|« Prev||Sermon I. 1 John iv. 20.||Next »|
If a man say, I love God, and hateth his brother, he is a
liar: for he that loveth not his brother whom he hath
seen; how can he love God whom
he hath not seen.
MY purpose at present is not to speak from these words either of love to God, or our brother, absolutely and singly: but comparatively only, according to that connexion which they have one with another; and the difference of the one from the other respecting their objects, as the object of the one is somewhat visible, and of the other somewhat invisible. There is one thing necessary to be premised to this intended discourse concerning the acceptation of love here, and it is this; that the apostle in this little tractate of love, as this epistle may for the most part be called, doth not design to treat of love as a philosopher, that is, to give us a precise formal notion of it; but to speak of it with a latitude of sense; not so indeed as to exclude the formal notion of love as it is seated in the inner man, but so as to comprehend in it such apt expressions and actings of it, as according to the common sense of men were most agreeable and natural to it. And therefore speaking of love to God in 2 chapter, ver. 5. he tells us, that “Whoso keepeth his word, in him verily is the love of God perfected:” 4that is, the very perfection of the love of God stands in this, in keeping his word. So in chapter 5, ver. 3. “This (saith he) is the love of God, that we keep his commandments.” And speaking of the other branch of this love in chapter iii. ver. 17. he saith, “Whoso hath this world’s goods, and seeth his brother have need, and shutteth up his bowels of compassion from him, how dwelleth the love of God in him?” The apostle calls this the love of God also; it being one and the same divine principle of love implanted by God himself, which spreads itself to several objects all under one and the same communication, as having more or less of the divine beauty and loveliness appearing in them.
So that if any one should go about here to play the sophister, and say, “Love is a thing, which hath its whole nature, and residence in the inner man. Define it never so accurately, you will find it to be wholly, and entirely seated there. Now therefore, since nothing can be denied of itself, let it be confined and shut up there never so closely, admit that no expression be made of it one way or another, yet I need not be solicitous on this account: for let me walk and do as I list, the love of God may be in me for all that; since love is such a thing, wherever it is, as must have its whole nature within one.” To this the apostle would reply, No, I do not speak of love in so strict a sense. Love, as I intend it, is not to be taken so: or if it were, it must however be supposed to have that strength and vigour with it, as to enable it to be the governing principle of a man’s life; to affect and influence his own soul; and so to run through the whole course of his daily practice. I speak of love according to what it virtually comprehends in it; namely, conformity to the will of God, and obedience to his laws whereby that will is made known. And thus love is elsewhere taken in Scripture also. Our Saviour you know gathers up our duty into love. “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and thy neighbour as thyself; upon these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.” Matt. xxii. 37, 40.The apostle also tells us, that “love is the fulfilling of the law.” Rom. xiii. 10. Therefore love to God and our brother, in this place, must be taken for the summary or abridgement of our whole duty; an epitome of the two tables; a virtual comprehension of all we owe either to God or man, that is, universal holiness, and an entire obedience to the divine will. But still in this system or collection of duties, love, strictly and formally taken, is to be considered as the primary and principal thing; as seated and enthroned in the heart and soul; and as the original principle, upon which all other duties do depend, and from whence they must proceed. 5The acceptation of love being thus settled, there are three things that I chiefly intend to shew from this scripture.
FIRST. That there is a greater difficulty of living in the exercise of love to God than towards man, upon this account, that he is nor the object of sight, as man is; and consequently, that the duties of the second table are, according to this our present state of dependence on external sense, more easy and familiar to us than the duties of the first. Hence proceeds that general propensity, which it greatly concerns us to be aware of; to acquiesce and take up our rest in a fair, civil deportment among men, without ever being concerned to have our souls possessed with holy, lively, and powerful affections towards God.
