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A Practical View of the Prevailing - Chapter 3

A Practical View of the Prevailing - Chapter 3

Chapter III

Chief Defects of the Religious system of the Bulk of Professed Christians, in what Regards our lord jesus christ, and the Holy Spirit—With a Dissertation, concerning the use of the Passions in Religion

sect. i

Inadequate Conceptions concerning our Savior and the Holy Spirit

Leading Doctrines concerning Christ and the Holy Spirit, as stated in Scripture

THAT “God so loved the world, as of his tender mercy to give his only Son Jesus Christ for our redemption:”

That our blessed Lord willingly left the glory of the Father, and was made man:

That “he was despised and rejected of men, a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief:”

That “he was wounded for our transgressions; that he was wounded for our iniquities:”

That “the Lord laid on him the iniquity of us all:”

That at length “he humbled himself even to the death of the Cross, for us miserable sinners; to the end that all who with hearty repentance and true faith should come to him, might not perish, but have everlasting life:”

That he “is now at the right hand of God, making intercession” for his people:

That “being reconciled to God by the death of his Son, we may come boldly unto the throne of grace, to obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need:”

That our heavenly Father “will surely give his Holy Spirit to them that ask him:”

That “the Spirit of God must dwell in us;” and that “if any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of his:”

That by this divine influence “we are to be renewed in knowledge after the image of him who created us,” and “to be filled with the fruits of righteousness, to the praise of the glory of his grace;”—that “being thus made meet for the inheritance of the saints in light,” we shall sleep in the Lord; and that when the last trumpet shall sound, this corruption shall put on incorruption—and that being at length perfected after his likeness, we shall be admitted into his heavenly kingdom.

These are the leading doctrines concerning our Savior, and the Holy Spirit, which are taught in the Holy Scriptures, and held by the Church of England. The truth of them, agreeably to our general plan, will be taken for granted. Few of those, who have been used to join in the established form of worship, can have been, it is hoped, so inattentive, as to be ignorant of these grand truths, which are to be found everywhere dispersed throughout our excellent Liturgy. Would to God it could be presumed, with equal confidence, that all who assent to them in terms, discern in the understanding their force and excellency, and feel their power in the affections, and their transforming influence in the heart. What lively emotions are they calculated to excite in us, of deep self-abasement, and abhorrence of our sins; together with humble hope, and firm faith, and heavenly joy, and ardent love, and active unceasing gratitude!

Popular Notions

But here, it is to be feared, will be found a grand defect in the religion of the bulk of professed Christians; a defect like the palsy at the heart, which, while in its first attack, it changes but little the exterior appearance of the body, extinguishes the internal principle of heat and motion, and soon extends its benumbing influence to the remotest fibers of the frame. This defect is closely connected with that which was the chief subject of the last chapter: “they that be whole need not a physician, but they that are sick.” Had we duly felt the burthen of our sins, accompanied with a deep conviction that the weight of them must finally sink us into perdition, our hearts would have danced at the sound of the gracious invitation, “Come unto me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.”* But in those who have scarcely felt their sins as any encumbrance, it would be mere affectation to pretend to very exalted conceptions of the value and acceptableness of the proffered deliverance. This pretense accordingly, is seldom now kept up; and the most superficial observer, comparing the sentiments and views of the bulk of the Christian world, with the articles still retained in their creed, and with the strong language of Scripture, must be struck with the amazing disproportion.

To pass over the throng from whose minds Religion is altogether excluded by the business or the vanities of life, how is it with the more decent and moral? To what criterion shall we appeal? Are their hearts really filled with these things, and warmed by the love which they are adapted to inspire? Then surely their minds are apt to stray to them almost unseasonably; or at least to hasten back to them with eagerness, when escaped from the estrangement imposed by the necessary cares and business of life. He was a masterly describer of human nature, who thus portrayed the characters of an undissembled affection;

“Unstaid and fickle in all other things,

Save in the constant image of the object,

That is beloved.”       Shakspeare

“And how,” it may be perhaps replied, “do you know, but that the minds of these people are thus occupied? Can you look into the bosoms of men?” Let us appeal to a test to which we resorted in a former instance. “Out of the abundance of the heart,” it has been pronounced, “the mouth speaketh.” Take these persons then in some well selected hour, and lead the conversation to the subject of Religion. The utmost which can be effected is, to bring them to talk of things in the gross. They appear lost in generalities; there is nothing precise and determinate, nothing which implies a mind used to the contemplation of its object. In vain you strive to bring them to speak on that topic, which one might expect to be ever uppermost in the hearts of redeemed sinners. They elude all your endeavors; and if you make mention of it yourself, it is received with no very cordial welcome at least, if not with unequivocal disgust; it is at the best a forced and formal discussion. The excellence of our Savior’s moral precepts, the kindness and simplicity, the self-denial and unblemished purity of his life, his patience and meekness in the hour of death, cannot indeed be spoken of but with admiration, when spoken of at all, as they have often extorted unwilling praise from the most willing and malignant infidels. But are not these mentioned as qualities in the abstract, rather than as the perfections and lineaments of our patron and benefactor and friend, “who loved us, and gave himself for us;” of Him “who died for our offences, and rose again for our justification;” “who is even now at the right hand of God, making intercession for us?” Who would think that the kindness and humanity, and self-denial, and patience in suffering, which we so drily commend, had been exerted towards ourselves, in acts of more than finite benevolence, of which we were to derive the benefit; in condescensions and labors submitted to for our sakes; in pain and ignominy endured for our deliverance?

But these grand truths are not suffered to vanish altogether from our remembrance. Thanks to the compilers of our Liturgy, more than to too many of the occupiers of our pulpits, they are forced upon our notice in their just bearings and connections, as often as we attend the Service of the church. Yet is it too much to affirm, that, though there entertained with decorum, as what belong to the day and place, and occupation, they are yet too generally heard of with little interest; like the legendary tales of some venerable historian, or like other transactions of great antiquity, if not of doubtful credit; which, though important to our ancestors, relate to times and circumstances so different from our own, that we cannot be expected to take any great concern in them? We hear them therefore with apparent indifference; we repeat them almost as it were by rote, assuming by turns the language of the deepest humiliation and of the warmest thankfulness, with a calm unaltered composure; and when the service of the day is ended, they are dismissed altogether from our thoughts, till on the return of another Sunday, a fresh attendance on public worship gives occasion for the renewed expressions of our periodical humility and gratitude. In noticing such lukewarmness as this, surely the writer were to be pardoned, if he were to be betrayed into some warmth of condemnation. The Unitarian and Socinian indeed, who deny, or explain away the peculiar doctrines of the Gospel, may be allowed to feel these grand truths, and to talk of them with little emotion. But in those who profess a sincere belief in them, this coldness is insupportable. The greatest possible services of man to man must appear contemptible, when compared with “the unspeakable mercies of Christ:” mercies so dearly bought, so freely bestowed—a deliverance from eternal misery—the gift of a “crown of glory that fadeth not away.” Yet, what judgment should we form of such conduct, as is here censured, in the case of any one, who had received some signal services from a fellow creature? True love is an ardent and an active principle; a cold, a dormant, a phlegmatic gratitude, are contradictions in terms. When these generous affections really exist in us in vigor, are we not ever fond of dwelling on the value, and enumerating the merits, of our benefactor? How are we moved when any thing is asserted to his disparagement! How do we delight to tell of his kindness! With what pious care do we preserve any memorial of him, which we may happen to possess! How gladly do we seize any opportunity of rendering to him, or to those who are dear to him, any little good offices, which though in themselves of small intrinsic worth, may testify the sincerity of our thankfulness! The very mention of his name will cheer the heart, and light up the countenance!—And if he be now no more, and if he had made it his dying request, that, in a way of his own appointment, we would occasionally meet to keep the memory of his person, and of his services, in lively exercise; how should we resent the idea of failing in the performance of so sacred an obligation!

Such are the genuine characters, such the natural workings, of a lively gratitude. And can we believe, without doing violence to the most established principles of human nature, that where the effects are so different, the internal principle is in truth the same?

If the love of Christ be thus languid in the bulk of nominal Christians, their joy and trust in him cannot be expected to be very vigorous. Here again we find reason to remark, that there is nothing distinct, nothing specific, nothing which implies a mind acquainted with the nature of the Christian’s privileges, and familiarized with their use; habitually Solacing itself with the hopes held out by the Gospel, and animated by the sense of its high endowments, and its glorious reversion.

Holy Spirit’s Operations

The doctrine of the sanctifying operations of the Holy Spirit, appears to have met with still worse treatment. It would be to convey a very inadequate idea of the scantiness of the conceptions on this head, of the bulk of the Christian world, to affirm merely, that they are too little conscious of the inefficacy of their own unassisted endeavors after holiness of heart and life, and that they are not daily employed in humbly and diligently using the appointed means for the reception and cultivation of the divine assistance. We should hardly go beyond the truth in asserting, that for the most part their notions on this subject are so confused and faint, that they can scarcely be said in any fair sense to believe the doctrine at all.

Language of one who abjects against the religious affections towards our Savior

The writer of these sheets is by no means unapprised of the objections which he may expect from those whose opinions he has been so freely condemning. He is prepared to hear it urged, “that often, where there have been the strongest pretenses to the religious affections, there has been little or nothing of the reality of them; and that, even omitting the instances, which however have been but too frequent, of studied hypocrisy, those affections which have assumed to themselves the name of religious, have been merely the flights of a lively imagination, or the working of a heated brain; in particular, that this love of our Savior, which has been so warmly recommended, is no better than a vain fervor, which dwells only in the disordered mind of the enthusiast: that Religion is of a more steady nature; of a more sober and manly quality; and that she rejects with scorn, the support of a mere feeling, so volatile and indeterminate, so trivial and useless, as that with which we would associate her; a feeling varying in different men, and even in the same man at different times, according to the accidental flow of the animal spirits; a feeling, of which it may perhaps be said, we are from our very nature, hardly susceptible towards an invisible Being.”

And against the Operations of the Holy Spirit

“As to the Operations of the Holy Spirit,” it may probably be further urged, “it is perhaps scarcely worthwhile to spend much time in inquiring into the theory, when, in practice at least, it is manifest, that there is no sure criterion whereby any one can ascertain the reality of them, even in his own case, much less in that of another. All we know is, that pretenders to these extraordinary assistances, have never been wanting to abuse the credulity of the vulgar, and to try the patience of the wise. From the canting hypocrites and wild fanatics of the last century, to their less dangerous, chiefly because less successful, descendants of the present day, we hear the same unwarranted claims, the same idle tales, the same low cant; and we may discern not seldom the same mean artifices and mercenary ends. The doctrine, to say the best of it, can only serve to favor the indolence of man; while professing to furnish him with a compendious method of becoming wise and good, it supersedes the necessity of his own personal labors. Quitting therefore all such slothful and chimerical speculations, it is true wisdom to attach ourselves to what is more solid and practical; to the work, which you will not deny to be sufficiently difficult to find us of itself full employment, the work of rectifying the disorders of the passions, and of implanting and cultivating the virtues of the moral character.”—“It is the service of the understanding which God requires of us, which you would degrade into a mere matter of bodily temperament, and imaginary impulses. You are contending for that, which, not only is altogether unworthy of our Divine Master, but which, with considerate men, has ever brought his religion into suspicion and disrepute, and, under a show of honoring him, serves only to injure and discredit his cause.” Our Objector, warming as he proceeds, will perhaps assume a more impatient tone. “Have not these doctrines,” he may exclaim, “been ever perverted to purposes the most disgraceful to the Religion of Jesus? If you want an instance, look to the standard of the Inquisition, and behold the pious Dominicans torturing their miserable victims for the love of Christ.* Or would you rather see the effects of your principles on a larger scale, and by wholesale, if the phrase may be pardoned; cast your eyes across the Atlantic, and let your zeal be edified by the holy activity of Cortez and Pizarro, and their apostles of the western hemisphere. To what else have been owing the extensive ravages of national persecutions, and religious wars and crusades; whereby rapacity, and pride, and cruelty sheltering themselves under the mask of this specious principle, have so often afflicted the world? The Prince of Peace has been made to assume the port of a ferocious conqueror, and, forgetting the message of good-will to men, has issued forth, like a second Scourge of the Earth, to plague and desolate the human species.”

Reply to the above Allegations

That the sacred name of Religion has been too often prostituted to the most detestable purposes; that furious bigots and bloody persecutors, and self-interested hypocrites of all qualities and dimensions, from the rapacious leader of an army to the canting oracle of a congregation, have falsely called themselves Christians, are melancholy and humiliating truths, which (as none so deeply lament them) none will more readily admit than they, who best understand the nature of Christianity, and are most concerned for her honor. We are ready to acknowledge also without dispute, that the religious affections, and the doctrine of divine assistance, have at all times been more or less disgraced by the false pretenses and extravagant conduct of wild fanatics and brain-sick enthusiasts. All this, however, is only as it happens in other instances, wherein the depravity of man perverts the bounty of God. Why is it here only to be made an argument that there is danger of abuse? So is there also in the case of every operative principle, whether in the natural or moral world. Take for an instance the powers and properties of matter. These were doubtless designed by Providence for our comfort and well-being; yet they are often misapplied to trifling purposes, and still more frequently turned into so many agents of misery and death. On this fact indeed is founded the well-known maxim, not more trite than just, that “the best things when corrupted become the worst;” a maxim which is peculiarly just in the instance of Religion. For in this case it is not merely, as in some others, that a great power, when mischievously applied, must be hurtful in proportion to its strength; but that the very principle, on which in general we depend for restraining and retarding the progress of evil, not only ceases to interpose any kindly check, but is powerfully active in the opposite direction. But will you therefore discard Religion altogether? It is upon this very ground, that the Infidels of a neighboring country have lately made war against Christianity; with what effects the world has not now to learn. But suppose Religion were discarded, then Liberty remains to plague the world; a power, which though, when well employed, the dispenser of light and happiness, has been often proved, eminently proved, in the instance of a neighboring country, to be capable, when abused, of becoming infinitely mischievous. Well, then, extinguish Liberty. Then what more abused by false pretenders, than Patriotism? Well, extinguish Patriotism. But then the wicked career to which we have adverted, must have been checked but for Courage. Blot out Courage—and so might you proceed to extinguish one by one, Reason, and Speech, and Memory, and all the discriminating prerogatives of man. But perhaps more than enough has been already urged in reply to an objection, which is built on ground so indefensible, as that which would equally warrant our condemning any physical or moral faculty altogether, on account of its being occasionally abused.

As to the position of our Opponent, that there is no way whereby the validity of any pretensions to the religious affections may be ascertained; it must partly be admitted. Doubtless we are not able always to read the hearts of men, and to discover their real characters; and hence it is, that we in some measure lie open to the false and hypocritical pretenses which are brought forward against us so triumphantly. But then these pretenses no more prove all similar claims to be founded in falsehood and hypocrisy, than there having been many false and interested pretenders to wisdom and honesty, would prove that there can be no such thing as a wise or an honest man. We do not argue thus but where our reason is under a corrupt bias. Why should we be so much surprised and scandalized, when these impostors are detected in the church of Christ? It is no more than our blessed Master himself taught us to expect; and when the old difficulty is stated, “Didst thou not sow good seed in thy field, whence then hath it tares?” his own answer furnishes the best solution—“an enemy hath done this.”—Hypocrisy is indeed detestable, and enthusiasm sufficiently mischievous to justify our guarding against its approaches with jealous care. Yet it may not be improper to take this occasion for observing that we are now and then apt to draw too unfavorable conclusions from unpleasant appearances, which may perhaps be chiefly or altogether owing to gross or confused conceptions, or to a disgusting formality of demeanor, or to indeterminate, low, or improperly familiar expressions. The mode and language, in which a vulgar man will express himself on the subject of Religion, will probably be vulgar, and it is difficult for people of literature and refinement not to be unreasonably shocked by such vulgarities. But we should at least endeavor to correct the rash judgments which we may be disposed to form on these occasions, and should learn to recognize and to prize a sound texture and just configuration, though disguised beneath a homely or uncouth drapery. It was an Apostle who declared that he had come to the learned and accomplished Grecians, “not with excellency of speech, or the wisdom of words.” From these he had studiously abstained, lest he should have seemed to owe his success rather to the graces of oratory, than to the efficacy of his doctrines, and to the divine power with which they were accompanied. Even in our own times, when the extraordinary operations and miraculous gifts of the Holy Spirit having ceased, the necessity of study and preparation, and of attention to manner as well as matter, in order to qualify men to become teachers of religion, are no longer superseded, it is no more than an act of justice explicitly to remark, that a body of Christians, which from the peculiarly offensive grossnesses of language in use among them, had, not without reason, excited suspicions of the very worst nature, have since reclaimed their character, (b) and have perhaps excelled all mankind in solid and unequivocal proofs of the love of Christ, and of the most ardent, and active, and patient zeal in his service. It is a zeal tempered with prudence, softened with meekness, soberly aiming at great ends by the gradual operation of well-adapted means, supported by a courage which no danger can intimidate, and a quiet constancy which no hardships can exhaust.

sect. ii

On the Admission of the Passions into Religion

THE objection of our Opponent, that by insisting on the obligation of making our blessed Savior the object of our affections, we are degrading our religious services, and are substituting a set of mere feelings in place of the worship of the understanding, is an objection which deserves our most serious consideration. If it be just, it is decisive; for ours must be unquestionably “a reasonable service.”* The Objector must mean, either, that these affections are unreasonable in themselves, or that they are misplaced in Religion. He can scarcely, however, intend that the affections are in their own nature unreasonable. To suppose him to maintain this position, were to suppose him ignorant of what every school-boy knows of the mechanism of the human mind. We shall therefore take it for granted, that this cannot be his meaning, and proceed to examine the latter part of the alternative. Here also it may either be intended, that the affections are misplaced in Religion generally, or that our blessed Savior is not the proper object of them.

This notion of the affections being out of place in Religion, is indeed an opinion which appears to be generally prevalent. The affections are regarded as the strong holds of enthusiasm. It is therefore judged most expedient to act, as prudent generals are used to do, when they raze the fortress, or spike the cannon, which are likely to fall into the hands of an enemy. Mankind are apt to be the dupes of misapplied terms; and the progress of the persuasion now in question, has been considerably aided by an abuse of language not sufficiently checked in its first advances, whereby that species of Religion which is opposite to the warm and affectionate kind, has been suffered almost without disturbance, to usurp to itself the epithet of rational. But let not this claim be too hastily admitted. Let the position in question be thoroughly and impartially discussed, and it will appear, if I mistake not, to be a gross and pernicious error. If amputation be indeed indispensable, we must submit to it; but we may surely expect to be heard with patience, or rather with favor and indulgence, while we proceed to show, that there is no need to have recourse to so desperate a remedy. The discussion will necessarily draw us into length. But our prolixity will not be greater than may well be claimed by the importance of the subject, especially as it scarcely seems to have hitherto sufficiently engaged the attention of writers on the subject of Religion.

It cannot methinks but afford a considerable presumption against the doctrine which we are about to combat, that it proposes to exclude at once from the service of Religion so grand a part of the composition of man; that in this our noblest employment it condemns as worse than useless, all the most active principles of our nature. One cannot but suppose, that like the organs of the body, so the elementary qualities and original passions of the mind were all given us for valuable purposes by our all-wise Creator. It is indeed one of the sad evidences of our fallen condition, that they are now perpetually rebelling against the powers of reason and conscience, to which they should be subject. But even if Revelation had been silent, natural reason might have in some degree presumed, that it would be the effect of a Religion which should come from God, completely to repair the consequences of our superinduced depravity. The schemes of mere human wisdom had indeed tacitly confessed, that this was a task beyond their strength. Of the two most celebrated systems of philosophy, the one expressly confirmed the usurpation of the passions; while the other, despairing of being able to regulate them, saw nothing left but their extinction. The former acted like a weak government, which gives independence to a rebellious province, which it cannot reduce. The latter formed its boasted scheme merely upon the plan of that barbarous policy, which composes the troubles of a turbulent land by the extermination of its inhabitants. This is the calm, not of order, but of inaction; it is not tranquility, but the stillness of death;

Trucidare falso nomine imperium, & ubi solitudinem faciunt, pacem appellant.—Tacit.

Christianity, we might hope, would not be driven to any such wretched expedients: nor in fact does she condescend to them. They only thus undervalue her strength, who mistake her character, and are ignorant of her powers. It is her peculiar glory, and her special office, to bring all the faculties of our nature into their just subordination and dependence; that so the whole man, complete in all his functions, may be restored to the true ends of his being, and be devoted, entire and harmonious, to the service and glory of God. “My son, give me thine heart”—“Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart:”—Such are the direct and comprehensive claims which are made on us in the holy Scriptures. We can scarcely indeed look into any part of the sacred volume without meeting abundant proofs that it is the religion of the Affections which God particularly requires. Love, Zeal, Gratitude, Joy, Hope, Trust, are each of them specified; and are not allowed to us as weaknesses, but enjoined on us as our bounden duty, and commended to us as our acceptable worship. Where passages are so numerous, there would be no end of particular citations. Let it be sufficient, therefore, to refer the reader to the word of God. There let him observe, too, that as the lively exercise of the passions towards their legitimate object is always spoken of with praise, so a cold, hard, unfeeling heart is represented as highly criminal. Lukewarmness is stated to be the object of God’s disgust and aversion; zeal and love, of his favor and delight; and the taking away of the heart of stone and the implanting of a warmer and more tender nature in its stead, are specifically promised as the effects of his returning favor, and the work of his renewing grace. It is the prayer of an inspired teacher, in behalf of those for whom he was most interested, “that their love,” already acknowledged to be great, “might abound yet more and more:”* Those modes of worship are prescribed, which are best calculated to excite the dormant affections, and to maintain them in lively exercise; and the aids of music and singing are expressly superadded to increase their effect. If we look to the most eminent of the Scripture Characters, we shall find them warm, zealous, and affectionate. When engaged in their favorite work of celebrating the goodness of their Supreme Benefactor, their souls appear to burn within them, their hearts kindle into rapture; the powers of language are inadequate to the expression of their transports; and they call on all nature to swell the chorus, and to unite with them in hallelujahs of gratitude, and joy, and praise. The man after God’s own heart most of all abounds in these glowing effusions; and his compositions appear to have been given us in order to set the tone, as it were, to all succeeding generations. Accordingly, to quote the words of a late excellent prelate, who was himself warmed with the same heavenly flame, “in the language of this divine book, the praises of the church have been offered up to the Throne of Grace from age to age.” When God was pleased to check the future Apostle of the Gentiles in his wild career, and to make him a monument of transforming grace; was the force of his affections diminished, or was it not that their direction only was changed? He brought his affections entire and unabated into the service of his blessed Master. His zeal now burned even with an increase of brightness; and no intenseness, no continuance, of sufferings could allay its ardor, or damp the fervors of his triumphant exultations. Finally—The worship and service of the glorified spirits in Heaven, is not represented to us as a cold intellectual investigation, but as the worship and service of gratitude and love. And surely it will not be disputed, that it should be even here the humble endeavor of those who are promised while on earth “to be made meet to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in light,” to bring their hearts into a capacity for joining in those everlasting praises.

True Test and Measure of the religious Affections

But it may not be unadvisable for the writer here to guard against a mistaken supposition from which the mind of our Objector by no means appears exempt; that the force of the religious affections is to be chiefly estimated by the degree of mere animal fervor, by ardors and transports, and raptures, of which, from constitutional temperament, a person may be easily susceptible; or into which daily experience must convince us, that people of strong imaginations and of warm passions may work themselves without much difficulty, where their hearts are by no means truly or deeply interested. Every tolerable actor can attest the truth of this remark. These high degrees of the passions bad men may experience, good men may want. They may be affected; they may be genuine; but whether genuine or affected, they form not the true standard by which the real nature or strength of the religious affections is to be determined. To ascertain these points, we must examine whether they appear to be grounded in knowledge, to have their root in strong and just conceptions of the great and manifold excellencies of their object, or to be ignorant, unmeaning, or vague; whether they are natural and easy, or constrained and forced; wakeful, and apt to fix on their great objects, and delighting in the exercises of prayer, and praise, and religious contemplation, which may be called their proper nutriment; or voluntarily omitting suitable occasions of receiving it, looking forward to such opportunities with little expectation, looking back on them with little complacency, and being disappointed of them with little regret; we must observe whether these religious affections are merely occasional visitants, or the abiding inmates of the soul: whether they have got the mastery over the vicious passions and propensities, with which, in their origin, and nature, and tendency, they are at open variance; or whether, if the victory be not yet complete, the war is at least constant, and the breach irreconcilable: whether they moderate and regulate all the inferior appetites and desires which are culpable only in their excess, thus striving to reign in the bosom with a settled undisputed predominance: And we must examine whether, above all, they manifest themselves by prompting to the active discharge of the duties of life, the personal, the domestic, the professional, the social, and civil duties. Here the wideness of their range and the universality of their influence, will generally serve to distinguish them from those partial efforts of diligence and self-denial, to which mankind are prompted by subordinate motives. All proofs other than this deduced from conduct, are in some degree ambiguous. This, this only, whether we argue from Reason or from Scripture, is a sure, infallible criterion. From the daily incidents of conjugal and domestic life, we learn, that a heat of affection occasionally vehement, but superficial and transitory, may consist too well with a course of conduct, exhibiting incontestable proofs of neglect and unkindness. But the passion, which alone the holy Scriptures dignify with the name of Love, is a deep, not a superficial feeling; a fixed and permanent, not an occasional emotion. It proves the validity of its title, by actions corresponding with its nature, by practical endeavors to gratify the wishes, and to promote the interests, of the object of affection. “If a man love me, he will keep my sayings.” “This is the love of God, that we keep his commandments.” This therefore is the best standard by which to try the quality, or, the quality being ascertained, to estimate the strength of the religious affections. Without suffering ourselves to derive too much complacency from transient fervors of devotion, we should carefully and frequently prove ourselves by this less doubtful test; impartially examining our daily conduct; and often comparing our actual, with our possible services; the fair amount of our exertions, with our natural or acquired means and opportunities of usefulness.

After this large explanation, the prolixity of which will, we trust, be pardoned on account of the importance of the subject, and the danger of mistakes both on the right hand and on the left, we are perfectly ready to concede to the objector, that the religious affections must be expected to be more or less lively in different men, and in the same man at different times, in proportion to natural tempers, ages, situations, and habits of life. But, to found an objection on this ground, would be as unreasonable, as it would be altogether to deny the obligation of the precepts, which command us to relieve the necessities of the indigent, because the infinitely varying circumstances of mankind must render it impossible to specify beforehand the sum which each individual ought on the whole to allot to this purpose, or to fix, in every particular instance, on any determinate measure and mode of contribution. To the one case no less than to the other, we may apply the maxim of an eminent writer, “An honest heart is the best casuist.” He who everywhere but in Religion is warm and animated, there only phlegmatic and cold, can hardly expect, especially if this coldness be not the subject of unfeigned humiliation and sorrow, that his plea on the ground of natural temper should be admitted; any more than that of a person who should urge his poverty as a justification of his not relieving the wants of the necessitous, at the very time of his lanching out into expense without restraint, on occasions in which he was really prompted by his inclinations. In both cases, “it is the willing mind which is required.” Where that is found, every “man will be judged according to what he hath, and not according to what he hath not.”*

The Affections not merely allowable in Religion, but highly necessary

After the decisive proofs already adduced from the word of God, of the unreasonableness of the objection to admitting the passions into religion, all further arguments may appear superfluous to any one who is disposed to bow to scriptural authority. Yet the point is of so much importance, and, it is to be feared, so little regarded, that it may not be amiss to continue the discussion. The best conclusions of reason will be shown to fall in with what clearly appears to be the authoritative language of revelation; and to call in the aid of the affections to the service of religion, will prove to be, not only what sober Reason may permit as in some sort allowable, but what she clearly and strongly dictates to our deliberate judgments as indispensably requisite for us, in the circumstances wherein we are placed. We have every one of us a work to accomplish, wherein our eternal interests are at stake; a work to which we are naturally indisposed. We live in a world abounding with objects which distract our attention and divert our endeavors; and a deadly enemy is ever at hand to seduce and beguile us. If we persevere indeed, success is certain; but our efforts must know no remission. There is a call on us for vigorous and continual resolution, self-denial, and activity. Now, man is not a being of mere intellect.

Video meliora proboque, deteriora sequor,

is a complaint which, alas! we all of us might daily utter. The slightest solicitation of appetite is often able to draw us to act in opposition to our clearest judgment, our highest interests, and most resolute determinations. Sickness, poverty, disgrace, and even eternal misery itself, sometimes in vain solicit our notice; they are all excluded from our view, and thrust as it were beyond the sphere of vision, by some poor unsubstantial transient object, so minute and contemptible as almost to escape the notice of the eye of reason.

