« הקודםהמשך »
or explanation ; and very little addressed to such as do not believe them. The particular subject of inquiry will be, in what that growth in grace, and progress in the divine life consists, to which the apostles so strenuously and repeatedly exhort their Christian brethren? and on what account they were so earnest about these things, with those of whose conversion and salvation they had the fullest confidence? But as it is purposed to consider both the exhortations and prayers of the sacred writers, especially those of the apostolical epistles; it will be requisite to make a few more introductory remarks.
1. The frequent and fervent prayers, with which the instructions of the inspired writers are interspersed, decidedly prove, that “all holy desires, all good counsels, and all just works,” are from God; as our liturgy well expresses it: or, in the still more emphatic language of inspiration, that “every good gift, and every perfect gift, is from above; and cometh down from the Father of lights.”—Indeed every prayer for wisdom, holiness, or ability to perform good works, evidently implies, that communications from the fountain of perfection are necessary, in order to render us wise or holy; that we are warranted to expect such communications, notwithstanding our unworthiness; and that we ought to desire, apply for, and depend on thein, in all our undertakings. They, therefore, who form higher notions of the native powers, resources, and excellencies of fallen man, must be very inconsistent in presenting prayers to this effect; and their religion must be very different from that of those primitive believers, who expected every good gift from the Father of lights, through Jesus Christ, and by the supply of his Spirit. From the fulness of the divine Saviour, they all received ; that fulness still remains unexhausted and undiminished; and would we emulate their superior attainments, imitate their bright examples, or aspire to a large measure of their usefulness: the way is plainly marked out to us in the words of our Lord to his apostles, “ He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit ; for without me ye can do nothing." John xv. 5.
But the apostles did not deem prayers in behalf of their brethren, incompatible with exhortations to them, as their constant practice incontrovertibly proves. Many professors of the gospel continually express their astonishment, that their opponents cannot find the doctrines of grace in the sacred Scriptures: and it is indeed a just subject of surprise, for they are written there as with a sun-beam. But is it not equally so, that any man, who seems to reverence and to examine the word of God, should overlook all the exhortations and admonitions with which it abounds, as if they had never been written, or as if we had no concern in them? Yet this is actually the case : numbers are sure to object against every attempt to bring them forward, and to apply them with energy to the hearts and consciences of those, who are attached to the doctrines of grace, though without doubt they are, as much as these, a part of the “ counsel of God;" and as strongly marked in Scripture.—Many allowances, indeed, must be made for a variety of prejudices, where the heart appears to be upright : yet it should be remembered, that the pretended mother consented to have the child divided; whilst the real parent in unfeigned affection, rather chose to risk the loss of her son, than accede to such a proposal. 1 Kings, iii. 26. When professors are thus disposed to curtail the Scriptures, it may be reasonably suspected that they do not cordially love them; but he, who from his heart says to the Lord, “Thy word is very pure, therefore thy servant loveth it,” will not consent to any such mutilation. He loves every part of the sacred volume, because it is all very pure: and even when he meets with passages, which excite his fears lest he should come short of the promised blessings; he does not reject or turn from them on that account; but meditates on them, till he becomes more watchful, diligent, and fervent in prayer, and thus finds that the whole of the word of God, “ does good to him that walketh uprightly.”.
II. The exhortations of the apostles were principally addressed to such as they believed to be real Christians, children of God and heirs of heaven : and
their prayers in behalf of these persons especially related to their spiritual growth and proficiency. Hence we may certainly conclude, that there is something in Christianity, both desirable and attainable, besides the present comfort and the eternal salvation of the individuals, who have already embraced it. Indeed the salvation of one soul is an object of such magnitude, as no temporal interest is worthy to stand in competition with ; but the glory of God, in the credit and the success of the gospel, and the everlasting state of immense multitudes, as connected with it, are beyond comparison more important. That selfishness, however, which is natural to fallen creatures, does not yield to any system of doctrine; unless it be accompanied by the renewing influences of the Holy Spirit ; but if a person can satisfy himself with the hope of his own salvation, without any habitual regard to the honour of the gospel, or the eternal interests of other men, he is entirely selfish, and as evidently destitute of the mind and spirit of Christ, as the man, who, enjoying his own abundance, cares not how many are pinched with want, though even suffering through his injustice and oppression.
