"And hope maketh not ashamed; because the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost which is given unto us." (Romans 5:5)
Nothing can be more evident, from the general scope and tendency of those "exceeding great and precious promises," (2 Pet. 1:4) which are given to believers in the gospel of Christ, than that it is the intention of our heavenly Father, his people should enjoy every possible consolation in their passage through this world to a better. It should seem, indeed, as if a gracious God, not satisfied with giving the positive assurance, that "there is a rest which remaineth for the people of God," (Heb. 4:9) determined to afford them many refreshing springs of comfort by the way, which might beguile the tediousness of the path, and sometimes make the desert through which they are passing, "to blossom as the rose."
Laying this for a foundation, that the great work of regeneration of the heart to God has been wrought by the Holy Ghost on the believer, (and this you know is the prerequisite of all happiness,) and then all the sweet properties, resulting from such an act of grace, must eventually follow. And depend upon it, in proportion as the love of God is shed abroad in the heart by his divine power, so exactly corresponding to this will be the influence suited to every occasion: and for this plain reason. As the love of God flows in, creature dependencies and the comforts or conflicts arising from all creature dependencies, go out. When this grand principle of divine love is shed abroad in the heart; that is, is diffused in every part of it; enters into every recess, and fills up the whole space, there will be little or no room for other tenants to occupy. And while the soul thus derives all its resources from this one principle alone, which is a fixed and settled principle, and liable to no fluctuation, there will be "a hope that maketh not ashamed," as Paul calls it, in the worst of times; and let what will vary without, a peace is secured within, which "keeps the heart and mind through Christ Jesus.
But let the apostle speak his own words. He tells us, in the opening of this chapter, some of the many precious effects which flow from a state of justification before God. He considers (as I have done, in what I have already said,) the soul to be taken out of that state of enmity with God in which every man is born, and brought into favor with God, through the merits and death of the Lord Jesus: and then enumerates various blessed consequences immediately which arise out of it. "Therefore, (says he,) being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. By whom also we have access by faith into this grace wherein we stand, and rejoice in hope of the glory of God. And not only so, but we glory in tribulations also, knowing that tribulation worketh patience; and patience, experience; and experience, hope; and hope maketh not ashamed, because the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost, which is given unto us."
How very beautiful and unanswerably conclusive is this reasoning of the apostle. He takes up the subject from the beginning, and having presupposed that breach which sin has made in the sinner's heart towards God to have been made up, and peace restored, he therefrom proves, that not only the distance and enmity between the parties are removed, but the greatest favor and affection follows: and thus rises, by a sweet climax, step by step, until he beholds the sinner, leaping into the very bosom of God, with an holy familiarity and affection.
And what I would principally desire you to observe in this passage of Scripture, which introduceth the words of my text, is the delightful view it affords of the gracious concern which all the persons of the Godhead, in their several operations, are represented as taking for the accomplishment of this happy purpose. It is with God that we are said to have peace; and this is wrought through the sole merits of that almighty Peace-maker, our Lord Jesus Christ. But that the part which God the Holy Ghost bears in this great work may not be overlooked or forgotten, the access of this grace, wherein we are said to stand, manifests his gracious leadings by whom it is accomplished: for while we have this access, the same apostle elsewhere tells us, that it is "by one Spirit unto the Father." (Eph. 2:18)
And the charming consequences which arise out of those gracious acts of the Godhead on the minds of the Lord's people, are no less deserving your regard. They which are thus admitted into reconciliation and favor, are admitted at the same time into all the privileges of it. The faith of justification, in which they stand, qualifies them no less to "rejoice in hope of the glory of God." He that gives grace will also give glory. The whole, indeed, is the sole result of divine favor; and therefore the gift of grace now, is the sure pledge of glory hereafter.
And lest any one should be led to suspect, from the well-known trials which the godly in Christ Jesus are sure to encounter in life, that these points are become questionable, the apostle goes on to point out an accession of happiness, even from what the world would think evil. "Not only so (says he) but we glory in tribulations also." As if he had said, by this precious property of grace, which, like a chemical process, possesseth the happy art of converting bitter things into sweet, we glory in tribulations also. Not that God's people are insensible to afflictions more than others: and certain it is, that all afflictions are, for the present, "not joyous but grievous:" but, by their operations, they ultimately prove blessings in disguise. Like medicated waters, which in themselves are nauseous property, imbibe a virtue, which proves salutary in their application; so afflictions, however painful in their operation, become sanctified to the soul from the grace accompanying them.
