Christ Precious to
Those Who Believe
The preciousness of Jesus Christ, to those who
believe—practically considered and improved.
By John Fawcett
"Yes, He is very precious to you who believe!"
1 Peter 2:7
Section 6. The LOVE of Christ is precious to those who believe.
This is the most powerful inducement which can be proposed to us—to excite our ardent affections towards the gracious Redeemer. Neither the reasonings of philosophers, the persuasions of orators, nor even the displays of divine goodness in the works of creation and providence, will answer this end—if our hearts are armored against the attractions of a Savior's love. Can we contemplate the agonies he endured for us, and thus place ourselves under the beams of his unparalleled love, and not feel in our melting hearts some returns of affection and regard for him!
The apostle John speaks very justly, when he says, "We loved him—because he first loved us." And another apostle makes use of very strong terms when treating on the same subject, "The love of Christ," says he, "constrains us." The love of Jesus was most strongly manifested in his dying for us. What can be expected to attract our love—if this does not? He himself speaks of it as that which should be efficacious in winning the hearts of men; "And I, if I be lifted up from the earth will draw all men unto me."
Those who are indifferent to the compassion of the dying Redeemer, lose the strongest motive to love and obedience. They are acting the part of the foolish Galatians, who were carried away from this glorious subject, by a kind of infatuation. "O foolish Galatians, who has bewitched you that you should not obey the truth, before whose eyes Jesus Christ has been evidently set forth, crucified among you." O how desirable is it to be enabled constantly to behold him by faith—as crucified for us! Surely we should never forget, that, when he might have left us to perish—such was his love, he died—that we might live, he endured the greatest agonies—that he might snatch us from the jaws of eternal destruction, and open to us the gates of everlasting peace and felicity! Well may such a Savior be precious to us! Surely those who love him most, have reason still to be grieved—that they do not love him more.
He has loved us—so as to ransom us with his blood! He ransoms us from a voluntary bondage; from the most vile and miserable captivity; a captivity from which nothing but Almighty grace could have set us free! Could we have made any pretense to merit, the case would have been different. But since we were totally unworthy, entirely helpless, wretched and undone—human vanity is forever silenced, and all boasting eternally excluded. It was the good pleasure of him who saves us—to love us freely.
It is this love of Christ for His people—which tunes the harps of heaven, and affords the glorified saints, a never-failing subject of harmony and praise! On this theme, they fix their meditations. They admire the glorious mystery of the victorious cross—and sing the wonders of redeeming love.
This love is celebrated by them with peculiar praises; "And they sang a new song: 'You are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals, because you were slain, and with your blood you purchased men for God from every tribe and language and people and nation. You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to serve our God.' Then I looked and heard the voice of many angels, numbering thousands upon thousands, and ten thousand times ten thousand. They encircled the throne and the living creatures and the elders. In a loud voice they sang: 'Worthy is the Lamb, who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and strength and honor and glory and praise!' Then I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and on the sea, and all that is in them, singing: 'To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be praise and honor and glory and power, forever and ever!'" Revelation 5:9-13
What is most wonderful of all, is that Jesus should show such love as this for sinful men—men who were the enemies of God. "God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. When we were God's enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son. You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly."
His love to them was dying love—and in this, the greatness of it most of all appears. When in his agony he sweat great drops of blood falling down to the ground—it was for enemies! The shame and spitting to which he meekly submitted, the torments inflicted on his body, and the inexpressible sorrows which overwhelmed his soul—were all endured for enemies—to save them from ruin, and to exalt them to eternal glory and felicity! It was for them, that he submitted to have the arrows of Divine vengeance spent upon him—which occasioned his bloody sweat, and his solemn outcry upon the cross, "My God, my God—why have you forsaken me!" His body was torn—and his heart was broken—for his enemies!
Probably, through violent fermentation, the crimson fluid became a mixture of blood and water, partly issuing from the pores of his body in the garden, and partly flowing from his side, when pierced by the spear; "Forthwith there came out blood and water." He endured all this for the honor of Divine justice, and to take away the dishonor which we have done to God by our sins, and so to commend or set forth his love to us, in the most striking manner possible.
Oh! for this love, let rocks and hills
Their lasting silence break,
And all harmonious human tongues
The Savior's praises speak!
He suffered from the hand of Divine justice—as if his sins had been infinite, though he was holy, harmless, and undefiled. The reason was, "The Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all. Therefore he was stricken, smitten and afflicted by God." It was for our transgressions, that he was wounded; it was for our iniquities, that he was bruised. Our peace is procured by his chastisement; and our healing by his stripes. If such a Savior is not precious to us—nothing can equal our ingratitude. He died for those who spilt his blood, and who mocked him in the midst of his severest agonies, as is evident from his intercession for them; "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do." O loving Savior! it is fit and right that every knee in heaven and earth should bow to you, and that every angel, and every saint should love you, and adore you forever!—O my soul,
Survey the wondrous cure,
And at each step let higher wonders rise.
Pardon for infinite offence! And pardon
Through means which speak its value infinite!
A pardon bought with blood! With blood divine!
With blood divine of Him I made my foe!
Persisted to provoke! Though wooed and awed,
Blessed and chastised, a flagrant rebel still!
Nor I alone! A rebel universe!
My species up in arms!—Not one exempt!
Yet for the foulest of the foul—he dies!
The gracious manifestations of his love to our souls are exceedingly precious. "There are many that say, Who will show us any good? Lord, lift you up the light of your countenance upon us! This will put gladness into our hearts—more than the increase of corn, or wine, or oil. Your favor is life, yes, your loving-kindness is better than life itself!"
"O blessed Jesus, your love is wonderful! It is the admiration of angels, the joy and song of glorified saints. The experimental sense of it on earth, sweetens the bitterness of life, and disarms death of all its terrors! It was love which moved you to bow the heavens, to come down and sojourn on earth, to humble yourself, to take on you the form of a servant, and become obedient onto death, even the death of the cross. You pitied me in my lost estate. You sought and found me—when I sought you not. You spoke peace to me in the day of my distress, when the clouds of guilt and darkness hung heavy on my soul—and I was brought to the borders of despair. You have borne with all my weakness, corrected my mistakes, restored me from my wanderings, and healed my backslidings. May your loving-kindness be ever before my eyes, to induce me to walk in your truth. May it be the daily theme of my meditations, and the constant joy of my heart!"
"When I am favored with the light of your countenance, and the comfortable sense of your love—my soul is filled and satisfied. All the glittering glories of this world are then darkened, and turned into deformity. They are but broken cisterns—but you are the fountain of living waters. The streams of creature enjoyments, are shallow and deceitful as a brook—but you are the full ocean of never-failing delight and satisfaction!
"To your love I must ascribe my whole salvation; and through all the ages of a blissful eternity—I shall proclaim the wonders of redeeming love, and tell to listening angels what your love has done for my soul. Unto him who loved us, and washed us from our sins in his own blood, and made us kings and priests to God—to him be glory and dominion forever and ever! Amen."
