|« Prev||Sermon IV. Preached September 13, 1676.||Next »|
WE have gone through the first part of my design from these words, which was to shew, that men are less apt or disposed to the exercise of love to God than to one another. And we have made some progress in the application, by way of inference; and therein have endeavoured to shew,—that the in disposition of man to the love of God is a proof of his being in a lapsed and very degenerate condition—that this degeneracy must consist principally in the depression of the mind and its intellectual powers—that more especially man is prejudiced by the lapse or fall with respect to his inclinations towards God—that in consequence of this, he must needs be at a great distance from true blessedness, which is inseparably connected with the love of God—and in the next place, it was further inferred, that there is great occasion for frequent gospel-preaching, which is the method instituted by Christ for restoring and reviving love to God in the souls of men. But though this is necessary, yet we are also to know that it is net sufficient; for all the preaching in the world cannot alone make the sensual heart of men to love God. And therefore we proceed to infer further,
(6.) That since men are so very unapt to love God, and for 35this reason, because they see him not; there is great need of the communication and influence of that glorious and mighty Spirit of life to relieve him in this sad extremity and distress. For surely it is a very distressed case, that man cannot love his own Maker, the Author of his life and being, him in whom. is his eternal hope, and all because he cannot see him. It is a case that calls. for a very great and powerful hand to redress; and no other hand is proportionable to the exigence thereof. Though he works by means, and even by that of the gospel-revelation, yet it doth not follow that the means will do the business alone; but the contrary follows, that because they are means, therefore there must be an agent, and an efficient, to use them, and one proportionable to the work of forming and disposing the spirits of men towards God, that they may be capable of his love, and admit it into their hearts so as to rule and govern there. And what can do this but the Spirit of God? What else is it that can awaken and rouse the dull, sluggish, drowsy spirits of men? What else, I say, can quicken, purify, and refine spirits lost in pleasure and sense? The way of bringing any soul to love God, is to give it the spirit of love. There is no other way of doing it. Now the apostle says, that “God hath given to us not the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind.”2222 2 Tim. i. 7. One and the same Spirit is all these at once. And till that Spirit is given us, there is nothing but enmity and disaffection towards God; there is nothing but feebleness and impotence, as to any thing that is good; there is nothing but distemperature and diseasedness in man, which have pierced him to the very heart. This Spirit therefore, in reference to these several exigencies, is a Spirit of love, of power, and of a sound mind. That same Spirit that makes the soul capable now of doing things that require power; that same Spirit that rectifies the mind, and heals it of those distempers under which it was wasting and consuming before, is a SPIRIT OF LOVE. It is said to be a Spirit given, a Spirit superadded to our own, a Spirit that we had not before. Indeed it must be some other spirit than ours, which must render us capable of loving God.
You know, that the apostle recounting the several fruits of the Spirit, (as he had done those of the flesh before) sets this of love in the front of them. “The fruit of the Spirit is love joy, &c.”2323 Gal. v. 22. And after telling us, that “eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him;”2424 1 Cor. ii. 9. he 36 tells us also of a Spirit different from that of the world, the Spirit which is of God, which such as they had received. “We have received,” says he, “not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit which is of God.”2525 1 Cor. ii. 12. And in this same chapter, wherein is our text, you have the apostle John speaking to this very case, to wit, the impossibility of our seeing God: “No man hath seen God at any time. If we love one another, God dwelleth in us, and his love is perfected in us. Hereby know we that we dwell in him and he in us, because he hath given us of his Spirit.”2626 1 John iv. 12, 13. Love to one another as Christians or saints, is also a fruit of that same blessed Spirit. And if there be such a principle of love within us, it plainly speaks that God dwells in us, and we in him, and that he hath planted his own love in our souls, which is perfecting there. It is manifest now that he hath taken possession of us, and drawn us into union with himself, so as to become the great Fountain of that principle of love in us, whereby we are capable of loving him, and loving such as are his, for his sake.
And because the act of the heart in loving supposes some foregoing act of the mind by which the object is perceived to be lovely, therefore this same Spirit is elsewhere called “A Spirit of wisdom, and revelation, in the knowledge of him, whom we are to love.”2727 Ephes. i. 17. The apostle is there praying earnestly on be half of the Ephesians, that this Spirit might be given them, by which they might be capable of knowing, and knowing practically, as the word επιγνωσις signifies, and of coming into union with that blessed One that is known. And on this union love hath a great influence. St. John says, “We know the Son of God is come, and hath given us an understanding that we may know him that is true; and we are in him that is true, even in his Son Jesus Christ. That is the true God and eternal life.”2828 1 John v. 20. The understanding here spoken of is said to be given by which we so come to know God in Christ, as to be brought into union with him by love: it is, I say, a given thing, men have it not of themselves.
