« PreviousContinue »
"abiding in him." There it is, "if ye continue," or abide, "in my word." "in my word." They are both one and the same, as is manifest: and may also appear further by comparing a place in St. John's first epistle: "But whoso keepeth his word, in him, verily, is the love of God perfected. Hereby know we, that we are in him," 1 John ii. 5.
Our Lord having spoken of himself as the living bread that came down from heaven, says, "He that eateth me, shall live by me," John vi. 51. But afterwards, for preventing offence, and making himself clear, he explains the meaning of those expressions. "When Jesus knew in himself, that his disciples murmured at it, he saith unto them, the flesh profiteth nothing. The words that I speak unto you, they are spirit, and they are life," ver. 61, 63.
This shews, that when our Lord speaks of himself, he often means the word taught by him." And we need not suppose him to say, that no man can do any good thing, without immediate impulses from him. Nor have we reason to think that this is the ordinary way of inducing men to that which is good, or that such impulses are always necessary.
That men may be good and virtuous, it must be their own choice. So far as men are passive, and are acted upon, they are not agents.
Without power to do good or evil, men cannot be moral and accountable beings, and be brought into judgment, or receive according to their works.
If you should say, that men cannot improve the outward advantages afforded to them, nor hearken to the divine calls, nor act according to the light vouchsafed to them, you would justify them, and lay the blame of their wrong conduct upon God himself.
God, in the prophets, laments the refractory temper of the Jewish people, and reproves them for it: "Now because ye have done all these works, saith the Lord: and I spake unto you, rising up early, and ye heard not: and 1 called, but ye answered not, therefore I will do unto this house, which is called by my name, as I have done unto Shiloh," Jer. v. 13, 14; see also ver. 25, 26.
But if they had no ability to do good, they might have said, We would have answered thee, when thou calledst, and would have obeyed thy statutes: but we had no power of our own, and thou didst not work effectually in us, and upon us.'
But that is a vindication which no man can bring to God. For our Lord says to the Jews: "Ye will not come unto me, that ye might have life," John. v. 40. And lamenting the sad case of the city of Jerusalem, he says, How often would I have gathered thy children together, as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings? and ye would not!" Matt. xxiii. 37.
And in this fifteenth chapter of St. John: "If I had not come, and spoken unto them, they had not had sin, but now they have no cloak" or excuse "for their sin." And afterwards: "If I had not come, and done among them the works that no other man did, they had not had sin,' John xv. 22, 24; that is, no sin in comparison of what they now have; which shews, that men may improve by advantages: and therefore where much is given, there much may be reasonably required.
All which things are so clear, and do so manifestly depend upon the supposition of men having a natural power in them to do good or evil, that it may be wondered it should be questioned: and to contest and deny it, seems to be contrary to all sense and reason: and to overthrow al! notion of duty and obligation.
Against so clear texts as have been now produced, and against such cogent arguments, it must be in vain to allege texts, which, probably, in their true meaning, do not at all contradict these things.
Our Lord says: No man can come unto me, except the Father which hath sent me draw him," John vi. 44. But those words do not import immediate impulses: the meaning is, no ' man will come to me and receive my pure, sublime, and spiritual doctrine, unless he have first gained some just apprehensions concerning the general principles of religion. And if a man have some good notion of God, and his perfections, and his will, as already revealed, he will come unto me.' If any man be well disposed, if he have a love of truth, and a desire to advance in virtue and religious knowledge, he will readily hearken to me and believe in me.
That this is the meaning, may with high degrees of probability be concluded from other texts, in which our Lord tells the Jews: "If any man will do his will, he shall know of the
"I can do all these things through Christ who strengtheneth me," [Phil. iv. 13.] that is, through the directions of Christ, and through the arguments and motives of the Christian doctrine. Dr. Jer. Hunt's Sermons, Vol. III. p. 188.
doctrine, whether it be of God, or whether I speak of myself," John vii. 17. And, “Had ye believed Moses, ye would have believed me,' ver. 46, and from many other texts to the like purpose. It is also evident from the words next following those which we are considering. "It is written in the prophets: And they shall be all taught of God. Every man therefore that hath heard, and hath learned of the Father cometh unto me," John vi. 45; which is saying, in other words, what was just observed by us: that if any man by serious consideration, and particularly by attending to former revelations, has gained just apprehensions of God, he will come unto me, and submit himself to be my disciple, to be farther instructed by me.
