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BELIEVERS ARE SONS OF GOD
1 John 3:1. Behold, what manner of love the Father hath bestowed upon us, that we should be called the sons of God.
RELIGION is altogether a mystery: every part of it is deeply mysterious. The restoration of a fallen soul to God! The means of effecting that restoration — the death of God’s only dear Son, as a sacrifice for sin; and the operation of his Spirit in the sinner’s heart! The effect produced—the translation of a soul from the family of Satan to the family of Almighty God! This is the point which the Apostle is contemplating in my text: and it fills him, as we might well expect, with the profoundest wonder and admiration: “Behold, what manner of love the Father hath bestowed upon us, that we should be called the sons of God!”
That we may enter into the Apostle’s views, and attain somewhat of his spirit, I will endeavour to shew,
What is comprehended in the relation of sons—
No one need to be informed on this subject, as far as it relates to men. But in the relation as borne to God, there is much which needs to be elucidated. In it are comprehended,
An adoption into his family—
[By nature, we belong to a far different family: for “we are of our father the devil:” and, being “children of disobedience,” we are also “children of wrath.” But God takes to himself a people out of that wretched mass, and adopts them as his own; giving to them the name of sons, the privileges of sons, the endearments of sons, and acting towards them in all respects as a loving Father — — — It is in and through the Lord Jesus Christ that he effects this. In “sending his Son to redeem them that were under the law,” he did it, “that we might receive the adoption of sons [Note: Galatians 4:4-5.].”]
A participation of his nature—
[When man adopts any person, he may deal with the adopted person as his son; but he can never really make him a son. But when God sets apart any for this high relation, he creates them anew, and makes them entirely “new creatures.” He imparts to them his Holy Spirit, and makes them “partakers of the divine nature [Note: 2 Peter 1:4.];” so that they become, in reality, his sons; being “begotten of him,” and “born unto him [Note: 1Jn 5:1; 1 John 5:18.].” Hence, with the new relation, there spring up in their souls new views, new dispositions, new desires, new habits altogether [Note: Gal 4:6 and Romans 8:15-16.]: and in God also there arises, not a mere arbitrary good-will, but a paternal interest, a special regard, such as exists in every part of the creation between the parent and the progeny. All this, then, is comprehended, (this change of nature on their part, and this peculiar regard on his,) when we speak of any as made “sons of God.”]
A title to his inheritance—
[This does not necessarily exist among men; but with God it does. Every one that is born of him, is begotten to an inheritance, even an inheritance that “fadeth not away [Note: 1 Peter 1:1; 1 Peter 1:3-4.].” “If we are sons, we are also heirs, heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ [Note: Romans 8:17.].” There is this peculiarity also attaching to the children of God: they are all his “first-born [Note: Exodus 4:22.Hebrews 12:23; Hebrews 12:23.].” They are the brethren of Christ; and partakers with him in all that he himself inherits—his throne, his kingdom, his glory [Note: Revelation 2:21. Joh 17:22.].]
And now let us contemplate—
The wonderful love of God, in bringing us into that relation to himself—
When it is said, “We are called the sons of God,” it means that we are really made so. And this change is altogether the effect of God’s unbounded love. Behold, then, what manner of love this is:
[It is wholly unmerited on our part. There never was, there never could be, any thing in us to attract the Divine regards, since “every imagination of the thoughts of our hearts was only evil continually.” In the selection of his objects, God was as free as in the choice of Abraham from amidst an idolatrous world, or of Isaac and Jacob in preference to their elder brethren. In conferring this high honour, God has respect only to his own will, and to the glory of his own name. This is marked with peculiar strength and force by the Apostle Paul, when, speaking on this very subject, he says, “God has predestinated us to the adoption of children by Jesus Christ to himself, according to the good pleasure of his will, to the praise of the glory of his grace, wherein he hath made us accepted in the beloved [Note: Ephesians 1:5-6.].” In truth, “He loved us because he would love us [Note: Deuteronomy 7:7-8.]:” and because “he loved us with an everlasting love, therefore with loving-kindness hath he drawn us [Note: Jeremiah 31:3.].”]
How beyond all human expectation!
[If man adopt any one, it is because, having no progeny of his own, he feels a want of some one to succeed to his estates: and in conferring this favour, he has respect to some qualities in the person selected by him. But God has no need of us. We can never add either to his happiness or glory. Or, if he needed any creatures to be objects of his favour, he could create any number, either of angels or men, as it should please him, and make them the happy objects of his choice. But it is not thus that he has acted. He has chosen from amongst men, corrupt and sinful men, multitudes, who shall in time, be born to him, and in eternity enjoy him. Nor is it of the best of men that he has made his selection, but often of the vilest. Even a murderous Manasseh has been made a vessel of honour, and a monument of grace; whilst millions of persons, less guilty, have been passed by. If we ask the reason of this, our Lord assigns the only reason that can be given: “Even so, Father, for so it seemed good in thy sight.” The potter has power over the clay, to do with it as seemeth him good: and “shall the thing formed say to him that formed it, Why hast thou made me thus [Note: Romans 9:20-21.]?” True it is, that, in reference to this matter, we must say, as David did in reference to the favours conferred on him, “Is this the manner of men, O Lord God [Note: 2 Samuel 7:19.]?” No; it is not the manner of men; nor ought it to be: because man has a claim on his fellow-man; but we have no claim whatever on God. He might have left us to perish, precisely as he did the fallen angels, and never have saved so much as one: and, if he have saved one, that person has reason to exclaim with wonder, ‘Why have I been taken, whilst so many others have been left?’ God, in all this matter, does as it pleaseth him; and “he giveth not account to us of any of his matters:” “His ways are not as our ways, nor his thoughts as our thoughts: but as the heavens are high above the earth, so are his ways higher than our ways, and his thoughts than our thoughts [Note: Isaiah 55:8-9.].”]
How utterly incomprehensible!
[So the Apostle declares the love of Christ to be: it has “a breadth, and length, and depth, and height, that passeth knowledge [Note: Ephesians 3:18-19.],” and defies the search of the brightest intelligence of heaven. To all eternity will the wonders of this grace be unfolding; and to all eternity will it remain as far from being fully comprehended, as it was at the very first moment it was revealed. Indeed, we must comprehend the infinite distance between the glorious Creator and his rebellious creatures; and then go on yet further, to comprehend all the wonders of redemption, before we can comprehend the smallest portion of this mystery. We must close our meditations, after all, with that with which we have commenced them: “What manner of love is this which the Father hath bestowed upon us!”]
“Behold” then, brethren, “behold” it: “Behold” it, I say,
With due solicitude to ascertain the fact—
[God has bestowed this favour upon millions: but hath he bestowed it upon us? In this inquiry we are deeply interested: nor should any one of us leave it as a matter of doubt for one single hour. But you will ask, ‘Can this point be ascertained?’ By the world around us, I readily acknowledge, it cannot be ascertained: and, if we profess to have been brought into this relation to God, we must not wonder that the world ascribe our pretensions to the workings of pride and presumption. For they know nothing of God, or of his operations upon the souls of men: how, therefore, should they be able to judge of our claims in this matter? The Apostle, in the words following my text, justly adds, “Therefore the world knoweth us not, because it knew him not.” But we may ascertain the point ourselves; for we have a standard by which to try ourselves; and we may examine ourselves by it without any difficulty. St. John elsewhere says, “To as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name; who were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God [Note: John 1:12-13.].” Here are the very relations of which we are speaking, and the means by which we are brought into it, and the test whereby we are to try ourselves. Inquire, then, whether you have ever “received the Lord Jesus Christ” into your hearts by faith, and whether you are “living altogether by faith on him?” — — — If you have never come to Christ as lost sinners, and cast yourselves wholly upon him, you know infallibly that you are not yet brought into this relation of “sons of God.” But if Christ be “all your salvation and all your desire,” then you possess this high privilege; for “we are all the children of God by faith in Christ Jesus [Note: Gal 3:26]:” and, if you look up to God for the gift of his Holy Spirit, he will shine upon his own work, and “give you his Spirit, to witness with your spirits, that you are indeed the children of God [Note: Romans 8:16.].” Again then I say, Leave not this matter in suspense; but “examine yourselves, whether ye be in the faith, and try your own selves: and never rest, till you can adopt the words of our text with a special reference to your own souls.]
With a becoming zeal to walk worthy of this high calling—
[Certainly, this relation brings with it corresponding duties. If you are made sons of God, it is that you may serve and honour him as dear children. How this is to be done, St. Paul informs us: “Be blameless, and harmless, as sons of God, without rebuke, in the midst of a crooked and perverse nation, amongst whom ye shine as lights in the world, holding forth the word of life [Note: Philippians 2:15-16.].” Well, indeed, may the world cry out against your vain conceit, if you are not walking worthy of your high calling. God has called you, that you should be holy: and “if you have in you the hope of which we have been speaking, then will you purify yourselves, even as Christ is pure [Note: ver. 3.].” Look to it, then, that you walk as becometh saints, in all holiness and righteousness before God and man. By this test will you be tried at the last day; and all your professions of faith in Christ will be found a delusion, if you shew not your faith by your works. But, if God have, indeed, bestowed this honour upon you, then will his love have a constraining influence upon your souls; and you will strive to be “holy, as he is holy,” and “perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.”]
THE INESTIMABLE PRIVILEGES OF BELIEVERS
1 John 3:2. Beloved, now are we the sons of God, and it doth not yet appear what we shall be: but we know that, when he shall appear, we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is.
OUR Lord was hated, reviled, and persecuted unto death: but we see how glorious was his person, and how exalted his character. In the same manner his followers are treated with contempt: but God declares their state to be the most honourable upon earth. To this effect St. John represents them as slighted by man and honoured by God.
The present state of believers—
The Scripture speaks of believers in the most exalted terms. They are not merely servants, but “sons of God [Note: 2 Corinthians 6:18.].”
This they are by adoption—
[Every believer was once a child of wrath [Note: Ephesians 2:3.]. But God takes whom he will into his own family [Note: Ephesians 2:19.]: he adopts them as his sons, and makes them heirs of his glory [Note: Romans 8:15; Romans 8:17.].]
They are brought into this relation also by regeneration—
[Once they had only a carnal mind that was enmity against God [Note: Romans 8:7.]; but they have been born again of the Holy Spirit [Note: John 1:13.]; they are renewed after the image of their heavenly Father [Note: Colossians 3:10.].]
They enjoy this state “now”—
[Rich and poor, learned and unlearned, partake alike of this honour; nor does God withhold it from any on account of their remaining infirmities; even now, while the world despises them, does God own his relation to them.]
What an unspeakably blessed state is this!
[How different is it from the state they were once in! How great, the privileges which they enjoy by means of this relation! How sweet the sense of this relation often is to their souls! To what a glorious state does it lead them in a better world! Well might the Apostle break forth in wonder and admiration [Note: 1 John 3:1.]—.]
Yet, blessed as it is, it falls infinitely short of what it will be in,
Their future state—
Very little is known respecting this—
[We can form no idea of spiritual and glorified bodies. We cannot imagine how extensive will be the capacities of the soul. We have very faint conceptions of perfect holiness and perfect happiness. Even one who had seen Christ transfigured, says, “It doth not appear,” &c.]
Yet there are some things revealed to us—
[We shall see Christ, not merely by faith, but with our bodily eyes [Note: Job 19:25-27.]; not veiled as formerly, but in all his glory. We shall resemble him too in all his imitable perfections. This resemblance will result from our sight of him. Even “our bodies shall be fashioned like unto his glorious body.” This shall be fully accomplished at the great day of his appearing.]
These things we may be said to “know”—
[We have already experienced the earnest of them in our hearts. When we believe in him, we have views of him which we had not before; these transform the soul into his image [Note: 2 Corinthians 3:18.]. Our Lord has given us the fullest assurance of these things [Note: John 17:24.]. St. Paul also leaves us no room to doubt [Note: 1 Corinthians 15:49. Colossians 3:4.].]
How wonderfully different the lot of believers and unbelievers!
[Believers are the children of God. Unbelievers are the children of the wicked one [Note: John 8:38; John 8:44.]. Believers can form no adequate conception of the happiness that awaits them. Unbelievers have no idea of the misery to which they are hastening. How different will be the appearance of each in that day! How different their feelings on seeing Christ upon his judgment-seat! For what different ends will their capacities of soul and body be enlarged! What a different state will they experience to all eternity! Let none defer calling upon God for mercy. Let all seek his regenerating grace, and an admission into his family. If we will believe in Christ these blessings shall be ours [Note: John 1:12.].]
