Page images
PDF
EPUB

II. HERE IS A DESIRABLE ATTAINMENT. It is to know it.

had reason to complain, with Job, "My Blessed Jesus! we know thou hast loved us; brethren have dealt deceitfully as a brook, but we know not how much-and angels and as the stream of brooks they pass away; know not how much-It "passeth knowwhich are blackish by reason of the ice, and ledge." wherein the snow is hid: what time they wax warm, they vanish: when it is hot, they are consumed out of their place?" But loving his own who are in the world, he loves them unto the end, and will afford them proof of it whenever they need his aid. He has said, "I will never leave thee nor forsake thee." "For this is as the waters of Noah unto me: for as I have sworn that the waters of Noah should no more go over the earth; so have I sworn that I would not be wroth with thee, nor rebuke thee. For the mountains shall depart, and the hills be removed; but my kindness shall not depart from thee, neither shall the covenant of my peace be remo, saith the Lord that hath mercy on ee." Nothing appears to the Christian more wonderful than this. O," says he, "how have I tried him! How incorrigible have I been under affliction! How ungrateful for all my mercies! How unedified by means and ordinances! How often have I charged him foolishly and unkindly, while he was displaying his wisdom and goodness; and blamed him for doing the very things I had a thousand times implored! O, had he human passions! Were he a creature only! I had long ago been forsaken. But he is God, and not man; therefore I am not consumed."

But does not the Apostle say, that his love "passeth knowledge ?" How then does he pray, that we may know it? Can we know that which is unknowable? I answer, we may know that in one respect which we cannot know in another; we may know that by grace which we cannot know by nature; we may know that, in the reality of its existence, which we cannot know in the mode; we may know that, in the effects, which we cannot know in the cause; we may know that, in its uses, which we cannot know in its nature; we may know that increasingly, which we cannot know perfectly.

66

Let us apply this to the subject before us. Though the love of Christ passeth knowledge, we may know much more of it than we do. The knowledge of a Christian is gradual, and growing. He is always a learner. He will know many things in eternity of which he is ignorant in time. He will know many things as he advances in the divine life of which he is ignorant at the commencement. There are many things which, for a time, he cannot receive; but in proportion as divine grace works in him, to humble the pride of his heart; to render him willing to be saved in the Lord's own way; and to place himself under his guidance; crooked things are made straight, and rough places plain. Thus his path resembles "the shining light, that shineth more and more unto the perfect day." Thus it is promised: "Then shall ye know, if ye follow on to know the Lord." An instance of which we have in Nathanael: he had little knowledge; but he was "an Israelite indeed, in whom was no guile;" he was open to conviction, and willing to come_to the light; and therefore, says our Lord, "Because I said unto thee, I saw thee under the fig tree, believest thou? thou shalt see greater things than these. And he saith unto him, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Hereafter ye shall see heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of man." We therefore observe, with regard to your knowledge of this love,

First. Your ideas of it may be more clear and consistent. There is a kind of mistiness which envelops the minds of some people: they see every thing dimly; or, like the man, when his eyes were half-opened, who saw men as trees walking. A confusion seems to reign in all their religious conceptions: they have no distinguishing views of the difference between the Law and the Gospel; justification and sanctification; the ground of the one, and the means of the other. They cannot reconcile duty and privilege; depend

Witness the tenderness of its regards. To know this you must be familiar with the language of the Scripture; your very souls must melt into such expressions as these: "He shall come down like rain upon the mown grass. He shall gather the lambs with his arm, and carry them in his bosom, and gently lead those that are with young. A bruised reed will he not break, and smoking flax will he not quench. In all their affliction he was afflicted. He that toucheth them touchcth the apple of his eye. He is touched with the feeling of our infirmities." You must be-I was going to say, a father, and a tender one-" Like as a father pitieth his children, so the Lord pitieth them that fear him. For he knoweth our frame; he remembereth that we are dust." You must be-I was going to say, a mother, and the tenderest that ever breathed-" As one whom his mother comforteth, so will I comfort you." You must hold communion with him, you must be intimate with him, in order to know-the mildness of his censures; the gentleness of his reproofs; the kindness of his communications; the delicacy of his encouragements. O ye models of sensibility: ye Josephs! ye Jonathans! ye Davids! ye Rachels! be ashamed of your tears! Your hearts are flint compared with his: "his heart is made of tenderness; his bowels melt with love!"

p

ence and activity; a sense of our unworthi- kings and ness, with a confidence of our acceptance. It be glory a is impossible for us to determine, with how Amen." much ignorance in the judgment real grace HI. Thi may be found connected; yet it is very desirable to have judicious and consistent views of divine things; a clear and full knowledge of the Gospel. "It is a good thing," says the Apostle, "that the heart be established with grace."

