|« Prev||Sermon V. Preached September 29, 1676.||Next »|
WE have hitherto been shewing you from these words, That men are less apt to love God than one another, principally for this reason, because God is not the object of sight as men are. We are now to go on to the
SECOND thing observed from them, namely, That we are most indispensably obliged to the exercise of this duty though we see him not, and therefore notwithstanding this excuse, it is a most intolerable thing not to love God.
This hath its manifest ground in the text, and doth fundamentally belong to the apostle’s reasoning in this place. For the argument or medium which he reasons from is this, that if we do not love our brother whom we have seen, then we can not so much as love God whom we have not seen. By which he endeavours to represent how grievous a thing it would be, if Christians should continue in a mutual neglect of one another. Now all this would fall to the ground, and signify nothing, if they were disengaged from loving God upon the account of his invisibility. But the apostle takes it for granted, that all men must esteem it a most horrid thing to be convicted of not loving God; otherwise his argument would be altogether to no purpose. For it might have been replied to him, “Though we be convicted of this, that we do not love God, inasmuch 45as we do not love one another, yet what is the inconvenience of such a neglect? We grant the whole, but what are the ill consequences that follow upon it?” Now the apostle doubts not but they would see the consequences, and that every man must needs take it to be an intolerably hateful thing to pass for one that is no lover of God. This therefore is supposed by the apostle as a fundamental circumstance in his discourse—that not to love God, though we see him not, is a most horrid hateful thing, as well as absolutely inexcusable.
Now as this is plainly to be collected, so it is very necessary to be insisted upon. For as it is apparent, that as men commonly do not love God, or at least are less disposed to it, be cause they see him not; so they are very apt to excuse and exempt themselves from guilt upon this account. “Why should I look upon it, says one, as so abominable a thing not to live in the exercise of love to God? He is out of sight, sure he expects no such thing from us who cannot see him, and who live at so great a distance from him!”—What multitudes are there who can wear out the whole time of life, and never charge themselves with any fault all their days for not having lived in the love of God? As if the old heathenish maxim were their settled notion, Quae supra nos, nihil ad nos: we have nothing to do with what is so far above us.
And besides, this is not only the latent sense of most, or that which lies closely wrapt up even in the very inwards of their souls, to wit, that they have little to do with God, and need not concern themselves about him; but it is also what many have the confidence to speak out, and to declare in plain express words. It is very notorious that there are sundry persons in the world, not of one denomination or party only among the professors of the Christian name, who are not afraid to avow this very sense. Those who have made it their concern to look into the doctrines that have been handed about in the Christian world, do well know whose casuistical divinity this is, “That we are not obliged to love God, unless it be once or twice a year.” Or as some have presumed to say, “If it be only once in a man’s life-time it may serve the turn,” as a worthy person, now removed from us, hath largely shewn; as also what the morals and practical divinity of that sort of men are. And another3535 Hobbes. of quite a different strain, who hath disciples more than a good many in our time, in his discourse of the human nature, would slily insinuate, that we are not obliged at all to formal direct acts of love to God, from 46 this very passage of Scripture in the next chapter of this epistle, This is the love of God, that we keep his commandments.3636 1 John v. 3. As if because the apostle would there include all the external effects virtually in the principle, it was therefore fit to exclude the principle itself by the external effects. Nor indeed was there ever any time or age wherein the heart and life of practical religion and godliness were so openly struck at as in our days, by the perverse notions of some, and the scorn of others: as if it were thought a very feasible thing to jeer religion out of the world; and that men ought to be ashamed to profess love to God, because they can have the impudence and be so daring as to laugh at this and such like things.
We are therefore so much the more concerned to bestir ourselves, and to look more narrowly into the very grounds and bottom of our own practice in the ways of religion. We are to consider whether indeed we have a reason to oblige us to be godly, yea or no; and especially is it incumbent upon us to defend this great principle and summary of all godliness, The love of God. For certainly if we must yield to the extinction of this principle, if a love to God may be banished from among us, we turn all our religion into nothing else, but a mere piece of pageantry. How vain and foolish, how absurd and ridiculous things were the forms of religion, which we keep up from time to time, supposing this great radical principle was to have no place nor exercise among us! To come together, and make a shew of devotion to him whom we do not love, nor think ourselves obliged to love, is nothing but inconsistency and contradiction. And those who come on such terms, as oft as they undertake to worship God, must needs offer nothing but the sacrifices of fools. But it is our business to defend this principle; to vindicate it against every thing that can be alleged against it by those who would excuse themselves from the obligation to this duty, from their not seeing God. And that we may the more fitly prosecute the present design, we shall endeavour to do these two things.
