« הקודםהמשך »
they may be converted from the evil of their ways, and saved from destruca tion. And this consists very well with separating from their company, “ not bidding them God speed, lest we partake of their evil deeds ;” and all other protests which we are commanded to enter against their principles and conduct.
We are even required to love our most virulent and injurious enemies and persecutors, after the example of the Lord's love to us, when
bels against him. Not that we ought to love them more than our friends and brethren; as some have misinterpreted these precepts, that they might oppose them. But we should still bear good-will to our foes, wish them well and pray for them, watch against all resentment, and not suffer ourselves to be overcome with evil, but still strive to overcome evil with good. We ought to keep our hearts diligently, that we may not rejoice either in their crimes, disgrace, or misery ; to cultivate compassion for them, especially in respect of their souls; to shew a forbearing, forgiving, and reconcileable disposition ; to spare no pains, and grudge no expence or self-denial, in attempting to do them good; and to seize on every opportunity of relieving their temporal distresses, in order to make way for seeking their more important advantage. “ If thine enemy hunger, feed him ; if he thirst, give him drink; for in so doing thou shalt heap coals of fire on his head. In these cases, we should be ready to relieve the most wicked and ungrateful; but in ordinary circumstances, our brethren and friends have a prior claim to our special kindness ; even as our heavenly Father causes the “sun to shine and the rain to descend on the wicked and ungrateful;" but reserves his peculiar blessings for his children.
The example of the Lord's love to us when enemies, every part of the plan of redemption, the ministry of reconciliation, and the past and present kindness of our God to his believing servants, furnish motives and arguments for the constant practice of all those loving dispositions, and that peaceable and affectionate conduct, which are indispensably required of Christ's disciples, as the only sure evidence that they are true believers, and that their sins are forgiven for his name's sake.
Let us compare these things with the apostle's description of love, as stated in the context. “ Love," says he,“ suffereth long and is kind; love envieth not; love vaunteth not itself; is not puffed up; does not behave itself unseemly; seeketh not her own; is not easily provoked ; thinketh no evil; rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth : beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things.” St Paul doubtless spake of love to men for the Lord's sake: love expressed both by doing and suffering ; love to both their bodies and souls: a patient, long-suffering, unostentatious, disinterested, prudent, modest, unsuspicious, condescending, self-denying, forgiving, and fervent affection to our neighbours and brethren, expressed in the persevering use of every means suited to do them good; and unwearied by suffering or ill-usage in seeking to accomplish this benevolent and compassionate object. Next to the example of Christ, the conduct of the apostle himself forms undoubtedly the best exposition of his language, that was ever yet given.
II. Then we proceed very briefly to shew, in what respects love is greater than faith and hope; and how this consists with the doctrine of justification and salvation by faith alone.
Love is greater than faith and hope, because it constitutes the end for which they are appointed and rendered effectual. « The end of the commandment,” or the message of the gospel, “ is love, out of a pure heart, and of a good conscience, and of faith unfeigned.” i Tim. i. 5. It is the design of the whole gospel, to recover men from a state of apostacy, enmity, selfishness, and malignity, to that love of God and man, which the law commands; and to induce them, by obligations of inestimable value, and by new principles implanted in the heart, to express that love in all their tempers and conduct. This salvation purchased by the blood of Christ, can only be perceived and applied by faith ; and the completion of it is the object of hope ; but love is the disposition, health, and felicity, to which man must be restored, in connection with forgiveness of sin and reconciliation to God. It is the prize itself, of which faith and hope must gradually put us in possession. In proportion as we love, we “ dwell in God, and God in us ;" we anticipate heaven, and possess the blessing : for God is Love, and heaven is love. A magnificent edifice cannot be erected without scaffolding; yet the building is greater than the scaffolding, being the sole end for which it is necessary : and when it is finished, the scaffolding is removed as an useless incumbrance.
