|« Prev||Sermon XVII. Preached December 13, 1676.||Next »|
THE truth which we have more lately handled from these words is this: That their pretence to the love of God is both false and absurd, who do not conjoin with it love to their brother.
We have insisted a little upon this doctrine, and have made some progress in the use, which was mainly intended to be this: namely, To animadvert upon the common practice of the world; and especially to put us upon animadverting on our own practice, wherein it is contrary to the law of that love, which we are required to exercise towards our brethren, considered as men, and as christians. We have already in the
First place, shewn and complained that there is but little of that love which ought to be exercised to men, as men, and we have particularly spoken to two cases, wherein many would plead an exemption; namely, the case of those who are profligately wicked, and of those who are their particular enemies: And we have shewed you how reasonable and necessary it is that love should be exercised to them as men, notwithstanding either of these circumstances. We are now to speak171
Secondly, According to the other and more restrained notion of brother, to that love which we should have for one another as christians; or which should be generally exercised by us upon a Christian account. And is it not worth our while to take notice, how the law of such love is most commonly violated among them who bear the Christian name, and to give instances hereof? We will do this in two kinds. That is, we shall give you both private and positive instances, and let you see by both, how the law of love is too frequently broken and intrenched upon, even as if it were not a sacred thing.
I. We shall give you some private instances of this, wherein persons appear not to do what the law of love doth require. As
1. When the object of this love is mistaken; that is, either stated with too much latitude, or else is too much narrowed and limited.
(1.) I say when it is stated too largely, and men do give exorbitant measures of Christianity. There is a love to be exercised to all, as you have heard before; but there is, many times, a very unwarrantable extension of the notion of Christianity. There is so manifestly, when persons think the very assumed name itself a criterion enough of a christian, and so would stretch that which is peculiarly Christian love to a proportionable latitude. As very often the Christian name is assumed, and taken on by such persons as understand not, nor believe any more of the Christian religion than mere pagans. As to them it is by mere hap that ever that name comes upon them. As if it were enough to make a christian, only to live on such or such a turf; or as if because they think it fit and convenient to call themselves christians, therefore they must be accounted as such; and under that consideration be owned, respected, and loved as such without any difference, though all their practices hold forth nothing less than a perpetual avowed hostility unto Christ, as it is with too many others.
I would indeed allow to that profession as much of respect as can, with any appearance of justice, be understood duly to be long to a name; and such are to be loved suitably to the state and condition they are in. But totally to mistake their state and condition, and then to exercise love to them without discrimination according to that mistake, certainly there is a great injury done in this case: especially where the case is so very apparent that persons more significantly shew themselves what they are by what they do, than can be known by what they are called. And then,
(2.) When the notion of Christianity is too much narrowed172and restrained, or of those whom we are to account and love as, christians. The whole christian fraternity is confined by some to those of their own party, or particular way and per suasion in respect of some little things, altogether extra-essential and circumstantial only to religion. And so Christian love comes to be confined to, and is exercised only within this little circle. This is a very great injury on the other hand; and the same thing in effect as to say, Lo, here is Christ, and there he is, yea, it is to say exclusively Here he is, and no where else! And it is as great a fault to say he is not where indeed he is, as to say he is where he is not. Love to christians, as christians, surely ought to run a larger course. And again,
2. When the principle of love doth languish. Suppose the object of it to be stated never so rightly, without any error or mistake, the languor and decay of the principle does every whit as much intrench upon the law of love, and is a more injurious violation of it, than a mistaking the object. When love so exceedingly fails among christians, as such, that upon reflection it is hardly to be known whether any such thing be alive or at work or no; when, I say, our love so waxes cold, it is, as our Saviour intimates, a time of great iniquity. And it is plain he means it of that love that ought to have its exercise to christians, fellow-christians, and not merely of love to himself. For in the context you will find him speaking of persons betraying one another; and hating one another; and then he adds, “Because iniquity shall abound, the love of many shall wax cold.” Matt. xxiv. 12. And indeed the cause is very manifest and obvious to be from thence, from the abounding of iniquity.
