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LOVE TO THE SAVIOUR.
JOHN XXI. 17.
He saith unto him the third time, Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou me?
"I WILL not deny thee, I will die for thee, though all should be offended because of thee, yet will I never be offended:" these were the confident declarations of Peter when the Saviour foretold his lamentable fall. They were not hypocritical expressions; his heart accorded with the words of his mouth, and he really believed that he would rather brave death clothed with its most awful terrors, than deny his master. Alas! he forgot the frailty and deceitfulness of the heart when left to itself and unsupported by divine grace; a few hours after these protestations, he thrice denies any knowledge of Jesus, denies him with execration. This conduct was highly criminal, but he rose from it again by a deep repentance; for when after the third denial, "the Lord turned and looked upon Peter:" this look penetrated to his soul, and caused his eyes to gush forth with penitential tears. The Saviour saw
the sincerity of his repentance, and in several conversations with him after the resurrection, restored to his afflicted mind pardon and peace. One of these conversations is related in the chapter whence our text is taken. Jesus having met his apostles in Galilee, according to his promise, converses with them in general, and then addresses his discourse to Peter in particular: "Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou me more than these," thy companions do? • The night on which I was betrayed, thou declaredst that although all others should deny me, yet wouldst not thou; and now thou hast preceded thy fellow-disciples to testify thy affection; these, however, are equivocal proofs of attachment; I ask thee then, Lovest thou me more than they do?' This question is three times repeated to remind Peter of his three-fold denial, and to give him an opportunity of repairing it by thrice displaying the disposition of a true disciple. Peter had learned humility by his fall; he no longer dares to compare himself with his fellow-disciples; but nevertheless he can appeal to the omniscience of his master for the sincerity of his affection: Perhaps I should flatter myself in estimating the degree of my affection to thee, in declaring what I would undergo to attest it; but, Lord, thou knowest all things; thou knowest that I love thee.'
My brethren, if Jesus Christ were to put the same question to each one of us; were individually to inquire of us, "Lovest thou me?" I fear that the greater part of us, instead of being able to appeal with humble confidence to the searcher of hearts, would be abashed and overwhelmed with confusion. Yes! the humiliating confession must be made, there are few men who love the Saviour: the visible church
of Christ is but small, and even in its bosom, how many are there whose careless and worldly conduct proves that they are either utter strangers to this heavenly grace, or possess it but in the smallest degree! What a lamentable reflection is this, and what a heart must he have, who can think of it without emotion! There are but few persons who love the Saviour; that is to say, almost all mankind are guilty of monstrous ingratitude, are blind to true excellence, are going thoughtlessly to perdition; that is to say, the prince of darkness rules upon earth, and is drawing down millions to his dreary habitation. In inquiring into the reasons of the general neglect of this duty, two principal ones have occurred to me. Many do not labour for the attainment of love to Christ, because deceived by natural emotions which somewhat resemble it, they falsely suppose they already possess it. Many do not labour for the attainment of love to Christ, because they have never solemnly pondered those impressive motives which should induce them to strive for it. Against these two causes we direct the two heads of our discourse, in which we shall,
I. Show you the nature of true love to Christ: II. Urge upon you a variety of motives to induce you to seek it.
I. We must begin by giving a general idea of love as it subsists between intelligent beings. Love, then, is an affection resulting from the perception of excellences in the persons beloved, causing us to desire the most intimate union with them, attracting the mind and the heart towards them, and making us to enjoy from an intercourse with them the sweetest pleasures. This is a definition of love in its most extensive sense; and hence it follows, that
love to Christ is that grace whereby, upon a discovery of the Redeemer's matchless excellences, the souls of believers are caused to thirst after a more intimate union with him, their minds and their hearts are withdrawn from other objects and fixed upon him, and they esteem an intercourse with him their chief joy.
But it is necessary, in order that we may be fortified against the deceptions of our hearts, and that we may know our true character, to consider more in detail the foundation, the properties, and effects of a true love to Christ.
What then is the foundation, the ground, or the cause of love to Christ? In order that we should love any object, three things are requisite: this object must have certain excellences; these excellences must be perceived by us; and there must be a conformity between these excellences and the inclinations of our hearts. Where one of these circumstances is wanting, there can be no love; and it is the concurrence of the three that is the foundation of love to Christ.
The Saviour has those excellences which render him intrinsically lovely, and infinitely suitable to us. In himself, he is the perfection of beauty, the pattern of loveliness, the centre of all moral excellence; all the perfections that are scattered over the works of creation, have emanated from him, the great Creator; they are only a drop from him, the mighty ocean, a beam from him, the brilliant sun. Every excellence is concentrated in him in an infinite degree, so that the eternal Father always beholds him with delight, and the splendid host of heaven gaze upon him with wonder and with love. Thus worthy in himself of our supreme affection, he is moreover
a Redeemer perfectly adapted to our state and circumstances; he has precisely those graces, those dispositions and sentiments, which fit him to be the Saviour of perishing sinners, the fountain of joy to our miserable race: supremely excellent in himself, he is no less so in the relation which he bears to
But even though the Saviour possess all these excellences, yet to us they are still invisible, and therefore, till in some manner they are presented to us, they cannot be effectual in moving our love. The diamond may have a dazzling brightness, yet we shall not admire it till it is brought from the caves of the earth, where it lies concealed from observation, and presented to our view. Doubtless there are many persons in distant countries, of whom we have never heard, and who are deserving of our warmest attachment, but we cannot exercise this attachment till their amiable qualifications are made known unto us. In like manner the Saviour may possess supreme excellence, yet this excellence cannot move us till in some manner it is revealed to us. The heart will not be attracted, except the mind perceives or fancies that it perceives some loveliness. God has therefore been pleased in the sacred scriptures to unveil to us the beauties of Immanuel, to display to us those glories which seraphs contemplate with ever new delight, to show us the excellences of his person and the graces of his heart, to give us, as it were, the portrait of this Redeemer, to sketch out every lineament and feature, that so we might perceive how deserving he is of all our love.
Still, however, this is not sufficient to kindle the holy fire of love for Christ; he may have divine