THE NATURE OF LOOKING TO CHRIST OPENED AND EXPLAINED.
" Look unto me, and be ye saved, all the ends of the earth; for I am God, and there is none else."—Isaiah, xlv. 22.
It is the peculiar sin and unhappiness of the Christianized world, that, while they profess and speculatively believe Jesus to be the Messiah, the Saviour of sinners, and while they harbor some kind of esteem for him as a benefactor that appeared upon earth more than 1700 years ago, who should be still remembered with gratitude, yet that they are not deeply sensible of that intimate, personal concern which degenerate sinners have with him in every age.
They do not make that eager, importunate, affectionate application to him, which his character requires as the Saviour of guilty men. Divine justice indeed was satisfied, the demands of the law were answered by the obedience and sufferings of our divine Redeemer long before we came into existence, and God became reconcilable to a guilty world. But all this alone does not insure our salvation. Redemption must not only be purchased, but applied; and though it was purchased without our concurrence, yet all mankind, in all ages, are concerned in the application of it. There was no need of the gospel and its ordinances to procure it; but all these are necessary, and therefore appointed for our obtaining an actual interest in it. Hence Christ, as an Almighty Saviour, is exhibited, and the blessings of his purchase are offered in the gospel; and all that hear the gracious proposal are invited to entertain this Saviour with suitable dispositions, and to consent to the terms on which these blessings are offered, upon the penalty of everlasting damnation. Our personal consent is required as much in this age as when the gospel was first published to the world; and it is this which is solicited by all the means of grace; it is to gain your consent to this gracious proposal, that the gospel is still continued among you. It is for this we preach; for this you should hear, and perform every other duty; for this the Lord's Supper in particular was instituted, and has been, to-day, administered among you. It is to melt your hearts, and engage your affections to a dying Saviour that he is represented both in words and in speaking actions, in all the agonies of Gethsemane, and in all the tortures of Calvary. But though these affecting means have been used from age to age, yet, alas! they have not had the intended effect upon multitudes. There is as much reason to exhort unregenerate sinners now to repent and be converted, as there was to exhort the impenitent Jews to it. There is as much cause to direct and persuade men now to believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, as the heathen jailer, who had been an infidel. We must have those affectionate dispositions and vigorous exercises of heart towards him, which become guilty, perishing sinners towards an Almighty and gracious Saviour, who deserves and therefore demands our supreme affection, our humble dependence on his merits alone, and our hearty consent to be his servants for ever. We must be brought to believe in him with such a faith as will regulate our practices, and render the whole of our life a series of grateful obedience to him, who is an atoning Priest upon a throne of royal authority, enacting laws and demanding the dutiful submission of his subjects. This faith is one of the principal subjects of sacred Scripture, and is expressed in various forms: sometimes in plain terms, but more frequently in metaphors borrowed from earthly things, and particularly from the actions of the body. We speak of the eye of the understanding as well as our bodily eye. The evidence by which the soul forms its determinations is called light, as well as the medium of proper vision. And as the metaphor is here borrowed from the eye, so it is frequently borrowed from the other organs of the body and their actions. And there is not only necessity but reason for this, as there is a resemblance between those actions of the body from which those metaphors are borowed and those actions of the mind to which they are transferred; yea, it is not only a reasonable, but a beautiful method of representing divine things. In such metaphorical terms, as I observed, faith is often represented in sacred Scripture. Sometimes the metaphor is borrowed from the feet; and then to believe is to come to Christ; to come to him as one oppressed with a heavy burden to a person that can relieve; to come to him as one perishing with thirst to a fountain of living water; or as the manslayer, closely pursued by the avenger of blood, to the city of refuge: hence it is expressed by the most emphatical phrase of fleeing for refuge. Sometimes the metaphor is taken from the ears; and faith is expressed by hearing his voice, as the impoverished, dying wretch would hear the offer of plenty and life. And sometimes, as in the text, the metaphor is taken from the eyes; and faith is represented as looking to Christ. My present design is:
