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This is life eternal, that they may know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom thou hast sent.—JOHN xvii. 3.
THAT human kind were not designed merely to sojourn a few days upon this earth: that a being of such excellence as the soul of man, so capable of a nobler life, and having such a high sense of things moral and intellectual, was not created in the sole view of being imprisoned in an earthly tabernacle, and partaking a few pains and pleasures which chequer this mortal life, without aspiring to any thing either above or beyond it, is a fundamental doctrine as well of natural religion as of the Christian. It comes at once recommended by the authority of philosophers and evangelists. And that there actually is in the mind of man a strong instinct and desire, an appetite and tendency, towards another and a better state, incomparably superior to the present, both in point of happiness and duration, is no more than every one's experience and inward feeling may inform him. The satiety and disrelish attending sensual enjoyments, the relish for things of a more pure and spiritual kind, the restless motion of the mind, from one terrene object or pursuit to another, and often a flight or endeavour above them all towards something unknown, and perfective of its nature, are so many signs and tokens of this better state, which in the style of the gospel is termed life eternal.
And as this is the greatest good that can befal us,
the very end of our being, and that alone which can crown and satisfy our wishes, and without which we shall be ever restless and uneasy; so every man, who knows and acts up to his true interest, must make it his principal care and study to obtain it: and in order to this, he must endeavour to live suitably to his calling, and of consequence endeavour to make others obtain it too. For how can a Christian shew himself worthy of his calling otherwise than by performing the duties of it? And what Christian duty is more essentially so than that of charity? And what object can be found upon earth more deserving our charity than the souls of men? Or how is it possible for the most beneficent spirit to do them better service, than by promoting their best and most lasting interest, that is, by putting them in the way that leads to eternal life..
What this eternal life was, or how to come at it, were points unknown to the heathen world. It must be owned, the wise men of old, who followed the light of nature, saw even by that light, that the soul of man was debased, and borne downwards, contrary to its natural bent, by carnal and terrene objects; and that, on the other hand, it was exalted, purged, and in some sort assimilated to the Deity, by the contemplation of truth and practice of virtue. Thus much in general they saw. or surmised. But then about the way and means to know the one, or perform the other, they were much at a loss. They were not agreed concerning the true end of mankind; which, as they saw, was mistaken in the vulgar pursuits of men; so they found it much more easy to confute the errors of others, than to ascertain the truth themselves. Hence so many divisions and disputes about a point which it most imported them to know, insomuch as it was to give the bias to human life, and govern the whole tenor of their actions and conduct.
But when life and immortality were brought to light
by the gospel, there could remain no dispute about the chief end and felicity of man, no more than there could about the means of obtaining it, after the express declaration of our blessed Lord in the words of my text; "This is life eternal, that they may know thee, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom thou hast sent." For the right understanding of which words we must observe, that by the knowledge of God, is not meant a barren speculation, either of philosophers or scholastic divines, nor any notional tenets fitted to produce disputes and dissensions among men; but, on the contrary, a holy practical knowledge, which is the source, the root, or principle, of peace and union, of faith, hope, charity, and universal obedience. A man may frame the most accurate notions, and in one sense attain the exactest knowledge of God and Christ that human. faculties can reach, and yet, notwithstanding all this, be far from knowing them in that saving sense. For St. John tells us, that "whosoever sinneth, hath not seen Christ, nor known him."* And again," He that loveth not, knoweth not God." To know God as we ought, we must love him; and love him so as withal to love our brethren, his creatures, and his children. I say, that knowledge of God and Christ, which is life eternal, implies universal charity, with all the duties ingrafted thereon, or ensuing from thence, that is to say, the love of God and man. And our Lord expressly saith, “ He that hath my commandments, and keepeth them, he it is that loveth me." From all which it is evident, that this saving knowledge of God is inseparable from the knowledge and practice of his will; the explicit declaration whereof, and of the means to perform it, are contained in the gospel, that Divine instrument of grace and mercy to the sons of men. The metaphysical knowledge of God, considered in his absolute nature or essence, is one thing, and to know him as he stands † 1 John iv. 8. John xiv. 21.
* John iii. 6.
related to us as Creator, Redeemer, and Sanctifier, is another. The former kind of knowledge (whatever it amounts to) hath been, and may be, in gentiles as well as Christians, but not the latter, which is life eternal. ..., From what has been said, it is a plain consequence, that whoever is a sincere Christian, cannot be indifferent about bringing over other men to the knowledge of God and Christ; but that every one of us, who hath any claim to that title, is indispensably obliged, in duty to God and in charity to his neighbour, to desire and promote, so far as there is opportunity, the conversion of heathens and infidels, that so they may become partakers of life and immortality. For "this is life eternal, to know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom thou hast sent."
In my present discourse upon which words, I shall,
Secondly, I shall consider it in reference to this laud-
Now although it be very evident, that we can really have neither a just zeal for the glory of God, nor a beneficent love of man, without wishing and endeavouring, as occasion serves, to spread the glad tidings of salvation, and bring those who are benighted in the shadow of death, to life eternal, by the knowledge of the only true God, and of Jesus Christ whom he hath sent; yet this duty, plain and undoubted as it seems, happens to be too often overlooked, even by those whose attention to other points would make one think