This Sermon is one of 16 sermons that were preached to the congregation in Northampton in 1738. Intending them to be published after they were delivered, Edwards prepared them completely by hand. However, they were never published until 1851 when Tyrone Edwards edited the original manuscripts and titled them “CHARITY AND ITS FRUITS… Christian love manifested in the heart and life”
1Co_1:1-3. Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not charily, I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal. And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries, and all knowledge; and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not charity, I am nothing. And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, and have not charity, it profiteth me nothing.
IN these words may be observed
I. Something spoken of as of special importance, and as peculiarly essential in Christians, which the Apostle here calls charity. Charity we find abundantly insisted on in the New Testament by Christ and his apostles. And indeed there is no virtue so much insisted on by them. But the word “charity” as it is used in the New Testament is of much larger extent than as it is used in common discourse. What persons very commonly mean and understand by charity in their common conversation is a disposition to hope and think the best of persons, and to put a good construction on their words or behavior. And sometimes it is used for a disposition to give to the poor. But these things are only certain particular branches or fruits of that great virtue of charity which is so much insisted on in the New Testament. The word properly signifies love, or that disposition or affection by which one is dear to another. The word agape in the original, which is translated “charity,” might as well have been rendered “love,” for this is the proper English of it. So that charity in the New Testament is the very same as Christian love. And though it is more frequently used for love to men, yet sometimes it is used to signify not only love to men but love to God. So it is manifestly used by this Apostle in this epistle, even as the Apostle explains it himself, 1Co_8:1-3, “Now as touching the things offered unto idols, we know that we all have knowledge. Knowledge puffeth up, but charity edifieth. And if any man think that he knoweth anything, he knoweth nothing yet as he ought to know. But if any man love God, the same is known of him.” Here the Apostle is comparing two things together, viz. knowledge and charity. And in the first verse he gives the preference to charity; because knowledge puffeth up, but charity edifieth. And then in the two next verses he more particularly explains, first, how knowledge puffs up, and then why charity edifies. “If any man love God, the same is known of him.” So that what he calls charity in the first, he calls loving God in the third; for he is evidently speaking of the same thing. And doubtless he means the same thing by charity in this thirteenth chapter which he there does in the eighth. For he is here comparing the same two things together, viz. knowledge and charity. So that by charity here we are doubtless to understand Christian love in the full extent of and with regard to all the objects of it, whether it be exercised towards God or our fellow creatures. This is here spoken of as what is in a distinguishing manner the great and essential thing; which will more fully appear when we observe, in the second place,
2. What things are here mentioned as being in vain without it. And these we may observe are of such a kind that they are the most excellent things which ever belong to natural men. Here the most excellent things, which natural men can have, are of two sorts, viz. (i) of privileges and (2) performances. Here are mentioned the most excellent privileges with which natural men have ever been favored: great knowledge. The most excellent performances: giving all goods to feed the poor. Such things are mentioned as natural men are especially prone to trust in. They are ready to trust in their privileges, and especially such extraordinary privileges. They are exceedingly ready to trust in their knowledge, as the same Apostle observes, “knowledge puffeth up.” So the Pharisees trusted. They were wise in their own conceits, and therefore were exceedingly offended when Christ seemed to charge them with blindness, Joh_9:40, “Are we blind also?” Zophar observes that “vain man would be wise, though man be born like a wild ass’s colt,” Job_11:12. Especially if natural men are admitted to such extraordinary privileges as prophecy and working miracles. And therefore they are ready to say as in Mat_7:22, “Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name, and in thy name have cast out devils, and in thy name done many wonderful works?” And so natural men are very ready to trust in their performances, especially such extraordinary performances as are here mentioned: giving all their goods to feed the poor.
All that virtue which is saving, and distinguishing of true Christians from others, is summed up in Christian or divine love.
