The GOSPEL TRUTH
An Outline of His "Systematic Theology"
by Charles G. Finney
[Edited by William Allen]
Moral agents possess intellect, or the faculty of knowledge. They also possess sensibility, or in other words the faculty of feeling. They also possess will, or the power of choosing or refusing in every case of moral obligation. Man is a moral agent. All praise and blame which all men award to each other, is founded upon the universal acknowledgement of this truth.
These primary faculties are so correlated to each other, that the intellect or the sensibility may control the will, or the will may, in a certain sense, control them. That is, the mind is free to choose in accordance with the demands of the intellect which is the law-giving faculty, or with the desires and impulses of the sensibility, or to control and direct them both.
The will can either command or obey. It can suffer itself to be enslaved by the impulses of the sensibility, or it can assert its sovereignty and control them. We are conscious of affirming to ourselves our obligation to obey the law of the intellect rather than the impulses of the sensibility; that to act virtuously we must act rationally, or intelligently, and not give ourselves up to the blind impulses of our feelings.
I. WHOSE RIGHT IT IS TO GOVERN.
Moral beings exist. They must of necessity be happy or miserable. Moral law is that mode of moral action that exactly accords with the nature and relations of moral beings. Conformity to this law is virtue. Virtue is the cause of happiness. Happiness is an ultimate good. Happiness is the ultimate end of government. Upon moral government as a means of promoting this end, both ruler and ruled are dependent.
He has a right to govern, who possesses such attributes, such a character, is so circumstanced, and sustains such relations as to be both able and willing to secure the highest good of the whole. Upon him all eyes are, or ought to be, turned, to sustain this office. It is both his right and duty to govern; for upon him all are naturally dependent, for securing the highest interests of the whole. It is therefore the right and duty of God to administer the moral government of the universe.
II. ALL THE COMMANDMENTS ARE DECLARATORY, AND ARE BUT THE APPLICATION OF THE ONE ONLY LAW OF LOVE.
All God's moral attributes are modifications of one principle; that is--benevolence. All virtue in moral beings is only different modification of benevolence. Perfect, perpetual, and universal benevolence, modified by the relations and circumstances of moral beings, is their whole duty.
If benevolence, in its various modifications, is the whole of virtue, then all God's requirements must be in spirit one. Love expresses and comprehends the whole. The command to love God with all the heart, and soul, and mind, and strength, is identical in spirit and meaning with the command, "Thou shalt love thy neighbour like thyself."
These two commands might both be united in one precept: Thou shalt regard and treat all interests, beings and things according to their relative value in the scale of being. Thus the two great principles of law are identical in spirit, yet two in their letter. The Ten Commandments are proofs and illustrations of this Truth.FIRST COMMANDMENT. Ex. 20:3 "Thou shalt have no other gods before Me."
1. Reasons for this commandment: God's happiness is infinitely the greatest good in the universe, and therefore thus to regard and treat it, is right in itself. To render to God the highest degree of benevolence, gratitude, and complacent love, is demanded by the very laws of our being.
2. The true meaning and spirit of this command: This command prohibits the love of any being or thing more than God. It requires the highest degree of benevolence or good-will to God, of which we are capable. It requires the deepest repentance on the part of sinners, of which they are naturally capable. It requires the most perfect and perpetual consecration of our whole being, time, talents, possessions, and all we have, and are, to God.SECOND COMMANDMENT. Ex. 20:4-6 "Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image: thou shalt not bow down thyself to them, nor serve them."
1. Reason for this commandment: God is a spirit. All visible representations of God, by pictures, images, or other means, are utterly deceptive, and convey gross, false, abominable, and ruinous ideas of God.THIRD COMMANDMENT. Ex. 20:7 "Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain; for the Lord will not hold him guiltless that taketh His name in vain."
1. The true spirit of this commandment: It requires a feeling of the utmost holy awe, reverence, love, and respect for God. The happiness of the universe depends on their virtue. Their virtue consists in obedience to God; and their obedience to God depends upon the light in which they regard Him. Therefore, the highest good of the universe demands that God should respect His name, and never suffer it to be trifled with.FOURTH COMMANDMENT. Ex. 20:9-11 "Six days shalt thou labour, and do all thy work; but the seventh is the Sabbath of the Lord thy God; in it thou shalt not do any work."
1. What this implies: That all this be done in the spirit of love to God, and not in a legal and self-righteous temper.FIFTH COMMANDMENT. Ex. 20:12 "Honour thy father and thy mother; that thy days my be long upon the land which the Lord thy God giveth thee."
1. What is implied in this requirement: This requirement implies that the parent practically recognize his relations to the child; for if he cast the child out helpless into the street, and refuse or neglect to recognize his relation, the true spirit of this command cannot require the child to honour him as a parent, but simply to regard him as a fellow-being, and to treat him according to the universal law of benevolence. It requires that both parents and children should fulfill to each other all those duties that will, in the highest degree, promote their individual and domestic happiness, holiness, and peace.SIXTH COMMANDMENT. Ex. 20:13 "Thou shalt not kill."
1. What is prohibited by the letter of this precept: The letter of this precept prohibits the unnecessary destruction of life, whether of men or animals.
2. What is the true spirit of this requirement: There can be no exceptions to the spirit of a commandment, but to the letter there may be exceptions. Gen. 9:3 "Every moving thing that liveth shall be meat for you; even as the green herb have I given you all things." Here is a general permission to kill animals for the food of man.
3. Some cases to be regarded as violations of this commandment: Every unnecessary violation of the laws of life and health, either in men or animals. Every unnecessary disregard of the command to multiply the number of human beings. Every selfish disposition to lessen the amount of animal life. Every degree of ill-will toward any being. All selfish anger. "He that hateth his brother is a murderer."SEVENTH COMMANDMENT. Ex. 20:14 "Thou shalt not commit adultery."
1. What is implied in this commandment: It implies the pre-existence of the institution of marriage. It implies that marriage is recognized as not only already existing but as a divine institution.
2. What its true spirit prohibits: All carnal commerce of married persons with others than their lawful husband or wife. All carnal commerce between unmarried persons. All lewd and unchaste desires, thoughts, and affections. It prohibits all writing, conversation, pictures, modes of dress, and whatever has a natural tendency to beget in any degree a licentious state of mind; for he who provokes to lust is guilty of the crime of which he is the guilty cause.
3. Reasons for this command: Marriage is a necessity of our nature, both moral and physical. The species must be propagated, and so propagated as to secure the highest physical and moral perfection of the race. But the benefits of marriage will be entirely excluded, unless licentiousness be prevented. Every kind and degree of licentiousness is inconsistent with the highest well-being of mankind.EIGHTH COMMANDMENT. Ex. 20:15 "Thou shalt not steal."
1. What is implied in this command: That the persons of human beings are their own, or that every human being has a property in himself, and that he is, so far as his fellow-men are concerned, his own proprietor.
2. What the true spirit of this command prohibits: It prohibits the infliction of any injury upon the person, morals, education, reputation, family or property, of a human being, whereby he has less of good than he would have possessed but for your interference.
It prohibits all refusal to bear your full proportion in building churches, supporting ministers, and sustaining all the institutions of religion. To receive these things gratuitously, is to make slaves of your neighbours, to receive their services for nought, and involves the very principle of theft. Every wrong done or intended to a neighbour, is a violation of his rights, and a violation of the spirit of this commandment.NINTH COMMANDMENT. Ex. 20:16 "Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbour."
This commandment implies the duty, under certain circumstances, of being true witnesses for or against our neighbour. It prohibits every species of artifice, or designed deception, intended to make any impression contrary to the truth, on any subject, upon one who has a right to know the truth upon that subject.TENTH COMMANDMENT. Ex. 20:17 "Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour's house, thou shalt not covet thy neighbour's wife, nor his man-servant, nor his maid-servant, nor his ox, nor his ass, nor anything that is thy neighbour's."
1. What this commandment implies: The right of property--that a thing may lawfully belong to a neighbor. It implies a right to the exclusive possession and enjoyment of our wives and husbands as such. It implies that every desire to interfere with the exclusive enjoyment of wives by their husbands, or husbands by their wives, as such, is selfishness.
This command prohibits a disposition to possess anything that is inconsistent with the will of God, and the highest good of the universe. The spirit of this commandment enjoins perfect and universal benevolence. It is plainly a declaratory summing up of the spirit of the law of universal benevolence.
The above commandments are to be regarded only as specimens of the manner of declaring and applying by express statute, the common law of the universe, or the one great, universal, and only law of love.
All the commandments of God were properly summed up by our Saviour, and condensed into two great precepts. "Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and soul, and mind, and strength; and thy neighbor as thyself." These two precepts are at once a condensation and a declaration of the whole duty of man to God and his neighbour.
I. DEFINITION OF THE TERM DEPRAVITY.
The word is derived from the Latin de and pravus. Pravus means, "crooked." De is intensive. Depravo, literally and primarily means, "very crooked," not in the sense of original crookedness, but in the sense of having become crooked, lapsed, fallen, departed from right or straight.
II. THE DISTINCTION BETWEEN PHYSICAL AND MORAL DEPRAVITY.
Physical depravity, as the word denotes, is the depravity of constitution, or substance, as distinguished from depravity of free moral action. It may be predicated of matter or mind. Physical depravity can have no moral character. It may, as we shall see, be caused by moral depravity; and a moral agent may be blameworthy for having rendered himself physically depraved, either in body or mind. But physical depravity can have no moral character in itself, for the plain reason that it is voluntary, and in its nature is disease, and not sin.
