THE CHRISTIAN TEMPER.
A SERMON ON
PHIL. ii. 5.
Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus.
Whoever takes a view of Christianity, as displayed in the precepts and example of Christ, its great founder, must acknowledge it a very lovely religion; admirably calculated to promote the happiness of man in the present world, as well as to secure his eternal salvation in the next.
"It is a faithful saying and worthy of all acceptation, that Jesus Christ came into the world to save sinners"—to save them "from their sins;"—not only to deliver them from the wrath to come, which is the wages of sin, but also to restore in them the holy image of God, which they had lost by their fall in Adam. He came, not only to restrain the practice of sin, but to purify the fountain of the heart, from whence the streams of sinful practice proceed.
To effect these great designs, he became a sacrifice for sin; he was made sin for us; he died for our sins, the just for the unjust, that he might bring us to God. He procured for us, and sent down to us, the Holy Spirit, the great sanctifier of the Church. And having given to the world the purest precepts that were ever delivered, he gave infinite force to them, by a perfect example of purity, in his own temper and walk, and has left us this example for our imitation.
All true Christians are followers of Christ; they must walk even as he walked; and in order to do this, they must possess the same holy temper; or, as it is expressed in the text, "the same mind" must be in them, which was in Christ Jesus. This mind, or disposition, is the subject of the present discourse. May the good Spirit of God explain it to us, and produce it in us!
We might express the whole in a single word. Love is the mind of Christ; for "God is love." The whole law is fulfilled in love; love to God, and love to man. This filled the heart of the great Redeemer, actuated him in the whole of his obedience and sufferings, supported him under them, and rendered them acceptable, meritorious and efficacious to the salvation of the church. This is the mind that was in Christ; this his prevailing disposition; and the principal part of our holiness consists in being like him, and living under the daily influence of love to God and love to man. But it is necessary to be more particular, and to consider the Christian temper in its several branches. We begin with—
1. Humility. This deserves the first place, both because it is that grace in Christ, to which the text refers, and because it is, in every believer, the root of all other graces. Wonderful indeed was the humility of the Son of God, "who being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God; but made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men: and being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross!" Behold here, the greatest example of humility that the world ever saw, or ever will see! and this example is proposed to our imitation. And what argument can be so forcible? for shall the glorious Saviour be humble, and the miserable sinner be proud? How preposterous! How absurd!
Pride is natural to apostate man. It was a principal ingredient in the sin of Adam, and every child of his is born proud. Adam got it from the devil, and we get it from Adam. And yet, it is truly said, "Pride was not made for man;" it ill becomes him. For a sinner to be proud is the most monstrous thing in the world! Nothing is so hateful to God; and, if we are born of God, nothing will be so hateful to us. Now Faith lays the axe at the root of pride. Faith beholds the majesty and holiness of God, and shrinks, as it were into nothing before him. The proud man swells by comparing himself with other sinners; but the Christian compares himself, his conduct, and then his heart, with the most pure, holy, spiritual law of God: this prevents self-righteous boasting, and shows that even his best duties are tinged with sin. He was "alive without the law once; but now the commandment is come, sin revives, and he dies." This experience will force him to the cross; he will gladly renounce his own works and righteousness, and supremely desire to be "found in Christ"
Let but the Christian think of three things, and it will promote his humility—what he was, what he is, and what he shall be. He was a poor, blind, naked, filthy rebel; an enemy to God, and a heir of hell. He is by grace a pardoned sinner, and an adopted child; but, O, what imperfection in all his graces! What defects in all his duties! What strength in his corruptions! What a disproportion between his obligations and his returns to God; between his professions, and his practice; between his privileges and his enjoyments! So that he can cordially unite with a better man than himself in saying, "I am the chief of sinners," and "less than the least of all saints." Let him also consider what he shall be—he shall be "with Christ;" he shall be "like Christ;" he shall wear a crown of glory; he shall possess a heavenly inheritance: he shall be a king and a priest to God. Amazing prospects! Animating, yet humbling hopes! He will then, with David sit down and say, "Who am I, O Lord God, that thou hast brought me hitherto; and, as if this were a small thing in thy sight, thou hast spoken of thy servant's house for a great while yet to come: and, Is this the manner of men, O Lord? and what more can David say unto thee?"
