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received from God, gives them a knowledge of the peculiar happiness of those who possess the spirit of benevolence. Nothing produces such pure, refined and exalted felicity, as holy love. The supreme blessedness of heaven flows from the mutual love which reigns in the hearts of all its holy inhabitants. This peculiar happiness christians know by their own experience; for they have actually enjoyed that heavenly happiness which flows from brotherly love. So the apostle says, when speaking expressly upon this subject : “ But as it is written, eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him. But God hath revealed them to us by his Spirit.” And he adds, “ We have received the spirit which is of God, that we might know the things which are freely given to us of God." Though no natural man's eye or ear, or heart, can perceive the things which God has prepared for them that love him, yet those who do love him, know what he has prepared for them, because he has given them his own spirit of benevolence, that they might know the spiritual blessedness laid up for them in another world. Every christian knows the nature of the enjoyments of heaven, though he has never been there. He knows that heavenly happiness arises from the holy love that reigns in the hearts of holy beings. The mutual benevolence of the heavenly inhabitants diffuses mutual joy and complacency through all the mansions of the blessed. All real christians, who possess this pure benevolent spirit, must therefore know the nature of that happiness, and of those enjoyments which God has prepared for them, and which they shall receive when they shall take possession of the inheritance of the saints in light.
Finally, the benevolent spirit which christians have received from God, necessarily gives them a peculiar knowledge of the distinguishing truths of the gospel. The whole scheme of the
. gospel was devised and adopted in benevolence, is carried on by benevolence, and will be completed by benevolence. Benevolence, therefore, prepares christians to understand it. Hence the apostle exhorts them, “ to be rooted and grounded in love, that they may be able to comprehend with all saints what is the breadth, and length, and depth, and height; and to know the love of Christ, which passeth knowledge” – that is, the knowledge of those who are destitute of true benevolence. As all the doctrines, precepts, promises and threatenings of the gospel, are founded in love, so none but christians w are rooted and grounded in love, can have a peculiar, spiritual knowledge of holy and divine truths, any more than of holy beings and holy enjoyments. Benevolence is the key to unlock the most profound, and difficult, and important doctrines of the gospel, and prepare the mind to discern the beauty and consistency of ihem. These are all casy, says Solomon, to them who understand, or who have that spiritual discernment of spiritual things, which flows from a wise, a benevolent and an understanding heart.
1. If the peculiar knowledge which christians have of God and of divine things arises from benevolence, then there is nothing mysterious in experimental religion. Many seem to think that there is something mysterious in experimental religion, and that those who have experienced religion understand something mysterious, which those who are in a state of unrenewed nature have not natural faculties to understand. There are but two real mysteries in the gospel, and these are the doctrine of the blessed Trinity, and the doctrine of the incarnation of Christ. These are strict and proper mysteries, which no created being is capable of understanding, and which christians are no more capable of understanding than any other men. But there are no other doctrines of the gospel which are mysterious, and incomprehensible by mankind. Though it is more difficult to gain a speculative knowledge of some doctrines of the gospel than of others, yet sinners are as capable of gaining a speculative knowledge of the difficult doctrines of the gospel, as christians are. The spirit which christians have received from God has given them no new natural powers, and no new speculative knowledge of the gospel. It has only given them an experimental knowledge of God and divine objects, which arises entirely from their benevolent hearts. They know nothing about religion but what any sinners might know, if their hearts were right. It is true, they are regenerated; but regeneration consists in love. They are sanctified, but sanctification consists in love; they have a new heart, but a new heart consists in love; they have new knowledge, but their new knowledge consists in love; they have new joys, new hopes, new peace, but all these arise from love. They have experienced no other change, but a change from sin to holiness, or from selfishness to benevolence. They see no objects but what they have seen before, and understand no truths but what they understood before. There is nothing more mysterious in loving God than in hating him, or in loving divine objects than in hating them, or in being united to God than in being alienated from him, or in being led by the Spirit of God than in being led by the spirit that worketh in the children of disobedience. The men of the world love to hear experimental religion represented as mysterious, because they are ready to conclude that they are excusable for not understanding what is mysterious and beyond their power to understand, and for not being and doing what they are told is a mystery, and beyond their power to know, to be, and to do until they experience a supernatural and mysterious change. There is no mystery at all in experimental religion. This clearly appears from the single consideration that all that is contained in it may be explained intelligibly to the meanest capacity. All the essential doctrines of the gospel may be explained, and all the duties of the gospel may be explained, and love to these doctrines and these duties may be explained; but if they were mysterious, they could not be explained; for no real mystery can be explained. All that the scripture means by christians' being born again, being called out of darkness into marvellous light, being made new creatures, being led by the Spirit, being spiritually minded, walking in the Spirit, having their conversation in heaven, and enjoying communion with God, may be clearly explained and understood by those who perfectly bate all spiritual and divine objects. A sinner can understand how a christian feels, as well as a holy angel can understand how a sinner feels. Though an angel never experienced selfishness, yet he knows enough about it to hate it; and though a sinner never experienced holiness, yet he knows enough about it to hate it. Though sinners never had that love 10 God in which experimental religion consists, yet they know enough about it to hate it. They sometimes are ready to think
. and say that if they only knew what experimental religion was, they would love and practice it. But when it is clearly and intelligibly explained to them, it never fails to excite the enmity of their carnal mind against it. Let the experimental exercise of supreme love to God be intelligibly and correctly explained to them, and they will oppose it with all their hearts. Supreme love to God implies the loving him more than any other and all other objects, and being willing to give up any other and all other objects for the sake of promoting his glory.