SECONDLY. I shall shew, that this impossibility of seeing God, doth not however excuse us from exercising love to him in this our present state. It is indeed one reason why he is actually so little loved in the world, but it is no sufficient excuse. For the impossibility of seeing God doth not render it impossible to love him, and to live in his love, while we are here in this world, dwelling in the flesh. And this also is plainly grounded in the text; for this vehement expostulation of the apostle, “If any man do not love his brother whom he hath seen, how can he love God whom he hath not seen?” plainly supposes it to be an intolerable thing not to love God. And therefore hence he takes the advantage of enforcing the duty of loving our brother, because otherwise we should be convicted, and proved to be no lovers of God; taking it for granted, that this would be esteemed a most horrid thing, even at the very first sight. Otherwise his exhortation would have no force, nor pungency in it; but would be flat, and insignificant. Therefore he plainly supposes here, that though God’s not being the object of sight doth render the exercise of love to him, upon that account, more difficult; yet it doth not render it impossible, or the neglect of it at all excusable; but considers it as a thing to which men are most indispensably obliged. This therefore will be my second head to discourse upon from this scripture. And then in the
THIRD place, my design is to shew you the absurdity of their profession of love to God, who do not love their brother also; and how false and fulsome a thing it is for men to pretend to any thing of sanctity and religion, while they neglect the du ties of the second table. Of these we shall speak in order, and begin now with the
FIRST observation, that the impossibility of seeing God renders the exercise of our love to him more difficult, than the exercise of it towards man whom we do see. In this doctrine there are two branches, which are to be distinctly considered.6
I. That it is more difficult to love God than our brother.
II. That one great reason of it is, that we cannot see God, as we do our brother.
I. As to the former of these, that there is a greater difficulty in the exercise of love to God than to men, we may collect from the common observation of the world. For it is very plain and evident, that the common course and practice of men shews what is more easy to them, and what less; it plainly discovers which way they are most inclined. This is the thing, which I understand here by difficulty; and it answers the intent and force of the apostle’s expression, “How can he that loveth not his brother whom he hath seen, love God whom he hath not seen?” This plainly must be understood in a relative sense, and have respect to some agent, and here must have reference to ourselves. It is less easy to us, that is, it is a thing which our nature in our present state doth less incline us to, actually to live in the exercise of love towards God, than towards men. And, I say, what men are more or less inclined to, is to be seen in their common course; and from the common observation of the state and posture of the world we may gather, that men in general are less inclined to love God, than one another. And though it be very true, there is too little of love, kindness, and mutual affection among men, and a great neglect of justice, common honesty, and the other duties of the second table, which love must be understood to comprehend; yet certainly the instances are not so rare of persons that are kind, courteous, affectionate, and well-humoured one to another, as of persons well-affected towards God. This is a thing which commands our assent even at the very first sight. Nay further, though it is also no less true, that men are too much lovers of themselves, to the exclusion not only of God, but of men too; yet certainly there is more of love to men, than to God, prevailing in the world. And to make this out let us go to the usual evidences and expressions of love; such as mindfulness of others, trust in them, a readiness to be concerned for their interest, a studious care to please them, loving to converse with them, or seeking and being pleased with it, and the like. If we descend, I say, to the consideration of such evidences of love as these are, we shall find that man is generally better beloved, than God is. And that this may gain the greater possession of our souls, let us a little consider these particular evidences of love; and then see whether men are not generally more beloved by one another, than God is by them; hereby we shall plainly see, what is most agreeable to their temper, and what not. And,
