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are ye; for flesh and blood hath not revealed this unto you;" but “God hath shined into your hearts to give it unto you. Be thankful for this distinguishing mercy: and seek to “grow in grace and in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.” St. Paul, after preaching the Gospel twenty years, “ accounted not himself yet awhile to have attained, but still desired to “ know Christ in the power of his resurrection, and in the fellowship of his sufferings." Do ye then press forward, and emulate the angels who are incessantly "desiring to look into these things.” Make not the love of God a matter for speculation, but for admiration and praise. It is that which will be the subject of your songs in the eternal world; let it therefore now inflame your souls with gratitude, and animate you to unremitting diligence in the service of your God. Strive to exercise love to him, seeing that he has shewn such love to you.]
GOD IS LOVE.
1 John iv. 16. God is love.
THE character of Jehovah is drawn in a great variety of expressions in Holy Writ : He is represented as great and good, and just and merciful, and by every other attribute that is worthy of his Divine Majesty. But, in the words before us, which are twice repeated in this chapter, all his perfections are concentrated in one abstract idea, as if they were all but one, and that one was “ love." Now, there is no light in which men so rarely conceive of the Deity as this. In truth, it is more as an object of terror than of love that he is viewed at all, especially by the generality; the desire of their hearts being, for the most part, like that of the Jews of old, “ Make the Holy One of Israel to cease from before us." Let us, however, collect our minds for the contemplation of the subject before us, whilst I endeavour to exhibit God in the character which is here ascribed to him, and to shew you that “he is wholly and altogether love.” He is so, I. In the perfections of his nature
What shall we say of his wisdom ?
[It is love, concerting measures for the communicating of his own nature and blessedness to creatures that should be formed for this very end. It was for this end that he created myriads of holy angels in heaven. It was for this end that he formed the earth; and placed upon it beings endowed with faculties capable of knowing, loving, serving, and enjoying him. He would have been equally happy and glorious, though no creature had ever existed, to behold his glory, or participate his bliss. As he was eternally self-existent, so he would have been eternally self-sufficient: nor was it possible for any creatures, however numerous or exalted, to add any thing to him. But, from the fulness of love that was in him, he determined to form creatures susceptible of all the blessedness which he had ordained for them: and in the execution of this office his wisdom engaged with great delight.] And in what light must we view his power ?
[This also was love, putting forth all its energies to accomplish the things which wisdom had devised. No other object had it in view, than the adapting of all things to their proper ends, that nothing might be wanting to any creature in the universe; but that every thing, from the highest archangel to the meanest insect, might, according to its capacity, enjoy a fulness of bliss. The whole inanimate creation, the celestial bodies which move in their orbits, and this terrestrial globe with all its diversified accommodations, are all subservient to this end; and all evince, that the power which called them into existence was only a modification of love.] In no other view can we conceive of his holiness
[This also was love, making known to his creatures what was his mind and will, and shewing them the precise path in which they must walk, in order to enjoy the happiness which he had ordained for them. On their conformity to him their happiness must, of necessity, depend: and God, in order that no creature might be at a loss to know his will, proclaimed it to them, and enjoined the observance of it as a law; thus constraining them to seek their own happiness, not from self-love only, but as an act of obedience to him.]
Even his justice, too, must be regarded in the same light
[This enforced the law with sanctions; with a promise of eternal life, if it were obeyed; and with a threatening of eternal death, if it were transgressed. And what was this, but love, shutting up his creatures to a necessity of preserving the happiness for which they were formed; and rendering it, as might have been supposed, impossible that they should ever decline from it?
If these provisions have failed in producing the blessedness for which they were designed, that, as we shall see presently, makes no difference in the design of God, or in the real character of all the Divine perfections. They all had one object in view, and all were exercised for one end; and all, if justly viewed, were love-love in the first conceptions; and love operating for the happiness of all, in whose behalf those conceptions had been formed, and those powers had been called forth into activity.]
