|« Prev||Sermon XIII. Preached November 15, 1676.||Next »|
WE have largely insisted upon a twofold truth from these words, and told you,
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 not the object of sight as man is. And
SECONDLY, That our obligation to the love of God is most indispensable, notwithstanding that we see him not; or, that the impossibility of seeing God, is no excuse for our not loving him. There is yet another point which remains to be considered, and which was at first proposed with the former; and that is
THIRDLY, That they do most falsely, and absurdly pretend to the love of an unseen God, who love not their brother whom they do see. This point is full and direct in the eye of the text.
It is manifest the apostle speaks here upon the notice he had taken, that there were some persons of very high pretensions to religion, and the love of God, who were yet manifestly and notoriously defective in the exercise and expression of love towards men, and even towards their fellow-christians. And 126he counts it therefore necessary to cast a slur upon that empty kind of profession, and to give a dash unto that spacious fancy and gilded nothing of a pretence to the love of God, disjoined or severed from that other branch of love, namely, that towards men. In speaking to this it will be requisite to do these three things, in order to the rendering this truth more capable of belief.
I. To shew in what extent, or with what limitations, we are to understand this form of speech here in the text, the loving our brother.
II. To shew whence it comes to pass, that any should take upon them to pretend love to God, who yet have no love to their brother. And
III. To shew the absurdity and falsehood of that pretence. Upon which the use will ensue.
I. It will be needful to consider a little in what extent, or with what limitation this form of speech is to be understood, namely the love of our brother: that is, how we are to under stand the expression, our brother; and what is meant by love, as it refers to him in this and other such like passages. 4
I conceive we may very warrantably extend the meaning of this expression, as was formerly hinted to you in the first opening of the words, to such a latitude as to understand by it the duties of the second table; as love to God includes all the duties of the first. So our Saviour hath taught us to understand both these, in the answer which he gave to that querist, who asked him which was the great commandment of the law. The answer was this; “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.” Matt. xxii. 37. And the apostle you know also tells us, that “Love is the fulfilling of the law.” Rom. xiii. 10. All is summoned up in this one word Love.
And the same apostle in the very epistle from whence my text is taken, in insisting so much upon love to our brethren, as he doth throughout this epistle, guides us to his own drift and scope; and particularly when he tells us, that, “This is the love of God that we keep his commandments.” 1 John v. 3. It is manifest, that sometimes in this epistle he intends by this expression, the love of God, not merely that love which terminates upon him as the Object of it, but that love which is from God, as the Author of it, divine love. And he speaks of this divine love indefinitely, and says it is the keeping of 127God’s commandments; and of these commandments too we are to understand him speaking universally, and intimating that to love God is to keep all his commandments. It is love which runs forth in obedience to all his laws, which you know are divided into these two tables: the one is a comprehension of the precepts touching such things as relate to himself; the other of those which concern man. Therefore I doubt not but the word, brother, here in the text, may be taken in the same latitude, that neighbour is taken in, when it expresseth and signifieth to us the duties of a christian to his neighbour, as in that place before mentioned, “Thou shall love thy neighbour as thyself,” that is, any man. So that the duties that we owe to men, as men, are all to be collected and gathered up in this, as that great summary, namely, love, to our brother.
It is very true indeed, brother is a title that many times in Scripture doth distinctly, and with some limitation hold forth to us a community and fraternity in religion; a brotherhood, who are in a state of subjection and devotedness to God, and are really his servants and children, as we shall have occasion further to speak by and by. But it is plain also, that it is some times used in Scripture in a far more extensive sense; as Adam in a, more extensive sense is said to be the son of God. You find it was part of the accusation against Job, (injurious enough no doubt, but that is nothing to our purpose) that he did take away the pledge from his brother, and made the poor naked, and sent them away unclothed. Job xxii. 6. And so you know Paul bespeaks all that great assembly before whom he was convened, and with whom he was disputing, after this manner, t( men and brethren;” though they were far from being all Christians as he was. Acts xxiii. 1.