How bright the prospects of the true Christian!
[The Christian’s warfare will soon be over: then will come a blessedness which he cannot now conceive; another day may bring him to the full possession of it. Let these prospects animate every pious soul. Let none suffer their minds to be drawn away by the things of time. Let every one stand ready to take his flight [Note: 2 Peter 3:12.]. Let the beloved Apostle be our example [Note: Revelation 22:20.].]
THE FRUITS AND EFFECTS OF HOPE
1 John 3:3. Every man that hath this hope in him, purifieth himself, even as he is pure.
THE people of God are but little known to an ungodly world: instead of being considered according to their true character, they are regarded as hypocrites, enthusiasts, and disturbers of their brethren’s peace. But this is easily accounted for: the world know not God; and therefore it is no wonder that they know not his people. But the saints themselves have a very inadequate conception of the honour that is put on them, or of the glory that is reserved for them. They know indeed that they are sons of God; but they have very little idea of what is comprehended in that relation: and as to their eternal state, they can form no precise judgment respecting it; they only know, in the general, that they shall be like God, and be with him for ever. Yet though so little known to the world, and to themselves, they have marks whereby they may be clearly distinguished; they may be known by their uniform endeavours after holiness. To this effect the Apostle speaks in the words before us; from which we shall take occasion to consider,
The Christian’s hope—
Christ is the fountain and foundation of a sinner’s hope: without Christ, all must have perished: nor has the most eminent saint any more hope than a fallen angel, except as he is interested in the merits of Christ. But through him [Note: The text does not say, ἐν ἑαυτῷ, in himself, but ἐπʼ αὐτῷ, in him, that is, in Christ.] the believer has a glorious hope;
That he is a child of God—
[Christ, having purchased us with his own blood, has reconciled us to God, and made us his children. He teaches his followers to consider themselves as standing in this relation to God, not merely like the angels who are his sons by creation, but in a more exalted manner by regeneration and adoption: and he teaches them to expect from him throughout their whole lives the blessing suited to that high dignity [Note: ver. 1. Joh 1:12-13.Matthew 6:6; Matthew 6:6; Matthew 6:8-9; Matthew 6:31-33.] — — —
Now the true Christian hopes that he is brought into this happy state, and that he shall receive from God all those endearing tokens of affection which the relation of sonship emboldens him to expect. This hope of his is founded partly on the merits of his Saviour, and partly on the internal evidence which he has, that he is interested in the Saviour. The mere circumstance of Christ having laid down his life for him, would not be a sufficient ground for him to number himself among the family of God: but when he has the testimony of his own conscience that he has sought acceptance with God through the death of Christ, then he is enabled to indulge a hope that the privileges annexed to such a state belong to him.]
That he shall be with God, and like him, for ever—
[The blessings which the saints enjoy are not confined to this life: “Being sons of God, they are also heirs; heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ [Note: Romans 8:15-17.].” “Though they know not yet what they shall be, they know that, when they shall see him, they shall be like him; for they shall see him as he is [Note: ver. 2.].” The time is coming, when they shall all be introduced into his immediate presence, and be with him and like him for ever. This also is an object of the Christian’s hope — — — He believes that this is the heritage of the saints; and that “what God hath promised, he is able, and willing, to fulfil.”]
That this is no barren hope, will appear from,
The effect it produces in him—
Every Christian will endeavour to purify himself to the uttermost—
[The Christian cannot wilfully live in any known sin: he will search out his corruptions, in order to subdue them; and his duties, in order to fulfil them — — — He will propose to himself the Lord Jesus Christ as his pattern: and though he can never hope to attain absolute perfection in this life, he will not rest satisfied with any thing short of that. He would gladly he “holy as God is holy, and perfect, even as his Father in heaven is perfect.” He considers how the Lord Jesus acted in reference to God: how in reference to man; and what tempers he manifested in the whole of his deportment; — — — then he labours to follow his example, and to “walk in all things as he walked.”]
To these endeavours he will be stimulated by his hope in Christ:
[He cannot endure to think himself a child of God, and yet act like a child of the devil: he cannot please himself with a prospect of enjoying and resembling God in a future life, without seeking communion with him and a resemblance to him in the present world. He will feel himself impelled to holiness by a sense of duty [Note: He knows he cannot be saved in any other way. Psalms 24:3-4.Matthew 5:8; Matthew 5:8. Hebrews 12:14.Revelation 21:27; Revelation 21:27.]; by a sense of gratitude [Note: 1Th 2:12. 2 Corinthians 5:14-15.]; yea, moreover, by a love of holiness itself [Note: Psalms 119:128.] — — —
We must not however imagine that it is by any power of his own that he thus “purifies himself;” the duty and the exertion are his [Note: James 4:8.]: but the power, both to will and to do, proceeds from God alone [Note: Philippians 2:13.].]
We shall improve this subject,
[All profess to have a hope in Christ: but before we conclude that to be well-founded, we must examine what fruits it produces: Are we seeking after universal holiness? Are we contented with no measure of holiness short of perfection itself? Are we setting the Lord Jesus before us, and taking him for our pattern in all our tempers, and in our conduct towards God and man? This is the criterion by which St. John himself teaches us to judge of our hope [Note: ver. 6–10.]: and St. James confirms it—by declaring, that, if in any one point (the not bridling of our tongue, for instance) we allowedly deviate from this path, “our religion is vain [Note: James 1:26.].” O consider this, lest your hope be only as the spider’s web, that will be swept away with the besom of destruction!]
[Though we must not think our hope well founded, unless it produce in us the fruits of righteousness, yet we must not imagine that our righteousness is to be the ground of our hope, or even our warrant to hope in Christ. The only ground of our hope must be found in Christ, and in the promises which God has made to those who believe in him. We must go to Christ as sinners; and then he will enable us to live as saints. This distinction is clearly marked in the text: our hope in Christ is to precede, not to follow, the purification of our hearts: and our holiness is to be the fruit, not the root, of our hope. The same distinction is made by St. Paul also, who, having spoken of our sonship with God, says, “Having therefore these promises, let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness both of flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God [Note: 2 Corinthians 7:1. See the same also by St. Peter, 2 Peter 1:4.].” We must not wait till we are cleansed, and then embrace the promises: but first embrace the promises; and then make use of them for the cleansing of our souls.
What encouragement does this afford to those who feel the corruption of their hearts, and who, if their own purity were to be the foundation of their hope, would be in utter despair! Go then, how polluted soever ye are, and seek pardon and sanctification at the hands of Jesus; and you shall find him “faithful and just to forgive you your sins, and to cleanse you from all unrighteousness [Note: 1 John 1:9.].”]
CHRIST MANIFESTED TO TAKE AWAY SIN
1 John 3:5. Ye know that he was manifested to take away our sins; and in him is no sin.
AMONGST the numberless advantages which the light of revelation has conferred upon us, one of particular importance is, the strength of the motives which it suggests to us for the mortification of sin. A heathen could devise no argument beyond what related to our own welfare, and that of society at large. But Christianity discovers to us wonders, of which unassisted reason could form no conception: it declares to us, that Almighty God himself assumed our nature for the express purpose of counteracting the effects of sin, and of destroying its power. To those therefore who have embraced Christianity, here is an argument that is wholly irresistible, if once it be admitted into the mind, and suffered to have its due operation upon the soul. St. John avails himself of it in the passage before us. He is shewing to the Christian world that they must aspire after universal holiness, and purify themselves “even as their incarnate God was pure:” and the more effectually to enforce his exhortations, he makes this unanswerable appeal to all of them without exception: “Ye know that he was manifested to take away our sins; and in him was no sin.”
The destruction of sin being the great scope and end of our ministry also, we will,
Open to you his appeal—
The great end of our Saviour’s incarnation was to take away sin—
[Sin has separated man from God, and God from man [Note: Isaiah 59:2.]: nor was it possible that they should be re-united in mutual love and amity, unless this evil were removed. But removed it could not be, either as to its guilt or power, by any efforts of man: nor could all the angels in heaven render to him any effectual aid. God therefore of his own love and mercy “laid help for us upon one that was mighty [Note: Psalms 89:19.],” even upon his coequal, co-eternal Son, whom he sent into the world on this benevolent errand, to “put away our sins by the sacrifice of himself [Note: Hebrews 9:26.],” and to “subdue our iniquities” by the efficacy of his grace [Note: Micah 7:19.].
For this the Lord Jesus Christ was well fitted, by reason of his own spotless character. This I conceive to be particularly intimated in our text. The connexion between the two clauses of the text does not at first sight appear; but we apprehend, that the mention of the spotless character of Jesus is intended to convey this idea, namely, that, being himself without sin, he was fitted for the work assigned him; and could present to God such an offering as our necessities required. Under the law it was especially appointed, that the sacrifices should be without spot or blemish. The Paschal lamb was set apart four days before it was offered, on purpose that it might be scrutinized to the uttermost, and thus be proved fit for its destined use [Note: Exodus 12:3; Exodus 12:6.]. The Lord Jesus too went up to Jerusalem four days before his crucifixion, and underwent the strictest examination at different tribunals, and was declared innocent, by Pilate his judge, by his fellow-sufferer on the cross, by the Centurion who presided at his execution: all his enemies thus unwittingly attesting, that he was indeed “a Lamb without blemish and without spot [Note: 1 Peter 1:19.],” and that, being “just himself,” he was every way fit to “suffer in the place of us the unjust [Note: 1 Peter 3:18.].”
In another view too his spotless character subserves this great end of his mission: for, “being without guile himself, he has set us a perfect example:” and the best possible way of avoiding sin is, to imitate his example, and to “tread in his steps [Note: 1 Peter 2:21-22.].”]
This was known and acknowledged through the whole Christian world—
[No one who believed in Christ was ignorant of the end for which he had come into the world. Hence the Apostle could appeal to all without exception, and could say, “Ye know that he was manifested to take away our sins.” The whole Scriptures bore testimony to this. All the types of the Mosaic law shadowed it forth. All the prophecies from the beginning of the world attested it. It was in this way that “the Seed of the woman was to bruise the serpent’s head.” “To finish transgression, to make an end of sin,” and to establish universal righteousness, this was to be the work which should distinguish his reign: “A sceptre of righteousness was to be the sceptre of his kingdom.” The very name that was given to him imported this: “he was called Jesus, because he was to save his people from their sins.”]
This truth being acknowledged by all at this time, no less than in the apostolic age, we shall make the same appeal to you; and,
Found upon it a particular address—
As Christians you all “know” that Christ came to deliver you from sin: but do you all consider it, as you ought?
Ye who live in wilful and habitual sin—
[Do you consider what has been done to rescue you from your bondage? Do you consider that the Son of the living God, “Jehovah’s fellow,” the Creator of the universe, has come down from heaven, and assumed your nature, and died upon the cross for your redemption? Ask yourselves then, whether he would have done this, if sin had been so small an evil as you judge it to be? Can you conceive that such means would have been used for your recovery, if the state into which sin had brought you was not beyond measure terrible? Had no misery awaited you, or a misery only that was light and transient, do you suppose that God would have had recourse to such a method of delivering you from it; or that, after he has used such means to take away your sin, you incur no danger by holding it fast? You may “make a mock of sin,” if you please; but you will not think so lightly of it when you come to stand in the presence of your Judge. When the Lord Jesus Christ shall remind you of what he endured to deliver you from it, what will ye say to him? Will ye then make the foolish excuses that ye now do? No, verily: your mouths will then be shut: you will be amazed and confounded at your present folly and impiety: and it will be no consolation to you then that there are so many in the same condemnation with yourself. The antediluvian scoffers, when warned of the approaching deluge, thought it impossible that such a judgment should ever be inflicted; or consoled themselves, perhaps, that they should be in no worse plight than others. But when the deluge actually came, did they find their own terrors less appalling, or their sufferings less acute, because they were endured by others also? Nor will ye in that day find the wrath of God a whit more tolerable because of the multitudes that shall bear it with you. Had the Saviour never come, you would have had to endure the wrath of God; but since he has come, and been despised and rejected by you, you shall have to bear “the wrath of the Lamb [Note: Revelation 6:16.],” even of that Lamb whom you “crucified afresh [Note: Hebrews 6:6.]:” and hell itself will be sevenfold more terrible, in consequence of the means which have been used to deliver you from it. Yes, the punishment of Sodom and Gomorrha will be light in comparison of yours [Note: Matthew 10:15.]. O that you were wise, and would consider this, ere it be too late!]
