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with united force, to insure their destruction, now harmoniously engage to make them happy : his wisdom chooses their inheritance, his omniscience and omnipresence are their ever-watchful guard, his omnipotence their protector, his veracity and faithfulness their unfailing security ; his satisfied justice, connected with mercy, vindicates their rights, and recompenses the fruits of his grace; and his bounty surely supplies all their wants. Nor does the Lord conceal from tkese his friends the reasons of his conduct in such matters as concern them, (Gen. xviii. 17-19; John xv. 15:) and he encourages them to open their inmost souls, and to pour out their sorrows and fears before him; so that they can rejoice that he is acquainted with those things, which they could not mention to the dearest and most intimate of their earthly friends. But indeed this privilege of reconciliation to, and friendship with God, comprises all our other blessings and expectations, here and hereafter: yet it may be more instructive to speak of them under different heads.
III. The believer is also adopted into the family of God, and admitted to all the honour and felicity of his beloved children. - Behold what manner of love the Father hath bestowed on us, that we should be called the sons of God,” (1 John iii. 1.) “Having chosen us in Christ before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before him in love ; and predestinated us to the adoption of children by Jesus Christ unto himself, according to the good pleasure of his will,” &c. (Eph. i. 3—15;) he calls to us by his word “ to come out and be separate—and he will receive us; and will be to us a Father, and we shall be the sons and daughters of the Lord Al. mighty,” (2 Cor. vi. 17, 18.) This call being accompanied by the regenerating power of the Holy Spirit, our minds are influenced to obey it; thus we are brought “to repentance and faith in Christ,” our sins are pardoned, and we pass from the family and kingdom of the wicked one, into the household of God, by a gracious adoption. This term was borrowed from the custom of the ancients, who frequently took the children of others, and by a solemn legal process adopted them into their own family, gave them their name, educated them as their own, and left their estates to them. So that regeneration communicates to the soul a divine nature, and makes us the children of God; and adoption recognizes us as such, and admits us to the enjoyment of the privileges belonging to that relation. Thus pardoned rebels become the children and heirs of the almighty and everlasting God, by faith in Jesus Christ, (Gal. iii. 26.) But what words can express the value of this distinguished privilege! The adoption of the meanest beggar, or the vilest traitor, into the family of the greatest monarch, to be the heir of all his dignities, would produce but a trivial alteration in his circumstances : for vexation, sickness, and death would still await him; and the distance between the mightiest and the most abject of men or of creatures, is as nothing, compared with that which subsists between the great Creator, and all the works of his hands, (Isa. xl. 13—26.) But to be adopted as the children of God is not a mere name: it is a substantial good, an honour, a dignity, and an advantage which eclipses, and, as it were, swallows up all other benefits which can be obtained by any creature. “ If children, then heirs; heirs of God," &c.; and we may be sure that every thing, which can prepare us for, and put us in possession of our incorruptible and eternal inheritance will be conferred by the love and bounty of our Almighty Friend and Father. But “ we know not what we shall be :” “ eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither hath it entered into the heart of man to conceive the things which God hath prepared for them that love him.” And lest we should imagine, that any possible honour, advantage, or felicity was excepted, when the inheritance of the children of God was mentioned; he hath been pleased to expand our views, and enlarge our expectations, by language taken from all the other most endeared relations of life. The obedient disciples of Christ are his brethren, his sisters, and his mothers; yea, their Maker is their Husband, the Lord of Hosts is his name, (Isa. liv. 5; Matt. xii. 46–50; Eph. v. 25—27.)
They who are thus adopted into the family of God, receive the spirit of adoption (instead of the spirit of bondage,) and are thus disposed and encouraged
Abba, Father ;" or to address him as their Father, whatever language they speak, or to whatever country they belong. We ought not to understand this expression merely of a confidence that God is our Father: for believers are often actuated by the spirit of adoption when they are harassed with doubts whether they be the children of God or not; and many are very confident in this matter, while their actions demonstrate that they belong to another family, (John viii. 41—47.) This indeed more properly belongs to the believer's temper and character, than to his privileges : yet it is necessary here to observe in general, that the Holy Spirit producing in us that disposition towards God, which a dutiful son bears towards a wise and good father, manifests our regeneration and adoption, and bears witness with our spirits, that we are the children and heirs of God : and
whilst we feel our minds habitually influenced to apply to him in all our difficulties, to revere him, rely on, love and obey him, to seek his glory, and rejoice in the success of the gospel and the prosperity of his people, &c.; we have "the witness in ourselves, that we are born of God," and adopted into his family, even though weakness of faith, misapprehension, or temptation should create an hesitation in our minds, whilst addressing him as our Father. This privilege, therefore, consists in the allowance and liberty of approaching the Lord at all times and for all things; of entrusting all our concerns in his hands, and of considering them all as managed by him in perfect wisdom, trùth, and love, for our present and everlasting good. Indeed, the very disposition, produced by the Spirit of adoption is our privilege, and constitutes the seal, the first fruits, and the earnest of our felicity, (Rom. viii. 14-17; Gal. iv. 6,7.)