Section 7. Christ's THRONE of GRACE is precious, to those who believe.
"Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need." Hebrews 4:16.
The men of the world are totally ignorant of that delightful fellowship, which is carried on between Christians and their exalted and interceding Savior—what petitions they daily present before his throne, and what gracious answers they receive from him. The eyes of the Lord are upon the righteous, and his ears are ever open to their cries. Whoever else may overlook or disappoint them—he will not. When their spirits are overwhelmed within them—he knows their path. When human means and efforts fail, when everything looks dark before them, when their way seems to be shut up on every side, and they are brought to the lowest ebb—still they have welcome access to the Divine throne, where they may tell all their needs, and unbosom all their cares and sorrows, with the certain hope of obtaining mercy, and finding grace to help in the time of need.
Prayer is not only a duty—but an inestimable privilege! The condescension of God is wonderful, in bending his gracious ear to sinful worms. When the heart of a Christian is under a proper influence—he finds a greater pleasure in approaching the Divine throne, than in anything this world can afford. He obtains more light, strength, comfort and refreshment, by one hour's converse with God—than he could do by any other means!
The prophet Daniel fully showed how precious the throne of grace was to him, since neither the prohibition of the king, nor the threatened horrors of the den of lions—could prevail with him to omit one opportunity of approaching it.
What an unspeakable privilege it is—to have liberty of access to God! To have his permission, nay, his invitation and command—to come boldly to his throne of grace, and to call him our Father in Christ! Amidst surrounding dangers, snares and temptations, we may fly to him as our refuge, and lift up our hearts to him in fervent and earnest prayer. To him we may tell all our inmost cares—and open all our griefs. His ears are always attentive to our requests, and the gales of his blessed Spirit will dispel the gloom in which we are involved, and breathe internal peace and fragrance on our souls.
In the exercises of private devotion, we may nourish and express all the holy affections of our souls, with the greatest freedom. We may say a thousand things to our heavenly Father in secret—which would not be proper in public devotion. We may pour out our souls before him, in the strongest and most pathetic sentiments of holy desire, and divine delight. We may tell him all the disquietudes of our consciences, the secret anguish and shame of our hearts—because of those offences which are known to him alone. We may sigh deeply, and pour out the tear of penitence into his bosom. We may tell him how intense our desires are—to experience more of his love, and to be conformed to his image. We may rejoice in his sight with divine exultation and holy triumph, in the prospect of being shortly with him in the heavenly world.
Let the favorites of an earthly prince value themselves on being permitted to hold converse with their sovereign; I would ever esteem it a privilege infinitely superior, to have free and welcome access to the King of kings!
Section 8. The DOCTRINE of Christ is precious, to those who believe.
The truths of the gospel reveal a method of salvation every way honorable to God and his righteous government; and every way suitable to our necessities. The ground, the substance, and the spirit of the glad tidings sent from heaven to a lost world are, that Jesus Christ died for our sins, according to the Scriptures. The apostle Paul was determined, as a minister, to know nothing but Jesus Christ, and him crucified. This theme, and the truths connected with it, engrossed all his thoughts. He dwelt so much upon these subjects, that it might appear as if he knew nothing else; and as if nothing else were, comparatively speaking, worthy of his attention.
When our Lord, after his resurrection, honored his disciples with his company in their journey to Emmaus, he began at Moses and all the prophets, and expounded to them in all the Scriptures—the things concerning himself. Did they hear the Divine truths he advanced with indifference? Far from it! These truths were precious to their souls, as appears from their own animated expressions; "Did not our hearts burn within us, while he talked with us by the way, and opened to us the Scriptures?"
The Word of Christ in general, is precious to those who believe. As the coin of Caesar bore his image and superscription, so the Divine Word bears the image of Christ, and consequently must be dear to those who love him. They revere that sacred injunction, "Let the Word of Christ dwell in you richly, in all wisdom, that you may be able also to admonish one another."
David, the king of Israel made while living, this public declaration, and left it, when he died, to be observed by all succeeding generations—that the Word of God was better to him than thousands of gold and silver; that it was sweeter to him than honey, and the honeycomb; and that it was his meditation all the day. If he tasted so much sweetness in the least valuable part of the Divine Word, how much richer is the feast to us in these latter days! Since the gospel is now added to the law; the Lord has put his final hand to the work, has "sealed up the sum—and rendered it full of wisdom and perfect in beauty."
The divine Redeemer cannot, in this world, be seen face to face. This is the felicity of the heavenly state. But in his holy Word, as in a looking-glass, we behold his glory. The lineaments of his beauty are here drawn by a divine pencil. The Bible must consequently be a precious book, in the estimation of every Christian.
This inestimable book unfolds to us the path of peace, the way of eternal salvation. We here learn, how the guilty may be pardoned, in perfect consistency with the honor of infinite holiness. We here learn, how God can be just, and the justifier of the ungodly, who, in themselves deserve everlasting condemnation. We are indebted to this sacred volume for all the light that ever chased the glooms of doubts, or cheered the bosom of despondency; for all that gives confidence to faith, energy to hope, ardency to love, or fervor to devotion; for whatever can tranquilize the mind in life, or administer consolation at the last hour. We have here the doctrine which is according to godliness; we have here the words of everlasting life!
The volume of my Father's grace
Does all my grief assuage;
Here I behold my Savior's face,
Almost in every page!
The general design of this divine book is, to establish the soul in believing the testimony, which God has given concerning his son Jesus Christ; to direct it in doing his will, and to comfort it in all the sufferings and afflictions attendant on the present state. The sacred volume therefore insists much on faith, obedience, and patience. The first, faith—is certainly the ground-work of the other two.
Holy men of God, whose sentiments and experiences are here left upon record, have given us the most magnificent eulogies of this Word. They represent it as a source of felicity. They tell us—that it converts and restores the soul; that it gives wisdom to the simple; that it is more to be desired than the richest treasures, or the sweetest enjoyments which this world can afford; that it is adapted to instruct, to correct, to comfort, and to render the man of God perfect. They assure us, that these are not mere fancies, destitute of sense and truth; the inspired witnesses unitedly testify, that they themselves have known the power of the divine Word by their own experience; that when they have made it the subject of their attentive meditation, they have been "satisfied as with marrow and fatness, and have rejoiced in it more than those who find great spoil."
To expatiate on the several doctrines contained in the Bible, and to point out the preciousness of each, is not my present design. It may suffice to say, that they all center in Christ Jesus—and are all valuable in the estimation of his people, on that account. Does this precious book speak of the love of God—the source of all good to man? It is in Christ Jesus. Does it unfold the ancient counsels of infinite wisdom and grace? They are the eternal purposes of the Father in Christ Jesus our Lord. Does it speak of redemption? It is by his blood. Does it speak of justification? It is through his righteousness. Does it speak of conversion? We are called by his grace. Does it speak of regeneration? We are quickened together with Christ. Does it speak of adoption? We are the children of God—by faith in Jesus Christ. Does it speak of perseverance? Because he lives—we shall live also. Does it speak of eternal glory? It is the gift of God—through our Lord Jesus Christ.