He that loveth a christian as a christian, must be under stood to love Christianity itself proportionably more. That which makes a thing such, is more such; that which makes a person lovely, is more lovely. To love christians as christians, is to love their religion. But now, when once the iniquities of the times abound, many who loved professors before grow cool in their love It was taken up for their conveniency, and it is laid down for their conveniency, according as may best serve their turn.
Now this coldness of love among christians considered as such is a dreadful token, how little and slight an account so ever is made of it. The law of love doth not only say, Love your brother or one another; but with a pure heart fervently.” 1 Pet. i. 22. And it is not a little that is contributed to the life and vigour of religion itself, by the vigour and lively exercise of this love. Therefore this great duty is recommended 173upon the very account, and with this design that our hearts may be established in holiness. “The Lord make you to in crease and abound in love one towards another, and towards all men, even as we do towards you; to the end he may establish your hearts unblamable in holiness before God even our Father, at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ with all his saints.” 1 Thes. iii. 12, 13.
3. An unaptness to take care of avoiding offences among Christians is another breach of this same law of love. Too many lay no restraints upon their spirits in this matter at all, or have no consideration of the case; never saying, “Shall I offend by this or that, or shall I not?” And others are as faulty in being apt to take offence, where the matter carries none in it. They are testy, froward, and. captious, so that no one knoweth how to converse with them, or careth to have to do with them, or to be of their society. And again,
4. That I may hasten through many things, which I would at this time say to you in the close of all this long discourse, a very great difficulty either to give or receive satisfaction, is very unsuitable to the love of our brother.
To give satisfaction: how are the spirits of many straitened and bound up in this case, by their own pride and self-conceit, and the great opinion which they have of themselves! As if it were a far greater reflection to say, “Sir, I have done wrong;” than it is to do another wrong. Or that men must needs give out themselves to be of something above a mortal human race, that it is impossible they should ever have offended, or ever do amiss. How great mischiefs would one such word as this sometimes prevent, among those with whom we have a familiar converse, “Sir, I confess I have not done well in such a thing, pray pass it by!” That great precept of confessing our faults to one another, and praying for others, (Jam. v. 16.) how is it quite thrown out of doors now-a-days! how rare instances are there of any such kind of practice.
And there is as great an unaptness on the other hand to receive satisfaction. Persons insist highly upon the wrong, and cannot abate so much as one punctilio. Such things as forbearance and forgiveness, where there is an offence and wrong done, how little do they obtain in common practice in our time! And it is amazing to think that the moving enforcements which we have in Scripture of that one thing, should signify so little among us. Forgive ye one another the trespasses that ye commit one against another, even as God for Christ’s sake freely forgave us. Oh what! should not such a consideration as that is prevail with Christian hearts to forgive, when it is considered 174 how freely God for Christ’s sake is said to forgive us? “Be ye kind to one another, tender hearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ’s sake hath forgiven you.” Eph iv. 32. Col. iii. 12, 13. And again,
5. A mutual shyness and strangeness to one another, without a sufficient cause, is also unsuitable to this Brotherly love. Many Christian friends grow of a sudden strangers to one another, and no one can tell how or whence it should be. It may be the person that is passive in the case is altogether at a loss to account for it. For a long while he observes such a one to grow a stranger to him, and he cannot devise what should be the reason, or whence it should proceed, but upon a surmise. As if it were so great a difficulty to ask a person the question, Is it so? or if so, were it well? But instead of this, alienation must be the next thing, the first thing done without any more ado.
How intolerable is this among Christians! And surely if we should live to see a day wherein the Christian community should be scattered, and we tossed and driven to and fro, it may be it would be a grateful sight to meet such a man, to see such a face in a wilderness or upon the tops of mountains, whom formerly we could not endure. Cordial then perhaps would be the embraces among those persons, who almost mortally hated one another before. We have reason to pray to God that such distempers of mind among us be not thought fit to be cured by such means.
