Every thing that appertains to holiness of heart, does indeed belong to the nature of true Christianity; and the character of Christians; but a spirit of holiness as appearing in some particular graces, may more especially be called the Christian spirit or temper. There are some amiable qualities and virtues, that do more especially agree with the nature of the gospel constitution, and Christian profession; because there is a special agreeableness in them, with those divine attributes which God has more remarkably manifested and glorified in the work of redemption by Jesus Christ, that is the grand subject of the Christian revelation; and also a special agreeableness with those virtues that were so wonderfully exercised by Jesus Christ towards us in that affair, and the blessed example he hath therein set us; and likewise because they are peculiarly agreeable to the special drift and design of the work of redemption, and the benefits we thereby receive, and the relation that it brings us into, to God and one another. And these virtues are such as humility, meekness, love, forgiveness, and mercy. These things therefore especially belong to the character of Christians, as such.
These things are spoken of as what are especially the character of Jesus Christ himself, the great head of the Christian church. They are so spoken of in the prophecies of the Old Testament; as in that cited Matt. 21:5: "Tell ye the daughter of Sion, Behold, thy King cometh unto thee, meek, and sitting upon an ass, and a colt the foal of an ass." So Christ himself speaks of them, Matt. 11:29: "Learn of me, for I am meek and lowly in heart." The same appears by the name by which Christ is so often called in Scripture, viz., the Lamb. And as these things are especially the character of Christ, so they are also especially the character of Christians. Christians are Christlike; none deserve the name of Christians, that are not so in their prevailing character. "The new man is renewed, after the image of him that created him," Col. 3:10. All true Christians behold as in a glass the glory of the Lord, and are changed into the same image, by his Spirit, 2 Cor. 3:18. The elect are all predestinated to be conformed to the image of the Son of God, that he might be the first born among many brethren, Rom. 8:29. As we have borne the image of the first man, that is earthly, so we must also bear the image of the heavenly; for as is the earthly, such are they also that are earthly; and as is the heavenly, such are they also that are heavenly, 1 Cor. 15:47, 48, 49.--Christ is full of grace; and Christians all receive of his fullness, and grace for grace; i.e., there is grace in Christians answering to grace in Christ, such an answerableness as there is between the wax and the seal; there is character for character: such kind of graces, such a spirit and temper, the same things that belong to Christ's character, belong to theirs. That disposition, wherein Christ's character does in a special manner consist, therein does his image in a special manner consist. Christians that shine by reflecting the light of the Sun of righteousness, do shine with the same sort of brightness, the same mild, sweet, and pleasant beams. These lamps of the spiritual temple, that are enkindled by fire from heaven, burn with the same sort of flame. The branch is of the same nature with the stock and root, has the same sap, and bears the same sort of fruit. The members have the same kind of life with the head. It would be strange if Christians should not be of the same temper and spirit that Christ is of; when they are his flesh and his bone, yea, are one spirit, 1 Cor. 6:17; and live so, that it is not they that live, but Christ that lives in them. A Christian spirit is Christ's mark that he sets upon the souls of his people, his seal in their foreheads, bearing his image and superscription.--Christians are the followers of Christ; and they are so, as they are obedient to that call of Christ, Matt. 11:28, 29, "Come unto me--and learn of me: for I am meek and lowly of heart." They follow him as the Lamb: Rev. 14:4, "These are they which follow the Lamb whithersoever he goeth." True Christians are as it were clothed with the meek, quiet, and loving temper of Christ; for as many as are in Christ, have put on Christ. And in this respect the church is clothed with the sun, not only by being clothed with his imputed righteousness, but also by being adorned with his graces, Rom. 13:14. Christ, the great Shepherd, is himself a Lamb, and believers are also lambs; all the flock are lambs: John 21:15, "Feed my lambs." Luke 10:3, "I send you forth as lambs in the midst of wolves. "The redemption of the church by Christ from the power of the devil, was typified of old, by David's delivering the lamb out of the mouth of the lion and the bear.
