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THE ADVOCACY AND ATONEMENT OF CHRIST
1 John 2:1-62.2.2. If any man sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous: and he is the propitiation for our sins: and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world.
THERE are two extremes to which men are apt to incline, namely, presumption and despair; and against both of these the Gospel is designed to guard us. The ungodly world at large imagine that God will never execute his threatened judgments: and some will take occasion even from the Gospel itself to expect impunity in the ways of sin. But the rich promises of the Gospel were never given for this end: it was never God’s design that his “grace should be turned into licentiousness;” and therefore the Apostle affectionately warns us against such an abuse of it; “My little children, these things I write unto you, that ye sin not.” On the other hand, there are some persons, who, from a sense of their manifold backslidings, are ready to despond. To these the Apostle proceeds to speak: he sets before them the offices which Christ sustains on the behalf of sinners; and encourages them under every fresh contracted guilt to look unto him as a willing, suitable, and all-sufficient Saviour.
To further this good work in your hearts, we will shew,
The offices of Christ—
It will be proper to notice first that which is last mentioned in the text—
He is a “Propitiation for sin”—
[To understand what is meant by this, we should consider the state of man. We were fallen creatures, and, in consequence of our fall, obnoxious to the wrath of God. To restore ourselves to the Divine favour was impossible, because we could not offer any atonement for the sins we had committed. God, though ready to forgive, could not exercise mercy towards us in any way which did not accord with his justice, holiness, and truth. Christ therefore undertook to make satisfaction to the Divine justice, so that “mercy and truth might meet together, and righteousness and peace might kiss each other.” This he did by substituting himself in our place. “He bore our sins in his own body on the tree [Note: 1 Peter 2:24.],” and “suffered, the just for the unjust [Note: 1 Peter 3:18.].” Our apprehension of this matter will be greatly assisted, if we consider how it was represented under the Mosaic economy. Bullocks, goats, and lambs were offered in sacrifice to God. The offender, when he brought his sacrifice, laid his hands upon its head, and transferred to it his guilt; and then it was put to death in his stead. This sacrifice God accepted on behalf of the offerer, and, out of respect to it, forgave his iniquities [Note: Leviticus 1:2; Leviticus 1:4.]. This indeed was only a type: but it shadowed forth what was really done by Christ, who “came to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself [Note: Hebrews 9:26.].” The whole language of Scripture accords with this explanation, and confirms the truth of this stupendous mystery [Note: Ephesians 5:2.Romans 3:25; Romans 3:25. In this latter passage, as also in the text, the word which we translate “propitiation,” is the same as is elsewhere translated, “mercy-seat.” Compare Hebrews 9:5. But the illustration above given, is that which the scope of the passage evidently requires; and to explain the word in reference to the mercyseat, would, in this place, only embarrass and obscure the sense.].]
He is also our “Advocate with the Father”—
[The office of an advocate is to appear for his client in a court of justice, and to plead his cause. Now this office also the Lord Jesus Christ executes in behalf of his people: He is gone up to the court of heaven, where “he appears in the presence of God for us [Note: Job 33:24.].” The Holy Spirit also is our advocate: but there is a very wide difference between the advocacy of Christ, and of the Holy Spirit: the Spirit intercedes in us at the throne of grace; Christ intercedes for us at the throne of glory; the Spirit assists us to pray according to the will of God; Christ presents those prayers unto the Father, and renders them acceptable in his sight.
Now it was this advocacy of Christ which the Apostle had primarily in his view: and what he added respecting him as a propitiation for sin, was a subordinate subject, introduced to shew the ground of his intercession, and the reason of its efficacy. It will be proper therefore to notice more particularly the connexion between these offices, and the dependence of the one upon the other.
If we could conceive that Jesus had undertaken to be our advocate, and yet had made no atonement for sin, his advocacy would have been altogether in vain: for, what plea could he have found? he could not have denied, or extenuated, our guilt: nor could he have promised that we should ever make compensation for what we had done amiss. His mouth therefore must have been shut as well as ours. But, having offered himself a sacrifice for our sins, he has an adequate and effectual plea for all who trust in him. Are they accused by their great adversary? yea, does God himself testify against them? “True, he will say, they are sinners, that deserve thy wrathful indignation: but behold the wounds in my hands, my feet, my side; these I endured for them; by these I expiated their guilt; yea, I gave my own life a ransom for them; and therefore deliver them from going down into the pit: I have satisfied the demands both of law and justice on their behalf, and on this account I look, not to thy mercy only, but to thy justice and thy faithfulness to forgive them [Note: 1 John 1:9.]: out of respect to me, “thou mayest be just, and yet the justifier of all them that believe [Note: Romans 3:26.].”]
This view of his offices will naturally lead us to consider,
The comfort to be derived from them under every fresh-contracted guilt—
That we may speak more perspicuously on this subject, we shall notice
The sensations which a view of those offices will produce—
Hope, joy, and peace, arise in succession to crown the exercise of faith. Till we are enabled to behold the crucified and exalted Saviour, we droop, and question the possibility of our acceptance with God; but when we are enabled to believe in him, our fears are dissipated; our sorrows are turned into joy and exultation; and, after a season, the livelier motion of our affections, which was occasioned by the greatness and suddenness of the change, subsides into a solid and abiding peace. This is the order marked out both by Prophets [Note: Isaiah 55:12.] and Apostles [Note: Romans 15:13.], and experienced by all who live by faith on the Son of God.]
The suitableness of those offices to produce them—
[The intercessions of sinful men have often availed for the benefit of those for whom they were offered: but Christ is a “righteous” advocate, who, having no sins of his own to obstruct his access to God, may come with boldness into his presence, and with a certainty of acceptance. Besides, he is ever “with the Father,” ready to offer his intercessions the very moment that he sees any danger of a breach between him and us. Moreover he is the “Christ,” whom the Father anointed to this very office. It was the duty of the high-priest, not only to offer sacrifice, but to carry the blood of the sacrifice within the vail, and to burn incense before the mercy-seat: thus the office of intercession belongs to Jesus no less than that of offering an oblation: and consequently we have in his appointment to this office a pledge that he shall not intercede in vain.
The consolations arising from this office are heightened and confirmed by the consideration of his atonement: for in his one offering of himself there is a sufficiency of merit to justify all that shall believe in him. His death was a propitiation, not for the sins of a few only, “but for the sins of the whole world;” so that if all the sins that ever were committed from the foundation of the world, or ever shall be committed as long as the world shall stand, had been committed by any single individual, he would have no reason to despair; since if only he believed in Jesus, they should all be blotted out even as a morning cloud.
What marvellous truths are these! What a foundation for hope, and joy, and peace! O that our meditations on them might be sweet, and that our souls might ever experience their refreshing influence!]
[What ground is here afforded for looking to our own repentances or reformations, as though they could restore us to the Divine favour? We deny not the necessity or importance of these things; but we utterly deny their efficacy to save the soul. There is no Saviour but Christ: if any man sin, however exemplary he may have been on the whole, he must trust in the atonement and intercession of Christ: there is no distinction between one sinner and another: all must equally depend on Christ: all must enter at that door [Note: John 10:9.]: all must build on that foundation [Note: 1 Corinthians 3:11.]: all must be saved by the name of Christ, and by that only [Note: Acts 4:12.].]
[Let not the greatness of your guilt dismay you. Remember Abraham’s intercession for the cities of the plain [Note: Genesis 18:23-1.18.32.], and that of Moses for the Israelites, when God forbad him, as it were, to pray for them [Note: Exodus 32:9-2.32.14.]. Yet neither Abraham nor Moses had redeemed their souls. But Jesus is our propitiation, as well as our advocate; and shall not He prevail? See how he prevailed for Peter, who, if the Saviour had not interceded for him, would most probably have hanged himself in despair, as Judas did: but Christ said, “I have prayed for thee, that thy faith fail not:” and in answer to this prayer, he was restored both to his apostleship and to the favour of his God. Thus effectual shall the Saviour’s intercession be for you. Consider in what manner he intercedes for you: when he prayed for himself in his extremity, he said, “Father, not as I will, but as thou wilt:” but in his intercession for you he says, “Father, I will that they whom thou hast given me, may be with me where I am, that they may behold my glory.” Doubt not then, but that he “will pray the Father for you;” and that the Father, who has for so many thousands of years had respect to the bow in the clouds, and has forborne to deluge the earth again, will much more have respect to the Son of his love, and fulfil to your soul the promises of his grace.]
THE TRUE TEST OF LOVE TO GOD
1 John 2:3-62.2.5. Hereby we do know that we know him, if we keep his commandments. He that saith, I know him, and keepeth not his commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him. But whoso keepeth his word, in him verily is the love of God perfected: hereby know we that we are in him.
THERE are many who imagine, that to enforce an observance of God’s commandments, and to insist on obedience as an evidence of our faith, is legal. But the whole tenour of the Gospel shews, that our interest in it must be productive of holiness, since “faith without works is dead.” In fact, there is no certain test whereby to try our faith in Christ, but our obedience to his commands. Of this the Apostle testifies plainly in my text: from whence I shall take occasion to shew,
That it is the Christian’s privilege to be fully assured of his acceptance with God—
The generality of persons conceive this to be impossible; and account the very idea to be presumptuous in the extreme. I will readily grant, that there are many who deceive themselves in relation to this matter: but still I cannot admit, that the unfounded confidence of hypocrites is any just ground for concluding that the upright may not know their state before God. Those who deceive themselves do not judge by a right test; and therefore it is that they are deceived: only let any one apply to himself the test which is prescribed in my text, and he need not fear but that the trial shall issue in a clear discovery of his state.
The whole Scriptures attest, that men may “know” their acceptance with God—
[In the Old Testament, David confidently asserts, “O God, thou art my God [Note: Psalms 63:1.].” And the Bride, in the book of Canticles, with equal assurance, exclaims, “My beloved is mine; and I am his [Note: Song of Solomon 2:16.].” Under the New-Testament dispensation this privilege is yet more extensively enjoyed. St. John, writing to the whole Christian Church, says, in the third chapter of this epistle, “We know that we have passed from death unto life:” “We know that we are of the truth, and may assure our hearts before him:” “We know that he abideth in us, by the Spirit which he hath given us [Note: 1 John 3:14; 1 John 3:19; 1 John 3:24.].” In the fourth chapter he renews the same subject; saying, “We know that we dwell in him, and he in us, because he hath given us of his Spirit [Note: 1 John 4:13.].” And in the last chapter he asserts the same, in a direct contrast with all the world besides: “We know that we are of God, and the whole world lieth in wickedness. We know that the Son of God is come, and hath given us an understanding, that we may know Him that is true: and we are in Him that is true, even in his Son Jesus Christ [Note: 1 John 5:19-62.5.20.].” Nor is there a real Christian in the universe who is not entitled to say with St. Paul, “I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh, I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me [Note: Galatians 2:20.].”]
