by Rev. John Witherspoon
Unto him that loved us, and washed us from our sins in his own blood. REV. 1:5
THE bare repetition of these words is sufficient to convince every hearer how well they are suited to the design of our present meeting. Redeeming love is certainly the most delightful of all themes to every real Christian. It is the immediate and direct object of our contemplation in the Lord's supper. This ordinance was instituted to keep up the remembrance of the sufferings and death of Christ, which was the great and finishing proof of his love. How then can you attend on it in a more becoming and dutiful, a more pleasant and desireable, or a more happy and useful frame of spirit, than when your hearts are filled with a sense of the love of Christ, and you find yourselves disposed to join, with a mixture of joy and wonder, in the doxology of the apostle John, in the text, Unto him that loved us, and washed us from our sins in his own blood?
The author of this book is sometimes styled the disciple whom Jesus loved. Since, therefore, it pleased his master to distinguish him by the tenderness of particular friendship, it is no wonder that we find so much of the delightful affection of love in his writings. In the beginning of this chapter, he gives an account of the general subject and design of the book of Revelation, the manner in which the discoveries contained in it were made to him, and his fidelity in testifying them to others. Then follows the apostolic salutation to the seven churches in Asia, which is a solemn benediction, in name of all the persons of the adorable Trinity: "Grace be to you, and peace, from him which is, and which was, and which is to come;" (that is, from God the Father, the ancient of days, immutable and eternal); "and from the seven spirits which are before his throne;" (not to detain you with a critical account of this phrase, it means the Holy Ghost, single in his person, but multiplied in his gifts; the variety, fullness, and perfection of which, are denoted by this form of expression); "and from Jesus Christ, who is the faithful witness, and the first-begotten from the dead, and the Prince of the kings of the earth." To him, you see, he gives three illustrious characters.
1. The faithful witness, who came from above, and revealed the whole will of God for our salvation; who being the eternal truth, might be absolutely depended on in the account he was by the apostle to communicate, of the great events of Providence towards his church and people. 2. The first begotten from the dead, declared to be the Son of God with power, by his glorious resurrection and triumph over the king of terrors. And, 3. The Prince of the kings of the earth; that is, the Lord of nature, to whom every prince and potentate must be subject, and to the ends of whose Providence, and the increase of whose kingdom, all their schemes of policy and conquest shall at last be subservient. He then, with great propriety, having mentioned the name, and given a short view of the character of his blessed Lord, lays hold of the opportunity to express his own and every other sinner's obligation to him in this sublime ascription, Unto him that loved us, and washed us from our sins in his own blood.
To enter upon the consideration of the love of Christ in its full extent, in its source, its expressions, and its effects, even those that are suggested in the text, would far exceed the bounds of a single discourse. What I propose, therefore, at this time, in order to prepare your minds and my own, for the solemn action before us, is only to collect into one view some of the great and general characters of the love of Christ, which are most proper to excite our gratitude and praise; and then to make some practical improvement of it for your instruction and direction.
I. First, then, let us endeavor to point out some of the great and general characters of the love of Christ. In this I shall take care to confine myself to such views as are given of it in the holy scriptures. And every character given of it there, we are both entitled and obliged to attend to, and improve.
1. First of all, then, you may observe, that it is an everlasting love. It took its rise in the eternal counsels of Heaven. This is a character given of the love of God to his people, Jer. 31:3. "Yea, I have loved thee with an everlasting love: therefore with loving kindness have I drawn thee." This expression is often used with a double view, to shew, on the one hand, its early, its original source, and on the other, its perpetual stability, and endless duration. Psal. 103:17. "But the mercy of the Lord is from everlasting to everlasting upon them that fear him; and his righteousness unto children's children." Isa. 54:7, 8. "For a small moment have I forsaken thee, but with great mercies will I gather thee. In a little wrath I hid my face from thee for a moment; but with everlasting kindness will I have mercy on thee, saith the Lord thy Redeemer." Having cited these passages of the Old Testament, I must justify the application of them, by observing that all the covenant-mercies of God to man, in our present fallen state, are to be referred to the love of Christ, as their price, their source, and their sum. This is plain from innumerable passages of scripture: Eph. 1:4, 5. "According as he hath chosen us in him, before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy, and without blame before him in love: having predestinated us unto the adoption of children by Jesus Christ to himself, according to the good pleasure of his will." Eph. 3:11. "According to the eternal purpose which he purposed in Christ Jesus our Lord." For this reason it is, amongst others, that Christ is called, Rev. 13:8. "the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world."