Moral depravity is the depravity of free-will, not of the faculty itself, but of its free action. It consists in a violation of moral law. Moral depravity is depravity of choice. It is a choice at variance with moral law, moral right. It is synonymous with sin or sinfulness. It is moral depravity because it has moral character.
III. OF WHAT PHYSICAL DEPRAVITY CAN BE PREDICATED.
1. It can be predicated of any organized substance. Depravity is a possible state of every organized body or substance in existence.
2. As mind, in connection with body, manifests itself through it, acts by means of it, and is dependent upon it, it is plain that if the body becomes diseased, or physically depraved, the mind cannot but be affected by this state of the body, through and by means of which it acts.
The sensibility or feeling department of the mind, may be sadly and physically depraved. This is a matter of common experience. The appetites and passions, the desires and cravings, the antipathies and repellencies of the feelings, fall into great disorder and anarchy. Numerous artificial appetites are generated and the whole sensibility becomes a wilderness, a chaos of conflicting and clamorous desires, emotions and passions.
IV. OF WHAT MORAL DEPRAVITY CAN BE PREDICATED.
1. Moral depravity cannot be predicated of any involuntary acts or states of mind, for moral law legislates directly, only over free, intelligent choices.
2. Moral depravity cannot be predicated of any unintelligent act of will, that is, of acts of will that are put forth in a state of idiocy, of intellectual derangement, or of sleep. Moral agency implies intelligence, or knowledge of moral relations.
3. Moral depravity can only be predicated of violations of moral law, and of the free volitions by which those violations are perpetrated. Moral law requires love, and only love, to God and man, or to God and the universe. This love is good-will, choice, the choice of an end, the choice of the highest well-being of God, and the universe of sentient existences.
Moral depravity is sin. Sin must consist in choice, in the choice of self-indulgence or self-gratification as an end.
4. The law of God requires good-willing only, and nothing but acts of will can constitute a violation of moral law. Outward actions, and involuntary thoughts and feelings, may be said in a certain sense to possess moral character, because they are produced by the will. But, strictly speaking, moral character belongs only to choice, or intention.
Sin does not, and cannot consist in the choice of sin or misery as an end, or for its own sake. All sin consists, and must consist in selfishness, or in the choice of self-gratification as a final end. Moral depravity then, strictly speaking, can only be predicated of selfish ultimate intention. Moral depravity consists in a state of voluntary committal of the will to self-gratification. It is a spirit of self-seeking, a voluntary and entire consecration to the gratification of self. It is selfish ultimate intention; it is a choice of a wrong end of life; it is moral depravity, because it is a violation of moral law. It is a refusal to consecrate the whole being to the highest well-being of God and of the universe, and obedience to the moral law.
Moral depravity sustains to the outward life, the relation of a cause. This selfish intention, or the will in this committed state, of course, makes efforts to secure its end, and these efforts make up the outward life of a selfish man.
V. MANKIND ARE BOTH PHYSICALLY AND MORALLY DEPRAVED.
1. There is in all probability, no perfect health of body among all the ranks and classes of human beings that inhabit this world. The physical organization of the whole race has become impaired, and beyond all doubt has been becoming more and more so since intemperance of any kind was first introduced into our world. Especially is this true of the human sensibility. See that bloated wretch, the inebriate! His appetite for strong drink has played the despot. His whole mind and body, reputation, family, friends, health, time, eternity, all, all are laid by him upon its filthy altar. There is the debauchee, and the glutton, and the gambler, and the miser, and a host of others, each in his turn giving striking and melancholy proof of the monstrous development and physical depravity of the human sensibility.
2. The moral depravity of the human race is everywhere assumed and declared in the Bible, and so universal and notorious is the fact of human selfishness, that should any man practically call it in question: should he, in his business transactions, and in his intercourse with men, assume the contrary, he would justly subject himself to the charge of insanity.
VI. THE MORAL DEPRAVITY OF MANKIND IS UNIVERSAL.
The Bible exhibits proof of it: --
1. In those passages that represent all the unregenerate as possessing one common wicked heart or character. "And God saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually." Gen. 6:5. "The carnal mind is enmity against God: for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be." Rom. 8:7.
2. In those passages that declare the universal necessity of regeneration. "Jesus answered and said unto him, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God." John 3:3.
3. Passages that expressly assert the universal moral depravity of all unregenerate moral agents of our race. "What then? Are we better than they? No, in no wise: for we have before proved both Jews and Gentiles, that they are all under sin; as it is written, There is none righteous, no, not one." Rom. 3:9-10.
4. Universal history proves it. What is this world's history but the shameless chronicles of human wickedness?
5. Universal observation attests it. Whoever saw one unregenerate human being that was not selfish, that did not obey his feelings rather than the law of his intelligence, that was not under some form, or in some way, living to please self?
6. I may also appeal to the universal consciousness of the unregenerate. They know themselves to be selfish, and they cannot honestly deny it.
VII. THE MORAL DEPRAVITY OF THE UNREGENERATE MORAL AGENTS OF OUR RACE, IS TOTAL.
By this is intended, that the moral depravity of the unregenerate is without any mixture of moral goodness or virtue, that while they remain unregenerate, they never in any instance, nor in any degree, exercise true love to God and to man. It is not intended that they may not perform many outward actions, and have many inward feelings, that are such as the regenerate perform and experience; and such too as are accounted virtue by those who place virtue in the outward action. When virtue is clearly seen to consist in the heart's entire consecration to God and the good of being, it must be seen, that the unregenerate are not for one moment in this state.
VIII. THE NATURE OF MORAL DEPRAVITY OR SIN.
1. The Bible gives a formal definition of sin. 1 John 3:4, "Sin is a transgression of the law." This definition is the only one that can possibly be true.
2. The Bible everywhere makes the moral law the only standard of right and wrong. This truth lies everywhere upon the face of the Bible.
3. It holds men responsible for their voluntary actions alone, or more strictly, for their choices alone, and expressly affirms, that, "If there be a willing mind, it is accepted according to what a man hath, and not according to what he hath not." That is, willing as God directs is accepted as obedience.
4. The Bible always represents sin as something done or committed, or willfully omitted, and never as a part or attribute of soul or body, as consisting in "the deeds done in the body."
IX. THE PROPER METHOD OF ACCOUNTING FOR MORAL DEPRAVITY.
1. The Bible has given us the history of the introduction of sin into our world; and from the narrative, it is plain, that the first sin consisted in selfishness; it consisted in yielding the will to the impulses of the sensibility, instead of abiding by the law of God. Thus the Bible ascribes the first sin of our race to the influence of temptation.
St. James says that a man is tempted when he is drawn aside of his own lusts, and enticed. That is, his lusts, or the impulses of his sensibility, are his tempters. When he, or his will is overcome of these, he sins.
2. St. Paul and other inspired writers represent sin as consisting in a carnal or fleshly mind, in the minding of the flesh. The representations of Scripture are, that the body is the occasion of sin. In short, the Bible rightly interpreted everywhere assumes and implies, that sin consists in selfishness.
3. Selfishness consists in the supreme and ultimate choice of self-gratification as an end in life, or for its own sake, over all other interests. Now, as the choice of an end implies and includes the choice of the means, selfishness of course, causes all that outward life and activity that makes up the entire history of sinners.
THE SANCTIONS OF GOD'S LAW
I. WHAT CONSTITUTES THE SANCTIONS OF GOD'S LAW
The sanctions of God's law are the motives to obedience: that which is to be the natural and governmental consequence or result of obedience and of disobedience.
They are remuneratory, that is, they promise reward to obedience. They are vindicatory, that is, they threaten the disobedient with punishment. They are natural, that is, all moral law is that rule of action which is in exact accordance with the nature and relations of moral beings.
Happiness is to some extent naturally connected with, and the necessary consequence of, obedience to moral law. Misery is naturally and necessarily connected with, and results from, disobedience to moral law, or from acting contrary to the nature and relations of moral beings.
Sanctions are governmental. By governmental sanctions are intended:
(a) The favour of the government as due to obedience, and positive rewards bestowed upon the obedient by the government.
(b) The displeasure of the government toward the disobedient, and direct punishment inflicted by the government as due to disobedience.
All happiness and misery resulting from obedience or disobedience, either natural, or from the favour, or frown, of government, are to be regarded as constituting the sanctions of law.
II. THERE CAN BE NO LAW WITHOUT SANCTIONS.
Precepts without sanctions are only counsel or advice, and not law. Nothing is moral law, but the rule of action which is founded in the nature and relations of moral beings. It is therefore absurd to say, that there should be no natural sanctions to this rule of action. It is the same absurdity as to say, that conformity to the laws of our being would not produce happiness, and that disconformity to the laws of our being would not produce misery.
What do we mean by acting in conformity to the laws of our being, but that course of conduct in which all the powers of our being will sweetly harmonize, and produce happiness? And what do we mean by disconformity to the laws of our being, but that course of action which creates mutiny among our powers themselves, which produces discord instead of harmony, misery instead of happiness?
III. IN WHAT LIGHT SANCTIONS ARE TO BE REGARDED.
Sanctions are to be regarded as an expression of the benevolent regard of the lawgiver for his subjects; the motives which he exhibits to induce in the subjects the course of conduct that will secure their highest well-being.
IV. THE END TO BE SECURED BY LAW AND THE EXECUTION OF PENAL SANCTIONS.
The ultimate end of all government is blessedness. This is the ultimate end of the precept, and of the sanction attached to it. A state of blessedness can be secured only by the prevention of sin and the promotion of holiness.
Confidence in the government is the indispensable condition of all virtue. Confidence results from a revelation of the lawgiver to his subjects. Confidence in God results from a revelation of Himself to His creatures.
