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From these things it is evident, that the love of good men furnishes a criterion, uncommonly well calculated to decide our character, as being either good or evil. Whatever will aid us in a case of such magnitude must be of high importance; and ought to be employed for our benefit with earnestness and fidelity. From the Scriptures, and indeed from the nature of the case also, it is evident, that Brotherly Love furnishes us with peculiar assistance for the determination of a point, so interesting to every Christian. How attentively ought every man, then, and especially every one who hopes, that himself is a Christian, to examine his character by this standard. Let each ask himself, “Do I love good men ? Do I love their goodness, their Christianity? Do I choose their company? Do I seek their conversation? Do I delight in their sentiments and conduct ? Do I pray for their prosperity, their holiness, and their salvation?” if these questions can be truly answered in the affirmative; we are children of God. If not; we are still in the gall of bitterness, and the bond of iniquity.
2dly. From these considerations we discern ihe peculiar Wisdom and Goodness of Christ in establishing a Church in the world.
In the Church of Christ the body of good men are gathered together; united in one family; placed in one obvious view; and prepared to render, as well as to receive, Brotherly Love, and all its kind offices. Every affection flourishes by exercise and repetition only. Where the proper objects of our affections are found, they are exercised of course: where such objects are not found, they decay, and die, of themselves. In families, the natural, domestic affections of man find their proper objects. Conjugal love, therefore, parental tenderness, brotherly and sisterly kindness, and filial piety, shoot up here, and thrive, and blossom, and hear fruit; and bear it abundantly.
In the Church, the family named after Christ, are assembled the objects of Brotherly Love, or Evangelical Complacency. Here such, as are the subjects of this exalted attribute, find those presented to them, on whom it may be exercised and repeated. Accordingly here, and in the nature of things here only, can this affection live and prosper. Here, on the one hand, virtue is daily seen, approved, and loved; and, on the other, complacency interchanged, strengthened, and enjoyed. While those, who are thus the objects of Love, are by every motive, which can reach a virtuous mind, invited, animated, and compelled, to render themselves more deserving of this affection by improving and adorning those excellencies, which are its immediate objects. Brotherly Love becomes, here, a peculiarly refined and glorious friendship; a bond of perfection, uniting them more and more unto the end.' Thus, , by the establishment of a Church in the world, has Christ provided for the existence, continuance, and improvement, of this elevated affection. In the mean time, as Brotherly Love exists in this heaven-appointed family ; so in the bosom of the same family it
operates, unceasingly, in all the amiable and useful methods, directed by the Scriptures, and pointed to by itself with a magnetic influence. Here it reproves all the variations from truth, all the deviations from rectitude, to which imperfect man, even in his best estate, is liable on this side of the grave. Here it confirms, every thing that is vindicable and lovely. Here it prays for the strength, amendment, comfort, peace, and joy, of its brethren. Here it weeps with them in their sorrows, rejoices in their joys, and smiles on all their delightful progress in holiness; refines in the view of their refinement, exults in their advancement to immortal life, and expands its wings for the final flight to everlasting glory.
3dly. This subject forcibly impresses on our minds the Excellence, Glory, and Happiness, of heaven.
In this apostate and melancholy world, wise men, in all ages, have seen, and felt, that Virtue has been a stranger, a pilgrim, and in many instances an outcast also. Her friends have been few and commonly powerless; her enemies mighty and strong, bitter and distressing; her cause unpopular and hated; her arguments lost in deaf ears; and her entreaties repelled by hearts of marble. It is reasonable, it is desirable, it is “devoutly to be wished," and prayed for, that Virtue may somewhere find a home; a settled residence; a kind welcome; real friends; and final safety. These blessings she has rarely found in this foreign region, this unnatural climate; and, at the best, she has found them but for a moment. Accordingly, she has ever cast her eyes upward, towards another and better country. From that country she has received tidings, which cannot deceive, and which assure her of a welcome, and final, reception. She is informed, that there she was born and nursed; and that in this world she is only a visiter and stranger; destined to finish the pilgrimage allotted, and then to return to her native residence, there to dwell for ever. With rapture she has learned, that there all her friends will be finally gathered; and that her Father and everlasting friend is there ready to receive her to the arms of infinite and unchangeable love.
In that glorious world, a vast and immortal Church, formed of those who are all brethren, inhabits the delightful regions, destined to be its eternal residence. In the innumerable millions, of which this great assembly, this nation of brethren, this kingdom of Jehovah, is composed, Brotherly love is the commanding principle of action. In Angels it has glowed, and brightened, ever since the morning of creation dawned over the vast abyss of darkness and sol. itude. In the general assembly of the first-born it is made a test of their character, and a foundation of their admission into heaven. Inasmuch as ye have done good unto one of the least of these my brethren, is by Christ himself announced, as the peculiar term of admission : and Inasmuch as ye did it not, as the term of final exclusion. In the cold and dreary region of this world, the spark was Vol. II.
scarcely kindled ; and prolonged its existence with difficulty. The flar, in which it was kept from final extinction, smoked merely, without rising into a flame. But it was never finally quenched. At the great examination, it was found still a living spark; and its existence was seen, acknowledged, and proclaimed. Transferred to heaven, it began there to kindle with new and immortal lustre; and was set in that constellated firmament of living and eternal splendours; which are all glorious with inherent light, although one star differeth from another star in glory.