I. To explain the duty here expressed by the metaphor of looking.
II. To urge it upon you by sundry considerations.
I. To explain the duty expressed by the metaphor of looking, we are to observe in general that a man's looks often discover his condition and the frame of his mind. By virtue of the strange union between the soul and the body, the dispositions of the one are often indicated by the emotions and appearances of the other. The eye, in particular, is a mirror in which we may see the various passions of the mind ; and it has a kind of silent, and yet significant language, which conveys to others those inward exercises which the tongue does not, and perhaps cannot express. Hence we can understand a look of surprise and consternation, a look of sorrow and compassion, a look of joy, the look of a perishing suppliant, or a needy, expecting dependent. Looking to Christ, implies those suitable dispositions and exercises of heart towards him, which are expressed by the earnest and significant looks of personsin a distressed condition towards their deliverer. And in such a case it is natural to conceive a person as expressing by his looks a particular notice and distinct knowledge of his deliverer, an importunate cry for his assistance—a wishful expectation of it—a dependence upon him for it— a universal submission to him—a hearty love and approbation of him—and joy and gratitude for his deliverance. And these dispositions and exercises of mind towards Christ are intended in the text by looking to him.
1. Looking to Christ, implies a particular notice and distinct knowledge of him. When we fix an earnest look upon an object, we take particular notice and a distinct survey of it, and so obtain a clear knowledge of it. Thus we are called to fix our intellectual eyes upon Christ, to make him the object of our contemplation, and by these means to obtain the knowledge of him. Mankind are too commonly regardless and ignorant of him. And are not many of you chargeable with this criminal neglect ? The blessed Jesus has exhibited himself to your observation in the gospel, but your attention is so engaged by other objects, that you will not allow him an earnest look. He has been set forth evidently crucified before your eyes, but you have, as it were, passed and repassed careless and unconcerned by his cross. It is by the knowledge of him you are justified; and if you are a people of no understanding, he that formed you will not have mercy on you; but you shall be destroyed through lack of knowledge. Not that a mere speculative knowledge of Christ will suffice; no, it must not be a look of curiosity and speculation, but you must be affected with the object; your eye must affect your heart; and by beholding the glory of the Lord in the glass of the gospel, you must be changed into the same image, or conformed to him in holiness. But this will be further illustrated under the following particulars.
2. Looking to Christ implies an importunate eagerness for relief from him. When a guilty creature, that had been involved in the general presumptuous security, is effectually alarmed with just apprehensions of his danger; when he sees his numberless transgressions in all their horrid aggravations, and the dreadful threatenings of the law in full force, and ready to be executed against him: in short, when he sees himself ripe for ruin, and ready every moment to sink into it, with what importunate cries will he betake himself to him for relief! Behold, he prayeth ! now he is often on his knees before God in secret, as well as in social prayer ; and in the intervals between his prayers, he is often looking to the hills from whence cometh his aid, and wafting up many an importunate cry to heaven.
3. Looking unto Jesus implies an humble dependence upon him for salvation. This supposes that we are deeply sensible of our own utter inability to relieve ourselves; and when we are convinced of this, we shall immediately look to another, when we see no ground for self-confidence, we shall place our trust in Jesus alone. It was such a look as this that good Jehoshaphat raised to heaven: We have no might against this great company, neither know we what to do ; but our eyes are u2>on thee. So Micah, finding no room for human confidence, resolves, Therefore I will look unto the Lord. Thus an humble sinner, sensible of his utter inability, resolves to venture upon Christ, to trust in him, though he should slay him. And in those happy moments when the sinner has some glimmering hopes of acceptance, with what pleasure and satisfaction does he rest upon this eternal rock! and how happy we, should we be engaged this day to place our humble dependence there! It is to this the text calls us.