The enjoyment of this privilege is at the root of all the believer’s comfort—
[It is in order to the Christian’s enjoyment of this assurance, that the Holy Spirit is given to him as “a Spirit of adoption, that he may cry to God, Abba, Father;” and as “a witness to assure his conscience that he is a child of God [Note: Romans 8:15-45.8.16.].” And it is altogether owing to this internal persuasion of his acceptance with God, that the believer can look forward with confidence to his future state in glory: “We know, that when our earthly house of this tabernacle shall be dissolved, we have an house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. Therefore in this we groan, earnestly desiring to be clothed upon with our house which is from heaven; since, being clothed, we shall not be found naked [Note: 2 Corinthians 5:1-47.5.3.].” It is under the same conviction, also, that the Christian, even now in the midst of all his conflicts, is enabled to triumph over all his enemies; assured that none of them, nor all together, “shall ever separate him from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord [Note: Romans 8:34-45.8.39.].”]
Of course, you will all be anxious to know,
How this assurance is to be obtained—
It is not the fruit of any enthusiastic impression or conceit.
I do not deny, but that many “profess that they know God, whilst in works they deny him [Note: Titus 1:16.];” and that it is possible for men so to deceive themselves, as to possess all the confidence of the most established believer: yea, there are not wanting multitudes who carry this delusion with them even to the bar of judgment; and, even in the presence of their Judge, will claim his favour; saying, “Have we not prophesied in thy name, and in thy name done many wonderful works?” whilst they will only draw upon themselves that damnatory sentence, “Depart from me; I never knew you, ye workers of iniquity [Note: Matthew 7:22-40.7.23.].” If any would attain a scriptural assurance, they must try themselves by the test proposed to them by St. John—the test of their obedience to God’s commands.
This is a suitable way of attaining it—
[How do we judge of a tree, but by its fruits? We should not be satisfied with beholding its foliage, however luxuriant it might be: we should desire to behold, and to taste, the fruit: and by that we should form our estimate of its real worth. In like manner, if a child or servant professed pre-eminent regard for us, we should naturally expect that regard to manifest itself by an observance of our commands. This, then, is the way by which God will judge of us, and by which we also must judge ourselves. Our Lord has plainly told us, “He that hath my commandments, and keepeth them, he it is that loveth me [Note: John 14:21.]:” and again; “He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit [Note: John 15:5.].” Well, therefore, may our Lord accuse us of inconsistency, when we profess ourselves his, without obeying his commandments: “Why call ye me, Lord, Lord, and do not the things which I say [Note: Luke 6:46.]?” We may set this down as an unquestionable truth, that if “Christ be made unto us righteousness, he will be to us sanctification also [Note: 1 Corinthians 1:30.].” And if we say, “There is no condemnation to them that are in Christ Jesus,” we must never forget the description there given of those persons; namely, that “they walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit [Note: Romans 8:1.].”]
It is also a certain way of attaining it—
[From whence is it that any person is enabled to keep God’s commandments? Our blessed Lord has told us that “without him we can do nothing.” It is by its union with the vine, that a branch bears its fruit: and it is only by union with the Lord Jesus that we also can have a sufficiency for any thing that is good [Note: John 15:4.]. Have we then a clear evidence that we are bringing forth fruit to God? it is manifest that we are united to Christ: or, as my text expresses it, “Hereby know we that we are in him.” From hence, also, we know that we are in favour with God: for, to what end has God loved us, and shed abroad his love in our hearts, but that we might “by that love be constrained to live unto Him who died for us [Note: 2 Corinthians 5:14.].” It is by our obedience that God’s love is perfected in us;” for by that obedience its end is answered, its power is evinced, its operation is augmented: so that, as “by works our faith is made perfect [Note: James 2:22.],” so, by works, God’s love to us, and ours to him, are also perfected. I add yet further, that by obedience our right to heaven is ascertained: for it is written, “Blessed are they that do his commandments, that they may have right to the tree of life, and may enter in through the gates of the city [Note: Revelation 22:14.]. Of course, it is not on the ground of merit that they acquire this right, but solely on the ground of God’s gracious promises to those who believe in Christ. Nevertheless, this evidence is indispensably necessary to the believer; and on the production of that shall his title to heaven be acknowledged [Note: Matthew 7:21.]: for “Christ is the author of eternal salvation to all them that obey him [Note: Hebrews 5:9.].”]
Who does not see, in this subject,
The importance of self-examination?
[It is evidently taken for granted, in my text, that some self-deceivers will be found, who will “say, that they know Christ, whilst yet they keep not his commandments.” And what shall I say to them? What can I say more, than what God himself speaks to them in my text, “That they are liars; and that the truth is not in them?” I grant that this sounds harsh; but it is the declaration of our God: and I dare not to soften or conceal what he hath spoken. In many other passages does this loving Apostle use the same language [Note: 1 John 1:6; 1 John 4:20; 1 John 5:10.]; and I entreat you, brethren, to lay it to heart. Be assured, that, whilst you continue under this delusion, “the truth is not in you:” the Gospel has not yet wrought effectually on your hearts, nor are you possessed of real integrity in your souls. No, indeed, you are “liars” and hypocrites, and must take your portion with such characters in the eternal world. Tell me, then, whether it do not become you to “examine yourselves,” and to try your faith [Note: Job 20:4-18.20.7.] by this standard? Do not imagine that the knowledge here spoken of is a speculative acquaintance with divine truth: no; it is such a knowledge as both justifies [Note: Isaiah 53:11.] and sanctifies [Note: John 17:17.] the soul; it is that knowledge in comparison of which St. Paul “accounted all things as dung and dross [Note: Philippians 3:8.].” This is the knowledge which you must possess: and if you will think you have it, whilst your life and conversation give the lie to your profession, your doom is fixed: for thus saith God, by the Prophet Hosea: “Israel saith, my God, we know thee: Israel hath cast off the thing that is good: the enemy shall pursue him [Note: Hosea 8:2-28.8.3.]:” yea, “every such person shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the glory of his power, when the Lord Jesus shall be revealed in flaming fire to take vengeance on them that know not God, and obey not the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ [Note: 2 Thessalonians 1:7-53.1.9.].” I say, then, to every one of you, “Examine whether ye be in the faith, and prove your own selves [Note: 2 Corinthians 13:5.].”]
The blessedness of practical Christianity?
[To what a glorious state does true religion raise us! Men in all ages have accounted the Virgin Mother of our Lord blessed, because she was God’s chosen vessel, to bring into the world the Lord of Glory. But I speak not too strongly, if I say, that the practical Christian is yet more highly honoured, and more truly blessed, than she, so far as her external relation to him was concerned: for our Lord, in answer to one who had congratulated her on her distinguished honours, saying, “Blessed is the womb that bare thee, and the paps which thou hast sucked,” replied, “Yea, rather, blessed are they that hear the word of God, and keep it [Note: Luke 8:20-42.8.21; Luke 11:27-42.11.28.].” True, indeed, such persons may not always possess a full assurance of their interest in Christ: God may, for wise reasons, permit their minds to be agitated with doubts and fears; and Satan may, for a season, greatly harass and distress them. But, whilst they walk in darkness, the Lord will be a light unto them; yea, he has authorized his servants to address them in these encouraging words: “Who is among you that feareth the Lord, that obeyeth the voice of his servant, that walketh in darkness and hath no light? let him trust in the name of the Lord, and stay upon his God [Note: Isaiah 50:10.]. Yes, brethren, if only you are conscientiously endeavouring to approve yourselves to God in a holy and unreserved obedience, you need not fear. This very disposition emanates from God: it is itself a fruit and evidence of his love; and it shall assuredly issue in everlasting felicity: for, as sure as God is true, “light is sown for the righteous, and gladness for the upright in heart [Note: Psalms 97:11.].”]
CHRIST AN EXAMPLE TO HIS FOLLOWERS
1 John 2:6. He that saith he abideth in him ought himself also so to walk, even as he walked.
AMONG the various excellencies which distinguish Christianity from all other religions, one of very considerable importance is, that the Author of it condescended to exemplify in his own person every thing which it required of its most faithful adherents. Different philosophers established rules for their followers: but no one ever professed himself a pattern, and much less a perfect pattern, of all that under any circumstances could be required of him. But the Lord Jesus Christ has perfectly fulfilled his own law, as for other ends, so also that he might “set us an example to follow his steps.” True it is indeed that He is the sole Author of our salvation from first to last: but he does not on that account dispense with our obedience to his law: on the contrary, he says, that “all who abide in him, must walk as he walked.”
There are some who deny that the law is to the believer a rule of life. But supposing this error could not be refuted by direct testimony, which it easily and abundantly may, what would the advocates of it gain, if once they admitted, what I suppose no man would deny, that Christ is an example for us to follow? Did not he “fulfil all righteousness,” even to the utmost extent of the moral law? And if he did, and is an example to us, must not we obey the law in the same manner, and to the same extent? We are not indeed to fulfil it for the same ends; because he alone, as the Mediator between God and man, can save men by his obedience unto death: but in all that he did as a man, we are to follow his steps: and if we neglect to do so, we shew, that we have no part or lot in his salvation.
The words I have read will lead me to set before you the principles, and the practice, of every true Christian.
The Christian is united unto Christ by faith, as a branch to the vine; and his one great concern is to “abide in Christ.”
For this he labours as the one ground of his hope—
[He knows that he has nothing, and can have nothing, in himself. He needs no one to tell him this: he has learned it, as from the inspired volume, so also from his own experience. He has found on numberless occasions how weak and sinful a creature he is: and is well assured, that, if he had not “Jehovah himself for his righteousness and strength,” it would be impossible for him ever to be saved. Hence he views with complacency the Lord Jesus Christ as the great Head of the Church. “It has pleased the Father, that in Christ should all fulness dwell [Note: Colossians 1:19.]:” and in this respect he is altogether like-minded with the Father: for it pleases him in his inmost soul to have such a Head of vital influence, and such a Depository of all spiritual blessings. He is sensible that the branch derives all its life and fertility from its union with the vine: and that, if once separated from the stem, it would wither and die [Note: John 15:1-43.15.5.]. This idea he endeavours to realize: and “the life which he lives in the flesh, he lives altogether by faith in the Son of God [Note: Galatians 2:21.],” “receiving out of his fulness [Note: John 1:16.]” a constant supply of grace and peace. If, as a blind and ignorant creature, he need wisdom; or as a guilty creature, he need righteousness; or as a polluted creature, he need sanctification; or as an enslaved creature, he need redemption: he looks for it all in Christ, whom he regards as furnished with all for the use of his Church, and as empowered to communicate it all to every one that trusts in him [Note: 1 Corinthians 1:30.].]
