Page images
PDF
EPUB

LETTER XI.

THE SYSTEMS COMPARED, AS TO THEIR INFLUENCE IN PROYOTING

THE LOVE OF CHRIST.

Christian Brethren,

If the holy scriptures be a proper medium by which to judge of the nature of virtue, it must be allowed to include the love of Christ : nay, that love to Christ is one of the cardinal virtues of the Christian scheme ; seeing it occupies a most important place in the doctrines and precepts of inspiration. He that loveth me, said Christ, shall be loved of my Father. If God were your Father, ye would love me.—Whom having not seen, ye love ; in akom, though now ye see him not, yet believing, ye rejoice with joy unspeakable and full of glory.-Grace be with all them that love our Lord Jesus Christ in sincerity.- If any man love not the Lord Jesus Christ, let him be anathema maran-atha.*

From these passages, with many others that might be produced we may conclude, that love to Christ is not only a Christian virtue, but essential to the very existence of Christianity ; nay, to moral. ity itself, if by that term be meant a conformity to the moral law. The following lines, though expressed by a poet, contain more than a poetic flight, even the words of truth and soberness :

“ Talk they of Morals? Oh thou bleerling Love,
The grand morality is love of Thee !"

Young.

In judging which of the systems in question is most adapted to promote love to Christ, it should seem sufficient to determine, which of them tends most to exalt bis character ? which places his

* John xiv. 21. vii. 42

1 Pet. i. 8. Ephes. vi. 24. 1 Cor. xyi. 22.

Vol II,

20

mediation in the most important light ? and which represents us as most indebted to his undertaking ?

With respect to the first : Every being commands our affection, in proportion to the degree of intellect which he possesses ; provided that his goodness be equal to his intelligence. We feel a respect towards an animal, and a concern at its death, which we do not feel towards a vegetable ; towards those animals which are very sagacious, more than to those which are otherwise ; towards man, more than to mere animals ; and towards men of enlarged powers, if they be but good as well as great, more than to men in common. According to the degree of intellect which they possess, so much they have of being, and of estimation in the scale of being. A man is, of more value than many sparrows ; and the life of David was reckoned to be worth ten thousand of those of the common people. It has been thought to be on this principle, that God, possessing infinitely more existence than all the creatures taken together, and being as good as he is great, is to be loved and revered without bounds, except those which arise from the limitation of our powers ; that is, with all our heart, and soul, and mind, and strength.

Now, if these obervations be just, it cannot be doubted which of the systems in question tends most to promote the love of Christ : that which supposes him to be equal, or one with God; or that which reduces him to the rank of a mere fellow-creature. In the same proportion as God himself is to be loved above man, so is Christ to be loved, supposing him to be truly God, above what he is, or ought to be, supposing him to be merely a fellow-man.

The prophets, apostles, and primitive Christians, seem to have felt this motive in all its force. Hence in their various expressions of love to Christ, they frequently mingle acknowledgments of his divine dignity and excellence. They, indeed never seem afraid of going too far, or of honouring him too much ; but dwell upon the dignity and glory of his person, as their darling theme. When David meditated upon this subject, he was raised above himself. My heart, saith he, is inditing a good matter : I speak of the things which I have made touching the King: my tongue is as the pen of a ready writer. Thou art fairer than the children of

men.Thy throne, O God, is for ever and ever : the sceptre of thy kingdom is a right sceptre.Gird thy sword upon thy thigh, O MOST MIGHTY, with thy glory and thy majesty.* The expected Messiah was frequently the subject of Isaiah's prophecies. He loved bim ; and his love appears to have been founded on his dignity and divine excellency. Untò us a child is born, unto us a son is given, and the government shall be upon his shoulder : and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, The Mighty God, the everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace.f He thus describes the preaching of John the Baptist, The voice of him that crieth in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of JEHOVAH, make straight in the desert a high way for our God.-Behold, the LORD God will come with a strong hand, and his arm shall rule for him ; behold, his reward is with him, and his work before him. He shall feed his flock like a shepherd; he shall gather the lambs with his arm, and carr y them in his bosom, and shall gently lead those that are with young. I Zacharias, the father of John the Baptist, so loved the Messiah as to rejoice in his own child, chiefly because he was appointed to be his prophet and forerunner. And thou, child, said the enraptured parent, shalt be called the prophet of the highest ; for thoų shalt go before the face of the Lord, to prepare his ways. John the Baptist himself, when the Jews artfully endeavoured to excite his jealousy on account of the superior ministerial success of Christ, replied, Ye yourselves bear me witness, that I said, I am not the Christ. He that hath the bride is the bridegroom: but the friend of the bridegroom, which standeth and heareth him, rejoiceth greatly because of the bridegroom's voice : this my joy therefore is fulfilled. HE THAT COMETH FROM ABOVE IS ABOVE ALL : he that is of the earth is earthly, and speaketh of the earth : HE THAT COMETH FROM HEAVEN IS ABOVE ALL.