These observations are more strikingly confirmed in our religious concerns than in any other; because in them the interests at stake are of transcendent importance: but they hold equally in every instance, according to its measure, wherein there is a call for laborious, painful, and continued exertions, from which we are likely to be deterred by obstacles, or seduced by the solicitations of pleasure. What, then, is to be done in the case of any such arduous and necessary undertaking? The answer is obvious—You should endeavor not only to convince the understanding, but also to affect the heart; and for this end, you must secure the reinforcement of the passions. This is indeed the course which would be naturally followed by every man of common understanding, who should know that some one, for whom he was deeply interested, a child, for instance, or a brother, were about to enter on a long, difficult, perilous, and critical adventure, wherein success was to be honor and affluence; defeat was to be contempt and ruin. And still more, if the parent were convinced that his child possessed faculties which, strenuously and unremittingly exerted, would prove equal to all the exigencies of the enterprise; but knew him also to be volatile and inconstant; and had reason to doubt his resolution and his vigilance; how would the friendly monitor’s endeavor be redoubled, so to possess his pupil’s mind with the worth and dignity of the undertaking, that there should be no opening for the entrance of any inferior consideration!—“Weigh well (he would say) the value of the object for which you are about to contend, and contemplate and study its various excellencies, till your whole soul be on fire for its acquisition. Consider too, that if you fail, misery and infamy are united in the alternative which awaits you. Let not the mistaken notion of its being a safe and easy service, for a moment beguile you into the discontinuance or remission of your efforts. Be aware of your imminent danger, and at the same time know your true security. It is a service of labor and peril; but one wherein the powers which you possess, strenuously and perseveringly exerted, cannot but crown you with victory. Accustom yourself to look first to the dreadful consequences of failure; then fix your eye on the glorious prize which is before you; and when your strength begins to fail, and your spirits are well nigh exhausted, let the animating view rekindle your resolution, and call forth in renewed vigor the fainting energies of your soul.”

It was the remark of an unerring observer, “The children of this world are wiser in their generation than the children of light.” And it is indisputably true, that in religion we have to argue and plead with men for principles of action, the wisdom and expediency of which are universally acknowledged in matters of worldly concern. So it is in the instance before us. The case which has been just described is an exact, but a faint representation of our condition in this life. Frail and “infirm of purpose,” we have a business to execute of supreme and indispensable necessity. Solicitations to neglect it everywhere abound: the difficulties and dangers are numerous and urgent; and the night of death cometh, how soon we know not, “when no man can work.” All this is granted. It seems to be a state of things wherein one should look out with solicitude for some powerful stimulants. Mere knowledge is confessedly too weak. The affections alone remain to supply the deficiency. They precisely meet the occasion, and suit the purposes intended. Yet when we propose to fit ourselves for our great undertaking, by calling them in to our help, we are to be told that we are acting contrary to reason. Is this reasonable, to strip us first of our armor of proof, and then to send us to the sharpest of encounters? To summon us to the severest labors, but first to rob us of the precious cordials which should brace our sinews and recruit our strength?

Let these pretended advocates for reason at length then confess their folly, and do justice to the superior wisdom as well as goodness of our heavenly Instructor, who, better understanding our true condition, and knowing our frowardness and inadvertency, has most reasonably as well as kindly pointed out and enjoined on us the use of those aids which may counteract our infirmities; who, commanding the effect, has commanded also the means whereby it may be accomplished.

Christ the just object of our warm affections

And now, if the use of the affections in religion, in general, be at length shown to be conformable to reason, it will not require many words to prove that our blessed Savior is the proper object of them. We know that love, gratitude, joy, hope, trust, have all their appropriate objects. Now it must be at once conceded, that if these appropriate objects be not exhibited, it is perfectly unreasonable to expect that the correspondent passions should be excited. If we ask for love, in the case of an object which has no excellence or desirableness; for gratitude, where no obligation has been conferred; for joy, where there is no just cause of self-congratulation; for hope, where nothing is expected; for trust, where there exists no ground of reliance; then, indeed, we must kiss the rod, and patiently submit to correction. This would be indeed Egyptian bondage, to demand the effects without the means of producing them. Is the case then so? Are we ready to adopt the language of the avowed enemies of our adorable Savior; and again to say of him “in whom dwelleth all the fullness of the Godhead bodily,” that “he hath no form nor comeliness; and when we shall see him, there is no beauty that we should desire him?”* Is it no obligation, that he who “thought it not robbery to be equal with God,” should yet for our sakes “make himself of no reputation, and take upon him the form of a servant, and be made in the likeness of men; and humble himself, and become obedient unto death, even the death of the cross?” Is it no cause of “joy, that to us is born a Savior,” by whom we may “be delivered from the power of darkness; and be made meet to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in light?”§ Can there be a “hope comparable to that of our calling”||—“which is Christ in us, the hope of glory.” Can there be a trust to be preferred to the reliance on “Christ Jesus; who is the same yesterday, to-day, and forever?”** Surely, if our Opponent be not dead to every generous emotion, he cannot look his own objection in the face, without a blush of shame and indignation.

The Affections denied to be possible towards an invisible Being

But forced at last to retreat from his favorite position, and compelled to acknowledge that the religious affections towards our blessed Savior are not unreasonable; the Objector still maintains the combat, suggesting that by the very constitution of our nature, we are not susceptible of them towards an invisible Being; with regard to whom, it is added, we are shut out from all those means of communication and intercourse, which knit and cement the union between man and man.

The above Position discussed, and answered

We mean not to deny that there is something in this objection. It might even seem to plead the authority of Scripture in its favor—“Mine eye affecteth mine heart;”* and still more—“He that loveth not his brother whom he hath seen, how can he love “God whom he hath not seen?” It was indeed no new remark in Horace’s days,

Segnius irritant animos demissa per aures,

Quam quæ sunt oculis subjecta fidelibus.

We receive impressions more readily from visible objects, we feel them more strongly, we retain them more durably. But though it must be granted that this circumstance makes it a more difficult task to preserve the affections in question in a healthful and vigorous state; is it thereby rendered impossible? This were indeed a most precipitate conclusion; and anyone who should be disposed to admit the truth of it, might be at least induced to hesitate, when he should reflect that the argument applies equally against the possibility of the love of God, a duty of which the most cursory reader of Scripture, if he admit its divine authority, cannot but acknowledge the indispensable obligation. But we need only look back to the Scripture proofs which have been already adduced, to be convinced that the religious affections are therein inculcated on us as a matter of high and serious obligation. Hence we may be assured that the impossibility stated by our Opponent does not exist.

Let us scrutinize this matter, however, a little more minutely, and we shall be compelled to acknowledge, that the objection vanishes when we fairly and accurately investigate the circumstances of the case. With this view, let us look a little into the nature of the affections of the human mind, and endeavor to ascertain whence it is that they derive their nutriment, and are found from experience to increase in strength.

The state of man is such, that his feelings are not the obedient servants of his reason, prompt at once to follow its dictates, as to their direction and their measure. Excellence is the just object of love: good in expectancy, of hope; evil to be apprehended, of fear; the misfortunes and sufferings of our fellow-creatures, constitute the just objects of pity. Each of these passions, it might be thought, would be excited, in proportion to what our reason should inform us were the magnitude and consequent claims of its corresponding object. But this is by no means the case. Take first for a proof the instance of pity. We read of slaughtered thousands with less emotion than we hear the particulars of a shocking accident which has happened in the next street; the distresses of a novel, which at the same time we know to be fictitious, affect us more than the dry narrative of a battle. We become so much interested by these incidents of the imagination, that we cannot speedily banish them from our thoughts, nor recover the tone of our minds; and often, we scarcely bring ourselves to lay down our book at the call of real misfortune, of which perhaps we go to the relief, on a principal of duty, but with little sense of interest, or emotion of tenderness. It were easy to show that it is much the same in the case of the other affections. Whatever be the cause of this disproportion, which, as metaphysics fall not within our province, we shall not stop to examine, the fact is undeniable. There appears naturally to be a certain strangeness between the passion and its object, which familiarity and the power of habit must gradually overcome. You must contrive to bring them into close contact; they must be jointed and glued together by the particularities of little incidents. Thus in the production of heat in the physical world, the flint and the steel produce not the effect without collision; the rudest Barbarian will tell us the necessity of attrition, and the chemist of mixture. Now, an object, it is admitted, is brought into closer contact with its corresponding passion by being seen and conversed with. This we grant is one way; but does it follow that there is no other? To assert this, would be something like maintaining, in contradiction to universal experience, that objects of vision alone are capable of attracting our regard. But nothing can be more unfounded than such a supposition. It might seem too near an approach to the ludicrous to suggest as an example to the contrary, the metaphysician’s attachment to his unsubstantial speculations, or the zeal displayed in the pursuit,

Extra flammantia mœnia mundi

of abstract sciences, where there is no idea of bringing them “within the visible diurnal sphere;” to the vulgarity of practical application. The instance of novel reading proves that we may be extremely affected by what we know to be merely ideal incidents and beings. By much thinking or talking of anyone; by using our minds to dwell on his excellencies; by placing him in imaginary situations which interest and affect us; we find ourselves becoming insensibly more and more attached to him: whereas it is the surest expedient for extinguishing an attachment which already exists, to engage in such occupations or society, as may cause our casual thoughts and more fixed meditations to be diverted from the object of it. Ask a mother who has been long separated from her child, especially if he has been in circumstances of honor, or of danger, to draw her attention to him, and to keep it in wakefulness and exercise, and she will tell you, that so far from becoming less dear, he appears to have grown more the object of her affections. She seems to herself to love him even better than the child who has been living under her roof, and has been daily in her view. How does she rejoice in his good fortune, and weep over his distresses! With what impatience does she anticipate the time of his return!

We find therefore that sight and personal intercourse do not seem necessary to the production or increase of attachment, where the means of close contact have been afforded; but on the other hand, if an object has been prevented from coming into close contact, sight and personal intercourse are not sufficient to give it the power of exciting the affections in proportion to its real magnitude. Suppose the case of a person whom we have often seen, and may have occasionally conversed with, and of whom we have been told in the general, that he possesses extraordinary merits. We assent to the assertion. But if we have no knowledge of particulars, no close acquaintance with him, nothing in short which brings his merits home to us, they interest us less than a far inferior degree of the very same qualities in one of our common associates. A parent has several children, all constantly under his eye, and equally dear to him. Yet if any one of them be taken ill, it is brought into so much closer contact than before, that it seems to absorb and engross the parent’s whole affection. Thus then, though it will not be denied that an object by being visible may thereby excite its corresponding affection with more facility; yet this is manifestly far from being the prime consideration. And so far are we from being the slaves of the sense of vision, that a familiar acquaintance with the intrinsic excellencies of an object, aided, it must be admitted, by the power of habit, will render us almost insensible to the impressions which its outward form conveys, and able entirely to lose the consciousness of an unsightly exterior.

We may be permitted to remark, that the foregoing going observations furnish an explanation, less discreditable than that which has been sometimes given, of an undoubted phenomenon in the human mind, that the greatest public misfortunes, however the understanding may lecture, are apt really to affect our feelings less than the most trivial disaster which happens to ourselves. An eminent writer (a) scarcely overstated the point when he observed, “that it would occasion a man of humanity more real disturbance to know that he was the next morning to lose his little finger, than to hear that the great empire of China had been suddenly swallowed up by an earthquake. The thoughts of the former would keep him awake all night; in the latter case, after making many melancholy reflections on the precariousness of human life, and the vanity of all the labors of man which could be thus annihilated in a moment; after a little speculation too perhaps on the causes of the disaster, and its effects in the political and commercial world; he would pursue his business or his a pleasure with the same ease and tranquility as if no such accident had happened; and snore at night with the most profound serenity over the ruin of a hundred millions of his fellow-creatures. Selfishness is not the cause of this, for the most unfeeling brute on earth would surely think nothing of the loss of a finger, if he could thereby prevent so dreadful a calamity.” This doctrine of contact which has been opened above, affords a satisfactory solution; and, from all that has been said, the circumstances, by which the affections of the mind towards any particular object are generated and strengthened, may be easily collected. The chief of these appear to be, whatever tends to give a distinct and lively impression of the object, by setting before us its minute parts, and by often drawing towards it the thoughts and affections, so as to invest it by degrees with a confirmed ascendency; whatever tends to excite and to keep in exercise, a lively interest in its behalf; in other words, full knowledge, distinct and frequent mental entertainment, and pathetic contemplations. Supposing these means to have been used in any given degree, it may be expected that they be will more or less efficacious, in proportion as the intrinsic qualities of the object afford greater or less scope for their operation, and more or fewer materials with which to work. Can it then be conceived, that they will be of no avail when steadily practiced in the case of our Redeemer! If the principles of love and gratitude and joy, and hope, and trust, are not utterly extinct within us, they cannot but be called forth by the various corresponding objects which that blessed contemplation would gradually bring forth to our view. Well might the language of the apostle be addressed to Christians, “Whom having not seen, ye love; in whom, though now ye see him not, yet believing, ye rejoice with joy unspeakable and full of glory.”*

Special grounds for the religious Affections towards our Savior

But in the present instance fresh considerations pour in, still more to invalidate the plea of its being impossible to love an invisible being. Our blessed Savior, if we may be permitted so to say, is not removed far from us; and the various relations in which we stand towards him, seem purposely made known to us, in order to furnish so many different bonds of connection with him, so many consequent occasions of continual intercourse. He exhibits not himself to us “dark with excessive brightness,” but is let down as it were to the possibilities of human converse. We may not think that he is incapable of entering into our little concerns, and of sympathizing with them; for we are graciously assured that he is not one “who cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities, having been in all points tempted like as we are.”* The figures under which he is represented, are such as convey ideas of the utmost tenderness. “He shall feed his flock like a shepherd; he shall gather the lambs in his arm, and carry them in his bosom, and shall gently lead those that are with young.”—“They shall not hunger nor thirst, neither shall the heat nor sun smite them; for he that hath mercy on them, shall lead them, even by the springs of water shall he guide them.” “I will not leave you orphans” (a) was one of his last consolatory declarations.§ The children of Christ are here separated indeed from the personal view of him; but not from his paternal affection and paternal care. Meanwhile let them quicken their regards by the animating anticipation of that blessed day, when he “who is gone to prepare a place for them, will come again to receive them unto himself.” Then shall they be admitted to his more immediate presence: “Now we see through a glass darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know, even as I am known.”||

Surely more than enough has been now said to prove that this particular case, from its very nature, furnishes the most abundant and powerful considerations and means for exciting the feelings; and it might be contended, without fear of refutation, that by the diligent and habitual use of those considerations and means, we might with confident expectation of success engage in the work of raising our affections towards our blessed Savior to a state of due force and activity. But, blessed be God, we have a still better reliance; for the grand circumstance of all yet remains behind, which the writer has been led to defer, from his wish to contend with his opponents on their own ground. This circumstance is, that here, no less than in other particulars, the Christian’s hope is founded, not on the speculations or the strength of man, but on the declaration of Him who cannot lie, on the power of Omnipotence.

Unreasonable conduct of our Objectors in the present instance

We learn from the Scriptures that it is one main part of the operations of the Holy Spirit, to implant those heavenly principles in the human mind, and to cherish their growth. We are encouraged to believe, that in answer to our prayers, this aid from above will give efficacy to our earnest endeavors, if used in humble dependence on divine grace. We may therefore with confidence take the means which have been suggested. But let us, in our turn be permitted to ask our opponents, have they humbly and perseveringly applied for this divine strength? or disclaiming that assistance, perhaps as tempting them to indolence, have they been so much the more strenuous and unwearied in the use of their own unaided endeavors; or rather have they not been equally negligent of both? Renouncing the one, they have wholly omitted the other. But this is far from being all. They even reverse all the methods which we have recommended as being calculated to increase regard; and exactly follow that course which would be pursued by any one who should wish to reduce an excessive affection. Yet thus leaving untried all the means, which, whether from Reason or Scripture, we maintain to be necessary to the production of the end, nay using such as are of a directly opposite nature, these men presume to talk to us of impossibilities! We may rather contend that they furnish a fresh proof of the soundness of our reasonings. We lay it down as a fundamental position, that speculative knowledge alone, mere superficial cursory considerations, will be of no avail, that nothing is to be done without the diligent continued use of the appointed method. They themselves afford an instance of the truth of our assertions: and while they supply no argument against the efficacy of the mode prescribed, they acknowledge at least that they are wholly ignorant of any other.

Appeal to fact in proof of our former positions

But let us now turn our eyes to Christians of a higher order, to those who have actually proved the truth of our reasonings; who have not only assumed the name, but who have possessed the substance, and felt the power, of Christianity; who, though often foiled by their remaining corruptions, and shamed and cast down under a sense of their many imperfections, have known in their better seasons, what it was to experience its firm hope, its dignified joy, its unshaken trust, its more than human consolations. In their hearts, love also towards their Redeemer has glowed; a love not superficial and unmeaning, but constant and rational, resulting from a strong impression of the worth of its object, and heightened by an abiding sense of great, unmerited and continually accumulating obligations; ever manifesting itself in acts of diligent obedience, or of patient suffering. Such was the religion of the holy Martyrs of the sixteenth century, the illustrious ornaments of the English church. They realized the theory which we have now been faintly tracing. Look to their writings, and you will find that their thoughts and affections had been much exercised in habitual views of the blessed Jesus. Thus they used the required means. What were the effects? Persecution and distress, degradation and contempt in vain assailed them—all these evils served but to bring their affections into closer contact with their object; and not only did their love feel no diminution or abatement, but it rose to all the exigencies of the occasion, and burned with an increase of ardor; even when brought forth at last to a cruel and ignominious death, they repined not at their fate; but rather rejoiced that they were counted worthy to suffer for the name of Christ. The writer might refer to still more recent times, to prove the reality of this divine principle. But lest his authorities should be disputed, let us go to the Apostles of our Lord; and while on a cursory perusal of their writings, we must acknowledge that they commend and even prescribe to us the love of Christ as one of the chief of the Christian graces; so on a more attentive inspection of those writings, we shall discover abundant proofs, that they were themselves bright examples of their own precept; that our blessed Savior was really the object of their warmest affection, and what he had done and suffered for them, the continual subject of their grateful remembrance.

sect. iii

Inadequate Conceptions concerning the Holy Spirit’s Operations

THE disposition so prevalent in the bulk of nominal Christians, to form a religious system for themselves, instead of taking it from the word of God, is strikingly observable in their scarcely admitting, except in the most vague and general sense, the doctrine of the influence of the Holy Spirit. If we look into the Scriptures for information on this particular, we learn a very different lesson. We are in them distinctly taught, that “of ourselves we can do nothing;” that “we are by nature children of wrath,” and under the power of the evil spirit, our understandings being naturally dark, and our hearts averse from spiritual things; and we are directed to pray for the influence of the Holy Spirit to enlighten our understandings, to dissipate our prejudices, to purify our corrupt minds, and to renew us after the image of our heavenly Father. It is this influence which is represented as originally awakening us from slumber, as enlightening us in darkness, as “quickening us when dead,”* as “delivering us from the power of the devil,” as drawing us to God, as “translating us into the kingdom of his dear Son,” as “creating us anew in Christ Jesus,” as “dwelling in us, and walking in us;”* so that “putting off the old man with his deeds,” we are to consider ourselves as “having put on the new man, which is renewed in knowledge after the image of Him that created him;” and as those who are to be “an habitation of God through the Spirit.” It is by this Divine assistance only that we can grow in Grace, and improve in all Holiness. So expressly, particularly, and repeatedly, does the word of God inculcate these lessons, that one would think there was scarcely room for any difference of opinion among those who admit its authority. Sometimes (a) the whole of a Christian’s repentance and faith, and consequent holiness, are ascribed generally to the Divine influence; sometimes these are spoken of separately, and ascribed to the same Almighty power. Sometimes different particular graces of the Christian character, those which respect our duties and tempers towards our fellow-creatures, no less than those which have reference to the Supreme Being, are particularly traced to this source. Sometimes they are all referred collectively to this common root, being comprehended under the compendious denomination of “the Fruits of the Spirit.” In exact correspondence with these representations, this aid from above is promised in other parts of Scripture for the production of those effects; and the withholding or withdrawing of it is occasionally threatened as a punishment for the sins of men, and as one of the most fatal consequences of the Divine displeasure.

The Liturgy of the Church of England strictly agrees with the representation, which has been here given of the instructions of the word of God.

sect. iv

Mistaken Conceptions entertained by nominal Christians of the Terms of Acceptance with God

IF it be true then, that, in contradiction to the plainest dictates of Scripture, and to the ritual of our established Church, the sanctifying operations of the Holy Spirit (the first fruits of our reconciliation to God, the purchase of our Redeemer’s death, and his best gift to his true disciples,) are too generally undervalued and slighted; if it be also true, that our thoughts of the blessed Savior are confused and faint, our affections towards him languid and lukewarm; little proportioned to what they, who at such a price have been rescued from ruin, and endowed with a title to eternal glory, might be justly expected to feel towards the author of that deliverance; little proportioned to what has been felt by others, ransomed from the same ruin, and partakers of the same inheritance: if this, let it be repeated, be indeed so, let us not shut our eyes against the perception of our real state; but rather endeavor to trace the evil to its source. We are loudly called on to examine well our foundations. If anything be there unsound and hollow, the superstructure could not be safe, though its exterior were less suspicious. Let the question then be asked, and let the answer be returned with all the consideration and solemnity which a question so important may justly demand, whether, in the grand concern of all, the means of a sinner’s acceptance with God, there be not reason to apprehend, that the nominal Christians whom we have been addressing, too generally entertain very superficial and confused, if not highly dangerous notions? Is there not cause to fear, that with little more than an indistinct and nominal reference to Him who “bore our sins in his own body on the tree,” they really rest their eternal hopes on a vague, general persuasion of the unqualified mercy of the Supreme Being; or that, still more erroneously, they rely in the main, on their own negative or positive merits? “They can look upon their lives with an impartial eye, and congratulate themselves on their inoffensiveness in society; on their having been exempt, at least, from any gross vice, or if sometimes accidentally betrayed into it, on its never having been indulged habitually; or, if not even so,” (for there are but few who can say this, if the term vice be explained according to the strict requisitions of the Scriptures) “yet on the balance being in their favor, or on the whole not much against them, when their good and bad actions are fairly weighed, and due allowance is made for human frailty.” These considerations are sufficient for the most part to compose their apprehensions; these are the cordials which they find most at hand in the moments of serious thought, or of occasional dejection; and sometimes perhaps in seasons of less than ordinary self-complacency, they call in also to their aid the general persuasion of the unbounded mercy and pity of God. Yet persons of this description by no means disclaim a Savior, or avowedly relinquish their title to a share in the benefits of his death. They close their petitions with the name of Christ; but if not chiefly from the effect of habit, or out of decent conformity to the established faith, yet surely with something of the same ambiguity of principle, which influenced the expiring philosopher, when he ordered the customary mark of homage to be paid to the god of medicine.

Others go farther than this; for there are many shades of difference between those who flatly renounce, and those who cordially embrace the doctrine of Redemption by Christ. This class has a sort of general, indeterminate, and ill understood dependence on our blessed Savior. But their hopes, so far as they can be distinctly made out, appear ultimately to rest on the persuasion that they are now, through Christ, become members of a new dispensation, wherein they will be tried by a more lenient rule than that to which they must have been otherwise subject. “God will not now be extreme to mark what is done amiss; but will dispense with the rigorous exactions of his law, too strict indeed for such frail creatures as we are, to hope that we can fulfil it. Christianity has moderated the requisitions of Divine Justice; and all that is now required of us, is thankfully to trust to the merits of Christ for the pardon of our sins, and the acceptance of our sincere though imperfect obedience. The frailties and infirmities to which our nature is liable, or to which our situation in life exposes us, will not be severely judged; and as it is practice that really determines the character, we may rest satisfied, that if, on the whole, our lives be tolerably good, we shall escape with little or no punishment, and through Jesus Christ our Lord, shall be finally partakers of heavenly felicity.”

Prevailing fundamental misconception of the scheme and essential principle of the Gospel

We cannot dive into the human heart, and therefore should always speak with caution and diffidence, when, from external appearances or declarations we are affirming the existence of any internal principles and feelings; especially as we are liable to be misled by the ambiguities of language, or by the inaccuracy with which others may express themselves. But it is sometimes not difficult to anyone who is accustomed, if the phrase may be allowed, to the anatomy of the human mind, to discern, that generally speaking, the persons who use the above language, rely not so much on the merits of Christ, and on the agency of Divine Grace, as on their own power of fulfilling the moderated requisitions of Divine Justice. He will hence therefore discover in them a disposition, rather to extenuate the malignity of their disease, than to magnify the excellence of the proffered remedy. He will find them apt to palliate in themselves what they cannot fully justify to enhance the merit of what they believe to be their good qualities and commendable actions, to set, as it were in an account, the good against the bad; and if the result be not very unfavorable, they conceive that they shall be entitled to claim the benefits of our Savior’s sufferings as a thing of course. They have little idea, so little, that it might almost be affirmed that they have no idea at all, of the importance or difficulty of the duty of what the Scripture calls “submitting ourselves to the righteousness of God;” or of our proneness rather to justify ourselves in his sight, than, in the language of imploring penitents, to acknowledge ourselves guilty and helpless sinners. They have never summoned themselves to this entire and unqualified renunciation of their own merits, and their own strength; and therefore they remain strangers to the natural loftiness of the human heart, which such a call would have awakened into action, and roused to resistance. All these their several errors naturally result from the mistaken conception entertained of the fundamental principles of christianity. They consider not that Christianity is a scheme for “justifying the ungodly,”* by Christ’s dying for them, “when yet sinners (a): a scheme for reconciling us to God—“when enemies:” and for making the fruits of holiness the effects, not the cause, of our being justified and reconciled: that in short, it opens freely the door of mercy, to the greatest and worst of penitent sinners; who obeying the blessed impulse of the grace of God, whereby they had been awakened from the sleep of death, and moved to seek for pardon, may enter in, and, through the regenerating influence of the Holy Spirit, be enabled to bring forth the fruits of Righteousness. But they rather conceive of Christianity as opening the door of mercy, that those, who on the ground of their own merits could not have hoped to justify themselves before God, may yet be admitted for Christ’s sake, on condition of their having previously satisfied the moderated requisitions of Divine Justice. In speaking to others also of the Gospel scheme, they are apt to talk too much of terms and performances on our part, on which we become entitled to an interest in the sufferings of Christ; instead of stating the benefits of Christ’s satisfaction as extended to us freely, “without money and without price.”

Some practical consequences of the fundamental error above pointed out

The practical consequences of these errors are such as might be expected. They tend to prevent that sense which we ought to entertain of our own natural misery and helplessness; and that deep feeling of gratitude for the merits and intercession of Christ, to which we are wholly indebted for our reconciliation to God, and for the will and the power, from first to last, to work out our own salvation. They consider it too much in the light of a contract between two parties, wherein each, independently of the other, has his own distinct condition to perform; man—to do his duty; God—to justify and accept for Christ’s sake: If they fail not in the discharge of their condition, assuredly the condition on God’s part will be faithfully fulfilled. Accordingly, we find in fact, that they who represent the Gospel scheme in the manner above described, give evidence of the subject with which their hearts are most filled, by their proneness to run into merely moral disquisitions, either not mentioning at all, or at least but cursorily touching on, the sufferings and love of their Redeemer; and are little apt to kindle at their Savior’s name, or, like the apostles, to be betrayed by their fervor into what may be almost an untimely descant on the riches of his unutterable mercy. In addressing others also whom they conceive to be living, in habits of sin, and under the wrath of God, they rather advise them to amend their ways as a preparation for their coming to Christ, than exhort them to throw themselves with deep prostration of soul at the foot of the cross, there to obtain pardon, and find grace to help in time of need.

The great importance of the subject in question will justify the writer in having been thus particular. It has arisen from a wish that on a matter of such magnitude, it should be impossible to mistake his meaning. But after all that has been said, let it also be remembered, that, except so far as the instruction of others is concerned, the point of importance is the internal disposition of the mind; and it is to be hoped, that a dependence for pardon and holiness may be placed where it ought to be, notwithstanding the vague manner in which men express themselves. Let us also hope, that He who searches the heart, sees the right dispositions in many who use the mistaken and dangerous language to which we have objected.

If the preceding statement of the error so generally prevalent concerning the nature of the Gospel offer be in any considerable degree just, it will then explain that languor in the affections towards our blessed Savior, together with that inadequate impression of the necessity and value of the assistance of the Divine Spirit, which so generally prevail. According to the soundest principles of reasoning, it may be also adduced as an additional proof of the correctness of our present statement, that it so exactly falls in with those phænomena, and so naturally accounts for them. For even admitting that the persons above mentioned, particularly the last class, do at the bottom rely on the atonement of Christ; yet, on their scheme, it must necessarily happen, that the object to which they are most accustomed to look, with which their thoughts are chiefly conversant, and from which they most habitually derive complacency, is rather their own qualified merit and services, though confessed to be inadequate, than the sufferings and atoning death of a crucified Savior. The affections towards our blessed Lord therefore (according to the theory of the passions formerly laid down) cannot be expected to flourish, because they receive not that which was shown to be necessary to their nutriment and growth. If we would love him as affectionately, and rejoice in him as triumphantly, as the first Christians did; we must learn like them to repose our entire trust in him, and to adopt the language of the apostle, “God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ”*—“Who of God is made unto us wisdom and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption.”

Condemnation of those who abuse the doctrine of free Grace

Doubtless there have been too many, who, to their eternal ruin, have abused the doctrine of Salvation by Grace; and have vainly trusted in Christ for pardon and acceptance, when by their vicious lives they have plainly proved the groundlessness of their pretensions. The tree is to be known by its fruits: and there is too much reason to fear that there is no principle of faith, when it does not decidedly evince itself by the fruits of holiness. Dreadful indeed will be the doom, above that of all others, of those loose professors of Christianity, to whom at the last day our blessed Savior will address those words, “I never knew you; depart from me, all ye that work iniquity.” But the danger of error on this side ought not to render us insensible to the opposite error: an error against which in these days it seems particularly necessary to guard. It is far from the intention of the writer of this Work to enter into the niceties of controversy. But surely without danger of being thought to violate this design, he may be permitted to contend, that they who in the main believe the doctrines of the Church of England, are bound to allow, that our dependence on our blessed Savior, as alone the meritorious cause of our acceptance with God, and as the means of all its blessed fruits and glorious consequences, must be not merely formal and nominal, but real and substantial; not vague, qualified, and partial, but direct, cordial, and entire.

