THE GIVING LOVE OF CHRIST, AND THE RECEIVING PROPERTY
[The Fourth Sermon on the Text]
This sermon was preached at a sacramental solemnity at Burntialand, August 18th, 1789.
“The life which I live in the flesh, I live by the faith of the Son of God,
who loved me, and gave himself for me.” Galatians 2:20.
We have already elsewhere insisted on these words at considerable length, in an exegetical, doctrinal, and applicatory manner: there is however, one observation farther, that we have not yet touched at, that we intend, at this time, to illustrate from them, viz.,
Doctrine: “It is the property of true faith to entertain the giving love of Christ, revealed in the gospel, with a me, me by particular application.”
This me was very familiar with Paul; “He loved me, and gave himself for me.” “He revealed his Son in me,” (Gal. i. 16); “He hath laid up a crown of righteousness for me,” (2 Tim. 4:8); “His grace was bestowed upon me,” (1 Cor. 15:10). Thus it was with David, “Thou, O Lord, art a shield for me, (Ps. 3:3); “This I know, God is for me,” (Ps. 56:9); “It is God that performs all things for me,” (Ps. 57:2); “Thou hast been a shelter for me,” (Ps. 56:3); “Do thou for me, —deliver thou me,” (Ps. 109:22); “I am poor and needy, yet the Lord thinketh upon me,” (Ps. 40:17); “He hath dealt bountifully with me,” (Ps. 13:6); “I will fear no evil, for thou art with me,” &c. (Ps. 33:6); He hath made with me an everlasting covenant,” (2 Sam. 23:5) [or, given to me.] Many of faith’s me’s you may read in scripture; and how can tell how many my’s of faith are there? “My Lord and My God: I know that my Redeemer liveth.” See a cluster of them, “I will love thee O Lord, my strength. The Lord is my rock, my fortress, and my deliverer; my God, my rock, in whom I will trust; my buckler, and the horn of my salvation; and my high tower,” (Ps. 18:1-2). “Blessed be the Lord my strength, which teacheth my hands to war, and my fingers to fight; my goodness, my fortress, my high tower, &c. My Beloved is mine, and I am his,” &c. (Ps. 144:1-2).
For the prosecuting of this subject, we shall endeavor to do these things following.
Enquire what is imported in this particularizing property of faith entertaining Christ’s giving love with a me, me.
How, and upon what grounds faith makes this particular application, and ventures to say, Me, me.
Name the reasons why faith hath, and must have, this appropriating property.
Deduce some inferences for the application.
I. What is imported in this particularizing property of faith, in entertaining this giving love of Christ, with a Me, me? It may suppose and import these following things.
1st, It supposes, that while unbelief reigns and rules, the soul speaks in a quite other strain; unbelief puts away the love of Christ from itself, saying, If he hath a loving heart, it is not to me; if he hath a giving hand, it is not to me: unbelief says with Peter, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man:” surely it is not to me thou art making love. Yea, the language of unbelief is like that of the devil, “What have we to do with thee? Art thou come to torment us before the time? What have we to do with thee? Thou art not come to save us. Indeed, he came not to save sinning angels, but he came to save sinning men; and the devils would have men to think and speak, as they did, “What have we to do with thee?” And Satan gains his point, so long as he can tempt men to continue in unbelief, and to say, there is an offer of Christ; but, what have I to do with it; it is not to me: there is love; but it is not to me: there is Christ giving himself, but not for me; I cannot take it to me; I cannot believe it is for me: what have I to do with it. Thus the devilish unbelieving heart makes God a liar, by putting away the giving love of Christ that he manifests to mankind sinners by the everlasting gospel.
2dly, It supposes, that so far as unbelief is broken, in its reign and rule, so far does the soul bring home to itself this giving love of Christ. There are various degrees (when unbelief gets a dash) whereby the sinner is brought to this particular application. Conviction of unbelief, is, I think, the first degree, namely, when the soul is convinced of the sin of not believing the love of Christ, saying, “Woe is me, that I, who am convinced of sin and wrath by the law, cannot be convinced of the love, and grace, and good-will of God manifested in Christ by the gospel! Oh! that I could get this love believed and applied to myself.” Conviction of righteousness is another degree; when the glory of Christ’s righteousness, as full and all-sufficient, is discovered to the soul, and the soul enabled to take hold of it for its own justification, pardon, and reconciliation with God. Conviction of judgment is a third degree; or of Christ’s being a king to subdue sin and Satan in the soul, as he hath done in his own person: and so the soul is made to say in effect, “I receive and rest upon Christ, as a Prophet, Priest, and King, for complete salvation, as he is offered to me in the word, presented to me in the promise, or given to me in the gospel.” This is the substance of the thing relating to faith’s me, though sometimes it is uttered more, and sometimes less confidently: sometimes it is said with a sigh, a woe’s me, that I cannot say, “He loved me:” sometimes with a struggle and a battle with unbelief; I believe thy love to me; “Lord, help my unbelief:” and sometimes with a bold asseveration, as here, without any fear or doubt, “He loved me, and gave himself for me.” Thus, so far as unbelief is brought down, so far faith raises up to a full assurance.
But more particularly, I think it implies these four things following.
1. A view of the particular offer. The call of the gospel is to everyone that hears it; “Ho! every one that thirsteth, come.” When faith comes by hearing, it takes up these good news, so particularly as to say, Here is good news for me; here is mercy offered to me; here is grace offered to me; here is Christ offered to me; here is the call given to me by name; here is love made to me.