In this he glories as his most exalted privilege—
[Humiliating as this life of dependence at first sight appears, he considers it as his highest honour, and as raising him even above Adam in Paradise. Adam, when in Paradise, was indeed perfect: but to him was committed the task of working out a righteousness for himself, and of maintaining by his own inherent powers his steadfastness in the divine life. And hence he fell, and died, and involved both himself and all his posterity in ruin. But the believer has a righteousness wrought out for him by his incarnate God; and “his life,” instead of being committed to his own keeping, “is hid with Christ in God,” where Satan cannot reach it; and therefore, since Christ has engaged that none shall ever pluck out of his hands those whom the Father hath committed to him, he shall endure unto the end: and, “when Christ, who is his life, shall appear, shall assuredly appear with him in glory [Note: Colossians 3:3-51.3.4.].” Thus, in respect both of honour and security, is the believer elevated even above Adam himself; since he has not a creature-righteousness wherein to stand before God, or a created power to uphold him; but a righteousness that is divine, and an arm that is omnipotent. To form a right judgment of his state, we must attend to what our blessed Lord himself has spoken on this subject. Indeed his words are so strong, that no man would dare to utter them if not warranted by his authority. What would you say, if I were to affirm, that the life of faith resembles the very life which the Lord Jesus Christ lived when on earth; and that the believer has the same dependence on the Lord Jesus Christ, as Christ himself, during his incarnate state, had on the Father; and the same security in him too; would you not be almost ready to shut your ears, and to accuse the preacher of blasphemy? Yet is this what we are authorized by Christ himself to declare. Hear his own words: “He that eateth my flesh and drinketh my blood, dwelleth in me, and 1 in him. As the living Father hath sent me, and I live by the Father, even so he that eateth me, even he shall live by me [Note: Joh 6:56-57].” Say, beloved, is not here a ground of glorying? and, if the believer did not glory in this privilege, would not the very stones cry out against him?]
Whilst with confidence we affirm these to be the Christian’s principles, we with no less confidence proceed to declare,
It is thought by many that a life of faith is unfriendly to morality; since if all our righteousness is in Him, what need have we of any of our own? and, if he be engaged to keep us, what need have we of any care or watchfulness to keep ourselves? But this reasoning is altogether fallacious: since every one who by faith abides in Christ, acknowledges it his bounden duty to “walk as he walked.”
He acknowledges it, I say, as his bounden duty—
[He does not conceive of Christ as liberating him from the obligations of morality: for though he is free from the law as a covenant, he is not free from it, nor would wish to be freed from it, as a rule of life. He considers himself as “not without law, but under the law to Christ.” Were he permitted to violate the commands of God, he would account it a curse rather than a privilege. Such a liberty would appear to him only like a permission to drink poison, which, however sweet to the taste, would prove “the gall of asps within him.” So far from imagining himself freed from the restraints of the law, he considers all that Christ has done for him as laying him under ten-fold obligations to holiness both of heart and life. His motives to obedience are changed indeed: but his obligations to it are not a whit diminished, yea, rather, are greatly heightened; because he well knows, that the very end for which his Saviour died was, to redeem us from all iniquity, and to purify unto himself a peculiar people zealous of good works.”]
He makes it his constant and determined aim—
[The true believer is not a mere follower of Christ, but an imitator also [Note: 1 Corinthians 11:1. the Greek.]: and it is his delight to set the Saviour before him as his great Exemplar. When he sees how entirely the soul of Jesus was wrapped up in his work, and that it was “his meat and drink to do his Father’s will,” he pants, and sighs, and with shame and sorrow of heart exclaims, O that there were “in me the mind that was in Christ Jesus!” When he beholds the ardour of Christ’s love to man, his unwearied labours, his patient sufferings, his exertions in every possible way, he girds up his loins, and follows the footsteps of his Lord; and though he knows that he can never attain to his perfection, yet he proposes to himself no object short of that, and strives to be “holy as he was holy,” and “perfect as he was perfect:” nor does the glory of heaven itself appear more desirable in his eyes, than does a conformity to the Saviour’s image in righteousness and true holiness. In a peculiar manner, he notices the tempers of his Divine Master; his meekness, his patience, his forbearance, his love to enemies, his compassion even to his very murderers: he sees what a fallen creature he himself is, and he cries mightily to God for grace and strength, that he may be enabled to mortify every feeling that is opposite to love, and to “purify himself even as his Lord and Master was pure [Note: 1 John 3:3.].”]
Now as this subject gives us a deep insight into the whole of the Gospel system, I will embrace this opportunity,
Of establishing the principles of those who are in doubt—
[The Christian world has been much divided on the subject of faith and works: and we may easily conceive that some, who are well affected towards the Gospel, may feel a doubt, whether in our statements of the truth we do not elevate faith too high, and sink morality below its proper level. But the text, I conceive, will settle this point at once. I grant, that they who require good works in whole or in part to justify us before God, do in appearance shew a high sense of their value: and that they who decry them in this point of view, and declare that such a dependence on them will invalidate the whole Gospel, and sink us into perdition, do in appearance betray an indifference towards them. But I would ask, Does any advocate for the merit of good works ever propose to himself so high a standard as that in my text? and, if any one inculcate the necessity of walking to the very uttermost as Christ walked, do they not account him “righteous overmuch?” Yes assuredly, they always have a lower standard than that which is proposed to them in the Gospel. On the other hand, they who exalt the Lord Jesus Christ, and live by faith on him, will admit of no rule of conduct which does not embrace the whole law, and lead to a perfect conformity to the Lord Jesus Christ. And hence it is, that the followers of Christ are as much condemned for their unnecessary zeal and strictness, as for the supposed licentiousness of their principles. Here then the point is brought to the very test, which the advocates of human merit profess to approve. Let the two opposite systems be tried by this touchstone; ‘Which requires of its votaries the sublimer and more enlarged morality?’ and we consent, that this issue, fairly tried, shall determine the point for ever. They who live in any measure of self-righteousness and self-sufficiency, will walk as the world walketh; but they who abide in Christ as their only hope, will with all their might endeavour to walk as Christ walked.]
Of directing the energies of those who have embraced the Gospel—
[Be not faint or weary in well-doing: but set the Lord ever before you, and endeavour to resemble him in the whole “spirit of his mind,” and the whole course of his conduct. Of course, what he spake as the Great Prophet of the Church, or did as the Redeemer of the world, was peculiar to himself, and can be no pattern for us: but in all that he either spake or did as man, we are to follow him without reserve. If we propose to ourselves any lower standard, or except any one of God’s commandments from our rule of duty, we are not Christ’s disciples. See what is said in our text, “He that saith he abideth in him, ought himself also so to walk, even as he walked:” and again in the following chapter: “Whosoever abideth in him, sinneth not. Whosoever sinneth, hath not seen him, neither known him [Note: 1 John 3:6. See also 1 John 2:4.].” Here then you see what all your profession of faith will amount to, if it do not approve itself by its fruits: it will be a self-delusion, and a lie altogether. Come then, beloved, and address yourselves to your high and heavenly work. Ye see your calling: O strive to “walk worthy of it!” yea, “worthy of the Lord,” whose you are, and whom you profess to serve. Thus will you vindicate the Gospel from the charges which ignorant and ungodly men bring against it; and will prove to all around you that it is indeed “the wisdom of God, and the power of God unto salvation.”]
THE TRUE LIGHT
1 John 2:8. The darkness is past, and the true light now shineth.
OUR blessed Lord is supposed by many to have enlarged the demands of the moral law. That he speaks of giving a new commandment is certain: “A new commandment I give unto you, that ye love one another: as I have loved you, that ye also love one another [Note: John 13:34.].” St. John also speaks to the same effect in the words before my text; though, in the words immediately preceding, he had declared, that it was not a new commandment. The reconciling of this difficulty will suggest the true explanation of our text. The command given us to love our neighbour as ourselves, was not a new commandment. It was a part of the moral law [Note: Leviticus 19:18.]; and of the law originally written on the heart of man in Paradise. Yet in some respects it was a new law: both as it respected the Lord Jesus who enacted it, and as it respected us on whom it was enjoined. Let us hear what the Apostle himself says: “Brethren, I write no new commandment unto you, but an old commandment which ye had from the beginning. The old commandment is the word which ye have heard from the beginning. Again, a new commandment I write unto you: which thing is true in him, and in you.” It was new as it respected the Lord Jesus Christ, who had proposed his own conduct as the model (which, of course, it could not be, till he himself had completed his work on earth), and had enforced it with his own authority as Mediator, which also must be subsequent to his entrance on the mediatorial office. And it was new also as it respected us, because it was never before conceived to extend to the “laying down of our lives for the brethren [Note: 1 John 3:16.],” and because it was enjoined with new motives, such as could never have existed before, even the testifying of our love to Christ, “who has loved us, and given himself for us.” Previous to the coming of our Lord, a veil of obscurity hanged over these things: but now they were made clear, “because the darkness was past, and the true light now shined.”
In considering the change which is here spoken of, I shall notice it,
As verified at that day—
The darkness of the Mosaic dispensation was then dispelled—
[That was a dark and shadowy dispensation altogether. God himself was not made known by it as the common Father of all, but as the friend only of one peculiar people, whom he favoured above all others. The way of acceptance with him was very indistinctly seen in the sacrifices which were offered; there being but little spoken to direct the attention of the offerers to that great Sacrifice, from whence alone they derived all their efficacy. Nor were the requirements of the moral law by any means clearly revealed; the very commandments themselves consisting only of prohibitions, and those prohibitions extending, for the most part, only to overt acts. Hence Paul himself, educated as he was by the first master of his day, and pre-eminently conversant as he was with the Mosaic writings, did not, till his eyes were opened by the Spirit of God, understand the spiritual import of the law, or the extent (if the command, “Thou shalt not covet [Note: Romans 7:7; Romans 7:9.].” Besides, there were many enactments for the direction of magistrates in the administration of justice, which, when erroneously construed as rules of duty in private life, seemed to authorize revenge; as, “an eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth.”