Believing in Christ, what it really implies

“Repentance towards God, and faith towards our Lord Jesus Christ,” was the sum of the apostolical instructions. It is not an occasional invocation of the name of Christ, or a transient recognition of his authority, that fills up the measure of the terms, believing in Jesus. This we shall find no such easy task: and, if we trust that we do believe, we should all perhaps do well to cry out in the words of an imploring suppliant, (he supplicated not in vain) “Lord, help thou our unbelief.” We must be deeply conscious of our guilt and misery, heartily repenting of our sins, and firmly resolving to forsake them: and thus penitently “fleeing for refuge to the hope set before us,” we must found altogether on the merit of the crucified Redeemer our hopes of escape from their deserved punishment, and of deliverance from their enslaving power. This must be our first, our last, our only plea. We are to surrender ourselves up to him to “be washed in his blood,”* to be sanctified by his Spirit, resolving to receive him for our Lord and Master, to learn in his School, to obey all his commandments.

Answer to the Objection, that we insist on metaphysical niceties

It may perhaps be not unnecessary, after having treated so largely on this important topic, to add a few words in order to obviate a charge which may be urged against us, that we are insisting on nice and abstruse distinctions in what is a matter of general concern: and this too in a system which on its original promulgation was declared to be peculiarly intended for the simple and poor. It will be abundantly evident, however, on a little reflection, and experience fully proves the position, that what has been required is not the perception of a subtle distinction, but a state and condition of heart. To the former, the poor and the ignorant must be indeed confessed unequal; but they are far less indisposed than the great and the learned, to bow down to that “preaching of the cross, which is to them that perish foolishness, but unto them that are saved the power of God, and the wisdom of God.” The poor are not liable to be puffed up by the intoxicating fumes of ambition and worldly grandeur. They are less likely to be kept from entering into the straight and narrow way, and, when they have entered, to be drawn back again, or to be retarded in their progress, by the cares or pleasures of life. They may express themselves ill: but their views may be simple, and their hearts humble, penitent, and sincere. It is, as in other cases; the vulgar are the subjects of phænomena, the learned explain them: the former know nothing of the theory of vision or of sentiment; but this ignorance hinders them not from seeing and thinking; and though unable to discourse elaborately on the passions, they can feel warmly for their children, their friends, their country.

The atonement and grace of Christ farther pressed as the subject of our habitual regard

After this digression, if that be indeed a digression which, by removing a formidable objection, renders the truth of the positions we wish to establish more clear and less questionable, we may now resume the thread of our argument. Still entreating therefore the attention of those, who have not been used to think much of the necessity of this undivided, and, if it may be so termed, unadulterated reliance, for which we have been contending: we would still more particularly address ourselves to others who are disposed to believe that though, in some obscure and vague sense, the death of Christ as the satisfaction for our sins, and for the purchase of our future happiness, and the sanctifying influence of the Holy Spirit, are to be admitted as fundamental articles of our creed, yet that these are doctrines so much above us, that they are not objects suited to our capacities; and that turning our eyes therefore from these difficult speculations, we should fix them on the practical and moral precepts of the Gospel. “These it most concerns us to know; these therefore let us study. Such is the frailty of our nature, such the strength and number of our temptations to evil, that, in reducing the Gospel morality to practice, we shall find full employment: and by attending to these moral precepts, rather than to those high mysterious doctrines which you are pressing on us, we shall best prepare to appear before God on that tremendous day, when ‘He shall judge every man according to his works.’ ”

“Vain wisdom all, and false philosophy!”

It will at once destroy this flimsy web, to reply in the words of our blessed Savior, and of his beloved Disciple—“This is the work of God, that ye believe “in him whom he hath sent.”* “This is his commandment, that we should believe on the name of his Son Jesus Christ.” In truth, if we consider but for a moment the opinions of men who argue thus, we must be conscious of their absurdity. Let the modern Unitarians reduce the Gospel to a mere system of ethics, but surely it is in the highest degree unreasonable to admit into our scheme all the grand peculiarities of Christianity, and having admitted, to neglect and think no more of them! “Wherefore” (might the Socinian say) “Wherefore all this costly and complicated machinery? It is like the Tychonic astronomy, encumbered and self-convicted by its own complicated relations and useless perplexities. It is so little like the simplicity of nature, it is so unworthy of the divine hand, that it even offends against those rules of propriety which we require to be observed in the imperfect compositions of the human intellect.” (a)

Well may the Socinian assume this lofty tone, with those whom we are now addressing. If these be indeed the doctrines of Revelation, common sense suggests to us that from their nature and their magnitude, they deserve our most serious regard. It is the very theology of Epicurus to allow the existence of these “heavenly things,” but to deny their connection with human concerns, and their influence on human actions. Besides the unreasonableness of this conduct, we might strongly urge also in this connection the profaneness of thus treating as matters of subordinate consideration those parts of the system of Christianity, which are so strongly impressed on our reverence by the dignity of the person to whom they relate. This very argument is indeed repeatedly and pointedly pressed by the sacred writers.*

Nor is the profane irreverence of this conduct more striking than its ingratitude. When from reading that our Savior was “the brightness of his Father’s glory, and the express image of his person, upholding all things by the word of his power,” we go on to consider the purpose for which he came on earth, and all that he did and suffered for us; surely, if we have a spark of ingenuousness left within us, we shall condemn ourselves as guilty of the blackest ingratitude, in rarely noticing, or coldly turning away, on whatever shallow pretenses, from the contemplation of these miracles of mercy. For those baser minds, however, on which fear alone can operate, that motive is superadded; and we are plainly forewarned, both directly and indirectly, by the example of the Jewish nation, that God will not hold them guiltless who are thus unmindful of his most signal acts of condescension and kindness. But as this is a question of pure Revelation, reasonings from probability may not be deemed decisive. To Revelation therefore we must appeal; and without entering into a labored discussion of the subject, which might be to trespass on the reader’s patience, I would refer him to the sacred Writings themselves for complete satisfaction. We would earnestly recommend it to him to weigh with the utmost seriousness those passages of Scripture wherein the peculiar doctrines of Christianity are expressly mentioned; and farther, to attend, with due regard, to the illustration and confirmation, which the conclusions resulting from those passages incidentally receive from other parts of the word of God. They who maintain the opinion which we are combating, will thereby become convinced that theirs is indeed an unscriptural Religion; and will learn, instead of turning off their eyes from the grand peculiarities of Christianity, to keep these ever in view, as the pregnant principles whence all the rest must derive their origin, and receive their best support.*


Let us then each for himself solemnly ask ourselves, whether we, have fled for refuge to the appointed hope? And whether we are habitually looking to it, as to the only source of consolation? “Other foundation can no man lay:” there is no other ground for dependence, no other plea for pardon; but here there is hope, even to the uttermost. Let us labor then to affect our hearts with a deep conviction of our need of a Redeemer, and of the value of his offered mediation. Let us fall down humbly before the throne of God, imploring pity and pardon in the name of the Son of his love. Let us beseech him to give us a true spirit of repentance, and of hearty undivided faith in the Lord Jesus. Let us not be satisfied till the cordiality of our belief be confirmed to us by that character with which we are furnished by an inspired writer, “that to as many as believe, Christ is precious;” and let us strive to increase daily in love towards our blessed Savior; and pray earnestly, that “we may be filled with Joy and Peace in believing, that we may abound in Hope through the power of the Holy Ghost.” Let us diligently put in practice the directions already given for cherishing and cultivating the principle of the Love of Christ. With this view let us labor assiduously to increase in knowledge, that our affection to the Lord who bought us, may be deeply rooted and rational. By frequent meditation on the incidents of our Savior’s life, and still more on the astonishing circumstances of his death; by often calling to mind the state from which he proposes to rescue us, and the glories of his heavenly kingdom; by continual intercourse with him of prayer and praise, of dependence and confidence in dangers, of hope and joy in our brighter hours, let us endeavor to keep him constantly present to our minds, and to render all our conceptions of him more distinct, lively, and intelligent. The title of Christian is a reproach to us, if we estrange ourselves from him after whom we are denominated. The name of Jesus is not to be to us like the Allah of the Mahometans, a talisman or an amulet, to be worn on the arm, merely as an external badge and symbol of our profession, and to preserve us from evil by some mysterious and unintelligible potency; but it is to be engraven deeply on the heart, there written by the finger of God himself in everlasting characters. It is our sure and undoubted title to present peace and future glory. The assurance which this title conveys of a bright reversion, will lighten the burdens, and alleviate the sorrows of life; and in some happier moments, it will impart to us somewhat of that fullness of joy which is at God’s right hand, enabling us to join even here in the heavenly Hosannah: “Worthy is the Lamb that was slain, to receive power and riches, and wisdom, and strength, and honor, and glory, and blessing.”*—“Blessing, and honor, and glory, and power, be unto him that sitteth upon the throne, and unto the Lamb for ever and ever.”[1]



Title of Attila a king of the Huns, whose desolating ravages are well known.

b Vide the Testimony of West India merchants to the Moravians, in the Report of the Privy Council on the Slave Trade.

Dr. Horne.

Phil. 2:6, 7, 8.

Luke 2:10, 11.

John 4:20.

a Dr. Adam Smith, in his Theory of Moral Sentiments.

Isaiah 40:11.

Ib. 49:10.

a The word comfortless is rendered in the margin, Orphans.

Col. 1:13.

Ephes. 2:10.

Col. 3:9, 10.

Ephes. 2:22.

a Vide Dr. Doddridge’s eight Sermons on Regeneration, a most valuable compilation; and M’Laurin’s Essay on Divine Grace.

Ibid. 5:6–8.

a The Writer trusts he cannot be misunderstood to mean that any, continuing sinners and ungodly, can, by believing, be accepted, or finally saved. The following chapter, particularly the latter part of it, (Sect. 6.) would abundantly vindicate him from any such misconstruction. Meanwhile he will only remark, that true faith (in which repentance is considered as involved) is in Scripture regarded as the radical principle of holiness. If the root exists, the proper fruits will be brought forth. An attention to this consideration would have easily explained and reconciled those passages of St. Paul’s and St. James’s Epistles, which have furnished so much matter of argument and criticism. St. James, it may be observed, all along speaks not of a man, who has faith, but who says that he hath faith. He contrasts pretended, imperfect, dead faith, with real, complete, living faith. This surely must appear decisively clear to those who observe that the conclusion which he deduces from his whole reasoning in verses 23 & 26, respects faith—Abraham believed God, &c. Faith without works, &c. It is his great object to assert and establish the right kind of faith, and only to deny the utility or value of that which falsely usurps the name.—Vide James 2:14, &c. &c.

Vide Ch. 4. sect. 6.

1 Cor. 1:30.

1 John, 3:23.

a Nec Deus intersit, &c.

* Any one who wishes to investigate this subject, will do well to study attentively M‘Laurin’s Essay on Prejudices against the Gospel.—It may not be amiss here to direct the reader’s attention to a few leading arguments, many of them those of the work just recommended. Let him maturely estimate the force of those terms, whereby the Apostle in the following passages designates and characterizes the whole of the Christian system. “We preach Christ crucified.”—“We determined to know nothing among you, save Jesus Christ, and him crucified.” The value of this argument will be acknowledged by all who consider, that a system is never designated by an immaterial or an inferior part of it, but by that which constitutes its prime consideration and essential distinction. The conclusion suggested by this remark is confirmed by the Lord’s Supper being the rite by which our Savior himself commanded his Disciples to keep him in remembrance; and indeed a similar lesson is taught by the Sacrament of Baptism, which shadows out our souls being washed and purified by the blood of Christ. Observe next the frequency with which our Savior’s death and sufferings are introduced, and how often they are urged as practical motives.

“The minds of the Apostles seem full of this subject. Every thing puts them in mind of it, they did not allow themselves to have it long out of their view, nor did any other branch of spiritual instruction make them lose sight of it.” Consider next that part of the Epistle to the Romans, wherein St. Paul speaks of some who went about to establish their own righteousness, and had not submitted themselves to the righteousness of God. May not this charge be in some degree urged, and even more strongly than in the case of the Jews, against those who satisfy themselves with vague, general, occasional thoughts of our Savior’s mediation; and the source of whose habitual complacency, as we explained above, is rather their being tolerably well satisfied with their own characters and conduct? Yet St. Paul declares concerning those of whom he speaks, as concerning persons whose sad situation could not be too much lamented, that he had great heaviness and continual sorrow in his heart, adding still more emphatical expressions of deep and bitter regret.

Let the Epistle to the Galatians be also carefully examined and considered; and let it be fairly asked, what was the particular in which the Judaizing Christians were defective, and the want of which is spoken of in such strong terms as these; that it frustrates the grace of God, and must debar from all the benefits of the death of Jesus? The Judaizing converts were not immoral. They seem to have admitted the chief tenets concerning our Savior. But they appear to have been disposed to trust not wholly, be it observed also, but only in part, for their acceptance with God, to the Mosaic institutions, instead of reposing entirely on the merits of Christ. Here let it be remembered, that when a compliance with these institutions was not regarded as conveying this inference, the Apostle showed by his own conduct, that he did not deem it criminal; whence, no less than from the words of the Epistle, it is clear that the offence of the Judaizing Christians whom he condemned, was what we have stated; that their crime did not consist in their obstinately continuing to adhere to a dispensation the ceremonial of which Christianity had abrogated, nor yet that it arose out of the sacrifices of the Levitical law, being from their very nature without efficacy for the blotting out of sin.—Vide Hebrews, 10:4, &c.—It was not that the foundation on which they built was of a sandy nature, but that they built on any other foundation than that which God had laid in the Gospel; it was not that they fixed their confidence on a false or a defective object, but that they did not direct it exclusively to the only true object of Hope held forth to us by the Gospel.

Ib. 13.

[1] Wilberforce, W. (1830). A Practical View of the Prevailing Religious System of Professed Christians. (pp. 40–89). London: T. Cadell.  (Public domain)

A Reason for Repentance and Prayer

A Reason for Repentance and Prayer

We live in a fallen world where terrible things happen.  We are plagued by wars, rumors of wars, sickness, injury, hunger, etc., that add to the tremendous toll of human suffering.  Life is at best fragile.  James was correct when he compared our lives to that of a vapor.  Now that I am old enough to say that I have “become my parents,” I am able to appreciate more fully how precious each day is as God creates it fresh and new.  Yet I am mindful that my presence here will be erased soon enough.

I had opportunity recently to listen to the recorded sermons preached by the pastor of a large church that I was privileged to attend in the formative years of this faith walk.  His observations and insights were crisp and concise, and they provoked my mind to much contemplation.  Yet now that he has been in the grave for thirty plus years, the church he faithfully shepherded has not given even an honorable mention of him in their history.  We are like a vapor; only the things of Christ will last forever.

How then are we to face the challenges that are set before us?  Simple obedience! Notice that I did not say, “It’s easy, simple obedience!”  Obedience is not complicated, but in my experience, it has never been easy.  My sinful nature rebels at the very thought of any kind of obedience.  One could wonder how I thrived in the military for 23 years!  Yet I am called to be yielded fully to the mind of Christ, that His will might be at work in me for His good pleasure (Philippians 2:5,13 paraphrase mine).  For every time my flesh asserts itself, the arrogant "I" must be made to bow low so that it might be bent into a "C" at the foot of Calvary’s Cross (Roy Hession, Calvary Road, paraphrase mine).  For there is only one Lord and it is to Him I now belong. In the simplicity of obedience, I will see true liberty unfold.  I need not climb into the heavens (that is, to bring Christ down), nor must I descend into the depths (that is, to raise Christ up) Romans 10:6-7.  He is immediately accessible because He has chosen to make His abode in my heart: that place of Sabbath rest where neither wind nor rain disturb; that place where Jesus says, “Peace, be still.”

Will the world continue to defile, corrupt, and rail against its rightful authority?  Most certainly! Will the winds of despair blow across our paths?  For sure!  Must we see our loved ones suffer in the midst of many hardships and trials?  Without a doubt! Yet Paul challenges me to be “anxious for nothing” and instead to pray thankfully about everything so that the “peace that surpasses all understanding” might “guard” my heart and mind in Christ Jesus (Philippians 4:6-7).

What choices will I make today?  Will I kick against the goads, not wanting to walk the path set before me?  Shall I cower at the “fellowship of His sufferings,” hoping only for the “power of His resurrection?”  (Philippians 3:10)  Or will I trust that I am truly yoked to the King of Kings and that my place is to walk beside Him in obedience, trusting that whatever the day may bring is by His sovereign hand, while letting my lips be engaged in prayer for all the saints everywhere.

Our prayers are the weapons of warfare aimed at an enemy unseen.  But they cannot seek the target unless they are launched!  We live in a nation founded upon the principles ordained in holy writ.  Yet today we see, even in the church, the Word discarded and abandoned while the children of a counterfeit God pray for wisdom and power.  And all the while the deceiver lulls us into thinking that we are serving a risen savior when we are really serving ourselves with great zeal—and instead doing real harm to the Body (Jonathan Edwards, The Religious Affections, paraphrase mine).

It should not surprise us then when we see the “best and brightest” of this generation chasing after the “impossible dream” of a national miracle cure packaged in secular policy, secular education, and cultural fancy.  Is there really the thought that economic gravity can be defied with impunity. Or is this a purposeful attempt to usher in slavery by another name?  Is this not the very thing that the Apostle John warns us against when he said:

“Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world.” (1 John 2:15–16, AV)

“Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him, because all that is in the world (the desire of the flesh and the desire of the eyes and the arrogance produced by material possessions) is not from the Father, but is from the world.” (1 John 2:15-16 NET.)

The Greek here shouts at us:

G212 αλαζονεία alazoneía; gen. alazoneías, fem. noun from the adj. alazṓn (G213), a boaster.  Ostentation, boasting about what one is not or does not possess. Someone going about with empty and boastful professions of cures and other feats.  An alazṓn shows off that which he thinks or pretends he possesses.  An ostentatious quack. A boast or boasting (James 4:16).  As joined with “bios” (G979), life, it means “the period of extension or duration of life” as contrasted to “zōḗ” (G2222) which means “the breath of life.”  Therefore, alazoneía toú bíou in 1John 2:16 means “showing off to fellow mortals; the pride, pomp, or manner of life; the ambitious or vainglorious pursuit of the honors, glories, and splendors of this life; the luxury of life for the purpose of showing off, whether in dress, house, furniture, servants, food.” (The Complete Word Study Dictionary, General Editor: Spiros Zodhiates, Th.D.)

Can we not hear John asking, “Where is your treasure invested?”  Do we not see our nation and ourselves “alazoneía toú bíou”?  We have thought ourselves wiser than the most wise God and have chosen to live a life according to “the desire of the flesh and the desire of the eyes and the arrogance produced by material possessions?”  Perhaps it could be postulated that we are now as a herd running full-tilt toward the edge of the cliff where our inertia will propel us outward and gravity will begin accelerating us toward our just reward at 32 feet per second squared!

Psalm 23

Psalm 23

A Psalm of David. The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want. He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters. He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake. Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me. Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the LORD for ever.” (Psalm 23, AV)

Psalm 23

An exquisite description of God’s care over his people under the figure of a shepherd and his flock, no doubt suggested by the writer’s recollections of his own pastoral experience, although probably composed at a much later period of his life. The idea of the whole psalm is contained in ver. 1, carried out and amplified in ver. 2–5, and again summed up, without continuing the metaphor, in ver. 6. The psalm is so constructed as at the same time to express the feelings of the Psalmist, and to serve as a vehicle for those of every individual believer and of the whole body of God’s people for whose use it was intended.

1. A Psalm of David. Jehovah (is) my shepherd, I shall not want. This is the general theme or idea of the whole psalm, that the believer’s relation to Jehovah carries with it necessarily the full supply of all his wants. Spiritual gifts are neither excluded nor exclusively intended. No nice distinction between these and temporal advantages is here made for us, and none need be made by us. The comparison of God’s care to that of a shepherd is first used by Jacob, (Gen. 48:15, 49:24), then by Moses (Deut. 32:6–12, compared with Ps. 78:52), both of whom, like David, had themselves lived a pastoral life. From these the figure is frequently borrowed by the later writers of the Old Testament. See Isa. 40:11, Ezek. 34:12, Micah 7:14, Ps. 80:2 (1), 95:7. This endearing relation of Jehovah to his people was exercised under the old dispensation by the agency of human or angelic messengers, but under the new by Christ, of whom these were only types and representatives (Zech. 13:7), and to whom the figure is expressly applied by himself (John 10:11), and his apostles (1 Peter 2:25, 5:4, Heb. 13:20). From him again, on the principle of delegated representation, is derived the pastoral character of Christian ministers (Eph. 4:11). The future form, I shall not want, includes the present, I do not want, with an additional assurance that the provision will be still continued. The form of expression is derived from Deut 2:7, 8:9, and recurs below, Ps. 34:11 (10).

2. In pastures of verdure he will make me lie down; by waters of rest (or repose) he will lead me. Here begins the amplification of the general proposition in the foregoing verse. The first specification is, that he shall not want healthful and delightful rest. This is expressed by figures borrowed from the exquisite enjoyment of a flock in verdant and well-watered pastures. The allusion, in the first clause, is not to the supply of food, which is mentioned afterwards in ver. 5, but to the refreshing rest and coolness of green meadows. The first noun properly means dwellings, but is applied specifically to the dwellings of flocks, i.e. their pasture-grounds. See below, Ps. 65:13 (12), and compare Amos 1:2, Jer. 9:9 (10), 25:37. The next word in Hebrew means the fresh tender grass, here referred to, not as food, but in allusion to its cooling effect upon the eye and the skin. This explanation is confirmed by the fact, that the act expressed by the verb is not that of eating but of lying down. The verb itself is one which specially denotes the lying down of animals (Gen. 29:2, Num. 22:27, Isa. 11:6), but is sometimes transferred to the human subject (Isa. 14:30, Job. 11:19), or to other objects (Gen. 49:25, Deut. 29:19). By waters, not simply to them, but along them, which is one of the senses of the Hebrew preposition, and affords a much more pleasing image. By waters of rest we are not to understand still or quiet waters, a sense which the Hebrew word has nowhere else, and which would here suggest the idea of stagnation, or at least that of silence, which is far less agreeable than that of an audible flow. The idea really conveyed is that of waters, by or at which rest may be enjoyed. The repose is not that of the waters themselves, but of the flocks reclining near them. The last verb sometimes means to nourish, or more generally to provide for (Gen. 47:17, 2 Chron. 32:22), and the Septuagint version so explains it here. The idea would then be that the shepherd takes care of his flock, or tends it, by the waters of repose. But a more specific act is described, and therefore a more vivid image presented, by retaining the common version, leadeth, which is fully sustained by the use of the same Hebrew verb in Exod. 15:13, 2 Chron. 28:15. The form, however, should be future, as in the preceding verse.

3. My soul he will restore; he will lead me in paths of right (or rectitude) for his name’s sake. To restore the soul, here as in Ps. 19:8 (7), is to vivify or quicken the exhausted spirit. Paths of right may either mean right paths, as opposed to those which are devious and dangerous, or paths of righteousness, not man’s but God’s, not ways of upright conduct on the Psalmist’s part, but ways of faithfulness on God’s part. The righteousness of God, so often appealed to by the ancient saints, includes his covenanted mercy, the exercise of which, according to his promise, was ensured by his essential rectitude. For his name’s sake, not merely for his own sake, nor for his own glory, but for the sake of what he has already done, the previous display of his perfections, which would be dishonored by a failure to fulfil his promises. See above, on Ps. 22:23 (22).

4. Also when I walk into (or through) the valley of death-shade, I will not fear evil, for thou (wilt be) with me; thy rod and thy staff, they will comfort me. He is sure, not only of repose, restoration, and guidance, but of protection. The also shews that something new is to be added; not only this which I have said, but more. The common version (yea, though I walk) is too indefinite and hypothetical. The situation is not spoken of as possible, but certain, though still future.—Death-shade is a strong poetical expression for the profoundest darkness. See below, Ps. 44:20 (19). The common version, shadow of death, conveys more than the original, and fails to reproduce its compound form. The effect is heightened by the mention of a valley, as a deep place, often overhung with woods, and naturally darker than a plain or mountain. There may be some allusion to the dread of darkness on the part of sheep and other timid animals.—The rod and the staff are mentioned, not as weapons of defense, but as badges of the shepherd and as tokens of his presence.

5. Thou wilt spread before me a table in the presence of my adversaries; thou hast anointed with oil my head; my cup (is) overflowing. To the negative benefits before enumerated, he now adds the positive advantage of abundant sustenance. Instead of retaining the image of a sheep and its pasture, the Psalmist substitutes that of a table furnished for a human guest. The connection, however, is so close and the metaphors so near akin, that the general impression remains undisturbed.—In the presence of my enemies implies in spite of them; they are forced to witness my enjoyment without being able to disturb it.—Anointed, literally fattened, in allusion to the richness and abundance of the unction. This was a familiar part of an ancient festal entertainment, and is therefore frequently employed in Scripture as a symbol of joy. See below, on Ps. 45:8 (7).—My cup, my beverage, which, with food, makes up the supply of necessary nutriment, but with the additional suggestion of exhilaration. See above, on Ps. 16:5.—Overflowing, literally overflow, or abundant drink. The change of tense is significant and expressive. What he had just before confidently foreseen, he now describes as actually realized.

6. Only goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of Jehovah to length of days. The specifications of the four preceding verses are followed by another summary expression of the general idea propounded in the first verse, but with a change of form. The Hebrew particle at the beginning has its usual and proper sense of only or exclusively. The favor which he shall experience is so great that he regards it as unmixed, or the exceptions as unworthy of consideration.—The word translated goodness may be understood to mean good fortune, good experienced, as a cognate form does in Ps. 16:2; but the other version agrees better with the parallel expression, mercy. The verb to follow or pursue seems to be chosen in allusion to the persecution of his enemies, and as a strong expression for an unbroken series or succession of divine benefactions. Dwelling in the house of Jehovah does not mean frequenting his sanctuary, but being a member of his household and an inmate of his family, enjoying his protection, holding communion with him, and subsisting on his bounty. See above, on Ps. 15:1.[1]



[1] Alexander, J. A. (1864). The Psalms Translated and Explained (pp. 107–109). Edinburgh: Andrew Elliot; James Thin. (Public Domain)

A Practical View of the Prevailing - Chapter 2

A Practical View of the Prevailing - Chapter 2

Corruption of Human Nature

sect. i

Inadequate Conceptions of the Corruption of Human Nature

Popular Notions

AFTER considering the defective notions of the importance of Christianity in general, which prevail among the higher orders of professed Christians, the particular misconceptions which first come under our notice respect the corruption and weakness of human nature. This is a topic on which it is possible that many into whose hands the present Work shall fall, may not have bestowed much attention. If the case be so, it may be requisite to entreat them to lend a patient and a serious ear. The subject is of the deepest import. Nor are we afraid of going too far when we assert, that it lies at the very root of all true Religion, and is eminently the basis and groundwork of Christianity.

So far as the writer has had an opportunity of remarking, the generality of professed Christians among the higher classes, either altogether overlook or deny, or at least greatly extenuate, the corruption and weakness here in question. They acknowledge indeed that there is, and ever has been in the world, a great portion of vice and wickedness; that mankind have been ever prone to sensuality and selfishness, in disobedience to the more refined and liberal principles of their nature; that in all ages and countries, in public and in private life, innumerable instances have been afforded of oppression, of rapacity, of cruelty, of fraud, of envy, and of malice. They own that it is too often in vain that you inform the understanding, and convince the judgment. They admit that you do not thereby reform the hearts of men. Though they know their duty, they will not practice it; no, not even when you have forced them to acknowledge that the path of virtue is also that of real interest, and of solid enjoyment.

These facts are certain; they cannot be disputed; and they are at the same time so obvious, that one would have thought the celebrated apophthegm of the Grecian sage, “the majority are wicked,” would scarcely have established his claim to intellectual superiority.

But though these effects of human depravity are every where acknowledged and lamented, we must not expect to find them traced to their true origin.

Causa latet, vis est notissima

Prepare yourself to hear rather of frailty and infirmity, of petty transgressions, of occasional failings, of sudden surprisals, and of such other qualifying terms as may serve to keep out of view the true source of the evil, and without shocking the understanding, may administer consolation to the pride of human nature. The bulk of professed Christians are used to speak of man as of a being, who naturally pure, and inclined to all virtue, is sometimes, almost involuntarily, drawn out of the right course, or is overpowered by the violence of temptation. Vice with them is rather an accidental and temporary, than a constitutional and habitual distemper; a noxious plant, which, though found to live and even to thrive in the human mind, is not the natural growth and production of the soil.

True account proved from Reason and Scripture

Far different is the humiliating language of Christianity. From it we learn that man is an apostate creature, fallen from his high original, degraded in his nature, and depraved in his faculties: indisposed to good, and disposed to evil; prone to vice—it is natural and easy to him: disinclined to virtue—it is difficult and laborious; he is tainted with sin, not slightly and superficially, but radically and to the very core. That such is the Scripture account of man, however mortifying the acknowledgment of it may be to our pride, one would think, if this very corruption itself did not warp the judgment, none would be hardy enough to attempt to controvert. I know nothing which brings home so forcibly to my own feelings the truth of this Representation, as the consideration of what still remains to us of our primitive dignity, when contrasted with our present state of moral degradation,

“Into what depth thou seest,

From what height fallen.”