It is very requisite, and therefore I so long insist upon it, that we understand how necessary it is, that there be another and a better Spirit than our own, to render us capable of loving God, whom we have not seen; for otherwise we shall never love beyond the sight of our own eye. And it is very strange, that this necessity, since the case speaks itself, and the Holy Scriptures so often declare it, should be no more understood. If there be no such necessity, what is the reason we are taught 37to “pray for the Spirit,”2929 Matt. vii. 9, 10, 11. as starving children do for bread? That we are bid to “live in the Spirit,”3030 Gal. v. 25. “to walk in the Spirit,”3131 Rom. viii. 1. and “by the Spirit to mortify the deeds of the flesh?”3232 ver. 13. And are we not told, that we must “be born of the Spirit, or else we shall never enter into the kingdom of God?” John iii. 3. All this is plain language one would think, and easy enough to be understood by those that have a mind to it. But it is very observable, that those notions which tend to make as little as possible of the depravity and corruption of man’s nature, to magnify beyond measure the power of man in his fallen state, to depress preaching, and to make light of the operations of the Holy Ghost upon the minds of men, are all of a sort, ail of a piece. These are notions that hang upon one thread, and when we see wherein they issue and terminate, we may easily discern the danger of them; and into how great hazard they bring the eternal concerns of the souls of those men, who suffer themselves to be tainted with them. We again farther infer,
(7.) That the work of regeneration must needs stand in very great part in the implanting and seating in the souls of men such principles, as may directly tend to control the dictates of sense, and in opposition to it rule and govern in men. The infirmity and distemper of man’s nature easily shew, wherein this cure and renovation must consist. This is at present the great distemper of his soul, it cannot love but where it can see. It is the sight of the eye that carries the heart, and draweth it this way and that way. A most dreadful distemper this! But as we know the distemper, we know wherein the cure must consist. Regeneration is that which restores the man to his right mind, and sets things to rights again with him. Though his former state is expressed by being in the flesh, he is now said to be in the Spirit, from the spiritual frame created in him by the great work of regeneration. Thus, says the apostle, “Ye are not in the flesh, but in the Spirit, if so be that the Spirit of God dwell in you.” Rom. viii. 9. And the thing produced in the work of regeneration is called spirit. “That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.” John iii. 6. While man is in flesh he is capable of loving nothing but what is seen, nothing but what to his senses appears amiable and lovely. Herein therefore stands the work of regeneration, to take a poor sensual creature, a mere lump of flesh, and to make him spiritual; and then it is he becomes capable of loving God. There must be a new creation: and 38 right principles planted in the mind, to influence the heart, and to direct and determine souls towards God, from whom they were cut off and so dreadfully alienated. Again in the
(8.) Place, we further infer, that the power by which it comes to pass that there are any lovers of God in the world is highly to be adored and magnified. You see it is far more difficult to love God, whom we see not, than our brother whom we do see. How then can this difficulty be overcome, unless divine power implant this principle of love? We ought therefore to make the representation of that power, that hath wrought this work in us, appear very glorious in our own eyes, that so with reference to this matter our hearts may be put in an adoring posture. Let us then bless and adore that glorious Being, who hath done such a thing as this; who hath made a stupid sensual heart, which could never rise beyond the sphere of flesh, ascend and enlarge itself, and fix and terminate its love upon the blessed God. “How great is the power” (should one say that finds it thus) “which hath done this in me! to make a clod of earth, a lump of clay to love God! This is as great a thing as out of tones to raise up children unto Abraham.” In reality we ought not to think little, or meanly of this. And again,
(9.) We may further infer, that the life of Christians in this world cannot but be a conflicting life. The life of a christian as such must be influenced throughout by the love of God. He is to act according to the direction of St. Jude, “Keep yourselves in the love of God, looking for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ unto eternal life.” John iii. 21. Is this the business of a christian, and what must be his very life to live in the love of God all along? then he must indeed live a conflicting life all his days. That is, there must be a continual conflict kept up against imperious sense, and its dictates, which always is crying to the heart of man, “Love what is seen, what you perceive to be lovely:” there must, I say, be a continual striving in the heart of a christian against this; since he must keep up a continual love to him whom he cannot see, to him who is far above out of sight.