I confess, my brethren, we are but ill able to understand, or at least to measure, the import of this truth, that the love of Christ to sinners, or of God in him, was from eternity. All our conceptions are soon lost, and swallowed up, in what is infinite and boundless. But surely it affords matter for the deepest and humblest adoration, as well as for the highest gratitude and joy. Does it not afford matter for adoring wonder, that the plan for redeeming lost sinners, and restoring them to the obedience and enjoyment of God, was the object of the divine purpose from eternity? it appears to be a very conspicuous part, or rather perhaps we are warranted to say, from the scripture revelation, that it is the chief part of our Creator's will, to which every other part of his providence is subordinate and subservient. Accordingly, in the very passage where my text lies, the Redeemer says, ver. 8. "I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the ending, faith the Lord, which is, and which was, and which is to come, the Almighty." Does not this lead us to contemplate the glory of an infinite God, as it shines in this everlasting love? Does it not also afford matter of gratitude to the believing soul, while he considers every vessel of mercy as concerned in this eternal purpose?
I am sensible my brethren, there may be an abuse and, perversion of the doctrine of election, if we think of it as independent of its fruits, and apply it so as to produce either security or despair. But I despise the wisdom of those persons who would conceal this truth as dangerous, which it hath pleased God distinctly to reveal. It is the root which produceth the plant; but it is the plant which discovers the root. It is the fountain which produceth the streams; but the streams lead us to the fountain. Must not the sinner who by faith has laid hold on a crucified Saviour, and given credit to the word of God in a preached gospel, consider, with admiration, his name written in the book of life of the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world? What delight will it give him! What honor does it reflect upon him, at the same time that it destroys the very foundation of arrogance and pride? This is the first, and yet it is but one of many parts of the doctrine of salvation, which at once exalts and abases us; raises our hopes, and forbids us to glory; clothes us with infinite honor, and yet discovers us to be less than nothing: so that we may say with the apostle Paul, after a view of the same subject, Rom. 11:33. "O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! how unsearchable are his judgments, and his ways past finding out!" This leads me to observe,
2. That the love of Christ is free and unmerited love. This is a circumstance that is scarcely ever separated from the account given of the love of Christ in scripture. It may be founded even on the infinite disproportion between uncreated excellence and created weakness: Psal. 8:4. "What is man, that thou art mindful of him? and the son of man, that thou visitest him?" Psal. 144:3. "Lord, what is man, that thou takest knowledge of him? or the son of man, that thou makest account of him?" Nay, as if this were a truth of the utmost moment, we have it repeated a third time in almost the same words; Job 7:17. "What is man that thou shouldst magnify him? and that thou shouldst set thine heart upon him?" But this is not all, nor indeed the main thing to be attended to; for the love of Christ hath for its object those who were in actual rebellion against God, transgressors of his holy law, and liable to the stroke of his justice. It was not only to exalt those who were low, or to supply those who were needy, that Christ came, but to deliver those who were appointed to death: John 3:16. "God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth on him, should not perish, but have everlasting life." Rom. 5:8. "But God commendeth his love towards us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us." Eph. 2:4, 5. "But God who is rich in mercy, for his great love wherewith he loved us, even when we were dead in sins, hath quickened us together with Christ, (by grace ye are saved.)" The same thing indeed is clearly intimated in the words of our text, Unto him that loved us, and washed us from our sins in his own blood. It is on this account, in particular, that salvation, according to the gospel, is said to be free, and of grace, that is to say, an act of unmerited and voluntary kindness, which the sinner had no title to demand: Rom. 3:23, 24, 25. "For all have sinned, and come short of the glory God; being justified freely by his grace, through the redemption that is in Jesus Christ: 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."
