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did not want a son, but we wanted a Father: "in thee the fatherless find mercy." There was nothing in us but sin and miséry, an occasion of his mercy.
It is added by the apostle, "we are co-heirs with Christ." This may seem to be a usurpation upon his prerogative, who is invested with the supremacy of heaven. But this is easily cleared, by considering that Christ has a double title to the inheritance: 1. A natural title as the Son of God, in a transcendent and peeuliar manner. From eternity there was a mutual possession of the Father and the Son, wherein their blessedness consists. This title is singular and incommunicable. 2. An acquired title by his meritorious obedience and sufferings. "Therefore God has exalted him above all principality, and power, and might and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this world, but in that to come." Eph. 1. 21. And such is his astonishing love, he associates us with him in this title: he communicates a right to us in his kingdom, by the merits of his death, and introduces us into possession by his mediation. His glory is inconsistent with ours, and inseparable from ours: for when the head is crowned, the members reign. The saints sit down "with him in his throne, as he is set down on his Father's throne."
Let us now consider how influential this privilege is, to make us entirely holy.
1. It is most worthy of observation, that God, who might by mere empire and authority command us to do our duty, is pleased by gracious inducements to endear our duty to us. He might by dominion and power constrain us, but he is pleased by the sweetest affections to allure us. A wise prince, according to the rules of true policy, will rather govern by love than fear for his safety and tranquillity is more preserved by it. Fear may secure him from open rebellions and assaults: but love from secret underminings, from treachery and poison. It is true, there is no such motive inclines God to allure our love, but his design is to gain our hearts to obey him, that he may crown our obedience. Fear restrains us from provoking him, but love makes us active and cheerful to please him. Now what can be a more powerful obligation to love him, than the receiving us into the high and dear relation of his children? If we look up to God, and down upon ourselves, we shall be struck with equal admiration and confusion. There is a rare and most affecting example of hum
ble thankfulness recorded in scripture, when David said to Mephibosheth," fear not, I will surely show thee kindness for Jonathan thy father's sake, and will restore thee the land of Saul thy father, and thou shalt eat bread at my table continually;" he bowed himself and said, "what is thy servant, that thou shouldst look on such a dead dog as I am?" 2 Sam. 9. 7, 8. Mephibosheth was of royal extraction, and the son of Jonathan, who infinitely deserved of David, yet how does he vilify himself to magnify the king's favour? What an extreme disparity is there between the kindness of David, and the condescending compassionate love of God?" He is the High and Holy One; we were enemies to him," and had our portion with dragons, yet he received us into his family, and adopted us into the line of heaven.
2. Consider, the promises so exceeding great and precious, so stable and sure, are conditional, and not to be obtained without consent to the terms specified in them. The promises of the gospel are most free in their original and rise, the love of God; but their performances is suspended upon such terms, as the bountiful God requires of us. It is true, his grace assists us to perform them, and the performance is for the full and final glory of his grace: but the conditions are indispensably required. The terms of the gospel are as strictly enjoined to our obtaining salvation, as the terms of the law were to preserve the happy life of man in paradise. It is not within the compass of omnipotence, to admit us to partake of adoption and communion with God, without our being cleansed from sin, and being changed into the image of God. It would disparage the unspotted holiness of God to take one into sonship, and to manifest his complacential love in him that continues in the state of polluted nature. While men are alienated from the life of God, they cannot have a filial relation to him: for God cannot deny himself, neither can there be communion with him. We are directed to "draw near to God, and he will draw near to us;" but we "must cleanse our hands, and purify our hearts." St. John declares the heavenly privilege of Christians, "Truly our communion is with the Father, and with Jesus Christ ;" and he declares the terms of it, "If we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship one with another." Communion implies freedom and fruition, a mutual intercourse of mercies and duties; the soul ascends to
God by acts of faith and love, and God descends into the soul by excitations of grace, and influences of joy. There can be no love without likeness, nor fellowship without love. According to the degrees of our holiness, the more exact is our resemblance of God, and the more clear and comfortable is the evidence of our filial relation to him. Fire is more clearly discovered by flame, than by a little heat; so grace is most conspicuous in the view of conscience, by its radiant operations. The Spirit of adoption is the spirit of regeneration: "It is from his testimony with our spirits, that we have the comfortable assurance, that we are the children of God." The Spirit first works before he witnesses, and his testimony is always in conformity to the rule of the word, wherein the infallible characters of the children of God are laid down. The testimony is argumentative and declarative from those divine dispositions that constitute the children of God.