But our blessed Lord threw the true light on the whole of that economy. He declared plainly, that he was “come to fulfil the law,” and “to give his life a ransom for many.” He directed the people to look to him as “the way, by which alone any one could come to the Father; as the truth,” in whom all the types and shadows of the law were realized; and “as the life,” by whom alone any sinner in the universe could live [Note: John 14:6.]. He explained also the moral law, and freed it from all the glosses of the Scribes and Pharisees, by which it had been obscured; declaring, that it extended to the thoughts and desires of the heart, no less than to the overt act. In particular he made known the great duty of love, as comprehending the whole law in all its branches, and in its utmost extent. Thus in relation both to doctrine and morals it might be truly said, that “the darkness was past, and the true light then shined.”]
The darkness was also dispelled from their minds—
[All by nature are in darkness; and, even though the light shines around them, they are not able to apprehend it; “the eyes of their understanding being altogether darkened.” Of all whilst in a state of unbelief it is expressly said, that “the God of this world hath blinded their eyes [Note: 2 Corinthians 4:4.].” But by the Gospel, accompanied with power from on high, they had been “turned from darkness unto light, and from the power of Satan unto God [Note: Acts 26:18.].” They now acknowledged Jesus as their Saviour; and had obtained “reconciliation with God through the blood of his cross.” They had now an insight into that stupendous mystery, which all “the angels in heaven are desiring to look into,” the redemption of the world by the sacrifice of our incarnate God; and, together with that, had acquired just views of the state in which a redeemed sinner ought to live. In a word, they had been “brought out of darkness into marvellous light [Note: 1 Peter 2:9.].” So that they were able to appreciate the necessity and the excellency of the commandment which was now enjoined.]
But let us contemplate this glorious change,
As fulfilled also amongst ourselves—
Certainly, the true light does shine among you—
[The Lord Jesus “Christ is fully preached among you.” His person, his work, his offices are set before you. You have seen from time to time the types, as completed in their great Antitype; and the prophecies, as fulfilled in him to whom they had respect, even “Jesus of Nazareth, the Son of Joseph.” The covenant of grace, which was made with him in our behalf, has been opened to you, and all the great and precious promises that are contained in it unfolded to your view. Salvation, in all its freeness, and in all its fulness, has been offered to you; and all the perfections of God, as pledged for your encouragement, have been brought in review before you. Nor has the nature of evangelical obedience been either partially or sparingly declared. The distinction between the letter and the spirit of the law has been copiously displayed; and all the high requirements of the Gospel been made known; and not declared only, but enforced also by every species of argument that could address itself to your understanding, your conscience, or your will. I say not, that these things have been so fully manifested as they ought to have been, or might have been: because, if my own views had been more enlarged, and my own soul been more deeply impressed with these things, my ministrations would no doubt have been more luminous and beneficial: but this I can say, that I have “not knowingly withheld any thing that could be profitable unto you;” nor, according to the measure of light and grace given unto me, “have I shunned to declare unto you the whole counsel of God [Note: Acts 20:20; Acts 20:27.].” In this respect therefore I may say, that, if at any time there have been darkness here, that darkness is past: and the true light shines among you, in such a degree, at least, as is sufficient to “guide all your feet into the way of peace.”]
But can it be said that the darkness is passed away from the souls of all?
[Would to God that my text were true in this extent also. Beloved brethren, are not many of you still in the darkness, if not of Judaism itself, yet of the Judaizing teachers, who insisted on combining some obedience of their own with the merits of Christ? Are not the beauty, and glory, and excellency of our holy religion so indistinctly seen by many amongst you, that it produces scarcely any effect upon your hearts and lives? If we look at morals, are not your views of them also very imperfect? Read our Lord’s Sermon on the Mount, and see whether your heart go along with it in all that it inculcates respecting patience, forbearance, meekness, forgiveness? Read St. Paul’s description of love in the 13th chapter of his First Epistle to the Corinthians, and see whether that be the standard at which you aim, and by which you estimate your attainments? Have you any idea of your duty to your brethren requiring, that, if it may subserve their spiritual and eternal interests, you should lay down your life for them? I will not ask what speculative notions you may have of these things; for in that respect your views may be correct enough: but what is your practice? it is by that that your character must be tried: and, when tried by that, say whether you are not found altogether wanting. That there is great danger of self-deceit in reference to this matter, is clear from what the Apostle says in the very words following my text: “He that saith he is in the light and hateth his brother, is in darkness even until now. He that loveth his brother, abideth in the light; and there is none occasion of stumbling in him; but he that hateth his brother is in darkness, and walketh in darkness, and knoweth not whither he goeth, because that darkness hath blinded his eyes [Note: ver. 11–13.].” You perceive that a man may be very confident that he is in the light; and yet be so defective in respect of love, as to be in utter darkness, and going he knows not whither. I pray you, guard against so fatal a delusion as this; and never conceive yourselves to be “children of light,” till your whole spirit and temper, candidly examined, attest that you are “walking as children of the light [Note: Ephesians 5:8.].”]
It may be that you would wish to have two questions solved:
With answering them, I will conclude the subject—
How shall I obtain the change spoken of in the text?
[Many directions I might give you; and all proper in their place: but there is one, which, if it do not supersede all others, will at least prove amply sufficient for this occasion. Our blessed Lord says, “I am the light of the world: he that followeth me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life [Note: John 8:12.].” Here the direction is from such authority as cannot be withstood, and at the same time so complete, that, if followed, it cannot but succeed. In truth, all other directions, in comparison of this, are like advising persons to light a taper of their own, when they might come forth at once to the noonday sun. By the Lord Jesus Christ the whole darkness, whether from without or from within, shall be dispersed at once. The nature and perfections of God, the spirituality and extent of the law, the use of the whole of the Mosaic ritual, together with the whole work of redemption, will all be made visible as the light itself, to one who obtains just views of Christ. The whole system of morals too will he rendered clear and luminous; and all the sublime motives and encouragements to obedience be reflected with irresistible efficacy upon the soul. This then I say; Go to the Lord Jesus Christ: follow him: contemplate him; believe in him as having in himself all fulness for the supply of those who trust in him: and you shall soon “be guided into all truth,” and experience in the richest abundance the glory and blessedness of his salvation.]
How shall I improve that change, supposing it to have been wrought within me?
[This is a question which every child of light should ask: and, as our blessed Lord answered the former, so shall the Apostle Paul answer this. Speaking to persons who were truly enlightened, he says, “Ye are all the children of the light and of the day: we are not of the night nor of darkness. Therefore let us not sleep, as do others; but let us watch and be sober: for they that sleep, sleep in the night; and they that be drunken, are drunken in the night: but let us who are of the day be sober, putting on the breast-plate of faith and love, and for an helmet the hope of salvation [Note: 1 Thessalonians 5:5-52.5.8.].” You can easily perceive that a change of views should be followed by a corresponding change of conduct; and, consequently, that henceforth you should “have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather reprove them [Note: Ephesians 5:11.].” The mercy vouchsafed to you, has not been given for yourselves alone, but for others also; before whom you ought to “shine as lights in a dark place [Note: Philippians 2:15-50.2.16.],” yea so to shine, that all who “behold your light may be constrained to glorify your Father that is in heaven.”]
THE DIFFERENT GROWTH AND PRIVILEGES OF GOD’S CHILDREN
1 John 2:12-62.2.14. I write unto you, little children, because your sins are forgiven you for his name’s sake. I write unto you, fathers, because ye have known him that is from the beginning. I write unto you, young men, because ye have overcome the wicked one. I write unto you, little children, because ye have known the Father. I have written unto you, fathers, because ye have known him that is from the beginning. I have written unto you, young men, because ye are strong, and the word of God abideth in you, and ye have overcome the wicked one.
THE word of God is intended for every individual of mankind, that all, being acquainted with their own state, may know what God says respecting them. On this account it is the duty of ministers to mark with accuracy the discriminating features of every character, and, by “rightly dividing the word of truth,” to “give to every one his portion in due season.” St. John affords us a good example with respect to this: for, not content with “separating the precious from the vile,” he arranges the saints themselves into distinct classes, according to their several attainments, and declares to each those peculiar marks wherein they differ from each other.
There is indeed a tautology in this place, such as does not occur in any other part of the inspired volume. Whether this was intended, or whether a considerable part of the thirteenth verse was inserted by the mistake of an early transcriber, we cannot say: but the whole of that verse, except the last clause, might be omitted without any loss, because every word in it is repeated afterwards.
Our intention is simply to address the several classes of Christians here specified; first drawing their respective characters, and then setting before them their distinctive privileges and attainments.
We speak to “you, little children”—
[In order to come under this title, it is necessary that you should have been “begotten with the incorruptible seed, the Word of God,” and been brought into God’s family by the renewing influences of his Spirit. It is not supposed that you have grown to any stature in the family of Christ, but, on the contrary, that you have either recently “come out of darkness into the marvellous light of the Gospel,” or, at least, made very little advance in the divine life. You are, however, born again. You have seen your guilt and helplessness; you have fled to Christ for refuge: you have sought for mercy through the blood and righteousness of your incarnate God. You have obtained a new nature: and, though you are yet weak in all your faculties and all your powers, there is no part in you that is wholly unrenewed. Your understanding, though dark, is enlightened with some rays from the Sun of Righteousness. Your affections, though far from pure, are yet, on the whole, turned to God, and heavenly things. The Divine image, though far from perfect, is, in a measure, formed upon your souls; so that it already appears whose you are, by the resemblance which you bear to your heavenly Father.
Hear then the privileges which belong to you. In the first place, we declare from God himself, that “your sins are forgiven you.” Whatever they may have been, however numerous, however heinous, (God makes no distinction, nor can we presume to make any,) they are all “blotted out of the book of God’s remembrance,” nor shall so much as one of them ever appear in judgment against you. From the first moment that you believed in Christ, and became truly regenerate, this was your happy portion: you were not to wait for it till a life of holiness should confirm your title to it: a free and full pardon was yours, the very instant you became a child of God. But remember for whose sake this pardon has been bestowed upon you. It has not been for your own sake; for you deserved nothing but wrath; yea, if God at this moment were to enter into judgment with you according to your present deserts, you must inevitably perish. God has had respect to his dear Son: and “for his sake” has forgiven you. The pardon you enjoy, was bought with the precious blood of Christ. It is altogether on account of what Christ has done and suffered for you, that you have found acceptance. “There is no other name given under heaven whereby you, or any other sinner, can be saved, but the name of Jesus Christ.”