Believe it, Christians, this is the proper exercise of mercy; and here the divine mercy shines and reigns. Without this, it is not obscured only, but annihilated or destroyed. But, oh! what a view does this give us of the love of Christ! What an impression will his love make on all those who are truly convinced of their guilt and wretchedness! This is the very hinge upon which the whole doctrine of salvation turns. I hope you are not disposed to make any opposition to it. But alas! it is not sufficient to have learned it as a science, to have been taught it as making a part of the Christian faith; it is another matter to have a real and personal conviction of it upon the heart. Why is the love of Christ so cold a subject to the generality of the world, but because they have no sense of their guilt and misery? I am even afraid, that many of the zealous advocates for this truth have but little experience of its power, and live but little under the influence of it in their practice. Where, indeed, is the person to be found, who does full justice to the Saviour, and considers his love as wholly unmerited and free? The most evangelical expressions do often consist with the most legal and self-righteous affections. Let me try, however, before I leave this particular, if I can make you understand it, even though you should not feel it. Suppose any of you were upon the most deliberate and composed reflection, upon the most particular and close examination, sensible that you justly deserved to be banished from the divine presence, and cast into everlasting fire; and that your blessed Saviour, when there was no other way to prevent it, did save you by the sacrifice of himself; tell me, what would you not owe to him? what words would you find to express your love to him, or your sense of his love to you? There have been some convinced sinners so rivetted, if I may speak so, to this circumstance, that they could find little other way of measuring the love of Christ, but by looking into themselves; and to whom, indeed, it has been enough to illustrate the greatness of his mercy that they were not consumed. To this add,
3. The love of Christ is unsolicited love. It took its rise, not from those who stood in need of it, but from him who bestowed it. It was not the effect of our earnest importunity, but of his own infinite mercy. This is a circumstance which we ought by no means to omit, as we find it particularly taken notice of in Scripture: 1 John 4:10. "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 in the same chapter, verse 19, "We love him because he first loved us." It is natural to expect, that those who are in misery should implore the assistance of those who are able to relieve them, or that those who have been in the offence should humble themselves before those who have it in their power to punish, or to forgive them. But it was quite otherwise here. The love of Christ discovered itself, when we were in open rebellion against him; or in the words of the apostle Paul, Rom. 5:10. "While we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son."
This affords us at once an illustration of the love of Christ, and a moving picture of our own deplorable and guilty state. There is something infinitely more noble and generous in extending mercy to the miserable, without waiting for their request, than when it is hardly procured, or as it were extorted, by importunity and solicitation. And does it not present us with a melancholy prospect of our natural state, that we are not only unworthy to receive, but unwilling to ask for mercy? I desire, my brethren, that you may not consider this as only relating to mankind in general, and the voluntary purpose of grace and mercy from above in their favor, but as what makes a part of the experience of every particular convert. As the offer of mercy is made to him freely, so he will and must be sensible how cold and unthankful a reception he hath often given to the proposal. He will be sensible what resistance he hath often made to the design of the gospel; what exception he hath taken at the terms of it; and with how much difficulty he was at last induced to comply with it. I am persuaded there are few circumstances in the love of Christ that are more affecting to a believer, than to remember his own obstinacy, when a sinner, and his backwardness to accept of the invitations of the Saviour. After he hath rested his hope on the divine mercy, after he hath been made willing in a day of divine power, and hath obtained some comfortable evidence of the divine favor, how does he tremble at the thoughts of his former resistance! how does he wonder at the patience of God, and adore that victorious love, which stormed his heart, as well as paid the price of his redemption!
We find this particularly the case with those who having been for a season remarkably profligate, are saved as brands from the burning. They cannot help recollecting their former condition, their profane madness; and wondering, with a mixture of gratitude and fear, that they were not cut off in their wickedness, and made monuments of divine vengeance. Far from desiring a share in the love of Christ, they were perhaps doing their utmost in contempt of his name, and in opposition to his interest. Yet, Rom. 10:20, "was he found of them that sought him not, and made manifest to them that asked not after him:" they were powerfully though sweetly constrained to return to God through him.
4. The love of Christ is a distinguishing love, which must necessarily and greatly enhance the obligation of those who are the objects of it. When one person is passed by, and another is chosen, either to be delivered from impending danger, or to be made partaker of extraordinary blessings, the loss or suffering of the one, seems to set off the superior happiness of, or the favor bestowed upon the other. To apply this to the subject we are now upon, there is a double distinction pointed out in scripture; one of our nature, in opposition to the fallen angels; and the other, of particular persons, as the vessels of mercy.