This appears from the words of the text, because so many other things are mentioned which natural men may have. And the things which are mentioned are of the highest kind which it is possible natural men should have, both of privileges and performances. And it is said they avail nothing without this. If any of them were saving, they would avail something without it. And by the Apostle’s mentioning so many and so great things, and then saying of them all that they profit nothing without charity, we may understand that there is nothing which avails anything without it. Let a man have what he will, and let him do what he will, it signifies nothing without charity. Which surely implies that charity is the great thing, and that everything which has not this some way or other contained or implied in it is nothing; signifying as much as that this is the life and soul of all religion, without which other things that bear the name of motives are empty and vain. And particularly faith is here mentioned as being nothing without it. That faith which has not love in it, though it be to such degree that men could remove mountains, yet is nothing, like an empty, vain thing, and like the body without the spirit. In speaking to this doctrine I would
I. Say something of the nature of divine love.
II. Show the truth of the doctrine, and then make an application
I. I would say something of the nature of a truly Christian love. And here I would observe
That all truly Christian love is one and the same in its principle. It may be various in its exercises and objects, it may be exercised towards God or towards men; but it is the same principle in the heart which is the foundation of the exercises of a truly Christian love, whether to God or men. It is not with that holy love which is in the hearts of Christians as it is with other men’s love. The love of other men towards different objects may be different principles and motives, and with different views. But a truly Christian love cannot be distinguished in its principles. All Christian love is one as to its principle. About whatever object it is exercised, it is the same spring and fountain in the heart though it may flow out towards diverse objects. And therefore all is fitly comprehended under one name, even that of “charity,” as it is in the text. That Christian love is one in its principle, to whatever objects it flows out, appears by the following things.
I. It is all from the same Spirit influencing the heart. It is from the breathings of the same Spirit that the Christian’s love arises, both towards God and men. The Spirit of God is a spirit of love. And therefore when the Spirit of God enters into the soul, love enters. God is love, and he who has God dwelling in him by his Spirit will have love dwelling in him. The nature of the Holy Spirit is love; and it is by communicating himself, or his own nature, that the hearts of the saints are filled with love or charity. Hence the saints are said to be “partakers of the divine nature” 2Pe_1:4. And Christians’ love is called the love of the Spirit. Rom_15:30, “Now I beseech you, brethren, for the Lord Jesus Christ’s sake, and for the love of the Spirit.” And having bowels of love and mercy seems to signify the same thing with having the fellowship of the Spirit in Php_2:1, “If there be therefore any consolation in Christ, if any comfort of love, if any fellowship of the Spirit, if any bowels and mercies.” It is the Spirit which infuses love to God. Rom_5:5, “The love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost.” And it is by the indwelling of this Spirit that the soul dwells in love to men. 1Jn_4:12-13, “If we love one another, God dwelleth in us, and his love is perfected in us. Hereby know we that we dwell in him, and he in us, because he bath given us of his Spirit.” And 1Jn_3:23-24, “And this is his commandment, that we should believe on the name of his Son Jesus Christ, and love one another, as he gave us commandment. And he that keepeth his commandments dwelleth in him, and he in him. And hereby we know that he abideth in us, by the Spirit which he hath given us.”
2. Christian love to both God and men is wrought in the heart by the same work of the Spirit. There are not two works of the Spirit of God, one to infuse a spirit of love to God and another a spirit of love to men. But in doing one he doth the other. The Spirit of God in the work of conversion renews the heart by giving it a divine temper. Eph_4:23, “And be renewed in the spirit of your mind.” And it is the same divine temper which is wrought in the heart that flows out in love both to God and men.
3. When God and men are loved with a truly Christian love, they are both loved from the same motives. When God is loved aright he is loved for his excellency, the beauty of his nature, especially the holiness of his nature. And it is from the same motive that the saints are loved; they are loved for holiness’ sake. And all things which are loved with a truly holy love are loved from some respect to God. Love to God is the foundation of a gracious love to men. Men are loved either because they are in some respect like God, either they have the nature or spiritual image of God; or because of their relation to God as his children, as his creatures, as those who are beloved of God, or those to whom divine mercy is offered, or in some other way from regard to God. I proceed now
II. To show the truth of the doctrine.
First. We may argue from what reason teaches of the nature of love. And if we duly consider the nature of love, two things will appear.
