« הקודםהמשך »
business, pleasure, or company, becomes his delight; and, though too often he has reason to'lament that his Sabbaths are passed without the expected satisfaction and advantage, yet he still meets their return with pleasure, and deems them the happiest days of his life. As he grows in holy love he is enabled to adopt the Psalmist's words, in respect of the worship he renders to the Lord, and to say, " My soul is satisfied as with marrow and fatness, whilst I praise thee with joyful lips :" and every thing that relates to the service of God is endeared to his heart, and held in reverence and honour.
In like manner, he perceives the “ beauty of the Lord” in the character and conduct of his people, whom before he neglected, despised, or disliked : and thus he learns to love and respect them as the excellent of the earth. He chooses them for his most valued companions : he sympathizes with their joys and sorrows; he seeks their welfare, and according to his ability endeavours to promote it; he bears with their failings and prejudices, casting the mantle of love over their infirmities : he prays for their prosperity and happiness: and if he can but see, or think he sees, the image of his beloved Lord upon them, he counts them his brethren, though they belong not to his subdivision of the church, subscribe not exactly his creed, and fill up a very different station in the family of God.
The admiring contemplation of the glory of the Lord, in the person and salvation of Christ, is always productive of a gradual transformation of the soul into his holy image : 2 Cor. jii. 17, 1$. and the Saviour's condescending and compassionate love, to the very persons whose crimes he most deeply abhorred, appears peculiarly beautiful and endearing to the redeemed sinner. Thus benevolent love to mankind in general is produced and increased ; selfish and contracted prejudices are removed ; and proud contempt of the mean, the vile, and the ignorant, bitter resentments borne to the injurious, and envy of rivals and competitors, are changed into pity and good-will. While conformity to Christ, love to his most beautiful and glorious character, gratitude for redeeming love, and willing obedience to his commandments, combine their energy in disposing his true disciples to love strangers and persecutors, the most abandoned transgressors, and the most provoking enemies; and to copy his example of long-suffering, meekness, forgiveness, compassion, fervent prayers and tears for them, and persevering endeavours to overcome evil with good.
When love, the ruling principle of activity in the mind of man, is thus, fixed on its proper objects, and regulated, proportioned, and exercised according to the Divine law of God; it is evident that all spiritual worship, humble submission, and devoted obedience to God, with all righteousness, goodness, and truth, in our conduct towards men must result from it, and grow in proportion as it is increased. We may, therefore, easily perceive the propriety of the apostle's prayer for the Philippians, “ that their love might abound yet more and more.”—This accords with many other prayers and exhortations in his epistles. “ The Lord grant—that Christ may dwell in your hearts by faith'; that ye, being rooted and grounded in love, -may know the love of Christ which passeth knowledge." Eph. üi. 16.–19. • The Lord made you to abound in love, one towards another, and towards all men, even as we do towards you ;—to the end he may establish your hearts unblameable in holiness.” 6 Ye are taught of God to love one another; and indeed
do it: but we beseech you to increase more and more.” 1 Thess. 12, 13. iv. 9, 10. “ Your Faith groweth exceedingly, and the love of every one of you all towards each other aboundeth.” 2 Thess. i. 3. Indeed the love of believers towards each other is principally meant in these texts : but then we know that this love is the result, the evidence, and the measure of our love to God the Father, and our Lord Jesus Christ.-We are required to consider every true Christian as the brother and representative of our unseen Redeemer; and all the love we bear to them, and the good we do them, for his sake, will be acknowledged and graciously recompensed at the last day, as the indubitable proof of the reality and strength of our love to him.
But let us more particularly consider the words before us.-" That your lovemayabound: mayabound more, may abound yet more; may abound yet more and more!" Press forward, is the Christian's motto, and the minister's watch, word. “We beseech you, brethren, that as ye have received of us how, ye ought to walk and to please God; so ye would abound more and more." Thess. iv. 1. The lively believer is never in this world satisfied with his de gree of sanctification ; but still hungers and thirsts for more entire confors mity to the image and law of God: and the zealous minister never thinks his beloved people arrived at the summit of improvement; but, while he says, " I bless God ye abound in love;" he also adds, “ I pray God you may abound yet more and more:”-and, “Seeing ye have purified your souls, in obeying the truth, through the Spirit, unto unfeigned love of the brethren, -see that ye love one another with a pure heart fervently." 1 Pet. i. 22.
