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An Essential Element in Christian Character.
The testimony of Scripture, however, will prove more convincing to those whom we address than any other arguments. And, passing by the words on which we have already remarked, we proceed to notice some others in which the testimony borne to the Divine character is equally explicit. The crowning manifestation of the love of God is the sacrifice of His Son. And if we ask for whom was that sacrifice offered, the answer is-For His enemies. If our enmity to Him were inconsistent with His love to us, His love could never have embraced us. His is the cause of ours; for we love Him because He first loved us."
When we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of His Son.”_ “For God so loved the world”—a world at enmity with Himself—" that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” “For scarcely for a righteous (or just) man will one die ; yet peradventure for a good (or generous) man some would even dare to die. But God commendeth His love towards us”-maketh it appear in bright contrast with the most generous love of man—"in that while we were yet sinners”-neither just, nor generous, nor friendly to Himself, but rebels and enemies—“ Christ died for us.” Christ Himself is the highest expression of God's love to us, the revealer of the Father and His love embraces enemy as well as friend, for in its “ breadth, and length, and depth, and height, it passeth knowledge”—surpasseth, as we have been saying, the loftiest conception of men. “ His mercy is great above the heavens.” “ He is good to all, and His tender mercies are over all His works.” Such is the manner in which the Scriptures speak of the Divine goodness. Not only do they bear direct testimony to God's love to His enemies; but give additional weight to that testimony by showing Him to be infinitely better than the best conception of Him which His creatures are able to form.
A truth thus plainly taught in Scripture, and commending itself to the primary instincts of our nature as essential to a proper conception of the Divine Being, may be fairly regarded as fundamental; not to be let slip when something confronts us with which it seems to be at variance, but held fast in the hope that increasing light may yet reveal the harmony which now we cannot see. If it be essential to a right conception of the Divine character—if that character be impugned by its denial —no Providential dispensation which we but partially understand, should be allowed to shake our faith in it; nor should we relinquish it because of a few obscure passages of Scripture which speak of God's hatred of the wicked. These should not be hastily regarded as being either opposed to, or as setting aside, the testimony so unmistakeably borne to the infinite perfection of the Divine Being. God's perfect character should be believed in in spite of all difficulties ; His infinite goodness, according to the ideas of goodness which He Himself has given, clung to as our primary belief-the very Alpha and Omega of our faith. Instead of denying or doubting His love to His enemies, and thereby making Him appear less good than He might be, we should be careful to inquire whether the apparently contradictory phenomena we witness be not consistent with the absence of all personal enmity, and with the existence of the truest and most perfect love, and whether the passages of Scripture which speak of His hatred do not simply apply to the abhorrence with which he must regard wicked acts, and to the punishment with which, as moral governor of the universe, He must visit the evil-doer.
Let this inquiry be followed out, and it will lead to an explanation of all that in Providence and Revelation appears at variance with God's love to His enemies. The most afflictive dispensations of Providence, whatever the mystery which shrouds them, will be found to be prompted by no feeling of enmity, but, on the contrary, designed to be productive of salutary results; and the Scriptures which speak of God's hatred, to refer not to personal enmity, but to the abhorrence with which, though loving the persons, He must ever regard the character of the wicked. He hates none in the sense of desiring to injure them, although He is constrained to frustrate their rebellious schemes, and as a warning to others, as well as in vindication of His own character, to fill them with the fruit of their own devices.
The perfect harmony of such a procedure with that love to enemies of which we speak is manifest from our own experience. When the Saviour exhorts us to love our enemies, it is not supposed that He requires us to regard with complacency their disposition or their acts. Enmity, hatred, cursing, despiteful usage and persecution,-all of which are attributed to the enemies whom we are required to love are wrong in the estimation of every right thinking mind; and just in proportion as such a mind is good and pure must it regard them with abhorrence. It is no part of goodness to think or speak well of evil, to look on it with an approving smile, to speak of it in honeyed accents, or to handle it with delicate fingers. The holy, righteous, loving soul, rises in antagonism to it, scorches it with the lightning of its indignation; wounds it, if need be, with the shafts of its satire; seeks, with strong iron grasp, to strangle it; will, if possible, trample it into extinction. Even He who wept over His enemies and prayed, “Father, forgive them,” did not speak of their deeds in complimentary terms. While lamenting their destruction He denounced their crimes. Distinguishing between their persons, which He loved, and their procedure, which He abhorred, He called them “hypocrites,
6 whited sepulchres;" faithfully described their character, while He solemnly warned them of their approaching doom—"Ye serpents, ye generation of vipers, how shall ye escape the damnation of hell.”