And I wish that there were not too much need to insist upon this business of love to our brother according to this latitude: that those were not many in our days, who make a very great shew of piety towards God, and hold forth an appearance of religion even in a more eminent degree; and yet indulge in themselves a very great liberty (most injuriously assumed God knows) as to their dispositions and deportment towards men as men, with whom they are cast into human society. Yea, and there hath been a way found out to make little of all matters of this nature: a way to depreciate and speak diminishingly of whatever is of that import, by affixing characters upon persons which it is intended should lessen them; as such a one is a good moral man, and the like. Truly, if it were only to assign to each man his proper place, or to determine that to be of less value and account which really is so, this were tolerable and very fit; but it is too manifest that very often religion is professedly 128 magnified, not to the lessening only, but even the nullifying and exclusion of what is called morality. As if the tables were again to be broken, by being dashed one against another: or as if there were such incompatible things in the laws of God, that it is altogether impossible that a man should carry it as does become him towards men with whom he has to do, but he must intrench upon, and offer violence to the duty he owes to God; or, as if on the other hand, the duty which immediately terminates upon God, must quite shut out the world, and whatsoever relates to men as men.
Though yet by the way too, it is to be noted, there is all the while a very great mistake and misapplication in the use of the term morality. And I wonder whence we or any of us have learned to appropriate moral to the duties of the second table; as if the duties of the first table were not as much moral, as those of the second, and in a higher and more eminent sense so. Certainly he is but a person of bad morality that does not love God, and whose heart is not set upon him as the best, the supreme Good. It is a great injury to take the term moral, and affix it only or chiefly to the duties of the second table. I hope there is such a thing, which ought to obtain in our notion and practice, as being well-mannered unto God, or behaving ourselves well and fitly towards him. And that is the meaning of morality, when a man is in general well-mannered. Therefore he that behaves himself ill to God, doth very ill deserve the character of a moral man.
But the thing is, men intend civil by the term moral, and so mistake morality for civility. Civility indeed is only between men and men, as they are cast into societies one with another; but morality must needs run through the whole law of God. Every commandment of his law, which he hath distinguished from all other laws by vouchsafing himself to speak it by an audible voice, in ten words, to a vast assembly of men, we ought surely to account moral; and not elevate the authority or obligation of one part, by using terms with an intention to lessen or diminish another part of the same law.
But as to the thing itself, waving the name, (as it is pity there should be so much logomachy, or contention about the use or misapplication of bare words) it is I say the thing itself, wherein the religion of Christians hath been so very deficient, and by which it hath been so much slured, that a great many have learned in their practice, not to care what their deportments are to men, so they can but keep up a continual profession of, and course of pretence to, sanctity, piety, and devotion towards God. And therefore the exigence of the 129case so much requiring it, and the text so plainly inviting to it also, it will be very fit to say somewhat of the duty of loving our brother in this latitude, as comprehensive of all the duty we owe to men as men. Though what I shall say at present will be in general. What is particular I shall refer to lie enlarged upon in the use or application. And here I must hint to you that a twofold extreme is carefully to be avoided, that when we speak in this latitude of loving our brother we do not,
1. By that love to our brother so intend the inward principle of that love, as to cut off the external acts of it: Nor
2. So confine the notion of this love to the external duties of the second table, as to exclude or shut out the internal principle. These are two extremes which men are very propense to run into, either into the one or the. other of them. On the one hand,
1 Some are very apt to satisfy themselves that they are blameless, and not liable to exception, if their external deportment be fair and candid, just and equal, and also charitable now and then as occasion offers; though, in the mean time there be no such thing as the inward root and principle of this love in their hearts. It would be as great an absurdity for any one to say, that this love doth virtually include and comprehend in it all the external duties that flow from such a principle, as it would be to state those duties so abstractly, as to exclude the principle itself whence they are to proceed. They no way answer the intention and design of the Holy Ghost in this matter who only comply with the external part and letter of these laws, when, in the mean time, the spring and fountain of all these duties hath no place in the soul, namely love itself. For the external acts may proceed from another principle. A man may carry himself justly to others, for the sake of his reputation; and from the same motive may do many acts that carry in them mercy, pity and compassion to those that are in distress: but the principle from whence all this proceeds is self-love, and not love to his brother. Thus a man may do such and such an act of justice, such and such charitable actions, as the occasions of them are administered, merely because he would gain the reputation of being a most unexceptionable just man, a good-natured man, a charitable man. And many apprehend that they are greatly concerned to do so upon the account of prudence, out of a prudential respect, I say, to their own interest and advantage; such especially whose way of living in the world depends upon trade and commerce with men. They know, if they do not obtain and preserve the reputation of justice, none will have to do with them; every one will shun them; they will be 130 thought unfit for any kind of commerce whatsoever. This is one extreme therefore that is carefully to be avoided in this matter. When we say that love to our brother includes all the duties of the second table, yet we must not say it excludes the inward principle whence those external duties flow; that is, such a love to our neighbour, as that which we bear, and owe unto ourselves, as we know our Lord resolves it, in the forementioned scripture. The other extreme is,
2. That we lay not the whole stress of the business upon the internal principle, without the external acts and expressions: that is, that none should content themselves with the imagination and conceit, that they have in their own hearts and bosoms the principle of love to their brother; but in the mean while never express it nor let it be seen. No, that must be a great secret to themselves, and kept close in their own consciences; they have love in their breasts, but they can find no time or occasion to let it be seen: that is, they can, it may be, give him a good word, or as the apostle James expresses it, say to one in distress that wants food, or raiment, “Depart in peace, be you warmed and filled,” but give them nothing for the body. They say that they pity such and such persons; and perhaps there may be some low degree of pity, but not such as exerts itself and commands the consonant act which is agreeable to compassion, and should be consequent or ought to follow there upon.
