|« Prev||Sermon XV. Preached November 29, 1676.||Next »|
THE truth which we have in hand from these words, I mean the last of those which have been proposed from them, is to this purpose; That their pretence to the love of God is both false and absurd, who join not therewith love to their brother. And here
I. We have already shewn, in speaking to this proposition, how we are to understand love to our brother; with what latitude, and with what limitations.
II. We have shewn you whence it is that some may pretend to love God, who do not love their brother. And
III. We have shewn both the falsehood and absurdity of such a pretence: the former from plain words of Scripture; and the latter from such considerations, as do plainly demonstrate it to be a most unreasonable pretence, and therefore such as carries the most manifest absurdity with it.
The Use doth yet remain. And that which I more principally intend is to put you upon reflection: to engage you to reflect upon yourselves, and the common practice, but more especially upon your own; to consider how disagreeable it is to that love, which we owe to our brother; that so we may lament 149the great miscarriage that is to be seen in the common practice of the world, and reform it in ourselves.
And consider as to both, since we all of us profess love to God (as all implicitly do who profess any thing of religion, of which love to God is the very life and soul) whether want of love to our brother doth not too generally carry with it a plain confutation of that profession. And that I may the more distinctly pursue this use, and more comprehensively, as to the cases and persons concerned, I shall, according to the double notion of the duty in the text, take notice how little love there is to be seen towards men as men, or towards christians as christians.
First, Towards men as men: whom we may consider either universally, that is all men in general; or indefinitely, that is any man in particular with whom we have to do, or have occasion to converse withal.
I. How little love is there to be seen towards men universally considered! To love men as men, is to love them upon a universal reason, that extendeth or should make our love extend unto all men. As you know all the commandments of the second table are all founded in love, resolved into that duty, and gathered up into that one sum. And we find that this or that particular command being reduced thither doth oblige us to duty even to men as men, and that upon a universal reason common to all men. As we instanced before in that one negative precept, “Thou shall not kill,” enforced by that universal reason, “For in the image of God made he man.” The obligation of this in reference to the object, extends as far even as that natural image of God does; which as an ancient speaks, “every man bears whether he will or no, and can no more part with it than with himself.” It is indeed his very nature. But how little of such love is there to be found among us! How few true lovers are there even of their own species, who have a real and fervent affection (such as the object claims and challenges) for such as partake of the human nature with themselves! For I pray consider
1. How little is our resentment of the common calamities of the world, whether in reference to their eternal, or temporal concernments! How few regret it, or take it deeply to heart, that men are so generally without God in the world, and without Christ! That the knowledge is so imperfect among men of their own original, and of the end of their being; of him who made them, and what they were made for! That the knowledge of a Redeemer (the sweet savour of which the apostle tells as it was so much his ambition to have manifested in every place, 150 2 Cor. ii. 14.) is yet so little among men! Who regrets or lays it to heart, that the world is so filled with violence, barbarism and blood? that a deluge and inundation of misery is with sin spread over the world, and transmitted and propagated from age to age, and from generation to generation? When we hear of wars and devastations, and garments rolled in blood here and there, how few are there who concern themselves for it, as long as they are quiet and at peace in their own habitations! And again,
2. How cold and faint arc our supplications on the behalf of men so generally considered! though we are expressly directed by the exhortation of the apostle to make prayer and supplication for all men. 1 Tim. ii. 1. How little comprehensive are our spirits to take in the common concerns of the world with seriousness as the case requires! How little do we imitate the blessed God in this! for a general philanthropy, or kindness to men is even a most godlike quality, and that wherein he hath represented himself as a pattern to us. And
II. We may consider men indefinitely, that is, any whom we have to do or converse with. And though there may be, as there ought to be the inward workings of love towards men considered under that formal and extensive notion, yet there may not be so much as the external expressions and exercises of love to men considered this latter way. This external exercise of love requires a present object, determined by such circumstances, and such particular occurrences and occasions as render it liable to the exercise of our love. So the apostle limits particularly our benefaction; “As we have opportunity let us do good unto all men, but especially to those who are of the household of faith. Gal. vi. 10. The poor, says our Saviour, ye have always with you, but me you have not.” John xii. 8. A present object so circumstanced, is required for the exercise of such love as goes forth into external acts. We cannot ourselves actually do good unto all. We cannot reach all, for our sphere is not so large. The most we can do in that kind is by prayer to our utmost to engage a universal agent, who can adapt himself to every one’s case and exigence. But within our sphere; I say, and in reference to those we have to do with and where we have opportunity, how little does there appear of love to men!