2. It implies a holy selfishness in faith, appropriating all the offered mercy so to itself, as if there were none else concerned. This loving Lord speaks to me, and tells me, “He hath loved me, and gave himself for me;” and therefore, what he says in his word, I will say to myself, “He loved me;” what he gives to me in his word, I will take to myself, “He gave himself for me.” Faith, like the busy bee, what it gathers abroad, it takes home to its own hive for its own use. What the soul gathers abroad in the field of the gospel, and among the flowers of the promise, it takes home to its own heart: it no sooner finds suitable meat for it in the word, but it falls to the eating of it; “Thy word was found of me, and I did eat it; and it was the joy and rejoicing of my soul.”
3. It imports a holy pleasure that the soul takes in this giving love of Christ; and hence, the ingemination, or doubling of the me; so sweet it is to the soul, that after one taste, it must have another. True faith is not soon satisfied; after one sight of Christ it must have another; after one kiss of the Son of God, it must have another “Let him kiss with the kisses of his mouth, for thy loves are better than wine,” (Song 1:2). It is not love in the singular, but loves in the plural number: let him give me one love-token after another! me, me!
4. It imports a cordial assent unto, and persuasion of the kindness and love of God in Christ, manifested in the word, so as to give both the heart and hand to the Son of God, with a my Lord, and my God; a Lord for me, a God for me; Me, Me; It is like a laying hold of him with both hands, and embracing him with both arms, resolving never to part with him, but still to hold by this glorious Lover and Giver; “He loved me, and gave himself for me.”
II. The second general head was, To show how and upon what grounds faith makes this particular application, and entertains this giving love with a me, me. I offer the following remarks for clearing this head.
Remark 1. “That we speak not now of the assurance of sense; for that comes by spiritual reflection, or a reflex act upon the word of God, and not a direct act of faith upon the word of God.” That reflex assurance comes also from the Spirit, witnessing and sealing the soul after believing, and that either mediately, shining upon graces and experiences, &c., or, immediately, upon the soul, by some special direct intimation. We speak of that assurance, which is properly in faith, of which the apostle here speaks, when he says, “I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me.”
Remark 2. “That the particular application of faith “is grounded upon the word; for faith relates to a testimony, believing on a word to be believed.” So it is said, “Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God,” (Rom. 10:17). Faith in a hearer relates to faithfulness in a speaker, and credits the word spoken.
Remark 3. “That it is not every word of God that is the ground of this particular application of faith.” It is not the word of God in the law, but the word of God in the gospel: for the law serves to convince of sin, and discover wrath due for sin; but makes no discovery of the love and mercy of God. The light of the law discovers death, damnation, and, misery, for evermore to the sinner; but the light of the gospel discovers life and salvation through Jesus Christ, who hath brought life and immortality to light.
Remark 4. “That it is not every word or every doctrine of the gospel, that is the ground of faith’s particular application of the love of Christ with a me, me.” For example, it is not every legal precept or threatening this is taken into the gospel dispensation that is the ground or foundation of this particular application, but the gospel itself, revealing the love and grace of God in Christ. As many things are in a house that yet cannot be called the house itself: so, many things are in the gospel-dispensation, that are not properly the gospel itself. Law-precepts and threatenings are brought in as a fence to the gospel, to guard it against being abused; For instance, “God sent not his Son into the world, to condemn the world, but that the world by him might be saved,” (John 3:17); there is the gospel; but when it is added, “He that believeth not, is condemned already,” (v. 18), this is brought into the dispensation of the gospel, but is not properly the gospel itself, but is subservient thereunto, to defend it from abuse. Now, the former, not the latter, may be the foundation of faith’s particular application of the love of God. Thus, “He that believeth not, shall be damned,” as a fence for the gospel, but not properly the gospel itself; the gospel is the thing proposed to be believed, namely, the dispensation of the love and grace of God in Christ.
Remark 5. “That is not every doctrine, even of the “love of God in the gospel, that is the first ground of faith’s applying this love to itself.” For example, there is a two-fold love of God in Christ, that cannot be the ground of faith’s applying it to itself, viz., his love of destination, and his love of approbation; his love of destination and purpose, whereby he is said to have chosen us in Christ, before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy, having predestinated us to the adoption of children, (Eph. 1:4- 5). Again, his love of approbation and friendship, or complacency, such as that spoken of in John 14:23; “If any love me, and keep my words, my Father will love him, and we will come unto him, and make our abode with him.” Now, the object of the former love, viz., that of destination, is every elect soul, and that from all eternity, as well as in time, even before their conversion and union to Christ; the object of the latter, namely, the love of approbation, is every believer united to Christ, every saint. Now, these are precious doctrines of the gospel, and the sweetness of this divine love, both of destination from eternity, before faith, and of approbation in time, after faith, may come to be felt in due time, when the soul after believing, comes to be sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise; but yet none of the me’s I say, are the first ground upon which any sinner can build this particular application of Christ’s giving love, saying, “He loved me.” For that love, whereof the elect are the objects, who can apply till they know they are elected? And that love, whereof believers and saints are the objects who can apply, that know themselves to be, as yet, neither believers nor saints? And, therefore, the love of God in the gospel, that is the first ground of faith’s particular application, must be a love manifested to sinners as such, and, consequently, such a love as sinners, under the notion of sinners, may rely upon as exhibited in the gospel. Therefore,
Remark 6. “That the doctrine of the love and grace of God in the gospel, that lays a foundation for the particular faith I speak of is the doctrine of his love of benevolence and good will in Christ Jesus, manifested to sinners of mankind, accompanied with a particular call to everyone to believe this love, and take hold of this Lover for wisdom, righteousness, sanctification, and redemption to himself in particular.”