Ye who found your hopes of mercy on your own self-righteous endeavours—
[What can ye think of yourselves, when ye recollect the principles which you yourselves acknowledge? You know that Christ was manifested to take away your sins: how then do you presume to imagine, that you can remove them by any efforts of your own? Is there any such virtue in your own tears or almsdeeds, that you will rely on them, rather than on the atoning blood of Christ? Or is there any such strength in your own resolutions, that you will trust to them for the subduing of sin, rather than to the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ? Does it never strike you, that whilst you are entertaining such proud thoughts as these, you are thrusting the Lord Jesus Christ from his office, and virtually declaring, that, whatever he may be to others, he shall be no Saviour to you? Why will ye thus presume to set aside the very ends for which He came into the world? Why, when he has actually girded himself with the towel, and presented himself before you, will you say with Peter, “Thou shalt never wash my feet!” Know you not, that “unless he wash you, you have no part with him [Note: John 13:4; John 13:8.]!” Be assured, he never came to make you your own saviours, but to offer you a free and full salvation. And if you will conceit yourselves to be “rich and increased in goods, and in need of nothing, when you are wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked,” nothing re-remains for you but to reap the bitter fruits of your pride and folly [Note: Revelation 3:16-17. See also Romans 9:31-32; Romans 10:3.] — — —]
Ye who, whilst ye profess to believe in Christ, are walking unworthy of your holy profession—
[I call on you also to consider this subject. You profess that the Lord Jesus Christ has borne your sins, and that you therefore expect that no condemnation shall come upon you. But do you think that he will be satisfied with performing half his office? Do you suppose that he will take away your sins as far as relates to their guilt, and leave them unmortified as it respects their power? This he never will do: and he declares to you that he never will. Only hear how strongly St. John speaks on this subject in the words following my text: “Whosoever abideth in Christ, (as you profess to do,) sinneth not: whosoever sinneth hath not seen him, neither known him. Little children, let no man deceive you. He that doeth righteousness, (as you profess to do,) is righteous, even as he is righteous. He that committeth sin is of the devil [Note: ver. 6–8.].” What now will ye say, who are still under the dominion of pride, envy, malice, wrath, and whose conduct in your families, instead of exhibiting the image of the Lord Jesus, and constraining all to admire the excellence of vital godliness, causes religion to stink in their nostrils? What will ye say who have lewd hearts and licentious tongues? or ye who are covetous and worldly-minded, and who are in such bad repute for truth and honesty, that men would rather deal with a worldly character than with you? Ye may boast as ye will about the freeness and fulness of the Gospel salvation; but ye shall never taste of it, unless ye “put off the old man with his deeds, and put on the new man, which after God is created in righteousness and true holiness [Note: Ephesians 4:22-24.].”]
Ye who are bowed down with desponding fears—
[I must not overlook you; for the text speaks powerfully to you also. In the habit of your minds you are saying, “My sins are too great to be forgiven; or, my lusts are too strong to be subdued.” But is Christ unable to effect the work he has undertaken? Was he manifested to take away your sins, and has he proved incompetent to the task? Are we not told that “the blood of Jesus Christ will cleanse from all sin?” And that “his grace is sufficient” for all who trust in him? What then is there in your case that renders you an exception? Oh, do not so dishonour your adorable Saviour, as to doubt his sufficiency for the work that has been assigned him. Know that his blood is a sufficient “propitiation, not for your sins only, but also for the sins of the whole world;” and the weakest creature in the universe is authorized to say, “I can do all things through Christ who strengtheneth me.” Put away then your unbelieving fears; and look to him to “accomplish in you all the good pleasure of his goodness.” So shall you find that “he is able to save you to the uttermost;” and soon you shall join in that blessed song, “To Him that loved us and washed us from our sins in his own blood, and hath made us kings and priests unto God and our Father, to him be glory and dominion for ever and ever. Amen [Note: Revelation 1:5-6.].”]
THE END OF CHRISTS INCARNATION
1 John 3:8. For this purpose the Son of God was manifested, that he might destroy the works of the devil.
THE author of this epistle survived all the other Apostles; so that, long before his death, the professed followers of Christ had had ample opportunity of shewing what the effects of religious principle would be, after that the impulse of novelty should have ceased: in some the sacred fire would burn with undiminished ardour; but in others it would languish so as to leave room to doubt whether it were not altogether extinguished. Hence, in this General Epistle, St. John lays down a variety of marks, whereby men might judge of their state before God. In the chapter before us he shews the indispensable necessity of holiness, and the extreme danger of imagining ourselves in a state of acceptance with God, whilst destitute of his image on our souls: he shews this, as from other topics [Note: ver. 3–10.], so especially from this, that the indulgence of any sin counteracts the very end for which Christ came into the world; since “he was manifested on purpose to destroy the works of the devil.”
Let us inquire,
What are those works which Christ came to destroy—
Satan, envious of the happiness of man in Paradise, endeavoured to bring him to the same state of guilt and misery to which he himself was reduced. How successful he was, it is needless now to mention: we all without exception experience in ourselves the sad effects of Adam’s fall. Two things in particular that wicked fiend has introduced:
[This was unknown to man, till Satan invaded the peaceful regions of Paradise, and prevailed on Eve to eat of the forbidden tree. He questioned the prohibition itself, or at least the equity of it; and then, denying that any evil consequences would ensue, he urged the vast advantages that would be derived from transgressing the Divine injunction; and thus “beguiled Eve by his subtilty.” From that time he has practised upon others in a similar way, “blinding their eyes [Note: 2 Corinthians 4:4.],” and putting all manner of wickedness into their hearts [Note: Luke 22:3.Acts 5:3; Acts 5:3.]. It is at his instigation that all the children of disobedience execute their wicked purposes [Note: Ephesians 2:2; Ephesians 6:11-12.]: he, as their father, teaches them, and constrains them, as it were, to fulfil his will.
Even the godly he tempts, and labours to deceive by innumerable “wiles,” and most subtle “devices [Note: 1 Thoss. 3:5. 2 Corinthians 11:3.]:” and, “if it were possible, he would deceive the very elect.”]
[This also he introduced; for by sin came death, as its proper “wages,” and its necessary consequence. Satan had assured our first parents that “they should not die:” but in this he shewed himself “the father of lies:” and by it he became “a murderer from the beginning [Note: John 8:41; John 8:44.].” The very instant they obeyed his voice, they died: temporal, spiritual, eternal death became their portion, and the portion of the whole human race [Note: Romans 5:12; Romans 5:15-19.]: nor would any child of man have ever seen the face of God in peace, if the Lord Jesus Christ had not interposed to “destroy this work of the devil.” As to the great mass of mankind, they are experiencing all the bitter effects of that first transgression: inheriting a corrupt nature, they follow the bent of their own inclinations, and rush on blindfold to everlasting perdition [Note: Ecclesiastes 9:3.]. “The devil has taken them in his snare, and leads them captive at his will [Note: 2 Timothy 2:26.].” Hence he is called Apollyon, and Abaddon [Note: Revelation 9:11.], as being the great and universal destroyer.
Nor does he relinquish his endeavours to destroy even the best of men: “he goes about, as a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour:” there are not any so holy, but he shoots his “fiery darts” at them, and torments them with cruel buffetings [Note: Ephesians 6:16. 2 Corinthians 12:7.], and “desires to have them that he may sift them as wheat:” and, were he permitted, he would soon reduce even the soundest of men to chaff.]
Let us next inquire,
How he destroys them—
He came into the world, and “was manifested” in human flesh on purpose to destroy them: and he effects their destruction,
By the virtue of his sacrifice—
[The death of Christ was a true and proper atonement for sin; it was “a propitiation for the sins of the whole world:” and by it “he finished transgression, made an end of sin, and brought in everlasting righteousness [Note: Daniel 9:24. with ver. 5.].” Nor has he merely cancelled our debt, or removed our obligation to punishment, but has “abolished death, and brought life and immortality to light.” “On the cross he triumphed over all the principalities and powers of hell [Note: Colossians 2:15.];” and, “by death, overcame him that had the power of death, and delivered them, who, through fear of death, were all their life-time subject to bondage [Note: Hebrews 2:14.].” Yes, when our final victory over sin and death shall be celebrated in heaven, to this shall we ascribe it altogether; “Thou wast slain, and hast redeemed us to God by thy blood [Note: Revelation 5:9.].”]
By the operation of his grace—
[“Dead as we are in trespasses and sins, we are quickened by Christ [Note: Ephesians 2:1.];” and immediately begin in his strength to confliet with sin and Satan. The warfare we maintain is attended with many difficulties; so that we are sometimes ready to cry out, “O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from this body of sin and death?” but in our lowest state it is our privilege to add, “I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord [Note: Romans 7:24-25.].” “In him we are strong;” and through his gracious communications “we can do all things:” “none can be effectually against us, whilst he is for us.” Having infused into our souls a principle of life, “he dwells in us,” and “is himself our life [Note: Colossians 3:4.],” and carries us forward “from conquering to conquer,” till sin and “Satan are bruised under our feet,” and “death itself is swallowed up in everlasting victory.”]
How infatuated are they who live in wilful sin!
[Do they consider whom they serve, and against whom they fight? Do they consider that they are doing those very works which proceed from and characterize the devil, and which Christ was manifested to destroy? Reflect on your conduct, brethren, in this view, and then judge, whether ye do well to continue in it — — —]
What reason for humility have even the best of men!
[There is no man who has not daily occasion to lament his short-comings and defects. We are not any of us so watchful, but Satan finds some opportunities to deceive us; nor so expert in our warfare, but he wounds us occasionally by “his fiery darts.” And when that wicked fiend has “got an advantage over us,” with what exultation is he filled, even though he knows that he can never ultimately prevail against our blessed Lord! Be watchful, brethren, that ye do not so gratify your malignant adversary, or so grieve the Spirit of your adorable Saviour. Put yourselves more habitually under the protection and guidance of your Divine Master; and “through him you shall be more than conquerors.”]
How unbounded are the obligations we owe to Christ!
[Who but he could have ever redeemed us from sin and death? Who but he could have ever destroyed for us those works of the devil? Think what would have been the state of the world, if he had never become incarnate; what slaves we must have been if he had not liberated us; and what a death we must have undergone, if he had not died in our stead! Verily, if we felt our obligations as we ought, we should scarcely pass a moment without adverting to them, and magnifying him with songs of praise and thanksgiving. Let us dwell on the delightful thought, which, wherever it is entertained, creates a heaven upon earth: and in a little time our deliverance shall be complete; and we shall unite with all the hosts of heaven “in singing Hallelujah to God and to the Lamb for ever and ever.”]
THE CHRISTIAN’S DELIVERANCE FROM SIN
1 John 3:9. 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.
MANY mistakes in religion arise from not considering sufficiently the style and manner in which the inspired writers are wont to express themselves. They speak strongly on all subjects; and never contemplate, for a moment, the niceties of criticism; or dream of their words being weighed in a balance, so as that there shall be the minutest possible precision in their weight and import. They are content with speaking in popular language, and with conveying their sentiments in terms which every candid mind shall fully apprehend. St. Paul, speaking of the danger of persons who are once enlightened, falling away from the truth which they have received, says, “It is impossible to renew them again to repentance [Note: Hebrews 6:4-6.].” We are not to suppose, from this, that the restoration of such an apostate is a work which God is not able to effect; but only, that it is a work which we cannot reasonably hope to see effected by him. The same kind of interpretation must be given to the words which we have just read: we are not to suppose that a regenerate person is brought into such a state, that there is an absolute and physical impossibility for him to commit any the minutest sin: such an impossibility as that did not exist even in Paradise, when man was absolutely perfect; no, nor does it exist in heaven itself; since millions of once holy angels actually did fall, and were cast out of heaven for their transgression. Not intending his words to be strained to such an extent as that, the Apostle declares,
The state of the regenerate man—
To consider the Apostle as saying only that a regenerate man ought not to commit sin, would be to make him speak what is altogether foreign to the context; the whole of which evidently shews his meaning to be, that the regenerate man does not commit sin.
But, in what sense are we to understand this assertion?
[If taken in its utmost latitude, this assertion would contradict the whole Scriptures. “There is not a just man upon earth, that doeth good, and sinneth not [Note: Ecc 7:20 and 1 Kings 8:46.].” “In many things we all offend [Note: James 3:2.].” St. John himself declares, that “if we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us [Note: 1 John 1:8-10.];” and then, intimating that the scope of his observations was to deter men from sin, he adds, “But if any man sin, we have an Advocate with the Father, who is also the propitiation for our sins [Note: 1 John 2:1-2.].”
