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1 John ii. 1, 2
My little children, these things write I unto you, that ye sin not. And if any man sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous: and he is the propitiation for our sins: and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world. It was at a very advanced period of his life, tliat the Apostle Jolin addressed this Epistle to the Christians of his day. It may be considered, therefore, as containing his dying instructions and exhortations. They are delivered in that spirit of affectionate tenderness which ever characterized the disciple of whom it was emphatically said that Jesus loved him. In the overflowing of this spirit of love, he writes to the followers of his Lord and Saviour, and calls them his children ; — children in years, compared with him the
212 THE HAEMO Y A D EFFICIE CY OF aged Apostle, and probably tlie sole survivor of tliose who companied with our blessed Saviour ; — and children in reference to the affection which he felt and exhibited for all who named the name of Christ. His anxious desire is to lead them to a full and experimental knowledge of the Lord Jesus, as their propitiation for sin, and their advocate with the Father ; and to show them how the love of Christ, if genuine, wQl produce love to our brethren and superiority to the world and its pleasures. But lest the free and gracious manner in which the promise of pardon is made, should
induce any to be careless in committing sin, he puts in close connection with the declaration that Jesus is the propitiation for sin, an earnest exhortation that we should not commit sin. "My little children, these things write I unto you, that ye sin not. And if any man sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous: and he is the propitiation for our sins." This, indeed, may be considered as a summary of the Gospel. I. In the first place, we have here an exhortation to us that we sin not, and a system of instructions in reference to the will of God, and the extent and obligation of human duty, that removes from us every possible excuse for sinning ignorantly. The Gospel is a perfect law ; one in which there can be found neither error nor deficiency ; and one which requires no emendation in consequence of the changes of individual character, or the circumstances of the whole social community of man. Every where, and at all times,
THE GOSPEL SCHEME OF SALVATIO . 213 and in all places, are its great principles adequate to all our moral wants, and equal to our highest moral instruction. And in no one feature of the Gospel, is its truth and divinity more clearly demonstrated, than in this. Human laws require emendation, as the society for which they are made improves, or its relations become altered. Codes of morals, as collected and arranged by human wisdom, are deficient, and their principles are not of universal application. ot so with the Gospel ; it is unchangeable as its Author, and its principles are of direct and easy application whereever man is found. Does not this prove it to be divine? JMust it not be an emanation from that Almighty and All-seeing mind that created man and knew what was in him ? The argument is an impor-
tant and powerful one, and capable of a fuU and interesting elucidation ; but it would draw us too far from our present object to pursue it any farther. It has been introduced simply with the design of showing, that when the Gospel calls upon us not to sin, it at the same time makes every reasonable provision for enabling us not to do so. " The law of the Lord is a perfect law, converting the soul; the testimony of the Lord is sure, and giveth wisdom unto the simple ; " and, as is said in the emphatic language of Scripture, " the way-faring men, though fools shall not err therein." To one who has received the revelation of Jesus Christ, therefore, there can be no such thing, properly speaking, as sins of ignorance. If the law is transgressed, it must be through culpable neglect in not
214 THE HAEMO Y A D EFFICIE CY OF endeavouring to know wliat it is ; or else througli tlie power of temptation, silencing tlie voice of conscience, and setting aside the effect of tlie sanctions of God's law. The exhortation of the Gospel is, therefore, a reasonable and just one, that we " sin not." II. But we must observe, in the second place, that, connected with this exhortation, the possibility, and indeed the probability, of transgression is clearly stated : " But if any man sin." ow we are assured that every man does sin. This is also a clear and explicit declaration of the revealed Word : " There is no man that sinneth not." o one of the sons of men that has ever lived has attained the mark of Christian perfection ; and no one, while the world shall last, can ever attain unto it. Here the objection may be suggested, why was a law set forth, and obedience to it required, when at the same time it was certain that no one of those beings
