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THE PRIVILEGE OF TRUE CHRISTIANS
Romans 8:1. There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit.
TO establish that fundamental doctrine of our religion, the doctrine of justification by faith alone, is the main scope of this epistle. Having argued the point, and shewn that the objection of its encouraging men to sin, is without any real foundation, the Apostle sums up the whole in the words before us; and declares, as the just inference from his preceding arguments, that the believer in Christ, who acts agreeably to his profession, has nothing to fear from the condemnation of the law.
From this inspired declaration we learn the state, the character, and the privilege of every true Christian—
He is “in Christ Jesus.” This is altogether a term peculiar to the New Testament: but it expresses admirably the condition into which the Christian is brought, as soon as he believes in Christ.
He is interested in Christ as his all-sufficient Saviour—
[He has fled to Christ for refuge from the curses of the broken law — — — and has obtained peace with God by faith in his atoning sacrifice — — — Though in himself he deserves nothing but condemnation, he is “accepted in the beloved,” and “made an heir of God through Christ.”]
He is united to Christ as his living Head—
[Christ is “made Head over all things to the Church.” “He is the vine, of which believers are the branches.” Every one knows how it is that the branch is nourished and enabled to bear fruit, namely, by its union with the stock, and by sap derived from the root. Thus it is that the believer “receives continually out of the fulness that is in Christ,” being, in fact, not only “one body,” but also “one spirit, with him” — — —
In a word, the person that is in Christ is one who can say, “In the Lord have I righteousness and strength.”]
In strict accordance with this is,
“A tree is known by its fruit,” as the Christian is by his.
“He walks not after the flesh.”
[Notwithstanding he is in Christ, he still carries about with him a corrupt nature, “a body of sin and death.” He has yet “the flesh lusting against the Spirit, and incapacitating him to serve God so well as he could wish. But “he does not walk after the flesh;” nor will he “obey it in the lusts thereof.” In this respect he is widely different from the ungodly world. They affect nothing but the things of time and sense. He is not satisfied with any thing which has not a direct reference to eternity — — —]
“He walks after the Spirit”—
[He possesses a new and heavenly principle, under the influence of which he lives: and his conversation is in heaven,” “where Christ sitteth at the right hand of God:” nor can any thing please him which does not advance his eternal interests, and tend to the honour of that Saviour who bought him with his blood — — —]
Viewing thus his state and character, we shall not wonder at what is here declared to be,
“There is no condemnation to him.” We say not, that there is no desert of condemnation in him: for he is still a weak and corrupt creature; and there is much “iniquity even in his holiest acts.” But “there is no condemnation now remaining to him.”
[The law curses those only who are under the law. But the believer is “no longer under the law, but under grace;” and consequently, so far as he is concerned, the law is disarmed of its power, and is incapable of inflicting upon him its penalties. As a woman, when her husband is dead, is no longer under his power; so the Christian, now that the law is abrogated, is no longer obnoxious to its sentence [Note: Romans 7:4-6.]. He stands before God perfect in Christ Jesus, yea, “without spot or blemish:” and he has nothing to fear on account of his past infirmities or his present conflicts: for God will carry on the work begun in his soul, and will “perfect it until the day of Jesus Christ” — — —]
The mere nominal Christian—
[Think not that your observance of a round of duties is any evidence of your acceptance with God. You must be “in Christ” by a living faith, if ever you would be accepted of him; and by virtue derived from him, must be bringing forth to the glory of his name. And, if this be not your state and character, deceive not yourselves, for the text itself intimates, that there is condemnation for you, and that you have no part or lot with God’s believing people. I pray you, lay this matter to heart, and seek, ere it be too late, the blessings purchased for you by the Redeemer of the world — — —]
The over-confident professor—
[Some there are who will pronounce the words of our text with the same unhallowed confidence, as if there were no condemnation awaiting any child of man. But, brethren, your state and character should be tried, before you claim the privilege belonging to God’s faithful people. “If ye walk after the flesh, ye shall die,” whatever ye may imagine to the contrary: “If ye be Christ’s, ye will surely crucify the flesh with its affections and lusts” — — —]
The timid and doubting Christian—
[Some, because they still feel within themselves the workings of corruption, will doubt whether they can by any means belong to Christ. But the very text intimates, that there will yet be the flesh stirring within us; only, that, if we be Christ’s, we shall not “walk after it.” Say then, my dear brethren, do you find your pleasure in earthly things? Is it not, rather, painful to you that you cannot more entirely mortify all earthly desires, and find all your comfort in the things of God? I say not this, to encourage or sanction a slothful habit; but I say it in order to “strengthen your hands that hang down,” and to shew you, that, if, with Paul, you are constrained to cry, “O wretched man that I am! Who shall deliver me?” you should also add with him, “I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord.”]
THE GOSPEL FREES MEN FROM SIN AND DEATH
Romans 8:2. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus hath made me free from the law of sin and death.
THE world in general account it liberty to give loose to their passions. But such freedom is indeed the sorest bondage to sin and Satan [Note: Romans 6:16.]. None possess true liberty but those who are freed by Christ [Note: John 8:36.]. The state of the demoniacs when healed by Christ resembled theirs [Note: Luke 8:35.]. Paul was made a glorious example of it to all ages. He was once under condemnation, both because he adhered to the covenant of works, and was governed by his own impetuous will: he now rejoiced in a freedom from the sin that he had indulged, and from the curse to which he had subjected himself. “The law of,” &c.
We shall first explain, and then improve the text—
It is not needful to state the various interpretations given of the text. We shall adopt that which seems most easy, and agreeable to the context. We will begin with explaining the terms. “The law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus” is the Gospel covenant, as confirmed to us in Christ, and revealed to us by the Spirit—
[The “Spirit of life” is the Holy Ghost, who is the author and preserver of spiritual life [Note: John 3:5.Ephesians 3:16; Ephesians 3:16.]. The “law” of the Spirit is the Gospel as revealed and applied by him: it is called a law because it has all the essential properties of a law [Note: A law is a precept enforced with sanctions: and such is the Gospel: it is a precept, 1 John 3:23; and it is enforced with the most encouraging and awful sanctions, Mark 16:16.]: it is often spoken of as a law both by prophets and Apostles [Note: Isaiah 2:3.Romans 3:27; Romans 3:27.]: it is said to be the law of the Spirit “in Christ Jesus,” because the blessings of the Gospel are treasured up in Christ, confirmed to us through Christ, and received by us from Christ [Note: Colossians 1:19. 2 Corinthians 1:20. John 1:16.].]
“The law of sin and death” may be understood either of the covenant of works or of our indwelling corruption—
[The covenant of works is a “law” to which all are by nature subject: it is called the “law of sin and death,” because both sin and death come by that law [Note: Without that law there had been no transgression, and, consequently, no sin (which is the transgression of a law); nor death (which is the penalty inflicted for transgression). Compare 1 John 3:4.Romans 5:13; Romans 5:13. 1 Corinthians 15:56. Hence it is called “the ministration of death and of condemnation.” 2 Corinthians 3:7; 2 Corinthians 3:9.]. Our indwelling corruption also operates as “a law” within us [Note: Romans 7:23.]; it invariably hurries us on to “sin and death [Note: Romans 7:5.].”]
We shall next explain the proposition contained in the terms. The proposition is, that “the Gospel frees us from the curse of the law, and from the dominion of sin”—
[When we embrace the Gospel we cease to be under the covenant of works [Note: Romans 6:14. latter part.]; we then partake of all the blessings which Christ has purchased for us; we are liberated from the condemnation due to sin [Note: Romans 8:1.]; we are freed, through the aid of the Spirit, from the power of sin [Note: Romans 8:13; Romans 6:14. former part.].]
This proposition is to be understood as extending to all believers—
[It is not true with respect to the Apostles only; it was exemplified in all the first converts [Note: One hour they were full of guilt and wickedness; the next they were rejoicing in the pardon of their sins, and in the practice of all holy duties. Acts 2:46-47.], and is experienced still by every sincere Christian.]
The text thus explained is capable of most useful improvement—
It is replete with very important instruction—
It shews us the wretched state of every unregenerate man—
[We are all in bondage to “the law of sin and death;” we are justly subjected to the curses of the broken law [Note: Galatians 3:10.]; we are also led captive by our own corrupt appetites; even St. Paul himself was in this very state [Note: Romans 7:9.]. Let us then humble ourselves under a conviction of this truth.]
It declares to us the only method of deliverance from that state—
[It was the Gospel which freed the Apostle. The same will avail for every other person. We must however “obey the Gospel,” and receive it as our “law of faith;” we must look for its blessings from Christ through the Spirit. In this way we may all adopt the language of the text in reference to our own happy experience.]
It affords also abundant matter of reproof—
It reproves those who despond as though there were no hope for them—
[Many think their guilt too great to be pardoned, and their lusts too strong to be subdued; but Paul’s case was intended to prevent such desponding fears [Note: 1 Timothy 1:16. “ἐν ἐμοὶ πρῶτῳ, in me the chief.”]. Let none therefore any more complain like those of old [Note: Ezekiel 37:11.]: every one may find encouragement in the power and mercy of God [Note: Isaiah 59:1.].]
It reproves also those who speak against an assurance of faith—
[It would indeed be presumptuous in some to profess an assurance of faith; but God is desirous that all his people should enjoy it [Note: 1 John 5:13.]; let not any one therefore reprobate it as presumption; let every one rather seek the assurance expressed in the text.]
It may administer comfort also to many sincere Christians—
[Many are yet fighting against their manifold corruptions, and because they obtain not a perfect deliverance, they tremble under apprehensions of the divine wrath. But Paul himself bewailed bitterly his indwelling corruption [Note: Romans 7:24.]: yet that did not prevent him from rejoicing in the partial freedom he experienced. Let upright souls take comfort from this reflection.]
CHRIST THE AUTHOR OF OUR SANCTIFICATION
Romans 8:3-4. What the law could not do, in that it was weak through the flesh, God sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and for sin, condemned sin in the flesh: that the righteousness of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit.
THE necessity of holiness is allowed by all: the means of attaining it are known to few. Christ is regarded as the meritorious cause of our justification before God; but he is not sufficiently viewed as the instrumental cause of our deliverance from sin. He is represented in the Scriptures as “our sanctification,” no less than “our wisdom and our righteousness [Note: 1 Corinthians 1:30.]:” and we should do well to direct our attention to him more in that view. In the preceding context he is spoken of as delivering his people from condemnation, and many judicious commentators understand the text as referring to the same point: yet, on the whole, it appears more agreeable both to the words of the text, and to the scope of the passage, to understand it in reference to the work of sanctification [Note: See Doddridge on the place.]. St. Paul had just said that “the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus,” that is, the Gospel, “had made him free from the law of sin, as well as of death.” He then adds, that on account of the insufficiency of the law to condemn and destroy sin, God had sent his own Son to effect it; and that through his incarnation and death its power should be effectually broken.
From this view of the text, we are led to consider,
The end and design of Christ’s Mission—
God’s desire and purpose was to restore his people to true holiness—
[Sin was the object of his utter abhorrence: it had marred the whole creation: it had entered into heaven itself, and defiled the mansions of the Most High: it had desolated the earth also, and all that dwelt upon it. To remedy the miseries introduced by it, and to root it out from his people’s hearts, was a design worthy of the Deity; since, if once they could be brought to “fulfil the righteousness of the law,” by walking, in their habitual course of life, no longer after the flesh, but after the Spirit, eternal honour would accrue to him, and everlasting happiness to them.]
The law was not sufficient to effect this—
[The law was indeed perfectly sufficient to direct man, while he remained in innocence: and it was well adapted to reclaim him when he had fallen; because it denounced the wrath of God against every transgression of its precepts, and set forth a perfect rule of duty. But “it was weak through the flesh:” man was deaf, and could not hear its threatenings; dead, and could not execute its commands. Hence, as to any practical effects, it spake in vain.]
God therefore, in order that his purpose might not fail, sent his only dear Son—
[He sent his co-equal, co-eternal Son, “in the likeness of sinful flesh,” and to be a sacrifice “for sin [Note: This is the meaning of περὶ ἀμαρτίας. See Heb 10:6 and 2 Corinthians 5:21.];” that, through his obedience unto death, he might “deliver those who had been, and must for ever have continued, subject to bondage.” How this expedient was to succeed, will come under our consideration presently: we therefore only observe at present, that it was a plan which nothing but Infinite Wisdom could have devised. It could not have entered into the mind of any finite being, to subject God’s only dear Son to such humiliation; to make him a partaker of our nature, with all its sinless infirmities; to substitute him in our place, and, by his vicarious sacrifice, to restore us to the image and favour of God: this does, and must for ever, surpass all finite comprehension.]
But though we cannot fathom all the depths of this mystery, we may shew
In what way it is effectual for the end proposed—
We speak not of the way in which the death of Christ obtains our justification, but of the way in which it is instrumental to our sanctification. In reference to this, we say,
It displays the evil and malignity of sin—
[The evil of sin had been seen in a measure by the miseries which it had introduced, and by the punishment denounced against it in the eternal world. But in what light did it appear, when nothing less than the incarnation and death of Christ was able to expiate its guilt or destroy its power! Let any person behold the agonies of Christ in the garden, or his dereliction and death upon the cross, and then go and think lightly of sin if he can. Surely if men were more habituated to look at sin in this view, they would be filled with indignation against it, and seek incessantly its utter destruction.]
It obtains for us power to subdue sin—
[Though man is in himself so weak that he cannot, of himself, even think a good thought, yet through the influence of the Holy Spirit he can “fulfil the righteousness of the law,” not perfectly indeed, but so as to walk altogether in newness of life [Note: There is a two-fold fulfilling of the law mentioned in the Scriptures; the one legal, the other evangelical. Compare Matthew 5:17. with Rom 13:8 and Galatians 5:14.]. Now, by the death of Christ the promise of the Spirit is obtained for us; and all who seek his gracious influences, shall obtain them. Thus the axe is laid to the root of sin.“The weak is enabled to say, I am strong:” and he, who just before was in bondage to his lusts, now casts off the yoke, and “runs the way of God’s commandments with an enlarged heart.”]
It suggests motives sufficient to call forth our utmost exertions—
[The hope of heaven and the fear of hell are certainly very powerful motives; yet, of themselves, they never operate with sufficient force to produce a willing and unreserved obedience. While the mind is wrought upon by merely selfish principles, it will always grudge the price which it pays for future happiness. But let the soul be warmed with the love of Christ, and it will no longer measure out obedience with a parsimonious hand: it will be anxious to display its gratitude by every effort within its reach. “The love of Christ will constrain it” to put forth all its powers; to “crucify the flesh, with its affections and lusts,” and to “perfect holiness in the fear of God.”]
How vain is it to expect salvation while we live in sin!
[If we could have been saved in our sins, can it be conceived that God would ever have sent his own Son into the world to deliver us from them; or that, having sent his Son to accomplish this end, he would himself defeat it, by saving us in our iniquities? Let careless sinners well consider this: and let the professors of religion too, especially those in whom sin of any kind lives and reigns, lay it to heart: for if sin be not “condemned in our flesh,” our bodies, and souls too, shall be condemned for ever.]
How foolish is it to attack sin in our own strength!
[A bowl, with whatever force it be sent, and however long it may proceed in a right direction, will follow at last the inclination of its bias, and deviate from the line in which it was first impelled. Thus it will be with us under the influence of legal principles: we shall certainly decline from the path of duty, when our corrupt propensities begin to exert their force. Our resolutions can never hold out against them. We must have a new bias; “a new heart must be given us, and a new spirit be put within us,” if we would persevere unto the end. Let us not then expect to prevail by legal considerations, or legal endeavours. Let us indeed condemn sin in the purpose of our minds, and sentence it to death: but let us look to Christ for strength, and maintain the conflict in dependence on his power and grace. Then, though unable to do any thing of ourselves, we shall be enabled to “do all things.”]
How are we indebted to God for sending his only Son into the world!
[If Christ had never come, we had remained for ever the bond-slaves of sin and Satan. We had still continued, like the fallen angels, without either inclination or ability to renew ourselves: whereas, through him, many of us can say, that we are “made free from the law of sin and death.” Let us then trace our deliverance to its proper source; to the Father’s love, the Saviour’s merit, and the Spirit’s influence. And let us with unfeigned gratitude adore that God, who “sent his Son to bless us, in turning away every one of us from our iniquities [Note: Acts 3:26.].”]
THE CARNAL AND THE SPIRITUAL MAN COMPARED
Romans 8:5. They that are after the flesh do mind the things of the flesh; but they that are after the Spirit the things of the Spirit.
IT is a certain and blessed truth, that all who believe in Christ are delivered from the condemnation due to their sins. But it is no less true, that all who believe in Christ are delivered also from the dominion of sin, and are enabled to walk in the paths of righteousness and holiness: and it is only by men’s attainment of this latter state that their attainment of the former can be ascertained. At the time that men believe in Christ, they have a new and spiritual principle infused into them by the Spirit of God: and where that principle exists, it will of necessity manifest itself by its appropriate operations. Hence the carnal and the spiritual man may be clearly distinguished from each other. Each will follow the predominant principle by which he is actuated: “They that are after the flesh, will mind the things of the flesh; and they that are after the Spirit, the things of the Spirit.”
That the two characters may the more clearly appear, I will set them before you,
In a distinct and separate view—
The carnal man will follow carnal things—
[There is in man, by nature, a carnal principle only. Whatever be his feelings, or whatever his pursuits, he is influenced by no other principle than that which he has in common with the whole human race: and the objects of his pursuit are such only as that principle affects. In a word, he seeks nothing beyond the things of time and sense. Pleasure, riches, honour, are, in his estimation, the great sources of happiness to man; and they alone are deemed worthy of his attention. His pleasures may be more or less refined; but, whether they be of an intellectual or corporeal nature, his end in pursuing them is the gratification of his own taste. As in the animal creation there is a diversity of pursuit, but the same end; so in men one may affect the sports of the field, another the indulgence of his appetites and passions, and another the investigations of science; but still self-pleasing is alike the principle of all. So also, in the pursuit of riches or honour, the immediate efforts of men will be suited to the sphere in which they move: but the king upon a throne, and the beggar upon a dunghill, however wide asunder the objects of their pursuit may be, will be wrought upon in the same way by the things which appear to be within their reach, and will shew that they are alike under the influence of a principle that is purely carnal. Even in the things which have respect to religion, a carnal man will still feel no higher principle than self: self-seeking, self-pleasing, self-righteousness, and self-dependence, will be found at the root of all that he does in waiting upon God. He has no real delight in any religious exercise; and all his conformity to religious observances is a mere tribute to self, rather than to God: it is a price paid for self-esteem, and for the esteem of those around him.]
The spiritual man, on the other hand, will follow spiritual things—
[There is in him, as we have said, a principle infused into his soul by the Spirit of God, and operating to the production of a new and spiritual life. The person who has received this new nature will affect objects and employments suited to it. Acceptance with God will be the first great object of his pursuit. In comparison of this, nothing under heaven will be of any value. The care of the soul will be, in his estimation, the one thing needful. Hence he will devote much time to reading the Scriptures and to prayer. The great work of repentance will now occupy his mind; and the Lord Jesus Christ will be endeared to him as the Saviour of the world. There will be between him and the carnal man the same difference as existed between the whole and the sick in the days of our Lord. The whole beheld him with mere curiosity: the sick flocked around him with a determination to obtain, if possible, the healing of their diseases. The spiritual man is in pursuit of heaven, as begun on earth, and perfected in glory: and, like a man in a race, or in a conflict, he engages with all his might, if by any means he may obtain the prize of his high calling. Even in his earthly engagements he bears in mind his great object, and endeavours to make even temporal pursuits subservient to his attainment of it. He considers his responsibility to God, and acts in every thing with a reference to his great account.]
But, that we may render the distinction between the two characters more clear, it will be proper to consider them,
In a combined and contrasted view—
Take both the characters, and consider them,
In their judgment—
[A carnal man may feel a general approbation of religion; but he does not regard it as of paramount importance. What he allows to religion, he rather concedes from necessity, than claims as its unquestionable due. He will conform to religion so far as his temporal interests will admit of it: but where the two come seriously in competition with each other, the world will have a decided preponderance in its favour. The good opinion of men will limit his exertions for God; and the attainment of some earthly object be prosecuted in preference to the best interests of his soul. To attend to the interests of time and sense will be esteemed by him as of the first necessity; and his spiritual welfare will be subordinated to it.
The spiritual man, on the other hand, will decidedly declare himself on the side of God and of religion. He will not neglect his earthly duties; for he considers them as a part of his duty to God: but if any thing earthly stand in competition with what is heavenly, he hesitates not to which he shall give the preference. The things of time and sense are in his eyes but as the dust upon the balance, in comparison of the things which are invisible and eternal: and in the contemplation of his God and Saviour, he gives this as the deliberate judgment of his mind, “Whom have I in heaven but thee? and there is none upon earth that I desire in comparison of thee.”]
In their will—
[The will of man, for the most part, is determined by his judgment: for though he may see a better path, and pursue a worse, yet, at the time, he wills that which he thinks will, under the existing circumstances, contribute most to his happiness. Hence the carnal man, though he may feel some good desires after religion, and some purpose of heart to seek after it at some future period, determines that he will, for the present, give himself to the prosecution of his earthly objects. Hence, too, he chooses as his associates those who are like-minded with himself, and who can participate with him in his enjoyments. He may know of persons capable of advancing his spiritual welfare: but he has no sympathy with them, nor any desire after their company, Any excess in worldly-mindedness he can forgive and palliate: but any thing that approximates to excess in religious matters is deemed by him an unpardonable offence: and one instance of it will do more to repel him from religion, than ten thousand instances of the opposite habit to deter him from a conformity to the world.
The spiritual man, on the contrary, chooses, with deliberate purpose, his spiritual pursuits; nor will he be deterred from them by any regard to the things of this world. His heart is fixed; and though he finds that the world has yet too great an ascendant over him, he maintains his conflicts with vigour, and becomes daily more dead to the world and more alive to God. He uses diligently, too, the means of spiritual advancement; and takes for his friends and associates those who will help him forward in his heavenly way.]
[These invariably are most called forth by the things which most preponderate in the soul. The carnal man accordingly betrays his indifference to spiritual objects by his total want of feeling in relation to them. He may go through his religious observances with constancy; but he rests in them, and never thinks of the way in which his duties have been performed. But, in reference to earthly things, he is alive: his hopes and fears, his joys and sorrows, are called forth, according as he succeeds or fails in the objects of his pursuit. The spiritual man, on the contrary, though not regardless of earthly pursuits, is comparatively unmoved by them; because he is chiefly solicitous that his soul may prosper, and that he may advance in a meetness for his heavenly inheritance. You may find him dejected or happy, without any visible cause: but when you inquire into the reasons of his experience, you will find that some change has taken place in his conflicts with sin, or in his sense of the Divine presence, or in his prospects in the eternal world; and, according as these are favourable or not, his soul becomes elevated or depressed; by which he shews that his chief treasure is in heaven.]
