« VorigeDoorgaan »
was laid in heaven. This great event was determined in the council there. (Acts iv. 28.) All the perfections of the Godhead sat in council, when it was decreed the Son of God should die. Strange decree! Why was it made? Astonishing! Why did it ever come to pass ? Did he die to move the compassions of his almighty Father towards a rebellious race? No; for to give his Son thus to die was greater grace than at one sovereign stroke to have cancelled all our debt, and pardoned all the world. Did he die to take away, or lessen, the evil nature and ill desert of sin ? No; for infinite purity and impartial justice must look upon the rebellions of a revolted world as odious and ill deserving as if he had not died. He died to bear the punishment due to us. We were under the curse; he was made a curse in our room; set forth to be a propitiation, by his holy Father, to declare his righteous, and show the rectitude of his government in the eyes of all created intelligences; that he might be just, do as his law threatens, and yet not damn, but justify, the sinner that believeth in Jesus.
Eternal damnation was our due, according to the divine law; a law not founded in arbitrary will. A law arbitrarily made, may be arbitrarily repealed; but a law only declaring what is fit, must forever stand in force. To rise in rebellion against the infinitely glorious Majesty of heaven, deserved eternal damnation; as he is infinitely worthy of the highest love and honor from all his intelligent creatures. His infinite amiableness and honorableness infinitely oblige us to love and honor him.
All our heart, and mind, and strength are his due. The least defect deserves eternal woe. Thus the Omniscient viewed the case. His Son, in the same view, approved the law as strictly just. Both looked on the sacrifice and death of an incarnate God in the room of sinners, to open a way for their salvation, as a plan infinitely preferable to the law's repeal by a sovereign act. The Son had rather endure the most painful, shameful death, than that one tittle of the law should fail; it was so strictly just. God ought to have his due. The law barely asserts the rights of the Godhead. So much, however, was his due, as to be loved with all the heart, and obeyed in every thing; and so worthy was the Deity of this love and obedience, that the least defect deserved eternal death. “ 'Tis right, 'tis right," said the eternal Son, “ that the first instance, or the least degree of disrespect to my eternal Father, should incur eternal ruin to the sinning creature; and I had rather become incarnate and die myself, than yield this point.” That God is infinitely amiable; that he ought to be loved with all our heart; that the
infinite excellency of his nature infinitely obliges us, can never Le set in a stronger light, than it is by the cross of Christ.
The infinite dignity of the Mediator, and the extreme sufferings he underwent, as an equivalent to our eternal woe, in the loudest manner proclaim that the law was just ; just in the eyes of God; and just in the eyes of his Son. A law, threatening eternal damnation, infinite goodness would never have enacted, had not impartial justice called for it. Much less would infinite goodness have appointed God's own Son to answer its demands, if in its own nature too severe. To suppose the Son of God died to answer the demands of a law in its own nature cruel, is to make God a tyrant, and the death of his Son the most shocking affair that ever happened.
But what did this law, of which we so often speak, require ? Say, my dear Aspasio, what was the first and chief command ? Your Master's answer you approve.
" Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart.” But why was love required ? Because God was lovely. And why the penalty so great ? Because his loveliness was infinite. If the infinite amiableness of the divine being does not lay an infinite obligation on his creatures to love him for being what he is, how can we justify the law's demands, or vindicate the wisdom of God in the death of his Son?
From the cross, where an incarnate God asserted the rights of the Godhead by his dying pains, let us pass to the awful tribunal, where the same incarnate God, arrayed in all his Father's glory, with all the hosts of heaven in his train, by the last sentence which he will pronounce upon his Father's enemies, dooming them to the burning lake, to welter for eternal ages in woe, will still proclaim the justice of the law. Would infinite goodness, would our compassionate Savior, would he who wept over Jerusalem, the kind and tenderhearted Jesus, love to pronounce a sentence so infinitely dreadful, if it were not strictly just ? Yet he will do it, without the least reluctance ; yea, with the highest pleasure, while angels and saints shout forth their hallelujahs all around him.
But can this ever be accounted for on any other hypothesis, than that the infinitely glorious Monarch of the universe appears, clearly appears, in that solemn hour, to be infinitely worthy of all that love and honor his law required, in being what he is; and so sin an infinite evil ?
If sin is really an infinite evil, then it is meet that it should be discountenanced and punished as such, with an infinite punishment, that is, with the eternal pains of hell. And it was fit that the Governor of the world should make a law thus to
punish it; and fit that this law should be magnified and made honorable ; and even wise in the eyes of infinite wisdom, that one, by nature God, should become incarnate, and die in the sinner's stead, rather than set the law aside. And on this hypothesis, the final doom of the wicked may well appear perfectly beautiful in the eyes of all holy intelligences. But sin cannot be an infinite evil, unless we are under infinite obligations to do otherwise.
Love is the thing required. Not merely a love of gratitude to God as an almighty Benefactor, but a love of esteem, complacence, and delight. We may feel grateful to a benefactor, merely as such, without even a knowledge of his general character; yea, when his general character would not suit us, did we know it. The Israelites, notwithstanding their joy and gratitude at the side of the Red Sea, were far from a disposition to be suited, to be pleased, to be enamored, with such a being as God was. Yea, the more they knew of him, the less they seemed to like him; so that in less than two years they were for going back to Egypt again. But if we may feel grateful towards God, merely as our almighty Benefactor, without the knowledge of his true character, yet esteem, complacence, and delight, suppose his true character known; as that is the object of this kind of love. And what can lay us under infinite obligations to love God in this sense, but his own infinite amiableness? Yet the divine law requires us to love God with this kind of love ; and that with all our hearts, on pain of eternal damnation for the least defect. And this law was binding on all mankind previously to a consideration of the gift of Christ to be a Savior.
