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delight in me before thou sharest in the glory which my children shall receive. It is the spirit of the Christian to rejoice in the goodness and power and wisdom of God, in conjunction with his promises. Has not God taught us to take pleasure in his gracious promises, to look on them with thankfulness as our own, to trace them to his sovereign compassion, to realize every blessing as springing from his bounty as the token of his love? Is it not sweet to see God reconciled to us in Christ, and communicating to us every moment the enjoyment of every blessing by the way, as a pledge of higher blessings included in the covenant of grace, all of which are promised, if we are his children? This, and this only, is piety: and if any one here has not attained to any thing more than the spirit of a slave, the dread of punishment, the desire to escape it, or the wish to obtain personal reward; if this is all a man has attained, has he ever said, “ Abba, Father!” has he ever been brought into that relation to God which all believers enjoy, and of which the proper fruit is the assurance and the joy that come from God? Of all Christians Paul
66 Therefore thou art no more a slave, but a son. If we are on our way to heaven, we are no more servants, but sons; he has brought us into the relation of those whom he provides for, and whom he will eternally bless.
In some sense, the term applied to God as the Universal Parent of Mankind, is not to be blamed; but if it is to be meant to extend thus far, that he looks with regard on all his creatures as the objects of his favour, they who make use of such expressions do err, not knowing the Scriptures ; the language of Scripture is, that till this great change pass on us, which the Lord Jesus said must pass on all before they can enter the kingdom of heaven, we are slaves and not sons; we are not brought back to a reconciled father; or, to remove the figure, instead of being the objects of the favour of God, we are the objects of his malediction, obliged to obey the law under the penalty of being punished for every transgression, but having no interest in his favour, no promise of his love. But when a man is changed by grace, he is no more a servant, but a son; he is brought into this relation, and rejoices in proportion to the grace given to him, in the consciousness and assurance of his eternal happiness.
This leads me to consider the MODE IN WHICH THIS CHANGE HAS BEEN EFFECTED, " I said, Thou shalt call me, My father.” Religion is the love of a child to a father felt by the believer towards God. “ Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, with all thy soul, and with all thy mind,” in the very essence of piety, and to accomplish which the Lord Jesus Christ came into our world. Now how is this to be effected? How shall the slave be changed into a child—the spirit of bondage into the spirit of a son? “ I said, Thou shalt call me, My father.” Two things were obviously necessary. It was necessary that faith should come into the relation itself; and no change in the dispositions could have affected the change in the relation. The child must be in the relation itself antecedent to the change in the feeling of our mind. “ Thou shalt call me, My father.” This implied that this people should be brought into the relation of his children, as well as enjoying their spirit. Paul has told us (if indeed it be necessary to cite any passage in illustration of it), that the Jews were in bondage under the elements of the world; but “when the fulness of time was come, God sent forth his Son, made of a woman, made under the law, to redeem them that were under the law, that we might receive the adoption of sons.” The Jew, then, as well as the Gentile convert, was, anterior to faith in the Lord Jesus, a bond-slave rather than a son ; and though he inherited the privileges of a Jew, and was a member of a nation in covenant nationally with God, yet he was in bondage under the elements of the world ; and it was only by redemption made known to him in the Gospel, that he could receive the adoption of a son. Christ came to redeem them that were under the law. We, as well as the Jews, are under the law; that is, bound to obey the whole of the moral law-bound to fulfil all its precepts, and abide by all its sanctions; and thus to be in bondage until redemption by Christ Jesus brings us back to the relation of children.
“ Thou shalt call me, My father.” This does not express, I apprehend, the change of the spirit and temper, but the change of relation, in making us really children, whereas before we were exposed to the divine displeasure. When the Lord promises by his prophet, “ Thou shalt call me, My father,” he indeed promises that he would bring them into this relation by bringing them a Saviour. “ You shall have the Son of my love to bring me back to my favour, to make you as my children." The change in that relation we owe exclusively to the sovereign love of God; we owe it to that faithful, patient, unparalleled kindness wherewith our Lord condescended to suffer in our room, and to “bear our sins in his own body on the tree.”
Yet this was not sufficient to bring us back to fulfil this great
promise. A change in the disposition is promised when it is said,
« Thou shalt call me, My father :" as surely as God has declared it, which is an unalterable truth, so surely must this change be effected in the dispositions of those whom he would bring to himself. For this it was necessary that the cross should be exhibited to us; that Christ Jesus should die, and his death be made known to us; that we should be told and assured, as God thus unequivocally assures us, that of his having accepted that atonement in our room. And then, finally, all these powerful motives to reverence and gratitude must be rendered effectual by the operation of his Spirit on our hearts.