Take this portion of Holy Writ,
As a test whereby to try your state—
[Hitherto I have left unnoticed the peculiar force of the word which the Apostle uses to designate the regard which we feel towards the different objects here spoken of. But the question is, not so much what our external conduct is in relation to them, as what the disposition of our minds is. Which of the two objects do we savour? to which does our taste lead us? and in which do we find most enjoyment? Now, if we will only take notice whither our thoughts lead us, at those seasons when nothing particular has occurred to determine their course, we shall infallibly discover the real bias of our minds: if they run out after any thing that relates to this vain, transient world, we are carnal: if after things spiritual and eternal, we may rank ourselves amongst the number of those who are truly spiritual. The same judgment we may form, by noticing what subjects we most delight to converse about, whether on those which pertain to this life only, or those which relate to the kingdom of our Lord and the interests of our souls. Whatever it be that we most relish and and most delight in, that is the thing which occupies the chief place in our hearts, and determines us to be either spiritual or carnal, as the case may be. Take, then, this test; and “judge yourselves, that ye be not judged of the Lord.”]
As a rule whereby to regulate your conduct—
[It is clear, from this passage, what ought to be the constant habit of our lives. We should be growing continually in a deadness to the world, and in a superiority to every thing here below. The great concerns of eternity should more and more occupy our minds; and the whole course of our life should be such as to bear witness to us that we are candidates for heaven. As to this present world, we should consider ourselves as mere pilgrims and sojourners, that have but little interest in any thing around us, and whose chief concern is to pass through it in safety to our destined home.]
THE CARNAL AND SPIRITUAL MIND CONTRASTED
Romans 8:6. To be carnally minded is death; but to be spiritually minded is life and peace.
THE world in general are much mistaken with respect to the means of solid happiness. They seek the vanities of time and sense in hopes of finding satisfaction; and they shun religion under the idea that it would make them melancholy: but the “way of transgressors is hard [Note: Proverbs 13:15.].” On the contrary, the ways of religion afford both peace and pleasure [Note: Proverbs 3:17.]. The testimony of St. Paul respecting this is clear and decisive. His words naturally lead us to consider the difference between the carnal and the spiritual mind,
In their operations—
By “the carnal mind” we understand that principle of our fallen nature which affects and idolizes carnal things. The spiritual mind imports that principle which leads the soul to spiritual objects, and is implanted by the Holy Spirit in the hearts of the regenerate. The difference between these two principles is discoverable in our thoughts—
[The thoughts will naturally be fixed on the objects that are best suited to the reigning principle [Note: Our occupations in life indeed will give a direction to our minds: a carnal mind may from necessity be conversant about spiritual things, and a spiritual mind about carnal things. Particular occasions also may fix the attention much either on spiritual or carnal objects. But we speak of those seasons only, when the mind is free from pressing engagements, and can fix on the things which it most affects.]: to these objects they recur with frequency, fervour, and complacency. If we be under the dominion of a carnal principle, we shall be thinking of some pleasure, profit, honour, or other worldly vanity: if we be led by a spiritual principle, God, and Christ, and the concerns of the soul, will occupy the mind.]
The principles will also operate on the affections—
[Whatever we most esteem, we desire it when absent, hope for if it be attainable, love the means of attaining it, and rejoice in it when secured. If there be danger of losing it, we fear; we hate the means that would deprive us of it; and if it be lost, we grieve. The carnal mind is thus exercised about carnal objects: the spiritual mind is thus exercised about spiritual objects. Hence that caution given us with respect to the affections [Note: Colossians 3:2.]—]
The principles will yet further influence our aims and ends of action—
[A carnal man can only act from carnal motives: he will have carnal aims even in spiritual employments [Note: Zechariah 7:5-6.]. A spiritual man, on the contrary, will act from spiritual motives: he will act with spiritual views even in his temporal concerns. The one will seek his own interest or honour, and the other God’s glory [Note: 1 Corinthians 10:31.].]
This difference in the operation of the two principles causes a corresponding difference,
In their effects—
The effect of the carnal principle is beyond measure awful—
[This principle reigning in us proves us destitute of life; yea, rather, the reign of it is itself a state of spiritual “death:” it must moreover terminate in everlasting death. This is irreversibly decreed by God [Note: Galatians 6:7.]; and it must be so in the very nature of things [Note: What comfort could a carnal person have in heaven? there are no objects there suited to his inclination; nor has he any delight in the employments of the celestial spirits.].]
The effect of the spiritual principle is inexpressibly glorious—
[Wherever it prevails, it is a proof of spiritual life: it is also invariably the means of filling the soul with “peace.” Nor can it issue otherwise than in eternal life and peace. This also is according to the express constitution of God [Note: Galatians 6:8.]; and it must be so in the very nature of things [Note: Spiritual-mindedness constitutes our meetness for heaven, while it is also an anticipation and foretaste of heaven.].]
[In what a lamentable state are they whose consciences testify that their thoughts, affections, and aims, are altogether carnal! Let it be remembered that it is God who declares this. Who would dare to continue in such a state another day? Let those who feel their misery plead that promise [Note: Ezekiel 36:26.]—There is the same grace for them as has been effectual for others.]
[Happy they who are of this description! Let such adore the grace that has caused them to differ from others. Let them endeavour to improve in spirituality of mind; let them guard against relapses, which will destroy their peace; and let their eyes be fixed upon the eternal state, where their present bliss shall be consummated in glory.]
VILENESS AND IMPOTENCY OF THE NATURAL MAN
Romans 8:7-8. The carnal mind is enmity against God: for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be. So then they that are in the flesh cannot please God.
TO those who know not what is in the heart of man, it must appear strange that persons not very dissimilar in their outward conduct should be adjudged to widely different states in the eternal world. But in the most imperfect of the regenerate, there is a predominant principle of love to God; whereas in the best of unregenerate men there is a rooted enmity against him: and this alone places their characters as far asunder as heaven and hell.
St. Paul has been speaking of the final issues to which a carnal and a spiritual mind will lead: and because it may seem unaccountable that the one should terminate in death, while the other is productive of eternal life and peace, he assigns the reason of it, and shews that the carnal mind is enmity against God, and that a person under its influence is incapable of rendering him any acceptable service.
In the Apostle’s words there are three things to be considered;
The mind here spoken of, is that which actuates every unregenerate man—
[“The carnal mind” does not necessarily imply a disposition grossly sensual; it is (as it is explained in ver. 5) a savouring of earthly and carnal things in preference to things spiritual and heavenly. And this is the disposition that rules in the heart of every child of man — — —]
This “mind is enmity against God”—
[There is not one of God’s perfections, to which this disposition is not averse. It deems his holiness too strict, his justice too severe, his truth too inflexible; and even his mercy itself is hateful to them, on account of the humiliating way in which it is dispensed. Even the very existence of God is so odious to them, that they say in their hearts, “I wish there were no God [Note: Psalms 14:1.].” He did once put himself into their power; and they shewed what was the desire of their hearts by destroying his life: and, if they could have annihilated his very being, they would, no doubt, have gladly done it.
This mind is not merely inimical to God, for then it might be reconciled; but it is “enmity” itself against him, and must therefore be slain, before the soul can ever be brought to the service and enjoyment of God.]
This assertion, though strong, will not be thought too strong, when we consider,
The carnal mind “is not subject to the law of God”—
[The law requires that we should love God supremely, and our neighbour as ourselves. But the carnal mind prefers the world before God, and self before his neighbour. There are different degrees indeed, in which a worldly and selfish spirit may prevail; but it has more or less the ascendant over every natural man; nor is there an unregenerate person in the universe who cordially and unreservedly submits to this law.]
It not only is not subject to God’s law, but “it cannot be”—
[There is the same contrariety between the carnal mind and the law of God, as there is between darkness and light. It has been shewn before, that the carnal mind is enmity itself against God; and that the very first principle of obedience to the law is love. Now how is it possible that enmity should produce love? “We may sooner expect to gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles.”
This incapacity to obey the law of God is justly adduced as a proof of our enmity against him: for if we loved him, we should love his will; and if we hate his will, whatever we may pretend, we in reality hate him.]
A due consideration of the Apostle’s argument will secure our assent to,
[We cannot please God but by obeying his law. All external compliances are worthless in his eyes, if not accompanied with the love and devotion of the soul. But such obedience cannot be rendered by the carnal mind; and consequently they who are in the flesh, that is, are under the influence of a carnal mind, “cannot please God:” they may be admired by their fellow-creatures; but whatever they do will be an abomination in the sight of God.
This is so plain, that it scarcely admits of any confirmation: yet it may be confirmed by the Articles of our Church, which plainly and unequivocally speak the same language [Note: Art. X. & XIII.].]
On the whole then we may learn, from this subject,
The grounds and reasons of the Gospel—
[The principal doctrines of the Gospel have their foundation, not in any arbitrary appointment of the Deity, but in the nature and necessities of man. We must seek reconciliation with God through Christ, because we are “enemies to him in our minds by wicked works.” We must seek the renewing influences of the Spirit, because our nature is altogether corrupt, and incapable of either serving or enjoying God. When therefore we hear of the indispensable necessity of being born again, and of the impossibility of being saved except by faith in Christ, let us remember that these are not the dogmas of a party, but doctrines consequent upon our fallen state, and therefore of universal and infinite importance: and that, if we were to be silent on these subjects, we should be unfaithful to our trust, and betray your souls to everlasting ruin.]
The suitableness and excellence of its provisions—
[If man were commanded to reconcile himself to God, or to renovate his own nature, he must sit down in despair. Darkness could as soon generate light, as fallen man could effect either of these things. But we are not left without hope: God has provided such a Saviour as we want, to mediate between him and us: and such an Agent as we want, to form us anew after the Divine image. Let us then embrace this Gospel, and seek to experience its blessings. Let us, as guilty creatures, implore remission through the blood of Jesus; and, as corrupt creatures, beg the Holy Spirit to work effectually in us, and to render us meet for a heavenly inheritance.]
THE SPIRIT’S WORK IN BELIEVERS
Romans 8:9. If any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of his.
IN entering on this closing part of our subject, I feel peculiar difficulty, not from any want of scriptural and incontrovertible materials, but from the very nature of those materials which, being wholly of an experimental nature, can only commend themselves to those who, by actual experience, are qualified to judge of them. There are, as we all know, different kinds of life—vegetable, animal, and rational—each rising above the other, and each, in its order, evincing a manifest superiority above that which is below it. But there is a fourth kind of life, of which the Scripture speaks; viz. a spiritual life, which rises as far above the rest, as any one of them does above another. All have their proper powers, which, however, they cannot exceed. The vegetable life has productiveness, but no consciousness nor activity. The animal life has feeling, but no perception of the deductions of reason. The rational life apprehends moral truth; but forms no just conception of things which are spiritual. The spiritual life is exercised on things that are matters of pure revelation, which reason is not of itself able to apprehend.
But I wish to guard against a common misapprehension respecting this spiritual life. It is by no means correct to speak of it as constituting a new sense; for then it would be a man’s misfortune only, and not his fault, if he did not possess it. But it is correct to say, that the spiritual man has a spiritual perception, which the natural man does not possess. The merely rational man has a film before his eyes; he views things through the medium of sense, and not of faith; and the medium through which he looks at objects, distorts them, if it do not altogether hide them from his sight. But in the spiritual man, the Holy Spirit, as “eye-salve,” clears away the film [Note: Revelation 3:18.], and enables him to discern things as they really are. Faith also assists him, by bringing remote objects with greater clearness to his mind. The power of the telescope to bring to our view things that are invisible to the naked eye, is well known. Now this is the office and effect of faith, which enables us, if I may so speak, to behold both God himself, and the hidden mysteries of God [Note: Hebrews 11:27.], and to obtain a clear perception of things which are altogether beyond the reach of the eye of sense. Hence it appears that the merely rational man labours under a twofold disadvantage in comparison of the spiritual man: he looks through a dense medium of sense, which distorts, or altogether conceals, the objects before him; and he wants that peculiar glass of faith, which would present them truly, and bring them, if I may so say, directly upon the retina of his mind. This is what St. John means, when he says, “The light shineth in darkness, and the darkness comprehendeth it not [Note: John 1:5.];” and this is, in very explicit terms, declared by St. Paul to be a matter of universal experience [Note: 1 Corinthians 2:14-16.]. “The natural man (whoever he may be) receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him (being seen by him only in a distorted view): neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned (and he wants that spiritual perception, whereby alone he can truly apprehend them). But he that is spiritual, judgeth all things (having a clear and just perception of them); yet he himself is judged of no man (for it were a downright absurdity for a blind man to sit in judgment on one who sees); For who (i.e. what merely natural man) hath known the mind of the Lord, that he should instruct him (the spiritual man)? But we (we who are spiritual) have the mind of Christ” (and are, therefore, able to judge both ourselves and others).
But whilst, in order to guard against misapprehension, I speak thus, I well know that there are many, very many, in the midst of us, who can form the most accurate judgment of all we say, and who, if not in relation to every word, will yet, as a whole, set their seal to the truth of it; and, therefore, I hesitate not to lay before you what I verily believe to be in perfect accordance with God’s revealed will, though on a subject so recondite and mysterious.
I am not, however, without a consciousness, and with deep grief I utter it, that, under a profession of bringing forth only scriptural truth, some give vent to the veriest absurdities, talking about dreams and visions, and arrogating to themselves I know not what claims of preternatural endowments. But against all such fancies and conceits I would enter my most solemn protest. The truth of God, though elevated above reason, is in perfect accordance with reason; and by its reasonableness as a part of divine revelation would I wish every word that I utter to be tried. I ask nothing more than this; that as God, of his own sovereign will and pleasure, bestows on some greater natural gifts than on others, so he may act in reference to spiritual gifts: and that, as all our natural faculties are called forth into action by things visible, our hopes and fears, and joys and sorrows, being excited by them according to the interest we have in them, so our spiritual faculties may be called into action by things invisible, even by all the wonders of redeeming love, according as the blessings of redemption are manifested to the soul, and our interest in them is made the one subject of our present and prospective happiness.
Having premised thus much, I now come to shew, in the fourth and last place,
What the Holy Spirit will work in us when we are Christ’s. We must never forget that the Holy Spirit unites with the Lord Jesus Christ in the whole of his mediatorial office, though each sustains and executes in a more appropriate way that part which has been assigned him by the Father: and, if any of us be “washed, and justified, and sanctified, it is in the name of the Lord Jesus, and by the Spirit of our God [Note: 1 Corinthians 6:11.].” But it is the Spirit’s office to which I must confine myself: and whilst I address myself to this arduous and momentous subject, may the Lord Jesus Christ himself “be with us,” as he has promised [Note: Matthew 28:20.], and “baptize us with the Holy Ghost and with fire [Note: Matthew 3:11.],” to consume the dross that is within us [Note: Isaiah 4:4.], and to kindle in our hearts an inextinguishable flame of love towards his blessed name!
The Holy Spirit then will perform in us the offices of a Teacher, a Sanctifier, and a Comforter.
Let us view him first as a Teacher.
The young convert knows little beyond “the first principles of the oracles of God [Note: Hebrews 5:12.].” He is like a person just landed on a newly-discovered country, the beauty and riches of which he has yet to learn. But the Holy Spirit of Christ will open things to us, even as the Lord Jesus himself did when on earth to his Disciples, gradually, as we are able to bear them; and with increased knowledge, he will give us “senses proportionably exercised to discern good and evil [Note: Hebrews 5:14.],” and thus will “lead us on to perfection [Note: Hebrews 6:1.].” The fundamental doctrine of salvation by faith is known by us when we first come to Christ. But there is much which as yet is very indistinctly seen. For instance, the nature and difficulty of the Christian warfare is yet but very partially discovered. The deceitfulness and desperate wickedness of the human heart is but little known; (in fact, who but God can know it to its full extent [Note: Jeremiah 17:9.]) “the deceitfulness of sin [Note: Hebrews 3:13.]” also is by no means clearly discerned. As for “the devices of Satan [Note: 2 Corinthians 2:11.],” the young believer is still “ignorant of them” to a great extent; and of “the wiles” whereby that subtle adversary deludes the souls of men, he has scarcely any conception [Note: Ephesians 6:11.]. Little does he imagine what power that old serpent has to “beguile the minds of the simple [Note: Romans 16:18.],” and “to corrupt them, even as he deceived our mother Eve, from the simplicity that is in Christ [Note: 2 Corinthians 11:3.].” Armour is provided for him against that great enemy of souls [Note: Ephesians 6:13.]; but he knows not yet how to use it, so as to defeat him, who is but too justly called Apollyon [Note: Revelation 9:11.].” He has in his hand “the word, which is the sword of the Spirit [Note: Ephesians 6:17.];” but he knows not how to use it with effect: “he is unskilful in the word of righteousness [Note: Hebrews 5:13.].” It is not till after many conflicts that he learns, what are the parts on which he is most open to assault, what are the stratagems whereby that wily adversary most successfully ensnares him, and what are the means by which he is to ensure the victory over all his assailants. In the spiritual warfare, as in that which is temporal, experience can be gained only by active service. There is however this difference between them: in temporal warfare, proficiency is the result of human ingenuity; whereas, in the spiritual warfare, it is the Spirit of God alone that can inspire us with the knowledge and address, whereby we are to vanquish the legions of spirits that are combined against us [Note: Ephesians 6:17-18.].
But, further, the Holy Spirit will also discover to us the fulness and excellency of the Gospel salvation. The plan of salvation is, as I have already acknowledged, understood by the veriest babe in Christ. But the excellency of it will be more and more deloped to him, till, from the obscurity of the morning dawn, he attains the fuller light of the meridian sun; according as it is written by the prophet; “Then shall we know, if we follow on to know the Lord: his goings forth are prepared as the morning [Note: Hosea 6:3.];” and as Solomon also has assured us, “The path of the just is as the shining light, which shineth more and more unto the perfect day [Note: Proverbs 4:18.].” The young Christian knows little of that covenant to which all our salvation must ultimately be traced; the covenant entered into between the Father and the Son for the redemption of our fallen race; the covenant, wherein Christ, on the one part, undertook to stand in our place and stead, and to endure, in his own person, the penalty which he had incurred; and the Father, on the other part, both gave unto him a chosen people [Note: John 17:2; John 17:6; John 17:9; John 17:11-12; John 17:24.], and engaged to accept them as righteous, on account of what he should do and suffer for them. “This covenant is ordered in all things, and sure:” and the blessings of it are all treasured up for us in Christ, our great head and representative [Note: Colossians 2:9.], and are thus secured to us for ever: as it is written, “Our life is hid with Christ in God: and therefore, when Christ, who is our life, shall appear, we also shall appear with him in glory [Note: Colossians 3:3-4.]. These blessings, too, are to be received from him [Note: John 1:16.] simply “through the exercise of faith, that thus they may be sure to all the seed [Note: Romans 4:16.];” for no human being could ever have hoped to possess them, if they had been committed to any other depository, or if the attainment of them had been suspended on the strength and fidelity of man.
To unfold these things to the soul is the Holy Spirit’s office. For this end he is given to us as “an unction that shall abide with us,” and that shall, to a certain degree, by the clearness of his communications, supersede the necessity for human instruction [Note: 1 John 2:27.]; and, being given to us for this end, he enables the believer gradually to dive more and more deeply into this mystery, which the human eye cannot penetrate, at least not so penetrate as to behold its excellency [Note: Ephesians 1:17-18.]. These are among “the deep things of God, which the Spirit alone searches,” even the things which eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, nor heart conceived, but which are revealed to the soul by the Spirit of God [Note: 1 Corinthians 2:9-10.], and can be known in no other way [Note: 1 Corinthians 2:11-12.]. True, these things are written plainly in the inspired volume, even as the figures are engraven with the utmost possible plainness on the sun-dial: but both in the one case, and in the other, are they written in vain, till light is vouchsafed from heaven to shine upon them: then only does the gnomon perform its office in the one; and then only is the end answered for the illumination of the soul in the other. Till that take place, “the natural man, how learned soever he be in other respects, will never discern aright the things of the Spirit of God: they will be no better than foolishness unto him.”
The believer, thus taught of God, has a knowledge of the Deity, of which he had scarcely the slightest notion before. What astonishing views has he of the wisdom of God in devising such a plan, whereby God’s own justice might be duly satisfied, and his mercy flow down to man in perfect consistency with all his other attributes! When he contemplates the goodness of God, thus exercised; the holiness of God, thus honoured; and the truth of God, thus kept inviolate; and all the perfections of God, thus harmonizing and glorified; and all this for him; he is perfectly astounded; he knows not how to believe it; it seems to him all as “a mere parable [Note: Ezekiel 20:49.].” But seeing how suited all this is to his necessities, and how sufficient for his wants, and that, in any other way than this, he could find no more ground of hope for himself than for the fallen angels, he is forced to believe it; he sees that it is revealed in the Bible as with a sun-beam, and established by evidence that admits not of the slightest doubt; and when he sees further, that it has a transforming efficacy upon all who receive it, he is constrained to receive it as the very truth of God, and to say, “Lord, to whom else shall we go? Thou, even thou only, hast the words of eternal life;” and “we believe and are sure, that thou art that Christ, the Son of the living God [Note: John 6:68-69.].”
I merely give these things as samples only of what the Holy Spirit will effect in the believing soul as a Teacher; for the same powerful agency is extended to every part of divine truth, and every part, also, of Christian experience, seeing that he is expressly promised to “guide us into all truth [Note: John 16:13.],” that so, by his effectual teaching, “we may know all things [Note: 1 John 2:20.].”
But we will next consider his operations, under the office of a Sanctifier. In this view we speak of him in our catechism, as “sanctifying the elect people of God.” In fact, all that he does as a Teacher, is in order to his work as a Sanctifier. Does he “reveal Christ in us,” so as to give us brighter views of his person, and a more comprehensive knowledge of his work and offices? it is, that “we, beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, may be changed into the same image from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord [Note: 2 Corinthians 3:18.].” Does he further enable us to “comprehend the breadth and length, and depth and height, and to know with progressive clearness and certainty the love of Christ which passeth knowledge? it is, that we may be thereby “filled with all the fulness of God [Note: Ephesians 3:18-19.].” With increasing knowledge he gives an increase of spiritual perception; and with that perception, a spiritual appetite; and with that appetite, a spiritual attainment; and this continues to advance, till “the soul with all its powers is brought into captivity to the obedience of Christ [Note: 2 Corinthians 10:5.].” I think the whole process, though above the conception of the highest archangel, may, for all practical purposes, be brought down to the apprehension of a child. Our blessed Lord compares it to the wind, which is mighty in operation, but visible only in its effects. “It blows when and where it listeth, but we cannot tell either whence it comes, or whither it goes [Note: John 3:8.];” yet of its agency we have no doubt whatever. The veriest child acknowledges it, whilst the wisest philosopher is unable adequately to explain it. The magnet would furnish us with a similar illustration of this truth; for its influence, if not rendered visible by actual experience, would not be credited. But there is another natural process which will give us a fuller, and, perhaps I may say, a more distinct, apprehension of this mysterious subject. A river flowing from its source in one current to the ocean, may serve to shew us the natural man, with all his faculties, both of body and mind, departing from God, and proceeding with fatal indifference and perseverance, till he is finally lost in that abyss from whence there is no return. But, within a certain distance from the sea, we may behold that same river arrested in its course by the tide, and returning with equal rapidity towards its fountain-head: and in that we may behold the sinner returning to his God. Even from the partial back-currents which are occasioned by local obstacles, we may behold the parallel yet more strikingly illustrated: for in either case, these may serve to shew, that, as in man’s departure from God there are some risings of compunction, and some little, though ineffectual, restraints, from the remonstrances of an accusing conscience; so, in the believer’s return to God, there are some remnants of corruption, which betray a want of that completeness of soul, which he will enjoy in a better world. But the point particularly to be noticed is, How is this change effected? How is it effected in the river? Is it through the power and instrumentality of man? No: it is by the invisible, but powerful, attraction of the moon. The operation of the moon is not seen but in its effects: yet it is not on that account denied: the effects are unquestionable; nor can they reasonably be traced to any other cause; at all events they cannot in the smallest possible degree be ascribed to man. And how is the change effected upon the souls of men? It is the Holy Spirit who operates upon them to bring them back to God. True, his operations are not seen, except in the effects produced by them: but those effects infinitely exceed all human power: and in the unerring word of God they are ascribed to the Holy Spirit, whose peculiar office it is, not only to regenerate us at first, but progressively to form us after the Divine image, and to render us meet for our heavenly inheritance [Note: Titus 3:3; Titus 3:5.]. That there are defects in the best of men is certain; but that only makes the analogy more complete. There are, and will be, intervening obstacles, that will, at some times, and under peculiar circumstances, interfere with the believer’s progress [Note: Romans 7:18-19.]: but these do not interrupt his general course, or give any just cause for questioning the influence under which he moves [Note: Romans 7:21-24.]. His habitual “walk is, not after the flesh, but after the Spirit [Note: Romans 8:1; Romans 8:5.].” We have said, that the work is progressive. He goes from grace to grace [Note: 2 Peter 3:18.], from victory to victory, “growing up into Christ in all things, till he arrive at the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ [Note: Ephesians 4:7; Ephesians 4:13.].” At first he is represented in the Scriptures as “a child, then as a young man, and then as a father [Note: 1 John 2:12-14.]:” and the work in his soul is compared to the corn, which appears first in “the blade, then in the ear, and then as the full corn in the ear [Note: Mark 4:28.].” These very comparisons shew, that the believer is not at first all that he will be at a future period: his heart will be more and more weaned from earthly things, and with more and more intensity be fixed on things above, till he is altogether “changed into the image of his God in righteousness and true holiness [Note: Ephesians 4:24.].” This advance towards maturity will be more or less visible to all around him. There will be in him more solidity, more uniformity, more consistency. His principles will be more and more commended to all around him by their efficacy to “beautify his soul [Note: Psalms 149:4.],” and to adorn his life [Note: 1 Peter 3:3-4.]. In a word, he will be renewed, not in his mind only, but “in the spirit of his mind [Note: Ephesians 4:23.],” and will become “an epistle of Christ known and read of all men,” an epistle not “written by any human hand, but by the Spirit of the living God [Note: 2 Corinthians 3:2-3.].” He will be in himself, and will constrain all who know him to acknowledge that he is, what the Scriptures emphatically call, “A man of God [Note: 2 Timothy 3:17.].”
