Love Characteristic of the Deity.
A Sermon Preached
Charleston Baptist Association
Monday, November 4, 1822
GOD IS LOVE.--I John 4:16
Sin has introduced into our world confusion, strife, and every evil work. Hence arise those painful scenes which are presented to our view in the affairs of men. Hurried on to the commission of deeds awfully abandoned, man acts towards his brother man rather as the enemy of his race, than as a member of the same common family. In this disordered state of things, suffering humanity bleeds at every pore.
Unillumined by the light of divine truth, the mind is at a loss to explain, and can perceive no termination of, the confusion and misery which excites its compassion. It wonders, but cannot tell, where the dreadful scene will end. It is overwhelmed with astonishment in the contemplation of this confused state of a government, whose head it is taught to believe is wise, good, and powerful.
Not so the mind enlightened from above, and sanctified by grace. To such a mind Revelation clears all doubt, explains all mysteries. Like the sun in the firmament, it scatters the darkness, and causes the true light to appear. It exhibits the Deity, who is glorious in holiness, excellent in counsel, and wonderful in working, as permitting, and overruling the present disordered condition of the world, for the promotion of his own glory, and the enlarged happiness of the universe. It represents him as constantly pursuing his own infinitely wise plan, undisturbed by circumstances apparently the most adverse, nay, as making them contribute to the accomplishment of his purposes. Working all things after the counsel of his own will, he gradually unfolds these purposes, fills up the great outlines of his complicated system, and prepares the whole for the most regular, and benevolent results.
How delightful it is then to turn our attention from the scenes of earth, in which disorder and wretchedness are exhibited, up to the Great Author of universal nature, to contemplate his adorable perfections, to catch some faint views of his ever blessed nature, to mark the operations of his infinite mind; and to trace his great designs in the arrangements of his wisdom, the plans of his goodness, and the exertions of his power!
The character of Jehovah in this view is at all times worthy of our serious and devout consideration; but more especially so when we are assembled to consult about the interests of his kingdom, and to form and execute plans for the good of man and the glory of his great Creator.
Such, my brethren, the members of this Association, is the occasion which has brought us together at this season. Our minds, therefore, must be in some good degree employed on the objects for which we are convened. It must be peculiarly suitable then to consider the character of the infinitely benevolent and ever blessed God whom we are called to follow as dear children. To this subject does our text invite our attention.
In presenting it to your consideration, I shall attempt the proof and illustration of the great truth, which it contains, by an exhibition of the exercises and operations of the Divine Love, in relation to some of those leading objects, which come within our view, either through the medium of revelation, or a regular course of ratiocination.
In the prosecution of my design, I shall have occasion to make frequent use of this phrase, "The love of God." Before I proceed then to the discussion of my subject, I shall state the sense, in which I shall use the phrase, in this discourse.
By the love of God, I shall not only understand the expression of is particular regard to individuals, but the exercise of infinite benevolence or good will to being, in general, or in other words, a supreme regard to the highest good of the universe. We begin with the exercises of this love.
I. The first exercise of this love is exhibited in the choice of that object, the accomplishment of which is the chief end of Jehovah's pursuit. This is his own glory.
Paul says, "That for Him," that is God, "and through Him, and to Him are all things, to whom be glory forever." The Lord, saith Solomon, hath made all things for himself. The Savior declares, that he came down from heaven not to do his own will, but the will of him that sent him--that is, the Father. And when he had accomplished that will, in a solemn address to his Father, he says, "I have glorified Thee on the earth: I have finished the work which thou gavest me to do."
From these passages, it is evident, that God has created all things for the promotion of his glory, and in their preservation and ultimate results, he pursues the same object. In correspondence with these passages, it is said, That the earth shall be filled with the glory of the Lord, and that the glory of the Lord shall endure forever. God therefore positively declares that he will not give his glory to another. Hence the direction of the scripture is, "Whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God." In the spirit of this direction, is the language of the Lord's people on earth and in heaven. On earth they say, "Not unto us, O Lord, Not unto us, but unto thy name give glory, for thy mercy and thy truth's sake." In heaven, "Blessing and glory, and wisdom, and thanksgiving, and honour, and power and might, be unto our God forever and ever. Amen."
Now in making his glory the chief object of his pursuit, Jehovah affords a clear proof of his nature as a God of love, or infinite benevolence. For intimately and inseparably connected with the accomplishment of this object, is the preservation of his government, and the happiness of his creatures.
