2 CORINTHIANS

Charles Simeon's Devotional Commentaries

 

MDCCCCXCVIII

The Trials and Consolations of Ministers Useful to their People

2 Corinthians 1:3, 4. Blessed be God, even the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies, and the God of all comfort; who comforts us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to comfort them which are in any trouble by the comfort, with which we ourselves are comforted of God.

THE former Epistle to the Corinthians abounded with reproofs, for which indeed there was in that Church but too much occasion. This epistle is altogether of a different kind, and contains a rich fund of paternal and most affectionate instruction. In the opening of it, Paul quite forgets all the pain and sorrow which they had occasioned him, and blesses God for the consolations he enjoyed, especially in the view of those blessed effects which had been produced upon their minds by his former letter. How "full of comfort" he was, we may judge from the frequent repetition of the word "comfort;" he knew not how to leave the subject, or to vary his expression: his whole soul appears to have been swallowed up in the contemplation of the comfort which he had received from God, and which he hoped to be the means of communicating to them also.

That we may enter into the spirit of his words, let us notice.

I. His representation of the Deity.

In the Old Testament, Jehovah was known as "the God of Abraham;" but in the New Testament, he is exhibited under a yet more endearing character, as "the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies, and the God of all comfort." Observe here,

1. His relation to Christ.

There is in the Godhead a distinction between the Three Persons of the ever-blessed Trinity; the first Person is called the Father; the second Person, the Son; and the third Person is called the Holy Spirit. The Son is said to be "the only-begotten of the Father," but of this inscrutable mystery it were in vain to speak, since we should only "darken counsel by words without knowledge." It is sufficient for us to know, that such a distinction in the Godhead does exist, and that, in this sense, God was, from all eternity, "the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ."

Of the manhood of Christ, formed as it was by Omnipotence without the intervention of man, God may in a more definite sense he said to have been the Father: and in reference to this, his miraculous conception in a virgin's womb, Jesus was especially designated "the Son of God."

In his mediatorial capacity also, as "Emmanuel, God with us," our Lord Jesus Christ stands in covenant relation to God, as a Son to a Father; agreeably to what he himself says, "I ascend unto my Father and your Father, to my God and your God."

Now, as all the children of Israel claimed a special interest in Jehovah as being the seed of Abraham whose God he was, so we, who look to Jesus as our common Head and Savior, are entitled to consider his God as our God, since we are in him as members of his mystical body, and are altogether "one spirit with him." And, as Jesus is infinitely greater in himself, and more dear to God, than ever Abraham was, our interest in God, by virtue of our union with Jesus, is proportionably greater and more endeared.

2. His relation to us.

To us, who are involved in the deepest guilt and misery, he is revealed as "the Father of mercies, and the God of all comfort." What remarkable expressions are these! There is not a mercy which we enjoy, but it must be traced to him as its proper source; nor is there a mercy which we want, but it may be found in him to the utmost extent of our necessities. Nothing but mercy properly flows from him: "judgment is his strange act," which is never called forth, until mercy has been as it were exhausted. Judgments are his servants; but mercies are his children, in whom is all his delight. As for comfort, he is the God of it, "the God of all comfort." Were his will complied with, there would be nothing but comfort in the whole universe: it would flow from him as light from the sun; so free, so rich, so abundant would be his communications of it to every soul. Let the afflicted, of every name and every class, only go to him, and he will approve himself "the comforter of all them that are cast down," and "the God of that particular comfort" which they need; as if all his perfections and all his powers centered in that point alone, and were exerted to their utmost extent for the relief of their particular wants.

Such is the view which we should at all times have of the Deity. If we regard him only as a Lawgiver and a Judge, we have no better apprehensions of him than Satan himself has. It is our privilege to know him, not merely in the terrors of his majesty, but in all the endearments of his love and mercy.

With this beautiful description of the Deity the Apostle combines,

II. His thanksgiving to him.

Great and manifold were the tribulations which he was called to sustain.

The whole world, both of Jews and Gentiles, seemed to be confederate against him. Every man, with the exception of those who were converted by his ministry, was his enemy, and sought his destruction; insomuch that he was in daily, and hourly, expectation of a violent death. From the Church itself too he endured much. The false brethren, who labored incessantly to undermine his influence, and to create dissensions in the Church, were a source of continual sorrow to his mind. Nor was he free from internal trials also, which caused him great uneasiness. What "the thorn in his flesh" was, we do not exactly know: but he regarded it as a "messenger of Satan, sent to buffet him;" nor could he find any relief from the anguish it occasioned, until he was assured, in answer to his repeated and earnest cries, "that a sufficiency of grace" should be imparted to him, and that "Christ's strength should be perfected in his weakness."

Not that these trials were peculiar to him: he felt them indeed in a more abundant measure than others; but every faithful minister in his measure experiences the same. Who that is zealous for his God does not incur the hatred of an ungodly world? Who that has long ministered in holy things has not had occasion to deplore the fall of some, the apostasy of others, and the little progress of almost all; insomuch that with many he is made to "travail, as it were, in birth a second time, until Christ be formed in them?" Some perhaps, who would once have plucked out their own eyes and given them to him, are now "become his enemies, because he has told them the truth," and reproved them for their reigning and besetting sins. And in himself also every minister will find abundant occasion to sigh and mourn, especially when he reflects on his great insufficiency for the work assigned him, and the effects of his unprofitableness upon the souls of others.

But he had rich consolations to counterbalance his afflictions.

It was no small comfort to the Apostle that his trials were endured in so good a cause. The cross he bore was the cause of Christ; and his afflictions were but the filling up of the measure of Christ's afflictions. Moreover they were so many testimonies to him of his fidelity; and of God's acceptance of him in his work. He was sure also that in due time they would all be richly recompensed, agreeably to that blessed promise, that "if we suffer with Christ, we shall also reign with him," and "be glorified together with him" for evermore. But besides these consolations of faith and hope, he had, as every faithful minister shall have, special manifestations of God to his soul, sufficient to make him "exceeding joyful in all his tribulations." What but a sense of redeeming love carried him forward with such zeal and steadfastness in all his course? What but this enabled him, when his back was torn with scourges, and his feet were made fast in the stocks, to fill his prison, not with mournings and complaints, but with songs of praise and thanksgiving? And in like manner shall all who serve the Lord with fidelity be supported under their trials, and be favored with consolations proportioned to their afflictions.

To enter into his feelings aright, it will be proper to notice yet further.

III. The more particular grounds of his thanksgiving.

The design of God in these dispensations was in a more especial manner an occasion of gratitude to his soul. He felt that by this his diversified experience, he was better fitted for the discharge of his high office, and better qualified to comfort his afflicted brethren. By it,

1. He was better qualified to comfort others.

None but those who have been in deep waters are capable of entering into the feelings of a tempest-tossed soul. It was from his "having been in all points tempted like as we are, that Jesus himself was so tenderly touched with the feeling of our infirmities," and that he acquired, so to speak, "a power to support his tempted people." Thus Paul learned to participate with others both in their joys and sorrows. Were they assaulted either by men or devils, he knew both the extent of the trial, and the consolations proper to be suggested for the mitigation of it. He could delineate the workings of the afflicted mind: he could state its various discouragements, and the devices by which Satan labored to aggravate its sorrows. He needed only to report his own experience, and to apply to others the remedies he had found effectual for his own soul. In a word, the lessons which he himself had learned in the school of adversity, he was enabled to teach others, and thus eventually to "comfort others with the same comfort where-with he himself had been comforted of God."

Now this very consideration constituted no small part of that comfort for which he so gratefully adored his God. He saw that, whether he was afflicted or comforted, his experience was designed to promote, and did actually promote, "the consolation and salvation of others," and there he did rejoice, and determined, even though his trials should proceed to the utmost possible extremity, to rejoice, and to bless and magnify his God.

In this view will every faithful minister rejoice, thankful alike either for joys or sorrows, if only they may fit him for a more profitable exercise of his ministry, and ultimately advance that for which alone he deserves to live, the consolation and salvation of those committed to his charge.

2. He was made to edify others by his example.

The supports which Paul experienced under his accumulated trials, were a source of great encouragement to others. His imprisonment at Rome, which he was apprehensive might intimidate many, and impede the success of his ministry, "turned out rather to the furtherance of the Gospel: for his bonds in Christ being manifest in all the imperial palace, and in all other places, many of his brethren, waxing confident by his bonds, were so much the more bold to speak the word without fear." Thus, though he was bound, "the word of God was not bound;" on the contrary, "it had free course and was glorified," and the tidings which he received respecting the steadfastness of his converts, far overbalanced all his pains and sorrows. Hear how he speaks of this in his First Epistle to the Thessalonians: "When Timothy came from you unto us, and brought us good tidings of your faith and charity, we were comforted over you, brethren, in all our affliction and distress by your faith: for now we live, if you stand fast in the Lord."

And who that loves his people will not gladly lead them in the van of the battle, if he may but encourage them to "fight the good fight of faith?" Surely no good soldier of Jesus Christ will regret the wounds he receives in this holy conflict, if others be animated by his example to "quit themselves like men" until they have gained the victory.

Address.

1. Those who are afraid of suffering for Christ's sake.

Let it not be thought that the cross of Christ is so heavy as it appears to be. Were we indeed left to bear it alone, or were there no consolations afforded by him to his suffering people, we might well be terrified at the idea of being called to sustain it. But the Lord himself will lighten it by his almighty power, and will support us with such preternatural strength, that, instead of sinking under the weight, we shall rejoice that we are counted worthy to bear it, and shall account our very sufferings an inestimable gift bestowed upon us for his sake. And if here we are enabled so to "glory in the cross of Christ," what shall we do hereafter? Do any of those who once "came out of great tribulation," now regret anything that they ever endured for Christ's sake? Are not their present joys an abundant recompense for all their sorrows?—Fear not then to follow Christ, though you should have to take up the heaviest cross that can be laid upon you: for, if you will but bear it after him, you shall find that "his yoke is easy, and his burden light."

2. Those who have experienced the consolations of the Gospel.

Make the improvement of them which the Apostle did; Bless God for them; and improve them for the good of others. Have you by your own experience found God to be "a Father of mercies, and a God of all comfort?" acknowledge him under this blessed character, and commend him to all for the instruction and comfort of their souls. Your consolations are not given you for yourselves merely, but for others also; that you may be channels of communication between God and them. Many there are who need your friendly offices; many with weak "hands, and feeble knees, and fearful hearts," whom, with God's blessing, you may support and comfort. O remember, that it is a god-like office to "comfort them that are cast down," "to give them beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, and the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness!" And in thus improving your diversified experiences, you will enrich both yourselves and others: I may add too, you will have the best evidence, that they are wrought in you by the Spirit of God: for it is in this improvement of them that "pure and undefiled religion" very principally consists. You may be assured also, that, in thus drawing out your soul to the hungry, and satisfying the afflicted soul, "your own souls shall become like a watered garden, and like springs of water, whose waters fail not."

 

MDCCCCXCIX

The Testimony of a Good Conscience

2 Corinthians 1:12. Our rejoicing is this, the testimony of our conscience, that in simplicity and godly sincerity, not with fleshly wisdom, but by the grace of God, we have had our conversation in the world.