V. BY WHAT RULE SANCTIONS OUGHT TO BE GRADUATED.
Moral obligation is founded in the intrinsic value of the well-being of God and of the universe, and conditioned upon the perception of its value.
Guilt ought always to be measured by the perceived value of the end in life which moral beings ought to choose. The sanctions of law ought to be graduated by the intrinsic merit and demerit of holiness and sin.
VI. GOD'S LAW HAS SANCTIONS.
That sin, or disobedience to the moral law, is attended with, and results in, misery, is a matter consciousness. That virtue or holiness is attended with, and results in happiness, is also attested by consciousness. Therefore that God's law has natural sanctions, both remuneratory and vindicatory, is a matter of fact.
That there are governmental added to the natural, must be true, or God, in fact, has no government but that of natural consequences. The Bible expressly, and in every variety of form, teaches that God will reward the righteous and punish the wicked.
VII. WHAT CONSTITUTES THE REMUNERATORY SANCTIONS OF THE LAW OF GOD.
The happiness that is naturally and necessarily connected with, and results from, holiness and obedience. The merited favour, protection, and blessing of God, and all the natural and government rewards of virtue.
VIII. THE PERFECTION AND DURATION OF THE REMUNERATORY SANCTIONS.
The perfection of the natural reward is, and must be, proportioned to the perfection of virtue. The duration of the remuneratory sanction must be equal to the duration of obedience. This cannot possibly be otherwise. If the existence and virtue of man are immortal, his happiness must be endless.
The Bible most unequivocally asserts the immortality; both of the existence and virtue of the righteous, and also that their happiness shall be endless. The very design and end of government make it necessary that governmental rewards should be as perfect and unending as virtue.
IX. WHAT CONSTITUTES THE VINDICATORY SANCTIONS OF THE LAW OF GOD.
The misery naturally connected with, and resulting from, disobedience to moral law. The natural vindicatory sanction of the law of God is misery, resulting from a violation of man's own nature.
The displeasure of God, the loss of His protection and governmental favour, together with that punishment which it is His duty to inflict upon the disobedient.
X. ENQUIRE INTO THE MEANING OF THE TERM INFINITE.
It literally and properly means not finite, not limited, not bounded, unlimited, boundless. A thing may be infinite in a particular sense, and not in the absolute sense.
XI. INFINITES MAY DIFFER INDEFINITELY IN AMOUNT.
This is the doctrine of Sir Isaac Newton, and of natural and mathematical science. It is a plain matter of fact. For example: suppose that from this point radiate mathematical lines endlessly in every direction. Let each two of these lines make an angel of one degree, and let the points be sufficiently numerous to fill up the while circle.
Thus the whole space is no more than infinite, in the absolute sense of the term, and yet there is, in the sense of unlimited in quantity, an infinite amount of space between every two of these radii.
The same would be true upon the supposition of two parallel mathematical lines of infinite length, no matter how near together. Anything is infinite which is boundless in any sense. The area between any two of the radii of the circle, or of the parallel lines, is not infinite in the sense that it has no bounds in any direction, for it is bounded on its sides. But it is infinite in the sense of its superficial measure or contents.
So, endless happiness or misery may be finite in one sense and infinite in another. They may be infinite in amount, taking into view their endlessness, however small they may be in degree. There is and can be no whole of them.
It should be remarked that practically no creature, nor all creatures together, will either have enjoyed infinite happiness, or endured infinite misery. At any possible period of the future it will be true that they have only enjoyed or suffered a finite amount. At any possible period, an eternity of bliss or misery is, and always will be still before them.
XII. THE RULE BY WHICH DEGREES OF GUILT ARE TO BE ESTIMATED.
Here let it be remembered that moral obligation is founded in the intrinsic value of those interests which moral agents are bound to choose as an end in life, and is conditioned on a knowledge of this end. The degree of obligation is just equal to the apprehended intrinsic value of those interests.
The guilt or refusal to live for these interests is in proportion, or is equal to the amount of the obligation. Consequently, the mind's honest apprehension or judgment of the value of those interests which it refuses to live for, is, and must be, the rule by which the degree of guilt involved in that refusal ought to be measured.
XIII. ALL AND EVERY SIN MUST FROM ITS VERY NATURE INVOLVE INFINITE GUILT IN THE SENSE OF DESERVING ENDLESS PUNISHMENT.
Sin implies moral obligation. Moral obligation implies moral agency. Moral agency implies the apprehension of the end that moral agents ought to live for.
This end is the highest well-being of God and the universe. The intelligence of every moral agent must affirm this end to be of infinite value, in the sense that its value is unlimited. Every moral agent must be able to affirm, that the intrinsic value of the happiness of God and the universe must be boundless, unlimited, infinite. By this affirmation, or the apprehension that necessitates this affirmation, his guilt ought to be measured, if he refuses to consecrate himself to the promotion of those interests.
XIV. ALL SIN DESERVES ENDLESS PUNISHMENT, YET THE GUILT OF DIFFERENT PERSONS MAY VARY INDEFINITELY, AND PUNISHMENT, ALTHOUGH ENDLESS, MAY VARY, AND OUGHT TO VARY.
The guilt of different persons may vary indefinitely. This also may be true of the same person at different periods of life. Observe: the degree of guilt depends on the degree of intellectual development on moral subjects, upon the clearness with which the mind apprehends moral relations, especially the intrinsic value of those interests which it ought to choose. These apprehensions vary, as every moral agent is conscious, almost continually.
The obligation to live for an end lies in the intrinsic value of the end. The obligation is greater or less, as the mind's honest estimate of the value of it is greater or less. As light increases, and the mind obtains enlarged conceptions of God, of the universe, of endless happiness or misery, and of all those great truths that cluster around these subjects, its obligation increases in exact proportion to increasing light, and so does the guilt of selfishness.
XV. PENAL INFLICTIONS UNDER THE GOVERNMENT OF GOD MUST BE ENDLESS.
Here the enquiry is, what kind of death is intended, where death is pronounced against the transgressor, as the penalty of the law of God?
The penal sanction of the law of God is endless death, or that state of endless suffering which is the natural and government result of sin or of spiritual death.
I will notice an objection, in three forms, which is leveled against the justice of endless punishment:
1. Life is so short, that men do not live long enough in this world to commit so great a number of sins as to deserve endless punishment.
This objection is founded in ignorance or disregard of a universal principle of government, viz., that one breach of the precept always incurs the penalty of the law, whatever that penalty is.
The length of time employed in committing a sin, has nothing to do with its blameworthiness or guilt. It is the design that constitutes the moral character of the action. It is the intrinsic desert or guilt of sin, that renders it deserving of endless punishment.
2. A finite creature cannot commit an infinite sin.
This objection takes for granted that man is so diminutive a creature, so much less that the Creator, that he cannot deserve His endless frown. Which would involve the most guilt, for a man to smite his neighbour and his equal, or his lawful sovereign? The fact that man is so infinitely below his Maker, does but enhance the guilt of his rebellion, and render him all the more worthy of His endless frown.
3. Sin is not an infinite evil, and therefore does not deserve endless punishment.
This objection must mean that sin does not involve infinite guilt. What does all sin in its own nature deserve? They who deny the justice of endless punishment, consider the guilt of sin a mere trifle. They who maintain the justice of endless punishment, consider sin as an evil of immeasurable magnitude, and, in its own nature, deserving of endless punishment.
Sin is selfishness; it consists in preferring self-gratification to the infinite interests of God and of the universe. Every moral agent, by a law of his own reason, necessarily affirms that God is infinite, and that the endless happiness and well-being of God and of the universe, is of infinite value.
Hence it follows, that refusal to will this good is a violation of infinite or unlimited obligation, and, consequently, involves unlimited guilt.
Unless the penal sanctions of the law of God are endless, they are virtually and really no penalty at all. If a man be threatened with punishment for one thousand, or ten thousand, or ten millions, or ten hundred millions of years, after which he is to come out as a matter of justice, and go to heaven, there is beyond an absolute eternity of happiness.
The tendency of sin to perpetuate and aggravate itself, affords another strong inference, that the sinfulness and misery of the wicked will be eternal.
To deny the justice of eternal punishment is virtually to deny the fact of moral evil. But to deny this is to deny moral obligation, and moral agency. But of both moral obligation and moral agency we are absolutely conscious. Therefore it follows to a demonstration, not only that moral evil does exist, but that it deserves endless punishment.
XVI. EXAMINE THIS QUESTION IN THE LIGHT OF REVELATION.
The Bible expresses the duration of the future punishment of the wicked by the same terms, and, in every way, as forcibly as it expresses the duration of the future happiness of the righteous, and never once represents it otherwise.
I will here introduce, without comment, some passages of Scripture confirming this last remark. "And many of them that sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake; some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt." Danl. 12:2
"Then shall He say also unto them on the left hand, Depart from Me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels: for I was an hungered, and ye gave Me no meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave Me no drink. And these shall go away into the everlasting punishment: but the righteous into life eternal." Matt. 25:41, 41, 46
The English word atonement is synonymous with the Hebrew word for cover. The cover, was the name of the lid or cover of the Ark of the Covenant, and constituted what was called the mercy-seat. The Greek word rendered atonement, means reconciliation to favour, or more strictly, the means or conditions of reconciliation to favour. The term properly means substitution.
An examination of these original words, in the connection in which they stand in the Bible, will show that the atonement is the governmental substitution of the sufferings of Christ for the punishment of sinners. It is a covering of their sins by His sufferings.