A plain illustration will assist us in perceiving the correctness of this position. The supreme authority in any country concentrates representatively, the whole community, and is invested with the general care of every part. That this authority should answer the ends of its appointment, it is essentially necessary, that its dignity be respected. If this be prostrated; with it, must the liberties of the people be prostrated, and their happiness destroyed. It is certainly fit and right then that the energies of the supreme authority be directed to the support of its dignity on right principles. On the supposition that this authority is perfectly wise and good, what is here stated will receive additional force.
Let these remarks be applied to that regard which Jehovah pays to his glory and dignity, and it will be clearly seen that it is most fit and proper he should pursue his own glory as the supreme object in this view. For he is the great moral Governor of the Universe, in whom all his creatures live, move, and have their being. He is infinitely wise, good and powerful. He cannot err, neither can he do what is wrong. He must ever act on the most holy and correct principles. Therefore, in pursuing his own glory with such supreme and sacred regard, he does not exercise mere arbitrary power, nor act under the influence of sinister motives. Under his government, then, an equal and just administration will be obtained; and the virtuous and good will have nothing to fear. But prostrate the dignity of its holy Governor, abase his glory, and you destroy the rights, the liberties, and the happiness of its subjects. You introduce misery, wretchedness, and eternal ruin. You open the way for the annihilation of the Universe.
In pursuing his own glory then as a supreme object, Jehovah gives the most lucid, the most satisfactory, and the strongest proof of his nature as a God of love, or infinite benevolence.
II. The second exercise of divine love consists in selecting the plan which shall best secure the object proposed for its operation.
The principle which engages the exercise of the divine benevolence in proposing the chief good as the grand object of pursuit, will necessarily secure the exercise of the same benevolence in forming the best plan for accomplishing the end in view.
It must be confessed that on the exercise of this benevolence in relation to the plan, we cannot form, from our view, so accurate and satisfactory a judgment as on the choice of its object. We cannot ascend that eminence, on which the Divine Being sits enthroned in all the perfection of his unlimited powers, and which is essential to an adequate view of all the possible systems, that might have been devised and adopted. But there is a principle, which we may with the most perfect certainty derive, as much satisfaction in relation to the plan, as we have before obtained in relation to its object. The principle is this, God is infinitely perfect in his natural and moral attributes. He cannot err. All things are present in his divine mind. His goodness and his wisdom therefore will necessarily lead him to devise that plan, which will be the best, and which, in its execution will infallibly secure the accomplishment of the great object he proposes to himself.
The goodness, and the wisdom employed in forming this plan, must originate in love, or infinite benevolence, with a supreme regard to the greatest good of the Universe, or being in general. This is necessarily implied in the perfections of the scheme devised. In this exercise of the Divine Mind, the nature of the Deity as a God of love is strikingly displayed.
III. The further proof and illustration of the important truth, the subject of our text will be exhibited in the consideration of those parts of the divine plan which are made known to us.
These are: the formation of the Universe -- The creation of angels and men: of the former, the preservation of an innumerable host in holiness, and the irrecoverable apostacy of fallen myriads; of the latter, the degeneracy of the whole race, and the recovery of a part -- The atonement of the Lord Jesus Christ, and its glorious results.
We begin with the formation of the Universe.
The construction of the vast fabric, denominated the material world, presents to our view an admirable display of the divine glory. The wisdom of the Deity shines conspicuously in the production of so stupendous a system, with all its rich appurtenances: In so nicely adjusting and balancing its various parts, that they perform their respective offices without noise or confusion, never interfering with, nor eclipsing, each other's luster, but all answering the end of their being, and producing one grand and glorious result.
In the accurate disposition of this amazing system, the goodness of God is manifested not less conspicuously than is his wisdom. For in its operation, the comfort and the happiness of his rational creatures are augmented beyond conception.
In the exertion of that energy which brought into existence such a frame, and has supported it to the present period, the power of Jehovah's arm is exhibited with overwhelming effect, and exalts our conceptions of the divine Majesty beyond expression.
The union of these attributes, as exhibited in the production of such a system, will surely warrant the declaration of Israel's sweet singer: "The heavens declare the glory of God, and the firmament sheweth his handy work."
But in this display of the divine glory, the love of God is richly manifested. The material system was not formed for the speculative glory of God, if I may so express myself, nor to perform its revolutions in his sight only. It was formed for the benefit of his creatures to impart to them rational enjoyment, and to furnish them with occasion of perpetually exalting the praises of their Creator. In which last exercise their own happiness would be greatly promoted.
If this system, then, be considered as affording a display of the divine glory, it must be regarded as affording not less a proof and illustration of benevolence in the divine mind.