(1.) There is an evident distinction between our nature and that of the fallen angels: Heb. 2:16. "For verily he took not on him the nature of angels; he took on him the seed of Abraham." 2 Pet. 2:4. "God spared not the angels that sinned, but cast them down to hell, and delivered them into chains of darkness, to be reserved unto judgment." I am sensible, that upon this subject we may be sometimes in danger of speaking with impropriety, especially if we pretend to assign the reasons of God's procedure, any further than he hath been pleased himself explicitly to reveal them. There can be no doubt that the Lord of all, God infinitely wise, had the best reasons for his conduct, the most noble and excellent purposes in view in every thing that he ordained; but they are not discovered to us, and perhaps they are above our comprehension. The single point we are called to attend to, is the distinction, infinitely gracious, which is made in our favor. A Saviour is provided for us, a mercy infinite in itself, and the more highly to be prized, that (Jude, verse 6) the angels, our fellow-creatures, "who kept not their first estate, but lest their own habitation, he hath reserved in everlasting chains under darkness, unto the judgment of the great day." If we should attempt a comparison between ourselves and these spirits of higher order, we could find no ground of preference in our own favor; perhaps we should find many things that might seem to operate a contrary way; but it is safest, in humility and gratitude to say with the Psalmist, Psal. 115:3, "Our God is in the heavens, he hath done whatsoever he pleased."
(2.) But this is not all; there is also a distinction of particular persons as the vessels of mercy. Since I am introducing this subject, to prevent mistakes, I must observe, that every sinner of the race of Adam who shall perish eternally, shall also perish most justly; his blood shall lie at his own door, and he shall be found guilty of rejecting the counsel of God against himself. At the same time, all who are effectually brought to the saving knowledge of God through Christ, shall be obliged to confess, that they were brought in by almighty power, or, in the language of the Holy Ghost, 1 Pet. 1:2. that they are "elect according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, through sanctification of the Spirit unto obedience, and sprinkling of the blood of Jesus Christ."
On this, as on the former branch of this head, it may be observed, that we must not presume to penetrate into the unsearchable depth of the divine counsels; but at the same time it must be remembered, that we are not permitted, and cannot pretend, to find the reasons of preference in ourselves; for no flesh may glory in his presence. God in many passages asserts his own sovereignty and perfect liberty in the distribution of his grace: Rom. 9:15, 16. "For he saith to Moses, I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion. So then it is not of him that willeth, nor of him that runneth, but of God that sheweth mercy." And again, in the 18th verse, "Therefore hath he mercy on whom he will have mercy, and whom he will he hardeneth." Nothing can be harder, indeed, than for the proud and carnal mind to bow before the sovereignty of God; yet nothing is more evident, than that the destination of the vessels of mercy doth not proceed upon the ordinary grounds of human estimation. Nay, there seems to be an express design to stain the pride of all human glory: 1 Cor. 1:26, 27. "For you see your calling brethren, how that not many wise men after the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble are called. But God hath chosen the foolish things of the world, to confound the wise; and God hath chosen the weak things of the world, to confound the things which are mighty." Experience daily illustrates this; for while we see some brought to an entire submission to the gospel, and an obedient conformity to the will of God, we see many of equal, or of greater rank, of equal or of greater ability and endowments of mind, and favored with equal or superior advantages and opportunities of instruction, who yet continue to bear the marks of reprobation. The same mercies dispose one to thankfulness, and inspire another with pride. The same trials will soften one heart, and harden another. All this our Redeemer makes the subject of a solemn thanksgiving to God, Luke 10:21. "In that hour Jesus rejoiced in spirit, and said, 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," Who that believes, in this assembly, will presume to take the least part of the honor of it to himself, or will refuse to adore the distinguishing love of God? And how often must those who bare the message of peace be obliged to seek the cause of an unsuccessful gospel in the counsels of the Most High? 2 Cor. 4:3. "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 unto them."