Examine first with attention the natural powers and faculties of man; invention, reason, judgment, memory; a mind “of large discourse,” “looking before and after,” reviewing the past, thence determining for the present, and anticipating the future; discerning, collecting, combining, comparing; capable, not merely of apprehending, but of admiring, the beauty of moral excellence: with fear and hope to warm and animate; with joy and sorrow to solace and soften; with love to attach, with sympathy to harmonize, with courage to attempt, with patience to endure, and with the power of conscience, that faithful monitor within the breast, to enforce the conclusions of reason, and direct and regulate the passions of the soul. Truly we must pronounce him “majestic though in ruin.” “Happy, happy world!” would be the exclamation of the inhabitant of some other planet, on being told of a globe like ours, peopled with such creatures as these, and abounding with situations and occasions to call forth the multiplied excellencies of their nature. “Happy, happy world, with what delight must your great Creator and Governor witness your conduct, and what a glorious recompense awaits you when your term of probation shall have expired.”

“I bone, quo virtus tua te vocat, i pede fausto,

Grandia laturus meritorum prœmia.”

But we have indulged too long in these delightful speculations; a sad reverse presents itself on our survey of the actual state of man; when, from viewing his natural powers, we follow him into practice, and see the uses to which he applies them. Take in the whole of the prospect, view him in every age, and climate, and nation, in every condition and period of society. Where now do you discover the characters of his exalted nature? “How is the gold become dim, and the fine gold changed?” How is his reason clouded, his affections perverted, his conscience stupefied! How do anger and envy, and hatred, and revenge, spring up in his wretched bosom! How is he a slave to the meanest of his appetites! What fatal propensities does he discover to evil! What inaptitude to good!

Dwell awhile on the state of the ancient world; not merely on that benighted part of it where all lay buried in brutish ignorance and barbarism, but on the seats of civilized and polished nations, on the empire of taste, and learning, and philosophy: yet in these chosen regions, with whatever luster the sun of science poured forth its rays, the moral darkness was so thick “that it might be felt.” Behold their sottish idolatries, their absurd superstitions, their want of natural affection, their brutal excesses, their unfeeling oppression, their savage cruelty! Look not to the illiterate and the vulgar, but to the learned and refined. Form not your ideas from the conduct of the less restrained and more licentious; you will turn away with disgust and shame from the allowed and familiar habits of the decent and the moral. St. Paul best states the facts, and furnishes the explanation; “because they did not like to retain God in their knowledge, he gave them over to a reprobate mind.”*

Now direct your view to another quarter, to the inhabitants of a new hemisphere, where the baneful practices and contagious example of the old world had never travelled. Surely, among these children of nature we may expect to find those virtuous tendencies, for which we have hitherto looked in vain! Alas! our search will still be fruitless! They are represented by the historian of America, whose account is more favorable than those of some other great authorities, as being a compound of pride, indolence, selfishness, cunning, and cruelty; full of a revenge which nothing could satiate, of a ferocity which nothing could soften; strangers to the most amiable sensibilities of nature. They appeared incapable of conjugal affection, or parental fondness, or filial reverence, or social attachments; uniting too with their state of barbarism, many of the vices and weaknesses of polished society. Their horrid treatment of captives taken in war, on whose bodies they feasted, after putting them to death by the most cruel tortures, is so well known, that we may spare the disgusting recital. No commendable qualities relieve this gloomy picture, except fortitude, and perseverance, and zeal for the welfare of their little community; if this last quality, exercised and directed as it was, can be thought deserving of commendation.

But you give up the heathen nations as indefensible, and wish rather to form your estimate of man from a view of countries which have been blessed with the light of Revelation. True it is, and with joy let us record the concession, Christianity has set the general tone of morals much higher than it was ever found in the Pagan world. She has every where improved the character of man, and multiplied the comforts of society, particularly to the poor and the weak, whom from the beginning she professed to take under her special patronage. Like her divine Author, “who sends his rain on the evil and on the good,” she showers down unnumbered blessings on thousands who profit from her bounty, while they forget or deny her power, and set at naught her authority. Yet even in this more favored situation we shall discover too many lamentable proofs of the depravity of man. Nay, this depravity will now become even more apparent and less excusable. For what bars does it not now overleap? Over what motives is it not now victorious? Consider well the superior light and advantages which we enjoy, and then appreciate the superior obligations which are imposed on us. Consider in how many cases our evil propensities are now kept from breaking forth, by the superior restraints under which vice is laid among us by positive laws, and by the amended standard of public opinion; and we may be assisted in conjecturing what force is to be assigned to these motives, by the dreadful proofs which have been lately exhibited in a neighboring country, that when their influence is withdrawn, the most atrocious crimes can be perpetrated shamelessly and in the face of day. Consider then the superior excellence of our moral code, the new principles of obedience furnished by the Gospel, and above all, the awful sanction which the doctrines and precepts of Christianity derive from the clear discovery of a future state of retribution, and from the annunciation of that tremendous day, “when we shall stand before the judgment-seat of Christ.” Yet, in spite of all our knowledge, thus enforced and pressed home by so solemn a notice, how little has been our progress in virtue! It has been by no means such as to prevent the adoption, in our days, of various maxims of antiquity, which, when well considered, too clearly establish the depravity of man. It may not be amiss to adduce a few instances in proof of this assertion. It is now no less acknowledged than heretofore, that prosperity hardens the heart: that unlimited power is ever abused, instead of being rendered the instrument of diffusing happiness: that habits of vice grow up of themselves, whilst those of virtue are of slow and difficult formation: that they who draw the finest pictures of Virtue, and seem most enamored of her charms, are often the least under her influence, and by the merest trifles are drawn aside from that line of conduct, which they most seriously recommend to others: that all this takes place, though most of the pleasures of vice are to be found with less alloy in the paths of virtue: whilst at the same time, these paths afford superior and more exquisite delights, peculiar to themselves, and are free from the diseases and bitter remorse, at the price of which vicious gratifications are so often purchased.

It may suffice to touch very slightly on some other arguments, which it would hardly be right to leave altogether unnoticed: one of these, the justice of which, however denied by superficial moralists, parents of strict principles can abundantly testify, may be drawn from the perverse and froward dispositions positions perceivable in children, the correction of which too often baffles the most strenuous efforts of the wise and good. Another may be drawn from the various deceits we are apt to practice on ourselves, to which no one can be a stranger, who has ever contemplated the operations of his own mind with serious attention. To the influence of this species of corruption it has been in a great degree owing, that Christianity itself has been too often disgraced. The gospel of peace has been turned into an engine of cruelty, and amidst the bitterness of persecution, every trace has disappeared of the mild and beneficent spirit of the religion of Jesus. In what degree must the taint have worked itself into the frame, and corrupted the habit, when the most wholesome nutriment can be thus converted into the deadliest poison? Wishing always to argue from such premises as are not only really sound, but from such as cannot even be questioned by those to whom this Work is addressed, little was said in representing the deplorable state of the heathen world, respecting their defective and unworthy conceptions in what regards the Supreme Being, who even then “left not himself without witness, but gave them rain and fruitful seasons, filling their hearts with food and gladness.” But surely to any who call themselves Christians, it may be justly urged as an astonishing instance of human depravity, that we ourselves, who enjoy the full light of Revelation; to whom God has vouchsafed such clear discoveries of what we are concerned to know of his being and attributes; who profess to believe “that in him we live, and move, and have our being;” that to him we owe all the comforts we here enjoy, and the offer of eternal Glory purchased for us by the atoning blood of his own Son; “thanks be to God for his unspeakable gift,” that we, thus loaded with mercies, should be continually chargeable with forgetting his authority, and being ungrateful for his benefits; with slighting his gracious proposals, or at best receiving them with cold and unaffected hearts.

But to put the question concerning the natural depravity of man to the severest test; take the best of the human species, the watchful, self-denying Christian, and let him decide the controversy: not by inferences drawn from the practices of a thoughtless and dissolute world, but by an appeal to his personal experience. Go with him into his closet, ask him his opinion of the corruption of the heart; and he will tell you, that he is deeply sensible of its power, for that he has learned it from much self-observation and long acquaintance with the workings of his own mind. He will tell you, that every day strengthens this conviction; yea, that hourly he sees fresh reason to deplore his want of simplicity in intention, his infirmity of purpose, his low views, his selfish unworthy desires, his backwardness to set about his duty, his languor and coldness in performing it: that he finds himself obliged continually to confess, that he feels within him two opposite principles, and that “he cannot do the things that he would.” He cries out in the language of the excellent Hooker: “The little fruit which we have in holiness, it is, God knoweth, corrupt and unsound: we put no confidence at all in it, we challenge nothing in the world for it, we dare not call God to reckoning, as if we had him in our debtbooks; our continual suit to him is, and must be, to bear with our infirmities, and pardon our offences.”

Such is the moral history, such the condition of man. The figures of the piece may vary, and the coloring may sometimes be of a darker, sometimes of a lighter hue; but the principles of the composition, the grand outlines, are every where the same. Wherever we direct our view, we discover the melancholy proofs of our depravity; whether we look to ancient or modern times, to barbarous or civilized nations, to the conduct of the world around us, or to the monitor within the breast; whether we read, or hear, or act, or think, or feel, the same humiliating lesson is forced upon us,

Jupiter est quodcunque vides, quocunque moveris.

Now when we look back to the picture which was formerly drawn of the natural powers of man, and compare this his actual state with that for which, from a consideration of those powers, he seems to have been originally designed, how are we to account for the astonishing contrast! will frailty or infirmity, or occasional lapses, or sudden surprisals, or any such qualifying terms, convey an adequate idea of the nature of the distemper, or point out its cause? How, on any principles of common reasoning, can we account for it, but by conceiving that man, since he came out of the hands of his Creator, has contracted a taint, and that the venom of this subtle poison has been communicated throughout the race of Adam, every where exhibiting incontestable marks of its fatal malignity? Hence it has arisen, that the appetites deriving new strength, and the powers of reason and conscience being weakened, the latter have feebly and impotently pleaded against those forbidden indulgences which the former have solicited. Sensual gratifications and illicit affections have debased our nobler powers, and indisposed our hearts to the discovery of God, and to the consideration of his perfections; to a constant willing submission to his authority, and obedience to his laws. By a repetition of vicious acts, evil habits have been formed within us, and have rivetted the fetters of sin. Left to the consequences of our own folly, the understanding has grown darker, and the heart more obdurate; reason has at length betrayed her trust, and even conscience herself has aided the delusion, till, instead of deploring our miserable condition, we have too often hugged our chains, and even gloried in our ignominious bondage.

Such is the general account of the progress of vice, where it is suffered to attain to its full growth in the human heart. The circumstances of individuals indeed will be found to differ; to continue a figure so exactly descriptive of the case, the servitude of some is more rigorous than that of others, their bonds more galling, their degradation more complete. Some too have for a while appeared almost to have escaped from their confinement; but none are altogether free; all without exception, in a greater or less degree, bear about them more visibly or more concealed, the disgraceful marks of their captivity.

Such, on a full and fair investigation, must be confessed to be the state of facts; and how can this be accounted for on any other supposition, than that of some original taint, some radical principle of corruption? All other solutions are unsatisfactory, whilst the potent cause which has been assigned, does abundantly, and can alone sufficiently, account for the effect. It appears then, that the corruption of human nature is proved by the same mode of reasoning, as that which hath been deemed conclusive in establishing the existence of the principle of gravitation and in ascertaining its laws; that the doctrine rests on that solid basis on which Newton hath raised the superstructure of his sublime philosophy; that it is not a mere speculation; an uncertain, though perhaps an ingenious theory, but the sure result of large and actual experiment; deduced from incontestable facts, and still more fully approving its truth by harmonizing with the several parts, and accounting for the various phænomena, jarring otherwise and inexplicable, of the great system of the universe.

Here, however, Revelation interposes, and sustains the fallible conjectures of our unassisted reason. The Holy Scriptures speak of us as fallen creatures; in almost every page we shall find something that is calculated to abate the loftiness, and silence the pretensions of man. “The imagination of man’s heart is evil from his youth.” “What is man, that he should be clean? and he which is born of a woman, that he should be righteous?”* “How much more abominable and filthy is man, which drinketh iniquity like water?” “The Lord looked down from heaven upon the children of men, to see if there were any that did understand, and seek God. They are all gone aside; they are altogether become filthy: there is none that doeth good, no not one.” “Who can say, I have made my heart clean, I am pure from my sin?”|| “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?” “Behold, I was shapen in wickedness, and in sin hath my mother conceived me.” “We were by nature the children of wrath, even as others, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind.” “O, wretched man that I am, who shall deliver me from the body of this death!”—Passages might be multiplied upon passages, which speak the same language; and these again might be illustrated and confirmed by various other considerations, drawn from the same sacred source; such as those which represent a thorough change, a renovation of our nature, as being necessary to our becoming true Christians; or which are suggested by observing that holy men refer their good dispositions and affections to the immediate agency of the Supreme Being.

sect. ii

Evil Spirit.—Natural State of Man

Evil Spirit

BUT the word of God instructs us that we have to contend not only with our own natural depravity, but with the power of darkness, the Evil Spirit, who rules in the hearts of the wicked, and whose dominion we learn from Scripture to be so general, as to entitle him to the denomination of “the Prince of this world.” There cannot be a stronger proof of the difference which exists between the religious system of the Scriptures, and that of the bulk of nominal Christians, than the proof which is afforded by the subject now in question. The existence and agency of the Evil Spirit, though so distinctly and repeatedly affirmed in Scripture, are almost universally exploded in a country which professes to admit the authority of the sacred volume. Some other Doctrines of Revelation, the force and meaning of which are commonly in a great degree explained away, are yet conceded in general terms. But this seems almost on the point of being universally abandoned, as a post no longer tenable. It is regarded as an evanescent prejudice which it would now be a discredit to any man of understanding to believe. Like ghosts and witches and other phantoms which haunted the night of superstition, it cannot in these more enlightened times stand the test of our severer scrutiny. To be suffered to pass away quietly, is as much as it can hope for; and it might rather expect to be laughed off the stage as a just object of contempt and derision.

But although the Scripture doctrine concerning the Evil Spirit is thus generally exploded, yet were we to consider the matter seriously and fairly, we should probably find ground for believing that there is no better reason for its being abandoned, than that many absurd stories, concerning spirits and apparitions, have been commonly propagated amongst weak and credulous people; and that the Evil Spirit not being the object of our bodily eyes, it would argue the same weakness to give credit to the doctrine of its existence and agency. But to be consistent with ourselves, we might almost as well, on the same principle, deny the reality of all other incorporeal beings. What is there, in truth, in the doctrine, which is in itself improbable, or which is not confirmed by analogy? We see, in fact, that there are wicked men, enemies to God, and malignant towards their fellow-creatures, who take pleasure, and often succeed, in seducing others to the commission of evil. Why then should it be deemed incredible, that there may be spiritual intelligences of similar propensities, who may in like manner be permitted to tempt men to the practice of sin? Surely we may retort upon our opponents the charge of absurdity, and justly accuse them of gross inconsistency, in admitting, without difficulty, the existence and operation of these qualities in a being like man, compounded of matter and spirit, and yet denying them in a purely spiritual being, in direct contradiction to the authority of Scripture, which they allow to be conclusive, when they cannot pretend for a moment that there is anything belonging to the nature of matter, to which these qualities naturally adhere.

But it is needless to dilate further on a topic which, however it may excite the ridicule of the inconsiderate, will suggest matter of serious apprehension to all who form their opinions on a sincere and impartial examination of the word of God. It fills up the measure of our natural misery and helplessness. Such then being our condition, thus depraved and weakened within, and tempted from without, it may well fill our hearts with anxiety to reflect, “that the day will come,” when “the Heavens being on fire shall be dissolved, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat;” “when the dead, small and great, shall stand before the tribunal of God,” and we shall have to give account of all things done in the body. We are naturally prompted to turn over the page of Revelation with solicitude, in order to discover the attributes and character of our Judge; but these only serve to turn painful apprehension into fixed and certain terror.

First with regard to the attributes of our Judge. As all nature bears witness to his irresistible power, so we read in Scripture that nothing can escape his observation, or elude his discovery; not only our actions, but our most secret cogitations are open to his view. “He is about our path, and about our bed, and spieth out all our ways.”* “The Lord searcheth all hearts, and understandeth all the imaginations of the thoughts.”—“And he will bring to light the hidden things of darkness, and will make manifest the counsels of the heart.”

Now hear his character, and the rule of his award: “The Lord our God is a consuming fire, even a jealous God.”—“He is of purer eyes than to behold iniquity.”—“The soul that sinneth, it shall die.”—“The wages of sin is death.”—“Without holiness no man shall see the Lord.” These positive declarations are enforced by the accounts which, for our warning, we read in sacred history, of the terrible vengeance of the Almighty: His punishment of “the angels who kept not their first estate, and whom he hath reserved in everlasting chains under darkness unto the judgment of the great day:” The fate of Sodom and Gomorrah; the sentence issued against the idolatrous nations of Canaan, and of which the execution was assigned to the Israelites, by the express command of God, at their own peril in case of disobedience: The ruin of Babylon, of Tyre, of Nineveh, and of Jerusalem, prophetically denounced as the punishment of their crimes, and taking place in an exact and terrible accordance with the divine predictions. Surely these examples may suffice to confound that fallacious confidence, which, presuming on the Creator’s knowledge of our weakness, and his disposition to allow for it, should allege, that instead of giving way to gloomy apprehensions, we might throw ourselves, in full assurance of hope, on the infinite benevolence of the Supreme Being. It is true, indeed, that with the threatenings of the word of God, there are mixed many gracious declarations of pardon, on repentance and thorough amendment. But, alas! who is there among us, whose conscience must not reproach him with having trifled with the long-suffering of God, and with having but ill kept the resolutions of amendment, which had been formed in the seasons of recollection and remorse?—And how is the disquietude naturally excited by such a retrospect, confirmed and heightened by passages like these. “Because I have called, and ye refused; I have stretched out my hand, and no man regarded; but ye have set at naught all my counsel, and would none of my reproof: I also will laugh at your calamity, I will mock when your fear cometh; when your fear cometh as desolation, and your destruction cometh as a whirlwind; when distress and anguish cometh upon you. Then shall they call upon me, but I will not answer; they to shall seek me early, but they shall not find me: for that they hated knowledge, and did not choose the fear of the Lord.”* The apprehensions which must be excited by thus reading the recorded judgments and awful language of Scripture, are confirmed to the inquisitive and attentive mind by a close observation of the moral constitution of the world. In fact, all that has been suggested of the final consequences of vice, is strictly analogous to what we may observe in the ordinary course of human affairs; from a careful survey of which it will appear, that God hath established such an order of causes and effects, as, however interrupted here below, by hindrances and obstructions apparently of a temporary nature, loudly proclaim the principles of his moral government, and strongly suggest that vice and imprudence will finally terminate in misery. (a) Not that this species of proof was wanted; for that which we must acknowledge, on weighing the evidence, to be a revelation from God, requires not the aid of such a confirmation: but yet, as this accordance might be expected between the words and the works of the same Almighty Being, it is no idle speculation to remark, that the visible constitution of things in the world around us, falls in with the scriptural representations of the dreadful consequences of vice, nay even of what is commonly termed inconsiderateness and imprudence.

Christianity breaks in

If such, then, be indeed our sad condition, what is to be done? Is there no hope? Nothing left for us, “but a fearful looking for of judgment, and fiery indignation, which shall devour the adversaries?”* Blessed be God! we are not shut up irrecoverably in this sad condition: “Turn you to the strong hold, ye prisoners of hope;” hear one who proclaims his designation, “to heal the broken-hearted, to preach liberty to the captives, and recovering of sight to the blind.” They who have formed a true notion of their lost and helpless state, will most gladly listen to the sound, and most justly estimate the value, of such a deliverance. And hence appears the importance of not passing over in a cursory manner those important topics of the original and superinduced corruption, and weakness of man; a discussion painful and humiliating to the pride of human nature, to which the mind listens with difficulty, nay with a mixture of anger and disgust; but well suited to our case, and like the distasteful lessons of adversity, permanently useful in its consequences.

Practical importance and uses of the doctrine of Human Corruption

It is here, never let it be forgotten, that our foundation must be laid; otherwise our superstructure, whatever we may think of it, will one day prove tottering and insecure. This therefore is not a metaphysical speculation, but a practical matter. Slight and superficial conceptions of our state of natural degradation, and of our insufficiency to recover from it by our own unassisted powers, fall in too well with our natural inconsiderateness, and produce that fatal insensibility to the divine threatenings which we cannot but observe to prevail so generally. Having no due sense of the malignity of our disease, and of its dreadful issue, we do not set ourselves to work in earnest to obtain the remedy, and it can only be thus obtained; for, let it be remembered, that deliverance is not forced on us, but offered to us; we are furnished indeed with every help, and are always to bear in mind, that we are unable of ourselves to will or to do rightly; but we are plainly admonished to “work out our own salvation with fear and trembling;”*—to be watchful, “because we are encompassed with dangers;”—to “put on the whole armor of God,” because “we are beset with enemies.”

Practical advice respecting it, and its practical uses

May we be enabled to shake off that lethargy which is so apt to creep upon us! For this end, a deep practical conviction of our natural depravity and weakness will be found of eminent advantage. As it is by this we must at first be roused from our fallacious security, so by this we must be kept wakeful and active unto the end. Let us therefore make it our business to have this doctrine firmly seated in our understandings, and radically implanted in our hearts. With a view to our conviction of the truth of this doctrine, we should seriously and attentively consider the firm grounds on which it rests. It is plainly made known to us by the light of nature, and irresistibly enforced on us by the dictates of our unassisted understandings. But lest there should be any so obstinately dull, as not to discern the force of the evidence suggested to our reason, and confirmed by all experience, or rather so heedless as not to notice it, the authoritative stamp of Revelation is superadded, as we have seen, to complete the proof; and we must therefore be altogether inexcusable, if we still remain unconvinced by such an accumulated mass of argument.

But it is not sufficient to assent to the doctrine, we must also feel it. To this end, let the power of habit be called in to our aid. Let us accustom ourselves to refer to our natural depravity, as to their primary cause, the sad instances of vice and folly of which we read, or which we see around us, or to which we feel the propensities in our own bosoms; ever vigilant and distrustful of ourselves, and looking with an eye of kindness and pity on the faults and infirmities of others, whom we should learn to regard with the same tender concern as that, with which the sick are used to sympathize with those who are suffering under the same distemper. This lesson once well acquired, we shall feel the benefit of it in all our future progress; and though it be a lesson which we are slow to learn, it is one in which study and experience, the incidents of every day, and every fresh observation of the workings of our own hearts, will gradually concur to perfect us. Let it not, after all, then, be our reproach, and at length our ruin, that these abundant means of instruction are possessed in vain.

sect. iii

Corruption of Human Nature.—Objection

Objection:—That our corruption and weakness, being natural to us, will be excused and allowed for—stated and considered

BUT there is one difficulty still behind, more formidable than all the rest. The pride of man is loth to be humbled. Forced to abandon the plea of innocence, and pressed so closely that he can no longer escape from the conclusion to which we would drive him, some more bold Objector faces about and stands at bay, endeavoring to justify what he cannot deny. “Whatever I am,” he contends, “I am what my Creator made me. I inherit a nature, you yourself confess, depraved, and prone to evil: how then can I withstand the temptations to sin by which I am environed? If this plea cannot establish my innocence, it must excuse or at least extenuate my guilt. Frail and weak as I am, a Being of infinite justice and goodness will never try me by a rule, which however equitable in the case of creatures of a higher nature, is altogether disproportionate to mine.”

Let not my readers be alarmed! The writer is not going to enter into the discussion of the grand question concerning the origin of moral evil, or to attempt to reconcile its existence and consequent punishment with the acknowledged attributes and perfections of God. These are questions, of which, if one may judge from the little success with which the acutest and profoundest reasoners have been ever laboring to solve the difficulties they contain, the full and clear comprehension is above the intellect of man. Yet, as the objection above mentioned is sometimes heard from the mouths of professed Christians, it must not be passed by without a few short observations.

Were the language in question to be addressed to us by an avowed sceptic, though it might not be very difficult to expose to him the futility of his reasonings, we should almost despair of satisfying him of the soundness of our own. We should perhaps suggest impossibilities, which might stand in the way of such a system as he would establish: arguing from concessions which he would freely make, we might indeed point out wherein his pre-conceptions concerning the conduct of the Supreme Being, had been in fact already contradicted, particularly by the undeniable existence of natural or moral evil: and if thus proved erroneous in one instance, why might they not be so likewise in another? But though by these and similar arguments we might at length silence our objector, we could not much expect to bring him over to our opinions. We should probably do better, if we were to endeavor rather to draw him off from those dark and slippery regions, slippery in truth they are to every human foot, and to contend with him, where we might tread with firmness and freedom, on sure ground, and in the light of day. Then we might fairly lay before him all the various arguments for the truth of our holy religion; arguments which have been sufficient to satisfy the wisest, and the best, and the ablest of men. We might afterwards insist on the abundant confirmation Christianity receives from its being exactly suited to the nature and wants of man; and we might conclude with fairly putting it to him, whether all this weight of evidence were to be overbalanced by one difficulty, on a subject so confessedly high and mysterious, considering too that he must allow, we see but a part, O how small a part! of the universal creation of God, and that our faculties are wholly incompetent to judge of the schemes of His infinite wisdom. This, if the writer may be permitted to offer his own judgment, is at least in general the best mode, in the case of the objection we are now considering, of dealing with unbelievers; and to adopt the contrary plan, seems somewhat like that of any one, who having to convince some untutored Indian of the truth of the Copernican system, instead of beginning with plain and simple propositions, and leading him on to what is more abstruse and remote, should state to him at the outset some startling problems, to which the understanding can only yield its slow assent, when constrained by the decisive force of demonstration. The novice, instead of lending himself to such a mistaken method of instruction, would turn away in disgust, and be only hardened against his preceptor. But it must be remembered, that the present Work is addressed to those who acknowledge the authority of the Holy Scriptures. And in order to convince all these that there is, somewhere or other, a fallacy in our objector’s reasoning, it will be sufficient to establish, that, though the word of God clearly asserts the justice and goodness of the Supreme Being, and also the natural depravity of man, yet it no less clearly lays down, that this natural depravity shall never be admitted as an excuse for sin, but that “they which have done evil, shall rise to the resurrection of damnation.”*—“That the wicked shall be turned into hell, and all the people that forget God.” And it is worthy of remark, that, as if for the very purpose of more effectually silencing those unbelieving doubts which are ever springing up in the human heart, our blessed Savior, though the messenger of peace and good will to man, has again and again repeated these awful denunciations.

Nor are the Holy Scriptures less clear and full in guarding us against supposing our sins, or the dreadful consequences of them, to be chargeable on God.—“Let no man say when he is tempted, I am tempted of God: for God cannot be tempted with evil, neither tempteth he any man:” “The Lord is not willing that any should perish.” And in other passages, where the idea is repelled as injurious to his character: “Have I any pleasure at all that the wicked should die? saith the Lord God; and not that he should return from his ways, and live?”|| “For I have no pleasure in the death of him that dieth, saith the Lord God.”§ Indeed almost every page of the word of God contains some warning or invitation to sinners; and all these, to a considerate mind, must be unquestionable proofs of our present position.