1. Mindfulness, or a kind remembrance of others, is a 7most natural evidence of love. But what! are men who transact affairs one with another, so apt to forget each other, as they are to forget God? It is given us as a common distinctive character of a wicked man, that he is one that hath not God in all his thoughts. For thus saith the Psalmist, “The wicked in the pride of his countenance,” that is, his heart expressing itself in the haughtiness of his countenance, and his supercilious looks, “will not seek after God; God is not in all his thoughts.” Ps. x. 4. And by the same divine penman a wicked man, and a forgetter of God, are used as exegetical expressions. Ps. ix. 17 But there is many a wicked man that will kindly remember his friends, his relations, even his very companions in. wickedness. And if we demand an account of ourselves, do we not find it more easy and familiar to us to entertain thoughts concerning our friends, and relations, from day to day, than we do to think of God? Are we not also more inclined to love them than God? What we love we are not apt to forget. “The desire of our soul is to thee, and to the remembrance of thy name.” Isa. xxvi. 8. Our love to thee, which naturally works by desire, will not let us forget thee; it is too deeply impressed and rooted in us ever to lose the remembrance of the object of our love. This is one thing that sheweth, that God is a great deal less loved by men, than they are by one another. Again,
2. To be apt to trust in one another, is a very natural evidence and expression of love. Whom we hate, we cannot trust; whom we love entirely, we know not how to distrust. One of the characters of love is this, “It hopeth all things, it believeth all things:” (1 Cor. xiii. 7) it abhors to entertain a jealous surmise of the person, who is the object of it. Now let the matter be tried by this also, and how much more ready are men to trust to one another, than they are to trust to God? What is there so vain, so uncertain, so unstable, which they are not more forward to repose their trust in, than in him? Therefore, saith the apostle to Timothy, “Charge them that are rich in this world, that they be not high-minded; nor trust in uncertain riches, but in the living God.” 1 Tim. vi. 17. Which charge implies the propensity of men’s minds, rather to trust in the most fugitive, uncertain, vanishing shadows, than in God himself. This is an argument, that he hath but little love among men; that he cannot be trusted; and that few will give him credit. But how safely and quietly do men repose a trust and confidence in one another? And indeed if faith and trust were not natural to men, there would be no such thing as commerce, which is the bond of human society. The world must dissolve and break up; all must live apart in 8 dens, and caves, and wildernesses, and have nothing to do one with another, if they could not trust one another. Without mutual confidence, there would be an end of all traffic. But to this, human society shews there is a disposition; and you can easily find out persons, in whom you would as safely repose your trust and confidence, as in your own hearts. You can say, “I would put my life in such a man’s hands, or what ever is most dear to me.” And if that person should but promise to undertake an affair, saying, “I will do such a thing for you, trust me with it, leave it upon me;” you would be as quiet, as if you saw the business done and already effected. But how unapt are the hearts of men to trust in God! and this it is, that holds off the world from him. He hath sent the gospel of peace and reconciliation to mankind, and therein declares the good tidings, how willing he is that the controversies should be taken up between men and himself; yet none will believe it, none think him in earnest, till he is pleased himself to draw them. “Who hath believed,” saith the prophet, “our report? or, to whom is the arm of the Lord revealed?” Isaiah liii. 1. Plainly intimating, that the arm of God must go forth to make a man believe him, and take his word. A strong argument, that he hath but little love among men, when he cannot be trusted; or, at least, when so few will give him credit!
3. A readiness to be concerned for one another’s interest and reputation, is also a natural evidence of love. And we know how easily men are drawn in for one another, and take part with a neighbour, or a friend, when they are traduced, and evil spoken of; and especially when they see indignities and affronts put upon them. There is usually a great siding among persons upon such occasions. “Such a one has spoken ill of my friend, I must stand up for him to the uttermost. Another has injured him, purloined from him that which was his, and the like; I must right him.” Should we not reckon him a base fellow, who should behold an act of stealing committed upon the estate of another, and not make a discovery of it, or endeavour to have him righted? But how little generally are men concerned for God, and his affairs! What robberies are every where committed against him, and yet how few do lay it to heart! How evil is he spoken of many times, and his truth, and his ways! But how few can say, “The reproaches wherewith they have reproached thee, have fallen upon me?” Ps. lxix. 9. It is true, this is the sense of David, when he cries out, “As with a sword in my bones mine enemies reproach me, while they say unto me daily, Where is thy God?” Ps. xlii. 10. It is to me as if one was forcing a sword into my 9bones, even into my marrow; a most intolerable torment to be upbraided in respect to my God: that he is either impotent, and cannot help me; or that he is false to me, and answereth not the trust I have reposed in him. But how few are there of David’s mind, in this case? How many oaths and blasphemies can, they hear, wherein the sacred name of God is rent and torn, and yet their hearts are not pierced at all! Further,
