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most exalted pleasure to your parents, who watch every movement of your mind with parental solicitude, ready to rejoice over you with transport when they can say of any of you, as it was said of Saul, “Behold, he prayeth.”
V. We cannot but look back with regret to the period when the followers of Christ were known by no other name. Happy period; when, instead of being rent into a thousand parts, and split into innumerable divisions, the church of Christ was “ one fold under one Shepherd!” The seamless coat of the Redeemer was of one entire piece from the top to the bottom. The world was divided into two grand parties-christians and pagans. This happy state, we have no doubt, will occur again: “ The wolf shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid; and the sucking child shall play on the hole of the asp, and the weaned child shall put his hand on the cockatrice den. They shall not hurt nor destroy in all my holy mountain: for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord.”*
In consequence of a more copious communication of the Spirit, some of our differences of opinion will be removed, and “the shepherds will see eye to eye,” and others of them will be lost in the indulgence of christian charity, in the noble oblivion of love.
In the mean time, if party names must subsist, let us carefully watch against a party spirit; let
* Isaiah xi. 6, 8, 9.
us direct our chief attention to what constitutes a christian, and learn to prize most highly those great truths in which all good men are agreed. In a settled persuasion, that what is disputed or obscure in the system of christianity is, in that proportion, of little importance, compared to those fundamental truths which are inscribed on the page of revelation as with a sunbeam; whenever we see a christian, let us esteem, let us love him; and though he be weak in faith, receive him, “not to doubtful disputation.”
ON LOVE OF THE BRETHREN, AS A CRITERION
OF A STATE OF SALVATION.
1 John iii. 14.—We know that we have passed from death unto
life, because we love the brethren. As it is an inquiry of the highest moment whether we are in a state of acceptance with God, or under condemnation, we ought carefully to attend to the marks and criterions by which these two opposite states are distinguished in the word of God. The scripture abounds with directions on this subject; so that if we remain in an habitual state of suspense and uncertainty, it is not to be ascribed to deficiency of light in the sacred oracles, but must be imputed, for the most part at least, to the want of strict and impartial inquiry. Too many professors of christianity content themselves without attaining a satisfactory
evidence of their real character in the sight of God; hoping all is well, without resting on sure and solid grounds: by which, if their religion is really vain, they incur the charge of presumption; and, if it is genuine, deprive themselves of the richest source of comfort, as well as of motives to the most ardent gratitude. For how is it possible to praise God for a favour which we are not certain we have received ? Or if a feeble hope is entitled to devout acknowledgement, our praises must be faint and languid in proportion to the mixture of darkness and uncertainty which attends it. We are exhorted to give all diligence, that we may obtain the full assurance of hope: we should never read in the writings of this eminent apostle the rapturous exclamation, “ Behold, what manner of love the Father hath bestowed upon us, that we should be called the sons of God,"* had he been in that state of suspense respecting his prospects for eternity, in which too many christians allow themselves to remain.
With a view to assist the professors of the gospel, in their attempts to ascertain their real condition, we request your serious attention while we endeavour to explain and illustrate the criterion of character the apostle suggests in the text : “Hereby we know that we have passed from death unto life, because we love the brethren.”
Death and life are the two extremes set before us; spiritual death, and spiritual life : for in this sense,
* 1 John iïi. 1.
it is obvious, the words must be understood. When the apostle speaks of our passing from death unto life, the phraseology necessarily implies that death is our natural state as sinners; and, consequently, that he who is perfectly conscious of his having experienced no change, is under no necessity of inquiring farther : he infallibly abideth in death. “He that loveth not his brother abideth in death."* A transition from one state to another is supposed in every case where there is a well-founded hope of salvation; and the design of the apostle, in the words before us, is to suggest an infallible criterion of the reality of such a transition.
When he speaks of love to the brethren, we must understand him to mean love to real christians, who are frequently, in the New Testament, distinguished by this appellation: “ Hereby perceive we the love of God, because he laid down his life for us: and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren.” of In reproving the Corinthians for their contentious spirit, St. Paul used this language : “ Brother goeth to law with brother, and that before the unbelievers. Why do ye not rather take wrong? why do ye not rather suffer yourselves to be defrauded? Nay, ye do wrong, and defraud, and that your brethren.” In this passage, it is manifest that the term brethren is equivalent to christian, and that it is employed in contradistinction to unbelievers. When the apostle lays down love to real christians, as an infallible sign
* 1 John iii. 14. + 1 John iii. 16. I 1 Cor. vi. 6—8.
and token of a justified state, he cannot be supposed to include every sort of attachment which may be felt towards them, from whatever principles or on whatever occasion it arises. No doubt can be entertained that there are circumstances in which the genuine disciples of Christ may be objects of love, without its furnishing the least evidence of a religious character. Religion may have no sort of concern in it. Parents may love their children, children their parents, husbands their wives, and wives their husbands, whatever be the religious character of the party beloved, upon principles merely natural. The natural affections and desires, by which society is cemented, and mankind are bound to each other, can afford, it is evident, no test or criterion of religious principle.
True christians may possess certain qualities, which, according to the principles of human nature, are calculated to command a portion of esteem and affection; such as prudence, generosity, kindness, and fidelity: to which nothing but a brutish insensibility can render men entirely [indifferent]. There are certain social and moral virtues which are so useful to the world, and so attractive in themselves, as to be the natural objects of partiality; and these christianity will improve, rather than impair. We may proceed a step farther, and add, that a christian may be even indebted to his religion for certain qualities which excite attachment, and yet that attachment shall afford no