Love will endure for ever ; but faith and hope will soon be swallowed up in sight and enjoyment. In heaven they will be no longer wanted, but love will there be perfected; and every alloy of envy, selfishness, prejudice, or aversion removed: every uneasy, self-denying exercise changed for such as are most delightful; and all coldness and deficiency remedied. The blessed inhabitants will love God with their whole souls, and each other as themselves; and the felicity of every individual will increase the joy of all the rest. Love must therefore be greater than faith and hope ; because more excellent in its nature, and more enduring in its use. The two latter are only necessary in this introductory scene, though honourable to God, and profitable to us in the highest degree: but the former will flourish for ever ; the business, element, joy, and glory of heaven itself; uniting God and all holy creatures in the most perfect harmony and felicity. Col. iii. 14.
Yet love cannot perform the functions faith or hope, any more than the eye can perform the office of the ear, or the hand that of the foot. However excellent, it can do nothing towards justifying a sinner. The little measure of it to which we here attain, can neither reverse the curse of the broken law, nor form our bond of union with Christ, that we may be justified " in that righteousness of God, which is upon all, and unto all that believe.”. Even were our love perfected, previous to justification, it could not atone for past sins, nor merit everlasting life; but in fact it is the fruit of the Spirit of Christ, and the seal of our gratuitous justification. The Scripture instructions concerning love, when duly considered, prove our need of this free salvation : and the measure of it to which we are restored, is a part of that salvation, and an earnest and evidence of the whole. It is therefore very obvious to see, that love is greater than faith or hope; that “ we are” nevertheless “ saved by grace, through faith ;" and that “ he who believeth shall be saved, and he who believeth not shall be damned.”
My brethren, let us learn from this important subject, not to oppose one part of Scripture to another, as many fatally do. That apparent love, which does not spring from faith, and is not accompanied by repentance, humility, hope, patience, and other holy dispositions, is a counterfeit : and so is the faith that does not work by love, and the hope which does not purify the heart. That love to our neighbour, which is not the result of love to Christ, is not the love which the sacred writers extol: nor can we love the bodies of men aright, if we neglect their souls; or regard their sonls, if we do not relieve their temporal wants, as we have opportunity and ability.
While we hold fast the principles of the gospel, let us beware of barren notions, spiritual pride, and a vain-glorious use of our endowments. These may be splendid in the judgment of man: but they are nothing, and worse than nothing, in the sight of God. A bitter, boasting, and censorious zeal, characterises “ the wisdom that is from beneath; and is earthly, sensual, and devilish :" not that “ which is from above, and is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, easy to be entreated, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality, and without hypocrisy.” James ii. 13—18. Let us then, my brethren, follow after love: but let us see to it that it be the genuine affection, the nature and effects of which the Scripture describes, and which connects the various parts of Christianity into one consistent whole.
ll'e may likewise observe, that the least degree of those holy tempers, which are common to believers, is inconceivably more valuable to the possessor, than those shining gifts or accomplishments, by which some are distinguished, but which may exist without living faith. Such were the gifts of tongues and prophecy, miraculous powers, or apostolical authority, which might be separated from saving grace : and such are learning, genius, eloquence, and other admired endowments, which men covet, envy, or ostentatiously display.
But next to the possession of those holy dispositions which inseparably accompany salvation, we should desire and seek such gifts as may qualify us for the duties of our several stations; and we should pray earnestly, that “ Our love may abound yet more and more in all knowledge and in all judgment; that we may approve things that are excellent ; that we may be sincere and without offence, till the day of Christ: being filled with the fruits of righteousness, which are by Jesus Christ, the praise and glory of God." Phil. i. 9—11.
PREACHED ON CHRISTMAS DAY, 1795.
ON THE CELEBRATION OF CHRIST'S NATIVITY.
LUKE, II. 13, 14.
And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising
God, and saying, Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good. will towards men.
