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SERMON VII.

On Christian Friendship.

Cant. v. 16. This is my beloved, and this is my friend

APPLICATION.

1. THIS subject as it has been considered affords great evidence of the truth and divinity of Christianity, and of all the great and leading doctrines; and at the same time shows how the Christian, though not learned, or of great natural capacity, is assured that it is a revelation from the only true God, and will give eternal life and happiness to all who cordially embrace it.

If the gospel is formed and suited to give those who embrace it the highest and most refined and noble enjoyment, which is the beginning of most complete and endless happiness; if, so far as it has its proper and genuine influence on the hearts and lives of men, it spreads happiness through society, and forms all to a happy union, by which they promote, enjoy and rejoice in the welfare of each other; and brings them into a friendship, which is in the nature of it perfect, having nothing undesirable, and nothing wanting to render it the most excellent, noble and durable love and friendship that can be imagined; then it must be divine, a revelation from heaven, the production of Infinite Wisdom and Goodness. But that all this is true, has been made abundantly evident, by the very imperfect representation in the preceding discourses. And it is sufficiently supported by the scripture itself, by impartial reason, and by abundant experience,

This scheme of friendship and happiness for man never would have been thought of by any one of the human race, had it not been revealed from heaven. Hence it 115is made certain that no other scheme of religion, but that revealed in the Bible, is true, or can make men happy by embracing it; and that all other methods to obtain happiness, of which there are many devised by the wit and learning of the most sagacious among men, are mere delusions, and never will or can obtain it. For when the world by their wisdom knew not God, or the way to true happiness, it pleased God, by the foolishness of preaching, to save, and make completely and eternally happy, all them who believe.

But the unbeliever will say, “I do not pretend to understand the scriptures; but I am certain that my reason and experience dictate that there is no happiness in attending to the Bible, but very much the contrary. And the spread of Christianity in the world has been far from making mankind more happy than they were without it. It has been the occasion of unspeakable calamity. And even professing Christians, instead of being united by it in love and friendship, have been the greatest enemies to each other, and destroyed one another in the most cruel manner.”

Answer. That such have received no happiness by the attention they have paid to the Bible, is not an argument of the least weight that it is not to be found there. Men may come to the Bible with a strong and prevailing disposition and taste of mind or heart which does not relish that in which true happiness consists; but is highly disgusted and displeased with it. With this vitiated taste they relish and seek after happiness, where it cannot be found, being wholly blind to these spiritual, noble objects and truths, in the knowledge and enjoyment of which there is the highest happiness. And such a wrong taste and disposition tends to bias their understanding and reason, so as to render it partial, and incline to speculative error. It is therefore to impartial reason that we appeal.

This blindness, which consists in a wrong taste and disposition of mind, the scripture speaks of as common to all men in their natural state; and when it so commonly 116takes place, it is a confirmation of the truth of the scripture: “The natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God; for they are foolishness unto him; neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.”

As to the effect which Christianity has had in the world, it is acknowledged that where it has been perverted and abused, it has been the occasion of much evil. The best things are capable of abuse, and of being made the occasion of great misery. But this is no argument against their excellency, and tendency to the greatest good, when improved according to their nature. In order to be under advantages, to determine this question, we must study the Bible, and learn what are the doctrines and precepts contained in it. Every one who with impartiality and a right or good taste does this, sees what Christianity is, and knows that in conformity to it, the greatest peace, love and friendship, and the most pure and noble happiness, is to. be enjoyed; though an abuse of it may be attended with the worst consequences.

This brings into view the other part of the inference we are considering, viz. that the true Christian has a constant evidence in his own mind that Christianity is from heaven, and will give complete and eternal life and happiness to all who embrace it. They have found and tailed this happiness, consisting in Christian friendship to Christ and to all who appear to bear his image, and know that nothing is wanting in order to their complete felicity forever, but to have this friendship perfected, and attended with every circumstance favourable to it. They are sure this scheme is from heaven, and has a divine stamp upon it, as it is as much beyond man to form it, as to create the world. They may not be able to produce all which is called the external evidence of the truth of Christianity, or to answer all the subtle cavils and objections and witty scoffs of infidels, but are able to say, with the primitive Christians, “We know that the Son of God has come, and hath given us an understanding that we may know him that is true. This is. the 117 true God, and eternal life.” And they are witnesses to the truth declared by their beloved Lord and Saviour: “This is eternal life, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom thou hast sent.” They have found the treasure hid in a field, the pearl of great price. They have found all they want to make them eternally happy; and cheerfully forsake and give up every thing else, and renounce all hopes or desires of any other happiness, for the sake of these.