The general word of grace and love is to sinners—that Jesus Christ came to save sinners, (1 Tim. 1:15). The particular call and command to every sinner that hears the gospel, is that he believe on the Son of God, (1 John 3:25); or, in other words, that he believe that, through the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, he shall be saved, (Acts 15:11); or, which is all one, that he receive and rest upon Christ for salvation, as offered to him in particular in the gospel. Now, the general indefinite declaration, that he came to save sinners, and died for the ungodly; this points out our general name, ungodly sinners; but then the particular call and invitation to come to this Jesus by faith, believing his love and grace manifested in this gospel, this points it out to everyone, saying, “Thou, in particular, art the ungodly sinner, thus called to apply his love and grace declared in the gospel; and upon this ground thou mayest, by faith, make this particular application, and venture out with a me, me. “He loved me, and gave himself for me.”
Objection 1: “May not one fear presumption in the present case, if it be no more than is needful as a ground for this appropriating faith?”
Answer: Men presume, when they are either encouraged by their own goodness to believe Christ’s love, or discouraged by their own badness from believing it; for this says it is either some goodness they have, or some goodness they want in themselves, that they are making the role and standard of their faith, and not the Word of God, nor the gospel of the grace of God; this is indeed presumption; for it says they are cleaving to the old covenant way of life by works, or goodness of their own, and not treating to the goodness, grace, and love of God in Christ revealed in the gospel; but if the sinner were taking with the charge, that he is a sinner indeed, and accepting of these good news, That Christ came to save sinners, as a faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptation, and apprehending the gospel call particularly to him, saying, “To thee is the word of this salvation sent;” and was thereupon rolling himself over upon the grace and love of Christ, saying, Even so I take it to me, as offered to me in the word; and thereupon conclude, “He loved me, and gave himself for me:” this is no presumption, but faith building upon the proper ground of it, the word of God.
Objection 2: “But may not one fear delusion in this case, if he builds this particular application only upon the word, without feeling the operation of the Spirit, since it is the spirit that works faith inns?
Answer: We are to make a difference between how faith is warranted and how faith is wrought. The Spirit is the worker of faith; but the word is the warrant of faith, and the ground of it; and the Spirit works faith by showing to the soul what is the warrant of faith; and hence faith comes by hearing what the Spirit saith in the word, and not by feeling what the Spirit works in the heart: therefore, if you build your faith on any feelings or influences within you, then you are in danger of delusion and enthusiasm; but not if you build your faith upon the word as your warrant.
Objection 3: But if the word without me is the warrant of faith, and the Spirit within me is the worker of faith, what if I take hold of the warrant of the word, without the Spirit taking hold of me, as the worker of faith within me?
Answer: That is impossible: for, where a soul takes hold of Christ, and his love and grace revealed in the word, and upon the warrant of God’s word itself in particular, it necessarily presupposes the Spirit present in that word, opening up to the soul the particular warrant, and discovering the love of Christ in that word, and secretly and powerfully drawing the soul to apply it; and yet so insensibly may that power be exerted, that the soul feels nothing till afterwards: “After ye believed, ye were sealed.” There may, indeed, be joy and peace in believing; but faith, though it may be attended with joy, and peace, and feeling, yet is not grounded upon anything but the word, or the love and grace of Christ revealed in the word; even as a house may be built with lime, and sand, and clay, but is not founded upon it.
Objection 4: But, must not Christ be revealed into the heart? And is there not a seeing of the Son, in order to believing in him? And therefore some sensible work in the heart to found this particular application of faith?
Answer: There is a sight of spiritual knowledge and illumination that is necessary to faith, and goes indeed before it; but there is a sight of spiritual experience and sensation, that is not necessary to faith, but follows after it. The former is that revelation of Christ into the heart that Paul speaks of, “He revealed his son in me;” and that seeing of the Son that is necessary, in order to believing in him. Faith comes by hearing, not by feeling; and so believing in Christ comes by seeing him in the heart. Christ is not formed in the heart by the Spirit, till once he be revealed in the heart by the word. And so it is not the Spirit’s sealing work, giving an internal feeling of Christ; but the Spirit’s teaching work, giving the internal revelation of Christ, that is necessary to faith.
Objection 5: But if I want this internal revelation of Christ, and have Christ only revealed to me, and not revealed in me: Have I, in that case, any warrant to believe?
Answer 1: Though Christ revealed in you, is necessary to the working of faith; yet Christ revealed to you, in the word, is all that is necessary to the warranting of faith; and therefore,
2. Since it is not Christ speaking in the heart, but Christ speaking in the word, that is the ground and warrant of faith; if you build your faith and hope upon the love and grace of Christ revealed to you in particular, you have no ground to doubt Christ is revealed in you; therefore, in seeking for a foundation and ground of faith, never pore upon yourself, or what you feel, or what the Spirit works in you; but rather hear what the Spirit says to you: “He that hath ears to hear, let him hear what the Spirit saith to the churches.” If you hear what the Spirit says to you of the love of Christ, and believe it with application as revealed to you, then you may be sure he is revealed in you; and upon the warrant of his word, thus revealing his love to you; you, through grace, may apply it to yourself with a me, me; “He loved me, and gave himself for me.”