5. The love of Christ was an expensive love. So great a deliverance would have called for the most humble and thankful acknowledgment, though it had been as much without price to the Saviour as to the sinner. But oh! my brethren, how far was it otherwise! and what shall we think or say of the love of Christ, when we consider how much it cost him to procure salvation for us! when we consider the depth of his humiliation, the variety, the continuance, and the greatness of his sufferings! You cannot but be sensible how frequent mention is made of this in scripture, or rather how seldom it is omitted when the love of Christ is introduced at all. It is the circumstance particularly pointed at in the text, Unto him that loved us, and washed us from our sins in his own blood. The same thing appears from the other doxologies, or acts of worship to the Saviour, which are contained in this book, as Rev. 5:9. "And they sang a new song, saying, Thou art worthy to take the book, and to open the seals thereof; for thou wast slain, and hast redeemed us to God by thy blood," It appears also, from the frequent mention of the cross of Christ, on which his sufferings were completed. Nay, of so much moment was this, that it seems to have made the sum of the gospel, as preached by the apostles; 1 Cor. 2:2. "For I determined not to know any thing among you, save Jesus Christ, and him crucified."
The sufferings of Christ, then, ought to be ever present to the mind of the believer. The necessity and importance of this is plain from both the seals of the covenant of grace. The water in baptism represents the blood of Christ; and we are told, Rom. 6:3. "Know ye not, that so many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ, were baptized into his death." The institution of the Lord's supper also had the remembrance of Christ's sufferings, as its direct and immediate intention; 1 Cor. 11:24, 25, 26. "And when he had given thanks, he brake it, and said, Take, eat; this is my body, which is broken for you: this do in remembrance of me. After the same manner also he took the cup, when he had supped, saying, This cup is the new testament in my blood: this do ye, as oft as ye drink it, in remembrance of me. For as often as ye eat this bread, and drink this cup, ye do shew the Lord's death till he come." Remember, then, Christians, how he lest the throne of his glory, and took upon him the form of a servant. Remember him despised and rejected of men, a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief. His life, indeed, was one continued scene of sorrow, from the cradle to the grave.
I hope the particulars of his sufferings are not strangers to your meditations: may the Lord enable you to contemplate them with faith and love. Remember his agony in the garden, when he suffered from his Father's hand: For "it pleased the Lord to bruise him, and to put him to grief." Think, O Christian, what it was to redeem a lost world, when you hear him saying, as in John 12:27. "Now is my soul troubled; and what shall I say? Father, save me from this hour; but for this cause came I unto this hour." Remember him seized by the treachery of one of his own disciples; accused and arraigned as a felon; dragged to the tribunal of an unrighteous judge; clothed with a purple robe, and crowned with thorns in derision of his kingly office; severely scourged; blindfolded, buffeted, and spit upon; and the whole, indeed, so conducted by the righteous permission and unseen direction of divine Providence, that hardly any expression, either of cruelty or contumely, was omitted. Cease to wonder, my dear friends, that profane wretches deride the signs of his sufferings, when you remember that the blinded rabble attending the important trial were permitted to insult him, saying, "Prophesy unto us, thou Christ, who is he that smote thee."
Remember him going forth without the camp, bearing his reproach. Remember that spotless victim, the Lamb of God, stretched upon a cross, and nailed to the accursed tree, while he suffered all that the extremity of bodily pain, and the most unutterable anguish of spirit, could possibly inflict upon an innocent creature. No wonder that the earth did shake, that the rocks were rent, and the natural sun refused to give his light, when the Sun of Righteousness was under so great an eclipse. Did the Saviour then willingly submit to all this pain and ignominy for our sakes? Was not this the most expensive love; and can we refuse to say with the multitude of the heavenly host, Rev. 5:12. "Worthy is the Lamb that was slain, to receive power, and riches, and wisdom, and strength, and honor, and glory, and blessing?"
6. The love of Christ was the most generous and disinterested love. The supposition or suspicion of any interested views in what one person does for another, nay, even the possibility of his serving any purpose of his own at the same time, greatly abates the value of any favor, and lessens the sense of obligation. But nothing of this kind can be so much as imagined here. It was giving to those from whom he could receive nothing, and emptying himself of that glory to which the whole creation could not make any addition. The truth is, we ought to consider in the same light every other mercy of God, as well as the love of Christ his Son, which was the source of them all; Job 22:2, 3, 4. "Can a man be profitable unto God, as he that is wise may be profitable unto himself? Is it any pleasure to the Almighty, that thou art righteous? or is it gain to him, that thou makest thy ways perfect? Will he reprove thee for fear of thee? will he enter with thee into judgment?" And to the same purpose, Job 35:5, 6, 7, 8. "Look unto the heavens, and see, and behold the clouds, which are higher than thou. If thou sinnest, what dost thou against him? or if thy transgressions be multiplied, what dost thou unto him? If thou be righteous, what givest thou him? or what receiveth he of thine hand? Thy wickedness may hurt a man as thou art, and thy righteousness may profit the son of man." The essential glory and happiness of the Deity, and consequently of the Eternal Word, can receive no addition, nor suffer the smallest diminution, from the state of any, or of all his creatures. He was infinitely happy in himself from all eternity, before there was man or angel to serve him, and would have continued so though they had never been. How infinitely then are we indebted to this generous Saviour! with what gratitude ought we to celebrate his pure and disinterested love, who graciously interposed in our behalf, and delivered us from the wrath of God, by bearing it in our room!
