Page images
PDF
EPUB

denial, love has often produced. Love led Abraham to offer up Isaac. Love led Moses to renounce all his worldly prospects, and to suffer affliction with the people of God. Love led the prophets, the apostles and primitive christians, to perform astonishing acts of obedience and suffering And love led the man Christ Jesus to suffer and die on the cross for the salvation of sinners. Love, therefore, is the fulfilling of the law, as it prompts men to do every thing which God commands. Add to this,

4. Love restrains men from every thing which God forbids. The law has prohibitions as well as precepts. God forbids some things as well as requires others. And it is the nature of love to restrain men from doing what God forbids, as well as to prompt them to do what God enjoins. We read, “ Charity envieth not, charity vaunteth not itself

, is not puffed up, doth not behave itself unseemly, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil, rejoiceth not in iniquity.” So long as love reigns in the heart, it restrains men from envy, pride, vanity, resentment, and every unseemly thought, word and action which God has forbidden. And it is in more particular reference to this restraining influence of love, that the apostle says it is the fulfilling of the law. This appears from the words before the text: “ Owe no man any thing, but to love one another; for he that loveth another hath fulfilled the law. For this, thou shalt not commit adultery, thou shalt not kill, thou shalt not steal, thou shalt not bear false witness, thou shalt not covet; and if there be any other commandment, it is briefly comprehended in this saying, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. Love worketh no ill to his neighbor, therefore love is the fulfilling of the law." man love his neighbor, he will not injure his person, nor property, nor character. If a man love his enemy, he will not render evil for evil, but blessing for cursing. If a man love his country, he will do nothing to injure its prosperity and happiness. And if a man love God, he will neither profane his name, nor dishonor his Son, nor resist his Spirit, nor oppose his kingdom, nor complain of his providence, nor do any thing to rob him of his glory. Love worketh no ill to any created or uncreated being; and therefore it is, in this and all other respects, the fulfilling of the law.

IMPROVEMENT.

1. If all obedience to the divine law consists in the positive exercise of true love, then all disobedience to the divine law must consist in the positive exercise of false love, or real selfishness. The mere want of love cannot be a transgression of

the law of love. Though all the animal tribes are totally destitute of that love which the law requires, yet they do not disobey the will of their Maker. A mere want is a mere nothing, and a mere nothing has no natural nor moral qualities. It is as hard to conceive that disobedience should consist in mere privation, as to conceive that obedience should consist in mere privation. It is as hard to conceive that sin should originate from a mere want of holiness, as to conceive that holiness should originate from the mere want of sin. This leads us to suppose that both sin and holiness have a positive existence, and diametrically opposite natures. And since all the holiness which the law requires consists in positive benevolence, it naturally follows that all the sin which the law condemns, consists in positive selfishness. These two kinds of love do actually exist and oppose each other. Interested love opposes disinterested; partial love opposes impartial; the love of a detached individual opposes the love of being in general. Selfishness disposes any person to seek his own private, separate interest, in opposition to the glory of God and the good of the universe. The law which requires positive benevolence, must necessarily condemn such positive selfishness, and nothing else. Accordingly, we find that nothing but selfishness and its various modifications are condemned in the Bible. The apostle tells us that “ sin is the transgression of the law," and not a mere want of conformity to it. Positive selfishness, and nothing else, is the transgression of the law of pure, disinterested benevolence.

2. If love is the fulfilling of the law, then a good heart consists in love. A good heart is certainly required. God says, “ My son, give me thine heart.” And he says to sinners in general, “ Make you a new heart, and a new spirit.” He also reprobates the best services of those who are destitute of a good heart. “ This people draweth nigh unto me with their mouth, and honoreth me with their lips, but their heart is far from me." Solomon represents the heart as forming the moral character of every person. “ As a man thinketh in his heart, so is he.” It is, indeed, the general representation of scripture, that a good heart constitutes a good man. Now, if this be true, a good heart must consist in love; for love is the fulfilling of the law. Hence, when God requires a good heart, he requires love, and when he requires love, he requires a good heart. And though it is said in the text that love is the fulfilling of the law, yet it may be as truly said that a good heart is the fulfilling of the law.

It is the dictate of common sense, that a good heart consists in love. For only separate love from a good heart, and there

will be no good heart left. If a good heart were distinct from love, then we could form a clear idea of it distinct from love. But whenever we think of a good heart, either in ourselves or in others, we think of kind, tender, benevolent feelings, or the exercises of pure, divine love. And it is out of our power to conceive of a good heart, which is not wholly composed of good affections, or the genuine feelings of true benevolence.

If we now attend to the fruits of a good heart, we shall find them to be the same as the fruits of love. A good heart will produce spiritual and divine knowledge. Speaking of his peculiar people, God says, " I will give them an heart to know me.” The apostle ascribes the same effect to love. “Beloved, let us

,

, love one another; for love is of God; and every one that loveth is born of God, and knoweth God.” The scripture also represents a good heart as the source of all moral goodness. “A good man,” says our Lord, “out of the good treasure of the heart bringeth forth good things." But if love be the fulfilling of the law, then love is equally the source of all moral goodness. According to scripture, as well as the common sense of mankind, the love and the good heart which God requires, are one and the same thing, and produce the same effects. Does a good heart form the whole moral character ? So does love. Does a good heart comprise all that the law requires ? So does love. Does a good heart produce every holy affection and virtuous action? So does love. There is not a single quality in a good heart, which cannot be found in love. Nor can a good heart be described, without describing that very love which is the fulfilling of the law. Whoever, therefore, attempts to distinguish true love from a good heart, or a good heart from true love, undertakes a task which the scripture will never enable him to perform.