The rule according to which we are to exercise our love, is that royal law, as the apostle James calls it, to love our neighbour as ourselves, Jam. xi. 8. Or as our Saviour elsewhere expresses it, “Whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye so to them.” Matt. vii. 12. A rule that hath been very 151highly magnified even among some of the heathen; and the Author of it also, our Lord Jesus Christ himself, upon the account of it. That is a known thing of the emperor Alexander Severus, who caused it to be inscribed up and down in the most noted places of his palace; and professed to bear so high an honour unto Christ, upon the account of his being the Author of so good a rule, as to desire to have him placed among the other deities. This indeed was designed before, but providence ordered it so as that it should not be said he came into so mean a copartnership for a Deity.
And that rule it is” plain doth oblige us in reference to men indefinitely, or to any man whatsoever. For we would not only wish that this or that good man should deal well with us, or regret he should deal ill, but that any. man whatsoever should do so. We take it ill to be traduced, detracted, oppressed by any man. And so we have the object of our love in that extent plainly pointed out to us. Now we might here shew you, how this royal law is violated: namely, by such carriages and dispositions as are directly repugnant to love; or else by such a temper, disposition, and behaviour, which (though it doth not carry in it repugnancy to love, but would consist very well with it) proceeds from other principles, and not from a genuine, and pure principle of love. And here
1. We shall animadvert upon some things which are more directly repugnant to this love. As
(1.) A morose unconversable frame and temper. When men are become unsociable, and nobody knows how to deal with them; such sons of Belial (as was said concerning Nabal) that one knows not how to speak to them. Such as, al though it has been a proverb that every man hath two handles, have themselves never a one that one can tell how to take hold of them by. It is impossible to, know how to converse with them, so as not to give them offence; always sour, captious, snarling, supercilious, and tractable on no terms. And this is a great deal more odious when religion is pretended for it; and when because they would be taken for persons more strictly and severally godly, they must needs therefore in their great zeal for such a reputation shew themselves uncivil and humoursome. As if religion, which beyond all things else tends to cultivate men’s minds and manners, must quite destroy humanity out of the world, and render men incapable of civil converse.
If we did but read and consider such passages of Scripture, where we are enjoined to be courteous, and kindly affected to men; or consider such instances and examples as that of Abraham 152 treating with the sons of Heth, or that of the apostle Paul’s deportment towards Felix, Festus, or Agrippa: we should soon see that much acquaintance with God is no way at all inconsistent with the most comely, fair, and even genteel deportment unto men; and that there is no inconsistency at all between religion, even at the very highest pitch, and a civil and ingenuous behaviour to them with whom we have to do.
(2.) We may instance in what is still worse, namely, an unmerciful temper and disposition, and a practice suitable to it. There is a heart that is hard as a stone, which hath no bowels, no compassion, even towards the most moving objects, which do from day to day occur. And this the apostle in this very epistle tells us very plainly doth argue the love of God not to have place in us. And again
(3.) Injustice, or unrighteousness is fitly reducible hither also as a violation of that royal law of love, inasmuch as love ought to be the principle of all the duties of righteousness. Else how can the duties of the second table be gathered up in that sum, as you heard before, of love to our neighbour as ourselves.
And here comes in all falsehood, the violations of men’s words and promises, so that one does not know whom to trust; which is the thing that directly tends to break up all human society. For every thing of commerce between man and man depends upon human faith, as commerce with God depends upon a divine faith. A man that cannot trust in God can have no fellowship with him; and when there is no such thing as trust in men, there is no place for commerce between man and man. For if that should be once banished out of the universe, the world must disband, all human societies must break up; men must resolve to live as beasts, retired in cells and caves and wildernesses.
