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Christ himself will shortly appear as Judge of the world. He will cast all counterfeits into the fiercest flames; and present his genuine epistles to his Father, perfectly free from the slightest blot, error, or defect.
2 Cor. v. 9. Wherefore we labor, that whether present or absent we may be accepted of him.
All men will acknowledge that ambition is often a vice, productive of the greatest evils; yet many will not only palliate and excuse it in themselves, but will frequently speak of it as a laudable passion, and a powerful incentive to virtue. But if it be rightly defined the desire of honor and preferment, it is a principle that needs to be very closely watched by every Christian, lest it should soon lead him to that which though men may admire and applaud, yet God will utterly abominate. Nothing that can bear this name will meet with his approbation, unless it can be rendered truly subordinate to the divine glory, and the good of our fellow-men.
Paul, however, does speak of a kind of ambition which is of this sort, or he uses, in two or three places, a word that would literally bear this rendering. Rom. xv. 20. “I have been ambitious to preach the gospel,” &c. This, however, was consistent with true humility, and owing to a desire after extensive usefulness, and compassion to the souls of
1 Thess. iv. ll. “He exhorts to be ambitious, to be quiet,” &c. Surely this ambition would do no mischief in the world. And he uses the same word in our text,
“Where fore also we make it our ambition, whether being present, or being absent, to be well pleasing to him.” The highest honor after which we aspire, here or hereafter, is to enjoy the approbation of our blessed Lord. We value not the honor that cometh from men ; we think light of them who knew not the Maker of the world, when he took up his abode among them, though he always acted worthy of himself, and
came hither on the most benevolent design : they have been used to celebrate the sons of Abaddon, but they crucified and slew the Son of God. We therefore despise their judgment. We abhor what they applaud, and admire what they despise. We strive above all things to honor our blessed Lord. While we take up our abode here, we wish only to please him; and when we remove hence, we hope for his approving smile, and to be received among those that shall for ever encircle his throne rejoicing.
First: Why should this be the object of our highest ambition for which we constantly labor, that we may be accepted by our blessed Lord ?
Because the chief end of our existence is to glorify God, and enjoy him for ever : and how can this be attained, if we are not accepted of him. Because it is the bighest honor of any rational creature, to receive the approbation of his Maker. Because it is the distinguished privilege of true saints to be thus honored and approved. All have sinned, and fallen short of his glory; have forfeited his favor ; deserved to be for ever banished from him, and utterly cast off. But some are recovered by discriminating grace, and brought into a state of reconciliation and eternal friendship. Because the chief object which Christ had in view, in the work of redemption, was, that God should be eternally glorified in the salvation of his people, and that all his redeemed should honor him, and be raised to everlasting honor by him. Because this was also the end of the Holy Spirit, in the work of regeneration and sanctification, that a peculiar people might be formed anew, after the image of God, and be to him a kind of first fruits of his creatures. Because all other honor is empty, fading, and transitory, and this honor alone is eternal. Of what avail would it be to be honored by man in time, and despised by God to eternity ? to be a companion of nobles here, and of devils, and all sorts of vile sinners hereafter ? to fare sumptuously, be interred with funereal pomp, and lift up the eyes in hell, being in torments? Is this the man that made the earth tremble ? Art thou become like unto us? Oh, how many who were once honored among men, shall awake to everlasting contempt ! Because we
must all stand before the judgment-seat of Christ, that omniscient, infallible, impartial Judge ; and hear our eternal doom from his lips, while every wise and holy being will approve
his sentence. Nor will the condemned themselves pity one another, nor be able to open their mouths for themselves. Conscience will testify, that they loved sin, hated God, rejected Christ, had no true religion; that many despised; that all were strangers to its power; that they never laid themselves out for God's glory; never became strangers and pilgrims on earth ; never sincerely sought the true heaven. Because, if we are accepted of him, approved by him, and well pleasing to him, we shall enter into his joy. In his presence there is fulness of joy.
SECONDLY: How should we so pursue this object, as to be authorized to expect we shall assuredly attain it?