66

Secondly. Your views of it may be more confidential and appropriating. Your doubts and fears, with regard to your own interest in it, may yield to hope; and that hope may become the full assurance of hope. The Saviour you now admire you may be able to claim as your own; and to exult, "This is my beloved, and this is my friend. I will greatly rejoice in the Lord, my soul shall be joyful in my God; for he hath clothed me with the garments of salvation, he hath covered me with the robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom decketh himself with ornaments, and as a bride adorneth herself with her jewels."

Thirdly. Your views of it may be more impressive, more influential. It is to be lamented, that our speculative religion so far exceeds our experimental and practical. How often does the will refuse to bow to the dictates of the judgment. What a war is there often in our bosoms, between conscience and inclination. Who knows not the difference there is between a principle slumbering in the head, and alive in the heart, and at work in the life! "The living know that they shall die," that their time here is short and uncertain, and that "what a man soweth, that shall he also reap." But where is the efficacy of the belief! And though they look for such things, how few are there who live in a state of holy preparation for them! We find no difficulty in admitting that God does all things well, in the government of the world, and in the management of our individual concerns. The natural consequence would be, to preserve us from murmuring and envying; to induce us to cast all our care upon Him who careth for us; and to feel a peace "which passeth all understanding, keeping our heart and mind through Christ Jesus.' But whose creed gets into his temper, and actuates his conduct?-The grand thing is, so to know the love of Christ, as to walk becoming it; to be what it requires; for all our feelings to echo back the language of the Apostle: "I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me." For our whole life to be a kind of shout-" Unto him that loved us, and washed us from our sins in his own blood, and hath made us

coNSEQUEN the fulness his natura his glorifi Apostle s

ith his benefits." not only the the author of the convic

But so it is: we

plain and easy
natural man:
not the thing
are foolish
know th
cerneg

310

possess,

m the ular,

[ocr errors]

gracious!
original
He is not w

66

will be. His state is neither g but dawn: the darkness is going off, and the splendour is coming on. He is thankful for what he has; but he wants more of the presence and the image of God. He wants to be filled (I use the language of Scripture) with the Spirit;" to be filled with all joy and peace in believing;" to be "filled with all the fruits of righteousness, which are by Jesus Christ unto the glory and praise of God." This is what the apostle Peter recommends, when he says: "Giving all diligence, add to your faith virtue; and to virtue knowledge; and to knowledge temperance; and to temperance patience; and to patience godliness; and to godliness brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness charity. For if these things be in you, and abound, they make you that ye shall be neither barren nor unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ." This is what Paul exemplified in his own person: "Not as though I had already attained, either were already perfect: but I follow after, if that I may apprehend that for which also I am apprehended of Christ Jesus. Brethren, I count not myself to have apprehended: but this one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before, I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus." And this is what he here means by "all the fulness of God."

But what has the knowledge of the love of Christ to do with this? It is indeed easy to see how it will add to the plenitude of our comfort: how it will inspire us with "a joy that is unspeakable and full of glory." And need you be told, that "the joy of the Lord is our strength:" and that the Christian is never so active in duty as when he enjoys a sense of his privileges?