I. That love will dispose to all proper acts of respect to both God and men. This is evident because a true respect to either God or men consists in love. If a man sincerely loves God it will dispose him to give him all proper respect. Men need no other incitement to show all proper respect but love. Love to God will dispose a man to give honor to God. Love will dispose to worship and adore him, heartily to acknowledge his greatness and glory and dominion. So love will dispose to all acts of obedience to God. The servant who loves his master, and the subject who loves his prince, will be disposed to proper subjection and obedience. Love will dispose a person to behave towards God as a child to a father. Under difficulties, to resort to God for help and to put their trust in him. It is natural for persons in cases of need or affliction to go to those whom they love for pity and help. They who love God will be disposed to give credit to his work and to put confidence in him. Men are not apt to suspect the veracity of those for whom they have entire friendship. So love will dispose men to praise God for the mercies they receive from him. Men are disposed to gratitude for any kindnesses they receive from those they love. Love will dispose the heart to submission to the will of God. Persons are more willing that the will of those whom they love should be done than that of others. They naturally desire that those whom they love should be pleased, and things should be agreeable to them. A true love and esteem of God will dispose the heart to acknowledge God’s right to govern, and that he is worthy of it; and so will dispose it to submit. Love to God will dispose to walk humbly with God. For he that loves God will be disposed to acknowledge the distance there is between God and him. It will be agreeable to him who loves God to exalt him and set him on high above all, and to lie low before him. A true Christian delights to have God exalted in his abasement, because he loves God. He is willing to own that God is worthy of this; and it is with delight that he casts himself in the dust before God, because he loves God.
So a due consideration of the nature of love will show that it will dispose men to all duties towards their neighbors. If men have a hearty love to their neighbors, it will dispose them to all acts of justice towards them. Men are not disposed to wrong those whom they truly love. Real love and friendship will dispose persons to give others their due. Rom_13:10, “Love worketh no ill to his neighbor.” Love will dispose to truth towards neighbors, and will tend to prevent all lying, fraud and deceit. For men are not disposed to treat those with fraud and treachery whom they sincerely love. To treat men so is to treat them like enemies. But love destroys enmity. Thus the Apostle makes use of the oneness, which there ought to be among Christians, as an argument to induce them to truth between man and man. Eph_4:25, “Wherefore putting away lying, speak every man truth with his neighbor; for we are members one of another.” Love will dispose to walk humbly among men. For real and dear love will dispose men to high thoughts of them; and Christian love disposes men to think others better than themselves. Love will dispose men to honor one another. For we are naturally inclined to think honorably of those whom we love, and to give them honor. So that those precepts in 1Pe_2:17 are fulfilled by love, “Honor all men.” And Php_2:3, “In lowliness of mind let each esteem other better than themselves.” Love will dispose to contentment in the station in which God hath set him, without coveting anything which his neighbor possesses, or envying him any good thing which he has. Love will dispose men to meekness and gentleness in their carriage towards their neighbors, and not to treat them with passion or violence, but with moderation and calmness. Love checks and restrains a bitter spirit. For love has no bitterness in it. It is altogether a sweet disposition and affection of the soul. Love will prevent broils and quarrels, and will dispose to peaceableness. Love will dispose men to forgive injuries, which they receive from their neighbors. Pro_10:12, “Hatred stirreth up strifes; but love covereth all sins.” Love will dispose men to all acts of mercy towards our neighbor who is under any affliction or calamity. For we are naturally disposed to pity those whom we love when they are afflicted. This would dispose men to give to the poor, and bear one another’s burdens, to weep with those that weep, and rejoice with those that rejoice.
Love would dispose to those duties which they owe one another in their several places and relations. It would dispose a people to all the duties which they owe their rulers, to give them all that honor and subjection which is their due. And it would dispose rulers to rule the people over whom they are set justly, sincerely seeking their good. It would dispose a people to all proper duty to their ministers, to hearken to their instructions and counsels, and submit to them in the house of God, and will to support them. And it would dispose ministers faithfully and earnestly to seek the good of the souls of their people. Love would dispose to all suitable carriage between husbands and wives; and it would dispose children to obey their parents; parents not to provoke their children unto wrath; servants to be obedient to their masters, not with eye service, but in singleness of heart; and masters to exercise gentleness and goodness towards their servants.
And in fine, love would dispose men to do to others as they would that others should do to them, if they were in their neighbor’s circumstances, and their neighbor in theirs. Thus love would dispose to all duties, both towards God and towards men. And if love will dispose to all duties, then it follows that love is a root and spring, and, as it were, a comprehension of all virtues. It is a principle which, if implanted in the heart, is alone sufficient to produce all good dispositions; and every right disposition towards God and men is, as it were, summed up in it.