That such manner of virtue as has been spoken of, is the very nature of the Christian spirit, or the spirit that worketh in Christ, and in his members, and in the distinguishing nature of it, is evident by this, that the dove is the very symbol or emblem, chosen of God, to represent it. Those things are fittest emblems of other things, which do best represent that which is most distinguishing in their nature. The Spirit that descended on Christ, when he was anointed of the Father, descended on him like a dove. The dove is a noted emblem of meekness, harmlessness, peace and love. But the same Spirit that descended on the head of the church, descends to the members. "God hath sent forth the Spirit of his Son into their hearts," Gal. 4:6. And "if any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of his," Rom. 8:9. There is but one Spirit to the whole mystical body, head and members, 1 Cor. 6:17, Eph. 4:4. Christ breathes his own Spirit on his disciples, John 20:22. As Christ was anointed with the Holy Ghost, descending on him like a dove, so Christians also "have an anointing from the Holy One," 1 John 2:20, 27. And they are anointed with the same oil; it is the same "precious ointment on the head, that goes down to the skirts of the garments." And on both, it is a spirit of peace and love. Psalm 133:1, 2, "Behold, how good and how pleasant it is, for brethren to dwell together in unity! It is like the precious ointment upon the head, that ran down upon the beard, even Aaron's beard, that went down to the skirts of his garments." The oil on Aaron's garments had the same sweet and inimitable odor with that on his head; the smell of the same sweet spices, Christian affections, and a Christian behavior, is but the flowing out of the savor of Christ's sweet ointments. Because the church has a dovelike temper and disposition, therefore it is said of her that she has doves' eyes, Cant. 1:15: "Behold, thou art fair, my love, behold, thou art fair, thou hast doves' eyes." And chap. 4:1, "Behold, thou art fair, my love, behold, thou art fair, thou hast doves' eyes within thy locks." The same that is said of Christ, chap. 6:12: "His eyes are as the eyes of doves." And the church is frequently compared to a dove in Scripture: Cant. 2:14, "O, my dove, that art in the clefts of the rock." Chap. 5:2, "Open to me, my love, my dove." And chap. 6:9, "My dove, my undefiled is but one." Psal. 68:13, "Ye shall be as the wings of a dove, covered with silver, and her feathers with yellow gold." And 74:19, "O deliver not the soul of the turtle dove unto the multitude of the wicked." The dove that Noah sent out of the ark, that could find no rest for the sole of her foot, until she returned, was a type of a true saint.
Meekness is so much the character of the saints, that the meek and the godly, are used as synonymous terms in Scripture: so Psalm 37:10, 11, the wicked and the meek are set in opposition one to another, as wicked and godly: "Yet a little while and the wicked shall not be; but the meek shall inherit the earth." So Psal. 147:6, "The Lord lifteth up the meek: he casteth the wicked down to the ground."
It is doubtless very much on this account, that Christ represents all his disciples, all the heirs of heaven, as little children: Matt. 19:14, "Suffer little children to come unto me, and forbid them not; for of such is the kingdom of heaven." Matt. 10:42, "Whosoever shall give to drink unto one of these little ones, a cup of cold water, in the name of a disciple, verily I say unto you, he shall in no wise lose his reward." Matt. 18:6, "Whoso shall offend one of these little ones, &c." Ver. 10, "Take heed that ye despise not one of these little ones." Ver. 14, "It is not the will of your Father which is in heaven, that one of these little ones should perish." John 13:33, "Little children, yet a little while I am with you." Little children are innocent and harmless; they do not do a great deal of mischief in the world; men need not be afraid of them; they are no dangerous sort of persons; their anger does not last long, they do not lay up injuries in high resentment, entertaining deep and rooted malice. So Christians, in malice, are children, 1 Cor. 14:20. Little children are not guileful and deceitful, but plain and simple; they are not versed in the arts of fiction and deceit; and are strangers to artful disguises. They are yieldable and flexible, and not willful and obstinate; do not trust to their own under standing, but rely on the instructions of parents, and others of superior understanding. Here is therefore a fit and lively emblem of the followers of the Lamb. Persons being thus like little children, is not only a thing highly commendable, and what Christians approve and aim at, and which some extraordinary proficiency do attain to: but it is their universal character, and absolutely necessary in order to entering into the kingdom of heaven: Matt. 18:3, "Verily I say unto you, Except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven." Mark 10:15, "Verily I say unto you, Whosoever shall not receive the kingdom of God as a little child, he shall not enter therein."