Would any say, that the necessity of immediate and particular influences from Christ himself is implied in this context: where he says, that "he is a vine," and his disciples "branches," and that their bearing fruit depends as much upon influences from him, as the life and vigour of branches depend upon the sap derived from the root of a tree? It would be easy to answer, that the argument in the text is a similitude, not literal truth. Neither is Christ, literally, a vine: nor are his disciples, strictly speaking, branches. Men have a reasonable, intellectual nature, above animals and vegetables. They are not governed by irresistible, and necessary, or mechanical powers. But it is sound doctrine, and right principles, particularly the words of Christ, which are the words of God, that are their life, and may, and will, if attended to, powerfully enable them to practise good works, and to excel, and persevere therein. Which brings me to the third and last observation for illustrating this text and context.
Prop. 3. They who understand, and have a strict regard to the true doctrine of Christ, the principles of the gospel, will be able to practise good works, and abound therein, and be steady under difficulties: whereas, if they should disregard it, or corrupt it, they would perform nothing considerable and excellent.
I think this must be allowed to be the design of this context: and I need not enlarge much farther.
Every considerate person may perceive, that the gospel, as it teaches and inculcates universal holiness and virtue; sobriety, righteousness, and godliness; so it sets before men the strongest arguments, or affords the best helps for attaining real excellence. True religion and virtue are taught by Jesus Christ in all their sublimity and perfection: the worship of God in spirit and truth: doing good from a principle of love to God, a desire of his favour, and hopes of rewards from him, without views to worldly honours and advantages: resignation to the disposals of Providence: maintaining the truth in all circumstances: of which virtues the Lord Jesus himself was a conspicuous and perfect example: who also, after he had died in testimony to the truths taught by him, was raised from the dead, and exalted to glory. And all who follow him sincerely are to be made perfect and happy, like him, and to be for ever with him.
They who attend to this must be disposed to do somewhat considerable. And, if they should meet with temptations, they will be able to surmount them.
Accordingly, the apostles of Jesus, who did "abide in him," and retained his words, did bear much, and good fruit. Their conduct was excellent and exemplary: and they could endure shame and all manner of sufferings for his name's sake, and in hope of partaking in the recompenses of his heavenly kingdom.
Under what discouragements Peter with the eleven first preached the gospel at Jerusalem, and under what discouragements it was professed by their first converts, and by many others afterwards, the history in the Acts, and other things in the epistles of the apostles, plainly shew.
And the power and efficacy of the divine word are attested to by every part of scripture. Says holy David: "Wherewith shall a young man cleanse his way? By taking heed thereto, according to thy word;" Ps. cxix. 9. And, "Thy word have I hid in my heart, that I might not sin against thee," ver. 11. ;
The word of God is represented as the great mean of forming, and of cherishing and improving good dispositions. The Christians, to whom St. Peter writes, "had purified themselves in obeying the truth" And had been "born again, not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible," even by the word of God, which liveth and abideth for ever," 1 Pet. i. 22, 23. And he exhorts them, "as new-born babes, to desire the sincere milk of the word, that they may grow, thereby," ch. ii. 2. And St. James: "Receive with meekness the ingrafted word, which is able to save your souls," James i. 21.
What St. Paul says at Miletus to the elders of Ephesus, is very observable: "Wherefore I
take you to record this day, that I am free from the blood of all men: for I have not shunned to declare unto you the whole counsel of God-And, now, brethren, I recommend you to God, and to the word of his grace: which is able to build you up, and to give you an inheritance among all them that are sanctified," Acts xx. 26, 27.
How earnest, and how frequent that apostle is in exhorting Christians to retain the pure gospel of Christ, in order to their establishment and increase in virtue, is well known to all men. He and Barnabas visited the churches which they had planted, "confirming the disciples, and exhorting them to continue in the faith," Acts xiv. 22. And to the Colossians he writes: "You that were sometime alienated, hath he reconciled in the body of his flesh, through death, to present you holy and unblameable, and unreproveable in his sight: if ye continue in the faith grounded and settled, and be not moved away from the hope of the gospel which ye have heard," Col. i. 21-23.
II. I shall now mention two or three remarks briefly, by way of application.
1. We may hence infer that, generally speaking, sad will be the condition of those, who having once known the doctrine of the gospel, afterwards forsake and disown it, and wilfully act contrary to its holy laws and commandments.
The apostles of Christ in their epistles, make the supposition of such instances, and speak of them with much concern, as past hope. It would be exceeding difficult to renew them again to repentance," Heb. vi. 6; and "it had been better for them, not to have known the way of righteousness, than to turn from the holy commandment delivered to them," 2 Pet. ii. 21.