8t. Paul having said, “Without controversy, great is the mystery of godliness ; God was manifest in the flesh,” adds among other things, that he “ seen of angels.” These heavenly worshippers saw the Lord of glory, their Creator and Sovereign, clothed with human flesh, and laid as an infant in a manger : they saw him tempted by the devil in the wilderness, and ministered to him, when he had overcome the enemy; they were spectators of his transfiguration on the mount, and his agony in the garden: they beheld him expire on the cross, attended his glorious resurrection and ascension; and when he was exalted in human nature to the mediatorial throne, they did him homage, and joined the redeemed in singing, “Worthy is the Lamb that was slain, to receive power, and riches, and wisdom, and strength, and honour, and glory, and blessing." Rev. v. 9—14. For when the Father “ bringeth in the first begotten into the world, he saith, And let all the angels of God worship him.” Heb. i. 6. Finally, they will be attendant and ministering servants, when Christ shall come to raise the dead, and judge the world.
In taking occasion from the present festival, to discourse on a subject with which we should be conversant at every season of the year, I shall,
I. Make some remarks on the event celebrated by the heavenly host.
III. Endeavour to bring the matter home to ourselves by some practical deductions.
And may the Lord himself direct and bless our meditations; that we may
be animated and assisted in “ keeping a day unto the Lord," after a holy and heavenly manner; and not in conformity to the corrupt and carnal fashion of those, who turn a Christian solemnity into a bacchanalian carnival !
I. Let us reflect on the event which was celebrated by the heavenly host.
A poor woman, named Mary, of the family of David, espoused to a carpenter residing at Nazareth, a place branded with infamy, came with her husband to Bethlehem, in obedience to a decree of Cæsar Augustus, and there being “no room for them in the inn," which was occupied by superior people, they were lodged in a stable. In this situation, Mary was delivered of a son whom she wrapped in swaddling clothes and laid in a manger.—Nothing at first sight appears remarkable in this event, except the extremely mean and inconvenient accommodation made for the poor woman and her infant ; and the unfeeling neglect shewn to a person in her circumstances by the in habitants of Bethlehem. Indeed the affair seems scarcely to have been noticed in that city; and we do not find that it was heard of at Jerusalem, till the child was presented at the temple, according to the law of Moses, when a few persons of eminent piety were made acquainted with it. The rulers, scribes, and priests in general, knew nothing of these transactions ; till wise men from the east came to inquire after the new born king, and to do him homage. Then indeed a considerable degree of attention was excited ; and the tyrant Herod caused the infants about Bethlehem to be cruelly murdered, in hopes of destroying one, whom he dreaded as the rival of his
authority. Soon after, however, the report seems to have been forgotten. The child born at Bethlehem was brought up at Nazareth with Joseph the carpenter, and doubtless earned his bread at that laborious trade ; till at length he entered on his public ministry, which he closed by an ignominious death upon a cross. Thus “he grew up before the Lord as a tender plant, and as a root out of a dry ground; he had no form or comeliness, and when the people saw him, there was no beauty that they should desire him: he was despised and rejected of men, a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief.” Isaiah liii. 2, 3. And if the Jews knew little of the infant at Bethlehem, and the carpenter's son at Nazareth; the Gentile rulers, conquerors, and philosophers, were still more entirely unacquainted with him. All over the earth, which he came to bless, he was disregarded or despised ; yet angels witnessed and celebrated his birth with admiring songs of praise !
These blessed spirits, free from guilt, and perfect in holiness, wanted not a Saviour. They “ excel in strength," and do the Lord's commandments, hearkening to the voice of his words.” Psal. ciii. 20. Their capacities for wisdom and understanding are very great; their judgment and taste for what is beautiful and glorious are exactly conformable to those of the holy God whom they adore: and the hope of being at length made like them, and equal to them, should excite a noble ambition and emulation in every human heart. But the event which had taken place at Bethlehem, and which we this day commemorate, appeared to them of the greatest possible importance, and worthy to be celebrated with their most rapturous adorations.