While, therefore, the law supposes our obligations to be infinite; and the death of the Son of God, and the final judgment, give the highest possible proof that the Omniscient esteems the law exactly right; the infinite dignity, excellency, and glory of the Most High God is hereby set in the strongest point of light. Take away the infinite amiableness of the Deity, and we, in effect, ungod him. He ceases to be the God of glory. He ceases to be a proper object of this supreme regard, in the eyes of finite intelligences. It is no longer an infinite evil not to love him; the law is no longer just; the death of Christ is needless; and the whole system of doctrine revealed in the Bible is sapped at the foundation; nothing remains, to a thinking man, but infidelity.
And yet, dear Aspasio, this was my very case. The infinite amiableness of the Deity, which is the real foundation of all true religion, was wholly left out of the account, in my love
and joy, and in all my religious affections. All my love, and joy, and zeal, arose from my faith; and my faith consisted but in believing that Christ, pardon, and heaven were mine. I rejoiced just like the graceless İsraelites, in a sense of their great deliverance, and in expectation of soon arriving to the promised land, a land flowing with milk and honey, the glory of all lands. Theirs was a graceless, selfish joy; and so was mine. Theirs was soon over; and so was mine. Their carcasses finally fell in the wilderness; and, but for the sovereign grace of God, this also had been my very case.
O my dear Aspasio, whose entertaining pen gains the attention of thousands on both sides the Atlantic, pity the ignorance of benighted souls, and guard them against the dangers which had well nigh proved the ruin of your own pupil.
THERON TO ASPASIO.
New ENGLAND, April 4, 1759. MY DEAR ASPASIO :
WHILE I view God the Creator, whose almighty word gave existence to the whole system; while I view him as the original Author and sole Proprietor of the whole universe ; whose are all things in heaven and earth ; I see the right of government naturally belongs to him. It is meet that he should be King in his own world; and he cannot but have a rightful authority over the works of his own hands. While I view him as moral Governor of the world, seated at the head of the intelligent creation, on a throne high and lifted up, heaven and earth filled with his glory as the Thrice Holy One; and hear him utter his voice, saying, "I am the Lord, and besides me there is no other God; and hear him command all the world to love, and adore, and obey him, on pain of eternal damnation ; a spirit of love to his glorious majesty inspires me with joy, and makes me exult to see him thus exalted and thus honored. I love to hear him proclaim his law, a law holy, just, and good, glorious and amiable. I am glad, with all my heart, the almighty Monarch of the universe is so engaged that all his subjects "give unto God the glory due unto his name.”
His law, his glorious law, which once, enemy to God that I was, appeared like “the laws of Draco," now shines with a beauty all divine. I had almost said, it is the brightness of his glory, and the express image of his person; for indeed it is an exact transcript of his glorious perfections, the very picture of his heart, holy, just, and good. (Rom. vii. 12.)
When the God of glory dwelt in the Jewish temple, in the pillar of cloud, over the mercy-seat, his law was, by his special command, deposited in the ark, the very holiest place in the holy of holies, as the dearest, choicest treasure. Thus was it done to the law, which God delighted to honor. But this honor, great as it was, is not to be mentioned, nor is it worthy to come into mind, since that infinitely greater regard to the divine law, which God has shown in the gift of his Son.
An incarnate God, on the cross, has magnified the law, and made it honorable, beyond, infinitely beyond, what was ever done before. But all this honor, infinitely great as it was, was but just equal to what the law deserved.
While I view God, my Creator, my rightful Lord and Owner, my sovereign king, the God of glory, and see his infinite worthiness of supreme love and honor, I feel that the least disrespect of his glorious majesty is an infinite evil. I pronounce the law, in all its rigor, holy, just, and good. Even as a ministration of death and condemnation, it appears glorious, (2 Cor. iii. 7, 8,) and I heartily acquiesce in the equity of the sentence with application to myself. This makes me feel my need of Christ, and prepares my heart to return home to God, forever to live to him. “For I through the law am dead to the law, that I might live unto God."
The law, my dear Aspasio, threatens eternal damnation for the very first transgression, for even the least defect. (Gal. iii. 10.) I break the law every moment; and, therefore, every moment I merit eternal woe. Such an infinite evil is sin. It appeared glorious in the eyes of God thus to punish sin, when he made his law; it appeared glorious in the eyes of Christ that sin should be thus punished, when he went as a lamb to the altar, and voluntarily stretched himself upon the cross to die in the sinner's room. And in a clear view of the glory of the God of glory, I see the grounds and reasons of the law ; it is holy, just, and good. I see why Christ was so willing to be nailed to the cross in the sinner's stead ; to magnify the law and make it honorable. And I have fellowship, a fellow-feeling, with Christ in his sufferings; and, in the temper of my heart, am made conformable to his death. (Phil. iii. 10.) I feel towards God, and law, and sin, in a measure, as he did. Or, to express