III. The third general head I proposed was, To name the reasons why faith hath this appropriating property. And here I shall show, 1. Why it is so, that faith hath this applying property; and, 2. Why it must be so, or the necessity of it.
1st, As to the former of these, faith hath this applying property.
1. Because faith is a uniting grace, that unites the soul to Christ; “That Christ may dwell in your hearts by faith,” (Eph. 3:17). As it comes from him, so it leads the soul to him, and cannot stay away from him, nor rest till it makes close application to him. God, the giver of faith, hath given it this office of joining the soul to Jesus; and therefore, in the day of believing, sinners are brought to say, “Come, let us join ourselves to the Lord; the everlasting covenant shall not be forgotten,” as the words may be read, (Jer. 50:5). Some drawing virtue is let out from that covenant between God and Christ that draws out the soul’s consent to that bargain, and so take on with Jesus as the glorious Lover, that proposes such a blessed bargain as himself to it. O! it is a good bargain.
2. Because faith takes up the warrant and ground it hath to build upon: it reads the gospel as a love-letter, saying, There is a letter from heaven, and it is backed for me, indorsed for me: it says, To thee; “To thee is the word of this salvation sent:” and therefore I may also say, To me, to me, it is sent. “He loved me, and gave himself for me.”
3. Faith takes up the fitness and suitableness between Christ and the soul’s case; and therefore makes particular application. As ever a plaster was suited to a sore, or a remedy suited to a malady; so Christ is suited to the sinner’s case; and faith discerns this, and says, There is wisdom for a fool like me; there is righteousness, for a guilty soul like me; sanctification, for a filthy soul like me; redemption, for lost and miserable me; there is light, for dark me; and life, for dead me; and liberty, for bond me: and therefore I cannot but welcome it to me.
4. Faith’s particular application flows from the approach of the Spirit of faith mixing itself with the word, to make application of Christ’s redemption. Though the external revelation fixes the duty of believing, and all have an equal warrant to believe in Jesus, yet such is the distinguishing grace of God towards some, that he opens up the warrant to them particularly, and causes them [to] make particular application thereof to themselves, and to believe what others have as fair a revealed warrant to believe as they have; for, though this powerful coming of the Spirit is necessary to work faith, yet nothing else but the word is necessary to warrant faith, and to be the ground of it; yea, in pure believing, the Spirit makes the soul build upon nothing but the word. Faith may be confirmed afterward by the feeling and sealing of the Spirit, as I said already; but in nothing does the power of the Spirit more exert itself in the day of believing, than in bringing the soul to be denied to all external feelings, and to reject all other grounds of faith than what is proposed in the word of grace. Let everyone, therefore, cry for the spirit of faith, who is to be received in the hearing of faith. There is a passive receiving of the Spirit, even as dry ground receives a shower of water from the clouds; this is necessary for the working of faith where it is not, and exerting it where it is; and there is an active receiving of the Spirit after faith, of which it is said, “Received ye the Spirit since ye believed?” And of which also it is said, “After ye believed, ye were sealed with the holy Spirit of promise.” Now, it is the former, the passive reception of the Spirit, or the Spirit coming as the Spirit of faith, that would make a happy believing and applying time among us, by making us listen to the voice of Christ in the word, and hear him only, of whom the Father says, “This is my beloved Son in whom I am well-pleased; hear ye him”
2dly, Why is it necessary that faith have this applying property, applying the love of Christ as revealed in the gospel with a me, me, of particular appropriation? Why, it is necessary on many accounts.
1. It is necessary to justification. Faith doth not justify but in a way of applying and appropriating the righteousness of Christ to itself, saying, as it is, “Surely, in the Lord have I righteousness,” (Isa. 45:24): and hence the name of Christ, in whom we are justified, is a name of appropriation; “The Lord our righteousness,” (Jer. 23:6); which, in the singular number, when faith is acted personally and particularly, is, The Lord my righteousness. The justifying blood of Christ must be sprinkled on the conscience by a particular application of faith; and it does not justify if it be not appropriated, no more than a plaster can heal unless it be applied. It must be applied with a me, me; and loved me, and gave himself for me.
2. It is necessary unto sanctification, Christ is made of God to us not only righteousness, but also sanctification: and he is, says faith, made of God to me sanctification: hence it is the language of faith. In the Lord have I strength, as well as righteousness. In him there is strength for me, says faith; and without this applying and appropriating of the strength and grace that is in Christ to ourselves, we cannot be strong in the Lord, or strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus.
3. It is necessary to consolation. All the comfort we have in the love of Christ, is in the application of it; “He loved me.” All the comfort that issues from his death, is in the application of it; “He gave himself for me.” Take away this me, or this appropriation of Christ and you take away comfort: and hence the more closely that faith acts upon Christ, the more comfortably; for “we rejoice with joy unspeakable.” And hence, also, the more unbelief prevails, putting away the grace and love of Christ, saying, O! it is not for me; this promise is not to me; the more discouragement prevails.
4. It is necessary to peace, quiet, and rest: “Come to me all ye that are weary, and I will give you rest. Being justified by faith, we have peace with God. In me ye shall have peace,” says Christ; in a way of applying me, and appropriating me to yourselves, ye shall have peace. Peace with God is a safe garrison in the time of outward trouble; but take away the me—me of faith, and you undermine the garrison—you blow up the peace of the soul.