Let us be concerned to be well acquainted with him, or how can we judge what will be acceptable to him ? We must know the living and true God, especially as revealed in the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. It must be our first concern to have our persons accepted in the beloved Son of God, the Lord our righteousness; to be secured from condemnation, and justified from all things; to win Christ, and be found in him; and for him to dwell in our hearts by faith, and be in us the hope of glory. Seek earnestly the supply of his Spirit; implore daily his guidance and gracious assistance; dread grieving him. Let the love of Christ most powerfully constrain you; remember, at what a price he bought you ; reflect how strong are his claims upon you.
Place his example continually before your eyes, and endeavor to tread in his steps; follow him fully, wherever he went before you; and be content to resemble him in suffering the will of God, as well as doing it. Be concerned to know his will most extensively, and to conform to it unreservedly. Do not want to narrow those commands which are exceedingly broad; nor want a greater latitude for selfindulgence than he has allowed you. Watch, especially against every species of pride and self-seeking. Remember, that before honor is humility ; but pride goes before a fall. He resisteth the proud, but giveth grace to the humble.
When weak, then are we strong. Look well to the springs of action. Beware of all such as are evidently corrupt. Reckon every end wrong that cannot be pursued in evident subordination to the divine glory, and full consistency with the general good. If any motive appear doubtful only, see if you cannot find a better equally strong, to stimulate you to the same object. Aim high, at the noblest end. Beware that the world and sin do not seduce you, and draw you off from God. Think, how very worthless is every thing else, compared with his smile. Be cordially willing that God should choose your station, and be concerned to attend to the duties of that station, however unpleasant in themselves. God was as truly glorified by the patience of Lazarus, as by the virtues of Daniel, or even of Paul. The angels that carried the soul of the beggar to Abraham's bosom, were as honorably employed as he that counterworked the enemies of the Jews at the court of Persia, or he that slew 185,000 in the camp of Sennacherib. God looks to the principle, rather than to the outward work. Two mites were more noticed by Christ, than the abundance thrown into the treasury by many rich men. If a poor servant is influenced by humility and the love of Christ, to labor to recommend the gospel to a harsh and froward master, he will be accepted ; while an orthodox and popular preacher, not influenced by right motives, but by self-interest and vain glory, will, after preaching to others, be himself a castaway. Let us remember, that if we are not concerned to live to Christ, we are not likely to die in Christ. If we are not concerned to be accepted of him while in this world, we are not likely to be accepted of him when we leave it. If our religion is only a bye business, used as an occasional preservation from the fear of death, instead of constantly regulating the life, and extending its influence over all our affections, and through our daily conduct, it is very questionable indeed if it will truly answer the end for which we wish to have a little of it. Certainly, if we have any true religion, we shall want more and more.
1 Thess. iv. l. iii. 12, 13.
2 Cor. v.
14. For the love of Christ constraineth us. Paul was thought to be beside himself by many of his contemporaries, as well as by Festus, but you dare not give into their verdict. What all of you would say to just such another man, if this age could produce him, I know not. And if I were the man, I should not care. But alas! the difference is unspeakable. Yet I never shall get to heaven if I do not a little resemble him; and I cannot resemble him at all, if I do not want you to be like him too. He wished his judges, accusers, and enemies to be like him, except as to his bonds. Must I not wish this for my friends? Yet I must despair of meeting you in heaven, if you cannot, in some measure, adopt this language. If you do not know the love of Christ; know enough of it to know that it passeth knowledge; know enough of it to feel its constraining influence. For you cannot know it truly, without feeling its effects.
Can, then, all join in this assertion? If not, what more powerful motive influences you ? Must you indeed, confess, The love of sin constrains us to reject Christ; the love of self constrains us to contemn Christ and his plan of salvation ; the love of the world constrains us to despise invisible enjoyments; the love of gain, of pleasure, of honor; the love of things forbidden, or the inordinate love of things lawful to be subordinately pursued, constrains us to prefer them to Christ?
Must you say so? and can you justify the preference ? Oh no! Paul was wiser than you, happier than you; yes, he was happier at Philippi, at Lystra, at Rome; and I am sure, he is happier now. Let us consider,
First, Why should the love of Christ have such a mighty efficacy?
But we may first be asked, What is meant by his love? Did Paul refer to Christ's love to us, or to our love to him? I can hardly determine which he had chiefly in view, nor