It is the constant aim, and fervent desire of all the faithful and well-instructed ministers of Christ, to excite the minds of their beloved people to a generous regard for the credit of the gospel, and a compassionate longing after the conversion of sinners: and the design of this treatise is to concur with their endeavours for this purpose ; and to stir up the pure minds of believers, “ by way of remembrance ;" in hopes that thus, they may be induced and directed to “ let their light shine more abundantly before men ; that they may see their good works, and glorify our Father who is in heaven: Mat. v. 15. or, in other words, " to grow in grace and in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ."-To him be glory, now and for ever. Amen,
An enumeration of those particulars, in which the true believer's growth in grace con
sists; as far as they are explicitly contained in the apostle's prayer for the Philippians.
Growth implies the existence of all those things, in which an increase is experienced, perceived, or expected ; so that the persons, for whom the subsequent discussion is especially intended, are supposed to possess in some measure all those graces or holy dispositions, in which a further growth is represented to be highly desirable, and actually attainable. In considering the subject, it would not perhaps be found expedient to confine our attention entirely to any single exhortation or prayer contained in the sacred writings; or to adhere to the method, which a strict regard to a system might impose. It is however proposed in this section, to confine our attention to the prayer which holy Paul offered in behalf of the Philippians : except as other Scriptures will be adduced in proof or illustration of the several particulars, which will thus pass under our consideration. In the subsequent part of the treatise some other subjects will be noticed, which seem requisite to complete the design, but are not conveniently reducible to any of the clauses of this comprehensive text. Phil. i. 9-11. I would only further premise, that the prayers offered by the sacred writers, when under the immediate influence of the divine Spirit, are peculiarly suited to show us the real nature of that proficiency in genuine Christianity, which their benevolent and zealous minds so ardently longed to bebold in their beloved people, as above all things eonia ducive to their true prosperity, and the glory of their God and Saviour. And in some respects they may perhaps be more adapted to produce conviction in every mind, than exhortations or precepts can be: because they con
vey the same instruction more inoffensively: with less appearanee of assuming authority, and with more conciliating demonstrations of affection and good-will.
I. “ This," says the apostle, “ I pray, that your love may abound yet more and more.' He does not restrict the meaning of the term used by him; and it is therefore proper to give the largest scope to the subject, of which it is capable. The holy Scriptures speak of love in the most exalted terms: “ Love is of God : and every one that loveth is born of God and knoweth God: he that loveth not, knoweth not God, for God is love." " He that dwelleth in love, dwelleth in God, and God in him” “ Love is the fulfilling of the law." “ The end of the commandment,” or the revelation made by the Lord to sinful men, " is love, out of a pure heart, and of a good con, science, and of faith unfeigned." (Kapagsamas, 1 Tim.i. 5.) “ Nothing avail eth in Christ Jesus, but faith, which worketh by love." " And now abideth faith, hope, love, these three ; but the greatest of these is love.” Faith alone justifies the sinner, by forming his relation to Christ; and by faith alone can a man receive all needful grace from his fulness: hope of eternal glory, grounded on God's promises, and sealed by the sanctification of the Holy Spirit, is the anchor of the soul, and the helmet of salvation : but love is the substance of that holiness and felicity to which we are recovered, through the efficacy of faith and hope. The scaffolding is indispensably necessary : but when the edifice is completed, it is taken down as an encumbrance. Thus faith will be lost in sight, and hope swallowed up in enjoyment, when love shall be brought to perfection; but love will remain for ever, the temper, employment and happiness of heaven itself. Love is indeed that distinguishing essential of true religion,
“ Which hypocrites could ne'er attain,
# Which false professors never knew;" for « every one that loveth is born of God.” This cannot mean that sinful men are in every sense, incapable of love: but only, that they cannot exereise that affection in a holy manner according to the reasonable law of God. For love is the ruling passion of the soul, and gives the direction to all the rest : but in our present disordered state, it is become incapable of fixing on its proper objects, and is, therefore, prostituted to such as are worthless or abominable. An unholy heart cannot love holiness; “ the carnal mind is enmity against God," and cannot be subject to his holy law, or view with delight any object that bears his image. Some kind of gratitude may be felt or manifested by an unregenerate sinner, when his inclinations are gratified, when impending danger is averted, or when he presumptuously deems himself an heir of salvation; and he may have an instinctive benevolence towards men, without any suitable regard to God.