II. How happy are the true friends of Christ! They have a degree of sweet enjoyment and happiness now, which strangers intermeddle not with, in love and union of heart to Christ and their fellow saints. They taste the sweets of Christian friendship, in comparison with which all other enjoyments are low, insipid and worthless. They see such superlative, ravishing beauty and excellence in their most beloved friend, that they are become insensible and dead to all those objects which glitter in the eyes of the world, and charm their hearts, by which they are hurried on in the pursuit of them with the greatest eagerness. They have a friend of such excellence and worth, that it will take an eternity to tell what he is, and make a full display of his sufficiency and perfections. What though their portion in this world is mean, and their lot hard; it is ordered by their kind, wise friend for their best good. What though they may be overlooked, yea, despised, by men, and are counted the offscouring of all things; their names, are enrolled in the most honourable place in heaven; they are engraven on the breast of Him who is at the head of the universe, who is their Almighty and everlasting friend, and will confess their names before the congregated universe. Their life is hid with Christ: in God: and when Christ their friend, who is their life, shall appear, then shall they also appear with him in glory. Though they are inconceivably unworthy guilty, despicable and ill-deserving in themselves, yet their friend to whom they are united has dignity and worthiness enough to recommend to the highest honours 118and happiness. Because they love him, and have united themselves to him, as their friend and patron, the great Father of the universe loves them, and is disposed to bestow on them all imaginable favours and honours; and all the angels delight in them, and join to serve and honour them. By virtue of their union to and interest in this friend and patron, they are counted worthy of immensely higher honours and happiness than their most perfect and longest continued holiness could have entitled them to. The low, guilty and wretched state into which they are fallen by sin, shall on the whole be no disadvantage to them, but infinitely to the contrary. All this evil shall be turned into the greatest good to them. From this infinite depth of guilt and wo, in which they are sunk infinitely below the reach of any finite arm, they shall be raised to the top of the creation, and be made the highest and happiest of all, next to the most blessed and glorious personage to whom they are united, and bear the most near and honourable relation. With him they shall dwell forever, and be admitted to as great intimacy and familiarity as if he was their equal, and immensely more, even as great as they can possibly desire—shall constantly have all the tokens and expressions of his love they can wish for, and enjoy a dear and sweet friendship with him, without interruption, which shall exceed every thing of the kind beyond conception, and will grow more and more sweet and transporting through boundless duration, eternal ages. In that world of love, where all shall swim in this river, this boundless ocean of sacred pleasure and delight, they shall have the sweetest, the cream of all; as the first-born, they shall inherit a double portion forever.—But I must stop; the theme is boundless.

Am I speaking to any of the friends of Jesus Christ, who love him in sincerity, and as chaste virgins are espoused to him? Hail, ye blessed of the Lord! Ye are greatly beloved by him, and nothing shall be able to separate you from his love. All things are working together for your good. Jesus, the beloved of your 119souls, is at the head of the universe, and Is the appointed judge of all. Lift up your heads, and rejoice, tor your redemption draweth nigh. You shall soon see him at the head of his most glorious kingdom, with all his enemies under his feet. He will completely fulfil all the good pleasure of his goodness toward you. All things are for your sakes, that his abundant grace might, through the thanksgiving of many, redound to the glory of God. Be entreated then not to faint, but lift up the hands that hang down, and the feeble knees. Let us not cease to pray for one another, and for all the saints, that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of Glory, may give unto us more of the spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of him; the eyes of our understanding being enlightened; that we may know what is the hope of his calling, and what the riches of the glory of his inheritance, which he has provided for all the saints.

III. But who are these most happy persons, the true friends of Jesus Christ? Many are doubtless deceiving themselves in this important point. They are professing great love to Jesus Christ, and are confident that he is their friend, while indeed they know him not, and are real enemies to his true character; and will be found at last the workers of iniquity, of whom he will be ashamed, and reject them, as those whom he never knew. There may be others who, though they are his real friends, are often calling their love and friendship to Christ in question, and ready sometimes even to conclude against themselves. It may therefore be worth while to attend to this question a little, to which the subject we are upon naturally leads us.