It is evident, therefore, that we cannot so construe his words, as to infer from them that a regenerate man has attained a state of sinless perfection. Nor, in reality, do his words properly admit of that sense: for the word which we translate “commit sin” must, of necessity, imply a continued act. In ver. 7, he says, “Let no man deceive you. He that doeth righteous-ness [Note: ὁ ποιῶν. See the same word used by St. John in his Gospel. John 8:34.] (it is the same word as is used in our text) is righteous, even as Christ is righteous.” This can never mean, that the person who performs one righteous act must necessarily “walk in all things as Christ walked:” it must import a habit, and not a mere insulated act: and that is its proper meaning in the text; ‘Whosoever is born of God, does not wilfully and habitually commit sin.’ The whole scope of the context, from the third verse, sanctions, and indeed requires, this interpretation. It is said, in ver. 3, that the person who has a scriptural hope of his adoption into God’s family, will “purify himself, even as Christ is pure:” and the person who does not labour to attain this purity, is declared, in ver. 8, to belong to a very different family, even that of Satan: “He that committeth sin, is of the devil.” And in the verse after the text, this contrast is brought to a point: “In this the children of God are manifest, and the children of the devil: whosoever doeth not (ὁ μὴ ποιῶν) righteousness, is not of God.”]
The assertion, thus explained, is verified in every regenerate man—
[A man “born of God” does not commit sin in the way that he was wont to do in his unregenerate state. Previous to his conversion, sin was the element in which he lived. He might, in respect to an external conformity to the law, be blameless, even as the Apostle Paul was, before his heart was changed: but he never truly gave himself up to God, or took his perfect law as the rule of his conduct: he never lived for God, or made it the one object of his life to glorify God: self was the source and end of all his actions. But from the instant of his conversion, his one inquiry is, “Lord, what wilt thou have me to do [Note: Acts 9:6.]?” Not that he then becomes perfect: for to his latest hour he will find, as the Apostle did, that “there is a law in his members warring against the law of his mind, and occasionally bringing him into captivity to the law of sin, which is in his members:” yes, to his latest hour, there are things done by him which he would not, and things left undone by him, which he would gladly do: so that he is often constrained to cry, “O wretched man that I am! Who shall deliver me [Note: Romans 7:15; Romans 7:19; Romans 7:23-24.]?” But though, through the influence of his indwelling corruption, he may have occasion to mourn over many deviations from the perfect path of duty, he never does, nor ever will, return to the love and practice of sin: if he offend in any thing, he will lament it, and implore forgiveness for it, and labour with renewed diligence and circumspection to “stand perfect and complete in all the will of God.”]
If such be the state of the regenerate man, it will be profitable to inquire into,
The means by which he has attained to it—
“He that is born of God doth not commit sin; for his seed remaineth in him.”
Let us distinctly mark,
What seed this is—
[Many imagine that the “seed” here spoken of, is an imperishable spark of grace, which not all the floods of persecution or corruption can ever quench [Note: In this sense many understand John 4:14; as though the water given by our Lord must necessarily issue in everlasting life. But our Lord speaks, not of its issue, but its tendency.]. But it is not of grace that the Apostle speaks, but of the word of God. The word is that “seed” of which we are born: and that is incorruptible, as St. Peter has said: “We are born again, not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible, of the word of God, which liveth and abideth for ever [Note: 1 Peter 1:23.].”]
How it operates to its destined end—
[This seed “abides” in those who are born of God. Its operation, in the first instance, was to humble, quicken, and sanctify the soul. Being once implanted in the soul, it grows there, and continues to produce the very same effects which it put forth in the first instance. Did it come with power to convince of sin? it enlightens the mind progressively, and gives juster views to the conscience, and augmented sensibility to the soul. Did it lead to the Saviour, and inspire with a desire to serve and glorify him? it continues to give brighter discoveries of his love, and to impress the soul with a more fixed determination to live to his glory: and in this way it keeps the believer from ever returning to his former paths.
That this is the true import of the words, is manifest from what is spoken by St. John in the preceding chapter: “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 [Note: 1 John 2:14.].” Here the same “seed” of which they were born, namely, the word of God, abideth in them; and, in consequence of that, their victories over sin and Satan are carried forward with increasing energy and effect. Such, at least, were David’s views of this matter; and therefore to all young men he gave this direction: “Wherewith shall a young man cleanse his way? even by taking heed thereto, according to thy word [Note: Psalms 119:9.].” And what he recommended to them, he practised also himself; as he himself immediately declares: “Thy word have I hid within my heart, that I might not sin against thee [Note: Psalms 119:11.].”
Thus then it is that the regenerate person is kept from committing sin, as he was wont to do in his unregenerate state: “The word of truth abideth in him,” both as an authoritative director, and an unerring rule; and “by it he is made free [Note: John 8:32.],” and “sanctified [Note: John 17:17.].”]
The blessedness of the believer’s state will yet further appear, whilst we consider,
His security for the continuance of it—
“He cannot sin, because he is born of God.” Now it is well known, that many identify the new birth with baptism, at least so far as to maintain, that if they be not actually the same thing, they are always simultaneous and inseparable. But let this sentiment be brought to the test: let it be seen, whether it can be said of every one that is baptized, that he does not commit sin, yea, and that he cannot commit sin, because he is baptized. I would ask, Is there a man in the universe that dares to make such an assertion as this? or, if there were, would not the experience of the whole world flatly contradict him? I will not say that God may not convert a person at the time of his baptism, as well as at any other time. God may make use of any rite, or any ordinance, or any occurrence whatever, to effect his own purposes: but to say that he always creates a man anew, in the way, and to the extent, that my text speaks of, under the ordinance of baptism, is as contrary to truth as any assertion that ever proceeded from the lips of man. And as long as these words remain in the Bible, that a man “cannot sin, because he is born of God,” so long it must be obvious to every dispassionate mind that there is a new birth perfectly distinct from baptism, and totally independent of it.
As for the idea, that sin, when committed by a regenerate person, is not sin, it is too wild, and too impious, to deserve a thought.
But it is a great and glorious truth, that a person truly born of God cannot sin, as he did before he experienced that change. If it be asked, Why he connot sin? I answer,
Because God has engaged he shall not—
[God has said, that “sin shall not have dominion over his people, because they are not under the law, but under grace [Note: Romans 6:14.].” And his faithfulness is pledged to “cleanse them from all unrighteousness [Note: 1 John 2:9.].” It is a part of his covenant; every iota of which he will assuredly fulfil. This, however, is not to be so understood, as if God would never permit his people to err in any respect: for the very best of men have erred, and grievously too, under the influence of strong temptation, and of the remaining corruptions of their own hearts. But God, under such circumstances, will chastise them, till they shall return to him with deep humiliation and contrition, and till they renew their application to the blood of that great Sacrifice which taketh away the sins of the world. “It is not his will that one of his little ones should perish;” “nor will he suffer anyone to pluck them out of his hands.”]
Because he will supply him with grace, that he may not—
[This, also, is a part of God’s covenant which he has made with us in the Son of his love. If this covenant were kept out of view, there are two things which we might justly apprehend: the one is, that God would depart from us; the other is, that we should depart from him. But on both parts God has undertaken for his people. He says, “I will make an everlasting covenant with them, that I will not turn away from them to do them good; and I will put my fear in their hearts, that they shall not depart from me [Note: Jeremiah 32:40.].” It was not by a mere act of his power that he converted them at first: he enlightened their understanding, and renewed their heart, and “made them willing in the day of his power.” So will he even to the end deal with them as rational beings, and “draw them with the cords of a man.” “He will keep them, indeed, by his own power [Note: 1 Peter 1:5.]:” but it shall be through the instrumentality of their own exertions. He will keep them; but they shall also “keep themselves; so that the wicked one shall not touch them [Note: 1 John 2:14. before cited.].” Thus secured by God’s engagement for them, on the one hand, and by the mighty working of his power in them, on the other hand, it may truly be said of them, “They cannot sin, because they are born of God.”]
Yet let me improve this subject,
In a word of caution to the secure—
[The doctrine of Final Perseverance, if unscripturally maintained, will be productive of the most fatal consequences to the soul. Shall any man say, ‘I am born of God: and therefore can never perish, though I live in sin?’ Let him rather say, ‘The sins which I commit, prove to demonstration, that I am not born of God. I may have been partially affected with the word, as the stony-ground hearers; and have produced some kind of fruit, like the thorny ground: but, inasmuch as I “bring forth no fruit to perfection,” I am at this very moment a child of Satan, and an heir of perdition.’ Would you have an evidence that you are born of God? Inquire whether you are delivered from the love and power of sin, and following after universal holiness. These are the marks whereby alone you can form any sound judgment: and if you will judge of yourselves by this test, you will remove from the doctrine of Final Perseverance the chief objection that is urged against it; and will render it a blessing, instead of a curse, to your own souls.]
In a word of encouragement to those who are writing bitter things against themselves—
[Some, because they feel in themselves remaining infirmities, will conclude that they cannot possibly have been born of God. But we must not so interpret the text, as to imagine that God’s people must be absolutely perfect. Were none but the perfect born of God, where should we find a child of God on earth? It is the wilful and deliberate habit of sinning, and not a mere infirmity, that is declared to be incompatible with a state of grace: and therefore let not a sense of weakness and infirmity cause any one to despond. Yet, on the other hand, it will be well to entertain a holy jealousy over ourselves; and to avoid too great a laxity in our interpretation of this passage, as well as too great strictness: for if there be in us, what is found in too many professors of religion, an habitual predominance of evil tempers or dispositions of any kind, we are certainly not born of God, but are children of the devil. At the same time, let it be remembered, that the word of inspiration is that great instrument whereby God effects his purposes on the souls of men. By that he begins, and carries on, and perfects, his work within us. Let that, therefore, be precious to us, yea, “more precious than thousands of gold and silver;” and “let it dwell richly in us, in all wisdom:” so shall we experience it to be “the rod of God’s strength,” and “have every thought of our hearts brought into captivity to the obedience of Christ.”]
LOVE OF THE BRETHREN
1 John 3:14. We know that we have passed from death unto life, because we love the brethren.
LOVE is said to be “the fulfilling of the law:” and it certainly is also the great end of the Gospel. But love is of different kinds: there is a love of benevolence, a love of beneficence, and a love of complacency. The two former are due to all mankind: the latter is due to the saints alone; because they alone possess that character in which God delights, or in which it becomes us to feel delight. It is of this last kind of love that the Apostle speaks in my text, a “love of the brethren:” and of it he speaks in the highest terms imaginable. To illustrate his views of it, I will shew,
What is that change which every true Christian has experienced—
It is not a change of opinions merely, or a transition from one Church to another; but a change,
In his state before God—
[The unregenerate man is “dead in trespasses and sins.” Even “by nature he is a child of wrath [Note: Ephesians 2:3.];” and, by practice, he has involved himself in the deepest guilt and condemnation — — — But in conversion, a marvellous transition takes place: “he passes from death unto life.” By believing in Christ, he obtains a remission of all his sins; they are blotted out of the book of God’s remembrance; and there “no longer remains any condemnation to him on account of them [Note: Romans 8:1.].” From being a child of Satan, and an heir of wrath, he is made a child of God, and an heir of glory — — —]
In the entire habit of his soul—
[During his unconverted state, he lived to self alone: he had no thought or desires beyond this present world: he was altogether “alienated from the life of God,” “an atheist in the world [Note: Ephesians 2:12. the Greek.].” As the body, when separated from the soul, is dead, and performs not any one function of the animal life; so his soul, being separated from God, is dead, and never once performs any spiritual act whatever. But in his conversion, a similar change is wrought. His powers are quickened: his understanding, his will, his affections, are all called forth into act and exercise on spiritual subjects: so that “old things pass away, and all things become new.” This change is not unlike that of a river which, by an invisible agency, is turned so as to flow in a direction opposite to its natural course, even upward, towards its source and head. Being thus “renewed in the spirit of his mind,” “he lives no longer to himself, but unto Him who died for him, and rose again” — — —]
It will now be proper to inquire,
How far the test, here proposed for the ascertaining of this change, may be depended on—
Beyond a doubt, this change may be ascertained to the satisfaction both of ourselves and others—
[It is not to be supposed that so great a change should be effected both in the state and habits of a man, and he himself be unconscious of it. It is a matter of the deepest interest with him; and he will never be satisfied, till he “knows” that he has attained this great object of his desires. There are many marks by which it may be discovered, even as a tree by its fruits. The test here proposed is amply sufficient for this end. The only danger is, of mistaking the test itself, and putting something else in the place of it.]