It has been the more necessary not to leave unnoticed the objection which we have been now refuting, because, where not admitted to such an unqualified extent as altogether to take away the moral responsibility of man, and when not avowed in the daring language in which it has been above stated, it may frequently be observed to exist in an inferior degree: and often, when not distinctly formed into shape, it lurks in secret, diffusing a general cloud of doubt or unbelief; or lowering our standard of right, or whispering fallacious comfort, and producing a ruinous tranquility. It is of the utmost importance to remark, that though the Holy Scriptures so clearly state the natural corruption and weakness of man, yet they never, in the remotest degree, countenance, but throughout directly oppose, the supposition to which we are often too forward to listen, that our natural corruption and weakness may be admitted as lowering the demands of divine justice, and in some sort palliating our transgressions of the laws of God. It would not be difficult to show that such a notion is at war with the whole scheme of redemption by the atonement of Christ. But perhaps it may be enough, when any such suggestions as those which we are condemning force themselves into the imagination of a Christian, to recommend it to him to silence them by what is their best practical answer: that if our natural condition be depraved and weak, our temptations numerous, and our Almighty Judge infinitely holy: yet that the offers of pardon, grace, and strength to penitent sinners are universal and unlimited. Let it not however surprise us, if in all this there seem to be involved difficulties which we cannot fully comprehend. How many such present themselves on all sides! Scarcely is there an object around us, that does not afford endless matter of doubt and argument. The meanest reptile which crawls on the earth, nay, every herb and flower which we behold, baffles the imbecility of our limited inquiries. All nature calls upon us to be humble. Can it then be surprising if we are at a loss on this question, which respects, not the properties of matter, or of numbers, but the councils and ways of Him whose “understanding is infinite,”* “whose judgments are declared to be unsearchable, and his ways past finding out?” In this our ignorance, however, we may calmly repose ourselves on his own declaration, “That though clouds and darkness are round about him, yet righteousness and judgment are the habitation of his throne.” Let it also be remembered, that if in Christianity some things are difficult, that which we are most concerned to know, is plain and obvious. To this it is true wisdom to attach ourselves, assenting to what is revealed, where it is above our comprehension (we do not say contrary to our reason,) and believing it on the credit of what is clearly discerned and satisfactorily established. In truth, we are all perhaps too apt to plunge into depths, which it is beyond our power to fathom; and it was to warn us against this very error, that the inspired writer, having threatened the people, whom God had selected as the objects of his special favor, with the most dreadful punishments, if they should forsake the law of the Lord, and having introduced surrounding nations as asking the meaning of the severe infliction, winds up the whole with this instructive admonition: “Secret things belong unto the Lord our God; but those which are revealed belong unto us, and to our children for ever, that we may do all the words of this law.”*

To any one who is seriously impressed with a sense of the critical state in which we are here placed, a short and uncertain space in which to make our peace with God, and this little span of life followed by the last judgment, and an eternity of unspeakable happiness or misery, it is indeed an awful and an affecting spectacle, to see men thus busying themselves in vain speculations of an arrogant curiosity, and trifling with their dearest, their everlasting interests. It is but a feeble illustration of this exquisite folly to compare it to the conduct of some convicted rebel, who, when brought into the presence of his Sovereign, instead of seizing the occasion to sue for mercy, should even treat with neglect and contempt the pardon which should be offered to him, and insolently employ himself in prying into his Sovereign’s designs, and criticizing his counsels. But our case, too similar as it is to that of the convicted rebel, differs from it in this grand particular, that at the best, his success must be uncertain, ours, if it be not our own fault, is sure; and while, on the one hand, our guilt is unspeakably greater than that of any rebel against an earthly monarch, so, on the other, we know that our Sovereign is “long-suffering, and easy to be entreated;” more ready to grant forgiveness than we to ask it. Well then may we adopt the language of the poet:

What better can we do, than prostrate fall

Before him reverent; and there confess

Humbly our faults, and pardon beg; with tears

Watering the ground, and with our sighs the air

Frequenting, sent from hearts contrite, in sign

Of sorrow unfeign’d, and humiliation meek?        Milton.[1]



* Exempla duo, quæ pravitatis humanæ vim animo meo luculentur exhibent, non proferre non possum. Alterum, decens ille Virgilius, alterum Cicero, probus idem verique studiosus, suppeditat. Virgilius, innocuam certe pastorum vitam depicturas, ita incipit,

“Formosum pastor Corydon ardebat Alexim.”

Cicero in libro de Officiis primo, ubi de actionibus prout inter se apte et convenientes sint, loci temporis, et agentis ratione habita, disserit, argumentum sic illustrat: “Turpe est enim, valdeque vitiosum, in re severa, convivio dignum, aut delicatum, aliquem inferre sermonem. Bene Pericles, quum haberet collegam in prætura Sophoclem poëtam, hique de communi officio convenissent, et casu formosus puer præteriret, dixissetque Sophocles, O puerum pulchrum Pericle! At enim, inquit Pericles, prætorem Sophoclem decet non solum manus, sed etiam oculos abstinentes habere. Atquî hoc idem Sophocles, si in athletarum probatione dixisset, justa reprehensione caruisset, tanta vis est, et loci et tempores.”

Quomodo sese res habuisse necesse est, cum vir antiquorum prestantissimis adscribendus, philosophiam, immo mores et officia tractans, talia doceret! Qualem sibi ipse virtutis normam proposuerat, satis liquet. Vide inter alia, justa reprehensione, &c. et tanta vis est, &c. &c.

Robertson, Vol. ii. p. 130.

Ibid. Book iv. Sect. 2. Head, Condition of Women, Vol. ii. 8vo. 90, 91.

Ibid. 16.

Psalm 14:2, 3.

1 Chron. 28:9.

a Vide Butler’s Analogy.

James 1:13.

2 Peter 3:9.

Rom. 11:33.

Psalm 97:2.

[1] Wilberforce, W. (1830). A Practical View of the Prevailing Religious System of Professed Christians. (pp. 16–40). London: T. Cadell. (Public Domain)

A Practical View of the Prevailing - Chapter 1

A Practical View of the Prevailing - Chapter 1

Inadequate conceptions of the Importance of Christianity

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Popular Notions

BEFORE we proceed to the consideration of any particular defects in the religious system of the bulk of professed Christians, it may be proper to point out the very inadequate conception which they entertain of the importance of Christianity in general, of its peculiar nature, and superior excellence. If we listen to their conversation, virtue is praised, and vice is censured; piety is, perhaps, applauded, and profaneness condemned. So far all is well: but let anyone, who would not be deceived by these “barren generalities,” examine a little more closely, and he will find, that not to Christianity in particular, but at best to Religion in general, perhaps, to mere Morality, their homage is intended to be paid. With Christianity, as distinct from these, they are little acquainted; their views of it have been so cursory and superficial, that, far from discerning its peculiar characteristics, they have little more than perceived those exterior circumstances which distinguish it from other forms of Religion. There are some few facts, and perhaps some leading doctrines and principles, of which they cannot be wholly ignorant; but of the consequences, and relations, and practical uses of these, they have few ideas, or none at all.

Does this language seem too strong in speaking of professed Christians? View then their plan of life and their ordinary conduct; and let us ask, wherein can we discern the points of discrimination between them and acknowledged unbelievers? In an age wherein it is confessed and lamented that infidelity abounds, do we observe in them any remarkable care to instruct their children in the principles of the faith which they profess, and to furnish them with arguments for the defense of it? They would blush, on their child’s coming out into the world, to think him defective in any branch of that knowledge, or of those accomplishments, which belong to his station in life; and accordingly these are cultivated with becoming assiduity. But he is left to collect his Religion as he may: the study of Christianity has formed no part of his education; and his attachment to it, where any attachment to it exists at all, is, too often, not the preference of sober reason and conviction, but merely the result of early and groundless prepossession. He was born in a Christian country; of course he is a Christian: his father was a member of the church of England; so is he. When such is the religion handed down among us by hereditary succession, it cannot surprise us to observe young men of sense and spirit beginning to doubt altogether of the truth of the system in which they have been brought up, and ready to abandon a station which they are unable to defend. Knowing Christianity chiefly in the difficulties which it contains, and in the impossibilities which are falsely imputed to it, they fall, perhaps, into the company of infidels; where they are shaken by frivolous objections and profane cavils, which, had their religious persuasion been grounded in reason and argument, would have passed by them “as the idle wind.”

Let us beware before it be too late. No one can say into what discredit Christianity may hereby grow, at a time when the unrestrained intercourse, subsisting among the several ranks and classes of society, so much favors the general diffusion of the sentiments of the higher orders. To a similar ignorance may perhaps be ascribed, in no small degree, the success with which, in a neighboring country, Christianity has of late years been attacked. Had she not been wholly unarmed for the contest, however she might have been forced from her untenable posts, and compelled to disembarrass herself from her load of encumbrances, she never could have been driven altogether out of the field by her puny assailants, with all their cavils, and gibes, and sarcasms; for in these consisted the main strength of their petty artillery. Let us beware, lest we also suffer from a like cause; nor let it be our crime and our reproach, that in schools, perhaps even in Colleges, Christianity is almost if not altogether neglected.

It cannot be expected, that they who pay so little regard to this great object in the education of their children, should be more attentive to it in other parts of their conduct, where less strongly stimulated by affection, and less obviously loaded with responsibility. They are of course, therefore, little regardful of the state of Christianity in their own country; and still more indifferent about communicating the light of divine truth to the nations which “still sit in darkness.”

But Religion, it may be replied, is not noisy and ostentatious; it is modest and private in its nature; it resides in a man’s own bosom, and shuns the observation of the multitude. Be it so.

From the transient and distant view, then, which we have been taking of these unassuming Christians, let us approach a little nearer, and listen to the unreserved conversation of their confidential hours. Here, if anywhere, the interior of the heart is laid open, and we may ascertain the true principles of their regards and aversions; the scale by which they measure the good and evil of life. Here, however, you will discover few or no traces of Christianity. She scarcely finds herself a place amidst the many objects of their hopes, and fears, and joys, and sorrows. Grateful perhaps, as well indeed they may be grateful, for health, and talents, and affluence, and other temporal possessions, they scarcely reckon in the number of their blessings this grand distinguishing mark of the bounty of Providence. Or if they mention it at all, it is noticed coldly and formally, like one of those obsolete claims, to which, though but of small account in the estimate of our wealth or power, we think it as well to put in our title, from considerations of family decorum or of national usage.

But what more than all the rest establishes the point in question: let their conversation take a graver turn. Here at length their religion, modest and retired as we are now presuming it to be, must be expected to disclose itself; here however you will look in vain for the religion of Jesus. Their standard of right and wrong is not the standard of the Gospel: they approve and condemn by a different rule: they advance principles and maintain opinions altogether opposite to the genius and character of Christianity. You would fancy yourself rather among the followers of the old schools of philosophy: nor is it easy to guess how anyone could satisfy himself to the contrary, unless by mentioning the name of some acknowledged heretic, he should afford them an occasion of demonstrating their zeal for the religion of their country.

The truth is, their opinions on the subject of religion are not formed from the perusal of the word of God. The Bible lies on the shelf unopened; and they would be wholly ignorant of its contents, except for what they hear occasionally at church, or for the faint traces which their memories may still retain of the lessons of their earliest infancy.

How different, nay, in many respects, how contradictory, would be the two systems of mere morals, of which the one should be formed from the commonly received maxims of the Christian world, and the other from the study of the Holy Scriptures! It would be curious to remark in any one, who had hitherto satisfied himself with the former, the astonishment which would be excited on his first introduction to the latter. We are not left here to bare conjecture. This was, in fact, the effect produced on the mind of a late ingenious writer,* of whose little Work, though it bear some marks of his customary love of paradox, we must at least confess, that it exposes in a strong point of view, the poverty of that superficial religion which prevails in our day; and that it throughout displays that happy perspicuity and grace, which so eminently characterize the compositions of its author. But after this willing tribute of commendation, we are reluctantly compelled to remark, that the Work in question discredits the cause which it was meant to serve, by many crude and extravagant positions; a defect from which no one can be secure who forms a hasty judgment of a deep and comprehensive subject, the several relations of which have been imperfectly surveyed; and above all, it must be lamented, that it treats the great question which it professes to discuss, rather as a matter of mere speculation, than as one wherein our everlasting interests are involved. Surely the writer’s object should have been, to convince his readers of their guilt still more than of their ignorance, and to leave them impressed rather with a sense of their danger than of their folly.

It were needless to multiply arguments in order to prove how criminal the voluntary ignorance, of which we have been speaking, must appear in the sight of God. It must be confessed by all, who believe that we are accountable creatures, and to such only the writer is addressing himself, that we shall have to answer hereafter to the Almighty for all the means we have here enjoyed of improving ourselves, or of promoting the happiness of others. If, when summoned to give an account of our stewardship, we shall be called upon to answer for the use which we have made of our bodily organs, and of our means of relieving the wants of our fellow creatures; how much more for the exercise of the nobler faculties of our nature, of invention, memory, and judgment, and for our employment of every instrument and opportunity of diligent application, and serious reflection, and honest decision. And to what subject might we in all reason be expected to apply more earnestly, than to that wherein our own eternal interests are at issue? When God of his goodness hath vouchsafed to grant us such abundant means of instruction, in that which we are most concerned to know, how great must be the guilt, and how awful the punishment of voluntary ignorance!

And why are we in this pursuit alone to expect knowledge without inquiry, and success without endeavor? The whole analogy of nature inculcates a different lesson; and our own judgments in matters of temporal interest and worldly policy confirm the truth of her suggestions. Bountiful as is the hand of Providence, its gifts are not so bestowed as to seduce us into indolence; but to rouse us to exertion; and no one expects to attain to the height of learning, or arts, or power, or wealth, or military glory, without vigorous resolution, and strenuous diligence, and steady perseverance. Yet we expect to be Christians without labor, study, or inquiry. This is the more preposterous, because Christianity, being a revelation from God, and not the invention of man, discovering to us new relations, with their correspondent duties; containing also doctrines, motives, and precepts, peculiar to itself; we cannot reasonably expect to become proficient in it by the accidental intercourses of life, as one might learn insensibly the maxims of worldly policy, or a scheme of mere morals.

Scripture Account

The diligent perusal of the Holy Scriptures would discover to us our past ignorance. We should cease to be deceived by superficial appearances, and to confound the Gospel of Christ with the systems of philosophers; we should become impressed with the weighty truth, so much forgotten in the present day, that Christianity calls on us, as we value our immortal souls, not merely in general, to be religious and moral, but specially to believe the doctrines, imbibe the principles, and practice the precepts of Christ. It might be to run into too great length to confirm this position beyond dispute by express quotations from the word of God. And, not to anticipate what belongs more properly to a subsequent part of the Work, it may be sufficient here to remark in general, that Christianity is always represented in Scripture as the grand, the unparalleled instance of God’s bounty to mankind. This unspeakable gift was graciously held forth in the original promise to our first parents; it was predicted by a long-continued series of prophets; the subject of their prayers, inquiries, and longing expectations. In a world which opposed and persecuted them, it was their source of peace, and hope, and consolation. At length it approached—the desire of all Nations—The long expected Star announced its presence—A multitude of the heavenly host hailed its introduction, and proclaimed its character; “Glory to God in the highest, on earth peace, good-will towards men.” The Gospel is everywhere represented in Scripture by such figures as are most strongly calculated to impress on our minds a sense of its value; it is spoken of as light from darkness, as release from prison, as deliverance from captivity, as life from death. “Lord, now lettest thou thy Servant depart in peace, for mine eyes have seen thy Salvation!” was the exclamation with which it was welcomed by the pious Simeon; and it was universally received among the early converts with thankfulness and joy. At one time, the communication of it is promised as a reward; at another, the loss of it is threatened as a punishment. And, short as is the form of prayer taught us by our blessed Savior, the more general extension of the kingdom of Christ constitutes one of its leading petitions.

With what exalted conceptions of the importance of Christianity ought we to be filled by such descriptions as these! Yet, in vain have we “line upon line, and precept upon precept.”—Thus predicted, thus prayed and longed for, thus announced, characterized, and rejoiced in, this heavenly treasure, though poured into our lap in rich abundance, we scarcely accept. We turn from it coldly, or at best possess it negligently as a thing of no estimation. But a due sense of its value would assuredly be impressed upon us by the diligent study of the word of God, that blessed repository of heavenly truth and consolation. Thence it is that we are to learn what we ought to believe and what to practice. And, surely, one would think that much importunity would not be requisite, to induce men to a perusal of the sacred volume. Reason dictates, Revelation commands; “Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God,”—“Search the Scriptures,”—“Be ready to give to everyone a reason of the hope that is in you.” Such are the declarations and injunctions of the inspired writers; injunctions confirmed by commendations of those who obey the admonition. Yet is it not undeniable that with the Bible in our houses, we are ignorant of its contents; and that hence, in a great measure, it arises, that the bulk of the Christian world know so little, and mistake so greatly, in what regards the religion which they profess?

Two false maxims exposed

This is not the place for inquiring at large, whence it is that those who assent to the position, that the Bible is the word of God, and who profess to rest their hopes on the Christian basis, contentedly acquiesce in a state of such lamentable ignorance. But it may not be improper here to touch on two kindred opinions; from which in the minds of the more thoughtful and serious, this acquiescence appears to derive much secret support. The one is, that it signifies little what a man believes; look to his practice. The other (of the same family) that sincerity is all in all. Let a man’s opinions and conduct be what they may, yet, provided he be sincerely convinced that they are right, however the exigencies of civil society may require him to be dealt with among men, in the sight of God he cannot be criminal.

It would detain us too long fully to set forth the various evils inherent in these favorite positions, of which it is surely not the least, that they are of unbounded application, comprehending within their capacious limits, most of the errors which have been received, and many of the most desperate crimes which have been perpetrated among men. Of the former of these maxims, we may remark, that it proceeds on the monstrous supposition already noticed, that although accountable creatures, we shall not be called to account for the exercise of our intellectual and mental powers. Moreover, it is founded on that grossly fallacious assumption, that a man’s opinions will not influence his practice. The advocates of this fashionable principle require to be reminded, that the judgment often receives a corrupt bias from the heart and the affections; that vice is the fruitful mother of prejudice and error. Forgetful of these acknowledged truths, and confounding the most important moral distinctions, they place on the same level those who, carefully weeding from their hearts every false principle, occupy themselves in a sincere and warm pursuit of truth; and those who yield themselves implicitly to the opinions, whatever they may be, which early prepossession may have infused, or which passion or interest, or even acquiescing indolence may have imposed upon their minds.

The latter of the foregoing maxims, that Sincerity is all in all, proceeds on this groundless supposition, that the Supreme Being has not afforded us sufficient means of discriminating truth from falsehood, right from wrong: and it implies, that, be a man’s opinions or conduct ever so wild and extravagant, we are to presume, that they are as much the result of impartial inquiry and honest conviction, as if his sentiments and actions had been strictly conformable to the rules of reason and sobriety. Never indeed was there a principle more general in its use, more sovereign in its potency. How does its beautiful simplicity also, and compendious brevity, give it rank before the laborious subtleties of Bellarmin! Clement, and Ravaillac, and other worthies of a similar stamp, from whose purity of intention the world has hitherto withheld its due tribute of applause, would here have found a ready plea; and their injured innocence should now at length receive its full though tardy vindication. “These, however,” it may be replied, “are excepted cases.” Certainly they are cases of which any one, who maintains the opinion in question, would be glad to disencumber himself, because they clearly expose the unsoundness of his principle. But it will be incumbent on such an one first to explain with precision why they are to be exempted from its operation, and this he will find an impossible task: for sincerity, in its popular sense, cannot be made the criterion of guilt and innocence on any ground, which will not equally serve to justify the assassins who have been instanced. The conclusion cannot be eluded; no man was ever more fully persuaded of the innocence of any action, than those men were convinced, that the horrid deed they were about to perpetrate was, not merely lawful, but highly meritorious. Thus Clement and Ravaillac being unquestionably sincere, they were therefore indubitably innocent. Nay, the absurd and pernicious tendency of this principle might be shown to be even greater than what has yet been stated. It would scarcely be going too far to assert, that whilst it scorns the defense of petty villains, who still retain the sense of good and evil, it holds forth, like some well-frequented sanctuary, a secure asylum to more finished criminals, who, from long habits of wickedness, are lost to the perception no less than to the practice of virtue; and that it selects a seared conscience, and a callous heart, and a mind insensible to all moral distinctions, as the special objects of its vindication. Nor is it only in profane history, that instances are to be found like those which we have mentioned, of persons committing the greatest crimes with a sincere conviction of the rectitude of their conduct. Scripture will afford us parallels; and it was surely to guard us against the very error which we have been now exposing, that our blessed Savior forewarned his disciples: “The time cometh, that whosoever killeth you, will think that he doeth God service.”

True Sincerity

A principle like this must then be abandoned, and the advocates for sincerity must be compelled to restore this absurd term to its genuine signification; and to acknowledge, that it must imply honesty of mind, a faithful use of the means of knowledge and improvement, a desire of being instructed, humble inquiry, impartial consideration, and unprejudiced judgment. It is to these we would earnestly call you; and to such dispositions of mind, ever to be accompanied, with fervent prayer for the divine blessing, Scripture everywhere holds forth the most animating promises. “Ask and ye shall receive, seek and ye shall find, knock and it shall be opened unto you; Ho! every one that thirsteth, come ye to the waters;” such are the comfortable assurances, such the gracious encouragements held out to the truly sincere inquirer. How deep will be our guilt, if we slight all these benevolent offers. “How many prophets and kings have desired to hear the things that we hear, and have not heard them!” Great indeed are our opportunities, great also is our responsibility. Let us awake to a true sense of our situation. Every consideration is presented to us that can alarm our fears, or animate our industry. How soon may the brightness of our meridian sun be darkened! Or, should the long-suffering of God still continue to us the mercies which we so much abuse, this will only aggravate our crime, and in the end enhance our punishment. The time of reckoning will at length arrive. And when finally summoned to the bar of God, to give an account of our stewardship, what plea can we have to urge in our defense, if we remain willingly and obstinately ignorant of the way which leads to life with such transcendent means of knowing it, and such urgent motives to its pursuit?[1]


[1] Wilberforce, W. (1830). A Practical View of the Prevailing Religious System of Professed Christians. (pp. 5–16). London: T. Cadell. (Public Domain)

A Practical View of the Prevailing - Introduction

A Practical View of the Prevailing - Introduction


IT has been, for several years, the earnest wish of the writer of the following pages, to address his countrymen on the important subject of Religion; but the various duties of his public station, and a constitution incapable of much labor, have obstructed the execution of his purpose. Long has he been looking forward to some vacant season, in which he might devote his whole time and attention to this interesting service, free from the interruption of all other concerns; and he has the rather wished for this opportunity of undistracted reflection, from a desire that what he might send into the world might thus be rendered less undeserving of the public eye. Meanwhile life is wearing away, and he daily becomes more and more convinced, that he might wait in vain for this season of complete vacancy. He must be content, therefore, to improve such occasional intervals of leisure as may occur to him in the course of an active and busy life, and to throw himself on the Reader’s indulgence for the pardon of such imperfections, as the opportunity of undiverted attention and maturer reflection might have enabled him to discover and correct.

But the plea here suggested is by no means intended as an excuse for the opinions which he shall express, if they be found mistaken. Here, if he be in an error, he freely acknowledges it to be a deliberate error. He would indeed account himself unpardonable were he to obtrude upon the Public, his first crude thoughts on a subject of such vast importance; and he can truly declare, that what he shall offer is the result of close observation, serious inquiry, much reading, and long and repeated consideration.

It is not improbable that he may be accused of deviating from his proper line, and of impertinently interfering in the concerns of a profession, to which he does not belong. If it were necessary, however, to defend himself against this charge, he might shelter himself under the authority of many most respectable examples. But to such an accusation surely it may be sufficient to reply, that it is the duty of every man to promote the happiness of his fellow creatures to the utmost of his power; and that he who thinks he sees many around him, whom he esteems and loves, laboring under a fatal error, must have a cold heart, or a most confined notion of benevolence, if he could withhold his endeavors to set them right, from an apprehension of incurring the imputation of officiousness.

But he might also allege, as a full justification, not only that Religion is the business of every one, but that its advancement or decline in any country is so intimately connected with the temporal interests of society, as to render it the peculiar concern of a political man; and that what he may presume to offer on the subject of Religion, may perhaps be perused with less jealousy and more candor, from the very circumstance of its having been written by a Layman, which must at least exclude the idea, an idea sometimes illiberally suggested to take off the effect of the works of Ecclesiastics, that it is prompted by motives of self-interest, or of professional prejudice.

But if the writer’s apology should not be found in the Work itself, and in his avowed motive for undertaking it; in vain would he endeavor to satisfy his readers by any excuses: he will therefore proceed, without farther preamble, to lay before them a general statement of his design.

The main object which he has in view is, not to convince the Sceptic, or to answer the arguments of persons who avowedly oppose the fundamental doctrines of our Religion; but to point out the scanty and erroneous system of the bulk of those who belong to the class of orthodox Christians, and to contrast their defective scheme with a representation of what the author apprehends to be real Christianity. Often has it filled him with deep concern, to observe in this description of persons, scarcely any distinct knowledge of the real nature and principles of the Religion which they profess. The subject is of infinite importance; let it not be driven out of our minds by the bustle or dissipation of life. This present scene, with all its cares and all its gaieties, will soon be rolled away, and “we must stand before the judgment-seat of Christ.” This awful consideration will prompt the writer to express himself with greater freedom than he should otherwise be disposed to use. And he trusts that this consideration, while it justifies its frankness, will secure to him a serious and patient perusal.

But it would be trespassing on the indulgence of the reader to detain him with introductory remarks. Let it only be further premised, that if what shall be stated should to any appear needlessly austere and rigid, the writer must lay in his claim, not to be condemned, without a fair inquiry whether his statements do or do not accord with the language of the Sacred Writings. To that test he refers with confidence. And it must be conceded by those who admit the authority of Scripture, that from the decision of the word of God there can be no appeal.[1]



[1] Wilberforce, W. (1830). A Practical View of the Prevailing Religious System of Professed Christians. (pp. 1–4). London: T. Cadell. (Public Domain)

Exposition of John Chapter 6 - Christ's First Miracle - John 2:1-11

Exposition of John Chapter 6 - Christ's First Miracle - John 2:1-11

Chapter Six

Christ’s First Miracle

John 2:1–11


1.   I. The Typical Significance

2.   II. The Prophetic Application

3.   III. The Practical Teaching

First of all we will give a brief and simple Analysis of the passage before us:—

1.   The Occasion of the Miracle: a marriage in Cana, verse 1.

2.   The Presence there of the Mother of Jesus, verse 1.

3.   The Savior and His Disciples Invited, verse 2.

4.   Mary’s Interference and Christ’s Rebuke, verses 3, 4.

5.   Mary’s Submission, verse 5.

6.   The Miracle Itself, verses 6–8.

7.   The Effects of the Miracle, verses 9–11.

We propose to expound the passage before us from a threefold viewpoint: first, its typical significance, second, its prophetic application, third, its practical teaching. It is as though the Holy Spirit had here combined three pictures into one. We might illustrate it by the method used in printing a picture in colors. There is first the picture itself in its black-edged outline; then, on top of this, is filled in the first coloring—red, or yellow, as the case may be; finally, the last color—blue or brown—may be added to the others, and the composite and variegated picture is complete. To use the terms of the illustration, it is our purpose to examine, separately, the different tints and shadings in the Divine picture which is presented to our view in the first half of John 2.

I. The Typical Significance

It is to be carefully noted that this second chapter of John opens with the word “and,” which indicates that its contents are closely connected with what has gone before. One of the things that is made prominent in John 1 (following the Introduction, which runs to the end of verse 18) is the failure of Judaism, and the turning away from it to Christ. The failure of Judaism (seen in the ignorance of the Sanhedrin) is made plain by the sending of priests and Levites from Jerusalem to enquire of John who he was (John 1:19). This is made still more evident by the pathetic statement of the Baptist, “There standeth one among you, whom ye know not” (John 1:26). All this is but an amplication of that tragic word found in John 1:11—“He came unto his own, and his own received him not.” So blind were the religious leaders of Israel, that they neither knew the Christ of God stood in their midst, nor recognized His forerunner to whom the Old Testament Scriptures bore explicit witness.

Judaism was but a dead husk, the heart and life of it were gone. Only one thing remained, and that was the setting of it aside, and the bringing in “of a better hope.” Accordingly, we read in Galatians 4:4, “But when the fullness of time was come, God sent forth his Son.” Yes, the fullness of God’s time had come. The hour was ripe for Christ to be manifested. The need of Him had been fully demonstrated. Judaism must be set aside. A typical picture of this was before us in John 1. The Baptist wound up the Old Testament system (“The law and the prophets were until John”—Luke 16:16), and in John 1:35–37 we are shown two (the number of competent testimony) of His disciples leaving John, and following the Lord Jesus.

The same principle is illustrated again in the chapter now before us. A marriage-feast is presented to our view, and the central thing about it is that the wine had given out. The figure is not difficult to interpret: “Wine” in Scripture is the emblem of joy, as the following passage will show: “And wine that maketh glad the heart of man” (Ps. 104:15); “And the vine said unto them, Should I leave my wine, which cheereth God and man?” (Judg. 9:13). How striking, then, is what we have here in John 2! How accurate the picture. Judaism still existed as a religious system, but it ministered no comfort to the heart. It had degenerated into a cold, mechanical routine, utterly destitute of joy in God. Israel had lost the joy of their espousals.

“And there were set there six waterpots of stone, after the manner of the purifying of the Jews” (verse 6). What a portrayal of Judaism was this! Six is the number of man, for it was on the sixth day man was made, and of the Superman it is written, “Let him that hath understanding count the number of the beast: for it is the number of a man; and his number is six hundred threescore six” (Rev. 13:18). Yes, there were six waterpots standing there, not seven, the perfect number. All that was left of Judaism was of the flesh; God was not in it. As we read later on in this Gospel, the “feasts of the Lord” (Lev. 23:2) were now only “the feast of the Jews” (John 2:13, etc.).

Observe, too, that these six waterpots were of “stone,” not silver which speaks of redemption, nor of gold which tells of Divine glory. As we read in Isaiah 1:22, “Thy silver is become dross,” and again in Lamentations 4:1, “How is the gold become dim?” Profoundly significant, then, were these waterpots of “stone.” And what is the more noticeable, they were empty. Again, we say, what a vivid portrayal have we here of Israel’s condition at that time! No wonder the wine had given out! To supply that Christ was needed. Therefore, our chapter at once directs attention to Him as the One who alone can provide that which speaks of joy in God. Thus does John 2 give us another representation of the failure of Judaism, and the turning away from it to the Savior. Hence, it opens with the word “and,” as denoting the continuation of the same subject which had been brought out in the previous chapter.

In striking accord with what we have just suggested above, is the further fact, that in this scene of the Cana-marriage feast, the mother of Jesus occupies such a prominent position. It is to be noted that she is not here called by her personal name—as she is in Acts 1:14—but is referred to as “the mother of Jesus.” (John 2:1). She is, therefore, to be viewed as a representative character. In this chapter Mary occupies the same position as the Baptist did in John 1. She stands for the nation of Israel. Inasmuch as through her the long promised “seed” had come, Mary is to be regarded here as gathering up into her person the entire Abrahamic stock.