IV. The believer has the firmest ground of confidence that all his temporal wants will be supplied, and that every thing which can possibly conduce to his advantage, will be conferred on him by his Almighty Friend and Father. We are not indeed authorized to expect or allowed to desire great things for ourselves in this world ; and indeed it is evident to every reflecting person, that power, wealth, or constant prosperity, have so great a tendency to excite the envy or enmity of others, and to feed the distempers of mens' own minds, that they add nothing to the real enjoyment of life. But he who hath the security of the promise and providence of God, is more sure never to want any thing really good for him, than that man is who possesses the greatest wealth ; for riches often strangely “ make themselves wings and flee away:" but the unchangeable God, the possessor of heaven and earth, who has all hearts in his hand, can never be unable to provide for those who trust in him. “ Bread shall be given them, their water shall be sure ;" “ verily they shall be fed;" “ their Father knoweth what things they have need of,” and “ a little, which the righteous hath, is better than the riches of many wicked men,” (Ps. xxiii. 1; xxxiv. 8–10; xxxvii ; lxxxiv. 11; Matt. vi. 21—34; Phil. iv. 6,7; 1 Pet. v. 7.) It is, threfore, the privilege and duty of every believer, to “ cast all his cares and burthens upon the Lord," « to take no anxious care for the morrow;" to rest satisfied that “the Lord will provide,” as “ he hath promised that he will never leave him or forsake him.” Having food and raiment, we ought to be therewith content," and to go on with the duty of our station without any more solicitude, than the child feels, who, when learning his lesson, or obeying the command of his parents, cheerfully leaves them to provide him food and raiment, and does not encumber his mind with cares of this kind.
Indeed the believer is allowed and required to expect a peculiar providential interposition in all things: he is instructed that not a sparrow falls to the ground without the appointment of his Father, and that “the very hairs of his head are all numbered.” He should consider the place of his abode as determined and guarded by the Lord; and that all the holy angels are ministering spirits sent forth to minister to his good : that he lies down and rises up, goes out and comes in, under this special protection ; that no enemies
can assault, no calamity befal, no dangers so much as alarm him, except by the appointment or permission of his Almighty Father, who "makes a hedge about him, and all that he has," (Job i. 10; ii. 3-7.) So that no famines, earthquakes, pestilences, fires, wars, massacres, persecutions, or other dreaded catastrophe can hurt or should alarm him: for he is safe, and shall be guided, supported, and guarded in all places and circumstances till the appointed period of his pilgrimage arrive; and then he will be conveyed home to his Father's house, in the best way which infinite Wisdom and everlasting Love can devise. Thus "godliness is profitable for all things, having the promise of the life that now is, and of that which is to come," (Job v. 19–27; Psalm xci; Rom. viii. 28; 1 Cor. iii. 21-23; 1 Tim. iv. 8.)