GREATLY as the Apostle merited the admiration of all, there was not anything which he did that was not made an occasion of complaint against him. His enemies at Corinth were numerous and powerful: and so grievous had been their influence in producing divisions and contentions among his converts, that he was constrained to menace them with a speedy visit, in case his remonstrances with them should not be duly regarded. Had he proceeded thither immediately, they would have represented him as a man, who could not endure the least contradiction, but tyrannized over his followers in a most despotic manner: but when a few months elapsed without their seeing him, they spoke of him as a weak man, who did not know his own mind, or dared not to execute his own purpose. But against these accusations he answered, that the delay of his journey had been not at all owing to any versatility of mind in him, but partly to outward impediments which he could not easily have removed, and partly to the unwillingness he had felt to exercise the severity which their misconduct called for. Under all their misrepresentations, however, he had felt much peace of mind: because he had the testimony of his own conscience, that, in his ministrations in general, and in his whole conduct towards them in particular, he had acted to God, without any corrupt bias whatever. This he asserts in our text; from whence we shall take occasion to show,

I. Of what kind our conversation in the world should be.

That our actions should be consonant with all the strictest rules of morality, is a truth so obvious, that we need not at present insist upon it. It is not so much of actions, as of principles, that we are now called to speak. The Christian should have respect to God in all that he does, and should approve himself to God,

1. In his ends and designs.

There should be no leaning to self in anything that we do; no view to the advancement of our own interest, or reputation, or influence, but a single desire to do only what we truly believe to be the will of God, and what shall most conduce to his glory. This principle is to be carried into everything, the most minute, as well as the most important: "Whether we eat, or drink, or whatever we do, we should do all to the glory of God." By this the Apostle had regulated his conduct towards the Corinthian Church. Whether he had exercised authority or forbearance, he had had this only in view; And we in like manner, whether we proceed in an uniform tenor, or diversify our conduct according to existing circumstances, should exclude every other consideration from our minds: "we should choose only the things that will please" and glorify our God.

2. In the means by which he prosecutes his ends.

Here the utmost simplicity of mind should always prevail. We should not listen to the dictates of "fleshly wisdom," but with "godly sincerity" proceed in a plain straight-forward way. Not that we are to discard human wisdom: for we are told to "walk in wisdom towards them that are without." But, though we are to he "wise concerning that which is good, we are to be simple concerning evil," and are to combine the "wisdom of the serpent with the harmlessness of the dove." In no respect are we ever "to do evil that good may come." Here, however, many fail. On two different occasions do we find even Abraham himself grievously erring in this particular, and reproved for it by a heathen prince. And Isaac also was faulty in the very same thing, denying his wife, lest for her sake he should be put to death. It was to the same weakness that we must ascribe the conduct of Peter, when, through fear of Judaizing teachers, he constrained the Gentiles to conform to the Jewish rites. He thought he should in that way remove a stumbling-block from the Jews: and so far he was right, in wishing to remove a stumbling-block out of their way; but he was wrong in the means he adopted for that end: he knew that the Gentiles were not bound by the Jewish law; and therefore he had no right to impose this yoke upon them: and he was justly blamed by Paul as "not walking uprightly" in this particular. Whatever be our end, we must do nothing to accomplish it which will not bear the light, and stand the test of the severest scrutiny. We must act simply under the influence of "the grace of God," and never in a way of carnal policy. Our ends, and our means, must be alike regulated by the word of God, and alike conducive to the glory of his name.

Such then is to be our conversation in the world; it must not only be moral, but religious, having respect in all things to God's word as the rule, and his honor as the end; while all selfish ends and human policy must be utterly discarded.

But as internal principles are difficult to be discerned, we proceed to show,

II. What evidence we should have, that it is such as God requires.

Men can judge only of acts, and can ascertain principles no farther than they are illustrated by the outward fruits produced by them. The inward motives and dispositions of the mind can be discerned only by ourselves, and by God, who searches the heart. Nor can they be discovered even by ourselves without great care and watchfulness. We are very apt to mistake our own motives and principles, just as the Disciples did, when they would have called fire from Heaven to consume a Samaritan village: "they knew not what spirit they were of." But we ought not to be so deceived respecting our conversation:

We ought to have "the testimony of our conscience" respecting it.

We should have a consciousness, that we do indeed desire to do the will of God, and that we would not willingly either go beyond it, or fall short of it, in anything. We should be able to make the same appeal to our God and Savior as Peter did, "Lord, you know all things; you know, that I love you," and that I am seeking nothing but the glory of your name: 'you know that, in order to find out your will, I study your blessed word, and seek instruction from your good Spirit, and commit my ways to your guidance: you know that, though I often have doubts and misgivings whether I do really adopt the most perfect line of conduct, I do not intentionally deviate from anything which I believe to be pleasing and acceptable to you. I can appeal to you, that I do continually exercise myself to keep a conscience void of offence both towards God and man.'

Such a testimony may be enjoyed by every one of us.

It is not the result of pride, as some would imagine; but the voice of God's blessed "Spirit bearing witness with our spirits." When Job was accused of harboring some hidden iniquity, which had brought down such signal judgments upon him, he made his appeal to God in these energetic terms, "You know that I am not wicked." The Apostle Paul frequently appealed in like manner to the heart-searching God. In the very chapter before us he says, "I call God for a record upon my soul, that, to spare you, I came not as yet unto Corinth." But in the Epistle to the Romans we have a more remarkable instance. It was supposed by the Jews, that the Apostle's love to the Gentiles necessarily argued a want of love towards his brethren of the Jewish nation: and he, in order to silence forever such an accusation, says, "I say the truth in Christ, I lie not, my conscience also bearing me witness in the Holy Spirit, that I have great heaviness, and continual sorrow in my heart for my brethren." What forbids then that we should have the same testimony respecting our principles, and that we should be able to make the same appeal to Almighty God? If we have really walked as before him, we "have the same witness of it in ourselves," and may say with Job, "He knows the way that I take: when he has tried me, I shall come forth as gold. My foot has held his steps: his way have I kept, and not declined."

Blessed is that man who has such an evidence within him! but no words can adequately describe,

III. The comfort which such a testimony will produce.

It was a matter of no small comfort to the Apostle that he had this testimony. And to every one who possesses it, it is a solid ground of joy and triumph. It is of unspeakable comfort,

1. Under the reproaches and calumnies of men.

The servants of God will always be hated and calumniated by an ungodly world: and, generally speaking, the more zealous they are in the discharge of their duty, the more virulent will be the opposition made to them. We have seen already the construction which the Apostle's enemies at Corinth put on the delay of his journey thither: and in other parts of this epistle we are told, that he was represented by them as "walking after the flesh," and as "craftily endeavoring to catch men with deceit." And it is highly probable that those who did not understand the principles on which he acted, would speak of him as the most changeable and inconsistent of men; sometimes observing days and ceremonies, and at other times violently opposing the observance of them. But he cared little for their censures, when he had the testimony of his own conscience that he was acting right. Thus it is that pious characters are judged at this day. People are glad to find fault with them. Everything they do is made an occasion of reproach to them. Whether they more affect the austerity of John, or the ease and familiarity of Jesus, whether they pipe or mourn, they are equally condemned. As for the reasons of their conduct, or the truth of the reports that are circulated respecting them, no one will take the trouble to make the least inquiry. Sometimes it happens, as in the case of Joseph, that appearances are against them, and that they have no means of clearing their own character: O what a satisfaction is it to them under such circumstances, that God knows their hearts, and will vindicate them in the last day from the aspersions that are cast upon them! Doubtless that pure and conscientious man had much sweeter composure of mind in prison, even while "the iron of the stocks entered into his soul," than had the adulterous queen, at whose instance these pains were inflicted on him. And every man who enjoys the testimony of his own conscience, is out of the reach of those shafts by which ungodly men endeavor to wound his reputation, and destroy his peace.

2. In the prospect of death and judgment.

No man who knows his own sinfulness will presume to justify himself before God: but, in relation to particular accusations, or to the general desire of his soul to please God, every man, who is truly upright, may enjoy the richest consolation in the prospect of that day when the truth shall be brought to light, and every man who has served God in sincerity and truth shall have a sentence of approbation from the lips of his Judge. It was in the view of this day, that Paul made so light of the obloquy that was cast upon him. And in the near approach of death, Hezekiah found in the records of his own conscience a most consolatory reflection. For his country, and for the cause of God in the land, "he wept sore," but for his own departure he had no reason to mourn: he had approved himself faithful in the discharge of his duty; and he had no ground to dread the judgment that would be pronounced upon him. But would the same confidence become us? Yes, in proportion as the same grounds exist for it: for "if our heart condemn us, God is greater than our heart, and knows all things: but, if our heart condemn us not, then have we confidence towards God, and may assure our hearts before him."

Advice.

1. Seek to have your conscience duly enlightened.

If conscience itself be not enlightened by the word and Spirit of God, its testimony will be extremely fallacious: it may give a sentence of approbation where the severest condemnation is due. If not itself regulated according to the Scriptures of truth, it will be a false guide and a deceitful comforter.

2. Consult it daily as in the presence of God.

Inquire into its records of the past, and seek its direction for the future. Consult it in reference to even part of your duty, and especially in reference to the end for which you live, and the means you are using to attain it. If you will listen to its voice, it will tell you whether you are living to yourselves, or to your God; and whether you are exercising that care and watchfulness, that labor and self-denial, that zeal and love, which are necessary to bear out a testimony in your favor—The more diligently you consult it in your hours of leisure and retirement, especially if you take care to implore earnestly from God the influences of his Spirit, the more beneficial will be its warnings, and the more consoling its testimonies in your favor.

3. Endeavor to keep it pure.

Excellent was that resolution of Job, "My heart shall not reproach me as long as I live." True it is, that while you are in this ensnaring world, exposed as you are to temptations without and to corruptions within, there will be frequent occasion to lament the defilements you contract. But go from day to day, and from hour to hour, to the fountain of Christ's blood, which is "able to cleanse you from all sin," and "from an evil conscience." And let not any sin, however small it may in appearance be, continue unrepented of, or unmortified.

4. Aim at the highest attainments.

It is not at a course of moral actions only that you must aim, but at a life entirely and unreservedly devoted to God. "The single eye" is that after which you must aspire; and "the simplicity that is in Christ," is that which you must hold fast under all possible circumstances. Every action, every word, every thought, must, if possible, be under the influence of Divine grace, and be "brought into captivity to the obedience of Christ." Strive for this with all your might; and then we will venture to say, that in you shall that word be fulfilled; "Mark the perfect man, and behold the upright; for the end of that man is peace."

 

MM

The Churchman's Confession, or an Appeal to the Liturgy

2 Corinthians 1:13. We write none other things unto you, than what you read or acknowledge.

AS the testimony of one's own conscience is the strongest support under false accusations, so an appeal to the consciences of others is the most effectual means of refuting the charges that are brought against us. To this species of argument God himself condescended to have recourse, in order to convince his people, that the evils which they imputed to him originated wholly in their own folly and wickedness: "O inhabitants of Jerusalem and men of Judah, judge, I pray you, between me and my vineyard. What could have been done more to my vineyard, that I have not done in it? wherefore when I looked that it should bring forth grapes, brought it forth wild grapes?" … "Have I been a wilderness unto Israel? a land of darkness? wherefore say my people, We are lords, we will come no more unto you?" "You say, the way of the Lord is not equal. Hear now, O house of Israel, Is not my way equal? are not your ways unequal?" The inspired writers also not unfrequently vindicate themselves in a similar manner. Paul, for instance, had been represented by some at Corinth as fickle and inconstant, because he had not come to them at the time they had expected him. To clear himself from this imputation, he informs them, that he had met with insuperable obstacles in Asia, which had prevented him from prosecuting his intended journey; and that in the whole of his conduct towards them he had been actuated, not by temporizing motives and carnal policy, but by the most strict unblemished integrity. He declares, that he had "the testimony of his own conscience" respecting this; and that he had a further testimony in their consciences also, respecting the truth of what he said; that, in asserting these things, "he wrote no other things than what they read in his former epistle, and were constrained to acknowledge; and he trusted they should acknowledge even to the end."