4. An earnest study to please men is a natural expression of love. Now let the matter be estimated by this, how much less God is loved in the world than men. It is an ordinary thing with them to study to please one another, to humour one another. “Such and such things I do, and such I omit, lest I should displease a relation, a friend, or one that I have frequent occasion to converse with.” But how few are the persons, who can say, “This I do purposely to please my God?” or with Joseph, “How can I do this great wickedness, and sin against God!” Gen. xxxix. 9. A man will oftentime cross his own will, to comply with that of another; and reckon it a great piece of civility to recede from his own inclination in order to gratify another person, when he can do it without any great inconvenience. But how rare a thing is this with respect to God! To besuitablee to say, “In such a thing [ displease myself, that I may please God; I cross my own will, to comply with his.” Among men there is especially one sort, that we are more concerned and obliged to please, so far as we can; and that is, such as rule over us. We are bound to please our superiors; and to obey them, that we may do so. And there is no obedience either to God or man, that is right in its own kind, but what proceeds from love, and is an evidence as well as an effect of it. “If ye love me,” saith Christ, “keep my commandments.” John xiv. 15. “And this is the love of God,” saith St. John, “that we keep his word.” 1 John v. 3. More over the duties of the second table, which we owe to men, particularly that of obedience to superiors, are summed up all in love. The apostle having, in the 13 chapter of his epistle to the Romans, pressed subjection to the higher powers, in that they are of God, adds in the 10th verse, that “to love one another is the fulfilling of the law.” “Render,” saith he, in the same discourse, “to all their dues: tribute, to whom tribute is due; custom, to whom custom; fear, to whom fear; honour, to whom honour.” Rom. xiii. 7, 8. Yet observe, all is wrapt up in love; for the command is immediately after, “to owe no man any thing, but to love one another:” and in short there is nothing which love doth riot comprehend, or to which it doth not incline us.10
But however, though such obedience be due to our human superiors as proceedeth from love; yet how apparent is the case, that herein is greater love shewn to men, than to God, though too little to both? There is indeed too little regard to laws both human and divine, in the most important matters; yet surely a great deal less to the latter, than to the former. The thing speaks itself as to common observation: and we daily see how much more human laws do influence men’s practice, than those which are divine; and persons that are a great deal more prone to be precisely observant of them about matters, which they themselves do otherwise count indifferent, than of the laws of God, which are about the most necessary matters, and which also are acknowledged as such. Thus it hath long apparently been in the Christian world. A greater account hath been made of this and that arbitrary circumstance, than of the substance of religion itself. More stress hath been put upon the cream, the salt, and the oil, and such additional of human invention, than on the great obligations of the baptismal covenant. And if it were not so, it could never have been desired by any, that we should rather be all infidels, than not be Christians after their fashion, and in their way. For that it hath been evidently so, may be seen in this; that this whole nation itself hath at once suffered under the interdict of excommunication in former days. All the doors of our churches and chapels have been shut up, only for some non-compliance, with this or that human addition; thus they chose we should rather be no Christians at all, than not have Christianity with those additions. This shews a greater disposition in the minds of men to obey human laws, in circumstantial matters; than divine laws, in those points which are most necessary and important.
What then is more apparent, than that God is less loved in the world than men are; since persons are more forward to shew respect to them, than to him? Not but that we arc bound to shew respect to them too, especially to those who represent him, and as his vicegerents rule over us. But surely it was never intended, that when we are to obey men for God’s sake, we should regard him less; we should rather do it so much the more on this very account.