5. It is necessary unto boldness in approaching to God—“We have boldness to enter into the holiest by the blood of Jesus;” and the boldness of faith flows from the applying quality of it. Faith walks on this red-sea: if it did not keep its feet upon this red carpet, it could not come boldly to God.
6. It is necessary unto evidential assurance, which is the fruit of faith. Faith’s applying quality with a me—me, founded upon the Word, is fiducial assurance, which is the very nature of faith grounded upon the Word; but faith’s reflection upon itself and upon the work of God within one, is evidential assurance. And this cannot be without the former, no more than there can be true evidences of faith without faith itself. When a man can once say, by the assurance of faith, relying on the Word He loved me, then he may come, in due time, to be able to say, by the assurance of sense, I feel his love burning in my breast, and warming my heart: “After ye believed ye were sealed.”
7. It is necessary unto victory—spiritual victory. And,
(1.) It is necessary to our victory over the devil; for, the more closely we apply Christ to ourselves, the more powerfully do we defeat and drive off the devil—the shield of faith quenches his fiery darts. This applying faith takes in Christ to itself, and then destroys the works of the devil. Christ for us did it once, and Christ in us does it again.
(2.) It is necessary to our victory over the world; for, “This is the victory whereby we overcome the world (as well as the god of this world), even our faith;” and particularly faith as it appropriates his love. O! when it sees, and applies, and feeds upon the love of Christ, how doth it despise the world, and would not give a glance of his love for all the glory of the world? The believer despises its frowns and flatteries both, so far as he applies Christ, and confides in him; whereas, when people take not hold of, and rely on Christ by faith, they take hold of the world, and the world takes hold of them, and overcomes them.
(3.) It is necessary to our victory over the flesh, and over sin and corruption: so far as we believe the love of Christ to ourselves, so far as we hate and loath sin; the love of Christ eats out the love of sin; so far as the love of Christ is believed, so far is the love of sin banished; for sin loses its dominion while we are not under the law, which is the strength of sin, but under grace and love, which is the destruction of sin. Why does sin prevail so much, but because we believe the love of Christ so little.
(4.) It is necessary also to victory over death; let death appear in all its most dreadful shapes, yet by this particular faith of Christ’s love, we will be able to say, “O death, where is thy sting? grave, where is thy victory? The sting of death is sin, and the strength of sin is the law; but thanks be to God, who giveth us the victory, through our Lord Jesus Christ: O, Sirs, when unbelief prevails, crying out, Alas! I fear he hath not loved me; I doubt of his love to me; I doubt of his promise, if it be to me? how can that soul stand before death? The fear of death overcomes him; but when faith applies the love of Christ, and the promise sealed with the love of Christ, then it overcomes all the fear of death, and overcomes by the blood of the Lamb.
8. This applying faith, saying, me, me, with the Apostle here is necessary unto service, and to the right discharge of duties, particularly that of prayer and praise, &c., namely, that we may serve the Lord without slavish fear—“That we, being delivered out of the hands of our enemies, might serve him without fear, in holiness and righteousness before him all the days of our life,” (Luke 1:74) —God loves a cheerful giver—a cheerful servant. Doubts and fears of unbelief make very unheartsome and unholy service; but the more lively the faith of the love of God in Christ is, the more loving and acceptable service is performed.
9. It is necessary unto suffering, as well as unto service. Who is the Christian that will take joyfully the spoiling of his goods, and suffer joyfully for the name of Christ? Even he that hath the most lively faith of Christ’s loving him unto sufferings and death, saying, “He loved me, and gave himself for me.” O! how ought I to love him, and give myself, my life for him, through his grace? We may be called to suffering, but it must be given us; and it is he that gives to believe, who must give to suffer; and he gives to suffer by giving to believe; for “By faith, we choose with Moses, to suffer affliction with the people God, rather than to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a season.” And the more closely faith applies the love of Christ, the more forward it is to suffer; and the more doubtfully it views his love, the more backward and unwilling to suffer for him.
10. It is necessary unto growth in all the other graces of the Spirit: for example the grace of love will not grow, but by the faith of his love; “We love him, because he first loved us.” The grace of humility and true humiliation doth not grow, but upon the appropriating faith of his love, and of God’s mercy venting through Christ: “That thou mayst remember, and be confounded, and never open thy mouth anymore, because of thy shame, when I am pacified towards thee for all that thou heist done,” (Ezek. 16:63). The faith of God’s being pacified in Christ, a loving and well-pleased God in Christ, abases the soul, and humbles it to the dust. The grace of patience does not grow, but upon this root. We bear all things, and suffer chastisement kindly, while we believe that he chastises not in wrath, but in love. Thus I might go through the other graces of the spirit, and show that this applying property in faith is necessary to the increase of the whole of them.
11. It is necessary unto perseverance; hence, says Christ, “As the Father hath loved me, so have I loved you; continue ye in my love;” intimating that the particular faith of his love, and of the firmness, greatness, and duration thereof, like that between him and his Father, is a strong root of perseverance, and continuing in his love. Our love to him, and perseverance in the duties of love to him, is up and down, ebbs and flows with the believing persuasion of his love.
12. It is necessary unto our preservation, from the errors and defections of the times, and to our excitation to any zealous appearance for Christ. This particular faith of Christ’s love is a notable fence against errors that abound in the day we live in; for, as the most part receive not the love of the truth, that they might be saved, and are given up to strong delusions, to believe a lie; so when the truth is received in love, and Christ, the centre of all truth, embraced in love, it makes the soul stand out against all damnable error, saying, Oh I shall I deny the truth, who have got the faith and feeling of the love of Christ therein.