Even so God's love for His enemies implies no approval of the course they pursue, or complacent regard for their character. However well disposed towards His creatures, His nature is antagonistic to all that is evil. This hatred for their wrong doing is as intense as His pity for their wretchedness. It is not given to finite minds adequately to conceive of the loathing with which He looks on sin. By as much as He loves His enemies does He hate the opposition which frustrates His benevolent desires concerning them. By as much as He is immeasurably removed from all shadows of evil, is He averse to, grieved by, indignant with, the state of mind, or the course of life, which questions, directly or by implication, the rectitude or the benevolence of His procedure. Their impurity is as repugnant to His holiness as darkness to light. Hence “evil shall not dwell with Him.” In this sense“ He hateth all the workers of iniquity.”
Neither does His love imply that He will suffer them to pursue their course with impunity. The love for enemies which the Saviour enjoins while it does forbid personal retaliation—the demanding of an eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth-does not, according to the interpretation which has commended itself to the common sense of mankind, forbid the protection of society by the resistance and punishment of the evil-doer. It is a
An Essential Element in Christian Character.
scriptural principle that the magistrate bears the sword as a terror to evildoers, and a praise to them that do well. And most Christians believe that a man may love his enemies while he avails himself of the sanctions and penalties of law to protect himself and others from the injuries which they would inflict. And may not the same principle regulate the Divine procedure? May not God's love for His enemies consist with His opposition to their purposes, and His punishment of their incorrigible enmity? He feels for them. He pities their wretchedness. But He cannot permit them with impunity to pursue a course of opposition to His own righteous government, and to the welfare of His holy universe. Because He loves them, it grieves Him to punish. Because He is well-disposed towards them, He hateth putting away. “ Judgment is His strange work.” But it is a work which He is constrained to perform. His holy universe must be guarded ; His own perfections must be preserved unsullied ; His own procedure vindicated, although it involve the destruction of the incorrigible transgressor, whom nevertheless He loves, and desires to save. As the righteous Governor He must crush the rebellion which, if unchecked, would devastate every province of His empire, although in crushing the sin which He hates, He must crush also the sinner whom He loves. It is, we submit, in this sense, and in this sense only, not in any
that God is spoken of as being hostile to any of His creatures. In this sense is “the face of the Lord against them that do evil, to cut off the remembrance of them from the earth."
When we have reached this point, we are sometimes met with the assertion, that if this be what is meant by God's love to His enemies, the doctrine is not worth contending for—that if they must perish in case of their continued enmity, it is all the same whether He loves or hates them. To this we reply that it may be all the same as regards the fact of their perdition; but not all the same as regards the Divine character, its influence on ourselves, and on our dealings with our neighbours. It does make a mighty difference certainly whether the God in whom we believe is a perfect or imperfect Being—whether it be owing to some necessity He punishes sinners, or because without any necessity it pleases Him so to do, thereby proving Himself destitute of that love to enemies which He requires us to cherish, and which His word and our own nature unite in telling us is a necessary element of perfection. To Him it is not equally pleasing whether we think meanly, or form an exalted conception, of His character. To us it is not the same whether He lacks any quality of acknowledged goodness, or is possessed of those infinite perfections which command our adoring homage. Nor is it the same when we come to deal with others, whether we address to them the message which must exert a hardening influence—that God hates them while they hate Him; or the melting, subduing, reconciling message that God loves them, enemies as they are. If we would honour God we must believe in His boundless goodness-His love to those that hate Him. If our souls are to reverence and confide in and cleave to Him, we must believe Him to be infinitely better than our best thought. If we are to win others from their rebellion into a state of contrition and reconciliation, we must shew them, first of all, that there is no lack of pity in His heart for them—that enemies, as they are, they have a place therethat though He must punish if they continue to rebel, He does not punish willingly, and that in the exercise of His friendship He beseeches them to be reconciled to Himself.
INTO THE CHURCH.*
BY THE REV. J. P. TETLEY.
I. This subject does not require me to dwell at any length upon conversion in its broadest sense. It will be sufficient to remind you that conversion literally means “a turning round or about ;” and that in a religious sense the word is used to indicate “a change of heart or dispositions, succeeded by a reformation of life.” It is a change by which aversion or indifference to the claims of a holy God gives place to a glad compliance with His will, by which a man ceases to be a rebel against God, and becomes His loved and loving child ; a change which, in whomsoever it takes place, is the work of the Holy Spirit.