IV. The creation of angels with the preservation of an innumerable host of them in holiness, and the permitted, irrecoverable apostacy of perverse myriads from their number, in connection with the exercise of divine justice in relation to them, afford another display of the divine glory.
These originally holy intelligences were formed with exalted capacities, and permitted to approach the unveiled face of their Creator and their God. As moral agents, they were capable of exhibiting a much brighter display of their Creator's glory, than the material system, which has just been considered. They were created in conformity with the divine law, whose essence is love. Their capacious powers, and temper of heart enabled and prepared them to receive those communications which their God should be pleased to make, and to offer suitable returns of praise to his holy name. Receiving from him large manifestations of his love, their full souls hastened to pour out their gratitude in songs of sublime adoration, crying continually--Holy, Holy, Holy, is the Lord of Hosts.
But alas! a sad reverse took place among the heavenly throng. Even myriads became apostate! Inflated with pride, they fell from their first estate, and are now reserved in chains of darkness to the judgment of the great day.
This tremendous apostacy, however, is under the administration of Jehovah, made the occasion of a higher display of his glory than had before been exhibited. Hitherto the combined exertions of goodness, wisdom and power, had been employed in the formation of the material and moral world. But the attribute of justice had not yet been fully displayed. This attribute is essential to the character of a moral Governor, and therefore necessarily forms a part of Jehovah's moral character. The apostacy of the fallen angels afforded on occasion for the exercise of this attribute, in which the glory of God is set forth in an awful point of view.
The operation of justice upon offenders, so far from being a weakness in any government, is essential to its perfection, and to the securing of those ends for which it received its existence.
Good will to the citizens of any government binds the supreme authority to take proper measures for the execution of justice on transgressors. And it becomes the indispensable duty of its officers to see it executed in conformity with the laws, and with a view to general benefit. If they suffer an infraction of the laws to pass unnoticed and unpunished, they invite to disobedience, and place in perpetual jeopardy the lives and the possessions of those who are friendly to good order. Such a conduct therefore would contain an expression of the highest malevolence or ill will to the good of the whole. It will surely follow, then, that, the same principle of benevolence or good will, which in any government leads its constituted authorities to devise, and its proper officers to execute the best system for the general good, will lead them also to express their displeasure against, and to inflict punishment upon, those who shall refuse submission to the laws. If the first be an exercise of true benevolence, the last will be no less so.
Let this reasoning be applied to the exercise of justice in the Divine Being, and it will most satisfactorily appear, that it is in him an amiable attribute; and though it contains an awful manifestation of his displeasure against sin, it is so far from being inconsistent with the benevolence of his nature, that it is one mode of the expression of that benevolence.
The angels who fell, where not compelled to apostatize from God. He did not tempt them to disobedience. Let no man say, saith an inspired Apostle, when he is tempted, I am tempted of God: for God cannot be tempted with evil, neither tempteth he any man. But every man is tempted when he is drawn away of his own lust, and enticed. The principle here laid down in relation to man, is applicable to angels. Although they were permitted to fall, their apostacy was their own fault, and it was permitted in such a way as will never admit of the least injurious reflection upon the rectitude of the divine character.
They voluntarily, and in violation of the strongest principles of moral obligation, rebelled against the throne of their Sovereign, and were instantly made the monuments of his punitive justice. What a dreadful display of this attribute is here exhibited! What an awful expression of the holiness of the divine character in opposition to sin!
Notwithstanding the defection of a vast multitude of the angelic hosts, countless numbers of these bright intelligences remained in their first estate. These are denominated "Elect Angels," and Christ is called their Lord. From these expressions we infer, that consistently with the divine will, these angels were confirmed in Christ, by the love of God. Their confirmation then presents us with an enlarged view of Jehovah's love. For their continuance in holiness is a particular expression of his infinite regard towards them, under the operation of which, they still reflect their Creator's glory, in a more exalted degree then before that event.
The condemnation of those who fell, exhibits the glory of the divine character in a point of view not before conceived of by creatures, but is, beyond all doubt, one that aggrandizes that glory.
Now, in the confirmation of those that remained in their loyalty to God, his love is strikingly manifested in relation to them; as in the punishment of those who broke their allegiance to their Sovereign, his benevolence or good will to his righteous government, or the good of the universe is forcibly exemplified. Therefore in pursing his own glory in both these instances, the nature of Jehovah as a God of love or infinite benevolence is clearly proved and illustrated.