2. Piety, or "the fear of God," or "godliness," was an eminent branch of the mind that was in the man Christ Jesus. These terms are nearly of the same import, and denote the habitual, prevailing frame of mind, in its regard to the blessed God. It is the character of the natural man that he is "ungodly," "there is no fear of God before his eyes," he lives "without God in the world," he is "alienated from the life of God," he says to the Almighty "Depart from me." The very reverse of all this is the temper of the Christian, as it was also of his Master. We learn from the gospels, and more abundantly from the Psalms, what a spirit of devotion continually animated the human nature of Christ! What reverential fear, what supreme affection, what lively zeal, what fervent prayer! A portion of the same spirit pervades the heart of every real Christian. "The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom," and the whole of man—his great duty, his first interest, his chief delight. And this divine principle is implanted in the heart of every believer. "I will put my fear in their heart," is the grand covenant promise, and it is fulfilled to every elect soul, when called by grace. The new-born soul turns naturally to God, as flowers to the sun, or the needle to the pole; and though it may be disturbed or diverted for a time, the heavenly principle within abides and prevails, and the Christian is constrained to say "Return to thy rest, O my soul, for the Lord hath dealt bountifully with thee."
The spirit of piety will render those acts of religion which were intolerably burdensome to the unconverted man, natural and pleasant. Religion is no longer his medicine, but his food; not his task, but his delight. And the fear of God will certainly produce a reverence for his name, the Christian cannot be a profane man; he cannot habitually "take in vain," in the light manner of the world, the great and fearful name of the Lord his God. And this principle will insure his sacred regard to the holy Sabbath, the bible, the house of God, the preached gospel, the table of the Lord, and every means divinely appointed for his growth in grace.
3. Spirituality is another essential part of the Christian temper. This is a necessary effect of regeneration, for as "that which is born of the flesh is flesh, so, that which is born of the Spirit is spirit." Every nature generates its own likeness. We derive from our first parent the likeness of his apostate nature, earthly and sensual, not having the Spirit; but, if begotten again by the Holy Ghost, we derive from him a nature that is spiritual. Natural men "mind earthly things." they understand, pursue, and relish only things of a worldly nature, while the things of the Spirit of God are foolishness to them; but the believer, being born from above, minds heavenly things, and sets his affections supremely on things above, and not on things below. This constitutes the grand difference between the children of this world and the children of God; and our future destinations will be accordingly; for, "to be carnally minded is death, but to be spiritually minded is life and peace." While we are in the world, a due regard must be paid to our worldly callings; for religion, so far from encouraging sloth and idleness, requires us to be "diligent in business;" but it requires us also to be "fervent in spirit, serving the Lord." The things of this world, however great and important in some views, will be considered, in the light of eternity, as empty bubbles, insignificant trifles, and childish toys. The Christian weighs every thing in the balances of eternity. He considers what their value will be when he is on a dying bed; and judges how far they may be made conducive to his everlasting interest, for he "walks by faith, not by sight."
Besides, he is "crucified to the world, and the world to him," by the cross of Christ. Our gracious Lord never discovered any taste or relish for the pomps and vanities of this world. As Lord of all, he could have commanded everything that was noble and great. But it is evident that he poured contempt on worldly grandeur. His whole life, death, and doctrine, tended to stain the pride of human glory, and to sanctify to his humble followers that lowly state he intended for them. Luxury of living, gaiety of dress, and conformity to the vain world, can plead no countenance from the example of Christ; but self-denial, plainness of living and manners, and deadness to the world, and heavenly- mindedness, are the very mind that was in Christ, and will be in us if we are his genuine followers.
4. Contentment is another feature of the Christian character. And this will result, in a happy degree, from spirituality and heavenly mindedness. A proper view, by faith, of eternal things, and a good hope, by grace, of an interest in them, will occasion a holy indifference about worldly matters and render us content with our present lot. Of old time, those persons "took joyfully the spoiling of their goods, who knew in themselves that they had in heaven a better and more enduring substance." Heb. xi. 34. The way to be happy in this world is not to elevate our station to our mind, but to bring down our mind to our station. The first is, perhaps, impossible; for the ambitious mind of the prosperous man continues to rise with his lot; so that he is never satisfied. The last may, by divine grace, be accomplished. The Christian believes that God reigns, that his providence is universal, that a sparrow does not fall without his observation, and that the very hairs of his head are numbered; and if so, he has reason to conclude, that a special and most gracious providence presides over all his affairs. The believer, therefore, having committed all his concerns to the Lord's care, in the diligent and prudent use of means, will rest satisfied with the disposal of heaven. He will say, "It is the Lord, let him do what seemeth him good." We are led to expect trouble in this world; man, being born in sin, is born to trouble; and instead of wondering that things are so bad, we have reason to wonder that they are no worse. He who knows the evil of sin, and the plague of his own heart, will say at the worst of times, "He hath not dealt with me according to my sins, nor rewarded me according to mine iniquities." Besides, there is generally some cause for praise.
