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Pure, holy, disinterested love, which is diametrically opposite to all sellishness, is the essence of all true holiness; and, of consequence, there can be no holy affection prior to the love of God being shed abroad in the heart.
A sinner must exercise love to God, before he can exercise repentance of sin which is a transgression of his law. Though, while he hates God, he may be sorry that he has provoked his displeasure, yet he cannot be sincerely sorry that he has disobeyed and dishonored a Being whom he hates. True repentance consists in that self loathing and self abasement for sin, which arises from a clear view of the glory and excellence of the divine character. Hence says Job to God, “ I have heard
6 of thee, by the hearing of the ear; but now mine eye seeth thee. Wherefore I abhor myself, and repent in dust and ashes." No sinner, while in a state of enmity and opposition to God, can exercise such genuine repentance. This can flow from no other source than supreme love to the supreme excellence of the Deity. Love therefore, in the very nature of things, must be prior to repentance. The renewed sinner always loves God, before he repents of sinning against him. The holy Spirit, in the first instance, turns the heart of the sinner from hatred to love. Love is always the very first exercise of a renewed sinner. We cannot conceive it to be possible, that he should exercise either repentance, or faith, before he loves God whom he had hated. The fruit of the Spirit, yea, the first fruit of the Spirit, is that pure, holy, disinterested love, which is the fulfilling of the law.
The next fruit of the Spirit is repentance. As soon as the renewed sinner loves God supremely, he must loathe and abhor himself for hating, opposing and dishonoring such a holy and amiable Being. True repentance naturally and almost instantaneously follows true love to God. The renewed heart is tender and teachable, and leads the subject of it to exercise godly sorrow and genuine repentance for all his past ingratitude, impenitence and obstinacy. So God represents the true convert. “ I have surely heard Ephraim bemoaning himself thus: Thou hast chastised me, and I was chastised, as a bullock unaccustomed to the yoke; turn thou me, and I shall be turned; for thou art the Lord my God. Surely after that I was turned, I repented; and after that I was instructed, I smote upon my thigh; I was ashamed, yea, even confounded, because I did bear the reproach of my youth.” The sinner no sooner loves God than he justifies him, and condemns himself. Like the penitent publican, he freely acknowledges himself to be a sinner, and accepts the punishment of his sins. The malefactor on the cross no sooner loved the suffering Saviour, than he repented of his sins, and accepted the punishment of them. Paul no sooner exercised true love to God, than he repented of his sins, and sincerely acknowledged the justice of the law which condemned him to die. “ For,” says he, “ I was alive without the law once; but when the commandment came, sin revived, and I died. And the commandment, which was ordained to life, I found to be unto death. Wherefore the law is holy, and the commandment holy, and just, and good.” As soon as the holy Spirit reconciles the sinner to God, he naturally loathes and condemns himself, as God loathes and condemns him, for his sins. He does not stand to inquire, before he repents, whether God loves him and intends to save him ; for he feels both bound and disposed to repent, though God should cast him off for ever. As it is morally impossible for the sinner to repent before he loves God, so it is morally impossible for him to refrain from repenting after he loves him. True repentance always flows from love to God, and not merely from a hope of salvation.
As repentance follows love, so faith follows both love and repentance. When the sinner loves, he will repent; and when he repents, he will exercise not merely a speculative, but a sav. ing faith. It is morally impossible for a sinner to love Christ for condemning sin in the flesh, until he hates sin and sincerely repents of it. It is morally impossible that he should love the grace of the gospel, until he loves the justice of the law. It is morally impossible that he should feel his need of a Saviour, until he sees and feels that God would be righteous and amiable in sending him to destruction. But as soon as he loves the divine character, and the divine law, and condemns himself as the law condemns him, he is prepared to love Christ, and to depend upon him alone for pardon and acceptance in the sight of God. He chooses to be saved through the atonement of Christ, because he sees no other way in which God can be just, and yet justify and save him from deserved punishment. Having exercised love and repentance towards God, he is prepared to exercise faith towards the Lord Jesus Christ. Agreeably to this order of gracious exercises, John preached, saying, "Repent ye, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” And after John, “ Jesus came into Galilee, preaching the gospel of the kingdom of God, and saying, The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand, repent ye, and believe the gospel." Thus it appears that love is the first exercise of the renewed sinner, repentance the second, and faith the third. This is the order in which these gracious exercises always take place, and it is morally impossible that they should take place in any other order. There may be a false faith, and a false repentance,
before a false love; but there cannot be a true repentance before a true love, nor a true faith before a true repentance. True, disinterested love, which is the fruit of a divine influence, is always the first exercise of the renewed sinner, and both his repentance and faith flow from such pure love. So that faith's working by love does not mean that love flows from faith, but that faith flows from love. I shall now endeavor to show,
II. The importance of representing these first exercises of the renewed heart in the order I have mentioned. Upon this point there is a diversity of opinions, among those who believe the absolute necessity of a spiritual and saving change in order to salvation. Some say that faith, repentance and love are all produced at once, in regeneration; and that they cannot be considered as properly distinct, because they involve each other. They suppose that faith implies love, and love implies faith; that faith implies repentance, and repentance implies faith; or rather that faith implies all the christian graces. But this seems to be an absurd supposition. For all holy exercises are really distinct, and though in a certain sense connected, cannot be exercised at one and the same moment. Some who allow that faith, repentance and love are really distinct exercises, and take place in succession, yet say it is of no importance to determine in what order they follow one another, because they have no fixed order of succession, but take place sometimes in one order and sometimes in another. Sometimes the renewed person may exercise love in the first instance, sometimes faith in the first instance, and sometimes repentance in the first instance. The Spirit, they suppose, operates differently upon different persons. In one person he may first produce faith; in another person he may first produce repentance; and in another person he may first produce love. He observes, they imagine, no certain order in his special operations, and consequently those who are the subjects of his special grace are not conscious of the same order in their first gracious affections. One person may say that he was first conscious of love; another that he was first conscious of faith; another that he was first conscious of repentance; and another that he was conscious of no distinct order in his new affections, but only that they were new, and different from