But it is in its relation to our young people that conversion now claims our attention. I suppose all present are convinced of the fact that conversion is as necessary for the young as it is for the more mature. That however winning and affectionate the spirit, or frank and generous the lives of our young people, if they have attained to years of knowledge, and have not undergone this change, they may be “not far from," but they cannot be within, “ the kingdom of heaven.” For the Word of God, in urging men to “repent and be converted that their sins may be blotted out,” makes no exception in favour of any individual or class. And as a matter of fact the purest and most tenderly nurtured child has within its bosom the seeds of evil; and it does not, and cannot possess, by nature, that love to God in which religion consists: and nothing but converting grace can subdue and eradicate the one, and produce and foster the other.
But although conversion is thus needful for the young, it cannot take place within them until they have attained what is called the age of responsibility. If it be asked, In what does responsibility consist ? I answer first, in the possession of ability to understand the truth when it is presented to the mind; and, secondly, in the possession of power to comply with its requirements. Conversion involves the exercise of both these; it is an intelligent apprehension of spiritual truth, and a willing compliance with its claims; and so it is, that until the age of responsibility is attained conversion is not possible. How soon this period dawns it would be very difficult to determine. The most that can be said is that as the powers of the mind gradually expand so responsibility is gradually attained. That as careful instruction will tend to strengthen and develop the intellect of a child, so, no doubt, the period of which we speak is more speedily attained where such instruction is enjoyed, than where it is not. My own conviction is that those children who are the subjects of religious training become responsible much earlier than many of us imagine. There are very few such of the ages of eight or ten years who do not comprehend the requirements of God's Word in regard to the nature of personal dedication to His service, when those requirements are presented in simple language. And what they can comprehend, by the Holy Spirit's help, they can comply with. And it seems to me that there is no reason, if the proper means are employed, to prevent the full and true conversion of our children to God even at that early age.
But in order that we may labour intelligently for the accomplishment of this end it will be needful that we should have in our minds a clearly * This paper was read at a meeting of the Midland Conference held at Ashby-de-la-Zouch,
September 17th, 1872, and is printed by request of the Conference.
The Conversion of the Young and their Reception into the Church. 9 defined idea of what it is we hope to effect in the young by their conversion. When conversion takes place at that period in life at which knowledge first dawns, it cannot be, as in the case of those who have led a life of wilful sin, and to the same extent, a change from active rebellion to submission; but rather from a state of quiescence, inertness, and incapacity, to one of conscious acceptance of Christ—a change from a state in which the benefits of redemption are ignorantly possessed to one in which they are knowingly appropriated.
We must also remember the almost invariable mode in which the young are converted. Not suddenly as the lightning's flash, but gradually as the break of the morning, the truth enters their hearts. For Saul-like sinners there must be the Saul-like smiting; but the Being who reserves a Damascus road for these, “gathers the lambs with His arın, and carries them in His bosom." By slow and imperceptible stages they are led to trust in the mediation of Christ. Their conversion might almost be described as a growth rather than as a work.
And, as this is undoubtedly true, we cannot in such cases reasonably expect the evidences of the change to be very clear and striking. Young converts can have but little or no experience” to relate. They know nothing of the days and nights of despair through which others have passed ; nor of the feelings of rapture which afterwards thrilled their souls. of them cannot so much as point to a sermon or anything else which specially decided them to be the Lord's. As a rule their lives have been all along everything that could be desired; so that no reformation there can testify to the change. It is indeed with some, as it was with a young girl of twelve years of age, who said to me, I seem always to have loved the Saviour-Ỉ cannot remember when I did not love Him.' From these considerations it appears to me that the only evidence we should invariably look for is, a personal confession of trust in Christ, accompanied by the expressed desire to live to Him.
Having thus glanced at the evidences and the nature of conversion in their relation to the young, we come now to what is, practically, the most important question in regard to this part of our subject; and that is, What are the best MEANS of securing their conversion ?
(1). The first of these that I would specify is a suitable Sabbath school instruction. The one end of the teacher's work should be to secure the conversion of every member of his class. And it must be evident that the instruction which is to effect a work of such a spiritual nature must itself be highly spiritual. Questions of geography and history, of manners and customs, and of sound criticism are often of great importance to the right understanding of a lesson ; but the teaching of these alone will never convert the soul. They should ever be regarded but as the feathers with which to wing the arrowlike appeal, and help it to its mark; or as the wires and posts along which the magnetism of a Saviour's love may be made to flash into the heart. Not long ago an evangelical clergyman said of the sermon of a celebrated dean, whom he had been to hear preach, that it was “clever but very disappointing ; he had hoped to hear something about the way to heaven, but it all ended in the way to Palestine ;” and in these days of teachers' preparation classes, and competitive examinations (which I would not for a moment be thought to depreciate) it seems to me that there is a danger that, in some cases, Sabbath school instruction may end in the same manner. Let every teacher go to his work in deep anxiety for the salvation of his class ; let him make their spiritual need, the love