Page images

or who contemplate it. Every spirit among the witnessing hosts of heaven must have seen that no higher evidence could be given of supreme attachment and unconditioned submission; that in laying his son on the altar, he laid his whole heart there; and that it involved, therefore, a juster ground than an ordinary act of obedience for the regard with which it was treated.

That characteristic of the act was accordingly the ground of its being made to all subsequent believers, an exemplar of the affection required of them towards God, as the condition of pardon and justification through Christ; an affection supreme in its energy, recognising his rightful claim to the whole heart, and cheerfully at his bidding surrendering itself and every interest to him.

These considerations then sufficiently demonstrate that different acts of obedience, differ essentially in value; and that the degree of their excellence corresponds to the energy of the holy affections which they exhibit, or the decisiveness with which they evince a supreme devotedness to God.

II. The obedience accordingly which God requires of us, is that which is fraught with the highest share of excellence, or that evinces an entire subjection of the heart to him.

The first and greatest of his commands is, "thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind." This spirit of supreme and intense devotedness is thus to reign in us, and prompt and characterize all our agency. All the other requirements of the law and gospel are but specifications of the forms in which it is to be exerted, or the modes in which it is to be exemplified. This alone fits for heaven, or can meet with acceptance. "He," saith Christ, "that loveth father or

mother more than me, is not worthy of me; and he that loveth son or daughter more than me, is not worthy of me; and he that taketh not his cross and followeth after me, is not worthy of me." All attachments to creatures, however lovely they may be, or how near soever may be their relations to us, are to be wholly subordinate, and God to be all in all. The spirit of discipleship to Christ is to be the spirit itself of martyrdom; a readiness to relinquish the dearest earthly objects, and embrace death if necessary for his sake. Such accordingly was the obedience of Noah, of Job, of Moses, of the prophets, and of the apostles, who are held up as examples for our imitation. Thus "Moses refused to be called the son of Pharaoh's daughter; choosing rather to suffer affliction with the people of God, than to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a season; esteeming the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures of Egypt, for he had respect unto the recompense of reward." Paul also took "pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses, for Christ's sake;" and counted all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ, for whom he suffered the loss of all things, and counted them but dross, that he might win him. And such is the spirit to which the promises are addressed. The language of Christ to the churches is, "to him that overcometh will I grant to sit with me on my throne, even as I overcame, and am set down with my Father on his throne." On the other hand a subordinate or lukewarm affection is reprobated as offensive, rather than acceptable. "I know thy works, that thou art neither cold nor hot. I would that thou wert cold or hot."

And such a supreme regard is obviously due to God, and the only affection that befits our relations. He is infi

nitely greater and more excellent than all other beings; and is the only proper object therefore of the highest love. His relations to us likewise are immeasurably more intimate and momentous than those of all other beings, and his title in that respect therefore, to our supreme regard, infinitely greater than that of all created beings and objects. His law accordingly only expresses what are at once his rights, and our obligations, in requiring our supreme love to him.

III. His providential administration is so arranged accordingly, as to call us to such an obedience, by putting us at every step of our progress, to the test, not only whether we will obey, or rebel, but whether we will render obedience amidst such obstructions of temptation, and at the price of such self-denial, as decisively to demonstrate a supreme devotion to him.

His allotments are such as to render life to all a scene of severe probation. Each individual, by being thrown successively under the action of different influences, of enjoyment and suffering, of wealth and poverty, of bereavement, dependence, disappointment, and their opposites, or trials of some form or other, is subjected to a decisive test of character, and made-if obedient-to render an obedience involving a manifestation of supreme regard to God. And such has been the character of his providence in every age. To what a succession of trials of this kind were the patriarchs, prophets, and apostles subjected? What a series of such disciplinary dispensations were appointed to the Hebrew nation, during their progress through the wilderness, and their residence in Canaan? In what a perpetual tempest of persecutions and sufferings, subjecting its piety to the severest test, was the christian church involved through a

long tract of ages from its institution? And what else in effect is life to every one than a similar scene, in which under the action of powerful and diversified influences, his susceptibilities are developed, and his supreme affections put to daily and decisive trials?

IV. These trials are, to a great extent at least, adventitious, and instituted for the express purpose of calling them to a determinate choice between good and evil, and exhibition of their supreme affection.

Such, we are expressly told, was the object of those to which the Hebrew nation was subjected.

"Then said the Lord unto Moses, Behold I will rain bread from heaven for you, and the people shall go out and gather a certain rate every day, that I may prove them, whether they will walk in my law or no."--Exodus xvi. 4.

"Thou shalt remember all the way which the Lord thy God led thee these forty years in the wilderness, to humble thee and to prove thee, to know what was in thine heart: whether thou wouldst keep his commandments or no; and he humbled thee and suffered thee to hunger, and fed thee with manna, which thou knewest not, neither did thy fathers know that he might make thee know that man doth not live by bread only, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of the Lord doth man live."--Deut. viii. 2. 3.


"If there arise among you a prophet, or a dreamer of dreams, and giveth thee a sign or a wonder, and the sign or the wonder come to pass whereof he spake unto thee, saying, Let us go after other gods, which thou hast not known, and let us serve them; Thou shalt not hearken unto the words of that prophet, or that dreamer of dreams; for the Lord your God proveth you, to know whether ye love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul." Deut.xiii. 1 3.

"I will not henceforth drive out any from before them of the nations which Joshua left when he died; that through them I may prove Israel whether they will keep the way of the Lord to walk therein, as their fathers did keep it, or not. Therefore the Lord left those nations, without driving them out hastily; neither delivered he them into the hand of Joshua."-Joshua xi. 21-23

"And Hezekiah prospered in all his works. Howbeit, in the business of the ambassadors of the princes of Babylon, who sent unto him to inquire of the wonder that was done in the land, God left him to try him, that he might know all that was in his heart."--Chron. xxxii. 31.

These severe trials, through blessings and calamities, we are thus assured were permitted for the express purpose of testing the hearts of those who were subjected to their influence, and giving it to be seen from their agency, by themselves and the universe, that their supreme affections were what they were, and were a just and proper ground accordingly of the regard with which they were treated by the Most High. And such is doubtless the design of the similar allotments to which men are in every age subjected. And there is an obvious propriety in his arranging his providence in such a manner, as to obtain such a decisive manifestation of their character from his creatures, as a ground of his ultimate disposal of them.

A supreme affection toward him is the only one that meets his rights and their obligations, and the only one therefore that can with propriety be distinguished with his approbation. And to require it, and place them in such a condition as to exhibit it, is not only fit in itself, but peculiarly proper also perhaps in respect to other orders of beings who are spectators of his administration over us; as possibly it furnishes the only appropriate evidence to them that the supreme affections of those whom he receives to his favor, are such as to render them proper objects of that regard. To admit beings who had rebelled to his favor, while their allegiance appeared to be possibly of a doubtful character, might subject his administration to suspicion. That this branch of his government is a theme of consideration to other orders of beings, and that these appointments of his

« PreviousContinue »