« PreviousContinue »
that should take place in the kingdom of the Messiah) the lame man should leap as an hart, and the tongue of the dumb should sing, Isa. xxxv. 6.
A second improvement that should be made of this doctrine, is, to raise our love to God from hence, to all the degrees of which it is capable.
For love surely deserves returns of love; and the highest instances of love, the highest returns of it. Now in this was manifested the love of God toward us, because that God sent his only-begotten Son into the world, that we might lite through him, 1 John iv.9, 10. Herein is love (as St. John continues his argument) not that we loved God, (that is, loved God first, and by that means, drew down his love upon us) but that he loved us (antecedently, freely,) and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.
Had God sent the meanest attendant in the court of heaven, to publish abroad the good tidings of his free and voluntary pardon of sin, should we not have entertained it as a message of unspeakable love! How much more, when he sends his Son, his only-begotten Son, on this errand! when he sends him to partake of our nature, and of all the infirmities, miseries, shame and pain that attend it; and at last to be made a sacrifice for our sins by the very hands of those men, for whose sake he left heaven! . This raises the motive so high, that our lips are fain when we speak of it ; and our hearts melt away almost under the sense of that excessive burthen of love which lies upon us.
But how strangely is the force of this motive weak, ened by those who make Christ a mere man, not the eternal Son of God, sent out to us from the bosom of his Father! For at this rate the love of God toward us abates very much ; and then, I am afraid, ours toward him will proportionably abate with it. For the higher apprehensions we have of God's antecedent love to man, the stronger will our endeavours still be to raise our affections up to a pitch some way suitable to those apprehensions.
So that, whether these men have, by this expedient, lessened the difficulties of their faith, or not (which is matter of dispute) sure we are, that they have evidently lessened the argument for their love by it.
Another plain use we are to make of this doctrine is, to give us an high sense of the dignity of our nature, and an hearty displeasure at those sins which debase and dishonour it.
Behold now, as the apostle to the Hebrews argues, is that prophecy of the psalmist concerning man fulfilled in your ears.--Thou hast crowned him with glory and honour, and hast set him over the works of thine hands : thou hast put all things in subjection under his feet; Heb. ii. 7, that is, the human nature, by its assumption to the divine, is now advanced far above principalities and powers, and every created being: nay, it is, in the person of Christ, become an object of adoration, even to spirits of the first rank and order. For, as the same apostle interprets another passage of the psalmist, When God brought his first-begotten Son into the world, he said, Let all the angels of God worship him, Heb. i. 6.
Should not such a reflection as this make us resolve to do nothing beneath that nature, which God has so highly honoured ? Not to pollute it with vile affections and lusts : not to set it upon mean and unworthy pursuits, and on minding earthly things ; but to have our conversation in heaven, from whence also we look for the Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ, who shall change our vile body, that it may be fashioned like unto his glorious body? Phil. iii. 19, 20, 21.
A sense of birth and noble blood will often keep men from doing things beneath themselves, when no other motive can restrain them: and shall it not be sufficient to preserve us from every evil and defiling work, to consider our near alliance with God himself, by the intervention of the man Christ Jesus? Surely such a consideration should engage us, after the most powerful manner, to purify our natures, even as his is pure ; and to cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of flesh and spirit.2 Cor. vii. 1.
And as God's assuming our nature should make us reflect often on the dignity and worth of it, and resolve not to defile that with base and brutish enjoyments which Christ hath thus ennobled and sanctified; so on the other hand,
The condescension also of the Son of God, in this mysterious work of our redemption, should infuse into us a spirit of universal humility, since He, who was the brightness of his Father's glory, and the express image of his person, Heb. i. 3., emptied himself willingly of all that glory, to become a vile and miserable creature for the salvation of men; what a deep lowliness of mind ought we (in imitation of him) to carry about us, through the
several stages of life, and the different administrations • of Providence ! How willing should it make us to under
take any work, to be seen in any office, though never so mean and low, that tends any way to the good and welfare of mankind! It is the great apostle's argument, Phil. ii. 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8; Let nothing be done, says he, through strife or vain-glory ; but in lowliness of mind, let each esteem other better than themselves. Look not every man on his own things, but every man also on the things of others. Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus ; who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God; but made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant : and being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross.
A fifth thing I would recommend to you from considering the incarnation of Christ, is, that we would take care to trace all the steps of that example which he set us in the flesh; and which that he might set us, was one great end of his taking our nature upon him. And, oh ! let not this end be frustrated, by our neglecting to look up to that admirable pattern of all virtue and holiness, in the life of the immaculate Jesus, which the four Gospels have afforded us! A life, as useful to be handed down to us in all its circumstances, as his
very precepts themselves. For in that be exemplified his precepts and gave an instance of the practicableness, the beauty, and the power of them. Such an instance, as charms the eyes, and engages the hearts, of all that behold it! and will, if well attended to, have the same influence upon us, that the enjoying the immediate view of God, face to face, once had upon Moses : it will make us shine with part of that lustre we are looking upon, and transforın us into some kind of resemblance with it. We all with open face, beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, 2 Cor. iii. 18., that is, viewing carefully the image of our Lord's life, as it is drawn to us in the glass of the evangelists, and studying to express it in ourselves, we shall be changed (as it follows) into the same image from glory to glory ; from one degree of virtue and perfection to another, till at last we arrive at the very measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ, Ephes. iv. 13.
I shall mention but one improvement more of the doctrine of the day, and then conclude.—And that is, that we should take occasion from hence, highly to esteem and reverence the evangelical dispensation : to value and prize that everlasting Gospel, which Christ sealed to us with his blood, above all other books, religions, and philosophies; above all other methods of living and dying that have been ever taught or practised in the world.
Were there nothing contained in it but that one faithful saying, worthy of all acceptation, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, 1 Tim. i. 15 : even that should recommend it more to us, and make us take greater delight in perusing it, then turning over all the volumes of wit and reason, all the discourses of moral virtue, all the treatises of arts and sciences, which the learned part of mankind among the Gentiles have afforded us : we should count them all but dross and dung, in comparison of the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus, Phil. iii. 8.
But the best expression of our reverence towards this Gospel, is, to comply with the terms of it. Let us remember that the last scope of the whole mystery of godliness, is, to oblige mankind to be good and virtuous; and to lead lives answerable to such bright discoveries and motives, as revelation has proposed to us. And therefore let me exhort and beseech every one of you this day, as ye would not (as far as in you lies) frustrate the design of our Saviour's birth; as ye would not baffle the truth of those prophecies concerning the innocence and purity of the lives of men under the reign of the Messiah; and as ye would not hereafter wish, that your Saviour had never been born, nor you yourselves either; to be careful for your parts to answer the great end of his incarnation, and to live as becomes a people, that have been thus redeemed of the Lord.