What, then, does the Holy Spirit record here of Mary? Were her actions on this occasion in keeping with the representative character she filled? They certainly were. The record is exceedingly brief, but what is said is enough to confirm our line of interpretation. The mother of Jesus exhibited a woeful lack of spiritual discernment. It seems as if she presumed so far as to dictate to the Lord. Apparently she ventured to order the Savior, and tell Him what to do. No otherwise can we account for the reply that He made to her on this occasion—“Woman, what have I to do with thee?” It was a pointed rebuke, and as such His words admonished her for her failure to render Him the respect and reverence which, as the Lord of Glory, were His due.

We believe that this unwonted interference of Mary was prompted by the same carnal motive as actuated His unbelieving “brethren” (i.e. other sons of Mary and Joseph) on a later occasion. In John 7:2–5 we read, “Now the Jews feast of tabernacles was at hand. His brethren therefore said unto him, Depart hence, and go into Judea, that thy disciples also may see the works that thou doest. For there is no man that doeth anything in secret, and he himself seeketh to be known openly. If thou do these things, show thyself to the world. For neither did his brethren believe in him.”

Mary wanted the Savior to openly display His power and glory, and, accordingly, she was a true representative of the Jewish nation. Israel had no thought and had no heart for a suffering Messiah; what they desired was One who would immediately set up His kingdom here on earth. Thus, in Mary’s ignorance (at that time) of the real character of Christ’s mission, in her untimely longing for Him to openly display His power and glory, and in Christ’s word of rebuke to her, “What have I to do with thee?” we have added evidence of the typical significance of this scene at the Cana marriage-feast—the setting aside of Israel after the flesh.

II. The Prophetic Application

What is recorded here in the first part of John 2 looks beyond the conditions that obtained in Israel at that time. The miracle which Christ performed at Cana possessed a prophetic significance. Like so much that is found in Scripture, the passage before us needs to be studied from a twofold viewpoint: its immediate and its remote applications. Above, we have sought to bring out what we believe to be the direct significance of this incident, in its typical and representative suggestiveness. Now we would turn for a moment to contemplate its more distant and prophetic application.

“And the third day:” so our chapter opens. The Holy Spirit presents to our view a third day scene. The third day is the day of resurrection. It was on the third day that the earth emerged from its watery grave, as it was on the third day the barren earth was clothed with vegetable life (Gen. 1:9, 11). There is an important scripture in Hosea 6:2 which should be placed side by side with John 2:1: “After two days will he revive us: in the third day he will raise us up, and we shall live in his sight.” For almost two thousand years (two Days with God—see 2 Peter 3:8) Israel has been without a king, without a priest, without a home. But the second “Day” is almost ended, and when the third dawns, their renaissance shall come.

This second chapter of John presents us with a prophetic foreshadowing of the future. It gives us a typical picture of Christ—the Third Day, following the two days (the two thousand years) of Israel’s dispersion. Then will Israel invite Jesus to come to them: for, not until they say “Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord” will He return to the earth. Then will the Lord be married to the new Israel, see Isa. 54; Hosea 2, etc. Then will Christ turn the water into wine—fill Israel’s hearts with joy. Then will Israel say to the Gentiles (their servants), “Whatsoever he saith unto you, do.” Then will Israel render unqualified obedience to Jehovah, for He will write His law in their hearts (Jer. 31:33). Then will Christ “manifest His glory” (John 2:11)—cf. Matthew 25:31; and thus will the best wine be reserved for Israel until the last.

Having touched, somewhat briefly, upon the typical and prophetic significance of this miracle, we turn now to consider,

III. The Practical Teaching

“And the third day there was a marriage in Cana of Galilee; and the mother of Jesus was there: And both Jesus was called, and his disciples, to the marriage” (verses 1, 2). Christ here sanctifies the marriage relationship. Marriage was ordained by God in Eden and in our lesson, the Savior, for all time, set His stamp of approval upon it. To be present at this marriage was almost Christ’s first public appearance after His ministry commenced. By gracing this festive gathering, our Lord distinguished and glorified this sacred institution. Observe that Christ was invited to be there. Christ’s presence is essential to a happy marriage. The marriage where there is no place for our Lord and Savior cannot be blest of God: “Whatsoever ye do … do all to the glory of God” (1 Cor. 10:31).

“And when they wanted wine, the mother of Jesus saith unto him, They have no wine” (John 2:3). Mary’s words seem to indicate two things: first, she ignored His Deity. Was she not aware that He was more than man? Did she not know that He was God manifest in the flesh? and, therefore, omniscient. He knew that they had no wine. Second, it appears as though Mary was seeking to exert her parental authority, by suggesting to Him what He ought to do under the circumstances.

“Jesus saith unto her, Woman, what have I to do with thee?” (John 2:4). This is an elliptical expression, and in the Greek literally read, “What to Me and thee?” We take it that the force of this question of our Lord’s was, What is there common to Me and thee—cf Matthew 8:29 for a similar grammatical construction. It was not that the Savior resented Mary’s inviting His aid, but a plain intimation that she must allow Him to act in His own way. Christ here showed that His season of subjection to Mary and Joseph (Luke 2:51) was over, His public ministry had now commenced and she must not presume to dictate to Him.

Many of our readers, no doubt, have wondered why Christ here addressed His mother as “Woman.” Scholars tell us that at the time our Lord used this word it would not sound harsh or rough. It was a designation commonly used for addressing females of all classes and relationships, and was sometimes employed with great reverence and affection. Proof of this is seen in the fact that while on the Cross itself Christ addressed Mary as “Woman,” saying, “Behold thy son” (John 19:26 and see also John 20:13, 15).

But we believe our Lord chose this word with Divine discrimination, and for at least two reasons. First, because He was here calling attention to the fact that He was more than man, that He was none less than the Son of God. To have addressed her as “mother” would have called attention to human relationships; but calling her “woman” showed that God was speaking to her. We may add that it is significant that the two times Christ addressed His mother as “woman” are both recorded in the Gospel of John which sets forth His Deity.

Again, the employment of this term “woman” denotes Christ’s omniscience. With prophetic foresight He anticipated the horrible idolatry which was to ascribe Divine honors to her. He knew that in the centuries which were to follow, men would entitle her the Queen of angels and the Mother of God. Hence, He refused to use a term which would in any wise countenance the monstrous system of Mariolatry. Christ would here teach us that Mary was only a woman—“Blessed among women” (Luke 1:28) but not “blessed above women.”

“Mine hour is not yet come” (John 2:4) became the most solemn watchword of His life, marking the stages by which He drew nigh to His death. Seven references are made in this Gospel to that awful “hour.” The first is in our present passage in John 2:4. The second is found in John 7:30—“Then they sought to take him: but no man laid hands on him, because his hour was not yet come.” The third time is found in John 8:20—“And no man laid hands on him; for his hour was not yet come.” The fourth is in John 12:23—“And Jesus answered them, saying, The hour is come, that the Son of man should be glorified.” The fifth is 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.” The sixth is in John 16:32—“Behold, the hour cometh, yea, is now come, that ye shall be scattered, every man to his own, and shall leave me alone: and yet I am not alone, because the Father is with me.” The seventh is in John 17:1—“These words spake Jesus, and lifted up his eyes to heaven, and said, Father, the hour is come; glorify thy son, that thy son also may glorify thee.” This “hour” was the hour of His humiliation. It was the “hour” of His suffering. But why should Christ refer to this “hour” when Mary was seeking to dictate to Him? Ah, surely the answer is not far to seek. That awful “hour” to which he looked forward, was the time when He would be subject to man’s will, for then He would be delivered up into the hands of sinners. But until then, He was not to be ordered by man; instead, He was about His Father’s business, seeking only to do His will.

“His mother saith unto the servants, Whatsoever he saith unto you, do” (John 2:5). This is very beautiful. Mary meekly accepted the Lord’s rebuke, recognized His rights to act as He pleased, and left the matter entirely in His hands. There is an important and much neglected lesson here for each of us. How prone we are to dictate to God! How often we are disposed to tell Him what to do! This is only another evidence of that detestable self-will which still operates in the believer, unless Divine grace subdues it. Our plain duty is to commit our way unto the Lord and then leave Him to supply our need in His own good time and manner.

We turn now to consider the miracle which Christ performed here at Cana. And first, a few words upon the occasion of it. The Lord Jesus recognized in this request of Mary’s a call from His Father. He discerned in this simple act of furnishing the wedding-guests with wine a very different thing from what His mother saw. The performing of this miracle marked an important crisis in the Savior’s career. His act of turning the water into wine would alter the whole course of His life. Hitherto He had lived in quiet seclusion in Nazareth, but from this time on He would become a public and marked character. From henceforth He would scarcely have leisure to eat, and His opportunity for retired communion with the Father would be only when others slept. If He performed this miracle, and manifested forth His glory, He would become the gazing stock of every eye, and the common talk of every tongue. He would be followed about from place to place, thronged and jostled by vulgar crowds. This would provoke the jealousy of religious leaders, and He would be spied upon and regarded as a public menace. Later, this would eventuate in His being seized as a notorious criminal, falsely accused, and sentenced to be crucified. All of this stood out before Him as He was requested to supply the needed wine. But He did not shrink. He had come to do the will of God, no matter what the cost. May we not say it reverently, that as He stood there by Mary’s side and listened to her words, that the Cross challenged Him. Certainly it was here anticipated, and hence His solemn reference to His “hour” yet to come.

In the second place, the manner in which the miracle was performed is deserving of our closest attention. “And there were set there six waterpots of stone, after the manner of the purifying of the Jews, containing two or three firkins apiece. Jesus saith unto them, Fill the waterpots with water. And they filled them up to the brim. And he saith unto them, Draw out now, and bear unto the governor of the feast. And they bare” (John 2:6–8). Christ was the One to work the miracle, yet the “servants” were the ones who seemed to do everything. They filled the waterpots, they drew off the wine, they bore it to the governor of the feast. There was no visible exhibition of putting forth of Divine power. Christ pronounced no magical formula: He did not even command the water to become wine. What was witnessed by the spectators was men at work, not God creating out of nothing. And all this speaks loudly to us. It was a parable in action. The means used were human, the result was seen to be Divine.

This was Christ’s first miracle, and in it He shows us that God is pleased to use human instrumentality in performing the wonders of His grace. The miracle consisted in the supplying of wine and, as previously pointed out, wine symbolizes joy in God. Learn then, that the Lord is pleased to employ human agents in bringing joy to the hearts of men. And what was the element Christ used on this occasion in producing the wine? It was water. Now “water” is one of the symbols of the written Word (see Ephesians 5:26). And how may we His servants, today, bring the wine of joy unto human hearts? By ministering the Word (see Ephesians 5:26). And how may we His servants, today, “servants” Christ’s command to fill those six empty waterpots of stone with water, might have seemed meaningless, if not foolish; but their obedience made them fellow-workers in the miracle! And to the wise of this world, who put their trust in legislation, and social amelioration, it seems useless to go forth unto the wicked with nothing more in our hands than a Book written almost two thousand years ago. Nevertheless, it has pleased God “by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe”—foolish, that is, in the estimate of the worldly wise. Here then is blessed instruction for the servants of God today. Let us go forth with the Water of life, implicitly obeying the commands of our Lord, and He will use us to bring the wine of Divine joy to many a sad heart.

In the third place, consider the teaching of this miracle. In it we have a striking picture of the regeneration of a sinner. First, we see the condition of the natural man before he is born again: he is like an empty waterpot of stone-cold, lifeless, useless. Second, we see the worthlessness of man’s religion to help the sinner. Those waterpots were set apart “after the manner of the purifying of the Jews”—they were designed for ceremonial purgation; but their valuelessness was shown by their emptiness. Third, at the command of Christ they were filled with water, and water is one of the emblems of the written Word: it is the Word which God uses in quickening dead souls into newness of life. Observe, too, these waterpots were filled “up to the brim”—God always gives good measure; with no niggardly hand does He minister. Fourth, the water produced wine, “good wine” (verse 10): symbol of the Divine joy which fills the soul of the one who has been “born of water.” Fifth, we read “This beginning of miracles did Jesus.” That is precisely what the new birth is—a “miracle.” And not only so, it is always the “beginning of miracles” for the one newly born: regeneration is ever the initial work of grace. Sixth, observe “this beginning of miracles did Jesus in Cana of Galilee, and manifested forth His glory.” It is thus, in the regeneration of dead sinners, that the “glory” of our Savior and Lord is “manifested.” Seventh, observe, “And His disciples believed on him.” A dead man cannot believe. But the first movement of the newly born soul is to turn to Christ. Not that we argue an interval of time between the two, but as cause stands to effect so the work of regeneration precedes the act of believing in Christ—cf. 2 Thessalonians 2:13: first, “sanctification of the Spirit,” which is the new birth, then “belief of the truth.”

But is there not even a deeper meaning to this beginning of Christ’s miracles? Is it not profoundly significant that in this first miracle which our Savior performed, the “wine,” which is the symbol of His shed blood, should be so prominent! The marriage-feast was the occasion of joy and merriment; and does not God give us here something more than a hint that in order for His people to be joyous, the precious blood of His Son must be first poured forth! Ah, that is the foundation of every blessing we enjoy, the ground of all our happiness. Hence did Christ begin His supernatural works of mercy by producing that which spoke of His sacrificial death.

“When the ruler of the feast had tasted the water that was made wine, and knew not whence it was: (but the servants which drew the water knew;) the governor of the feast called the bridegroom” (John 2:9). This parenthetical statement is most blessed. It illustrates an important principle. It was the servants—not the “disciples,” nor yet Mary—who were nearest to the Lord on this occasion, and who possessed the knowedge of His mind. What puzzled the “ruler of the feast” was no secret to these “servants.” How different are God’s ways from ours! The Lord of glory was here as “Servant.” In marvelous grace He came “not to be ministered unto, but to minister:” therefore, are those who are humble in service, and those engaged in the humblest service, nearest to Him. This is their reward for turning their backs upon the honors and emoluments of the world. As we read in Amos 3:7—“Surely the Lord God will do nothing, but he revealeth his secret unto (Ah, unto whom?) his servants the prophets.” It is like what we read in Psalm 103:7—“He made known his ways unto Moses;” and who was Moses? Let Scripture answer: “Now the man Moses was very meek above all the men which were upon the face of the earth” (Num. 12:3)! Yes, “the meek will he guide in judgment: and the meek will he teach his way” (Ps. 25:9).

Those who determine to occupy the position of authority (as Mary did here) are not taken into the Lord’s secrets. Those who wish to be in a place like the “ruler of the feast,” know not His thoughts. But those who humble themselves to take the servant position, who place themselves at Christ’s disposal, are the ones who share His counsels. And in the day to come, when He will provide the true wine of the kingdom, those who have served Him during the time of His absence, shall then be under Him the dispensers of joy. Has he not promised, “If any man serve me, him will my Father honor?”

“And saith unto him, Every man at the beginning doth set forth good wine; and when men have well drunk, then that which is worse: but thou hast kept the good wine until now” (John 2:10). This illustrates the ways of men and the ways of God. The world (and Satan also) gives its best first, and keeps the worst for the last. First the pleasures of sin—for a season—and then the wages of sin. But with God it is the very opposite. He brings His people into the wilderness before He brings them into the promised inheritance. First the Cross then the crown. Fellow believer, for us, the best wine is yet to be: “The path of the just is as the shining light, that shineth more and more unto the perfect day” (Prov. 4:18).

One more observation on this passage and we must close. What a message is there here for the unsaved! The natural man has a “wine” of his own. There is a carnal happiness enjoyed which is produced by “the pleasures of sin”—the merriment which this world affords. But how fleeting this is! How unsatisfying! Sooner or later this “wine,” which is pressed from “the vine of the earth” (Rev. 14:18), gives out. The poor sinner may be surrounded by gay companions, he may be comfortably circumstanced financially and socially, yet the time comes when he discovers he has “no wine.” Happy the one who is conscious of this. The discovery of our own wretchedness is often the turning point. It prepares us to look to that One who is ready “to give unto them beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness” (Isa. 61:3). Unbelieving friend, there is only One who can furnish the true “wine,” the “good” wine, and that is the Lord Jesus Christ. He can satisfy the longing of the soul. He can quench the thirst of the heart. He can put a song into thy mouth which not even the angels can sing, even the song of Redemption. What then must you do? What price must you pay? Ah, dear friend, listen to the glad tidings of grace: “Repent ye, and believe the Gospel” (Mark 1:15).

And now, we give a number of questions to prepare the interested student for the lesson to follow. Study, then, and prayerfully meditate on the following questions:—

1.   Why is the cleansing of the temple referred to just here?—Note its place in the other Gospels.

2.   Why did not Christ drive out “the doves?” verse 16.

3.   What was indicated by the Jews’ demand for a “sign?” verse 18.

4.   Why did Christ point them forward to His resurrection? verses 18–21.

5.   Did the Lord’s own disciples believe in the promise of His resurrection? If not, why? verse 22.

6.   What solemn warning does verse 23 point?

7.   What does verse 25 prove concerning Christ?[1]



[1] Pink, A. W. (1923–1945). Exposition of the Gospel of John (pp. 77–89). Swengel, PA: Bible Truth Depot. (Public Domain)

Psalm 22

Psalm 22

Psalm 22

To the chief Musician upon Aijeleth Shahar, A Psalm of David. My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me? why art thou so far from helping me, and from the words of my roaring? O my God, I cry in the daytime, but thou hearest not; and in the night season, and am not silent. But thou art holy, O thou that inhabitest the praises of Israel. Our fathers trusted in thee: they trusted, and thou didst deliver them. They cried unto thee, and were delivered: they trusted in thee, and were not confounded. But I am a worm, and no man; a reproach of men, and despised of the people. All they that see me laugh me to scorn: they shoot out the lip, they shake the head, saying, He trusted on the LORD that he would deliver him: let him deliver him, seeing he delighted in him. But thou art he that took me out of the womb: thou didst make me hope when I was upon my mother’s breasts. I was cast upon thee from the womb: thou art my God from my mother’s belly. Be not far from me; for trouble is near; for there is none to help. Many bulls have compassed me: strong bulls of Bashan have beset me round. They gaped upon me with their mouths, as a ravening and a roaring lion. I am poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint: my heart is like wax; it is melted in the midst of my bowels. My strength is dried up like a potsherd; and my tongue cleaveth to my jaws; and thou hast brought me into the dust of death. For dogs have compassed me: the assembly of the wicked have inclosed me: they pierced my hands and my feet. I may tell all my bones: they look and stare upon me. They part my garments among them, and cast lots upon my vesture. But be not thou far from me, O LORD: O my strength, haste thee to help me. Deliver my soul from the sword; my darling from the power of the dog. Save me from the lion’s mouth: for thou hast heard me from the horns of the unicorns. I will declare thy name unto my brethren: in the midst of the congregation will I praise thee. Ye that fear the LORD, praise him; all ye the seed of Jacob, glorify him; and fear him, all ye the seed of Israel. For he hath not despised nor abhorred the affliction of the afflicted; neither hath he hid his face from him; but when he cried unto him, he heard. My praise shall be of thee in the great congregation: I will pay my vows before them that fear him. The meek shall eat and be satisfied: they shall praise the LORD that seek him: your heart shall live for ever. All the ends of the world shall remember and turn unto the LORD: and all the kindreds of the nations shall worship before thee. For the kingdom is the LORD’S: and he is the governor among the nations. All they that be fat upon earth shall eat and worship: all they that go down to the dust shall bow before him: and none can keep alive his own soul. A seed shall serve him; it shall be accounted to the Lord for a generation. They shall come, and shall declare his righteousness unto a people that shall be born, that he hath done this.” (Psalm 22:title–31, AV)

Psalm 22

The subject of this Psalm is the deliverance of a righteous sufferer from his enemies, and the effect of this deliverance on others. It is so framed as to be applied without violence to any case belonging to the class described, yet so that it was fully verified only in Christ, the head and representative of the class in question. The immediate speaker in the psalm is an ideal person, the righteous servant of Jehovah, but his words may, to a certain extent, be appropriated by any suffering believer, and by the whole suffering church, as they have been in all ages.

The psalm may be divided into three nearly equal parts. The first pleads the necessity of God’s interposition, arising from his covenant relation to the sufferer, ver. 2–11 (1–10). The second argues the same thing from the imminence of the danger, ver. 12–22 (11–21). The third declares the glorious effects which must follow from an answer to the foregoing prayer, ver. 23–32 (22–31). Ver. 12 (11) and 22 (21) form connecting links between the first and second, second and third parts.

1. To the Chief Musician. On the hind of the morning. A Psalm by David. Designed for the permanent use of the church, and therefore not relating to mere individual or private interests. The second clause of the inscription is one of those enigmatical titles in which David seems to have delighted. See above, on Ps. 5:1, 7:1, 9:1, 16:1. The opinion that it refers to the melody or subject of some other poem, is less probable than that it describes the theme of this. The hind may then be a poetical figure for persecuted innocence, and the morning, or rather dawn, for deliverance after long distress. Compare 2 Sam. 1:19, Prov. 6:5, Isa. 13:14, with Isa. 8:20, 47:11, 58:8, 10, Hos. 6:3, 10:15. The use of such emblems here is less surprising, as this psalm abounds in figures drawn from the animal kingdom. See below, ver. 13 (12), 14 (13), 17 (16), 21 (20), 22 (21).

2 (1). My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me, far from my deliverance, the words of my roaring? In this verse and the next we have the sufferer’s complaint, the summary description of his danger and distress, the highest point of which is here described as the sense of desertion or abandonment on God’s part. “Why hast thou left me so to suffer, that I cannot but consider myself finally deserted?” The use of these words by our Savior on the cross, with a slight variation from the Hebrew (Mat. 27:46, Mark 15:34), shews how eminently true the whole description is of him, but does not make him the exclusive subject. The divine name here used is the one descriptive of God’s power (אֵל), and may therefore be considered as including the idea of my strength. “Why hast thou, whom I regarded as my strength, my support, and my protector, thus forsaken me in this extremity?” The last clause admits of several constructions. “Far from my deliverance (are) the words of my roaring,” i.e. they are far from having the effect of saving me. Or the question may be repeated: (Why art thou) far from my help and the words of my roaring?” Or the same idea may be expressed by a simple affirmation; “(Thou art) far from my help,” &c. But the simplest construction is to put these words into apposition with the object of address in the first clause, and throw the whole into one sentence. “Why hast thou forsaken me, (standing or remaining) far from my help, i.e. too far off to help and save me, or even to hear the words of my roaring?” This last combination shews that although the figure of roaring is borrowed from the habits of the lower animals, the subject to which it is applied must be a human one, and as such capable of articulate speech. The roaring of the psalmist was not the mere instinctive utterance of physical distress, but the complaint of an intelligent and moral agent. Compare Isaiah 38:14.

3 (2). My God, I call by day and thou wilt not answer, and by night and there is no silence to me. The divine name here used is the common Hebrew word for God, denoting an object of religious worship. I call, literally I shall call, implying a sorrowful conviction that his cries will still be vain. Thou wilt not hear or answer: the original expression is a verb specifically appropriated to the favorable reception of a prayer. See above, on Ps. 3:5 (4), Day and night, i.e. without intermission. See above, on Ps. 1:2. No silence implies no answer, and the parallelism is therefore an exact one.

4 (3). And thou (art) holy, inhabiting the praises of Israel. Here begins his statement of the grounds on which he might claim to be heard, and all which may be summed up in this, that Jehovah was the covenant God of Israel. The word translated holy, in its widest sense, includes all that distinguishes God from creatures, not excepting what are usually termed his natural perfections. Hence the epithet is often found connected with descriptions of his power, eternity, &c. See Isa. 6:3; 40:25, 26; 57:15; Hab. 3:3; Ps. 111:9. The primary meaning of the verb appears to be that of separation, which may here be alluded to, in reference to Jehovah’s peculiar relation to the chosen people. Or it may be taken in its wider and higher sense, leaving the other to be expressed in the last clause. “Thou art the glorious and perfect God who inhabitest the praises of Israel,” i.e. dwellest among those praises, and art constantly surrounded by them. Some prefer, however, to retain the primary meaning of the Hebrew verb, sitting (enthroned upon) the praises of Israel.

5 (4). In thee trusted our fathers; they trusted and thou savedst them. Not only was Jehovah the covenant God of Israel, and as such bound to help his people, but he had actually helped them in time past. This is urged as a reason why he should not refuse to help the sufferer in this case. The plural form, our fathers, makes the prayer appropriate to the whole church, without rendering it less so to the case of Christ, or to that of the individual believer.

6 (5.) To thee they cried and were delivered; in thee they trusted, and were not ashamed. This last word is continually used in Scripture for the disappointment and frustration of the hopes. The argument of this verse lies in the tacit contrast between the case referred to and that of the sufferer himself. As if he had said, “How is it then that I cry and am not delivered, I trust and am confounded or ashamed?”

7 (6). And I (am) a worm, and not a man; a reproach of men, and despised of the people. The pronoun expressed at the beginning is emphatic. I, as contrasted with my fathers. Our idiom would here require an adversative particle, but I, the use of which is much less frequent in Hebrew. See above, on Ps. 2:6. The insignificance and meanness of mankind in general are elsewhere denoted by the figure of a worm (Job 25:6). But even in comparison with these, the sufferer is a worm, i.e. an object of contemptuous pity, because apparently forsaken of God, and reduced to a desperate extremity. (Compare Isa. 41:14, and 1 Sam. 24:15.) A reproach of mankind, despised by them, and disgraceful to them.—The people, not a single person or a few, but the community at large.

8 (7). All seeing me mock at me; they pout with the lip; they shake the head. This is an amplification of the last clause of the verse preceding. The verb in the second member of the sentence is of doubtful meaning. It may either mean to stretch the mouth, or to part the lips with a derisive grin. (See Ps. 35:21, Job 16:10.) The shaking of the head may be either a vague gesture of contempt, or the usual expression of negation, by a lateral or horizontal motion, equivalent to saying “No, no!” i.e. there is no hope for him. Either of these explanations is more probable than that which applies the words to a vertical movement of the head or nodding, in token of assent, and acquiescence in the sufferings of the sufferer, as just and right. The peculiar gesture here described is expressly attributed by the evangelists to the spectators of our Savior’s crucifixion (Mat. 27:39, Mark 15:29). It is one of those minor coincidences, which, although they do not constitute the main subject of the prophecy, draw attention to it, and help us to identify it.

9 (8). Trust in Jehovah! He will deliver him, he will save him, for he delights in him. The literal meaning of the first clause is, roll to (or on) Jehovah, which would be unintelligible but for the parallel expressions in Ps. 37:5, roll thy way upon Jehovah, and in Prov. 16:3, roll thy work upon Jehovah, where the idea is evidently that of a burden cast upon another by one who is unable to sustain it himself. This burden, in the first case, is his way, i.e. his course of life, his fortune, his destiny, and in the other case, his work, i.e. his business, his affairs, his interest. In evident allusion to these places, the apostle Peter says, casting all your care upon him, for he careth for you (1 Pet. 5:7). By these three parallels light is thrown on the elliptical expression now before us, roll, i.e. thy burden or thy care upon Jehovah.—A further difficulty is occasioned by the form of the original, which, according to usage, must be either the infinitive construct or the second person of the imperative. But as these seem out of place in such a context, some arbitrarily explain it as an absolute infinitive, or a third person imperative, or change the form to that of a preterite. This last is the construction in the Septuagint version retained in the New Testament (Mat. 27:43), and really included in the Hebrew, but by no means an exact representation of its form. Perhaps the best solution of the syntax is to make this clause a quotation, or derisive repetition of the sufferer’s own words, as if they had said, “This is he who was so fond of repeating the precept, Trust in Jehovah! Let him now try its virtue in his own case. He in whom he has trusted, and exhorted others to trust also, will no doubt deliver him.” The next two verbs are ironical futures, not imperatives, and should be so translated.—The last words of the verse (חָפֵץ בּוֹ) are always applied elsewhere to God’s complacency in man, and not to man’s reciprocal delight in God. The Septuagint version, retained in the New Testament, if he will (have) him, or if he will (deliver) him, although not incorrect, is much inferior in strength to the original.—By appropriating these words, the spectators of our Lord’s sufferings identified themselves with the wicked persecutors, by whom they are here supposed to be originally uttered.

10 (9). For thou didst draw me from the womb, making me trust upon the breasts of my mother. The argument from past time is here pushed still further. God had not only shewn himself to be the God of the sufferer’s forefathers, but of the sufferer himself in early life. The for connects this verse with the last clause of the one preceding. What his enemies ironically said was seriously true. God had indeed delighted in him once, for it was he that brought him into life, and through the perils of infancy. Thou didst draw me, literally, thou (art or wast) my breaking forth, i.e. the cause of it, as God is said to be the light, joy, strength of the believer, i.e. the source or the dispenser of these blessings.—Made me trust, does not refer to the literal exercise of confidence in God, which could not be asserted of a suckling, but means gave me cause to trust or feel secure, in other words, secured me, kept me safe. The original construction is, making me trust, but the Hebrew infinitive and participle used in these two clauses may be here represented by the past tense of the English verb.—As applied to the whole church or chosen people, this verse may be considered as descriptive of God’s dealings with them at the exodus from Egypt, which is elsewhere metaphorically represented as a birth. The direct and obvious reference, however, is to individual birth and infancy.