Of that brilliant world, that region where all things shine, and live, and flourish, and triumph, for ever, the beauty, the glory, the excellence, is eminently this divine affection. All are brethren; all are loved as brethren. All are divinely amiable and excellent friends. Every one possesses the virtue, which is loved; and the complacency, by which it is loved. Every one, conscious of unmingled purity within, approves, and loves, himself for that divine image, which in complete perfection, and with untarnished resemblance, is instamped on his character. Each, in every view which he casts around him, beholds the same glory shining, and brightening, in the endless train of his companions : One in nature, but diversified without end, in those forms and varieties of excellence, by which the original and eternal Beauty delights to present itself to the virtuous universe. Here every one, conscious of being entirely lovely, and entirely loved, reciprocates the same love to that great multitude, which no man can number, of all nations, kindreds, and tongues, and which fills the immeasurable regions of heaven. Out of this character grows a series ever varying, ever improving, of all the possible communications of beneficence, fitted in every instance only to interchange, and increase the happiness of all. In the sunshine of Infinite complacency, the light of the New Jerusalem, the original source of all their own beauty, life, and joy, all these happy nations walk for ever; and, transported with the lifegiving influence, unite in one harmonious and eternal hymn to the great Author of their enjoyment: Blessing, and honour, and glory, and wisdom, and thanksgiving, be unto him that sitteth on the throne, and to the Lamb, for ever and ever. Amen.
CONSEQUENCES OF REGENERATION.-ADOPTION
1 JOHN iii. 2.-Beloved, now we are the sons of God.
IN a series of discourses, I have considered the Attendants of Regeneration : viz. Faith, formerly explained ; Repentance ; Love to God; Love to Mankind; and Brotherly Love. I shall now proceed, according to the scheme formerly proposed, to examine the Consequences of this Change of character.
Of these, the first in the natural order is Adoption. That Adoption is a Consequence of Regeneration will not be denied. The observations, which I shall make concerning the subject, will be included under the following heads:
I. The Nature;
I. The Nature of Adoption may be explained in the following manner.
A Child is, in this act, taken by a man from a family, not his own; introduced into his own family; regarded as his own child; and entitled to all the privileges and blessings, belonging to this relation. To adopt children in this manner has, it is well known, been a custom, generally prevailing in all ages, and probably in all nations. Thus children were adopted among the Egyptians, Jews, Romans, and other ancient nations; and the same custom exists in the Chris. tian nations of Europe ; in our own Country; among the American Aborigines ; and, so far as my knowledge extends, throughout the world.
Of the same general nature is that transaction, in divine economy, by which mankind become the children of God.
II. The Reality of Adoption may be thus illustrated.
Mankind are originally strangers to the family of God; enemies to him, to his law, to his kingdom, and to all his interest. From this situation they are invited to come, and enter into his family; to take his name upon them; to share in his parental care, tenderness, and blessings. Such of them as comply with the invitation, are received into his family ; and become entitled to his parental Love, and all the offices of affection to which it gives birth. From this period, they are styled the children of God. From this period, they are permitted, and required to address him as their Father a character, which he has been pleased to assume; and to consider
themselves as his children; and as entitled to the character of his children.
Of this subject the Scriptures give us the following exhibition. 1st. God announced the adoption of mankind into his family soon after the Apostacy:
At the birth of Enos, we are told, that men began to call upon the name of the Lord. In the margin, and, as it would seem, with greater correctness, men began to be called by the name of the Lord :* that is, they began to be called his children, and to take upon themselves the name of God, as being now their parent; just as adopted children take upon themselves the names of those human parents, by whom they have been adopted. The style, by which they began to be known at this early period, has been continued through every succeeding age of the Church. In Gen. vi. 1, 2, we read of the sons of God. "These, I apprehend, are persons of the same class with those, who, in the time of Enos, began to be called by the name of the Lord; and were now publicly designated by this title. That such persons were meant by the phrase, the sons of God, is sufficiently manifest from the use of it elsewhere. In Job i. 6, it is said, the sons of God came to present themselves before the Lord : and in Job xxxviii. 7, that, at the creation, the Morning Stars sang together, and all the sons of God shouted for joy. In these passages, Angels are undoubtedly the persons intended. When mankind, in those early days, received the same appellation, it was designed to indicate, that they belonged to the same family, and were by adoption, children of the same heavenly Parent.
In the communications, made by God to Abraham and his family, the same scheme is more particularly and explicitly pursued. God, in the covenant of grace, declared to this earthly father of the faithful, I will be your God; and ye shall be my people: phraseology, exactly equivalent, in the mouth of the Speaker, to the following: I will be your Father; and ye shall be my children. In conformity to this scheme, Moses was directed, Ex. iv. 22, to preface his message from God to Pharaoh, with Thus saith the Lord, Israel is my son, even my first-born. In the same manner, Moses declared the same relation, Deut. xiv. 1, Ye are the children of the Lord your God. In Ps. Ixxxii. 6, it is said to the rulers of Israel, All of you are Children of the Most High. In the latter days of their
kingdom, when they had become deeply depraved, they were still called by the title of children. Thus they are styled rebellious children; corrupters ; lying children, that will not hear the word of the Lord.
By the Prophet Hosea it was again predicted, that they should be called the Sons of God when gathered again, after their dispersion. It shall be said of them, Ye are the Sons of the living God.