« ForrigeFortsæt »
the force of a novel argument, and be led by the new and constraining irfu ence of the love of Christ, to “ love one another as he hath loved us."
But not merely in setting before men an example of heavenly love did the life and the death of Jesus give unto men " a new commandment." From first to last, the Gospel is in one point of view “ a new commandment.” I speak not merely of the doctrines, for they were never heard of, till they flowed under the teaching of the Spirit, from the lips of inspired men; I speak not merely of its novelty as a religion of love, to the heathen nations of the Saviour's age, when, through the prevalence of luxury, the wants of all were greater than the means of any, and men were selfish upon principle ; I speak not of its novelty to his Pharisaic hearers, who were taught to evade the fifth commandment with untroubled conscience, and to defraud an aged parent of that support which by the laws of God and nature was his due: but the moral duties of the Gospel are, from the peculiar manner in which they are stated,“ a new commandment." The Gospel leaves not the moral duties to the power of nature; it does not bid us by our natural strength to comply with its high requirements; neither, like the law of Moses, does it merely present us with a pure and peaceful code, and then thunder into our ear the threatenings against sin, declaring that he is cursed who continueth not in all its words to do them, and that God will by no means clear the guilty: but the Gospel while it places before us the highest standard of moral duty, it gives them on a basis, and regulates them by a pattern, divine, unchanging, and infinite.
The Jew, indeed, had a code of morality both clear and pure : his duty was clearly set before him; the way of holiness was so plain, that the wayfaring man though a fool could not err therein. But we do not find that the better knowledge of the Jew secured to him a better practice: we do not find that his clearer light led him to follow in the path it pointed out; nor did the abstract beauty of holiness lead him to make and to copy for himself the bright and the beautiful that was set before him. In short, the Jewish religion was not a system of motives, and it left human nature in much the same predicament as the very ignorance of heathenism itself.
A religion without motives is of no avail to change the heart and to purify the practice. It is of no avail that you tell a man his duty ; but you must tell him how to do it, and you must give him a power to do it. It is of no avail that you set before the pilgrim the pathway unless you give him the staff to support his journeyings, the bread to support his strength, and the home which is ready to receive him when the toil is over. And it is this which Christianity professes to do: it has risen not merely with truth, but with healing in its wings: it has not merely poured a flood of light over the whole region of morals, but with cheering radiance it sends out a quickening warmth. With one hand it tears asunder every flimsy veil of delusion and self-deceit, unveils the subterfuges of the human heart, detects unsuspected errors, effectually humbling pride, convincing of moral weakness where the plague of the natural heart is deeply and really felt, by the Spirit's agency—and then with the other it pours into the empty vessel of the human heart, a principle, a power, and a motlon, by the constant exercise of which, morality shall assume its loftiest tone, and moral agents become “ followers of God as dear children."
And here is the great difference between the religion of Jesus and every other it is a system of motives; and it is this which is its constant witness proving
that it is of God; because not only does it tell us of him, but leads us to him: it not only tells how deeply man has fallen, and how sorely he has rebelled, but it professes (what no false religion would ever venture to do) to have for every believer a power which shall replace him who made the heart, on the heart which by nature hates him; a wer by which man may regain what he lost, and repair the breaches which sin bas made, and gain a security, a permanency, and a love for active and steady holiness. It tells us of a constraining love, which shall make obedience easy, delightful, natural, in a manner unavoidable. (2 Cor. v. 14.)
And it is in the motive which it supplies, more than in the duties it teaches, that the Gospel in general, and the text in particular, is a new commandment. We affirm not that man is ignorant of duty. You may cull the flowers of almost a Christian morality, from the ethics of Greece and Rome, from the Koran of Mahomet: the lawgiver of the Jews propounded in the decalogue, the whole of the will of God. But whether it be the Jew, whether it be the heathen, whether it be the nominal Christian, all are alike in this; they know their duty but they cannot do it. To affirm that all that is lovely and of good report, has been utterly rooted out of human nature, would assuredly be to outstep the limits of the truth. A distinction is to be drawn between man in his relation to God, and man in his subordinate capacity, in the social ties of this lower world. And very probably in this subordinate capacity a man may have attained to eminence in moral sympathy, in tender affection, in devoted usefulness. The page of classic antiquity sparkles with much that is bright and beautiful : the strength of filial piety and maternal love, the con. stancy of tried friendship and unbending fidelity, the stern devotedness of patriotism, pour a very flood of glory over the merhory of Greece and Rome: and we know that these, and the sense of honour, and the pride of integrity, and the hatred of the low and the unworthy artifice, can exist even now in bosoms that are totally unfurnished with the love of God. Men do what is right and proper, not because they love it for its intrinsic worth, or love God its author, but because they are ashamed of what is wrong. They will do a kind and benevolent action, not because they are grateful for mercies vouchsafed to them, but because it would be pain and grief to a natural softness of disposition to suppress the risings of affection. Our noblest motives are too often a low, a base, a shifting expediency; our best constraint to consistent virtue, the customs and the fashions of a world which lieth in wickedness.