But we must understand this duty of loving our brother so as to comprehend the internal principle, and external expressions of it together. It is necessary that there be a sincere love in the heart, and that it demonstrate its own sincerity by such expressions and discoveries, from time to time, as the providence of God gives us opportunity. As occasions offer we should, as the apostle exhorts, do good to all men, but especially to them who are of the household of faith. Gal. vi. 10.
And if love to man is to be taken in such a latitude as hath been said, if it gather within the compass of it both the principle and all the actions that properly belong to it, we are not then to think we have a mean, low, ignoble object for our love. There is an image of God that man as man doth bear upon him. It is true, there is an image that hath been lost, but there is one still that is not capable of being so. The spiritual supernatural image wherein man did resemble God in holiness was banished from the nature of man universally, till he was pleased to renew it, and make us his own workmanship created in Christ Jesus unto good works. But there is besides that a natural 131image of God, which man still bears, inasmuch as he partakes of a spiritual, intellectual nature, resembling that of God. So that it is a noble object of love we have. We are to love men, even as God’s own offspring, his sons, as he is the Father of spirits. There is in every man a spiritual nature, of which God owns himself to be the great Parent and common Father. Therefore to have a heart universally inspired with love to men as men, which flows even as far as the nature of man reaches and extends itself, even to all mankind, this, I say, we must understand to be the sum of the duty given us in charge under the expression of love to our brother.
We are to be lovers of mankind under one common notion; that is, to love upon a universal reason, which reaches to man as man, and so consequently to every man. “This is one of my own species whom I am required to love; of that rank and order in which God hath set me in the creation, and who all of us bear the image of the common Lord upon us.” And you know it is the thing we find superadded, as the enforcement of one of the great precepts of the second table, namely “Thou shalt not kill;” and a reason why the breach and violation of it should be punished, that “in the image of God created he man.” Gen. ix. 6. Certainly the reason is the same as to all the other laws of that table. And besides what is appropriated to the conditions of some men by the very terms of this law itself, yet men as men, under that common notion, and for that very reason, are the objects of that required duty. As when we are forbidden to kill, is not every man whatever the object of that prohibition? When we are commanded not to steal, or bear false witness, are we not equally barred up from doing that injury to all mankind? When we are inhibited the coveting another man’s property, is it not every man’s property which we are thereby forbidden to covet? But then
It must also be understood that there is a stricter notion of loving our brother, to which we are to have a more particular reference, without excluding that more common extensive notion (as there is no quarrel at all between things that are in subordination to one another) that is, we ought upon the Christian account, in a special distinguishing manner, to love those who under that notion are to be esteemed or reputed brethren: I mean Christians, in the truest and strictest sense, as far as they appear so to us; that is, those who are the regenerate sons of God, who are the children of one and the same Father, and therefore are brethren to one another, on that account.
And you find that the apostle hath his eye to these brethren132here, as It is manifest by many passages in this and the next epistles. If you consult the beginning of the next chapter, you will see who are to esteem one another as brethren in the most special sense. Whosoever believeth that Jesus is the Christ, is horn of God; and every one that loveth him that begat, loveth him also that is begotten. 1 John v. 1. You see those are to be principally esteemed as brethren, who can look upon themselves and one another as related, upon the account of regeneration, unto the holy, blessed God as their common Father. So the notion of sons is manifestly taken in the third chapter of this epistle at the beginning; Behold what manner of love the Father hath bestowed upon us, that we should be called the sons of God! 1 John iii. 1 Those, who are God’s own sons by gratuitous adoption, are to be accounted by us as brethren, if we have any reason to look upon ourselves as of that character. Those who are sons by adoption, and there upon are entitled to the inheritance of sons, and are designed to that blessed state of the vision of God, and participation of his likeness, are characterized more eminently as his sons; which plainly tells us who are brethren to one another, and should, I say, be eyed and respected under that notion.
