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principles of religion, we mean to disparage its fruits: no: only let the fruits proceed from love to God, and a desire to promote his glory, and they cannot be spoken of too highly: the smallest service performed in such a way, shall in no wise lose its reward.]
Hoping that the giving to the doctrines of Chris
tianity a considerable share of our attention is vindicated to your satisfaction, we conclude with two words of ADVICE:
1. Meditate much and deeply on the fundamental principles of our religion
[If it be the duty of ministers constantly to set before you the leading truths of Christianity, it must doubtless be your duty constantly, as it were, to revolve them in your minds. It is on them that you are to found your hopes: from them, you are to derive your motives and encouragements: through them, you will receive strength for the performance of all your duties. It is by them that you are to be brought to believe in God, and, "having believed in God," to be made careful and diligent in all good works. Let them therefore be your meditation day and night, and you shall find them "sweeter than honey, or the honeycomb," and " dearer than thousands of gold and silver."
2. Display the influence of those principles in your life and conversation
[If you dishonour your profession, the ungodly world will take occasion from your actions to vilify your principles, and to represent your misconduct as the natural effect of our preaching. If they would argue so in their own case, they would do well: for their disregard of all the higher duties of religion does indeed arise from their contempt of its doctrines. But the experience of the primitive saints, and of thousands that are yet alive, sufficiently refutes the idea of our principles tending to licentiousness. However, be careful that you do not give to your adversaries any occasion for such reflections. Shew them, that the doctrines you profess, are "doctrines according to godliness." The light of holiness will do more than ten thousand arguments to stop the mouths of gainsayers, and to recommend the Gospel to their acceptance. "Shew them therefore your faith by your works ;" and constrain them to acknowledge, that you by your principles are enabled to attain a height of holiness, which they shall in vain attempt to emulate.]
Philem. 7. We have great joy and consolation in thy love, because the bowels of the saints are refreshed by thee, brother.
IN no epistle that was ever written was contained, I apprehend, a greater measure of address and skill than in this. The Apostle had a deep knowledge of the human heart, and an exquisite sensibility within his own bosom; so that, whilst speaking with the utmost simplicity of mind, he touched the feelings of his friend with a delicacy that no rules of art could ever have supplied. It is thought by many, that to express approbation of a person when soliciting a favour, is to flatter, to cajole, to bribe him; and that to praise him to his face, under any circumstances, is unworthy adulation. That the offering of praise in an extravagant way is inexpedient and disgusting, I readily acknowledge: but to applaud what is good in a man, in order to encourage him in the prosecution of his way, is nothing more than what equity demands, and what a knowledge of the human heart will fully approve. Accordingly, we find that the Apostle Paul was ever ready, in all his epistles, to commend the virtues of his converts, as far as the occasion called for such acknowledgments, and truth would sanction them. To the Christians at Rome he says, "I am persuaded of you, my brethren, that
ye are full of goodness, filled with all knowledge, able also to admonish one another." To those at Corinth he writes, "I thank my God always on your behalf, for the grace of God which is given you by Jesus Christ; that in every thing ye are enriched by him, in all utterance, and in all knowledge; even as the testimony of Christ was confirmed in you: so that ye come behind in no gift, waiting for the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ"." In like manner, to the Thessalonians he says, "We give thanks to God always for you all, making mention of you in our prayers, remembering without ceasing your work of faith, and labour of love, and patience of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ." It is in the same strain that he addresses "his beloved fellow-labourer," Philemon, in the words before us; which will naturally lead me to shew you,
I. The proper office of love
Love ought to be exercised towards every child of man; yea, even to our enemies: but it is due in a more especial manner to "the saints;" as St. Paul has said: "As we have opportunity, let us do good unto all men; especially unto them that are of the household of faith." Nor is this preference to be shewn upon any party-principle: it is founded upon strong, substantial grounds: it is actually due to them;
1. Because they are more dear to God than others
[From all eternity were they "chosen of God," and "predestinated to the adoption of children by Jesus Christ unto himself, according to the good pleasure of his will, to the praise of the glory of his grace." In due season he calls. them by his grace, and, "by the incorruptible seed of his words," " begets them again unto a lively hope":" so that they are sons, and consequently "heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christi." Shall not this, then, give them a priority in our esteem? When brought into such a state as this, shall they
a Rom. xv. 14.