V. Another manifestation of the divine glory presents itself to our consideration in the creation of man, the degeneracy of his whole race, and the ultimate recovery of a part. In the exuberance of divine goodness, God caused a new race of beings to be formed in his own likeness, to become the recipients of his bounty, and the instruments of reflecting his glory in a more exalted degree, than had yet been presented to the universe.
Man was formed in the image of God, and permitted to approach him at stated periods in free and unrestrained converse from face to face. On this earth was the new made creature placed. Eden, a peculiar spot, selected by infinite wisdom, and furnished by divine goodness, with every thing delightful to the eye, and pleasant to the taste, brightening all the tints of her gay foliage, and raising ten thousand songs of gratulation, opens her blissful bowers to receive her illustrious inhabitant.
But in this hallowed place, sacred to virtue and to God, Satan, Prince of the apostate angels, sought and obtained an entrance. Meditating revenge upon the Most High, he directed his efforts against man, the last but fairest of all God's lower creation. In an evil hour, he succeeded, and man fell a victim to his seduction, lost the image of his God, and involved his whole race in awful degeneracy, guilt and ruin. Once more did the justice of God awake. Its sword was drawn, and ready to be plunged into the bosom of the guilty being. But mercy interposed! Heavenly Mercy, with dovelike aspect, flew to his relief.
The medium, through which this heavenly advocate and powerful intercessor obtained her suit, will now engage our solemn attention. We shall forego for a moment, therefore, the consideration of the recovery of a part of this ruined race, for the purpose of attending to an exhibition of the medium, through which their recovery is effected. This medium is the atonement of the Lord Jesus Christ.
Before we proceed immediately to this subject, a few remarks will be further made on the degeneracy of our race.
In the apostacy of man we behold rebellion in a part of God's moral system, originating and perpetuated under aggravated circumstances. Adam, our first father, standing in the relation of a federal head to his posterity; admitted to unrestrained communion with his God, and enjoying every advantage for his continuance in obedience and happiness--notwithstanding these favourable circumstance--notwithstanding the vast obligations by which he was bound to preserve his innocency, and to transmit it to his descendants--dared, in the face of the awful example of the fallen angels and all its dire consequences--dared to violate the command of his Maker; and to sport, not with his own, but with the happiness of unborn millions.
There is an expression used by Paul in his epistle to Timothy, which enhances the idea of our great progenitor's guilt. "Adam," saith he, "was not deceived, but the woman being deceived, was in the transgression." From this account of his fall, it evidently appears, that it was not from the influence of deception, as in the case of Eve, that he sinned, but on the contrary, that he committed the transgression with full knowledge of it at the time, and in defiance of the divine threatening.
The rebellion of Adam has been perpetuated by his descendants, with enormities multiplying with the increase of their species. The declaration of the inspired writer is justified in the fullest extent, "Lo! This only have I found, that God hath made man upright, but he has sought out may inventions."
It hath, notwithstanding, pleased God, to regard his apostate and helpless creatures, with the tenderest compassion, and with unbounded love. He therefore did not doom them to immediate and interminable misery, but in the exercise of unparalleled condescension and grace, provided a Mediator for them. This leads us to the consideration of the medium of their recovery, which is the Lord Jesus Christ.
On Christ, who is mighty to save, Jehovah laid help for our ruined race. He arrested the uplifted stroke of justice, which was ready to fall upon our devoted heads. This was love indeed. Hence saith Jesus himself, God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him, should not perish, but have everlasting life. "In this," saith John, "was manifested the love of God to 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, and not for ours only, but for the sins of the whole world. In the same light, does Paul represent the gift of Jesus Christ--"God commendeth his love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us."
There are two points of view, in which the gift of Christ, for the redemption of sinners, is to be considered as exhibiting a rich display of the love of God.
In those being, with relation to whom this attribute was exercised, previous to the fall of man, and of the apostate angels, there was some moral excellence, the production of God's favour. The angels, in their first creation, who stood firm in their obedience, were holy intelligences, and man, in his state of innocence, bore the likeness of the divine mind. On these, then, Jehovah could bestow the most complacent regard. But when apostacy had deprived the rebel angels and sinning man of that excellence, God could take no longer any pleasure in them. The angels, who fell, when left in their fallen state. No Mediator appeared for them. Man was originally formed in a lower rank than angels. And yet, though fallen he is regarded for favour, whilst they are passed by without relief. If, of these two orders of beings, one should be taken, and the other left, in human view, the most exalted order would have been preferred. Yet it pleased God to prefer the most inferior. Herein then, is one view, in which the gift of Christ to be a propitiation for the sins of the world is exhibited as displaying the love of God in a most striking degree.
