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LOVE OF THE BRETHREN, AN EVIDENCE
OF A STATE OF SALVATION.
1 John iii. 14.
We know that we have passed from death unto life, because
we love the Brethren. He that loveth not his brother abideth in death.
H E Apostle gives us here one proof, or evidence of a regenerate state, namely, the love of the Brethren; and adds a positive declaration, that the want of this love is a sure token of an unregenerate state. “We know that we have passed from death unto life, because we love the Brethren: he that loveth not his Brother abideth in death."
There are three terms in this sentence that deserve our particular attention, DEATH, LIFE, and the BRETHREN. My intention is to lay the plain scriptural meaning of them before you, in order to a clear exposition of the sentence, and confirmation of the doctrine it contains. The use of it, with respect to consolation, instruction, and correction, will afterwards unfold itself to us. To proceed then in the due order of things.
ist. Here is plainly a state of DEATH spoken of, out of which the Apostle knew that himself, and those, to whom he wrote, had been delivered. Their love of the Brethren evidenced this. “ We know that we have passed from death unto life, because we love the Brethren." Whatever be intended accurately by the term DEATH, it is obvious, at first sight, that it means a most dreadful and miserable state; something likewise that is common to mankind in general, and from which no outward forms or professions can deliver a man. This state of death commenced the moment that Adam transgressed. In the day he ate of the forbidden fruit he died. As the Lord threatened, so it came to pass. His temporal death was not indeed inflicted till some hundred years after ; but his spiritual death, which is the misery spoken of in my text, -commenced with his sin. In Adam all men thus died; became “ alienated from the Life of God;" were esteemed “ children of wrath ;" were deprived of the divine image and communion, and rendered as incapable of love to God and delight in heavenly things, as a dead man is of the functions of animal life. This kingdom of spiritual death has a sovereign," the god of this world *,” the devil. Those who remain, till temporal death, in his service, are afterwards with him reserved unto the judgment of the great day, which will terminate in death and punishment everlasting.
But it pleased God to provide a Saviour, his only Son; and “ he that hath the Son hath LIFE,” as “ he, that hath not the Son hath not LIFE.” And it is further affirmed by St. Paul, that “ when Christs, who is our life, shall appear, then shall 2. Cor. iv. 4. + Coloss. iii. 4.
with him in glory.” Now this life, which he merited, and freely bestows upon all who receive him, is exactly the contrary of the state of death. There is in it, by necessary implication an entire recovery from the evils of death : The pardon of sin, the restoration to the favour of God, and the imparting of a divine nature, created of God in righteousness and true holiness, are all included in this precious gift of spiritual life. Then the soul lives again, when Christ by his Spirit lives in it. The issue is the love of God and of heavenly things, maintained in the heart, ever improving here, and through all eternity. In this communion with God, consists real happiness; and the perfection of this communion in the next life constitutes the bliss of heaven.
Now let us take up the Apostle's words, and consider them. “ We know that we have passed from death unto life." It seems then there is such a thing as the knowledge of salvation to be attained in this life. Indeed all real Christians either have attained, or are seeking it. And man may be said to be saved when he has passed from death unto life; from Adam to Christ; from sin to holiness; from communion with Satan to communion with God; from the curse of the law to the freedom of the Gospel; from condemnation to pardon and peace with God. Without this change, wrought in the soul here, we are well assured there can be no acquittal from punishment hereafter. Marvel not, Brethren, “ye must be born again.” But, you will say, How shall we thus pass from death unto life? To answer this question scripturally is the first and
most pressing office of a Preacher of the Gospel; for unless we do actually pass from death unto life, all our religion will be found vain and nothing worth: it is all pharisaical pretence: it is all an external dressing and varnishing of a man, internally dead and corrupt, for the deceitful purpose of giving him the appearance of life. Will any persons here suggest that real spiritual life may be obtained by beginning to love the Brethren? Alas! you forget that if, by nature, you be dead to God as you surely are, you can have no love of the Brethren till
you are first restored to this very spiritual life which you profess to be seeking.
Therefore, the first thing, necessary for us to know is, that we are thus spiritually dead, void of goodness, righteousness, and strength, incapable of being saved by any thing we do. No man can come to Christ without this conviction. But whoever is thus convicted, let him attend to what our Lord himself
says, “Verily, verily, I say unto you, he that heareth my word, and believeth on him that sent me, hath everlasting life, and shall not come into condemnation, but is passed from death unto life.” Thus if our Lord's authority can be of any weight with regard to the question,“ how are men to pass from death unto life?" it is answered simply, “ by believing in him.” The penitent, in self-despair, looks to him ; attends to the promise of free salvation from guilt and sin made, through him, to a lost, dead, world; puts in his claim according to the invitation, and actually receives the life of God in his soul. In the very act of believing, even the moment he is brought to receive Jesus as his entire
Saviour, and not before, he passes from the wretched bondage of Satan to the happy freedom of the children of God,-“ from death unto life." Mark this, O ye that feel your need of Christ, and come unto him for life. The Lord warrants, commands, invites,—and he will not fail to help you.
Now, and not before, the man is a Christian, and furnished with a living principle of good works. Faith works by love: first, by the love of God: then by the love of the Brethren. This last is the evidence of conversion insisted on in my text, and to this we will confine our attention. The only question that will need discussion here is, who are the Brethren. I believe it is commonly thought that by the Brethren are meant mankind in general; and so persons easily persuade themselves they are good Christians, on account of that natural humanity and affection toward their fellow-creatures, which, though amiable in itself and useful to society, has nothing in it decisively Christian; nay, it may and does exist in numbers, who not only are not Christians in the Scripture sense, but who have an utter enmity against Christianity.
It is worth our while then to consider this point : because if we think the love of the Brethren means only humanity of temper towards our fellow-creatures in general, we shall certainly understand nothing at all of this whole Epistle, whose main subject is love, that
pure and holy love which is shed abroad in the heart of every true convert Numbers will and do unhappily think they have the marks of real holiness who have not one grain of it. By the love of the Brethren is meant here, and elsewhere in Scripture,