V. Communion with God is the believer's privilege. We "have boldness to enter into the holiest through the blood of Jesus," and to come to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find help in every time of need," (Heb. iv. 16; x. 19-22). We are directed to ask what we will, and assured that it shall be given us, "for the prayer of the upright is the Lord's delight," (Prov. xv. 8; Mark xi. 24; Luke xi. 5—13; John xiv. 13, 14: xv. 7-16; xvi. 23, 24; James i. 5; 1 John iii. 21, 22; v. 14, 15). So that we may come, with humble confidence, into the immediate presence of our reconciled Father, upon a mercy-seat, whenever we will; we may present whatever petitions our wants and circumstances suggest; we may multiply, repeat, and enforce them with all importunity and earnestness; we may urge every plea, and use all freedom; we may be assured of a cordial welcome in so doing; and we may confidently expect, that all our petitions will be answered and exceeded, in that sense and way which must conduce to our real good, (Eph. iii. 20). Thus we speak to our gracious God, in prayers, supplications, praises, and thanksgivings, notwithstanding that we are sinful dust and ashes," (Gen. xviii. 23-33): and our condescending Father speaks to us by his word, counselling, warning, instructing, encouraging, or reproving us; and thus showing us the way in which we should walk, and the thing that we should do; he evinces his regard to us by answering our prayers, and manifesting his care of us in numerous instances; he discovers his glorious perfections and gracious presence with us, and causes his goodness to pass before us;" and he gives us, sometimes even in deep affliction, a peace of God, which passeth all understanding, keeping our hearts and minds by Christ Jesus." For truly our fellowship "is with the Father and the Son," whatever men may think or say of such pretensions : and this happy experience essentially differs from the unscriptural presumption of enthusiasts and hypocrites; though strangers to such joy do and will confound them together, (1 John i. 3). Thus the believer, having returned to God, walks with him in his ordinances, commandments, and providential dispensations; tastes his love in every comfort, submits to his wise and fatherly correction in every cross, and deems it his privilege to refer every thing to his will and glory: and the Lord walks with him as his companion, guard, and guide through life; is with him in the valley of the shadow of death, and then takes him home to his more immediate presence, (Gen. v. 24).
VI. The believer experiences the consolations of the Holy Spirit n proportion to his faith, simplicity, diligence, and watchfulness. This holy Comforter (who dwells in every believer as in a temple that he hath consecrated to himself) irradiates the mind by his sacred influences, to see the things that belong to the person, love, and salvation of Christ," and to know the blessings that are freely given him of God," (John xvi. 15, 16; 1 Cor. ii. 11, 12; Eph. i. 17, 18). He assists the memory in recollecting the words of the Saviour; and he invigorates faith, causes hope to abound, enlivens the mind with love and gratitude, and thus communicates a satisfying and sanctifying joy, the earnest and pledge of heavenly felicity. This counterbalances all outward trials, dissipates sorrow, fortifies the soul against temptation, reconciles it to suffering and self-denial, and animates it for every
service. It is the privilege of the believer exclusively to experience, relish, and value such joys; and to distinguish them from the joy of the hypocrite, which springs from ignorance, pride, and presumption : we are therefore exhorted “ to rejoice in the Lord always ;" and all our enfeebling dejection and sorrow result from our living below our privilege, and coming short of our duty in this as well as in other respects. Especially we forfeit and mar this joy, when we grieve the Spirit by our misconduct, or quench his holy influences by cleaving to the world, or by inexpedient self-indulgence; so that the apostle exhorts Christians, "not to be drunk with wine, wherein is excess," (from which others seek exhilaration), “ but to be filled with the Spirit,” (Eph. iv. 30; v. 18).
VII. It is the believer's privilege “ to be kept by the power of God, through faith unto salvation,” (1 Pet. i. 5). The actual comfort of this privilege must indeed depend on our Scriptural evidence, that we are true believers ; as others can only persevere in ungodliness or hypocrisy: whilst one, therefore, doubts whether he be indeed regenerate, he cannot take the comfort of God's promises; for he cannot know that they belong to him: and whatever tends to bring his character into suspicion must proportionably interrupt his confidence, which is only intended to encourage the valiant soldier, when strenuously resisting his enemies, against the fear of being finally overcome by them. Christ, however, declares, that “his sheep shall never perish, and none shall pluck them out of his hand ;” and that the water he giveth shall be in them a well of water, springing up unto everlasting life;" “ for it is the Father's good pleasure to give them the kingdom,” (Luke xii. 32; John iv. 14; X. 27—30). The apostle assures us, that “ nothing shall ever separate believers from the love of God in Christ,” (Rom. viii. 35-39). The Lord hath made with them an everlasting covenant, and hath engaged, that “ he will not turn away from them to do them good; and that he will put his fear into their hearts, that they shall not depart from him,” (1 Sam. xxiii. 5;
Jer. xxxii. 38—40 ; Ps. ciij. 17; Isa. liv. 9, 10, 17): and this covenant he hath ratified with an oath, for the strong consolation of the heirs of promise; even the oath which he sware to Abraham, that in blessing he would bless him, notwithstanding all possible obstructions and objections, (Heb. vi. 15—18). Indeed, believers as being chosen in Christ before the foundation of the world, and quickened by his grace when dead in sin;" it might reasonably be expected, that the same sovereign and everlasting mercy would influence him to keep them to complete salvation, by strength proportioned to their trials and temptations. We might mention as separate privileges the assurance that all things work together for good to them that love God, and combine to promote their everlasting advantage, however painful or humiliating for the present; so that they are more than conquerors over every enemy, being enriched by their assaults ; that death is their friend, and his dreaded stroke proves their greatest gain, (Rom. viii. 2831 ; 1 Cor. xv. 55–58); and that the everlasting God is their portion, and their all-sufficient and all-satisfying felicity.