2. Reason teaches that whatever performances or seeming virtues there are without love are insincere and hypocritical. If there be no love in what men do, then there is no true respect to God or men in what they do; and if so, certainly there is no sincerity. What is religion without respect to God? The very notion of religion or worship is the creature’s exercise and expression of respect to the Creator. But if there be no true respect or love, then all his religion is but seeming religion, and there is no real religion in it, and therefore it is vain. Thus if men’s faith be of that sort, that there is no true respect to God, reason teaches that it must be vain. What is faith good for, which contains in it no manifestation of respect to God? But if there be no love to God in it, there is no true respect to God. From this it appears that love is centered in a true and living faith, and it is the proper life and soul of it, without which faith is dead, as the body is without the spirit; and that it is the most distinguishing thing of a saving faith from other faiths. But of this more particularly afterwards.
Without love to God there can be no true honor. A man is never hearty in the honor which he seems to give to another whom he does not love. So that all that seeming honor and worship which are paid without love are hypocritical. So reason teaches that there is no sincerity in that obedience which is performed without love. For if there be no love, nothing which is done can be free, but all must be forced. So without love there can be no hearty submission to the will of God. And there can be no real trust or confidence in God. He who does not love God will not trust him. He never will with true acquiescence of soul cast himself into the hands of God, or the arms of his mercy. And so whatever good carriage there may seem to be in men towards their neighbors, yet reason teaches that it is all in hypocrisy if at the same time there be no real respect in the heart towards his neighbor.
And from these two things considered together, viz. that love is of such a nature that it will produce all virtues and dispose to all duties to God and men, and that without it there can be no sincere virtue and no duty sincerely performed, the truth of the doctrine follows, that all sincere Christian virtue and grace may be summed up in love; which is the first argument for the truth of the doctrine.
Second. The Scripture teaches us that love is the sum of all that is contained in the law of God, and of all the duties required in his Word. ‘This the Scripture teaches in general, and of each table in particular.
I. The Scripture teaches this of the Law and Word of God in general. By the law in Scripture is sometimes meant the whole of the written Word of God. So in Joh_10:34, “Jesus answered them, Is it not written in your law, I said, Ye are gods?” But there the passage quoted is taken from the book of Psalms. And sometimes by the law is meant the five books of Moses. So it is to be understood where we meet with the distinction of the law and the prophets. Act_24:14, “Believing all things which are written in the law and the prophets.” Sometimes by the law is meant the Ten Commandments, as containing the sum of the duty of mankind and all that is required, as of universal and perpetual obligation. But whether we take the law as signifying the Ten Commandments, or the whole written Word of God, the Scripture teaches us that the sum of what is required is love. So when by the law is meant the Ten Commandments, Rom_13:8, “He that loveth another hath fulfilled the law,” and therefore several of the Commandments are rehearsed. And thus again in the tenth verse the Apostle says, “Love is the fulfilling of the law.” Now unless love was the sum of what the law requires, the law could not be wholly fulfilled in love. A law is not fulfilled but by obedience to the sum, or whole of what it contains. So the same Apostle again in 1Ti_1:5, “Now the end of the commandment is charity.” Or if we take the law in a yet more extensive sense for the whole written Word of God, the Scripture still teaches us that love is the sum of what is required in it, as in Mat_22:40. There Christ teaches that on those two precepts of loving God with all the heart, and our neighbor as ourselves, hang all the law and the prophets. That is, all the written Word of God. For that which was then called the law and the prophets was the whole written Word of God which was then extant.
2. The Scripture teaches this of each table of the law in particular. That command, “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God, with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind,” is given as the sum of the first table of the law, in the twenty-second chapter of Matthew, in answer to the question of the lawyer, who asked him, “Which is the great Commandment in the law?” Ver. 36-38, “Master, which is the great commandment in the law? Jesus said unto him, thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment.” And in the next verse, the loving of our neighbor is mentioned as the sum of the second table, as it is in Rom_13:9, where the precepts of the second table are rehearsed over in particular. “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, viz. thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.” And so again Gal_5:14, “For all the law is fulfilled in one word, even in this; thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.” The apostle [James] seems to teach the same thing in Jas_2:8, “If ye fulfill the royal law according to the Scripture, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself, ye do well.” Hence love appears to be the sum of all that virtue and duty which God requires of us; and therefore must undoubtedly be the most essential thing, or the sum of all that virtue which is essential and distinguishing in real Christianity. That which is the sum of all duty is the sum of all real virtue.