It is a notable fence against the apostasy of the times: “Will ye also go away?” said Christ to his disciples; ye to whom I have manifested myself and my love, as I have not manifested myself to the world. No, no; “To whom shall we go?” said Peter; “Thou hast the words of eternal life:” intimating, that the faith of his word of grace, was a cord to bind them to abide with him, and to keep them back from apostasy.
This particular faith would also excite us to public zeal. Public religion is only right founded, when it stands upon personal religion, personal acquaintance with Christ, and the particular faith of his love. They that can say, believingly, “He loved me,” will endeavor to say it practically, showing their faith by their love, and showing their love by their zeal. Love is the fire, zeal is the flame; they will show the fire by the flame.
In a word, it is necessary in all these particulars, for teaching the great end of glorifying God, and enjoying him. When we are strong in the faith, we give glory to God; and especially when we believe against unbelief, by believing his love to us as revealed in the word, against all objections to the contrary from other quarters; but we dishonor him, by unbelieving jealousies of his kindness, and by his discrediting his word; denying both his mercy and truth. Again, the more closely we cleave to him by this applying faith, the more fully do we enjoy him; for, this faith is a drawing near to him; whereas the opposite, unbelief, is a departing from him, (Heb. 3:12). We come now,
IV. To the Fourth and last thing proposed, which was to make application. And this we may essay in an use of information, examination, and exhortation.
1st. We may improve this doctrine for information. Is it the property of true faith, to entertain the giving love of Christ, declared in the gospel, with a me, me, by a particular application Hence see.
1. The danger and disadvantage of unbelief: it rejects the grace and love of Christ, saying, It is not to me. It rejects the gift of God, and the great salvation, saying, It is too great for me; it is too good for me; I must resolve to want it; for I am not meet for it, and it is not meet for me. O! dangerous case! “He that believeth not hath made God a liar.”
2. See the excellency and advantage of faith and believing. It takes home Christ and all his grace and fullness to itself, saying, Oh! here is a treasure for me; here is a portion for me; good bargain for me: however unlovely I am, yet here is a wonderful Lover and Suitor for me: he evidenced his love for me, by giving himself for me: he is evidencing his love to me, in giving himself in the gospel offer to me: it welcomes Christ and his love, saying, “He loved me.”
3. Hence see the danger of that legal doctrine, that obstructs their particular application of faith, by bringing in so many terms and conditions necessary, in order to be the ground and foundation of faith’s persuasion; making either some work done by people, or some work wrought in them, to be the ground of confidence with reference to the love of Christ; thus leading people into themselves for a foundation of faith: and hence few or none can, by their doctrine, see any ground to apply the love of Christ to themselves, because they cannot see any ground in themselves, where indeed they ought not to seek it. That legal spirit is too natural to all mankind, and hath little need to be furthered by legal doctrine.
4. Hence see also the darkness that obscures many gospel sermons, even among these who are otherwise evangelical, yet in this they are bemisted, that they cannot take up any assurance or persuasion in the matter of faith, distinct from that assurance of sense, which follows after faith: nor take up the assurance, application, and appropriation of faith, grounded upon the word of God, which is the duty of all that hear the gospel, distinct from the assurance of sense, founded upon the work of God, which is the privilege of believers at times. How miserably do many confound the grounds of faith, with the marks of faith? and so shut the door of faith, many times, against all that have not the evidences of faith; and, through mistake of the gospel method of salvation, sometimes make the marks and evidences of faith in them who have believed, to be so many lets and hindrances to the faith of them that never believed, as if they ought not to believe the love and grace of God revealed in the word, unless they have these marks: whereas sinners are warranted to build upon the grounds of faith that are without them in the word, though they can see no marks of faith within them; for to build upon these, although they had them, would be a building of sense, and not a building of faith.
2dly, This doctrine may be improved by way of examination. Try whether or not you have been ever brought to this particular application of faith; or to the me, me, that is here spoken of; “He loved me, and gave himself for me.” If so, then,
1. The time hath been, when the wrath of God, revealed in the law, hath been applied particularly to you, and by you. Have you ever believed the curse and threatening of the law, saying,” Cursed is every one that continueth not in all things written in the book of the law to do them?” Have you believed that with a me, me, saying, I am the man; I am the person; the sinful, miserable, guilty person that, by sin, am exposed to God’s wrath; and, “What shall I do to be saved.”
2. The time hath been, wherein the love and grace of God revealed in the gospel, hath been applied particularly to you and by you, so far as to give you the hope of relief from the law sentence of condemnation, and to draw your heart to a particular acceptance of Christ, as offered in the gospel to you, for salvation from sin, and deliverance from the wrath to come. This imports the me, me, in the text, even though you have not been able, in express terms, to say it in the words of the apostle, “He loved me, and gave himself for me.”
3. Are the defects of this faith grievous to you? Is it uneasy to you, That you cannot freely come out with the me, me? Do you find it matter of grief to you, that, through unbelief, you should so much question his love to you; and matter of joy to you, when you get kindly views of him, and can say with the apostle, “He loved me, and gave himself for me?” Know you what it is to believe his love, even when you do not feel it? that is, when you want the joyful sense of his love, yet, you hope in his word, and hang upon it, saying, “I believe; Lord, help my unbelief.” This argues particular application of faith. Know you what it is, notwithstanding of the power and prevalence of sin, yet to maintain some hope against hope, because his word endureth forever, and his love endureth forever; and therefore you are encouraged to return again and again to your first love? This imports and includes in it the heart, saying, “He loved me,” even though you dare not, with confidence, express it.
