Page images

III. What additional witness to it the divine Spirit

may bear.

1. What is implied in being the children of God. All beings, indued with moral qualifications, and the ability of looking up to the fountain of perfection, are, in a large sense of the word, the children of him, who is the Father of spirits * : being made in his image f. But as the capacity of resembling him is the very foundation of their guilt, who, instead of improving, wear out the traces of this divine similitude: so they alone are, to any beneficial purpose, the children of their Father in heaven f, who by imitating his holiness and goodness continue objects of his paternal affection. For that all pious and virtuous persons are thus related to him, our common reason perceives in general: but the more distinct apprehension of the nature and duties and benefits of this relation we owe to Scripture.

There we learn, that God created man after his likeness S, not only in respect of righteousness and true holiness ||, but also of happiness and immortality : that the lamentable transgression of our first parents forfeited, for themselves and us, the privileges, which depended on their innocence: and that being all become by their fault prone to sin, we become by our own, more or less actually guilty of it: that the bulk of mankind, forsaking God entirely, made themselves aliens and strangers I to him, and children of that wicked one **, whose suggestions they chose to obey, and whose temper to copy. But our gracious Maker, pitying even those, who were enemies to him and their own souls by wicked works ft; and having * Heb. xii. 9. + Gen. i. 26.

| Matth. v. 45. ☆ Gen. i. 26.

|| Eph. iv. 24. 1 Eph. ii. 12. ** Matth, xiii. 38.

++ Col. i. 21.

formed from the beginning a scheme of mysterious wisdom for recovering them again to their duty, and receiving them back into his family; gave them, from time to time, both such admonitions and such promises, for that intent, as he saw their condition required, and the state of their minds would bear : manifesting to them various degrees and proportions of goodness in this respect; as he doth in all others, both to man and the rest of his creatures, for unsearchable reasons.

To those, whom in the course of his providence he left to be directed merely by the light of their own consciences, he certainly did no injury. For as many as in any part of their conduct followed that, and did by nature the things contained in the law *, were so far followers of God as dear childrent. And so many as having departed from the right way, penitently returned to it, had always some ground to hope for pardon from our merciful Father, who knoweth whereof we are made 5. But they, who preserved but the faintest beam of outward revelation also, which at first was universal, to guide their steps and brighten the prospect before them, had much fuller proofs of his parental kindness. And the Jews being favoured with his miraculous protection, and a written law delivered by him, and prophetic instructions superadded, in some measure for the benefit of the Gentile world, as well as their own; he saith of them, in terms of great distinction, Israel is my son, even my first-born g. Yet still, as that nation, though wise and good in comparison of others round them, was both in the knowledge and practice of religion very imperfect, and far from maturity : God thought it needful, * Rom. ii. 14.

+ Eph. v. 1. | Psalm ciii. 14.

$ Exod. iv. 22.

while he treated them on that account with indulgence on some points, to exercise in many so strict and severe a government over them, that he rather appeared in the character of a master, than a father ; trying to influence them more by the terror of present punishment, than the hope of a future inheritance. And therefore St. Paul expresses their case, with much accuracy, thus: Now I say, that the heir, 80 long as he is a child, differeth nothing from a servant, though he be Lord of all ; but is under tutors and governors, until the time appointed of the father. Even so we, when we were children, were in bondage under the elements of the world. But when the fulness of time was come; when the Jews were gradually qualified to have a more manly and rational form of religion proposed to them, with more ingenuous motives to the practice of it; when the Gentiles also had received some preparatory cultivation, in their understandings and their manners, from the purer parts of their philosophy, which yet had fully appeared to be insufficient for the reformation of mankind; and when so free a communication was opened between distant parts of the world, that the truth of the Gospel might easily be examined, and its doctrines easily spread; then God sent forth his Son, to redeem them who were under the law, that they might receive the adoption of sons *; to purchase, at the price of his blood, their deliverance from the condemning sentence and the ritual injunctions of the Mosaic dispensation, that they might enjoy under the Christian covenant the strongest marks of God's fatherly regard ; and to purchase at the same time, the deliverance of the Gentiles from an infinitely worse bondage, that of corruption, the slavery of sin, and the dread of eternal death, into the glorious liberty of the children of God*.

* Gal. iv. 4, 5.

Thus then did all mankind regain a title to this blessed denomination: the only begotten Son of God condescending to partake of our nature, that we, being thus become his brethren t, might partake of the divine nature I. By his incarnation and death, he gave to them, who believed on his name, to use St. John's expression, power, or right, to become the sons of Gods: by instructing us in our duty, he hath furnished us with the outward means of becoming such: by the influence of his holy Spirit, thence called the Spirit of adoption ||, he enables and excites us inwardly to make effectual use of those means; and comforts us with a joyful sense of having done it, and of being authorized to claim the rank of God's children, or, in St, Paul's language, to cry Abba, Father || ; a phrase, in which the Jewish bond-servants might not presume to address their masters . The same happy change is represented sometimes by the figure of a new birth or creation; the dispositions and privileges acquired in it being such, as may well denominate us new creatures, born again to a new life. And as all Christians receive from God in baptism whatever is requisite on his part for this change, and profess to act suitably to his goodness; they are so far justly said to be regenerated and begotten of him. But if afterwards they act otherwise, in this are manifest the children of God, and the children of the devil: whosoever doth not righteousness, is not of God **. None but religious and virtuous persons then are effectually begotten again to an inheritance in heaven tt; and of * Rom. yiii. 21.

1 2 Pet. i. 4. John i. 12.

|| Rom. viii, 15. I Sel. de Suec. in Bona Def. c. 4. ** 1 John iii. 10.

# 1 Pet. i. 3, 4.

+ Heb. ii. 11.

these only, the Apostle's reasoning was intended to hold, if children, then heirs *. For as by ceasing to be like God in purity and holiness, our first parents and we ceased to be like him in happiness and immortality: so by returning in the first of these respects to his image, exhibited to us in the person

of our dear Redeemer, we shall be restored to it in the latter also ; and as we have borne the image of the earthy man, we shall also bear the image of the heavenly t. It is indeed appointed unto all men once to die I: but we shall not continue under this sentence of the Lord over all flesh 9: but rising again to an endless life, become in the completest sense, as our Saviour urges, the children of God, being the children of the resurrection ||. Behold then, what manner of love the Father hath bestowed upon us, that we should be called the sons of God-Beloved, now are we the sons of God; and it doth not yet appear, what we shall be: but we know, that when He shall appear, we shall be like him. We do not indeed, and probably cannot, conceive distinctly the nature of our future state; but this general description, that we shall be like him, comprehends every thing that we can wish. And be we ever so ignorant of the particulars of what we shall enjoy, it is happiness unspeakable to think only from what we shall be freed; when God, as he hath promised, shall wipe away all tears from our eyes, and there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain **. It follows in the same place of Scripture : and he, that sat upon the throne,said,—These words are true and faithful-He, that overcometh, shall inherit all things ; and I will be his God, and he shall be my son ft.

Rom, viii. 17. t 1 Cor. xv. 49. | Heb. ix. 27. $ Ecclus. xli. 3. A Luke xx. 36. 1 1 John iii. 1, 2. ** Rev. xxi. 4.

If Rev. xxi. 5. 7.

« PreviousContinue »