But here we must take heed of narrowing and limiting the object any further. This is limiting and restraining it enough, we need not do it any more. Many will allow this measure, that we ought to love a godly man, or one that bears God’s image as such; but they will after this be the measurers of their own measure, or they will cut God’s measure according to the square of their own fancies. And when they have said they ought to love a godly man as such, that is every good man, they will have him to be of their own opinion in the smallest matters, one of their own persuasion and party, one of their own temper and humour. So that in short, upon the whole matter, that same Christian love, that ought to flow to all good men, to all Christians as such, is confounded with that which ought to be called the love of friendship.
There is a vast difference between the love, which does, and ought to lie in common, between christians and christians, and that which should be particular, as between friends and friends. It is indeed true, if I were to design and choose out myself a friend, au intimate, one whom I would trust, and with him deposit my secrets and the like, I might warrantably enough make choice of one with those qualifications before-mentioned; that is, as near my own temper as possible, or of such a lovely, amiable temper as would render his friendship acceptable to me. I might choose one of as much prudence as I could, of 133my own rank and condition, whose ends, interests, and designs Jay very much the same way with my own. But it were a most unjust thing to think, that Christian love ought to be so confined. That must run to all christians as such, and under that very notion. So that it is not merely one of such a rank in the world, of such a temper and humour, of such or such a party, holding certain opinions in smaller and more disputable matters, that is the character of one who is to be loved as a christian.
Though indeed that has all along been in all times, and among all sorts of persons pretending to religion, a very usual practice, to fix the church, and set the boundaries of God’s house, just according to the measure of their own fancy, and of their own persuasion. So the romanists will pretend to have the church only among those of their communion. And so we know there are others also, who would so confine the pale of the church. Besides, of others among ourselves there are not a few, who will allow none to be of the church but who will bear such external badges. One may as truly judge of a man by his clothes and garb of what profession or calling he is, and we may as well confine all human love and commerce to persons of such and such a complexion, as Christian love and converse to men distinguished only by certain external adjuncts. But I shall not here insist further on the extent and limitation of this form of speech, loving our brother. When we come to the use there will be occasion to say more on this head.
II. We are next to inquire, whence it is that any should pretend love to God, and yet be destitute of Christian, or even human love to their brethren. We have formerly shewed you, that the exercise of love to God is a thing of far higher difficulty than that which terminates on men. Love to an unseen God is unspeakably more difficult in the exercise of it than towards men that we see, and have occasion to converse with daily. Now though this be most true and apparent, yet the pretence of love to God is much more easy than the real exercise of love to our, brother. It is a far more difficult thing to love God, than our brother; but withal it is a far more easy thing to pretend love to God, than really to exert it to our brother. We have in, the one the real exercise of love, and in the other case only the pretence to it. And there are two things particularly that do much more facilitate this business of men’s making a shew, and putting on the pretence of love to God, rather than really exercising it to men.
1 That it is more cheap, and less expensive. And134
2. It is more glorious, and makes a more glittering shew than the other does; therefore men are a great deal more apt, and more easily induced to it.
1. It is more cheap to pretend love to God, than really to exercise love to our brother. It will cost them less. The things by which men acquire to themselves a reputation of love to God, may stand them in little; only to be at some small pains to get notions into their minds, by which they may be furnished with talk upon such and such subjects. They are not one straw the poorer for this, it costs them nothing. Their keeping up the external duties of religion, going from time to time to Christian assemblies, waiting as much as they can upon the ordinances of God; all this may be done, and they be at no expence. There may be little or no cost in all this. But really to exercise love to our brother, will many times prove a costly thing, A man must deny himself, his own interest, gain, and advantage very often, that so he may be just or merciful as the circumstances of the case may be.
And it is plain, the great temptations that men have to encroach upon the rights of other men, and intrench upon the businesses that come within this summary of love to our neighbour, are principally from self-love, and self-interest. Men would be just if they did not find or imagine, that they should gain by this or that trick, by putting this and that cheat and fraud upon their neighbours with whom they have to do. They would be charitable if it did not cost them much, if they were to expend nothing. And thus to pretend love to God is a cheap thing: but to exercise real love to our neighbour according as various occasions may be, to draw forth the principle into act and exercise, may frequently prove very costly and expensive.