4. Looking to Christ implies a hearty approbation of him as a Saviour, and supreme affection to him. Love is often expressed by looks; and when we look affectionately upon an object, it evidences that we are pleased with the survey. So a perishing world is commanded to acquiesce in the method of salvation through Christ, to love him above all, and to take the fullest and noblest complaisance in him; and upon their so doing, they are assured of salvation. We have, indeed, been influenced by education and the like means to entertain a general good esteem of Christ; but, alas! this is very far short of that endearing affection and hearty complacence which he claims and deserves. Our hearts must be engaged to him; he must be the chief among ten thousand in our eyes. Our thoughts and passions must often ascend to him, and we must rest in him with complacence, as containing all our salvation and all our desire. The duty of looking to Christ being explained, I shall,
II. Urge you to look to him by several weighty considerations. This is the great duty of saints and sinners, and consequently of every one in all ages and places, even to the ends of the earth. It is the duty of sinners to turn away their eyes from beholding vanity, and fix them upon this attractive, but, alas! neglected Saviour; to turn their attention from the trifles of time to the great anti-type of the brazen serpent, who is lifted up that a dying world may open their eyes just closing in death, and look and live. And saints, whose eyes have been turned to this glorious object, ought to fix them more intensely upon him, to take larger surveys of his glory, and to renew their affectionate trust in him. I would premise, that when I exhort sinners to look to Jesus, I would not intimate that they are able to do this of themselves. No; I am sensible, that all the exhortations, persuasions, invitations, and expostulations that a feeble mortal, or even the most powerful angel in heaven can use with them, will have no effect, but vanish into air, without the efficacious operation of Almighty grace. And yet such exhortations are neither useless, improper, or unscriptural: they tend to convince sinners of their inability to believe, which is necessary to their believing aright; and it is while such arguments are addressed to their understandings, that the Holy Spirit is wont to work upon their hearts. Hence they are so often commanded in Scripture to repent, to believe in Christ, to look to him to make them a new heart, &c.
The arguments to enforce this evangelical duty can never be exhausted, and therefore I must confine myself to those which this copious text furnishes us with, which, when resolved into particulars, will stand thus:
It is salvation we are called upon to pursue; it may be obtained upon the easiest terms, without any personal merit, viz., by a look; it is Immanuel, the incarnate God, that commands and invites us to look—and our looking shall not be in vain, for he is God, who engages to save those that look to him; and it is in vain to look elsewhere for salvation, and needless to fear his grace should be controlled by another; for as he is God, so there is none else— and we in particular are invited, being especially meant by the ends of tfie earth.
1. It is salvation that is here offered. Look, and be saved. Salvation! 0 most propitious, transporting sound! Amazing! that ever it should be heard by our guilty ears! Sin, my brethren, has exposed us to the curse of the divine law, to the loss of heaven, and all its joys, yea, and of earth too, and all its entertainments; for death, the consequences of sin, will rend us from them. We have no title to any good to satisfy our eager pantings; and must languish and pine through an endless duration without a drop of bliss, if punished according to our demerit. "We are also subject to the torturing agonies of a remorseful conscience, to be cut off from the earth by the sword of justice, and swept away by the bosom of destruction into the regions of horror and despair, there to consume away a long, long eternity in inextinguishable flames, in remediless, intolerable torments, in the horrid society of devils and damned ghosts, who shall mutually promote and join in the general roar of torture and desperation. This, sirs, is our just, our unavoidable doom, unless we obtain an interest in the salvation of the Lord. But salvation brings us a complete remedy, equal to our misery. It contains a title to the divine favor, and consequently to all the joys of heaven; it contains a perfect deliverance from all the torments of hell: and shall we not then regard and obey the voice that cries, Look unto me, and be ye saved! Is it not fit those should perish without remedy, who hear the offer of such a salvation with indifference "l How shall we escape, if we neglect so great salvation ? Were we now under a sentence of condemnation to death by an earthly court, and were going out one after another to the place of execution, and should some welcome messenger with a general pardon in his hand, come with joyful speed into this assembly, and