taketh away the sins of the world. “ It is not his will that one of his little ones should perish;"
will he suffer any one 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 mes." 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 powert:" 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 u." 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.]
1 1 John ii. 9.
8 Jer. xxxii. 40.
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 wilful 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, yea,“ more precious than thousands of gold and silver;" and “ let it dwell richly in us, in all wisdom: 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 iii. 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 complacency. 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 shew, 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 a ;” and, by practice, he has involved himself in the deepest guilt and condemnation
But in conversion, a marvellous transition takes place: “he passes from death unto life."
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 b." 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
a Eph. ii. 3.
b Rom. viii. 1.
Eph. ü. 12. the Greek.
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 ascer
taining of this change, may be depended onBeyond 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, till 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 shew 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 shew 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,