I. SOME ESTABLISHED PRINCIPLES OF GOVERNMENT.
Moral law is not founded in the mere arbitrary will of God or of any other being, but it has its foundation in the nature and relations of moral agents. It is that rule of action, or of willing, which is imposed on them by that law of their own intellect.
There is a distinction between the letter and the spirit of moral law. The letter relates to the outward life or action; the spirit respects the motive or intention from which the act should proceed.
The letter of the law is found in the Ten Commandments, and in other Biblical precepts relating to outward acts. To the letter of the law there may be exceptions, but to the spirit of moral law there can be no exception. For example: the letter of the law prohibits all labour on the Sabbath day, but the spirit of the law often requires labour on the Sabbath.
In establishing a government and promulgating law, the lawgiver is always understood as pledging himself duly to administer the laws in support of public order, and for the promotion of public morals, to reward the innocent with his favour and protection, and to punish the disobedient with the loss of his protection and favour.
Public justice, in its exercise, consists in the promotion and protection of the public interests, by such legislation and such an administration of the law, as is demanded by the highest good of the public. It implies the execution of the penalties of law where the precept is violated unless something is done that will as effectually secure the public interests. When this is done, public justice demands, that the execution of the penalty shall be dispensed with by extending pardon to the criminal.
It is a fact well established by the experience of all ages and nations, that the exercise of mercy in setting aside the execution of penalties is a matter of extreme delicacy and danger. The influence of law, as might be expected, is found very much to depend upon the certainty felt by the subjects that it will be duly executed. It is found in experience to be true, that the exercise of mercy in every government where no atonement is made, weakens government, by begetting and fostering a hope if impunity in the minds of those who are tempted to violate the law.
Whatever will as fully evince the lawgiver's regard for his law, his determination to support it, his abhorrence of all violations of its precepts, and withal guard as effectually against the inference, that violators of the precept might expect to escape with impunity, as the execution of the penalty would do, is a full satisfaction of public justice. When these conditions are fulfilled, and the sinner has returned to obedience, public justice not only admits, but absolutely demands, that the penalty shall be set aside by extending pardon to the offender.
The following things must be true under a perfect government: that sin cannot be forgiven merely upon condition of repentance, for this is within the power of the subject, so that he might then be sure of impunity; nor can it be forgiven upon a condition that shall be repeated, for this would encourage the hope of impunity.
II. THE FACT OF ATONEMENT
This is purely a doctrine of revelation. The Old and New Testaments attest, most unequivocally, the necessity of an atonement. If sinners were to be saved at all, it must be through an atonement.
"Neither is there salvation in any other; for there is none other name under heaven given among men whereby we must be saved." Acts 4:12. "Knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law, but by the faith of Jesus Christ." Gal. 2:16. "Without the shedding of blood, there is no remission of sin." Heb. 9:22
Some passages that establish the fact of the vicarious death of Christ, and redemption through His blood: "But He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon Him, and with His stripes we are healed." Isa. 53:5 "Even as the Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give His life a ransom for many." Matt. 20:23 "Being justified freely by His grace, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus. To declare, I say, at this time, His righteousness; that He might be just, and the justifier of him that believeth in Jesus." Rom. 3:24 "In this was manifested the love of God toward us, because that God sent His only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through Him. Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us, and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins." 1 John 4:9-10
III. THE DESIGN OF THE ATONEMENT
Christ's obedience to the moral law as a covenant of works, did not constitute the atonement. Had He obeyed for us, He need not certainly both have fulfilled the law for us, as our substitute, and at the same time have suffered as a substitute, in submitting to the penalty of the law. If He obeyed the law as our substitute, then why should our own return to personal obedience be insisted upon as an indispensable condition to our salvation?
The atonement was intended as a satisfaction of public justice. The moral law did not originate in God's will, but is founded in His self-existence and immutable nature. He cannot therefore, set aside the execution of the penalty when the precept has been violated, without something being done that shall meet the demands of the true spirit of the law. "To declare His righteousness for the remission of sins that are past, through the forbearance of God; to declare, I say, at this time His righteousness: that He might be just, and the justifier of him that believeth in Jesus." Rom. 3:26
Whatever can as effectually reveal God, make known His hatred to sin, His love of order, His determination to support His government, and to promote the holiness and happiness of His creatures, as the execution of the penalty of His law would do, is a full satisfaction of public justice.
Atonement is, therefore, a part, and a most influential part, of moral government. The execution of law still holds a place, and makes up an indispensable part of the great circle of motives essential to the perfection of moral government. Fallen angels, and the finally impenitent of this world, will receive the full execution of the penalty of the divine law.
An atonement was needed to inspire confidence in the offers and promises of pardon. Whenever the soul can apprehend the reality of the atonement, it can then believe every offer and promise, as the very thing to be expected from a Being who could give His Son to die for enemies.
An atonement was needed as the great and only means of sanctifying sinners. The law was calculated, when once its penalty was incurred, to shut the sinner up in a dungeon, and only to develop more and more his depravity. Nothing could subdue his sin, and cause him to love, but the manifestation to him of disinterested benevolence. The atonement is just the thing to meet this necessity, and subdue rebellion. An atonement was needed, not to render God merciful, but to reconcile pardon with a due administration of justice.
God's great and disinterested love to sinners themselves was a prime reason for the atonement. "For God so loved the world, that he gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life." John 3:16
His love to the universe at large must have been another reason, inasmuch as it was impossible that the atonement should not exert an amazing influence over moral beings, in whatever world they might exist.
Another reason for preferring the atonement to the punishment of sinners must have been, that, sin had afforded an opportunity for the highest manifestation of virtue in God: the manifestation of forbearance, mercy, self-denial, and suffering for enemies that were within His own power. It is impossible to conceive of a higher order of virtue than are exhibited in the atonement of Christ. It was vastly desirable that God should take advantage of such an opportunity to exhibit His true character, and show to the universe what was in His heart.
The atonement would present to creatures the highest possible motives to virtue. Example is the highest moral influence that can be exerted. If the benevolence manifested in the atonement does not subdue the selfishness of sinners, their case is hopeless.
The atonement would afford God an opportunity always to gratify His love in His kindness to sinners, in using means for their salvation, in forgiving and saving them when they repent, without the danger of its being inferred in the universe, that He had not a sufficient abhorrence for their sin.
The final punishment of the wicked will be more impressive in the light of the infinite love, manifest in the atonement. The atonement is the highest testimony that God can bear against selfishness. It is the testimony of His own example. The atonement so reveals all the attributes of God, as to complete the whole circle of motives needed to influence the minds of moral beings.
IV. THE EXTENT OF THE ATONEMENT
We must enquire into the governmental value of the atonement. It is valuable only as it tends to promote the glory of God, and the virtue and happiness of the universe. Its value also consists in its adaptedness to prevent further rebellion against God in every part of the universe. The atonement exhibits God in such a light, as must greatly strengthen the confidence of holy beings in His character and government.
The atonement may be viewed in either of two points of light. Christ my be considered as the Law-giver attesting His sincerity, love of holiness, hatred of sin, approbation of the law, and compassion for His subjects, by laying down His life as their substitute.
Or Christ may be considered as the Son of the Supreme Ruler: and then we have the spectacle of a sovereign, giving His only-begotten and well-beloved Son, His greatest treasure, to die a shameful and agonizing death, in testimony of His great compassion for His rebellious subjects, and of His high regard for public justice. This is the highest possible moral influence. It is properly moral omnipotence; that is, the influence of the atonement, when apprehended by the mind, will accomplish whatever is within the compass of moral power to effect. All mankind can be pardoned, if they are rightly affected and brought to repentance by it, as well as any part of mankind.
"The next day John seeth Jesus coming unto him, and saith, Behold the Lamb of God which taketh away the sin of the world." John 1:29 "Who gave Himself a ransom for all, to be testified in due time." 1 Tim. 2:6 "And He is the propitiation for our sins; and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world." 1 John 2:2
Sinners are represented as having no excuse for being lost and for not being saved by Christ. "And He saith unto him, Friend, how camest thou in hither, not having a wedding-garment? And he was speechless." Matt. 22:12
Faith in the atonement of Christ rolls a mountain weight of crushing and melting considerations upon the heart of the sinner. Thus the blood of Christ, when apprehended and believed in, cleanses from all sin. From this may be seen the indispensable necessity of faith in the atonement.
The atonement shows how solid a foundation the saints have for an eternal repose and confidence in God. It greatly glorifies God; indeed it does so, far above all His other works and ways.
It opens the channels of God's benevolence to state-criminals. It has united God in a new and peculiar way to human nature. It has opened a way of access to God never opened to any creatures before. It restores the life of God to the soul, by restoring to man the influences of the Holy Spirit.
TRUE AND FALSE REPENTANCE
For godly sorrow worketh repentance not to be repented of; but the sorrow of the world worketh death. II Cor. 7:10
In this verse which I have taken as my text, the Apostle Paul speaks of two kinds of sorrow for sin, one working repentance unto salvation, the other working death. It is high time professors of religion were taught to discriminate much more than they do in regard to the nature and character of various religious exercises. Were it so, the Church would not be so overrun with false and unprofitable professors of religion. The cause is doubtless a want of discriminating instruction respecting the foundation of religion, and especially respecting true and false repentance.
I. WHAT IS TRUE REPENTANCE
It involves a change of opinion respecting the nature of sin, and this change of opinion followed by a corresponding change of feeling towards sin. Feeling is the result of thought. And when this change of opinion is such as to produce a corresponding change of feeling, if the opinion is right and the feeling corresponds this is true repentance. It must be right opinion as God holds respecting sin. Godly sorrow, such as God requires, must spring from such views of sin as God holds.