3. The truth of the doctrine appears from what the Apostle teaches in Gal_5:6, even that faith works by love. A truly Christian faith is what produces good works. But all the good works which it produces are by love. By this, two things are evident to the present purpose.
(1 ) That love is an ingredient in true and saving faith, and is what is most essential and distinguishing in it. Love is no ingredient in a merely speculative faith; but it is the life and soul of a practical faith. A truly practical and saving faith is light and heat together, or light and love. That which is only a speculative, is only light without heat. But in that it wants spiritual heat or divine love, it is vain and good for nothing. A speculative faith consists only in assent; but in a saving faith are assent and consent together. That faith which has only the assent of the understanding is no better faith than the devils have, for the devils have faith so far as it can be without love. The devils believe and tremble. Now the true spiritual consent of the heart cannot be distinguished from the love of the heart. He whose heart consents to Christ as a Savior loves Christ under that notion, viz. of a Savior. For the heart sincerely to consent to the way of salvation by Christ cannot be distinguished from loving the way of salvation by Christ. There is an act of choice or election in true and saving faith, whereby the soul chooses Christ for its Savior, and accepts and embraces him as such. But as was observed before, election whereby it chooses God and Christ is one act of love. It is a love of choice. In the soul’s embracing Christ as a Savior there is love.
Faith is a duty which God requires of it. We are commanded to believe, and unbelief is a sin forbidden of God. Faith is a duty required in the first table of the law, and in the first commandment; and therefore it will follow that it is comprehended in that great commandment, “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind” [Mat_22:37]. And so it will follow that love is the most essential thing in a true faith. That love is the very life and soul of a true faith is especially evident from this place [Gal_5:6] of the apostle Paul, viz. that faith works by love, and Jas_2:26 compared together: “For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also.” The working, acting nature of anything is the life of it. What makes men call anything alive is because they observe an active nature in it. This working, acting nature in man is the spirit which he has in him. Therefore as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without a working nature is dead also. And if we would know what this working nature which is a true faith is, the apostle Paul tells us in Gal_5:6. He tells us the thing by which faith works is love. It is love that is this active working spirit which is in true faith. That is its very soul without which it is dead, as the Apostle in the words of the text tells us, that faith without charity, or love, is nothing, though it be to such a degree as to remove mountains. And when the Apostle says in the seventh verse of the context, that charity believeth all things, hopeth all things, possibly he has respect to those same great virtues of believing and hoping, or faith and hope in God, with which he compares faith in other parts of the chapter, and particularly in the last verse. “And now abideth faith, hope, charity, these three.” The Apostle in the seventh verse shows the preference of charity, or love, to the other two of faith and hope, as including them in it; for charity believeth all things, hopeth all things. This is probably the Apostle’s meaning, and not as it is vulgarly understood of believing and hoping the best of our neighbor. But possibly more of this at some other opportunity, God permitting. That a justifying faith, as to what is most distinguishing of it, is comprehended in the great command of loving God, appears further from what Christ says to the Jews, Joh_5:40-43, ” Ye will not come to me, that ye might have life. I receive not honor from men. But I know you, that ye have not the love of God in you. I am come in my Father’s name, and ye receive me not; if another shall come in his own name, him ye will receive.”
(2) It is further manifest from this place [Gal_5:6] of the Apostle, wherein he speaks of faith as working by love, that all Christian exercises of heart, and works of life, are from love. For we are abundantly taught in the New Testament that all Christian holiness is begun with faith in Jesus Christ. All Christian obedience is in Scripture called the obedience of faith. Rom_16:26, “Is made known to all nations for the obedience of faith.” The obedience here spoken of is doubtless the same with that mentioned in the preceding chapter, ver. 18, “For I will not dare to speak of those things, which Christ hath not wrought by me, to make the Gentiles obedient by word and deed.” And the Apostle tells us that the life he now lived in the flesh, he lived by the faith of the Son of God, Gal_2:20. And we are often told that Christians live by faith, which carries in it as much as that all graces and holy exercises and works of their spiritual life are by faith. But how does faith work these things? Why, in this place in Galatians it works whatsoever it does work, and that is by love. Hence the truth of the doctrine follows, and that it is indeed so that all which is saving and distinguishing in Christianity does radically consist and is summarily comprehended in love.
