There are different tempers of mind among men, some more smooth and pliable, others more refractory and froward. Some may be persuaded by love, who cannot be constrained by fear. With some a request will more prevail than a command. Others again are of a harsher disposition. Love and condescension doth rather embolden them, and therefore they must be restrained with the bridle of authority. It would seem that the Lord hath some regard to this in the administration of the gospel. He accommodates himself to the diverse dispositions of men, and (if we may say with respect to him which yet can be no disrespect, seeing he hath humbled himself lower) he doth become all things to all men, that he may gain some. You see the gospel sometimes running in the channel of love and kindness, sometimes in the channel of authority and majesty. God sometimes stoopeth down to invite, and affectionately to beseech sinners to come unto his Son for life. He hath prepared a marriage and banquet for us in Christ. He hath made all things ready for the receiving, for the eating, and he sends forth his servants to entreat and invite all such, who have no bread and clothing, who are poor and lame, to this wedding. He gives an hearty invitation to all that stand at an infinite distance from God, and so are feeding upon empty vanities without him, to come and enjoy the riches of his grace, which runs as a river in Christ between these two golden banks, the pardon of sin, and the purification of our soul from its pollution. You have a hearty invitation, Isa. lv.1, 2, 3, "Ho, every one that thirsteth, come to the waters." But he comes yet lower to request and obtest poor sinners, as if he could have advantage by it; he will not stand(428) to be a supplicant at any man's door, to beseech him to be reconciled to God, 2 Cor. v.14, 19, 20. As if we could do him a favour and benefit, he requests us most earnestly. Truly it is strange that this doth not melt the heart, and make it fall down into the belief and obedience of the truth. Affection is the most insinuating and prevailing thing with an ingenuous spirit, most of all when it is accompanied with majesty in the person that hath it, and humility in the carriage and disposition. For a great personage to descend out of love, to affectionate and humble requests and solicitations, this cannot but have a mighty influence on any spirit that is not wild and savage. But because the heart of man is desperately wicked, and hath lost that true ingenuity and nobleness of spirit, and is now become stubborn and froward, as a wild ass, or as a swift dromedary traversing her ways, therefore the Lord takes another way of dealing with men suitable to their froward natures; he gives out his royal statute backed with majesty and authority; "This is his command," &c. -- that when fair means could not prevail, other means more terrible might reduce lost rebellious men. He hedges in our way with threatenings and promises annexed to the commandment, "He that believeth has everlasting life, but he that believeth not is condemned already, and shall not see life, but the wrath of God abideth on him." He declares all men traitors if they come not in to his Son, to be reconciled to God, before the decree of wrath pass forth.
Truly it is a wonder that there should be any need either of an invitation, or a request, or a command, or a threatening; that we should need to be invited, or requested, or commanded, or threatened to our own happiness. Might not a bare and simple offer, or proposal of Jesus Christ, his nature, and offices, of the redemption and salvation purchased by him, suffice? What needed more, but to declare unto us that we are lost and utterly undone by nature, and that there is a refuge and remedy provided in Christ? Surely in any other thing of little importance, we needed no entreaty. Were it not a good enough invitation to a man that is like to starve for hunger, to cast meat freely before him; or to a man that is in hazard of drowning, to cast a cord to him? We would seek no other persuasion to go and dig for a treasure of gold, than to show us where it is hid. But strange is the rebellious and perverse disposition of man's heart. What an enmity is in it to the ways of God! What strange inclination to self-murder, ever since man destroyed himself! We cannot express it unto you; but you may perceive it well enough, both by the Lord's frequent obtesting, and protesting to us in his word, and the experience of the great barrenness of all such means. Whence is it, I pray you, that there should need so many means to persuade you to that which is your own advantage, and to call you to shun the ways of destruction? And whence is it that notwithstanding of all those invitations, entreaties, commandments, promises and threatenings often sounding in your ears, yet the most part are not reduced to obedience, nor reclaimed from the ways of death, and do not take hold of the path of life. Truly it may plainly point out to you the desperate wickedness of the heart, the stubbornness and rebelliousness of our disposition, and if once we could persuade you of this we had gained a great point which few do seriously consider, and so do not abhor themselves.