1. There must be a change of opinion in regard to sin.
(a) A change in opinion in regard to the nature of sin. To one who truly repents, sin looks a very different thing from what it does to him who has not repented. Instead of looking like a thing that is desirable or fascinating, it looks the very opposite, most odious and detestable, and he is astonished at himself, that he ever could have desired such a thing.
Impenitent sinners may look at sin and see that it will ruin them, because God will punish them for it; but, after all, it appears in itself desirable; they love it; they roll it under their tongue. If it could end in happiness, they never would think of abandoning it. But to the other it is different; he looks back upon it and exclaims, "How hateful, how detestable, how worthy of hell, such and such a thing was in me!"
(b) A change of opinion of the character of sin as respects its relation to God. Sinners do not see why God threatens sin with such terrible punishment. But when they are strongly convicted, many a sinner sees its relation to God to be such that it deserves eternal death, but his heart does not go with his opinions. This is the case with the devils and wicked spirits in hell. Mark then! -- a change of opinion is indispensable to true repentance, and always precedes it. There may be a change of opinion without repentance, but no genuine repentance without a change of opinion.
(c) A change of opinion in regard to the tendencies of sin. Before, the sinner thinks it utterly incredible that sin should have such tendencies as to deserve everlasting death. He may be fully changed, however, as to his opinion on this point without true repentance, but it is impossible a man should truly repent without a change of opinion. He sees sin, in its tendency, as ruinous to himself and everybody else, soul, and body, for time and eternity, and at variance with all that is lovely and happy in the universe. He sees that sin is calculated in its tendencies to injure himself and everybody else, and that there is no remedy but universal abstinence.
(d) A change of opinion in regard to the desert of sin. The word rendered repentance implies a change in the state of the mind including all this. The careless sinner is almost devoid of right ideas. Suppose he admits in theory that sin deserves eternal death, he does not believe it. But the truly awakened and convicted sinner has no more doubt of this than he has of the existence of God. He sees clearly that sin must deserve everlasting punishment from God. He knows that this is a simple matter of fact.
2. In true repentance there must be a corresponding change of feeling. The change of feeling respects sin in all these particulars, its nature, its relations, its tendencies, and its deserts.
(a) The individual who truly repents, not only sees sin to be detestable and vile, and worthy of abhorrence, but he really abhors it, and hates it in his heart.
(b) In relation to God he feels towards sin as it really is. And here is the source of those gushings of sorrow in which Christians sometimes break out, when contemplating sin.
(c) Then as to the tendencies of sin, the individual who truly repents feels it as it is. When he views sin in its tendencies, it awakens a vehement desire to stop it, and to save people from their sins, and roll back the tide of death. It sets his heart on fire, and he goes to praying, and labouring, and pulling sinners out of the fire with all his might, to save them from the awful tendencies of sin. When the Christian sets his mind on this, he will bestir himself to make people give up their sins.
(d) He feels right as to the desert of sin. He has not only an intellectual conviction that sin deserves everlasting punishment, but he feels that it would be so right and so reasonable, and so just, for God to condemn him to eternal death, that so far from finding fault with the sentence of the law that condemns him, he thinks it the wonder of heaven, a wonder of wonders, if God can forgive him. He is full of adoring wonder that this whole guilty world has not long since been hurled to endless burnings. And when he thinks of such sinners being saved, he feels a sense of gratitude that he never knew anything of until he was a Christian.
II. THE EFFECT OF GENUINE REPENTANCE
1. If your repentance is genuine, there is in your mind a conscious change of views and feeling towards sin. Of this you will be just as conscious as you ever were of a change of views, and feelings on any other subject. Now can you say this?
2. Where repentance is genuine, the disposition to repeat sin is gone. If you have truly repented you do not love sin; you do not now abstain from it through fear, and to avoid punishment, but because you hate it.
3. Repentance, when true and genuine, leads to confession and restitution. If you have cheated anyone, and do not restore what you have taken unjustly; or if you have injured anyone, and do not set about rectifying the wrong you have done, so far as you are able, you have not truly repented.
4. True repentance is a permanent change of character and conduct. It is repentance unto salvation, "not to be repented of." In other words, repentance so thorough, that there is no going back. The love of sin is truly abandoned.
III. FALSE REPENTANCE
False repentance is said to be worldly, "the sorrow of the world." It is sorrow for sin arising from worldly considerations and motives.
1. It is not founded on such a change of opinion as I have specified to belong to true repentance. A person may see the evil consequences of sin in a worldly point of view, and it may fill him with consternation. He may see that it will greatly affect his character, or endanger his life; that if some of his concealed conduct should be found out he would be disgraced. It is very common for persons to have this worldly sorrow for sin.
2. False repentance is founded in selfishness. It may extend to fear--deep and dreadful fear--of the wrath of God and the pains of hell, and yet be purely selfish, and all the while there may be no such thing as a hearty abhorrence of sin, and no feeling of the heart going out after the convictions of the understanding, in regard to the infinite evil of sin.
IV. HOW THIS FALSE REPENTANCE MAY BE KNOWN.
1. It leaves the feelings unchanged. The feelings as to the nature of sin are not so changed, but that the individual still feels a desire for sin. It works death. It leads to hypocritical concealment. Instead of that ingenious, openhearted breaking forth of the sensibility, and frankness, you see a palavering, smooth-tongued, half-hearted mincing out of something that is intended to answer the purpose of confession and yet to confess nothing.
2. False repentance produces only a partial reformation of conduct. The heart is not changed. Observe that young convert. If he is deceived, you will find that there is only a partial change in his conduct.
3. Ordinarily, the reformation produced by false sorrow for sin is temporary, even in those things which are reformed. The individual is continually relapsing into his old sins. The woman that loved dress, loves it still; and gradually returns to her ribands and gew-gaws. The man who loved money, loves it yet, and soon slides back into his old ways.
Go through all the departments of society, and if you will find people with thorough conversions, you will find that their most besetting sins before conversion are farthest from them now. The real convert is least likely to fall into his old besetting sin, because he abhors it most.
4. It is a forced reformation. The reformation of one who has true repentance is from the heart; he has no longer a disposition to sin. He experiences that the Savior's yoke is easy and His burden is light.
5. This spurious repentance leads to self-righteousness. The individual may know that Jesus Christ is the only Savior of sinners, and may profess to believe on Him, and to rely on Him alone for salvation, but after all, he is actually placing ten times more reliance on his reformation than on Jesus Christ for his salvation. It leads to false security.
We see why sinners under conviction feel as if it were a great cross to become Christians. They think it a great trail to give up their ungodly companions, and to give up their sins. Whereas, if they had true repentance, they would not think it any cross to give up their sins. Sinners do not see that when their young friends become Christians, they feel an abhorrence for balls and parties, and sinful amusements and follies, that the love for these things is crucified.
I once knew a young lady who was converted to God. She used to be very fond of dress, and the dancing school, and balls. After she was converted, her father would force her to go to the dancing school. He used to go along with her, and force her to stand up and dance. She would go there and weep, and sometimes when she was standing up on the floor to dance, her feelings of abhorrence and sorrow would so come over her, that she would turn away and burst into tears.
See why backsliders are so miserable. Perhaps you will infer that I suppose all true Christians are perfect, from what I have said about the disposition to sin being broken up and changed. But this does not follow. There is a radical difference between a backslidden Christian and a hypocrite who has gone back from his profession.
FAITH AND UNBELIEF
The term, faith, has diverse significations, and is used in the Bible sometimes to designate a state of the intellect, in which case it means an undoubting persuasion, a firm conviction. This however is not its evangelical sense. Evangelical faith cannot be a phenomenon of the intellect, for the plain reason, that when used in an evangelical sense, it is always regarded as a virtue.
Faith is a condition of salvation. It is something which we are commanded to do upon the pain of eternal death. But if it be something to be done, a solemn duty, it cannot be a merely passive state, a mere intellectual conviction. The Bible distinguishes between intellectual and saving faith. There is a faith of devils, and a faith of saints.
One produces good works or a holy life; the other is unproductive. This shows that one is a phenomenon of the intellect merely, and does not control the conduct. The other must be a phenomenon of the will, because it manifests itself in the outward life. Evangelical faith, then, is not a conviction. It is not a feeling of any kind; that is, it does not belong to, and is not a phenomenon of the sensibility.
Saving faith is represented in the Bible as an active and most efficient state of mind. It works, and "works by love." It produces "the obedience of faith." Christians are said to be sanctified by the faith that is in Christ. Indeed the Bible, in a great variety of instances and ways, represents faith in God and in Christ as a cardinal form of virtue, and as the main-spring of an outwardly holy life. Hence it cannot consist in any involuntary state or exercise of mind whatever.
I. WHAT EVANGELICAL FAITH IS.
Since the Bible uniformly represents saving or evangelical faith as a virtue, we know that it must be a phenomenon of the will. It is an efficient state of mind, and therefore it must consist in the embracing of the truth by the heart or will. It is the will's closing in with the truths of the Gospel. It is the soul's act of yielding itself up, or committing itself to the truths of the evangelical system. It is a trusting in Christ, a committing the soul and the whole being to Him, in His various offices and relations to men. It is a confiding in Him, and in what is revealed of Him, in His Word and providence and by His Spirit.
The same word that is so often translated, faith, in the New Testament, is also rendered, "commit," as in John 2:24, "But Jesus did not commit Himself unto them, because He knew all men." Luke 16:11, "Who will commit to your trust the true riches?" Faith is the act of confiding in God and in Christ, as revealed in the Bible and in reason. It is a receiving of the testimony of God concerning Himself, and concerning all the things of which He has spoken. It is a receiving of Christ for just what He is represented to be in His Gospel, and an unqualified surrender of the will, and of the whole being to Him.
