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When persons are fierce and violent, and exert their sharp and bitter passions, it shows weakness, instead of strength and fortitude. i Cor. iii, at the beginning, And I, brethren, could not speak unto you as unto spiritual, but as unto carnal, even as unto babes in Christ. --- For ye are yet carnal : for whereas there is among you envying, and strife, and divisions, are ye not carnal, and walk as men?
There is a pretended boldness for Christ that arises from no better principle than pride. A man may be forward to expose himself to the dislike of the world, and even to provoke their displeasure, out of pride. For it is the nature of spiritual pride to cause men to seek distinction and singularity ; and so oftentimes to set themselves at war with those whom they call carnal, that they may be more highly exalted among their party. True boldness for Christ is universal, and carries men above the displeasure of friends and foes; so that they will forsake all rather than Christ; and will rather offend all parties, and be thought meanly of by all, than offend Christ. And that duty which tries whether a man is willing to be despised by those of his own party, and thought the least worthy to be regarded by them, is a more proper trial of his boldness for Christ, than his being forward to expose himself to the reproach of opposers. The apostle declined to seek glory, not only of Heathens and Jews, but of Christians; as he declares, i Thess. ii. 26*. He is bold for Christ, who has Christian fortitude enough to confess his fault openly, when he has committed one that requires it, and as it were to come down upon his knees before opposers. Such things as these are much greater evidence of holy boldness, than resolutely and fiercely confronting opposers.
As some are much mistaken concerning the nature of true boldness for Christ, so they are concerning Christian zeal. It is indeed a flame, but a sweet one; or rather it is the heat and fervour of a sweet Alaine. For the flame of which it is the heat, is no other than that of divine love, or Christian charity; which is the sweetest and most benevolent thing that can be, in the heart of man or angel. Zeal is the fervour of this flame, as it ardently and vigorously goes out towards the good that is its object; and so consequently in opposition to the evil that is contrary to, and impedes it. There is indeed opposition, vigorous opposition, that is an attendant of it; but it is against things, and not persons. Bitterness against the persons of men is no part of, but is contrary to it; insomuch that the warmer true zeal is, and the higher it is raised, so much the further are persons from such bitterness, and so much fuller of love both to the evil and to the good. It is no other, in its very nature and essence, than the fervour of Christian love. And as to what opposition there is in it to things, it is forstly and chiefly against the evil things in the persun himself who has this zeal; against the enemies of God and holiness in his own heart; (as these are most in his view, and what he has most to do with); and but secondarily against the sins of others. And therefore there is nothing in a true Christian zeal contrary to the spirit of meekness, gentleness, and love; the spirit of a little child, a lamb and dove, that has been spoken of; but is entirely agreeable to, and tends to promote it.
* Mr. SHEPARD, speaking of hypocrites affecting applause, says, “ Hence men forsake their friends, and trample under foot the scorns of the world : they have credit elsewhere. to maintain their interest in the love of godly men, they will suffer much.” Parable of the Ten Virgins, Part I. p. 180.
But I would say something particularly concerning this Christian spirit as exercised in these three things, forgiveness, love, and mercy. The scripture is very clear and express concerning the absolute necessity of each of these, as belonging to the temper and character of every Christian. A forgiving spirit is necessary, or a disposition to overlook and forgive injuries. Christ gives it to us both as a negative and positive evidence; and is express in teaching us, that if we are of such a spirit, it is a sign we are in a state of forgiveness and favour ourselves; and that if we are not of such a spirit, we are not forgiven of God; and seems to take special care that we should always bear it on our minds. Matth. vi. 12, 14, 15. Forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors. For, if ye forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses. Christ expresses the same at another time, Mark xi. 25, 26. and again in Matth. xviii. 22. to the end, in the parable of the servant, who owed his lord ten thousand talents, and who would not forgive his fellow-servant an hundred pence; and therefore was delivered to the tormentors. In the application of the parable Christ says, ver. 35. So likewise shall my heavenly Father do, if ye from your hearts forgive not every one his brother their trespasses.
And that all true saints are of a loving, benevolent and beneficent temper, the scripture is very plain and abundant. Without it, the apostle tells us, though we should speak with the tongues of men and angels, we are as a sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal: and though we have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries, and all knowledge; yet without this spirit we are nothing. There is no one virtue, or disposition of mind, so often and so expressly insisted on, as marks laid down in the New Testament, whereby to know true Christians. It is often given as a sign peculiarly distinguishing, by which all may know Christ's disciples, and by which they may know themselves; and is often laid down, both as a negative and positive evidence. Christ cails the law of love, by way of eminence his commandment, John xii. 34. A new commandment I give unto you, that ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love another. And Chap. xv. 12. This is my commandment, That ye love one another, as I have loved you. And ver. 17. These things I command you, that ye love one another. And says, chap. xiii. 35. By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another. And Chap. xiv. 21. (still with a special reference to this which he calls his commandment), He that hath my commandments, and keepeth them, he it is that loveth me. The beloved disciple, who had so much of this sweet temper himself, abundantly insists on it, in his epistles. Not one of the apostles is so express in laying down signs of grace, for professors to try themselves by, as he; and in his signs, he insists scarcely op any thing but a spirit of Christian love, and an agreeable practice; 1 John ii. 9, 10, He that saith he is in the light, and hateth his brother, is in darkness even until Now. He that loveth his brother abideth in the light, and there' is none occasion of stumbling in him. Cbap. iii. 14. We know that we are passed from death unto life, because we love the brethren; he that loveth not his brother, ubideth in death. 18, 19. My little children, let us not love in word and in tongue, but in deed, and in truth. And hereby we know that we are of the truth, and shall assure our hearts before him. ver, 23, 24. This is his commandment, that we should love one another. And he that keepeth his commandments, dwelleth in him, and ke in him: and hereby we know that he abideth in us, by the Spirit which he hath given ys. Chap. iv. 7, 8. Beloved, let us love one another : for love is of God: and every one that loveth, is born of God, and knoweth God. He that loveth not, knoweth not God; for God is love. ver. 12, 13. No man hath seen God at any time. If we love one another, God dwelleth in us, and his Love is perfected in us. Hereby know we that we dwell in him, because he hath given us of his Spirit. ver. 16. God is love ;
and he that dwelleth in love, dwelleth in God, and God in him. ver. 20. If a man say, I love God, and hateth his brother, he is a liar: for he that loveth not his brother whom he hath seen, how cun he love God whom he hath not seen?