for whom it was framed could ever fulfil it in all its extent % Is it not unreasonable to set up a precept for the observance of those whose capacity is not adequate to its observance ? ow, we observe, in reply, that there is this capacity for obedience, otherwise there would be no guilt in transgression. It is a self-evident principle, that I cannot be justly condemned for not doing that which was beyond the reach of my powers of accomplishment. But we prove that there is this capacity by appealing to the conscience of every man to ask, if at any time when he has done wrong, he has not afterwards felt
THE GOSPEL SCHEME OF SALVATI01S-, 215 convinced that it was in liis power to do right ? Were any of us ever tempted to an action when our free will was destroyed ? Have we not always been at perfect liberty to choose or to refuse ? And when the power of temptation has triumphed over us, has it not been because we were false to ourselves, and did not make use of the knowledge and exercise the power of resistance which we felt conscious of possessing ? It must be obvious, then, that the guilt is all our own. But in regard to the perfection of the Divine law, and the reasonableness of its being set before fallible man as the guide of his conduct, we have another observation to make. It could not be otherwise than perfect, considering its great design. It was constructed for a being capable of endless progression, and destined to make advances in spiritual knowledge and moral purity to all eternity. We are not hke the beasts that perish, endowed with an instinct that instructs us and impels us to fulfil the whole design of our existence, and that both permits and enables us to arrive at the perfection of our nature. On the contrary, there are no limits to our spiritual growth. It is our own
neglect and our own sin if we are not growing wiser and better to the very moment of our transfer to another state of existence ; and we have reason to believe that one of the unspeakable pleasures of this state will be the delight of conscious and rapid improvement. Here improvement is effected amidst many hardships and discouragements, and often have we the painful consciousness of falling backward in our
216 THE HAEMO Y A D EFFICIEJSTCY OF course ; but tliere oui- progress in holiness will be without pain, without discouragement, and without end. Glorious and ennobling thought ! one which leads us to consider the true dignity of our nature, — one which more clearly and satisfactorily than any other argument proves to us our immortality ! Such being our nature and destination, is it not obvious that the law to govern us must embrace the perfection of which we are capable, and for which we are intended ? Is there any point at which it could stop short of that precept of our blessed Saviour, " Be ye perfect even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect." "Would not a more narrow demand limit our improvement and our hopes ? Straining every exertion to attain perfection, although we may not reach it, will not our flight be loftier, and our progress incomparably greater, than if the requisition made upon us was defined and moderate ? But here a difficulty presents itself to our notice, an apparent discordance which must be harmonized. The law requires from us perfect obedience ; the capacity for fulfilling the law is doubtless given to us, but yet we are all without exception transgressors. How then is the dignity of the Lawgiver and the authority of the law to l)e vindicated, and yet man be
saved from the penalty of transgression ? This question is replied to by the Apostle, and to notice it will constitute the third and last remark which I have to offer to you as suggested by the text. III. " But if any man sin, we have an advocate with
THE GOSPEL SCHEME OF SALVATIOlSr. 217 the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous, and he is the proj^itiation for our sins ; and not for ours only, but for the sins of the whole world." Here, my brethren, the doctrine of the atonement is presented to us in all its extent, and in all its consoling power. Here we may see the union of mercy and truth, the lovely embracing of righteousness and peace. This great event, the sacrifice of our blessed Saviour, was needed to vindicate the Divine dispensations, to reconcile revelation with itself, to sustain the throne of the moral government of God, and to fix its foundations in justice, equity, and truth. ow, he can be just, and yet the justifier of all that believe in him. Without this discovery, that " God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son, that every one that belie veth in him should not j)erish but have everlasting life," — without this discovery, awful indeed would be our condition. The law is unfolded to us in all its purity and perfection, and the command is universal and authoritative that we sin not. And, moreover, we feel that we have the power of obedience, and yet we are convicted in our consciences of daily transgression. Where then would be our way of escape ? to what refuge could we flee, were not a propitiatory sacrifice set before us ? Observe, my brethren, that in our text all the great of&ces of our Saviour, as connected with our salvation, are held out to prominent view. He is our advocate
with the Father, seated at the right hand of God, for ever living to make intercession for us. And it is Jesus
