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Finally as high and low, rich and poor, wise and ignorant, have all one hope of our calling, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of us all, let us all pass the short time of our sojourning here in love, as Christ also hath loved us, and given himself for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God, for a sweet-smelling savour. We are members one of another, and of Christ; "wherefore let all bitterness, and wrath, and anger, and clamour, and evilspeaking be put away, with all malice; and be ye kind one to another, tender-hearted, forgiving one another, even as God, for Christ's sake, hath forgiven you."
ROM. V. 8.
But God commendeth his love towards us, in that whilst we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.
THE veneration and devout affection which we entertain for the memory and person of Jesus Christ can never be too great or too ardent, whether we respect what he has suffered for our sakes, or the benefit we draw from his sufferings. If we regard his sufferings, one plain reflection presents itself: "greater love hath no man than this, that he lay down his life for his friend." It is the last and highest possible instance of affection which a parent could show for a beloved child, or any one can show for the dearest relation of human life. If we look to the benefits which the Author of our redemption hath procured to us, this is manifest, that all favours and all kindnesses are insignificant, compared with those which affect our eternal welfare in another world; because, in proportion as the happiness of a future life is more important to us than any thing we gain or enjoy in this, so whatever helps or promotes
our salvation, our attainment of heaven is more precious than any advantage which can be conferred upon us in this life. We may not be sensible of this now (I fear we are not), but we shall be made sensible of it hereafter. The full magnitude and operation of those effects which will result from the death of Christ we can only comprehend in a general way: that is, we can only comprehend from general expressions used in Scripture. These testify that such effects, and the benefit which the faithful in Christ shall draw from them, will be very great; if we consider that they relate to nothing less than the saving of our souls at the day of judgement, infinitely great in comparison they necessarily must be; because then nothing at all will be of any concern but what relates to that. By the efficacy of his death, surpassing in a great degree our present knowledge, and by his powerful and perpetual intercession for us, which we can in some degree comprehend, we may rest assured that he hath brought into the way to heaven millions who, without him, would not have attained it. If we regard the effects which religious love ought to produce upon us, the love of Christ, like the love of any great benefactor, if it be in our heart, will show itself some way or other. In different men it will show itself in different ways; but in all men it will show itself, if it exist. Such is the nature of the affection. It is never a dead principle. If the root be in the ground, it will irresistibly spring up into action.
There is, however, a danger naturally adhering even to the very piety with which we cherish the memory of our Redeemer, and it is this: It leads sometimes to a frame of mind, and to a habit of thinking concerning religion, and concerning the object of all religion, the Supreme Being himself, which is not justified by reason, or by any thing delivered in the Christian revelation. The opinion which I have in view by this caution is, that whilst we contemplate with deserved admiration the exceeding great love of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, we slide into a way of considering God the Father as a being of a harsh and austere character, at enmity with mankind; which enmity was to be reconciled by the blood of his Son.
Now I do not so much say that this is irrational, because it may be allowed, perhaps, that human reason is a very imperfect judge of such matters; but it is unscriptural; it is not that representation of the subject which the scriptures exhibit, but the contrary.
For, in the first place I remark, that God is never said to be reconciled to us, but we to God. He is always ready to receive mankind returning to their duty. But the difficulty was to induce mankind to return. And in this strain run all the texts in which
the term "reconcile" occurs. "We pray you, in Christ's stead, be ye reconciled unto God;" that is, we entreat you, as though Christ himself entreated you, that ye would return to your duty to God. Again, as to be reconciled is to return to their duty,
so reconcile is to cause to return, or to bring back to duty and obedience those who had deserted; both which I apprehend to be the sense of the term in the following texts. "It pleased the Father that in him should all fulness dwell; and having made peace through the blood of his cross, by him to reconcile all things unto himself, by him, I say, whether they be things in earth, or things in heaven; and you that were sometimes alienated and enemies in your mind. by wicked works, now hath he reconciled." Col. i. 20. Again, Eph. xi. 15, Saint Paul, speaking of the Jews and Gentiles, declares "That Christ hath now by his death abolished all distinction between them; that having made of twain one new man, he might reconcile both unto God in one body by the cross;" so in other places, God is said to reconcile us to himself by Jesus Christ to be reconciling the world unto himself. The preaching of the Gospel is called the word and the ministry of reconciliation. The same distinction holds concerning some other phrases which occur in the writing of the Apostles. God is never said to be at enmity with us, or an enemy to us, or alienated from us, but we are said to be at enmity with God, enemies to God, alienated from God; and all by the wickedness of our lives. "A friend of the world," saith Saint James, "is an enemy of God." that were sometime alienated and enemies in your mind by wicked works;" so the Gentiles were said to be alienated from the life of God, through the ignorance that was in them.