1. An amiable character - lovers of Christ
Divines have, in various ways, set forth and recommended this love,
sometimes in reference to the essential character, as consisting
in complacency and esteem, benevolence and desire, and delight: “Who rejoice in Christ Jesus," says the Apostle, “and have no confidence in the flesh." Sometimes they speak of its peculiar properties - sincere, spontaneous, supreme, active, constant, and persevering. I shall now take a different method, and hold it forth
to you in the following points of view:
These words present to us, 1st, an amiable character, and, 2d, a distinguished privilege.
1. It is the love of a debtor to his surety, or of a criminal to the person by whose means his pardon has been obtained.
2. It is like the love of one friend to another. The bonds of friendship are oftentimes closer and stronger than those of nature. " There is a friend," says Solomon, " that sticketh closer than a brother."
3. It is a brotherly love.
4. It is a conjugal love, the love of a wife to her husband.
5. It is the love of a scholar to his instructor; of a servant to his master; or of a loyal subject to his king. In all these relations Christ stands to his people, and among all the duties which they owe to him, the principal is love.
2. A distinguishing privilege
The Father himself loveth you; he hateth the workers of iniquity, and is angry with the wicked every day. With the froward he shews himself froward; but he loves all them that are lovers of Christ. Nay, in another place it is said, he loves them with the same love with which he hath loved Christ. He loveth Christ as a son. "This is my beloved Son," says he; and so he loves them. He loved Christ in the midst of all his afflictions and tribulations; when he smote him, hid his face from him, and suffered earth and hell to unite their power against him. And thus he loves them. His love to Christ was practical, unchangeable, and everlasting; and so is his love to the saints. This was the great thing in which Christ gloried. "The Father loveth the Son, and sheweth him all things which himself doth." "Thou hast loved me before the foundation of the world." And this is the greatest thing in which the saints have to glory. "Let him that glorieth glory in this, that he knoweth me, that I am the Lord, which exercise loving-kindness, judgment, and righteousness, for in these things I delight." The greatest thing that a man can say is, that he loves God, and God loves him. Now, this love is either secret, which he hath to the elect in Christ before they are called by grace, (and is founded upon no merit in the object, being free, unmerited, unsought, and undesired,) or manifestative, which follows upon calling. The one divines call, though I think somewhat improperly, a love of benevolence, the other a love of complacency. The latter is intended in my text . God loveth them who love Christ; He finds that in them which is pleasing to him, and accordingly is pleased with it. They are favoured with his visits and smiles, his providences work for them, his ordinances refresh them, his secret is with them, and he shows them his covenant . In a word, all their mercies are sweetened, and all their afflictions softened, by special love. In this respect, God ever did, and ever will, make a distinction between the godly and ungodly; those that love Christ and those that love him not. Common blessings are afforded to all, but that eminent saint of old had something greater than these in view; crowns and kingdoms would not satisfy him; but he cries, "Remember me, O Lord, with the favour that thou bearest unto thy people. Let me see the good of thy chosen, and glory with thine inheritance." In concluding this part of the subject, I would remark,
1. God's love to us is prior to our love to Christ.
2. Our love to Christ, therefore, cannot be the cause of God's love to us, but is a stream flowing from it; his grace in regeneration produces it; his grace in sanctification preserves and increases it.
3. God's love to us is infinitely superior to our love to Christ.
4. Though God's love is the same to all the saints, yet the manifestations of it are not so.
In conclusion I remark
1. The former part of my discourse calls for the most serious self-examination. Christ said to Peter, "Lovest thou me?" and I would say to every one of you, Lay thine hand upon thine heart, and tell me, Dost thou love Christ? No question can be of greater importance. If love be wanting, every other grace is wanting, and all your
endeavours to perform any acceptable service to God will prove fruitless. If there be no love to Christ, there can be no solid comfort here, no happiness hereafter; no blessing, but a dreadful curse: an anathema maranatha both in this world and the next. Let the question then go round, and may the Spirit of God help us in the consideration of it! Do we love Christ?
2. The other part of the subject furnishes us with matter for wonder and astonishment, gratitude and praise. Surely we could not have believed that God could love such wretches as we are unless he himself had declared it. Well may we say with Judas, not Iscariot, " Lord, how is it that thou wilt manifest thyself unto us, and not unto the
world ?" There are wonders in heaven and wonders upon earth, wonders in nature, providence, and grace; but nothing is more wonderful than God's love to such unlovely, provoking creatures as we are, who never sought it, so little deserve it, and so ill requite it.