« AnteriorContinuar »
AN ISRAELITE INDEED.
JOHN I. 47.
"Behold an Israelite indeed, in whom there is no Guile."
1. SOME years ago a very ingenious man, Professor Hutcheson of Glasgow, published two Treatises, on the Original of our Ideas of Beauty and Virtue. In the latter of these he maintains, That the very Essence of Virtue is, The love of our fellow-creatures. He endeavours to prove, That Virtue and Benevolence are one and the same thing: that every temper is only so far virtuous, as it partakes of the nature of Benevolence: and that all our words and actions are then only virtuous, when they spring from the same principle. "But does he not suppose Gratitude, or the Love of God, to be the foundation of this Benevolence?" By no means: such a supposition as this never entered into his mind. Nay, he supposes just the contrary: he does not make the least scruple to aver, That if any temper or action be produced, by any regard to God, or any view to a reward from him, it is not virtuous at all: and that if an action spring partly from benevolence, and partly from a view to God, the more there is in it of a view to God, the less there is of virtue.
2. I cannot see this beautiful Essay of Mr. Hutcheson's VOL. X.
in any other light, than as a decent, and, therefore, more dangerous attack upon the whole of the Christian Revelation: seeing this asserts the love of God to be the true foundation, both of the love of our neighbour, and all other virtues and accordingly, places this as the first and great Commandment, on which all the rest depend, "Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy mind, and with all thy soul, and with all thy strength." So that, according to the Bible, benevolence, or the love of our neighbour, is only the second commandment. And suppose the Scripture to be of God, it is so far from being true, that benevolence alone is both the foundation and the essence of all virtue, that benevolence itself is no virtue at all, unless it spring from the love of God.
3. Yet it cannot be denied, that this writer himself has a marginal note in favour of Christianity. "Who would not wish, (says he,) that the Christian Revelation could be proved of God? Seeing it is, unquestionably, the most benevolent institution that ever appeared in the world." But is not this, if it be considered thoroughly, another blow at the very root of that Revelation? Is it more or less than to say, "I wish it could; but, in truth, it cannot be proved?"
4. Another ingenious writer advances an hypothesis totally different from this. Mr. Wollaston, in the book which he entitles, “The Religion of Nature delineated," endeavours to prove, that "Truth is the Essence of Virtue," or conformableness to Truth. But it seems, Mr. Wollaston goes farther from the Bible than Mr. Hutcheson himself. For Mr. Hutcheson's scheme sets aside only one of the two great commandments, namely, "Thou shalt love the Lord thy God:" whereas, Mr. Wollaston sets aside both: for his hypothesis does not place the essence of virtue, in either the love of God or the love of our neighbour.
5. However, both of these authors agree, though in different ways, to put asunder what God has joined. But St. Paul unites them together in teaching us to speak the Truth in Love. And undoubtedly, both truth and love were
united in him, to whom he who knows the hearts of all men, gives this amiable character, "Behold an Israelite indeed, in whom is no guile."
6. But who is it, concerning whom our blessed Lord gives this glorious testimony? Who is this Nathanael, of whom so remarkable an account is given in the latter part of the chapter before us? Is it not strange, that he is not mentioned again in any part of the New Testament? He is not mentioned again under this name; but probably he had another, whereby he was more commonly called. It was generally believed by the ancients, that he is the same person who is elsewhere termed Bartholemew: one of our Lord's Apostles, and one that, in the enumeration of them, both by St. Matthew and St. Mark, is placed immediately after St. Philip, who first brought him to his Master. It is very probable, that his proper name was Nathanael, a name common among the Jews and that his other name, Bartholomew, meaning only the son of Ptolemy, was derived from his father, a custom which was then exceeding common among the Jews, as well as the Heathens.