11 (10). Upon thee was I cast from the womb; from the bowels of my mother, my God (art) thou. Into thy arms I was at first received, as into those of an affectionate parent. See Ruth 4:16, and compare the opposite use of the same figure in Ezek. 16:5. In the last clause we are brought back to the point from which we set out, the sufferer having, in the mean time, as it were, established his right to say, my God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?

12 (11). Be not far from me, for distress is near, for there is no helper. Having shewn that he was justified in expecting that God would not forsake him in extremity, he now shews that the extremity exists. The first clause constitutes the link of connection between the first and second subdivisions of the psalm. “Since, then, thou art my God, and as such must be near in my distress, Oh be not far from me now, for my distress is near, and there is no one else to help me.”—Near is not put in opposition to proximity or actual contact, but to distance. The particular form of expression was suggested by the prayer in the first clause. It was no time for God to be afar off, when trouble was so near, so close upon the sufferer.—The second for may be subordinated to the first, and introduce a reason for declaring that distress was near. But it is much more natural to make the two co-relative, and understand the second as suggesting an additional reason for the prayer, be not far from me.

13 (12). Many bulls have compassed me, strong bulls of Bashan have surrounded me. He now proceeds to amplify the last clause of the foregoing verse, by shewing that trouble was indeed at hand. The strength and fierceness of his persecutors are expressed by comparing them to cattle fed in the rich and solitary pastures of Bashan, where the absence of men would of course increase their wildness. Corresponding to the noun in the first clause is an epithet frequently applied to it in Hebrew.

14 (13). They have opened upon me their mouth, a lion tearing and roaring. The tropical nature of the language is evinced by the entire change of figure in this verse. The same persons who before were bulls of Bashan now appear as a ravening and roaring lion. There is no need of supplying a particle of comparison, the absence of which in both these verses, by substituting metaphor for simile, adds greatly to the life of the description.

15 (14). Like water I am poured out, and all my bones are parted; my heart has become like wax, melted in the midst of my bowels. Similar terms are used in Josh. 7:5, Lam. 2:19, to describe dismay and fear; but in the case before us they seem rather descriptive of extreme weakness. See Ps. 58:8 (7), 2 Sam. 14:14, and compare the symbolical action in 1 Sam. 7:6. The comparison with water is applied to moral weakness also in Gen. 49:4. The parting of the bones may either denote dislocation or extreme emaciation, making the bones prominent. In either case the essential idea is still that of desperate exhaustion and debility.

16 (15). Dried like the potsherd (is) my strength, and my tongue fastened to my jaws, and to the dust of death thou wilt reduce me. The description of debility is still continued. He is as destitute of vigor as a broken piece of earthenware is of sap or moisture.—Fastened, literally, made to cleave or stick, through dryness.—The dust of death, i.e. the grave, the place of burial, or more generally, the debased, humiliated state of the dead.—Thou wilt place me in it, or reduce me to it. The translation of this future as a preterite is not only ungrammatical, but hurtful to the sense, as the idea evidently is, that this is something not experienced already, but the end to which his sufferings are tending. The direct address to God recognizes him as the sovereign disposer, and men only as his instruments.

17 (16). For dogs have surrounded me, a crowd of evil-doers have beset me, piercing my hands and my feet. He now resumes the description of his persecutors, under figures borrowed from the animal kingdom. The comparison with dogs is much less forcible to us than to an oriental reader, because dogs in the east are less domesticated, more gregarious, wilder, and objects not of affection, but abhorrence, as peculiarly unclean. In the next clause the figurative dress is thrown aside, and the dogs described as an assembly of malefactors. The first noun seems intended to suggest the idea of a whole community or organized body as engaged in the persecution. See above, on people, in ver. 7 (6). This makes the passage specially appropriate to the sufferings of our Savior at the hands both of the mob and of the government. The Hebrew word is one of those applied in the Old Testament to the whole congregation of Israel. (See above, on Ps. 1:5, and compare Exod. 12:3, 16:1, 2, 9, Num. 27:17, Lev. 4:15.) The last clause, as above translated, contains a striking reference to our Savior’s crucifixion, which some have striven to expunge, by denying that the ancients nailed the feet as well as the hands to the cross. But although there is a singular absence of explicit declaration on the subject, both in the classical and sacred writers, the old opinion, that the feet were pierced, may be considered as completely verified by modern investigation and discussion. So far, therefore, as the question of usage is concerned, we can have no difficulty in referring this clause to our Savior’s crucifixion, and regarding it as one of those remarkable coincidences, some of which have been already noticed, all designed and actually tending to identify our Lord as the most prominent subject of the prophecy. It is very remarkable, however, that no citation or application of the clause occurs in any of the gospels. It is also worthy of remark that the clause, thus explained, although highly appropriate to one part of our Savior’s passion, is, unlike the rest of the description, hardly applicable, even in a figurative sense, to the case of any other sufferer. Even supposing the essential idea to be merely that of wounds inflicted on the body, it seems strange that it should be expressed in the specific and unusual form of piercing the hands and the feet. On further inspection it appears that, in order to obtain this meaning, we must either change the text (כָּֽאֵרוּ or כָּֽאֲרֵי for כָּֽאֲרִי) or assume a plural form so rare that some grammarians deny its existence altogether (כָּֽאֲרִי for כָּֽאֲרִים), and an equally rare form of the participle (כָּֽאֲרִים for כָּרִים), and a meaning of the verb itself which nowhere else occurs, but must be borrowed from a cognate root (כּוּר for כָּרָה); an accumulation of grammatical and lexicographical anomalies, which cannot be assumed without the strongest exegetical necessity, and this can exist only if the words admit of no other explanation more in accordance with analogy and usage. Now the very same form in Isa. 38:13, is unquestionably used to mean like the lion, and a slight modification of the same, in Num. 24:9, Ezek. 22:25, like a lion. This idea would be here the more appropriate, because the psalm abounds in such allusions, and because the lion is expressly mentioned both before and afterwards. See above, ver. 14 (13), and below, ver. 22 (21). The sense would then be: “they surround my hands and my feet, as they would a lion,” or, “as a lion would,” i.e. with the strength and fierceness of a lion. The hands and feet may be mentioned as the parts used in defense and flight. That the mention of these parts, after all, in connection with the lion is not altogether natural, cannot fairly be denied, and this objection should have all the weight to which it is entitled. But whether it can outweigh the grammatical difficulties that attend the other construction, is a serious question, which ought not to be embarrassed by any supposed conflict with New Testament authority, since no citation of the clause occurs there. It may even be possible to reconcile the two interpretations by supplying a verb and giving כָּֽאֲרִי its usual meaning. “Like the lion (they have wounded) my hands and my feet.” The point of comparison would then be the infliction of sharp wounds in those parts of the body, an idea common to the habits of the lion, and to the usages of crucifixion.

18 (17). I tell all my bones (while) they look and stare upon me. The pronoun of the last clause is expressed in Hebrew, which removes the ambiguity of the construction, by shewing that the subject of the following verbs is not the bones of the preceding clause, but something more remote, namely, the sufferer’s enemies and persecutors. The ambiguity of the English word tell corresponds to that of the Hebrew (אֲסַפֵּר), which means both to number and to relate, to count and to recount. Some suppose, not improbably, that this verse presents the sufferer as stripped by his enemies, and looking with grief and wonder at his own emaciation, while they gaze at it with delight, as the Hebrew phrase implies. See below, on Ps. 27:13.

19 (18). They (are about to) divide my garments for themselves, and on my clothing they (are ready to) cast lots. This is the last stroke necessary to complete the picture. Having stripped him, nothing more is left but to appropriate his garments, whether from cupidity or in derision. The futures intimate that things can go no further without actual loss of life, and that the case is therefore an extreme one. The providential realization of this ideal scene in our Lord’s history is expressly mentioned by all the four evangelists (Mat. 27:35, Mark 15:24, Luke 23:34, John 19:23, 24). This makes their silence as to ver. 17 (16) the more remarkable.

20 (19). And thou, Jehovah, be not far; my strength! to my assistance hasten. The pronoun in the first clause is emphatic. “Such is the conduct of my enemies; but as for thee, O Lord, be not far from me.” The word translated strength is used in this place only, and apparently in reference to the name of God with which the psalm begins (אֵלִי) and to the word hind (אַיֶּלֶת) in the title, both which are akin to it in etymology.

21 (20). Free from the sword my life (or soul), from the hand of the dog my lonely one (or only one). The sword is a general expression for life-destroying agents. See 2 Sam. 11:24, 25, where it is applied to archery.—My life, my soul, i.e. myself considered as a living person.—The apparent solecism, hand of the dog, shews that both terms are figurative, or as one has quaintly expressed it, that the dog meant is a dog with hands. See above, on ver. 17 (16), where the plural dogs is co-extensive in its meaning with the ideal or collective singular in this place.—My only (life), the only one I have to lose, is a good sense in itself, both here and in Ps. 35:17; but the analogy of Ps. 25:16, and 68:7 (6), recommends the sense of solitary, lonely, which is admissible in all the places.

22 (21). Save me from the mouth of the lion, and from the horns of the unicorns thou hast heard (or answered) me. The petition in the first clause is directly followed by an expression of confident assurance that his prayer will be answered, or rather that it is already heard, corresponding to the figurative expression in ver. 3 (2), thou wilt not hear (or answer), where the same Hebrew verb is used.—From the horns denotes of course the place from which the prayer proceded, not the answer. The figure is a strong one for the midst of danger. The name of any wild horned animal would be appropriate. The precise sense of the Hebrew word (רֵמִים) is therefore comparatively unimportant. The common version unicorns rests on the authority of the Septuagint; but although the unicorn, long regarded as a fabulous animal, has now been proved to be a real one, we have no reason to believe that it was ever known in Palestine, or to dissent from the common judgment of the learned, that the Hebrew word denotes the wild bull or a species of the antelope, most probably the former.

23 (22). I will declare thy name to my brethren, in the midst of the assembly I will praise thee. His certainty of audience and acceptance is further expressed by declaring his intention to give thanks for it.—To declare God’s name, in Scripture usage, is to celebrate the acts by which he has manifested his perfections. See above, on Ps. 5:12 (11).—The assembly, or congregation of Israel, to which the Hebrew word is constantly applied (Lev. 16:17, Deut. 31:30), whether present in person or by their representatives (2 Chron. 20:13–15). The same sense of the word occurs below, Ps. 35:18, 40:10 (9). The idea here is that his praise shall not be merely private or domestic, but public.

24 (23). Fearers of Jehovah, praise him! All the seed of Jacob, glorify him! And be afraid of him, all the seed of Israel! These words are uttered, as it were, in the midst of the ideal congregation mentioned in the verse preceding. That the call, though formally addressed to the whole race, was really intended for the spiritual Israel, excluding wicked Israelites and including the righteous of whatever name or nation, is indicated by the words of the first clause, while the last shews that the praise required is not familiar, but in the highest degree reverential.

25 (24). For he has not despised and not abhorred the suffering of the sufferer, and has not hid his face from him, and, in his crying to him, heard. This is the ground on which the fearers of the Lord are called upon to praise him, namely, the faithful execution of his promise to the sufferer in this case, and the pledge thereby afforded of like faithfulness in every other.

26 (25). From thee (shall be) my praise in (the) great congregation; my vows I will pay before his fearers, those who fear him. From thee is something more than of thee. It does not merely indicate the theme or subject, but the source or cause of his thanksgiving. “It is thou who givest me occasion thus to praise thee.” In the last clause there seems to be a reference to the sacrificial feasts connected with the fulfilment of vows made in distress or danger. (See Deut. 12:18, 16:11.) These were occasions of festivity, not only to the offerer and his nearest friends, but to a wide circle of invited guests, which makes the metaphor peculiarly appropriate in this place. The essential idea is the same as in ver. 23 (22).—His fearers, worshippers, the true Israel, as distinguished from the mere natural descendants of the patriarch.

27 (26). (Then) shall eat (thereof) the humble, and be satisfied; (then) shall praise Jehovah those who seek him. May your heart live for ever! The adverb then is here supplied in the translation, in order to retain the Hebrew order of the sentence. The word thereof is introduced to remove all ambiguity of syntax, and to connect the act of eating with the sacrificial feast of the foregoing verse.—To seek God, in the dialect of Scripture, is to seek to know him, and also to seek his favor, not only by specific acts of prayer, but by the whole course of the life. See above, on Ps. 14:2.—The concluding wish, your heart live for ever, comprehends an assurance that it shall live. The heart is said to die, in cases of extreme grief and distress. See 1 Sam. 25:37, and compare Ps. 109:22. The objects of address are those who seek and praise God. The sudden change of person is analogous to that in ver. 26 (25), which begins from thee, and ends with fearing him. That this is not an inadvertent irregularity, appears from its recurrence in the next verse.—The humble and the seekers of Jehovah are parallel descriptions of the same class, namely, true believers, those who are elsewhere called the righteous.

28 (27). Remember and return to Jehovah shall all the ends of the earth, and worship before thee all the kindreds of the nations. As the joyful effects of this deliverance were not to be restricted to himself or his domestic circle, but extended to the great congregation of God’s people, so too we now read that they shall not be confined to any one race, but made to embrace all. The ends of the earth, here put for the remotest nations. See above, on Ps. 2:8. These are named as the least likely to be comprehended in the promise, but of course without excluding those less distant. As if he had said, the ends of the earth and all that is between them. In the other clause, accordingly, we find as a parallel expression, not the furthest, but all nations. They shall remember this deliverance, this exhibition of God’s faithfulness and might, and shall turn unto Jehovah, be converted to his worship and his service. Some suppose an allusion to the great original apostasy, or to the temporary casting off of the Gentiles: they shall remember their original condition, and return unto the Lord, from whom they have revolted. But this, though true and really implied, is not the strict sense of the words, which would then have no perceptible connection with the general subject of the psalm, and the immediate occasion of the praise which it contains.—Worship, literally prostrate themselves, the accustomed oriental indication both of civil and religious worship.—The form of expression in the last clause is evidently borrowed from the patriarchal promise. Compare Gen. 12:3, 28:14.

29 (28). For unto Jehovah is the kingdom, and (he is) governor among the nations. This will not be a gratuitous extension to the Gentiles of what properly belongs to Israel alone, but a restoration of God’s mercies, after ages of restriction, to their original and proper scope. For Jehovah is not the king of Israel only, but of all mankind. See Rom. 3:29.—The kingdom, i.e. general ecumenical dominion.—Governor, properly a participle, ruling, the use of which may be intended to suggest that as he has always been their governor de jure, so now he begins to govern them de facto, not with a providential sway, which is invariable as well as universal, but with a spiritual sway, which is hereafter to be co-extensive with the earth itself. Compare the similar expressions, Obad. 21, Zech. 14:9, and the still closer parallels, Ps. 96:10, 97:1, 99:1.

30 (29). They have eaten and worshipped—all the fat (ones) of the earth—before him shall bend all going down (to) the dust, and (he who) his own soul did not save alive. The distinction of ranks shall be as little regarded at this feast as that of nations.—Eaten and worshipped, partaken of the sacrificial feast in honor of this great salvation. Fat, a common oriental figure for the prosperous, and especially the rich. These are particularly mentioned to exhibit a peculiar feature of the feast in question, which was not, like the sacrificial feasts of the Mosaic law, designed expressly for the poor, though these are not excluded, as appears from the parallel clause.—Going down to the dust, i.e. the dust of death, as in ver. 16 (15) above. Compare the analogous expressions used in Ps. 28:1, 4, 9 (3, 9), 88:5 (4), 115:17, 143:7. The idea is, that this enjoyment shall be common to the rich and those who are ready to perish, or as it is expressed in the last clause, he who cannot keep his soul (or himself) alive, a strong expression for the extreme of destitution. He who before, or a little while ago, no longer kept himself alive, but was just about to perish, is now seen kneeling at the sacrificial feast in honor of this great salvation.

31 (30). Posterity shall serve him; it shall be related of the Lord to the (next) generation. The last restriction to be done away is that of time. The effects of this salvation shall no more be confined to the present generation than to the higher classes of society, or the natural descendants of the patriarchs.—A seed, i.e. posterity, the seed of those who witness or first hear of the event.—Shall serve him, i.e. worship and obey Jehovah, the same thing that is expressed by eating and bowing down in ver. 30 (29) above. The means of this conversion shall be the perpetuated knowledge of what God has done.—Generation is used absolutely, as in Ps. 71:18, where it means not this generation, but the next. The complete phrase (דור אחרון) occurs below, Ps. 48:14 (13), 78:4. The Lord. The original is not Jehovah, but Adhonai, the divine name properly denoting sovereignty. See above, on Ps. 2:4, 21:2. The exposition above given of the verse before us is equally agreeable to usage, and much better suited to the context, than the one which makes it mean that a seed shall be reckoned by the Lord (as belonging) to the generation, i.e. to the generation of his people. (See below, on Ps. 24:6.) It is highly improbable that the passive verb (יְסֻפַּר) has a meaning wholly different from that of the corresponding active form (אֲסַפְּרָה) in ver. 23 (22) above.

32 (31). They shall come and shall declare his righteousness to a people born, that he hath done (it). The subjects of the first verbs are the seed and generation of the preceding verse. They shall come into existence, shall appear upon the scene. But even they shall not monopolize the knowledge thus imparted, but communicate it to a people now unborn, but then born, i.e. to their own successors. The construction of the participle as a future is unnecessary, although not unauthorized by usage. See above, on Ps. 18:4 (3). Compare with this verse the beautiful figures of Ps. 19:3 (2).—His righteousness, including the faithful execution of his gracious promise. The last clause gives the substance of the declaration to be made, to wit, that he has done what forms the subject of the whole psalm. A similar ellipsis of the object, where the context readily supplies it, may be found above in ver. 27, 28, 30 (26, 27, 29). To these words it is supposed by some that our Lord alluded in his dying exclamation, It is finished! (John 19:30). The allusion, though not obvious, is interesting, as it brings the beginning and the end of this remarkable psalm into connection with each other and with that affecting scene to which there are so many clear and pointed references in the whole composition; thus completing, as it were, the proof, already strong enough, that Christ is the great subject of the psalm, as being the great type and representative of that whole class to whom it ostensibly relates, but of whom some parts, and especially the last five verses, are true only in a modified and lower sense.[1]



[1] Alexander, J. A. (1864). The Psalms Translated and Explained (pp. 98–107). Edinburgh: Andrew Elliot; James Thin. (Public Domain)

The Way of Love Our Path

The Way of Love Our Path

The Way of Love Our Path

(Take a break and read how agape is expressed in the New Testament).

One author defined agape love as:  love for others that’s inclusive of a love for God, nature, strangers, or the less fortunate.  It’s generally an empathetic love toward humanity itself and is sometimes connected to altruism since it involves caring for and loving others without expecting anything in return.  This sort of pay-it-forward love—people helping others selflessly—is the foundation of great societies and communities.  As for our native tongue, I find it lacking in its ability to covey the length, breadth, and depth of Christ’s love to us and through us to a lost and dying world.  For we see before us and in us the outpouring of what is referred to as the total depravity of man!

The contextual pericope for the verse visually displayed might be:  The Way of Love Our Path. However, there are 56 other passages using the word agape that are included below if you dare to read them!  Better yet, pray that Christ would give each of us an eternal appointment to share His agape love today!

“If I could speak all the languages of earth and of angels, but didn’t love others, I would only be a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. If I had the gift of prophecy, and if I understood all of God’s secret plans and possessed all knowledge, and if I had such faith that I could move mountains, but didn’t love others, I would be nothing. If I gave everything I have to the poor and even sacrificed my body, I could boast about it; but if I didn’t love others, I would have gained nothing. Love is patient and kind. Love is not jealous or boastful or proud or rude. It does not demand its own way. It is not irritable, and it keeps no record of being wronged. It does not rejoice about injustice but rejoices whenever the truth wins out. Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance. Prophecy and speaking in unknown languages and special knowledge will become useless. But love will last forever! Now our knowledge is partial and incomplete, and even the gift of prophecy reveals only part of the whole picture! But when the time of perfection comes, these partial things will become useless. When I was a child, I spoke and thought and reasoned as a child. But when I grew up, I put away childish things. Now we see things imperfectly, like puzzling reflections in a mirror, but then we will see everything with perfect clarity. All that I know now is partial and incomplete, but then I will know everything completely, just as God now knows me completely. Three things will last forever—faith, hope, and love—and the greatest of these is love.” (1 Corinthians 13:1–13, NLT)

ἀγάπη in ESV


Matthew 24:12


And because lawlessness will be increased, the love of many will grow cold.



John 15:9


As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love.



John 15:10


If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love.



John 17:26


I made known to them your name, and I will continue to make it known, that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them.”



Romans 5:5


and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.



Romans 12:9


Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good.



Romans 13:10


Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfilling of the law.



1 Corinthians 4:21


What do you wish? Shall I come to you with a rod, or with love in a spirit of gentleness?



1 Corinthians 8:1


Now concerning food offered to idols: we know that “all of us possess knowledge.” This “knowledge” puffs up, but love builds up.



1 Corinthians 13:4


Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant



1 Corinthians 13:8


Love never ends. As for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away.



1 Corinthians 13:13


So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.



1 Corinthians 16:14


Let all that you do be done in love.



1 Corinthians 16:24


My love be with you all in Christ Jesus. Amen.



2 Corinthians 5:14


For the love of Christ controls us, because we have concluded this: that one has died for all, therefore all have died;



2 Corinthians 6:6


by purity, knowledge, patience, kindness, the Holy Spirit, genuine love;



2 Corinthians 8:7


But as you excel in everything—in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in all earnestness, and in our love for you—see that you excel in this act of grace also.



2 Corinthians 13:14


The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.



Galatians 5:22


But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness,



Ephesians 1:4


even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love



Ephesians 3:17


so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith—that you, being rooted and grounded in love,



Ephesians 4:2


with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love,



Ephesians 4:15


Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ,



Ephesians 4:16


from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.



Ephesians 5:2


And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.



Ephesians 6:23


Peace be to the brothers, and love with faith, from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.



Philippians 1:9


And it is my prayer that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment,



Colossians 2:2


that their hearts may be encouraged, being knit together in love, to reach all the riches of full assurance of understanding and the knowledge of God’s mystery, which is Christ,



1 Thessalonians 3:12


and may the Lord make you increase and abound in love for one another and for all, as we do for you,



1 Thessalonians 5:13


and to esteem them very highly in love because of their work. Be at peace among yourselves.



2 Thessalonians 1:3


We ought always to give thanks to God for you, brothers, as is right, because your faith is growing abundantly, and the love of every one of you for one another is increasing.



1 Timothy 1:5


The aim of our charge is love that issues from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith.



1 Timothy 2:15


Yet she will be saved through childbearing—if they continue in faith and love and holiness, with self-control.



1 Timothy 4:12


Let no one despise you for your youth, but set the believers an example in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity.



2 Timothy 1:13


Follow the pattern of the sound words that you have heard from me, in the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus.



2 Timothy 3:10


You, however, have followed my teaching, my conduct, my aim in life, my faith, my patience, my love, my steadfastness,



Titus 2:2


Older men are to be sober-minded, dignified, self-controlled, sound in faith, in love, and in steadfastness.



Philemon 7


For I have derived much joy and comfort from your love, my brother, because the hearts of the saints have been refreshed through you.



1 Peter 4:8


Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins.



1 John 2:5


but whoever keeps his word, in him truly the love of God is perfected. By this we may know that we are in him:



1 John 2:15


Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him.



1 John 3:17


But if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him?



1 John 4:7


Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God.



1 John 4:8


Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love.



1 John 4:9


In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him.



1 John 4:10


In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.



1 John 4:12


No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us.



1 John 4:16


So we have come to know and to believe the love that God has for us. God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him.



1 John 4:17


By this is love perfected with us, so that we may have confidence for the day of judgment, because as he is so also are we in this world.



1 John 4:18


There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love.



1 John 5:3


For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome.



2 John 3


Grace, mercy, and peace will be with us, from God the Father and from Jesus Christ the Father’s Son, in truth and love.



2 John 6


And this is love, that we walk according to his commandments; this is the commandment, just as you have heard from the beginning, so that you should walk in it.



3 John 6


who testified to your love before the church. You will do well to send them on their journey in a manner worthy of God.



Jude 2


May mercy, peace, and love be multiplied to you.



Jude 21


keep yourselves in the love of God, waiting for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ that leads to eternal life.




The Unity of Christ's Disciples

The Unity of Christ's Disciples

The Unity of Christ’s Disciples

John, 17:21

That they all may be one; as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us; that the world may believe that thou hast sent me.

This chapter presents to our view, the Lord Jesus Christ praying to his divine Father, that not only his apostles, but that also all who should believe on him through their word, may be one. Were we to understand this merely of visible harmony, peace, and concord among his disciples, we should be at a great loss to see how this prayer of his was answered. After the first down-pouring of the Spirit there was indeed a most remarkable visible unity amongst the members of the church at Jerusalem; for it is said “the multitude of them that believed were of one heart and of one soul,” Acts, 4:32. but in the course of a few years this unity was much marred by a number of Jewish converts, who were zealous for the peculiarities of Moses’ law, and strenuously urged it as a term of salvation upon the Gentile believers at Antioch, at which place, and at Jerusalem, it occasioned much disputation, Acts, 15 and notwithstanding the apostolic decrees which were delivered to the churches upon this point, ver. 24–30; ch. 16:4. yet we find in Paul’s epistles to the Romans, Corinthians, and Galatians, that this contest was in a great measure kept up to the subversion of some from the faith, and the marring of the unity and edification of many. In as far as this dispute affected the point of free justification by faith, the apostles reprobate it in the strongest terms; but when it respected only things indifferent, such as meats and drinks, he exhorts them to a mutual forbearance in love, Gal. 5:2–5; Rom. 14:1; 1 Cor. 1:8. In the church of Corinth there appear to be many other grounds of difference, for he charges them with envyings, contentions, strife, and divisions, 1 Cor. 1:11. and 3:3. and with a factious and party attachment to their respective leaders, glorying in them to the disparagement of others, ch. 3:4. The very gifts of the Spirit, which were conferred upon them for the edification of the body, were perverted into an occasion of envy, strife, and glorying over one another. Many other causes of discord took place in the apostolic age, and before the canon of revelation was completed. If we consult the most authentic records respecting the state of matters in the ages immediately succeeding, we shall find the causes of animosity more and more multiplied, together with a departure in many things from the purity and simplicity of the apostolic faith and order, and an addition of various inventions and traditions of men, which were stated as terms of communion, and made an occasion of dividing the disciples.—When the nations assumed a form of Christianity, and the man of sin was raised to his throne, he made use of the kings of the earth, who with (μιαγνωμη) one mind gave their strength and power to the beast to enforce a unity of opinion: but the unity thus produced was not that of the gospel, but a unity of subjection to the beast, and of opposition to the Lamb and his followers; and so we read that the effect of this union was their making war with the Lamb, and the called, chosen, and faithful that are with him, Rev. 17:13, 14.—When this diabolical union came to be broken in a great measure, and men obtained free access to the scriptures, it was far from producing that visible unity among the disciples which might have been expected. For though in protestant countries they all profess to agree that the scripture is the only rule of faith and practice, yet so different are their views and sentiments of this rule, that there never existed such a multiplicity of sects and opinions as at this very day, But what inference shall we deduce from this short sketch of church history? Is it that the disciples of Christ are not one, or that the prayer of Jesus in this particular was not heard? God forbid! for whether we consider the dignity of the petitioner’s person, his relation to the Father as his Son, his interest in his love, or his appointment to the office of mediator and advocate, we may rest fully assured that his prayer was heard and answered, and that all his people are one, whatever appearances there may be to the contrary. We are ready to fall into mistakes here, through not distinguishing betwixt visible and invisible unity, and by our making this oneness to consist of such things as are not essential to it. I shall, therefore, point out from the scripture

I. Wherein the unity of Christians does consist. And

II. Make some use of what may be said.

I. This unity consists in the following things.

1. In their being all members of Christ’s one mystical body. This is one of the unities enumerated by the apostle, Eph. 4:4. “There is one body.” To the same purport are the following scriptures: “For as we have many members in one body, and all members have not the same office; so we being many are one body in Christ, and every one members one of another,” Rom. 12:4, 5, “For as the body is one, and hath many members, and all the members of that one body, being many, are one body; so also is Christ. For by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body, whether we be Jews or Gentiles, whether we be bond or free,” 1 Cor. 12:12, 13. There are an innumerable company of spirits of just men made perfect in heaven, who have died in the faith from the foundation of the world, Heb. 12:23. and there are also a goodly number of believers still in this world; but the difference of place or states in heaven and on earth, does not affect their unity as the body of Christ; for the things in heaven, together with those on earth, are gathered together in one in Christ, the common head of the body, Eph. 1:10. On earth again there are various distinctions among them; some are Jews, others are Gentiles, and these are of all nations, conditions, and sexes; but with respect to the distinction of Jew and Gentile, Christ “hath made both one, and hath broken down the middle wall of partition betwixt them; having abolished in his flesh the enmity, in order to make in himself of twain one new man, so making peace; and that he might reconcile both unto God in one body by the cross, having slain the enmity thereby,” Eph. 2:14–17. As for the other distinctions, the apostle reduces them all to this unity of the one body, where he tells us, “There is neither Jew, nor Greek, Barbarian, Scythian, bond nor free, male nor female, but all are one in Christ Jesus, who is all and in all,” Gal. 3:28; Col. 3:11. There are many visible societies of Christians upon the earth, but they are only representations of Christ’s catholic body, which at present is invisible to us; for Christ’s body is not many, but one. And though many of the children of God may not discern one another in this world, so as to feel themselves at liberty to join together in the communion of the same visible society, yet they are all one in Christ, to whom they are united as the head; they are members of his one body, and so members one of another.