And what is the result of all this? What, but that in and by the whole of this work, the Holy Spirit performs the office of a Comforter? Under this character, “the world know him not, neither can receive him: but believers do know him; for he dwelleth with them, and shall be in them [Note: John 14:16-17.]” throughout the whole of their earthly pilgrimage. Even at their first coming to Christ, the Holy Spirit, in some measure, dischargeth this office, speaking peace to their troubled consciences, and enabling them to rejoice in their unseen, but beloved Saviour [Note: 1 Peter 1:8.]. This was eminently conspicuous on the day of Pentecost, when the whole multitude of believers, who had just before been filled with terror, “ate their bread with gladness and singleness of heart, blessing and praising God [Note: Acts 2:46.].” But through the whole course of their future life, he carries on this work, revealing Christ more and more clearly to them, and applying the promises with sweet assurance to their souls. Hence the word so applied is said to “work by the power of the Spirit of God [Note: Romans 15:19.],” and to “come to men, not in word only, but also in power, and in the Holy Ghost, and in much assurance [Note: 1 Thessalonians 1:5.];” and the Holy Ghost himself is called “the Holy Spirit of promise [Note: Ephesians 1:13.],” because in this way he makes use of the promises for their good. Thus he performs the office of a Comforter towards Christ’s redeemed people: he gives them near “access to God” in prayer [Note: Ephesians 2:18.]; and in their supplications “helps their infirmities [Note: Rom 8:26 and Jude, ver. 20.],” and “makes intercession for them, and in them, according to the will of God [Note: Romans 8:27.].” He is in them a Spirit of adoption, enabling them to go to God with confidence, crying, Abba, Father [Note: Romans 8:15.]; and, “shedding abroad God’s love in their hearts [Note: Romans 5:5.],” he “witnesses with their spirits, that they are children of God [Note: Romans 8:16.].” In this way, also, he establishes them in Christ [Note: 2 Corinthians 1:21.], and “seals them unto the day of redemption [Note: 2 Corinthians 1:22. with Ephesians 1:17.],” and “is within them an earnest of their heavenly inheritance [Note: Eph 1:14].” “An earnest” is a part of a payment, and a pledge of the remainder; and such is the Holy Spirit in the believer’s soul, giving him already, in possession, a measure of the heavenly felicity, and assuring to him, in due season, the full and everlasting possession of it. In a season of affliction especially do the communications of his grace abound. We read of those who “received the word with much affliction, and joy of the Holy Ghost [Note: 1 Thessalonians 1:6.];” and “in proportion as any person’s afflictions abound, the Holy Ghost will make his consolations to abound” with still greater and more transcendent efficacy [Note: 2 Corinthians 1:5.].
It is worthy, however, of observation, that the comforts which he administers at an earlier, and at a more advanced period, are, for the most part, widely different; the one being rather of a tumultuous nature, the other more serene; the one more transient, the other more abiding; the one elevating the spirits of a man on account of the good that has accrued to him; the other humbling and abasing his soul, on account of his great unworthiness: the one is a fire recently kindled, in which there is a considerable mixture of flame and smoke; the other like a fire that has become bright and solid, and burns with an unobtrusive, but mighty, efficacy. In confirmation of what I have said, I need only add, that this is the very description which God himself has given us of his kingdom: that it “consists not in externals of any kind, but in righteousness, and peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost [Note: Romans 14:17.].”
And now, will any one say that these blessings were peculiar to the apostolic age, and are not to be expected by us? What then is the meaning of that interrogation, which St. Paul addressed to the whole Corinthian Church, “Know ye not that ye are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwelleth in you [Note: 1 Corinthians 3:16-17.]?” And, again, “Know ye not your ownselves, how that Jesus Christ is in you, except ye be reprobates [Note: 2 Corinthians 13:5.]?” Hence it is evident, that this is a truth, of which we must not only have the actual experience, but a consciousness also, that it is realized in us: and the man who questions it as a matter of Christian experience, has yet to learn the very first principles of the Christian faith: for even to the murderers of our Lord did St. Peter on the day of Pentecost announce, that this blessing should be theirs; and that too even to their latest posterity: “Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost: for the promise is to you and to your children, and to all that are afar off, even as many as the Lord our God shall call [Note: Acts 2:38-39.].” In fact, this is the promise which was originally made to Abraham for himself and all his believing posterity, whether of the Jewish or Gentile world, even “the promise of the Spirit through faith [Note: Galatians 3:14.].”
This objection therefore being set aside, I confidently ask whether I have carried any one of these matters to excess, either requiring more than the Scriptures require, or promising more than the Scriptures promise? I can truly say, that I have exercised all possible caution on this head. I know and lament, that there are crude and enthusiastic conceits entertained by some, who would have us believe that they are actuated by certain divine impulses, irrespective of the word as the medium of conveying them, and in despite of the vanity and folly which they themselves betray as their invariable result. But I trust, that not one word that I have spoken can be thought to have countenanced any such conceits as these. The written word is the medium by which the Spirit works, and the standard by which his agency must be tried: and, if his operations do not produce holiness, as well as light and comfort, they are no better than a delusion, a desperate and a fatal delusion. The offices of the Holy Spirit cannot be separated from each other. He is a Teacher, a Sanctifier, and a Comforter: and I advisedly place the office of a Sanctifier between the other two, because it is equally connected both with that which precedes, and with that which follows;—with that which precedes, as the end for which divine teaching is administered, and with that which follows, as that without which no true comfort can possibly exist. I entreat, then, that you will all look for the gift of the Holy Spirit, to impart to you these blessings: and, I declare before God, that no one of you will ever behold the face of God in peace, if you do not both desire and obtain the Holy Spirit for these ends. The word of God is immutable; “If any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of his.”
If any be disposed to deride the sacred influences of the Spirit, imputing to Satan, as it were, what is wrought by the Holy Ghost, let them beware of the sin against the Holy Ghost; for they tread close upon it, if they do not actually commit it. I would have them remember, that, in proportion to the light against which they offend, and the malignity with which they utter their scoffs, they approach this fatal sin: and, if once they do commit it, our blessed Lord declares, that “they shall never have forgiveness, either in this world, or in the world to come; and that they are therefore in danger of eternal damnation [Note: Matthew 12:32, and Mark 3:28-29.].”
On the other hand, if any have experienced the workings of the Holy Spirit to bring them to Christ, let them watch and pray against temptation and sin of every kind, lest by any open or secret declension from the ways of God, they “grieve [Note: Ephesians 4:30.]” and “vex the Holy Spirit [Note: Isaiah 63:10.],” and “quench” his sacred motions [Note: 1 Thessalonians 5:19.], and thus “their last end become worse than their beginning [Note: 2 Peter 2:20.].”
But “I hope better things of this assembly, though I thus speak [Note: Hebrews 6:9.].” Scoffers do not abound at this day as once they did. The truths of the Gospel are better understood, and its mysteries are more justly appreciated: and, provided only the deep things of God be stated with modesty and sobriety, they find a favourable acceptance now, where once, perhaps, they would only have provoked a smile. On that head, therefore, I feel no occasion to dwell. But this very circumstance, which renders a profession of piety more easy, makes the danger of departing from it more imminent; since, as in the case of the stony-ground hearers, that which is hastily received, is but too often as hastily relinquished [Note: Matthew 12:20-21.]. To every one of you then I say, “Hold fast that thou hast, that no man take thy crown [Note: Revelation 3:11.];” or rather, look to the Lord Jesus Christ for more enlarged “supplies of his Spirit [Note: Philippians 1:19.]:” for “He has received this gift for men, even for the most rebellious [Note: Psalms 68:18.]: and as “God has not given the Spirit by measure unto him [Note: John 3:34.],” so is there no measure fixed for the dispensation of it to us. It is our privilege, not only to “have the Spirit,” but to “be filled with the Spirit [Note: Ephesians 5:18.].” Many of you, I would hope, “have already received the first-fruits of the Spirit [Note: Romans 8:23.]:” but be not satisfied with these. “Christ came, not only that you might have life, but that you might have it more abundantly [Note: John 10:10.].” He has promised to “pour floods upon those who are thirsty [Note: Isaiah 44:3.].” Yes, he would have you to “live in the Spirit [Note: Galatians 5:25.],” and “walk in the Spirit [Note: Galatians 5:25.],” and “purify your souls by the Spirit [Note: 1 Peter 1:22.],” and “abound in hope through the Spirit [Note: Romans 15:13.]:” and be filled with “joy in the Holy Ghost [Note: Acts 13:52.].” See to it, then, that you avail yourselves of these immense advantages; and beg of God to “pour out his Spirit more and more abundantly upon you through Jesus Christ [Note: Titus 3:6.],” that, being “led in all things by the Spirit, ye may be, and give decisive evidence that ye are, the children of God [Note: Romans 8:14.].” And may “the Holy Spirit be so richly poured out upon us from on high, that this our wilderness may become a fruitful field, and the fruitful field be so luxuriant as to be counted for a forest [Note: Isaiah 32:15.]!”
GOD’S DWELLING IN US IS A MOTIVE TO HOLINESS
Romans 8:12. Therefore, brethren, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live after the flesh.
IN the Scriptures, privilege and duty are inseparably connected. By this means we are kept at an equal distance from presumptuous confidence and painful servility; and the best feelings of the soul are rendered subservient to our eternal welfare. This observation is verified, as in many other passages [Note: Rom 12:1 and 1 Corinthians 6:20. with the two verses preceding the text.], so particularly in that before us; which is a conclusion from very important premises.
We propose to consider,
The grounds of the conclusion—
Believers have God himself dwelling in them—
[God is here represented as a Triune God [Note: The Father raised Christ: Christ dwells in all believers at the same instant: and the Holy Ghost will raise the saints at the last day. Can any one of these be less than God? Their distinction and equality may be further proved from Matthew 28:19. It is observable also that in ver. 9. the Spirit of Christ is called the Spirit of God.]; and he dwells in all his believing people [Note: 2 Corinthians 6:16. 1Jn 1:3 and 2 Corinthians 13:14. They do not indeed pretend to distinguish the agency of one of these divine persons from that of another (for indeed no one of these persons acts separately from the others) but they exercise faith on the Father, as their protector and governor; on the Son, as their mediator and advocate; and on the Spirit, as their guide and comforter.]. This is a most inestimable privilege to them [Note: Far greater than that mentioned 1 Kings 8:27.].]
By means of this they enjoy the richest blessings—
[Their souls are quickened from their death in trespasses and sins, and, by a new principle of life infused into them, are enabled to live unto God: and this “life they have because of Christ’s righteousness” wrought out for them, and imputed to them. Their bodies also, though doomed to “death, as the penalty of sin,” “will be raised again by that very Spirit who now dwelleth in them:” and these shall participate with the soul the glory and felicity of the heavenly world.]
Such being the premises from which the conclusion is drawn, we proceed to consider,
The conclusion itself—
We certainly are “debtors to the flesh” to a certain degree—
[The flesh cannot subsist without care and labour; and whatever is necessary for the preservation of life, or the restoration of our health, it is our bounden duty to do.]
But we are not debtors to obey its dictates—
[To “live after” the flesh, must import a consulting of its ease, a complying with its solicitations, a devoting of ourselves to its interests: to this extent we certainly are not debtors to the flesh.]
This may plainly be concluded, as from many other topics, so especially from the foregoing statement—
[The privileges vouchsafed to us strongly prohibit a carnal life. Can the Triune God, who dwells in us, be pleased with our living after the flesh? Is not the very intent of his mercies to bring us rather to live after the Spirit? The mercies too which we enjoy by means of those privileges, teach us the same divine lesson. The quickening of our spirit should lead us to “mind the things of the Spirit.” And the prospect of endless felicity and glory for the body should keep us from seeking its present gratifications to the destruction of its eternal interests. To whomsoever we are debtors, we are not (in this extent at least) debtors to the flesh.]
How mistaken are the world in their course of life!—
[The generality live as if they had nothing to do but to consult the flesh; and when exhorted to mind the concerns of their souls, reply immediately, “I must attend to the interests of my body.” But in thus opposing the declaration in the text, they will ruin their bodies as well as their souls for ever.]
How unmindful are even good people of their duty and interest!—
[The best of men find it difficult to “keep under their bodies;” and there are seasons when they are apt to yield to sloth or sensual indulgence: but let all remember their obligations and professions, and labour rather to pay what they owe to the Spirit.]
MORTIFICATION OF SIN
Romans 8:13. If ye live after the flesh, ye shall die: but if ye through the Spirit do mortify the deeds of the body, ye shall live.
IT is of infinite importance to know our state as it is before God, and to ascertain on scriptural grounds, what our condition will be in the eternal world. Numberless are the passages of God’s word which will afford us the desired information; but there is not in the whole inspired volume one declaration more explicit than that before us. It presents to our view two momentous truths, which, as they admit not of any clearer division or arrangement, we shall consider in their order.
A carnal life will terminate in everlasting misery—
To “live after the flesh” is to make the gratifying of our corrupt nature the great scope and end of our lives—
[The “flesh” does not relate merely to the body, but to the whole of our corrupt nature. It is used to signify that innate principle of sin, which governs the unregenerate, and continually fights against the spiritual principle in those that are regenerate [Note: John 3:6. Galatians 5:17.]. And its fruits comprehend the actings of the mind, no less than those of the body [Note: Galatians 5:19-20.]. To “live after” this corrupt principle, is, to be governed by it in all our deliberations and pursuits. It signifies nothing what may be the immediate path which we choose for ourselves, provided our main object be to gratify ourselves. One may seek pleasure, another riches, another honour, another the knowledge of arts and sciences; but if they have no higher end of life than to attain these things, they all equally live after the flesh [Note: Compare ver. 5. with Philippians 3:19.].]
The consequence of such a life will be eternal death—
[The death mentioned in the text cannot relate to the mere death of the body, because that must be experienced by the spiritual, no less than by the carnal man. It must import that death of the soul, which is emphatically called the second death [Note: Revelation 20:14.]. Nor can there be a doubt but that this will be the fruit and consequence of a carnal life. And shall this be thought an hard saying? Surely not: for such a sentence is only a repetition of what the person has before passed upon himself: he has practically said to God, “Depart from me; I desire not the knowledge of thy ways [Note: Job 21:14-15.]; I will be a god to myself [Note: Psalms 12:4.], and make myself happy in my own way.’ God replies to him, “Thou wouldest none of me; and thou shall have none of me; depart from me for evermore [Note: Compare Psalms 81:11. with Matthew 25:41.].” The very state in which they lived, was a state of spiritual death [Note: ver. 6.]; no wonder therefore that it terminates in everlasting death.]
As a counterpoise to the apparent severity of this truth, the Apostle adds, that,
A life of mortification and self-denial shall terminate in everlasting happiness—
To mortify our corrupt nature ought to be the continual aim of our lives—
[The “deeds of the body” are of the same import with “the flesh” in the preceding clause. Our corrupt nature is often represented as a body, because it has many parts or members whereby it acts [Note: Romans 7:24.Colossians 2:11; Colossians 2:11.]. This we should endeavour to mortify in its outward actings, and in its inmost motions. As it consists principally in making self our idol, we must watch against it, and labour to bring it into subjection, that God in all things may be glorified by us. If we search our own hearts, we shall see a continual proneness to self-seeking, self-pleasing, and self-dependence. But instead of gratifying this propensity, we should make God’s will the rule, and his honour the end, of our actions. We must therefore maintain a warfare against it, and resist it manfully, till it be subdued [Note: 1Co 9:27].]
This however cannot be done effectually but by the assistance of the Holy Spirit—
[We can walk after the flesh without any difficulty: it is natural to us, as it is to a stone to run down a precipice. But to mortify the flesh, is impossible to man: it can be effected only by the mighty working of that power, which raised Christ himself from the dead [Note: Eph 1:19-20 and 1 Peter 1:22. with the text.]: yea, the inclination, as well as the ability, to mortify it is the gift of God [Note: Philippians 2:13.]. This however is no excuse for our subjection to the flesh, since the Holy Spirit shall be given to all that ask it at God’s hands [Note: Luke 11:13.].]
The consequence of successfully combating the flesh shall be unspeakably blessed—
[If eternal death be the fruit of self-indulgence, eternal life shall be the fruit of self-denial. There is this difference indeed; that whereas the former is the wages due to sin, the latter is the gift of God through Christ [Note: Romans 6:23.]. We may well wonder at this marvellous grace of God, who has annexed such glorious consequences to our poor and feeble endeavours. But he delighteth in mercy, and will not suffer us to exert ourselves in vain.]
By way of improvement we shall add a word,
[Suppose it had been written, “If ye live after the flesh, ye shall go to heaven;” could the generality take any surer way to obtain the blessing, than that which they now pursue? And whence is it that, in direct opposition to the word of God, they can go on so confidently and so securely? The reason is, that Satan suggests to them, as he did to our first parents, “Ye shall not surely die.” But shall we believe Satan in opposition to God? Did not the crediting of Satan ruin the whole world? and will it not eventually ruin us also? Be it known then that we have but this alternative, mortification, or damnation. Either sin must be our enemy, or God will. If therefore we would not perish for ever, let us immediately begin, in dependence on God’s Spirit, to “mortify our earthly members [Note: Colossians 3:5.]:” for it is an eternal truth, that, “if we live after the flesh, we shall die.”]
[We are in great danger of mistaking the nature and extent of that mortification which is required of us in the text. We may be restrained from sin by the influence of education, as Joash [Note: 2 Chronicles 24:2.]; or put away many sins, as Herod [Note: Mark 6:17; Mark 6:20; Mark 6:27.]; or set ourselves for a time against our besetting sin, as Judas under the terrors of a guilty conscience [Note: Matthew 27:3-4.]; (as a mariner may cast all his goods out of his ship to save the vessel, without any aversion to the goods themselves) or may exchange our sins, prodigality for avarice, sensuality for self-righteousness, or the love of vanity for sloth and indifference. But all this falls very far short of our duty: we must not be lopping off branches; but must lay our axe to the root. The besetting sin, though dear as a right eye, or needful as a right hand must he cut off; at least, its dominion must be destroyed, and its motions be incessantly resisted [Note: Mark 9:43-48.]. In short, to root out sin, and to serve, honour, and enjoy God must be our daily business, our unintermitted employment. Nor must we ever think that we belong to Christ, till we have the testimony of our conscience, that we are thus crucifying the flesh with its affections and lusts [Note: Galatians 5:24.].]
[As we have ruined ourselves, God might well leave us to restore ourselves: and then indeed would our condition be most pitiable. But he graciously offers us the assistance of his Spirit; so that none need despair: none need to decline the work of mortification for want of strength to accomplish it; seeing that “the grace of Christ is sufficient for us,” and through the aids of his Spirit we can do all things [Note: Gal 5:16 and Philippians 4:13.]: yea, “his strength shall be perfected in our weakness.” Let every one then address himself to the work: “Have not I commanded thee? saith the Lord: be strong, therefore, and of a good courage; for the Lord thy God is with thee [Note: Joshua 1:9.];” “Be strong, and let not your hands be weak; for your work shall be rewarded [Note: 2 Chronicles 15:7.].”]
THE LEADINGS OF THE SPIRIT
Romans 8:14. As many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God.
THOUGH Christ’s obedience unto death is the only meritorious ground of our salvation, yet it is certain that heaven is held forth to us as a prize which we are to attain by running, and as “a recompence of reward” which we are to gain by labour. Many shrink back at this idea, on account of the vast disproportion between the work and the reward: and well they may shrink back, if nothing be taken into the consideration but the intrinsic excellence of our works. But there is one point of view in which the disproportion will not appear so great, or perhaps will altogether vanish. We know that a poor man thinks himself liberally paid for his labour, if, after toiling a whole week, he receive a pound or two for his trouble: but the child of a monarch would account himself very ill rewarded for such work, though he should be paid at a much higher rate. It is thus with respect to the point before us: if we be considered as men, the reward of eternal glory infinitely exceeds the labour of a few years of obedience: but, if we be considered as children of the living God, and as performing our works through the agency of his Spirit, the recompence of heaven is no more than what is suited to our rank and dignity. This seems to be the idea of the Apostle in the text: he has observed, that “if through the Spirit we mortify the deeds of the body, we shall live:” but, lest we should think it incredible that such a reward should follow a life of mortification, he assigns the reason of it; “For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God;” and consequently, they may expect a reward suited to their high character, and to the dignity of the Spirit who worketh in them.
In discoursing on these words, we shall shew,
Who they are that are led by the Spirit—
It is obvious and undeniable that all are not; and indeed the very text intimates that their number is limited to a part only of mankind. To distinguish accurately who these are, is a matter of some difficulty: for though we may easily shew, what the Spirit will lead us from, or what he will lead us to, we shall speak to no purpose, unless we take such discriminating marks as are found in none but true Christians. To make the matter as clear as possible,
We will propose some marks, which, though found in all true Christians, are insufficient to distinguish them—
[A person is not necessarily led by the Spirit, because he follows the dictates of his natural conscience. Every true Christian consults his conscience, and obeys its voice: but others may do so as well as he. Cornelius was evidently a conscientious man; but did not become a Christian till St. Peter set before him “words, whereby he and all his household should be saved [Note: Acts 11:14.].” If that instance be thought doubtful we Will adduce two others that admit of no doubt. The Rich Youth in the Gospel thought he had “kept all the commandments from his earliest youth:” and Paul, while he was a Jew, “had walked before God in all good conscience,” and had been, “touching the righteousness of the law, blameless.” But neither the one nor the other of these was led by the Spirit: the one renounced Christ rather than his riches [Note: Matthew 19:20-22.]; and the other was converted only by a miraculous interposition of the Lord Jesus [Note: Acts 9:1-6.]. From hence it is evident that men may be honest, and upright, and conscientious, and yet have no just reason to conclude themselves children of God.
