1Ti_1:5. Now the end of the commandment is charity out of a pure heart, and of a good, conscience, and of faith unfeigned.
THE Gospel of Christ is thought by many to be a source of evil: and certain it is, that evils have not unfrequently followed in its train. But we must distinguish between two things, which are very often confounded; namely, the cause of evil, and the occasion of evil. There is not any blessing which divine Providence has bestowed upon us, which may not be an occasion of evil, if it be not used in the manner, and for the ends for which it was intended. Our corporeal and mental faculties may be all abused, for the production of evil; and all the fruits of the earth may be made subservient to the gratification of inordinate desire. This has happened in relation to the Gospel. Even in the primitive Churches, some, instead of delivering their divine message with the simplicity that became them, made it, in many instances, an occasion of promulgating their own vain and superstitious notions; thus administering to strife and contention, where they should have laboured only for the edification of souls in faith and love. St. Paul, in order to correct this, directed Timothy to protest against it, as an abuse of the Gospel; and to make it appear, that the Gospel was in no respect to be blamed for these evils; since, in its own nature, it tended only to love: “The end of the commandment is charity out of a pure heart, and of a good conscience, and of faith unfeigned.”
From these words I shall take occasion to shew,
What is the true scope of the Gospel, as contrasted with the use too often made of it—
The use too often made of it has been, to spread disputation and division—
[To such a degree did this evil obtain at Ephesus, that St. Paul, when going into Macedonia, was constrained to deprive himself of the comfort of Timothy’s society, in order that he, by abiding still at Ephesus, might charge the teachers to confine themselves to the great truths of the Gospel, instead of “giving heed to fables and endless genealogies,” as they were wont to do; “whereby they ministered to vain questions, rather than to godly edifying [Note: ver. 3, 4.].” This lamentable evil prevailed also at Colosse; and, more or less, in all the Churches. Jewish converts would insist upon some favourite observances of their law, which was now abrogated and annulled: and the Gentile converts strove to blend with the Gospel the notions of their philosophers: so that the Apostle was constrained to guard the people against both the one and the other; bidding them to “beware, lest any man should spoil them through philosophy and vain deceit, after the tradition of men, after the rudiments of the world, and not after Christ [Note: Col_2:8; Col_2:16-19.].”
In every subsequent age, the Church has been torn and rent with heresies of different kinds; so that, in fact, the history of the Church contains rather a record of successive contentions between different parties in it, than any account of practical and experimental piety. The smallest knowledge of ecclesiastical history will suffice to convince us of this deplorable fact.
And what is the state of things at this day? Is there any thing like unity in the Church of Christ? The seamless garb of our adorable Saviour is rent into a thousand pieces. On all the leading subjects of doctrine and of discipline, there is in the Church, not merely a diversity of sentiment, but a violent hostility; whole Churches anathematizing each other, and individuals ready to “bite and devour one another” as enemies to the public weal. Nor is this acrimony confined to those who differ on fundamental points, as Papists and Protestants: it obtains equally amongst those who are agreed in professing the reformed religion; and sets at a distance from each other the Calvinist and Arminian, the Churchman and Dissenter, as if there were no common bond of union for them in Christ Jesus. This is cast in our teeth by the Papist, from whom we have separated: and it lays a stumbling-block before the Jew; who, with some shadow of justice, says to us, “Call not on me to embrace your religion, till you are yourselves agreed what that religion is.”]
But the proper end of the Gospel is charity—
[“The commandment” of which the text speaks, is, by some, supposed to mean the law; and, by others, the particular injunction given by St. Paul to Timothy. But its connexion with “the pure heart, and good conscience, and unfeigned faith,” from which “the charity, which is its end,” proceeds, clearly shews, in my judgment, that it must be understood of the Gospel [Note: The use of the expression
in ver. 3. by no means determines the import of
in ver. 5: such a change in the use of the same word being quite common with St. Paul.].
