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Consider this weighty fact. The cause of all the difficulty we feel in trying to get and keep hold of the great and precious promises, lies much deeper than many suspect. Some good men think they have met our case, when they have quoted a promise which seems actually made for it. And we have been silenced for a time, when a wise man has defied us to draw up a form of invitation or encouragemient in our own words, which would go beyond God's words in point or plainness. All this is very true, and highly pleasing ; but, whilst we have any suspicion of God's
good will,” His words, however explicit or kind, will be interpreted by that suspicion. I readily grant, that the promises are intended and calculated to remove our natural suspicions of the divine character, and even to endear it to our hearts ; and they would endear it, did we apply them to the whole of the Divine character, or regard them as equally expressive of all the perfections of Jehovah. But, instead of this, what is the fact ? Alas! that we connect them chiefly with those lovely perfections of God, which hardly need any explanation ; and use them as a shield or a shade, to screen us from (what we call) His awful attributes. But, if by awful, we mean terrific or intimidating attributes, we are wrong: for there are no such attributes of God, as “God in Christ, reconciling the world to himself.” God in Christ, is love, all love, nothing but love, towards any one and every one, who is willing to be indebted to Christ for a free and holy salvation. God in Christ is Light, and in him is no darkness at all, when he places the glad tidings of the Gospel before us.
He wishes, yea welcomes us, as well as commands us, to believe them for our own comfort and salvation.
However well intended, therefore, it may be, to divide and sub-divide the character of God into lovely and awful, bright and dark parts, it betrays a want of acquaintance with God. All His character is lovely and bright, and nothing else, as the God of salvation : and all his character is terrific, and nothing else, if that salvation be despised or neglected. In praying for mercy we have nothing to fear; and we have nothing to hope for, if we do not pray. At the cross, we are as welcome to hope in all God's perfections, as the angels are to rejoice in them all in heaven ; and away from the cross, we have no more warrant or ground to hope in any of them, than devils have in hell."
The substance of all the great and precious promises, is, “ The hope of Eternal Life.” For as all the promises
and amen in Christ, so they all centre in a title to, and meetness for, Heaven.
Paul says of this hope, that it was promised by God, “ who cannot lie, before the world began.” And it was not without design, nor with a discouraging design, that the apostle thus referred to the antiquity of the promise. We, indeed, are prone to suspect, when we hear of promises, purposes, or arrangements, which preceded the birth of time, and take their date “ from everlasting,” that we can have neither part nor lot in them ;-a suspicion equally unwarranted and unwise. Their eternity ought to prevent, not to create, this suspicion. It was evidently intended to prevent all such suspicions. For, as God had no occasion, for His own sake, to plan or promise “ before the world began,” He must have done so for our sake, or to encourage us. We, therefore, misunderstand and pervert the eternal origin of His gracious arrangements, whenever we look on them with a jealous eye. The revealed fact, that His
mercy is from everlasting,” is, when duly weighed, as pleasing as the revealed fact, that it is "to everlasting." There is no more occasion for becoming afraid, when God speaks of its past eternity, than when He speaks of its future eternity; and just as little reason to wish that it had not been before time, as to wish that it would expire with time.
Consider this fact. We are pleased, to think that the mercy of the Lord endureth for ever. We readily allow that this is truly encouraging ; because the immortality of our being could only be a blessing, by the eternity of mercy. We could not bear to look forward to everlasting ages, if they were not thus gilded with everlasting glory. We are, therefore, thankful that futurity is not a blank, but a brilliant prospect, to them who love God. And we see clearly, that this prospect is both intended and adapted to win and confirm love to Him. Ought we not, then, to be equally pleased to look back on the reign of grace " from everlasting," as to look forward on the reign of glory, " to everlasting.” Why wish the past eternity a blank, seeing we are so fond of the glories of the future? We are almost as capable of looking before time, as of looking beyond time : and if glory which shall endure for ever delight us, grace which dates from eternity ought not to intimidate us. It certainly was not intended to discourage us, nor is it calculated to do so.