I. To shew the vanity and impertinence of this excuse for not loving God, to wit, our not seeing him.
II. To demonstrate the intolerable heinousness of this sin notwithstanding, and to shew its horrid nature though God is not visible to us. Because persons are apt upon this ground or reason either totally to excuse themselves, as if there were no iniquity at all in it; as there are multitudes of people who can pass over their days one after another, without any emotion of 47heart to love towards God at all: or else because if they cannot obtain of themselves against the clearest light to believe it is no sin; yet they would fain have it to be only a peccadillo, or a very little one. “God, say they, cannot expect much love from those, who cannot see him! or that such beings to whom he is invisible should mind him much, or concern themselves with him from day to day!” Therefore, I say, we shall endeavour both to shew, how most impertinently this is alleged as an excuse for not loving God, or how unreasonable it is to infer from his invisibility, that we are under no such obligation, and after that, to represent to you the hateful nature of the sin; or to shew, that if we love not God, it is not only a sin notwithstanding this pretence, but a most prodigious and horrid one too.
I. That we may evince to you the vanity of this excuse, or the impertinency of alleging that we are not obliged to love God, because we see him not, there are these two things that we charge this excuse with, and shall labour to make out concerning it; to wit, that it is both invalid and absurd. It is in valid, because it hath nothing in it which a valid excuse ought to have. And it is monstrously absurd, and draws most in tolerable ill consequences after it, if such an excuse should be admitted in such a case.
1. I shall shew the insufficiency of this excuse, or that it is vain and hath nothing in it which a valid excuse should have. “We do not see God, therefore we are not concerned to love him.” This will easily be made out to you thus. Whenever any thing is charged upon us by a law, and the exception lies not against the authority of the lawgiver, but only the matter of the law as applied to us, no excuse can be valid in that case, but where the matter brought in excuse shall be able to prove one of these two things: either that what is enjoined, is in itself impossible to us, or at least that it is unfit and unreasonable to be expected from us. But our not seeing God can never infer either of these. It neither renders our loving him impossible; nor unfit and unreasonable, supposing it to be possible.
(1.) Our not seeing God doth not render our loving him impossible. This it is needful for us rightly to understand before we proceed any further. The thing that we intend to make out to you is, not that it is possible to us to love God by our own natural power. You have heard already enough to the contrary. He can never be truly loved by us, till the Spirit of love is given us; which is also at the same time a Spirit of power, and of a sound mind. Till then, I say, it is impossible 48that any should love God. But when he implants this principle in us, he doth not therefore render himself visible to our bodily eye, which is the seeing here meant, for we must understand the word in the same sense in both parts of the test. All that we have to evince then is, that our not seeing God as we do our brother, does not make it impossible for us to love him. So that our present inquiry is not concerning the power, that gives the principle of love; but only concerning the means that should be made use of, in order to the begetting or planting that principle. Which being understood, the several considerations following will plainly evince to us, that our not seeing God doth not render it impossible for us to love him,
[1.] Consider that the sight of our eye is not the immediate cause, or inducement of love to any thing, but only a means to beget an apprehension in our minds of the loveliness of the object. And then it is, that is, upon the perception of this loveliness, that we are brought to love the object itself. For after the sight of the eye there must pass in the mind an act of the judgment upon the object, before we can be brought to love it; otherwise we should love or hate every thing that we see promiscuously, and not distinguish objects of love, from objects of hatred. It is only the apprehension of the mind, even in reference to objects of sight, that brings us to love them. If there be any other means of begetting an apprehension in our mind concerning such and such objects, that they are lovely and fit to be loved, it is not necessary that we should see them with our eyes. To this we add,
[2.] There are other sufficient means to possess our minds with an apprehension of the loveliness of an object, and more especially those objects that are never liable to the sight of our eye. We do not need to insist much on so plain a case. It is plain that there are sundry ways, by which the apprehension of the loveliness even of an invisible object, may come to have place in us; invisible at least so far as to be out of the reach of our eye. To be a little particular here:
There is, for instance, with respect to the unseen God naturally a divine impression upon the minds of men, by which, when they are put upon reflection, they must needs own that he is not only a lovely, but the most lovely and amiable Object, and has the best right to claim their love. Whosoever they are that do acknowledge a God,3737 As Epicurus himself confesseth this to be a proleptic notion, that prevents every man’s reason, so as that he needs not argue the matter with himself, but if he will but read what is written in his own soul, must read that there is a God. See mere of this in the Author’s Living Temple, Part 1. Chap. 2. must also read such attributes and 49properties of the being of God engraven there, importing that he is the first and supreme Object of our love. No one that acknowledgeth a God but presently acknowledgeth too, that he is good; that he is true; that he is holy; that he is wise; and the like. And then his own heart must tell him, whether he will or no, that he ought to be loved above all.