The other view is contained in the following passage. "God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him, should not perish, but have everlasting life." The gift of this Son is here represented as an amazing display of God's love. This will fully appear from a consideration of the character, which this illustrious personage bears. He is the express image of his Father's person. In him all the fullness of the God-Head dwelleth bodily. He is the heir of all things, and has a name which is above every name, to which every knee shall bow. Nay, He is God over all, blessed forevermore. He is therefore the Creator, and moral Governor of fallen man, in whom he lives, whose laws he has transgressed, to whose tribunal he is amenable and at whose bar he must stand. That this Being, this glorious Being should be given, not purchased, as a Mediator in the behalf of such rebellious creatures, is an expression of divine love, that transcends all human, all angelic thought.
Let these two views be combined, that sinners of the human race, the lower order of moral beings who have fallen, are the objects of the divine favour, and that through Jesus Christ, the eternal Son of God, nay, God himself, of the same essence with the Father, this favour is manifested, and then the full force of the Evangelist's expression will be felt: Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.
We have hitherto, in the consideration of this important subject, confined our view to the operations of divine love in relation to the recovery of man, as one object of the Saviour's mission. Let us now take a more enlarged view of it.
We love him, that is God, because he first loved us, saith St. John. The love of God is here represented as the cause of our love to him. This is true in two respects. God's love, first implanted in our hearts, originates the existence of a correspondent affection in us, and influences its exercise in grateful returns to his adorable name. But there is another view of it more important and glorious. It is this: That his love had devised a plan on which we might be brought to love him. This idea represents the love of God as exercised towards man antecedent to the gift of his Son, and adopting a medium through which it might be manifested consistently with justice, his injured law, and the dignity of his throne.
The representation of Jehovah's love, explodes, therefore, that idea, which obtains among many, and which in their view forms a strong objection against the Gospel scheme, viz.: That it is inconsistent to say our salvation is purchased at the price of a full atonement, and yet a free pardon is proclaimed to the sinner.
Let us then consider the love of God, as displayed in the atonement of Jesus on a plan freed from that objection.
The transgression of man involved in it the guilt of infinite moral evil. For this infinite misery is the necessary and natural punishment. But from this, God was disposed to rescue the transgressor. To do it, without respect to the rights of his moral government, which had been so awfully trampled on, would have operated as a prostration of all law and justice. This was forbidden by the moral character of an infinitely benevolent, just, and holy Being.
The great object then, was to devise a plan, not for the purchase, but for the manifestation of the divine love, in the redemption of the transgressor, which should maintain the dignity and preserve the rights of God's moral government. In the atonement of Jesus, this plan is gloriously set forth. As man, he suffered under the law: As God, he stamped an infinite value upon his sufferings, giving them the most complete effect, as a full and adequate atonement to the violated law, and dishonoured government of God. Although the letter of the law made no provision for this plan, its spirit is preserved by it; for in its execution the law is magnified, and made honourable; and that on a more enlarged scale, than if its penalty had been inflicted upon the whole race of fallen man.
In the person and atonement of Christ, mercy and truth have met together, righteousness and peace have kissed each other. The mercy of God, through the interposition of this glorious Mediator, finds access to the guilty, on perfect correspondence with his truth or veracity, which threatened the sinner with the penalty of the law; for Christ hath borne its curse, and consequently removes it from the sinner interested in his mediation. Peace or reconciliation between God and man, is effected without any infringements on the rights of the divine government or any imputation upon the rectitude of the divine Being; for his righteousness, or the moral justice of his character has been fully satisfied in the sacrifice of Christ.
These apparently opposite attributes unite with perfect harmony in the person of our Redeemer. In him, do the glorious perfections of Deity concentre their rays, and shine with dazzling splendour, and exalted benevolence.
This view of the atonement of Christ is clearly and forcibly set forth in the Epistle to the Romans.
But now the righteousness of God without the law is manifested, being witnessed by the law and the prophets; even the righteousness of God, which is by faith of Jesus Christ unto, and upon all them that believe, for there is no difference; for all have sinned and come short of the glory of God; being justified freely by his grace, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus; whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation through faith in his blood, 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.
Taking this view of the atonement then, it will evidently appear, that the love of God is the procuring cause of the atonement; and not the atonement the procuring cause of the love of God. The same view is clearly presented in the following Scriptures, which have already been quoted: God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him, should not perish, but have everlasting life. Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Now in these passages, Christ is represented as given, and given as the effect and expression of divine love. The atonement of Christ is then so far from exhibiting God in the character of an arbitrary tyrant, who seeks the satisfaction of his anger, that it represents him as an amiable Father, and infinitely benevolent moral Governor, who is disposed to manifest his love to rebels, but not in the prostration of the eternal principles of justice and moral law.