6. Another instance is neglect of mutual admonition and exhortation among Christians concerning known sins or manifest neglects of duties. We know that this is frequently pressed in Scripture, and the charge and weight of it is laid upon our love. Yea to neglect this is an interpretative hatred. “Thou shalt not hate thy brother in thine heart, thou shalt in any wise rebuke thy neighbour, and not suffer sin upon him.” Levit. xix. 17. How often are we called upon to exhort and admonish one another? “Exhort one another daily while it is called, To-day; lest any of you be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin.” Heb. iii. 13. And how strange a thing is it, that any should take upon them to pass over such commands as these, as if they were reversed, as if they were repealed, as if such laws were abolished! Do we take upon ourselves arbitrarily, and at our own pleasure to abolish the Bible? or to abandon in our practice things as plainly pressed upon us, as any thing in the world can be? And how little is it considered how great a share such persons as neglect this duty of admonition, hath in the miscarriages of such as they converse with? How much do they partake 175of their sins! “Such a man would have been a more reformed man, less passionate, more orderly in his family, not so light and vain, if I had but, when occasion was offered to me, dropped a seasonable word to him.” And so instead of having the benefit of Christian society, and partaking the fruits of one another’s graces, we partake of one another’s sins, and share the guilt with them. That is a sad part of Christian community!
And there is many times as much fault in the undue manner of reproving, as in the neglect of the thing itself; when it is done in so proud, and imperious, and passionate a way, as if the design was not to correct such a man’s faults, but only to vent my own passion. Or while I pretend to mend the faults of another, I myself shall commit a greater. For it may be, the fault in the manner of reproving, is greater than the matter which I take upon me to reprove. But when this duty is sues from love, and is so managed as that it may plainly be seen to be the product of love, then as it is in itself a great duty, so a great blessing doth often accompany and go along with it.
7. The neglect of doing good and kind offices for one another, as occasion doth require and call for, is altogether unsuitable to this law of love. For you know how we are charged and required, as we have opportunity, to do good to all, but especially to those who are of the household of faith. Gal. vi. 10. And undoubtedly the apostle, using expressions of such import as he does there, is not to be understood as if he meant that this kindness, or doing good, was to be confined to the poor and indigent only, or to necessitous persons; though that is one great part of the sense: it is then to be referred to those good offices we should do to all who stand in need of our help, though it may be they are not indigent; but notwithstanding are the objects of our love, in such or such a particular case, wherein they may possibly receive assistance from us. But when persons are bound up in themselves, and so are little capable of minding any one’s interest but their own, how greatly is love hereby suppressed, and stifled in the exercise of it! But besides these privative instances,
II. We shall give some positive instances too of the violation of this law of love, and so hasten to a close. And
1. Hard thoughts and rash censures of one another do very little comport with the love that should be exercised towards brethren. With respect to their particular actions, words or expressions, we are many times guilty of great injustice, and Wrong is done to this law of love. That is, when upon this or 176 that action that we see done by such or such a one, it may be against our inclination or judgment, we put the worst construction upon it that we possibly can devise. So in like manner we are faulty when we torture the words of another, and wiredraw them, that we may if possible make them speak a bad sense, when it may be a much better might be put upon them. Persons also are guilty in this regard, when they are prone to load the differing opinions of others in some smaller matters with the most odious, and many times with the most ill-grounded consequences; putting them as it were into bears and wolves skins (as some did the Christians in the primitive times) that they may be the more exquisitely worried, and torn all to
But the matter rises many times much higher than this; and men proceed, upon some small matters of difference, to pass censures concerning such and such persons, as to their states Godward. They sit in judgment upon their souls, and pass determinations concerning them in reference to their very life or death. And yet it many times so happens, that such as contend for that small matter of difference are hypocrites, and they that are against it are hypocrites also. The one party is censured and judged as formal, superstitious hypocrites; and the other as phantastical, self-conceited, perverse hypocrites: and nothing less than the charge of hypocrisy will serve the turn, in this case, on the one hand or the other. So persons arrogate to themselves the peculiar business of the Almighty. But “Who art thou that judgest another man’s servant? (This is spoken of such smaller matters as we are speaking of) Why dost thou judge thy brother? or why dost thou set at nought thy brother? for we shall all stand before the judgment-seat of Christ:” Rom. xiv. 4, 10. “Let us therefore (as it is afterwards inculcated and urged) follow after the things which make for peace, and things wherewith one may edify another.” ver. 19.