How divinely excellent are these sacred truths! With what sovereign efficacy do they operate upon the mind and heart, when accompanied by the agency of the blessed Spirit! How powerfully do they awaken repentance, and melt the soul into holy sorrow! In what an illustrious light do they represent the majesty and the grace of the blessed God; and how do they command our humble adoration! How do they display the wonders of his wisdom, and the riches of his mercy in Christ Jesus—to produce faith, and attract desire and love! What a blessed foundation do they lay for an infinite eternity of devout meditations, suited to every case!
These divine truths relieve the soul, under every distress; that by the patience and comfort of the Scriptures, we may have hope towards God. The believer lives on the divine variety of beneficial and transporting objects set before him in the sacred pages. Here he finds the fountains of life set open—every stream flowing with holiness and consolation. It is his prevailing desire, that all his affections may be under the command and influence of the divine Word—that while it affords him intense delight, it may animate him to active zeal in the practice of everything which it enjoins—teaching him to deny ungodliness and worldly lusts, and to live soberly, righteously, and godly in this present world, while he looks for the blessed hope, in that world which is to come.
A certain martyr, who was condemned to die for his inviolable adherence to the doctrines of Scripture, gave this expressive testimony, in his last moments, of his regard for that divine book. Being arrived at the stake, and having composed himself for suffering, he took his final leave of all below, in these affecting words, 'Farewell sun and moon! Farewell all the beauties of creation, and all the comforts of life! Farewell my honored friends! Farewell my beloved relations! And farewell you—precious book of God!'
Section 9. The PROMISES of Christ are precious, to those who believe.
These shall stand in force, though heaven and earth shall pass away. Length of time cannot diminish their efficacy, nor alter what the mouth of the Lord has spoken. The sun may fail to rise, and men expect its returning light in vain—but the promises of everlasting truth cannot be broken. "The mountains shall depart, and the hills be removed; but my kindness shall not depart from you, neither shall the covenant of my peace be removed, says the Lord who has mercy on you." The course of nature may be reversed, and all be chaos again; but the promises of God cannot fail for evermore, since he who made them is immutable, and cannot by any change deceive the hopes of those who trust in him. It is impossible that he should promise anything that it is beyond his ability to perform. He is not as a man, that he should lie, nor as the son of man that he should repent. Has he said, I will surely do you good—and shall he not do it? Has he spoken, and shall he not accomplish the thing which has gone out of his lips!
Our fathers trusted in him—and were not confounded; they relied on his faithful Word—and were delivered. All the succeeding generations of his people, from the beginning of time, have placed their confidence in what he has spoken, and none could ever charge him, either with lack of compassion, or breach of truth.
"He has given unto us exceeding great and precious promises; that by these you may be partakers of the Divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust." They are great, as being made by the Most High God, the Possessor of heaven and earth. God's promises treat of the greatest things that language can express, or thought conceive; deliverance from sin, all its consequences; the bestowment of all grace, and of everlasting glory hereafter. "Eye has not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man—the things which God has prepared for those who love him."
The promises are precious in their origin—the free and sovereign grace of God. The promises are precious in their nature—as they contain the most precious things. The promises are precious in their suitableness to our case, and to all our needs. The promises are precious in their efficacy upon our souls—to subdue our fears, to support our faith, to calm our disquietudes, to elevate our hopes, to afford us comfort in all our sorrows, and to transform us into the Divine likeness; for by these promises we are made partakers of the Divine nature.
Section 10. The LAWS of Christ are precious to those who believe.
The laws of his mouth are better than thousands of gold and silver. To be under these divine restraints, is the sweetest liberty.
A practical regard to the commands of Christ is the best evidence that he is precious to us. It is very remarkable with what emphasis he himself speaks on this head, how much he insists upon this one article, and how often he repeats it. "If you love me—keep my commandments. If a man loves me—he will keep my words. He who loves me not, keeps not my sayings. Herein is my Father glorified, that you bear much fruit—so shall you be my disciples. You are my friends—if you do whatever I command you."
A holy conformity to the Divine will, is as much the end of all that God does for his people—as fruit is the end of all that the farmer does about his field or his vineyard. Regard for Christ then is best shown—by obedience to his will. "He who has my commandments, and keeps them—he it is that loves me." We have the commands of our divine Master—but do we keep them? If you know these things—happy are you if you do them. He who is our Redeemer, is also our Lord and Governor. If we have a sincere attachment to him—we shall be subject to his authority, and take care to please him. Above all other things—we shall be afraid of displeasing and offending him. Our obedience to him will be hearty and sincere, constant and impartial. Our miscarriages will fill us with disquietude and sorrow. The genuine language of our hearts will be, "O that my ways were directed to keep your statutes! Then shall I not be ashamed, when I have respect unto all your commandments." One of the disciples of Jesus says, "His commandments are not grievous;" another, "I delight in the law of God after the inward man."
Our regard for his laws is shown, not only in the sincerity—but in the willingness and cheerfulness of our obedience. Reluctance to his service is inexcusable; weariness and dullness in his service is shameful. Our obedience should be universal and constant. We should be steadfast and unmoveable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, forasmuch as we know that our labor is not in vain in the Lord.
We are commanded to love the Author of our being with all our mind, with all our soul, and with all our strength. To love him with all our mind—is to have the highest esteem of him, in our judgment, as the most excellent and the best of beings, and as our only all-sufficient good. To love him with all our soul—is to choose him for our eternal portion, to give up ourselves to him as our Lord and Ruler, and to receive him as our God, and our reconciled Father, according to the discoveries of his grace in Christ Jesus. And to love him with all our strength—is to worship him with holy diligence, and, according to the utmost of our capacity and power to do his will, and promote his honor in the world.
The mere flashes of sudden passion, in a devout moment, without a supreme and settled esteem of God in the mind, and a careful and active obedience to his commands, are of little consequence. The hearers who received the Word, like seed which fell on stony ground, are said to receive it with joy; but their devotion and religion were only a sudden blaze, which quickly expired. They endured but for a while. On the other hand, those who receive the seed into good ground, are they, who having heard the Word, keep it, and bring forth fruit with patience.
"Lord, let my obedience to your commands be universal; my whole being subject to your whole will, and that continually and perseveringly, even to the end of life. Let obedience have its root in my heart, that it may not wither like grass which has no deepness of earth—but be like a tree planted by the rivers of water, bringing forth fruit in due season. Let my obedience arise from a holy reverence of you, the great Lawgiver; a reverence tempered with love and gratitude. I shall then account none of your commands either grievous or unimportant—but esteem them all to be right and precious. Under the influence of the great truths I profess to believe, may the vices of my mind, and the disorders of my life be effectually subdued and corrected, that in righteousness and holiness I may walk before you, in the land of the living. Engrave your law on the fleshly tablet of my heart, that I may love it exceedingly; then my constant study and endeavor will be to exhibit a copy of it in the various actions of my life. Then shall I not be ashamed when I have respect unto all your commandments; in keeping of them there is great reward."
