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question can more solemnly address our interests or feelings, than that of the Divine Saviour, in its appropriate application to each heart, Lovest thou me?" In comparison with an inquiry, involving consequences of such infinite moment, all others are less than nothing. Who can leave this point undecided, and rest easy! Who can decide it against himself, and feel safe? Earthly thrones and empires are trifles of a moment, when laid in the balance against the joys or sufferings of eternity.
At the last interview Christ had with his disciples, before his ascension, the question which I have chosen for a text, was addressed to Simon Peter. Thrice had he denied his Master at the high-priest's palace ; and now thrice was he put upon the trial of his sincerity by this pointed interrogatory. Though Peter, as a christian minister, was required to give evidence of his love peculiar to his office, by feeding Christ's. sheep and lambs, the subject is not necessarily limited to any class of christians. or men. Let us suppose then, the divine Jesus to stand in the midst of us, and address us individually with this solemn, searching question, Lovest thou me? Who of us could, understandingly, make the appeal to his omniscience, Lord thou knowest all things, thou knowest that I love thee. To settle this point, to the satisfaction of an enlightened conscience, requires. that we carefully examine the nature and fruits of love to Christ.
Let it be remarked then in general, that love to Christ, is something above the instinct of natural gratitude.
Thosewords of the appostle John We love him because he first loved us,' have been understood by some to import, that there can be no true love to Christ, which does not proceed from an apprehension of his special favor to us. Such an opinion, whether designedly or not, does really substitute refined selfish
ness for holy affection. The love of Christ in the purchase of the cross and the gift of the Holy Spirit, for the effectual calling and sanctification of men is the productive cause of all the genuine love that exists in any human heart. In this sense, if we love him, it is because he first loved us. And gratitude, for favor so astonishing, is essential to the christian temper. But to love Christ from no other principle than the hope of being personally benefited by him, is clearly not to love him at all with any supreme affection, From the same temper, wicked Gallileans followed him, while 'he fed them; and wicked Gadarenes desired him to depart, when no selfish advantage was expected from his presence. To exercise this sort of love, is no more than 'publicans may do; and no more than Satan, if he could be released from suffer: ing, might do, and be Satan still.
Let it be remarked again, that love to Christ is something superior to the exercise of mere pity.
Among the multitude that attended the Saviour from Pilate's judgment-hall, to the place of crucifixion, he observed some who were tenderly moved at his circumstances. With a perfect knowledge of their characters and prospects, he gave the prophetic admonition • Daughters of Jerusalem, weep not for me, but weep for yourselves and for your children.' Whatever else these words imply, they seem evidently to indicate that the tears of some, on that occasion, howed from no higher fountain than the instinct of compassion.' From the same fountain they might have flowed as freely, on witnessing any other scene of deep suffering, especially of suffering innocence. A similar effect may be produced on per: sons of sympathetic minds by reading the history of the crucifixion. They may weep for Christ, while they know not what it is to love him. They may be sorry for a suffering Saviour, without any proper sorrow for sin, the occasion of his sufferings. They
may feel every exercise of natural humanity, and yet be strangers to every exercise of gospel humility.
The great inquiry remains to be answered, what is true love to Christ? I reply,
I It is a proper and just regard to his whole char. acter.
It is not a partial, transient emotion, but a perma. nent, moral temper. It is that animating, operative, vital principle of the new heart, which unites it to Christ, and enthrones him in the soul.' It is that disinterested affection which loves its object be. cause it is altogether lovely.'. He who possesses this temper, acknowledges Christ, not simply as the son of Mary, or the Prophet of Nazareth ; but as an eternal and divine person : as possessing, equally with the Father and Spirit, all the attributes of the undivided Godhead. To regard the author and finisher of our faith,' as a mere creature, the equal of man, or at most, the bare superior of angels, is to de. ny the Lord that bought us. It is to sink the amaz. ing scene on the hill of Calvary, to an event of com. mon history. It is to blot out every syllable of good news from the gospel; to annihilate the faith and joy of the christian's heart, and to debar him from the possession or the hope of heaven. True love contemplates the Deity and atonement of Christ as inseparable. Here is room for its eternal exercise. The union of the divine nature with humanity, in the person of the Redeemer, gives to his sacrifice on the cross all its efficacy to vindicate the honor of the Godhead, and to ransom perishing men. Unitedly to celebrate this, in loud and everlasting anthems, will be the work and blessedness of those happy spirits that share in the benefits of gospel grace.
II. If we truly love Christ we shall possess a pro. per regard to the divine law.
Without seeing the perfection of this law, it is im. possible to comprehend the design of his incarnation
and sufferings, or to view his cross in any other light than as a stumbling block and foolishness.' Ignor ance and mistake on this point have occasioned some of the most fatal errors in religion. To magnify the gospel, as some have done, at the expense of the law, is to dishonor the Saviour and endanger the souls of men, If the law be unjust, If the law be unjust, there can be no crime in transgression-no grace in forgivenss; and if so, the gospel, at best, is but, a cunningly devised fabel. The perfect Author of both on this supposi tion, must be at variance with himself, and his moral kingdom. must contain the radical principles of its own dissolution.
God challenges the supreme, undivided love of creatures as his due. He will submit to no com promise with any rival. He will allow of no other God, before him' in the affections. He demands an unconditional surrender of the heart,-the whole heart to himself. The great design of the gospel is, not to invalidate but, to vindicate and enforce these holy claims. If the preceptive demands of God's law re quire not too much of creatures, its penalty cannot be abated in behalf of transgressors, without some. equivalent testimony of its perfection. An indiscriminate forgiveness of the guilty, without any ade-. quate satisfaction for their offences, would be want of benevolence..
A God all mercy, is a God unjust.'
If grace reign at all, consistently with the interests of the divine kingdom, it must reign through righteousness.' The Son of God came into the world to condemn rebellion against his Father's government, not to justify it he came to establish and magnify the law, not to destroy it. Vain is the hope of indefinite and unconditional salvation to all men built on misapprehension of the atonement. Vain are all professions of love to Christ originating from the same source, Say what we will of our obligations to
the Redeemer, it is all empty valk if we do not feel that he came to deliver us from the just penalty of a righteous and violated law.
III. If we love Christ, we shall cordially approve of the doctrines which he taught.
Such are the eternal existence and infinite perfection of one supreme God, in three persons ; his holy and immutable purposes ; the unlimited extent and duration of his all-perfect, all-pervading and all-disposing providence ; the awful depravity and perishing state of men by nature ; the glorious fulness of the gospel atonement; the necessity of the supernatural, sanctifying agency of God's Spirit on the heart, of repentance, faith and evangelical holiness; the stability of the covenant of grace ; the richness and per. petuity of its promises, and the endless state of bliss or misery, which will follow the great day of recom. pence. The friends of Christ love these doctrines, for the same reason that unholy hearts hate them ; because they exalt God and hamble human pride. That catholicism which confounds truth with error, which bids God speed to any thing and every thing assuming the name of religion, however much at va. riance with the vital principles of Christianity, is not the benevolence of the gospel.
IV. If we love Christ we shall sincerely and hum, bly accept the salvation which he offers--salvation from natural and moral evil-salvation by free grace.
The happiness to be enjoyed in heaven is exactly suited to the temper and feelings of the sanctified be. liever. There, God will be glorified. There, perfect, unceasing holiness will reign in every heart. To a soul that loves Christ, deliverance from misery is not enough, without deliverance from sin. Far would such an one think himself from happiness, to be rescued from hell, and left under the dominion of a wicked heart. The salvation of the gospel is there.