Again, a person is not necessarily led by the Spirit because he has experienced a change in his views and affections. Doubtless, every Christian has experienced such a change: but the like is said of “the stony-ground hearers;” who not only received the word so as to inform their understanding, but so as to kindle in their hearts a lively joy [Note: Matthew 13:20.]. Though therefore we may be moved under a sermon, and find as much pleasure in it as Ezekiel’s hearers [Note: Ezekiel 33:32.], yet this is no satisfactory evidence of our conversion to God.
Further, a person is not necessarily led by the Spirit, because he makes an open profession of religion. For though every true Christian will confess Christ openly, yet “the thorny-ground hearers” also do the same; and it is worthy of notice, that they are represented as never relinquishing their profession [Note: Matthew 13:22.]. Though therefore we may openly join ourselves to the Lord’s people, and be numbered amongst them by others, and bear reproach for our attachment to them, and bring forth fruit which resembles theirs, yet all this will be no decisive proof that we are led by the Spirit, or that we have any part in the Christian’s salvation.]
We will propose some marks which will distinguish the true Christian from every other person under heaven—
[We may be sure that we are led by the Spirit, if we come daily to Christ as perishing sinners. No formalist or hypocrite can do this: he may talk about it, but he cannot do it: he has not that brokenness of heart, that contrition, that sense of his extreme need of mercy, which are necessary to bring him thus to Christ. There is in all unconverted persons an insuperable reluctance to come to him in such an humiliating way, a reluctance that nothing but an Almighty power can overcome. Our Lord himself says, “No man can come unto me, except the Father, who hath sent me, draw him [Note: John 6:44.].” If therefore we are daily coming to Christ with self-lothing and self-abhorrence, and building all our hopes of salvation on the merit of his blood, we can affirm, on the testimony of Christ himself, that we are of those who are under the leadings of his Spirit.
Another mark whereby this point may be ascertained, is our being willing to receive Christ as our Lord and Governor. The unregenerate, however desirous of being saved from misery, cannot be prevailed on cordially to submit to the yoke of Christ. The declaration of St. Paul is, that “no man can say that Jesus is the Lord, but by the Holy Ghost [Note: 1 Corinthians 12:3.].” By this expression we must understand, not an incapacity to utter these words, but an incapacity to utter them cordially in reference to oneself. If therefore we be enabled cheerfully to sacrifice our own will, and if we seek unfeignedly to have “the very thoughts of our hearts brought into captivity to the obedience of Christ,” we have another indisputable evidence that we are under the Spirit’s influence and guidance.
A still further mark, which is also decisive on the point, is, our mortifying of all sin without reserve. The most specious hypocrite in the universe has some secret lust which he will not part with, and which he cannot, by any power of his own, subdue: “It is through the Spirit alone that we can mortify the deeds of the body [Note: ver. 13.].” If, then, there be no sin which we plead for; no sin, though dear as a right eye, or useful as a right hand, which we are not watching and labouring to destroy; it is evident, beyond all controversy, that we are led and strengthened by the Spirit of God.]
This point being ascertained, we proceed to notice,
The glorious state to which they are exalted—
It is almost incredible that sinners, like us, should ever become children of the Most High God; yet is it certain, that all who are led by the Spirit of God, are exalted to this state—
They are brought into the relation of children—
[Once they were “children of wrath,” and “children of the wicked one:” but now they are adopted into God’s family, and numbered amongst his children. Nor is it by adoption only that they stand thus related to him, but by regeneration also: for they are “begotten of God, even by the incorruptible seed, the word of God,” and are made “partakers of a divine nature.” Once they regarded God only as a Governor and a Judge; but now they have “a spirit of adoption given to them, whereby they can call him, Abba, Father.” What an unspeakable honour is this! If David thought it “no light matter to be called the son-in-law of such a king” as Saul, what is it to be called the sons of the Most High God, the King of kings, and Lord of lords! — — —]
They enjoy all the privileges of children—
[What are the privileges which are annexed to that relation among men? Think of them; comprehend them all; and they will fall infinitely short of those which it is your happiness to enjoy, both in this world, and in the world to come.
In this world you have every temporal blessing secured to you, to the utmost extent of your necessities, by the express promise of your heavenly Father. The children of men may say, of their respective possessions, this estate, or that kingdom, is mine: but of the children of God it may be said, “All things are yours.” As far as it can conduce to your real happiness, the whole world is yours, yea, all things, whether present or future [Note: 1 Corinthians 3:21-23.]. As for spiritual blessings, there is nothing which the Lord Jesus Christ himself enjoyed when on earth, that is not made over to you also. You may have constant access to your Father’s presence; you may ask of him whatever you will; you shall have his continual guidance in difficulties, support in trials, and consolation in troubles: every thing shall be ordered and over-ruled for your good; and you shall be carried on through all your destined labours, till you can say, “It is finished.” Of none but God’s children can this be said; but of them it may be said without one single exception.
You may carry your views yet farther, even to the world to come; and there also shall your happiness extend. There is reserved for all the Lord’s children “an inheritance, which is incorruptible and undefiled, and never-fading.” If we are children, then are we heirs, heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ. Think then of all that God the Father has in heaven to bestow; think of all that the Lord Jesus Christ, as your living Head, now enjoys there; and you will then have some faint idea of the inheritance reserved for you. Amongst men, if an eldest son should inherit all his father’s property, the rest of the family would be unprovided for: but in heaven it is not so: every one has all that he could have, though there should be none but himself to possess the inheritance. Even here every man has all the light of the sun, notwithstanding millions of his fellow-creatures enjoy it together with him: and in like manner in heaven, all the glory and felicity of it is the portion of every saint around the throne of God.
Are you then really under the leadings of the Holy Spirit? Rejoice and adore your God, who has called you into so near a relation to him, and invested you with honours higher than even the highest archangel is privileged to possess.]
From this subject we may further learn,
The importance of discovering by what spirit we are led—
[Many are not led by the Spirit of God, but by the spirit of the world; which, as St. Paul tells us [Note: 1 Corinthians 2:12.], and as experience too fatally proves, is contrary to the Spirit of God in all its actings. What spirit, I would ask, is that which leads the young into all manner of pleasure and gaiety; and causes those of middle age to be so immersed in cares, as scarcely to leave them a single hour to serve their God? What spirit is that which even in advanced life engages the thoughts and affections still on the side of the world, when time has worn away almost all capacity to enjoy it? Yet this is the spirit by which the generality are actuated to their dying hour.
But even where religion appears to occupy the mind, many, alas! are led only by their own spirit. The very manner in which they speak and act shews, that pride and conceit and vanity are the predominant dispositions of their hearts. They have a zeal perhaps for some favourite tenets, or for their own particular party; but they want the humility, the meekness, and the love which are the distinguishing features of all who are born of God.
It is not easy for persons to discern what spirit they themselves are of, even when all around them see how awfully they are deluded. But it concerns us all to examine carefully our own hearts and ways, that we may not deceive our own souls: for whatever we may imagine, they only are children of God, who bear the image of their Father: and they who fulfil the will of Satan, are, as God himself testifies, the children of the wicked one [Note: Joh 8:44 and 1 John 3:10.]. Surely we should guard against so fatal a delusion as this, lest, when we enter into the eternal world, expecting to behold the face of our God in peace, we meet only an accusing God, and an avenging Judge.]
The importance of honouring him whose motions we profess to follow—
[In professing to he led by the Spirit of God, you claim, of course, the honour of being the children of God. And if you claim this honour, O think what manner of conversation yours should be; how holy, how spiritual, how heavenly! It should not be thought sufficient to maintain what may be called a blameless conduct; you should shine as lights in the midst of a dark world [Note: Philippians 2:15-16.], and “walk worthy of him who hath called you to his kingdom and glory.” Would you see the particulars wherein such conduct consists? read it in that direction which St. Paul gives to the Colossian Church; “Put on, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, bowels of mercies, kindness, humbleness of mind, meekness, long-suffering, forbearing one another, and forgiving one another, if any man have a quarrel against any; even as Christ forgave you, so also do ye. And above all these things put on charity, which is the bond of perfectness [Note: Colossians 3:12-14.].” Here is living Christianity: this is to walk as Christ walked: and by this shall all men know that ye are the disciples of Christ, “the sons and daughters of the Lord Almighty.”]
THE SPIRIT OF BONDAGE AND OF ADOPTION
Romans 8:15. Ye have not received the Spirit of bondage again to fear; but ye have received the Spirit of adoption, whereby we cry, Abba, Father.
OUR blessed Lord in his last discourse with his Disciples, promised to send down from heaven the Holy Spirit, who should “convince the world of sin, of righteousness, and of judgment:” and accordingly, on the day of Pentecost he did send down the Holy Spirit, who instantly wrought in the most powerful manner on the minds of thousands, filling them with the deepest convictions, and with the richest consolations. From that time the Holy Spirit has continued so to work on the minds of men, in some as a Spirit of bondage, and in others as a Spirit of adoption. The nature of the Holy Spirit’s operations is the same in both cases; their use and tendency being to bring men to God: the difference which is found in the effects, is occasioned by the state of the persons on whom the Spirit works: in those whose minds are yet blinded by Satan, and enslaved by sin, he produces only bondage and fear but those who are deeply penitent, and unfeignedly desirous of fulfilling the word of God, he introduces into a state of light and liberty and joy.
Corresponding with these different states of men was the difference between the Jewish and the Christian dispensations; the one of which was intended to introduce the other: and it was good, as far as it answered that end: but, as an ultimate state to rest in, it was bad: it consisted only of “weak and beggarly elements,” and imposed an insupportable yoke, from which it is our happy privilege to be released. It is in reference to that dispensation chiefly that the Apostle uses the word “again;” because the Jewish converts at Rome had, previous to their embracing of Christianity, groaned under that yoke: but the others also, in their heathen state, had experienced a bondage not very dissimilar; and therefore the same expression may not improperly be applied to them also.
That we may have a distinct view of the whole of the Spirit’s operations, we shall consider them,
In reference to the dispensation under which we live—
The Christian dispensation, as contrasted with the Jewish, is called “The ministration of the Spirit [Note: 2 Corinthians 3:8.],” because under that dispensation the Spirit is poured forth far more abundantly than before.
The Jewish economy tended only to bondage—
[The terrific manner in which the law was given, generated nothing but fear in all who heard it: even Moses himself said on the occasion, “I exceedingly fear and quake.” And the strict prohibition to all the people not so much as to touch the border of the mount, clearly shewed to them that it was not a dispensation whereby they were ever to obtain a near access to God.
The two tables of the law, which were then given to Moses, were so holy, that though in the letter they might be observed, in the spirit they could not be kept by any child of man: and yet they were enforced with the most awful sanctions, the smallest violation of any one command subjecting the offender to death, even eternal death. What but fear could result from such a dispensation as this?
The very sacrifices prescribed for the relief of those consciences which were oppressed with guilt, tended, in fact, to confirm, rather than relieve, the bondage of their minds. For how could they imagine that “the blood of bulls and of goats should take away sin?” Hence “the offerers were never made perfect, as pertaining to the conscience;” and the annual repetition of the same sacrifices confirmed their apprehensions, that their sins, so imperfectly atoned for, were not effectually removed. The sacrifices were to them only “a remembrance of sins from year to year [Note: Hebrews 10:1-4.].” Moreover, the people in their own persons could not approach unto their God: they must deliver their offerings to the priests and Levites: nay, not even the priests could enter within the vail, nor even the high-priest himself, except on one day in the year, and then only in the precise manner that was prescribed to him. In all this, the Holy Ghost, who even under that dispensation was not altogether withheld from men, “signified to the Jewish nation that the way into the holy of holies was not yet manifest [Note: Hebrews 9:6-8.].”
Even the promises that were given for their encouragement were, for the most part, only such as were calculated to work upon an earthly mind, and in no respect to bring them to a state of peace and joy. Hence, except those few favoured saints who had an insight into the Gospel, and were enabled to look through the shadows of the law to Christ as the substance of them, all were in bondage, serving God from fear, rather than from love; and rendering to him rather the reluctant services of the body, than the willing devotion of the soul.]
The Christian dispensation, on the contrary, tends to produce in us a happy childlike disposition—
[The new covenant, which it holds forth to us, offers life and salvation on far different terms than were prescribed by the old covenant. The old covenant said, “Do this and live:” the new covenant says, “Believe and be saved [Note: Romans 10:5-9.].” The Gospel reveals unto us a sacrifice, that is, “a propitiation for the sins of the whole world;” and offers us a Saviour, who is “able to save to the uttermost all that come unto God by him.” Under this dispensation every one is privileged to enjoy the most intimate access to God, to “come with boldness into the holiest by the blood of Jesus, to draw near to God with a true heart in full assurance of faith, having his heart altogether sprinkled and purged from an evil conscience [Note: Hebrews 10:19; Hebrews 10:22.].” Further, these rich blessings are revealed to us as the fruits of God’s everlasting love, no less than as the purchase of the Redeemer’s blood; and to the blessings of time are added all the glory and felicity of heaven, as the assured portion of all God’s chosen people.
But, besides this clearer revelation of God’s grace and mercy, there is a manifestation of it made to the souls of the faithful by the Spirit of God, who “sheds abroad in their hearts the love of God” the Father, and “takes of the things that are Christ’s to shew unto them,” and by his own sanctifying operations “delivers them from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God.”]
With this contrasted view of the two dispensations agree the express declarations of God himself—
[The nature of the two dispensations is thus distinctly marked by a very striking allegory; in which the Spirit generated in those who were under them is contrasted by that of a servant and a child [Note: Galatians 4:1-6.]: moreover, the transition from the one to the other is illustrated by the very same images as have been already noticed [Note: Hebrews 12:18-24.]: and the final issue of our adherence to the one or to the other is declared to be precisely such as might be expected;—to the servant, banishment; and to the son, an everlasting inheritance [Note: Galatians 4:24-25; Galatians 4:30.].]
But, to enter fully into the subject, we must consider it,
In reference to the experience of individual believers—
The Holy Spirit strives in a greater or less degree with all:
In the unconverted, he works as “a spirit of bondage”—
[He is the true Author of every good desire. The least disposition towards what is good is as much his work as the most spiritual exercises of God’s dearest children. His operation therefore must be traced as well in the hearts of the unconverted, as of the converted. In the commencement, he operates in a way of legal hopes: in the progress, he impels to slavish fears: and, with those who are not the subjects of saving grace, he terminates his operations by instigating to self-righteous endeavours. A person first beginning to think about his soul, (for which thought he is wholly indebted to the Spirit of God,) is desirous of putting the most favourable construction on all his former ways, and of dissipating all apprehensions about his eternal state. Hence he persuades himself, that he has never committed any great sins; or, if he has, that they were committed under such circumstances as greatly to palliate their guilt: that, at all events, God is too merciful ever to visit his offences with such a terrible punishment as the Scriptures speak of: and that his good deeds, which he either has performed, or hopes to perform, will counterbalance all the evil he has done. By degrees his mind becomes more enlightened, and he sees that his sins have been neither so few, nor so venial, as he had imagined. And now his legal hopes vanish, and are succeeded by slavish fears. The declarations of God respecting the final condemnation of the wicked are credited by him; and his claims of innocence or good desert are seen to be destitute of any solid foundation. Now the thoughts of death and judgment are terrible to him; and, as St. Paul says, He, “through fear of death, is all his lifetime subject to bondage.” To such an extent do “these terrors of the Lord” operate on many, that they hate their very existence, and would gladly surrender it up, if they could but perish like the beasts, and never be called to any future account. These apprehensions lead, as may be expected, to self-righteous endeavours. The person who is under their influence, sets himself to read, and pray, and attend the ordinances: he dispenses alms to the poor; he renounces many practices which he once justified, and performs many duties which he once neglected; hoping, if possible, to make up for all the time that he has lost, and to conciliate the favour of his offended God. As his light increases, and the insufficiency of human merit is discovered by him, he looks to the Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ, to atone for his faults, and to supply his detects. Perhaps in time the folly of depending on human righteousness is seen by him; and he is willing to seek for salvation through Christ, provided he may but recommend himself to Christ by some obedience of his own, and have in himself the warrant for embracing the Saviour, and for expecting his salvation. Thus he founds his hopes, if not entirely, yet in some measure, on his own good works; and though doing well, as far as respects the ardour of his exertions, he fatally errs in making self the ground of his dependence, and perishes for want of a better righteousness than his own. This was the progress of the Spirit’s work in the unconverted Jews [Note: Romans 9:31-32.]; and such it is also in thousands at the present day.]
In those who are converted, he works as a Spirit of adoption—
[To these he imparts sublimer gifts, enabling them to look up with confidence to God, crying, “Abba, Father.” He gives them an assured testimony of their acceptance with God as a reconciled God and Father; setting, as it were, upon their hearts the Father’s seal [Note: 2 Corinthians 1:21-22.], and witnessing with their spirits that they are the children of God [Note: ver. 16.]. Thus, drawing them by his gracious influences, he brings them into a state of holy “fellowship with the Father and the Son,” causing them to walk with God as dear children, and to live habitually as in his presence; they “dwelling in God, and God in them;” yea, being “one with God, and God with them.” As brought into the family of God, they now, through the power of that same blessed Spirit, live in a humble dependence upon God for all that they stand in need of for body and for soul, for time and for eternity. “All their care is cast on Him who careth for them;” and the life which they live in the flesh they live by the faith of the Son of God, “receiving every thing out of his fulness,” in the time and measure that Infinite Wisdom seeth best for them. Nor are these heavenly gifts uninfluential on their conduct. They now walk in the habit of grateful obedience to God, desiring and striving to be “perfect, even as their Father which is in heaven is perfect.” They serve their God no longer from fear, as slaves, but from love, as obedient children, whose ambition is to do their Father’s will on earth, as it is done in heaven. Elevated thus, and sanctified by the Spirit’s influence, they are filled with a joyful expectation of dwelling speedily, and to all eternity, in the immediate presence of that Saviour, “whom unseen they loved, and in whom even here they rejoiced with joy unspeakable and full of glory.” They “look for, and haste unto, the coming of that blessed day,” when they shall behold him face to face: the time seems long till they shall enjoy that bliss; and, with a holy impatience, they are ready to cry, “Come, Lord Jesus, come quickly.” They know that, as children, they are heirs: they have already, in the consolations of the Spirit, had “an earnest of their inheritance;” and they long for the full possession of it, “desiring to depart, that they may be with Christ.” Thus does the Spirit work, though certainly in different degrees, on all the children of God, inspiring them with filial joys, as he fills the unregenerate with slavish fears.]
In conclusion, we would entreat all of you to inquire, What spirit you have received?
Have you received the Spirit of God at all?
[Many, alas! have scarcely so much as “heard whether there be any Holy Ghost:” or, if they have, they regard all idea of his agency upon the soul as visionary and delusive. But let such persons know, that they are altogether dead in trespasses and sins. If the Spirit of God have not so far wrought upon our minds as to convince us of our lost estate, we have not as yet taken one single step towards heaven. The declaration of St. Paul in the preceding context is, “If any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of his.”]
Have you received the Spirit as a spirit of bondage?
[Despise it not: the fears and terrors with which he has filled your minds, maybe introductory to your final liberty, and your complete salvation. It is thus that the Spirit usually, if not invariably, works in those who are “translated from the kingdom of darkness into the kingdom of God’s dear Son.” He first wounds, and then heals, the soul: he “convinces us first of sin,” and then “of righteousness and of judgment:” he causes us to feel ourselves lost, and makes use of that feeling to lead us to Him who came into the world to seek and save us. “Despise not then the day of small things:” for “then shall you know if you follow on to know the Lord.”
On the other hand, we must say, Do not rest in it. The spirit of bondage will generate fear; but it will not produce either love or holiness, both of which are necessary to your everlasting salvation. If we have no better principle than slavish fear to make us obedient to our God, what are we better than the heathen? The Christian must regard God, not merely as a Judge, but as a Father. He must obey, not through fear of the lash, but from a real love to his name, and an unfeigned delight in his holy will. The truth, if it enter into our hearts, will make us free: and it will “deliver us from the bondage of corruption, into the glorious liberty of the children of God.”]
Have you received the Spirit as a Spirit of adoption?
[Then be thankful for it, and adore your God for the exceeding riches of his grace towards you. But take care that you do not deceive your own souls respecting it. It is possible to mistake in this matter, and to refer to God’s agency the delusions of Satan and of your own hearts. Many indulge a very unhallowed confidence in God. But, though it is our privilege to put away slavish fear, it is our duty to cherish to the uttermost a filial fear of offending God. We must “walk in the fear of the Lord all the day long.” If we are on our guard in this particular, then our confidence cannot be too strong; since there is nothing which a loving father can bestow on his obedient child, which our God will not confer on us. Know then your privilege, and rejoice in it; and with all the confidence which the repetition of the word implies, go into the presence of your God from time to time, crying, “Abba, Father.” But take care that you do not lose it. Take care that you “grieve not the Holy Spirit of promise, whereby you are sealed unto the day of redemption [Note: Ephesians 4:30.].” Watch over your every action, word, and thought; endeavouring to walk “as obedient children,” yea, “as dear children,” worthy of the relation in which you stand to God; “being holy, as He who hath called you is holy [Note: 1 Peter 1:14-15.].”]
THE WITNESS OF THE SPIRIT
Romans 8:16. The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God.
THERE is a tribunal before which we must all appear at the last day: but we need not wait till that time to ascertain our true character. Every man has a tribunal erected in his own bosom. The conscience, according to the light it has received, accuses or excuses, those who will listen to its voice. This is common to heathens as well as Christians [Note: Romans 2:15.]. But God’s people are favoured with the additional testimony of the Holy Spirit. Of this the Apostle speaks in the passage before us.
We shall endeavour to shew,
What is the witness here spoken of—
Witnesses imply a doubt of the thing which is to be confirmed. The thing to be ascertained here is, “That we are the children of God.” Respecting this, many are in suspense all their days; but God has provided means for the removal of these doubts.
He has been pleased to give us the witness of his Spirit.
Through the medium of rational deduction—
[We may judge of our state by comparing it with the declarations of Scripture: God has given many marks and characters of his own people [Note: e. g. 1 John 3:10.]; we may examine by these how far our practice corresponds with our duty, and know from the testimony of an enlightened conscience our real state. This is a scriptural way of judging: St. Paul used it [Note: He knew that God required real integrity of heart, Psalms 51:6. He therefore laboured to attain it, Acts 24:16. He had the testimony of his conscience that he had attained it, Hebrews 13:18. And this testimony was to him a ground was to him a ground of joy before God, 2 Corinthians 1:12.]; and exhorts us to use it [Note: 2 Corinthians 13:5.]. St. Peter represents the attainment of this as a principal part of our baptismal engagement [Note: 1 Peter 3:21.]; St. John also assures us, that this is the way in which God would have us to know our state [Note: 1 John 3:20-21.].]