Further, it is said of you, that “ye have known the Father.” Your views of the Gospel are at present very partial, and confused. You merely see that you were sinners before God: and that God, in infinite mercy, sent his only-begotten Son to die for you; and that through the death of Christ you are to obtain mercy. Hence you are emboldened to look unto God as reconciled to you in Christ Jesus; and with a spirit of adoption to cry, Abba, Father. Thus, though you see as yet but little of the work and offices of Christ, you know the Father as a just, yet merciful, and gracious God.]
We would next address “you, young men”—
[As in the natural world children grow up to manhood, so in the spiritual world there is a similar progress to maturity. We might proceed to draw the necessary distinctions between your infantile and adult state: but the privileges annexed to your state in the words of our text, will serve at the same time to mark the progress which you have made in the divine life; and therefore we shall confine ourselves to them.
You then are declared to be “strong:” and in this you differ widely from your former state: for whereas you formerly were liable to be “tossed to and fro by every wind of doctrine,” and to be overcome by every temptation, you now have obtained a stability both in knowledge and in grace. Not that you are stronger in yourselves than you were formerly: but you have learned how weak you are; and have been led to rely wholly on the Lord Jesus Christ; and “through him have been enabled to do” what, in your self-confident state, you were unable to perform. Hence “ye are strong; but it is in the grace that is in Christ Jesus, and in the power of his might.” Your conscious weakness is the means of your strength. You can say with the Apostle, “when I am weak, then am I strong.”
It is characteristic of your state also, that “the word of God abideth in you.” When you were children, you knew but little of the word of God; but you have studied it: you have “desired it, and delighted in it, as unadulterated milk; and by means of it have grown up” to maturity. You have found that there is no weapon so powerful as that. You have learned, not only from the Saviour’s example, but from your own experience, that one single arrow taken out of that quiver is sufficient to vanquish all the hosts of hell. Hence you have been led to treasure up the promises in your memory; and to have recourse to the inspired volume for direction and support in every emergency.
Further, it is said, that “you have overcome the wicked one.” In your earlier days Satan beguiled and vanquished you in ten thousand instances; but now you have attained the knowledge of his devices. He himself, if we may so speak, has at last taught you how to repel his assaults, and to resist him with success. You are become expert in the spiritual warfare. You know how to wield “the sword of the Spirit.” You know when and where to expect your enemy. You know the way in which he manages his assaults. And you have learned to combat him upon your knees. This, though a disadvantageous posture in earthly conflicts, you have found to be the best that can possibly be resorted to in the spiritual warfare. Hence you have had the comfort of seeing that wicked fiend, who assaulted you with the subtilty of a serpent, and the fury of a roaring lion, flee from your face intimidated and confounded [Note: James 4:7.].”
O remember these your high privileges, and labour continually to walk worthy of them! — — —]
Lastly, we would speak to you also who are “fathers” in Christ—
[As age and experience elevate a man to a higher rank in the community than he possessed while in the vigour of his youth, so it is in the Church of God. Not that age, or even long continuance in the Church of Christ, can entitle a man to the appellation of “father:” for some are not born to God till they are far advanced in life; and others, through carnality or sloth, have made so little progress in religion, that they have need to be treated as babes, when, for the time that they have professed godliness, they ought to have attained the age and stature of fathers [Note: 1 Corinthians 3:1-46.3.2.Hebrews 5:12; Hebrews 5:12.]. Those only are deserving of this honourable name, who have maintained a long and successful conflict with the powers of darkness.
Respecting you then it is said, that “ye have known him that is from the beginning.” Whom he intended to designate under this expression, the Apostle himself tells us: it is Christ, who “was in the beginning with God, and was God [Note: Compare John 1:1. with 1 John 1:1.].” Now the distinction between you and young men principally consists in this; that by your numerous conflicts you have been compelled to make use of Christ in all his offices, and have thereby attained a more extensive knowledge of his love and mercy, his power and grace, his truth and faithfulness. From your own experience therefore you can trust in him yourselves, and can exhort others also to trust in him with the most unlimited confidence, and to glory in him as their “all in all.”
See then, fathers, that ye improve your knowledge for this end: and soon ye shall “see him as ye are seen, and know him as ye are known” — — —]
To those who are included under any of the foregoing titles—
[Let the least and meanest in God’s family rejoice in the unspeakable blessings vouchsafed unto them. But let not the most advanced imagine, that they are not yet to proceed to higher attainments. All must “war a good warfare;” all must seek to “grow in grace, and in the knowledge of the Lord Jesus:” all must “be faithful unto death, if ever they would obtain a crown of life.”]
To those who have never yet been brought into the family of God—
[Dearly beloved, the forgiveness of sins is the exclusive privilege of God’s children. This is manifestly implied in the address to little children. O then seek to be made new creatures in Christ Jesus! Our Lord tells you repeatedly that “you must be born again:” and that, “if you be not, you never can enter into the kingdom of heaven.” Pray then that you may “be born of the Spirit;” and that you may be interested in the Redeemer’s death. So shall you be numbered with the children of God, and be made partakers of their inheritance for evermore.]
LOVE OF THE WORLD FORBIDDEN
1 John 2:15-62.2.17. Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world. And the world passeth away, and the lust thereof: but he that doeth the will of God abideth for ever [Note: This text might be treated somewhat differently:—Thus, Consider,
The persons addressed.
The exhortation given them.
The force of the exhortation as so addressed.
The two first heads might easily be taken from this and the foregoing Discourse; and the third head be treated in distinct Addresses to the three different classes. Thus,—
“Little Children;” Think into how many sins the world has enticed you; and will you love the world now that those “sins are forgiven you?”
“Young Men;” The world is Satan’s ground: withdraw from it, and you vanquish him; but go back to it, and he will “overcome you.”
“Fathers.” You who have attained such a knowledge of God, cannot but see how irreconcileable the love of the world is with the love of God. Light and darkness are not more opposed to each other than are these opposing tastes. Compare Rom 8:5-6 and James 4:4. with the text.
A more impressive subject than this would be, can scarcely be conceived; especially if the two parts were first treated separately, as in this book, and then a third Sermon were written on them conjointly, and the connexion between them formed the sole and entire subject of the sermon.].
WHATEVER our attainments may be in the divine life, we still need the voice of warning and exhortation, to keep us from the evils to which we are exposed. As believers, we have been brought out of “a world which lieth in wickedness:” but still we are encompassed with temptations, and bear about with us a corrupt nature which is ever liable to be ensnared by them. In persons most advanced in the divine life “the flesh lusteth against the Spirit, as well as the Spirit against the flesh; so that they cannot do all that they would;” and may be easily seduced to do things, which, according to their better judgment, they would not.
The Apostle has been addressing the whole Christian Church according to their age and stature in the divine life, under the names of Little Children, Young Men, and Fathers; and now, to the one as well as to the other of these classes, he gives the injunction in our text. Let all classes therefore amongst you also receive the word as addressed personally to yourselves, whilst we consider,
The injunction here given—
There are few subjects, if any, in the whole course of our ministrations, that require a more careful and temperate discussion than that before us. The solemnity with which it is introduced, and the extraordinary emphasis with which it is impressed on our minds, evince beyond a doubt the great importance of it: whilst, as if it were of no importance whatever, or there were no danger of erring in relation to it, every one puts the construction upon it which suits his own habits and inclinations, and takes for granted that his views of it are correct. But the truth is, that there is in this subject a need for the nicest discrimination, lest, on the one hand, we make the prohibition more strict than Jehovah himself intended it to be; or, on the other hand, give to it a latitude which is contrary to his mind, and ruinous to all who practically adopt it. A man who lives in monastic seclusion will be ready to say, that this passage forbids all intercourse with the world: whilst a person living in an unrestrained commerce with the world, will see in it nothing that condemns the most unrestrained compliance with the maxims and habits of the world, provided they be not palpably and grossly immoral. In like manner they will differ as widely respecting the extent of the prohibition as the object of it; the one supposing that every degree of inclination towards the world is forbidden; the other, thinking himself at liberty to “wallow in earthly indulgences as a sow in the mire [Note: 1 Peter 2:22.].” It is obvious therefore that we should enter on this subject with extreme caution; determining with the greatest care,
The import of the terms—
[What are we to understand by “the world?” In answer to this question, I should say, it comprehends all the things of time and sense, as standing in opposition to the things which relate to a better world. The Apostle Paul suggests to us this very distinction, when he says that we are to “look, not at the things which are seen and are temporal, but at the things which are not seen and eternal [Note: 2 Corinthians 4:18.].” This will appear more clear, whilst we consider what is meant by “loving” the world. We are not to understand by it every degree of attachment to it, but only such a degree as is inordinate, and such a degree as puts its object in competition with the things which are invisible and eternal. Amongst the things of time and sense must be reckoned a man’s intercourse with his own family. Shall we then say, that a man ought to have no pleasure in the society of his own wife and children? Such an absurdity carries its own refutation along with it. Hence then I take the term, not in a positive, but comparative, sense; and regard it as importing, that we are not to give to any object of time and sense that kind or measure of affection which is due only to things of eternal moment.
The Apostle’s own explanation of his meaning will throw further light on this matter. “The lust of the flesh, the lust of the eye, and the pride of life,” are very generally understood as importing all those things which administer to sensual gratification; and those things which, when beheld, are apt to fascinate us with their attractions; and those things which men chiefly affect, as elevating them in the estimation of mankind; or, in other words, pleasure, and riches, and honour. And if to these we apply what was before specified as implied in the term “love,” we shall be prepared to determine with very considerable accuracy,]
The extent of the prohibition—
[The word “love” comprehends three things; esteem, desire, and delight: and, if we apply it in this extent to the various things above-mentioned, we shall, I think, understand with clearness the Apostle’s meaning in our text. Some measure of love, I again say, the things of this world are entitled to: they may be esteemed, as gifts from a gracious God; they may be desired, as means of honouring him, and benefiting our fellow-creatures; and they may be delighted in, as conducive to our comfort, when rightly improved: for “God has given us all things richly to enjoy [Note: 1 Timothy 6:17.].” But,
They are not to be esteemed, as though they possessed any intrinsic good. They are all in themselves empty, vain, perishing, and utterly incapable of administering any real comfort to the soul, or even of benefiting us at all, any farther than God shall be pleased to make use of them for that end.
They are not to be desired so as in the least degree to interfere with our pursuit of higher and better things. “Our affections are to be set on things above, and not on things on the earth [Note: Colossians 3:2.].” The two cannot, and must not, be put in competition with each other. The one, how dear soever in itself, must be despised and hated in comparison of the other: father, mother, wife, children, yea and our own life also, must be of no account with us, if they at all stand in our way of serving and honouring our God [Note: Luke 14:26.]. His claims are paramount to every other; and there is nothing either in heaven or on earth to be desired in comparison of him [Note: Psalms 73:25.].