2. This oneness consists in a unity of the Spirit. The apostle tells us there is not only one body, but also one Spirit, which as the soul animates that body, Eph. 4:4. Had the natural body different spirits, endued with different judgments, wills, and inclinations, it would create a strange unnatural schism in the body, and discord among its members; but as in the natural, so in the body of Christ, there is but one spirit, which animates, informs, and directs the whole, works effectually in the measure of every part, and gives a unity of design to all the members in their various functions. This one Spirit is the Holy Ghost, which Jesus when he ascended on high received of the Father; which dwells in him as the head of the body, and is communicated from him to all his members. So Jesus says, “He that believeth on me, as the scripture hath said, out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water. But this spake he of the Spirit, which they that believe on him should receive; for the Holy Ghost was not yet given, because Jesus was not yet glorified,” John, 7:38, 39. This Spirit belongs to the one body, and unites every member to it; “For by one Spirit we are all baptized into one body, and have been all made to drink into one Spirit,” 1 Cor. 12:13. “Know ye not that ye are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwelleth in you?” ch. 3:16. This Spirit is essential to every particular member of the body; for “if any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of his,” Rom. 8:9. and is the surest evidence of our union with Christ; “By this we know that he abideth in us and we in him, because he has given us of his Spirit,” 1 John, 4:13. Indeed this participation of the Spirit of Christ constitutes our very union with him; “for he that is joined to the Lord is one Spirit,” 1 Cor. 6:17. It is this which constitutes our bodies his members, ver. 15. even as in the natural body every member by virtue of the animation of one soul, make but one vital system, one whole man. Thus we are constituted “members of Christ’s body, of his flesh, and of his bones,” Eph. 5:30. Now it is this union of the Spirit with Christ the head, and with one another as his members, that Jesus in a particular manner prays for in the text. This will appear evident if we consider that he prays for a union of the same kind with that which he hath with the Father; “as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee—that they may be one, even as we are one.” This does not mean, as some have supposed, his union of nature with the Father, whereby he is one God with him; but his union with him by the Spirit, which was conferred upon the man Christ Jesus by the Father, as mediator and head of his body the church; for “it pleased the Father, in the economy of redemption, that in him all fulness should dwell,” as the head of influence, and the medium of communication to his body, which is his fullness, whilst he fills all in all, Eph. 1:22, 23; Col. 1:19. In this capacity the Father gave him the Spirit without measure, John, 3:34. and it is out of this fullness of the Spirit dwelling in him that we all have received, and grace for grace, i. e. grace answerable to what is in him, John, 1:16. It was by this Spirit of the Father dwelling in him that he was qualified to execute his mediatorial offices: by it he was anointed to preach the gospel, Luke, 4:18.—by it he was qualified for government, Isa. 11:1–6.—and by the same Spirit he wrought miracles, Matt. 12:28. Now this Spirit dwelling in him and operating these works, he expresses by the Father’s being in him, and he in the Father, John, 10:38. and when he promises the same Spirit to his disciples, he tells them, that “in that day ye shall know that I am in the Father, and you in me, and I in you,” John, 14:20. which is the very language whereby he expresses the oneness which he prays for in the text; and therefore it must be a unity arising from the same Spirit dwelling in the Father, in Him, and in them. This is put beyond all doubt by John, who uses the very same phraseology with respect to the indwelling of the Spirit: “Hereby we know that he abideth in us by the Spirit which he hath given us,” 1 John 3:24. “Hereby know we that we dwell in him, and he in us; because he has given us of his Spirit,” ch. 4:13. And this is still more evident from the end of this union, which is, saith Christ, “that the world may know and believe that thou hast sent me:” for it was by virtue of this Spirit that the disciples testified and made known to the world that the Father sent the Son, John, 4:14. The apostles “were witnesses of these things, and so was the Holy Ghost, whom God hath given to them that obey him,” Acts, 5:32.

3. Their unity consists in all having one faith. The apostle tells us, there is but one faith, Eph. 4:5. i. e. one doctrine of faith to be believed, which is emphatically styled the truth. There are, indeed, many different opinions in the world, but there is but one faith. Many think that the true faith of the gospel cannot be attained without great study, and being thoroughly acquainted with every point of a connected system of divinity; whereas the inspired writers repeatedly reduce the faith that saves to a single plain short proposition, such as that “Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God,” or that “God raised him from the dead,” and declare that all who believe this truth upon the divine testimony shall be saved, John, 20:31; Rom. 10:9. They who believe this must necessarily believe every thing that he hath revealed as soon as they know it; but faith does not depend upon the full knowledge of every truth. The first Christians are declared to have had true faith, when they knew only the first principles. In the rest they were to grow up. The testimony of God concerning the person and mission of his Son is the one faith with which salvation is connected. This is the faith once delivered to the saints, for which they must contend earnestly, Jude 3. the faith of the gospel, for which we must jointly strive, Phil. 1:27. with one spirit and mind. Now as all the children of God are partakers of the one Spirit of truth, and taught of the Lord from the least to the greatest, they must all necessarily be possessed of this one faith; they must all have like precious faith with the apostles in the righteousness of God and our Savior Jesus Christ, 2 Pet. 1:1. They have therefore a unity of the faith and knowledge of the Son of God, Eph. 4:13. and they count all things but loss and dung for the excellency of this knowledge, Phil. 3:8. They have, indeed, different measures of the knowledge of this truth, and different degrees of growth in the faith of it, and they are not altogether free from error in this world; but notwithstanding this, they are one in the faith that saves; they all know the truth, and that no lie is of it. They may, perhaps, have different speculations and controversies of words among themselves about what they esteem the faith, and this may greatly affect their visible unity, and lead them to look upon one another as heretics; but it will be found that these differences, ultimately are not about the faith itself, but about something which they have added to it, or some inference or deduction from it, which they hold of equal importance. The faith of the gospel is admitted on all hands, and dwells in each of their hearts, but in reasoning they may in many cases be led to different conclusions. These differences, however, it must be owned, arise from their not having attained the full perfection of this unity; and therefore Christ hath given gifts unto men for the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of his body; till they all come into the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ; so that this is a unity into which they are to grow up till they come to the perfection of it, in opposition to their being in a state of children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine. They have still room to grow in the knowledge, and in the strength and stability of their faith.

4. They have a unity of hope. So the apostle says, “ye are called in one hope of your calling,” Eph. 4:4. i. e. they have one glorious inheritance in heaven which is set before them as the object of hope, and by a metonomy is called the hope laid up for them in heaven, Col. 1:5. It is called the hope of their calling, because God hath “called them unto his eternal glory, by Jesus Christ,” 1 Peter, 5:10. and so it is termed the prize of the high calling of God, which they have in their eye in pressing forward in the Christian race, Phil. 3:14. As soon as they are called and justified they rejoice in hope of this glory, Rom. 5:1–3. To this lively hope of the inheritance they are all begotten by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, 1 Peter, 1:3–6. This is the inheritance of children which they are all entitled to as joint heirs with Christ their elder brother and first born among them, who is risen from the dead to the possession of it, and who in this chapter prays that they may be with him where he is that they may behold his glory, verse 24. Of this hope the one Spirit is the earnest in their hearts, Eph. 1:13, 14. so that they are one in it. But this hope, as it is in their hearts, admits of growth; and therefore the apostle prays that they may abound in this hope through the power of the Holy Ghost, Rom. 15:13. and in his epistle to the Ephesians, ch. 1:17, 18, 19, 20. he prays for the same blessing to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. They know not yet the full glory and extent of their inheritance; and they also need to be more and more established in the belief of that mighty power which raised Christ from the dead to the enjoyment of it, that their hope may be more strengthened respecting their own resurrection to it by the same power.

5. They have a unity of love to one another, from their love to him that begat, 1 John, 5:1. for the truth’s sake dwelling in them, 2 John, 1:2. and for the hope that is laid up for them in heaven, Col. 1:4, 5. This bond of union is called “the bond of perfectness,” Col. 3:14. It is love that properly emits with its object. Without it the most shining gifts, the most beneficial works, and even martyrdom will be of no avail, 1 Cor. 13:1–4. Christians cannot hate one another for the truth’s sake, like Cain, who was of that wicked one. They cannot commit this sin, because the seed of God remaineth in them, and they are born of God, 1 John, 3:9. They may have many differences and quarrels, but it is not for their adherence to the truth as such, but for something they apprehend contrary to it; for they love all that are of the truth in as far as they perceive it dwelling in them, and heartily wish grace, mercy, and peace, to all who love the Lord Jesus Christ in sincerity. But in this also there is room for growth and increase, 1 Thess. 3:12.

6. They have all one Lord, viz. Jesus Christ the Savior, Eph. 4:5. the only Sovereign and Head of his church, who purchased it by his own blood, Acts, 20:28. to whom all authority and power is given both in heaven and in earth, Matt. 28:18. and to whom, therefore, the church is bound to be subject in all things, even as the wife is to her own husband, Eph. 5:23, 24. This one Lord they confess to the glory of God the Father, as “the Lord their Righteousness,” their alone King, Lawgiver, and Judge, acknowledging no other Lord or Master in his kingdom, Matt. 23:8–12. esteeming all his laws of indispensable obligation—laws which they are bound to obey from the heart; and so studying to observe all things whatsoever he hath commanded, Matt. 28:20.

7. Their union consists in having all one God and Father, who is “above all,” as the Father of the whole family, Eph. 3:15. and even the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ in the economy of redemption, ver. 14. who is “through all,” by his Son as the medium of his grace; and “in them all,” by the inhabitation of his Spirit, ver. 16. according to the Savior’s prayer, “That they all may be one, as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee; that they also may be one in us—I in them, and thou in me, that they may be made perfect in one; and that the world may know that thou hast sent me, and hast loved them, as thou hast loved me,” John, 17:21, 23.

II. I come now to consider how this unity becomes visible in the world, and what belongs to it in that view.

1. This union becomes visible to us in the outward profession of the one faith and hope of the gospel. Though the children of God are all one in the particulars mentioned in the first head, and are all visible to the omniscient God, who searcheth the heart, and knoweth them that are his; yet to us, who can only judge by outward appearances, this unity is not visible till with the mouth men make a scriptural confession of the faith and hope that is in them. Accordingly we find that the apostles admitted none into the visible unity of Christ’s body, but such as made this profession. When they confessed with the mouth that Jesus was Lord and Christ, and gave his death and resurrection as the reason of the hope that was in them, both for acceptance and eternal life, then, and not till then, did they acknowledge them as members of Christ’s one body, Acts, 8:37; Rom. 10:9. This confession must be scriptural in its matter, and couched in such a form of sound words, as is expressive of the faith once delivered to the saints.—It must appear to be hearty, and the effect of a person’s own knowledge and inward conviction from the word of God, in opposition to an implicit assent to custom, traditions, or the authority of men. In short, it must appear to be the effect of divine teaching, in so far as we can judge the state of the mind from the expressions of the mouth.

2. Another thing which belongs to the visible unity of Christ’s disciples is the one baptism. The apostle tells us there is but one baptism, Eph. 4:5. This is not the baptism of the Spirit, as some affirm; for the apostle mentions the one Spirit before, ver. 4. and therefore cannot be supposed to repeat it again in this enumeration. It is distinguished from the Spirit in several places as the outward sign is from the thing signified. So the subjects of Christ’s kingdom are said to be born of water, as well as of the Spirit. John, 3:5. and to have the washing, laver, or bath of regeneration, as well as the renewing of the Holy Ghost, Tit. 3:5. Regeneration was an epithet applied to baptism in water by the first Christians, as is plain from Iræneus, Justin Martyr, and Clemens of Alexandria. Though it is essential to every member of Christ’s body to have the Holy Ghost in his enlightening, comforting, and sanctifying influences; yet that which the scripture calls baptism in the Holy Ghost, properly signifies those miraculous and extraordinary gifts of the Spirit which were given to the first Christians for the spread and confirmation of the Gospel; compare Acts, 1:4, 5. with ch. 2:33. and ch. 11:15–18. with ch. 10:44–47. and therefore, in this view, cannot be the one baptism which belongs to the whole body. But supposing the term baptism applied to the ordinary gift of the Spirit common to all believers, yet this is so far from superseding baptism in water as needless, that Peter considers it as the strongest argument for it; and that the refusal of it upon such a clear call would be no less than a withstanding God. Acts, 10:47; ch. 11:17. Those then who make light of water baptism from a presumption that they are baptized in the Spirit, would do well to consider what they are about. But the baptism in water must be the one baptism, because it is the only baptism which Christ hath instituted, and commanded to be administered to those who are made disciples in every nation of the world, Matt. 28:19. Antichrist hath indeed changed both this ordinance and its subjects, and hath invented many things falsely called baptism; but Christ has instituted only one baptism to be observed to the end of time; and that is the immersion of believers in water in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. This is the one baptism which belongs to Christ’s one church, or spouse, which he loved; for the Apostle says, Ephes. 5:25, 26. he “gave himself for her, that he might sanctify her, i. e. cleanse her in the laver of water by the word.” Three things are mentioned here in sanctifying and cleansing the church.—1. Christ’s giving himself for her to sanctify and cleanse her by his blood; so he suffered without the gate that he might sanctify the people, Heb. 13:12. i. e. separate them from all others to himself, and also wash them from their sins.—2. The laver of water in baptism as the sign, pledge, and visible application of this; and so they are said to be baptized for the remission of sins, Acts, 2:38. 3. The word of the truth of the gospel, which reveals the truth and import of the two former, and by the Spirit brings the believer under the influence and enjoyment of them. Thus we are clean through the word which Christ hath spoken, John, 15:3. and sanctified through the truth, which is his word, ch. 17:17. Let none think that this is making too much of baptism; for our Lord places it in the very entry to his kingdom, John, 3:5. and joins it in the commission with believing and being saved, Mark, 16:16. and so in executing this commission, the apostles call upon men to be baptized for the remission of sin, Acts, 2:38. or that they may wash away their sins, ch. 22:16. and baptism is said to save us by the resurrection of Jesus Christ, 1 Pet. 3:21. Surely, such expressions place it in a very important point of view; and though it is fully granted that it is neither our faith nor baptism that properly saves; but that which we believe, or the thing signified in baptism, yet to separate what God hath so connected, is both daring and dangerous, and this after our Lord hath declared, that it is he that believeth and is baptized that shall be saved.

But then it must here be carefully noticed, that this one baptism belongs only to the visible members of Christ’s body. For this I need produce but one argument which amounts to a demonstration, namely, that the administration of it is committed to men. Now as men cannot discern the members of Christ’s body, but by the confession of the one faith, it follows, that they cannot according to the scripture administer baptism to any of them but such as make this confession. It is plain then, that baptism belongs to the visible unity of Christ’s members. It also appears to be an essential article in that union; because of the authority of Christ who hath expressly appointed it as the one baptism of all his visible members; the first sign of their union with him in his death, burial, and resurrection, and whereby they visibly put him on, Gal. 3:27. and because the apostles admitted none into the visible unity of Christ’s body without it. Though men, therefore, should make an unexceptionable profession of the faith—though their conduct should in general correspond with that profession—and though we must unavoidably respect them in so far as we perceive their conformity to Christ; yet should they either make light of the one baptism which Christ hath appointed, or content themselves with that which Antichrist hath substituted in its place; however honest and sincere we may suppose them in this matter; and whatever allowances we may make for the prejudices of education and their mistaken views of some texts of scripture, we can have no visible church union, or fellowship, with them according to the New Testament.

Let none say, that by this partition of baptism we break the Christian unity and separate the body of Christ; for this partition is not set up by us, but by the great head of the church; and for us to break it down would be to shew less regard to his authority, than complaisance to the ignorance and prejudices of men. The absurdity and impiety of such complaisance will appear the more striking if we extend it to other things; for by the same rule we ought to give up with every article of visible unity that any professor of the faith has not light to comply with. The Christian visible church unity is broken not by those who stand to the rule, but by those who depart from it, or come not up to it. We are grieved that the children of God should be divided about this ordinance wherein they ought to be one—we exhibit unto them the primitive institution both in our doctrine and practice; we earnestly invite them to visible unity and fellowship with us therein; and we pray to their Lord and ours, that he would dispel the mist of ignorance and prejudice from their hearts in this respect. But we dare not meet them any nearer, or step over the boundaries which Christ hath prescribed, in order to give them the right-hand of fellowship.

3. A third thing which belongs to the visible unity of the disciples, is their separation from the world in their religious fellowship. When God chose Israel of old for his peculiar people, he separated them from all the nations of the earth, and prohibited them under the severest penalties to have any intercommunity of worship with the Heathens; so that it was said of them, “the people shall dwell alone, and shall not be reckoned among the nations,” Num. 23:9. When the Lord delivered them out of the Babylonish captivity he called them again to this separation, Isa. 52:11. But this was only a type, or figure, of the New Testament separation. God doth not now separate any particular nation of the world from the rest as he did the nation of Israel; nor does he take all the nations of the world for his people; in which case there could be no visible separation, nor any peculiar people. But when he broke down the middle wall of partition betwixt Jews and Gentiles, and visited the nations to take out of them a people for his name, then he established another visible distinction betwixt the true Israel and the world; and so he calls the disciples to separate both from the Jewish church and heathenism, 2 Cor. 6:14–18. “Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers: for what fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness? and what communion hath light with darkness? and what concord hath Christ with Belial? or what part hath he that believeth with an infidel? and what agreement hath the temple of God with idols? for ye are the temples of the living God; as God hath said, I will dwell in them, and walk in them; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. Wherefore come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing; and I will receive you, and will be a father unto you, and ye shall be my sons and daughters, saith the Lord Almighty.” Agreeable to this call, we find the Apostles separating the disciples, Acts, 19:9. and exhorting them to go forth to Jesus without the camp, bearing his reproach, Heb. 13:13. The laws and ordinances which Christ hath enjoined his disciples suppose this separation, and are calculated to preserve it. Nor are they called to separate merely from professed Jews and Heathens, but also from the corrupt professors of Christianity. So we find the Lord calling his people to separate from the false church that bears the Christian name, even as he formerly called Israel out of heathen Babylon, Rev. 18:4. “Come out of her, my people, that ye be not partakers of her sins, and that ye receive not of her plagues.” It may be asked, Have not the Protestant nations obeyed this call in separating from the communion of the Romish church? I answer, No. That separation is not the visible separation of Christ’s people from the world pointed out in the New Testament, and exemplified in the days of the Apostles. Protestant nations are as really the world as Popish nations are, though their professed creed may in some particulars be more scriptural, and their political principles more tolerant. Any nation of this world professing to be the spouse, or church, of Christ, must be antichristian; because her establishment and form as a church must be derived from the civil power, in direct opposition to Christ’s kingdom which is not of this world. Because the greater part of such a church must appear visible infidels, which Christ hath expressly excluded from his church.—And because the very constitution of such a church visibly joins the children of God with the world in their religious fellowship, in direct opposition to Christ’s call to them to come out from among them and be separate.—Lastly, Because the peculiar love which Christ hath enjoined his disciples to one another, the mutual offices of this love, together with the order, laws, and ordinances which he hath instituted for them as his visible body, cannot be exercised or observed in such an unscriptural connection, which is formed in direct contradiction to every law of his kingdom. Though, therefore, the people of God should make a scriptural confession of the one faith—though they should be baptized according to our Lord’s institution; yet while they continue joined with the world in their religious fellowship, they can have no visible church unity with the body of Christ.

4. Another thing necessary to the visible union of the disciples, is, their being formed into visible church order. As scattered individuals among the nations, their unity cannot appear, nor can they in that situation represent the one body of Christ. Indeed their unity is never brought to a proper test till they are visibly joined together, as members one of another, having the same love, being of one accord, and of one mind, Phil. 1:27. and 2:2. In this view the union of a company of disciples who come together into one place to observe Christ’s institutions and the purposes of public worship, is compared to that union which subsists between the different members of the human body; which, though many in number, and variously disposed, constitute one whole man.—“For as we have many members in one body, and all members have not the same office, so we being many, are one body, and every one members one of another,” Rom. 12:4, 5. The same subject is beautifully illustrated by this apostle, 1 Cor. 12 and the inference which he deduces from it is, “that there should be no schism in the body, but that the members should have the same care one for another; and whether one member suffer, all the members suffer with it; or if one member be honored, all the members rejoice with it.” This visible union constitutes them “the body of Christ,” and each of them members in particular, ver. 27. The union of believers in a church state is but little accounted of by many in the present day, and the reciprocal duties and privileges connected with it, perhaps still less so. Yet the Psalmist, anticipating it by the Spirit of prophecy, could exclaim, “Behold how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity! It is like the precious ointment upon the head, that ran down upon the beard, even Aaron’s beard, that went down to the skirts of his garments; as the dew of Hermon, that descended upon the mountains of Zion: for there the Lord commanded the blessing, even life for evermore,” Psalm, 133. A great part of the apostolic precepts are founded upon this state of union, and plainly imply it: nor can any proper view of their meaning be taken abstractedly from it. Such as the following: “Now I beseech you brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that ye all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you; but that ye be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment,” 1 Cor. 1:10. “Be perfect, (or perfectly joined together) be of good comfort, be of one mind, live in peace; and the God of love and peace shall be with you,” 2 Cor. 13:11. See also Phil. 1:27–30. and 2:15, 16.—Col. 3:12–14.—1 Thess. 5:11–15.—Heb. 3:12–14. and 10:23–25–1 Pet. 5:5. It is with a particular view to this state of things that Christ bestows gifts upon men for the work of the ministry, the perfecting (or bringing into joint) the saints, and edifying his body,” Eph. 4:11, 12. And when these gifts are exercised agreeably to his will, by “speaking the truth in love, they grow up into Christ, their head, in all things,” and thus, “the whole body fitly joined together, and compacted by that which every joint supplieth, according to the effectual working in the measure of every part, maketh increase of the body, to the edifying of itself in love,” ver. 15, 16. Peculiar consolations are promised to disciples, thus walking together in love.—“He that hath my commandments and keepeth them, he it is that loveth me; and he that loveth me, shall be loved of my Father, and I will love him, and will manifest myself to him,” John, 14:21. “Wherefore, come out from among them, and be ye separate, and touch not the unclean thing, and I will receive you, and will be a Father unto you, and ye shall be my sons and daughters, saith the Lord Almighty,” 2 Cor. 6:17, 18.

Having thus shewn wherein all Christ’s disciples are one, and what is necessary to their visible unity, viz. The confession of the one faith—their partaking of the one baptism—their separation from the world in religious fellowship—their joining together as a visible body in church order—their joint observance of the ordinances and laws of Christ as a body their walking together in love among themselves, and standing fast in one spirit with one mind, jointly striving for the faith of the gospel—I come now to conclude the whole by a few observations and practical uses. And I remark, that when we compare the true invisible unity of Christ’s body with its visible appearance in this world, we shall find the former far excelling the latter. For,

Visible unity is founded in the agreement of our sentiments about the rule of God’s word, and our outward conformity to that rule as we understand it. But real invisible unity is founded on our connection with Christ, and our conformity to him in the hidden man of the heart, whose praise is not of men, but of God. Hence it follows, on account of our inability to discover the real state of men,

That we must, according to the rule of God’s word, join in visible unity with some who are not really united to Christ. Many are now united with the churches of the saints, and have a very fair appearance, who are not members of Christ’s true body, animated by his Spirit, or possessed of the faith, love, and hope of the gospel, and whom Christ will disown in that day when he makes up his jewels, and severs the goats from the sheep, and that notwithstanding all their knowledge, and gifts, and zeal about the externals of religion. Such may get access into visible churches, notwithstanding all their vigilance and care either in admission or discipline to prevent or rectify it. But they shall not enter within the gates of the Now Jerusalem; for no unclean thing can have access there, or elude the scrutiny of omniscience. The use we ought to make of this consideration, is to examine ourselves with respect to these things wherein the reality of our connection with Christ consists. Hence it also follows, on the other hand,

That many cannot join in visible unity who yet may be really united to Christ. This arises either from their not being able to discern one another, or, if some of them should, from their not being of the same mind in the things which belong to their visible unity. All Christians have the one faith; but all are not alike clear and consistent in the confession of this faith so as to satisfy others. All of them are subject to the authority of Christ; but they do not all alike know their master’s will. All of them have his law of love written in their hearts; but from various causes they may be led to differ about such of his ordinances as depend upon positive institution. Visible unity, however, requires that they should be agreed in all these things wherein they are to walk together as a body, and keep the ordinances of Christ as his apostles delivered them to the churches. A society united together upon the professed principles of forbearing one another in the neglect of what they esteem the plain laws of Christ, is a monstrous absurdity; and is so far from being a visible unity of subjection to Christ, that it is a visible combination against him, or an agreement to dispense with his laws. The children of God may honestly differ in their judgments about some of Christ’s ordinances; but to unite upon the avowed principle of dispensing with them, is inconsistent with subjection to Christ, brotherly love, or the visible unity of saints. But though the children of God, cannot according to the scripture thus join together in visible union, but arc obliged to be separate upon the common principle of subjection to Christ; yet Christ by an invisible bond unites them all in himself. He hath indeed circumscribed the terms of our visible fellowship by the open rule of his word, and we are still farther circumscribed by the imperfection of our own knowledge; nay, we are even obliged by his express authority to cut off some whose spirits may be saved in the day of the Lord. But his omniscience discerns, and his generous heart contains all those for whom he laid down his life, however much they may differ and lose sight of one another in this world. And when he shall at last collect the whole redeemed company into one general assembly, and present them to himself a glorious church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing; then I make no doubt we shall be agreeably surprised, and happy to find many united to that blessed society with whom we could have no visible fellowship here. This consideration ought to make us beware of judging anything before the time, until the Lord come; “who both will bring to light the hidden things of darkness, and will make manifest the counsels of the heart; and then shall every man have praise of God,” 1 Cor. 4:5. This is, indeed, the time to judge of the objects of our visible fellowship, or those that are within, 1 Cor. 5:12. for a great part of our obedience to Christ depends on this judgment. But it is before the time to judge those that are without, or to determine their final state by present appearances. Their judgment belongs only to God who shall judge us all, and the time of this judgment is when the Lord comes. We cannot indeed help having a good or bad opinion of men according as they appear to us to approach to, or recede from, the rule of the scripture in their principles and practice, whether they are connected with us or not. This is a necessary consequence of our love to the truth itself. But we are not called to form any determinate judgment respecting such, as our visible union is not concerned in it. How unbecoming is it then to unchristianize all who are not connected with us in visible unity! and how much more so to have the strongest opposition to those who make the nearest approaches to the rule, unless they see with us in everything! We are ready to excuse ourselves here by alleging that such are the more inconsistent and inexcusable, and that they must be willfully resisting the light. Their inconsistency is allowed; but that they are resisting the light as it shines in their own minds, is what only God and their own consciences can certainly determine. Such a conduct as this arises from a party spirit; and we may know this spirit by the following marks—It leads us to think more of that particular wherein we differ from all other professors than we do of all the other things wherein Christ’s people are one.—It makes us run everything into this one, and to make it the sole test of visible Christianity, and so judge of men accordingly.—It makes us to see with pain, or disposes us to disparage every other part of Christianity as it appears in those who agree not in this; and on the other hand, it makes us put up with a very superficial form of Christianity in such as agree with us upon our favorite point. But what is worst of all—It tends to deceive us with respect to our own state, by leading us to plume ourselves upon what distinguishes us from others, and to be less attentive to real communion with, and conformity to Christ wherein others may far outstrip us.

Visible unity may fluctuate and decrease, but invisible unity is still advancing, and will continue its progress till all the saints are gathered in and perfected. The antichristian apostacy has proved fatal to the visible union of Christ’s people in the world, by drawing a corrupted form of Christianity over whole nations, and connecting it with the political constitutions of the various kingdoms and states which were subject to the man of sin. And even since they have begun to cast off the yoke imposed on them by that monstrous power, they are still partially suffering from its baneful influence. But we are not left destitute of hope, that even in this world, a period will arrive, when the sanctuary shall be cleansed, and the watchmen of Zion see eye to eye—then will the worship, order, and discipline be restored to their primitive purity, and reduced to the standard of the New Testament, in a much greater degree than at present, though it does not appear that there will be any perfect state of the church on earth, Matt. 13:24–39. and 25:32. But I conclude with one observation more; which is this;

Visible union will come to an end in this world; but invisible unity will continue for ever. The true church’s union with Christ is indissoluble. She shall at last be presented unto him as a bride adorned for her husband. Having loved her and given himself for her, that he might sanctify and cleanse her, he will then present it to himself a glorious church, without spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing; and then shall the marriage be solemnized in endless felicity, when she shall be brought into the palace of the king, to behold his glory and to be for ever with him. Then, too, shall the children cf God be one among themselves. Now they see through a glass darkly; but then face to face: now they know only in part; but then shall they know, even as also they are known. “Him that overcometh will I make a pillar in the temple of my God, and he shall go no more out; and I will write upon him the name of my God, and the name of the city of my God, and I will write upon him my new name. He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches,” Rev. 3:12, 13.[1]



[1] M’Lean, A. (1823). On the Unity of Christ’s Disciples. In The Works of Mr. Archibald M’Lean (Vol. VI, pp. 84–110). London: William Jones. (Public Domain)

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