III. WHAT IS IMPLIED IN EVANGELICAL FAITH.
1. It implies an intellectual perception of the things, facts, and truths believed. No one can believe that which he does not understand.
2. Evangelical faith implies the appropriation of the truths of the Gospel to ourselves. It implies an acceptance of Christ as our wisdom, righteousness, sanctification, and redemption. The soul that truly believes in Christ, believes that He tasted death for every man, and of course for it. It apprehends Christ as the Saviour of the world, as offered to all, and embraces and receives Him for itself. It appropriates His atonement, and His resurrection and His intercession, and His promises to itself.
Christ is thus presented in the Gospel not only as the Saviour of the world, but also to the individual acceptance of men. He saves the world no further than He saves individuals. Evangelical faith implies a personal acceptance and appropriation of Christ to meet the necessities of the individual soul.
3. Faith is a state of committal to Christ, and of course it implies that the soul will be unreseveredly yielded up to Him, in all His relations to it, so far and so fast as these are apprehended by the intellect.
4. Evangelical faith implies an evangelical life. This would not be true if faith were merely an intellectual state or exercise. But since, as we have seen, faith is of the heart, since it consists in the committal of the will to Christ, it follows, by a law of necessity, that the life will correspond with faith. Let this be kept in perpetual remembrance.
5. Evangelical faith implies repentance towards God, that is, a turning from sin to God.
6. Evangelical faith implies a renunciation of self-righteousness. It is impossible for one to embrace Christ as the Saviour of the soul, any further than he renounces all hope or expectation of being saved by his own works, or righteousness.
7. Of course it implies peace of mind. In Christ the soul finds its full and present salvation. It has found its resting-place in Christ, and rests in profound peace under the shadow of the Almighty.
8. It implies hope, as soon as the believing soul considers what is conveyed by the Gospel, that is, a hope of eternal life in and through Christ.
9. It implies joy in God and in Christ. St. Peter speaks of joy as the unfailing accompaniment of faith, as resulting from it.
10. Present evangelical faith implies a state of present sinlessness. Observe: faith is the yielding and committal of the whole will, and of the whole being to Christ. This, and nothing short of this, is evangelical faith. But this comprehends and implies the whole of present, true obedience to Christ. This is the reason why faith is spoken of as the condition, and as it were, the only condition, of salvation. It really implies all virtue.
When contemplated as an attribute of love, it is only a branch of sanctification. When contemplated in the wider sense of universal conformity of will to the will of God, it is then synonymous with entire present sanctification. Contemplated in either light, its existence in the heart must be inconsistent with present sin there. Faith is an attitude of the will, and is wholly incompatible with present rebellion of will against Christ. This must be true, or what is faith?
III. WHAT UNBELIEF IS NOT.
1. It is not ignorance. Ignorance is a blank; it is the negation or absence of knowledge. This certainly cannot be the unbelief everywhere represented in the Bible as a heinous sin. Ignorance may be a consequence of unbelief, but it cannot be identical with it.
2. Unbelief is not the negation or absence of faith. This were a mere nothing--a nonentity. But a mere nothing is not that abominable thing which the Scriptures represent as a great and damning sin.
3. It cannot be intellectual skepticism. This state of the intellect may result from the state of mind properly denominated unbelief, but it cannot be identical with it.
4. It cannot consist in feelings or emotions of incredulity, doubt, or opposition to truth. In other words, unbelief as a sin, cannot be a phenomenon of the sensibility.
In short, the unbelief that is so sorely denounced in the Bible as an aggravated abomination, cannot consist in any involuntary state of mind whatever.
IV. WHAT UNBELIEF IS.
The term as used in the Bible, in those passages that represent it as a sin, must designate a phenomenon of the will. It must be a voluntary state of mind. It must be the opposite of evangelical faith. Faith is the will's reception and unbelief is the will's rejection, of truth. Faith is the soul's confiding in truth and in the God of truth. Unbelief is the soul's withholding confidence from truth and the God of truth. It is the heart's rejection of evidence, and refusal to be influenced by it. It is the will in the attitude of opposition to truth perceived, or evidence presented.
Intellectual skepticism or unbelief, where light is proffered, always implies the unbelief of the will or heart. For if the mind knows, or supposes, that light may be had on any question of duty, and does not make honest efforts to obtain it, this can only be accounted for by ascribing it to the will's reluctance to know the path of duty. In this case light is rejected. This is the sin of unbelief.
All infidelity is unbelief in this sense, and infidels are so, not for want of light, but, in general, they have taken much pains to shut their eyes against it. Unbelief must be a voluntary state of attitude of the will, as distinguished from a mere volition, or executive act of the will. Volition may, and often does, give forth, through words and deeds, expressions and manifestations of unbelief. But the volition is only a result of unbelief, and is not identical with it. Unbelief is a deeper and more efficient and more permanent state of mind than mere volition. It is the will in its profoundest opposition to the truth and will of God.
V. WHAT IS IMPLIED IN UNBELIEF.
1. Unbelief implies light, or the perception of truth. For example: the heathen who have never heard the Gospel are not properly guilty of unbelief in not embracing it. They are indeed guilty of unbelief in rejecting the light of nature.
2. It implies obstinate selfishness. Selfishness is a spirit of self-seeking. It consists in the will's committing itself to self-gratification or self-indulgence. Now unbelief is only selfishness contemplated in its relation to the truth of God. It is only the resistance which the will makes to those truths that are opposed to selfishness.
3. Where any one attribute of selfishness is, there must be the presence of every other attribute, either in a developed state or waiting for the occasion of its development. The nature of unbelief proves that the unbelieving heart is not only void of all good, but that every form of sin is there.
4. The nature of unbelief implies that its degree depends on the degree of light enjoyed. It consists in the rejection of truth perceived. Its degree or greatness must depend upon the degree of light rejected.
5. The same must be true of the guilt of unbelief.
6. It implies mortal enmity against God. Unbelief rejects the truth and authority of God, and is, of course, and of necessity, opposed to the very existence of the God of truth. It would annihilate truth and the God of truth, were it possible. We have an instance and an illustration of this in the rejection and the murder of Jesus Christ. What was this but unbelief? This is the nature of unbelief in all circumstances.
All sinners who hear and reject the Gospel, reject Christ; and were Christ personally present to insist upon their reception of Him, and to urge His demands, remaining unbelieving, they would of course, and of necessity, sooner murder Him than receive Him. So that every rejecter of the Gospel is guilty of the blood and murder of Christ.
VI. THE GUILT AND ILL-DESERT OF UNBELIEF.
The guilt of sin is conditionated upon, and graduated by, the light under which it is committed. The amount of light is the measure of guilt in every case. This is true of all sin.
The guilt of unbelief under the light of the Gospel must be indefinitely greater, than when merely the light of nature is rejected. The guilt of unbelief in cases where special divine illumination has been enjoyed, must be vastly and incalculably greater, than where the mere light of the Gospel has been enjoyed without a special enlightening of the Holy Spirit. Those things that are implied in unbelief show that it must be one of the most provoking abominations to God in the universe.
VII. NATURAL AND GOVERNMENTAL CONSEQUENCES OF BOTH FAITH AND UNBELIEF.
1. One of the natural consequences of faith is peace of conscience. When the will receives the truth, and yields itself up to conformity with it, the conscience is satisfied with its present attitude, and the man becomes at peace with himself. The soul is then in a state to really respect itself, and can, as it were, behold its own face without a blush.
2. Self-condemnation is one of the natural consequences of unbelief. Such are the constitution and laws of mind, that it is naturally impossible for the mind to justify the heart's rejection of truth. The conscience necessarily condemns such rejection.
3. Faith will develop every form of virtue in the heart and life, as their occasion shall arise. It consists in the committing of the will to truth and to the God of truth, and as different occasions arise, faith will secure conformity to all truth on all subjects, and then every modification of virtue will exist in the heart, and appear in the life, as circumstances in the providence of God shall develop them.
4. Unbelief may be expected to develop resistance to all truth on all subjects that conflict with selfishness; and hence nothing but selfishness in some form can restrain its appearing in any other and every other form possible. For example, avarice may restrain amativeness, intemperance, and many other forms of selfishness.
5. Faith naturally and necessarily results in all those lovely and delightful emotions and states of feeling, of which they are conscious whose hearts have embraced Christ. I mean all those emotions that are naturally connected with the action of the will, and naturally result from believing the blessed truths of the Gospel.
6. Unbelief naturally results in those emotions of remorse, regret, pain, and agony which are the frequent experience of the unbeliever.
7. Faith lets God into the soul to dwell and reign there. Faith receives, not only the atonement and mediatorial work of Christ as a redeemer from punishment, but it also receives Christ as king to set up His throne, and reign in the heart. Faith secures to the soul communion with God.
I. WHAT IS GOSPEL JUSTIFICATION.
It consists, not in the law pronouncing the sinner just, but in his being ultimately governmentally treated as if he were just, that is, it consists in a governmental decree of pardon or amnesty -- in arresting or setting aside the execution of the incurred penalty of law -- in pardoning and restoring to favour those who have sinned, and those whom the law had pronounced guilty, and upon whom it had passed sentence of eternal death, and rewarding them as if they had been righteous. It is an act either of the lawmaking or executive department of government, and is an act entirely aside from and contrary to, the forensic or judicial power or department of government. It is a practical, not a literal, pronouncing of him just. In proof of this position, I remark: --
1. That this is most unequivocally taught in the Old Testament. The whole system of sacrifices taught the doctrine of pardon upon conditions of atonement, repentance, and faith. St. Paul informs us what justification was in the sense in which the Old Testament saints understood it. Rom. 4:6-7, "Even also as David describeth the blessedness of the man, unto whom God imputeth righteousness without works saying, Blessed are they whose iniquities are forgiven, and who sins are covered." This shows what both David and Paul understood by justification, to wit, the pardon and acceptance of the penitent sinner.