Hence, "tribulation worketh patience" among the people of God, which, in the world at large produceth the reverse: and patience, long exercised, begetteth experience; because the longer it is used, the greater evidence it brings with it of God's faithfulness to his promises. And as repeated proofs of God's faithfulness, in a covenant way, give strength to his promises: the more we try God, the more our hope in him must be enlarged. And thus in a truly justified soul there will be an "hope that maketh not ashamed," because it leaveth nothing to a peradventure to be ashamed of.
The believer goeth not to a mercy seat, and a throne of grace, with a presumption his God may hear, or may answer, for he knoweth that he will answer. There is one there whom the Father heareth always, and through whom he is accepted and justified. Such an hope maketh not ashamed, therefore, because "the love of God is shed abroad in the heart, by the Holy Ghost given unto us."
What I propose from this sweet portion of Scripture, as God the Spirit shall be pleased to enable, is, to demonstrate the invaluable properties of the mercy itself, "in the love of God shed abroad in the heart;" and the blessed effects resulting from it, in the "hope which maketh not ashamed."
It is possible a gracious God may commission a subject of this nature, to the refreshment of some souls of his people present, and lead them to see, that a communion with their Covenant God in Christ Jesus, by the Spirit's shedding abroad this love in the heart, is not a privilege to be called into exercise only now and then; but becomes one uniform, steady, and unceasing principle of action, by which, like saints of old, they walk with God through all their pilgrimage.
And I will no less hope also, that a gracious God, while peculiarly refreshing the awakened soul by a meditation of this kind, may make it useful to those who are as yet unconscious of his love. We certainly take the most effectual method, under his grace, to excite the careless sinner to a greater concern for his salvation, when we bring before him a view of the privileges of the faithful.
In the pleasing prospect of ministering to this important purpose, I shall invert the order of the text, and first, endeavor to show you in what way this love of God shed abroad in the heart, manifests itself to the believer's experience, so as to lead the soul into this constant frame of enjoyment. And then, secondly, describe the blessed effect arising out of such a cause, in that "hope which (the apostle saith) maketh not ashamed." And my prayers are, that He, to whose gracious operations in the soul we owe such unspeakable mercies, may, at this time, give you convincing evidence of the whole in your experience, by "directing your hearts into this love of God, and into the patient waiting for Christ."
First, I am to show in what way this love of God manifests itself to the believer's experience, so as to lead the soul into this constant frame of enjoyment. And this may be exemplified by a train of evidences, taken from the very frame of mind of a truly regenerated soul, in the daily acts of faith, which, according to the measure of grace imparted, he is enabled, more or less, to exercise on each of the persons of the Godhead. For there certainly is, and must be, these distinct acts of communion, both with the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost; agreeably to the respective acts, which in Scripture they are described, as having taken in the redemption of the Lord's people.
Perhaps I cannot adopt a more effectual method of explaining this very sweet and interesting doctrine, than by an illustration of it, under each of these particulars. May the Lord the Spirit graciously grant you experimental testimonies of the truth itself, by his divine teachings, as we go along!
And first, in respect to the personal interest which God the Father has taken in the salvation of his people, and which the love of God, shed abroad in the heart by the Holy Ghost, enables the believer to discover.
Tracing up from slender beginnings effects to their causes, in the covenant love of God the Father, the believer in Jesus is able to discern the grand source of all his happiness. And as he is led to see, that this gracious act did not originate in the merit of man, so he as plainly discovers, that the continuance of it can need no better security than the unchangeable purpose of God in Christ.
Hence, therefore, he contemplates the Father's covenant as a fixed and settled plan of mercy; and such a mercy as is not intended to operate at some particular times or seasons only, according to the state and temperature of the human mind, but is in itself one uniform principle of action.
And therefore, in proportion as the love of God occupies the heart, or, to use the more expressive language of the apostle, is shed abroad in the heart; as pure milk dropped upon water, soon diffuses itself over the surface, and gives a tinge to the whole; so from the diffusion of this principle, the believer will be enabled to find comfort in the view of the covenant engagements of God, in the worst of times, whatever his own frame or feelings may be.