7. In the last place, the love of Christ was a most fruitful, active, and beneficent love. The effects of it are unspeakably great; the blessings which we reap from it are not only infinite in number, but inestimable in value. They are indeed almost as valuable as their price was costly. It was not to be supposed that so great a person would be employed upon a trivial work, or an infinite price paid for an inconsiderable purchase. But how, my brethren, shall we form any adequate conception of the benefits that flow from our Redeemer's death? All that is necessary for us, all that is desirable to us, all that is truly precious in itself, is effectually made ours: Rom. 8:32. "He that spared not his own Son, but delivered him up for us all, how shall he not with him also freely give us all things?" 1 Cor. 1:30. "But of him are ye in Christ Jesus, who of God is made unto us wisdom, and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption."
(1.) We are through Christ delivered from condemnation: Rom. 8:1. "There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit." Do you know any thing of a sense of guilt? Does your Creator's power and greatness ever make you afraid? Have you trembled at the approach of the king of terrors? Or of that day of righteous judgment, when God shall render to every man according to his works? Christ our Saviour hath delivered us "from the wrath to come." This is the first ground of the apostle's ascription in the text: Unto him that loved us, and washed us from our sins in his own blood. Hear also the apostle's triumphant assurance, Rom. 8:33, 34. "Who shall lay any thing to the charge of God's elect? It is God that justifieth: who is he that condemneth? It is Christ that died, yea rather, that is risen again, who is even at the right hand of God, who also maketh intercession for us."
(2.) Through Christ the believer is assured, that he shall receive every thing that is necessary for him in his passage through the world. The Spirit is purchased and bestowed to lead him into all truth, and to sanctify him wholly. Christ did not satisfy himself with cancelling our guilt, but made effectual provision for the renovation of our nature. The Spirit is also given as a spirit of consolation. He is styled the Comforter, who shall abide with us forever. Without enlarging at this time on the comforts of the gospel, they are sufficiently commended in the following words of the apostle, Phil. 4:7. "And the peace of God which passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus." To these add a sanctified providence. As many as are reconciled to God through Christ, may rest satisfied that all things shall work together for their good. The most opposite events, prosperity and adversity, health and sickness, honor and reproach, nay, every thing without exception, shall be subservient to their interest: 1 Cor. 3:21, 22, 23. "For all things are yours; whether Paul or Apollos, or Cephas, or the world, or life, or death, or things present, or things to come, all are yours; and ye are Christ's; and Christ is God's."
(3.) Through Christ the believer is entitled to everlasting glory and happiness, in the enjoyment of God to all eternity. This was among the last things he told his disciples before he left the world: John 14:2, 3. "In my Father's house are many mansions; if it were not so, I would have told you: I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you unto myself, that where I am, there ye may be also." You are this day to commemorate your Redeemer, who died once upon a cross, but who has now been many ages upon a throne: Rev. 1:18. "I am he that liveth, and was dead; and behold, I am alive for ever more, Amen; and have the keys of hell and death." He is able to make his faithful disciples more than conquerors over all their spiritual enemies; or, as it is expressed in the passage where the text lies, he will make them kings and priests to God and his Father. In the passage immediately preceding the text, he is called the first begotten from the dead; and elsewhere we are told, that the order of the resurrection is, "Christ the first fruits, and afterwards they that are Christ's at his coming." It shall both finish and illustrate his love when he shall raise them that sleep in the dust; when he "shall change their vile bodies, that they may be fashioned like unto his own glorious body, according to the working whereby he is able to subdue all things unto himself." At present, how imperfect are our discoveries? how weak and feeble our conceptions? how cold and languid our affections! Now we "see through a glass darkly, but then face to face." O how joyful to every believer the deliverance from a state of suffering, temptation and sin, and the possession of perfect holiness and unchangeable happiness! And O how great the opposition of the future to the present state! No more struggling with the evils of life: No more perplexity or anxious care for food and raiment; no more distress from sickness or pain; no prisons nor oppressors there; no liars nor slanderers there; no complaints of an evil heart there, but the most perfect security of state, and most unremitted vigor of affection. How shall the ransomed of the Lord then sing their Redeemer's praise! Rev. 1:5, 6. "Unto him that loved us, and washed us from our sins in his own blood, and hath made us kings and priests unto God and his father; to him be glory and dominion for ever and ever. Amen."