Section 11. The WAYS of Christ are precious to those who believe.
When we are enabled, in sincerity, to make choice of our Lord Jesus Christ, as our prophet, our priest, and our king—we feel the force of our obligations to him, we see the beauty and honor of his service, and are convinced that nothing is worthy, in any sense, to stand in competition with it. And in proportion as he is precious to us—his ways and his service will be pleasant; so that we shall do the will of God from the heart.
Those whom our Lord Jesus Christ has purified unto himself, as a people for his very own possession—are zealous for good works. They give up themselves to his service, and make it their principal business to please him, and to live to him. Their Christian course is compared to those exercises in which men exert their strength, and that with the greatest earnestness and eagerness; particularly running, wrestling, and fighting.
Where love to Jesus reigns in the heart—it will induce a man to act in a manner suitable to it. Supreme love, as an excellent writer has observed, governs all the active train of human passions, and leads them, in sweet captivity, to cheerful obedience. And as the inward affections will be thus engaged towards the Redeemer, the outward powers will be employed in corresponding exercises. The way in which we are to show that Jesus is precious to us, is by walking in his truth, and fulfilling every present duty with delight. It is then that we find the ways of wisdom, to be ways of pleasantness, and all her paths to be paths of peace. Love to Jesus Christ induces us to account every duty a privilege, and to esteem the service of our Divine Master perfect freedom.
There is nothing in the ways of religion which ought to be deemed burdensome. To walk in them with fervor and spirituality of mind, and with regularity, integrity, and circumspection, has a tendency to make us calm, easy, and happy. The yoke of Christ is an easy yoke—not a galling yoke. The more we wear it, the easier and the pleasanter it is. We should esteem the worship of God as the most needful part of our daily business, and the most delightful part of our daily comforts. His laws are the dictates of the highest wisdom and goodness. It befits us to rejoice that we are under his government, and to serve him with the greatest cheerfulness.
The consolations which come from Jesus, are only to be experienced in the ways of piety, and the paths of holiness. And these are no fantastic delusions—but substantial and divine delights; joys with which a stranger cannot understand. They serve to enlarge the mind, and give it a more elevated turn, while it derives its sovereign supports from the source of all excellency and perfection, and rests on nothing unworthy the dignity of an immortal soul, on nothing beneath him who is the Fountain of boundless and immortal felicity.
The life of the negligent and loose professor of Christianity, seems to be a perpetual struggle to reconcile impossibilities; it is an endeavor to unite what God has forever separated: peace—and sin; unchristian practices—and Christian comforts; a quiet conscience—and a disorderly life; a heart full of the cares and concerns of the present world—and a well-grounded and cheerful expectation of the happiness of the next. An attempt to unite these is as vain, as an endeavor to put asunder what God has joined together.
If Christ is precious to us, we shall have a high value, a sincere regard for those ways in which he has promised his presence with his people. We shall be ready to say with those of ancient times, "O Lord, we love to obey your laws; our heart's desire is to glorify your name."
Section 12. The PEOPLE of Christ are precious, to those who believe.
So dear are the followers of Christ to those who believe—that they are ready and willing to treat such as brethren; to show kindness and good-will to them on all occasions; and though they are poor and despised in the world—to esteem them as the excellent in the earth, because of their conformity and relation to Christ. We make it manifest that we have a sincere affection to such, when we reveal a pitiful and tender spirit towards them in calamity, when we are ready to bear their burdens, and willing to spend part of our substance, and to suffer many inconveniences in our worldly interests, in order to promote their welfare in soul and body.
Consider the example of the apostle Paul. All his epistles abound with expressions of a pledge and overflowing affection to the followers of Christ. He expresses his ardent love to them, by calling them dearly beloved and longed for. He would have them to know the abundant love which he had towards them. He says, "We were as gentle among you as a mother feeding and caring for her own children. We cared so much for you that we were pleased to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own lives, because you had become dear to us."
The apostle John, the disciple whom Jesus loved, who was indulged with the sweetest familiarity with him, and even permitted to lean on his bosom, says more concerning love to the brethren than any other apostle. To collect all that he writes on this subject, would be to transcribe a considerable part of his epistles. His addresses to the children of God are exceedingly tender and endearing, breathing out nothing but the most fervent love. This sweet and holy affection had full possession of his heart, and the expressions of it flowed freely and abundantly from his lips and his pen. He proposes the serious inquiry, "Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers. If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him—how can the love of God be in him?" He considers love to the brethren as that by which we may know that we are passed from death unto life.
If we do not love our brethren whom we have seen—how can we love God whom we have not seen? All Christ's disciples bear his image; if the original is precious to us, we shall have some regard for the picture, however imperfect it may be in the present state.
The love we are to manifest to the brethren is different, as a writer well observes, from that universal benevolence which we owe to men in general, and to the regard we have for our natural relations in particular. It is an injunction given by our Lord Jesus to his disciples in a special manner, "A new commandment I give unto you—that you love one another." Sometimes it is connected with the command to believe in Jesus; to signify unto us, that without faith in him we are incapable of loving his followers in a proper manner. "This is his commandment, That we should believe on the name of his Son Jesus Christ, and love one another, as he gave us commandment." The love intended, is a love to those who know the truth—for the truth's sake, which dwells in them. It is far from being confined to any particular party or denomination of Christians, the objects of it are—all of every name, place, or nation, who give evidence of their being saints, and faithful brethren in Christ Jesus.
The motive or reason enforcing this love is, the regard which the Redeemer has to his followers, "As I have loved you, see that you also love one another." To impress this injunction the more, he repeats it, "This is my commandment, that you love one another, as I have loved you." And he shows in what manner he had loved them, in the words immediately following: "Greater love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends." Jesus did more than this, he laid down his life for enemies. But as he is here speaking of love to one another, as friends and brethren, he enforces his injunction by this instance of his love towards them, considered as his friends.
The apostle John, taking up the idea suggested by his divine Master, says, "Hereby we perceive the love of Christ, because he laid down his life for us." He also draws the same inference from it which his Master did, with particular application to himself, and to those whom he addresses: "Beloved, if God so loved us, we ought also to love one another—we ought (if called to it) to lay down our lives for the brethren." This is a new motive to brotherly love. A motive peculiar to the gospel; a motive which, in a special manner, respects the friends of Christ, for whom he had so high a degree of regard as to lay down his life in their stead. In the passage cited above, it is supposed, that these friends of Christ believe the great doctrine of atonement, and that, as such—they should be influenced by it to that mutual affection which is required of them, by him who ransomed them with his blood.