"There is mercy in every lot,
And mercy (encouraging thought)
Gives even affliction a grace,
And reconciles man to his lot."
Thrice happy was the apostle Paul, who could say, "I have learned in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content. I know both how to be abased, and I know how to abound: every where, and in all things I am instructed, both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound, and to suffer need." Should you think this a difficult lesson, and that, in certain cases, you could not practice it, mark what follows—"l can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me." Phil, iv. 11, 12, 13. St. Paul, in himself, was as weak as another man; but he had learned to live upon Christ, and by faith to receive out of his fullness grace for grace. Every believer may do the same. And let him remember, this patient temper is "the mind that was in Christ." Through a whole life of poverty and sufferings here, we read not of a single murmur; and when, in his agony, the bitterest cup that ever was mingled was put into his hands, he said, "The cup which my Father giveth me to drink, shall I not drink it? Not my will, but thine be done."
5. Meekness must also be mentioned as an amiable branch of the Christian temper. Jesus Christ was remarkably meek, and he pronounced a blessing on his meek followers. "Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth." We read of "the gentleness of Christ." How calmly did he endure the contradictions of sinners against himself? how meekly submit to the vilest indignities? Happiest they, who most resemble him! It is a great victory for a man to subdue his own angry temper, and to preserve a sacred composure amidst all the ruffling storms and tempests of cross affairs, affronts, losses, and injuries. This meekness is not the effect of constitution, a temper naturally mild, nor the result of art and deceit; but a truly Christian grace, wrought by the Holy Spirit, arising from self-knowledge, self-possession, a sense of the goodness and love of God; it is seated in the heart, and will discover itself in the countenance, and in the language. The meek Christian may be angry; but meekness will restrain his anger within proper bounds, as to the degree, duration, and effects of it; he will not be easily provoked, he will readily forgive, and will acquire that happy useful art—the government of the tongue. A loud, clamorous, boisterous, boasting professor, little resembles the meek Jesus; but the meek Christian adorns the doctrine of God his Saviour, greatly recommends the gospel of Christ, and enjoys a tranquillity of soul, which is heaven begun on earth—a blessed foretaste of the undisturbed serenity of glorified saints.
6. Mercy was a distinguishing grace in the character of Christ, and must be the prevailing disposition of his followers. Compassion to perishing sinners brought him down from heaven. Compassion dictated all his words, and directed all his actions; and, blessed be God, we have still "a merciful and faithful High Priest, who can have compassion on the ignorant, and on those who are out of the way." When the sick and afflicted were brought to Jesus, he had compassion on them and healed them. When the multitude who followed him from far to hear him preach were hungry and faint, he had compassion on them and fed them. He went about doing good. O let us be like him!
Hard as a rock is the heart of man by nature. Anger, envy, malice, revenge, and selfishness reign, and make them resemble the devil. The greater part of men called Christians "live to themselves," and are satisfied if they do no harm, though they do no good;—are secure, selfish, angry, peevish, confine their kindness to their relations; do little good but what they are pressed to; esteem all loss that is done for the relief of others; and think it wise to be cautious, and disbelieve the necessities of men; in a word, they make self the end of their lives: whatever their possessions be, they very little represent or glorify God in the world. But on the contrary, a man whose nature is cured and rectified by grace, freed from pride, envy, and selfishness, and thence rendered benevolent, and useful to his fellow-men, is the best representation we have of God upon earth, since the human nature of Christ was removed from it.
"Blessed are the merciful," said the benevolent Redeemer, "for they shall obtain mercy." We are not to purchase God's mercy by our mercy; but it is a good evidence of being ourselves "vessels of mercy," when we are inwardly disposed to be merciful. We are exhorted to "put on, as the elect of God, bowels of mercy." If we have felt the need of mercy, and tasted the sweetness of mercy, we shall find a divine pleasure in being merciful to the sons and daughters of affliction; we should be forward to give and forgive, to pity and relieve them.