First, use of this doctrine may be of examination; second, use may be of instruction in several inferences. Third, use may be of exhortation.
1. In view of it the doctrine let us examine ourselves, and see if we have the spirit which it enjoins. From love to God springs love to man, as says the Apostle, 1Jn_5:1, “Whosoever believeth that Jesus is the Christ, is born of God: and every one that loveth him that begat, loveth him also that is begotten of him.” Have we this love to all who are children of God? This love, also, leads those who possess it to rejoice in God, and to worship and magnify him. Heaven is made up of such. Rev_15:2-4, “And I saw as it were a sea of glass mingled with fire: and them that had gotten the victory over the beast, and over his image, and over his mark, and over the number of his name, stand on the sea of glass, having the harps of God. And they sing the song of Moses the servant of God, and the song of the Lamb, saying, Great and marvellous are thy works, Lord God Almighty; just and true are thy ways, thou King of saints. Who shall not fear thee, O Lord, and glorify thy name? for thou only art holy: for all nations shall come and worship before thee; for thy judgments are made manifest.” Do we thus delight in God, and rejoice in his worship, and in magnifying his holy name? This love, also, leads those who possess it sincerely to desire and earnestly to endeavor to do good to their fellowmen. 1Jn_3:16-19, “Hereby perceive we the love of God, because he laid down his life for us: and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren. But whoso hath this world’s good, and seeth his brother have need, and shutteth up his bowels of compassion from him, how dwelleth the love of God in him? My little children, let us not love in word, neither in tongue; but in deed and in truth. And hereby we know that we are of the truth, and shall assure our hearts before him.” Is this spirit, which dwelt in Jesus Christ, the spirit that reigns in our hearts, and is seen in our daily life? The subject may also be of use
II. In the way of instruction.
First. This doctrine shows us what is the right Christian spirit. When the disciples in a proud, revengeful resentment, desired Christ to call for fire from heaven to consume the Samaritans who had not treated them well, Christ reproves them for it, that they did not know what manner of spirit they were of, Luk_9:55. What are we to understand by this rebuke is not that they did not know their own hearts, but that they did not know what kind of spirit was proper to their profession, as they professed to be his disciples, and proper to that evangelical dispensation under which they lived. It might be so, and doubtless was so in many respects, that they did not know their own hearts. But what Christ had respect to was what they had said to him in desiring that fire might come down from heaven and consume the Samaritans. What was manifest by these words of theirs was not so much that they did not know what their own hearts or dispositions were, as that they did not know what kind of spirit and temper was proper to the Christian dispensation and Christian character which Christ was come to set up, and of which they were called to be the first fruits. They showed their ignorance of the nature of Christ’s kingdom, which was a kingdom of love and peace, and did not know but that a revengeful spirit was a proper spirit for his disciples. And for this he reproves them. And doubtless there are many nowadays greatly to be reproved for this, that although they have been so long in the school of Christ, and under the teachings of the gospel, they yet remain, in a great measure, ignorant what kind of spirit a truly Christian spirit is, what spirit is proper for the followers of Christ and for the gospel dispensation under which we live.
But if we attend to our text and doctrine, they will teach us what spirit this is. For the doctrine shows us the very essence and sum of that spirit, viz. a spirit of divine and Christian love. This may, by way of eminence, be called the Christian spirit. Such a spirit as this is much more insisted on in the New Testament than anything concerning our duty or moral state. The words of Christ whereby he taught men their duty, and gave his commands and counsels to his disciples and others, were spent very much in precepts of love. And as the words which proceeded from his mouth were so full of this sweet, divine virtue, therefore even his mouth is most sweet, Cant. 5:16, Son_5:16. The apostles after Christ’s ascension were full of this, in their epistles abundantly recommending love, peace, gentleness, prudence, bowels of mercy and kindness, and by such things to express our love to God, and love to Christ, as well as love to those that are his. This spirit, even a spirit of love, is the spirit to which God in his great works which he reveals in the gospel has done more to induce us than to anything else whatever.