In a way of immediate impression—
[The Spirit, as a “Spirit of adoption,” testifies to the believer’s soul, that he belongs to God. Not that this testimony is given without any reference to the Scripture; yet it is imparted in a more instantaneous manner, and in a far higher degree, at some times than at others. God by his Spirit sometimes “sheds abroad his love in the heart” in such a measure, and shines so clearly on the work he has already wrought there, as to convey immediately a full persuasion and assurance of an interest in his favour. As by “the sealing of the Spirit” he stamps his own image on his children for the conviction of others, so by “the witness of the Spirit” he testifies of their adoption for the more immediate comfort of their own souls. These manifestations are vouchsafed, for the most part, to prepare the soul for trials, to support it under them, or to comfort it after them: but they cannot be explained for the satisfaction of others [Note: We cannot convey to any man a just idea of sensations which he has never felt; they must be experienced in order to be understood. The work of the Spirit in regeneration is not fully understood even by those who are the subjects of it, notwithstanding its effects are as visible as those of the wind, John 3:8. We cannot expect, therefore, that his less visible operations should be more intelligible to those who have never experienced them at all. See Revelation 2:17.]; yet may they be sufficiently proved from Scripture to be the privilege and portion of true believers [Note: See Romans 8:15; 2 Corinthians 1:21-22; and Ephesians 4:30; which clearly shew, that the Holy Spirit does operate on the souls of God’s people, and perform towards them the office both of a sanctifier and a comforter.].]
To guard the doctrine against every species of delusion, we shall shew,
How to distinguish it from all false and enthusiastic pretensions—
Many, it must be confessed, have pretended to this witness on false grounds [Note: Some have fancied that the Spirit witnessed their adoption because they have had a singular dream, or a portion of scripture has been suddenly and strongly impressed upon their minds, or they have enjoyed peculiar comfort in their souls.], and Satan is ready enough to help forward such delusions. But the witness of the Spirit may be distinguished from all enthusiastic pretensions to it, if we consider attentively,
What precedes it—
[Conviction of our lost estate, faith in the Redeemer, and devotedness to God as our rightful Sovereign, must precede it. If we have not these things, we cannot be God’s children; and we may he sure the Spirit will never attest a falsehood.]
What accompanies it—
[Humility of mind, a jealous fear of ourselves, and a love to the weakest of God’s people, attend these divine communications; whereas pride and conceit, with a presumptuous confidence, and a contempt of others, are ever found in deluded enthusiasts.]
What follows it—
[Manifestations of God to the soul always produce zeal in his service; victory over sin; and a longing for the enjoyment of him in heaven; but supineness, subjection to evil tempers, and a forgetfulness of the eternal world, generally characterize the self-deceiving professor. Let every one therefore examine his pretensions by these marks — — —]
Those who know nothing of this testimony of the Spirit—
[You probably do not understand the regenerating influences of the Spirit; and yet you see them manifested in the lives of many around you. Do not then condemn the witness of the Spirit merely because you cannot comprehend it: rather pray to God that you yourselves may be his children, and that the Spirit may testify to you of your adoption.]
Those who profess to have received it—
[A delusion in this is above all things to be guarded against: if your dispositions be habitually bad, your pretensions are all a delusion: where the witness of the Spirit is, there will the fruits also of the Spirit be.]
Those who long to receive it—
[To have the full witness of the Spirit is desirable, but not necessary: it is a great mercy if we enjoy his lower attestations in a good conscience. Let us labour to serve God, and leave to him the time, manner, and degree, in which he shall reveal himself to us.]
Those who now enjoy this witness—
[The manifestations of God to the soul are a very heaven upon earth; let them therefore be duly esteemed and diligently improved; but beware lest you “grieve the Spirit by whom you are sealed:” be looking forward with increasing earnestness to your inheritance; and while you enjoy the inward witness that you are the children of God, let the world have an outward evidence of it in your lives [Note: In confirmation of this view of a very difficult subject, the reader is referred to an elaborate and judicious discussion of it in Edwards on the Affections, page 168–185; at the close of which that most penetrating author gives a summary of the whole in these words: ‘When the Apostle Paul speaks of the Spirit of God bearing witness with our spirit, he is not to be understood of two spirits, that are two separate, collateral, independent witnesses; but it is by one, that we receive the witness of the other: the Spirit of God gives the evidence, by infusing and shedding abroad the love of God, the spirit of a child, in the heart; and our spirit, or our conscience, receives and declares this evidence of our rejoicing.’
To obviate any objection that may seem to arise from the term συμμαρτυρεῖ, see how the same word is used, Romans 9:1.
THE PRIVILEGES OF GOD’S CHILDREN
Romans 8:17. If children, then heirs; heirs of God, and jointheirs with Christ; if so be that we suffer with him, that we may be also glorified together.
THERE are many high-sounding titles among men, which are no otherwise profitable to the possessors of them, than as they please their fancy, and gratify their pride. But the honourable appellations given to the true Christian, are connected with real and substantial benefits, which every one who is counted worthy of them shall infallibly enjoy. Believers are called in Scripture, “Children of God.” Now this name is not a mere Hebraism, or figure of speech peculiar to Scripture: for though it is true that the Scriptures speak of children of promise, children of disobedience, children of the curse, importing only that the persons so called are of such or such a character; yet the term “Children of God” is of a more determinate meaning: it imports a relation to God as a Father; and includes all that is comprehended in that relation. Hence the Apostle, having spoken of believers under this term, immediately draws this inference from it; “If children, then heirs; heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ.”
In considering these words, we shall set before you,
The privileges of believers—
It is here taken for granted, that believers are children of God: we therefore pass over that, and notice only the privileges attached to that relation. And here we find them.
[We know what is usually understood by the term “heir.” An heir is one who has a title to an estate, not as having earned or merited it, but simply by right of primogeniture. He comes to the full possession of it as soon as he is of age; and in the mean time he is supported out of it agreeably to the rank of life he is hereafter to sustain.
Now from hence we may see what is implied in the term, when applied to the children of God. They have a claim to heaven itself as their inheritance [Note: 1 Peter 1:3-4.]. But their right does not at all arise from any thing they have done to deserve or purchase it: it is founded solely on their having been born of God through the operations of the Holy Spirit upon their souls [Note: John 1:13.]. They come to the full possession of it at the time appointed of the Father: but, while they continue minors, they are educated, and maintained, in a manner suited to their high and heavenly birth: they have the Holy Ghost himself for their teacher [Note: 1 John 2:27.]; they have manna from heaven, even “angels’ food,” for their support [Note: John 6:53-55.Psalms 78:25; Psalms 78:25.]; they have the garments of salvation for their clothing [Note: Isaiah 61:10.]; and angels for their attendants to minister unto them [Note: Hebrews 1:14.].
In some respects indeed the parallel does not hold: for, amongst men, the eldest only is the heir, and the younger have smaller portions allotted to them: but, of the children of God, every one has an equal right to the whole inheritance. Besides, the heirs of men may die, or be defrauded of their inheritance: but the children of God have their inheritance reserved for them; and they are kept for it [Note: 1 Peter 1:4-5.]. Moreover, the heirs of men retain their possessions but a little time, and lose them entirely at death: but the children of God come to the full enjoyment of their inheritance, when they die; and then possess it for ever and ever.]
[When the Apostle says, “heirs; heirs of God,” he does not intend merely to repeat the idea, but to enlarge and amplify it by a very important addition. The children of men, though denominated heirs of such or such a person, can only inherit the substance belonging to that person: but the children of God inherit all that God has, and, if we may so speak, all that he is. To them belong “all things,” whether present or future, whether temporal or eternal [Note: 1 Corinthians 3:21-23.]. To them belong also all the perfections of the Deity, so far at least as they need to have them exercised for their good in this world, and for their happiness in the next: they can say with David, “The Lord himself is the portion of mine inheritance [Note: Psalms 16:5.].”
Further light is thrown upon this subject by the additional expression, “joint-heirs with Christ.” Christ is the Lord and “Heir of all things [Note: Hebrews 1:2.].” But “he is not ashamed to call us brethren [Note: Hebrews 2:11.].” By virtue of this relation to him, we are partakers of all that he inherits. Has “his Father appointed unto him a kingdom? Such is appointed to us” also [Note: Luke 22:29.]. Has his Father called him to a throne? We also are seated on it together with him [Note: Revelation 3:21.]. Does he, agreeably to his Father’s will, possess a glory and felicity infinitely surpassing our highest conceptions? The same also is given to us for our everlasting portion [Note: John 17:22.].
But, whatever be the means of bringing us to the enjoyment of this portion, our right and title to it arises wholly from our relation to God the Father as his children; “If children, then heirs;” “if a son, then an heir of God through Christ [Note: Galatians 4:7.].”]
We must not however forget,
The condition on which they are bestowed—
Though we are not required to do any thing in order to earn these privileges, or to render an equivalent for them when bestowed upon us, yet are conditions imposed upon us; and we must submit to those conditions, if ever we would participate the blessedness of God’s children.
For the sake of perspicuity, we will shew,
What the condition is—
[Christ, our elder Brother, was a sufferer, “a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief [Note: Isaiah 53:3.].” In this respect all the family must resemble him: every one of them must learn obedience in the same way [Note: Hebrews 5:8.], and be perfected by the same means [Note: Hebrews 2:10.]. It is appointed to all the disciples of Jesus to “take up their cross, and follow him.” They must expect the same treatment from an ungodly world as he experienced: they must be hated, reviled, persecuted: “the disciple cannot be above his Lord; it is sufficient for him to be as his Lord:” “if they have called the Master of the house Beelzebub, much more will they those of his household.”
Now it is not easy for flesh and blood to endure these things: we are ever ready, through pride and anger, to resent such treatment; or, through shame and cowardice, to shun it. But the condition is plain and absolute, No cross, no crown: “We must suffer with him, if ever we would be glorified together.”]
The equity of it—
[Our sufferings are intended as a test of our love to Christ. There was no necessity for our blessed Lord to submit to sufferings, unless he chose to undertake our cause, and put himself in the place of sinners: yet, purely for our sakes, he endured even death itself, yea, the painful and accursed death of the cross. If our trials then were a thousand times more severe than they are, would it not become us cheerfully to sustain them in proof of our regard for him? If he voluntarily bore so much for our good, it is surely reasonable that we should, when called to it, endure somewhat for his glory.
But our sufferings are also intended to secure to us, and augment, the inheritance itself. Nothing tends more to wean us from the world, than the opposition we meet from worldly men. Our “tribulation also worketh patience;” yea, it both exercises and confirms our every grace [Note: Romans 5:3-4.]. Strange as it may appear, the enduring of trials for Christ’s sake tends greatly to the advancement even of our present happiness, inasmuch as it “turns to us for a testimony [Note: Luke 21:13.],” and puts honour upon us [Note: Philippians 2:29. 1 Peter 4:13-14.], and is, for the most part, attended with the richest consolations of the Spirit [Note: 2 Corinthians 1:5.]. And, beyond all doubt, it will hereafter be recompensed “with a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory [Note: 2 Corinthians 4:17.].”
Can we then complain of a condition, which at once conduces to God’s glory, and to our happiness? We should rather rejoice that we are counted worthy to suffer in so good a cause [Note: Acts 5:41.]; and be contented to obtain the inheritance in the way which our heavenly Father has ordained [Note: 2 Timothy 3:12.Acts 14:22; Acts 14:22.].”]
Those who are afraid of the cross—
[Hope not ever to alter the condition which God has imposed: that is absolutely irreversible [Note: 2 Timothy 2:12-13.].” Consider the time when our Lord imposed the condition; and blush for your timidity [Note: Matthew 16:21; Matthew 16:24. “Then.”]. Consider how little it is in the power of man to do against you, and what a sad alternative you prefer [Note: Luke 12:4-5.Matthew 16:25; Matthew 16:25.]; and let your cowardice humble you in the dust. Think what a worm it is that you are afraid of, and what an omnipotent Being you displease [Note: Isaiah 51:7-8; Isaiah 51:12-13.]: and lastly, consider whether the inheritance will not abundantly repay all that you can endure in the way to it. Let such reflections as these occupy your minds. Count the cost at once, and learn to “sell all for this invaluable pearl [Note: Matthew 13:44-46.].”]
The suffering children of God—
[Think it not strange that ye meet with fiery trials [Note: 1 Peter 4:12.]: you have often been forewarned respecting it [Note: 1 Thessalonians 3:4.]: and they are all working for your good [Note: 1 Peter 1:7.]. If you were to suffer for evil-doing, there would be reason for shame: but to suffer for well-doing is honourable, and acceptable with God [Note: 1 Peter 2:19-20; 1 Peter 4:15-16.]. While the heir feels the restraints of his minority, he comforts himself with the prospect that he shall ere long be of age, and launch into the complete fruition of all his wishes. Your trials are, as it were, a needful discipline, to which you must submit for a little time: but soon they will for ever end, and all the felicity of heaven be yours. “Be patient therefore till the coming of you Lord [Note: James 5:7; James 5:10-11,];” consoling yourselves with that delightful promise, “He that overcometh, shall inherit all things [Note: Revelation 21:7.].”]
PRESENT TROUBLES AND FUTURE GLORY
Romans 8:18. I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us.
AN expectation of ultimate advantage is that, which gives activity to men in every situation of life. But, while it operates with full force in things relating to this world, its influence is scarcely felt by the generality of mankind in relation to things spiritual and eternal. Hence they are easily drawn aside from the path of duty by the allurements of time and sense, or driven from it by the terrors of persecution: whereas, if they would duly estimate the pleasures or pains of this present life, and weigh them in a balance against the glory and felicity of the world to come, they would be stimulated to patience and diligence in well-doing, since they could not but see with the Apostle, that the one were not worthy to be named in comparison of the other.
That we may judge of the Apostle’s estimate, I will endeavour to set before you the trials of the saint in this life, and the glory that awaits him in the life to come.
The trials of a saint in this life are great—
[“Man is born to trouble,” and every man must expect his share of it in this world: but the saints have a greater portion of it than others.
In common with, others, they are called to endure pain of body, distress of mind, loss of friends, embarrassment of circumstances, and every other evil incident to this mortal state.
But besides all this, they have many trials peculiar to themselves. From within, they are often bowed down under a sense of guilt, or under their indwelling corruptions: they are sometimes harassed with temptations, which, as fiery darts, wound and inflame their inmost souls: and sometimes they are overwhelmed with the hidings of their Father’s face, and ready to sink in utter despair. How grievous these sensations are, no words can adequately express. They are also not a little tried from without. The contempt, the hatred, the persecutions they endure, are often grievous to be borne; and would shake their fidelity, if they were not upheld and strengthened by their God.
Let this accumulated load be weighed as in a balance, and it will be found exceeding heavy, insomuch that, “if in this life only they had hope,” the saints would be of all men in the most pitiable condition.]
But the glory that awaits him is also great—
[There is a glory that shall be revealed to us, and a glory that shall be revealed in us: both of these are included in the words before us [Note: εἰς ἡμᾶς.]; and, taken together, they comprise all the glory and felicity of heaven.
The very place to which we shall be admitted, is described by all the powers of language, in order to convey to us some faint idea of its beauty [Note: Revelation 21:10-23.]. There we shall behold all the angelic hosts with the spirits of just men made perfect (how bright and blessed an assembly must that be!) yea, we shall see the Lamb of God, that very Jesus who was crucified for us, seated on his throne; and we shall behold the Father also face to face: we shall see him as he is, in all the brightness of his glory.
Together with this, we ourselves shall be fully changed into the image of our God: we shall resemble him both in body and soul, as far as finite creatures can resemble the infinite Jehovah. We shall also participate the blessedness of the Deity: and every vessel, according to its capacity, shall be filled with joy.
But it is in vain to estimate what is so infinitely above our comprehension; for “we know not yet what we shall be.” Even our present privileges surpass all that the carnal eye; or ear, or heart, has ever seen, or heard, or conceived [Note: 2 Corinthians 2:9.]; much more therefore must the happiness of heaven infinitely exceed all that language can express, or imagination conceive.]
Such being the two states of suffering and of glory as viewed distinctly, let us now bring them under our review,
In a way of comparison—
[Sufferings, of whatever kind, are painful to flesh and blood; but when estimated according to the word of God, they are light, mixed, and momentary. How light are they in comparison of what thay might be — — — or of what we deserve — — — or of what Jesus endured for us — — — or of what myriads of our fellow-creatures are now enduring in hell! — — — Besides, amidst them all, we have innumerable mercies for which to be thankful — — — and, if they were continued throughout our whole lives, they would be short as the twinkling of an eye, in comparison of the state to which we are hastening — — —
But the glory that awaits us is exceeding great, even “a weight” as great as the soul with its most enlarged powers is able to support — — — It is also unmixed with any alloy of sin, or sorrow — — — and its duration will be eternal, even co-existent with the soul itself — — —
What comparison then is there between them? So infinitely does the glory exceed all the sufferings that we can endure in this life, that if we add hyperbole to hyperbole, and strain all the powers of language and of thought, to express the difference [Note: See 2 Corinthians 4:17. in the Greek.], we never can do justice to the subject, or declare a thousandth part of that which really exists. The Apostle’s estimate was formed as the result of a minute and accurate computation [Note: λογίζομαι.]; and therefore the accuracy of it is past a doubt. In fact, the Apostle does not institute a comparison between them (for they will not admit of any comparison); but he says that the sufferings are “not worthy [Note: ἄξια.]” (not worthy of any consideration, no, not of a thought), when the glory that shall follow them is kept in view.]
We may learn from hence,
How to judge of God’s dispensations—
[To those who look no farther than to the present life, “the ways of God appear unequal:” since the godly are oppressed, and the wicked triumph. But let eternity be taken into the account, and all the seeming inequalities will vanish: the godly will be recompensed for their sufferings; and the wicked will receive the due reward of their impieties. The Judge of all the earth will not only do right, but will manifest the equity of all his dispensations.]
How to comfort the afflicted mind—
[When persons are complaining that their trials are exceeding heavy, and that they are ready to faint because of them, we should lead them to view their sufferings in a way of comparison, or in a way of contrast. We should compare the good they lose or the evil they sustain, with the good and evil that are beyond the grave: or we should contrast the good to be enjoyed in a life of sin, with the evil which sin will hereafter bring upon us; or the evil to be sustained in this life, with the good with which it shall hereafter be compensated. In either of these methods [Note: The Scriptures point out these distinctly: they compare present with future good, Heb 11:16 and present evil with future, Luke 12:5. So also they contrast present good with future evil, Ecc 11:9 and present evil with future good, Hebrews 10:34. And the effect of both these methods in composing the mind is intimated in 2 Corinthians 4:18.] we may, with God’s help, put an end to their murmuring; and make them willing to bear their present afflictions in expectation of the benefit that will result from them.]
How to regulate our own conduct—
[Are we under trials? we should view our sufferings as ordered by God himself in number, weight, and duration, and consider them as means appointed by him for the perfecting of his work within us. Then, whatever our trials be, we shall not give way to an undue depression of mind; but shall commit ourselves to God in silent resignation, and wait for our recompence in the eternal world.]
THE STATE OF GOD’S CHILDREN
Romans 8:23. And not only they, but ourselves also, which have the first-fruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting for the adoption, to wit, the redemption of our body.
MUCH is spoken in Scripture respecting the happiness of the saints. And doubtless they are on many accounts the most blessed people upon earth. But they also experience in a great degree the sorrows that pervade the universe. It is not in this, but in the future world, that they are to attain perfect uninterrupted felicity.
The Apostle is here encouraging the afflicted Christians to endure their trials patiently, in expectation of a rich eternal recompence. He tells them that the whole creation were supported under their present sufferings by a hope of some happier state: and that he himself, notwithstanding the privileges he enjoyed, participated with them in the common lot.
From his words we are led to consider,
The state of the creation at large—
This is fully developed in the four verses preceding our text. There are however considerable difficulties in those verses; but chiefly arising from the inaccuracy of the translation. Read them thus, and the main difficulties will be overcome: “The earnest expectation of the creation waiteth for the manifestation of the sons of God: (for the creation was made subject to vanity, not willingly, but by reason of him who hath subjected the same;) in hope that the creation itself also shall be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation groaneth and travaileth in pain together until now.” Thus, by translating the word κτίσις, creation, and the word ὅτι, that, and by inclosing a part in a parenthesis, the whole will be made clear, and to a certain degree easy.
[The whole creation was reduced to a very deplorable condition by the fall of man. The material world underwent a most awful change: cursed was the ground for man’s sake: the earth rendered barren without continual and laborious culture, or fruitful only in briers and thorns, which, if left unrestrained, would speedly overrun it: and the atmosphere rendered the fatal source of storms, and tempests, and pestilential vapours for the destruction of man [Note: Genesis 3:17-18.]. The animal world, first subjected to man’s controul, and innoxious in all their habits, had such a change wrought within them, that they all of various orders prey one upon another, and are more or less arrayed in hostility to man. The rational world partook more largely still of this fatal change: for man universally, and without exception, was despoiled of the Divine image, and corrupted in all his faculties, whether of mind or body, and subjected to innumerable diseases, and miseries, and death.]
But things shall not always continue thus—
[There is a time coming, when God will manifest himself in a more especial manner to his own people; and it is therefore called, “The manifestation of the sons of God:” and then shall the sentence denounced against the whole creation be reversed, in order that every creature, according to its capacity, may partake of that universal blessedness. The material world will become again what it was at first, beautiful in all its parts, fertile to the utmost extent of man’s necessities, and salubrious throughout every place and every clime. The animal world shall have all their venomous propensities removed, and the prophet’s description shall be fully realized among them, “the wolf dwelling with the lamb, and the leopard lying down with the kid; and the calf and the young lion, and the fatling together; and the sucking child shall play on the hole of the asp, and the weaned child shall put his hand upon the cockatrice’ den: they shall not hurt nor destroy throughout God’s holy mountain [Note: Isaiah 11:6-9.].” The whole rational world shall then be converted unto God; “for the knowledge of the Lord shall cover the earth, as the waters cover the sea.”
Thus throughout the whole creation shall, to a certain extent, the paradisiacal state be restored.]
Now, as this will be a state of inconceivable blessedness, the whole creation is represented as looking and longing for it—
[It will be remembered that our blessed Lord was foretold as “the person whom all nations desired.” Now he was foretold under that character, not because all nations did desire him, but because all nations, if they had known him, would have desired him. So here the whole creation is said to look and wait for the day spoken of in my text, not because they do indeed expect it with such solicitude, but because they would expect it in that way, if they were fully apprised of the blessedness attendant on it. And, as in other passages of Holy Writ, the woods and the hills are often spoken of as participating in, and expressing, the joys of God’s people; so here, by a very strong figure, the whole creation is represented as stretching forth the neck [Note: ἀποκαραδοκἱα.], with eagerness, in looking for it, and groaning with impatience [Note: συστενάζει.] for its arrival; yea, and as experiencing the pangs of parturition till they shall be liberated from their present burthen [Note: συνωδίνει.]. Nor are these expressions at all too strong, if the different parts of the creation were capable of discerning and appreciating the blessedness of the change that shall await each in its proper sphere, and to the full extent of its capacity. Every part is at this time “under the bondage of corruption,” that is, under the curse introduced by sin; and every part, according to its capacity, shall be delivered from that bondage, and be brought, so far as it is capable of it, into a participation of the “liberty that shall then be accorded to the children of God.” These were the feelings assigned to the inanimate creation at the first advent of our Lord in his abased state [Note: Psalms 96:11-13; Psalms 98:4-9.]; and the same creatures may well be said to pant for a renewal of their joys, when our Lord shall come again to establish his kingdom over the face of the whole earth.]