But here silent contemplation best becomes us; and with this we will close these remarks, on a subject that is nearly inexhaustible. Enough has been said to show, that true wisdom consists in leaving, venturing, or suffering any thing to secure such advantages; and in giving diligence to possess the assurance that they belong to us: that, if we lived up to our privileges, the joy of the Lord would be our strength for every service; and our cheerfulness and conscientiousness would concur in adorning the doctrine of God our Saviour: and that our dejections arise not from our religion, but from our want of more faith, hope, love, and all those things in which true godliness consists.
On the Dispositions and Character peculiar to the True Believer,
When our Lord concluded his pathetic exhortations to his disconsolate diseiples, just before his crucifixion, by a comprehensive prayer for them, he made this one of his petitions to the Father in their behalf, “ Sanctify them by thy truth; thy word is truth,” (John xvii. 17); and the Scriptures always represent divine truth as the seed in the believer's heart of every holy disposition; the graft, which "makes the tree good, and its fruit good" and the mould, into which the soul is cast, and from which it receives its form and exact impression, as the metal is fashioned by the artist's skill, (Rom. vi. 17, original). We are therefore sanctified by faith, (Acts xxvi. 18); and the doctrine of Christ dwells in the regenerate soul, as an operative transforming principle, producing a peculiar state of the judgment, dispositions, and affections, in proportion to the degree in which it is understood and believed. This may be called the Christian temper; it is the exact counterpart of the truths by which it is produced ; it discriminates the real believer from all other men; and it constitutes the standard of our proficiency in vital godliness, of
our growth in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.” For a great part of the acquaintance of most of us with the truths of revelation is merely notional : and if we do not perceive the genuine nature and tendency of the doctrines to which we assent, they must fail to exert their transforming efficacy upon our hearts; thus" knowledge puffeth up,” even when the things known are evidently suited to produce the deepest humility; and though they never fail to have this effect, where they are received by a living faith as the nutriment and medicine of the soul. It may therefore be proper to consider more particularly those dispositions and affections of the mind, which constitute the appropriate temper and character of the true believer; adverting, as we proceed, to those truths by which they are produced and nourished ; and endeavouring to distinguish between the lamented failures and imperfections of the upright, and the allowed and indulged evils of the mere hypocrite or self-deceiver.
I. Humility may be considered as most essential to the Christian temper, and as radical to every other part of it. The believer's principles continually present before his mind, the greatness and majesty of God, and the comparative meanness of all creatures : which cannot fail to abate his natural propensity to self-importance and self-exaltation, and to make him feel himself to be as nothing before the infinite Creator. Having received his being, and all he is and possesses, from the hand of the Lord, and holding every thing in the most absolute dependence on him, he cannot consistently glory, as though he had not received them. He knows that every benefit lays him under obligation; that every talent demands a proportionable improvement; and that he must shortly be turned out of his stewardship, and required to give an account of it; and he is conscious, that he has not made suitable returns to his Benefactor, or due improvement of his talents. This teaches him, that all those things of which he has been tempted to be proud, ought to cover him with shame and increase his humility; for they have all proved occasions of additional transgressions, and call upon him to repent and deprecate the wrath of his offended Benefactor. His principles also lead him to compare his conduct with the perfect law of God, and not with the examples and maxims of this sinful world ; and to condemn every deviation from that strict and spiritual rule, even in thought or inclination, as sin, and as deserving the Lord's displeasure and abhorrence; so that every part of his past and present behaviour suggests to him reasons for self-abasement;