4. Is your public religion founded upon personal religion? Public religion, and concern for the ark of God, and the work of God, and the cause of Christ, and his truth, and reformation principles, is very proper and necessary in a day wherein truth is fallen in the streets. It is fit to appear for Christ, especially when princes and parliaments are against him; when courts and judicatories are against him; then we should cleave to him, and to these that are engaged in witnessing work for him. But yet, before our public religion can be probative, or evidential of our true love to Christ, it will be founded upon personal religion; personal acquaintance with Christ, personal concern about his love to you, and a particular faith of his love constraining you to that appearance for him. Happy is the soul that can say, “He loved me, and gave himself for me:” therefore, it becomes me to love him, his name, his truth, his cause and interest; and to give myself for him, to act and do for him, to suffer for him; to suffer shame and reproach for him; to suffer losses, and crosses, and the spoiling of my goods, if he call to it; yea, and death itself for him. A public religion of this sort, flowing from the faith of his love, is a practical saying, “He loved me, and gave himself for me.”
3dly, The doctrine may be applied by way of exhortation or address: and our exhortation shall be tendered both to believers and saints.
[1.] We direct our exhortation to these who are unbelievers, and never came to make application of Christ to themselves and are strangers to this appropriating faith. O Sinners! if you know yourself to be so, and have any need of a Saviour, come to him by faith, applying him to yourself in particular, with a me, me, of special appropriation. In order to this, I propose two things to your consideration.
1. Consider, in what capacity you ought to view yourself when applying this giving love of Christ with a me, me, to yourself in particular.
(1.) It is in view of your being a sinner, that your are to make this application: for, “While we were yet sinners, Christ died for the ungodly; and, Christ died to save sinners;” and therefore it is as a sinner, not as a saint, that you must show this love, saying, “He loved me,” a sinner; me, a most unlovely creature; me, an object of hatred and abhorrence. Unbelief makes a quite contrary improvement of this view saying, Alas! this love cannot be to me: it must be saints, and holy persons, and good folks that can say, “He loved me.” Nay, but says faith, “He came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance;” and his name, as a Saviour, relates to sinners: and, in this gospel, he is manifesting his teaching love, to blind, ignorant sinners; his pardoning love, toward guilty sinners; and his conquering love, toward captive sinners, and such an one am I: therefore, as a sinner of that sort, I will venture on this love, and conclude, “He loved me.” Again,
2. It is in the view of being, not only a sinner, but a chief sinner, that the soul applies this love; for, “Christ came to save sinners, of whom I am the chief; I was a blasphemer, a persecutor, and injurious; yet, He loved me, says Paul; for, I obtained mercy,” notwithstanding what I was, and what I am; for the gospel makes no exception; Jesus Christ came to save sinners, and so proclaims his good-will towards men. Here also unbelief starts up saying, No doubt, if sinners may apply this love and grace to themselves, yet not such sinners as I am: not such a guilty sinner, such a filthy sinner, such a black sinner, such a bloody sinner, such a backsliding sinner, that have returned again unto folly. Nay, but says faith, If he said to me, when I was in my blood, Live; and loved me, when I was in my blood before; and made me accept of his love offer, and say, “He loved me;” may I not again venture upon his grace and love, when his love is a-new manifested in his word of grace to me, and so take it home to myself with a Me, Me! The greater my sins are, the greater is his love to me; and the more will I say, with admiration and astonishment, “He loved me;” even me, the blackest; me, the vilest; me, a run-away; me, a rebel; me, a dog; me, a devil, a monster!
2. Consider in what capacity you ought to view Christ, in order to this applying act of faith.
(1.) You are to view him as one in whom is all divine fullness, for the benefit of poor miserable sinners; fullness, not for himself, but for you: say not, What is it to me, that he is so full? Yea, it is for thee: “He received gifts for men, even for the rebellious,” (Ps. 68:18). And the reason of his communicating that fullness, is his own free grace; “He hath mercy, because he will have mercy.”
(2.) You are to view him as one, whose glory and perfection it is to give out himself and his fullness; for, “He is exalted to give repentance and remission of sins.” Thus it is his honor and exaltation to give out grace. There is a two-fold glory of Christ, the glory of his person as the Son of God; and the glory of his office, as Mediator: the former is infinitely complete, admitting of no diminution or augmentation being unchangeably the same forever and ever; but the glory and perfection of his office, as Mediator, is still more and more complete, the more sinners he receives, and the more grace he gives out: hence the church is called his fullness; and hence, saints are called the glory of Christ; and hence Christ is said to be glorified in them; and “The Spirit, says Christ, shall glorify me; for he shall receive of mine, and shall shew it unto you,” (John 16:14).