But all this may, almost without a figure, be uttered as descriptive of,
The state of God’s children in particular—
These have already the foretaste of these joys in their own souls—
[The “first-fruits” were a part of any produce, devoted to God as an acknowledgment that the whole was from him: and whilst they sanctified the whole harvest, they assured to the possessor the full enjoyment of it [Note: Deuteronomy 26:2; Deuteronomy 26:10-11.Proverbs 3:9; Proverbs 3:9.]. Now the harvest of “the Spirit” is that abundant effusion of holiness and happiness which God will pour forth on his people in the latter day, not unlike to what they enjoyed on the day of Pentecost, or to that which our first parents possessed in Paradise. And “of this Spirit God’s people have now the first-fruits.” They are renewed in the spirit of their mind after the very image of their God in righteousness and true holiness: and, with this renewal of their nature, they are also “filled with joy of the Holy Ghost;” even with a “joy that is unspeakable and glorified.” Now it might be supposed that these, by reason of their present attainments, would be less anxious for the promised period before referred to, when the whole creation shall be restored, as it were, to its primeval purity and happiness. But the very reverse of this is the case: for in every age these are the persons who most pant and long for the promised felicity. Yes, says the Apostle, “ourselves who have the first-fruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting for the adoption, even the redemption of our body.”]
Of the joys they now experience they look forward to the everlasting consummation—
[“Believers are now the children of God [Note: 1 John 3:1.],” his children both by adoption and grace. Now adoption, amongst the Romans, was two-fold; first, private, in the house, and afterwards public, in the forum. The former of these every believer has received already through the operation of the Spirit of God upon his soul [Note: ver. 15, 16.]: but for the latter he waits till that period when God shall come to gather together his elect from every quarter of the world, to restore to every soul its long mouldered body, and to make the whole man, in body and soul, eternally blessed in his presence. That is the period when “the body will enjoy the redemption” that has been long since possessed by the soul; and a blessedness will be then imparted to the whole man, of which his present most exalted happiness is but an earnest and foretaste. Now the believer knows that that period shall arrive: and he longs for it, and “groans within himself,” through the ardour of his desires after it. Even here his anticipations of it have been sweet, infinitely beyond the powers of language to express, (“a joy unspeakable;”) what then shall the full possession be in the complete enjoyment of his God? From the private adoption, by the testimony of the Spirit, he has been almost wrapt at times into the third heaven, notwithstanding the clog which his body has imposed upon his soul. What then shall the public manifestation of this honour in the presence of the whole assembled universe be, when his “redeemed body” shall possess all the purity and perfection of his soul, and not only partake of all the joys of his soul, but aid the sold in its everlasting possession of them? I wonder not that “St. Paul groaned in this body, being burthened; yea, that he groaned, earnestly desiring to be clothed upon with his heavenly house, namely, with his body in its renovated and perfect state [Note: 2 Corinthians 5:2-5.]. This ought to be the state of every true believer; and it will be in proportion as he lives nigh to God, and has “his conversation in heaven.”
By some the period referred to in my text is supposed to commence at the Millennium, of which time St. Peter speaks when he says, “We look for new heavens and a new earth, wherein dwelleth righteousness [Note: 2 Peter 3:13.].” And, if any find comfort in that view of the subject, I would not move a finger to rob them of it. I have no objection to persons following their own views of Scripture truth: every man has the same right to do it as I myself have. But, when these uncertain matters are made the subject of disputation in the Church of God, to the creating of dissensions and divisions, and to the turning of the minds of pious persons from the more clear and fundamental truths of the Gospel, then I bitterly regret it, and am ready to weep over it as “a device of Satan to turn men from the simplicity that is in Christ.” If any choose to apply this passage to the Millennium, and to look for its accomplishment then, let them: but let them bear with those who cannot see with their eyes, or feel that there is any advantage in their views. Let all agree in this, to look and groan inwardly for the time of their consummate felicity, whether it occur at a little earlier or a little later period: for this is the point in which all are to agree; and in this consists the highest attainment of the Christian life: “We come behind in no gift, whilst we are waiting for the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ [Note: 1 Corinthians 1:7.]” to perfect our felicity; and we are sure, that “to those who so look for him, he will appear a second time unto their everlasting salvation [Note: Hebrews 9:28.].” My prayer therefore for all of you, my brethren, is, “The Lord direct your hearts into the love of God, and into a patient waiting for Christ [Note: 2 Thessalonians 3:5.].”]
That I may bring this subject home more powerfully to men’s business and bosoms, I would add,
Let us not take up our rest in this world—
[This world is but a passage to a better, a wilderness which we must pass through in our way to the heavenly Canaan. As to our present accommodations, we need not be much concerned, whether they be a little more or less suited to our present convenience. We are but “pilgrims and sojourners here,” hoping in due season to attain our rest hereafter. Let us then look forward to “that rest which remaineth for us,” and under all existing difficulties derive our consolations from the prospect of the happiness that awaits us. This is, not the duty merely, but the high privilege, of the Christian. This it is which raises the Christian above all the world besides. What are crowns and kingdoms, if a man have no prospect beyond the grave? On the other hand, What is martyrdom itself to one who sees it as the very door of heaven, and knows that the body which agonized for a few moments, shall reign in glory for evermore? I say then to every one amongst you, “Set not your affection on things below, but on things above, where Christ sitteth at the right hand of God,” and where “all who suffer with him now, shall be glorified together with him “to all eternity.]
Let us press forward more earnestly after the happiness reserved for us—
[Who can conceive the blessedness of that state to which we are hastening? If “eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, nor heart conceived the things which are enjoyed by God’s people in this present world,” how much less can any just conception be formed of their future state? If the possession of the first-fruits be so glorious, what must the harvest be! If the privilege of being God’s children be so delightful now, that the very hope of it raises us above all the joys or sorrows of this present world, what shall the full manifestation of it be when all the interests of time and sense are for ever passed away? Let us then survey more and more the blessedness of heaven, where we shall behold face to face that Saviour who died for us, and be with him for ever, possessing, according to their capacity, all the fulness of his beauty, his felicity, and his glory. Dear brethren, let this prospect swallow up every inferior consideration, and animate us to run with ever increasing diligence the race that is set before us. Let us “forget all that is behind, and reach forward to that which is before, and press on with all imaginable ardour for the prize of our high calling in Christ Jesus.” And, in the desire of that full blessedness, let us cry continually with the beloved Apostle, “Come, Lord, and take me to thyself; yea, come, Lord Jesus, come quickly.”]
THE OFFICE OF HOPE
Romans 8:24-25. We are saved by hope: but hope that is seen is not hope: for what a man seeth, why doth he yet hope for? But if we hope for that we see not, then do we with patience wait for it.
IF it be asked, What is that feeling of the mind, which, beyond all others, gives life and activity to rational agents? we answer, It is hope. Influenced by this, all persons in every department of life put forth their energies: the merchant braves the storms; the soldier encounters his enemies; the student consumes the midnight oil in his laborious researches. To this also is chiefly to be referred the Christian’s exertions in the service of his God. True it is, that love and gratitude have a constraining influence upon him: but it is also true, that these principles would be ineffectual to carry his soul through all its trials, if they were not confirmed and animated by the yet more powerful operation of hope. Great, no doubt, are the privileges and enjoyments of the Christian in this present world: he is a child of the Most High God; and has “a spirit of adoption within him, enabling him to cry, Abba, Father.” He has also “the witness of the Spirit testifying both in and by his own spirit, that he is a child of God.” But, after all, little solid comfort would he derive from these reflections, if he did not look forward to an inheritance, to which, by virtue of his relation to God, he is entitled. Hence the Apostle represents the Lord’s people as deriving their chief consolation from the prospect which they have beyond the grave [Note: ver. 23.], yea, and “as being saved by hope,” through the operation of which upon their minds “they patiently wait for” the termination and issue of all their present trials.
We propose on the present occasion to consider the nature and effects of the Christian’s hope:
We are most generally said to be saved by faith [Note: Romans 5:1.]: but here salvation is ascribed to hope. There is, in fact, a near affinity between the two: and we cannot adopt any better method of illustrating the nature and operations of hope than by instituting a comparison between it and faith. That faith and hope are very nearly allied, appears from this, that in St. Paul’s account of Abraham, he represents the two principles as concurring with each other, and having an united influence on his obedience: “Against hope,” says he, Abraham “believed in hope [Note: Romans 4:18.].”
In some things the two principles agree—
[They agree in their origin: both of them are the gift of God, and the fruits of the Holy Spirit’s operation on the soul. Have we faith? it is the gift of God [Note: Ephesians 2:8. Philippians 1:29.], the fruit of a divine operation [Note: Colossians 2:12.], a work of grace [Note: Acts 18:27.]: and if we have hope, we have been begotten to it by God himself [Note: 1 Peter 1:3.], even by his gracious influence on our souls [Note: 2 Thessalonians 2:16.]: and to his Holy Spirit must be ascribed all its increase in the soul, together with all the peace and joy that flow from it [Note: Romans 15:13.].
They agree also in their use: both the one and the other being intended to further the salvation of our souls. As we are saved by faith [Note: Romans 10:9.], so are we by hope also [Note: Romans 8:24.].
They agree yet further in their duration: they have no scope for exercise beyond this present life. Faith is by St. Paul opposed to sight [Note: 2 Corinthians 5:7.]; and as in heaven “we shall see God face to face, and know him even as we are known,” the dark and enigmatical visions of faith will cease [Note: 1 Corinthians 13:12. See the Greek.]. In like manner we are told in our text, that “hope that is seen, is not hope: for what a man seeth, why doth he yet hope for?” We shall have in heaven the actual possession of what is now the object of our hope. Then faith will be lost in sight, and hope in enjoyment.]
In other things the two principles materially differ—
[They differ in their foundation. Faith is founded solely on the veracity of God. Hope is founded, partly, on the word of God, and, partly on our conformity to that word. The word of God reveals a dispensation of mercy to sinful man. But what hope does that generate in the minds of the fallen angels? They believe it, as much as we do: but, having no evidence in themselves that they comply with the terms on which that mercy is vouchsafed, they do not hope in it: “they believe and tremble [Note: James 2:19.].” It is the penitent alone that has hope in God: and his hope arises from his consciousness, that he does embrace the mercy offered him, and conform to the terms which God in his wisdom has prescribed to all who shall ultimately be saved by it.
They differ also in their qualities. Faith is properly a virtue; and the want of it under all circumstances is a sin. As a virtue, there is no other so frequently or so highly commended; (where that has been exercised, humility, and love, and every other grace that has been exercised with it, has been overlooked, and that alone commended [Note: Luke 7:50.]:) and as a sin, no other is so strongly reprobated as unbelief [Note: Mark 16:16.]. Hope, on the other hand, may rather be called a privilege than a virtue; and despondency, a curse, rather than a sin. So far indeed as hope agrees with faith in its foundation, so far it agrees with it in its moral qualities: but as far as it is founded, not on the word of God, but in a man’s own conformity to that word, so far its moral qualities differ from those of faith: for instead of its being a sin for an ungodly man to despair of salvation in his present state, it is a sin for him to indulge a hope: it is the vilest presumption in him to think that he can ever be saved in an impenitent and unbelieving state: and to despair of salvation in such a state is his very first step towards heaven.
They differ yet further in their objects. Faith is incomparably more extensive than hope. Faith has respect to both good and evil: it embraces in its view both heaven and hell: but hope has good alone for its object. Faith comprehends every thing that God has revealed, whether past, present, or future: hope looks only to what is future. Faith regards every declaration of God, whether historical or prophetic, promissory or menacing, hortatory or preceptive: but hope has respect to the promises alone. It invariably terminates on some good, which is yet future, and which God has promised.
Lastly, They differ also in their offices. Though both of them agree in their general use, to promote the salvation of men, they have exceedingly distinct offices. Faith apprehends the Lord Jesus Christ, and, by uniting us to him, interests us in all that he has done and suffered for us: it also receives out of his fulness all those graces and blessings which the Father has been pleased to treasure up in him for the benefit of his Church. Hope merely expects those blessings: and, by presenting future good to our view, stimulates us to diligence in the pursuit of it. Both of these principles “save us;” but faith brings that good into the soul which hope had only anticipated; and, by presenting invisible realities to our view, gives to hope a more ample scope for exercise. Faith is the parent of hope: but hope, once formed in the soul, becomes an active helper to faith. Neither can operate to any good effect without the other. Faith without hope is paralysed; and hope without faith is dead: but, when faith duly apprehends Christ, and hope leads us to wait patiently for his full salvation, then the work of God goes on prosperously within us, and we are in the sure way to everlasting life.]
Such being the nature of the Christian’s hope, we proceed to inquire into,
These are represented under the general term, Salvation; “We are saved by it.” But how does it effect salvation for us? We answer, By it,
We are comforted in our afflictions—
[Afflictions are the lot of all, but especially of the Lord’s people. All of them have a cross to bear; and tribulation is their appointed way to the kingdom of heaven. Indeed, so painful are the trials which they have to endure for the Lord’s sake, that, “if in this life only they had hope, they would be of all men most miserable,” or, at least, most to be pitied [Note: ἐλεεινότεροι, 1 Corinthians 15:19.]. But the prospect of eternal glory so lightens their burthen, as to make it quite easy to be borne [Note: Acts 20:24.]. To this effect the Apostle speaks in the chapter before us; (and he delivers the sentiment as the result of his own most careful investigation:) “I reckon (I compute by accurate calculation) that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that shall be revealed in us [Note: ver. 18.].” In another epistle he gives a full and accurate description of his views and feelings on this subject. “He was continually delivered unto death for Jesus’ sake:” but he was perfectly satisfied with his condition, because “he knew, that He who had raised up the Lord Jesus, would raise him up also by Jesus, and present him, together with his beloved converts [Note: 2 Corinthians 4:11-14.],” “faultless before the presence of his glory with exceeding joy [Note: Jude, ver. 24.].” The prospect of that blessed event made all his “afflictions light,” yea, lightness itself [Note: 2 Corinthians 4:17-18. See the Greek.]. It may be thought, perhaps, that this superabundant grace was given to him as an Apostle, and is not to be expected by us. But it is to be expected by every saint whom “God hath begotten to a lively hope:” for our blessed Lord tells all his followers, not merely to bear their persecutions with patience, but to make them a ground of joy and exultation, because of the glorious recompence that awaits them in the eternal world [Note: Matthew 5:10-12.]. And who that has ever suffered much for righteousness’ sake, has not found this to be the effect of his hope towards God? Many amongst us may say with David, “I should have fainted, unless I had believed to see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living [Note: Psalms 27:13.].” But under the influence of this hope their consolations have abounded in proportion to, yea, and far above, all their accumulated afflictions [Note: 2 Corinthians 1:5.].]
We are supported in our conflicts—
[To all true Christians there are, on some occasions, “fightings without, and fears within.” But the grace of which we are speaking, serves them as an helmet, that will resist the stroke of their most potent adversary. In the panoply of God, this piece of armour yields to none in point of efficacy and importance: salvation is pre-eminently ascribed to it: it is called, “The helmet of salvation [Note: 1 Thessalonians 5:8. with Ephesians 6:17.].” It is well known, that persons clothed with armour from head to foot, especially if contending with persons not so protected, enter into the combat with peculiar confidence [Note: This was particularly observable in the French cuirassiers at the memorable battle of Waterloo.]. And thus especially does the Christian whose mind is well established by hope: he is “strong and very courageous,” not doubting but that God is with him, and that he shall be “more than conqueror through Him that loved him.” The assaults which he has to sustain may indeed be violent and very terrible, even like the waves of the sea, that threaten to overwhelm the tempest-tossed bark. But his “hope, like an anchor sure and steadfast, enables him to out-ride the storm [Note: Hebrews 6:19.].” That “anchor cast within the vail,” keeps his mind composed [Note: Isaiah 26:3.], and assures him, that he is safe, though earth and hell should combine their efforts to destroy him [Note: 2 Timothy 1:12.]. How this grace operated on the saints of old, we may see at large in St. Paul’s Epistle to the Hebrews. Many, under its influence, “took joyfully the spoiling of their goods [Note: Hebrews 10:34.]:” and many, even of the weaker sex, when called to endure the severest torments that could be inflicted on them, “would not so much as accept the deliverance” that was offered them, because “they hoped assuredly to obtain a better resurrection [Note: Hebrews 11:35.].” Thus will it operate on us also. Precisely as the expectation of a future harvest leads the husbandman to encounter all difficulties, and cheers his mind during the long continuance of an inclement winter, so the prospect of reaping in due season enables the Christian to endure unto the end [Note: James 5:7-8.]. He has never seen the felicity which he pants after; but he expects assuredly the ultimate possession of it; and therefore “patiently waits for” the final consummation of all his hopes [Note: Romans 8:25.].]
We are encouraged in our exertions—
[To a man who has heaven in his eye, nothing is impossible. Behold Moses, when at the summit of human grandeur and power: an alternative was before him, “to suffer affliction with the people of God, or to enjoy the pleasures” and honours of the court of Pharaoh: and which did he prefer? He chose “the reproach of Christ, esteeming it to be greater riches than all the treasures of Egypt.” And what guided him to this strange decision? it was hope; “he had respect unto the recompence of the reward [Note: Hebrews 11:24-26.].” In like manner St. Paul “pressed forward with incessant ardour in his heavenly course, forgetting what was behind, and reaching forward to what was before.” And, if we inquire into the principle which animated him to such exertions, we shall find that it was precisely that which is mentioned in our text,—the hope and prospect of securing “the prize of his high calling.” We may even say that our blessed Lord himself, as a man, was actuated by the same divine principle; since it was “for the joy that was set before him, that he endured the cross and despised the shame, and rested not till he sat down at the right hand of the throne of God [Note: Hebrews 12:2.].” And we too, if we would “run our race with patience,” must imitate him in this respect [Note: Hebrews 12:1.]; we must keep our eye steadily fixed on him, and continue without intermission “looking for that blessed hope, and the glorious appearing of the great God and our Saviour Jesus Christ [Note: Titus 2:11-13.].” Then shall we “be steadfast, unmoveable, and always abounding in the work of the Lord,” when we are convinced in our mind, “that our labour shall not be in vain in the Lord [Note: 1 Corinthians 15:58.].”]
Those whose hopes are presumptuous—
[There is no man who does not hope that he shall be saved at last. But we ought to be “able to give a reason of the hope that is in us [Note: 1 Peter 3:15.].” If we cannot do this, and a satisfactory reason too, our hope is altogether vain and delusive. We have before said, that hope, as well as faith, must, in part at least, be founded on the word of God. Look to it then, that your hope is truly scriptural, and that you seek with all diligence that humility and contrition, that faith and love, that purity and holiness, that zeal and devotedness to God, which are the distinguishing characters of all who shall ultimately attain the kingdom of heaven. If you are “without Christ, you are without hope [Note: Ephesians 2:12.]:” but if you flee to him for refuge, you may be perfectly assured of acceptance with him [Note: Psalms 130:7-8. John 6:37.].]
Those who are harassed with doubts and fears—
[There are many, of whom there is reason to hope well, who yet do not enjoy that comfort in their minds which the religion of Christ is calculated to impart. In some this disquietude arises from imperfect views of the Gospel: they do not see the freeness and fulness of that salvation that is provided for them in the Gospel; and they are looking for some qualifications in themselves to warrant their confidence in the Saviour. They do not distinguish aright between the offices of faith and hope: they do not see that the vilest creatures under heaven are warranted to believe in Christ for salvation, and to hope for acceptance with him in his appointed way of penitence and faith; but that to hope for heaven as persons actually brought into a state of salvation, requires an evidence in our own souls, that we are, in a measure at least, transformed into the Divine image. To such persons then we would say, Do not look for qualifications in yourselves to warrant your application to Christ, or your affiance in him; but, whilst you accept salvation freely through his blood and righteousness, look to him also for the communications of his grace to renew and sanctify your hearts, and to make you meet for his inheritance. With some indeed these doubts and fears originate rather in a consciousness of some unmortified lust, or of habitual negligence in the divine life: and where this is the case, we must declare, that peace and confidence would be a curse to them. We must “awake to righteousness, and not sin,” if we would have any comfortable evidence that we are the Lord’s people, or any happiness in looking forward to the eternal world. But, from whatever cause men’s doubts arise, we would address to them that encouraging exhortation, “Turn ye to your strong hold, ye prisoners of hope [Note: Zechariah 9:12.].”]
Those who have a good hope through grace—
[Rejoice in the exalted privilege to which God has called you; and endeavour to render to the Lord according to the benefits he has conferred upon you. It is said by St. John, that, “he that hath this hope in him, purifieth himself even as Christ is pure [Note: 1 John 3:3.].” Take care then that your hope operate in this way: let it stir you up to the utmost possible exertions in the way of holiness. Rest not in low attainments: think nothing yet attained, whilst any thing remains to be attained. Keep your evidences clear: let them not be clouded by any unmortified lust, or secret neglect: and then shall you “hold fast the rejoicing of your hope firm unto the end [Note: Hebrews 3:6.].” This is the way to be both holy and happy: and, thus living, you may be well assured, that your “hope shall never make you ashamed [Note: Romans 5:5.].”]
THE WORK OF THE SPIRIT IN STRENGTHENING MEN FOR SUFFERING OR DUTY
Romans 8:26. Likewise the Spirit also helpeth our infirmities: for we know not what we should pray for as we ought: but the Spirit itself maketh intercession for its with groanings which cannot be uttered.
A HOPE of eternal happiness is as an anchor to the troubled soul; it enables a person to bear up under the heaviest afflictions; but the mind of a believer would soon faint, if it were not strengthened from above. God therefore communicates his Spirit to his people under their trials. By his Spirit he enables them to go forward in the way of duty. St. Paul has been speaking of sufferings as the Christian’s portion here [Note: ver. 17, 18.]. He has mentioned “hope” as a principal support to the soul under them [Note: ver. 24.]. He now specifies the Holy Spirit’s agency as another mean of confirming and establishing the soul.
This agency of the Spirit we may consider,
In seasons of suffering—
Men are, in themselves, too weak to sustain many or severe trials—
[There is much impatience in the heart of every man. It too often discovers itself even in those who are, on the whole, pious. Sometimes it is called forth by small and trifling occasions. How passionately did Jonah resent the loss of his gourd [Note: John 4:8-9.]! How bitterly would the Disciples have revenged an act of unkindness [Note: Luke 9:54.]! There is no trial so small but it would overcome us, if we were left to ourselves; and they who have endured heavy trials, often faint under small ones.]
But God sends his Spirit to help the infirmities of his people—
[We cannot exactly discriminate between the Spirit’s agency and theirs. Indeed the Spirit acts in and by their endeavours [Note: This is implied in the term συναντιλαμβάνεται—”Metaphora ab oneribus sumpta, quζ, utrinque admotis manibus, sublevantur.” Beza in Luke 10:40. Feeble therefore as our strength is, we must exert it: and if we cheerfully put our hands to the work, the Holy Spirit will always afford us effectual succour.]. He leads them to see the source and tendency of their trials. He strengthens the natural vigour of their minds. He suggests to them many consolatory thoughts. Thus he fulfils to them that gracious declaration [Note: Psalms 147:3.]—]
These operations of the Spirit are yet more manifest,
In seasons of prayer—
God’s people “know not even what to pray for”—
[A great variety of passions may agitate their minds. When this is the case, their petitions may be unbecoming and sinful. Even a sense of guilt will often stop the mouth before God [Note: Compare Psalms 32:3; Psalms 32:5.]. Sometimes also trouble itself will utterly overwhelm the soul, and incapacitate it for prayer [Note: Psalms 77:4.]. Our Lord himself seems to have experienced such a perturbation of mind [Note: John 12:27.]; nor are there any praying persons who have not often found themselves straitened in the exercise of prayer.]