All that oppression also, extortion, and fraudulent commerce that are among men, belong to this head. If men did but love others as themselves, or if they would but do to others as they would be done unto, (which is the great measure of the exercise of love) none of this would be.
(1.) We may add as another instance, furious passions, rash anger, and precipitous choler, and the contentions and strife which are so frequent, and so hotly maintained among men. And we may add to these, fretting, envy, secret repining in men’s spirits when others are better, or do better than themselves. This is a disaffection of soul, which, as some heathens have noted, speaks. a direct quarrel with God, and a righting with him. Because a 153wise providence sees fit to favour such and such persons, therefore we will be sure to be none of their friends. And most of all repugnant to this duty of love are hatred, malice, revengefulness, a continual watching, and waiting for opportunities to do others an ill turn, from whom we conceive ourselves to have received one. And I instance,
Lastly, In that from whence almost all this doth proceed,
namely, inordinate self-love which hath set all the world at
variance. This is what the apostle means by lust; an affectation of drawing all to ourselves, by an inordinate and extravagant
affection to which we indulge ourselves and our own interest, each minding his own things. And so, whereas we should
each of us fill up the sphere we converse in with love, that so
dwelling in love we might dwell in God who is love, most men
shrink their sphere into one point. They make themselves
the only object of their love; all is confined there, and terminateth there.7272 There is an excellent passage to this purpose, which I beg
leave to transcribe verbatim from one of the author’s discourses on
self-denial, never yet published.
“Consider the great incongruity, yea the monstrous incongruity of his self-addictedness, that a creature should be addicted to itself; a creature I say, be it as good and great as it will! For what is the creature itself, the whole collection of all creatures together, but a mere drop unto the ocean, the drop of a bucket? Such a minute thing, a little inconsiderable thing that sprung up out of nothing into something but the other day, now to set up for itself! Monstrous incongruity, horrid absurdity! most of all for that self, that most addict themselves to serve, fleshly self. A fit thing to be a Deity! a thing whose wants and cravings continually might convince one, that it is not nor can be alone. How does it hug, and cleave, and cling to a sojourning soul for a merely borrowed life! feeling itself going when the soul is going. Is this a fit thing to subsist alone; by itself and of itself r” And so the author goes on to shew, that “to set up for ourselves as if we were born for ourselves alone, or as if we owed nothing to our brother, nor had any dependance upon God, cuts us off from him and forfeits all interest in his common care.”
And therefore, because men’s private interests do interfere and clash with one another, hence it comes to pass that the world is filled with all those strifes, quarrels, contentions, wars, and blood, with which it is afflicted from day to day, and age to age. Whence are all these but from lusts? and what are those lusts all gathered up into one, but inordinate self-love, that knows no regulation, and will be confined by no just measures? It is a most apt and elegant expression of the Roman 154 emperor Marcus Antioninus to this purpose, who says, “Such an inordinate self-love is like an ulcer, or imposthumated part, that draweth all to itself, and starveth the body to which it belongs.” But there may be also
2. A violation of this royal law of love to others, not only where things directly repugnant to it are indulged, but also where there are external carriages which would well comport with it, while they proceed not from a principle of love to one another, as the root and fountain of them. As in the opening of the doctrine we observed to you, that so waywardly are the spirits of men affected, that sometimes they will make the principle exclude the external acts and expressions, and sometimes the contrary. Men may carry it fairly and without exceptionableness to others, but it proceeds not from the principle of love, but some other principle.
As for instance, with respect to acts of charity, some express their compassion to those who are in distress, by relieving them in their exigencies; but it is out of vainglory, and to procure themselves a name. They sound a trumpet before them and proclaim that they give alms, as our Saviour speaks of the pharisees. So a man will be just and square in his dealings, but it proceeds not from love to his neighbour, such as we owe to ourselves, but only from prudence; for if they do not carry it fair, they shall undo themselves as to their name and commerce in the world. Or it may proceed from fear; “I will not wrong or injure such a one for fear he should right himself upon me, and prove too hard for me at the long run.” It may also proceed from deceit, and a treacherous disposition. They will carry it with all kindness to such till they can have an opportunity as it were to smite them under the fifth rib, as Joab did Abner, while he spoke to him peaceably. 2 Sam. iii. 27.