Again, our own-reasonings from the manifest visible effects and characters of divine wisdom, and power, and goodness, that are to be seen every where, may also beget an apprehension or judgment in us that he should and ought to be loved. Do we live in a world full of the divine glory, that arrayeth and clotheth every thing we can cast our eyes upon; and do we want ground to perceive, that this is the lovely Object that ought to captivate all hearts, and draw into a closure with itself the will of every intelligent creature? Moreover,
The express testimony of the gospel is another means more apt still to beget this apprehension within us, that God is one we should love, and whose excellencies do every way entitle him, with a most indisputable right, to the highest degree and supremacy of our love. “No man hath seen God at any time.” What then? Is it therefore impossible that he should be loved? Hath not “his only begotten Son, who was in the bosom of the Father, declared or revealed him?” John i. 18. Surely he hath made such a declaration of him, given such a prospect and view of him to the world, as that every one who will believe a God, and receive his report, must confess him to be the most amiable and excellent Being. Here all hearts ought to meet and unite; and this ought to be the universal centre of love. “He is in Christ reconciling the world to himself;” (2 Cor. v. 19.) giving mankind a lovely prospect of himself. And in him, who is the Emmanuel, God with us, he is ready to communicate himself, and to draw souls into union with him, and to a participation of his own likeness and felicity. Who then is there but must acknowledge, that upon this representation he lays a just claim to our highest love? Finally,
There is also the inward revelation of the Holy Ghost, by which the want of seeing God is abundantly supplied. It is true, this Spirit of wisdom and revelation, by which we come to the practical knowledge of God so as to love him, is but the portion of a few. But it is in the mean time the great fault and wickedness of every one who seeks it not, values it not, and makes it not his business, with an earnest and restless importunity to sue for it till it is obtained. God hath given no man any cause to despair; but if he seek that Spirit, by which he 50 may be so known as to be certainly loved, he hath given him ground to hope that he shall have that knowledge of him, which shall be efficacious of that love. God has given no ground to any to despair, or fear that they shall seek in vain; but as our Saviour says in this very case, If they seek, they shall find, for he is more ready to give the Holy Spirit, than parents are to give bread rather than a stone to their children, Matt. vii. 7-11. And now that there are so many ways for conveying the apprehension into the mind, which is to be the immediate parent of love, to wit, that this Object is most amiable; it is most evident, that the not seeing God, doth not render it impossible for him to be loved. And we may further consider to this purpose,
[3.] That in sundry cases besides, other means than sight, do suffice to convey such apprehensions into the mind, as to excite and raise proportionable affections in the soul. Then why should it not be so in this case? For what can any man say why he ought not to be moved by such apprehensions concerning God, as are by other means brought into his mind than by sight? What! do you love nothing? do you never find your hearts taken with any thing but that which your eyes have seen? Is it an impossible thing, or what your ears never heard of, for a person to love only upon report, as being informed of such, and such excellencies and perfections in the object? Have not many been taken with the description of a country they have not seen? Or do we think it impossible for a blind man t love his children, his wife, his friend? Do we imagine that such persons, because they can see nothing, can therefore love nothing? Do you not love your life? You cannot see that, but only in the effects; and in the effects also you may see the blessed God himself, who is the life of your life. And who can deny, that they have notions in their own minds of things that are altogether unliable to sight: which, if they will but ask themselves the question, they must acknowledge to be lovely, and which many are actually brought to love. For instance: the notions of truth; the abstract ideas of this, and that, and the other virtue; things that are never discoverable by the eye; who that considers, but must acknowledge a loveliness in them? And how many in fact are brought into a real and hearty love with such fair and orderly contextures of truth, when they see things do well cohere and hang together? The ideas of justice, fortitude, humility, patience, temperance; how many are there that do really love and admire these virtues though they only perceive the beauty and usefulness of them by the mind, and in their effects?51
So then it is no impossible thing that there may be that apprehension in the mind concerning God, upon which he shall be confessed to be lovely, and that be ought to be loved though he is never to be seen. The case is the same as to other affections, and there is a parity of reason between them. If it were impossible to love any thing but what one sees, we are proportionably incapable of fearing, hating, or admiring any thing but what we see. But let any one ask himself the question, whether he is not many times offended at the mention of things lie doth not see: and whether his heart is not really afraid of things as yet invisible; or whether he hath not been many times raised into an admiration of sundry things, of which he has only heard the report. And again, I add in the next place,