The faithful minister of Christ derives great advantage from being able to appeal to records, the authority of which is acknowledged by his hearers. By referring them to the Holy Scriptures in proof of all that he advances, he establishes his word upon the most unquestionable authority, and fixes conviction upon their minds. The ministers of the Church of England have yet further advantage, because, in addition to the Scriptures, they have other authorities to which they may refer in confirmation of the truths they utter. It is true, we are not to put any human compositions on a level with the inspired volume: the Scriptures alone are the proper standard of truth; but the Articles, Homilies, and Liturgy of the Church of England are an authorized exposition of the sense in which all her members profess to understand the Scriptures. To these therefore we appeal as well as to the sacred records. But because it would occupy more time than can reasonably be allowed for one discourse to appeal to all at once, we shall content ourselves with calling your attention to the Liturgy, and especially to that part of it which we call the General Confession. We will briefly state what doctrines we insist upon as necessary to be received; and under each we will compare our statements with what we "read" in the Scriptures, and "acknowledge" in our prayers: And we trust that, after having done this, we shall be able to adopt the language of the text, and say, "We write none other things unto you than what you read, and acknowledge."

There are three things, which, as it is our duty, so also it is our continual labor, to make known; namely, Our lost estate—The means of our recovery—and The path of duty.

Permit me then to state what we declare respecting the first of these points, Our lost estate.

We declare, that every man is a sinner before God: that both the actions and the hearts of men are depraved: that whatever difference there may be between one and another with respect to open sin, there is no difference with respect to our alienation from God, or our radical aversion to his holy will. We affirm, that, on account of our defection from God, we deserve his heavy displeasure: that the most moral and sober, as well as the base and profligate, are under condemnation on account of sin: and that all of us without exception must perish, if we do not turn to God in the way that he has prescribed.

We think, yes we are sure, that we have abundant proof of these things in the Holy Scriptures. The universality of our departure from God, and of our danger in consequence of it, is declared in the strongest terms by Paul in his Epistle to the Romans. "There is none righteous," says he, "no not one: there is none that understands; there is none that seeks after God: they are all gone out of the way; they are together become unprofitable; there is none that does good, no not one." To this he adds, "that every mouth must be stopped, and all the world become guilty before God." We could wish you particularly to notice what an accumulation of words there is in this short passage to prove the universality of our guilt and misery. Of righteous persons, there is "none," "none," "none," "no not one," "no not one," "all" are guilty, all "together," even "every" person, and "all the world." Will any one, after reading this passage, presume to think himself an exception?

Nor is the depth of our depravity less clear than its universality. "The heart," says Jeremiah, "is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked; Who can know it?" This is spoken, not of some particular person or age or country, but of mankind at large, even of our whole race. Solomon affirms the same when he says, "The heart of the sons of men is full of evil; madness is in their hearts while they live, and after that they go to the dead." And to the same effect is that declaration of Paul, that "the carnal mind is enmity against God, for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be." To these general affirmations of Scripture, we may add the confessions of the most eminent saints. Job, who was the most perfect man on earth in his day, no sooner attained the knowledge of his real character, than he exclaimed, "Behold I am vile." Paul also, speaking of himself and of all the other Apostles, says, "We all had our conversation in times past in the lusts of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind; and were by nature the children of wrath, even as others."

In laboring to establish these awful truths, we are often considered as libeling human nature, and as representing men in such an humiliating and distressed state as to fill them with melancholy, or drive them to despair. Let us then, in vindication both of ourselves and of our doctrines, compare these assertions with our public acknowledgments. We begin our Confession with saying, "We have erred and strayed from your ways like lost sheep." This is a peculiar expression that must not be overlooked. We apprehend it does not mean merely that we have departed from God, but also that we have never sought to return to him: for other animals will find their way back when they have wandered from their home; but it is rarely, if ever, known that the sheep traces back its footsteps to the fold from whence it has strayed: if it return at all, it is not by any foresight of its own. How just a picture does this exhibit of our fallen race! That we have departed from God is too plain to be denied: but in how few do we behold any solicitude to return to him! How few are there who search the Scriptures daily, in order to find their way back! How few who implore help and direction from their God with an earnestness at all proportioned to the urgency of their case!

Is it inquired, wherein we have so greatly erred? Our own acknowledgments contain the most satisfactory reply: "We have followed too much the devices and desires of our own hearts." How true is this! Look at all mankind; see them from infancy to youth, and from youth to old age; What are they all following? are they obeying unreservedly the commands of God? are they, in compliance with his will, mortifying every evil propensity, and doing the things which are pleasing in his sight? Alas! nothing is further from their minds than this. Their pursuits indeed vary according to their age, their circumstances, their habits; but whatever they be, they are no other than the devices and desires of their own hearts: if in anything they appear to do the will of God, they do not act from a principle of love to him, but from a desire to conform to the customs of their country, and to lay a foundation for self-applause. The whole tenor of our lives is but too justly marked in those following acknowledgments, "We have offended against your holy laws: we have left undone those things which we ought to have done; and have done those things which we ought not to have done." Permit me to ask, which of the laws of God have we not violated times without number? Shall we say, We have not committed murder or adultery? How vain the boast, if we interpret the commandments in their full latitude, and call to mind the declarations of our Lord, that an angry word is murder, and a wanton look adultery! To go into all our sins of omission and commission, were an endless task. Suffice it to say, that in ten thousand instances "we have sinned, in thought, word, and deed, against the Divine Majesty;" and have habitually neglected the interests of our souls.

Perhaps it may be said, "Our actions indeed have been evil, but our hearts are good." But how does this accord with that which in our confession forms the summit of the climax, "There is no health in us?" Here our Church has taught us to trace all the evils of our life to the fountain-head, a corrupt and wicked heart. In this expression she evidently refers, either to that confession of the Apostle, "In me, that is, in my flesh, dwells no good thing;" or rather to that most humiliating declaration of the prophet, "From the sole of the foot even to the head, there is no soundness in us, but wounds, and bruises, and putrefying sores." The import of the words is plain: we confess before our God, that we are altogether depraved; that we are disordered in every member of our body, and in every faculty of our soul; that our understanding is darkened, our will perverse, our affections sensual, our memory treacherous, our conscience seared, and all our "members instruments of unrighteousness and sin."

Thus far then we are fully vindicated, vindicated too, we trust, in your consciences, in all that we have affirmed respecting the lost estate of man. We do indeed represent the whole human race as in a most deplorable condition: but no member of our establishment can controvert our positions without denying the plainest asseverations of Holy Writ, and contradicting his own most solemn acknowledgments.

Let us now turn our attention to the second point which we proposed to notice, namely, The means of our recovery from this state.

We affirm that, in order to obtain salvation, two things are necessary; "Repentance towards God, and faith in our Lord Jesus Christ." By repentance, we do not mean that superficial work which consists in saying, 'I am sorry for what I have done;' but in such a deep sense of our guilt and danger, as leads us with all humility of mind to God, and stirs us up to a most earnest application to him for mercy. We must feel sin to be a burden to our souls: we must be made to tremble at the wrath of God which we have merited: we must cry to him for deliverance from it, as Peter cried for preservation from the waves, "Save, Lord, or I perish," and this must be our experience, not merely after some flagrant transgression, or on some particular occasion, but at all times: it must be, as it were, the daily habit of our minds.

Is it needful to confirm this from the Holy Scriptures? Surely we need not be reminded of what our Lord has repeatedly affirmed; "Except you repent, you shall all perish." We need not be told that it is "the weary and heavy laden" whom Christ invites: that it is "the broken and contrite heart which God will not despise," that we must "loath ourselves for all our abominations;" that we must "sow in tears, and go on our way weeping," that we must cry with Paul, "O wretched man that I am, who shall deliver men?" and with Job, "I repent and abhor myself in dust and ashes."

Yet, when this is insisted on, and pressed upon the conscience as of universal, absolute, and indispensable necessity, we are told, that we carry matters to excess: that, however such bitter contrition may suit the profligate and abandoned, it is unnecessary in the case of the more moral and decent: they have never done anything that requires such deep humiliation; they have no such cause to fear and tremble; they have indeed sinned, but are in no danger of perishing; nor have they ever merited the wrath of God.

But is it not astonishing that any member of the established Church should be so ignorant as to make these vain assertions? What are the terms in which we address the Divine Majesty every time that we attend his worship? "Do you, O Lord, have mercy upon us, miserable offenders: Spare you them, O God, which confess their faults: Restore you them that are penitent." Have we then been dissembling with God all our days; calling ourselves "miserable offenders," when we feel no misery at all; and when, instead of bewailing our offences, we think ourselves almost, if not altogether, as good as we need to be? In this prayer we do not presume even to expect mercy, except as persons deeply penitent and contrite. And let it be remembered, that these petitions are put into the mouths of all the congregation; there is not one form for one class of persons, and another for another; but all profess to approach God as the repenting publican, "smiting upon their breasts, and crying, God be merciful to me a sinner!" We mean not to say, that no person can hope for mercy, who does not feel such or such a measure of contrition (for all who pray in sincerity may hope for acceptance, though their hearts be not so contrite as they could wish), but to show, that all members of the Church of England acknowledge that penitence is highly suited to their state.

But, besides their repentance, we observed, that faith also was necessary, even faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. This we invariably and inflexibly affirm. As it is not our good works and meritorious life that will save us, so neither will our repentance save us. If we could shed rivers of tears, they would never avail to cleanse us from one single sin. It is the blood of Christ, and that alone, that can atone for our guilt: That is "the fountain that was opened for sin and for impurity," and as long as the world shall stand, we must require of sinners to wash in it, in order that they may be clean. And, forasmuch as men are with great difficulty turned from endeavoring "to establish their own righteousness," or to unite their own imagined merits with the merits of Christ, we guard them strongly against this fatal error; we declare to them, that, if they do this, they will invalidate the whole Gospel; and that, if ever they be saved at all, it must be by a humble, simple reliance on the Lord Jesus Christ. That there are blessings promised to the penitent, and to the obedient, we very willingly allow: and on proper occasions we are glad to bring forward those promises, in order to encourage men to repent and obey: but that men are justified by their repentance or obedience, or in any other way than by faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, we utterly deny. And we declare that, if men seek to be justified in any other way, "Christ shall profit them nothing."

And do we, in affirming these things, deviate at all from what we read in the Holy Scriptures? Does not our blessed Lord expressly say, "I am the way, the truth, and the life; no man comes unto the Father but by me?" He tells us plainly, that "he who believes on him, has everlasting life; and that he who believes not, shall not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him," and again, "He who believes, shall be saved; and he who believes not, shall be damned." To the same effect also is the testimony of his Apostles: we find them invariably directing penitents to believe in him as the only, and effectual, means of obtaining acceptance with God. When the jailor came in to Paul and Silas, trembling, and crying, "Sirs, what shall I do to be saved?" the answer given him was, "Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you shall be saved." Instead of varying their directions according to the different characters they addressed, they affirm, in the strongest manner, that "there is no other foundation whereon any man can build," "nor any other name whereby any man can be saved." And when they saw in any a disposition to unite the observance of some ceremonial or moral duties as a joint ground of their hope, they warned them plainly, that their salvation must be "wholly of grace or wholly of works;" and that, if they relied in any measure upon their works, "they were fallen from grace," they were "become debtors to do the whole law," and that "Christ was become of no effect unto them;" with respect to them "he was dead in vain."