2. The New Testament fully justifies and establishes this view of the subject.
3. Sinners cannot possibly be justified in any other sense.
II. CONDITIONS OF JUSTIFICATION.
In this discussion I use the term, condition, in the sense of an indispensable condition, a "not without which." A condition as distinct from the ground of justification, is anything without which sinners cannot be justified, which, nevertheless, is not the procuring cause or fundamental reason of their justification.
The vicarious sufferings or atonement of Christ is a condition of justification, or of the pardon and acceptance of penitent sinners. It has been common to represent the atonement and work of Christ as the ground, as distinct from and opposed to a condition of justification. In treating this subject, I find it important to distinguish between the ground and conditions of justification and to regard the atonement and work of Christ, not as the ground, but only as a condition of Gospel justification.
By the ground, I mean the moving, procuring cause; that in which the plan of redemption originated as its source, and which was the fundamental reason or ground of the whole movement. This was the benevolence and, merciful disposition of the whole Godhead, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. This love made the atonement, but the atonement did not beget this love. The Godhead desired to save sinners, but could not safely do so without danger to the universe unless something were done to satisfy public, not retributive, justice. The atonement was resorted to as a means of reconciling forgiveness with the wholesome administration of justice.
Failing to make this distinction, and representing the atonement as the ground of the sinner's justification has been a sad occasion of stumbling to many. Indeed the whole questions of the nature, design, extent, and bearings of the atonement, turn upon, and are involved in, this distinction. Some represent the atonement as demanded by the inexorable wrath of the Father, leaving the impression that Christ was more merciful, and more the friend of sinners than the Father.
Others again, assuming that the atonement was the ground of justification in the sense of the literal payment of the debt of sinners, and that the Scriptures represent the atonement as made for all men, have very consistently become Universalists.
That Christ's sufferings, and especially His death, were vicarious, has been abundantly shown when treating the subject of atonement. Although Christ owed perfect obedience to the moral law for Himself, yet He owed no suffering to the law. He could therefore suffer for us. That is, He could, to answer governmental purposes, substitute His death for the infliction of the penalty of the law on us. The doctrine of substitution, in the sense just named, appears everywhere in both Testaments. For example:
Lev. 17:11 "For the life of the flesh is in the blood; and I have given it to you upon the altar, to make an atonement for your souls; for it is the blood that maketh an atonement for the soul."
Isa. 53:5-6 "But He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities; the chastisement of our peace was upon Him, and with His stripes we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way, and the Lord hath laid on Him the iniquity of us all."
Matt. 26:28 "For this is My blood of the New Testament, which is shed for many for the remission of sins."
1 Pet. 3:16 "For Christ also hath once suffered for sins, the just for the unjust, that He might bring us to God."
2. Repentance is also a condition of our justification. It must be certain that the government of God cannot pardon sin without repentance. This is as truly a doctrine of natural as of revealed religion. Until the sinner breaks off from sin by repentance or turning to God, he cannot be justified in any sense.
3. Faith in Christ is, in the same sense, another condition of justification. It should never be forgotten, that the faith that is the condition of justification is the faith that works by love. It is the faith through and by which Christ sanctifies the soul.
John 1:12 "As many as received Him, to them gave He power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on His name."
John 3:16 "For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life."
Gal. 2:16 "Knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law, but by the faith of Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Jesus Christ, that we might be justified by the faith of Christ, and not by the works of the law; for by the works of the law shall no flesh be justified."
4. Present sanctification, in the sense of present full consecration to God, is another condition of justification. Some theologians have made justification a condition of sanctification, instead of making sanctification a condition of justification. This is a mistake.
To sanctify is to set apart, to consecrate to a particular use. To sanctify anything to God is to set it apart to His service, to consecrate it to Him. To sanctify one's self, is voluntarily to set one's self apart, to consecrate one's self to God. It is a state of consecration to Him. This is present obedience to the moral law. It is the whole of present duty, and is implied in repentance, faith, and regeneration.
The word, sanctification, is sometimes used to express a permanent state of obedience to God. In this sense it is not a condition of present justification, or of pardon and acceptance. But it is a condition of continued and permanent acceptance with God. It certainly cannot be true that God accepts and justifies the sinner in his sins. I may safely challenge the world for either reason or Scripture to support the doctrine of justification in sin, in any degree of present rebellion against God.
The Bible everywhere represents justified persons as sanctified, and always expressly, or impliedly, conditionates justification upon sanctification, in the sense of present obedience to God.
1 Cor. 6:11 "And such were some of you; but ye are washed, but ye are sanctified, but ye are justified, in the name of the Lord Jesus, and by the Spirit of our God."
Rom. 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."
By sanctification being a condition of justification, the following things are intended:
(a) That present, full, and entire consecration of heart and life to God and His service, is an unalterable condition of present pardon of past sin, and of present acceptance with God.
(b) That the penitent soul remains justified no longer than this full-hearted consecration continues. If he falls from his first love into the spirit of self-pleasing, he falls again into bondage to sin and to the law, is condemned, and must repent and do his "first works," must return to Christ, and renew his faith and love, as a condition of his salvation.
5. Perseverance in faith and obedience, or in consecration to God, is also an unalterable condition of justification or of pardon and acceptance with God. By this language in this connection, you will of course understand me to mean, that perseverance in faith and obedience is a condition, not of present, but of final or ultimate acceptance and salvation.
I have tried to understand the subject of justification as it is taught in the Bible, without going into laboured speculations or theological technicalities. If I have succeeded in understanding it, the following is a succinct and true account of the matter: --
The Godhead, in the exercise of His adorable love and compassion, sought the salvation of sinners through and by the means of the mediatorial death and work of Christ. This death and work of Christ were resorted to, not to create, but, as a result of the merciful disposition of God, and as a means of securing the universe against a misapprehension of the character and design of God in forgiving and saving sinners. To Christ, as Mediator between the Godhead and man, the work of justifying and saving sinners is committed. He is made unto sinners, "wisdom, righteousness, sanctification, and redemption." In consideration of Christ having by His death for sinners secured the subjects of the divine government against a misconception of His character and designs, God does, upon the further conditions of repentance and faith, that imply a renunciation of their rebellion and a return to obedience to His laws, freely pardon past sins, and restore the penitent and believing sinner to favour, as if he had not sinned, while he remains penitent and believing, subject however to condemnation and eternal death, unless he holds the beginning of his confidence steadfast unto the end.
III. THE FOUNDATION OF THE JUSTIFICATION OF PENITENT BELIEVERS IN CHRIST.
1. Our own works or obedience to the law or to the Gospel, are not the ground or foundation of our justification. That is, neither our faith, nor repentance, nor love, nor life, nor anything done by us or wrought in us, is the ground of our justification. These are conditions of our justification, in the sense of a "not without which," but not the ground of it. None of these things must be omitted on pain of eternal damnation. Nor must they be put in the place of Christ upon the same penalty.
2. Neither is the atonement, nor anything in the mediatorial work of Christ, the foundation of our justification, in the sense of the source, moving, or procuring cause. This, that is the ground of our justification, lies deep in the heart of infinite love. We owe all to that merciful disposition that performed the mediatorial work, and died the accursed death to supply an indispensable condition of our justification and salvation.
3. Nor is the work of the Holy Spirit in converting and sanctifying the soul, the foundation of our justification. This is only a condition or means of bringing it about.
4. But the disinterested and infinite love of God, the Father, The Son, and the Holy Spirit, is the true and only foundation of the justification and salvation of sinners. God is love, that is, He is infinitely benevolent. All He does, or says, or suffers, permits or omits, is for one and the same ultimate reason, namely, to promote the highest good of universal being.
5. Christ, the second person in the glorious Trinity, is represented in Scripture, as taking so prominent a part in this work, that the number of offices and relations which He sustains to God and man in it are truly wonderful. For example, he is represented as being: King, Judge, Mediator, Advocate, Redeemer, Surety, Wisdom, Righteousness, Sanctification, Redemption, Prophet, Priest, Passover, or Lamb of God. The Bread and Water of Life, True God, our Life, As dying for our sin. The Resurrection, The Good Shepherd.
LOVE IS THE WHOLE OF RELIGION
The two principle forms of love, as far as religion is concerned, are benevolence and complacency. Benevolence is an act of the will. It is willing good, or a desire to promote the happiness of its object. Complacency is esteem or approbation of the character of its object. Benevolence should be exercised towards all beings, regardless of their moral character. Complacency is due only to the good and holy.
I. THE NATURE OF HOLY LOVE
1. Love may exist either as an affection or as an emotion. When love is an affection, it is voluntary, or consists in an act of the will. The virtue of love is mostly when it is in the form of an affection. When it is an emotion it is involuntary; feelings or emotions are involuntary. They are not directly dependent on the will, or controlled by a direct act of will. The happiness of love is mostly when it is in the form of an emotion. If the affection of love be very strong, it produces a high degree of happiness, but the emotion of holy love is happiness itself.
No man can exercise the emotion of love by merely willing it. And the emotion may often exist in spite of the will. Individuals often feel emotions rising in their minds which they know to be improper, and try by direct effort of will to banish them from their minds; finding that impossible they conclude that they have no control over these emotions.