“The love of the brethren,” duly understood, will serve as an unerring test—
[Two things must be borne in mind, as distinguishing the true test from all its counterfeits. The “love of the brethren” is a love to them purely for Christ’s sake, and a love displaying itself towards them in all its proper offices. It is not a love to them on account of their having embraced our sentiments, or their belonging to our party; nor will it shew itself merely in speaking well of them, and in espousing their cause: it is called forth by the single circumstance of their being the friends and servants of the Lord Jesus Christ: and it will shew itself in such a deportment towards them, as we would maintain towards the Lord Jesus Christ himself, if he were circumstanced as they are. The description given of love in the 13th chapter of the First Epistle to the Corinthians, is precisely that which the Christian will realize in his conduct towards Christians of every denomination: and then only is it a proper test of our conversion to God, when it so operates. But, supposing it to be of this kind, then may we “know” from it, without a shadow of doubt, that “we have passed from death unto life:” for such love can proceed from God alone: it springs from no root whatever but faith in Christ: and, consequently, its existence and operation in the soul proves us to be true believers, children of God, and heirs of glory.]
Those who are strangers to this peculiar regard—
[If the existence of it in the soul prove that we have passed from death unto life, the non-existence of it may well lead you to fear that this change has never been wrought in you. Examine yourselves, therefore, and try your own selves. In truth, this test is of peculiar importance to you: for, if you will look within, you will find that, by nature, you are rather alienated from persons on account of their relation to Christ, than drawn to them: the want of congeniality of taste and sentiment sets you at a distance from them; and a consciousness of this may well lead you to conclude that you are yet dead before God. The Apostle tells us this, in the very words following my text; “He that loveth not his brother, abideth in death.” O consider this, ere it be too late: and seek that change, without which you must for ever perish!]
Those who think themselves under its influence—
[It must be confessed that persons are very prone to deceive themselves on this point; and to imagine that they love the brethren, when their regard is merely partial towards their own party, and when it is associated with many dispositions contrary to love. Remember then, I pray you, that your love, in order to be genuine, must be heavenly in its origin, holy in its exercise, and uniform in its operations — — — See, I pray you, whether your love be of this kind, before you venture to build upon it such a confident persuasion as that mentioned in my text — — —]
Those who are truly alive to God—
[Shew, in your whole spirit and temper, what the effect of the Gospel is. It was said of the primitive Church, Behold how these Christians love one another! Let the same mark be visible in you, and the same confession be extorted from all your adversaries: bear in mind all the offices of love, that it “beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things.” You must not expect your brethren to be perfect: for you yourselves are not perfect: and therefore the allowances which you need from others, you must make for them: and you must take care, in thought, word, and deed, that nothing be done by you contrary to love. Be sure, therefore, that “your love be without dissimulation;” and that it shew itself “not in word and in tongue, but in deed and in truth.”]
THE LOVE OF CHRIST A PATTERN FOR US, TO EACH OTHER
1 John 3:16. Hereby perceive we the love of God, because he laid down his life for us: and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren.
IN contemplating Christianity as a system, we scarcely know whether to admire more, the depth of its mysteries, or the height of its requirements. Of all mysteries, that specified in our text, the death of our incarnate God for the sins of men, is beyond all comparison the greatest: and, of all requirements, there is not one so arduous as that, which also is here inculcated, of laying down our lives for the brethren. The two taken together present Christianity in a most endearing view; and exhibit it as alike conducive to the perfection of our nature and the completion of our bliss. Let us notice,
The extent in which God has manifested his love to us—
If we survey the works of creation, we shall see love inscribed upon them all. There was not one which the Creator himself did not pronounce to be “very good:” and, if there be any thing within the whole compass of it that is noxious to man, it was not so according to its original constitution, but has been rendered so by sin. If we mark also the dispensations of providence, we shall find in all of them too the same blessed character of love: for the very anger of God, is only an exercise of paternal love; and his judgments, an effort to bring his offending creatures into a state of reconciliation and acceptance with him. But it is in redemption that his love is chiefly displayed: for, in order to effect it, Jesus Christ assumed our nature, and actually “laid down his life for us.”
In order that we may behold somewhat of the love displayed in this stupendous act, let us consider,
What our situation was that rendered such an effort necessary—
[We were fallen, after the example of “the angels that kept not their first estate;” and with them we must have taken our portion to all eternity. To deliver ourselves was absolutely impossible: nor could the whole creation afford us any effectual aid. The judgments denounced against sin must be executed, either on the sinner himself, or on one capable of standing in his place, and of satisfying all the demands of law and justice. But where could such an one be found? The first archangel was unequal to the task. None but God himself could interpose with effect, even that God, whose law we had violated, and whose majesty we had offended. Such was our helpless and hopeless state, when Almighty God determined to rescue us from our misery, by sending his only dear Son into the world to offer up himself a sacrifice for sin, and, by dying in our stead, to redeem us from all the penal consequences of our transgression.]
What by that effort is accomplished for us—
[Our guilt is expiated — — — And God is reconciled unto his offending creatures — — — We may now go to him in the name of his dear Son. We may plead the merit of his obedience unto death. The vilest sinner in the universe has no occasion to despair. All that is necessary for his acceptance with God has been done; and he needs only to “lay hold on the hope set before him,” and to embrace the salvation that is freely offered him. If only we believe in Jesus, justice itself is become our friend and our advocate: because its utmost demands having been satisfied in Christ’s obedience unto death, it claims, on behalf of all who believe in Jesus, the transfer of those rights to which, through the intervention of our Surety, we are entitled — — —]
What wonders of love are contained in it—
[To what, but love, can we trace this merciful interposition of the Deity in our behalf? was there any thing in us to merit, it at God’s hands? We, alas! were in the very state of the fallen angels, “ungodly,” “sinners,” “enemies,” filled with all evil, and destitute even of a good desire. But, if God could find no inducement from any thing that was in us to exercise this mercy towards us, was there none to be found within his own bosom? No, not any. He would have been equally happy and equally glorious, if neither men nor angels had ever existed: and, if neither his happiness nor his glory have been at all affected by the ruin of the one, neither would it have been by the ruin of the other, if we, like them, had been left to perish to all eternity. To his sovereign love and grace alone can we trace this stupendous act of mercy: and to that it is uniformly traced in the Holy Scriptures: “God so loved the world, that he gave his only-begotten Son [Note: John 1:16.]:” “Herein is love; not that we loved God; but that he loved us, and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins [Note: 1 John 4:9-10.]:” “God commendeth his love towards us, in that, when we were yet sinners, Christ died for us [Note: Romans 5:8.].” To all eternity will this be the one subject of wonder, and adoration, and thanksgiving to all the hosts of the redeemed; “To Him that loved us, and washed us from our sins in his own blood, be glory and dominion for ever and ever [Note: Revelation 1:5-6.].”]
Our meditations on this subject will be the best preparation for considering,
The extent in which we should exercise love to our brethren—
To imitate our blessed Lord and Saviour, as far as possible, is our bounden duty: and especially are we commanded to do so in the exercise of love. Again and again does he require us to “love each other as he loved us [Note: John 13:34; John 15:12.]:” and the duty is enforced from the very same consideration as is proposed to us in the text [Note: 1 John 4:11.].
Consider then our duty,
Towards “our brethren” of mankind at large—
[There is not a human being towards whom we do not owe a debt of love: and were it in our power, there is not a pain which we should not alleviate, nor a want which we should not supply. This is particularly noticed in the words following our text: “Whoso hath this world’s goods, and seeth his brother have need, and shutteth up his bowels of compassion from him, how dwelleth the love of God in him?”
But if this be our duty towards them in reference to their temporal wants, how much more is it in reference to the concerns of their souls! How should we weep over the unhappy state of the heathen world, immersed as they are in darkness, and subjected to the entire dominion of the god of this world! What efforts should we not make for the enlightening of their minds, and for the discovering to them that love, that stupendous love, wherewith our God has loved both us and them! Say, brethren, do ye not blush when you look back upon your conduct in this respect, and see what contracted views you have had of your duty towards them, and how little you have endeavoured to discharge your duty, even as far as it has been seen and acknowledged by you? Consider more especially your duty towards your Jewish brethren, from whom you have received all the light which you yourselves enjoy: should it be no grief to you to see that highly-favoured people so blinded by prejudice, that, with the Scriptures in their hands, they contemn, and even execrate, that very Saviour who has shewn such love to them? Why do we not feel for them? why do we not exert ourselves in their behalf? why do we not endeavour to repay to them the debt of love which we have received from their forefathers? The Apostles, and multitudes of their descendants in the ministry, laid down their lives for us, accounting themselves richly recompensed if they might but lead us to the knowledge of the true God, and of Jesus Christ whom he has sent. O that there were in us a corresponding sense of our duty, and that we could, with one heart and one mind, rise to the performance of it!]
Towards our brethren of the Church in particular—
[There is an especial duty towards those who are united to the Church of Christ: “We are to do good unto all men, but especially unto them that are of the household of faith.” We owe to them a pre-eminent degree of love, because they are so near to us, and because they are so dear to God, and more especially because there is such an identity of interest between Christ and them. They are our brethren in a higher sense than others, being children of the same heavenly Father, and heirs of the same glorious inheritance. From all eternity have they been objects of God’s electing love; and now, the monuments of his grace, the very temples in which he deigns to dwell. Every one of them is a member of Christ’s mystical body, yea, “one spirit with him:” so that whatever we do for them, we do for Christ himself, as much as if he were personally present with us, and the visible object of our attentions. What love then do we not owe to these? I hesitate not to say, that our very life should be of small estimation with us in comparison of their welfare; and that martyrdom itself, if endured for the benefit of their souls, ought not to be an object of dread, so much as of desire and joyful self-congratulation. We see this love in Aquila and Priscilla [Note: Romans 16:4.], and in Epaphroditus also [Note: Philippians 2:30.]; but more especially in the Apostle Paul, who was contented to be “in deaths oft” for the benefit of the Church, and who, in the near expectation of martyrdom, could say, “If I be offered upon the sacrifice and service of your faith, I joy and rejoice with you all [Note: Philippians 2:17.].”]
For the further improvement of the subject,
Let us contemplate our obligations—
[The love of God, which ought to be ever uppermost in our minds, alas! how light an impression does it make upon us! Even the mystery of the incarnation of God’s only dear Son, and of “his laying down his life for us,” is heard without any emotion, and regarded with little more concern, than if it were only “a cunningly-devised fable.” What shall I say then, brethren? Must there not be something essentially wrong, where such insensibility exists? are we not ashamed? are we not confounded, when we consider the state of our souls in this respect? Let us rise to a sense of our duty. Let us view our obligations to Almighty God: let us dwell upon them night and day; and let us never rest till our whole souls go forth in love to him, who has loved us, and given himself for us.]
Let us address ourselves to our duties—
[Methinks, the duty of love should be no burthen to us: it is in itself most delightful; and brings always its own reward along with it. Let us then exercise it in all its branches. Let every disposition contrary to love be mortified and subdued: all envy, hatred, malice, wrath, uncharitableness, let it all be banished from our hearts; and let the love which hopeth all things, believeth all things, endureth all things, be the one reigning principle in our souls.
Let this principle too be brought into activity for the benefit of all mankind. Our time, our talents, our property, our very life, let it all be consecrated to the Lord for the glory of his name, and for the welfare of his Church and people. Let us not be indulging vain excuses, and saying, ‘This will require sacrifices, which I am unwilling to make: that will require abilities which I do not possess.’ What sacrifice is there beyond that of life? Even that it is our duty to make for the world and for the Church; and therefore every subordinate sacrifice should be of no account. And as for talents and abilities, if only we will use those which we have, God will glorify himself by them, and render them subservient to the welfare of mankind, if only we will endeavour to improve them with diligence, and to exercise them with fidelity.
You see what God would have us both to be and do: he would have us overwhelmed with a sense of his love to us, and abounding in the most self-denying exercises of love to all mankind. Come, brethren, gird yourselves to the occasion. Your God and Saviour demands it at your hands. The whole universe also joins in one common cry, “Come over to us, and help us.” And he who most abounds in offices of love to others, shall receive the richest recompence into his own bosom from that God whose name and nature is “Love.”]