Obedience to this command of our adorable Savior, is the grand evidence of our being his true followers; "By this shall all men know that you are my disciples—if you have love to one another." Hence it is evident, that the love intended is not a hidden principle in the mind, which does not reveal itself in outward acts of kindness. It must mean an attachment so sincere, so fervent, as to be attended with effects which all men can see; a love which is operative and beneficial; a love in deed and in truth, producing such fruits in all the behavior of Christians towards one another, as will, in a striking and convincing manner, distinguish them from all the world besides, and mark them out to all observers, as the disciples of a living Savior.
Nor is this love intended only to produce a conviction in others, that the subjects of it belong to Christ; it is also to be the evidence of the same thing in their own consciences. "We know that we have passed from death unto life—because we love the brethren. He who does not love his brother, abides in death. My little children (for such you are to resemble in true simplicity of heart) let us not love in word, neither in tongue only—but in deed and truth. And hereby we know that we are of the truth, and shall assure our hearts before him. For if our hearts condemn us (of being destitute of this love) God is greater than our heart, and knows all things. Beloved, if our hearts do not condemn us—then have we confidence towards God."
Obedience to this new commandment of brotherly love, is of such importance in the religion of Jesus, that it is evident from the divine Word, there is no real Christianity without it; since it is not only represented as the visible distinction between Christ's disciples and the men of the world—as the great evidence of our being born of God, and having a right knowledge of him; of his dwelling in us, and of our dwelling in him, as the apostle John shows. But it is one of the principal evidences of what is now under our immediate consideration; namely, of our regard to Christ himself, or of his being precious to us. "Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ is a child of God. And everyone who loves the Father loves his children, too. If we love one another, his love is perfected in us." As if it had been said, 'The objects of his love, who bear his holy image, are daily before our eyes, that we may have an opportunity of testifying our love to him, by showing kindness to them for his sake. If therefore we love one another, our love to the unseen Redeemer produces its proper effect, and is proved to be true and sincere.' Without this operative principle of brotherly affection, in vain do we pretend, either that Christ has the chief place in our hearts, or that we are savingly interested in his love to us.
This is that love concerning which the apostle Paul writes so largely to the Corinthian church. He shows its excellence above the most useful and extraordinary gifts of the Spirit, and declares, that though a man, who is destitute of it, should give all his goods to feed the poor, and his body to be burned—that it would profit him nothing. He describes this love, as being directly opposite to every malignant passion and disposition; to pride, selfishness, evil-surmising, and envy. He shows that it is kind, bountiful, and beneficent; engaging the followers of Christ, in every prudent and possible way, to serve one another. He intimates, that in the present, imperfect state, it is requisite to use much self-denial in maintaining and manifesting this love, and that it requires the exercise of humility, patience, meekness, and long-suffering, in enduring all trying things, and bearing one another's burdens. But as on the one hand—love does not rejoice in iniquity, so as to bear with a brother in any gross error, or in any practice contrary to the gospel—but is solicitous to restore such a one, in the spirit of meekness. So, on the other hand, it, rejoices in the saving truth of Christ, which so gloriously manifests his love to men. The truth of the gospel is one of the first objects of a believer's delight, and his love to the brethren is just in proportion as he perceives the truth to dwell in them, in its power and efficacy; for he loves them "for the truth's sake, which dwells in them."
This love, when compared with faith and hope, is said to be greater than either of them, and that on two accounts. In the first place it excels them in duration—for when faith and hope shall have issued in the sight and enjoyment of their respective objects, then love will be made perfect, and it will prevail and reign forever in the regions of unfading felicity. And in the second place, love may be considered as superior to faith and hope, even in the present state, because, in its nature, it is the very image of God. It is one of the principal things wherein the child of grace resembles his heavenly Father, and is conformed to his likeness; for "God is love." It is that in which the believer most imitates the Lord Jesus Christ, in the peculiarly endearing part of his character, his love to men. "Be followers of God as dear as children. And walk in love, just as Christ has loved us, and given himself for us."
To set this article in the most striking point of light imaginable, we are expressly taught, that by this love to the saints, Christ will, when he comes to judge the world at the last day, distinguish his own people from all others. Let the reader attentively consider the account given by the supreme Judge himself, of what will be the process of that solemn day, in the twenty-fifth chapter of the evangelist Matthew. They on the left hand will be condemned, as having given no proof of attachment to Christ, by showing regard to his followers. "Then the King will say to those on the right, 'Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the Kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry, and you fed me. I was thirsty, and you gave me a drink. I was a stranger, and you invited me into your home. I was naked, and you gave me clothing. I was sick, and you cared for me. I was in prison, and you visited me. I assure you, when you did it to one of the least of these my brothers and sisters—you were doing it to me!"
How important then is this evidence of the preciousness of Christ to our souls! How careful should we be to cultivate brotherly love both in ourselves and others! "Above all things put on love, which is the bond of perfectness." Love is the sweetest, the most effectual, the most perfect, and the most lasting bond, that ever united the hearts of men together.
Section 13. The INTERESTS of Christ are precious, to those who believe.
It is not enough for a man to talk in high strains of the melting and moving of his affections to the Redeemer, to tell of the inward experiences he has had, at certain periods, of love to him, how his heart was drawn out to him at this or the other time—when, in the general course of his life, he is indifferent to the cause of Christ, and unwilling to lay out himself for the promoting of his kingdom among men. We are to make it manifest that Christ is precious to us—by constant endeavors to advance his cause and interest in the world.
Transient elevations of mind may easily produce words of affection and kindness; but words are cheap, and religion is more easily expressed in lofty professions than in actions. A practical, steady, and persevering regard for Jesus Christ, is a costly and laborious thing. It requires much self-denial and vigorous exertions in our daily walk. Men are much more easily brought to talk about the Savior of sinners, than to live to him.
We find the true spirit of Christianity, as has been observed on the other occasion, fully exemplified in the apostle Paul. He did not satisfy himself with those strong and ardent expressions of love to Christ, with which his epistles everywhere abound; he exerted himself to the utmost of his power in promoting the interest of the Redeemer.
He expected nothing in so doing—but poverty, contempt and hardship. He was so poor, that he was frequently under the necessity of working with his own hands for a morsel of bread. He cheerfully submitted to hunger and nakedness, stripes and imprisonment; he was content to be counted the filth of the world, and the offscouring of all things, amidst his unwearied attempts to glorify his divine Master, in the conversion of sinners, and the edification of those who had believed through grace. He had established the kingdom of Christ in Asia; he had brought many of the inhabitants of Macedonia and Achaia to subjection to the gospel; he had erected the standard of divine truth in Arabia; yet he purposed in the Spirit to go to Spain, and then to Jerusalem, saying, "After I have been there, I must also see Rome." The universe at large is but just sufficient to be the field of his vigorous exertions in the good cause. He included in the plan of his apostolic labors, the metropolis and the boundaries of the known world. (Hervey.)