The atonement of Christ considered in this point of view, contains an expression of inviolable regard to the rights of the divine throne, and by consequence of infinite benevolence to being in general, or to the highest good of the universe. It contains also the strongest expression of Jehovah's abhorrence against sin, an irrefragable evidence of his immaculate holiness, and the fullest proof of his abundant love to the children of men. Considered in the point of view, just exhibited, full atonement is perfectly consistent with free pardon; for it is not the payment of the sinner's debt on the principles of pecuniary or commercial justice, but a satisfaction to moral justice, to open the way for the consistent exercise of mercy. In itself considered, the atonement of Christ does not deliver any soul from condemnation. It is the interest which the soul has in the benefits of the atonement that effects this deliverance; an interest that depends not upon the principle of atonement, but upon that by which it has been provided, and in which it originates, viz.: Love, or infinite benevolence, under the influence of which, this interest will be imparted according to the righteous and sovereign will of God. For he will have mercy, on whom he will have mercy, and he will have compassion on whom he will have compassion.
Having presented you with an exhibition of that medium, through which the recovery of a part of the human race is ultimately effected, and for the purpose of which exhibition, we desisted form the consideration of that recovery, we will now return to it.
One great object that Christ had in view, in undertaking the office of Mediator, was actually to redeem and introduce to glory, all believers in his name, all who are his people.
In proof of this, the following scriptures will be found conclusive. "And this is the Father's will which hath sent me, that of all which he hath given me, I should lose nothing, but should raise it up at the last day." "All that the Father giveth me shall come unto me, and him that cometh unto me, I will in no wise cast out." "It became him, for whom are all things, and by whom are all things, in bringing many sons unto glory, to make the Captain of their salvation perfect through sufferings." "Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who hath blessed us with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ; according as he hath chosen us in him before the foundation of the world." "Christ loved the church and gave himself for it; that he might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word; that he might present it to himself a glorious church."
This recovery consists in the renovation of their hearts by the Holy Spirit, the necessity of which is so strongly expressed by our Lord in these terms: "Except a man be born of water and of the spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God." This is the first step in their actual recovery. They are then freely justified by an interest in the blood and righteousness of their Redeemer, received under the influences of the Spirit by faith in his adorable name. "For there is no condemnation to them that are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit." "All that believe in him, being justified from all things, from which they could not be justified by the law of Moses."
Under the influence of this divine principle, Faith, their sanctification from all filthiness of the flesh and of the spirit is promoted. This forms an essential part of their recovery; for without holiness no man can see the Lord. In this part of their recovery, they are progressively renewed in the spirit and temper of their minds, until they are ripe for the heavenly state. Then putting off this earthly house of their tabernacle, they will ascend to those regions of glory in which their Saviour dwells. And when the last loud trump shall sound, awaking the pale nations of the dead from their long sleep, their bodies will be resuscitated, and fashioned like to his own most glorious body. They will thus become fit residences for their enlarged souls.--Then will their recovery be complete. Entering with their exalted Lord into all his joy, they will taste the fulness of his love, and exhibit his glorious praise throughout eternal ages.
Paul, on this subject, speaking of the work as already done, presents us with a glorious chain, whose first link consists of the purpose of the eternal mind, and the last, of its accomplishment in ultimate glory.
For whom He, that is God, did foreknow, he also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the first-born among many brethren. Moreover, whom he did predestinate, them he also called; and whom he called, them he also justified, and whom he justified, them be also glorified.
We have necessarily so much blended the consideration of man's creation, degeneracy and recovery, with the atonement of the Lord Jesus Christ, and its results, that we did not stop to make any reflections on them, respectively, in relation to the display of divine glory, which they exhibited. Let us now attend to this subject.
The formation of man afforded another display of the glory of God, in that, although he was created a little lower than the angels, he was made in the image of his Creator. Possessed of moral and intellectual powers, he was capable of reflecting his Maker's glory, in the exercises of holy obedience and exalted praise. But the glory of God thus displayed in man's formation, is an evidence of his Maker's love; for in reflecting his glory his own happiness is advanced.
But alas! Man fell. He too apostatized from his Creator, and became exposed to vindictive justice. But if the fall of angels was overruled by infinite benevolence to exalt God's glory in a higher degree, the fall of man will be made no less to serve the same end.