To exemplify this by a particular illustration: let it be supposed, for argument's sake, that a true believer in Christ, who stands in the justified state the apostle describes in this chapter, through the merits of the Lord Jesus, has felt the influence of this love of God, shed abroad in his heart by the Holy Ghost. Let it be further supposed, that such an one is brought under the influence of some pressing temptation: perhaps, added to the conflicts arising from the powers of darkness, he has other trials to contend with. There may be much distress of soul, and there certainly will be a deep sense of much indwelling corruption to afflict him. In such seasons, (and they are not infrequent in the life of real believers,) as all creature resources are cut off, where shall the soul find relief?
God the Holy Ghost, who only can illumine the darkness of the mind, may have remitted his shining. He has not withdrawn from the soul his presence, for that, according to gospel promises, is impossible. Jesus declared concerning him that "He should abide for ever." But, though the glorious inhabitant be at home, he does not appear. And unless he gives grace to act faith upon the person of the Lord Jesus, certain it is, that no communications can flow. For it is his peculiar work, to "take of Christ and shew unto his people. (John 16:14,15) From whence then, shall the believer look for comfort?
Here comes in to our aid, the sweetness and importance of God the Father's covenant love, in which that blessed promise has its full accomplishment: "I will never leave thee nor forsake thee." (Heb. 13:5) In contemplating this provision of God's covenant engagements, the soul finds at all times relief; for it is an "everlasting covenant, ordered in all things and sure." (2 Sam. 23:5) It no longer, then, becomes a question with the soul, under any trial of sin or temptation, whether God may help, but he is enabled to assume the well-grounded confidence, that God will surely help. Here are no peradventures. All is fixed, and certain, and absolute. The view of God, as a covenant God in Christ, removes all fear: and like the prophet of old, when comforts run low, and temptations are high, when "the best of men are like briars, and the most upright sharper than a thorn hedge:" (Micah 7:4) nay, when the greatest bosom friend proves deceitful, the soul looks at God, in his covenant relation, and says, My God will hear me. Oh! it is very sweet, and an unspeakable mercy, to have a covenant God to look to, and a covenant God to rely upon, in all seasons, and upon all occasions.
And next to the blessedness of the covenant itself, the method which God the Father has graciously condescended to adopt, by way of recommending it to our warmest embraces, is a very pleasing addition to its enjoyment.
A bare promise from God, when it is considered who, and what God is, in the unchangeableness of his nature and perfections, ought to have satisfied every mind, that what he promised he would most certainly perform. God, therefore, when he entered into covenant engagements, pledged himself to faithfulness, by the most solemn promises. And we know his ability is competent to the performance of all that he has promised.
But the condescension of God rested not here. "God willing (saith an apostle) more abundantly to shew unto the heirs of promise the immutability of his counsel, confirmed it by an oath; that by two immutable things, in which it was impossible for God to lie, we might have a strong consolation, who have fled for refuge to lay hold upon the hope set before us." (Heb. 6:17,18)
Still, moreover, advancing in wonderful grace and condescension, God confirmed his covenant engagements, in a way which surpasseth all calculation of mercy, and in the blood of his dear Son stamped its validity, with an impression of tenderness unequaled.
And as a perpetual seal to this covenant, marked in blood, and in no less blood than the blood of Christ, in that standing memorial of Jesus' death, which we call the ordinance of the holy supper, he has designed to keep up a never-ceasing remembrance of it among the faithful, at every renewed commemoration. The Lord Jesus himself gave it this importance, when he called it, "the cup of the New Testament (or covenant) in his blood."
Now put all these together, and see, what a gracious design God the Father had, that his people should be refreshed, upon all occasions, with a view of his covenant mercies. Not content with expressing in the covenant itself every evidence of mercy, (for it is, in fact, nothing but grace and mercy from beginning to end,) our compassionate Father, well knowing the weakness and unbelief of the human heart, adopted all these methods to gain our affections to the reception of it; that when the other waters of the sanctuary ran low, the soul might find sufficient to assuage his thirst in this. "And (as the apostle says) though it be but a man's covenant, yet if it be confirmed, no man disannulleth or addeth thereto." (Gal. 3:15) Hence, therefore, God's covenant established on such immutable pillars, must be like himself, "the same yesterday, today, and for ever." And the believer finds it so in the darkest hours, who stands justified in Christ's righteousness and in whose heart the love of God hath been shed abroad, by the Holy Ghost given unto him.
Let us next view the same blessed property of the Spirit's influence in this particular, as it is called forth in exercise towards the person and work of the Lord Jesus Christ. And this, if I mistake not, will as effectually tend to exemplify the preciousness of the principle as the former.