The commandments mentioned in the text are these two, to believe in Christ, and to love our brother. It is no wonder they are recommended with so much seriousness and earnestness; for they are both the most comprehensive, and the most pleasing commandments. They are most comprehensive; for it appears that all the commands spoken of in the preceding verse, are summed up in this one precept, "And this is his commandment," &c. And that they are most pleasant in God's sight is evident, for the true Christian being described from this, that he does these things that are pleasing in God's sight, -- that he is one that studies to conform himself to his good pleasure, this is subjoined, as the two most pleasing exercises of Christianity, "This is his commandment," that is, his pleasing commandment, that ye should believe in Christ, and love one another.
This command of believing in Jesus is comprehensive, because it takes in all precepts, and that under a threefold consideration. It takes them all in as broken and transgressed by men, as fulfilled by Christ, and also takes them all in as a rule of righteousness, according to which the believer ought henceforth to walk.
The command of believing in Christ doth first of all import this -- that a sinner should examine himself according to the law of God, -- that he should lay his whole life and course his heart and ways, down before the perfect and holy commandments, -- that he may stop his own mouth with shame and silence, and find himself guilty before God. Many use to speak of humiliation preparatory to believing, and the work of the law preparatory to the gospel. But truly I conceive it would be more fitly expressed, if it were holden out thus, that it is one of the essential ingredients in the bosom of believing, and one of the first articles of the gospel law, to charge all sinners to acknowledge their sin and misery, to discern their own abounding iniquity, and danger of perishing by it, how guilty they are before God, and how subject to his judgment, that so finding themselves undone, they may have recourse to a Saviour.
Truly the Spirit's work is to convince of sin, and then of righteousness, and when we are commanded to believe, the first part of our believing is crediting and subscribing to the law, to the justice and righteousness of God against us, and then the believing and acknowledging the gospel is the end and purpose to that. "Ye believe in God, believe also in me." This takes in completely the two books of saving faith towards God as a Lawgiver and Judge, and faith towards our Lord Jesus Christ as a Saviour and Redeemer; and it doth but beget misapprehensions in many, when the one is looked upon as a condition without which we shall not be welcome to the other. Truly, I think, both are proposed as essentials of saving faith; none of them in such a way as to procure right and warrant to the other, but only in such an order as is suitable to any reasonable nature to be wrought upon, and that is all. It is only required of you, upon that account, because fleeing unto a Saviour for refuge is a rational and deliberate action, which necessarily includes the sense of misery without him. But the sense of sin and misery is not urged as one thing which ye should go about to prepare, and fit yourselves for more welcome at Christ's hand as commonly it is taken. Here it is easy to understand how the command of believing belongs unto all who hear it, even to the vilest and grossest sinners, who are yet stout, hard hearted, and far from righteousness, (Isa. xlvi.12.) those who are spending their money for that which is not bread, and their labour for that which satisfies not, and those whose hearts are uncircumcised, and their lives profane. And yet the commandment of coming to the Son and believing on him for life, is extended unto them all. All are invited, requested, commanded, and threatened to this duty. There is no bar of exclusion set down in the gospel to hold out one, and let in another; as many suppose these promises, that sound condition wise, to be limitations and restrictions of the right and warrant to persons to believing. Indeed it is true all are not exhorted at the first hand to assurance of God's love, and an interest in Christ. There is no question that none have right to this seal, but them who have believed and set to their own seal to the character or truth of the word. But all are charged to believe in Christ that is, out of a sense of their own lost estate, to embrace a Saviour for righteousness and strength. Neither is there any fear that men can come too soon to Christ. We need not set down exclusions or extractions, for if they be not sensible of sin and misery, they will certainly not come to him at all. And therefore the command that enjoins them to believe on the Son, charges them also to believe that they are lost without him. And if the most presumptuous sinners would once give obedience to this commandment, really there would be no fear of presumption in coming too soon unto Jesus. A sense of sin is not set as a porter, to keep out any who are willing to come in, but rather to open the door, and constrain them that were unwilling to enter in, so that if the least measure of that can do this, we are not to stand till we have more, but to come to the Prince exalted to get remission of sins, and more true gospel sorrow which worketh repentance unto salvation from dead works. You should not therefore understand any promises in the scriptures so, as if there were any conditions set down to seclude any from coming, who are willing to come. For they do but declare the nature and manner of what they are invited to, that no man may mistake believing, and take his own empty presumptions or fancies, which embolden him to sin more, for that true faith which is full of good fruits.