But here some may be ready to say, Is there no such thing as Christian fortitude, and boldness for Christ, being good soldiers in the Christian warfare, and coming out boldly against the enemies of Christ and his people?
To which I answer, There doubtless is such a thing. The whole Christian life is compared to a warfare, and fitly so. And the most eminent Christians are the best soldiers, endued with the greatest degrees of Christian fortitude. And it is the duty of God's people to be steadfast and vigorous in their opposition to the designs and ways of such as are endeavoring to overthrow the kingdom of Christ, and the interest of religion. But yet many persons seem to be quite mistaken concerning the nature of Christian fortitude. It is an exceeding diverse thing from a brutal fierceness, or the boldness of the beasts of prey. True Christian fortitude consists in strength of mind, through grace, exerted in two things; in ruling and suppressing the evil and unruly passions and affections of the mind; and in steadfastly and freely exerting, and following good affections and dispositions, without being hindered by sinful fear, or the opposition of enemies. But the passions that are restrained and kept under, in the exercise of this Christian strength and fortitude, are those very passions that are vigorously and violently exerted in a false boldness for Christ. And those affections that are vigorously exerted in true fortitude, are those Christian, holy affections that are directly contrary to them. Though Christian fortitude appears, in withstanding and counteracting the enemies that are without us; yet it much more appears, in resisting and suppressing the enemies that are within us; because they are our worst and strongest enemies, and have greatest advantage against us. The strength of the good soldier of Jesus Christ appears in nothing more, than in steadfastly maintaining the holy calm, meekness, sweetness, and benevolence of his mind, amidst all the storms, injuries, strange behavior, and surprising acts and events of this evil and unreasonable world. The Scripture seems to intimate that true fortitude consists chiefly in this: Prov. 16:32, "He that is slow to anger, is better than the mighty; and he that ruleth his spirit, than he that taketh a city."
The directest and surest way in the world, to make a right judgment what a holy fortitude is, in fighting with God's enemies, is to look to the Captain of all God's hosts, and our great leader and example, and see wherein his fortitude and valor appeared, in his chief conflict, and in the time of the greatest battle that ever was, or ever will be fought with these enemies, when he fought with them alone, and of the people there was none with him, and exercised his fortitude in the highest degree that ever he did, and got that glorious victory that will be celebrated in the praises and triumphs of all the hosts of heaven, throughout all eternity; even to Jesus Christ in the time of his last sufferings, when his enemies in earth and hell made their most violent attack upon him, compassing him round on every side, like renting and roaring lions. Doubtless here we shall see the fortitude of a holy warrior and champion in the cause of God, in its highest perfection and greatest luster, and an example fit for the soldiers to follow that fight under this Captain. But how did he show his holy boldness and valor at that time? Not in the exercise of any fiery passions; not in fierce and violent speeches, and vehemently declaiming against and crying out of the intolerable wickedness of opposers, giving them their own in plain terms: but in not opening his mouth when afflicted and oppressed, in going as a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before his shearers is dumb, not opening his mouth; praying that the Father would forgive his cruel enemies because they knew not what they did; not shedding others' blood, but with all conquering patience and love, shedding his own. Indeed one of his disciples, that made a forward pretense to boldness for Christ, and confidently declared he would sooner die with Christ than deny him, began to lay about him with a sword: but Christ meekly rebukes him, and heals the wound he gives. And never was the patience, meekness, love, and forgiveness of Christ in so glorious a manifestation, as at that time. Never did he appear so much a lamb, and never did he show so much of the dovelike spirit, as at that time. If therefore we see any of the followers of Christ, in the midst of the most violent, unreasonable, and wicked opposition of God's and his own enemies, maintaining under all this temptation, the humility, quietness, and gentleness of a lamb, and the harmlessness, and love and sweetness of a dove, we may well judge that here is a good soldier of Jesus Christ.