But they may always be controlled by the will in an indirect way. The mind can bring up any class of emotion it chooses, by directing the attention sufficiently to the proper object. They will always be certain to rise in proportion as the attention is fixed.
2. Ordinarily, the emotion of love towards God is experienced when we exercise love toward Him in the form of affection. But this is not always the case. We may exercise good will towards any object, and yet at times feel no sensible emotions of love. It is not certain that even the Lord Jesus Christ exercised love towards God, in the form of emotion, at all times.
A husband and father may be engaged in labouring for the benefit of his family, and his very life controlled by affection for them, while his thoughts are not so engaged upon them as to make him feel any sensible emotions of love to them at the time.
3. Love to God naturally implies love to our neighbor. "Owe no man anything but to love one another; for he that loveth another hath fulfilled the law. For this, Thou shalt not commit adultery, Thou shalt not kill, Thou shalt not steal, Thou shalt not bear false witness, Thou shalt not covet; and if there be any other commandment, it is briefly comprehended in this saying, namely, Thou shalt love they neighbour as thyself." The love of complacency towards holy beings naturally implies love to God, as a being of infinite holiness.
II. LOVE IS THE WHOLE OF RELIGION
1. All that is required of man by God consists in love, in various modifications and results. Love is the sum total of all. The Scriptures fully teach that love is the sum total of all requirements, both of the law and the Gospel. Our Saviour declares that the great command, "Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all they heart, soul, mind and strength, and thy neighbour as thyself," is the sum total of the Law and the Prophets, or implies or includes all that the whole Scriptures, the Law and the Gospel, require.
2. God is love, and to love is to be like God, and to be perfect in love is to be perfect as God is perfect. All God's moral attributes consist in love, acting under certain circumstances and for certain ends. God's justice in punishing the wicked, His anger at sin, and the like, are only exercises of His love to the general happiness of His kingdom.
So it is in man. All that is good in man is some modification of love. Hatred to sin, is only love to virtue acting itself out in opposing whatever is opposed to virtue. So true faith implies and includes love. The faith that belongs to religion is an affectionate confidence in God.
III. SOME THINGS THAT ARE NOT ESSENTIAL TO PERFECT LOVE
1. The highest degree of emotion is not essential to perfect love. The Lord Jesus Christ very seldom had the highest degree of emotion, yet He always had perfect love.
2. Perfect love does not exclude the idea of increase in love or growth in grace. The growth of mind in knowledge to all eternity, implies growth in love to all eternity.
3. It is not essential to perfect love, that love should always be exercised towards all individuals alike. We cannot think of all individuals at once.
4. It is not essential to perfect love, that there should be the same degree of the spirit of prayer for every individual, or for the same individual at all times. The spirit of prayer is not always essential to pure and perfect love. You may love any individual with a very strong degree of love, and yet not have the spirit of prayer for that individual. That is, the Spirit of God may not lead you to pray for the salvation of that individual. The spirit of prayer depends on the influences of the Holy Ghost leading the mind to pray according to the will of God.
5. Perfect love is not inconsistent with those feelings of languor or constitutional debility, which are the necessary consequences of exhaustion or ill health. The Lord Jesus felt this weariness and exhaustion.
IV. WHAT IS ESSENTIAL TO PERFECT LOVE
1. It implies that there is nothing in the mind inconsistent with love. No hatred, malice, wrath, envy, or any other malignant emotions that are inconsistent with pure and perfect love.
2. That there is nothing in the life inconsistent with love. All the actions, words, thoughts, continually under the entire and perfect control of love.
3. That the love to God is supreme, and so entirely above all other objects, that nothing else is loved in comparison with God.
4. That love to God is disinterested; that God is loved for what He is, not for His relation to us, but for the excellence of His character.
5. That love to our neighbour should be equal. His interests and happiness should be regarded by us of equal value with our own, and he and his interests are to be treated accordingly by us.
V. SOME OF THE EFFECTS OF PERFECT LOVE
1. Self-denial for the sake of promoting the interests of God's kingdom and the salvation of sinners. The Lord Jesus enjoyed more solid satisfaction in working out salvation for mankind, than any of His saints can ever enjoy in receiving favours at His hands. He testified that it is more blessed to give than to receive.
The Apostle Paul did not count it a grief and a hardship to be hunted from place to place, imprisoned, scourged, stoned, and counted the offscouring of all things, for the sake of spreading the Gospel and saving souls. It was his joy.
Other individuals have had the same mind with the Apostle. They have been known who would be willing to live a thousand years, or to the end of time, if they could be employed in doing good, in promoting the kingdom of God, and saving the souls of men.
2. It delivers the soul from the power of legal motives. Perfect love leads a person to obey God, not because he fears the wrath of God, or hopes to be rewarded for doing this or that, but because he loves God, and loves to do the will of God. Perfect love will lead to universal obedience
3. The individual who exercises perfect love will be dead to the world. He will not be influenced by public sentiment, or what this and that man will say or think. See that woman! What is she not willing to do from natural affection to her husband? All that her friends can say against the man of her affection, has not the least influence on her mind, only to make her cling the more closely to him.
So far as the working of mind is concerned, the perfect love of God operates in the same way. The mind that is filled with perfect love, it is impossible to divert from God, while love continues in exercise. Take away his worldly possessions, his friends, his good name, his children; send him to prison, beat him with stripes, bind him to the stake, fill his flesh full of pine knots and set him on fire; and then leave him his God and he is happy. Cases have been known of martyrs who, while their bodies were frying at the stake, were so perfectly happy in God, as to love the sense of pain.
I recollect hearing a friend say, often, "I don't know that I have one thought of living a single moment for any other purpose than to glorify God, any more than I should think of leaping right into hell." This was said soberly and deliberately, and the whole life of that individual corresponded with the declaration. What was this but perfect love?
4. It is hardly necessary to say that perfect joy and peace are the natural results of perfect love. In 1 Cor. 13, the word translated "charity" means love. "Thou I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not charity, I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal." "Thou I have all faith so that I could remove mountains, and have not charity, I am nothing." Love "is kind," or affectionate in all intercourse with others, never harsh or rude, or needlessly giving pain to any. "Is not puffed up" with pride, but always humble and modest. "Doth not behave itself unseemly," but naturally begets a pleasant and courteous deportment towards all. "Seeketh not her own" or had no selfishness.
"Is not easily provoked." To be easily provoked is always a sign of pride. If a person is full of love, it is impossible to make him exercise sinful anger while love continues. He exercises such indignation as God exercises, at what is base and wrong, but he will not be provoked by it. "Thinketh no evil." Show me a man who is always suspicious of the motives of others, and I will show you one who has the devil in him, and not the Holy Ghost.
Love "rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth." See a man who exults at his neighbour's fall, or cries out, "I told you so"; and I tell you that man is far from being perfect in love. "Believeth all things." Ready to believe good wherever there is the least evidence of it, and "hopeth all things."
"Love worketh no ill to his neighbour." Mark that, NO ILL! Perfect love never over-reaches, nor defrauds, nor oppresses, nor does any ill to a neighbour. Would a man under the influence of perfect love, sell his neighbour rum?
One other effect of perfect love: it uniformly shows itself in great efforts for the sanctification of the Church and the salvation of souls.
There may be much light in the mind concerning religion, without love. Those individuals who have much religious knowledge and zeal, without love, are most unlovely and dangerous persons. They are always censorious, proud, heady, high-minded. They may make a strong impression, but do not produce true religion.
Perfect love cannot speak in a rough or abusive manner, either to or of others. The zeal that is governed by perfect love will not spend itself in contending for or against any forms of religion, nor attack minor errors and evils. Love leads to laying stress on the fundamentals in religion. It cleaves to warm-hearted Christians, no matter of what denomination they may be, and loves them, and delights to associate with them. Find a man who loves to attend ecclesiastical meetings, and enters into all the janglings of the day, and that man is not full of love.
How much that is called religion, has no love. It ought to be better understood than it is, that unless love is the mainspring, no matter what the outward action may be, whether praying, praising, giving, or anything else, there is no religion in it.
Those religious excitements which do not consist in the spirit of love, are not revivals of religion. When persons profess to be converted, if love is not the ruling feature in their character they are not truly converted.
See what the world will be, when mankind are universally actuated by a spirit of love. We learn that the time will come, when there shall be nothing to hurt or destroy, and when the spirit of love will universally prevail. What a change in society! What a change in all the methods of doing business, and in all the intercourse of mankind, when each shall love his neighbour as himself, and seek the good of others as his own.
Could one of the saints of the present day revisit the earth at that period, he would not know the world in which he had lived, all things would be so altered.
The thing on which the Lord Jesus is bent, is to bring all mankind under the influence of love. Is it not a worthy object? He came to destroy the works of the devil, and this is the way to do it. Suppose the world were full of such men as Jesus Christ was in His human nature: compare it with what it is now. Would not such a change be worthy of the Son of God? What a glorious end, to fill the earth with love!
It is easy to see what makes heaven. It is love: perfect love. And it is easy to see what makes heaven begun on earth, in those who are full of love. How sweet their temper; what delightful companions; how blessed to live near them; so full of candour, so kind, so gentle, so careful to avoid offense, so divinely amiable in all things!
And is this to be attained by men? Can we love God, in this world, with all the heart, and soul, and strength, and mind? Is it our privilege and our duty to possess the Spirit of Christ: and shall we exhibit the spirit of the devil? Beloved, let our hearts be set on perfect love, and let us give God no rest until we feel our hearts full of love, and until all our thoughts and all our lives are full of love to God and man.
Oh, when will the Church come up to this ground? Only let the Church be full of love, and She will be fair as the moon, clear as the sun and terrible to all wickedness, as an army with banners.
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