But take it with regard to holiness. Some would suppose that the knowledge we have been speaking of is a mere notion; or, if it has any tendency, it is of a licentious, rather than of a sanctifying nature; that it must tend to set men loose to duty, rather than to make them practical Christians. Hence they imagine the Christian an Antinomian, where, if they could read his heart, they would find in him most of the devotedness of real piety.

had reason to comannot make these things t If you would make proficiency in this brethren have deand unexceptionable to the knowledge, the following things are necesand as the streabr "the natural man receivethsary: which are blars of the Spirit of God: for they wherein thmess unto him: neither can he wax warxem, because they are spiritually disare conf. But he that is spiritual judgeth all ing hers, yet he himself is judged of no man." thee knows others, though others know not him. The reason is, he has been in their state, but they have never been in his. They are not, therefore, acquainted with the nature and force of those principles and motives which are peculiar to him as a new creature. But he feels and glories in them. Paul knew that the only way to be filled with the fulness of God, is "to know the love of Christ, which passeth knowledge." It was this that fully possessed and governed himself and his fellow-labourers: "The love of Christ constraineth us; because we thus judge, that if one died for all, then were all dead and that he died for all, that they which live should not henceforth live unto themselves, but unto him which died for them, and rose again." "And my experience," says the Christian, "confirms it. If my heart is contracted, this love enlarges it; if cold, this love inflames it; if burning, this love adds fuel to the fire. This makes difficult things easy, and bitter ones sweet. This turns all my duty into delight. This determines me to confess him before men, and emboldens me to go forth to him without the camp, bearing his reproach. This induces me, not only to avoid, but to abhor sin. This disarms temptation of its power, and weans me from a world that crucified my Lord and Saviour.

"His dying crimson, like a robe,
Spreads o'er his body on the tree,
Then am I dead to all the globe,
And all the globe is dead to me."

What remains then, but to make this love your lesson, and your study? For this purpose, daily impress your minds with the importance of knowing it. Remember that all other knowledge is dross, compared with this gold. A man may know much, to his own pride, and the admiration of others: he may be familiar with the secrets of nature; he may have the knowledge of the arts and sciences; he may be a deep politician, and a profound linguist; he may know the Scripture, in the history; and Christianity itself, in the theory-and live and die a fool. A man may go to hell, silently, by hypocrisy; openly, by profaneness: he may go self-righteously, with the pharisee; or learnedly, with the scholar! A man knows nothing with regard to his soul and eternity, if he knows not the love of Christ, which passeth knowledge "This is life eternal,"

Retirement is necessary. "Through desire, a man, having separated himself, seeketh and intermeddleth with all wisdom." This is peculiarly the case here. This subject is not for the crowd, but the closet. Friendship deals much in secrecy; especially the friendship between the Saviour and the soul. “I will allure her, and bring her into the wil derness, and there will I speak comfortably unto her." It is thus that he manifests himself to his people, and not unto the world. Application is necessary. You must not only retire, but place the subject before your mind. You must survey it in its attributes and relations. You must learn to meditate, and meditate till the exercise becomes habitual and delightful. Then you will be able to say, My meditation of him shall be sweet. How precious also are thy thoughts unto me, O God! how great is the sum of them! If I should count them, they are more in number than the sand: when I awake, I am still with thee."

66

Intercourse is necessary. There are Christians far superior to you in age and attainments; and these are not confined to your own level in the world. Many below you in condition may be above you in experience; and have much to tell you of a Saviour's grace. By mingling with them your doubts may be removed, your confidence strengthened, and "your hearts comforted, being knit together in love, and unto all riches of the full assurance of understanding, to the acknowledgment of the mystery of God, and of the Father, and of Christ; in whom are hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge."

Reading is necessary. We forbid not other books; but the Scripture is the word of Christ, which is to "dwell in you richly in all wisdom." This testifies of Him; and of nothing so much as his unexampled love.

Hearing is necessary. If the minister be a Christian minister, (and it is at your peril to place yourselves under any other-for you are to take heed not only how you hear, but also what you hear)—he will "determine to know nothing among you, but Jesus Christ and him crucified."

Prayer is above all things necessary. In other schools the pupils learn sitting; but in the school of Christ they all learn upon their knees. "If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him." Hence Paul prayed for the Ephesians -Hence your ministers pray for you-God help you to pray for yourselves "That you may know the love of Christ, which passeth knowledge and be filled with all the fulness of God."

DISCOURSE LXXXV.

BLESSINGS UNIMPROVED RESUMED

BY THEIR OWNER.

For she did not know that I gave her corn, and wine, and oil, and multiplied her silver and gold, which they prepared for Baal. Therefore will I return, and take away my corn in the time thereof, and my wine in the season thereof, and will recover my wool and my flax.-Hosea ii. 8, 9.