The souls of men claim our first regard. Millions of men are perishing for lack of knowledge. The merciful man will not only pray for them, but will gladly endeavour to send the glorious gospel of Jesus to them: he will cast a pitying eye upon the poor ignorant children around him, and promote their religious instruction: he will gladly support the Christian ministry, knowing its important use in the conversion of sinners. Nor will the bodies of men be neglected. He will pity and visit the sick; he will feed the hungry; he will clothe the naked: and, in order to do this, he will rather deny himself even lawful indulgences, than be disabled from acts of generosity. The word of God abounds with exhortations to this disposition; and if there be not a desire and endeavour thus to be useful, we may say, with St. John, "How dwelleth the love of God in him?"
The narrow limits of this discourse prevents the mention of several other branches of this holy temper, as well as a proper enlargement of those already mentioned. We have room only to propose one more, which is the beauty and strength of them all, namely,
7. Sincerity—This is the very soul of all religion; for every Christian grace has its counterfeit. There are men who assume a profession of religion on purpose the better to deceive others; and pretend to be devout towards God, that they may more effectually cheat and defraud their neighbour. —From this vile hypocrisy, good Lord deliver us!—If there be a place in hell hotter than another, it will be the portion of the hypocrite; for how shall such "escape the damnation of hell?" Great is the importance of truth and uprightness. The Christian must needs be an honest man, exact and conscientious in all his affairs, conforming himself in all his dealings, to that golden, that divine rule, Whatsoever ye would that others should do to you, do ye even that to them. The Christian will study "simplicity and godly sincerity,'' speaking the truth in love, and managing all the affairs of life as under the eye of God, and with a regard to his glory. Happy the man of whom the Lord will testify, as of Nathaniel, "Behold an Israelite indeed, in whom there is no guile!"
We may learn, from what has been said of the Christian temper, how excellent is the religion, and how holy the gospel of Jesus Christ; how admirably calculated to promote godliness, and brotherly kindness, and charity. What a happy world would this be, if men, who profess and call themselves Christians, possessed the mind that was in Christ. We may learn also the necessity of something more than morality. Men may be honest and harmless; but this is not enough. We see many who are deemed moral characters, who are ungodly, unbelievers, neglectors of Christ, despisers of the gospel. Let them not suppose that their regard to men will atone for their contempt of God. Let them know, that "without holiness, no man can see the Lord."
How vain also is that profession of the truths of the gospel, which leaves a man destitute of the Christian temper, a slave to his wretched passions, and under the dominion of covetousness, pride, anger, selfishness, and worldly-mindedness. For, some there are, not only negligent of holy tempers, but who despise that preaching which enforces them, calling it legal and low. But it is evident that our Lord insisted much on inward purity, and pronounced his first blessings upon heavenly dispositions. The apostles abound in similar exhortations throughout their epistles, nor is he a Christian who does not hunger and thirst after the attainment of them; all believers being "predestinated to be conformed to the image of God's dear Son."
On the survey of this brief sketch of the "mind that was in Christ," who has not cause to blush, and sigh, and say, Holy Jesus, how far am I from possessing thy likeness! One of the ancients on a like occasion, cried, "Blessed Lord, either these are not thy precepts, or we are not Christians!" But let me ask, is this the temper you sincerely and earnestly desire? Do you mourn over your daily defects? Do you see an excellency and a beauty in holiness, and do you ardently long to resemble your Saviour? If so be not dejected. This desire is from the Lord, and is a token for good. Let no believer sit down in sullen despair, and say, when he contemplates the character of Jesus, It is too high and great; I can never master my corruptions, and attain his disposition! Why not? All things are possible to God: all things are possible to him that believeth. Does not all fullness dwell in Christ? and is it not treasured up for thy use? Go to him for it—make free —it is thine for fetching. Ask and ye shall receive, that your joy maybe full.—Come boldly to the throne of grace, to find grace; there is grace sufficient for thee. Open thy mouth wide, and it shall be filled. And though conscious, like the apostle Paul, that you have not already attained, neither are you already perfect; yet like him follow after, reach forth unto those things which are before; press towards the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus. Look much at Christ; it will make you like him; you shall be "transformed into the same image, from glory to glory;" and, ere long, you "shall see him as he is," and "be satisfied when you awake with his likeness."