Offensive as these statements are, and reprobated as being of a licentious tendency, wherein do they differ from our own acknowledgments? We pray that God would "restore to his favor them that are penitent;" but how, and in what manner, do we expect that restoration to be accomplished? Is it uncovenanted mercy that we ask? Or is it according to our own good works that we desire to find acceptance? No; we profess that our reliance is altogether on God's promises as they are revealed in the Gospel; "Restore us, according to your promises declared unto mankind in Christ Jesus our Lord." Among the promises to which we may be supposed to refer, the following must certainly be numbered: "Look unto me, and be saved." "Come unto me, and I will give you rest." "Him that comes unto me, I will in no wise cast out." "The blood of Jesus Christ cleanses from all sin." "All that believe, shall be justified from all things." "Though your sins be as crimson, they shall be white as snow." But whatever the promises be, whether their reference to Christ be more or less plain, we are assured, that it is in him, and in him alone, that the promises are confirmed to us; for the Apostle says, "All the promises of God in Him are yes, and in Him amen." It is in Christ alone that God can "be just, and at the same time the justifier of sinners," and therefore when we plead that promise, that "if we confess our sins, God is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness," we can expect its accomplishment in no other way than through faith in Christ.

Thus under this head also may be seen a perfect harmony between those things which we have affirmed, and those which you "read" in the Scriptures, and "acknowledge" in your prayers.

Nor do we doubt a similar issue to our inquiries, while, under the last head of our discourse, we state to you The path of duty.

We inculcate the practice of every personal and relative duty. But we are not satisfied with that standard of holiness which is current in the world: we require a higher tone of morals: in addition to sobriety and honesty, we insist upon a life entirely devoted to God: we affirm, that it is every man's duty to delight himself in God;" to have such a lively sense of Christ's love to him, as shall constrain him to an unreserved surrender of all his faculties and powers to the service of his Lord. We must live for God: we must be like a faithful servant, who inquires from day today what his master's will is; and inquires, in order that he may do it. As a servant who had neglected all his duties through the day, would feel ashamed and afraid of his master's displeasure, so should we feel ashamed and afraid, if any day pass without having executed to the utmost of our power the duties of it. We should walk as on the confines of the eternal world, and act as persons who must shortly give account of every talent that has been committed to them. To be "dead unto the world," and "alive unto God;" to attain more and more of the Divine image; to grow up into Christ in all things; to enjoy fellowship with God, and anticipate the enjoyments of Heaven; this is our duty, and should be our daily study and delight.

In requiring so much, we are supposed to require what is altogether impracticable, or, at least, what, if practiced, would unfit us for all the common offices of life. But what do we read in the Holy Scriptures? Do they require of us less than this? Do they not teach us to "yield ourselves living sacrifices to God, as our most reasonable service?" Do they not enjoin us to "live henceforth not unto ourselves, but unto him that died for us and rose again?" Do they not require that "whether we eat or drink, or whatever we do, we should do all to the glory of God?" And is not the Holy Spirit (through whose Divine agency alone we can do anything that is good) promised to us for this very end, to renew us after the Divine image in righteousness and true holiness?

And wherein do our own acknowledgments differ from this? Let us attend to the supplications which we offer before God:—"Grant, O most merciful Father, for Christ's sake, that we may hereafter live a godly, righteous, and sober life, to the glory of your holy name." Here, so far from putting godliness out of our thoughts, we profess to desire it in the first place; and justly do we ask that first, because, without that, all our acts of righteousness and sobriety would be no better than splendid sins; they would want the motives and principles which alone distinguish them from heathen virtues. Mark too the measure and degree in which we desire these virtues: we are not satisfied with that which shall gain us a name among men; we ask, (and let it ever be remembered that without the influences of God's Spirit all our own efforts will be in vain,) that we may be enabled to attain such a degree of piety, as that God may be glorified in us, and that the transcendent excellence of Christianity may be visibly exhibited in our lives.

We appeal then to all; What do we, or what can we, ask of you more than this? And if these high attainments be not necessary, why do you ask of God for Christ's sake to give them to you? If, on the other hand, they are necessary, why are we deemed enthusiastic and over-righteous for requiring them at your hands? If in your prayers you mean what you say, you justify us; and, if you do not mean what you say, you condemn yourselves; you confess yourselves to be hypocrites and dissemblers with God.

We have now finished our consideration of that truly scriptural prayer: and we will conclude with commending it to you as a test in a two-fold view.

First; Take it as a test whereby to try the discourses which you hear. As members of the Church of England, we have a right to expect that the discourses of ministers shall correspond with the Liturgy of our Church. Certainly, in the first instance, the Holy Scriptures are to be our guide: but, as all profess to have the Scriptures on their side, let us bring to our aid that excellent compendium of religion which we have been considering.

Are there any who descant upon the dignity of our nature, the goodness of our hearts, and the rectitude of our lives? What appearance do such sentiments make when brought to the touchstone of this prayer? Are they not as opposite as darkness is to light? and should we not regard such statements as the effusions of pride and ignorance? should we not tremble for those who hear them, lest, being "blind followers of the blind, they all together should fall into the ditch?"

Are there others who tell us that we are to be saved by our works, and who would thereby lull us asleep in impenitence, and divert our attention from the Savior of the world? Let us not be deluded by the syren song. Let us turn to our own confessions, to refute such anti-Christian doctrines: let us learn from them the necessity of humiliation and contrition, and of "fleeing to Christ, as to the refuge that is set before us." As for the idea, that the founding of our hopes upon Christ, and upon the promises made to us in him, will lead to a neglect of good works, let us see what the compilers of our Liturgy thought of that, and what they have put in the mouths of all believing penitents. Do not the very same persons who seek for mercy through Christ, entreat of God that they may be enabled to "live a godly, righteous, and sober life, to the glory of his holy name?" And is it not notorious, that the very persons who maintain most steadfastly the doctrines of faith, are uniformly condemned for the excessive and unnecessary strictness of their lives?

In the same manner, if there be any who plead for a conformity to the world, and decry all vital godliness as enthusiasm, we may see what judgment is to be formed of them also. They may call themselves Christians; but they have nothing of Christianity, except the name.

Lastly; If there be any who separate the different parts of religion, inculcating some to the neglect of others; magnifying works to the exclusion of faith, or establishing faith to the destruction of good works; or confounding faith and works, instead of distinguishing them as the fruit from the root; if such, I say, there be, let their statements be contrasted with the order, the fullness, and the harmony of this prayer; and the erroneousness of them will instantly appear. We do not wish to produce critical hearers; but it is the duty of every man to "prove all things, and to hold fast that which is good;" and as we have the advantage of an authorized standard of divine truth, we invite all to search that, as well as the Holy Scriptures: and we do not hesitate to say of this prayer in particular, what the prophet speaks of the inspired volume, "To the law, and to the testimony; if ministers speak not according to this word, it is because there is no light in them."

Next, let us take this prayer as a test whereby to try our own experience. We may now discard from our minds all that this or that minister may lay down as necessary to our salvation. We have here, what no man can reasonably dispute, our own acknowledgments. We have here as beautiful, as just, as scriptural a summary of experimental religion, as ever was penned from the foundation of the world. The man, that from his inmost soul can utter this prayer, is a real Christian. Whatever be his views with respect to some particular doctrines (those I mean which are distinguished by the name of Calvinism,) his heart is right with God. Whether he admit or reject those abstruser points, he is accepted of God; and if he were to die this moment, he would be in Heaven the next: the termination of his warfare would be to him the commencement of everlasting felicity. But is this the experience of us all? Would to God it were! All will repeat the words: but it is one thing to repeat, and another to feel, them. Let us then bring ourselves to this test; and never imagine that we are in a Christian state, until we can appeal to God, that this prayer is the very language of our hearts. In examining ourselves respecting it, let us inquire, Whether from our inmost souls we lament the numberless transgressions of our lives, and the unsearchable depravity of our hearts? When we cry to God for mercy as miserable offenders, do we abhor ourselves for our guilt, and tremble for our danger? Do we indeed feel that we deserve the wrath of Almighty God? Do we feel this, not only on some particular occasions, but, as it were, daily and hourly? Is the consciousness of it wrought into us, and become the habit of our minds, so that we can find no peace but in crying unto God, and pleading with him the merits of his dear Son? Is Christ, in this view, "precious" to our souls? Is he "our wisdom, he our righteousness, he our sanctification, he our complete redemption?" Having nothing in ourselves, do we make him our "all in all?" Are we at the same time "renewed in the spirit of our minds?" Do we hate sin, not merely as it is destructive, but as it is defiling, to the soul? Do we account "the service of God to be perfect freedom;" and instead of wishing his law reduced to the standard of our practice, do we desire to have our practice raised to the standard of his law? Is it our labor to "shine as lights in a dark world," and "to show forth in our own conduct the virtues of him that has called us?" Let us all put these questions to ourselves; and they will soon show us what we are. If this be not the state of our souls, we are in an awful condition indeed. Our very best services have been nothing but a solemn mockery: in our prayers, we have insulted, rather than worshiped the Majesty of Heaven; we have come before our God "with a lie in our right hand." O that it might please God to discover to us the heinousness of our guilt; and that we might all be "pricked to the heart," before it be too late! Let us, the very next time we attempt to use this prayer, take notice of the frame of our minds: let us mark the awful incongruity between our professions, and our actual experience: and let a sense of our hypocrisy lead us to repentance. Thus shall the returning seasons of worship be attended with a double advantage to our souls: in praying for what we ought to seek, we shall be stirred up to seek it in good earnest: and, through the tender mercy of our God, we shall attain the experience of those things, which too many of us, it is to be feared, have hitherto hypocritically asked, and ignorantly condemned.

 

MMI

The Stability of the Promises

2 Corinthians 1:20. For all the promises of God in him are yes, and in him Amen, unto the glory of God by us.

MANKIND in general discover much versatility in their spirit and conduct. They form purposes and rescind them according as they are influenced by carnal hopes or fears; but the Gospel teaches us to lay our plans with wisdom, and to execute them with firmness. A light, fickle, wavering mind, if not incompatible with, is at least unworthy of, the Christian character. Paul has been accused of "lightness" for not paying his intended visit to Corinth. It is probable too (as appears by his apology) that his enemies had thrown out insinuations against his doctrine also, as though it could not be depended upon. He thought such charges extremely injurious to his person and ministry: he therefore first affirms that his doctrines had been uniform, and next appeals to God, that there had been the same uniformity in his conduct also. In speaking of his doctrine he digresses a little from his subject; but, what he says of the promises, is worthy of peculiar attention. It suggests to us the following important observations:

I. All the promises of God are made to us in Christ Jesus.

God has "given to us exceeding great and precious promises."

He has engaged to bestow all which can conduce to our temporal welfare: all too, which can promote our spiritual advancement. To this he has added all the glory and felicity of Heaven itself. Such are the benefits annexed by God himself to real godliness.

But all these are given to us only in Christ Jesus.

Man, the instant he had sinned, was exposed to the wrath of God; nor could he any longer have a claim on the promises made to him in his state of innocence; but Christ became the head and representative of God's elect: with him God was pleased to enter into covenant for us, and to give us a promise of eternal life in him. Our original election of God, our adoption into his family, with every blessing consequent upon these, were confirmed to us in him: hence, in the text, it is twice said, that the promises are in him; and, in another place, that they were made before the existence of any human being: even when the covenant was apparently made with Abraham, Christ was the true seed in whom alone it was confirmed.

From this circumstance they derive all their stability.

II. In him they are all firm and immutable.

The terms "Yes and Amen" import steadfastness and immutability. Now the promises cannot fail unless they be either revoked by God, or forfeited by man; but God will not suffer them to fail by either of these means.

He himself will not revoke them.