[4.] That many persons have lived in this world in bodies of flesh as we do, exercising a holy love to God, notwithstanding they never saw him. Therefore it is no impossible thing; for Quod fieri potuit, potest, what has been, maybe: according to the old maxim. Do we think that there have been no lovers of God in the world, who have lived in bodies and depended on sense as we do? God knows there have been but few, in any time or age of the world; yet have there not been some who have loved him, and have not loved their lives unto the death for his sake? What professions of love, what raptures of phrase and expression do we find many times in Scripture from those whose hearts were full of, and overflowed with love? When the fire burned within, it could not be withheld from flaming out. “I will love thee, O Lord my strength,” says David; and again, “I love the Lord,” that is from my very bowels, “because he hath heard my voice and my supplications.”3838 Psalm xviii. 1. cxvi. 1. How full are the psalms of these expressions! and we must suppose the Psalmist to be full of an answerable sense. “As the hart panteth for the water brooks, so panteth my soul after thee, O God! My soul fainteth for God, for the living God; when shall I come and appear before God?3939 xlii. 1, 2. How amiable are thy tabernacles, O Lord of Hosts?4040 lxxxiv. 1. One thing have I desired of the Lord, that will I seek after; that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to be hold the beauty of the Lord, and to enquire in his temple.4141 xxvii. 4. For whom have I in heaven but thee? and there is none upon earth that I desire beside thee.”4242 lxxiii. 25.
Such expressions as these verbal ones, and some significantly real actions and sufferings on the account of love to God, will not 52 suffer us to doubt but that there have been true lovers of God, whatever there are in our days. And it is to be hoped, that there is some even now. However it is to be feared, that there are persons in the world who are heartily grieved, and vexed at the very heart, that there should be such expressions as these now mentioned, in those writings which they think it convenient to acknowledge as divine. For if they did not think thus, how loudly and clamourously would David and those who speak such words, have been cried out upon; and perhaps be charged with being fanatics and enthusiasts, as much as any in our days!
And that an unseen God should be loved, and an unseen Christ, who is also out of sight, is spoken of in Scripture not only as the true character, but the high glory of Christian believers. “Whom having not seen,” says St. Peter, “ye love; in whom though now ye see him not, yet believing, ye rejoice with joy unspeakable and full of glory.”4343 1 Pet. i. 8. This is not barely affirmed, concerning these primitive Christians, but spoken of them as their high praise and encomium; as being a discovery of the refinedness, excellency, and greatness of their spirits, who could so far lift up themselves above sense and sensible things, as to place their highest and most vigorous love upon an unseen Object. That was glorious joy, and glorious love, placed upon what was not seen; a deserving Object, at least believed to be such, though not seen.
And so it is we know that the blessed God becomes visible. “By faith Moses endured, as seeing him who is invisible.”4444 Heb. xi. 27. The word of God is a representation of himself, and makes report of all the glorious excellencies belonging to him. Among the rest this is his peculiar and distinguishing attribute, “that he cannot lie.”4545 Heb. vi. 18. His truth is one of those excellencies; therefore it is impossible that he should misrepresent himself, or say that he is other than he is. “For,” as the apostle says, “what man knoweth the things of a man, save the spirit of man which is in him? even so the things of God knoweth no man, but the Spirit of God.”4646 1 Cor. ii. 11. He sure can best tell what an excellent and glorious Being he is, and as he has told us he is such a one (which it was impossible he should do if he were not really possessed of those excellencies) then there is all the reason in the world to acknowledge, that he ought to be loved infinitely above all. And this hath been the sense of many, whose practice also hath been answerable to it; who have been in this world, living in tabernacles of clay and 53earth as we do. Therefore it follows, that it is no impossible thing that God should be loved, though he be not seen. And supposing it not impossible, then
In the next place it is easy to be proved also, that it is not unfit to love God, for that reason. Sundry suggestions might be used to enforce this, and afterwards the absurdities of this excuse might also be brought in view. Indeed I have had it most in my eye, to expose this absurd principle, that men have no need to concern themselves with things unseen; I would fain, I say, drive it out of the world. And if men would but examine it thoroughly, it would appear to them monstrously absurd. To do this therefore, and set it before their eyes, would be worth our time, and shall accordingly be done hereafter.54
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