They are not to be delighted in, as things in which, to whatever extent they were multiplied, we could be satisfied with taking up our rest. Job seems to have had singularly clear and just views of this subject: “If,” says he, “I have made gold my hope, or have said to the fine gold, Thou art my confidence; if I rejoiced because my wealth was great, and because mine hand had gotten much; this were an iniquity to be punished by the judge, for then I should have denied the God that is above [Note: Job 31:24-18.31.25; Job 31:28.].” Whoever he be that, on account of his earthly comfort, says, “Soul, take thine ease,” is justly branded as “a fool,” and to all eternity will find occasion to bewail his folly.]
With the help of these distinctions I think we may fix, with some precision, the true import of the injunction before us, and may proceed in a satisfactory manner to consider further,
The reasons with which it is enforced—
In confirmation of what he says respecting the world, the Apostle declares,
That it is not worthy of our love—
[If we look at its nature, how base is it! “it is not of the Father, but of the world.” What is there in the whole circle of the world that can boast of an heavenly origin? Nothing, not an atom of it either comes from God, or leads to God, any farther than it is sanctified unto us by the covenant of grace. It is enjoyed by heathens, as well as by Christians: and what does it do for them? Yea, what does it advance the real welfare of the great mass of the Christian world? It altogether arose out of the fall of man. In Paradise, the world was nothing; and God was all. It was not till sin had entered into the world, that the world and its lusts were put in competition with God, or that a love to present things had attained an undue ascendant over the soul. And were man still in his primeval innocence, all pleasures, riches, and honours would be of no account, any farther than God was enjoyed in them, and they were made subservient to his glory
Again; if we look at its duration, it is altogether transient: “the fashion of this world passeth away, and the lust thereof; but he that doeth the will of God abideth for ever.” What has the lover of this world of all that he has ever enjoyed? and how long will the savour of his present enjoyments abide with him? How long can he secure the continuance of them? and what will remain of them the moment he has departed hence? On the other hand, if he love God, and do his will, he has a continual feast: his gratifications never cloy: his bliss will bear reflection, and be renewed by the retrospect: the consciousness that he has a taste for such enjoyments will itself be a source of very sublime happiness; of a happiness which he will possess under the most afflictive circumstances, and which will sooth even the pangs of death itself: and this source of enjoyment, instead of being confined to this present life, will be infinitely enlarged, and afford inexhaustible supplies of bliss to all eternity.
Say then, brethren, whether this world is worthy of a Christian’s affections? I do not hesitate to say, it is not: for it affords nothing that is capable of satisfying an immortal soul; and the poor gratifications it does afford, are all perishing even whilst they are in our hands [Note: Colossians 2:22.].]
That a love to it is absolutely incompatible with love to God—
[How solemn is the declaration, “If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him?” This, if delivered on man’s authority, might be deemed uncharitable; but it is declared on the authority of God himself: and a very little reflection will convince us of the truth of it. Can any man conceive that an angel, if sent down from heaven to sojourn here for a time, would set his affections on things below? no; we are well assured, that he would have far juster views of earthly vanities, than to set his heart upon them: his taste would be too refined for such gross aliment. He would fulfil the duties that were assigned him, whatever they might be: but his heart would be with God; with God supremely, and with God alone. Thus then it should be with us: and thus it must be, if we be Christians indeed: for “we cannot serve God and Mammon [Note: Matthew 6:24.]:” “the very friendship of the world is enmity with God.” As the will or desire to serve the king’s enemies, if it were clearly proved, would constitute us traitors to our king and country, even though we had not succeeded in our efforts, so the very will and desire to be the friends of the world is itself sufficient to prove and “constitute us enemies of God [Note: James 4:4. See the remarkable force of the words in the Greek.].” As the love of God grows in the soul, the love of the world abates: and, as the love of the world revives, the love of God decays: the two are as opposite to each other as light and darkness: and neither can prevail but by the expulsion of the other.
Again then I ask, is not here abundant reason for the injunction in my text? If the love of God and of the world could exist together, there were some reason for harbouring both: but as they are in direct and unalterable opposition to each other, we cannot but unite with the Apostle in this salutary admonition, “Love not the world.”]
Whilst, however, I cordially unite in this sentiment, I would add,
Be careful in passing judgment upon others—
[There is scarcely any subject on which men are so prone to exercise a censorious disposition as this. They are ready to make their own habits, or at all events their own views, a standard for others: and the more strict any persons are in relation to themselves, the more apt they are to pass an uncharitable judgment upon others. But we are not capable of judging rightly for others, unless we can put ourselves exactly into their situation. A person in lower life has little conception of what may be proper for a person of opulence and distinction. Besides, there are a thousand circumstances which may produce somewhat of a diversity of conduct in persons of equal rank and station. Persons in an inferior station are ready to think that the possession of things that are valuable or splendid, is wrong: but the text does not say, that we must not possess the world; for we may possess crowns and kingdoms: nor does it say that we may not use the world, or even find pleasure in it: for we may use it, and find pleasure in it too; since, as has been before observed, God has “given us all things to enjoy, and richly to enjoy.” The prohibition relates to the heart and the affections, which are not to be set on the world, or on any thing in it, in comparison of God. And who can judge the heart? The man who lives in a palace may have far less love of the world, than his censorious neighbour that is living in a cottage. Let us judge ourselves as severely as we please: but let us leave our neighbour to be judged by him who knows the heart. “To his own master he standeth or falleth:” the rule for us to walk by is plain enough: “Judge not, that ye be not judged.”]
Be firm and determined in your own course—
[What you are to love, is here plainly declared: “The love of the Father” is put in opposition to the love of the world: and “the doing of God’s will,” in opposition to the seeking of any transient enjoyment. Let this then be your care, “even to love and serve, not the creature but the Creator alone [Note: Romans 1:25.].” Here you need fear no excess. On the contrary, as the prohibition extends to the world and to all that is in it, so the command of loving God extends to him, and to all that is in him; his whole mind, his whole will, all his perfections, all his purposes, all his dispensations. In this respect you may learn of worldly men. See how faithful they are in their adherence to the world; how active in its cause, how laborious in its pursuits, how immersed in its enjoyments, how insatiable in their desires after its richest communications. And, if you tell them that they are seeking after a mere phantom, they account you either splenetic or mad. Be ye then firm against those who would deride your pursuit of heavenly objects; and serve your God, as they serve theirs, wholly, uninterruptedly, and in defiance of all that can be said to turn you from your ways. In a word, “Be steadfast, immoveable, always abounding in the work of the Lord;” and know, that when they shall reap only vanity for their recompence, you shall find that “your labour has not been in vain in the Lord.”]
THE TRUE GROUNDS OF A CHRISTIAN’S STABILITY
1 John 2:19. They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would no doubt have continued with us: but they went out, that they might be made manifest that they were not all of us.
THERE have been many apostasies from the Church of God, in every age. Of those who for a time were Christ’s disciples, “many went back, and walked no more with him [Note: John 6:66.].” Of such apostates the Apostle Paul also complained [Note: 1 Timothy 5:12; 1 Timothy 5:15.]: and of such St. John speaks, in the words before us. There had, many years before, been teachers who “went forth from the Apostles in Judζa, subverting the souls of men by inculcating the necessity of circumcision [Note: Acts 15:1; Acts 15:24.]:” so now, there were some who separated themselves from St. John, and the Church under his care; and, either by their false doctrines or unholy lives, brought disgrace upon the Gospel, and obliged the Apostle to guard the whole Christian Church against them. He calls them antichrists; because, in fact, whatever they might pretend, they were the greatest enemies to Christ. Not that they had ever been truly upright before God: for, if they had been really one in heart and spirit with God’s Church and people, they would never have gone out from them; but God suffered them thus to depart, that the Church might no longer be injured by them, or be involved in their disgrace.
But St. John had a further reason for exposing these apostates. It had been foretold by our blessed Lord, that, previous to the destruction of Jerusalem, “there should arise false Christs, and false prophets, who, if it were possible, should deceive the very elect;” and that the prevalence of those persons should be “a sign that the destruction of the Jewish Church and polity was near at hand [Note: Matthew 24:3-40.24.5; Matthew 24:24-40.24.25.].” St. John refers to it in that view: “Little children, it is the last time: and as ye have heard that antichrist shall come, even so now are there many antichrists; whereby we know it is the last time.” Then he adds, “They went out from us; but they were not of us: for if they had been of us, they would no doubt have continued with us: but they went out, that they might be made manifest that they were not all of us.”
To elucidate these remarkable words, I will shew,
Why the insincere are suffered to become apostates—
All who are insincere do not become apostates: for we are told, that the tares will grow together with the wheat, even to the harvest [Note: Matthew 13:29-40.13.30; Matthew 13:39-40.13.40.]. But God is pleased to leave some of those who join his Church to apostatize from it;
That they may be exposed to merited disgrace—
[Those who are insincere in their profession of religion greatly dishonour God, and do incalculable injury to his Church and people. It is but just, therefore, that they should be left to expose themselves, and to “make it manifest that they never truly belonged to the Church of Christ.” They were as branches of the living vine, it is true; but they were only dead branches, whose end was to be broken off, and burned [Note: John 15:2.]. True, they were not distinguished from others by their brethren; who could see no further than the outward act, and were led from Christian charity to put the most favourable construction on all which they did. Not even Judas, who was a thief from the beginning, was suspected by his fellow Apostles: in fact, they all questioned their own sincerity, rather than his [Note: Matthew 26:22.]. Much less was Demas discoverable from others: indeed, so eminent was his profession, that he was twice joined with St. Luke, by the Apostle Paul, in his salutations to the Churches [Note: Colossians 4:14. Philem. ver. 24.]: but we can have no doubt but that the world was really uppermost in his heart during the whole time of his profession, though, perhaps, unperceived even by himself: and at last he betrayed to all his lurking preference, and “forsook the Apostle Paul, having loved this present world [Note: 2 Timothy 4:10.].” But, as “amongst the heathen, who did not like to retain God in their knowledge, God gave up many to a reprobate mind [Note: Romans 1:28.];” so he gave up these also to the evils of their own hearts, that on them might come the shame and condemnation which they so richly merited: “They received not the love of the truth, that they might be saved; and God gave them up to their own delusions, that they might apostatize and perish [Note: John 13:26-43.13.27. with 2 Thessalonians 2:10-53.2.12.].”]