You doubt this, perhaps. I too have doubted it often and deeply: but I now see that I utterly mistook the matter. For, if God had never, in all the past eternity of his being, planned nor purposed any grace on behalf of man, it would be far more difficult than it is now, to believe the promise of eternal glory. Had he never once thought of our world, nor felt for us, “ from everlasting," it would not be so easy as it now is, to calculate on His mercy lasting.” Whatever mystery may, therefore, hang over eternal plans or purposes of grace, they are certainly not so suspicious in their aspect, as a blank eternity would have been. The bare idea of that, is both unnatural and ominous; whereas, the occupancy of the past, with the gracious plans of the future, is, to say the least, both an interesting and cheering fact.
" to ever
Besides ; as it could not have been for His own security or satisfaction, that God formed and confirmed the covenant of
grace with His Son,“ before the foundation of the world,” it must have been for our satisfaction. What else could it be for? They needed no interchange of bonds or pledges, in order to be faithful to each other, nor in order to be mutually gracious to mankind. They could have carried redemption into effect without a covenant, exactly as they have done with a covenant.
O, we ought to be very careful, how we speak or think about the eternal covenant of the Trinity. There is such a covenant ; and it will remain for
“ well ordered in all things, and sure :" but it was neither arranged to bring, nor ratified to bind, the triune Godhead to one purpose; nor did it originate at all for their mutual satisfaction, or for their personal guidance. They required not from each other, on their own account, any pledge of fidelity or cordiality. No stipulations, nor even explanations, were necessary between the Father, Son, and Spirit, in order to their harmonious and unchangeable co-operation in the work of Redemption ; because they could have no suspicions of each other's will or power, and no difference of design or opinion. All those covenant-transactions took place for our satisfaction ; that we might have “ strong consolation,” in fleeing for refuge, to lay hold on the hope set before us in the Gospel; and not, that the Godhead might have strong personal inducements to concur in the plan. For it was not the precious blood of the covenant, which won the Father's good-will towards man ; nor the great reward of the covenant, which bought over the Son to become its Mediator ; nor the holy design of the covenant, which constrained the Spirit to be its guardian. They never felt, nor saw in each other, any emotion or symptom of reluctance to abound in grace, or to abide by one plan of salvation. They were always as much one in will, as one in essence. They sustain and discharge distinct offices, but not at all in a different spirit, nor for less kind purposes. This, then, is the covenant which meets our view, when we look back upon the past eternity : and, does it not brighten it with much of the same glory that distinguishes the future eternity ? O, it is well, and wise, and cheering, that the covenant of
grace is “from everlasting:" for, had its birth been at any age of time, its aspect would, must inevitably, have been more equivocal to our apprehension. Had the date been from a better age of the world than the present, we should have suspected that its provisions were too good for us to share ; and had its date been from a worse age than our own, we should have flattered ourselves with the presumption, that we were not so bad as to require its peculiar grace or mercy. But it is “ from everlasting ;” and, therefore, it takes its character and aspect from the peculiarities of no age of time or generation of mankind; but wholly and solely from the essential benevolence of the Godhead.
It is, therefore, ignorance, or something worse, that guides our thoughts, when they retreat, with trembling, from the eternity of the divine plans ; or become fears and suspicions whilst they dwell on them : for it was to prevent all this jealousy and timidity, that God laid His plans “before the world began.” Yes; just that we might see clearly, that, as nothing but love to the world could influence His will in forming the covenant of Redemption, so there was nothing else to influence His will, when He formed that covenant. And thus, under it, we meet God exactly in His natural character, and just as He would have felt and willed, had He done all He has done, without the forms of a covenant ; or as if He had yet to begin to save.
The real ground, however, of our obligation and warrant to believe the promise of eternal life for ourselves, is, the truth of the promise itself, and the explicitness of the divine command and permission to believe it.
Now it is the promise of God, who cannot lie ;" and as the belief of it is the command of God, who cannot mock, al duty, as well as privilege, to lay on the hope of salvation, by faith in Christ. In fact, we cannot neglect this
is our person