Now, in the text, the pious soul, having once subscribed to the guilt and curse of all the commandments by believing the law, he looks also upon the Son, Jesus Christ, and finds the law fulfilled, the curse removed, all satisfied in him. He finds all the commandments obeyed in his person, all the wrath due for the breach of them pacified and quenched by his sufferings. And he gives a cheerful and cordial approbation of all this. He receives Christ as the end of the law for righteousness, which Christ made up by obedience and suffering to supply our disobedience. We should stay or rest upon this, as that which pacifies the Father's wrath to the full. This is what gives the answer of a good conscience, and pacifies every penitent soul, and secures his title to heaven. Now this presents God with a full atonement and obedience to all the law, which he accepts from a believer as if it were his own. This is the large comprehension of believing, it takes in its arms, as it were, in one bundle,(429) all the precepts and curses, and devolves them over on Christ, puts them in an able hand, and then takes them all, as satisfied and fulfilled by him, and holds them up in one bundle to the Father. And hence it proceeds, in the third place, that believing on the Son takes in all again to be the rule of walking and the mark to aim at. Finding such a perfect exoneration of bygones(430) in Christ and standing in such favour with God, the soul is sweetly constrained to love and delight in the divine laws. And truly this is the natural result of faith. I wish you may rightly observe this conjunction, that this is inseparably knit with it, love to God and men, delight to do his will, to love him, and live unto him. Do not deceive yourselves with vain words. If you find not the smartness of the gospel, and the doctrine of grace laying this restraint upon the heart, ye are yet in your sins. This is the reasoning of a believing soul. Shall I, who am dead unto sin, live any longer therein? Shall I not delight in those commandments, when Christ hath delivered me from the curse of the law? Though such a one fall, and come short, yet the pressure of the heart is that way. But then attend unto the order, ye must first believe on the Son, and then love him, and live unto him. Ye must first flee unto his righteousness, and then the righteousness of the law shall be wrought in you. Therefore do not weary yourselves to no purpose. Do not wrong your own souls by seeking to prevent this order, which was established for your joy and salvation. Know that you must first meet with satisfaction in all the commands of Christ, before obedience to any of them be accepted, and having met with that, know that the sincere endeavour of thy soul, and the affectionate bensal(431) of thy heart to thy duty, is accepted. And if ye find yourselves thereafter surcharged with guilt and unanswerable walking, yet ye know the way is to begin at this again, to believe in the Son. This is the round you must walk, as long as ye are in the body. When you are defiled, run into the fountain, and when you are washed, study to keep your garments clean, but if defiled again, get your hearts washed from wickedness. "These things," says John, "I write to you that ye sin not," who believe but if any sin, who desire not to transgress, you have a propitiation for the sins of the whole world.
Now love is a very comprehensive command. It is the fulfilling of the whole law, Rom xiii.10, Matth. xxii.37, 38. It is indeed the true principle and pure fountain of our obedience unto God and men. All fruits of the Spirit are moral virtues that grow out of the believer. Whether pleasant unto God, or refreshing unto men, they are all virtually in this root of love, all the streams are compacted in this fountain. Therefore he names one for all, viz. brotherly love, which is the bond of perfection, Col. iii.14. It is a bundle of many divine graces, a company or society of many Christian virtues combined together. They are named bowels of mercies, long suffering, kindness, humbleness of mind, meekness, forbearance, and forgiveness, all which are tied to the believer's girdle by charity, so that where love is, every good comes. After it a troop of so many sweet endowments and ornaments also come, and where this is wanting, (as truly it is the epidemical disease of the time), there are many sins abounding, for when iniquity abounds "the love of many shall wax cold," Matt. xxiv.12. Oh! that is our temper or rather our distempered nature, -- love cold, and passion hot! When charity goes away, these wild and savage beasts of darkness come forth, viz. bitter envying and strife, rigid censuring and judging, unmercifulness and implacableness of spirit upon others' failings and offences. Self love, that keeps the throne, and all the rest are her attendants. For where self love and pride is, there is contention, strife, envy, and every evil work, and all manner of confusion. Thus they lead one another as in a chain of darkness, Prov. xiii.10, James iii.16. Think not that love is a complimental word, and an idle motion of loving, it is a more real thing, a more vital thing. It hath bowels of mercy, they move themselves when others are moved, and they bring their neighbours misery into the inmost seat of the heart, and make the spirit a solemn companion in misery. And it is also exercised in forbearing and forgiving. Charity is not easily provoked, therefore it can forbear, is easily appeased, therefore it can forgive, it is not soon displeased, or hard to be pleased, "forbearing and forgiving one another in love." Study then this grace more. See it to be the fulfilling of the law, for "the end of the commandment is charity, out of a pure heart, a good conscience, and faith unfeigned." The end of the law is not strife and debate, nor such intricate and perplexed matters as minister endless questions and no edification. Though men pretend conscience and scripture, yet the great end of both is violated, that is charity, which mainly studies edification in truth and love. And therefore it is a violent perversion of the commandment, or word, to overstretch every point of conscience, or difference, so far as to the renting of Christian peace and unity. What hath kindled all these names of bloody war, what hath increased all these fiery contentions among us, but the want of this? As James says of the tongue, so I may speak of uncharitableness and self love, they set on fire the course of nature, and they are set on fire of hell. The true zeal and love of God, is like that elementary fire of which they speak, that in its own place hath a temperate heat, and doth not burn or consume what is about it. But our zeal is like the fire that is mixed with some gross matter, a preying, devouring, and consuming thing, zeal down in the lower region of man's heart, it is mixed with many gross corruptions, which are as oil and fuel to it, and gives it an extreme intemperate destroying nature.