Some of his promises are absolute and others conditional: the conditional are suspended on the performance of something by man: the absolute are made without respect to anything to he done by us. If the former fail, it is not so properly a breach of promise, as an execution of a threatening implied in it: the latter never have failed in any one instance; nor can one jot or tittle of them ever fail to all eternity. This is declared in various passages of Holy Scripture. God's word, like his nature, has "no variableness or shadow of turning," he confirmed his promises with an oath, in order that we might he more assured of the immutability of his counsel: hence it is expressly said, that "the promise is sure to all the seed."

Nor will he suffer his people to forfeit their interest in them.

Doubtless his people, as free agents, are capable of apostatizing from the truth: yes, they are even bent to backslide from him; and, if left to themselves, they would inevitably fall and perish: hence they are bidden to take heed lest they come short of the promised blessings. Paul himself felt the need of much labor and self-denial to prevent his becoming a castaway. Nevertheless these truths are not at all inconsistent with the doctrine insisted on: it is by the fear of falling, that God keeps us from falling; and he will keep us by his own power unto final salvations. Of this Paul was as confident as of any truth whatever; nor is there any other truth more abundantly confirmed in Scripture. God will indeed punish his people for their declensions; but, instead of casting them off, he will reclaim them from their errors: if it were not thus, not one only, but all of those, who had been given to Christ, might perish. God however will effectually prevent this; and the weakest of his people may join in the Apostle's triumph.

This doctrine is far from being a matter of speculation only:

III. In their accomplishment God is glorified, and the ends of our ministry are answered.

The promises, as recorded in the Scriptures, are the foundation of our hopes: but it is by their accomplishment alone that the effects attributed to them are produced. In that,

1. God is glorified.

Every perfection of the Deity is interested in the accomplishment of his word: the mercy and love of God have given us the promises: his truth and faithfulness are pledged to fulfill them: his almighty power is engaged to execute whatever his goodness has given us reason to expect. Were his promises to fail of accomplishment, these perfections would be all dishonored; but when they are fulfilled, these perfections are all glorified. Justice itself is made to harmonize with truth and mercy, and matter is furnished for endless praise and adoration.

2. The ends of our ministry are answered.

The great ends of our ministry are to convert, edify, and comfort immortal souls. In pursuance of these, we set before men those promises which are most suited to their respective conditions; and assure them that their affiance in those promises shall bring them the blessings they desire. When therefore the contrite are brought to experience rest in Jesus, when the afflicted are comforted, the backsliding reclaimed, or the wavering established, then the great ends of our ministry are so far answered with respect to them. The truth of God in his promises is then made to appear; the benefits contained in them are enjoyed by our fellow-creatures; and our labors receive their richest recompense.

Application.

The Scripture speaks of some as "heirs of promise," and others as "strangers from the covenant of promise." Let us inquire to which of these characters we belong. Have we renounced every other hope, and rested simply on the promises made to us in Christ? And are we living in the earnest expectation of their full accomplishment? Have we so embraced them as to show that we are seeking another country? Let us not mistake our true and proper character. If we be strangers from the covenant of promise, we are without Christ, and without hope. The threatenings, and not the promises, belong to us, and they will infallibly be executed upon us in due season. O that we might now flee for refuge to the hope set before us! But if we be "heirs of promise," happy are we beyond all expression. Every promise of God, temporal, spiritual, or eternal, is made to us. Let every one then of this description be filled with consolation: let them also be followers of those, who now inherit the promises. May it never be said of them, that they glorify God by their faith, but dishonor him by their works! The promises are given, not merely to save, but to sanctify, the soul. Treasure up then, brethren, those inestimable pledges of God's love, and let them operate according to the direction given you.

 

MMII

The Different Operations of the Holy Spirit

2 Corinthians 1:21, 22. Now he which establishes us with you in Christ, and has anointed us, is God; who has also sealed us, and given the earnest of the Spirit in our hearts.

IT is the inseparable property of divine grace to make us jealous for the honor of God, and studious to promote it to the utmost of our power.

Paul, when accused of instability, vindicated his own character, because it was connected with his usefulness in the ministry; but instantly ascribed to God the glory of whatever steadfastness he had been enabled to maintain.

His words naturally point out to our consideration,

I. The blessings which all true Christians enjoy.

Though all Christians do not attain the same measure either of holiness or of comfort, yet there are blessings common to all who are born of God.

1. They are established in Christ.

All who believe in Christ are united to him as "branches of the true vine." At first indeed they are but as babes, or children, liable to be tossed to and fro; but by experience they become more rooted and grounded in Christ. As their views of their own weakness and of his sufficiency are enlarged, they grow more and more; nor was this peculiar to the Apostle, but the common privilege of all the Church at Corinth. Indeed, it is the great end for which all other blessings are communicated; and, in attaining it, the believer becomes immoveable as Mount Zion.

2. They are anointed with a heavenly unction.

It is the communication of the Holy Spirit that first enables them to believe in Christ; but, as the lamps in the sanctuary, they have daily supplies of the holy oil. By means of these they obtain more abundant knowledge and grace, and are progressively renewed after the image of their God. Not that all, even of true Christians, are alike favored; but every one receives according to the measure of the gift of Christ.

3. They are sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise.

A seal is for the purpose of both marking and securing property; and with both these views the Holy Spirit seals the people of God. He stamps the very image of God himself upon their souls; he thus marks them as his peculiar, his "purchased possession;" he secures them also to the day of complete redemption.

4. They have the earnest of the Spirit in their hearts.

An earnest is both a part of a payment, and a pledge of the remainder; and such is the Spirit to us, not in one only, but in all his operations. In illuminating, quickening, sanctifying, or comforting the soul, he is an earnest of that light and life, that purity and joy, which will be more richly communicated to us in the future world. As a seal, the Spirit assures us of our right to Heaven; as an earnest, he gives us a foretaste of it.

The consideration of such inestimable blessings may well lead us to inquire after,

II. The source from whence they flow.

It appears needless, at first sight, to enter minutely into this part of our subject: but the very construction of the sentence shows that there is something particularly emphatical in it. It implies,

1. That these blessings are purely the gift of God.

They are not the creatures of a vain and heated imagination; nor are they the offspring of man's will and power; nor, though imparted in the use of means, do they necessarily flow from the means themselves. They are purely and entirely the gift of God, and are bestowed by Him according to his sovereign will and pleasure.

2. That they evidently bear the Divine stamp and character upon them.

The visible creation manifestly approves itself to be of Divine workmanship, and in the same manner do these blessings evidently appear to proceed from God. The very effects which they produce upon the soul, discover this: but the conviction, which they, who possess these blessings, feel of their Divine original, is inexpressibly clear and strong: without the smallest hesitation they ascribe them to God as their only source.

3. That God is glorified by means of them.

It is the Apostle's express design to glorify God on account of them: and surely we cannot fail of admiring his power and goodness in them; or experience them, without an increased desire to devote ourselves to him; and most of all shall we adore him for these beginnings of his grace, when we shall have received their full completion.

Inferences.

1. How little is true religion known and experienced in the world!.

Christianity is in general viewed as a system of restraints, rather than as a source of enjoyments; but none can have a just view of it who do not experience a measure of these blessings. Let not any one then rest in false notions, or uninteresting professions. Let all seek rather such a religion as will make them holy and happy, and pray, with the Apostle, that God would fulfill in them all his good pleasure.

2. How much do many true Christians live below their privileges.

Many, instead of enjoying a Heaven upon earth, are filled with doubts and fears: yet even these have the image of God manifestly enstamped upon them, and the hope which they possess is more precious to them than the whole world: but we may well say to them, "Why are you lean, seeing you are a king's son?" Let them be ashamed of giving such occasion to the enemies of religion to triumph; and let them seek that full liberty which God will grant to all his children.

3. How astonishing are our obligations to each person in the Sacred Trinity!.

The Father is the great source and fountain of all our blessings: Christ is the procurer of them, and the medium through whom they come: and the Holy Spirit is the agent, by whom they are conveyed to us. Let us hold fellowship with each in his distinct office and character, and acknowledge with gratitude their united exertions; and let every blessing received from them quicken us to the service, and lead us to the enjoyment of our triune God.

 

MMIII

The Devices of Satan Exposed

2 Corinthians 2:11. We are not ignorant of his devices.

MEN in general think but little of Satan and his agency: yet is he the most formidable adversary that we have to contend with. Great was the grief which he occasioned to the Apostle Paul; and imminent was the danger to which he reduced many of the Church at Corinth. When one of the members of that Church had been guilty of the crime of incest, Satan stirred up many to support his cause, and to protect him from the censures he had merited. Again, when, at the Apostle's instigation, the Church had inflicted punishment on the offender, and the correction had produced the desired effect, the same subtle enemy prompted many to harden their hearts against him, and, notwithstanding his acknowledged penitence, to refuse him a re-admission to communion with them. In both these ways, he labored equally to undermine the interests of true religion; and, if Paul had not authoritatively interposed to regulate the conduct of that Church by the Gospel-standard, Satan would soon have prevailed to root out of it all vital godliness.

The Apostle's interposition was extremely painful to him. It was "with much anguish of heart and many tears" that he had written the former epistle: and the thought of having, however reluctantly, occasioned grief to those whom he had reproved, was so painful to him, that nothing but an assurance of good having accrued from it to them, and a consequent restoration of peace to their souls, could compose his mind. Still however he was bound to proceed in the discharge of his high office, and to urge upon them that duty which they were so backward to perform. And this he does, requesting them to "confirm their love towards the offender, (whose name from delicacy he forbears to mention,) lest Satan should get a further advantage over them;" for, adds he, "we are not ignorant of his devices." This was a weighty argument: and, that we may enter more fully into it, I propose to show,

I. The devices of Satan.

It is but little that we know of them: yet, as far as we do know them, it will be profitable to consider,

1. Their number.

This is great beyond all that we are able to conceive. I doubt whether the sands upon the sea-shore form such a countless multitude as do the devices of this great adversary. There is not a person of any age, or any condition, or under any circumstances, for whom he has not devices peculiarly fitted, as a key to the wards of a most ingenious and complicated lock. For every successive variation in their circumstances, he can in an instant adapt his temptations, and so modify them to the occasion, as to give them the greatest possible influence over the mind of his victim.

It must not be forgotten, that, though we speak of Satan as one, he has millions of other spirits at his command, all cooperating with him with an activity inconceivable, and an energy incessant. All of these were once bright and glorious angels around the throne of God: but "they kept not their first estate;" and, for their wickedness, were cast down to the regions of darkness; whence however for a season they are permitted to emerge, in order that they may exert their powers, and subserve unwittingly the counsels of the Most High. Of these there are distinct orders, called principalities and powers, all under Satan as their head and leader, whose will they execute, and whose designs they promote. Hence, though Satan is limited both as to space and knowledge, he is, by his agents, in every part of the globe, receiving information from them, and exercising rule by means of them: and hence his devices, founded on such a combination of wisdom, and carried into effect by such an union of power, become so manifold as to exceed what on any other supposition would have been within the power of any finite creature to devise and execute. In a word, they are to any but God himself altogether unsearchable and without number.