In the recovery of those, who are redeemed from their iniquities, the glory of Jehovah is displayed in a very exalted degree. In their restoration, they are united to Christ, vitally and eternally. Their souls reclaimed from the lowest state of misery, and their bodies fashioned like to Christ's own most glorious body, they will shine in the superior splendours of his likeness in worlds on high. Raised, by their union with the Son of God, to such an exalted height, they will stand nearest his person, and be seated on thrones of glory, displaying his perfections as the God-man in a manner ineffable; for through them, as the church, will glory be given to God, by Christ Jesus, throughout all ages, world without end. Now in this display of the divine glory, the highest love or benevolence is discovered. For the happiness of which, the redeemed will be partakers, will be infinitely greater than they would have enjoyed, had they never fallen.
But against the benevolence of the divine nature, an argument is drawn from the final misery of those who perish. In answer to this argument, let it be observed, that the eternal destruction of these will display the attribute of justice, which we have already demonstrated to comport in the highest sense, with the exercise of love or benevolence. The reasoning employed on this subject in the case of the apostate angels is applicable to the case of perishing sinful men. The Saviour justifies and confirms this view, in relation to the final punishment of the wicked, in the following passage. "I thank Thee, O Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that thou hast hid these things from the wise and prudent, and hast revealed them unto babes, even so, Father, for so it seemed good in thy sight." The things referred to, are things of spiritual and eternal concern to immortal souls. The concealment of them, does not mean any direct act of God, by which he places them under such circumstances of secrecy or disadvantage, so that men cannot see them.--These things are freely and clearly set before them in the scriptures, and the preaching of the word, but such is the wisdom and prudence of these persons mentioned by the Saviour; such their own fleshly wisdom and prudence in opposition to the wisdom that cometh from God, that they will not see them. They are also so much under the influence of the God of this world, that their minds are blinded to the spiritual nature and excellency of the truths of God, according to that important passage in Paul's second epistle to the Corinthians. "But if our Gospel be hid, it is hid to them that are lost: in whom the God of this world hath blinded the minds of them which believe not, lest the light of the glorious Gospel of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine into them:" God leaving them to the influence of this blindness, while they love and pursue a course of sin.
In the destruction of the finally impenitent, then the glory of God, as a God of justice is promoted, and in this display of the divine glory, God is clearly manifested to be a God of love. Not of love to the miserable subjects of his justice, but to being in general, which is a higher display of benevolence, than the manifestation of particular favour to individuals.
To exhibit what has just been stated in relation to the destruction of the finally impenitent, with fuller force, and in a clearer point of view, let it be further observed, that the determination of God to recover his people, through the atonement of Jesus, in the manner in which the atonement has been stated in this discourse, does not exclude any of the human race from the enjoyment of God's love. In the sacrifice of Christ, an ample provision is made for the pardon of sin, on the most enlarged scale. Those who will not be benefitted by it in their highest concerns, are only left in their state of rebellion, and in which, without atonement, and its application, all would have been left.--On those, who remain in this state, no injury is operated. They are not excluded form God's favour by any arbitrary power in him. They exclude themselves by their own act--by their own voluntary opposition to him, and persevering rejection of the only plan by which they can be saved. God, as the righteous Judge, will only inflict on them that punishment, to which they expose themselves, under circumstances of most aggravated guilt. Jesus is freely exhibited to them. Without money, and without price, irrespective of merit in them, and freed from all conditions on their part, they are invited, encouraged, commanded to believe in Christ, and assured that believing in his name, they shall have life and be eternally saved. For the exercise of this faith, they have the natural ability.--For with the same ability that they disbelieve, they can believe. Their hearts are enmity against God. Under the influence of this enmity, they exercise the ability which they possess, in refusing to accept of Jesus. They refuse to exercise faith in his name. They treat the offer of his mercy with neglect, if not with contempt. God is under no obligation to exert his transforming influence upon their hearts, to bring them to the exercise of faith. Where then is the injustice or malevolence in leaving them to the awful result of their deliberate choice? And if it seem good to the all perfect mind to leave them in this state, who is he that shall reply against God?
From the views which have been exhibited of the atonement of Christ, and its blessed results, it has evidently appeared, that in its provision, the glory of God was the supreme object of pursuit. To recapitulate what has been stated, is unnecessary. Your will readily recall them to your minds.
In other beings, Jehovah's attributes had been exhibited in their different and respective displays. But in Jesus they have all met in their diviner forms. Special favour to individuals--Infinite benevolence to the Universe--Justice sacredly regarding the rights of the divine throne--Love devising and providing a medium of operation to the guilty, on a plan perfectly consistent with the honour of moral government, and the glory of God.