that he ever was conscious of before. It is readily granted that all these subjects of special grace may speak the truth according to the best knowledge they have of their first gracious exercises; and yet it may be equally true that the first gracious exercises in each of them took place in a certain order, and in the same order that I have mentioned. For no person, perhaps, at the very time of his spiritual change, ever attended to the particular order of his holy
affections, because his mind was first fixed upon the great objects of his love, his repentance and his faith. Besides, though all true believers know that they have had different affections since they became believers, from what they had before, yet very few know how to distinguish and describe their holy exercises according to their specific difference, and proper names. Notwithstanding, therefore, this variety of opinions among real christians, respecting their first christian exercises, it must be certain that the Spirit of God never acts inconsistently in converting sinners; or in other words, that he never produces repentance towards God, before he produces love to God; nor faith towards the Lord Jesus Christ, before love to Christ. There is no room to doubt but that he always produces love before repentance, and repentance before faith. This is the only order in which we can conceive it to be possible for the Holy Spirit to produce the first holy affections in the human heart, whether believers are, at the time of their conversion or afterwards, conscious of this order or not. Hence it is of great importance in describing a saving change, that the first exercises of grace should be represented in that very order in which they always take place. For,
1. Unless we place love before faith and repentance, we cannot reconcile regeneration with the divine law, which requires all men to love God immediately and supremely. If we say that faith is the first gracious exercise, then we virtually say that men ought to believe the gospel before they love God; which is the same as to say that it is not the duty of sinners to obey the first and great command, until they become true believers in Christ. And this consequence is allowed by those who place faith before love. They maintain that no man can or ought to love God until he believes that he is freed from the condemning power of the law, and shall escape the everlasting displeasure of a damning God. They suppose, therefore, that faith produces both love and repentante. But this is totally inconsistent with the first precept of the divine law, and virtually dissolves the obligations of sinners to love God, until he gives them faith in Christ. But, on the other hand, if we represent love as the first fruit of the Spirit, then the doctrine of regeneration will appear entirely consistent with the divine law. For the law requires love as the first exercise of holy affection; and this is the first affection which every renewed person exercises. Such is the consistency between the law of God, and 'the special influences of his Holy Spirit in regeneration. And in order to make this consistency appear, it is very important to represent love as before repentance and faith, and not faith as before love and repentance in the renewed heart. The expe
rience of christians must be represented according to the doctrines of the gospel, and not the doctrines of the gospel interpreted and represented according to the various and inconsistent experiences of supposed christians.
2. It is of importance to represent love as before repentance and faith, in order to make it appear that sanctification is before justification and the only proper evidence of it. Those who place faith before love and repentance, suppose that men are justified before they are renewed or sanctified. They suppose that saving faith consists in a man's believing that he is justified and entitled to eternal life without any evidence from scripture, sense, or reason. It is easy to see that, if faith could be before love and repentance, justification might be before sanctification, and consequently sanctification could be no evidence of justification. But this doctrine, though taught by many noted divines, is contrary to the whole current of scripture, which represents love as before faith and repentance, and as the best evidence of pardon and justification in the sight of God. Paul says, children, then heirs ;" and not, “ If heirs, then children." John says, “ Love is of God, and every one that loveth is born of God, and knoweth God.” The only proper evidence of justification is sanctification. “ If any man have not the spirit of Christ, he is none of his.” If we place love before faith and repentance, we make repentance and faith holy exercises, and holy exercises the evidence of justification and a title to eternal life. The placing of the first exercises, of the renewed heart in this order, is of the highest practical importance. It lays the only solid foundation for all real christians to know that they are born again, and are heirs of everlasting life. I must add,
3. It is absolutely necessary to place love before repentance and faith, in order to distinguish true religion from false. All true religion essentially consists in pure, holy, disinterested love; and all false religion essentially consists in interested, mercenary, selfish love. Now those who place faith before love and repentance, make all religion selfish; because, upon their supposition, all religious affections flow from a belief of their being elected and entitled to eternal life. They maintain that men must first believe that God through Christ is reconciled to them, and intends to save them from the wrath to come. And who that believes this, in respect to himself, will not love God, and be very sorry that he has ever offended a being who has always been so partial in his favor. The worst man in the world would be glad to escape endless misery; and if he can make himself believe that God intends to save him in his sins, he will love and admire him for it. So that this faith, which is before love, and altogether selfish, will produce a false love, a false joy, a false re