This sheweth, that they who know not what a continual striving against sense, its dictates, and inclinations means, are yet to learn what the business of the Christian life is. How can a man love God whom he seeth not? When there is a continual difficulty, there must be a continual striving and vigorous endeavours always used. Loving God is not swimming down with the stream of nature, it is quite another thing. And agreeable to this, what a strife is represented all along, through out the seventh chapter of the epistle to the Romans, between 39the “law of the flesh,” and the “law of the mind;” the inclinations of sensual nature, and the spiritual dictates and prescriptions which are by the apostle called “the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus;”3333 Rom. viii. 2. which doth as it were repeal, and abrogate the law of sin and death; and so far as it obtains, delivers a man from its impositions, and imperious commands, which lead to death.
It is highly needful for us to state our own case to ourselves, and to consider what we are like to meet with in our Christian course; and if we mean to persevere, we must resolve upon a striving conflicting life all our days, for thus it must be. How much then are they beside the Christian course, who know not what it is to strive against any inclination of their own, nor to oppose the earthly tendencies of their own spirits; who can never find occasion to contend with themselves; who espy no fault in the temper of their own spirits, but carry the matter to themselves as if all were well; who can pass a whole day with no rebukes nor checks, when their hearts have run after their eyes only! These persons perhaps have never minded, never loved any thing better than what came within the reach of their senses, or could be seen with the eye; and yet they are innocent creatures in their imagination, and think they have no cause to blame themselves. But let us not be deceived, who see that the life of a christian must be a continual running counter to a man’s own eyes, and the dictates of sense; since these prescribe to a man to love only what he sees, whereas certainly he is no christian who liveth not in the love of God whom he doth not see. In the
(10.) Place, we further infer, that the proneness of men to acquiesce in a civil deportment, and to rest in the mere formalities of religion, hath one fixed common cause, and that is, the want of the great principle of love. In this respect it is fit that we should consider what the case of man is. Men are very apt to satisfy themselves with a fair and unexceptionable carriage to others, or at most with a little formality in the duties of religion, and never look further; which certainly must proceed from one and the same cause, namely, the want of love to God. This, I say, in the
[1.] Place, is the reason why persons are so prone to acquiesce in a fair and civil deportment towards men. It is necessary for us to know this, that so the danger of it may be more care fully avoided and deeply dreaded. What is it that is really the principle of duty even towards men? Certainly it is love. This is easy, as the text supposes, towards men, in comparison of what it is towards God; men therefore are apt to take up with what they find most easy.40
The state of the case lieth thus. There are characters of the ancient law, which God at the creation impressed upon the spirit of man; Lex non scripta sed nata! the law not written, but born with us, as one heathen writer expresses it, or the νομος φυσικος, natural law, as another heathen writer calls it. There are, I say, still some broken parts, some scattered fragments, some dispersed characters of this law, which was by our Maker put into our very frame, which lie discomposed and dispersed here and there in men, whereof some refer to our duty towards God, and others to our duty towards men. Those relating to men are more legible, are oftener read, and come more frequently under view. For how much more prevalent is this sense in the minds of men, “My neighbour is not to be wronged or disobliged,” than this, “God is not to be forgotten, neglected, disobeyed?” Why, the matter being so, that the characters representing our duty to men are oftener in view, and so more frequently furbished as it were and brightened, than those which express our duty to God; being, I say, more frequently reflected upon, they are more put into practice. And therefore here men are apt to take up, saying, “I do that which is just, honest, and fair before men, and there are none that can charge me with the contrary.” And so they think their case is good.
Indeed there are several things concurring to make such principles, as point out to us the duties we owe to man, more influential upon practice. As for instance, men have sensible kindnesses from one another, which work upon ingenuity, and so influence to a suitable behaviour to them that shew such kindnesses. When they receive a kindness from the hand of a man, it is from a visible hand. They see who doth them good. Though there is a thousand times more good done them by the invisible God, but his invisible hand they take no notice of.
Again, they are sensible continually of their need of men. All persons sensibly find they need some other, for they cannot live alone. They are not only obliged to a mutual dependence upon one another, but they are very sensible of it; and therefore are very apt to carry it so much the more fairly to men, as those who stand in need of one another.
Besides, men find a sensible advantage from the reputation of a fair, just, and honest carriage to others. “If I have not the repute of being a person kind, goodnatured and well-humoured, I shall have no friend; no body will converse with me, but be shy of me. If I have not the reputation of being a just man, honest and square in all my dealings, I shall have no trade, 41no one will trust me, every one will be afraid to hare to do with me.” These considerations dispose us to good behaviour towards one another.