2. Rash anger is another positive violation of this law of love: or tumultuous and insolent passions, that suddenly rise and storm and rage in Christian breasts one against another; many times on very small and little provocations, but to that height as no provocation can justify. How little is it considered that our Saviour, in the interpretation which he gives of the law in his sermon on the mount, does so interpret the sixth commandment, “Thou shalt not kill,” as to make anger against our brother a kind of murder, and to bring it within the compass of that prohibition! Moreover,
3. Which is a great deal worse, inveterate grudges are also inconsistent with that love which we owe to our Christian brother. 177These strike at the very root of love, and tend to the starving and famishing the principle itself. Thus persons lay up something in their minds against this or that fellow christian, and there it shall lie, corrode, work and fret, till it is the occasion of their doing him hurt; but it is much more mischievous to themselves, and turns to their own far greater hurt and damage. “Grudge not one against another,” says the apostle, “the Judge is at the door.” Jam v. 9. An intimation that this is a matter that will be brought before the Judge. Here now is work for the Judge when he comes, that such and such have allowed themselves to harbour grudges in their hearts, till they are grown old and turned into rankling and festered sores within.
And certainly to a truly Christian spirit that is itself, and in a right frame, nothing will be more agreeable than to say, “I would not for all this world know or experience any thing as a settled grudge in my heart to any one who or whatsoever he be; so as to wish that his finger should ache, or that he should have the least harm or hurt upon my account, or for any disaffection he may bear or express to me.” This now is a truly Christian spirit. But to allow myself to treasure up such things; to let them remain (alta mente reposita, as it were) against such a man, is very much against this law of love. He has offended you; it may be you are as prone to offend him, or to offend another.
It is little considered what is the true, the proper and right notion of the Christian church, or the churches of Christ in general. They are hospitals, or rather one great hospital wherein there are persons of all sorts under cure. There is none that is sound, none that is not diseased, none that hath not wounds and sores about him. Now how insufferable insolence were it, that in an hospital of maimed and diseased persons, one sick or wounded man should say; “Such a man’s sores are so noisome to me, that I am not able to endure the being neighbour to him?” Is it fit to talk thus in an hospital “where all are sick? Cannot sore, and wounded men endure one another, when they are all there for cure? Indeed if a person is stark dead, apparently stark dead, it is not fit he should remain there to be an annoyance to the rest. But further,
4. A secret delight taken in the harm of another is yet worse than the former. When those that call themselves Christians, or to whom that name may belong, secretly please themselves to see inconveniencies befall this or that person, this, I say, is a horrid violation of the law of love. It is a most unnatural thing to rejoice in the harm of another. In the body, as the apostle intimates, (1 Cor. xii. 26.) when one member is suffering, all 178 the members suffer with it. And to delight in the harm of others is as contrary to the spiritual nature, which is diffused in the true body of Christ, as if the header any other member should rejoice that the hand or foot is put to pain. And
5. Directly opposite to this, but no less inconsistent with this duty of loving our Christian brother, is envy at the good of another. When I behold the good of another with an invidious, displeased eye, because such a man is better than I am; or is better reputed, or reported of; or has better gifts, or parts; or there is more appearance of his grace; and he doth more good, has more to do good with: these are most insufferable things, most directly contrary to love.