From the well-known union which the real believer has with the person of the Lord Jesus, he possesseth an interest of property in whatever belongs to the Redeemer. As the covenant Head and Mediator of his people, he is a member of his mystical body, and therefore part of himself. So that not only "all his springs are in him;" but, consequently, his graces can never totally languish, while issuing from this almighty Fountain-head. "Because I live (says Christ) ye shall live also." It is impossible that the smallest or most inconsiderable of Christ's people should perish, without by so much involving the Redeemer in the same destruction. For "we are members of his body, of his flesh, and of his bones." (Eph. 5:30)
But as in the present and unripe state of existence everything is imperfect, there will be no less an imperfection in the operation of these blessed properties. Though truly and properly united to the Lord Jesus, by virtue of the renewed life in the soul, the communication from his fullness will be more or less manifest, according as this principle of divine love, from the Spirit's work, is shed abroad in the heart. Where there is the greatest emptiness of all creature enjoyments, there, in proportion, will be larger space afforded, for the filling in of the Creator's love. And, on the contrary, when the heart is swarming with vain thoughts, like a cage of unclean birds, until these fly away, or, more properly speaking, are put to flight, what room can be found for the love of God?
It becomes very sweet to observe, and indeed it is among the principal operations by which the Holy Ghost sheds abroad the love of God in the heart, the method he is pleased to adopt for the accomplishment of so much mercy. In order to empty the soul, for the reception of divine things, he permits his people, not infrequently, the gratification of their wayward desires, in the pursuit of one creature comfort after another, on purpose, that from continual disappointment they may be brought back to seek happiness where alone it can be found. For this end, he tinges all their comforts with vanity; converts their very pleasures into sources of pain; causes a bitter fruit to grow out of the very plant they had proposed to themselves much sweetness in; and by throwing down, one after another, all their false props of creature confidences, he brings them low in the dust before God, by way of preparing them for the greater manifestations of his love.
We have a beautiful instance of this, exemplified in the case of the church of old. "She said (saith the prophet) I will go after my lovers, that gave me my bread, and my water, my wool, and my flax, mine oil, and my drink." (Hosea 2:5) Strong expressions these, to describe the many wanderings of the heart after its various idols. But what saith God to all this? "I will hedge up thy way (saith the Lord) with thorns, and make a wall, that she shall not find her paths. And she shall follow after her lovers, but she shall not overtake them: and she shall seek them, but she shall not find them. Then shall she say, I will go and return to my first husband, for then was it better with me than now." (Hosea 2:5-7)
Here you see at once an illustration of that process of grace, by which the Holy Ghost brings back the soul, and prepares it for the full enjoyment of divine love. When he has mercifully induced sorrow, and disappointment, and vexation, and sickened the heart in the pursuit of all creature comforts; having thus driven "all buyers and sellers out of the temple," a fit habitation is then formed for Jesus himself to enter in. The heart melts under a deep sense of its own folly and ingratitude towards God, and God's goodness towards him; and full of these impressions, the believer is driven to his knees, in prayer, to confess his vileness and God's mercy. His language then is, "I have seen an end of all perfection." (Ps. 119:96) "Whom have I in heaven but thee? and there is none upon earth that I desire beside thee. My flesh and my heart faileth, but God is the strength of my heart, and my portion for ever." (Ps. 73:26)
These are precious testimonies of the Spirit's influence, in confirmation of the doctrine of the text. The love of God is indeed shed abroad by his power, when all creature affections are lessened or removed, to make space for the full reception of the Redeemer: and in proportion as this blessed principle prevails, so all others die away.
You may therefore estimate your own exact situation of character, in this particular, by this unerring standard. And depend upon it, according to the degree of estimation in which the Lord Jesus is held by you, such, more or less, is the Spirit's operation of this blessed gift in the heart; for your affection can proceed from no other source. In those happy souls, where this influence is largely extended, there will be no apprehension, no distrust, no deadness to divine things, no anxious solicitude for earthly pursuits, no spirit of bondage, no guilty frames, "for perfect love casteth out fear." (1 John 4:18) The Holy Ghost sheds abroad the love of God, with such fullness and sovereignty, that it sweeps away, as an overpowering torrent, all other considerations.