218 THE HARMOISTT A D EFFICIE CY OF Christ tlie rigliteous, lie wlio did no sin, neither was guile in liis mouth, who fulfilled the whole law ; and being himself perfect, could rightly offer himself as a sacrifice. He is the propitiation for our sins. How full and explicit is this word, " the propitiation for our sins." The oris^inal word thus translated is found in the ew Testament only in this Epistle ; but in the Greek version of the ancient Testament it fi^equently occurs, and there it signifies always a sacrifice of atonement. Jesus Christ then is our atoning sacrifice. He hath been offered up for us, and hath purchased redemption for us through his blood. It has not been my design, from the words of the text, to enter upon the proof and explanation of the atonement, but to adduce it as an essential part of the grand whole of the Christian scheme. Without it all is imperfect and unsatisfactory ; without it the parts could not cohere ; it is the essential principle of attraction which binds the whole together. The Christian graces and virtues may shine forth in their mild radiance, and shed upon us their sweet influences, but their light comes from the central source, and they are kept in their respective orbits in uniform and harmonious motion by the central power, and this is Jesus Christ and his atonement. This it is which gives light and warmth to all the system. Blot out this, and all would be dark and cold and cheerless and hopeless, and all would soon rush into disorder and fatal destruction. But the principle is established, and sooner can the power of gravitation be taken from this our terrestrial system, and yet its
THE GOSPEL SCHEME OF SALVATIO . 219 order remain, than tlie atonement can be taken from the Gospel ; and yet its truth and consoling power upon fallen man remain unshaken. Our text then, my brethren, contains admonition and consolation^ united in an admirable manner, and beautifully adapted to our sinful nature and to our present state of existence. We are entreated not to sin. Every inducement is presented to us to draw us from transgression and lead us to obedience to the will of God. The awful punishment that awaits the unrepentant sinner, even everlasting banishment from God and happiness, is declared, and the blessed reward of well doing is unfolded in the promises of eternal life, and pleasures that are at God's right hand for evermore. And every needed instruction, encouragement and assistance, is vouchsafed to us in the revealed Word of God and the influences of his Holy Spirit. Let it be our daily prayer and our hourly effort that we sin not. Let us earnestly seek for restraining and directing grace. Let us not be satisfied with any present attainments, knowing that at our best estates we are far^ far removed from the perfection demanded of us, and the perfection at which we have the power of arriving. And when in the course of this our probationary discipline it occurs to us, as how often, alas ! it has done, and will again, that we have fallen immeasural)ly short, not only of Gospel perfection but even of our own hopes, let us not despaii*, but remember for our comfort, that if any man sin we have an advocate
220 THE HAKMOlSrY AISTD EFFICIE CY OF with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous, and that
he is the propitiation for our sins. But while fully appreciating the blessings of the Christian's hope, let us most anxiously guard against self-deception and the sin of presuming upon God's mercy. Is the revelation of pardon made in order to lighten the guilt of transgression ? Has a propitiation been made for sin, that sin may appear less hateful in our sight ? On the contrary, Christ hath died to procure our pardon, that we may know how great is the guilt of sin and transgression when its consequences could be removed only by the propitiatory sacrifice of the Son of God. Therefore, if we are indifferent about sin, and return to it hastily and easil}^ after a short repentance, Christ can profit us nothing. He gives relief only to those who are weary and heavy laden with the burden of their sins. The faith in him, which is alone effectual to salvation, is the faith that works by love and purifies the heart. Let us then examine the nature of our dependence uj)on the atonement, and see if it leads us to a greater hatred of sin and more earnest aspirations after holiness ; if it brings us in deep and unfeigned humiliation to the foot of the cross, and, with the hope of pardon that we get there, unites in us the resolution, that by the grace of God and in dependence upon his Holy Spirit, we will more and more earnestly strive to love, to serve and obey him. May God grant that this may be the effect upon many of us of the preaching of Jesus Christ and him crucified, especially upon such of us as are now pre-
THE GOSPEL SCHEME OF SALVATIO . 221 paring to celebrate tlie dying love of our Redeemer, and partake spiritually of that body and blood that was broken and shed for us, and through which alone we dare look for the pardon of our sins, and for acceptance at the awful day of the final judgment.
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