Comparing these Scriptures with our Lord's declaration, " Every branch in me, that beareth fruit, my Father purgeth, that it may bring forth more fruit,” John xv. 1–5. we may properly advert to a notion very prevalent in some places, among professors of the gospel. It is considered by them as a thing of course for true Christians to “ leave their first love ;" young converts are supposed to abound most in love; and it is expected that they will decline in that respect, as the advance to maturity in judgment and experi,
The expression used in conveying these ideas, is found but once in Scripture.“ Nevertheless," says Christ to the Ephesian church, “ I have somewhat against thee; because thou hast left thy first love ; remember therefore from whence thou art fallen, and repent, and do thy first works; else I will come unto thee quickly, and I will remove thy candlestick vut of his place, except thou repent.' Rev. ii. 4, 5. The severe rebuke, the earnest exhortation, and the solemn warning of this passage, as connected with the commendation bestowed on the Ephesians, in other respects, do not seem calçulated to encourage men in reducing the before mentioned opinion to practice. And it should also be observed, that the stony-ground hearers lost their lively affections, and their religion along with them, “ because they had no root in themselves.”
Surely nothing can be more absurd, than to suppose that a Christian, when growing in grace, can decline in that very thing, in which grace principally consists ! and love is evidently the greatest of all Christian graces. 1 Cor. xiii. 13. Such a sentiment is most pernicious in its tendency and effects: it gives encouragement to hypocrites, who disgrace the profession of the gos. pel; assists many in deceiving themselves; and induces unstable and inju. dicious believers indolently to yield to lukewarmness as a matter of course, and even an evidence of spiritual proficiency; when they ought to be watching and praying against it, and greatly alarmed and humbled on the least consciousness of its growing upon them, from a conviction of its being one of the most detestable and aggravated proofs of human depravity-By this stratagem, Satan hath succeeded, during a lukewarm age, in establishing a false text and standard of maturity in experience and the life of faith ; and hath managed in consequence to render it true in fact : that is, professors of the gospel do generally thus decline. Thus the sentiment becomes specious, by an appeal to observation and experience for the truth of it; and he, who ventures to say, “ My brethren, these things ought not so to be,” is thought to condemn the generation of God's children.
But what saith Christ to the Laodiceans? “ Because thou art lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spue thee out of my mouth.” Rev. iii. 16. This strange opinion stands, not only unsupported by Scripture, but in direct opposition to it: the question is not how things are ? but how they ought to be? The comparative coldness and negligence, for which he is very deeply humbled : but upon the whole the vigour of his love is continually increasing, and he manifests this to be the case in his whole conduct.
" that our love may abound yet more and more ;” or, “ that we may grow in grace,” and make progress in experimental religion, amounts
nearly to the same thing; at least there is an inseparable connection between the two petitions, and they reciprocally imply each other.—We shall, however, in some measure discover by what means the preceding most detestable sentiment has insinuated itself among pious, humble Christians, whilst we proceed to consider the next clause of the apostle's prayer.
II. Not satisfied with desiring that their « love might abound yet more and more,”-he subjoined these words, “in knowledge and in all judgment;" and they suggest to us a second particular, in which growth of grace very greatly consists. There may be very high affections about religion, without the communication of holy principles: surprise at extraordinary and unex, pected events; sanguine hopes of advantages, which appear very great and glorious; sudden transitions from adversity to prosperity, from sorrow to joy, or from pain to pleasure ; and every circumstance which excites self-complacency or strong confidence, will involve or occasion a great flow of vehement affections, in the concerns of religion as well as in those of this life. Thus the Israelites on the banks of the Red Sea, beholding their formidable enemies dead on the shore, and amazed at their own most extraordinary deliverance, “ believed the word of the Lord and sang his praise :" but this apparently good frame in a vast majority of them continued no longer than till their inclinations were thwarted ; and “they soon forgat the works of God, and would not abide in his counsel.” These affections are not of a permanent nature: and, if a man possess nothing better, “ he has no root in himself, and in time of temptation will fall away.”