II. I proceed now to make some practical improvement of what hath been said. And,
1. Let me intreat every person in this house to make the following obvious reflection: If so great are the obligations of believers to the love of Christ, how dreadful must be the condition of those who die in their sins! The one of these explains and illustrates the other. The believer can owe but little, if the deliverance is not great. I have been lately speaking of the happiness of the elect of God, in being freed from the miseries of the present state; but, oh! unhappy they who shall depart from this life unreconciled to God: "He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life; but he that believeth not the Son, shall not see life, but the wrath of God abideth on him."—When the heirs of glory "sit down with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, in the kingdom of their Father," the unbelieving and impenitent shall be cast into the lake of fire, "where the smoke of their torment ascendeth up for ever and ever." I desire to put you in mind of this, under the impression of this important truth, That nothing but the sovereign grace of God can make the warning effectual; and therefore beseeching him to accompany it with the powerful operation of his Holy Spirit. At the same time, I assure you, that if you reject the counsel of God against yourselves, your blood shall be upon your own heads. Do not pretend to say, "If it depends upon election, and almighty grace is necessary, all our endeavors will be vain." Secret things belong only to God. His purpose is not more unchangeable than his promise is faithful. Nay, though you may not be able to see it, nor I to explain it, they are perfectly consistent the one with the other. He will be just when he speaketh, and clear when he judgeth; and therefore give heed to the exhortation, not in my words, but in the words of the Holy Ghost, Phil. 2:12, 13. "Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling. For it is God which worketh in you, both to will and to do of his good pleasure."
Know, I beseech you, your own mercy. The necessity is urgent, and the time is uncertain. With what propriety may the words of the apostle be addressed to every person in every situation, and in every age! 2 Cor. 6:1, 2. "We then as workers together with him, beseech you also, that ye receive not the grace of God in vain: for he faith, I have heard thee in a time accepted, and in the day of salvation have I succoured thee: behold, now is the accepted time; behold, now is the day of salvation." Happy they who still hear the joyful sound! Happy the sinner who is not yet gone to his own place! Flee, flee to your strong hold, ye prisoners of hope.—Consider the aggravated guilt and seven-sold condemnation of the despisers of the gospel. All that you have heard of the love of Christ serves to shew the danger of his enemies. Read the words immediately following the ascription of which the text is a part, (ver. 7.) "Behold, he cometh with clouds; and every eye shall see him, and they also which pierced him; and all kindreds of the earth shall wail because of him." Read also this awful description, Rev. 6:14, 15, 16, 17. "And the heavens departed as a scroll when it is rolled together; and every mountain and island were moved out of their places; and the kings of the earth, and the great men, and the rich men, and the chief captains, and the mighty men, and every bond-man, and every free-man, hid themselves in the dens, and in the rocks of the mountains; and said to the mountains and rocks, Fall on us, and hide us from the face of him that sitteth on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb: for the great day of his wrath is come; and who shall be able to stand?" Mark this extraordinary expression, the wrath of the Lamb, that meekest and gentlest of all creatures; teaching us, that his former meekness, and patience, and suffering, shall inflame and exasperate his future vengeance. Could I conduct you to the gates of the infernal prison, I am persuaded you would hear Judas Iscariot, and all other treacherous disciples, crying out, 'O that Christ had never come in the flesh! The thunders of Sinai would have been less terrible. The frowns of Jesus of Nazareth are insupportable. O the dreadful, painful, and uncommon wrath of a Saviour on the judgment-seat!'—The Lord speak consolation to his own people, and pierce the hearts of his enemies, that they may be brought to repentance.