The work of redemption, which the gospel declares unto us, above all things affords motives to love; for that work was the most glorious and wonderful work of love ever seen or thought of. Love is the principal thing which the gospel reveals in God and Christ. The gospel brings to light the love between the Father and the Son, and declares how that love has been manifested in mercy; how that Christ is God’s beloved Son in whom he is well pleased. And there we have the effects of God’s love to his Son set before us in appointing him to the honor of a mediatorial kingdom, in appointing him to be the Lord and Judge of the world, in appointing that all men should honor the Son even as they honor the Father. There is revealed the love which Christ has to the Father, and the wonderful fruits of that love, as particularly his doing such great things, and suffering such great things in obedience to the Father, and for the honor of the Father’s justice, authority and law. There it is revealed how the Father and the Son are one in love, that we might be induced in like manner to be one with them, and with one another, agreeable to Christ’s prayer, Joh_17:21-23, “That they all may be one; as thou Father art in me and I in thee, that they also may be one in us; that the world may believe that thou hast sent me. And the glory which thou gayest me I have given them; that they may be one, even as we are one; I in them, and thou in me, that they may be made perfect in one; and that the world may know that thou hast sent me, and hast loved them, as thou hast loved me.” The gospel teaches us the doctrine of the eternal electing love of God, and reveals how God loved those that are redeemed by Christ before the foundation of the world; and how he then gave them to the Son, and the Son loved them as his own. The gospel reveals the wonderful love of God the Father to poor sinful, miserable men, in giving Christ not only to love them while in the world, but to love them to the end. And all this love is spoken of as bestowed on us while we were wanderers, outcasts, worthless, guilty, and even enemies. The gospel reveals such love as nothing else reveals. Joh_15:13, “Greater love bath no man than this.” Rom_5:7-8, “Scarcely for a righteous man will one die; yet peradventure for a good man some would even dare to die. But God commendeth his love towards us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. God and Christ in the gospel revelation appear as clothed with love, as being as it were on a throne of mercy and grace, a seat of love encompassed about with pleasant beams of love. Love is the light and glory which are about the throne on which God sits. This seems to be intended in that vision which the apostle John, that loving and beloved disciple, had of God in Rev_4:3. He tells us that when he had a vision of God on his throne there was a rainbow round about the throne, in sight like unto an emerald. That is, God as he sat on his throne was encompassed round with a circle of exceeding sweet and pleasant light,’ pleasant like the beautiful colors of the rainbow, like an emerald. An emerald is a precious stone of exceeding pleasant and beautiful color. This represents that the light and glory with which God appears surrounded in the gospel is especially the glory of his love and covenant grace. For the rainbow, you know, was given as a token of God’s love and covenant grace to Noah. Therefore this spirit, even a spirit of love, is the spirit to which the gospel revelation does especially hold forth motives and incitements. And this is especially and eminently the Christian spirit, the right spirit of the gospel.
Second. If it be,’ all that is distinguishing and saving and true Christianity be summarily comprehended in love, then hence Christians may try their experience whether it be real Christian experience. If it is so, they have love in them; it works by love, or issues in love. If persons have true light let into their souls, as was before said, it is not light without heat.’ True discoveries excite love in the soul, and draw forth the heart in love. They dispose to love to God as the supreme good. They unite the heart in love to Christ. They incline the heart to flow out in love to God’s people. They dispose the heart to love to all mankind. When persons have a true discovery of the sufficiency and excellency of Christ, this is the effect. When persons experience a right belief of the truth of the gospel, such a belief is accompanied with love. They love him whom they believe to be the Christ, the Son of the living God. When the truth of the glorious doctrines and promises of the gospel is seen, those doctrines and those promises are like so many bands, which take hold of the heart to draw it in love to God and Christ. When persons experience a true trust and reliance in Christ, they rely upon him with love, and so do it with delight and sincere acquiescence of soul. The spouse set under Christ’s shadow with great delight, rested sweetly under the shadow of his protection because she loved him Cant. 2:3, Son_2:3. When persons experience true comfort and spiritual joy, they draw the heart forth in love. Their joy is the joy of faith and love. They do not rejoice in themselves, but God is their exceeding joy. When persons experience a true hope, their hope is accompanied with the shedding abroad of the love of God in the heart, and so has the evidence of a hope that is true and maketh not ashamed. Rom_5:5, “And hope maketh not ashamed, because the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost, which is given unto us.”