Doubtless many readers have had this serious and important question in view, through the whole of the preceding discourses. And while we have attended to the nature, peculiar circumstances and exercises of this friendship, much has been said to give light in this matter, and assist persons in determining whether they are in any degree acquainted with this divine friendship, or 120 not. But, For the further assistance of those who are seriously inquiring whether they are true friends to Christ, or not; that the truly sincere may be encouraged and comforted, and the presumptuous self-deceiver may be detected and convinced; it may be worth while to attend to the following particulars, which this subject naturally brings into view.

I. True friendship to Jesus Christ is not grounded on, and does not originate from, a conviction and belief that he loves them and is their friend.

This has been apparent in the whole description that has been given of this love and friendship; and is most evident from the reason and nature of things. Where one loves, and is a friend to, another, only because he is persuaded that the other loves him, there is no real benevolence, esteem, complacency or true; friendship in the case. It is nothing but self love, called out to exercise in this particular way, in which there is not a spark of true friendship; but is a principle most directly opposite to it of any in nature. The man is a friend to himself, he is wholly bound up in his own private interest, and values and seeks nothing else, and takes no complacency and delight in any thing else, in no person or things any further than, in his view, it is friendly to him, or tends some way to promote his interest; or that which lie looks upon so. Such an one, continuing so, is not capable of true friendship, to which disinterested benevolence is essential. This is so plain a dictate of the common sense and feeling of mankind, that it cannot be disputed. If the affection and friendship of any one to us is evidently wholly grounded in the kindness he has received from us, and our friendship towards him; and all his affection and regard is excited and kept up by this consideration only; so that if we should leave off to shew kindness to him, or he should suppose that we were not his friends, all his affection and friendship would immediately cease; if this was evidently all the friendship he has for us, we cannot help looking on such an one not to be our true friend. Such sort of friendship 121as this may take place between persons who have not the least degree of true benevolence, and who are real enemies to each other’s true character. And all mankind have joined to pronounce it a worthless thing, and not worthy the name of true friendship. And it is as distant from true friendship, and as worthless, when exercised towards Jesus Christ, as if it was exercised towards us. Yet many are here deceiving themselves, and offering that to Christ for his acceptance, which if we should offer to any of our fellow men, they would despise and abhor it.

But the true friends of Christ have had their affection and love to him excited, and they have commenced his true friends, from a view of his true character, exhibited in divine revelation, entirely independent of the consideration of his loving and being a friend to them. When his character was once opened to their view, and they saw what manner of person he was, they were pleased and charmed with him, and their hearts became friendly to him in a moment. They did not, neither could they, stay till they knew he was their friend, and loved them, before they commenced his friends, and gave their hearts to him. No; they could not but love him, whether he loved them or no. That this is always true of the real friends of Christ, is evident to a demonstration, not only from what has been just now observed of the nature of true friendship, there being no other such, but that which is founded in a disinterested love and affection; but from this plain and infallible truth, viz. that we can have no evidence that Christ is our friend, and loves us, until it is evident that we are his friends. There is no other possible way for any person to know, or have the least ground to think, that Christ is his friend, but by first becoming a friend to him. If therefore he waits, and neglects to become friendly to Christ, till he has some evidence that Christ is more a friend to him than to every other person, he never will be a friend to him. We are therefore certain, that if there are any friends to Christ in this world, 122they became so antecedent to any evidence which they had that Christ was their friend, and loved them: for it is impossible they should have any such evidence antecedent to their love to him, and as the ground and spring of it; this evidence being always consequent on our love to Christ, and never before it. Christ says, “He that loveth me, I will love him; or, I will love them that love me.” Here we see Christ’s love and friendship is grounded on a person’s love to him, and is the consequence of it; therefore the latter cannot be the consequence of the former, and grounded on that, And here Christ promises his love and friendship to them who love him; therefore, according to this promise, our love to him is the only evidence that he is our friend. And there is not one promise in the Bible, of Christ’s special love and friendship to any one, unless he has that character which implies true love to Christ: or, they who are not true friends to Christ have no promise made to them of Christ’s special love and favour; therefore can have no degree of evidence of it, while they continue such. They therefore who think they have had any token or evidence of Christ’s special love to them, antecedent to their loving him, or before they become his friends, are most certainly deluded. And they whose friendship to Christ is built on such a supposition, and has originated wholly from the belief that lie was their special friend, are founding all their friendship on a gross delusion, and are indeed no true friends to Christ, and need nothing but to see the truth, in order to know they are not. And they who will not love Christ, and become friends to him, till they first know, or believe on good evidence, that he is their special. friend, will never be his friends in this world; therefore will certainly remain his enemies to all eternity.