These are manifest violations of this great and royal law; that is, they may be manifest to the persons themselves who are guilty, if they would but allow themselves the liberty to reflect, and take a view of the temper of their own spirits. In the exercise of this kind of love, αγαπη ανυποκριτος, an unhypocritical love is required, love without dissimulation. Rom. xii. 9.
Now concerning all these things many are apt to think them but little matters. “They are but offences against men, say they, such as ourselves.” Conscience as to these is little sensible or smitten in most men, because it is stupid, and cannot feel by reflections of this kind. But indeed these are very far from being light matters in themselves. They are things of dreadful import, if we consider what it is they argue or prove; 155that is, they argue little or no love to an unseen God. For thither it is that the apostle’s argumentation directs us to run up the business. If it appear by these instances that there is no love to our brother, whom we have seen; how can there be any love to God, whom we have not seen? These things argue the little respect men bear to an invisible God, to an unseen Ruler and Lord. They argue how low the interest of the blessed God is among men, how little his authority and law do signify with them, and that men are sunk into a deep oblivion of him that made them.
These miscarriages where they are more common, prevailing, and customary with men, are all rooted in atheism. Where there is but little respect to the duty between man and man, it is an argument there is a much less. respect to that which we owe to the unseen God, the Lord both of them and us. It argueth that when he hath settled an order in this world among his creatures, designed and appointed such a thing as human society, and directed that human love should be the common bond of that society; it argues, I say, a great want of respect unto God that men should make a rupture of that sacred bond, and so at once break themselves off from one another and from him.
This is a matter of dreadful consequence if we do but run it up to its original, and lay the stress and the weight of the matter where it ought to lie. As was said of a certain country, “The fear of God is not in this place,” (Gen. xx. 11.) where it was apprehended there was a danger of suffering violence in reference to property; so it may equally be said, there is no love of God in that place; that is, in that heart and soul where so many manifest violations are continually offered (habitually and without regret) unto a law upon which he lays such weight; a law which God has made so fundamental, and built the frame of so great a part of all our other duty upon it.
And it may be now upon all this, some will be ready to say; “Truly it is a very sad thing there should be so little love among men as such, and highly reasonable it is that such love should obtain more than it does.” But they withal think it very reasonable that they should be dispensed with, especially in two cases; that is, where men are very wicked, or where they are enemies to them. In the former case they would be dispensed with upon the account of their pretended respect to God, who is injured by men’s wickedness; and they would fain be excused in the latter case, upon a real but very undue respect to themselves, whom they apprehend to be injured by such and such persons.156
Therefore I would say somewhat more particularly (before I leave this head of love to men as men) to these two cases; that is, to evince to you how great iniquity it is that such limitations should be admitted of as these; namely, that we would extend our love to men in general, except the more wicked sort of men, and also such as are particular enemies to ourselves.
I. As to the former, the pretence is more plausible; they cannot apprehend how they should be bound to love a wicked man. And yet I shall shew you briefly what exercise love ought to have in that case, and upon what considerations; what place there is, and what room for love to those who are profligately wicked, whom we are thus urged to love.