If you are accustomed to reflection, two subjects must often present themselves to your minds. They are the goodness of God, and the wickedness of man. These subjects are equally obvious and common; and though the one is as painful as the other is pleasing, we must not turn away from it. Nor must we, in the exemplification, so think of our fellowcreatures as to forget ourselves. We frequently condemn the Jews for their unbelief, ingratitude, and rebellion; yet, instead of casting stones, it would be better to kneel and confess

"Great God, how oft did Israel prove By turns thy anger, and thy love; There in a glass our hearts may see How fickle, and how false they be."

They were fair specimens of human nature, and we have no reason to believe that we should have been better than they, had we been placed under the same dispensation: yea, have we not proved ourselves worse, under superior advantages? Let us consider,

I. THE SOURCE OF OUR MERCIES.
II. OUR GUILT IN THE USE OF THEM.

III. THEIR REMOVAL. "For she did not know that I gave her corn, and wine, and oil, and multiplied her silver and gold, which they prepared for Baal. Therefore will I return, and take away my corn in the time thereof, and my wine in the season thereof, and will recover my wool and my flax."

I. THE SOURCE OF OUR MERCIES. I gave her-"I gave her corn, and wine, and oil, and multiplied her silver and gold.'

Here we do not refer to those blessings, which we call spiritual. These it should be our principal concern to obtain: for these alone can afford satisfaction to the soul, and yield us a hope beyond the grave. If the inquiry concerned these, I trust we should be prepared to join in the acknowledgment of the Apostle: "Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who hath blessed us with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ." But we now speak of temporal good things. He who is the Saviour of the soul has provided also for the body; and his bounty ministers, not only to our support, but our delight. He giveth us," says the apostle, "richly all things to enjoy." "He daily,"

66

says David, "loadeth us with his benefits.” In these declarations we see, not only the plenitude of these mercies, but the author of them. To establish in your minds the conviction, that God is the giver of all you possess, I could add a number of testimonies from the that our Saviour has taught us to pray for sacred writers; and remark, in particular, them-"Give us day by day our daily bread." But it is needless to enlarge. There is one thing, however, concerning which it is of im"Never suffer portance to admonish you. instruments to keep your thoughts from God."

There is, First, unconscious instrumentality. This takes in what we call nature. The sun, the air, the rain, the earth, the seasons, are all essential to the welfare of man. But how could this do us any good, without God? Their operation, and their very being, depend upon him. "He maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good. The day is his, the night also is his. He hath made summer and winter. His paths drop down fatness."-"It shall come to pass in that day, I will hear, saith the Lord, I will hear the heavens, and they shall hear the earth; and the earth shall hear the corn, and the wine, and the oil; and they shall hear Jezreel."

There is, Secondly, voluntary instrumentality. Thus our fellow-creatures may do us good in a thousand ways; and are we to feel towards them, only, as we do towards a bridge that carries us over a river, or a spring that refreshes us in our journey? They act knowingly and freely in relieving us, and display the noblest principles of their nature. And we are not only allowed, but required to be grateful towards them. And a man that is destitute of gratitude has no good principle that we can rely upon. But here again, God has higher claims upon us:-for, who placed these friends and benefactors in our way? Who endowed them with their ability? Who inspired them with their disposition? Who gave us favour in their eyes?

There is, Thirdly, personal instrumentality. Few of the good things of this life are obtained without some exertions of our own. Indeed, if they were, they would not be half so sweet: it is what a man gains by his own skill and diligence that is so peculiarly dear and precious-"Thou shalt eat the labour of thy hand." But are we then to turn Chaldeans? of whom it is said; "They take up all of them with the angel, they catch them in their net, and gather them in their drag: therefore they rejoice and are glad. Therefore they sacrifice unto their net, and burn incense unto their drag; because by them their portion is fat, and their meat plenteous." But from whom have we derived our natural talents and the prudence which results from experience and observation? "Give ye ear, and hear my voice; hearken and hear my speech. Doth the plowman plow all day to

