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PREACHED DECEMBER 19, 1773.
1 JOHN v. 11,
And this is the record that God hath given to
us, eternal life ; and THIS LIFE IS ’N His son.
We are indebted to the Gospel for the knowledge and hope we have of eternal life; this important doctrine having, first, been delivered by Jesus Christ, and only by him, on any proper grounds of authority. This then is the record, or the substance of what the Gospel testifies and affirms, That God hath given to us eternal life : and this life, adds the Apostle, IS IN HIS SON: that is, he procured this blessing for us ; he is not only the teacher, but the author of eternal life.
This last is a distinct and very momentous consideration. Reason might seem to have some part in discovering, or at least in confirming, the doctrine itself: but the manner of conveying the inestimable gift of eternal life, whether immediately from the giver of it, or by the mediation of some other, this is a matter of pure revelation; and reason hath nothing more to do in the case, than to see that the revelation is, indeed, made, and then with all humility to acquiesce in it.
Being, then, to treat this sublime subject, the redemption of mankind through Christ, I shall do it simply in the terms of scripture, or at least with a scrupulous regard to the plain and obvious sense of them. The text says, eternal life is in the Son of God; and my
discourse must be merely a scriptural comment on this declaration.
Now, the scripture teaches, that immortality was originally, and from the beginning, the free gift of God to man, on the condition of his obeying a certain law, or command, prescribed to him : whether that command be interpreted ļiterally, of not eating the fruit of the forbidden tree in paradise, as we read in the second and third chapters of Genesis ; or allegorically, of some other prohibition, expressed agreeably to the oriental genius, in these terms. This diversity of interpretation makes no difference in the case : whatever the test of man's disobedience was, the will of the law-giver is clearly announced: If thou art guilty of disobedience, thou shalt surely diea.
Obedience, then, had the promise of continued life; the penalty threatened to disobedience, was death: which was only saying, that the gift freely bestowed on a certain condition (and surely what man had no right to demand, might be offered on what terms the giver pleased) should be withdrawn on the breach of it. The loss, indeed, was immense; but to the loser no wrong was done: and of him who recalled the free gift, conditionally bestowed, and justly forfeited, no complaint, in reason, can be made.
But to what purpose, some will ask, to give that with one hand, which was presently to be withdrawn by the other? for the best reason, no doubt, whether conceivable by us, or not. However, the sad event was certainly foreseen: and, what is more, such provision was made
& Gen. ii. 17.
against it, as to infinite wisdom and goodness seemed meet,
By contemplating the gradual steps of Providence, as we are able to trace them in the revelation itself, we understand, that it was in the eternal purpose of the divine Governour to restore life to fallen and mortal man, as freely as it had been at first bestowed, and on terms still more advantageous to him. But the ways of heaven are not as our ways, nor to be regu lated by our impatient wishes, or expectations. What
man, in a moment, had wantonly thrown away, he was to recover once more; but in God's good time; not instantly, but after a long succession of ages, and such a state of intermediate discipline and preparation, as might best serve to introduce the intended blessing with effect,
Man, then, was to be reinstated in his forfeited inheritance : and the promise was made, though purposely in obscure terms, from the moment the forfeiture was incurred. In
process of time, it was less, and still less obscurely signifted; yet so as that the full discovery of what was intended, and, still more, the execution of it, was long deferred.
At length, Jesus Christ came into the world to fulfill and to declare the whole will of God on this interesting subject: and from him, and from those commissioned by him, we learn what the wisest men, and even angels, had desired to look into, and could at most discern but imperfectly through the types and shadows of the patriarchal and Mosaic dispensations.
The great mystery, now unveiled, was briefly this : that God of his infinite goodness had, indeed, from the foundation of the world, purposed the restoration of eternal life to his unworthy creature, man; but that in his wisdom he saw fit to confer this unmerited blessing in a way, that should at once secure the honour of his government; and, if any thing could secure it, the future obedience and happiness of his creature: that he would only confer this mighty privilege at the instance, as it were, and for the sake of a transcendantly divine
person, his only begotten Son, the second person in the glorious Trinity, as we now style him : that this divine person, of his own free will co-operating with the eternal purposeb of the all-gracious Father, should descend from Heaven; should become incarnate; should as
b Ephes. ii. 11.