NO LOVE TO GOD WITHOUT LOVE TO MAN
1 John 3:17. Whoso hath this world’s good, and seeth his brother have need, and shutteth up his bowels of compassion from him, how dwelleth the love of God in him?
UNDER the law there were two great commandments: the first was, to love God with all our heart, and mind, and soul, and strength, and the second was, to love our neighbour as ourselves. And under the Gospel they are still in force, or rather, I should say, are enjoined more emphatically than ever, being enforced with new motives, so as to bear the stamp and character of “a new commandment [Note: 1 John 2:7-8.].” They are on no account to be separated in our practice and regards; neither can one be obeyed without the other. True, indeed, many will flatter themselves that they obey the one, whilst they are notoriously regardless of the other. But they only deceive their own souls: and this so palpably, that the Apostle appeals to the offenders themselves, and makes them judges in their own cause: “Whoso hath this world’s good, and seeth his brother have need, and shutteth up his bowels of compassion from him, how dwelleth the love of God in him?” He may pretend to love God; but the love of God is not in him: for “if he does not love his brother whom he hath seen, he can never truly love God whom he hath not seen [Note: 1 John 4:20.];” and consequently he is destitute of all religion.
In confirmation of this truth, I shall shew,
That he can have no true piety, who is destitute of love to God—
The Apostle takes this truth for granted; and makes it the foundation of his appeal. But I lament to say, that it needs to be brought home to our consciences with more force than we are wont to assign to it in our own minds.
That God deserves our love, cannot be denied—
[View him in his works of creation. No sooner had he formed every thing, than he pronounced it “very good.” See man in his compound state both of body and soul: how fearfully and wonderfully are we formed in our corporeal frame! — — — and with what astonishing powers are our souls endued, insomuch that we are capable of appreciating in a measure all that we behold with our eyes, and can soar also to the contemplation of the invisible God himself, and are capable of knowing, loving, serving, and enjoying him.
Behold the earth and all that it contains; how formed for the service and the use of man! — — — Yea, and all the heavenly bodies also, how do they too in their orbits (for in all probability the whole solar system forms but a part of other systems, with which it moves) administer to the comfort and happiness of man!
And is not the Creator of all this worthy of our love? — — — View him in his works of providence. All this has God up-held, if not in its primeval grandeur, yet in its ministrations to the good of man; and that too notwithstanding all the provocations which he receives continually at our hands. All our faculties both of body and mind are continued to us — — — whilst the whole terraqueous globe affords us sustenance, and the heavenly bodies, according to their capacities, minister to our necessities and comforts. True, the world was once drowned with water; and the cities of the plain were consumed with fire: but this only shews us what might have been daily expected, if God had dealt with us in any respect according to our deserts.
Should not then such a long-suffering and gracious God be made an object of our most intense regard?
But view him in his great work, the work of redemption: and what shall we say of him there? View him as taking our very nature, and becoming in all things like unto us, sin only excepted. View him as dying upon the cross, and expiating our guilt by the sacrifice of himself — — — View him as sending down from heaven his Holy Spirit to dwell in our hearts, and by his enlightening, quickening, transforming energies, to render the work of Christ effectual for the salvation of all who will believe in him — — — But here I seem to exceed the utmost bounds of credibility. Yet so it is; and this is the God who calls us to set our love on him. What then shall I say of the man who complies not with this reasonable demand? I appeal to you, my brethren, whether such a man, supposing such an one could be found, can have any true religion?
Perhaps you will say, It is impossible that such a monster should exist. Then let us submit the matter to a test, the test proposed to us by the Apostle himself.]
To do this, we affirm,
That he can have no true love to God, who is destitute of love to man—
Love to God must of necessity comprehend in it these three things: a regard for his authority; gratitude for his mercies; and zeal for his glory. Let us see then whether the man who “shuts up his bowels of compassion from his fellow-creatures,” has any one of these? Has he,
Any regard for God’s authority?
[God most solemnly enjoins under the Old Testament compassion for our indigent brother, and a willingness to relieve him [Note: Deuteronomy 15:7-11. Cite this at large.] — — — He requires the same under the New Testament [Note: 1 John 4:21.] — — — He informs us who the person is to whom we are to manifest this love, even every child of man [Note: Luke 10:29-37.] — — — He tells us from whom he expects this grace, even from the poor, who are constrained to get their own living by manual labour, as well as from the rich and great [Note: Ephesians 4:28. Acts 20:34-35.] — — — He has enforced this duty by every kind of argument: by promises the most engaging [Note: Isaiah 58:7-8.] — — — and by threatenings the most tremendous [Note: James 2:13.] — — — He has declared that it shall form his rule of judgment in the last day, and determine our eternal destinies [Note: Matthew 25:34; Matthew 25:41; Matthew 25:46.] — — —.
Now then what regard can he have to God’s authority who lives in the neglect of this duty? He says, in fact, My goods are my own, and I will dispose of them as I please: and, “as for God, I know him not; neither will I obey his voice.”]
Any gratitude for his mercies?
[Our blessed Lord, reminding us what temporal blessings his heavenly Father bestows upon us, calls us to an imitation of him in our conduct towards our fellow-men, that so we may approve ourselves as his children by our resemblance to him [Note: Matthew 5:44-45; Matthew 5:48.] — — — Still more particularly is his redeeming love proposed to us i,; this view both as a motive and a pattern; a motive which we should in no wise withstand [Note: 2 Corinthians 8:7-9.]; and a pattern which to the very utmost we should follow, even to “the laying down of our lives for the brethren [Note: ver. 16.].” To stimulate us to it the more, he tell: us, that he will receive every thing as done to himself [Note: Matthew 25:40.]; that he will account himself our debtor for it [Note: Proverbs 19:17.]; and that he will submit to be accounted “unrighteous” if he fail to acknowledge and reward it in the last day [Note: Hebrews 6:10.]. For our further encouragement he assures us, that, however light we may think of such a service, it is “a sacrifice with which he is well pleased [Note: Hebrews 13:16.].”
Now if all this do not prevail with us to shew kindness to our brethren, what shall we say? Have we any gratitude to God? No;, we are more stupid and senseless than the beasts themselves [Note: Isaiah 1:2-3.] — — —]
Any zeal for his glory?
[We are commanded to “make our light shine before men, that those who behold it may be constrained to glorify our Father which is in heaven [Note: Matthew 5:16.].” And our Lord assures us, that “herein is the Father glorified, when we bring forth much fruit [Note: John 15:8.],” yea, that “all our fruits of righteousness are by him to the glory of God the Father [Note: Philippians 1:11.].” But in a more particular manner is our liberality to the saints spoken of in this view, inasmuch as it calls forth “abundant thanksgivings to him” from the persons relieved, and causes them to glorify God for our professed subjection to the Gospel of Christ, the proper tendency of which is to generate these heavenly dispositions, and to augment the happiness of all mankind [Note: 2 Corinthians 9:12-14.] — — —
Now suppose a man to neglect this duty, what zeal can he have to promote the glory of his God? He may fancy himself religious; but he has no more love to God than Satan himself; for, if “faith without works is no better than the faith of devils,” the religion of such a man is no better than the religion of devils [Note: James 2:17-19.]. For so hath God said: “In this the children of God are manifest and the children of the devil: whosoever doeth not righteousness is not of God, neither he that loveth not his brother [Note: 1 John 3:10.].”]
Let me now add,
A word of caution—
[It is easy to mistake alms-deeds for Christian liberality. But the Apostle cautions us against all such mistakes [Note: ver. 18. We should draw forth not our money only, but our soul, to the hungry. Isaiah 58:10-11.] — — — Nothing is truly Christian but what proceeds from love to God as reconciled to us in Christ Jesus, and is done for the advancement of his glory — — —]
A word of encouragement—
[Abound in this duty, and it shall bring a rich reward [Note: 1 Timothy 6:18-19.] — — —]
A GOOD AND EVIL CONSCIENCE
1 John 3:20-21. If our heart condemn us, God is greater than our heart, and knoweth all things. Beloved, if our heart condemn us not, then have we confidence toward God.
IN the description given us of the day of judgment, we are informed that the Judge will be seated on his throne; that certain books will be opened; and that sentence will be passed on every one according to what was recorded in them [Note: Revelation 20:12.]. Such a tribunal there is, already erected in the bosoms of men. Conscience is seated there as supreme judge: it keeps an account of every day’s transactions: it summons men to its bar: it exhibits the record before their eyes; and, in perfect correspondence with their actions, it passes on them its authoritative sentence. Thus it anticipates the future judgment, and forces men to read in its decisions their final doom. To this effect the Apostle speaks in the passage before us; in elucidating which, we shall shew,
How far the testimonies of our conscience may be depended on—
The testimonies of conscience are not always just—
[With many there is a sleepy conscience, which suffers men to go on in their own ways without shame, and without remorse. So inactive and so callous is this faculty within them, that it is justly represented as “seared with a hot iron [Note: 1 Timothy 4:2.].” Indeed, if it were not thus with them, how could they go on so cheerfully as they do, in an open course of sin, or in a wilful neglect of God?
With many also there is a partial conscience. They discern what is wrong in others, but not in themselves: or they notice some evils, but not others. Herod would not violate his oath; but he would murder a prophet [Note: Matthew 14:9.]. And the Pharisees would not put into the treasury the money that was the price of blood; but they would persist in persecuting the innocent Jesus even unto death [Note: Matthew 27:3-6; Matthew 27:20.]. And such a conscience have many amongst ourselves: it would be clamorous if they were to commit some flagrant enormity; while it bears no testimony at all against secret lusts, or against any evils which are sanctioned by an ungodly world.
With some also there is an erroneous conscience. St. Paul “thought he ought to do many things contrary to the name of Jesus [Note: Acts 26:9.],” and would have stood condemned in his own mind, if he had not laboured to the uttermost to extirpate the Christian name. And our Lord has told us that many would “think they did God service by killing” his faithful followers [Note: John 16:2.]. Doubtless there are many who, both in civil and religious actions, are instigated by (what we may call) a good principle, while yet a clearer view of their duty would represent those actions in a very different light.
There is also with many a scrupulous conscience. They both do and forbear many things from a sense of duty, when the things themselves are altogether indifferent in the sight of God. Thus it was with those who were afraid to eat meats that had been offered to idols, or who observed the times and seasons that had been prescribed in the Mosaic law [Note: Romans 14:2-3; Romans 14:5-6.]. Superstition indeed is less common in this age: yet wherever the mind is tinctured with it, there will arise many occasions of condemnation or acquittal in a man’s own mind, when the sentence passed is altogether founded in an ignorance of Christian liberty, or Christian duty.
Hence it is evident that conscience may condemn when it ought to acquit, and acquit when it ought to condemn.]
Its sentence, however, is always just, when it accords with the Holy Scriptures—
[The Scriptures are an infallible standard, to which every thing may be referred, and by which its quality may be determined. In order therefore to ascertain whether the testimonies of conscience be just, we should try them by this touchstone. We should learn from the sacred volume what are the leading features of conversion; what is essential to the Christian character; and what, though wrong in itself, will consist with real integrity. When we have thus attained an adequate knowledge of the rule of duty, and our conscience judges by that rule in estimating our conduct, then may we safely acquiesce in its determinations, and conclude it to be right, whether it acquit or condemn.
There is, however, and ever must be, more credit due to its sentence when it condemns, than when it acquits; because, in condemning, it may have respect to any single act, and found its sentence on that, without the smallest danger of mistake: but, in acquitting, it must comprehend the whole circle of a Christian’s duty, and testify that, on the whole, there is no allowed deviation from it. Here therefore is great scope for error; insomuch that St. Paul himself, though he knew of no allowed evil in himself, would not be too confident respecting his state; but committed himself to the judgment of a merciful and gracious God [Note: 1 Cor. 4:33, 34.].]
To procure a just attention to its voice, we proceed to shew,
The benefit and comfort of having its testimony in our favour—
Nothing is more terrible than an accusing conscience. Its testimonies are,
A source of present distress—
[When God gives it a commission to scourge a man, it executes the office with great effect. How did it increase the troubles of Joseph’s brethren [Note: Genesis 42:21.]; and torture the soul of the unguarded Darius [Note: Daniel 6:18-20.]; and appal the impious Belshazzar, so that his knees smote one against the other [Note: Daniel 5:6.]! How did it make Felix tremble on the seat of judgment [Note: Acts 24:25.]! and Judas actually to become his own executioner [Note: Matthew 27:5.]! When it operates with a just and salutary influence, it will force the most obdurate to cry out with anguish [Note: Acts 2:37; Acts 16:29-30.], and the most confident to weep with great bitterness [Note: Luke 22:62.].