Yet these do not constitute that love, of which the apostles spoke in such exalted terms: though gratitude and benevolence, when they spring from proper principles, and connect with other holy affections, may be ranked among the most important of its exercises.-But the holy character of God, with all that immediately relates to him, or bears the stamp of his moral perfections, is the object of our proud aversion and contempt; discoveries of the Divine glory and excellency excite proportionable enmity; nor can any benefits overcome our dislike to the holiness of our Benefactor, so long as we continue unregenerate : “So then they that are in the flesh cannot please God.”
In regeneration, however, a capacity of spiritual perception is communicated to the soul, in a manner which we can neither explain nor comprehend; and we are by it enabled to discern the holy excellency and beauty of heavenly things. This produces a revolution in our judgment and affections: “old things pass away, behold, all things become new" our love is now divorced, as it were, from its former base attachments; and we gradually learn to esteem, admire, choose, desire, relish, and delight in that spiritual excellency, which was before the object of our aversion and contempt. The heart now
becomes in some degree holy, proportionably loves holy persons, and holy things : we are spiritually-minded, and habitually seek our pleasure in spiritual pursuits and employments. This capacity of spiritual perception is not a new faculty added to the soul, but the ability of exercising every faculty which God hath given us, in a suitable manner, about the grand concerns of religion; for which our apostacy from our Creator, and idolatrous attachment to the creatures, had wholly disqualified us. It is therefore, represented in Scripture by images taken from our bodily senses: the regenerate soul sees heavenly beauty, hears divine harmony, smells fragrancy as of “ointment poured forth,” and tastes sweetness as of “ honey and the honey-comb.” Yet these perceptions in the new convert are feeble and indistinct; and often almost overborne and swallowed up in the tumult of natural passions, and the conflict with carnal propensities; they, however, uniformly influence
a new born babe to desire the sincere milk of the word, that he may grow thereby, seeing that he has tasted that the Lord is gracious.” i Pet. ii. 2, 3. And they constitute that leaven, which will gradually diffuse its influence, till the whole be leavened, and all the faculties, affections, and operations of the soul be made to partake of the same holy nature and tendency.
When we are thus made capable of perceiving, in some degree, the beauty and glory of the Divine perfections, and of forming some proper estimate of our obligations and relations to our Creator and Benefactor; we are brought to consent to his holy law, that it is good, and that its commands, though very strict and spiritual, are reasonable, equitable, and beneficial: and the view of the evil of sin, which is thus obtained, though it be imperfect, produces a submission to the justice of God in the condemnation of transgressors. Other discoveries of our guilt and danger, and of the wrath to which we are exposed, may alarm us; but nothing short of this can produce genuine humiliation and self-abasement; which will be matured and increased by fuller views of the glory of God person and salvation of Christ. ,
For did we only contemplate the perfections of God, as displayed in the works of creation and providence, or illustrated by the justice of his law and government, our consciousness of guilt and pollution would so discourage us, and even lead us to the borders of despair, that we should be induced to struggle with all our might against conviction, and to oppose the humiliat ing effect of every discovery of God to our souls, which we were unable to exclude. But when we are led to perceive, along with our views of the odiousness and desert of our sins, the glory of God in the harmonious display of all his attributes, through the person and redemption of his Son: this allays our terrors, inspires our hope, and fixes our attention; while it exceedingly increases humiliation, and self-abasement.—The dignity of the Divine Redeemer, the nature of his undertaking, the immensity of his compassionate and condescending love, the perfection and value of his righteousness, the depth, intenseness, and variety of his sufferings; the honour thus given to the law and justice of God; the sufficiency of his atonement; his subsequent resurrection, triumphant ascension, and glorious exaltation; his power, faithfulness, and love ; his gracious invitations, and precious promises; with the manifold blessings which he freely bestows on the vilest of sinners, who come to God by him ;—these are all distinct subjects for our meditation, peculiarly suited to interest, instruct, and affect our minds, and to give us entirely new thoughts of God and of ourselves, of sin and holiness, of our immortal souls, our eternal concerns, our past lives, our present oonduct and situation, and of all those things which concur to produce deep humility, lively hope, admiring love and gratitude, and every holy affection. Here without dismay we may contemplate the divine character with fixed attention; whilst we view it through a medium that softens its splendours, and endears its beauty and glory to our hearts. Here we view infinite justice, holiness, mercy, faithfulness, and wisdom, in perfect harmony, whilst each attribute reflects glory on all the rest. At the same time, our interest in these grand concerns render them far more affecting to our