The true friends of Christ love him for what he is in himself; and all their friendship to him consists originally and fundamentally in this. He has. worthiness and excellency, beauty and charms enough in his person and character to win the heart of any one who has the least 123degree of true discerning, and right taste and disposition. If persons have no degree of such taste and discerning, all the possible manifestations and testimonies of Christ’s special love to them would not beget the least spark of such a disposition; so would not produce the least decree of true friendship: therefore would do no manner of good to such an one, but hurt; as it would be the occasion of the exercise of the wickedness and lusts of his heart, and leave him really a more confirmed enemy to Christ than he was before. But if persons have any degree of right taste and discerning implanted in their hearts (which is always done in regeneration) they will love and be charmed with the beauty and excellence of Christ’s character, and commence his true friends immediately, before they know, or have the least evidence, that he is their friend, or has any special love to them. And it is in consequence of their thus loving and cleaving to him., that he manifests himself to them as their special Friend and Redeemer. And this manifestation is made by the medium of their love to him, which, as has been before observed, is in all cases the only evidence that any person can have that Christ is indeed his friend. Christ himself has on design stated this matter as plain as words can make it. He says, “He that loveth me, I will love him, and will manifest myself unto him.”

It is granted that the manifestation and evidence of Christ’s special love to his true friends will greatly increase their love to him; and therefore, in a sense and degree, they love him because he first loved them; or, his love to them, manifested in the way just mentioned, does render him more dear to them, and greatly increase and sweeten their love and friendship for him. But if they had no antecedent love to him, grounded upon what he is in himself, such manifestation would not be the occasion of any true love, as has been observed. “When therefore a sense and manifestation of Christ’s love to them is said to be the occasion of their love to him, it is supposed that they were already, and antecedent 124 to this, his true friends. The more true love and friendship we have for any one, grounded on the true worth and excellence of his character, the more pleasing will it be to us to be beloved by him, and the more will it increase our love and friendship.

The view of this matter which we have now had is sufficient to demonstrate, to every considerate, unprejudiced person, that those remarkable words of the apostle John, We love him, because he first loved us, cannot mean that our love to Christ originates from a belief and sense of his love to us, as the proper cause and reason of it, so that men never love him in any other view, or on any other account, and our love to him is in proportion to the evidence and manifestation of his love to us, so that when this evidence ceases, and we call in question his love to us, our love to him ceases, and again rises in proportion to our belief and assurance that he is our friend. This is the meaning that many have put on them, and earnestly contended for. But what has been said is sufficient to shew that they herein contend for a love and friendship to Christ which is not true friendship, but is perfectly selfish and mercenary, so cannot be that in which true Christianity consists. The worst of men will love those that love them, without any alteration in their moral character at all. Such a love is no virtue, but rather a vice, as it is only the exercise of their lusts. And these same men will love Christ, if they can be persuaded to believe that Christ loves them, and yet be as destitute of true religion, and as vicious, a? ever. And whoever is a friend to Christ only in this view, and on this account, has no true religion, and is at bottom a real enemy to Christ. The meaning of these words then, “We love him because he first loved us,” must be, that God’s love and benevolence to us is the ground and reason of our ever being brought to love him, as we never should have been brought to such a temper and disposition, but have continued his enemies, had he not, from his eternal, electing love, given us a new heart, a heart to love him; so that, in this 125sense, his love to us, which is first, even from eternity, is the cause of our love to him. This is a certain truth, and these words are as well adapted to express it as any that can be thought of. Our Saviour, speaking of the same thing, viz. the love and friendship between his disciples and himself, expresses it in different words. He says to them, “Ye have not chosen me, but I have chosen you;” i.e. my previous choice of you to be my disciples and friends has been the reason of your becoming my friends and followers, as you never would have become my friends, had I not brought it about: so you now love me, and are become my friends, because I first loved you, looked you up, and called you by my influences and grace. What the Apostle plainly means to assert here is, that in the work of redemption, in which a reconciliation is brought about between God and man, and a mutual love and friendship takes place, God is the first mover, and not man. This is the theme he is upon, as appears by the tenth verse: “Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his Son to be a propitiation for our sins.” God is first in his love to man, by which he has provided a Mediator; and then, by his motion and influences, brings men to love him. And thus we are brought into this friendship, and love God and the Saviour, not as first moving in the affair ourselves, but because God first loved us. The devil knew that such a selfish religion is not true religion, but is an argument that a man is really a wicked man, and an enemy to God; therefore he said, in order to set Job in a bad light, and insinuate, that the character God gave of him, as an upright man, did not belong to him; “Doth Job serve God for nought?” &c: q.d. “Job is wholly selfish and mercenary in what he does, and has no true respect and love to God, nor is really his friend: for all the love and service he renders to God is grounded on God’s love and kindness to him, and the good he gets by it. Therefore only take away these tokens of love and goodness, and his love will wholly cease, and he will turn an 126enemy to God.” And God implicitly grants, that if this was the case with Job, he was not worthy the character he had given him; therefore proceeds to put this matter to the trial. Wo to the person whose love and friendship to Christ is built on no better foundation than this. When the trial comes, he will be found wanting, even just such an one as the devil would have him be; a real and confirmed enemy to Jesus Christ.