“ Ye are the children of God,” says the apostle, “ by faith in Christ Jesus.” Now that faith is itself the communication of God's love: he of himself has bestowed it, if we believers, and receive the truth as it is in Jesus. But after baving made us his children by faith in Christ, we must receive the spirit of children; we must overcome that disposition to self-righteousness, that distrust of our God, which are wholly at variance with the spirit of children. Therefore when the apostle says we are “justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus ;" he adds, “ Because ye are sons, God hath sent forth the spirit of his Son into your hearts, crying, Abba, Father.” The relation must be bestowed first, or the spirit could not be enjoyed, How could we look on God our Father, if we knew him to be angry with us, and ourselves exposed to his eternal displeasure ? But it was his will to effect a change in the relation first; to make us his children through faith in the Lord Jesus, and then to send forth the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “ Abba, Father.” He has not left his work incomplete; he has abundantly fulfilled to each one of his children this gracious promise, “ Thou shalt call me, My father.” Indifference, alienation, and distrust, are progressively and successively swept away; his people are brought to desire his favour beyond all things; divine grace unites them to their father in heaven, in a manner which before they conceived not to be possible ; and they are brought to that peaceful relation, by his goodness and power and care, which is the peculiar felicity of God's own children. “I said, Thou shalt call me, My father."
This gracious promise contains still another clause, which is necessary to your comfort, and which completes the manifestation of God's goodness : “And thou shalt not turn away from me.” first parents were placed, in some respects, in more favourable cir
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cumstances than we are, inasmuch as they had no temptations to struggle with as we have, and were surrounded with all that might induce them to continue faithful to God--if they fell from their steadfastness through that strange introduction of temptation into his heart, it was far more likely that we, even we, having known and loved God, and rejoiced in the salvation he has provided for us in Christ-that each of us, misled by some transient and seducing object, have turned away from him who is our God, should have forsaken the fountain of living waters to hew out to ourselves cisterns that would not hold the consolation that we hoped. But He who gave us a Saviour, He who gave us his Spirit to induce us to appreciate his love, would never again lead us to self-destruction. It had been much if our gracious God, having brought us into covenant with himself, had declared, “ You shall never perish ; you shall never die.” It would have been a vast mercy to tell us that we should eventually rise to glory if we became the members of his living body. But God in this promise has done far more; he does not say to his people, “Ye shall not die,” but, “You shall not turn away from me;" by this securing a double blessing—the continuance of a right principle, as well as the continuance of a state of safety.
They must have given little heed to the constant language of God's word who can find in this doctrine of the perseverance of God's saints—which should be rather called the perseverance of the love of God-they must have looked with little carefulness to the various statements made in God's word, if they find occasion there to imagine that his people could live in transgression, could continue careless, could grow hard in heart, and yet hope to be eventually happy. The promise is not that you shall be saved while living in disobedience, but “ Thou shalt not turn away from me;" and it was as easy to our covenant God to secure the one as the other. It could not enter into his councils that an unholy being should be happy, whatever his previous experience: and as sure as Adam, once holy and rejoicing in the favour of God, became a miserable and abject being, cast off from his favour, and the heir to eternal wrath, when he chose to seek a false happiness, contrary to the will of God; so surely shall all who have been bought by the blood of Christ, changed by the grace of the Spirit, and made to love God with a spiritual affection that should grow on till they loved God perhaps better than Adam loved him—so surely would they, each and all, have turned from every manifestation of his grace, if left to themselves. But it was the completeness of the love of God that he would maintain the principle once implanted ; and there is not in all the works of God any thing that seems to me so great, so godlike, so passing all the bounds of language to express its worth and majesty, as that the Lord God should take the poor crushed spirit, that was bound down by sin, while unrestored to its lost perfections, exposed to all manner of solicitations to depart from God, and enable him to live on still obedient to his will, growing in gratitude where almost all are alienated, growing on in devotedness where almost all are disobedient, and looking on to the eternal reward where the hearts of all around him, and his own naturally, are inclined to be fastened to the things of time, and limited to the short interests on this side the grave. The ship. is kept secure in the midst of the ocean; the taper is kept alive in the midst of the storm ; still it burns brighter and brighter, till it is assimilated to the lustre of that love which fills angelic breasts, and shall glow on in the presence of God to all eternity. “ Thou shalt not turn away from me.” Not, “ Thou shalt be happy in sin, in levity, in pride, and in disregard of my will:" no, “ Thou shalt be diligent in duty, firm in temptation, mortifying self-will, living alone amidst wicked men : thou shalt dare to be singular in an evil world: thou shalt examine earnestly that thou solicitously pursuest all the known precepts of my word: thou shalt live by the word of God, when others live by the rule of fancy; thou shalt call me, My father, when all men are alienated from me: thou shalt live a spiritual and heavenly life in the midst of earthly corruptions, and among those who are devoted to time.” This is contained in the blessed promise, “ Thou shalt call me, My father, and shalt not turn away from me.” The grace of God, which secures our eternal happiness, secures our eternal principle too; and when his people depart from him (as, alas ! depart they may), he lacks not the means, as he certainly lacks not the inclination, of bringing them back, and they are chastened back to their duty. They feel an uneasiness and a restlessness in departing from God; he sends them affliction on affliction; he drives the arrow of conviction deep into their hearts; he makes his precious promises to beam on them; and he suffers not his erring child to find any happiness, till, brought back to his God, he says, with gratitude unspeakable, as the Psalmist of old, “ He restoreth my soul : he leads me into the paths of righteousness, for his name's sake."