proclaim, salvation! salvation! to all that would accept it on the easiest terms, what a shout of general joy would burst from this assembly! What changed faces, what tears of general joy would appear among us! In this agreeable character, my brethren, I have the honor and the happiness of appearing among you this day. I proclaim salvation from the Lord to dying men; salvation to all that will look to him for it. And I would not make the offer to the air, or to the walls of this house, but to rational creatures, capable of consenting and refusing. I therefore request you to look upon it as a proposal made to you ; to you men, to you women, to you youth and children, to you negroes, demanding a speedy answer. Will you look to Jesus ? or will you hide your faces from him ? Will you not think him and his salvation worth a look ! Which leads me to observe,
2. This salvation may be obtained upon low terms. It may be obtained by a look. Look and be saved; and this metaphor implies that no merit is required in us to procure this salvation. It is as cheap a cure as that which the Israelites obtained by looking to the brazen serpent. The salvation is wrought already ; Christ would not separate his soul and body, and put an end to his pains, till he could say, It is finished, and all required of us is a cheerful acceptance; and what terms could be easier ? It is true we are required to abstain from sin, and be holy, in order to enjoy this salvation; but can this be looked upon as a hard term ? It is impossible in the nature of things you should be saved in a course of sin; for one great part of the salvation consists in deliverance from sin. This is the deadly disease which must be healed, in order to your happiness. And how then can you expect to be saved while you indulge it ? What do those deserve who do not think of a salvation purchased with the blood of God worth a look ? What drudgery do you endure, what hardships do you voluntarily undergo, to procure some of the specious toys of this world ? How eagerly will you accept the offer of any temporal advantage! and will you neglect this invitation to look and live ? Especially, when,
3. It is Immanuel, our incarnate God, that invites and commands you to look to him and be saved. That it is Christ who here calls us to look to him, is evident from the application of this context to Christ by the apostle, Rom. xiv. 9-11. See also Phil. ii. 9-11. He spake us into being, and we obeyed; and shall we, when blessed with existence, resist his almighty call ? It is his voice whom angels obey; nay, universal nature hears his awful mandate, and all her laws are observed, or cancelled according to his pleasure. And is this the majestic voice which sinners hear sounding in the gospel, and yet disregarded ? Is this he whom they make so light of, as not to vouchsafe him a look ? Amazing presumption! And further, it is his voice which shall pronounce the final sentence upon the assembled universe. He now sits exalted upon a throne of grace, scattering blessings among his subjects, and inviting a dying world to look to him and live; but ere long he will put on majesty and terror, and ascend the throne of judgment. From thence he will pronounce, Come ye blessed, on all that hear his call now ; and neither earth nor hell can repeal the joyful sentence. And on those that will not now look to him, he will pronounce, Depart from me; " away, away from my blissful presence, ye cursed creatures, never, never to see me more." And though they can now resist the voice of mercy, yet then they must obey the dreadful orders of Justice, and sink confounded from his face, and sink to hell. We, my brethren, must mingle in that vast assembly, and hear our doom from his lips; and can we, in the serious expectation of that day, refuse his call to look to him now f Behold, he cometh
with clouds, and every eye shall see him; and how shall we stand the terror of his face, if we now treat him so contemptuously ? These considerations show that the call in my text is the command of -authority, and therefore that our neglect of it is disloyalty and rebellion. But O! there is a more melting, a more endearing consideration still. It is the voice of our Beloved, it is the gracious invitation of love; it is his voice who heard the cry of helpless misery; who, though equal with God, and possessed of infinite, independent happiness, emptied himself, and took upon him the form of a servant. For us he was reproached, belied, persecuted; and O! for us he sweat and groaned in Gethsemane; for us he was nailed to the cross; for us he hung in ignominy and torture; for us he shed his blood, he breathed out his life; and for us the Lord of life lay in the dust of death. And O! blessed Jesus! after all this love, after all these sufferings, will not the sons of men afford thee one affectionate, believing look ? O sirs, can you reject the invitations of such a Saviour ? are you capable of such horrid ingratitude? He bespeaks your attention with dying groans; his wounds preach from the cross and cry, Look unto me, and be ye saved all the ends of the earth.