The way thus opened in Christ, as the manifestations of divine regard, love and mercy find their way to rebellious man: And in the atonement of Christ, and its blessed results, the divine glory appears with an increasing lustre, that eclipses all its former manifestations.
What tides of joy diffuse themselves throughout the expanded souls of unnumbered millions, who had else been forever miserable! New views of the divine perfections arise with overpowering effect in the hearts of the whole moral system, wakening raptures high, and producing songs of exalted praise to the adorable Author of all good. Uniting in one common and inconceivably glorious band, angels and glorified saints approach the presence of their God and Father, and with one voice, in strains the most elevated, cry, "Holy! Holy! Holy! is the Lord God of Hosts! Blessing, and honour, and glory, and power, be unto Him that sitteth upon the throne, and to the Lamb forever and ever. Amen."
It satisfactorily appears from what has been stated in this discourse, that God constantly seeks his own glory; that in doing so, he seeks the chief good; and in seeking the chief good, displays his love, or the benevolence of his nature in the highest degree. Therefore, in pursuing his own glory as the supreme object in this view, the strongest proof is given of the nature of God, as a God of love. With the author of our text, then, with exalted admiration and rapture, we exclaim, God Is Love.
Having gone through the proof and illustration of the great truth contained in our text, I shall now solicit your attention to an inference or two, naturally deducible from the subject.
Inference 1. As it appears from this subject that God pursues his own glory in every thing that he does, it affords important instruction to his creatures in relation to their duty. They should make the object the chief end of their pursuits. All the selfish and baser passions of their nature should be merged in the sublimer exercise of seeking their Creator's glory, according to the exhortation of the Apostle, "Whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God."
Inference 2. We learn further from this subject, that great encouragement should be taken in the prosecution of any plan formed on right principles, and having for its object the glory of God. Such a plan will assuredly prosper. God will give it success. Although great difficulties may present themselves to render it apparently impracticable--although powerful enemies may rise up to hinder its execution--although defection among the individuals engaged in it may seem to threaten it with a fatal issue--all shall be over-ruled for its accomplishment. For before Zerubbabel the mountain shall become a plain. The wrath of man shall praise the Lord, and the remainder of it will he restrain. If a Judas desert his Master, a Matthias shall be found to fill his place.
Inference 3. We learn again from this subject the duty of submission to God, of confidence in his purposes, and of composure in the confused state of the world.
God is love, or infinite benevolence. He reigns over the whole earth. He reigns in righteousness and power. It is his prerogative to bring order out of confusion. He it is, who raises up the scourges of the human family. And it is he who puts them down. They are accomplishing his purposes, though it is not in their heart to do so. He worketh all things after the counsel of his own righteous and benevolent will. Let his creatures then obey his will, and stand still and see the salvation of God. Let them be composed amid the clashing of arms, the painful exhibition of garments rolled in blood, the crash of falling worlds, and the terror of dissolving elements.
Inference 4. It appears from our subject that God has provided a costly sacrifice for the redemption of sinners. Let this amazing display of divine love teach us to make sacrifices for his service, and for prosperity of his kingdom--to be willing to spend and to be spent in the cause of God, and to lay ourselves out according to our means and ability for the good of our race, and the salvation of their immortal souls.
Inference 5. Let this subject teach us with effect, as it is calculated to do, to love God more sincerely, more fervently, and with supreme affection; to give him our whole hearts, and to devote ourselves with intenseness of desire, and ardency of zeal to his service, in the most unreserved manner. Let it also teach us to love our brethren; for we have received this commandment, that he who loveth God, loveth his brother also.
Suffer me now to exhort you, brethren, to imitate the character of God, as far as in your measure, you are capable. Pursue his glory as the supreme object in your view. Be diligent in every good word and work. Present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service. Honour the Lord with the first fruits of all your increase. Think no sacrifice too great that you are called to make for his honour. Cultivate supreme affection to your God, and exercise the spirit of brotherly love on the enlarged principle exhibited in the Gospel of Christ. Dwell with rapture on that exalted principle, which animated his holy soul in the benevolent work of man's redemption, until you are transformed into his image from glory to glory. In the Lord Jesus Christ, in whom are hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge, a sufficiency of grace is stored for such a course of duty. By the influence of the Holy Spirit that grace is to be imparted. May we all my dear hearers, obtain this grace, and experience these influences. May a sacred regard to the divine glory predominate in our hearts, and be the ruling principle of all our actions. May we so imbibe the spirit of divine love, and so imitate the character of God, that we may stand approved in his sight, when all created things shall be eclipsed in the superior splendours of his uncreated glories.