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SUMMARY OF SERMON XXV.
MATTHEW, CHAP. xx II.-VERSE 39.
THE essential goodness of God towards man, in the frame of the world and the natural course of things, considered. Assurance of the same goodness arising from that common providence which continually upholds us, and relieves all our wants: also from the dispensations of grace, &c.; but from nothing more than from the nature and tendency of those laws which God has prescribed for the regulation of our lives. And among all divine precepts, this of the text especially argues the wonderful goodness of our heavenly lawgiver, both in the manner of the proposal, and the substance of it. The manner of the proposal considered, affording, as it does, a mighty argument of immense goodness in God, that he doth in such a manner commend this duty to us, coupling it with our main duty towards him, and requiring us with like earnestness to love our neighbor as to love himself. Nor, in the substance of this duty, is the benignity of him who prescribeth it less apparent. First, however, it is expedient to explain it as expressed in the text; wherein two particulars are considered; the object of the duty, our neighbor; and the qualification annexed to it, as ourselves. I. The object of charity is our neighbor; that is, according to our Lord's exposition, or the tenor of his doctrine, every man with whom we have to do, especially every Christian. The law, as it was given to God's ancient people, was more confined. But now, such distinctions of men being abolished with the wall of partition, all the world is become one people, subject to the laws of one common Lord: the blood of Christ hath cemented together all mankind, and we are now to all men, what one Jew was to another ; yea more than such. Hereon therefore are grounded those evangelical commands explicatory of this law, as it now stands in force: this shown by various quotations. Such is the object of our charity; and thus did our Lord expound it to the Jewish lawyer, who asked, who is my neighbor? With respect to the qualification, as thyself, this may import both a rule declaring the nature, and a measure determining the quantity of love due from us to our neighbor, the comparative term as implying either. 1. Loving our neighbor as ourselves imports a rule, directing what kind of love we should bear and exercise towards him. We cannot better understand the nature of this duty, than by reflecting on the motions of our own hearts, and observing the course of our demeanor towards ourselves; and this is a peculiar advantage of the rule, that by it we may easily and certainly discern all the particulars of our duty, without looking abroad, or having recourse to external instructions. Wherefore for our information concerning it, in all cases, we need only consult and interrogate ourselves; thence forming resolutions concerning our practice. Many such interrogatories proposed. 2. Loving our neighbor as ourselves imports also the measure of our love towards him; that it should be commensurate with, and equal in degree to that love which we bear and exercise towards ourselves. This is that perfection of charity to which our Lord bids us aspire, in the injunction, be ye perfect, even as your father in heaven is perfect. Several reasons given to show that this sense of the words is chiefly intended. But farther, the duty thus interpreted is agreeable to reason, and may be justly required of us. 1. It is reasonable that we should love our neighbor as ourselves, because he is as ourselves, or really in all considerable respects the same with us: this explained. 2. It is just that we should do so, because he really no less deserves our love. Justice is impartial, and regards things as they are in themselves; whence if our neighbor seem worthy of affection no less than we, it demands accordingly that we love him no less: this topic enlarged on. 3. It is fit that we should be obliged to this love, because all charity beneath self-love is defective, and all self-love above charity is excessive. 4. Equity requires it, because we are apt to claim the same measure of love fiom others. 5. It is needful that so great charity be prescribed, because none inferior to it will reach divers weighty ends designed in this law; viz. the general convenience and comfort of our lives in mutual intercourse and society. 6. That intire love which we owe to God our Creator, and to Christ our Redeemer, exacts from us no less a measure of charity than this. 7. Indeed the whole tenor and genius of our religion imply an obligation to this pitch of love on various accounts: these laid down. 8. Many conspicuous examples, proposed for our direction in this kind of practice, imply such a degree of charity as required of us. Instances quoted of Abraham, Moses, Samuel, Jonathan, David, Elias, Jeremiah, and the other prophets, as well as the holy Apostles: the life of these last surveyed in this respect. Finally, our Lord himself in our nature exemplified this duty; yea, by his practice he far outdid his precept: his great 'example dilated on to the end.
And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.
The essential goodness of God, and his special benignity toward mankind, are to a considering mind divers ways very apparent; the frame of the world, and the natural course of things, do with a thousand voices loudly and clearly proclaim them to us; every sense doth yield us affidavit to that speech of the holy psalmist, ‘the earth is full of the goodness of the Lord :' we see it in the glorious brightness of the skies, and in the pleasant verdure of the fields; we taste it in the various delicacies of food, supplied by land and sea; we smell it in the fragrances of herbs and flowers; we hear it in the natural music of the woods; we feel it in the comfortable warmth of heaven, and in the cheering freshness of the air; we continually do possess and enjoy it in the numberless accommodations of life, presented to us by the bountiful hand of nature.
Of the same goodness we may be well assured by that common providence which continually doth uphold us in our being, doth opportunely relieve our needs, doth protect us in dangers, and rescue us from imminent mischiefs, doth comport with our infirmities and misdemeanors; the which, in the divine psalmist's style, “doth hold our soul in life, and suffereth not our feet to be moved;’ doth ‘redeem our life from destruction;' doth “crown us with loving-kindness, and tender mercies.” The dispensations of grace, in the revelation of heavenly truth, in the overtures of mercy, in the succors of our weakness, in the proposal of glorious rewards, in all the methods and means conducing to our salvation, do afford most admirable proofs and pledges of the same immense benignity. But in nothing is the divine goodness toward us more illustriously conspicuous, than in the nature and tendency of those laws which God hath been pleased, for the regulation of our lives, to prescribe unto us, all which do palpably evidence his serious desire and provident care of our welfare; so that, in imposing them, he plainly doth not so much exercise his sovereignty over us, as express his kindness toward us; neither do they more clearly declare his will, than demonstrate his good-will to us. And among all divine precepts this especially, contained in my text, doth argue the wonderful goodness of our heavenly Lawgiver, appearing both in the manner of the proposal, and in the substance of it. “The second,” saith our Lord, “is like to it;’ that is, to the precept of “loving the Lord our God with all our heart:’ and is not this a mighty argument of immense goodness in God, that he doth in such a manner commend this duty to us, coupling it with our main duty toward him, and requiring us with like earnestness to love our neighbor as to love himself? He is transcendently amiable for the excellency of his nature; he, by innumerable and inestimable benefits graciously conferred on us, hath deserved our utmost affection; so that naturally there can be no obligation bearing any proportion or considerable semblance to that of loving him : yet hath he in goodness been pleased to create one, and to endue it with that privilege; making the love of a man (whom we cannot value but for his gifts, to whom we can owe nothing but what properly we owe to him) no less obligatory, to declare it near as acceptable as the love of himself, to whom we owe all. To him, as the sole author and free donor of all our good, by just correspondence, all our mind and heart, all our strength and