1 Pet. i. 23.
b 1 Cor. i. 4-7.
h 1 Pet. i. 3.
c 1 Thess. i. 2, 3. f Rom. viii. 30.
i Rom. viii. 16, 17.
be regarded by us at no higher rate than the enemies of God, and the children of the wicked one? Assuredly not: "if we love Him that begat, we ought, in a pre-eminent degree, to love those who are begotten of him *.”]
2. Because the Lord Jesus Christ is more deeply interested in them
[They have sought through him the remission of their sins: to him alone they look, as their only hope. On his word they rely: in the fountain of his blood they have washed: in his righteousness they are clothed: they habitually live by faith upon him, and receive their all out of his fulness. They are, in fact, the members of his body': yea, surprising as it must appear, they are one spirit with him." And does the Lord Jesus Christ so identify himself with them? does he even say, that" what we do to the least of his brethren, we do it unto him?" and shall we place them on a level with others who have no relation to him? It were quite absurd to imagine, that others, who stand in no such relation to him, should be placed on a level with them: it cannot, it must not be.]
3. Because they are more nearly related to ourselves
[In a natural sense, we are all children of one common parent; but in a spiritual sense, there is a very wide difference between us and others: others are still 66 strangers and foreigners; but we (supposing, I mean, that we have been truly converted to Christ) are fellow-citizens with the saints, and of the household of God"." Yea, being all "one body in Christ, we all are members one of another." Let any one then judge: has the eye or ear no claim upon the hand or foot? Does not Nature herself teach us, that "the members of the same body should all have the same care one for another??" and that, whatever attention we shew to others, our highest regards are due to these?]
4. Because they are themselves of superior worth
[God himself has said, and therefore we may say it without vanity, "The righteous is more excellent than his neighbour." He is "a partaker of the Divine nature'.' The Holy Ghost himself dwelleth in him: yea, "the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ come to him, and make their abode with him." They are altogether the Lord's-his property,
his people. Their faculties and powers, whether of mind or body, are devoted to his service. They live but to advance his glory in the world: and with a view to their welfare does God himself govern and direct the world'. So highly are they esteemed in heaven, that the very angels account it an honour to be their servants"? Is there not then a preeminent regard due to them from us? There is: and we should shew it in all our conduct towards them. We should be particularly careful to supply their wants; to supply them, too, in such a way, as not only to relieve their bodies, but to "refresh their souls." Our tender feelings towards them, our affectionate expressions, our sympathizing tears, should shew them that we feel an identity of interest with them; and that we are God's messengers, sent expressly for the relief and comfort of their souls.]
I well know that this kind of love will, to many, appear partial and confined: but it is such as God approves and in proof that it is so, I will point out, II. Its excellence, when so employed
To prevent misapprehension, let me again say, that the exercise of love is not to be confined to the saints, but only to be maintained towards them in a superior degree. A love of benevolence and beneficence is due to all: a love of complacency is due to the saints alone: and towards them it should be exercised to such an extent, that we should be willing even to lay down our lives for them." How estimable this divine principle was in the judgment of St. Paul, may be seen from the manner in which he speaks of it: "I have great joy and consolation in thy love; because the bowels of the saints are refreshed by thee, brother." He evidently had a high idea of its excellency. And on what grounds? Because he felt,
1. How pre-eminently God was honoured by it—
[It was so exercised in obedience to an express command of God: so that God's care for the saints was displayed in it. Besides, it bore upon it the very stamp and character of God, who "manifests himself to his saints as he does not unto the world"." Hence it necessarily led the saints to behold God's
t Matt. xxiv. 22.
* 1 John iii. 16.
u Heb. i. 14.