And hence it is that true believers in Christ, in whose hearts this love of God prevails, as in their experience creature comforts have lost their sweetness, so afflictions lose their bitterness. While this love is uppermost, they can and do enjoy Christ in everything, and without anything. For in all circumstances which concern them, they see somewhat of Jesus. Are they blessed with children, friends, health? eyeing the hand of Jesus in the gifts, gives a relish to the whole. Are they deprived of them, and stand defenseless and alone? having the Lord for their portion, in him they have all. Reproaches, unjustly thrown upon them by the world, will hardly be felt, while the peace of God rules within. And the strife of tongues will be as the clamor of a distant multitude to the soul which is wholly occupied with the love of God. Sweet and precious was his experience to those truths, who, in the full confidence of them cried out, "Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?" And it will be a happy testimony to the same in your instance, if from the same cause you can say as he did: "I am persuaded that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord." (Rom. 8:35,38,39)
I have but one evidence more to bring, by way of illustrating this doctrine of the Spirit's work in the heart, and that is, when he reveals himself to the soul, in his gracious operations, so as to open another source of enjoyment to the believer, in a consciousness from whom all these mercies flow.
It might be well supposed, indeed, without my insisting much upon it, that if God the Holy Ghost be, (as scripture teacheth he is,) the sole Author of all that delightful fellowship and communion, which true believers have with the Father, and with his Son Jesus Christ; the same grace would be exercised, to lead the mind into a proper apprehension of his person and operations also, who is the cause of these enjoyments.
This view of the subject becomes very interesting. The multiform methods by which God the Holy Ghost carries on his grace in the soul, in quickening, reviving, comforting, and strengthening influences, are all so many illustrations of the doctrine. And though our inattentive and careless minds lose a thousand proofs which he is continually affording to this amount, yet there are sufficient evidences in every believer's experience to the fact itself; which demonstrate, that while he is shedding abroad the love of God in the heart, to open communion between each of the persons of the Godhead and the soul, he is no less calling up every devout affection of the heart towards himself.
Every grace, indeed, which is brought forth into exercise, for faith to act upon the person of the Father, or of the Son, as well as all the sweet influences which manifest themselves in the life, are the immediate result of his divine power, and therefore called in scripture "the fruit of the Spirit." (Gal. 5:22) And it would form a pleasure of the purest kind upon every renewed instance of the sort, if the believer were to accustom himself to watch and mark his footsteps, in the ten thousand proofs which he is daily testifying of his attention to him in those particulars.
When, for example, at any time, you have been deeply exercised with soul distresses, arising from any misconstruction or perversion of the sacred word, and "in danger of being led away with the error of the wicked;" have you never found the Holy Ghost personally revealing himself to your apprehension, under that well-known character, as "the Spirit of truth, to guide you into all truth?" (John 16:13) And has not his sweet instructions flowed into the mind, in such a manner, as if a voice from behind was heard by you saying, "This is the way, walk ye in it, when ye turn to the right hand, and when ye turn to the left?" (Isa. 30:21) Is there one present, who is at all conscious what preventing and restraining grace means; and who in the hour of temptation has felt its merciful influence, in keeping back the foot of evil; but what finds the blessing doubly sweet, when the same hand that restrains, displays itself in the act of mercy, and fully proves that it is "through the Spirit he is enabled to mortify the deeds of the body?" (Rom. 8:13)
And is not that "joy and peace: of the soul, which the christian finds "in believing," either when resting upon the covenant love of the Father, or in receiving a renewed application and sprinkling of the blood of Jesus to the soul, rendered yet more completely happy, when the whole is discovered to be brought home, and poured into the heart, by the power of the Holy Ghost?
Oh, Sir! depend upon it, the sweetness of all spiritual gifts becomes, more or less, according as the blessed Spirit himself, who is the Fountain of them, is kept in view, while the soul is enjoying itself at the stream.
And what are all the sweet intercourses between God and his people, which pass at a mercy seat, but the immediate effect of his love shed abroad in the heart, who comes as a "Spirit of grace and supplication," (Zech. 12:10) "to help "the infirmities of the saints, according to the will of God," and who maketh "intercession for them," (Heb. 7:25) in the groanings which their full hearts cannot utter? (Rom. 8:26) Alas! without him we can never form right conceptions of the great object of prayer; we can neither know what prayer is, or how to perform it acceptably; we can never be sensible of our wants, or know through what channel those wants are to be supplied. He, and he alone, who sheds abroad the love of God in the believer's heart, opens the heart, at the same time, to express suitable acknowledgments of that love. And as He knoweth what the mind of God is, so is it his peculiar act to reveal to us this knowledge also, that our application for spiritual mercies may be according "to the will of God."
