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[Preached in the Chapel of Lambeth-house on Christmas-day, 1691.]
THE LOVE OF GOD TO MEN IN THE INCARNATION OF CHRIST.
In this was manifested the love of God towards us, because that God sent his only-begotten Son into the world, that we might live through him.—John iv. 9.
THESE words contain a clear and evident demonstration of the love of God to us; “in this was manifested the love of God towards us;” that is, by this it plainly appears, that God had a mighty love for us, that he “sent his only-begotten Son into the world, that we might live through him.” In which we may consider this threefold evidence of God’s love to mankind.
I. That he should be pleased to take our case into consideration, and to concern himself for our happiness.
II. That he should design so great a benefit to us, which is here expressed by life; “that we might live through him.”
III. That he was pleased to use such a means for the obtaining and procuring of this benefit for us; he “sent his only-begotten Son into the world, that we might live through him.” Each of these singly is a great evidence of God’s love to us; much more all of them together.
I. It is a great evidence of the love of God to mankind, that he was pleased to take our case into 552consideration, and to concern himself for our happiness. Nothing does more commend an act of kindness, than if there be great condescension in it. We use to value a small favour, if it be done to us by one that is far above us, more than a far greater done to us by a mean and inconsiderable person. This made David to break out into such admiration, when he considered the ordinary providence of God towards mankind. “Lord, what is man, that thou art mindful of him; or the son of man, that thou shouldest consider him!” This is a wonderful condescension, indeed, for God to be mindful of man!
At the best we are but his creatures, and upon that very account at an infinite distance from him; so that were not he infinitely good, he would not be concerned for us, who are so infinitely beneath the consideration of his love and pity. Neither are we of the highest rank of creatures; we are much be low the angels, as to the excellency and perfection of our beings; so that if God had not had a peculiar pity and regard to the sons of men, he might have placed his affection and care upon a much nobler order of creatures than we are, and so much the more miserable, because they fell from a higher step of happiness—I mean the lost angels; but yet, for reasons best known to his infinite wisdom, God passed by them, and was pleased to consider us. This the apostle to the Hebrews takes notice of, as an argument of God’s peculiar and extraordinary love to mankind, that “he sent his Son, not to take upon him the nature of angels, but of the seed of Abraham.”
Now that he, who is far above us, and after that we by wilful transgression had lost ourselves, had no obligation to take care of us, but what his own 553goodness laid upon him; that he should concern himself so much for us, and be so solicitous for our recovery, this is a great evidence of his kindness and good- will to us, and cannot be imagined to proceed from any other cause.
II. Another evidence of God’s great love to us is, that he was pleased to design so great a benefit for us. This the Scripture expresseth to us by life; and it is usual in Scripture to express the best and most desirable things by life; because, as it is one of the greatest blessings, so it is the foundation of all other enjoyments: and therefore the apostle useth but this one word to express to us all the blessings and benefits of Christ’s coming into the world; “God sent his only-begotten Son into the world, that we might live through him.”
And this expression is very proper to our case; because life signifies the reparation of all that which was lost by the fall of man. For man, by his wilful degeneracy and apostacy from God, is sunk into a state of sin and misery, both which the Scripture is wont to express by death. In respect of our sinful state we are spiritually dead; and in respect of the punishment and misery due to us for our sins, we are judicially dead, dead in law; for “the wages of sin is death.” Now God hath sent his Son into the world, that in both these respects “we might live through him.”