2. There is also more of glory in the shew, and glittering in the appearance of religion (in sometimes more than others, and it may be in our times as much as any) than there is in the discharge of the duties of justice and charity to men. He that acquires to himself the reputation of a godly man, by an ability to discourse of godly matters, having gotten a great stock of notional knowledge, gains thereby also the reputation of a man of a very refined mind. As the gnosticks in their age, an age of errors, were men of much pretence; had very high and sublime notions; but as to their morals they were as bad men as ever the world knew, if you will take the testimony concerning them, not from their professed enemies the Christians, who opposed themselves to them, but even from a heathen who characterized! them at large. (Plotinus) There were not a 135viler sort of men, as to matters concerning the duties of the second table, and what lay between man and man. But they were men of high speculative knowledge, had very airy, and sublime notions, wherewith they did seduce and captivate not a few A great reputation was acquired by them of that kind, when they could recommend themselves as persons, who had made it their business to separate from the rest of the world, to give themselves up to the study of all wisdom as the wise man’s expression is. Eccles. vii. 25.
And as those men looked big and talked high in those former ages upon this account, I mean the reputation they had acquired for their knowledge and wisdom, which they boasted of; so many do now, and think to make a glitter in the places where they live, as men of high, notional knowledge in matters of religion: but in comparison of this they think that to do good in a place where a man lives, to be a useful member of a civil, or a christian society, to observe the strict rules of justice, charity, and compassion, are mean things and very low matters, compared with that glorious shew and glitter, which the appearance of a great measure of notional, speculative knowledge casts upon men in their own eyes, and the eyes of them that are about them. Thus knowledge puffeth up, while true love would edify. But in the mean time that which so puffeth up makes a better shew, than that which does substantially, and solidly edify the soul.
It is too apparent a truth, which hath been hinted to you thus far, that there are persons, who upon such accounts as these, are easily induced to pretend to religion, and to make a shew of love, and devotedness to God, who are strangers to the effects of love to their brother. But from this so very apparent truth men are apt to induce as manifest and gross a falsehood; that is, because there are those who pretend love to God, that are found manifestly peccant as to the exercise of that duty which love to man would command, and ought to be the spring and principle of, that therefore all pretences to stricter religion than ordinary are hypocritical. No man who makes a more strict profession than his neighbours, and is more frequently conversant in the exercises of religion than they are, but he must needs be a pharisee and a mere pretender, only be cause some such persons are manifestly capable of being convinced as such. But this is no more reasonable, than because there is some counterfeit coin in the world, that therefore all is to be rejected as false, and not current; or because spectres and ghosts have been seen to walk in human shape, therefore there axe no true men; or as if, because some do hypocritically 136 pretend loyalty and devotedness to the government, while they carry on conspiracies against their rulers, that therefore there is no way for others to approve themselves blameless, but presently to turn open and contemptuous rebels. This is strange kind of logic!
And in truth, none are honest men in their account, but such as will swear, and drink, and run into all wickedness and excess of riot with them. Of such a one they will be ready to say, “A very honest gentleman!” and then all the talk flies against such and such persons that addict themselves to a course of religion. And if some who are the notorious scandals of it have shewn themselves to be what they are, then those who make it their business to keep up a course of strictness in piety and religion, have the common infamous brand of hypocrites put upon them.
Now at this rate we must certainly quite turn the tables. Virtue must be called vice, and vice be called virtue, and the names of things be utterly altered. And we must account, that God’s children and the devil’s are to change families, fathers, and states one with another. For we shall have none left to be called honest men, or the children of God, but such as are no better than good -fellows: and all serious fearers and sincere lovers of God must be abandoned for none of his, only because some false brethren creep in among them.
And yet it very greatly concerneth those, who are actually and truly of the family and household, or the church of God by faith in Jesus Christ, though men do never so causelessly and injuriously scandalize the whole fraternity, upon the delinquencies of some false pretenders, to learn instruction by it, and to be abundantly more wary in all manner of conversation, upon the account of their calling him Father. All therefore that I shall by way of use leave with you at this time is the ad monition of the apostle, If ye call upon the Father, who without respect of persons judgeth according to every man’s work, pass the time of your sojourning in fear. 1 Pet. i.17.137
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