2. This discourse of our Lord with his disciples should induce us to a strict regard to his genuine doctrine.
This is the best way to be steady and eminent in things excellent and commendable. We have not seen Christ; but we have good reason to believe in him and love him. His words and his works, and all his transactions on this earth for our welfare, have been carefully transmitted to us. We should abide in him, and endeavour to know more the power of his death and resurrection, and all the forcible considerations which his doctrine contains to the practice of virtue and perseverance therein.
3. We here see cause to lament the degeneracy of Christians, and the absurdities that have been introduced into the Christian profession.
Says God with regard to the Jewish people: "I had planted thee a noble vine, wholly a right seed. How then art thou turned into the degenerate plant of a strange vine unto me!" Jer. ii. 21. The statutes delivered to the people of Israel were good and right. The laws of moral righteousness had the preference: and the others were wisely ordained at that time, and suited to answer valuable ends. Nevertheless they diverted to idolatry, or made additions of human observances, to the great detriment of true piety. The doctrine of Jesus is excellent and important: and yet numberless superstitions and absurdities have been graffed in. Whence comes this? It is because men do not attend to their true interest; because they do not love truth and simplicity: and so it has been from the beginning. has been from the beginning. "God made man upright: but they have sought out many inventions." Ecc. vii. 29.
We should not be offended. The fault is not in the doctrine itself: nor has Providence been wanting in any thing requisite for the good of men. And our Lord foresaw and foretold what has since happened. Good grain was sowed in the field: but whilst men were negligent, an enemy has cast in tares, which have sprung up and mingled with the good corn, Matt. xiii. 24, 25.
This should excite our care and diligence: and with a sincere love of truth we should study and endeavour to understand the religion of Jesus Christ. It is not, in its original form, the most mysterious, loaded with doctrines hard to be believed; either almost or quite contra dictory. The worship which it teaches is not the most showy and pompous that ever was contrived; consisting of a long and tedious ceremonial, in which a hypocrite might be as exact and punctual as any man: but it is undissembled virtue, from a respect to God, and hope of his favour.
If all men would receive this excellent doctrine, and come under the power of it, the world might be happy, and our life here on earth easy and comfortable. But as such an agreeable scene has not yet appeared, and we are not able to reconcile all men to truth and virtue; the knowing, and pious, and zealous for God will often meet with difficulties: but then here comes
into their aid the prospect of a great joy set before them. Hence this struggle and contention, this holy warfare: which we must resolve upon if called out to it, and should acquit ourselves like men. Here is a difficulty. But this contention gives occasion for the exercise and improvement of virtue; and so lays the foundation of transcendent glory and happiness hereafter. And "our light affliction, which is but for a moment," according to the sublime apprehensions of the apostle, "worketh for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory," 2 Cor. iv. 17.
Á RECOMMENDATION OF THINGS VIRTUOUS, LOVELY, AND OF GOOD REPORT. Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report: if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think of these things.-Philip. iv. 8.
In these words, and those which follow, we have the concluding exhortations and advices of the apostle to the Christians at Philippi. They are brief and concise, yet full and comprehensive and in them, if any thing of moment had been hitherto omitted, every branch of conduct that has in it any real excellence, or outward comeliness, would be included: and the well-disposed and intelligent Philippians would bring it to mind.
The words of the text may be partly explained in this short paraphrase: Finally to conclude ‹ and sum up all, my brethren, whatever," things are true," or sincere: things are true," or sincere: "whatever things are ‹ honest," or grave and venerable: "whatever things are just," or righteous between man and "man: "whatever things are pure," or chaste: "whatever things are lovely," agreeable and ⚫ amiable: "whatever things are of good report," generally well-spoken of and commended: “if there be any virtue, if there be any praise:" and whatever is virtuous and reasonable, worthy ' of praise and commendation: "think of these things:" such things do you attend to, and reckon yourselves obliged to observe and practise.❜
In farther discoursing on this text I shall
I. Shew, what is meant by "thinking of these things."
II. I shall endeavour to explain and illustrate the several particulars here mentioned.
III. After which I intend to add some reflections by way of application.
I. I would shew what is meant by "thinking of these things.
And doubtless every one presently perceives, that the apostle does not barely intend meditating on them, and contemplating them in a speculative way, but in order to practice. This must be the design of such an exhortation as this. And it is rendered more manifest by the immediately following words. "Those things, which ye have both learned, and received, and heard and seen in me, do. And the God of peace shall be with you."