Yes, my brethren, this is the condition in which Christianity finds men; so debased, so revolted, that either they know not their God, or if they do know him, that knowledge is no motive to become like him in holiness, benevolence, and love. This is the moral leprosy, this the spiritual disease which the Gospel undertakes to heal. It points out the secret cause of all sin-ignorance of Him who is all purity; it strikes at the root of the disease ; it fastens on the primary element of all depravity: the Spirit convinces men of sin, because they believe not; and chiefest of this, that man's is an evil heart of unbelief in departing from the living God. It offers, through Christ, to bring us to such a knowledge of God, as shall overcome the tendencies of nature, and lead us to copy his perfections as seen in the face of his beloved Son; it offers to introduce us to fellowship and communion with the offended Lawgiver, whose very attributes pledge him to the destruction of all that is sinful; and so to reconcile us to our
offended Father, that the Lord God shall dwell once more with rebellious man, when he has become, through the Spirit, a temple and an habitation of God. And then, when the work of Christ is seen in all its fulness, embraced in all its freeness, and felt in all its power; when the fallen, humbled, mourning soul is raised from the dust, and united once more to Him in whom alone our frail spirits can find repose and rest; then old things will pass a'vay-old joys, and hopes, and fears, and ambitions. In the place of the weedia of sin shall spring up the flowers of holiness, the growth of Paradise. The man of renewed soul will prove that he has got a security for his holiness; that his morality is got upon the proper basis; that he is not led to it merely because it is expedient, or because custom authorizes or laws enjoin; but now he has awakened up to the dignity of his nature as an immortal being; he is now broken off the old, natural, and corrupt tree; he is now walking in the light of eternity: he is no longer a branch of that vine of earth whose roots are fed in the soil of this polluted world, over whose stem the axe of wrath is uplifted, whose clusters are ripe for the wine-press of the wrath of God; but he is grafted a living branch upon Christ the living vine ; in his regenerate soul a stream is springing up, fed by the eternal fountain of truth, and holiness, and love. The chariot wheels no longer, like those of the Egyptians, drive heavily; but the soul soars, like the chariots in prophetic vision, upon wheels and upon wings: and O, how delightful an evidence is it of the complete and unrestrained influence of the divine love on our hearts, when the whoie dream of thoughts, desires, motives, affections, and actions, are carried towards God in an undivided current! O that we could truly love God, ourselves, and others, because he hath loved us !
See here then the motive of my text, see the fountain from which the streams of duty are to flow in the bosom and the life of a Christian—even from the love of God in Christ ; not from the example merely, for the example is utterly useless till the Spirit applies it, and brings it home into our hearts; but from a sense and experience of the work of Christ in bringing back the soul to God. “This is my commandment, that ye love one another, even as I have loved you;" “I give unto you a new commandment, that ye love one another :" not neu to your bosoms, for it was planted there by nature's God, though, perhaps, too often dormant; not new in the letter even, for it was written by the finger of God in the tables of the Jewish law: but I call it my commandment, and a new commandment, because it is fixed upon a basis, and regulated by a pattern which never was known before-even my love to sinners which has never been paralleled my love which is peculiar and infinite. It is a mistake to think that Christ came to add to the laws of God in the Mosaic covenant; he came to sanction them afresh, to develope their spirit, to beat out that massive golden wedge of divine truth into all its extensive bearings. Neither did Christ come to create the social affections, but to measure them by a new standard, to give them the impulse of a new, and noble, and surer stimulus even that eternal love which an offended God can manifest to his rebellious creatures.
It is, however, difficult and rare to find pure and disinterested love: the word is little under stod and can rarely be manifested. The affairs of men are so intimately associated, the tie of mutual influence is so unbroken, that we question whether it be possible for any to perform a benevolent or charitable -ction from which he does not receive (as it were in a reflex manner) some
reciprocal benefit. Our dependence upon others for assistance and for comfort, necessarily involves selfishness with our love. To find the purity of disinterested • love, we must seek for it in the development of circumstances which relate to some other, some higher nature than our own. This has only been manifested in wis lupu of Christ, and whether you consider its disinterestedness, or the objects on which it was exercised, you shall find that none other can be ukened to the love of Christ.