1. We were spiritually dead, dead in trespasses and sins, as the apostle speaks: (Eph. ii. 1, 2.) “You hath he quickened, who were dead in trespasses and sins, wherein in times past ye walked, according to the course of this world.” Every wicked man, though in a natural sense he be alive, yet in a moral sense he is dead. So the apostle, 554speaking of those who live in sinful lusts and pleasures, says of them that “they are dead while they live.” (1 Tim. v. 6.) What corrupt humours are to the body, that sin is to the soul their disease and their death. Now God sent his Son to deliver us from their death, by renewing our nature, and mortifying our lusts; by restoring us to the life of grace and holiness, and “destroying the body of sin in us, that henceforth we should not serve sin.” And that this is a great argument of the mighty love of God to us, the apostle tells us: (Eph. ii. 4, 5.) “God, who is rich in mercy, for his great love wherewith he loved us, even when we were dead in sins, hath quickened us together with Christ.” It is an argument of the riches of God’s mercy, and of his great love to us, to recover us out of this sad and deplorable case. It is a kindness infinitely greater than to redeem us from the most wretched slavery, or to rescue us from the most dreadful and cruel temporal death; and yet we should value this as a favour and benefit, that could never be sufficiently acknowledged: but God hath sent his Son to deliver us from a worse bondage, and a more dreadful kind of death; so that well might the apostle ascribe this great deliverance of mankind from the slavery of our lusts, and the death of sin, to the boundless mercy and love of God to us. “God, who is rich in mercy, for the great love wherewith he loved us, hath quickened us together with Christ, even when we were dead in sins:” when our case was as desperate as could well be imagined; then was God pleased to undertake this great cure, and to provide such a remedy, as cannot fail to be effectual for our recovery, if we will but make use of it.
2. We were likewise judicially dead in law, being 555condemned by the just sentence of it. So soon as ever we sinned, eternal death was by the sentence of God’s law become our due portion and reward; and this being our case, God, in tender commiseration and pity to mankind, was pleased to send his Son into the world, to interpose between the justice of God and the demerits of men; and by reversing the sentence that was gone out against us, and procuring a pardon for us, to rescue us from the misery of eternal death; and not only so, but, upon the condition of faith and repentance, of obedience and a holy life, to bestow eternal life upon us; and by this means to restore us to a better condition than that from which we were fallen, and to advance us to a happiness greater than that of innocency.
And was not this great love, to design and provide so great a benefit and blessing for us; “to send his Son Jesus to bless us, in turning away every one of us from our iniquities?” Our blessed Saviour, who came from the bosom of his Father, and knew his tender affection and compassion to mankind, speaks of this as a most wonderful and unparalleled expression of his love to us: (John iii. 16.) “God so loved the world, that he gave his only-begotten Son.” “God so loved the world,” so greatly, so strangely, so beyond our biggest hopes, nay, so contrary to all reasonable expectations, as to send his only-begotten Son to seek and to save the sinful sons of men.
If it had only in general been declared to us, that God was about to send his Son into the world upon some great design, and been left to us to conjecture what his errand and business should be; how would this have alarmed the guilty consciences of sinful men, and filled them with infinite jealousies and suspicion, 556with fearful expectations of wrath and fiery indignation to consume them? For considering the great wickedness and degeneracy of mankind, what could we have thought, but that surely God was sending his Son upon a design of vengeance to chastise a sinful world, to vindicate the honour of his despised laws, and to revenge the multiplied affronts which had been offered to the highest Majesty of heaven, by his pitiful and ungrateful creatures? Our own guilt would have been very apt to have filled us with such imaginations as these, that in all likelihood the Son of God was coming to judgment, to call the wicked world to an account, to proceed against his Father’s rebels, to pass sentence upon them, and to execute the vengeance which they had deserved. This we might justly have dreaded; and. indeed, considering our case, how ill we have deserved at God’s hands, and how highly we have provoked him; what other weighty matter could we hope for?
But the goodness of God hath strangely outdone our hopes, and deceived our expectation; so it follows in the next words, “God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world” (intimating that this we might justly have imagined and feared), but upon a quite contrary design, “that through him the world might be saved.” What a surprise of kindness is here! that, instead of “sending his Son to condemn us,” he should “send him into the world to save us;” to rescue us from the jaws of death and of hell, from that eternal and intolerable misery which we had incurred and deserved!
And if he had proceeded no farther, this had been wonderful mercy and kindness: but his love stopped not here; it was not contented to spare us 557and free us from misery, but was restless till it had found out a way to bring us to happiness; for “God so loved the world, that he gave his only-begotten Son,” not only “that whosoever believes in him might not perish,” but “might have everlasting life.” This is the second evidence of God’s great love to us, the greatness of the blessing and benefit which he hath designed and provided for us, “that we might live through him;” not only be delivered from spiritual and eternal death, but be made partakers of eternal life.
III. The last evidence of God’s great love to us, which 1 mentioned, was this, that God was pleased to use such a means, for the obtaining and procuring of this great blessing and benefit; “he sent his only-begotten Son into the world, that we might live through him.” And this will appear to be great love indeed, if we consider these four things:
1. The person whom he was pleased to employ upon this design; “he sent his only-begotten Son.”
2. How much he abased him, in order to the effecting and accomplishing of this design, implied in these words, “he sent him into the world.”