The new convert indeed experiences and manifests a similar flow of affections. The Lord, in making a Christian, does not destroy the original constitution of the human soul ; and the natural passions are useful in the infancy of the Divine life to produce a proper degree of earnestness and diligence. But with them there exists a spark of heavenly love, which gathers strength whilst they are weakened, and glows more vigorously under their almost expiring ashes.--As this principle acquires energy and ascendency, it suffices to produce activity, and thus to subordinate and regulate all inferior affections: then every kind of earnestness, which did not spring from knowledge, and was not exercised in judgment and discretion, becomes unnecessary, and may abate without any detriment.
All holy affections spring from Divine illumination, and increase with the advancement of spiritual knowledge and genuine experience. In proportion as the Christian is enabled to discern more clearly and distinctly the nature and excellency of heavenly things; and as he experiences more fully the pleasure they are capable of affording; the more will he love and delight in them. The reasons which induce him to love the Lord, and his truths, precepts, and people, are perceived with increasing evidence; his thirst after happiness in the favour of God, his supreme valuation of redemption and salvation in Christ, his gratitude to Him, and zeal for his glory, with attachment to his cause, and devotedness to his service, appear more and more reasonable, in proportion as his mind is truly enlightened by his influences of the Holy Spirit.—He also better understands, why " he who loves God should love his brother also ;” and why he ought to copy the forbearance, compassion, and mercy, of which his redeeming Lord hath given him an example.As his views enlarge, he learns to pay less regard to the strong emotions of the animal spirits, which produce very pleasing but transient sensations, than to that steady and powerful affection, which influences a man to habitual self-denying obedience; and which connects with disinterested endeavours to “ do good to all men, especially to them who are of the household of faith :” and he accustoms himself to judge of the sincerity and degree of his love, not by certain fluctuations in his feelings, but by its energy, in prevailing on him to renounce, venture and endure every thing, in promoting the glory of God and the good of his redeemed people. “ For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments: and his commandments are not grievous." -Thus the Christian may actually abound more and more in love,
as connected with knowledge, when ignorant and selfish passions have subsided : the tumult of his feelings may be greatly abated, when the energy of pure and heavenly love is proportionably increased : and, as impetuous affections and vehement zeal, accompanied with pride and anger, become less and less apparent, he may manifest far more of that love, which “ suffers long and is kind, which envieth not, vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up, does not behave itself unseemly, seeketh not its own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil, rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth ; which beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, and endureth all things.” In short, that love, which is shown “in deed and in truth,” may abound exceedingly, when heavenly wisdom and deep humility have made the Christian ashamed of those ostentatious appearances of love, which consist principally “ in word and in tongue,” in high professions, noisy disputings, and cheap protestations. 1 Cor. xiii. James ii. 15, 16. iii. 13—18. 1 John iii. 16-20.
This will appear more evidently, by considering the other expression employed by the apostle on this occasion,—" in all judgment.” The word is taken from the bodily senses, and may in some degree coincide with the spiritual perception before described ; but it implies also promptitude and exactness of discernment, as acquired by enlarged knowledge and experience, and it is peculiarly applicable to those persons, “ who, by reason of use, (or habit,) have their senses exercised to discern good and evil.” We may, therefore, take the word in the common meaning, for the mental perception, when it distinguishes objects, “ as the ear tries sounds,” and as the mouth tries meats; and this habit of judging accurately and promptly concerning those matters with which we are conversant, is peculiarly useful in every part of our conduct.
That zeal, which springs from vehement affection, without proportionable knowledge and judgment, generally wastes its vigour about things frivolous, worthless, or injurious: it is tarnished with arrogance, bitterness, and censoriousness : it renders men inattentive to the duties of their station and relations in life, and regardless of propriety and decorum : it influences them to attempt things impracticable or romantic, by rash and unwarrantable means, and it hurries them into such tempers and actions, as needlessly increase the prejudices of mankind against the gospel and its professors. But when the heart is upright, and a man is favoured with sound instruction and prudent counsel, even his mistakes will abate his confidence and precipitation, and reiterated disappointments will render him more cautious and considerate. In proportion as he grows in grace, he will learn humility, and simplicity of dependence on the Lord, and discover the duties of his station; he will also become capable of distinguishing between those things, which may be attempted with a reasonable prospect of success, and such as however desirable, cannot prudently be undertaken: and he will watch and wait for the openings of providence; sensible that it is highly important to confine himself to scriptural and warrantable means, in all his endeavours to bring others over to his sentiments. The rashness, ostentation, and forwardness of his disposition being thus abated, the exercise of his love will be less observable to mankind in general, even when the vigour of it is exceedingly increased, and the effects more beneficial and permanent than before.