So our Saviour explained supreme love to God, and taught his disciples to give up father or mother, brother or sister, houses or lands, natural life or eternal life, for the honor of God and the interests of his kingdom. Upon which one exclaimed, “Who then can be saved!” All experimental religion consists in just such disinterested benevolence. And is this a mystery which sinners cannot understand? By no means; they can fully understand and oppose it. All ihe religion which the gospel requires is a reasonable service, and ought to be represented in a plain and intelligible manner.
2. If the peculiar knowledge and views which christians have of divine things arises from benevolence, then there is no superstition or enthusiasm in vital piety, or experimental religion. The enemies of the gospel often represent all pious and devout christians, as either superstitious or enthusiastic. If they are very strict in avoiding all appearance of evil, in condemning all sinful practices, and in discharging all the private and public duties of devotion, sinners are apt to call them superstitious. Or if very zealous in maintaining and defending the doctrines of the gospel, in promoting the cause of religion, and in opposing all religous errors and delusions, they are apt to call them zealots and enthusiasts. But though pious and devout christians may sometimes be superstitious, and sometimes enthusiastic, yet their vital piety, or experimental religion, does not consist in either superstition or enthusiasm; but in pure benevolence, which leads those who possess it, to hate and oppose all superstition and enthusiasm. This will appear, if we only consider in what either superstition or enthusiasm consists. Superstition consists in imaginary fears of signs, omens, or the power and influence of some invisible evil spirit. The Athenians were too superstitious; they were afraid of bad signs, ill omens, and the power of inferior false gods; and used a great many unlawful and absurd means to escape imaginary dangers. And all heathen nations are still too superstitious, and are all their life time in bondage, through imaginary fears. And multitudes in christian lands are not free from such superstition. But pure benevolence is the most perfect and infallible antidote against superstition. The supreme love of God, takes away the fear of man, the fear of the great adversary, and the fear of every inferior, malignant spirit. While christians supremely love, and entirely trust in God, they fear nothing but disobedience. They are not anxious to know what future good or evil awaits them; because they believe that God governs all things, and will cause all things to work together for their good. Enthusiasm consists in a zeal not according to knowledge, which disposes men to form a false estimate of things, and to pursue less important, instead of more important objects. Some are enthusiastically engaged in pursuing visionary schemes of wealth, some in pursuing schemes of knowledge, some in pursuing visionary schemes of ambition, some in pursuing visionary schemes of religion, and some in zealously practicing one religious duty, to the neglect of other and more important duties.
There are a vast many kinds and shades of enthusiasm.
But piety or experimental religion, which flows from that pure spirit of benevolence that christians have received from God, never leads them into false zeal or enthusiasm ; but directly tends to lead them to a true estimate of duties and objects, and to pursue each according to their relative magnitude and importance. Of all men in the world, true christians are the freest from both superstition and enthusiasm ; though, at the same time, they possess the purest, the warmest, and most persevering zeal in doing what is right, in shunning what is wrong, and in opposing what is evil.
3. If the peculiar knowledge which christians have of divine things arises from a spirit of benevolence, then they who are real christians may know that they are such. The spirit which they have received from God, bears witness with their spirit that they are the children of God. So the apostle reasons in the eighth of Romans. “ As many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God. For ye have not received the spirit of bondage again to fear; but ye have received the spirit of adoption, whereby we cry Abba, Father. The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God. And if children, then heirs ; heirs of God, and joint heirs with Christ." The primitive christians knew that they were children of God, because they had received the Spirit of God, which was the spirit of adoption. All christians at this day have the same spirit of adoption, which gives them the same evidence of being the children of God. The spirit of adoption is essentially different from the spirit of the world, and produces essentially different effects, by which it may be distinguished from the spirit of the world. The spirit of the world is a spirit of selfishness, which disposes men to love the world, and the men of the world ; but the spirit which is of God is a spirit of benevolence, which leads men to love God, and the children of God. The apostle John says, “ We know that we have passed from death unto life, because we love the brethren." The love which all true christians have to the friends of God, is an infallible evidence of their having received the grace of God in truth, whether they attend to and distinguish this evidence, or not. They have the
witness in themselves, and ought to see it, and praise God for it. were it not for some remaining selfish affection, every true christian would know that he is so.
4. If the spirit which christians have received from God, gives them a peculiar knowledge of God and of divine truths and objects, then they may always be able to give a reason of the hope that is in them. Though they are not able to exhibit all the external evidences in favor of the divinity of the gospel, yet they are able to tell what internal impressions and effects the great truths of the gospel have produced in their minds. The reason of their hope is not a knowledge of any new truths contained in the gospel; but it is a belief and love of those truths VOL. V.