Now the end of the Gospel is love; its chief object being to bring man back again to the state in which he was originally formed, and to renew him after the image of God, whose name and nature is love [Note: 1Jn_4:8; 1Jn_4:16.]. Fallen man possesses it not: he is by nature altogether selfish; and whatever stands in the way of self-gratification and self-advancement, he hates. Hence man universally opposes his fellow-man, as soon as ever a prospect opens to him of promoting his own interests, though at the expense of his neighbour’s welfare. In nations, whether civilized or uncivilized, this universally appears. The same is found in rival societies; yea, to such a degree does this malignant spirit operate, that it is a miracle if even a single family be found altogether united in love. But these malignant passions are mortified and subdued by the Gospel; according to that prediction of the Prophet Isaiah: “The wolf shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid; and the calf, and the young lion, and the fatling together; and a little child shall lead them [Note: Isa_11:6-9.].” In confirmation of this truth, we need only look to the day of Pentecost, and see what a change was wrought on the most malignant characters that ever disgraced our fallen nature: three thousand of them, who had but a few hours before concurred in shedding the Saviour’s blood, became all of one heart and one mind, and gladly surrendered all that they possessed, with a view to the welfare of the whole body [Note: Act_2:44-45.]. Not that the Gospel will prevent all difference of sentiment amongst men; for, constituted as the human mind is, and different as are the degrees of man’s information upon different subjects, it is not possible that all men should have precisely the same views, even of any subject, and much less of all; but it will induce a mutual forbearance, in reference to things that are dubious and non-essential; and will form all the variously-constructed members into one harmonious and compact body [Note: Eph_4:15-16.]. And unless it have this effect, it leaves us without any hope of its ultimate and eternal blessings [Note: 1Co_13:1-3.].]
It is of great importance, however, to be informed,
When that end may be said to be truly and properly attained—
The love here spoken of is not that which exists in the bosom of the natural man; nor is it that which is engendered by a party-spirit: it is a love formed by the Gospel, through the instrumentality of “a pure heart, and a good conscience, and of faith unfeigned.” Such is the account given of it in the text; and it is of importance to observe the order in which these words are introduced. “a pure heart” is first mentioned, as being the proximate cause of love: in the production of which, “a good conscience” operates as a more remote cause; whilst its primary cause, which sets the others in motion, is, “an unfeigned faith.”
These are the immediate effects of the Gospel—
[The Gospel, bringing home conviction to the soul, creates there “an unfeigned faith,” without which no one of its truths can be received aright. The faith that is insincere, like that of Simon Magus [Note: Act_8:13; Act_8:18-20.], will soon betray its worthlessness; nor can it ever prevail for the subjugation of our selfish propensities. But when the Gospel leads us to embrace the Lord Jesus Christ in all his offices, and to look for salvation through him alone, then it will bring with it “a good conscience,” purged from all sense of guilt, and filled with a peace that passeth all understanding. Thence will flow a purification of the heart from every thing that is “earthly, sensual, or devilish,” and a transformation of the soul into the Divine image. Only let a man so embrace “the promises” as to obtain peace with God, and he will instantly begin to “cleanse himself from all filthiness, both of flesh and spirit, and to perfect holiness in the fear of God [Note: 2Co_7:1.].” Having a good hope that he is “accepted in Christ,” he will labour to purify himself, even as Christ is pure [Note: 1Jn_3:3.].”]