(1.) It is plain, negatively, that we ought not to love a man the better because he is a wicked man, and yet it is plain that most men do so. It is as ill to love a wicked man for his iniquity, as to hate a good man for his goodness; as Cain did his brother Abel, which is noted also in this epistle. For there are persons, “Who (knowing the judgment of God that they which commit such things are worthy of death) not only do the same, but have pleasure in them that do them.” Rom. i. 32. But this is very remote from the temper of a gracious spirit. The Psalmist makes his solemn appeal to God concerning this case; “Do not I hate them that hate thee, O Lord? I hate them with a perfect hatred. I count them mine enemies.” Ps. cxxxix. 21, 22. That is, barely considered as wicked, or upon the account of their wickedness and enmity to God; which is the thing upon which this professed, avowed hatred is founded. But notwithstanding,
(2.) There is room still for the exercise of love to such persons several ways. As
[1.] Love ought to be exercised in assuaging and repressing of undue and inordinate passions, which are apt to tumultuate, even in reference to cases of that nature. A fretting corroding spirit, when we find wickedness and a prosperous state in conjunction, is most expressly forbidden. “Fret not thyself because of him who prospereth in his way, because of the man who bringeth wicked devices to pass.” Ps. xxxvii. 7. And again, “Let not thine heart envy sinners, but be thou in the fear of the Lord all the day long.” Prov. xxiii. 17. The daily and assiduous fear of God will be a check able to restrain such an ebullition of spirit where it doth prevail.
In like manner a vindictive temper of spirit as to such is not allowed. There arc those, many times, who cannot have patience till providence has run its course, when they see wickedness 157prosperously triumphing and lifting up the head, but with impatient heat they are presently for calling down fire from heaven to destroy such. As it was with those over zealous disciples of our Lord, when entertainment and lodging were refused by the Samaritans. But see how our Saviour resents it, who rebuked and said unto them, “Ye know not what manner of spirit ye are of.” Luke ix. 55. There ought to be the exercise of love to the mitigation, and depression of the inordinate workings of the heart in such cases. And also
[2.] In serious and affectionate compassion, from the consideration of the tendency of their course, and of what these poor wretches are doing against themselves. The same compassion, I say, that we would have towards a distracted man, who we fear every moment will suffer by his own violent hands; and of whom we apprehend extreme peril, if he should be left a quarter of an hour to himself. These are persons that are likely to undo themselves, and in danger finally of piercing their own souls as they are wounding them every moment. The true spirit of Christian love to men as men, considered as never so wicked, ought to be exercised towards these persons upon that account, and because they are so. We reckon it as a very unnatural inhuman thing not to have great motions of pity and compassion, upon the hearing of towns, villages, and cities, in which pestilential diseases are raging, and tumbling thousands daily into the dust. But how much more dreadful is this case! and therefore how much more pitiful, compassionate love doth it require and challenge! And again,
[3.] Love should have its exercise in offering up very earnest prayers for them. It is a very sad case when the hearts and consciences of too many may witness and testify, that they could tell how to rage against such persons as they have observed to be wicked, and find their hearts ready to storm, at them; but never can find, from time to time, an occasion to put up a prayer to God for them, who have no disposition themselves to eek for mercy to their poor souls. And
[4.] In prudent and kind admonitions too, and rebukes, when providence administers the occasion; which is to be judged of by more rules and circumstances, than our present design will suffer us to mention. But besides what hath been said, as to the particulars in which this love is to be exercised in such cases, the considerations to move us to the exercise of it are manifold. As for instance,
We ought to consider that such have human nature and reasonable immortal spirits, capable of service to God as much as158ourselves, and also of being in God as well as we are. And what! is there no place for love to them, who are bone of our bone, and flesh of our flesh, and even of the same reasonable nature with ourselves?
We should also consider that we have a corrupt nature as well as they have, even the same corrupt nature. And if it has not broke forth into as ill practices, we owe it not to ourselves but to that mercy which distinguisheth persons, and doth exercise itself as it will. And it may be even as to practice too, such we have been in times past, as the apostle speaks of some of the Corinthian christians. 1 Cor. vi. 11. Therefore the wickedness of such is separable from their nature, otherwise if we think the case better with us, how came it separable from ours?
Finally. Let it be considered, that God expresses a common love and kindness and indulgence to such. He does good to the evil and the unthankful, to the just and the unjust; and makes his sun to shine, and his rain to fall upon the one and the other. Matt. v. 45. Yea and his particular love hath fallen upon many such, and doth mostly fall upon such, where it does fall. For herein “God commendeth his love towards us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” Rom. v. 8. If God did not know how to love sinners, not indeed for their wickedness, but notwithstanding it; where were we, and what would have become of us!159
|« Prev||Sermon XV. Preached November 29, 1676.||Next »|