2. Their subtlety.

We have already said, that he knows how to adapt his temptations to all different persons and occasions. But the subtlety of Satan is yet farther discoverable in this, that he puts such a specious appearance on his temptations, as removes from us all suspicion from whence they come. "He transforms himself into an angel of light," so that his suggestions seem rather to bear the character of Heaven than the stamp of Hell. Who would think that he should pretend a zeal for God's honor, and make use of the very perfections of God to countenance and confirm his impious suggestions? Yet so he did, both in his assaults on the first Adam in Paradise, and on the second Adam in the Wilderness. When he sought to prevail over our first parents, he asked "Has God said, you shall not eat of every tree in the garden?" that is, You surely must have made a mistake: it cannot be that so good and bountiful a God should have laid upon you any such unkind restriction. Then again, when Eve replied, that God had not only forbidden the use of that tree, but had enforced the prohibition by the sanction of death, he answered, "You shall not surely die;" you may be perfectly assured that God is too good ever to inflict such an awful penalty for so trivial a transgression. In like manner, when he took our Lord to a pinnacle of the temple, and advised him to cast himself down, for that God had engaged to preserve him from all evil, and had given his angels charge over him for that very purpose; his argument was, in fact, You may safely cast yourself down, for God, who cannot lie, has pledged his truth and faithfulness for your preservation. Perhaps there is no one device in which his subtlety more appears than this: for it is by a pretended zeal for God's honor more than by any other thing whatever, that he leads men to sin, and lulls them asleep in sin. To one, he suggests, that God is too merciful to consign over any man to everlasting torments: to another, that God is too holy and too just ever to pardon such iniquities as he has committed: and then to another, that God, as a mighty Sovereign, has ordained men to life, and will save them without any trouble or efforts of their own. In all these instances he employs the very name and character of God, in order to subvert God's influence in the world.

Another point wherein his subtlety appears is, in his choice of instruments whereby to operate the more forcibly upon our minds. He will be sure to employ such as will have most influence, and such as we should be least likely to suspect. Whom should he employ to seduce Adam from his allegiance, but Eve, whom God had given him to be his comfort and support? It was most probably with the hope of using her influence to tempt her husband, that Satan spared Job's wife, whom he might have destroyed, together with his children: and how readily she concurred with Satan, appears from the advice she gave Job in his extremity, "Curse God, and die." When he wanted to instigate Ahab to his destruction, whose agency did he employ but that of the four hundred and fifty prophets, whose united testimony Ahab could not withstand? and when he sought to divert even Jesus himself from the great work of redeeming a ruined world, by whom did he endeavor to accomplish his purpose, but by Peter, a favorite Disciple, and that too under a semblance of love?

Well is he called "that old serpent," for, in truth, he is "a crooked serpent," whose windings are only equaled by his venom.

3. Their power.

But who can estimate this, seeing that "he deceives the whole world?" It is on this account that he is called "the God of this world," for he "works in all the children of disobedience," and "leads them captive at his will." What he would effect, if suffered to execute all his own pleasure, we may see in Peter, whom he sifted as wheat, and would soon have reduced to chaff, if the Savior himself had not interceded for him that his faith might not fail. When expelled from the demoniac, he entered into a herd of swine, who all ran immediately down the mountain, and perished in the sea. And thus it would be with all of us, if God gave us over to his uncontrolled dominion; we should precipitate ourselves speedily into irrecoverable and endless ruin. In the hands of that "great dragon," we should be no more than as a lamb in the jaws of a roaring lion.

But though in all their extent they cannot be known by us, yet, as far as they can be known, we are anxious to mark,

II. The importance of being thoroughly acquainted with them.

It is of unspeakable importance to us all,

1. Individually.

There is not an individual among us, "at whose right hand he does not stand," and whom he is not seeking to destroy. "As a roaring lion, he is going about continually for this very end," seeking to find someone off his guard, that he may prevail the more easily against him. He notices particularly the dispositions of our mind, and is constantly on the watch that he may ensnare us by means of our besetting sin. Does he see David inclining to pride and vain confidence? he puts it into his heart to give an order for the numbering of the people; well knowing that by means of that act God would be provoked to execute upon him and on his people some heavy judgment. Did he see in Judas the love of money? by that he draws him to betray his Lord. Did he behold in Peter the fear of man? he instigates several to accuse him as a follower of Christ, and thereby causes him to deny his Lord with oaths and curses. Did he see Ananias and Sapphira affecting man's applause? he puts it into their heart to appear liberal at a cheap rate; and then, for the preservation of their character, to lie unto the Holy Spirit. Thus he will watch the motions of our hearts; and, by means of some evil propensity in us, drive us to the commission of some heinous sin. Nor is he inattentive even to the state and temperament of our bodies; since from that also he can derive much advantage against us. If he perceive that our bodies are enervated by heavy afflictions, or such disorders as induce both bodily and mental debility, he will be sure to assault the soul, in order to drive it to despondency. The whole system being weakened, he hopes that he shall the more easily prevail against us to destroy us. In a word, he knows the weak side of all, and will be sure to assault us there. Hence arises a particular necessity for watching against him with all possible care. Whatever there be, either in our minds or bodies, that seems to favor his temptations, it is only with our own concurrence that he can effect anything: against our will he can do nothing. "If we resist him, he is constrained to flee from us." But the difficulty is, to know when, and where, and how he will assault us. Could the bird certainly know that the fowler was laying a snare for him, he would take care not to run into the net; and could the fish be fully aware of the hook, he would never be induced to swallow the bait. Thus, if we knew beforehand what the devices were whereby Satan was studying to deceive us, we should stand on our guard against him. But it requires a very deep knowledge of "his wiles," and a constant watchfulness over every motion of our hearts, to resist him with effect.

2. In our collective capacity.

Whole Churches are often grievously distracted by this powerful adversary. Where Christ is sowing wheat, he will be active in sowing tares. It was thus at Corinth: he had prevailed to a great extent, first in setting the people against all discipline, and then in urging them to carry their discipline beyond all reasonable bounds. The latter device would have been attended with incalculable evil, if it had not been exposed and counteracted by Paul: the offender himself might have been driven to despair, and constrained to go back for happiness to the ungodly world. The weak in the Church would have been greatly discouraged: and unbelievers would have been led to think of Christianity as the most odious system that had ever been professed in the world. In like manner, there are in every Church some circumstances which Satan would over-rule for the dishonor of God and the injury of immortal souls. Against these therefore, whatever they may be, both minister and people should be much upon their guard. In matters of doctrine, our subtle adversary may easily lead us astray; and in matters of discipline, he may easily succeed in stirring up contentions and divisions among us. If we neglect to purge out the old leaven, the whole lump will soon be leavened: and if with too indiscriminate a hand we attempt to pluck up the tares, we may root up also much of the wheat along with it. We are in danger on every side: and if we do not, with the utmost possible care, guard against his devices, he will, in some way or other, "get advantage of us," to the weakening of our hands, and the great discouragement of our hearts.

As an improvement of the subject, we will briefly show how most effectually to counteract his devices.

1. Be ever on your guard against them.

You have to contend, "not against flesh and blood only, but against principalities and powers," and therefore must be continually on your guard. This is the advice which Peter gives, and gives from bitter experience. He had been warned by his Lord to watch and pray, and especially because Satan was peculiarly anxious to destroy him. But he slept, yes slept repeatedly, though repeatedly awaked by his Lord: and the consequence was, that he "fell into the snare of the devil." Hence he warns others to "be sober and vigilant, because the devil as a roaring lion goes about seeking whom he may devour." Moreover, it was in consequence of the Savior "praying for him that his faith might not fail," that he did not ultimately perish, like Judas, in deep despair. Hence he adds this further direction, "whom resist, steadfast in the faith." It is scarcely to be hoped, however vigilant you may be, that Satan shall never get any advantage over you; but you must not on that account despond, as if he were invincible: for your God has pledged himself that "he will bruise Satan under your feet shortly." Rely therefore on his word; and in the strength of it go forth again and again to the combat; praying always, that God would either "not lead you into temptation," or, if he do, that he would "deliver you from the evil one." It is said of young men in Christ, "that the word of God abides in them, and they have overcome the wicked one." Let it abide in you also; and success is yours. The Lord Jesus Christ drew all his arrows from that quiver: "It is written," was the reply with which he vanquished every temptation: and with "that sword of the Spirit, the Word of God," you shall speedily and eternally prevail.

2. Look to the Lord Jesus Christ as your Protector and Deliverer.

He is "stronger than the strong man armed," and, while he yet hanged upon the cross, he bruised the serpent's head; yes, "by death he overcame him that had the power of death, that is, the devil." On the cross "he spoiled all the principalities and powers of Hell, triumphing over them in it," and in his ascension "he led captivity itself captive." Then was the God of this world vanquished: "then was the prince of this world cast out." It is therefore only with a vanquished foe that we have to contend; for "the prince of this world is judged." Go forth then "strong in the Lord and in the power of his might." Our almighty Joshua calls you to come and put your feet on the necks of your vanquished enemies. Do it; and assure yourselves, that through him you shall be "more than conquerors over all." For a little time this subtle adversary will yet continue his assaults. It was only "for a season" that he suspended his efforts even against the Lord Jesus Christ himself. Depend upon it, therefore, that you shall have some "thorn in the flesh, some messenger of Satan, still to buffet you." But "be strong and very courageous." "Be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus." "Gird on the whole armor" provided for you in the Gospel; and "quit yourselves like men." If you say, "True, but I am weak;" know that, "when you are weak, then are you strong;" and "the strength of Christ shall be perfected in your weakness." The palm of victory, and the victor's robe, are already provided for you: and, after a few more conflicts, your triumph shall be complete. Already may you "behold Satan fallen from Heaven, like lightning." Hallelujah! hallelujah!

 

MMIV

The Importance of the Ministry

2 Corinthians 2:15, 16. We are unto God a sweet savor of Christ, in them that are saved, and in them that perish: to the one we are the savor of death unto death; and to the other the savor of life unto life. And who is sufficient for these things?

THE difficulties which faithful ministers have to encounter, are great and numerous. Through the goodness of God, the flames of persecution are not permitted to rage against them, as in the apostolic age; but the embers are by no means extinguished; hatred and contempt are yet the portion of all who will bear their testimony for God, and reprove the wickedness of an ungodly world. But if "their afflictions abound, their consolations abound also." They are sustained by the providence and grace of God, and have reason to "thank him for causing them always to triumph in Christ." They have also the satisfaction of seeing, that God, by their instrumentality, "makes manifest the savor of his knowledge in every place." And though they are unhappily the occasion of deeper condemnation to those who reject their message, yet are they accepted and approved of God, as well in their ineffectual, as in their successful, labors.

This is the consolation expressed in the text; from whence we shall take occasion to show,

I. In what way the ministry of the Gospel is regarded by God.

God is pleased to speak of himself as delighting in the ministry of his Gospel.

That which his servants labor to diffuse, is, the knowledge of Christ. They set forth incessantly his name, his work, and offices: and exalt him as the only Savior of the world—This, like the sacrifice which Noah, and which Christ himself, offered, is to God "an odor of a sweet smell." It is to him "as ointment poured forth."

And good reason there is why he should be so delighted with it.

The Gospel of Christ is that wherein all the glory of God is concentrated and made manifest. We may behold the power, the wisdom, and the goodness of God in the works of creation and providence; but in the work of redemption we see an united display of all his perfections: "Mercy and truth meet together; and righteousness and peace kiss each other"—No wonder therefore that his ministers, who proclaim this Gospel, are considered as rendering to him an acceptable service.

Nor does his approbation of it at all depend on the success with which it is attended.

God is certainly well pleased when any "are saved" by his Gospel: for then all his gracious purposes respecting them are accomplished—Then is his dear Son honored, and, as it were, rewarded "for the travail of his soul." Then "mercy," his darling attribute, "in which he chiefly delights," has free and full scope for exercise.

But God is no less glorified "in them also that perish," for they must to all eternity acknowledge the goodness of God towards them; and confess his justice in the judgments inflicted on them.

To us the punishment of the wicked is a ground of lamentation only: but we must not "imagine that God is such an one as ourselves," whatever tends to his glory, is pleasing in his sight.

Our pleasure, however, in ministering the Gospel, is mixed with pain, when we reflect on,

II. The effects which it produces upon men.

To some we are an occasion of deeper condemnation.