That they may be a warning to others—
[Lot’s wife is particularly presented to us in this view. She came out of Sodom with her husband; but her heart was there; and she looked back, and was made a pillar of salt; that is, an everlasting monument of God’s righteous indignation, and a warning to all future generations. Hence our Lord says, “Remember Lot’s wife [Note: Luke 17:32. with Genesis 19:26.].” In like manner, the abandonment of the Israelites in the wilderness to their own lusts, and to the punishment consequent upon them, was ordained of God to be a warning “to us, upon whom the ends of the world are come, to the intent that we should not lust after evil things, as they did [Note: 1Co 10:6; 1 Corinthians 10:11. with 2 Peter 2:1-61.2.9.].” In truth, every instance of apostasy speaks loudly to us, “not to look back, after we have once put our hand to the plough [Note: Luke 9:62.];” since, if we do “turn back, it will be unto perdition [Note: Hebrews 10:38-58.10.39.],” and “our last end will be worse than our beginning [Note: 2 Peter 2:20-61.2.21.].”
But the remarkable assertion of the Apostle, relative to the stability of the upright, leads me of necessity to shew,
What security the upright have, that they shall never be left so to dishonour their holy profession—
It is of great importance that this subject be understood aright. The doctrine of the perseverance of the saints, as it is called, is by many accounted extremely dangerous and delusive; but if it be duly explained, and placed on its proper grounds, it will commend itself as perfectly unexceptionable, and as indisputably true.
It is affirmed by some, that there is in true believers an indefectible principle of grace, which renders it impossible for them to fall—
[I confess, I think this a very erroneous view of the subject; and I think that the passages of Scripture adduced in proof of this doctrine do not warrant the conclusions drawn from them. Our Lord, we are told, asserts, that “the Holy Spirit shall be, in his people, a well of water springing up unto eternal life [Note: John 4:14.].” But this only marks its constant tendency, without determining its absolute and certain issue. St. Peter also says of Christians, that “they are born again, not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible:” but he tells us, in the very next words, what that seed is; it is not an inward indefectible principle of grace, but “the word of God, which liveth and abideth for ever [Note: 1 Peter 1:23.].” And this throws the true light upon another passage which is cited in confirmation of this point, even on that assertion of St. John, “Whosoever is born of God doth not commit sin; for his seed remaineth in him: and he cannot sin, because he is born of God [Note: 1 John 3:9.].” A man really born of God doth not, and will not, commit sin, as once he did: for the tendency and operation of divine grace will be, to keep him from it. But the absolute indefectibility of the grace received by him is not here asserted: nor is it asserted in our text, when it is said, that, if those apostates had been really and vitally united to the Church, “they would have remained with the Church.” The doctrine itself is true; but the ground, on which some endeavour to establish it, is, in my apprehension, unsound and erroneous: for I do not conceive that there is, or ever was, upon the face of the whole earth, a man who could say, “I have within me an indefectible principle of grace, so that I cannot fall, or cannot perish.” Even Adam in Paradise could not say that: and sure I am that St. Paul did not entertain that sentiment, when he said, “I keep my body under, and bring it into subjection, lest that, by any means, after having preached to others, I myself should be a cast-away [Note: 1 Corinthians 9:27.].”
The stability, of which my text speaks, stands on other grounds: it arises from,
The immutability of God’s purpose—
[“God’s counsel shall stand; and he will do all his pleasure [Note: Isaiah 46:10.].” And this counsel he has exercised in reference to the salvation of men; some of whom he has “chosen before the foundation of the world [Note: Ephesians 1:4.],” yea, and “chosen unto salvation,” through faith in his dear Son [Note: 2 Thessalonians 2:13.]: and “those, whom from eternity he has predestinated to the adoption of children, he calls and justifies in time, and glorifies in the eternal world [Note: Romans 8:29-45.8.30.].” And, as in his nature “he changeth not [Note: Malachi 3:6.],” so, in reference to these things, “there is with him no variableness, neither shadow of turning [Note: James 1:17.]:” and on this our hope, and the hope of all his people, is founded: for, seeing that, “in order to shew to us the immutability of his counsel, he has confirmed his promise with an oath, we, who have fled to Christ for refuge, have from that very circumstance the more abundant consolation [Note: Hebrews 6:17-58.6.18.].” On this ground, all his people maybe confident that “he will perfect that which concerneth them [Note: Psalms 138:8.];” and that “He who hath begun the good work in them, will perform it unto the day of Jesus Christ [Note: Philippians 1:6.].” On this ground, the very least and weakest of his saints may hope that they shall “endure unto the end [Note: 2 Thessalonians 3:3.];” since they are assured that God “will never, never leave them, or forsake them [Note: Hebrews 13:5-58.13.6.].”]
The sufficiency of his grace—
[Were man expected to keep himself, there is no one who must not sit down in despair. But we expect that God will exert in our behalf that very power which raised up his dear Son from the dead [Note: Ephesians 1:19.]; and that “his strength shall be made perfect in our weakness [Note: 2 Corinthians 12:9.].” We know that “his grace is sufficient for us [Note: 2 Corinthians 12:9.],” how great or numerous soever may be the difficulties with which we have to contend. We are assured, that “none can ever pluck us out of his hands [Note: John 10:29-43.10.30.];” and that, as “he will not depart from us,” so his fear put into our hearts will be sufficient to keep us from ever departing from him [Note: Jeremiah 32:40.]; and, consequently, we may even now exult and triumph over our enemies, almost as we shall do in heaven itself; saying, “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Yea, we may be persuaded that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord [Note: Romans 8:35; Romans 8:39.].”]
It may be asked, Wherein does the difference between the two views appear?
[Things often commend themselves more by an easy and familiar illustration, than by a long train of argument. We will therefore, with permission, use the simplest illustration that can well be imagined. Only let it be first remembered what it is that we are undertaking to illustrate. It is this. Man, by conversion, is brought into a state which the natural man, by his own powers, can never attain. When he is brought into that state, some think that an indefectible principle is infused into him; and that, in consequence of that abiding and indefectible principle, he is, and must of necessity be, preserved from falling. I admit that he shall be kept from falling; but I deny that it will be through the necessary influence of grace already received. I assert, on the contrary, that he is in himself as liable to fall as ever, and that it is from an extrinsic source he derives all his stability: and that, consequently, whilst he has the strongest possible hope in God, he ought to keep in abiding and undiminished exercise a holy fear: yea more, I must say, that, if once he lose that fear, and become self-confident, he is already on the very verge of destruction.
Now, then, take the illustration which is familiar to the mind even of a child. A kite soaring on high is in a situation quite foreign to its nature; as much so as the soul of man is, when raised above this lower world to high and heavenly pursuits. A person at a distance sees not how it is kept in its exalted station: he sees not the wind that blows it, nor the hand that holds it, nor the string by whose instrumentality it is held. But all of these powers are necessary to its preservation in that preternatural state. If the wind were to sink, it would fall: if the hand should cease to hold it, or the string should break, it would fall. It has nothing whatever in itself to uphold itself: it has the same tendency to gravitate to the earth as ever it had; and, if left for a moment to itself, it would fall. Thus it is with the soul of every true believer. It has been raised, by the Spirit of God, to a new, a preternatural, a heavenly state; and in that state it is upheld by an invisible and Almighty hand, through the medium of faith. And upheld it shall be; but not by any power inherent in itself. If left for a moment, it would fall as much as ever. Its whole strength is in God alone; and its whole security is in the unchangeableness of his nature, and in the efficacy of his grace. In a word, “it is kept by the power of God, through faith, unto salvation [Note: 1 Peter 1:5. Peter and Judas fell equally. But they were not equally recovered. And why? Because the Lord Jesus Christ had prayed for Peter, that his faith (the connecting medium between him and his God) might not fail.].”
There is, indeed, one particular, in which the illustration fails; namely, that the kite is upheld without any concurrence of its own; whereas the soul, notwithstanding its entire dependence on God, does yet, in fact, “work out its own salvation.” I grant this: I grant, that what God effects for the soul, he effects through the instrumentality of its own volition and action. But it must be remembered, that “it is He, and He alone, who works in the soul either to will or to do [Note: Philippians 2:12-50.2.13.];” and, consequently, that the work is as much his, as if the believer himself were purely passive: only, indeed, inasmuch as the believer’s concurrence is necessary, he has the greater cause to implore of God that aid, “without which he can do nothing [Note: John 15:5.].”
If it be said, that here is a distinction without a difference; and that, since the certainty of the saint’s salvation is admitted, it signifies not what the means are by which he is saved; I reply, that, on the supposition of the grace which has been once received being absolutely indefectible, a man will feel no occasion for fear: but, if he depend solely and entirely on God, he must exercise fear as well as faith. In the one case, confidence alone is encouraged; but, in the other, humility: in the one case, faith alone is called for; in the other, it must be blended and tempered with holy fear. And this very distinction is marked by the Apostle Paul; “Thou standest by faith: be not high-minded, but fear [Note: Romans 11:20.].”]
Let me, then, in conclusion say, Behold,
What need we have to cry mightily to God for grace—
[Perish we must, if God uphold us not. And it is in the continued exercise of prayer alone that we can hope for those supplies of his grace which are necessary for us — — — “Pray, then, without ceasing [Note: 1 Thessalonians 5:17.];” and beg of him to “hold up your goings in his paths, that your footsteps slip not [Note: Psalms 17:5.]” — — —]
What need we have to guard against the means and occasions of sin—
[We are in the midst of a defiling and ensnaring world; and have need of continual care and watchfulness, to “keep our garments clean [Note: Revelation 16:15.].” If we become careless, Satan will not fail to take advantage of us, and to draw us into sin [Note: Luke 22:31.]. David and Peter shew us very abundantly how frail we are, and how prone to fall, if once we enter into temptation. Hence we are told to “come out from the ungodly world, and not to touch the unclean thing,” if we would have the presence and the blessing of our God [Note: 2 Corinthians 6:17.]. Our eyes, our ears, “our hearts, we must keep with all diligence [Note: Job 31:1.Proverbs 4:23; Proverbs 4:23.];” for it is by resisting Satan that we must overcome him [Note: James 4:7.]: and then only, when we, on our part, contend manfully with him, are we authorized to hope that “God will bruise him under our feet [Note: Ephesians 6:11; Ephesians 6:13.Romans 16:20; Romans 16:20.].”]