3. If true love be the good heart which God requires, then false love or selfishness is the bad heart, which God condemns. A bad heart is directly opposite to a good heart. And if a good heart consists in benevolence, a bad heart must consist in selfishness. This conclusion is supported by the description which the sacred writers give of a bad heart. They represent it as productive of moral blindness. The apostle says of sinners, “ Their understanding is darkened, being alienated from the life of God, through the ignorance that is in them, because of the blindness of their heart." And again he says, " He that loveth not, knoweth not God." These representations agree with the declaration of Christ.“ If thine eye,” that is, thine

, heart, “ be evil, thy whole body shall be full of darkness." Now, it is found by universal experience, that selfishness has this same tendency to blind the mind with respect to God and duty. We never pretend to confide in our own judgment, nor in that of others, when we believe that either they or we are under the influence of selfish feelings. In this respect, selfishness and a bad heart are exactly alike.

And so they are in another respect. A bad heart is the source of all evil affections and actions. This our Saviour expressly asserts. " An evil man out of the evil treasure of his heart bringeth forth that which is evil.” “For out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies.” Such are the natural fruits of an evil heart; and such, the apostle tells us, are the fruits of self, love. “ In the last days," says he, “ perilous times shall come. For men shall be lovers of their own selves." This is selfishness, which, he proceeds to say, shall make men “covetous, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, without natural affection, truce breakers, false accusers, incontinent, fierce, despisers of those that are good, traitors, heady, high minded, lovers of pleasure more than lovers of God." According to these descriptions of self love and a bad heart, it appears that they are one and the same thing. Selfishness is all the evil heart that we ever find described in scripture, that we ever see acted out, or that we ever feel in our own breasts. We must conclude, therefore, that a bad heart wholly consists in selfishness, which is inimical to God and man, and which is productive of all moral evil.

4. It appears from what has been said in this discourse, that many entertain very wrong ideas upon the subject we have been considering.

Some suppose that a good heart essentially consists in a good principle, taste, or relish, which is totally independent of the will. They imagine that Adam was created with such a good principle, taste, or relish ; which was the source of all his holy exercises and actions, before the fall. And upon this ground they suppose that regeneration consists in implanting a new principle, taste, or relish in the mind, which is the source of all the holy exercises of the subject of grace. But this sentiment is totally repugnant to the law of love. This law requires no such principle of holiness; but holiness itself. This law requires nothing which is previous to love; but love itself. This law requires no dormant, inactive, torpid disposition, inclination, or taste; but the free, voluntary exercise of true benevolence.

Some suppose that a bad heart consists in a bad principle, disposition, or inclination ; which is entirely distinct from sinful, voluntary exercises. They represent a corrupt nature or depraved heart, as the source of all sinful affections and passions. And they maintain that this corrupt nature is conveyed

from Adam to all his posterity, who, they suppose, are morally depraved, before they have one sinful exercise, volition, or affection. But it appears from what has been said in this discourse, that all sinfulness consists in the various exercises and modifications of self love. The divine law condemns these exercises and nothing else.' And our consciences concur with the sentence of the law, and condemn us for sinful exercises only. Hence we intuitively know that we never did derive a morally corrupt nature, or a morally corrupt principle, or a morally corrupt heart, from Adam. All our sin is personal, and consists in our own free and voluntary exercises.

Some suppose that sinners are under no obligation to exercise that love which the law requires, until they have a new principle, disposition, or inclination implanted in their minds, by the regenerating influences of the divine Spirit. But if there can be no such thing as a holy principle, disposition, or inclination, which is distinct from true love, or the exercise of real benevolence; then they may be required to have that love, which the law demands, before they are regenerated as well as afterwards. Their obligation to love God does not depend upon any holy principle which is distinct from love, but upon their natural capacity to love all the proper objects of benevolence. They are as able to love God, before they are regenerated as afterwards; and therefore are as much obliged to love God, before they are born again, as after they have been made the subjects of special grace.

Some suppose that sinners are passive in having a new heart, or in becoming real saints. But if a new heart does not consist in a principle of holiness, but in the exercise of holiness, or true benevolence, then the sinner may be as active in beginning to be holy, as in continuing to be holy; in turning from sin to holiness, as in perfecting holiness in the fear of God.

Some suppose that after men are regenerated, they have two hearts, an old heart and a new one, which coëxist in their minds, and constantly produce diametrically opposite affections. The new heart, they suppose, is a new principle, which constantly produces holy affections; and the old heart is an old principle, which constantly produces unholy affections. And upon this ground, they suppose there is a continual warfare in the minds of good men, between their old and new hearts. * But if the new heart consists in that love which the law re. quires, and the old heart consists in that love which the law

[ocr errors]

#

* It is not denied that there is a spiritual warfare in the minds of true christians; but only that this warfare does not arise from two distinct, opposite hearts.

« PreviousContinue »