In this way did this exalted and heavenly man make it manifest that Christ was precious to him. And are there left to us no opportunities of proving the sincerity of our attachment to him? The same spirit which actuated this noble champion, should actuate us, according to our capacity and ability, in the more contracted sphere in which God's providence has fixed us.
A period will certainly commence, when the kingdom of Christ shall prevail far and wide; the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord, as the waters cover the seas. All the ends of the earth shall see his salvation. Princes shall be subject to the Redeemer's scepter, and Ethiopia shall stretch forth her hands unto God. The fullness of the Gentiles shall come in, and all Israel be saved. Our Lord has taught us to pray that his kingdom may come; and those who know the Lord should not keep silence; they should continue to present their ardent petitions to him, and give him no rest, until he establishes his church through the nations, and make her a praise in the earth.
If four hundred million of our fellow-men are yet involved in heathenish darkness, worshiping and bowing to stocks and stones, the works of their own hands, the love of Christ should constrain us to exert ourselves in the promotion of such means as are most likely to bring them to the knowledge of the true God, and of his Son Jesus Christ. We should not satisfy ourselves barely with praying for this event. The appointed methods are to be tried, for the accomplishment of it, in a dependence on God, and under the guidance of his merciful providence. The gospel is ordained to be preached to every creature, that its sound may go out through all the earth, and its words to the ends of the world.
Many awful events have taken place in Europe, of late years, and what will be the outcome of present commotions, it is impossible for such short-sighted creatures as we are to determine. Our Lord has put a check on our too curious inquiries into futurity, by saying, "It is not for you to know the times or the seasons, which the Father has put in his own power." Amidst the desolations of war, and the daring efforts of infidelity and irreligion, we have seen the zeal of professing Christians, of various denominations, revived, respecting the advancement of Christ's kingdom, both at home and abroad. It is pleasing to hear of the efforts made in different parts of this nation, to turn men from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan unto God, by publishing the gospel, and causing it to be published in towns, villages, and neighborhoods, where it was not known. Societies are formed for the support of itinerant preachers. May the Lord of the harvest send forth laborers, and graciously succeed the pious endeavors of all those who are engaged in this good work.
Multitudes among us are likewise deeply and earnestly concerned for the heathen nations, that they might be brought to see the light of life. Liberal contributions are made in different places, for the support of missionaries. Many individuals have been made willing to leave their dearest relations, to give up all worldly prospects, to put their lives in their hands, and to encounter all the hazards and dangers to which they may be exposed, in transporting themselves to the most distant parts of the earth, in order to spread abroad the savor of the knowledge of Christ among the benighted nations. The expense attending these undertakings must of course be considerable; he, therefore, to whom the cause of the Redeemer is precious, has a fair opportunity of manifesting his regard for it, by contributing according to his ability, for the promotion of it.
It is well known that the efforts of men will not be successful, without the displays of Almighty Power; but this is no reason why the means which infinite wisdom has ordained, should not be tried; and since the hearts of so many pious people of different persuasions, and in places far distant from one another, are, at this period, affected in the same way, there is reason to hope that a Divine hand is in the work, and consequently, that the outcome will, in due time, be favorable.
Reader, is the interest of Christ precious to you? Let me then ask, What have you contributed, in the way above-mentioned, towards the promoting of it? Poverty is commonly pleaded in such cases, as an excuse. But it is of no avail in the sight of God, since, if his Word be true—to give is the way to get—and to scatter, the way to increase. The poor widow, who cast her two mites into the treasury, in the account of God, cast in more than all the rest. That Jesus whom we profess to love, has said, "Give, and it will be given to you; a good measure—pressed down, shaken together, and running over—will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured back to you." "If there be first a willing mind, it is accepted, according to that a man has, and not according to that he has not."
Section 14. The DAY and HOUSE of Christ are precious to those who believe.
For the illustration of this, let the reader attentively observe the spirit and import of the following passages: "One thing have I desired of the Lord, and that will I seek after—that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to behold the beauty of the Lord, and to inquire in his temple. As the deer pants after the water-brooks—so pants my soul after you, O God; my soul thirsts for God, for the living God: when shall I come and appear before God! My soul thirsts for you, my flesh longs for you, in a dry and thirsty land, where there is no water—to see your power and your glory, as I have seen you in the sanctuary. How amiable are your tabernacles, O Lord Almighty! my soul longs, yes, even faints for the courts of the Lord; my heart and my flesh cry out for the living God." The pious man, sensible of the diseases of his soul, waits with eagerness and constancy at the pool of divine ordinances for relief, in humble expectation that he who heals the needy and the helpless with his mercy, will look upon him, and heal him.
The day which is to be spent in converse and communion with God, in the public and private exercises of devotion, must needs be precious to those who love Jesus. It is the Lord's day. The hours of it are all his own, to be employed in his immediate service. On this day we attend upon him in his ordinances, we sing his praise, we hear the words of everlasting life, and we pay our vows to God in the presence of his people. Surely, a day in his courts—is better than a thousand spent elsewhere; and we should rather choose to be doorkeepers in the house of God—than to dwell in the tents of wickedness. Hear what he says to us by his holy prophet. "If you turn away your foot from (profaning) the Sabbath, from doing your pleasure on my holy day; and shall call the Sabbath a DELIGHT; the Holy of the Lord, honorable; and shall honor him, not doing your own ways, nor finding your own pleasure, nor speaking your own words—then shall you delight yourself in the Lord; and I will cause you to ride upon the high places of the earth (to rise above this transitory world, and live a heavenly life) and feed you with the heritage of Jacob your father; for the mouth of the Lord has spoken it."
The several parts of public worship to be observed on his holy day, are suited to work upon our senses, and, by that means, to awaken pious affections within us. In singing the praises of God, solemnly calling upon his name, and hearing the blessed gospel—we find a variety of holy desires, hopes and joys excited, and our spiritual interests greatly promoted.
On this day we sometimes approach to the Lord's table, and enjoy that precious ordinance which is wisely and graciously designed to revive in our minds the remembrance of him who gave his life a ransom for our souls. This institution is happily contrived to represent, in a lively and striking manner, the love, the sufferings, and the death of our blessed Redeemer, together with the benefits which we derive from them. When we unite in this solemnity, all the springs of pious affection should be let loose, while we contemplate the dying agonies of the Prince of Peace. We should feel the sweet meltings of godly sorrow, and the warmest exertions of gratitude, love and joy.
The Lord's day, and the worship of his house are precious, as they are emblematical of that happy state and world, where congregations ne'er break up, and sabbaths have no end.
It is in the worship and service of God, that we are, by degrees, prepared for the enjoyments and employments of heaven. How glorious will that change be—when we are called from these earthly courts, to join the general assembly and church of the first-born! Here we are attended with much frailty, infirmity and sin; we are sometimes so oppressed with a consciousness of our own vileness, that we are ashamed to lift up our faces towards heaven. But there, the pure in heart shall see God without confusion. Here we abide not in his tabernacles—but go and come, as visitants. There we will dwell as inhabitants forever. And if the ordinances of God's house are the joy of our hearts in this world, if a day in his courts be preferable to a thousand spent elsewhere—what will be the worship and the enjoyments of heaven!