It yet oftener happens that they know not how to pray “as they ought”—
[We may easily utter good and suitable words before God; but it is by no means easy to pray with fervent importunity. An insurmountable languor or obduracy will sometimes come upon the soul. Nor though we were ever so fervent can we always exercise faith. Many have felt the same workings of mind with David [Note: Psalms 77:7-10.]— At such seasons they cannot pray as they ought.]
But the Holy Spirit will “make intercession for them”—
[Christ is properly our Advocate and Intercessor [Note: 1 John 2:1.]: but the Spirit also may be said to “intercede for us.” The Spirit intercedes in us at the throne of grace, while Christ intercedes for us at the throne of glory. He sometimes enables us to pour out our hearts with fluency. This he does by discovering to us our wants, quickening our affections, and testifying to us God’s willingness to answer prayer. He does not, however, always operate in this way.]
He will make intercession “with unutterable groans”—
[The joy of Christians is represented as being sometimes inexpressible [Note: 1 Peter 1:8.]: but frequently a sense of sin overwhelms them. Then sighs and groans are the natural language of their hearts. Nor are such inarticulate prayers unacceptable to God. We have a remarkable instance of their success in the history of our Lord [Note: John 11:33; John 11:38; John 11:41.]— Perhaps no prayers are more pleasing to God than these [Note: Psalms 51:17.].]
How many are there who live all their days without prayer!
[Those in whom the Spirit intercedes are often made to feel their inability to pray aright. Under a sense of their infirmities they are constrained to cry to God for the help of his Spirit: but many pass all their days without any painful sense of their weakness. They satisfy themselves with a formal performance of their duties. Such persons never pray in an acceptable manner [Note: John 4:23.]. Real prayer implies fervour and importunity [Note: Isaiah 64:7.]; and it is in vain to think that we have the spirit of grace, if we have not also the spirit of supplication [Note: Zechariah 12:10.]. May WE therefore never be found of the number of those, whom the prophet and our blessed Lord have, on account of their formality in prayer, condemned as hypocrites [Note: Matthew 15:7-8.]—]
What comfort may this passage afford to praying people!
[Many are discouraged by the difficulties which they experience in the duty of prayer. If they feel not an enlargement of heart, they doubt whether their prayer will be accepted. But God will notice the groaning of his people [Note: Psalms 38:8-9.]. Such inward desires may often be more pleasing to him than the most fluent petitions: they are, in fact, the voice of God’s Spirit within us. Let not any then be dejected on account of occasional deadness. Let every one rather follow the advice of the prophet [Note: Habakkuk 2:3.]— God, in due time, will assuredly fulfil his promise [Note: Psalms 81:10.]—]
ALL THINGS WORK FOR GOOD
Romans 8:28. We know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose.
TRUE believers have the greatest encouragement to draw nigh to God; they have supernatural assistance when pouring out their hearts before him, and are assured by God himself that their prayers shall be heard; yet, sometimes, like the Israelites in Egypt, the more they renew their requests, the more they find their burthens increased [Note: Exodus 5:6-8.]: hence, like them, they are also sometimes ready to murmur and despond [Note: Exodus 5:20-21.]; but, by grace they are enabled to wait patiently the Lord’s leisure, and invariably, in the issue, the clouds which they so much dreaded, burst in blessings on their heads.
This St. Paul declares to be the experience of all true believers. In his words I wish you to notice,
The description he gives of true Christians—
Christians are sometimes described in the Scriptures by their regard for God, and sometimes by God’s regard for them. The text leads us to speak of them in both points of view:
Their regard to God—
[The “loving of God” is a character peculiar to true Christians: others are represented rather as “haters of God,” and enemies to him in their minds [Note: Romans 1:30. Colossians 1:21.]; but they who are partakers of his grace, have their natural enmity removed: they behold his excellency, and are sensible of their obligations to him: hence they love him, and strive to love him with their whole hearts.]
God’s regard for them—
[Their regard for him sprang not from any good dispositions in themselves; it resulted purely from the manifestations of God’s love to them: he formed “purposes” of love to them from all eternity [Note: Jeremiah 31:3.]. In due time he “called” them by his grace, and made them his people; and this distinguishing favour is the true source of their love to him. To this effect both our Lord and his beloved Apostle testify [Note: John 15:16. 1 John 4:19.]— To the eternal purposes of God, therefore, and not to the inclinations of our carnal minds, must all the good that is in us be traced.]
To persons of this description the Apostle announces,
His strange yet assured confidence respecting them—
It is under sufferings that the superiority of the Christian’s state is to be seen to the greatest advantage. Of them the Apostle speaks; and declares that, of whatever kind they be, they shall work for the good of them that love God—
[The Christian may be called to bear the heaviest afflictions; but they shall bring him to consideration, stir him up to prayer, wean him from the world, and lead him to seek his rest above — — — He maybe assaulted also with the most distressing temptations; but these will shew him the evil of his heart, and the faithfulness of his God: they will also teach him to sympathize with his tempted brethren: even death itself will be among the number of the things that shall prove beneficial to him. This is the most formidable enemy to fallen man: it cuts him off from all means and opportunities of salvation, and seals him up under endless and irremediable misery; but to a true Christian it is a most-invaluable treasure [Note: 1 Corinthians 3:22.]. It puts a period to all his sorrows and temptations, and introduces him to the immediate, everlasting enjoyment of his God.]
Nor can we doubt of this blessed truth—
[The Apostle speaks of it not as a matter of conjecture, but of certainty: as he knew it, so may “we know” it, from the declarations and promises of God [Note: Psalms 25:10.]. Both David and Paul have attested it also from their own experience [Note: Psalms 119:71.Philippians 1:19; Philippians 1:19.]: nor is there any Christian in whom it has not been realized. It is not however singly or separately that all things work for good, but as taken “together” in a collective view. Separately considered, many things may have wrought for evil, by producing sinful tempers or actions; but when viewed as connected with all their effects and consequences, the most untoward circumstances will be found to have wrought for good.]
This subject naturally suggests,
A rule whereby to judge of God’s electing love—
[Our election of God can be known only by its effects [Note: 1 Thessalonians 1:4-5.]. To ascertain it, we must inquire whether we have been called by his grace, and whether, in consequence of that call, we love God supremely? If we experience these effects, we may safely conclude, that God has entertained eternal purposes of love towards us; but if we trace not these effects, our pretensions to an interest in his electing love is a fatal delusion. Let them, in whom these evidences are found, rejoice; but rejoice with trembling.]
A ground of comfort under his apparent frowns—
[Afflictions are not at the present joyous, but grievous; and because they are his rod, we are ready to say, “All these things are against me.” But the Scripture tells us, that “the trial of our faith is precious [Note: 1 Peter 1:7.].” Let the afflicted then consider what “good” may be accruing to them. Their troubles may be working so as to discover, prevent, punish, or destroy sin; — — — or they may be working to impart, exercise, strengthen, or perfect grace — — — What reason, in either case, have the afflicted to take comfort! We think little of inconveniences if they do but promote our temporal interest. Should we then be averse to any trials that may tend to our spiritual advantage? Let us wait to see “the end of the Lord,” and be solicitous rather about our future benefit, than our present ease.]
A motive to love and serve God with our whole hearts—
[Things are never represented as working for the good of the wicked; on the contrary, their temporal “blessings are often cursed” to them; yea, even spiritual blessings only aggravate their guilt and condemnation [Note: 2 Corinthians 2:16.]. Christ himself proves, not a Saviour, but a stumbling-block to them [Note: 1 Peter 2:7-8.]. But for God’s people, all things, sin excepted, work for good. Should they not then love him for such distinguishing mercy? Can they ever do enough for him, who so marvellously overrules all events for them?]
Romans 8:29-30. Whom he did foreknow, he also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the first-born among many brethren. Moreover whom he did predestinate, them he also called: and whom he called, them he also justified: and whom he justified, them he also glorified.
THE subject of predestination is confessedly very deep and mysterious: nor should it be entered upon without extreme caution, both as to the mode of stating it, and to the persons before whom it is stated. It is much to be lamented, that there exists in the minds of many a strong prejudice against it; insomuch that the very mention of it is deemed by them little short of heresy; I had almost said, of blasphemy. But this surely is not a way in which any part of God’s revealed will is to be treated. That the inspired writers do speak of it, is undeniable: and that our own Church also has made it an Article of faith, which all her ministers and members are to receive, is also certain. On these accounts we must not discard the doctrine through fear of offending any who may be hostile to it; though on the other hand we ought not so frequently or so strongly to insist upon it as unnecessarily to wound and grieve them. The true medium which a minister should aim at, is, to give to this doctrine, as well as to every other, as precisely as possible that measure of prominence and importance which it bears in the sacred writings. To be bringing it forward on every occasion, just as if it were among the first principles of religion, we consider as very injudicious, and detrimental to the best interests of religion: but to omit it altogether, we deem unworthy of a faithful servant of Christ. To the doctrines which have an opposite aspect, we give all due weight; and therefore we may be allowed to put this also before you, according as it is plainly declared in the passage which is now under our consideration.
The Apostle having designated “those who love God” as persons “who have been called according to God’s purpose,” proceeds to shew, that from first to last God is the author of their salvation: he fore-knew, and predestinated them from all eternity to the privileges which they enjoy; and will infallibly complete his purpose respecting them, in their effectual calling, their free justification from all their sins, and their final glorification at his right hand for ever.
In the Apostle’s statement we may see,
The principal ends of predestination—
God acts in all things according to his own sovereign will and pleasure: yet is that will regulated by the counsels of infallible wisdom [Note: Ephesians 1:5; Ephesians 1:11.]. Whilst therefore in all things he consults primarily his own glory, he has respect to such ends and objects as are most suited to promote his glory. The ends he has proposed to himself, in predestinating men to life, were two-fold: the immediate end respected us; and the ultimate end respected his beloved Son, through whom all his purposes were to be accomplished.
The immediate end respected us—
[He decreed that all the objects of his choice “should be conformed to the image of his Son.” But how were they to be conformed to him? We answer, In holiness, in sufferings, and in glory.
We are to be conformed to Christ in holiness. Our blessed Lord was altogether without spot or blemish, a perfect exemplar of universal holiness: his bitterest enemies could not find any imperfection in him; and St. John’s testimony concerning him is, “In him was no sin [Note: 1 John 3:5.]” Such, “according to the measure of the gift of Christ,” are we to be also [Note: Ephesians 4:7.]. Like him we must live, not unto ourselves, but unto our God alone; making it “our meat and our drink to do his holy will.” Though in the world, we must not be of the world, any more than he was [Note: John 17:14; John 17:16.]: we must rise superior to all its concerns, resist all its temptations, mortify all its lusts, and “walk in all things as Christ walked [Note: 1 John 2:6.].” The same mind altogether that was in him, must be in us also [Note: Philippians 2:5.]. And to this we are predestinated. We were not chosen of God from eternity, or made the subjects of his new-creating grace in time, because we were holy, or because he foresaw that we should be holy; but that we “might be holy:” “we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them [Note: Ephesians 1:4; Ephesians 2:10. These two passages deserve the most attentive consideration in this view.].”
We are to be conformed to Christ in sufferings. Throughout his whole life our Saviour was “a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief.” “Though he was a Son, yet learned he obedience by the things which he suffered:” and “he was made perfect through sufferings.” In like manner we also must be “a poor and afflicted people [Note: Zephaniah 3:12.].” We must “take up our cross daily, and follow him:” we must be “hated of all men for his sake.” “If they called the Master of the house Beelzebub, much more will they those of his household.” “The servant cannot expect to be above his Master.” “We must “follow him without the camp, bearing his reproach.” To this also we are predestinated. So St. Paul expressly affirmed respecting himself [Note: 1 Thessalonians 3:3-4.]; and so he affirms respecting us also: “All that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution [Note: 2 Timothy 3:12.].”
We are to be conformed to Christ also in glory. “He is now seated on the right hand of the Majesty on high;” and there shall we also in due time be seated. Yes, “having suffered with him, we shall also reign with him,” and “be glorified together [Note: ver. 17. with 2 Timothy 2:12.].” We shall be like him in glory: “our vile body will be fashioned like unto his glorious body [Note: Philippians 3:21.]: our soul also will be changed into his perfect image [Note: 1 John 3:2.]; and our blessedness be altogether assimilated to his [Note: Revelation 3:21.]. And to all of this also our predestination extends. It is not to the means of grace only that “we are chosen, but to salvation itself, and to the obtaining of the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ [Note: 2 Thessalonians 2:13-14. See also Act 13:48 and 1 Thessalonians 5:9.].”]
The ultimate end respected our Lord Jesus Christ himself—
[The first-born were entitled to many privileges: to them belonged dominion, and the priesthood, and a double portion of the inheritance. In respect of all the rest of the creation, not excepting even the angels themselves, we may be styled the first-born [Note: Exodus 4:22.Hebrews 12:23; Hebrews 12:23.]. The whole family of believers are “kings and priests unto God,” and are entitled to inherit the kingdom of our heavenly Father [Note: Revelation 1:6. Matthew 25:24.]. But in respect of us, Christ is the First-born; for “He in all things must have the pre-eminence [Note: Colossians 1:18.].” He is to be the Head of all his Church and people [Note: Ephesians 1:21-22.]: and to this He is predestinated; yea, it is in order to this that they also are predestinated to the attainment of his glory. It was decreed in the eternal counsels of his Father, that “if he would make his soul an offering for sin,” he should have “a seed to serve him,” and should assuredly “be satisfied with the travail of his soul [Note: Psalms 22:30. with Isaiah 53:10-11.].” Had not this been absolutely decreed, it might have happened, that not so much as one might ever have been saved, and that, consequently, Christ might have shed his blood in vain. For, if every thing had been left entirely dependent on the free will of man, all might have used their free will precisely in the same way; and every child of man might have rejected him, exactly as the great mass of mankind are actually doing. But can we conceive that God would have given his Son to bear the iniquities of a ruined world, and have left it to mere chance, whether any single individual should ever obtain mercy through him, or become a jewel in his crown? We cannot conceive this; in fact, we know that it was not thus left to chance: we are sure, that there is a chosen people, who were from eternity given to Christ, to be redeemed by his blood, and to be saved by his grace: and that of those who were so given him, he neither has lost, nor ever will lose, so much as one [Note: John 17:2; John 17:6; John 17:9-12; John 17:24.]. How many these are, God alone knows: but we are sure they are “many,” even “a multitude, whom no man can number, out of every kindred, and tongue, and people, and nation [Note: Revelation 5:9; Revelation 7:9.].”
It will probably be objected, that, if there be any who are thus predestinated unto life, the remainder must of necessity be ordained to death. But this we by no means admit. We grant that it is a difficulty which we are not able to explain: and we are contented to be ignorant of those things which it has not pleased God to reveal: and, whether men maintain or deny the doctrine in question, they will find themselves equally at a loss to make every thing intelligible to our finite capacities. It is Scripture, and Scripture alone, that must determine what is truth: and, as long as God declares with an oath that “he has no pleasure in the death of a sinner, but rather that he turn from his wickedness and live,” so long we may rest assured, that, notwithstanding he has predestinated many to life, he has not predestinated one single soul to death; nor is the doctrine of absolute reprobation a just and necessary consequence of predestination. To draw the line, we again acknowledge to be beyond the power of any finite capacity: nor are we so much concerned to draw it as some may imagine: for, whether we admit or reject the doctrine of predestination, the same number will be saved at last. The man who denies that doctrine, will admit, that all who repent and believe in Christ, shall be saved, and that all the impenitent and unbelieving shall perish: and the same is admitted by those who maintain the doctrine of predestination: so that an equal number are saved on either plan. The only difference lies in this: that they who maintain this doctrine refer all the glory of man’s salvation to God alone, making him the Author and the Finisher of it, from first to last: whilst those who deny the doctrine, give a great measure of the glory to the creature: for, however they may acknowledge that salvation through Christ is a gift to mankind at large, they make every individual the first moving cause of his own salvation: and exactly in proportion as they ascribe salvation either to human merit, or human agency as independent of God’s grace, in that proportion they give to man a ground of glorying before God. Whatever they may say, according to them, it is man “who maketh himself to differ;” and his salvation must ultimately be ascribed to him as its true, proper, original, and moving cause. It is in this view that we are anxious to have the doctrine of predestination properly understood. As a mere abstract and speculative point, we could very contentedly wave the discussion of it: but, as involving the honour of God, we cannot but consider it as deserving our most serious attention. Nevertheless, if any man cannot receive it, we are not disposed to contend with him, but are contented with pressing on his consideration such matters only as are of primary and fundamental importance.]
Hoping however that the truth of the doctrine has approved itself to you, we shall proceed to state,
The way in which those ends are accomplished—
The order and method of God’s dispensations, from eternity to eternity, are here clearly marked:
He “foreknows” men as objects of his love—
[As far as relates to mere prescience, all things are equally exposed to the view of the omnipresent God; and they who shall ultimately perish, are as much “foreknown” by him, as those that shall be saved. Many in this sense are foreknown by him, who are not predestinated, or called, or justified, nor ever will be glorified. But the word here used imports more than mere prescience, and includes an affectionate regard to the persons foreknown. In this sense it is elsewhere used [Note: John 10:14. Rom 11:2 and in 1 Peter 1:20, the same word is rendered, by a far stronger term, “fore-ordained.”]; and in this sense it must be understood in the passage before us. It is equivalent to that expression of the prophet Jeremiah, “He has loved us with an everlasting love [Note: Jeremiah 31:3.].” And if we inquire into the reason of this love, we can assign no other than that which our blessed Lord has assigned, “Even so, Father, for so it seemed good in thy sight [Note: Matthew 11:26.].”]
He then “predestinates” them unto life—
[We speak of this, as though it succeeded the former in point of time: but with God there is no interval between his foreknowledge and fore-ordination. The inward affection, and the decree consequent upon it, are perfectly co-existent. But in God’s predestination, he has respect both to the end and to the means; or rather to the end by the means. He does not ordain men to life in a way of sin, but, as we have already shewn, in a way of holiness. This is strongly asserted by St. Paul, in a fore-cited passage; “God hath from the beginning chosen you to salvation, through sanctification of the Spirit, and belief of the truth [Note: 2 Thessalonians 2:13.].” And St. Peter to the same effect says, We are “elect according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, through sanctification of the Spirit, unto obedience, and sprinkling of the blood of Jesus Christ [Note: 1 Peter 1:2.].”]
In due time he “calls” them by his word and Spirit—
[The calling here spoken of, is not the mere external call of the Gospel: for many are so called, who, rejecting the call, are never justified or glorified. It is the internal call, whereby they are “made willing in the day of God’s power.” “The word comes to them in demonstration of the Spirit and of power,” and they are “turned from darkness unto light, and from the power of Satan unto God [Note: 1 Corinthians 2:4.Acts 26:18; Acts 26:18.].” This is the call which they experience, and which is the combined result of God’s eternal purpose, and his effectual grace [Note: 2 Timothy 1:9.].]
These, as soon as they believe, he “justifies”—
[Whatever sins a man may have committed, they are all blotted out of the book of God’s remembrance, the very instant that he obeys the Gospel call: “All that believe,” says the Apostle, “are justified from all things [Note: Acts 13:39.]:” nor shall so much as one of “his sins and iniquities ever be remembered against him any more [Note: Hebrews 8:12.].”]
These, in due time, he glorifies—
[Yes, blessed be God, the chain of God’s purposes reaches from eternity to eternity; nor shall one link of it be broken. The glorification of the saints is in part effected, even in this life; inasmuch as “the Spirit of glory and of God resteth upon them [Note: 1 Peter 4:14.];” and “they are changed into Christ’s image, from glory to glory, by the Spirit of the Lord [Note: 2 Corinthians 3:18.].” But in heaven their, felicity will be perfect: there “all that was in part will be done away:” they will “see as they are seen, and know as they are known;” and will be like, and with, their God, for ever and ever.
Here, it may be observed, is no distinct mention made of sanctification; and this may be supposed to give some countenance to those who imagine that sanctification is unnecessary to our final salvation. But sanctification is not omitted here: on the contrary, it is interwoven with the whole statement. For respecting whom are all these things spoken? Respecting those “who love God.” Now love to God is the root and summit of all holiness: and therefore it is plain, that the persons spoken of as called, and justified, and glorified, must be holy. Moreover, the thing to which they are predestinated is, “to be conformed to the image of Christ:” but how can that be if they be not holy? Again; sanctification is yet further implied in their justification, from which it must of necessity spring, as an effect from a cause; as also in their glorification, to which it is necessary as a means to an end: for without a “meetness for their inheritance” they could not possibly enjoy it. We see therefore that the omission is in appearance only, and not in reality; and that there is no ground whatever afforded for antinomian licentiousness.]
Many who do not in their hearts disapprove of this doctrine, yet think of it as affording matter for speculation only, and as of little, if any, use with respect to practice.
But, in fact, it is a doctrine of great practical importance; for it lays the axe to the root of,
[If any man be disposed to boast, he must, in his own opinion at least, either have merited salvation in some measure by his own goodness, or effected it by his own power. They who deny the doctrine of predestination do unavoidably give some occasion for men to boast: for whether they make God’s predestination to be influenced by something done, or something foreseen, still it is the inherent and independent goodness of man that is made the determining ground of God’s choice, and the original cause of man’s salvation. But the doctrine of predestination plucks up all such conceits by the very root: it makes God’s sovereign choice the primary source of man’s happiness, and God’s immutable purpose the means of its final consummation. If it be asked, Why did God love him? it must be answered, “Because he would love him [Note: Deuteronomy 7:7-8; Deuteronomy 9:4-5.].” If it be further asked, Who “hath wrought all his works in him?” it must be answered, God [Note: Isa 26:12. 2 Corinthians 5:5.]. It is God who laid the foundation, and who carries on the spiritual building even to the end: and when the top-stone is brought forth, every sinner in the universe must “cry, Grace, grace unto it [Note: Zechariah 4:6-9.].”]
[The doctrine of predestination is objected to by many, under the idea that it authorizes and encourages persons to say, “I am elected, and have therefore no cause to fear, or even to take heed of my ways.” But, if any man were so to abuse the doctrine, we would immediately ask him this question; Are you conformed to the image of Christ? Here is a test whereby to try our pretensions: and it will instantly discover of what value they are in the sight of God. If a man have an evidence in his own soul, that a work of grace has been begun within him, and that he has been enabled, in a considerable degree, to “put off the old man, and put on the new,” then, in proportion as that change is manifest, he may infer from it his election of God: but, if that change do not appear in his life and conversation, then he may know infallibly, that, in speaking of himself as one whom God has predestinated unto life, he deceives his own soul, and gives advantage to his great adversary to destroy him. Let this then be well known, that we must try ourselves whether we be in the faith: and we must determine the matter, not by any groundless conceits of our own, but by our proficiency in righteousness and true holiness.]