When persons are fierce and violent, and exert their sharp and bitter passions, it shows weakness instead of strength and fortitude. 1 Cor. 3 at the beginning, "And I, brethren, could not speak unto you as unto spiritual, but as unto carnal, even as unto babes in Christ. For ye are yet carnal: for whereas there is among you envying, and strife, and divisions, are ye not carnal, and walk as men?"
There is a pretended boldness for Christ that arises from no better principle than pride. A man may be forward to expose himself to the dislike of the world, and even to provoke their displeasure out of pride. For it is the nature of spiritual pride to cause men to seek distinction and singularity; and so oftentimes to set themselves at war with those that they call carnal, that they may be more highly exalted among their party. True boldness for Christ is universal, and overcomes all, and carries men above the displeasure of friends and foes; so that they will forsake all rather than Christ; and will rather offend all parties, and be thought meanly of by all, than offend Christ. And that duty which tries whether a man is willing to be despised by them that are of his own party, and thought the least worthy to be regarded by them, is a much more proper trial of his boldness for Christ, than his being forward to expose himself to the reproach of opposers. The apostle sought not glory, not only of Heathens and Jews, but of Christians; as he declares, 1 Thess. 2:6. He is bold for Christ, that has Christian fortitude enough, to confess his fault openly, when he has committed one that requires it, and as it were to come down upon his knees before opposers. Such things as these are of vastly greater evidence of holy boldness, than resolutely and fiercely confronting opposers.
As some are much mistaken concerning the nature of true boldness for Christ, so they are concerning Christian zeal. It is indeed a flame, but a sweet one; or rather it is the heat and fervor of a sweet flame. For the flame of which it is the heat, is no other than that of divine love, or Christian charity; which is the sweetest and most benevolent thing that is, or can be, in the heart of man or angel. Zeal is the fervor of this flame, as it ardently and vigorously goes out towards the good that is its object, in desires of it, and pursuit after it and so consequentially, in opposition to the evil that is contrary to it, and impedes it. There is indeed oppositions and vigorous opposition, that is a part of it, or rather is an attendant of it; but it is against things and not persons. Bitterness against the persons of men is no part of it, but is very contrary to it; insomuch that so much the warmer true zeal is, and the higher it is raised, so much the farther are persons from such bitterness, and so much fuller of love, both to the evil and to the good. As appears from what has been just now observed, that it is no other, in its very nature and essence, than the fervor of a spirit of Christian love. And as to what opposition there is in it to things, it is firstly and chiefly against the evil things in the person himself, who has this zeal: against the enemies of God and holiness, that are in his own heart (as these are most in view, and what he has most to do with); and but secondarily against the sins of others And therefore there is nothing in a true Christian zeal, that is contrary to that spirit of meekness, gentleness, and love, that spirit of a little child, a lamb and dove, that has been spoken of; but it is entirely agreeable to it, and tends to promote it.
But to say something particularly concerning this Christian spirit I have been speaking of, as exercised in these three things, forgiveness, love, and mercy; I would observe that the Scripture is very clear and express concerning the absolute necessity of each of these, as belonging to the temper and character of every Christian.
It is so as to a forgiving spirit, or a disposition to overlook and forgive injuries. Christ gives it to us both as a negative and positive evidence; and is express in teaching us, that if we are of such a spirit, it is a sign that we are in a state of forgiveness and favor ourselves: and that if we are not of such a spirit, we are not forgiven of God; and seems to take special care that we should take good notice of it, and always bear it on our minds: Matt. 6:12, 14, 15, "Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors. For if ye forgive men their trespassed your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses." Christ expresses the same again at another time, Mark 11:25, 26, and again in Matt. 18:22, to the end, in the parable of the servant that owed his lord ten thousand talents, that would not forgive his fellow servant a hundred pence; and therefore was delivered to the tormentors. In the application of the parable Christ says, ver. 35, "So likewise shall my heavenly Father do, if ye from your hearts forgive not everyone his brother their trespasses."