4. It is Immanuel we are to look to. Look unto me. He that issues the command is the glorious and attractive object we are called to behold. He has exhibited himself to your view this day in a vesture dipt in blood. He has emblematically past before you crowned with thorns, and covered with blood; and as Pilate said to the Jews, to melt them in compassion, so say we to you, Behold the man! And will you turn away from him regardless, or view him with as much indifference as though he were a malefactor? What is this but to join the Jewish rabble, Away with him ! crucify him ! crucify ! He has virtually said to you as to Thomas, Look into my hands, and behold the print of the nails; and look into my side, and behold the stab of the spear, which opened a fountain of life for you. Shall he complain, with David, his type, i" looked on my right hand, and beheld, but there was no man that would know me; no man cared for my soul. Blessed Jesus ! shalt thou take up this complaint over creatures for whom thou didst bleed and die ? Over creatures who owe all their hopes to thee ? may not the whole creation be struck with consternation at the complaint! why are not the miraculous solemnities that attend thy death renewed ? why does not the earth tremble, the rocks rend, the sun put on the livery of a mourner, to see a dying God and a careless world! the Creator, the Saviour of men, in agony, in blood ! and his creatures, his ransomed, asleep, and not affording him so much as a look of love and compassion? But the cross is not the only place where we should look upon him. Lift up your eyes to seats above, there you may behold him who tasted of death, crowned with glory and honor. His head, that was once crowned with thorns, is now adorned with a crown of glory: His hands that were once nailed to the cross, now sway the sceptre of the universe: and his feet, that were cruelly pierced, now walk the crystal pavement of heaven. He that was insulted by Jews and Gentiles, he at whom they wagged their heads, is now adored by all the heavenly hosts, who congratulate his exaltation, and cry with united voice, Worthy is the Lamb that was slain to receive power and riches, and wisdom, and strength, and honor, and glory and blessing.
Shall we not look to him whose glory attracts the eyes of all the celestial armies, and congratulate his exaltation ? We have cause indeed to rejoice in it; for 0! he is exalted, that he may have mercy upon us: he has ascended the throne, that he may thence scatter blessings on a guilty world beneath him. And can we slight such glory and love united?
5. Look to him; for as he is God, so there is none else. This implies that there is no other Saviour, and that this sole Saviour is uncontrollable, and therefore able to save.
It is only a God that is able to work our salvation. Men, angels, all creatures are unequal to the task. They cannot satisfy divine justice for our sins; they cannot subdue our corruptions, and sanctify our hearts; nor conduct us safe through all the dangers and temptations that surround us. We in particular are utterly incapable of these things. And if you will not look to Christ, to whom will you look? Call now, if there be any that will answer thee ; to which of tlie saints, to which of the angels, wilt thou turn ? You are shut up to the faith, my brethren; you have no alternative but to look to Christ, or sink to hell. There is no salvation in any other. And will you rather be without a Saviour than look to him as such ? Why such strange aversion to your best friend, who is able to save to the utmost ?
He is able to save, because beyond control. There is no God besides, to reverse his will; but whom he blesses, is blessed indeed. He is head over all things to his church. He limits the power, controls the rage, and baffles all the politic schemes of the powers of hell; and the hearts of men, of kings, are in his hand; and he turns them whithersoever he pleases. None therefore shall pluck his sheep out of his hand; but he will give unto them eternal life.
6. And lastly, look to him, for you are particularly invited, being especially meant by those in the ends of the earth. We dwell in a continent that may be called the ends of the earth with peculiar propriety; " Look unto me, ye that dwell in the uttermost ends of the inhabited earth ; look unto me, ye Americans. O what a joyful sound! Not many years ago we or our near ancestors came from the old continent of Europe or its adjacent islands; and the Lord has driven out the heathen from before us, and planted us in their stead. In the days of Isaiah, God was mindful of America, and treasured up a rioh invitation, till it should be inhabited, and in need of it. He has turned this wilderness into a fruitful field ; the residence of savages and wild beasts into a mart of nations. He hath blessed us also, so that we are multiplied greatly; and he suffer-eth not our cattle to decrease. But, alas! we have turned his blessings into an occasion of sinning, we have improved in guilt and impiety in proportion to our improvement in riches and the arts of life. And it is an instance of divine patience that may astonish even heaven itself, that so ungrateful a land has not been visited with some signal judgment. Do ye thus requite the Lord, 0 foolish people and unwise! is not he thy Father, that hath bought thee? hath he not 'made thee and established thee ? Bat to abuse the gospel is the greatest of all crimes. It is this that ripens a people for ruin, and fills up the measure of their iniquity : God will easier bear with the abuse of any mercy than with the contempt of his Son. Therefore look unto him, and be ye saved, 0 ye ends of the earth.