THE UNCTION OF THE HOLY ONE
1 John 2:20. Ye have an unction from the Holy One, and ye know all things.
IT is a melancholy fact, that, in every age of the Church, persons have arisen from the bosom of the Church herself, not only to “speak perverse things, and draw away disciples after them [Note: Acts 20:30.],” but even to introduce “damnable heresies, and to deny the Lord that bought them [Note: 2 Peter 2:1.].” Such antichrists had been foretold by our Lord himself; and, even in the apostolic age they existed in great numbers [Note: ver. 18.]. These persons, for a length of time, could not be distinguished from the truly pious: for though the more eminent Christians, who had “the gift of discerning spirits,” might see something materially wrong in the spirit and temper of their minds, yet, inasmuch as their defects were not generally visible, nor of so determined a character as to call for public censure, they were suffered to grow up as tares among the wheat, till, by their own wilful apostasy, they manifested their character before all. From their contagion, however, the truly upright were preserved. And that which was made instrumental to their preservation was, “an unction from the Holy One,” whereby they were enabled to “discern all things,” and consequently, by “proving all things, to hold fast that which was good.”
From hence we see,
The distinguishing privilege of true Christians—
They “have an unction from the Holy One”—
[The Lord Jesus Christ is undoubtedly that “Holy One” from whom the unction proceeds. By this name he is frequently designated, both in the Old Testament [Note: Psalms 16:10. Daniel 9:24.] and the New [Note: Acts 3:14.Revelation 3:7; Revelation 3:7.]: and, in order to the execution of his mediatorial office, he himself was “anointed with the Holy Ghost [Note: Acts 10:38.],” and fitted for the discharge of all that he had undertaken [Note: Isaiah 61:1. with Luke 4:18.]. It was foretold that he should be so anointed [Note: Isaiah 11:1-23.11.3.]; and the prediction was visibly fulfilled at the time of his public consecration to his high office [Note: Matthew 3:16-40.3.17.]. Of this Spirit he received “without measure [Note: John 3:34.]:” and the holy oil, poured out upon his sacred head, “descends to the skirts of his garments [Note: Psalms 133:2.].” But at his ascension to heaven this divine unction was committed to him in a more particular manner, in order that he might pour it out upon his people, who were to be anointed to some of the same offices which he himself sustained. This was foretold by David: and the accomplishment of it is declared by the Apostle Paul: but there is a difference between the passage as uttered by the prophet, and as cited by the Apostle; a difference worthy of particular observation. David says, “Thou hast ascended on high; thou hast led captivity captive; thou hast received gifts for men [Note: Psalms 68:18.]:” but St. Paul, in quoting it, says, “When he ascended up on high, he led captivity captive, and gave gifts unto men [Note: Ephesians 4:8.].” The truth is, that Jesus received this gift, on purpose that he might give it: and he does give it, according to the promise which he made to his people [Note: John 16:7.], and according to the promise which the Father himself made to them in Abraham two thousand years before [Note: Galatians 3:13-48.3.14.].]
This is their distinctive privilege—
[“Sensual or natural men have not the Spirit:” and it is in consequence of their not having it, that “they separate themselves,” precisely as those did who are spoken of in the text [Note: Jude, ver. 19.]. But every true believer has this divine unction abiding in him [Note: John 14:16-43.14.17.]: and it is from the very circumstance of his having received this unction, that the believer is emboldened to claim, as it were, a relation to his God [Note: 1 John 3:24; 1 John 4:13.]. Without this, he would not be able to perform any part of his duty aright: he could not “walk” acceptably to God, but by the Spirit [Note: Galatians 5:16.]: he could “not even pray as he ought [Note: Romans 8:26.]:” he could “not so much as call the Lord Jesus Christ his Lord, but by the Holy Ghost [Note: 1 Corinthians 12:3.].” To this divine unction he is indebted for the very existence of life in his soul: and the man who has it not, is even dead before God [Note: Ephesians 2:1.]. And hence he may affirm, without the remotest danger of mistake, that, “if any man be led by the Spirit of God, he is a Son of God [Note: Romans 8:14.];” and, on the contrary, that “if any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of his [Note: Romans 8:9.].”]
To estimate aright this high privilege, we must further consider,
The benefit they derive from it—
When it is said, that “they know all things,” we must of course not so interpret the words as to include the knowledge of arts and sciences, or even a scientific knowledge of religion itself. The Apostle means only, that by this divine unction the Christian attains an acquaintance with all things that are necessary,
For his preservation from error—
[Human wisdom is not sufficient for this: and the more it is relied upon, the more likely it will be to deceive and ruin us. To be “wise in our own conceit,” and to “lean to our own understanding,” are marks of extreme weakness and folly; and those who habitually indulge these evils, are sure, at last, to fall: for God, who has promised to guide and instruct the humble [Note: Psalms 25:9.], has declared, that “he will take the wise in their own craftiness [Note: 1 Corinthians 3:9.].” That we may see what a preservative this divine unction is, let us bear in mind, that he who has it, “has in himself the witness” of all the most important truths of Christianity [Note: 1 John 5:10.]; so that, when a deceiver endeavours to subvert his faith, he has in his own bosom a conviction which nothing can shake. He may not be able to answer the arguments that are brought against him, any more than he could maintain a disputation with one who should assert, as some have done, that there is no heat in fire: but he can no more be turned from his persuasion, than he could be made to believe that there is no sun in the firmament, or that he could subsist without food. An adversary might dilate upon the dignity of human nature till his voice failed him: but he could never persuade a Christian that the heart is any other than what God has declared it to be—“deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked [Note: Jeremiah 17:9.].” He might expatiate upon the sufficiency of man’s righteousness to justify him before God: but he could never induce a true penitent to rely on any thing but the righteousness of the Lord Jesus Christ, “the righteousness which is of God by faith [Note: Philippians 3:9.].” He might assert, as confidently as he would, the ability of man to fulfil the will of God: but the man that has this divine unction knows “that without Christ he can do nothing [Note: John 15:5.].” Thus he has, if I may so speak, a compass whereby to steer even in the dark, and can traverse the seas in safety; whilst those who have only the dictates of human wisdom for their guide, are left to run on rocks and shoals, to their eternal ruin [Note: Proverbs 28:5.].]
For his final salvation—
[This divine unction, duly improved, shall be sufficient for every thing to which the Christian is called. By it, he shall mortify the whole body of sin [Note: Romans 8:13.]. By it, he shall be able to sustain every affliction that can come upon him [Note: 2 Corinthians 12:9.]. By it, he shall be changed into the perfect image of his God [Note: 2 Corinthians 3:18.].
We must not, however, misunderstand the Apostle, as though this unction of the Holy One superseded an attention to the word of God, or the necessity of continual diligence on our part. The word of God is, after all, our only directory: and to imagine, as some do, that the light within renders the written word unnecessary, is a very dangerous error. The light within is necessary, just as the light of the sun is for the discovery of time upon the dial: but as the dial is of no use without the sun, so neither will the sun suffice without the dial. And, whatever office the Holy Spirit executes, he executes it by and through the written word. Nor let it be supposed that we can acquire divine knowledge without much studious application to the word of God: for Solomon tells us, that it is not by either prayer or study, separately, that we can attain knowledge: it must be by both combined: “If we cry after knowledge, and search for it as for hid treasures, then shall we understand the fear of the Lord, and find the knowledge of God [Note: Proverbs 2:3-20.2.5.].”
It is proper I should yet further guard against an idea, that this divine unction supersedes the necessity of diffidence on our part: for though it is true, that, on the great leading and fundamental doctrines of the fall, and of the recovery by Jesus Christ, the inward witness of these truths may suffice to preserve us, there are ten thousand errors, into which we may fall, even whilst we think that we are taught by the Holy Ghost. From damning error and apostasy he will keep his people; but not from all error: for then there would be no room left for diversity of opinion in the Church of God. But we shall never “see eye to eye” in this life. There will still be room left for difference of sentiment, in matters of minor importance: and mutual forbearance in relation to them will be necessary, even to the end. In things essential, there should be unity; in things non-essential, liberty; and in every thing there should be charity.]
Those who doubt the doctrine of our text—
[To speak of a divine unction, as given to us to secure us from error, and to bring us to salvation, appears, to many, to be a wild and enthusiastic conceit. They believe that the Holy Ghost was given formerly to the Church for the working of miracles; but they will not believe that he is continued to the Church, for the purpose of guiding, and comforting, and sanctifying the soul. But to any one who doubts his need of the Holy Spirit, I would say, What did our blessed Lord mean, when, in counselling the Laodicean Church, he said, “Anoint thine eyes with eye-salve, that thou mayest see [Note: Revelation 3:18.]?” I do not conceive it possible to explain away that passage; or for any one, who believes the Scripture, to doubt but that there is an unction of the Holy One, which we all need, in order to the attainment of a spiritual discernment. It is the office of the Holy Spirit to “glorify Christ, by taking of the things that are Christ’s, and shewing them unto us [Note: John 16:14.].” Let not prejudice, then, keep any from seeking this inestimable benefit; but let all entreat of God to send down upon them “a spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of Christ [Note: Ephesians 1:17-49.1.18.];” and so to “guide them into all truth [Note: John 14:26; John 16:13.],” that they may “be saved in the Lord with an everlasting salvation.”]
To those who profess to be living in the experience of it—
[Have any of you been thus anointed, and thus preserved? Then give God the glory of it; and say with the Apostle, “He who hath established us in Christ, and hath anointed us, (you observe the union of the two, as in the text,) is God [Note: 2 Corinthians 1:21. with 1 John 2:27.].” But remember, that the world can only judge of your professions by your practice. You profess, that “by the unction of the Holy One you know all things:” let it be seen, then, that by the unction of the Holy One you do all things. It is by your fruits that you must be judged, both by God and man. See to it, then, that you guard against that conceit which so prevails in heretics and apostates. To your latest hour you must retain a childlike spirit, and particularly in the simplicity and docility of your minds. You must guard, too, against every corrupt bias. “If your eye be single, your whole body will be full of light: but if your eye be evil, your whole body will be full of darkness.” In particular, be careful not to make the truths of God an occasion of needless contention. For the fundamentals of religion you must indeed contend, and that earnestly, if need be; but even in reference to them, it would be better to recommend to your adversaries, and to cultivate for yourselves, the study of the Holy Scriptures with prayer. In this way, you will “grow both in knowledge and in grace;” and “your light will shine brighter and brighter unto the perfect day.”]
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Simeon, Charles. "Commentary on 1 John 2". Simeon's Horae Homileticae. https://www.studylight.org/
the Second Week after Epiphany