* Psa. xlv. 1-6. + Isa. ix. 6.

I Isa. xl. 3, 10, 11. Luke i, 76. || Joho iii. 28–31. Query, In what sense could Christ be said to come from abore, even from heaven, if he was merely a man, and came into the world like other men? It could not be on account of his office, or of receiving his mission from God : for, in that sense, John was from heaven as well as he. Was it not for the same reason which John elsewhere gives for his being pre. ferred before him; viz. that he was before him? John i. 15, 30.

The apostles, who saw the Lord, and who saw the accomplishment of what the prophets foretold, were not disappointed in bim. Their love to him was great, and their representations of his person and character ran in the same exalted strain. In the begin. ning was the Word, said the beloved disciple, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the begin. ning with God. All things WERE MADE BY HIM, AND WITHOUT HIM WAS NOT ANY THING MADE THAT WAS MADE. He was in the world, and the WORLD WAS MADE BY him, and the world knew him not. And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the ONLY-BEGOTTEN OF THE FATHER,) full of grace and truth.* Thomas insisted upon an unreasonable kind of evidence of the resurrection of his Lord from the dead; saying Except I shall see in his hands the print of the nails, and put my finger into the print of the nails, and thrust my hand into his side, I will not believe. When reproved by our Lord's offering to gratify him in his incredulous proposal, he confessed with a mixture of shame, grief and affection, that, however unbelieving he had been, he was now satisfied, that it was indeed bis Lord, and no other; saying, My LORD, AND My God! The whole Epistle to the Hebrews breathes an ardent love to Christ, and is intermingled with the same kind of language. Jesus is there represented as UPHOLDING ALL TÀINGS BY THE WORD OF HIS POWER, as the object of ANGELIC ADORATION : as he to whom it was said, THY THRONE, O God, IS FOR EVER and EVER : as be who LAID THE FOUNDATION OF THE EARTH, and concerning whom it is added, THE HEAVENS ARE THE WORK OF THINE HANDS : as su. perior to Moses, the one being the BUILDER and OWNER of the house, even God that built all things; and the other, only a servant in it: as superior to Aaron and to all those of his order, A GREAT high priest Jesus The Son of God: and finally as infinitely superior to angels ; for to which of the angels, said he at any time, THOU ART My Son; or, SIT ON MY RIGHT HAND? Hence, the gospel is considered as exhibiting A GREAT salvation ; and those who neglect it, are exposed to a recompense of wrath which they shall not escape.

* John i. 1—3, 14. + John xx. 24–28. Heb. i. 3, 5, 6, 8. 10, 13. iii. 3-6. iv. 14. ij. 3.

Paul could scarcely mention the name of Christ without adding some strong enconium in his praise. When he was enumerating those things which rendered his countrymen dear to him, he mentions their being Israelites, to whom pertained the adoption, and the glory, and the covenants, and the giving of the law, and the service of God, and the proinises ; whose were the fathers, and of whom, as concerning the flesh, Christ came. Here, it seems, he might have stopped: but, having mentioned the name of Christ, he could not content bimself without adding, WHO IS OVER ALL GOD BLESSED FOR EVER. Amen.* Having occasion also to speak of him, in his Epistle to the Colossians, as God's dear Son, in whom we have redemption through his blood, even the forgiveness of sins; he could not forbear adding, Who is the image of the invisible God, the first born of every creature. For by him were all things created that are in heaven, and that are in earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones, or dominions, or principalities or powers; all things were created by him, and for him. And he is before all things, and by him all things consist.

And now, brethren, I might appeal to you on the justness of Dr. Priestley's assertion, that “in no sense whatever, not even in the lowest of all, is Christ so much as called God, in all the New Tes. tament.”'! I might appeal to you, whether such language as the above would ever have proceeded from the sacred writers, had they embraced the scheme of our opponents. But waving these particulars, as irrelative to the immediate point in hand, I appeal to you, whether such love as the prophets and apostles expressed towards Christ, could consist with his being merely a fellow-creature, and their considering him as such ; whether the manner in which they expressed that love, upon the principles of our opponents, instead of being acceptable to God, could have been any other than the height of extravagance, and the essence of idolatry? Judge also for yourselves, brethren, which of the systems in question has the greatest tendency to promote such a spirit of love to Christ, as is here exemplified : that which leads us to admire these

* Rom. ix. 4, 5.

+ Col. i. 13–17.

Letters to Mr. Burn, Letter I.

« PreviousContinue »