It had been foretold by the prophet, that Christ should be, not merely for a sanctuary, but also for a stone of stumbling, and a rock of offence. The holy patriarch, who embraced our Savior in his arms, declared, that he was set for the fall, as well as for the rising again, of many in Israel. Our Lord himself also attests, that the design of his coming was, to shut the eyes of those who proudly imagined that they saw aright, as well as to open the eyes of those who were sensible of their blindness. And the ministrations of his Apostles were actually attended with these contrary effects. Thus we also find it at this time: we are, however unwillingly, the unhappy occasion of increasing the misery of many whom we labor to save. Some hear our word, and disregard it—others despise it—others abuse it, to encourage themselves in their evil ways. For all such persons it would have been better never to have heard the word at all.

To others, we are the means and instruments of their salvation.

As odors which are most offensive to some are most pleasing and refreshing to others, so are we in the discharge of our ministry. Some hear our word, and receive it with joy and gratitude. The name of Jesus becomes truly precious to them: they trust in him for salvation: they are brought by him into a state of reconciliation with God: they receive out of his fullness all the grace which they stand in need of: they are enabled by him to live a new and heavenly life; and, finally, they are exalted by him to a state of everlasting happiness and glory. In effecting this blessed work, we are his highly-honored instruments: by our word he quickens them from the dead; by our word he gives them life more abundantly; by our word he carries on, and perfects, the work he has begun. And thus, while to some we are "a savor of death to their death" and condemnation, we are to others "a savor of life to their eternal life" and salvation.

Well might Paul, in contemplating these effects of his ministry, express his sense of,

III. Its arduousness and importance.

Let it only be considered what a sacred trust is committed to us: on the one hand the glory of God, and on the other hand the salvation of man, is entrusted to our care: What a treasure is this to be deposited in such earthen vessels as we are! "Who is sufficient for these things?" Who is sufficient,

1. In wisdom and knowledge.

To discharge the ministerial office aright, we should understand in all its bearings that mystery which was hid from ages—the redemption of man by the incarnation and death of God's only-begotten Son. We should be acquainted also with all the devices of Satan, whereby he is continually laboring to defeat the gracious purposes of our God. We should be able also to discriminate between all the shades of Christian experience, so as to administer suitable advice to all who are under our care. The effects of ignorance would be most fatal: we should be "blind leaders of the blind;" and thus, together with our deluded hearers, should "fall into the ditch." Alas! alas! Who has not reason to lament his utter insufficiency for so great a work?

2. In zeal and love.

If we duly considered the importance of our work, we should find neither time nor inclination to think of anything else. We should scarcely allow ourselves the necessary refreshments of food and sleep. Persons who see us a little earnest are ready to give us credit for our zeal, or perhaps to condemn us for it: but we should not minister in the way we do, if we justly appreciated the value of a soul, or the glory of our God. No, truly; we should never think of you but with the tenderest compassion, nor even speak to you but with floods of tears. Whether we spoke to you in public or in private, we should take no denial: and, in our addresses to God in your behalf, we should "give him no rest, until he arose, and made our Jerusalem a praise in the earth."

Application.

Inquire, What improvement you have made of our ministry? We ask, not merely whether you approve of what you hear? but whether you find it a sweet savor unto your souls? Does it endear to you the Lord Jesus Christ? Does it bring you into closer and more habitual communion with him? Does it stir you up to live more to his glory? Let not our labors of love be the means of augmenting your guilt and misery. Force us not to be "swift witnesses against you" in the day of judgment: but rather seek, that we may have you as our joy and crown of rejoicing in that day.

In the meantime, "pray for us." Our responsibility is great and fearful. It is no light matter to answer for our own souls: but to have your souls also required at our hands, is formidable in the extreme. May God pity our infirmities, and pardon our insufficiency! Yes, may he so "perfect his own strength in our weakness," that, through our feeble ministrations, his name may be glorified, and your souls be saved!

 

MMV

Christians are Epistles of Christ

2 Corinthians 3:2, 3. If are our epistle written in our hearts, known and read of all men: forasmuch as you are manifestly declared to be the epistle of Christ ministered by us, written not with ink, but with the Spirit of the living God; not in tables of stone, but in fleshy tables of the heart.

HATEFUL and detestable as boasting is, there are occasions whereon it may be proper, and even necessary. As far as a man's own reputation merely is concerned, he need not be forward to vindicate himself from false accusations: if he be a holy and consistent character, he may safely leave himself in God's hands, indifferent about the censures of an ungodly world: but where the honor of the Gospel is at stake, and there is danger of its influence being undermined by the falsehoods that are circulated, it is by no means unworthy even of an Apostle to refute the calumnies that are raised against him. There were at Corinth false teachers, who sought by all possible means to destroy the character of the Apostle Paul, and who even denied his claim to apostolic authority. In answer to their malignant accusations, Paul, in his former Epistle to the Corinthians, says, "Am I not an Apostle? Have I not seen Jesus Christ our Lord? Are not you my work in the Lord? If I be not an Apostle unto others, yet doubtless I am to you: for the seal of my apostleship are you in the Lord." Thus, in this epistle also he vindicates himself as ministering, not like the false teachers, who corrupted the word of God, but with a holy integrity befitting his high office. Yet apprehensive lest he should be misunderstood, as though he felt a need of such commendations either from himself or others, he appealed to his converts themselves as proofs sufficient of his apostleship, even such proofs as carried, to the most thoughtless beholder, their own evidence along with them: "You are our epistle, etc. etc.," that is, 'I need not epistles from men, since you yourselves are epistles from the Lord Jesus Christ, testifying that I am his servant, and that the Gospel which I preach is the very truth of God."

In further considering these words, we may notice from them,

I. The character of all true converts.

Christians are epistles of Christ, written for the instruction of the whole world. Epistles from man to man, such as were those which the false teachers carried with them as letters of recommendation from Church to Church, were written with ink; but Christ's epistles are written with the Spirit of the living God; and not, as the law of the ten commandments was, in tables of stone, but in fleshy tables of the heart; to which God alone can have access, and on which God alone can make any valuable impressions. Ministers indeed are used by him as instruments, as the word also is; but these can effect no more than a pen or ink can without the hand of a writer: "Paul may plant, and Apollos may water; but it is God alone who can give the increase."

By these epistles the Lord Jesus Christ teaches men,

1. What is that change that must be wrought on every child of man.

Christians once walked after the course of this world, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were children of wrath, even as others. But a great change has been wrought in them: they have been "turned from darkness. unto light, and from the power of Satan unto God." They are become "new creatures," their views, their desires, their pursuits, are all new. The change that has taken place in them is not unlike that of a river, which, from flowing rapidly towards the ocean, is arrested in its course, and made by the refluent tide to return with equal rapidity towards the fountain-head. Thus are these turned "in the spirit of their minds," the whole bent of which was formerly after the things of time and sense, but is now directed to the service of the living God.

These being still in the world, though not of it, are living instructors to all around them: they are epistles "known and read of all men." From the Scriptures men will turn their eyes; but from these epistles they cannot: they are constrained to see the truths recorded in them: and, however they may hate the change which they behold, they are compelled to acknowledge it: and they are admonished by it, that, without such a change, they themselves can never be partakers of the kingdom of Heaven. In a word, by every true convert, Christ speaks to all, as once he did to Nicodemus, "Truly, truly, I say unto you, except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of Heaven."

2. By what means that change is to be effected.

However the followers of Christ may differ from each other in minor points, they all agree in founding their hopes of salvation entirely on his atoning blood, and on the effectual operation of his Spirit within them: the declaration of every one among them is, "Surely in the Lord, and in him alone, have I righteousness and strength."

These things then does the Lord Jesus Christ proclaim to the world by them. By them he says, "I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man comes unto the Father, but by me." "There is no other name but mine given under Heaven whereby men may be saved;" "nor is there any other foundation whereon any man can build" his hopes. 'And, as they look to me for their acceptance with God, so must they also do for the gift of my Spirit, who alone can begin, or carry on, or perfect, a work of grace in their souls.' It is in reality this testimony which so offends the world. If they were taught to rely on their own merits, or to depend on their own arm, they would extol the persons who thus distinguished themselves by their superior attainments in holiness: but, when they are told that all their hope must be in the righteousness of another, and in strength communicated from above, they pour contempt upon it all as foolishness. Nevertheless such are the lessons which Christians teach to all around them; and such are the instructions which Christ conveys by them to a benighted world.

While they thus speak from Christ they give us just occasion also to notice,

II. The honor they reflect on the Gospel of Christ.

They are all not merely epistles from Christ, but witnesses also for him. As the Jews were witnesses for God to all nations of the earth, since no other God could ever have effected what he had wrought for them, and as all the persons whom Jesus healed were witnesses for him as the true Messiah, so are all true converts witnesses,

1. Of the truth of the Gospel.

What other system ever wrought as that has done? Look at all the means which men have devised for obtaining reconciliation with God; and see if they have ever operated so powerfully, and so beneficially, on the souls of those who have embraced them, as has the simple doctrine of the cross? No, by no other doctrine did God ever work, nor by any other doctrine will he ever work, for the sanctification and salvation of a ruined world. Go to any place under Heaven where Christ is not exalted as the only Savior of the world, or where the Spirit of the living God is not honored as the only source of all real holiness of heart and life, and see what the state is of those who are so taught: will there be found among them any work like that on the day of Pentecost? Will the word preached there be quick, and powerful, and sharper than a two-edged sword? Will "the weapons used there be found mighty to pull down the strong holds" of sin and Satan, and to "bring men's thoughts into captivity to the obedience of Christ?" No, God does not, and will not, work by anything but a simple exhibition of Christ crucified. It is the Gospel only that is "the rod of his strength," or that will ever prove "the power of God to the salvation of the soul." But where that is preached, these effects are wrought; multitudes are "brought out of darkness into marvelous light," and are enabled to show by their works the reality of their faith; and thus they give undoubted evidence, that the Gospel which is ministered unto them is the true Gospel. As Christ said of the people whom he had healed, "The works that I do, the same bear witness of me," so may we say of these persons, that they are "seals," whereby God himself attests the mission of his servants, and the truth of the doctrine which they deliver.

2. Of the efficacy of the Gospel.

It is not a mere external change which the Gospel effects, but a change of the whole soul, from sin and sorrow to holiness and joy. The "peace" which it introduces into the troubled mind, "passes all understanding," and the "joy" to which it elevates the repenting sinner, is "unspeakable and glorified." In respect of sanctification, it does not produce absolute perfection; for "there is not a man on earth that lives and sins not;" but it transforms the soul in a very wonderful manner, and changes it progressively, if not perfectly, "into the very image of God, in righteousness and true holiness." In short, it brings the Lord Jesus Christ and the believer into so near an union with each other, that they are one body, and "one spirit," partakers of the same blessings in this world, and heirs of the same glory in the world to come.

What other doctrine ever did, or can, effect such a change as this? Not even God's law, which he wrote in tables of stone, could operate to such an extent as this: the Gospel alone is competent to such a task: as Paul has said; "What the law could not do, in that it was weak through the flesh, God sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and for sin, did; that is, he condemned sin in the flesh; that the righteousness of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not after the flesh but after the Spirit." Moreover, it is not on those only who are of a better and more pliant frame of mind, that the Gospel thus operates, but on the vilest of the human race; as indisputably appeared in the Corinthian Church. The instances too of such efficacy are not rare, but frequent. On one day were three thousand such converts made; and in every age from that period to the present has the same power been exerted to change the lion to a lamb, and "a desert to the garden of the Lord." Such converts "shine as lights in a dark world," and, by "holding forth the word of life" as epistles from Christ, they show that "the minister has not run in vain, nor labored in vain."