But I shall have said enough, I hope, in accomplishing the first object I proposed from this subject, in the illustration of the doctrine: I proceed, therefore, now to the second point intended, to describe the blessed effects arising out of such a cause, in that "hope which maketh not ashamed."
Were I to enumerate, by a particular detail, the whole of those eventual happy consequences, which arise out of this love of God in the heart, a volume would not be competent to the subject. But I am limited by the text to one only, and that, indeed, is so comprehensive, that it folds within it a multitude of others; "Hope maketh not ashamed:" that is, the confidence which the believer finds in the love of God, when grace is in exercise, through the justifying righteousness of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the Spirit's seal to this truth in the heart, cannot deceive or make ashamed, to induce fear, for it is liable to no disappointment. And this perfect conviction of God's unalterable covenant-love to the soul, draws out the soul in love to God, and carries the believer through every situation and state with which the mind can be exercised in passing through the present life.
Pause, my brother, over this one view of the sweet effects of the love of God shed abroad in the heart, and contemplate the vast and extensive privileges belonging to it. To have access to a gracious God, at all times, and upon all occasions, as one in justified state before him, through the blood and righteousness of Jesus; to live upon the fullness and all-sufficiency of the Redeemer; to feel the Spirit's influence in the heart, under all his quickening and refreshing consolations; what term will you give this better than what the apostle has given, "a hope that maketh not ashamed?"
Oh! that I could enter into the very heart of a true believer, and by unfolding to your view the various workings of divine grace, where this principle of the love of God is shed abroad, point out those sweet exercises which arise out of this soul-enriching communion. The real believer, from the personal relation in which he considers himself as standing to God, looks up to him as to a Father, and beholds every act, and every manifestation of God towards him, as coming to him in a fatherly dispensation. And hence all those reciprocal communications from God to the soul, and from the soul to God, carry with them evidences of this sweet and endearing tie of affinity.
And in what a very high degree of tenderness God intended this affectionate appellation of Father to be used, in reference to himself, is beautifully set forth in a passage of the prophecy of Jeremiah. Israel had revolted from the Lord, and was gone away backward. And God, with his usual grace and mercy, is represented as inviting Israel to return. But when a difficulty seemed to have arisen in the divine mind, (speaking after the manner of men,) how God should take again into his bosom such rebellious creatures; "How shall I put thee (saith God) among the children?" The Lord himself suggests this, as the only method: "Thou shalt call me (saith God) my Father!" as if in the very name of Father, in a covenant way, through Christ, everything of tenderness was included. (Jer. 3:19)
And let the heart of any father say, what kind of tenderness that is. Is there a single request which can possibly be denied, where there is ability to answer it, when the application is made in those endearing terms, Behold I come to thee as to my Father; thou wilt not surely cast off thy child!
Let it be remembered also in this representation, that all the heightenings of affection in an earthly parent, must fall infinitely short of what are the bowels of love in our Almighty Parent. In this perfection, as indeed in every other, it may be said, "as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are God's ways higher than our ways, and his thoughts than our thoughts." (Isa. 55:9)
And why is it, then, that the souls of justified believers feel no more of those sweet endearments towards God? The reason is obvious. There is a deficiency in the principle itself. We regard God more as our Judge than we do as our Father: we entertain hard thoughts of him from the misinterpretation of his providences, and the like. And hence our confidence and dependence upon him is lessened. "Thou thinkest (saith God) that I was altogether such an one as thyself." (Ps. 50:21)
And, might I venture to send some of you home to your own hearts, I would not scruple to aver, that this will be found among the causes, why many, and otherwise gracious souls too, go so lean from day to day. You mingle up duties and ordinances with the love of God, as a partly recommending motive to obtain his kindness. You estimate the degree of favor you stand in with God by this standard. And hence, in proportion as those duties are observed, or those ordinances followed, such will be the frame of your mind. Sometimes darkness, at others light, and thus perpetually changing like the moon. And I fear, if the truth were known, that this is, for the greater part, the state of most believers.