God is terrible to the conscience, and distasteful to the affections of the unholy. The bright and serene face of the heavens is pleasant to the sight, but a black cloud charged with thunderbolts, and that threatens storms is looked on with fear. The countenance of God is a refresing light to his obedient children, but is a tormenting fire to the unsanctified. They are averse from the society of the saints in the ordinances, because God is peculiarly present with them. They are unwilling to retire from the vanities and business of the world, lest conscience, God's deputy, should remember them of their neglected duties to God; and above all things they are afraid to die, because then "the spirit returns to God that gave it."
Now if the paternal relation of God be the ground of his most dear and beneficent affection to us, shall it not be the motive of our dutiful affection to him? "If I be a Father, where is my honour?" We are commanded to "follow God as dear children:" the obligation is clearly natural, from our heavenly original and end. We are excited by our relation; "As obedient children, not fashioning ourselves according to the former lusts in your ignorance; but as he who has called us is holy, so be ye holy in all manner of conversation." And we are exhorted to "be blameless and harmless, the sons of God without rebuke, in the midest of a crooked and perverse generation, shining as lights in the world." If we are cold and careless in our duty, how justly may we be upbraided with that question of confusion, "Do
you thus requite the Lord, O foolish people and unwise? Is he not thy Father, that bought thee, and made thee?" Is any thing more contrary to natural conscience and supernatural grace, than for those who are in title and relation the children of God, to renounce that relation by a course of life directly opposite to it? To be called a child of God, is a title of the highest honour; and what a vile degeneracy is it, what a stain and infamy is it, for "such to mind earthly things," to set their affections on perishing vanities, that defile and debase them? It is a title of the most perfect liberty; "If the Son make you free, you are free indeed." What a disparagement is it to believers to be fastened by the chains and charms of their lusts, in a most ignominious slavish bondage? It is a title of consecration; "Holiness to the Lord is engraven on their foreheads," the visible profession of christians: now can they conform themselves according to the custom of this world, "which lies in wickedness," unless all filial affections to God be dead, or very languishing in their breasts? A sacred ambition, an active zeal to adorn the gospel, to live becoming the dignity and purity of our divine relation, is the great duty incumbent on us.
To conclude this part, there may be sincere grace in a person, but through neglect of improving it to degrees of eminence, a child of light "may walk in darkness," and be deprived of the sense of God's present love, and the joyful hope of future happiness he may fear that in every affliction here, there is anger without any mixture of favour, and in the approaches to eternity be in distracting doubts about his future state, and an anxious expectation of an uncertain sentence. It is our interest, as well as duty, to strive to excel in holiness.
I shall now apply this doctrine; First. By inquiring whether we are proceeding to perfection. Secondly. Propound directions how we should follow it.
. First. I shall lay down some rules whereby we may discern, whether we are proceeding to perfection. It is requisite to premise, there may be an easy mistake in the judgment, about the truth and strength of grace in men's souls. Indeed, there are clear and plain rules in scripture to judge of our spiritual state, but the dark and crooked hearts of men misapply them. Carnal men are apt to mistake presumption for faith, and think the bolder they are in presuming without a promise, the stronger
they are in believing. They mistake a fruitless sorrow for sin, to be repentance. They sin and repent, and after repentance they sin; and walking in a circle of repentings and relapsings, take not one step towards heaven. But real saints are often complaining of their want of grace, and condemning themselves for their not improving the means of grace. Their desires are ardent and ascending to perfection, and they judge of their defects by that measure. He that sails before the wind in a river, and sees men walking on the shore, to his eye they seem to stand still, because of the swift motion of the boat. Thus the saints judge of their imperfections, by the swiftness of their desires after complete holiness. I shall lay down two general rules of trial, concerning growth in grace; and proceed to particular discoveries.
1. The vanquishing of sin, is a certain indication of the power of grace. During the present life, from its first rise, to its last fall, the corruption of nature in some degrees remains in the saints. "The flesh lusts against the spirit, and the spirit against the flesh, that we cannot do the things we would." Now the strength of sin is discovered by the readiness of the heart to a temptation. Some are entangled at the first sight of a pleasant object. The tempter needs not raise a battery against them, for the treacherous party within opens the gates of the senses to receive his temptations. Others, though unrenewed by sanctifying grace, yet there is in them such a resistance between "the law of the mind, and the law of the members," such a conflict between conviction and corruption, that they resolve to forsake sin, and by restraining grace are in some instances kept from doing it: but ordinarily when temptations are very inviting, they consent and commit sin. Nay the saints are sometimes surprised and foiled by the tempter: David by a sudden glance was overcome, and fell into a sin of a very foul nature. Peter at the challenge of a servant denied his master, and was almost frozen to death with fear, until the compassionate eye of our Saviour warmed and melted him into tears of repentance.
To prevent mistakes, it must be considered, that the ceasing from the acts of sin, does not always proceed from victorious grace. In the absence of alluring objects there is a ceasing from the vicious acts, but the sinful affections may be then most intense as hunger is more sharp in a time of famine, when there