Finally, men are frequently sensible of hurt or some great inconveniencies accruing to them, if at any time they misbehave themselves to others. They that are morose and churlish do often fall upon tempers as cross-grained and perverse as their own, and so meet with such measure as they bring. If they be quarrelsome, it falls out sometimes that there are those who will quarrel with them, and will not take an affront at their hands. And though there are some that scorn the tutor age and instruction of fear, which should govern them in the conduct of their affairs; yet many others are more prudent, and are not apt to follow the hurry of their own pride and inclinations. They consider how much it concerns them, not to provoke those who will right themselves, nor to injure those who will be sure to meet with them one time or other. Yea, those who are more considerate will be very cautious how they make any man their enemy, even the meanest; for no man is so mean but it may be sometime or other in his power to do him a shrewd turn.
Such inducements there are, I say, as these unto a fair and unexceptionable deportment towards men, whom we see and converse with every day. And with this men are inclined to take up their rest; contenting and satisfying themselves with this, that they carry it to others, so as that none have any great reason to find fault with them, and thereupon think that God will find none neither.
[2.] There is also a proneness in mankind, as we observed, to take up with formality in the matters of religion. For what besides formality can there be in the religion of those who love not God? If I pretend to worship him and not love him, though I spend all my days upon my knees will it signify any thing as to real religion? But because this is more easy, that is, bodily exercise than that of love, or an inclination of mind and heart to God, it is natural to take up with it for that reason, and to rest there.
The pharisees among the Jews, one would think should not have been to seek where religion really lay; but, alas! where did they place their’s? In ceremonial sanctity, in washing their hands before they did eat bread, in cleansing their cups and platters, and in frequent purifications of themselves; all which they made to be as significant things, as the instituted rites of worship by God himself. Moreover they were very exact in tithing mint, rue, and all manner of herbs, while in the mean 42 time they “passed over judgment and the love or God.” Luke ii. 42. What a strange oversight was this! that the pharisees, those devout men, those zealous pretenders to the greatest strictness in the observance of the law of God, as well as to the profoundest knowledge of it, even beyond all other men, should be guilty of such an oversight as to pass over the sum and substance of it, to wit, the love of God! And yet our Saviour speaks of it as their common character. If then the pharisees, those knowing and strict men, as they would be thought to be, were in such an error as this so commonly, we may well conclude that the spirits of men are generally prone to acquiesce in the mere externals of religion, and to take up with the outside thereof without ever going any further. They think their case is well enough with God if now and then they bow the knee, compliment him in duty, and put on some face and shew of devotion; while in the mean time the love of God is an unthought-of thing. So that how many must say, if they would speak as their case truly is, “I never thought that the love of God must go into my worship.” Since then the proneness of mankind to acquiesce in a fair and civil deportment, and in the mere formalities of religion proceeds from one common, fixed cause, to wit, the want of this divine principle of love, it is necessary that we consider the matter, lest we ourselves be thus dreadfully imposed upon.
And now to conclude the First Part of our subject, it appears that temptations to atheism must needs find great advantages in the temper of men’s spirits, while they are so depressed and overborne by sense. For its essence, particularly of practical atheism, consists in the alienation of the heart from God. And how easy a step is it from hence to speculative atheism, when a man has lived so long “without God (αθεοι, the apostle’s phrase is.) in the world!” Eph. ii. 12. For if he do not love God whom he hath not seen, for the same reason he will not fear him; neither hope nor rejoice in him as his chief good. How obvious is it for such a man to entertain such a thought as this? “Is it not as good to say, there is no God, or I will own none; as to say there is no one that I will love or fear, nor any one with the thoughts of whom my heart is at any time affected?”
Let us therefore hence take occasion to admire the patience and much more the bounty of God towards his revolted creatures in this world. How wonderful is it that he spares and maintains them also! that he should make constant provision for such as put the highest affronts and indignities upon him, by loving and preferring his own dust, before him who formed 43it into what it is; by exalting the work of his hands above him; and finally, by profusely bestowing their affections on the creature, but none upon God the great Creator of all! Do not we think this is a thing not to be endured? and do not we wonder that it is actually endured and that men are permitted from age to age, to continue in this course, and are suffered by vengeance to live, when the whole business of their lives is to express how much more they value despicable nothings, creatures like themselves, than the great, the blessed, and glorious Lord of heaven and earth! Certainly it should be often our business to set ourselves to admire the sparing and sustaining mercy which God exerciseth towards this world while this is the state of things between him and apostate men.44
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