7. By what little is said of him in the context, he appears to have been a man of an excellent spirit: not hasty of belief, and yet open to conviction, and willing to receive the truth, from whencesoever it came. So we read, (ver. 45,) "Philip findeth Nathanael," (probably, by what we term accident,)" and saith unto him, We have found him, of whom Moses in the Law, and the Prophets did write, Jesus of Nazareth." "Nathanael saith unto him, Can any good thing come out of Nazareth?" Has Moses spoken, or did the Prophets write of any Prophet to come from thence ? "Philip saith unto him, "Come, and see," and thou wilt soon be able to judge for thyself. Nathanael took his advice, without staying to confer with flesh and blood. "Jesus saw Nathanael coming, and saith, Behold an Israelites indeed, in whom is no guile!" "Nathanael saith," doubtless, with surprise enough, "Whence knowest thou me?" "Jesus saith, Before Philip called thee, when thou wast under the fig-tree, I saw thee." "Nathanael answered and sai unto
him," (so soon was all prejudice gone!) "Rabbi, thou art the Son of God! Thou art the King of Israel!"
But what is implied in our Lord's character of him? "In whom is no guile?" It may include all that is contained in that advice,
-"Still let thy heart be true to God, Thy words to it, thy actions to them both.
I. 1. We may first observe, what is implied in having our hearts true to God? Does this imply any less than is included in that gracious command, "My son, give me thy heart?" Then only is our heart true to God, when we give it to him. We give him our heart in the lowest degree, when we seek our happiness in him: when we do not seek it in gratifying "the desire of the flesh," in any of the pleasures of sense; nor in gratifying "the desire of the eye,' in any of the pleasures of the imagination, arising from grand, or new, or beautiful objects, whether of nature or art. Neither in "the pride of life," in "the honour that cometh of men," in being beloved, esteemed, and applauded by them: no, nor yet in what some term, with equal impudence and ignorance, the main chance, the "laying up treasures on earth." When we seek happiness in none of these, but in God alone, then we, in some sense, give him our heart.
2. But in a more proper sense, we give God our heart, when we not only seek, but find happiness in him. This happiness undoubtedly begins, when we begin to know him by the teaching of his own Spirit: when it pleases the Father to reveal his Son in our hearts, so that we can humbly say, "My Lord and my God:" and when the Son is pleased to reveal his Father in us, by "the Spirit of adoption crying in our hearts, Abba Father," and bearing his "testimony to our spirits, that we are the children of God." Then it is that "the love of God also is shed abroad in our hearts." And according to the degree of our love, is the degree of our happiness.
3. But it has been questioned, Whether it is the design of God, that the happiness which is at first enjoyed by all that
know and love him, should continue any longer than, as it were, the day of their espousals? In very many, we must allow, it does not: but in a few months, perhaps weeks, or even days, the joy and peace either vanishes at once, or gradually decays. Now, if God is willing that their happiness should continue, how is this to be accounted for?
4. I believe, very easily: St. Jude's exhortation, "Keep yourselves in the love of God," certainly implies, that something is to be done on our part, in order to its continuance. And is not this agreeable to that declaration of our Lord, concerning this and every gift of God, "Unto him that hath, shall be given, and he shall have more abundance: but from him that hath not," that is, uses it not, improves it not, "shall be taken away even that which he hath," Luke viii. 18. 5. Indeed, part of this verse is translated in our version, That which he seemeth to have. But it is difficult to make
sense of this. For if he only seemeth to have this, or any other gift of God, he really hath it not. And if so, it cannot be taken away: for no man can lose what he never had. It is plain, therefore, o dona ex, ought to be rendered, what he assuredly hath. And it may be observed, that the word doxe, in various places of the New Testament, does not lessen, but strengthen the sense of the word joined with it. Accordingly, whoever improves the grace he has already received, whoever increases in the love of God, will surely retain it. God will continue, yea, will give it more abundantly: whereas, whoever does not improve this talent, cannot possibly retain it. Notwithstanding all he can do, it will infallibly be taken away from him.
II. 1. Mean time, as the heart of him that is an Israelite indeed is true to God, so his words are suitable thereto. And as there is no guile lodged in his heart, so there is none found in his lips. The first thing implied herein, is Veracity, the speaking the truth from his heart: the putting away all wilful lying, in every kind and degree. A lie, according to a well-known definition of it is, Falsum testimonium, cum intentione fallendi: a falsehood known to be such by the speaker, and uttered with an intention to deceive. But