And that all true saints are of a loving, benevolent, and beneficent temper, the Scripture is very plain and abundant. Without it the apostle tells us, though we should speak with the tongues of men and angels, we are as a sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal; and that though we have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries, and all knowledge, yet without this spirit we are nothing. And there is no one virtue or disposition of the mind, that is so often, and so expressly insisted on, in the marks that are laid down in the New Testament, whereby to know true Christians. It is often given as a sign that is peculiarly distinguishing, by which all may know Christ's disciples, and by which they may know themselves; and is often laid down, both as a negative and positive evidence. Christ calls the law of love, by way of eminency, his commandment: John 13:34, "A new commandment give I unto you, that ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another." And chap. 15:12, "This is my commandment, that ye love one another as I have loved you." And ver. 17, "These things I command you, that ye love one another." And says, chap. 13:35, "By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another." And chap. 14:21 (still with a special reference to this which he calls his commandment), "He that hath my commandments, and keepeth them, he it is that loveth me." The beloved disciple who had so much of this sweet temper himself, abundantly insists on it, in his epistles. There is none of the apostles so much in laying down express signs of grace, for professors to try themselves by, as he; and in his signs, he insists scarcely on anything else, but a spirit of Christian love, and an agreeable practice: 1 John 2:9, 10, "He that saith he is in the light, and hateth his brother, is in darkness even until now. He that loveth his brother abideth in the light, and there is none occasion of stumbling in him." Chap. 3:14, "We know that we are passed from death unto life, because we love the brethren: he that loveth not his brother abideth in death." Ver. 18, l9, "My little children, let us not love in word and in tongue, but in deed and in truth. And hereby we know that we are of the truth, and shall assure our hearts before him." Ver. 23, 24, "This is his commandment, that we should love one another. And he that keepeth his commandments dwelleth in him, and he in him; and hereby we know that he abideth in us, by the Spirit which he hath given us." Chap. 4:7, 8, "Beloved, let us love one another: for love is of God; and everyone that loveth, is born of God, and knoweth God. He that loveth not, knoweth not God: for God is love." Ver. 12, 13, "No man hath seen God at any time. If we love one another, God dwelleth in us, and his love is perfected in us. Hereby know we that we dwell in him, because he hath given us of his Spirit." Ver. 16, "God is love; and he that dwelleth in love, dwelleth in God, and God in him." Ver. 20, "If a man say, I love God, and hateth his brother, he is a liar; for he that loveth not his brother, whom he hath seen, how can he love God, whom he hath not seen?"
And the Scripture is as plain as it is possible it should be, that none are true saints, but those whose true character it is, that they are of a disposition to pity and relieve their fellow creatures, that are poor, indigent, and afflicted: Psal. 37:21, "The righteous showeth mercy, and giveth." Ver. 26, "He is ever merciful, and lendeth." Psal. 112:5, "A good man showeth favor, and lendeth." Ver. 9, "He hath dispersed abroad, and given to the poor." Prov. 14:31, "He that honoreth God, hath mercy on the poor." Prov. 21:26, "The righteous giveth, and spareth not." Jer. 22:16, "He judged the cause of the poor and needy, then it was well with him: Was not this to know me? saith the Lord." Jam 1:27, "Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father, is this, To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction," &c. Hos. 6:6, "For I have desired mercy, and not sacrifice; and the knowledge of God, more than burnt offerings." Matt. 5:7, "Blessed are the merciful; for they shall obtain mercy. "2 Cor. 8:8, "I speak not by commandment, but by occasion of the forwardness of others, and to prove the sincerity of your love." Jam. 2:13-16, "For he shall have judgment without mercy, that hath showed no mercy. What doth it profit, my brethren, though a man say he hath faith, and have not works? Can faith save him? If a brother or sister be naked, and destitute of daily food; and one of you say unto them, Depart in peace, be you warmed and filled; notwithstanding ye give them not those things which are needful to the body, what doth it profit?" 1 John 3:17, "Whoso hath this world's good and seeth his brother have need, and shutteth up his bowels of compassion from him, how dwelleth the love of God in him?" Christ in that description he gives us of the day of judgment, Matt. 25 (which is the most particular that we have in the Bible), represents that judgment will be passed at that day, according as men have been found to have been of a merciful spirit and practice or otherwise. Christ's design in giving such a description of the process of that day, is plainly to possess all his followers with that apprehension, that unless this was their spirit and practice, there was no hope of their being accepted and owned by him at that day. Therefore this is an apprehension that we ought to be possessed with. We find in Scripture, that a righteous man, and a merciful man are synonymous expressions, Isa: 57:1, "The righteous perisheth and no man layeth it to heart; and merciful men are taken away, none considering that the righteous is taken away from the evil to come."
