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without loving them more than himself, and all other objects: He that loves himself, or any created object, more than the glory of God and the good of the universe, prefers a less good to that which is infinitely greater ; which is a sinful and selfish affection, and precisely the same that governs the hearts of all sinners. For this reason, the scripture represents the lowest degree of true love to God, or disinterested benevolence, as forming the essential distinction between a saint and a sinner. “Every one that loveth, is born of God, and knoweth God. He that loveth not, knoweth not God," and is not a real Christian. It is not the degree, but the nature, of true love to God, which forms the essential difference between saints and sinners. And this it is easy to see, since true love is really disinterested, and totally contrary to the least exercise of selfishness.
2. If true love to God be disinterested, then every real Christian will give up whatever the glory of God requires. Whenever he sees his interests to stand in competition with the glory of God and the interests of his kingdom, he will voluntarily give up his interests for the sake of promoting his glory. Christ forewarned his disciples and followers, that they would often be called to sacrifice their ease, their friends, their interests, and all that they had in the world, for his sake and the gospel's; and plainly told them that they would not be his followers, unless they made such sacrifices. Accordingly we find, when they were put to the test, they did give up and forsake all, for the honor of Christ and the advancement of his cause and kingdom in the world. And all real Christians are disposed to make the same sacrifices, when they are called to it, and exercise a disinterested and Christian spirit. God requires the same disinterested love now that he required of the patriarchs, prophets, apostles, and primitive Christians, though he does not often place them under the same circumstances. Instead of trying them with persecution, he tries them with prosperity. But it requires the same disinterested love to conduct properly in prosperity as in adversity. It is no easier to be a real and exemplary Christian now than it was in the apostle's day. And Christians may now give as clear evidence of their possessing pure, disinterested love as the primitive Christians did. They have their troubles, their trials, and afflictions, which call for the exercise of self-denial, or pure, disinterested benevolence; and they must exercise it in order to give evidence to themselves, and to the world, that they love the Lord Jesus Christ in sincerity.
3. If true love to God be disinterested, then all schemes of religion which are built upon selfishness are essentially wrong,
and fatal to those who cordially embrace them. There are many such schemes of religion propagated and embraced at this day. Arminianism, Antinomianism, Unitarianism, and Universalism, are all founded upon selfish principles; and the various denominations of Christians, who embrace these various schemes of religion, disbelieve, deny, and condemn the doctrine of disinterested benevolence. We may charitably hope that some in these denominations do not understandingly believe their own schemes, nor understandingly disbelieve the disinterested doctrines of the Gospel. But all who do embrace from the heart and understandingly any scheme of doctrines which is founded in selfishness, are building upon the sand, and will be overthrown, unless they understand, love, and obey the truth as it is in Jesus.
4. If true love to God be disinterested, then none can determine whether they are truly religious, by the strength, but only by the nature of their religious affections. Selfishness may produce as high religious affections, as pure, disinterested benevolence. But high selfish affections are no better than low. Let men love God ever so sensibly and warmly, merely because they hope he loves them, and intends to make them forever happy; this gives them no evidence that they are real Christians. But if they sensibly exercise disinterested love to God, this is good evidence.
5. If true love to God and men be disinterested, then Christians give more clear and convincing evidence of their sincerity, by their common and ordinary conduct, than by their duties of devotion. They may give evidence both ways, and do, but their common conduct in their common employments and pursuits gives the most clear and convincing evidence. Is not this the common opinion of the world ? and is it not well founded ?
6. If true love to God be disinterested, then sinners perform no duty acceptably to God, until the love of God is shed abroad in their hearts. They are altogether selfish before.
7. If true love to God be disinterested, then we see why saints are more sensible of their moral imperfections than sinners. They are not so apt to take selfishness for duty, as sin
8. Let all examine, whether they possess the spirit of the gospel. It is highly necessary to determine this question.
This is the question to be decided at the last day.
The apostles felt a constant and tender concern for those whom they converted to the Christian faith. They knew they were exposed to peculiar danger as long as they lived in this present evil world. Hence they directed all their epistles to believers, and not to unbelievers. In compassion to Christians, they abundantly exhorted them to guard against the world, as the most dangerous enemy to their spiritual interests. But the apostle John seems to have had the largest portion of brotherly love to his fellow Christians, and to have been the most concerned to prevent their being ensnared and overcome by the world. In this epistle especially his main object was to place the world in a true light, that Christians might realize their danger, and use all proper means to avoid it. He would have them consider the world as an enemy to be resisted and over
And he would have them remember, that they could not maintain their Christian character, without actually overcoming the world. For if they had the spirit of the gospel, and were really born of God, they must live in the exercise of that faith which would raise them above the power and influence of all worldly objects: "For," says he, “whatsoever is born of God overcometh the world : and this is the victory that overcometh the world; even our faith.” That is to say, we Christians overcome the world by a sincere, lively, cordial belief of that gospel which has brought life and immortality to light. The spirit of the text may be expressed in this plain doctrine : It is by faith that Christians overcome the world.