Then, through the combined influence of these, it works its destined end—
[The soul is, by nature, narrow and contracted: its desires both originate in self, and end in self. Self is its centre and circumference. The natural man will indeed assume, on many occasions, an appearance of generosity; but, of the “charity that suffereth long, and is kind; that envieth not; that vaunteth not itself; that doth not behave itself unseemly; that seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil: rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth; that beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things [Note: 1Co_13:4-7.];” of that charity, I say, he knows nothing. But the Gospel expands the soul; filling it with a sense of the Saviour’s love, and stirring it up to a holy imitation of it; and bringing home to it, with irresistible force, this blessed truth, “If God so loved us, we ought also to love one another [Note: 1Jn_4:10-11.].” Thus, at the same time that it disposes the soul for love, it also forms love in the soul. It brings men into the closest union with the Lord Jesus Christ, and with each other in him, so as to make of all “one body in Christ.” All look to him as their common head; and all regard each other as members of the same mystical body; and, in consequence of that union, are penetrated with a love that is reciprocal and universal. The degree of affection that is experienced by them is unknown in the whole world besides. The union, that from thenceforth subsists between them, is so close, that nothing short of the union between Almighty God and his only dear Son can adequately describe it. This is what the Lord Jesus Christ himself has affirmed: “I pray for them, that they all may be one, as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they may all be one in us. And the glory which thou hast given me, I have given them, that they all may be one, even as we are one; I in them, and thou in me, that they may be made perfect in one [Note: Joh_17:21-23].”
This, then, may suffice to shew us, not only what the true end of the Gospel is, but when that end may be said to be truly and properly attained: for it never is truly wrought in us, till we are brought into this union with each other in Christ, and are made to exercise the dispositions which must necessarily result from it.
That I may not be thought to have insisted too strongly on this matter, let me confirm it from the express declaration of an inspired Apostle; a declaration in which not only the same truth is maintained, but the very same process is accurately described. St. Peter, speaking to his believing brethren throughout all the world, says, “Seeing ye have purified your souls in obeying the truth, through the Spirit, unto unfeigned love of the brethren, see that ye love one another with a pure heart fervently [Note: 1Pe_1:22.].”]
Let me now address a few words to you on the subject of the Gospel,
In reference to its primary operations—
[The peculiar process here described is not alike visible in all: in some it advances rapidly; in others with a more tardy step. But it must be found in all.
Brethren, see to it, that “your faith” in the Gospel be “unfeigned.” It must be such a faith as brings you, in penitential sorrow and utter self-renunciation, to the foot of the Cross; and causes you to “live altogether by faith in the Son of God, as having loved you, and given himself for you [Note: Gal_2:20.].” See to it, also, that you obtain “a good conscience.” There must not be a day or an hour in which you do not apply “the blood of sprinkling” to your souls: for it is by that only that “your conscience can be purged from dead works to serve the living God [Note: Heb_9:14; Heb_12:24.].” Take care, too, that your heart be purified from all “earthly, sensual, and devilish” affections. No evil whatever must be harboured in your bosom. The whole of your life must be occupied in “putting off the old man, which is corrupt according to the deceitful lusts; and in putting on the new man, which, after God, is created in righteousness and true holiness [Note: Eph_4:22-24.].” These things are absolutely indispensable: and if the Gospel produce them not in your souls, it is in vain for you to expect any blessing from it in the world to come — — —]
In reference to its ultimate effect—
[Never forget what is the great scope and end of all: it is not to save your soul from destruction, but to save your soul from sin. Heaven is a region of love; and no man could be happy there who has not been previously “rendered meet for it” in this world. He would be out of his element: he would have no delight in God himself, nor any sympathy with those who were around his throne. Away, then, with selfishness, and apathy, and party-spirit; and begin to realize a heaven upon earth. This is the way to fulfil the law [Note: Gal_5:14.]; this is the way to adorn the Gospel [Note: Gal_5:6.]; this is the way to answer all God’s purposes of love towards you. Remember this, then, I pray you. And as I am “charged of God to teach no other doctrine among you [Note: ver. 3.],” so I must charge you, in the name of God, to receive no other amongst yourselves. You will find persons without number ready to obtrude upon you some matters of doubtful disputation; yea, and within your own bosoms you will find much to contend with that is contrary to love. But set the Lord Jesus Christ before you. See how love burned in his bosom, till “his zeal had even consumed him,” and till he had surrendered his life upon the cross [Note: Joh_13:1. Eph_5:2.]. So grow ye up into him in all things: and as ye have been taught of God to “love one another, see that ye increase more and more [Note: 1Th_4:1; 1Th_4:9-10.].”]