Section 15. The BENEFITS of Christ are precious to those who believe.
To be raised from a state of death in sin—to a divine and spiritual life; to be brought out of darkness—into marvelous light; to be delivered from guilt and condemnation; to be justified freely by the riches of grace, displayed in the redemption which is by Jesus Christ; to have welcome access to God; to be treated by him as his adopted children; and to be made heirs according to the hope of eternal life—these are some of the benefits which we receive by Jesus Christ! These benefits result from his mediation, and hang clustering on his cross! And as they are of infinite value in themselves, they must be precious to those who believe. While the Christian contemplates these favors, he is often ready to say with the Psalmist, "What shall I render to the Lord for all his benefits towards me!"
These are benefits which will extend their duration and happy effects through eternity. In the bestowment of them, the God of all grace raises us from the dust and the dunghill—to set us among princes, even among the princes of his people. They are blessings worthy of him who bestows them, and sufficient to exalt the riches of his abounding grace, to the admiration of all the multitudes of heaven, and of redeemed men on earth. These are the things into which the angels desire to look. They will furnish matter of admiration, joy, gratitude and delight—to the redeemed, forever and ever.
How they are affected with them, and how precious they are in their estimation in this world, may be learned from their own language: "Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits. Let all that is within me bless his holy name. Who forgives all your sins, and heals all your diseases. Who redeems your life from destruction, and crowns you with loving kindness and tender mercies. Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ; according as he has chosen us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before him in love. Behold, what manner of love the Father has bestowed on us—that we should be called the sons of God! It does not yet appear what we shall be; but we know that, when he shall appear, we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is.
In the day of his glorious appearance, he will receive us with acclamation of joy and triumph, into his own palace in the new Jerusalem, where we shall have the bright vision of his face, and be made partakers of such exalted felicity as it cannot now enter into our hearts to conceive. There are no benefits like those which our divine Redeemer bestows; there are none to be compared with them! How precious are your thoughts and designs of love unto me, O God, how great is the sum of them!
Section 16. The CHASTISEMENTS of Christ are precious to those who believe.
The believer's love to Jesus Christ, not only continues under the rod of correction—but is quickened and increased by it. Thus it is distinguished from that pretended love, which exists only in times of prosperity. The afflicted Christian is enabled to consider, that whom the Lord loves—he chastens, and scourges every son whom he receives; and that he afflicts us not for his own pleasure—but for our profit—to make us partakers of his holiness.
The Lord can so manifest himself to his afflicted people, and cause his goodness to pass before them in such a manner, that the season of affliction shall be to them a season of great consolation. He is to them—a fountain of life, of strength, of grace and comfort in the afflictive hour, and of his fullness they receive, as their necessities require. The men of the world are totally ignorant of these Divine supports. As they have no guide in the time of prosperity—but are carried along with the stream towards the gulf of perdition; and in adversity they have no resource—but must feel all the bitterness of affliction, without finding Divine support under it, or deriving spiritual advantage from it.
The Lord Jesus Christ is a sun to enlighten and cheer his afflicted followers, and a shield to defend them. He is a hiding-place from the storm, a covert from the tempest, and as the shadow of a great rock in a weary land.
All the afflictions of God's people are designed, under his gracious management—to test, to make manifest, and to exercise those graces and virtues which he has implanted in them. Though afflictions in themselves are not joyous but grievous, nevertheless they yield the peaceable fruits of righteousness in those who are exercised thereby. Afflictions serve to quicken the spirit of devotion in us; and to rouse us from that formality and indifference which frequently attend a long course of ease and prosperity. We are constrained to seek God with sincerity and fervor, when his chastening hand is upon us, since we then feel our absolute need of that help and deliverance which he alone can give us.
When the loss of a temporal enjoyment casts us into excessive despondency and dejection—it is evident that what we have lost was the object of our inordinate love. The most innocent attachments cease to be innocent, when they press too strongly upon us. To cleave to any created object, and to look for happiness from it—is to make an idol of it—and set it up in God's throne. Should this object be a friend, a brother, a wife, or a child—the idolatry is still odious in the eyes of that God, to whom we owe our chief affection. Our warmest passions, our most fervent love, desires, hopes, and confidences—should always have God for their object. The perfect felicity of the saints, in the life to come, will consist in the enjoyment of God! and it is his pleasure that their present happiness should not center in any of the good things of this life. Losses and disappointments, are the trials of our faith, our patience, and our obedience. When we are in the midst of prosperity, it is difficult to know whether it is a love for the Benefactor, or only for the benefits which attaches us to religion. It is in the midst of adversity—that our piety is put to the trial. Affliction is the godly man's shining moment.
Afflictions serve most effectually—to convince us of the vanity of all that this world can afford; to remind us that this is not our rest; and to stir up our desires and hopes respecting our everlasting home. They produce in us a spirit of sympathy towards our companions in tribulation. They give occasion for the exercise of patience, meekness, submission, and resignation. Were it not for the wholesome and necessary discipline of affliction—these excellent virtues would lie dormant. They serve to convince us more deeply of our own weakness and insufficiency, and to endear the person, the grace, the promises, and the salvation of our Redeemer, more and more to our hearts. Thus we are taught to esteem his very chastisements as precious, on account of the benefits we derive from them; even as Moses esteemed the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures of Egypt; and the apostles rejoiced that they were counted worthy to suffer shame for the name of Jesus. "We also rejoice in our afflictions, because we know that affliction produces endurance, endurance produces proven character, and proven character produces hope." Romans 5:3-4
An eminent writer says, 'Love to God is not only continued in a Christian, under the rod of correction—but it is inflamed, or increased; contrary to that false love which exists only in prosperity, and is quite extinct in adversity. For false love in religion flows only from temporal interest, and is dependent on sinful self-love. But true love to God regards his glory and our salvation—two things which can never be separated; because God has united them so, that they constitute the very essence of religion. Whenever, then, it pleases God to chastise us—these two great interests, his glory and our salvation, present themselves before our eyes. And whether we consider chastisements as the fruits of our own sins, which have offended God; or as paternal strokes, to establish us in holiness, they always serve to promote our love to God. Add to these, that, when a believer sees his God frown—he cannot but fear, in some sense, that his wrath will go farther. Hence these expressions of the Psalmist, "Forsake me not, O Lord; O my God, be not far from me!" When he is apprehensive that God will forsake him, he stretches forth the arms of his love towards him, he weeps on his bosom, he follows the example of the two disciples with respect to their Divine Master—they constrained him, saying, Abide with us!'