We will yet further trace the same blessed character, II. In the dispensations of his grace
Hitherto we have seen God as shewing kindness to his creatures in a state of innocence: but now we must contemplate him as acting towards them in their fallen state. And, O! what love will now be opened to our view! View him in, 1. The gift of his only-begotten Son
(When all the purposes of his grace towards us had been frustrated by man's transgression, what, O! what did love suggest for our recovery? “He sent his only-begotten Son into the world, to stand in our place and stead;" and to “ die,” he "the just, for us the unjust,” that he might restore us to God, in a way consistent with all the perfections of the Deity. This wonderful act is, in the former part of this chapter, traced to the very source of which we speak: " In this was manifested the love of God towards us, because that God sent his onlybegotten Son into the world, that we might live through him. Herein is love; not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.” Our blessed Lord also teaches us to regard the love of God as the one source of this unspeakable gifta: and St. Paul speaks of Jehovah himself referring to it, as the most stupendous display of his love that ever was, or ever could be, exhibited to fallen man:“ God commendeth his love towards us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.") 2. The gift of his Holy Spirit also
In vain would Christ himself have died for us, if the Holy Spirit also had not come down to reveal that Saviour to us, and, by the mighty working of his power, to draw us to him. But shall this be wanting to us? No: the very same love which sent the Lord Jesus Christ into the world to redeem
a John iii. 16.
Rom. v. 8.
our souls, sends the Holy Spirit also, to apply that redemption to us : so that here is a concurrence of all the Three Persons of the Godhead in this labour of love; each occupying a part in this mysterious work; and contributing, according to their respective offices, to effect this great salvation. Say, brethren, whether it be possible ever to comprehend the heights and depths of this love? No, verily, it is altogether incomprehensible, far exceeding the utmost conceptions of any finite capacity.] 3. The gift of his ordinances-
[This, it is true, appears as nothing, in comparison of the gifts before-mentioned. But yet, methinks, it should by no means be overlooked. For the ordinances are indeed the golden pipes by which the golden oil is conveyed to us from the two fore-mentioned olive-trees, in which all fulness is treasured
up for us. It is by stated ordinances that you are gathered together to hear the word of God, and to receive the communications of his grace: and it is by the appointment of an order of men to minister in holy things, that you derive advantages for the instruction of your souls in divine knowledge. True, indeed, ministers are but earthen vessels : but the treasure which they convey to your souls is that which you would have but little leisure or inclination to search after for yourselves. Say, brethren, have not some of you often come to the house of God merely to observe a form which common decency required, and yet been so favoured as to find there "the pearl of great price,” in comparison of which all earthly things are as dross and dung? And say, whether you have not reason to adore the love which has provided for you
such means of grace, such advantages for glory?
But on these things it is needless to insist, because they carry their own evidence along with them.]
The same may be seen, III. In the whole administration of his moral govern
mentHere, doubtless, through our self-love, we are less apt to see the love of God. But it really exists ; and to a humble mind it is as clearly visible, in the execution of his judgments, as in the dipensations of
Let the nature and end of God's law be first considered
[We have already said, that his law was a transcript of his mind and will; and that its proper use was, to shew to all the intelligent creation, how God was to be served, and their own happiness secured. We have also already shewn, that the sanctions which were added to this law had the same tendency; namely, to secure the observance of it amongst free agents, who were left at liberty to obey or disobey, as they should feel disposed. And all this, we conceive, will readily be acknowledged to have been the fruit of love.]
Now, the law itself being approved, the enforcement of it must partake of the same character
[As for those who suffer the penalty of transgression, as millions both of angels and men do at this moment in hell; and as millions who are yet unborn will, it is to be feared, to all eternity, we readily grant, that they cannot enter into the subject before us. The men who suffer for transgressing human laws are ready to entertain hard thoughts, both of the laws themselves, and of those who enforce them. But they cannot be considered as competent judges: they are partial ; and their self-love blinds them. The community at large, who reap the benefit of the laws, see their excellence; and are thankful that they live under the protection of laws, wisely enacted, justly executed, and impartially enforced. There is not, in any civilized nation upon earth, a considerate man who does not account it a rich blessing to have his life and liberty and property secured against the assaults of rapacious robbers and blood-thirsty murderers. And the very persons who violate the laws, and for their transgressions pay the forfeit of their lives, might have received as much benefit from the laws as others, if they would themselves have yielded subjection to them: so that, whilst suffering the penalties of transgression, they have no reason to complain of the laws; but only of themselves, for having wantonly and wickedly transgressed them. Now thus it is with those who are suffering the vengeance of everlasting fire for their violations of God's law. The enactments themselves were intended for their benefit; and the penal sanctions would have conduced to their comfort, as much as to the comfort of any other person in the universe, if they would have yielded obedience to them. It is their own fault that they have brought out evil from good ; and rendered that an occasion of misery, which was intended by God to be a source of bliss. Of themselves they may complain; but of the laws they must speak with unqualified approbation and gratitude. If a doubt exist on this point, let any man ask himself, how he would like to live in any place where the authority of all laws, human and divine, was set aside, even for the space of three days? Who would not, long before the expiration of