Thus we see how full, clear, and abundant, the evidence from Scripture is that those who are truly gracious, are under the government of that lamblike, dovelike Spirit of Jesus Christ, and that this is essentially and eminently the nature of the saving grace of the gospel, and the proper spirit of true Christianity. We may therefore undoubtedly determine, that all truly Christian affections are attended with such a spirit, and that this is the natural tendency of the fear and hope, the sorrow and the joy, the confidence and the zeal of true Christians.
None will understand me, that true Christians have no remains of a contrary Spirit, and can never, in any instances, be guilty of a behavior disagreeable to such a spirit. But this I affirm, and shall affirm, until I deny the Bible to be anything worth, that everything in Christians that belongs to true Christianity, is of this tendency, and works this way; and that there is no true Christian upon earth, but is so under the prevailing power of such a spirit, that he is properly denominated from it, and it is truly and justly his character, and that therefore ministers, and others, have no warrant from Christ to encourage persons that are of a contrary character and behavior, to think they are converted, because they tell a fair story of illuminations and discoveries. In so doing, they would set up their own wisdom against Christ's, and judge without, and against that rule by which Christ has declared all men should know his disciples. Some persons place religion so much in certain transient illuminations and impressions (especially if they are on such a particular method and order) and so little in the spirit and temper persons are of, that they greatly deform religion, and form notions of Christianity quite different from what it is, as delineated in the Scriptures. The Scripture knows of no such true Christians, as are of a sordid, selfish, cross and contentious spirit. Nothing can be invented that is a greater absurdity, than a morose, hard, close, high-spirited, spiteful, true Christian. We must learn the way of bringing men to rules, and not rules to men, and so strain and stretch the rules of God's word, to take in ourselves, and some of our neighbors, until we make them wholly of none effect.
It is true, that allowances must be made for men's natural temper, with regard to these things, as well as others; but not such allowances, as to allow men, that once were wolves and serpents, to be now converted, without any remarkable change in the spirit of their mind. The change made by true conversion is wont to be most remarkable and sensible, with respect to that which before was the wickedness the person was most notoriously guilty of. Grace has as great a tendency to restrain and mortify such sins, as are contrary to the spirit that has been spoken of, as it is to mortify drunkenness or lasciviousness. Yea, the Scripture represents the change wrought by gospel grace, as especially appearing in an alteration of the former sort: Isa. 11:6-9, "The wolf shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid: and the calf, and the young lion, and the fatling together, and a little child shall lead them. And the cow and the bear shall feed, their young ones shall lie down together: and the lion shall eat straw like the ox. And the sucking child shall play on the hole of the asp, and the weaned child shall put his hand on the cockatrice's den. They shall not hurt nor destroy in all my holy mountain: for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea." And to the same purpose is Isa. 65:25. Accordingly we find, that in the primitive times of the Christian church, converts were remarkably changed in this respect: Tit. 3:3, &c., "For we ourselves also were sometimes foolish, disobedient, deceived, serving divers lusts and pleasures, living in malice and envy, hateful and hating one another. But after that the kindness and love of God our Savior towards man appeared--he saved us by the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Ghost." And Col. 3:7, 8, "In the which ye also walked sometime, when ye lived in them. But now ye also put off all these: anger, wrath, malice, blasphemy, filthy communications out of your mouth."