I shall first show that the world is an enemy to Christians; and then show that it is by faith they overcome it.
I. We are to consider, that the world is an enemy to Christians. If this be a truth, it deserves their most serious consideration, and ought to lie with perpetual weight on their minds. All the inspired writers represent the world as hostile to the peace, and comfort, and edification of Christians; and warn them to beware of its dangerous influence. The apostle represents it in the text as an enemy, which all true believers actually resist, and do in some measure overcome.
But how can the world, which God has made for the temporary habitation and benefit of mankind, be a real enemy to his children, whom he allows and even requires to live in it? It is, indeed, one of the mysterious parts of God's conduct, that he causes his friends to live in a world which is so hostile, and often so detrimental, to the holiness and happiness of the heirs of heaven. But it always has been the case, and we have reason to expect it always will be the case, until the whole number of the elect are called in, and the whole frame of the world is dissolved. Still it is a question, how the world is an enemy to Christians. To this it may be replied,
1. The objects of the world tend to divert the attention, and alienate the affections, of Christians from God. The things of the world are apt to make the same impressions on the views and feelings of Christians, that they make upon the men of the world. And we know that worldly things engross the attention and affections, and stupify the consciences of worldly men. The Bible exhibits striking instances of the corrupting influence of worldly objects upon the minds of unbelievers. The world destroyed him who lived in ease and affluence, and fared sumptuously every day. The world destroyed him who laid up goods for many years, and resolved to live in the love and enjoyment of mere earthly things. The love of the world led Demas to forsake his duty, and the cause of Christ. In all these cases, the objects of the world engrossed the attention, and stupified the hearts and consciences, of those who were destroyed by it. Worldly objects are extremely apt to steal into the affections of real Christians, and before they are aware of it, blind their minds with respect to all the objects of faith. Things seen tend to divert their attention and affections from those great, and invisible, and eternal realities which are the only source of spiritual and divine enjoyments. In this way, all the scenes and objects of the present world are really unfriendly to Christians, and often pierce them through with many sorrows. The world is too strong for their faith, and often overcomes them, and robs them of the most solid peace and comfort in the discharge of every duty.
2. The spirit of the world is inimical to the followers of Christ: for it is a spirit diametrically opposite to the spirit of Christianity. The men of the world are entirely governed by a worldly spirit. They are of the world, and pursue the world, and speak of the world. They implicitly and explicitly proclaim the world to be the supreme good, which it is the interest of all men to pursue. This is their inward thought, and their habitual feeling, which they wish to diffuse among all with whom they are conversant. It is this spirit which unites and strengthens all the world against Christianity. They know its power to corrupt the hearts, and weaken the hands, of Christians; and accordingly they omit no opportunity of opposing them, by this mild, gentle, and infatuating spirit. It is this spirit of the world which is the most dangerous enemy that Christians ever meet with in the present state of trial. It meets them in all places, in all companies, and in all circumstances of life. It attacks them in the most unguarded and defenceless part. It is next to impossible not to catch the spirit, and enter into the views and feelings, of those with whom they are almost constantly conversant; especially when the spirit they express seems to be harmless, agreeable, and entertaining. The world, instead of conforming to Christians, have always endeavored to induce Christians to conform to their spirit; and they have too often succeeded. As long as the great majority of mankind possess a worldly spirit, and Christians are obliged to mix with them, they will be continually exposed to imbibe a worldly spirit, which will unfit them for the service and enjoyment of God. Besides,
3. The cares and concerns of the world are hostile to a devout and heavenly life. Christians, like the rest of mankind, are bound in duty, and obliged by necessity, to labor six days in the week, and steadily pursue their secular callings. While they are employed in these, they are in danger of letting interest rather than duty govern their views and feelings, which
S thell good. All worldly concerns have a tendency to excite and nourish a worldly spirit. All Christians are continually liable to be led from the path of duty by the very duties they are bound to perform. The danger in one employment is nearly as great as in another. Whether a man's business employs his head or his hands, it is very apt to corrupt the motives of his conduct. Worldly concerns, therefore, of all kinds, are naturally prejudicial to a life of faith and devotion; and all Christians are in danger of being ensnared by their common and lawful pursuits. Thus the world, in all respects, is a perpetual