6. Most of all inconsistent with this duty is hatred. This is directly contrary to it, and, in the tendency of it, aims at no less than the destruction of the person himself. And how frequently is the case so even among some christians, that nothing can satisfy them but the destruction of those who differ from them! Nothing less than their destruction will serve their turn. This is a thing so common and manifest, as if it were quite forgotten that ever there was such a portion of scripture in the Bible as this; “Whosoever hateth his brother is a murderer, and ye know that no murderer hath eternal life abiding in him.” 1 John iii. 15. And it is yet worse, when the very reason of that hatred is because such and such persons are better than themselves; as it is with many profane persons that go under the name of christians, and yet hate christians all the while for Christianity’s sake; for living the Christian life, and observing the precepts of their common Lord: as Cain did his brother Abel, because his works were evil, and his brother’s righteous. To shut up all,
7. Another positive instance of the violation of this law of love to our Christian brother (in the last place) is bearing hardly on one another’s consciences in matters of external form relating to religion. I speak this with respect to private persons, for such I suppose my hearers to be. That is, when they do in their own minds wish, or any way within their own compass or capacity endeavour that the consciences of such who differ from them may be hardly borne upon.
It is very true indeed that the pretence of conscience, for apparent flagitious crimes, is a most wicked and blasphemous pretence. For that is to entitle God to my wickedness, or to charge him with it; inasmuch as I cannot allege conscience for any thing, but I must in that case look upon it, and refer to it as God’s substitute and vicegerent, and as doing his part within me. Therefore to pretend conscience for any thing that 179is in its own nature wicked and flagitious, is to cast all upon God; and to pretend that he hath enjoined me to do such or such a wicked thing. But when the difference is about small matters, which are (as we said before) extraessential to religion, even by common consent; it is a great violation of love for Christians in this case to affect and desire to have those who dissent from them hardly dealt withal, and their consciences grievously imposed upon on this pretence, that they must be, in such forms and external modes of religious worship, just as themselves, or they are not to be endured.
We do not count it necessary that it should be so as to the natural body. For I look upon matters of external form in the church, as I do upon the external vestments or coverings of our bodies. Now we do not think it necessary, that every member of the natural body, should have a covering of the same shape, size, and colour. And if this case were but considered as it should be, and Christian love did but do its part (abstracting from what necessity there may be by an authoritative sanction) we should not think it more necessary, that every member in such a christian community should be clothed in external form alike, than that every part of the body should have the same sort of garment; or, that for conformity’s sake, a man should wear a cap on his foot as well as on his head.
Love, if it might be allowed its place and exercise, would consider the necessities of the several members. Love to ourselves, in the natural body, teaches us to do so. Sometimes it may be I have a sore toe or a hurt finger, that will not endure a pinching shoe or a strait glove: yet I do not think it necessary to cut off that finger or toe, or to let it go naked; but I provide a covering for it that it will bear, and that is suitable to it. Certainly, Christian love would lead us to act in like manner to the members of the Christian body, if it had but the place and exercise that belongs to it and which it claims.
Therefore now to conclude, let it be seriously considered by us how happy a world, and how happy a church it would make, if we could but learn according to what we have heard, to exercise this love to men as men, and to christians as christians. There would then be no contention in the world, or the church, but only a striving who should do the most good, and who should be most good and kind to others.
And it is a vain thing to hope, until the spirit of love revives ever to see good days. It is no external thing that will do the business. To be brought under the same form in every punctilio, in every minute circumstance, what would that do? What 180 I say would this do if love be wanting, which is the life and soul of all communities, especially of the Christian community? Without this, the body would hang-together but as a rope of sand. Love then alone is the unitive, living cement, that joineth part and part and all to the head. It is this that must make Christianity to flourish, and the Christian church a lovely and a lively thing; a thing full of loveliness, life and vigour. And happy will it be when hearts are knit together in love, and all aim at the edification of one another, and also at the good of the whole; bearing with one another in tolerable things, and labouring to redress what is intolerable and not to be borne. Therefore as we are to direct our prayers this way, so let us direct our practice also amongst ourselves, and all those with whom we converse. And so I have done with this scripture.181
|« Prev||Sermon XVII. Preached December 13, 1676.||Next »|