But only suppose now, that God the Holy Ghost were to shed abroad this love of God in the heart, with a fullness and sovereignty, so as to fill every corner of it; in this case, the whole soul being occupied with divine love, affords no room either for carnal fears, or carnal confidences, to creep in. Every other consideration is absorbed in this one. He, whom my soul loveth, the believer will say, is my Father, my Redeemer, my Sanctifier. And do I not remember that precious word of his, "Ask me of things to come, concerning my sons, and concerning the work of my hands, command ye me?" (Isa. 45:11) And shall I not be confident in my approaches towards him, and perfectly convinced that all I require will be granted, when coming in such a relation, and encouraged by such a promise? Depend upon it, there are some, who from the Spirit's influence, and the freedom induced in the soul by the Saviour's justifying righteousness, can go to a mercy seat at all times, with an holy boldness, to ask anything; and, like Jacob, wrestle with God in prayer, with unceasing importunity, till it be obtained. It is a child's privilege this: and the sweet and near affinity of the Father, and that a Covenant Father too, in Christ, at once justifies and confirms it.
But perhaps it may be questioned, What if the believer fall into transgression, will not the soul feel restraints in the exercise of those privileges? Yes, unquestionably. A sense of guilt upon the mind will ever form a sad cloud of darkness, to intercept our view of the divine countenance. Believers well know what it is to groan under a body of sin and death, which they carry about with them, and for the burden of which they go heavily. And, indeed, the true believer, in whose heart the love of God has been most fully manifested, will be most abundant in his sorrow. Like David, he feels the chain of sin to be most galling, because his iniquities are peculiarly aggravated: "Against thee, thee only have I sinned, and done this evil in thy sight." (Ps. 51:4) Such will be his language: That I who owe so much to God, who am in covenant engagements with him, his sworn servant, his adopted son, his child; that I, of all men, should have broken his commandments, and sinned against him! Hence, from the very bottom of his soul, he sends forth that mournful complaint, like Ezra, "O my God, I am ashamed, and blush to lift up my face to thee, my God!" (Ezra 9:6)
But do observe in all this how very distinguished and expressive those soul-rending cries are, of the state of the heart before God. The love of God is still at the bottom, notwithstanding all appearances; and there is a child-like spirit, a true filial affection, yet remaining. God was Ezra's God, though Ezra dared not look up with his usual confidence. Oh! it forms a blessed frame, and plainly manifests grace in the heart, and in full exercise, when the believer lays low in the dust before God, in a conscious sense of sin and unworthiness. Shame and confusion of face are sweet testimonies of what passeth within.
Similar to this state of mind, but yet in a less degree, are what have been considered as interruptions to the love of God; I mean that darkness of soul, when distressing sighs go up, and a dead silence at the mercy-seat prevails, so that no answers come down to assuage grief. "I said (saith the prophet, upon one of those mournful occasions,) I am cast out of the sight of thine eyes, yet will I look again toward thy holy temple." (Jonah 2:4) But is it not abundantly evident, though the prophet himself saw nothing but terror, and thought that he was now totally abandoned, yet divine strength was in the very moment upholding him with his everlasting arms, or how could he look towards God's holy Temple?
So far are such cases from becoming proofs that God has suspended the operation of shedding his love abroad in the heart, or shut up his lovingkindness in displeasure, that they afford some of the truest evidences of his mercy. Those views which are opened hereby to the believer's experience, of his own nothingness before a throne of grace, the emptying him of all righteousness, in order to endear the Redeemer and his righteousness to the heart; the hanging on the mercy-seat, and the resolute wrestlings with God which it occasions: these are among the sweetest fruits of the Spirit's work, and proclaim that the love of God lies deep in the heart, and is largely shed abroad there by his divine power. Had the poor woman of Canaan been spared this exercise, she would not have received that glorious testimony which the Lord Jesus gave her, of the excellence of her faith; neither would her monument have formed so conspicuous a figure in the christian road as it now does, for the instruction and comfort of exercised believers traveling by.
Some of the strongest testimonies of divine love are among those where the soul is called out to great difficulties and discouragements, on purpose to manifest divine strength in creature weakness. And do, my brother, mark this down, among the useful observations for your conduct; whenever the Lord Jesus is pleased to try your faith, depend upon it the issue will manifest to you his faithfulness. God the Holy Ghost has caused it to be left on record, with peculiar emphasis, "that it is good that a man should both hope and quietly wait for the salvation of the Lord." (Lament. 3:26)
Our subject is capable of being extended to many other cases, in proof of the doctrine itself, that the hope of the true believer is a hope that maketh not ashamed, when the love of God is shed abroad by the Holy Ghost given unto us. One or two improvements, which the subject suggests, shall close the whole, and relieve your attention.