And the scripture is as plain as possible, that none are true saints, but those who are of a disposition to pity and relieve their fellow-creatures, who are poor, indigent, and afflicted; Psal. xxxvii. 21. The righteous sheweth mercy, and giveth. ver. 26. He is ever merciful, and lendeth. Psal. cxii. 5. A good man sheweth favour and lendeth. ver. 9. He hath dispersed abroad, and given to the poor. Prov. xiv. 31. He that honoureth God, hath
mercy on the poor. Prov. xxi. 26. The righteous giveth, and spareth not. Jer. xxii. 16. He judged the cause of the poor and needy, then it was well with him: was not this to know me? saith the Lord. Jam. i. 27. Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father, is this, To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, &c. Hos vi. 6. For 1 desired mercy, and not sucrifice; and the knowledge of God, more than burnt-offerings. Matth. v. 7. Blessed are the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy. 2 Cor. viii. 8. I speak not by commandment, but by occasion of the forwardness of others, and to prove the sincerity of your love. Jam. ii. 13-16. For he shall have judgment without mercy, that hath shewed no mercy.What doth it profit, my brethren, though a man say he hath faith, and have not works ? can faith save him? If a brother or sister be naked, and destitute of daily food; and one of you say unto them, Depart in peace, be you warmed and filled: notwithstandiug ye give them not those things which are needful to the body; what doth it profit? 1 John iii. 17. Whoso hath this world's good, and seeth his brother have nced, and shutteth up his bowels of compassion from him, how dwelleth the love of God in him? Christ in that description be gives us of the day of judgment, Matth. xxv. (which is the most particular in all the Bible) represents, that judgment will be passed at that day, according as men have been of a merciful spirit and practice, or otherwise. Christ's design in giving such a description of the process of that day, is plainly to possess all his followers with the apprehension, that unless this was their spirit and practice, there was no hope of their being accepted and owned hy him at that day. We find in scripture, that a righteous man, and a merciful man are synonymous espressions; Is. Ivii. 1. The righteous perisheth, and no man layeth it to heart ; and merciful men are taken away, none considering that the righteous is taken away from the evil to come.
Thus we see how full, clear, and abundant, the evidence from scripture is, that those who are truly gracious, are under the government of that lamb-like, dove-like Spirit of Jesus Christ, and that this is essentially and eminently the nature of the saving grace of the gospel, and the proper spirit of true Christianity. We may therefore undoubtedly determine, that all truly Christian affections are attended with such a spirit; and that this is the natural tendency of the fear and hope, the sorrow and the joy, the confidence and the zeal of true Christians.
None will understand me, that true Christians have no remains of a contrary, spirit, and can never, in any instances, be guilty of a behaviour not agreeable to such a spirit. But this I affirm, and shall affirm until I deny the Bible to be any thing worth, that every thing in Christians that belongs to true Christianity, is of this tendency, and works this way; and that there is no true Christian upon earth, but is so under the prevailing power of such a spirit, that he is properly denominated from it, and it is truly and justly his character. Therefore, ministers and others have no warrant from Christ to encourage persons of a contrary character and behaviour, to think they are converted, because they tell a fair story of illuminations and discoveries. In so doing, they would set up their own wisdom against Christ's, and judge against that rule by which Christ has declared all men should know his disciples. Some persons place religion so much in certain transient illuminations and impressions, (especially if they are in such a particular method), and so little in the spirit and teinper, that they greatly deform religion, and form notions of Christianity quite different from what it is, as delineated in the scriptures. The scripture knows no true Christians, of a gordid, selfish, cross and contentious spirit. Nothing can be a greater absurdity, thạn a morose, hard, close, high-spirited, spiteful, true Christian. We must learn the way of bringing men to rules; and not rules to men, and so strain the rules of God's word, in order to take in ourselves, and some of our neighbours, until we make them wholly of none effect.
It is true, allowances must be made for men's natural temper; but we must not allow men, that once were wolves and serpents, to be now converted, without any remarkable change in the spirit of their mind. The change made by true conversion, is wont to be most remarkable, with respect tą Voli ly.