Afflictions are not to punish—but to purify the believing soul. They are not in wrath—but in mercy. Amidst the distresses and miseries of life, it is a felicity to belong to Christ, without whose permission or appointment, no evil can befall us! He only permits afflictions for our good, and knows by experience, what it is to suffer them. His kind hand will speedily put a end to all the pains we feel—when we have derived from them all the good which he intends to do for us, by them.
An ungodly man, in affliction, is like a ship at sea in a storm—without pilot, without anchor, without cable, chart, or compass, or even the most distant view of the haven of rest and safety. It is far otherwise with the afflicted believer. The stormy winds and raging waves of the ocean, in all their fury, beat upon his little bark, and he sometimes cries, "All your waves and your billows are gone over me; my strength and my hope from the Lord have perished!" But in this distress he is still supported, when he is enabled to reflect, that his God and Father sits upon the floods, and rules the raging of the sea; that all the waves thereof are at his direction, and though they seem to threaten his ruin, they shall answer the purposes of his final safety, by bringing him nearer and nearer to the haven where he would be. He has much satisfaction from a review of his chart and compass; he perceives that he is in a right course, though for the present—the sea is rough and stormy. His anchor is good, his pilot is able and skillful; he confides in him who sits at the helm, with the greatest security, and, at some seasons, the wished-for port of peace and rest appears in view. He then rejoices in prospect of the triumph which will attend his safe arrival, when he shall ride into the harbor, amidst the acclamations of those who are waiting to receive him—to partake of their unmingled joy, and live in eternal repose!
How many, how suitable, how sovereign are the supports our heavenly Father affords to his afflicted children! They make the affliction, which in itself would seem heavy and tedious, appear to be light, and but for a moment. It is happier to be in the furnace of affliction with these supports—than to be in the highest prosperity without them. Blessed with the hopes and comforts of Christ, the true Christian would prefer the lot of Lazarus, with all the poverty and distress which he endured—to that of the rich man, who, amidst all the splendor and affluence which this world could afford, lived a life of alienation from God, and destitute of the sovereign supports which can be only enjoyed, by those who love and fear him.
Section 17. The EXAMPLE of Christ is precious, to those who believe.
Among all the advocates for morality which ancient or modern times have furnished, we cannot find one complete pattern of purity. But in Jesus we have a perfect example; an example which has the force of a law, and contains the strongest inducement to holiness. We see, in our Divine Leader, the several precepts of God's Word drawn out in living characters. We behold them reduced to practice, and represented to the life, in the whole of his conduct towards God and man. We see one in our nature, amidst all the assaults of temptation, amidst all the opposition which malignity could invent, and all the allurements of this guilty world, behaving in a manner exactly agreeable to the dictates of the Divine law, and leaving us an example, that we should follow his steps. And surely it must be delightful, not only to contemplate his character—but, to the utmost of our power, to imitate the most perfect pattern which ever was exhibited. It must be desirable, by constant and strenuous exertions, according to our measure, to endeavor to trace the steps of his lovely feet. "He who says he abides in him, ought himself also to walk even as he walked."
It is impossible to contemplate the character of Jesus, with serious and devout attention—and not be charmed with it. We see in him all the human passions in the highest perfection. His joys were grave, his griefs were just; his gentleness and his severity, his holiness and his humanity, were in perfect harmony with each other. He manifested great tenderness, and genuine affection, and sensibility to human woe—on all occasions.
As he did no sin—so, on the other hand, every shining virtue was exemplified in him to highest degree. His lowliness and meekness; his contempt of the world; his heavenly temper; his love to the Father, and zeal for his honor; his activity and diligence in doing good; his submission to the Father's will; his patience amidst the heaviest and severest sufferings; his constancy in the exercises of retired devotion; and his praying for his enemies who spilt his blood—can never be sufficiently admired.
The command of Christ is our rule—but his life is the copy which he has set us. If you would walk holily, you must not only endeavor to do what Christ commands—but labor to do the work as he did it. Let the various actions of your lives be performed in a holy imitation of him. Thus you will represent Christ on earth, and hold him forth to all that see you.
Set Christ in his holy example before you, as the painter would the person whose picture he intends to draw. This is a pleasant and efficacious way of maintaining the power of holiness.
When you are tempted to any vanity, set the blessed Redeemer before you, consider his example, and ask yourself, "How would Jesus—my Lord and Master have acted in such a case? Would he have spent his time upon such trifles? Would he have spoken such and such; or done this or the other thing, which I am solicited to do? And shall I give way to that which would be a manifest deviation from his example? God forbid!"
Let me imitate his example and goodness, now he is seated on his throne of glory. Has he pardoned my sins? Let me learn to forgive my offending fellow-creatures. Has he had patience with me, and borne with my manners from year to year? Let me strive to exercise patience towards ungrateful men. Does he scatter his favors abroad and communicate felicity to his creatures? Let me imitate him in being ready to distribute. Is he continually mindful of me—are his cares for my welfare and salvation incessant? Let me be concerned for the present and everlasting well-being of others, who are united to me by the ties of nature, of society, and of religion.
Mark his unwearied activity through the whole of his life in this world. He who laid the foundations of the earth, and by his excellent wisdom made the heavens, who shakes the system he has made, and the pillars thereof tremble; who seals up the stars, and speaks to the sun, and it shines not! He has fixed a mark of honor upon industry and diligence, being employed in the humble occupation of a carpenter, before he entered on his public ministry. The Jews said of him, "Is not this the carpenter?"
O Christians, fix your eyes intensely on the great exemplar! Thus you will, through Divine grace, daily grow in love with meekness, patience, and lowliness of heart. Can you grow angry and impatient at trifles, when you view the Son of God enduring such vile treatment against himself, without the least complaint? Can you repine under any affliction, though ever so severe, when you consider, how it pleased the Father to bruise the Son of his love, while he, with divine submission said, "O my Father, if this cup may not pass from me, except I drink it—may your will be done!"
The more I contemplate His lovely character, while He sojourned on earth--the more I am delighted with it. To have the same mind in me which was in Christ Jesus, and to tread in His steps--should be my constant aim. Those who are received by Him to the possession of everlasting felicity in heaven—have humbly traced His footsteps upon earth. Of them it is said, "These are the ones who follow the Lamb wherever He goes!" They are forevermore led by Him, even in the celestial world--to the enjoyment of ever-new delights and pleasures!
"Blessed Savior, may your holy example be ever before my eyes, in its most illustrious and transforming light! O that all the devout affections which reigned in your heart when you sojourned with men upon earth—might also, in some measure, reign in my heart. O that I could copy out the wonders of your zeal for the honor of your Father, and of your love and compassion for the sinful and miserable sons of men. Your holy affections were engaged in every act of worship, with divine ardor and fervency. I am ashamed to think of the coldness, the dullness, and the formality of my prayers and praises. O let the sacred fire of true devotion be kindled in my bosom. Melt down my hard and unfeeling heart, and mold my spirit after your likeness. Inflame my whole soul with love to you—as a happy preparative for the enjoyment of your presence in glory!"