(3.) You are to view him, as one, not only ready, but willing to receive sinners that come to him, and welcome them, in coming and applying him to themselves, by a particular appropriating faith; but also rejoicing in nothing more heartily, and delighting in nothing more sweetly, than in sinners their coming to him, and matching with him: this is what he rejoiced in the thoughts of from eternity; was daily his delight, rejoicing always before him. Rejoicing in the habitable parts of the earth, and my delights were with the sons of men,” (Prov. 7:30-31). His joy is fresh, when the sinner is actually espoused to him; “Go forth, O ye daughters of Zion, and behold king Solomon with the crown wherewith his mother crowned him in the day of his espousals, and in the day of the gladness of his heart,” (Song 3:11). “He shall see the travail of his soul, and shall be satisfied,” (Isa. 53:11). Yea, he delights and rejoices in these espousals forever: as he rejoiced in the thought of it from eternity, so he will do so unto eternity; “And I will betroth thee unto me for ever; yea, I will betroth thee unto me in righteousness, and in judgment, and in loving-kindness, and in mercies. I will even betroth thee unto me in faithfulness, and thou shalt know the Lord,” (Hosea 2:19-20). The espousals are everlasting.
(4.) You are to view him as one, that hath no will to take a refusal at the sinner’s hand; and that will admit of no excuse to hinder your coming to him, and closing with him for thyself as a match for thee, or hinder his accepting of thee. What is it that will hinder? Is it the broken law? No; he had fulfilled it; yea, magnified the law, and made it honorable. Is it offended justice? No; he hath satisfied justice: and therefore God says, “I have found a ransom.” Is it outward meanness and baseness? No; though thou wert clothed in rags, if thou hast a mind for Christ, he will accept of thee; for, “To the poor the gospel is preached:” (see 1 Cor. 1:26-28). Is it inward blackness and deformity? No; “Though you have lien among the pots, ye shall be as the wings of a dove, covered with silver, and her feathers with yellow gold:” (see Isa. 1:18; 43:24-25; 57:17). Christ marries none, but these who are sinners, that he may have the honor to take away their sin. Is it former refusals of him? No; though thou hast despised many gracious offers: (see Prov. 1:21-23). They refused long and were long scorners. “How long, ye scorners, will ye delight in scorning? &c. Turn ye at my reproof: behold, I will pour out my spirit unto you; I will make known my words unto you.” Is it any backsliding, or revolting of thine from him, after some kindly working of heart toward him? No; “Thou hast played the harlot with many lovers; yet return again unto me, saith the Lord. Return, thou backsliding Israel, saith the Lord, and I will not cause mine anger to fall upon you; for I am merciful, and will not keep mine anger for ever,” (Jer. 3:1 & 12). Is it that he never saved the like of you, and that there is no sinner like you? No, no; for there is none like him for a Saviour; “Who is like unto the God of Jesurun?” Yea, what if your vileness and unworthiness qualify you for him as one said, “My wants and unworthiness qualify me for Christ.”
2. We shall now conclude with a word to these who have attained this appropriating faith, which hath in its nature this property of applying Christ with a me, me; “He loved me, and gave himself for me.” Have you win to make application upon the ground of the words of grace? Then, O believer,
1. Be very thankful. Tell me, when you was under a sense of sin, a fear of hell and wrath, what would you have given for the things you now partake of? And what was your resolution, in case God should deliver you from your bonds of fear and dread? Therefore, now perform your vows of gratitude, and glorify God: for this end he made heaven and earth, and every creature, that he might get glory. And ought not you, especially to glorify him, not only in your heart, but also in your life and walk?
2. Be very humble; for, “Who made you to differ?” Know you not, that thousands and millions are going to hell every day who are in many respects better than you? Yet, out of sovereign grace you are plucked, as a brand out of the burning; and they are passed by, without ever getting grace to improve the warrant they have of applying Christ to themselves by faith, for their salvation.
3. Be very active in making progress; know that your salvation is but begun, all is not over: you have much work ado, a great warfare to accomplish; therefore, press forward, forgetting the things that are behind: let your faith work by love.
4. Be very conscientious, that you may be in case to say, “Herein do I exercise myself, to keep a conscience void of offence toward God, and toward man.” This will be a continual feast; and faith will be evidenced and furthered this way.
5. Take care, that you never misconstruct the providence of God, however hard and trying; knowing, that whatever his outward dispensations be, yet he is still the same, and his word is still the same. Beware of putting harsh commentaries upon his dealings and disposals. Have you believed his love with particular application, upon the ground of his own word of grace? Then let his word of grace and promise be the rule of your judging of his love, and not any alteration of your inward frame or outward lot.
6. Endeavour to maintain your relation to him, even under all dark providences, hidings, and desertions, saying, “My God, my God,” even when you have occasion to say, “Why hast thou forsaken me.”
7. Live near your strength; and let the life you live be by the faith of the Son of God. “He that abideth in me, and I in him, bringeth forth much fruit.” Renounce all confidence in the flesh, and in every piece of duty: “Go in his strength,” for assistance, “making mention of his righteousness,” and his only for acceptance: so thus maintain the life of faith that is begun.
8. Let it be your care and study to get others called effectually, as well as you: endeavor to call them out of darkness by your shining light; “Let your light shine in darkness:” and particularly endeavor to open up the grounds of faith to them, that they may see what ground they have, as well as you, to make particular application of Christ to themselves, and to embrace him for their salvation. If you have been brought to a me, me; “He loved me and gave himself for me;” you will desire also that others may partake with you, because there is enough in him for them and you both.
9. In a word, plead the promise of the Spirit for causing you to walk in his statutes, and enabling you to continue in the faith; and in this applicatory way of believing his love, that so his love may constrain you to his service; and that the joy of the Lord may be your strength while you stand to it by faith, saying, “He loved me, and gave himself for me.”