3. If we consider to whom he was sent, to the world. And,
4. That he did all this voluntarily and freely, out of his mere pity and goodness; not constrained hereto by any necessity, not prevailed upon by any application or importunity of ours, nor obliged by any benefit or kindness from us.
1. Let us consider the person whom God was pleased to employ in this design, “he sent his only-begotten Son;” no less person than his own Son, and no less dear to him than “his only-be gotten Son.”558
(1.) No less person than his own Son; and the dignity of the person that was employed in our behalf, doth strangely heighten and set off the kindness. What an endearment is it of the mercy of our redemption, that God was pleased to employ upon this design no meaner person than his own Son, his begotten Son; so he is called in the text, “his Son,” in so peculiar a manner as no creature is, or can be; the creatures below man are called the works of God, but never his children; the angels are in Scripture called the sons of God; and Adam likewise is called the son of God, because God made him after his own image and likeness in holiness and righteousness, and in his dominion and sovereignty over the creatures below him; but this title of “begotten Son of God” was never given to any of the creatures, man or angel; “for unto which of the angels said he, at any time, Thou art my Son, this day have I be gotten thee?” as the apostle reasons, (Heb. i. 5.) He must be a great person indeed to whom this title belongs, of “the begotten Son of God;” and it must; be a mighty love indeed which moved God to employ so great a person, on the behalf of so pitiful and wretched creatures as we are. It had been a mighty condescension for God to treat with us at all; but that no less person than his own Son should be the ambassador, is an astonishing regard of Heaven to poor sinful dust and ashes.
(2.) The person was as dear to God as he was great; he was “his only-begotten Son.” It had been a great instance of Abraham’s love and obedience to God, to have sacrificed a son at his command; but this circumstance makes it much greater, that it was his only son: “Hereby I know that thou fearest God (says the angel), since thou hast not withheld 559thy soil, thine only son from me.” This is a demonstration that God loved us at a stupendous rate, when he would send “his only-begotten Son” into the world for us.
Before this, God had tried several ways with mankind, and employed several messengers to us; sometimes he sent his angels, and many times his servants the prophets; but in these last days he hath sent his Son* He had many more servants to have employed upon this message, but he had but one Son; and rather than mankind should be ruined and lost, he would send him. Such was the love of God towards us, that rather than our recovery should not be effected, he would employ in this work the greatest and dearest person to him both in heaven and earth, “his only-begotten Son:” “in this was the love of God manifested, that he sent his only-begotten Son, that we might live through him.”
2. Let us consider, how much this glorious and excellent person was abased in order to the effecting and accomplishing of this design, which is here expressed by sending him into the world; and this comprehends his incarnation, with all the mean and abasing circumstances of it. This the apostle declares fully to us: (Phil. ii. 6, 7.) though “he was in the form of God (that is, truly and really God), yet he made himself of no reputation,” ἑαυτὸν ἐκένωσε, “he emptied himself;” was contented to be strangely lessened and diminished, and took upon him the form of a servant, or slave, and was made in the likeness of men; that is, did really assume human nature. Here was an abasement, indeed, for God to become man; for “the only-begotten Son of God to take upon him the form of a servant, and to become obedient 560to death, even the death of the cross,” which was the death of slaves and infamous malefactors! Here was love, indeed, that God was willing that his own dear Son should be thus obscured and diminished, and become so mean and so miserable for our sakes: that he should not only stoop to be made man and to dwell among us, but that he should likewise submit to the infirmities of our nature, and to be made in all things like unto us, sin only excepted; that he should be contented to bear so many affronts and indignities from perverse and unthankful men, and to endure such contradiction of sinners against himself; that “he, who was the brightness of his Father’s glory,” should be despised and rejected of men, “a man of sorrows, and acquainted with griefs,” and rather than we should perish, should put himself into our place and be contented to suffer and die for us; and that God should be willing that all this should be done to his only Son to save sinners. What greater testimony could he give of his love to us?
3. Let us consider, farther, to whom he was sent, which is also implied in these words: “he sent his Son into the world;” into a wicked world, that was altogether unworthy of him; and an ungrateful world, that did most unworthily use him.
