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ON THE ACT AND INFLUENCE OF “LOOKING TO JESUS.”
TO THE EDITOR OF THE CONGREGATIONAL MAGAZINE.
DEAR SIR,—It seems to be thought by the friends of your magazine, that a larger proportion of articles devoted to the development and increase of the principles of experimental and practical religion, would tend much to its improvement, and endear it more entirely, to the most pious and devotional of its constant readers. In this judgment I altogether concur; and by it, the present communication will be modelled.
Articles of criticism, directed to an elucidation of the many topics associated with the truths of revelation, on which hesitation or difficulty are felt, are unquestionably of very great value ; nor would I, by any means, wish that such articles should be excluded from your pages : the assertion and defence of Congregational principles should ever find, in the sole miscellany that is devoted to them, a ready reception ; and the various kinds of intelligence, which relate to the efforts that are made for the advancement of pure Christianity, at home and abroad, and the success which is graciously awarded to them, should, without question, occupy a considerable department in your arrangements. As, however, all intelligence, every critical inquiry, and our Congregational principles themselves, have little worth, but in the proportion in which they minister to the increase of sincere and active piety, such subjects should be kept in due subordination to the supreme design, towards which it is our first duty to direct unremitting attention. Under the impulse of such reflections, I draw up and transmit the present article.
The one motive of incomparable efficacy which bears, with stringent force
, on the heart of every real Christian is, “the love of Christ :" a motive sometimes misunderstood, sometimes misrepresented, not seldom nearly lost sight of, and which, we all have too much reason to confess, fails, through our sinful infirmities, to exert its salutary and
N. 8. VOL. V.
sanctifying energies, in any just measure, upon our hearts and active faculties. It becomes us to labour to form due conceptions respecting this transcendent subject; and to aim to admit its full power and influence to our bosoms.
During a late re-perusal of the discourses of the sagacious Bishop Butler on “ Human Nature,” I was struck with one of his introductory observations : “ It cannot,” he says, “indeed, possibly be denied, that our being God's creatures, and virtue being the natural law we are born under, and the whole constitution of man being plainly adapted to it, are prior obligations to piety and virtue, than the consideration that God sent his Son into the world to save it, and the motives which arise from the peculiar relation of Christians, as members one of another, under Christ our head. However, though all this be allowed, as it expressly is by the inspired writers, yet it is manifest that Christians, at the time of the revelation, and immediately after, could not but insist mostly upon considerations of this latter kind.” (Serm 1.) The concluding sentence of this extract seems to intimate, that in ages subsequent to the primitive, the peculiar considerations of Christianity were likely to have less influence on Christians, than they exerted at the time of the revelation, and immediately after : it seems also to be implied, that such a diminution of the influence of strictly Christian motives may be experienced, without injury. Nothing would induce me, knowingly, to misrepresent any language or conceptions of a writer, for whom I entertain a profound respect, and to whose " Analogy" I am under inexpressible obligations. It appears to me, notwithstanding, that I am sustained in ascribing the implications, which I have stated, to the cited paragraph. There is also a consideration which, I think, confirms my suggestion, drawn from the general complexion of the writings of Butler, as well as from those of several of his distinguished contemporaries of the Church of England. The works of these eminent men, though of great usefulness in many respects, have unquestionably more of a philosophic and abstract, than of a simply Christian character.
I abjure all insinuations inimical to the substantial piety and worth of these writers; but no one can contemplate the tone of the theology which was prevalent among the successive disciples of the school of Butler, Clarke, &c. for sixty or seventy years, without a perception of the fact, that the ethical and philosophic style greatly predominated in the writings of the clergy, over the simple, devout, and essential Christian style, which the writers of the New Testament have left us, as our model, for the instruction and improvement of Christ's disciples. I shall not attempt to trace the injurious results of the taste and judgment to which I have made a reference ; but I shall express my decided belief, that motives strictly Christian have now as much intrinsic energy, as they had in primitive times; and that if, from any considera
tions, attention be divested from them, an irreparable injury is inflicted on Christianity, and on its disciples.
The injunction which is embodied in the words of the Epistle to the Hebrews, xii. 2, looking to Jesus,” is just as binding on all succeeding ages of the church, as on that to which it was immediately addressed ; and I shall attempt to point out the state of mind which is indicated in these words, and the blessed effects which continuance in it cannot fail to ensure.
The state of mind which is meant, is that of a person who turns away his regard from all near and surrounding objects, for the purpose of more intently contemplating one that is distant, and with which he is desirous of obtaining a more exact and intimate acquaintance. (Such is the force of the term ápopôrtes.) A thousand impulses of sense and fancy are ever pressing on the soul, to banish from it, if possible, every remembrance of an unseen Saviour, of whom it can apprehend nothing, but by an intense and concentrated exercise of faith. If we are concerned to comply with the injunction before us, there must be an abstraction of thought from all sensible and secular objects, together with a vigorous and determined effort, to fix our attention on the “ High Priest, and Apostle of our profession, Christ Jesus, whom, having not seen, ye love; in whom, though now ye see him not, yet believing, ye rejoice, with joy unspeakable, and full of glory." 1 Pet. i. 8. How this may be accomplished, and what the state of mind is, which it demands, is now to be assigned.