Many amongst ourselves perhaps have felt its stings, till we have groaned in our spirit, and even “howled upon our bed,” anticipating, and almost tasting, the bitterness of hell itself [Note: Hebrews 10:27.].]
A pledge of eternal misery—
[When conscience is enlightened, it sees innumerable abominations in the heart: and when sanctified, it feels an utter abhorrence of what it does see. But yet “God is greater than our hearts” both in respect of penetration to discover sin, and of holiness to hate it. He “knoweth all things” that have been done amiss, and that too, with all the particular aggravations that have attended every omission of duty, and every commission of iniquity. Not our actions only, but our very thoughts, are “sealed up in his bag,” to be brought forward against us at the last day [Note: Job 14:17.]. The present testimonies of conscience are a previous and preliminary sentence, declaring now upon few and partial grounds, what God himself will hereafter declare on a complete review of our whole lives.
We say not indeed that there is no room for repentance: God forbid: the accusations of conscience are the voice of God within us, calling us to repentance: and the most guilty conscience that ever tormented the soul of man, may in an instant be purged by the blood of Jesus [Note: Heb 10:22 and 1 John 1:7.]: but if conscience summon us to its bar, as God summoned Adam and Cain to answer for their conduct [Note: Genesis 3:9; Genesis 4:9-10.], its decisions shall be ratified in the day of judgment, unless they be reversed through penitence and faith in Christ: what it “binds on earth, shall be bound in heaven; and what it looses on earth, shall be loosed in heaven.”]
Nothing, on the other hand, is a richer blessing than a good conscience: its testimonies are,
A source of unspeakable comfort—
[St. Paul tells us that he found this to be a well-spring of happiness within him; “Our rejoicing is this, the testimony of our conscience, that m simplicity and godly sincerity, not with fleshly wisdom, but by the grace of God, we have had our conversation in the world [Note: 2 Corinthians 1:12.].” Indeed, such a testimony is a continual feast to every one that enjoys it. Having an inward witness of our own sincerity, we may “assure our hearts before God [Note: ver. 19.],” we may “have boldness of access to him with confidence [Note: Ephesians 3:12.],” we may “ask of him what we will, and it shall be done unto us [Note: ver. 22].” Such a testimony inspires a “confidence towards God” in every thing that relates to our present or future welfare; it fills the soul with a “peace that passeth all understanding,” “a joy that is unspeakable and glorified.” How desirable then is it to be able now to appeal to God, like Job, “Thou knowest that I am not wicked [Note: Job 10:7.];” or with Peter, “Thou knowest all things; thou knowest that I love thee [Note: John 21:17.]!” And how blessed to say with Hezekiah in a dying hour, “Remember now, O Lord, I beseech thee, how I have walked before thee in truth, and with a perfect heart, and have done that which is good in thy sight [Note: Isaiah 38:3.]!”]
An earnest of eternal happiness—
[The witness of our conscience is, in fact, the witness of the Spirit of God [Note: Some think these are two distinct witnesses: but perhaps this is the more just view of the matter. See Disc, on Romans 8:16.]: for it is the result of a divine illumination, whereby we discern the agreement of our experience with the word of God, and of a divine communication, rendering that agreement an occasion of joyful confidence. What then can this be but a foretaste of that bless which shall be consummated in heaven? In this view these divine communications may be considered as “the first-fruits of the Spirit,” and “the earnest of the Spirit;” because they are, as it were, the beginnings of heaven in the soul, and they assure to us a complete and everlasting possession of it. Even in the day of judgment itself this holy confidence will remain [Note: 1 John 4:17.]: they who possess it now, will go forth with joy to meet the bridegroom; “they will stand before him with great boldness [Note: Wisd. 5:1.],” and, assured of their relation to him, will exclaim, “This God is our God for ever and ever.”]
How careful should we be in every part of our conduct!
[Every thing we do is written in the book of God’s remembrance; and our own consciences will hereafter, if not now, attest the truth of God’s testimony. How anxious then should we be, that every day and every hour should record something good, rather than what will distress us in the day of judgment! Let us then beg of God to “put truth in our inward parts:” let us exercise ourselves day and night to keep a “conscience void of offence both towards God and man [Note: Acts 24:16.]:” and let us say with Job, “My heart shall not reproach me as long as I live [Note: Job 27:6.].”]
How attentive should we be to the voice of conscience!
[Conscience, if we would listen to it, would tell us many plain and wholesome truths [Note: Romans 2:15.]. If we would submit to its reproofs, it would keep us from much evil, and lead us safely to heaven. Let none of us then stifle it, or bribe it, or despise it: but let us rather get it well informed, and cherish with care its salutary admonitions. Let us carefully conform ourselves to its dictates [Note: Acts 23:1.],” and “judge ourselves, that we may not be judged of the Lord [Note: 1 Corinthians 11:31.].”]
How thankfully should we bathe in the fountain of Christ’s blood!
[There is not a day or an hour wherein conscience does not contract some defilement: nor is there a probability of pacifying it, but by continual applications to “the blood of sprinkling.” Let us then rejoice that there is “a fountain opened for sin and uncleanness;” and let it be our care day and night to cleanse ourselves in it from every fresh contracted stain. If we neglect this, “our mind and conscience will be defiled [Note: Titus 1:15.];” but if we “abide in him, we shall have confidence in expectation of his appearance; nor shall we be ashamed before him at his coming [Note: 1 John 2:28.].”]
FAITH IN CHRIST ENJOINED
1 John 3:23. This is his commandment, That we should believe on the name of his Son Jesus Christ.
SOME Christians, from a mistaken zeal for the Gospel, are ready to associate the idea of legality with the very mention of the term “commandment;” forgetting that the commandments, if obeyed from love, are of the very essence of the Gospel; obedience to them being its necessary fruit, its appropriate end, its highest glory. St. John had as ardent a love to the Gospel, and as vigilant a jealousy for its honour, as Paul himself: yet does he lay the greatest stress on an obedience to the commandments, saying, in the very words before my text, “Whatsoever we ask, we receive of God, because we keep his commandments, and do those things that are pleasing in his sight.” But the very Gospel itself is here presented to us under that character, as much as “love” itself, which is the sum and substance of the law: “This is his commandment, That we should believe on the name of his Son Jesus Christ, and love one another, as he gave us commandment.” In fact, the Gospel should be particularly endeared to us under this character. And, that it may be so, I will set before you,
The duty here commended to us—
If faith in the Lord Jesus Christ is a grace bestowed [Note: Ephesians 2:8. Philippians 1:29.], so is it also a duty enjoined. We are commanded of God,
To receive Christ as he is revealed in the Gospel—
[He is spoken of as the person foretold from the beginning of the world, “the Seed of the woman,” “the Seed of Abraham,” “the Shiloh,” “the Son of David,” the Virgin’s child, the Messiah that was to come. And it is our bounden duty, after comparing the history of the New Testament with the records of the Old, to receive him under this character.
But he is said also to sustain certain offices corresponding with the typical representations of him under the Mosaic economy. He was to be “a Prophet like unto Moses;” he was to fulfil and execute also all the services of the priesthood; and he was to “sit on the throne of David,” as King over his Church and people. In all these views, then, we must inspect his pretensions: and from all that we read concerning him, we must be convinced, that in him were all these offices united; that he is indeed the Prophet, who has revealed to us the mind of God; the Priest also, that has offered himself a sacrifice for the sins of men; and the King, that will bring the whole world under his sceptre, and reign unto the very ends of the earth.
In a word, he is declared to be a Saviour, the only Saviour of our fallen race. And, from all that he wrought for the bodies of men in healing all manner of diseases, and from the effects which he produced also upon their souls, both during his sojourning on earth, and after his ascension to heaven, we must thankfully acknowledge him under that endearing character; and confess him, as the Samaritan converts did, “This is indeed the Christ, the Saviour of the world [Note: John 4:42.].”]
To depend upon him for all the blessings which he is commissioned to bestow—
[A speculative acknowledgment of Christ, without a practical application to him for all the benefits of his salvation, will be of little use. The offices he sustains have respect to the necessities of fallen man: and under a sense of our need, we must look to him to fulfil those offices for us. Is he a Prophet? We must look to him to instruct us by his word and Spirit, and to guide us into all truth. Is he a Priest? We must rely on the atonement which he has offered for us, and seek, through his prevailing intercession, all those good things which he has purchased for us, and which God, for his sake, is ever ready to bestow. Is he a King? We must put our-selves altogether under his government and protection, and live only for the glory of his great name. We must renounce every other hope, and rely on him for every thing; looking to him, and to him only, as “our wisdom, our righteousness, our sanctification, and our complete redemption.” In a word, “the life which we now live in the flesh, we must live altogether by faith in the Son of God, who has loved us, and given himself for us.”]
But, in contemplating this duty, I would call your attention particularly to,
The authority by which it is enjoined—
If to act faith on Christ were merely conceded to us by permission, it were a great and invaluable gift—
[Suppose the Israelites, when perishing with thirst, to behold the rock stricken, and the water gushing out like a river; would they need any command to drink of its refreshing streams? Would not a permission be amply sufficient? Methinks, if it had even been prohibited, they would have broken through the commandment, to slake their raging thirst. At all events, we are sure they would not have needed a command to avail themselves of the opportunity afforded them. Or let us take another supposition. There is, we are told there is, an impassable gulf between heaven and hell. But, suppose there were a bridge built over it, and an open door made into the highest heavens, and a free permission given to the fallen angels to escape from their dungeons, and to resume the thrones of glory from which they fell; how long, think ye, would they continue in their abodes of misery? Would so much as one of them need a command to leave his sad abode, and to return to the enjoyment of his primitive felicity? Then why should not a permission suffice for us? A permission is given us; “Him that cometh to me, I will in no wise cast out [Note: John 6:37.].” And what do any of you want more? Do you not need the waters of life as much as Israel ever did? And are you not under the same condemnation with the fallen angels? Yes, verily: the only difference between them and you is this, that they are already suffering the punishment of their sins; but over you the penalty is suspended, and only waiting the command of God to fall upon you to the uttermost. Surely, then, there should be in you the same anxiety to escape from the wrath to come; and a bare permission should suffice to induce you to embrace the salvation set before you in the Gospel.]
But what shall we say, if God has recommended to us this salvation in a way of advice?
[This he has done: “I counsel thee,” says our Lord, “to buy of me gold tried in the fire, that thou mayest be rich; and white raiment, that thou mayest be clothed, and that the shame of thy nakedness may not appear; and anoint thine eyes with eye-salve, that thou mayest see [Note: Revelation 3:18.].” By the prophet, too, it is said, “Ho! every one that thirsteth, come ye to the waters, and he that hath no money; come ye, buy and eat; yea, come, buy wine and milk without money, and without price. Wherefore do ye spend money for that which is not bread? and your labour for that which satisfieth not? Hearken diligently unto me, and eat ye that which is good; and let your soul delight itself in fatness [Note: Isaiah 55:1-2.].” Such was the advice given by St. Peter to those who, on the day of Pentecost, inquired, “Men and brethren, what shall we do?” He bade them “repent, and be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of their sins,” which, he assured them, should be conferred on all who followed his advice [Note: Acts 2:37-39.]. And what was the effect? No less than three thousand persons instantly complied, and embraced with thankfulness the proffered benefit. So the jailer, when Paul gave the same advice to him in answer to a similar inquiry, arose immediately, and, with all his household, was baptized in the name of Jesus Christ [Note: Acts 16:30-33.]. Why, then, should any of us delay? Why should any thing more than a mere word of advice be necessary for any one of us?]
But, alas! more is necessary: and therefore God, in tender mercy, has enjoined it in a way of positive command—
[Yes, this is his commandment, that we believe on the name of his Son Jesus Christ. We are averse to this humiliating way of salvation, and, if we dared, would eternally reject it. But God sent us this solemn warning, that, “if we believe in Christ, and are baptized in his name, we shall be saved: but that, if we believe not, we shall assuredly and eternally be damned [Note: Mark 16:16.].” And even after we are made, in a measure, willing to embrace this salvation, we are apt to put it from us, under an idea that we are unworthy of it, and that it were presumption in us to appropriate to ourselves so rich a boon. But God silences at once all objections of this kind. He leaves us not at liberty even to deliberate upon the subject. He tells us plainly, that “as long as we continue in unbelief, we are in a state of condemnation, and that his wrath abideth on us [Note: John 3:18; John 3:36.].” And he further informs us, that there is but “one way of salvation [Note: Acts 4:12.],” “one only foundation” whereon to build our hopes [Note: 1 Corinthians 3:11.]; and that the embracing or rejecting of that Saviour will determine our eternal state; since “there is life in Christ alone; and he only who hath the Son of God, hath life; whereas he who hath not the Son of God, hath not life [Note: 1 John 5:11-12.],” nor can by any possibility obtain it in any other way than by faith in him [Note: John 14:6.].