First, Into a wicked world, that was altogether unworthy of him, that had deserved no such kindness at his hands. For what were we, that God should send such a person amongst us, that he should make his Son stoop so low, as to dwell in our nature and to become one of us? We were rebels and enemies, enemies to God by evil works, up in arms against heaven, and at open defiance with God our Maker. When the world was in this 561posture of enmity and hostility against God; then he sent his Son to treat with us, and to offer us peace. What can more commend the love of God than this, that he should shew such kindness to us when we were sinners and enemies? Herein “God hath commended his love towards us;” (says the apostle, Rom. v. 8.) in that “whilst we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.”
Secondly, Into an ungrateful world that did most unworthily use him, that gave no becoming entertainment to him (“the foxes had holes, and the birds of the air had nests; but the Son of man had not where to lay his head”); that heaped all mariner of contumelies and indignities upon him, that persecuted him all his life, and at last put him to a most painful and shameful death; in a word, that was so far from receiving him as the Son of God, that they did not treat him with common humanity, and like one of the sons of men.
4. He did all this voluntarily and freely; God sent his Son into the world, mero motu, of his own mere grace and goodness, moved by nothing but his own bowels, and the consideration of our misery; not overpowered by any force; (for what could offer violence to him “to whom all power belongs?”) not constrained by any necessity, for he had been happy, though we had remained for ever miserable; he might have chosen other objects of his love and pity, and have left us involved in that misery which we had wilfully brought upon ourselves.
Nor was he prevailed upon by any application from us, or importunity of ours to do this for us. Had we been left to have contrived the way of our recovery, this which God hath done for us could 562never have entered into the heart of man to have imagined, much less to have desired it at his hands. If the way of our salvation had been put into the hands of our own counsel and choice, how could we have been so impudent as to have begged of God that his only Son might descend from heaven and “become man,” be poor, despised, and miserable for our sakes? God may stoop as low as he pleaseth, being secure of his own majesty and greatness; but it had been a boldness in us, not far from blasphemy, to have desired of him to condescend to such a submission.
Nor, lastly, was he pre-obliged by any kindness or benefit from us; so far from that, that we had given him all possible provocation to the contrary, and had reason to expect the effect of his heaviest displeasure: and yet, though he was the pars laesa, the party that had been disobliged and injured; though we were first in the offence and provocation, he was pleased to make the first overtures of peace and reconciliation; and though it was wholly our concernment and not his, yet he was pleased to condescend so far, to our perverseness and obstinacy, as to send his Son to us, and to beseech us to be reconciled.
Now “herein” (says the apostle, immediately after the text), “herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.” Herein is the love of God manifested, that the kindness began on his part, and not on ours; that being neither obliged nor desired by us, he did freely, and of his own accord, “send his only-begotten Son into the world, that we might live through him.”563
What no remains but to apply this to ourselves?
1. Let us propound to ourselves the love of God for our pattern and example. This is the inference which the apostle makes in the next verse but one after the text: “Beloved, if God so loved us, we ought also to love one another.” One would have thought the inference should have been, if God so loved us, that we ought also to love him. But the apostle doth not speak so much of the affection as the effect of love; and his meaning is, if God hath bestowed such benefits upon us, we ought, in imitation of him, to be kind and beneficial one to another. Not but that we ought to “love God with all our hearts, and souls, and strength;” but in this sense we are not capable of it. We cannot be beneficial to him; because he is self-sufficient, and stands in need of nothing; and therefore the apostle adds this as a reason why he does not exhort men to love God, but one another: “No man hath seen God at any time;” he is not sensible to us, and therefore none of these sensible things can signify any thing to him. But he hath friends and relations here in the world, who are capable of the sensible effects of our love, and to whom we may shew kindness for his sake; we cannot be beneficial to God, but we may testify our love to him, by our kindness and charity to men, who are made after the image of God; and if we see any one miserable, that is consideration enough to move our charity. There was nothing but this in us to move him to pity us, “when we were in our blood, and no eye pitied us.”
God is a pattern of the most generous kindness and charity. Though he be infinitely above us, 564yet he thought it not below him to consider our case, and to employ his only Son to save us; he had no obligation to us, no expectation of advantage from us, and can never be in a possibility to stand in need of us; and yet he loved us, and hath conferred the greatest benefits upon us: so that no man can have deserved so ill at our hands, but that, if he be in want, and we in a condition to help him, he ought to come within the compass and consideration of our charity.