2. You may learn from what has been said, that the great and leading motive to obedience under the gospel, is a deep and grateful sense of redeeming love. This runs through the whole writings of the New Testament. It binds the believer to his duty; it animates him to diligence; it fills him with comfort: 2 Cor. 5:14, 15. "For the love of Christ constraineth us, because we thus judge, that if one died for all, then were all dead: and that he died for all, that they which live, should not henceforth live unto themselves, but unto him which died for them, and rose again." Gal. 2:19, 20. "For I through the law am dead to the law, that I might live unto God. I am crucified with Christ; nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh, I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me." That this motive will have the most powerful influence on the believer's conduct, is evident both from reason and experience. No principle takes a faster hold of the human heart than gratitude for favors received. If the mercies be cordially accepted, and highly esteemed, which is certainly the case here, nothing can withstand its influence. It reconciles the heart to the most difficult duties; nay, it even disposes the believer to court the opportunity of making some signal sacrifice, in testimony of his attachment. Love sincere and fervent overcomes all difficulties; or rather, indeed, it changes their nature, and makes labor and suffering a source of delight and satisfaction. Let but the Saviour's interest or honor seem to be concerned, and the believer, who feels how much he is indebted to him, will cheerfully embrace the call, and set no bounds to his compliance. This shows how much beauty and force there is in our Lord's manner of recommending love and compassion to our fellow-creatures, Matthew 25:40. "And the king shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, In as much as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me." But to what purpose do I dwell upon this subject? for a sense of redeeming love is not only the most powerful motive to every other duty, but is itself the possession and exercise of the first duty of the moral law, as well as the sum and substance of evangelical holiness, viz. the love of God. The first sin, by which our nature fell, was a distrust of, and departure from God; and the malignity of every sin we continue to commit, consists in giving that room in the heart to something else, which is due only to God. A sense of redeeming love, therefore, expels the enemy, and makes up the breach, as thereby the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts.
3. You may see, from what has been said, the necessity of a particular application of the truths of the gospel to ourselves, and the reliance of every believer upon them as the foundation of his own hope. I have sometimes had occasion to observe to you, that it is very doubtful, whether any person can so much as approve in his judgment the truths of the gospel, till he perceive his own interest in them, and their necessity to his peace. Certain it is, the world that lieth in wickedness generally despises them. However, I shall admit as a thing possible, that a bad man may, either by imitation, or the power of outward evidence, embrace the gospel as a system of truth. But surely the love of Christ can neither be a source of comfort, nor a principle of obedience, unless he consider it as terminating upon himself. Without this, the whole is general, cold, and uninteresting. But when he considers, not only the certainty of the truth, but the extent of the invitation, and can say, with Thomas, My Lord, and my God, then indeed the ties are laid upon him; then indeed he begins to feel their constraining power; then he not only contemplates the glory of God in the grace of redemption, but cheerfully and unfeignedly consecrates himself to the service of his Redeemer. This leads me, in the
Fourth and last place, to invite every sinner in this assembly to accept of Christ as his Saviour, and to rely upon him as he is offered in the gospel. To the secure and insensible, I know it is in vain to speak. But if you see your own danger, what should hinder your belief and reliance on the Saviour? If you either need or desire deliverance, what with-holds your acceptance of it, when it is not only freely offered to you, but earnestly urged upon you? Can you doubt the testimony of the Amen, the faithful and true witness? The blessings of his purchase belong not to one people or family, but to every nation under heaven. The commission of those who bear his message is unlimited: Mark 16:15. "Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature." They are offered, not only to the virtuous, the decent, and regular, but to the chief of sinners: 1 Tim. 1:15. "This is a faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptation, That Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners; of whom I am chief." Whoever heareth these glad tidings, he dishonoreth God, he poureth contempt on his Saviour's love, and he wrongeth his own soul, if he does not receive consolation from them. Be not hindered by what you see in yourselves, unless you are in love with sin, and afraid of being divorced from it. The gospel is preached to sinners. It does not expect to find them, but it is intended to make them holy. A deep and inward sense of your own unworthiness, unless it is prevented by the deceiver, should only make you more highly esteem the grace of the gospel, and more willingly depend on your Redeemer's love.
I conclude with the invitation which he himself gives to the weary sinner, Matt. 11:28, 29, 30. "Come unto me, all ye that labor, and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light."
Source: Sermons on Grace and Salvation (eBook)