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 clamor, and evil speaking, be put away, with all malice; and be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God, for Christ's sake, hath forgiven you.'




But God commendeth his love towards us, in that whilst we were yet sinners,

Christ died for us.

and person

[ocr errors]

The veneration and devout affection which we entertain for the memory

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 in human life. If we look to the benefits which the author of our redemption hath procured to us, this is manifest, that all favors 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 judgment, 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 du

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. ii. 15, St 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 writings 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 St James, 'is an enemy of God.' “You 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.

I proceed, in the second place, to prove, that the redemption of the world, instead of being undertaken by another, to appease the wrath of an incensed or austere God, was itself a thing provided by God; and was the effect of his care and goodness towards his human creatures. The texts I shall lay before you, in support of this proposition, are the following; God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.' John iii. 16. Again, in the sixth chapter of the same gospel, Christ speaks, “I came down from heaven, not to do mine own will, but the will of him that sent me; and this is the Father's will who hath sent me, that of all which he hath given me I should lose nothing.' These are Christ's own words ; and in what way does Christ describe his office and commission ? not as coming of himself to pacify God the Father, who was alienated from and averse to the race of mankind, but as sent by God the Father to reclaim and reform this degenerate race; to save them, by turning every one from his sins, and so to bring those back who were gone far astray from their duty, their happiness, and their God; in other words, Christ's coming was the appointment of God the Father, and


[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

that appointment was the effect of God the Father's love.

These declarations of our Saviour's own are followed up by many passages in the writings of the apostles, which speak of Christ's coming into the world, of his ministry, and more especially of his death, as concerted and determined of old in the counsels of the Almighty Father. • Him being delivered,' saith St Peter, .by the determinate counsels and foreknowledge of God

ye have taken.' Against the holy child Jesus they were gathered together, for to do whatsoever thy hand and thy counsel determined to be done. But the mission of Christ was not only the counsel and design of God the Father, but it was a counsel of supreme love to mankind. God commendeth his love towards us, in that whilst we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.' He that spared not his own Son, but delivered him up for us all, how shall he not with him also give us all things?' But the text the fullest and the plainest to our purpose is in the fourth chapter of the epistle of St John. "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.' • Herein is love; not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.' Now in these various texts you will remark the same thing, which is, that they do not describe the redemption of mankind, as if a milder and more benevolent being went about to propitiate the favor of another who was harsh and austere, who was before incensed at the human race, had cast them off, or was averse to their welfare ; that certainly was not the idea which dwelt in the mind of those who delivered such declarations as I have now read to you ; but it was all along the design and the doing of that Being, the effect of his love, the fruit and manifestation of his affection and good will.

But it will be asked, if God the Father was always gracious, and merciful, and loving to his creatures; always ready to receive, and desirous to make them happy, what necessity was there for a redeemer, or for the redemption of the world at all? I answer that there was still the same necessity to reform and recover mankind from their sins, and there was likewise a necessity for a propitiation for sin. It was a law of God's moral government, that mankind could not be made happy in their future existence without holiness, at least without endeavours after holiness, without turning away from their sins, without a pardon obtained through Jesus Christ his Son. Perhaps the whole rational universe, angels as well as the spirits of departed men, may be interested in the maintenance and preservation of this law. Here God's love to his creatures interposed, not to break through or suspend a rule universally salutary and necessary, but to provide expedients, and to endeavour, if we may so say, to bring the human race, lost in an almost total depravity, within the rule which he had appointed for the government of his moral creation. The expedient which his wisdom made choice of, and which it is for us to accept with all humility and all thankfulness, was to send into the world the person nearest and dearest to himself, his own and his only begotten Son, to instruct the ignorance of mankind, to collect a society of men out of all nations and countries of the world, united together by faith in him, and through the influence of that faith, producing the fruits of righteousness and of good works. It seemed agreeable, also, to the same supreme wisdom, that this divine messenger should sacrifice his life in the execution of his office. The expediency of this measure we can in part understand, because we can see that it conduced with other causes, to fix a deep impression on the hearts and consciences, both of his immediate followers, the living witnesses and spectators of his death and sufferings, and of those who, in after ages, might come to a knowledge of his history. It bound them to him by the tenderest of all reflections, that he died for their sakes. This is one intelligible use of the death of Christ. are not to stop at this; in various declarations of scripture concerning the death of Christ, it is necessary also to acknowledge that there are other and higher consequences attendant upon this event, the particular nature of which consequences, though of the most real and highest nature, we do not understand, nor perhaps are capable of understanding, even if it had been told us, until we be adınitted to more knowledge than we at present possess, of the order and economy of superior beings, of our own state and destination after death, and of the laws of nature by which the next world will be governed, which probably are very different from the present. But that there are such benefits arising from the death of Christ, various passages ture declare, and cannot be fairly interpreted without supposing them. We are sure that the whole was a wise method of accomplishing the end proposed, because it was the method adopted by the wisest of all beings. Perhaps it was the only method possible; but what I am at present concerned to point out is, that it is to be referred to the love of God the Father. It is to be regarded as an instance, and the very highest instance, of his paternal affection for us. You have heard, in the several

But we

of scrip

« VorigeDoorgaan »