""The wisdom, that is from above, is first pure; then peaceable ; gentle, and easy to be entreated; full of mercy and good fruits ; without partiality, and without hypocrisy: and the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace of them that
James ii. 13—18. The man therefore who is directed by this wisdom, will not be so eager to engage in violent disputes about doctrines as formerly : but he will be far more careful to understand, and attend to, the several duties of his station, submissively to honour his superiors and seniors, and obey those that are placed over him, in all things lawful; to win them by the silent preaching of a blameless life; by a meek and quiet spirit ; by sincerity and integrity in word and deed ; and by a persevering endeavour
to render all ognnected with him easy and happy. His love will vent itself more in feryenţ prayers for others which is a secret but most effectual way of usefulness: he will improve his influence in his circle to some good purposes, and be daily increasing it by consistency and conseientiousness : he will peaceably occupy with his
talent, as he hath opportunity; and when more favourable occasions are presented, he will gladly embrace them.
It is not sufficient that we are sure the service in which we are about to engage is a good work; we should also be satisfied that it is the service to which the Lord hath called us; and this frequently cannot be determined
without much knowledge and sound judgment. In a great house there are , many servants; and it is not enough that they are all employed about their
master's work: for, unless every one knows and performs the duty of his proper place, confusion and disturbance will be inevitable; many things will be left undone, and almost every thing done amiss.--" The Son of man is as a man taking a far journey, who left his house, and gave authority to his servants, and to every man his work :” and, when every one peaceably, intelligently and diligently minds his proper business, the affairs of the church, as well as those of the family, are managed respectably and advantageously. True wisdom, therefore, consists very much in a man's understanding the duties of his station, and performing them in a quiet and exemplary manner: and love abounds to the best purpose, when it is exercised « in knowledge and in all judgment." The apostle, therefore, ceased not to pray for the Colossians, “ that they might be filled with the knowledge of the will of God, in all wisdom and spiritual understanding; that they might walk worthy of the Lord, unto all pleasing ; being fruitful in every good work, and increasing in the knowledge of God." Col. i. 9. 10. He exhorted the Ephesians to “ walk circumspectly, not as fools but as wise :--and understanding what the will of the Lord is,” Eph. V. 15–17. And he thus counselled the Corinthians, “ Be not children in understanding ; howbeit in malice be. ye children, but in understanding be ye men.” 1 Cor. xiv. 20.
Moreover, a defect in judgment, while love is very fervent, often produces a disproportionate zeal and earnestness: so that attention to one part of a man's duty swallows up, as it were, all due regard to others. Thus love to public ordinances, or Christian conversation, frequently misleads professors to neglect their families and necessary worldly business, or to be inattentive to relative duties; and this brings reproach on the word of God. Social relia gion also often interferes with the exercises of the closet, and prevents growth in grace ; which cannot be expected without much secret self-examination, recollection, meditation, and prayer. And in this way one holy disposition entrenches on another ; boldness excludes meekness and prudence, or meekness and prudence degenerate into timidity; and various excesses of this kind render men's profession of the gospel rather a mis-shapen monster, than a beautiful well-proportionate figure, as Christianity is represented in the Scripture. But the increase of knowledge and judgment, while holy love also acquires permanent energy, leads a man to assign every duty its proper place and order; and to cultivate every holy disposition in due proportion and harmony with other graces. Thus redundancies being retrenched, deficiences supplied, irregularities corrected, natural propensities restrained, and apparently opposite graces brought to coalesce, a man's religion possesses symmetry and beauty, and he “ adorns the doctrine of God our Saviour in all things.” 2 Peter i. 5–7.
The fervent affections of a young convert resemble a fire of thorns, which furiously blazes and crackles, but communicates little heat, and is spee extinct; while the inteiligent and judicious love of a mature Christian may be compared to the steady fire made of substantial fuel, which burns silently, and durably produces far greater effects. Or, to use another illustrationSuppose an unconverted person should be delivered, in a most surprising manner, from imminent danger by shipwreck ; he would doubtless experience a variety of conflicting passions, and manifest very strong affections; while