sow? doth he open and break the clods of his | The fire had begun to consume your property. ground? When he hath made plain the face The disease had suspended you over the thereof, doth he not cast abroad the fitches, grave. The accident had scarcely missed and scatter the cummin, and cast in the prin- the child's life; and the Lord, in delivering, cipal wheat and the appointed barley and the made "bare his arm." And yet, perhaps, rie in their place? For his God doth instruct you were only struck with the wonderfulness him to discretion, and doth teach him. For the of the event; or your gratitude was a mere fitches are not threshed with a threshing in- notion, vanishing "as the morning cloud, and strument, neither is a cart wheel turned about early dew." upon the cummin; but the fitches are beaten out with a staff, and the cummin with a rod. Bread corn is bruised; because he will not ever be threshing it, nor break it with the wheel of his cart, nor bruise it with his horsemen. This also cometh forth from the Lord of Hosts, which is wonderful in counsel, and excellent in working." Whose providence fixed us in a situation favourable to our efforts; and ordered those opportunities, without which our attempts might have been in vain? Where is the wisdom of a man, who sees not that his plans depended upon a multitude of events over which he had not the least control; any one of which might have rendered foolish that scheme which now appears so wise-and that undertaking fatal which now appears so flourishing? Where is the piety of the man who does not own the agency of God in his most successful endeavours, and say with Solomon, "The blessing of the Lord, it maketh rich, and he addeth no sorrow with it?" This is the grand lesson which Moses gave to the indulged Israelites: "Lest, when thou hast eaten and art full, and hast built goodly houses, and dwelt therein; and when thy herds and thy flocks multiply, and thy silver and thy gold is multiplied, and all that thou hast is multiplied; then thine heart be lifted up, and thou forget the Lord thy God, which brought thee forth out of the land of Egypt, from the house of bondage; and thou say in thine heart, My power and the might of mine hand hath gotten me this wealth. But thou shalt remember the Lord thy God: for it is he that giveth thee power to get wealth."

II. This brings us from the source of our mercies, to OUR GUILT IN THE USE OF THEM. "For she did not know that I gave her corn, and wine, and oil, and multiplied her silver and gold, which they prepared for Baal." Here are two charges: ignorance, and per

version.

First. Ignorance. "She knew not that I gave her corn, and wine, and oil, and multiplied her silver and gold." God does much more good in this world than is ever known. He has done each of you countless acts of kindness, of which you have never been aware. For instance-From how many evils have you been preserved, by night and by day, abroad and at home, of which you were not sensible, because the danger was hidden, by the very interposition that hindered it. But sometimes you have seen your danger.

For a distinction is here necessary. There are two kinds of knowledge; the one speculative, the other practical. The former is nothing without the latter: it is no better than ignorance; and as such it is always considered in the Scripture. Thus the apostle John tells us, "He that loveth not, knoweth not God." And again, "He that saith, 1 know him, and keepeth not his commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him." When a man is really convinced of sin, and is taught the truth as it is in Jesus, though he had often read of it, and heard of it, he naturally says, “I never knew this before." It is said, the sons of Eli were sons of Belial, "and knew not the Lord;" it cannot mean that men of their education and office were unable to distinguish the God of Israel from idols; but they did not act as those who were acquainted with him, and professed to serve him. Know them that labour among you," says the apostle: that is, own them, and conduct yourselves properly towards them.—It is in vain, therefore, to say, this charge does not apply to us: we are not ignorant; we know that God gives us all we enjoy. Yes; but do you know, so as to be impressed and influenced by it? This is the accusation; they know not, so as to feel, and speak, and live as if they knew. "The ox knoweth his owner, and the ass his master's crib; but Israel doth not know, my people do not consider."

66

But here is a second charge. It is perver sion. "She knew not that I gave her corn, and wine, and oil, and multiplied her silver and gold, which they prepared for Baal." Instead of using them in the service and for the glory of God, they appropriated them to the use of idols! This is worse than the former, as insult exceeds indifference, and opposition, neglect. What would you feel more provoking, than for a man to borrow of you, in order to publish a libel upon your character? What would you have thought, if, when Jonathan gave him his sword and his bow, David had instantly wounded him with his own weapons? Yet is not God thus perpetually affronted and dishonoured? Does not the swearer employ the very breath he continues, in blaspheming him? Does not the drunkard take what was designed for his nourishment and refreshment, and offer it in sacrifice to his vile appetite, to the injury of his health, and disgrace of his reason? Is not the raiment, given to cover and screen

« PreviousContinue »