Faith is the first indispensable requisite ; the basis of all Christian virtue, in the soul of man. We possess an authoritative definition of faith, but which is unhappily much obscured by the common version, so as to render it little available for the aid of general, and unlearned readers. Heb. xi. 1. “Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen." Substitute for this version, one, of which every competent scholar will approve, “Faith is a sure persuasion of things hoped for, a conviction of the existence) of things not seen," and the obscurity is dispelled. The definition thus stated is universal, and shows that the sacred writers mean the same thing that all other writers intend, in the use of this term. No invisible conception can justly become an object of hope, or a source of any other influence, before its real existence is believed: and if those impediments be removed, which the corrupt and sensual affections of the heart interpose to prevent it, the influence of faith will, in all cases, be proportioned to the degree in which it exists. No law of the mind is more demonstrable than this. The faith of a Christian is, his belief of the declaration of God, respecting his son Jesus Christ : this declaration he receives entire, whether it agree with the prepossessions formerly entertained by him, or be contrary to them. A genuine believer subjects his reasonings, tastes, and prejudices, to the control of revelation : “ If we receive the testimony of men, the testimony of God is greater.” Without such faith, “looking to Jesus” is an unattainable state of mind. We must believe that he is, and that he is all which the inspired record represents him to be, or we shall utterly fail in the discharge of this indispensable obligation.
As a second requisite for “looking to Jesus," I assign a pure and spiritual condition of the affections of the heart. If it were the design of this article to exhibit the exact order of the operations of the soul, the requisite now noticed must take precedence of faith: such a strict analysis is, however, not necessary for the practical purposes that are now in contemplation, which may best be answered by presenting the acts of the mind, in the order in which they are commonly supposed to take place.
It is more to the purpose before us to observe, that the purifying of the soul is the peculiar office of the Holy Spirit; and that when it is really begun, the understanding and intellectual faculties are brought into a state duly to receive the Divine testimony, and to exercise an unfeigned belief in it. Without discussing this point, we must be apprised, that “looking to Jesus,” implies a pure and spiritual state of the heart and affections. The corrupt and sensual condition in which the essence of the “ carnal mind” consists, can hold no converse with an unseen Saviour ; it beholds in him no form or comeliness that it should desire him; it covets no communion with him ; has no taste for the blessings he is ready to impart; and prefers the dregs of sensuality, or the pride of self-righteousness, or the traditions and commandments of men, to a simple reliance on his redemption, and an unreserved surrender of the soul to his love, fidelity, and compassion. In vain, do sinful, unregenerate men think of “ looking to Jesus ;" they form no just conceptions of his character, they have no understanding of him, or of themselves; and before they can perform this duty of the Christian life, they must become Christians, by a participation of his Spirit, which he is prepared to bestow abundantly on all, who, conscious of their helpless, guilty, and forlorn condition, are disposed to say, with deep sincerity, “Lord ! save us, we perish.” The believer, who has fled for refuge, to lay hold on the hope set before him, who hungers and thirsts after righteousness and life, is alone qualified to comply with the injunction of “looking to Jesus.” The constancy and fervent desire of Christians, in the discharge of this duty, will be regulated by the measure to which they attain of spiritual and holy affections; and these sentiments of the heart will reciprocally act upon, and strengthen each other, while they will carry forwards towards perfection, “the full assurance of understanding," of " faith," and of “hope,” in which the truest felicity, and highest dignity of religion consist.
The remaining requisite to the performance of the exercise of “looking to Jesus," which I shall suggest, is, an enlightened and fervent love to Christ. I speak of enlightened love, because much of what is
esteemed by multitudes to be love to Christ, partakes in no degree of that holy and ethereal affection. What else mean the images and pictures, the pathetical language, and rhetorical declamations, respecting the sufferings of Christ, that are in use among the imaginative, sentimental, and superstitious professors of Christianity, who abound chiefly, it is true, in the Catholic communion, but are by no means absent from churches professedly reformed? Do not all these things show, that the fervors of passion, and the excitements of fancy, are taken to be manifestations of love to Christ? The inspired writings offer no such stimulants to imagination, and feeling : “Henceforth know we no man after the flesh; yea, though we have known Christ after the flesh, yet now henceforth know we him no more.” Not a single effort can be found, amidst the narratives of the Evangelists, or the Epistles of the Apostles, to warrant the assimilation of love to Christ, to the effects produced by dramatic scenery and dialogue, by the fictions of novel-writers, or the imaginative creations of poets. All is simple and pure, adapted to promote the improvement and consolation of the soul, and render it superior to the blandishments of earth, by an exquisite portraiture of whatever is elevated, pure, and dignified, in human character, embodied in the life and teaching of the divine Saviour. “ The flesh,” he himself say, "profiteth nothing; the words that I speak unto you, they are spirit, and they are life.” How often, and how persuasively, did their condescending Master impress on his disciples the monition, “ He that
my commandments, and keepeth them, he it is that loveth me.” Many a sincere and humble Christian has been dejected and disconsolate, from his inability to rouse these fervors of imagination ; while in the temper, character, and conduct of multitudes, who will weep at a pathetic representation of Christ's sufferings, we detect the grossness of their conceptions, the unhallowed influence of their passions, and the deficient power of their moral principles. Genuine love to our unseen Redeemer, consists of deep thankfulness for his ineffable grace and condescension ; of lowly admiration of his surpassing moral and spiritual excellency, attended by fervent endeavours to improve, in something like resemblance to it ; and of those sentiments of soul, which are in accordance with the purposes of his incarnation and mediation, by which it is guided te every act of self-denial which he requires, and to a blissful anticipation of being for ever with him.
In no exercise of soul is a sincere love to the divine Saviour more distinctly and satisfactorily indicated, than in that by which the thoughts and affections are raised, and carried forward to a contemplation of the coming of Christ, and of that, at present, inconceivable delight, which will for ever spring from intercourse with him, as the living
, and visible, and perfect representative of the invisible Deity. To love the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ, is to love him ; the Crown of righteousness is for all them that love his appearing; and