minds: and we are enabled, in revering and adoring the holy majesty of God, and admiring his transcendent excellency, to give up our hearts to the pleasing desire and hope of having him, sinful as we are, to be our Father, Friend, and everlasting Portion. When we have been encouraged to make this choice and indulge this hope, we begin to fear above all things, lest we should come short of it: we learn to take pleasure in such devout exercises, as strengthen our confidence, or give us some anticipation of our desired felicity : we feel lively emotions of gratitude for the condescending and merciful dealings of so glorious a Lord with such vile sinners; we long for others also to know and love him, to enjoy his favour, and to render him praise: we become zealous for his honour, grieved when we offend him, ashamed and humbled at the recollection of past transgressions, watchful against temptation and every occasion of sin, and troubled at hearing others express contempt or enmity against so gracious and merciful a God and Saviour.–All these varied exercises of holy love have' respect to the incomprehensible mysteries of the Divine nature, displayed in the grand scheme of our salvation; as originating from the most free love of the Father, purchased for us by the atonement of the incarnate Son, and applied to our hearts by the regenerating and sanctifying influences of the Holy Spirit ;but it will especially centre, as it were, in the person of Emmanuel, God ma-, nifested in the flesh; as the glorious excellency and loveliness of the Deity is there more immediately revealed to us; and as he that loves, honours, believes, and obeys the Son, loves, honours, believes, and obeys the Father that sent him ; for “he that hath the Son, hath the Father also ;" and Christ is the appointed medium by which we approach, know, and glorify the invisible God.
The same capacity of perceiving and loving spiritual excellency, which is essential to every exercise of holy love towards our God and Saviour, disposes us also to " delight in his law after the inward man;" to punt all his commandments in all things to be right; and to hate every
false to “ choose the precepts of the Lord;" and to “ long to have our ways directed to keep them.” Whilst these therefore are our desires and prayers, we must be proportionably grieved and disquieted with the opposition made to all our endeavours, by “ the sin that dwelleth in us :” and the want of more entire conformity to that holy, just and good law, which we now most cordially approve, will be a constant source of sorrow and cause of humiliation; and at some times will prove the burden or even the terror of our hearts; and thus the believer's tears, groans, and complaints, because “he cannot do the things which he would," being connected with evident conscientiousness and diligence in performing the will of God, may be considered as a proof that he has the holy law of God written in his heart by regenerating grace.
The same holy judgment and taste of the renewed soul enables the believer to relish every part of the sacred Scriptures; and, in proportion to the degree of his spirituality, he loves to read and meditate upon the word of God; he not only uses it as “the lantern of his paths," or the ground of his hope ; but he makes it his “ delight and his counsellor ;" he esteems it “more than his necessary food;" and feels an appetite for its salutary instruction like that of the new-born babe for the milk of the breast.--The same principle causes him to love the house of God, and to “ count one day in his courts better than a thousand.” He is no longer glad of an excuse for staying from the public ordinances of God, exact in determining how often he is bound in duty to attend on them, or disposed to yield to every petty obstacle that renders such attendance inconvenient or difficult ; for “he is glad when it is said to him, let us go unto the house of the Lord :” he longeth, when detained from it, for the renewal of that satisfaction he has there experienced in communion with God and his saints; and he finds it no easy matter to be resigned to the will of God, when under a necessity to absent himself. Thus the Lord's day, which was formerly a weariness, unless profaned by worldly