Let every one, then, who is inquiring whether he is a true friend to Christ, or not, see to it that he does not deceive himself here, while all his love and affection is only a selfish thing, arising wholly from a thought and belief that Christ is his friend, and not consisting in any true sense of his worthiness, superlative excellence and beauty. The true friends to Christ love and esteem him, are pleased with his person. and character, and are friendly and benevolent to him, rejoicing in his honour and happiness, independent of his love to them; and therefore if he should cast them off forever, and their character continue the same, this would not destroy their love to him; but they would, notwithstanding this, continue his hearty friends, even under the highest tokens of his displeasure; could he do this consistent with his true character.

1. The true friends of Christ are submissive and obedient to him.

There is no true principle of obedience but love; and just so far as this takes place, there is a spirit of obedience. So far as one is a true friend to another, he is devoted to his service, and is at his beck, especially if he is his superior, and has a right to dictate and command. And with what freedom and pleasure do we strive to serve and please our clear friends! This is no talk, but a privilege. What influence then will true love and friendship to Christ have in this respect! with what sweet delight do they devote themselves to Him, looking on his service as the greatest privilege and happiness that they can conceive of! They long to be all submission and obedience to him, from a sense of the 127 sweetness and pleasure of it. As soon as they become friends to him, they are reconciled to and pleased with all his institutions, commands and ways. They esteem all his precepts concerning all things to be perfectly right. They will meditate on his precepts, and have respect to all his ways. Yea, they will delight themselves in his statutes, and rejoice in the way of his testimonies, more then in all riches. They well understand the Psalmist when he says, “I opened my mouth, and panted, for I longed for thy commandments.” They are not disposed to pick and choose for themselves, but are ready to sign a blank, and say, “Lord what wilt thou have me to do?” “With this disposition they read God’s word, desiring to find what is that good and perfect: and acceptable will of Christ. They are not offended at the cross, or feared at the prospect of sufferings for their dear Lord and Master; but are ready to look upon this as a great privilege and happiness. Ail this is the natural and even necessary attendant of true friendship to Christ. This our dear Lord has expressed repeatedly in the strongest terms. His words are, “He that hath my commandments and keepeth them, he it is that loveth me. If a man love me, he will keep my words. Ye are my friends, if ye do whatsoever I command you.”

There are many professed friends of Christ who are, found wanting, yea, essentially defective, when tried by this plain, infallible rule, which is most insisted on of any in the word of God, as the best rule of trial. They have, it may be, at times had some uncommon motions and affections of soul, as they fondly think, towards Christ: and in these they rest as a sure evidence that they are become friends to him. But what is the fruit in their life and conversation? Why, it may be truly said of them, they profess great love and friendship to Christ, but in works they dishonour and deny him. They call him Lord and Master, but do not the things that he says: therefore we may be sure they are not his friends; that all their affection, love and joy, however high it rises, is of a spurious kind, and has nothing of the nature of true love to Christ.

128

Look well to yourselves in tills point, my friends. Flatter not yourselves that you are friends to Christ, unless you are wholly devoted to his service, and are, with great exactness and conscientious care, labour and watchfulness, attending upon whatsoever he has commanded, and avoiding all that he has forbidden, in thought, word and deed: at the same time not counting this a task, but a privilege, from which you never desire to be released.

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