And this is the proper season for it, when we commemorate the greatest blessing and benefit that was ever conferred on mankind; “the Son of God sent into the world, on purpose to redeem and save us.” And therefore I cannot but very much commend the custom of feeding and relieving the poor, more especially at this time, when the poor do usually stand most in need of it, and when we commemorate “the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, who being rich became poor for our sakes, that we through his poverty might be made rich.”
2. Let us readily comply with the great design of this great love of God to mankind. He hath sent his Son, “that we may live through him.” But though he hath done all this for us, though he hath purchased so great blessings for us, as the pardon of our sins, and power against them, and eternal life and happiness; yet there is something to be done on our parts, to make us partakers of these benefits. God hath not so loved us, as to send his Son into the world, to carry men to heaven whether they will or no; and to rescue those from the slavery of the devil, and the damnation of hell, who are fond of their fetters, and wilfully run themselves 565upon ruin and destruction. But the Son of God came to offer happiness to us, upon certain terms and conditions, such as are fit for God to propound, and necessary for us to perform, to make us capable of the blessedness which he offers; as namely, “repentance towards God, and faith in our Lord Jesus Christ;” a sincere and constant endeavour of obedience to the laws and precepts of our holy religion.
These are the terms of the gospel; and “the grace of God which brings salvation,” offers it only upon these terms, that we “deny ungodliness and worldly lusts, and live soberly, righteously, and godly, in this present world:” then we may expect the blessed hope. But if we will not submit to these conditions, the Son of God will be no Saviour to us; for he is the author of eternal salvation only to them that obey him. If men will continue in their sins, the redemption wrought by Christ will be of no advantage to them; such as obstinately persist in an impenitent course, ipsa si velit salus, servare non potest, “salvation itself cannot save them.”
These are the conditions of our happiness, and if we submit to them we are “heirs of eternal life;” if we refuse, we are “sons of perdition,” eternally lost and undone; for we may assure ourselves, that these are the best and easiest terms that can ever be offered to us, because God sent them by his Son. This is the last effort of the Divine love and goodness, towards the recovery and salvation of men; so the apostle tells us (Heb. i. 1, 2.), that God, “who, at sundry times and in divers manners, spake to the fathers, by the prophets, hath in these last days spoken unto us by his Son;” and if we refuse to 566hear him, he will speak no more. After this it is not to be expected, that God should make any farther attempts for our recovery; for he can send no greater nor dearer person to us than his own Son; and if we refuse him, whom will we reverence? If after this we still wilfully go on in our sins, “there remains no more sacrifice for sin; but a fearful looking for of judgment, and fiery indignation to consume us.”
3. With what joy and thankfulness should we commemorate this great love of God to mankind, in sending “his only-begotten Son into the world, that we might live through him!”
This is the proper end of the blessed sacrament, which we are now going to receive, to represent to our minds the incarnation and passion of our dear Lord, by the symbols of his body broken, and by his blood shed for us. With what acknowledgments should we celebrate the memory of this wonderful love, which the Son of God hath shewn to the sons of men; endeavouring to make all the world in love with him, who hath so loved all mankind.
Whenever we see his blood poured forth, and his body broken for us, so moving a sight should raise strange passions in us, of love to our Saviour, and hatred to our sins; and should inspire us with mighty resolutions of service and obedience to him; and whenever the pledges and seals of these benefits are delivered into our hands, the sight of them should at once wound and revive our hearts, and make us cry out, “Lord, how unworthy am I, for whom thou shouldest do and suffer all this! I am overcome by thy love, and can no longer hold out, against the mighty force of such kindness! I render 567myself to thee, and will serve thee for ever, who hast redeemed me at so dear a rate.”
” Now to Him that sitteth upon the throne, and to the Lamb that was slain; to God even our Father, and to the Lord Jesus Christ, the first begotten from the dead, and the Prince of the kings of the earth; unto Him that hath loved us, and washed us from our sins in his own blood, and hath made us kings and priests to God and his Father; to Him be glory and dominion, for ever and ever. Amen.”
END OF VOL. IV.
J. F. DOVE, Printer, St. John’s Square.
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