From what has been said, we may learn the sole cause of all those unsteady and changeable frames of mind which distinguish the state of believers in their christian path. We feel but too little of this glorious work of God the Holy Ghost upon our hearts. We are content with sipping now and then of "the streams which make glad the city of God," when we might for ever drink "of the river." (Ps. 46:4) We are looking for somewhat to recommend in the creature, when we might live upon the Creator's fullness. And hence the soul is frequently in bondage frames, and under heart-straitenings in prayer, and the poor believer "walketh in darkness, and hath no light;" not considering, that it is the gracious design of the Holy Ghost to empty the soul of everything that he would wish to call his own, on purpose to fill him with everything precious in Christ Jesus: and for this purpose that he is leading him, amidst all the poverty, and weakness, and fears, and guilt, and tremblings with which he is encompassed, to Him, in whom "it hath pleased the Father that all fulness should dwell, that he may receive out of his fulness grace for grace." (Col. 1:19; John 1:16) And when the Holy Ghost has graciously performed this blessed work, of shedding abroad the love of God in the heart, with a fullness proportioned to our wants, then the believer finds "a hope that maketh not ashamed."
The language of his heart is then changed. He does no longer say, How shall I, a poor hell-deserving sinner, venture to draw nigh to God, or "wherewith shall I come before him?" But, taught by the Holy Ghost, he cries out, Shall I fear to act faith upon God's covenant promises, and my Redeemer's righteousness? Shall I go to my Father in a spirit of bondage, when he has owned me for his own son by a spirit of adoption? Shall I exercise nothing but fear, when his very name, as revealed to me in Christ Jesus, is nothing but love?
Beg of God, I pray you, for larger, fuller, deeper manifestations of this precious part of the Spirit's work. Having tasted that the Lord is gracious, desire to live wholly upon him. What the apostle so earnestly prayed for, do you covet to know, "the love of Christ, which passeth knowledge, that ye may be filled with all the fullness of God?" And make this the standard of character, to which you are continually aspiring; "to forget the things which are behind, and to press forward to those that are before." Tell the Lord, you cannot rest satisfied in present attainments, nor live upon past enjoyments. You have known a little of his love, and therefore that little makes you long for more. In a word, sit down contented with nothing short of this, that "Christ is fully formed in your heart, the hope of glory." (Col. 1:27) And this is the hope the text means, "which maketh not ashamed;" because it is the sure consequence of the blessed operation of the "love of God shed abroad in the heart by the Holy Ghost given unto us."
But what consolation does our subject afford to that class of hearers, who, so far from having an interest in the hope that maketh not ashamed, are described in Scripture, as "having no hope, and without God in the world?" (Eph. 2:12) And there are many professing churches in our day: they are not only unconscious of this work of the Holy Ghost, in shedding abroad the love of God in the heart; but, as to any real purpose of vital godliness, "have never so much as heard whether there be any Holy Ghost." (Acts 19:2)
Shall I entreat you, to look into the state in which you now stand before God? Have you received the Holy Ghost since you professed to believe? And do not forget this one thing, that any supposed merit in the receiver of grace, is not only unnecessary, but impossible. None were ever made "partakers of the Holy Ghost" for any worthiness in themselves. He whose blessed act it is to shed abroad the love of God in the heart, is no less engaged to "create the heart anew" to receive it. Both the mercy and the qualification for the mercy are of him. The outpourings of the Spirit are like "the dew from the Lord, which tarrieth not for man, neither waiteth for the sons of men." (Micah 5:7)
Do you know anything, of this precious work, of which the text speaks, the love of God shed abroad in your heart by his divine power? I could very earnestly wish that these questions were made by you the subject of diligent inquiry.
For though divine grace is not suspended upon the event of human seeking, yet when sinners are brought within the calls of grace, God hath said, "I will yet for this be inquired of by the house of Israel, to do it for them." (Ezek. 36:37)
"Ask," then, "and ye shall receive; (for so the promise runs,) seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you." "For as a father knoweth how to give good gifts unto his children, so shall your heavenly Father give his holy Spirit to them that ask him." (Luke 11:13)
May God graciously shed abroad his love in every heart, and fill us all "with joy and peace in believing, that we may abound in hope through the power of the Holy Ghost." (Rom. 15:13)