Third. This doctrine shows the amiableness and loveliness of a Christian spirit. It is an heavenly spirit.
Fourth. This doctrine shows the pleasantness of a Christian life.
Fifth. Hence we may learn the reason why contention is a thing which tends so much to the ruin of religion. This we are told it does in the Scripture. Jas_3:16, “Where envying and strife is, there is confusion and every evil work.” And we see it to be so by abundant experience. When contention comes into a place, it seems to prevent all good; and if religion has been flourishing before, it presently strikes a damp to it, and quashes it, and everything which is bad flourishes at such a time. And by this doctrine we may plainly see the reason of it. For it shows that contention is directly against that which is the very sum of all that is essential and distinguishing in true Christianity, even a spirit of peace and love. No wonder therefore that Christianity cannot flourish in a time of strife and contention. No wonder that religion and contention do not consist together.
Sixth. If it be so, then what a watch and guard should they keep against envy and malice, or any bitterness of spirit against any of their neighbors, because those things are the very reverse of that great and distinguishing thing in Christianity of which we have heard, the very essence of Christianity. It behooves Christians, as they would not by their practice directly contradict their profession of Christianity, to take heed to themselves as to this matter.” They should suppress the first beginnings of ill-will, and bitterness and envy, watch strictly against all occasions of such a spirit, strive and fight to the utmost against such a temper as tends that way, and avoid as much as possible all temptations that may lead to it. A Christian should at all times keep a strong guard against everything that tends to overthrow, or corrupt, or undermine a spirit of love. That which hinders love to men will hinder the exercise of love to God; for, as was observed before, the principle of a truly Christian love is one. If love is the sum of Christianity, surely those things which overthrow love are exceedingly unbecoming Christians. An envious Christian, a malicious Christian, a cold and hard-hearted Christian is the greatest absurdity and contradiction. It is as if one should speak of dark brightness, or a false truth!
Seventh. Hence it is no wonder that Christianity so strangely requires us to love our enemies, even the worst of enemies, as in Mat_5:44. For love is the very temper and spirit of a Christian: it is the sum of Christianity. And if we consider what incitements thus to love our enemies we have set before us in what the gospel reveals of the love of God and Christ to their enemies, we cannot wonder that we are required to love our enemies, and to bless them, and do good to them, and pray for them, “That we may be the children of our Father which is in heaven, who maketh his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust.”
III. Our subject exhorts us to seek a spirit of love, to grow in it more and more, and very much to abound in the works of love. If love is so great a thing in Christianity, so essential and distinguishing, yea, the very sum of all Christian virtue, then surely’ those that profess themselves Christians should live in love, and abound in the works of love; for no works are so becoming as those of love. If you call yourself a Christian, where are your works of love? Have you abounded, and do you abound in them? If this divine and holy principle is in you, and reigns in you, will it not appear in your life, in works of love? Consider what deeds of love have you done? Do you love God? What have you done for him, for his glory, for the advancement of his kingdom in the world? And how much have you denied yourself to promote the Redeemer’s interest among men? Do you love your fellowmen? What have you done for them? Consider your former defects in these respects, and how becoming it is in you as a Christian hereafter to abound more in deeds of love. Do not make excuse that you have not opportunities to do anything for the glory of the God, for the interest of the Redeemer’s kingdom, and for the spiritual benefit of your neighbors. If your heart is full of love, it will find vent; you will find or make ways enough to express your love in deeds. When a fountain abounds in water, it will send forth streams. Consider that as a principle of love is the main principle in the heart of a real Christian, so the labor of love is the main business of the Christian life. Let every Christian consider these things; and may the Lord give you understanding in all things, and make you sensible what spirit it becomes you to be of, and dispose you to such an excellent, amiable, and benevolent life, as is answerable to such a spirit, that you may not love only in word and tongue, but in deed and truth.
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