But then consider, that this commandment of love is our Lord and Saviour's last testamentary injunction to his disciples, John xiii.34, 35. "A new commandment I give unto you, that ye love one another, as I have loved you, that ye also love one another. By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another." It is Christ's latter will, and given us as a token and badge of discipleship. Every profession hath its own signs and rules, every order their own symbol, every rank their own character. Here is the differential or peculiar character and livery of a Christian, brotherly love, -- "By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another," &c. I remember a story of a dying father who called his sons to him on his death bed, and having sent for a bundle of arrows, he tried them one by one if they could break them, and when they had all tried this in vain, he caused loose the bundle, and take the arrows one by one, and so they were easily broken, by which he gave them to understand, that their stability and strength would consist in unity and concord, but, if love and charity were broken, they were exposed to great hazard.(432) I think our Lord and Saviour gives such a precept unto his disciples at his departure out of this world, -- "A new command I give unto you," &c. (John xiii.34) -- to show them that the perfection of the body, into which they were all called as members, consisted in that bond of charity. And indeed love is not only a bond or bundle of perfection in respect of graces, but in regard of the church too. It is that bond or tie which knits all the members into one perfect body, Col. iii.14, 15, 16. Without this bond, all must needs be rents, rags, and distractions.
Now I shall add but one word of the other, that these commands are pleasing in God's sight. And truly believing in the Son must be grateful to him, not only from the general nature of obedience to his will, but also because this doth most honour both to the Father and to the Son. The Father counts himself much honoured, when we honour the Son, and there is no honour the creature can be in a capacity to give unto him like this, to cast all our hope, and hang all our happiness upon him, (John v.23, 24), to set to our seal that he is true and faithful, (John iii.33), which is done by believing. But most of all, this is pleasing in his sight because the Father's good pleasure concentres in the same point with the soul's good pleasure, that is, on the well beloved Son, Christ. Therefore faith must needs be well pleasing to the Father, for what is faith else but the soul's complacency and satisfaction in the Son. As the Father is already well pleased with his death and sufferings, so he propones and holds him out in the gospel, that you may be as well pleased with him as he is. This is believing indeed, to be pleased with him as the Father is pleased, and this pleases the Father too. Oh that you could understand this! The gospel is not brought unto you, that you may reconcile God, and procure a change in his affection, but for this end, to beseech you to be reconciled unto God, to take away all hostile affections out of your heart. And this is the business we have to do, to persuade you that the Father holds him abundantly contented with his Son. "This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased." And to move you to be as well contented with him as he is, he says, "Hear him. I hear him for you, hear ye him for me. I hear him interceding for you, hear ye him beseeching you." Now this may take down all ground of jealousy concerning our welcome and acceptance, it cannot but be an acceptable and pleasing thing to God, that the affection and desire of the soul fall in and embosom itself with his good pleasure upon Christ his Son.
And then, in the next place, it is well pleasing to God that ye love one another, not only because he shall see his own image and likeness in your love, (for there is nothing in which a Christian more eminently resembles his Father, or more evidently appears to be a child of the Highest, than in free loving all, especially the household of faith, and forbearing and forgiving one another, and so he cannot choose but like it well), but especially, because your love concentres too, and meets upon the same objects with his love, these whom the Father so loved, that he gave his only begotten Son for them, and the Son so loved them, that he gave himself for them. If these be thy delight, and thou forbear them as the Father and the Son hath done, that conspiracy of affections into one point cannot but be pleasing unto him. Now, if these please him so well, whom should they not please?