In a word, love ought to be an ingredient in every act of obedience; even to human government, as I have said before, as well as to that which is divine. What love is expressed in that great canon of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ! “Whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them;” (Matt. vii. 12.) that is, you ought to judge the case 11thus; “What would I wish to be done to me in such a man’s circumstances? Would not I expect to be obeyed and reverenced, if I were a magistrate? My love to myself would incline me to expect it. Therefore my own love to myself, being the measure of that love which I owe to another, should oblige me to shew the same respect to him in his circumstances, that I would wish to be shewn to me in the like circumstances.” But here is the iniquity of the case: those whom we should honour and love in the Lord for his sake, men are apt to put the supreme respect upon; which is to dethrone the supreme Lord of all, and to set up his creature in his place. And as to other persons, who are not invested with power and authority over us; how many are there of those, who will not wrong men, or do them any injustice! How many that are most highly civil, and candid in their converse with them, and strictly careful not to disoblige them by their behaviour! But who sticks at disobliging God, or makes a difficulty of disobeying him? Again,
5. Towards men there is a disposition deeply to regret any offence we unwarily have given them. When we, though undesignedly, have done another an injury; if, for instance, we but casually tread on his foot, or some such like matter, we presently say, “I am afraid I have hurt you, I am sorry for it.” Common civility would oblige one to express such a regret. And if we by any rash word or weak action have trespassed upon another, we are reckoned almost unfit for society, if we do not shew a sense of our having offended such a person. Men that are not very ill-natured indeed, are apt to make apologies, and desire to be forgiven in cases where they have offended through inadvertency. But how much is it otherwise with men towards God, who trespass upon him every day, and never cry to him for mercy! who wear away their lives, from one month, year, and day, to another, in continual deviations from him, and rebellions against him, without its ever coming into their thoughts to say, “Lord forgive me, that I have lived so long in the world, as it were, without thee! that I have carried it to thee as if I owed thee no duty nor service! Lord, I have offended, I desire to put an end to this course, and to do so no more.” Finally,
6. A love of converse or delight in each other’s company,
is another expression of that regard which men have for one
another. Man is naturally a sociable creature; and how few do
you know, or ever have known, who do not affect company?
Some few instances there are of persons, that are of a gloomy
retired temper; but generally men seek to converse with one 12 another, and take pleasure in it. But alas, how little do
they care to converse with God! They had rather be any
where, than in his presence. Many, otherwise ingenious persons, men of good dispositions and of facetious tempers, who,
as they delight in converse themselves, so their conversation
proves delightful to others; yet care not at what distance they
keep themselves from God. How many, I say, of such ingenious persons do we know; who yet neglect to pray to God;
take no pleasure in having any thing to do with him; take his
holy name in vain; and set themselves at a distance from him,
by their own evil practices? It may be they will come to the
solemnities of public worship for the sake of order, and to express their respect to others; so that even in those things
which are peculiarly appropriated to him, they shew more respect to men, than God. And how sociable soever their temper
is, one with another; yet with the Almighty they care not to
converse at all, but say to him, “Depart from us, for we desire
not the knowledge of thy ways.” Job xxi. 14. From whence we
may conclude, that to man in his present state, it is even natural to wish the great God out of being.
“The fool hath said
in his heart there is no God.” Ps. xiv. 1. “I would there
were no God, my vote shall go for it, that there were none;
I could wish him out of the universe.”22 For it is in the Hebrew text,
אמר נבל בלבו אין אלהים׃
that is, The fool hath said in his heart, no God. And so it may as well be understood to signify the fool’s wish, as his judgment. And this is the more likely to be the meaning; inasmuch as it is manifest, that this is not the speech of some particular persons, or of some rare instances of most monstrous horrid wickedness; but it is spoken of apostate man in general, concerning whom it is said in ver. 3. They are all gone aside, they are altogether become filthy; there is none that doeth good, no not one. But you never heard of such a monster among men, as to wish there was no man beside himself. You never heard of such a hater of mankind, as to wish the whole human race into nothing.
Now all these things concur to evidence or prove to us, that God is much less beloved in the world, than men are by one another. And it must be allowed that the common practice of men sheweth their inclination. This is discovered by constant experience and observation, and the very aspect of men’s deportment doth represent this as the true state of things. And, as I observed before, men may find something of it by the experience they have of themselves; even those who have applied themselves to the business of religion, seriously and in good earnest. They find they can presently set their love on 13work towards this or that creature; but how long an exercise of the thoughts doth it require, and how great is the difficulty and toil, before the heart can be wrought up into a frame actually loving God!
So that the former branch of this truth, that men are more inclinable to love one another, than they are to love God, is abundantly clear. The latter is, that it proceeds in a great measure from this cause, that God is not seen by us, as we are by one another; but this must be reserved for another discourse.14
|« Prev||Sermon I. 1 John iv. 20.||Next »|
►Proofing disabled for this book
► Printer-friendly version