In the infant laid in the manger they recognized the Seed of the woman, the spotless offspring of a virgin mother, who was to come and “ bruise the serpent's head;" and “the Seed of Abraham, in whom all nations should be blessed.” They knew that Mary was come to Bethlehem, according to the purpose of God, that the ancient prophecy might be fulfilled.
« But thou, Bethlehem Ephratah, though thou be little among the thousands of Judah, yet out of thee shall he come forth unto me, that is to be Ruler in Israel, whose goings forth have been from of old, from everlasting." Micah v. 2. They
“ the Desire of all nations,” actually come; Hagai ii. 7, and they celebrated the accomplishment of Isaiah's prediction, “ Unto us a child is born, unto us a Son is given ; and the government shall be upon his shoulder; and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, the Mighty God, the everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace.” Isaiah, ix. 6. One of the company
therefore said to the poor shepherds, “ Fear not, forbehold I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people : for unto you is born this day, in the city of David, a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord." They could not say, “ Unto us a child is born, unto us a Son is given :" “ for verily he took not on him the nature of angels, but he took on him the seed ot Abraham.” Heb. ii. 14–16. He came into the world to be a Saviour: he was the Christ, the promised Messiah, the anointed Prophet, Priest, and King; yea, he was “ The Lord,” “ The second man is the Lord from hea
His name is “ Emmanuel :” for “ God is in Christ reconciling the world unto himself.”
“ The WORD, who was in the beginning with God, and who was God," by whom “ all things were made, and without whom was not any thing made that was made, was now made flesh and dwelt among us ;” and angels first beheld “ his glory, the glory as of the only-begotten of the Father." John i. 1-14. They saw him, “ who being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God," make himself of no reputation, take upon him the form of a servant, and the likeness of man; that being found in fashion as a man, he might become obedient unto death, even the death of the cross." Phil. ii. 6—8. With astonishment they witnessed him, “ by whom all things were created, that are in heaven, and that are in earth, whether they be thrones, or dominions, or principalities, or powers ;—for whom all things are created ;-and by whom all things consist:" they witnessed this glorious Creator and Lord of all “ come in the flesh;" that he might be the visible of the invisible God; and as Head of the church, inherit all things, and have in all respects the pre-eminence : “ for it pleased the Lord that in him should all fulness dwell.” Col. i. 15–19. Heb. i. 1-4.
Into “ these things the angels desire to look :" here they contemplate with fixed attention and unwearied admiration : for they behold " in the church the manifold wisdom of God." The heavenly host knew who the infant in the manger was, and for what ends he came : they were ready to adore the Child born as the mighty God: they recognized their Creator and Lord under this disguise; and with good old Simeon, they viewed him as “ the Light of the Gentiles, and the glory of his people Israel."
In this humble scene they saw the opening of that grand design, which had been shadowed forth by the ceremonies of the law, and of which the prophets from the beginning had excited the highest expectations : that design which had been obscurely intimated when Adam sinned, and gradually unfolding for about four thousand years. “ The great mystery of godliness, God manifested in the flesh;" now actually realized, called forth the amazement, and enlivened the affections of these heavenly worshippers, and dictated that zealous song of adoring praise, which is the subject of our present meditation.
II. Then we proceed to explain the song itself. « Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good-will to men.' The angels celebrated the praises of God, and congratulated the happiness of man, with most fervent love and joy “ To you," O ye sons of men, “ is born a Saviour, who is Christ the Lord :" we exult in your felicity, we rejoice over one sinner that repenteth: “how much greater then must be our joy and gladness at the nativity of Him who is come to stoop, suffer, and die, that he may be exalted as a Prince and Saviour, to give repentance and remission of sins?".
It is very affecting to compare the conduct of the heavenly host, in this respect, with that of men in general, who neglect or oppose the message of salvation, and despise the glorious Redeemer. But angels know our real character and condition: while we are naturally blinded with pride and prejudice, and will not be convinced that we deserve destruction! Or we are so taken up with “ the world, and the things that are in the world," that we disregard the important interests of eternity!
In considering the hymn of praise before us, we may perhaps begin to best