"By thinking of these things," it is likely the apostle means the examining and observing the reasonableness and fitness of them: seriously attending to the several branches of each particular here mentioned: not omitting to take notice of every thing implied and contained therein: observing how far each of these things may be especially suited to their several stations and characters: accounting themselves under an indispensible obligation to practise them as occasions offer: and likewise studying and contriving, how they may be best able to shew an exact and cheerful conformity to such a direction as this, and guard against every thing contrary to it.
II. In the next place I shall endeavour to explain and illustrate the several particulars here recommended.
The first is "whatever things are true." And it should be observed, that this comprehensive word "whatever" is prefixed to every particular. It is used for the sake of brevity. St. Paul designed not to enumerate the several parts of each character here mentioned. But he desires, that his Christian friends and brethren would themselves observe and attend to every thing included in them.
"Whatever things are true," or sincere. There is a truth of words and actions. We are to be sincere and upright in our profession of religion, in the worship of God, and in our dealings with
We should be what we appear to be: and be far from desiring or aiming to be esteemed what we are not, when there is any the least hazard of any damage or injury, thereby accruing, either to religion or to men.
"Whatever things are true, think of these things." Reckon yourselves obliged to every branch of truth and sincerity. Shew a love of truth in your studies and inquiries. And when you are upon good grounds convinced of the truth of any principles, be not shy of owning them upon proper occasions.
Never disown or deny the truths you are convinced of, for any worldly considerations whatever. As you have taken upon you the name of Christians, steadily acknowledge and profess the principles of that doctrine. Forsake not the assembling of yourselves together, nor be moved from your steadfastness by the reproaches, or other ill-treatment, which you may meet with.
Let your worship of God be sincere and fervent. Never appear before him with your body only: but always worship him in spirit and truth.
In your conversation and dealings with men, whatever is your station and character, maintain your integrity. Be faithful and upright in your words and actions, in your professions of respect and esteem, in your promises and contracts: that no one may have cause to suspect or doubt of your sincerity, and all men who have dealings with you may be readily disposed to confide in you. And never let any be disappointed, or have reason to complain of falsehood, and to repent of the trust they have reposed in you.
"Whatever things are honest." In the margin of some of our bibles the original word is rendered venerable. And in divers places our English translation has the word grave, instead of that in the text. Among the qualifications of a bishop this is one, that "he rule well his own house, having his children in subjection with all gravity-Likewise must the deacons be grave Likewise must their wives be grave, not slanderers, sober, faithful in all things." 1 Tim. iii. 4, 8, 11. In the epistle to Titus.. " But speak thou the things that become sound doctrine, that the aged men be sober, grave," Tit. ii. 1, 2. And, "In all things shewing thyself a pattern of good works, in doctrine shewing uncorruptness, gravity, sincerity," ver. 7.
These instances may help us more distinctly to conceive the design of the apostle in this place, where the same word is rendered honest. It seems, that he intends to recommend to Christians a concern for their character, a care so to behave, as to secure to themselves some degree of respect and esteem: that they should avoid unbecoming levity in word, action, habit, and outward behaviour, which tends to render men despicable: whereby they appear weak, mean, and of no consequence in the eye of others.
Doubtless the practice of this rule must be different and various, according to men's several characters and stations in the world. We perceive from the texts just cited, that gravity is more especially recommended to the aged, and to those who have the honour of some office or trust in the church. But here St. Paul gives this advice to Christians in general, to reckon themselves obliged to whatever things are honest, grave, or venerable.
It is not needful, nor scarce proper, to be very particular in such a direction as this. Every one who thinks, as St. Paul here desires all Christians to do, may be the best judge what is most suitable to his own station and character. However, such a hint as this in the text may be of use to awaken the attention of every one, and induce men to consider what does best become them in their stations, and what tends to diminish them in the esteem of others. It may be of use to excite men to labour after some useful qualifications, and to be furnished with some valuable branch of knowledge. It may raise a desire of weight and solidity. It tends to caution men against extravagant and excessive mirth. In a word, whatever is becoming, and is rather suited to secure respect, than to expose them to contempt and scorn: and whatever tends to make others wiser and better, rather than what tends to divert and please them: such things men should think of, and reckon themselves obliged to.
"Whatever things are just." A comprehensive rule. And yet its several branches of duty are so obvious, as to be generally known and understood. There is no necessity therefore to enlarge in the enumeration of the several parts of righteousness to be done, or unrighteousness to be avoided. The great difficulty is, to bring men to an equitable temper and disposition of mind: and to subdue self-love and partiality, or an improper affection for worldly things, and their own particular interests: which often mislead them, and cause them to act contrary to the plainest rules. Our blessed Lord therefore comprised and recommended this branch of duty in