Behold then, brethren, what the duty is that is here enjoined; and know, that it will be at the peril of your souls to disobey it.]
What a merciful command this is—
[Suppose that God had commanded us to make compensation for our past iniquities, and to earn his favour by a course of perfect obedience; who amongst us could ever have entertained the slightest hope of mercy at his hands? Or suppose that he had required us to do so much as one single act that should merit his favour? Who amongst us must not have been cast down in utter despair? But all he requires is, that we should receive thankfully what he offers freely. So far as respects every thing for the removal of our guilt, or for the providing of a perfect righteousness for us, all that is wrought for us by the Lord Jesus Christ, and is offered to us as a free gift from God. O beloved, what an unspeakable mercy is this! O! never turn your backs on this salvation! for, “how shall ye escape, if ye reject it?” It is precisely such as your necessities require; and, if ye will but accept it as the free gift of God to your souls, it shall be yours for ever.]
What inconceivable benefit will flow from your obedience to it—
[In the words following my text there is another command connected with it; namely, that “we should love one another, as he gave us commandment.” But this, in fact, is the fruit, of which the other is the root. True “faith will invariably work by love [Note: Galatians 5:6.]:” so that, not only will salvation be secured to us by faith; but holiness also, in all its sublimest branches, will be wrought in us. Those who object to salvation by faith, do so under an apprehension that it will leave us regardless of moral duties. But I ask, where is love found in any degree in comparison of that which is produced by faith? Where, since the foundation of the world, was holiness in all its branches seen, in comparison of that which shined forth in the Apostles and in all the primitive saints? I say then, that in this view, the exercise of faith is of inestimable value. But who shall declare the benefits resulting from it in the eternal world? Who shall make known to us all that is implied in “obtaining the salvation that is in Christ Jesus with eternal glory [Note: 2 Timothy 2:10.]?” My dear brethren, be thankful that these blessings are yet offered to your acceptance; and pray earnestly to your God, that you fall not short of them through unbelief.]
THE MUTUAL IN-DWELLING OF GOD AND HIS PEOPLE
1 John 3:24. He that keepeth his commandments dwelleth in him, and he in him. And hereby we know that he abideth in us, by the Spirit which he hath given us.
THERE is, in the Epistles of St. John, a most remarkable simplicity, insomuch that he seems to speak truths level with the comprehension of a little child: yet is there in him a vast profundity of sentiment, which no common mind can fathom. Not that he establishes his points by laboured argumentation. He does not offer himself to the bar of reason; but, conscious of his own inspiration, he requires the submission of human reason to his dictates. In my text, he asserts truths of the deepest import; namely, the mutual in-dwelling of God in his people, and of his people in him; and the consciousness which God’s people have of this mystery being realized in their own experience. These are things of which men in general have very little conception: but, on the authority of this holy Apostle, I will proceed to shew,
The exalted privilege of God’s people—
The character of God’s people is here declared, in very simple terms—
[“He that keepeth God’s commandments” is the person to whom the privilege belongs. Not that any man can keep them perfectly: but the true Christian does desire to fulfil them in their utmost extent; and, allowing for human infirmity, he does keep them uniformly, and without reserve. He would not exclude one command from the Decalogue, or contract its import in any respect.
But the commandments here more especially referred to, are those of faith and love. In the preceding verse these are particularly specified. “This is his commandment, that we should believe on the name of his Son Jesus Christ, and love one another, as he gave us commandment.” Now, certainly, these are the two commandments, which, above all others, serve as a test, whereby to try the Christian character; and obedience to them is that by which the Lord’s people are universally and exclusively distinguished. They are known by it universally: for there is not a Christian upon earth who does not live simply by faith on the Lord Jesus Christ; or who does not love, with a peculiar and transcendent affection, all whom he supposes to belong to Christ. On the other hand, this character belongs to them exclusively: for there is no other person in the universe who so entirely relies on Christ, or who so pre-eminently regards the mystical members of his body.]
Of these it is said, that “God dwells in them, and they in him”—
[There is between God and them an union which does not exist in the whole world besides. Perhaps, the union of light with the air which it pervades, is the closest that will be found in nature: but, though the light pervades every particle of the air, and dwells in it, we cannot say that the air dwells in the light. But the in-dwelling of God and his people is mutual; he abiding in them, and they in him. Of course, however, this must be understood, not as relating to the essential natures of God and man, but only to a mystical communion subsisting between them; God dwelling in them, in a way of vital operation; and they in him, in a way of implicit affiance. God has repeatedly promised that he will dwell in his people by his good Spirit; enlightening their minds, sanctifying their souls, and filling them with heavenly consolations. In truth, this is the very office which the Holy Spirit, the Third Person of the ever-blessed Trinity, sustains in the economy of redemption: and it is in this way that he applies to us all that the Lord Jesus has purchased for us. We, on the other hand, in the exercise of faith and love, ascend, as it were, to heaven, and deposit all our cares in the very bosom of our God: so that it is “not so much we that live, as Christ that liveth in us [Note: Galatians 2:20.];” “our life being hid with Christ in God,” and “Christ himself being our very life [Note: Colossians 3:3-4.].” I grant, that to a mere nominal Christian all this will appear little better than mystical absurdity, and enthusiastic jargon. But true it is, whether men will believe it or not: and, if its being incomprehensible by us be any reason for denying it, we must, on the same principle, deny the existence and operation of our souls within our corporeal frame. It is not on one or two insulated passages that this great mystery is founded: it is declared again and again, in terms too plain to be denied, and too numerous to admit of doubt [Note: John 6:56; Joh 14:20. 1 John 4:16.].]
Nor is this a mere theory, demanding their assent: for my text further declares,
The assured sense which they may possess of their own personal interest in it—
This mutual in-dwelling may be perceived and known: “it may be known,” as the Apostle tells us, “by the Spirit which God hath given us.” It may be known,
By the operation of the Holy Spirit within us—
[The Holy Spirit is given unto us as “a Spirit of adoption, whereby we are enabled to cry, Abba, Father [Note: Romans 8:15.].” He is given to us as a witness, to “witness with our spirits that we are the children of God [Note: Romans 8:16.].” He is given to us as “a seal [Note: Ephesians 1:13.],” to mark us as God’s property; and to produce such an impression on our souls, that we may know, and that others also may know, “whose we are, and whom we serve.” He is given unto us as “an earnest of our heavenly inheritance [Note: Ephesians 1:14.],” that we may have already the foretaste of heaven in our souls. Now, how can these operations proceed within us, and we not be conscious of them? It is to no purpose to say that the world knows nothing about them: for our blessed Lord has promised, that “he will manifest himself unto us as he does not unto the world:” and it is by these very operations that he makes to us this glorious discovery: “Lord,” said one of his Apostles, “how is it that thou wilt manifest thyself unto us, as thou dost not unto the world? And Jesus answering said unto him, if a man love me, he will keep my words: and my Father will love him; and we will come unto him, and make our abode with him [Note: John 14:22-23.].”]
By the very works which that Holy Spirit produces in us—
[David prayed, “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me [Note: Psalms 51:10.].” And St. James says, “The spirit that dwelleth in us lusteth to envy [Note: James 4:5.].” And in this sense we may understand our text: “We know that he abideth in us, by the spirit which he hath given us; that is, we know the cause by the effects. Now, consider the effects, as before contemplated. We perceive not only the manifestations of God’s love to us, but the drawing of our souls to him; so that in the habit of our minds we are going forth to him, and delighting ourselves in him. Is this the fruit of nature? Can it have proceeded from any power, but that of the Holy Spirit dwelling in us? Will any one see iron suspended in the air, and not refer it to the magnet? Be assured, when such an effect as this exists, we can trace it to no other source than the agency of the indwelling Spirit within us. Again; the disposition to obey the commandments of the Lord, and especially the sublime commandments of faith and love—is this of man? is the desire from man? How much less, then, can the attainment be? No, verily: “it is God who worketh in us both to will and to do of his own good pleasure:” and when we have in ourselves the evidence that we are “keeping these commands,” we may as well doubt who it was that formed the universe, as who the Author is of the work that has been wrought within us. We must say, “He that hath wrought us to the self-same thing, is God [Note: 2 Corinthians 5:5.].”]
Permit me to impress this subject more fully upon you,
In a way of complaint—
[There is great reason to complain of the world at large, for deriding these things as enthusiasm, when they will not examine the grounds on which they are founded. I will grant, that, never having experienced any thing of the kind in their own souls, they can have no just conception of them. But they might read the Scriptures: they might see what the inspired writers have spoken; and what was the recorded experience of the primitive saints. If persons in a tropical climate were to deny the existence or properties of congealed water, it would be no proof at all that there are not mountains of ice, capable of breaking, by concussion, the largest ship. As well might children deny what their fathers have known by experience, as ignorant and ungodly men denounce as visionary what truly converted characters know to be true. To those, then, who with ignorant incredulity ask, Can such things be? I would answer, with Philip to Nathanael, “Come and see [Note: John 1:46.].” Come to the Holy Scriptures, and you shall find them there: and come to God himself, in the exercise of faith and love; and you shall find the experience of them in your own bosoms.]
In a way of caution—
[There are two errors, against which I would most affectionately guard you all: the one is, against professing this assurance on inadequate grounds; and the other is, against the maintaining of this assurance in an unhallowed way. There are persons who conceive that God dwelleth in them, because they have had some dreams or visions to that effect. But I apprehend that Satan himself is not capable of suggesting any more fatal delusion than this. And I must declare unto you, that he who builds his hopes on dreams or visions, will find his hope, and his religion too, no better than a dream or vision at last. It is from the spirit that God has given us, and not from a dream or vision, that we are to gather our interest in God: and I entreat you to satisfy yourselves with no evidences, but such as are plain, obvious, incontrovertible.
There are others who, professing to have God abiding in them, manifest a spirit altogether opposite to that which would result from a divine agency—a spirit of pride and self-preference, a spirit of moroseness and bigotry, a spirit of unwatchfulness and security. The presumptuous boldness of these persons is perfectly appalling: one is shocked to hear such unfeeling language as will proceed from their lips, and to behold such unhumbled confidence as they will venture to express. But I entreat you, brethren, never thus to pervert the word of God, and never thus to abuse the sacred truths of his Gospel. Remember, I pray you, that whatever supersedes a holy fear, is of the devil; and whatever leads you to neglect a continued watchfulness, is no other than a damning delusion.]
In a way of encouragement—
[A person under the influence of temptation will not be able to behold in himself those evidences, which yet, in his life, are visible to all. Such an one may find in this passage nothing but an occasion of self-condemning fear. He may say, ‘I do not keep the commandments of God, and therefore I know that I have no part or lot in this matter: and “the very spirit that is within me testifies that I have not God abiding in me.” ’ But, my brethren, judge not yourselves too hardly. Do not suppose, that, because there are imperfections in your obedience, it is therefore not sincere; or that because the Spirit shines not upon you in full lustre, you shall never behold the light of day. Be content, at present, to want the consolations which God sees fit to withhold: and occupy yourselves with the pursuit of those things which, in God’s good time, will serve to prove what at the present you cannot see. Endeavour, in humble dependence upon God, to keep the commands of faith and love. Look to the Saviour, and live by faith in him: look to his peculiar people, and abound in all acts and offices of love to them. Look to the spirit and temper of your own minds altogether: and in the constant exercise of prayer seek the transformation of your souls into the Divine image. Then, though you be not able to see that God is in you, a foundation will be laid for the future discovery of it: or, though it should still, for wise and gracious purposes, be hid from you, you will have the benefit at a future day, when God will surely shine upon you, and “reward every man according to his works.” This is the advice given by the prophet, who says, “Then shall ye know, if ye follow on to know the Lord: his goings forth are prepared as the morning; and he shall come unto us as the rain, as the latter and former rain unto the earth [Note: Hosea 6:3.].”]
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Simeon, Charles. "Commentary on 1 John 3". Simeon's Horae Homileticae. https://www.studylight.org/
the Third Week after Epiphany