For the Second Person in the glorious Trinity is fully blessed in all the unutterable perfections which are eternal and infinite in God. The glory of the Deity is capable neither of increase nor of diminution from external cir. cumstances, and, therefore, when man fell, it was not that the happiness of the Creator was lowered, nor the harmonies of creation disarranged, nor the majesty of God sullied by the defection of his intelligent creatures. These were not the motions which led the Son of God to lay aside the mantle of uncreated glory, and take upon him the veils of flesh. Had it been that the justice of God alone were to be satisfied, one word would have sufficed to vindicate it; the breath of that word would have hurled the sin-struck pianet from its little sphere; and then, crushed and dissolved, its very place blotted out, the glory and the blessedness which surrounds the throne of God would still remain unclouded. But it was love, unutterable love, which brought Jesus from his throne on high, when nothing here could add to his essential bliss. “ God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son," to the end “ that whosoever believeth shruld not perish, but have everlasting life.” “ Behold what manner of love is this, that we should be called the children of God.” Sure, indeed, it is, that the bounty and the compassion of the Creator were manifested in his material handy work. Who can look upon himself, so fearfully and wonderfully made-upon the works of beauty and goodness which fill this lower globe-or upwards upon the starry palaces of a magnificent universe, without feeling that God is good ?
The waving corn, the green pasture, ocean with its countless waves, and earth with her ten thousand tongues, proclaim a God of power. The crimson beams of morning, the purple shades of evening, the gale which breathes its freshness around the dwellings of the rich and poor, the gracious rain which drops on our fields the smiling promise of abundance, tell me of the finger of unwearied providence. But for a demonstration of infinite love, to know that God can be just to himself and merciful to the sinner-to know that he can pardon, love, and save, the very creatures who desired not the knowledge of his ways, who had insulted the majesty of his perfections, and blackened the canopy of heaven by the incense of their abomination-you need to be told of the incarnation of Him, who, though he thought it not robbery to be equal with God, yet took on him the form of a servant-you need to be told of love which, infinite in its comprehension, can embrace its enemies of his atoning death and sufferings. And you need not only to be told, but to know, by a real reception of that Saviour into your hearts, the riches of that grace which he sendeth down from his present seat of glory. O! how shall we calculate this love? By what arithmetic shall we estimate the humiliation of Jesus from his rude cradle in the manger, to his last bitter baptism of tears and blood? Shall we compare it to the monarch who would lay aside the splendour of his royalty, that he might go, and by entreaty, by argument, and by love, win back the
affections and the loyalty of rebellious subjects ? Shall we liken it to that generous feeling which led the great philanthropist to bury himself amid the outcasts of his race in the gloomy and pestilential dungeon? Such comparısons will not stand before the subject of our meditation. We might, indeed, conceive a tribe of living creatures, the most vile and despicable of all that fill the ranks of creation ; we may suppose each individual of that despised race, writhing beneath the grasp of an agonizing disease, which consumed and preyed upon the species to its destruction. Were it possible for man to lay aside his immortality and his dignity, to come down to their puny and despised nature, and that amid torment, infirmity, and woe, to save and to rescue the ephemeral race, that would be some faint shadow of the love we speak of. But 0! it were useless and weak to pretend lightly to draw an analogy between man in any situation, and the incarnate Godhead; for the greatest distance between man, and the lowest of God's creatures, is even as nothing compared with the infinity which separates man from his Maker. And when to this we add the consideration, that the love of Christ, in reconciling them to God, was manifested to a world who rejected him when he came among them, and ever since have been trampling under foot the offers of his grace-tell me if this be not the disinterested purity of unequalled love ? Does not so bright an example throw an irresistible sanction upon the command, that we love, as he hath loved us? Is not the spirit of the law illustrated and developed in a noble transcript in the character of Jesus Christ ? Time forbids me to enlarge upon this subject. There may be some here to whom it would seem little better than foolishness, and the raving of enthusiasm to speak of that peace and joy in a sense of the love of Christ, which it is the believer's lot to feel, and of the motive it is within him to all that is right, and high, and holy. To such I would say, that if these glad tidings are not tidings of great joy to you, if they never produce a faith working by love, then is this Gospel hid; and if it be hid, it is hid to them that are lost. Such persons have yet to ask the question, “ What shall I do to be saved ?" They bave not yet found peace with God; they have yet to receive into their hearts that great salvation; that full and finished work which satisfies the infinitely holy mind of the great Jehovah, and leaves the ransomed sinner no cause to fear. O! that every one of you here: present may know, in vital, heartfelt reception of the truth, all that is meant by the constraining of the love of Christ. Yes, and if the Lord were in every heart before me, mighty to save," and then the felt preciousness of a saving faith, would make you anxious to impa.t to others the power, the peace, the treasure you have found yourselves; you would not be content to go to heaven alone ; you would long to take others with you; you would act towards the poor brethren, whose cause I plead this day, in the spirit of Moses to Hobab, “ Come thou with us, and we will do thee good, for we are journeying unto the land, of which the Lord hath said, I will give it thee."
There are, I trust, others here who know something of the love of God, as brought home to a sin-convinced conscience, through the Spirit of Jesus ; who have been brought to feel the suitableness there is in this precious application of redeeming blood, and that inward disease whose soreness and malignity has been revealed to them; who have been brought to know that the doctrines of the cross can let down upon the trembling soul the light of God's reconcilea countenance : and call forth lore out of hatred, zeal out of indifference, loyalty