[The doctrine of predestination, if abused, may generate both presumption and despondency: as our Church, in her 17th Article, has told us. But this does not militate against the doctrine itself; for on the same ground, we might decry every other doctrine of Christianity. Be it so: a man has not at present any evidence that he is one of God’s elect: Does this warrant him to conclude that he is given over to a state of reprobation? Surely not: for, if he look into the Scriptures, he will find that even the Apostles themselves were once in a carnal unconverted state, yea, “were children of wrath, even as others [Note: Ephesians 2:3.].” But as the Apostles were in God’s own time delivered from that state, so may we be, notwithstanding we are at this moment in a state which is most unpromising. God did not choose the Apostles for any good that was in them, or that he foresaw would be in them: and therefore he may magnify his grace towards us, even as he did towards them. His grace is his own, and he may confer it on whomsoever he will: and it is a most consolatory thought, that, as he may, so he often does, cause his grace to abound where sin has most abounded. This we are sure is the doctrine of our Church; and we cannot do better than refer you to her Article upon this subject — — — Nevertheless, if any man be not able to receive this doctrine, we would on no account press it upon his mind: we would rather say to him, Discard it from your mind: and take the broad promises of Scripture, wherein it is declared, that “the blood of Christ cleanseth from all sin,” and that he “will save to the uttermost all who come unto God by him.” Take, I say, these promises, not with any reference whatever to God’s eternal counsels towards you personally, but with a perfect confidence that he will fulfil them to all who rely upon him; and that no sinner in the universe, who comes to him in his Son’s name, shall ever be cast out.]
GOD’S GIFT OF HIS SON A GROUND FOR EXPECTING EVERY OTHER BLESSING
Romans 8:32. He that spared not his own Son, but delivered him up for us all, how shall he not with him also freely give us all things?
IF we contemplate the mysterious work of redemption, and the grace of God as displayed in it, we shall be filled with wonder and amazement [Note: ver. 30.]; and in the view of it we shall defy all the enemies of our salvation [Note: ver. 31.]: but if we contemplate the means by which redemption has been effected, even by the gift of God’s only dear Son, our exultation will rise to the highest summit of confidence and triumph. We may then assure ourselves, as the Apostle does in the text, that God’s past goodness to us is a just ground for expecting every other blessing at his hands.
In these words we notice,
What God has done for us—
The state of fallen man was desperate: no possible way was left whereby we might restore ourselves to God’s favour. God, in compassion to us, “spared not his own Son [Note: Οὐκ ἐφείσατο may either mean that he spared him not in a way of justice, i.e. that he exacted of him the utmost farthing of our debt (see 2 Peter 2:4.) or that he spared him not in a way of bounty, i. e. withheld him not. The latter seems to be the sense in this place.].”
[Nothing less than the incarnation and death of the Son of God could remedy the miseries which mankind had brought upon themselves; yet, such was God’s regard for our sinful race, that, rather than they should perish, he would not withhold his only Son.]
He even “delivered him up” to death—
[God sent not his Son merely to instruct us: he gave him to make atonement for our sins: he sent him to die even the accursed death of the cross.]
We “all” were the persons for whose sake God thus delivered him—
[All indeed are not alike benefited by this gift; but it was designed alike for all, and there is a sufficiency in the death of Christ to expiate the sins of all. If any receive not salvation through him, they owe it, not to any want of love and mercy in the bosom of Jehovah, (for he willeth not the death of any sinner,) nor to any want of merit in the Saviour, (for his blood can cleanse from all sin,) but altogether to their own obstinate unbelief. Every one, who desires acceptance through him, may confidently say, He was delivered up for me.]
This manifestation of Divine goodness affords abundant ground for,
The inference drawn from it—
God will “give us all things” that are needful—
[The general expression “all things” must be understood in a limited sense. God will not give worldly riches and honours to his people; but all things that are good for them he will bestow, whatever they need for body or soul, for time or eternity.]
He will give us all things “freely”—
[He does not need to have blessings extorted from him by importunity: he is far more willing to give than we are to ask; nor does he give because we ask, but stirs us up to ask, because he before determined to give: he will bestow every thing on his people as a father on his own children.]
This may be inferred from what he has already done—
[Will not he, who has given his own Son, give smaller things? Will he, who was so gracious to his enemies, forget his friends? Will he, who did so much unsolicited, refuse those who cry day and night unto him? This inference is so obvious, that the Apostle appeals to the reason of every man to judge of it. He insinuates that to doubt it would be the height of absurdity: he seems to think that God could not act otherwise.]
By way of improvement,
Let us endeavour to estimate aright this gift of God—
[God’s own Son is infinitely above all creatures: all the hosts of angels and all the glory of heaven were nothing in comparison of him. Had he been a mere creature, the Apostle’s inference had been inconclusive [Note: If our Lord were only a creature, the reasoning would be to this effect:—‘If God delivered up one creature to endure temporal pain, how shall he not deliver millions of creatures from enduring eternal misery? If he gave one creature, who was infinitely below himself, to be deprived of life for a time, how shall he not give himself, who is infinitely above all creatures, to be our everlasting portion?’ What force or propriety would there be in such reasoning as this?]. He, against whom the sword of vengeance was put forth, was Jehovah’s fellow [Note: Zechariah 13:7. 1 Timothy 3:16.]. Let our gratitude rise in proportion to the excellency of this gift: let us contemplate its excellency, till we exclaim with the Apostle [Note: 2 Corinthians 9:15.]—]
Let us avail ourselves of the encouragement given us to ask for more—
[We daily need many things both for our bodies and souls, and we have the fullest assurance that God will grant us what we need. Let not any one then say, “I am too unworthy to ask.” What worthiness was there in man to obtain the gift of God’s own Son? After him, can there be any thing too great for God to bestow? Surely then the weakest and the vilest may enlarge their petitions. If we “open our mouths wide, God will fill them.”]
Let us be chiefly solicitous to receive Christ himself—
[God will bestow every thing “with Christ:” we cannot receive his blessings without him, nor him without his blessings. Let us then in every state labour most to secure our interest in Christ. If he be ours, we cannot but have every thing in, and with him [Note: 1 Corinthians 3:21-23.].]
Romans 8:33-34. Who shall lay any thing to the charge of God’s elect? It is God that justifieth. Who is he that condemneth? It is Christ that died, yea rather, that is risen again, who is even at the right hand of God, who also maketh intercession for us.
OF all the systems that mankind have devised for reconciling themselves to God, there is not any that will afford solid confidence to the soul: they have never been able to fix a standard that should be a sufficient test of men’s attainments, or to draw a line of distinction between those who should attain salvation, and those who should fall short of it. Hence, after all their labours, they are left in a painful uncertainty about their eternal state. But the Gospel removes all suspense on this subject; and gives to those who cordially embrace it, a full assurance of their acceptance with God. In the New Testament we find scarcely any intimation of believers being harassed with doubts and fears: but there are many instances wherein they express the most assured expectation of happiness and glory. In confirmation of this, we need look no further than to the words before us; wherein St. Paul speaks of them as having communion with Christ in his most exalted privileges, and as possessing the very same confidence as the Messiah himself enjoyed [Note: Compare Isaiah 50:7-9. with the text.]: he, not in his own person only, but in the behalf of all God’s people, challenges the whole universe to lay any thing to their charge, so as ultimately to condemn them.
We shall consider,
His confident challenge—
The name by which he characterizes God’s people is most appropriate—
[Among the ungodly world, there is scarcely a more sarcastic or contemptuous expression ever used, than that by which God himself designates his own people. When they say, “There is one of the elect,” they mean by it, “There is a sanctimonious hypocrite, and a contemptible fanatic.” But, whatever opprobrium they may attach to the word “elect,” be it known, that there is an elect people, whom “God has chosen in Christ Jesus from before the foundation of the world [Note: Ephesians 1:4.],” and that too, irrespective of any works that they should afterwards perform [Note: 2 Timothy 1:9. Romans 9:11.]. He chose them because he would choose them, and loved them because he would love them [Note: Deuteronomy 7:6-8.]. And if any are disposed to quarrel with this exercise of sovereign grace, let them tell us, who made the distinction between the Jews and the rest of the world; and why he did so: let them also tell us, why he, who in that sovereign way chose nations, may not also choose individuals: and why he, who chose some to enjoy the means of salvation, may not choose others to salvation itself. Proud man may frame distinctions, if he pleases: but if the exercise of God’s sovereignty be unjust in the one case, it must be unjust also in the other; and if it be admitted in the one case, it must be also in the other.
Ignorant men are ready to think, that this is a proud title: but it is the most humiliating title that can be imagined; because it acknowledges that no man on earth would ever have chosen God, if God had not first chosen him: and it is the rejection of this title, not the assumption of it, that argues pride; inasmuch as it implies, that some have within themselves an excellence, which has attracted the notice of Almighty God, and induced him to confer on them the most distinguished privileges.]
In behalf of these he expresses the most assured confidence of their salvation—
[No assertion, however strong, could so fully declare his confidence, as the challenge does which he gives to the whole universe.
We are not to understand him as saying, that there is no ground for accusing and condemning the elect; but, that they are brought into such a state that nothing ever shall be laid to their charge so as finally to effect their ruin.
Let us then, with him, give the challenge to all who may be supposed most likely to prevail against us; to the law, to Satan, to conscience, yea, with reverence be it spoken, even to God himself.
The law indeed may accuse us of having violated every commandment in ten thousand thousand instances: yet will we defy it to condemn us. Satan may affirm with truth, that we have been his vassals far the greater part of our lives: yet shall not he prevail against us. As for conscience, that will testify against us, that we have indulged many secret lusts, and been guilty of innumerable transgressions: yet shall not its allegations be heard to our confusion. It is needless to say what the omniscient God might lay to our charge, what rebellion against his Majesty, what neglect of his dear Son, what opposition to his Holy Spirit: but yet, notwithstanding all, so is the believer circumstanced, that God himself can find nothing for which to condemn him.
Doubtless these are strong assertions; and we may perhaps be ready to question the truth of them. But, if there were the smallest room for doubt, would the Apostle have been so confident in his challenge? Would he have repeated the challenge in such unqualified terms, if he could have been answered in so easy and obvious a manner as some imagine?]
Arrogant as the Apostle may appear, we shall cease to think him so, if we consider,
The grounds of his confidence—
His answers might be read, like the questions themselves, in the form of interrogatories; and they would derive much additional spirit and force from this construction, which indeed both the preceding and following context seem to countenance. But in whatever way his words are pointed, the import of them is much the same. He grounds his confidence on,
The sovereignty of the Father’s grace—
[The elect, having believed in Jesus, are actually brought into a justified state. Now justification implies a free, a full, an everlasting remission of all our sins. It is a free gift bestowed upon us, not as saints, but as sinners: we are not first made godly, and then justified; but are first justified, and then made godly. St. Paul expressly gives this title to God, “The justifier of the ungodly [Note: Romans 4:5.].” When God of his infinite mercy vouchsafes to justify a sinner, he does not put away some sins, and retain others; but “blots them all out as a morning cloud [Note: Isaiah 44:22.],” and “puts them from us as far as the east is from the west [Note: Psalms 103:12.].” It is a blessed and a certain truth, that “all who believe are justified from all things [Note: Acts 13:39.].” Nor does God cancel our debt for a time only, intending to call us to account for it at a future period: for he covenants with us, that “our sins and iniquities he will remember no more [Note: Hebrews 10:17.];” and he assures us, that “his gifts and calling are without repentance [Note: Romans 11:29.].”
Now if God thus justify his elect, we may well ask, “who shall condemn them?” If he “cast all our sins into the very depths of the sea [Note: Micah 7:19.],” who shall bring them up again from thence, and lay them to our charge? He “beholdeth not iniquity in Jacob [Note: Numbers 23:21.],” but views us as “complete in Christ [Note: Colossians 2:10.]:” and has formed a chain that shall not be broken: “whom from eternity he foreknew and predestinated, them, in his appointed time, he called and justified; and them he will also glorify” for evermore [Note: Romans 8:30.].]
The perfection of the Redeemer’s work—
[Every part of Christ’s work was considered by the Apostle as a security for the salvation of God’s elect. His death, his resurrection, his ascension, his intercession are so many pledges, that no one shall ever trust in him in vain.
For what end was it that Christ died, but to procure “eternal redemption” for his people [Note: Hebrews 9:12.]? “He gave his own life to be a ransom for them [Note: Matthew 20:28.];” “he shed his blood for the remission of their sins [Note: Matthew 26:28.]:” “he died that they might live no longer to themselves, but unto him that died for them [Note: 2 Corinthians 5:15.].” We confess, that, if we look only at their steadfastness, they may come into condemnation; and “the weak brother for whom Christ died, and that has been actually washed in his blood, may perish [Note: Rom 14:15 and 1 Corinthians 8:11.]:” but their security is in Christ; who will not readily forego the ends of his death, or give up to Satan the souls which he has purchased at so dear a rate.
The resurrection of Christ is a great additional security to the believer; because it was a liberating of our surety from the prison to which he had been carried on our account; and consequently it argues the full discharge of that debt which he had taken upon himself. Hence a peculiar stress is laid upon it in the text; as also in another place, where it is said, “If when we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, being reconciled, we shall be saved by his life [Note: Romans 5:10.].” Now if he “died for our offences, and rose again for our justification [Note: Romans 4:25.],” will he suffer this end to be defeated? We may be well assured he will not.
From the ascension of Christ a yet fuller assurance may be derived, because he is gone to “the right hand of God” both as our forerunner and our head. He is not only “preparing places for his people,” but is invested with all power in heaven and in earth, and has the government of the whole universe committed to him, on purpose that he may put down all his, and his people’s, enemies [Note: 1 Corinthians 15:24-25.]. If then he kept his people when he was on earth, so that not one of them was lost [Note: John 17:12.], will he now suffer any to pluck them out of his hand? No: he has said, that “they shall never perish [Note: John 10:28.]:” and he will assuredly fulfil his word.
If any thing further be requisite for the comfort of our minds, we find it abundantly supplied in the intercession of Christ. The only doubt that can arise on this subject is, whether our manifold backslidings will not provoke the Father to cast us off? But “Christ ever liveth to make intercession for us,” and thereby preserves that peace, which otherwise would be interrupted every hour. If indeed our transgressions were wilful and habitual, we should prove ourselves at once not to be of the number of God’s elect. But if they be only such as arise from the infirmity of our nature; if they be lamented, resisted, and diminished; and if they make us to cleave more earnestly to Christ, Christ will be “our Advocate with the Father [Note: 1 John 2:1.],” and will prevail so as to “save us to the uttermost [Note: Hebrews 7:25.].”
From all these grounds we may affirm with the fullest assurance, that “there is no condemnation to them that are in Christ Jesus [Note: Romans 8:1.].”]
To improve this subject, let us stir up ourselves,
To humble inquiry—
[Are we of the number of “God’s elect?” This is no difficult point to ascertain: for though we cannot look into the book of God’s decrees, to see whether God have chosen us, we may search the records of our own conscience, to see whether we have chosen God: and this will determine the point at once. If we have chosen God as our portion, and Christ as our way to the Father, it is an indisputable evidence that God had before chosen us; because we never should have loved him, if he had not first loved us. But if we feel no such delight in God, we have no reason to think that we belong to him. Let this mode of inquiry be instituted; and let it be pursued with the seriousness which it deserves.]
To grateful adoration—
[What debtors are we to the grace of God, that grace that chose us, that grace that treasured up a fulness for us in Christ Jesus! What do we owe to him, who, when he had passed by angels, was pleased to choose us; and when he might justly have driven us beyond the hope of mercy, has placed us beyond the fear of condemnation! Surely, if we pour not out our hearts in devoutest gratitude before him, the very stones may well cry out against us.
But while we render to him the tribute of a thankful heart, let us also glorify him by a holy life. It is “to good works that we are chosen [Note: Ephesians 2:10. Titus 2:14.],” and “to salvation through sanctification of the Spirit [Note: 2 Thessalonians 2:13.],” and therefore we must answer the end of our election, if we would finally enjoy its blessings. Let us then walk worthy of our high calling, and cultivate all the dispositions of God’s elect; and be as studious to avoid all grounds of accusation, as to escape the miseries of condemnation itself.]
PAUL’S ASSURANCE OF PERSEVERING
Romans 8:38-39. I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
AS there is a typical resemblance between that good land which was promised to the Jews, and that better country which is reserved for us in heaven, so is there a striking resemblance between those, whether Jews or Christians, who have looked forward to the accomplishment of the promises. We see Moses while he was yet on the other side of Jordan, and Joshua soon after he had arrived on the borders of Canaan, appointing the boundaries of the twelve tribes, settling every thing with respect to the distribution of the land, and ordering various things to be observed, just as if they were already in full possession of the whole country without one enemy to oppose them. This appears at first sight presumptuous; but they knew that God had given them the land; and therefore, notwithstanding the battles which were yet to be fought, they doubted not in the least but that they should obtain the promised inheritance. Thus also the Apostle, in the passage before us, speaks in the language of triumph on behalf of himself and of all the Christians at Rome, and that too even while they were surrounded with enemies, and conflicting on the field of battle.
It will be profitable to consider,
The point of which the Apostle was persuaded—
[”The love of God” is that which God has manifested to us “in Christ Jesus,” not merely in sending his Son to die for us, but in forgiving our sins, and adopting us into his family for his sake.
From this love the Apostle says, Nothing shall ever separate us: and, to strengthen his assertion, he calls to mind the various things which might be supposed capable of effecting a separation; and declares concerning each, that it never shall.
He mentions four distinct couplets. First, “neither death nor life” shall be able. Death is that which is most of all dreaded [Note: Hebrews 2:15.], and life is that which is most of all desired [Note: Satan for once spake truth, Job 2:4.]: more especially, if the one be attended with bitter agonies, or the other with all the pleasures of sense, their influence over us is exceeding great. But neither the one with all its terrors, nor the other with all its comforts, shall ever dissolve the union that subsists between God and his believing people.
Next, “neither angels, nor principalities, nor powers” shall be able. By angels must certainly be meant the evil angels, since the good angels are employed in ministering to the heirs of salvation, and would rather confirm them in the love of God than separate them from it: whereas, the evil angels, like a roaring lion, are constantly seeking whom they may devour. “Principalities and powers” are civil magistrates, who hold dominion over the visible, as the devils do over the invisible, world: and who, alas! too often unite their influence with that of Satan to destroy the Church. But neither the one nor the other, nor both combined, shall ever separate a believer, how weak soever he may be, from the love of God.
Moreover “things present or things to come” will be found alike impotent in this respect. Present things may be so embarrassing as greatly to perplex us; and things future may appear so formidable as to make us think it almost impossible for us to maintain our ground against them; but they shall never prevail to destroy a child of God.
Lastly, “neither height nor depth” shall be able. To some the height of earthly prosperity is a dreadful snare; to others the depth of adversity and distress. But the believer may defy them both: for not only they shall not be able, but “nothing in the whole creation” shall be able, to separate him from the love of God.]
This confidence of the Apostle being so extraordinary, let us consider,
The grounds of his persuasion—
These were twofold; general, as relating to others; and particular, as relating to himself; the former creating in him an assurance of faith; the latter an assurance of hope. We notice,
The general grounds—
[These are such as are revealed in the Holy Scriptures, and are common to all believers.
The stability of the covenant, which God has made with us in Christ Jesus, warrants an assurance, that all who are interested in it shall endure to the end. It secures to us not only a new heart, but a divine agency, “causing us to walk in God’s statutes [Note: Ezekiel 36:26-27.].” It engages that God shall never depart from us, nor we from him [Note: Jeremiah 32:40.]. In short, it promises us “grace and glory [Note: Psalms 84:11.].” Now this covenant shall not be broken: if heaven and earth fail, this shall not [Note: Isaiah 54:10.]: there shall not be one jot or tittle of it ever violated: it is “ordered in all things, and sure [Note: 2 Samuel 23:5.].” Consequently the believer shall never be deprived of any of its blessings.
The immutability of God is another ground of assured faith and hope. Wherefore did God originally set his love upon us? Was it for our own goodness, either seen or foreseen? Alas! we had no existence but in God’s purpose: and, from the moment we began to exist, we have never had one good thing in us which we did not first receive from God [Note: 1 Corinthians 4:7.]. If then God loved us simply because he would love us [Note: Deuteronomy 7:7-8.], and not for any inherent loveliness in us, will he cast us off again on account of those evil qualities which he well knew to be in us, and which he himself has undertaken to subdue? This would argue a change in his counsels: whereas we are told that, “with him there is no variableness neither shadow of turning [Note: James 1:17.];” and that “his gifts and calling are without repentance [Note: Romans 11:29.].”
The offices of Christ may also be considered as justifying an assured hope of final perseverance. For our Lord did not assume the priestly, prophetic, and kingly offices merely to put us into a capacity to save ourselves; but that his work might be effectual for the salvation of all whom the Father had given to him: and at the last day he will be able to say, as he did in the days of his flesh, “Of those whom thou hast given me I have lost none.” If he is ever living on purpose to make intercession for them, and is constituted Head over all things to the Church on purpose to save them, then he will keep them; none shall ever pluck them out of his hands [Note: 1 Samuel 2:9. 1 Peter 1:5.John 10:38; John 10:38.], nor shall any thing ever separate them from the love of God.]
The particular grounds—
[We need not resort to any express revelation made to Paul, in order to account for his confidence: for he could not but know that he had believed in Christ, and that he was as desirous of being sanctified by his grace as of being saved by his blood; and consequently, he could not doubt his interest in the promises. And wherever conscience testifies that this is the real experience of the soul, there a person may entertain the same assured hope as Paul himself did.
It would not indeed be expedient for young converts to indulge too strong a confidence; because their sincerity has been but little tried, and they are by no means sufficiently simple in their dependence on God: in proportion therefore as the evidences of their faith are defective, and the means of stability are overlooked, they must relax their confidence of persevering to the end. As for those who are already in a backslidden state, it would be a most horrible delusion in them to say, that nothing should separate them from the love of God: since they have reason to doubt at this moment whether they be at all interested in his love.
But a humble contrite person, that is living by faith on the Son of God, and maintaining a suitable conversation in all his spirit and conduct, he may conclude himself to be in the love of God, and be persuaded firmly that nothing shall be able to separate him from it. He then stands in the very situation of the Apostle, as far as respects his own personal experience, and therefore may indulge the same joyful hope and persuasion that he shall endure unto the end. Nor need he be at all discouraged on account of his own weakness, since the more weak he feels himself to be, the stronger he is in reality [Note: 2 Corinthians 12:10.], inasmuch as he is made more dependent on his God.
In a word, an assurance of faith respecting the accomplishment of God’s promises to believers, should be maintained by all, since his word can never fail: but an assurance of hope respecting our own personal interest in those promises, should rise or fall according to the evidences we have of our own sincerity.]
Those who know nothing of this joyful persuasion—
[Do not condemn that of which you are not capable of judging aright: but seek an interest in the love of God; and believe in Christ, through whom the Father’s love shall be secured, and by whom it shall be revealed to your soul. When “the love of God has been shed abroad in your own hearts,” you will be better able to judge of the confidence which that love inspires.]
Those whose persuasion accords with that of the Apostle—
[Nothing surely can be conceived more delightful than to possess an assured hope of eternal happiness and glory. But let it never be abused to the encouragement of sloth. If we profess that nothing shall separate us from the love of God, let us take care that nothing does separate us from it. Let not the temptations of Satan, or the persecutions of men, not the comforts of life, or the terrors of death, let nothing felt at present, or feared in future, let nothing in the whole creation draw us aside from the path of duty, or retard our progress in the divine life [Note: Jude, ver. 20, 21.].]
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Simeon, Charles. "Commentary on Romans 8". Simeon's Horae Homileticae. https://www.studylight.org/
the Third Week after Epiphany