Address.

1. Seek to have the mind of Christ more fully inscribed upon your hearts.

Beloved brethren, let not a day pass without your having some divine lesson written more clearly and more legibly upon your souls. Bring your hearts daily to the Lord Jesus Christ, and present them as a tablet to him, that he may write upon them something which they have not hitherto contained. And when you come up to the house of God, come, not to gratify curiosity, or to perform a duty merely, but to spread your hearts again before the Lord, that, by the instrumentality of his minister, and the operation of his word and Spirit, he may inscribe on them some further lesson, which shall attract the notice of an ungodly world, and constrain them to acknowledge that God is with you of a truth. If there be a blot upon your hearts, entreat him to erase it: and whatever is but indistinctly written, entreat him to trace it over again and again, until it shall appear in characters worthy of the Divine Author, and convey to all who behold it a decisive proof of its divine original. And, at the close of every day, examine the contents of the epistle, to see what progress has been made, and what yet remains to be added for its perfection. Nor ever forget by whom the characters must be inscribed: it is "by the Spirit of the living God," and by the Lord Jesus Christ through him. If you look to any other quarter, you will be disappointed: but, if you go to Christ for the gift of his Spirit, and desire really to have his whole mind and will written upon your hearts, it shall be done; until you are "changed into his image from glory to glory by the Spirit of our God."

2. Endeavor to exhibit the whole mind of Christ to a careless and ungodly world.

Let there not be seen in you those tempers and dispositions which dishonor the Christian profession, and make the Gospel a stumbling-block to the world. In too many professors of religion there is little seen but pride, and forwardness, and self-confidence, and loquacity, and uncharitableness, and a disputatious temper, and a party spirit. But are these the characters inscribed by Christ? No, but by that wicked one, who counterfeits the hand of Christ, on purpose to bring him and his Gospel into general contempt. Whatever there is of such dispositions within you, get them obliterated without delay; and all the graces of humility, and meekness, and love, inscribed in their place. People will judge of our ministry by the lives of those who attend it; and will impute to our doctrines every evil which they can find in you. This is unreasonable indeed: but they will do so; and we cannot prevent it; and if they see in you what is odious, they will represent it as the necessary fruit of the system you profess. Take care then that "the way of truth be not evil spoken of through you." Endeavor rather so to "make your light shine before men, that all who behold it may glorify your Father which is in Heaven," yes, "let it shine brighter and brighter unto the perfect day."

 

MMVI

The Extent of Man's Impotency

2 Corinthians 3:5. Not that we are sufficient of ourselves to think anything as of ourselves; but our sufficiency is of God.

COMMONLY as these words are cited, they are not easy to be satisfactorily explained. There is an evident abruptness in them: and they appear to go far beyond what the context requires. The Apostle had spoken of the success of his ministry: and "thanked God for making manifest the savor of the knowledge of Christ by him in every place." He had appealed to the Corinthians, as living witnesses of the power of Christ in his ministry; seeing that they were, in fact, "epistles of Christ, known and read of all men." And he trusted that God would yet further manifest his power, in carrying on among them, and in other places, the work of men's salvation, through the instrumentality of his ministry. But while he spoke thus, did he arrogate anything to himself, as though these effects were produced by any powers of his own! No, he utterly disclaimed all such pretensions; and declared, that, so far from being able to convert others by any powers of his own, he had not of himself a sufficiency even to think a good thought: his sufficiency even for that, and much more for all his ministerial success, was from God alone.

The word which we here translate "think anything," means also to reason: and if it could have borne the sense of convincing by reasoning, that is the sense we should have preferred; because that would have been the precise idea which the subject called for. But, as no such construction can be put upon it, we are convinced that the version given to it in our translation is right; and that the Apostle must be understood as going designedly beyond what the occasion called for, and as intending to intimate, not only that he could not convert others by any power of his own, but not even excite any good thought within his own bosom, unless he were strengthened for it from above. He had before said, "Who is sufficient for these things?" and here he ascribes all his sufficiency, for every part of his ministry, to God alone.

To mark fully the meaning of the Apostle, I will endeavor to show whence all our sufficiency arises,

I. For the communicating of good to the souls of others.

Whatever force there may be in the reasonings of men, or whatever fascination in their eloquence, it is certain that neither the one nor the other have any power to convert a soul to God.

Our blessed Lord spoke to many, in vain. Though he spoke as never man spoke either before or since, yet did he not convince all his hearers. If "some said, He is a good man; others said, Nay, but he deceives the people." Nor did his miracles produce the same effect on all. The poor man, whose eyes he had opened, argued with the Pharisees in vain, because their minds were not open to conviction: "Herein is a marvelous thing," said he, "that you know not from whence this Jesus is, and yet he has opened my eyes. Since the world began, was it not heard, that any man opened the eyes of one that was born blind. If this man were not of God, he could do nothing." And what was the effect of this reasoning? It only incensed them the more; and caused them to pass on the poor man a sentence of excommunication. One would have thought that the raising of Lazarus from the grave, after he had been dead four days, should have carried conviction to all: but the chief priests, instead of being duly influenced by it themselves, sought to put Lazarus to death, in order to obstruct the influence of this miracle on the minds of others. Thus it was also with the Apostles. When, in consequence of the Holy Spirit being poured out upon them on the day of Pentecost, they were enabled to address persons of different countries, each in their own particular language, some, who beheld this stupendous miracle, only "mocked at it, and said that the Apostles were full of new wine," and in a state of intoxication at nine o'clock in the morning. So when Paul pleaded the Savior's cause before Festus and Agrippa, Festus, who was full of prejudice, cried out, "Paul, you are beside yourself; much learning has made you mad," while Agrippa, who was more intelligent and more candid, said, "Almost you persuade me to be a Christian." In fact, truth has no force with those who have not eyes to see it.

Whatever good, therefore, is done to any man, it must be ascribed to God alone.

It was "the Lord who opened the heart of Lydia to attend to the things that were spoken by Paul," and to a want of such a divine operation did he ascribe the obstinacy of the Jews whom he addressed at Rome. After expounding the Scriptures from morning to evening to many of them in vain, he said, "Well spoke the Holy Spirit, by Isaiah the prophet unto our fathers, saying, Go unto this people and say, Hearing, you shall hear, and shall not understand; and seeing, you shall see, and not perceive: for the heart of this people is waxed gross, and their ears are dull of hearing; and their eyes have they closed, lest they should see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and understand with their heart, and should be converted, and I should heal them." So true is that declaration of Solomon, "The hearing ear, and the seeing eye, the Lord has made even both of them." And most important is this truth for the instruction of all who minister in holy things, that they may know where to look for the success of their labors for "neither is he who plants anything, nor he who waters, but God that gives the increase."

From the same divine source must be derived all our sufficiency,

II. For the exercising of good in our own souls.

The foregoing observations illustrate the Apostle's argument. What I shall now adduce is for the illustration of his particular assertion, that "of himself he could not even think a good thought."

There is not, in unassisted man, an inclination to entertain a good thought.

"The heart of the sons of men is full of evil," yes, "every imagination of the thoughts of their hearts is evil, only evil, continually." What is morally good may arise in the hearts of many: but what is spiritually good must be put there by the special agency of the Holy Spirit. Kindness, benevolence, compassion, though certainly referable to God as their prime Author, exist in the minds of many who are not partakers of saving grace: but hatred of sin, and love to God and Christ, and holiness, find no place in the bosom of an unconverted man: there is between him and them as great a difference as between "light and darkness, or Christ and Belial," they have not, they cannot have, communion with each other. As well might a stone ascend of itself, or a spark descend, as an ungodly man give birth to that which is so foreign to his nature, as spiritual good is to a carnal heart.

Nor is there in unassisted man a capacity to cherish what is truly good.

We are told, from unquestionable authority, that "the natural man receives not the things of the Spirit of God; for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned." This may be illustrated by the metaphor which Paul makes use of in the preceding context. He has spoken of "spreading the savor of the knowledge of Christ;" and has stated, that, in his ministry, he was to some "a savor of death unto death, and to others a savor of life unto life." Now we know that odors have very different effects on different persons: the very same odor which to one may be grateful and reviving, to another may be offensive and injurious: and none but God could reverse these tendencies. So, to some, the sublimest truths of the Gospel appear only as "foolishness, while to others they are the wisdom of God and the power of God." And whence is this, but because a spiritual discernment has been given to the one, while the other possesses only that natural intellect which is conversant with earthly things? In a word, "to the one it is given to know the mysteries of the kingdom of Heaven; but to the other it is not given," nor, until "God, of his own good pleasure, has given us to will and to do what is pleasing in his sight," shall we ever do it, or ever so much as will it. Our sufficiency for the one, as well as for the other, must come from God alone: for "without Christ we can do nothing."

See, then, in this subject,

1. What matter there is for humiliation.

It is scarcely possible to conceive anything more humiliating than the declaration in my text. And if any man doubt the truth of it, let him look: back and see, even in the space of the longest life, who ever, by the force of his own natural powers, entertained so much as one thought that was truly in accordance with God's perfect law, or fully consonant with his Gospel? I have said before, that things morally good are attainable by the natural man; but things spiritually good are altogether out of his reach. Only keep in mind this important distinction, and no language that can be used can be too strong to declare our destitution of all good, and our dependence upon God for every good disposition or desire.

2. What matter there is for encouragement.

Was Paul's sufficiency derived from God alone? Then I also may obtain all that I need. Since the same source and fountain is open for me also, why need I be discouraged at the thought of my own impotency? If God, in instances without number, "has revealed unto babes what he has hidden from the wise and prudent," and "by things which are not, has brought to nothing things that are;" what need have I to be discouraged? Whatever be my duties, whether personal or official, God can strengthen me for them; yes, and "he will perfect his own strength in my weakness." "I will be strong then in the Lord, and in the power of his might," and address myself to every duty in dependence on him. Then shall I not fail in anything that I undertake: for "I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me."

 

MMVII

The Letter that Kills, and the Spirit that Gives Life

2 Corinthians 3:6. Who also has made us able ministers of the new testament; not of the letter, but of the spirit: for the letter kills, but the spirit gives life.

IN the Holy Scriptures there is often incidentally introduced some information of the deepest and most important nature, where the subject did not immediately appear to call for it. In a parenthesis, as it were, a world of instruction is often conveyed. The fact is, that the inspired writers, and especially Paul, had so full an insight into the mysteries of our holy religion, that they spoke of them as persons familiar with the truths they uttered, and scarcely conscious, as it were, of the depths into which they so abruptly led the minds of their readers. Paul, vindicating himself against a supposed charge of egotism and of boasting, here acknowledges, that "all his sufficiency, for every part of his ministerial duty," was of God. But, together with this, he gives, in few words, his entire view of the Gospel which he preached, and of the effects which he expected to follow from his labors. To set before you the precise import of his words, I will show,

I. What is that Gospel which we minister.

Paul calls himself "a minister of the new testament," or, as the word also means, "the new covenant," and, for the purpose of explaining himself more clearly, he contrasts that new covenant with the old covenant, which was superseded by it.

His view of the Gospel may be thus explained.

The old covenant, as published by Moses, was written in ten commandments, upon tables of stone. The substance of those ten commandments is by our Lord comprised in two: the one of which is, "You shall love God with all your heart, and mind, and soul, and strength;" and the other, "You shall love your neighbor as yourself." For the performance of these commandments the law afforded no strength, while yet it made no allowance whatever for the smallest defect in our obedience. The terms it prescribed were plain and positive, "Do this, and live." On the other hand, it said, "Cursed is every one that continues not in all things that are written in the book of the law to do them." Hence the Apostle calls this law, "The letter that kills," for though as given originally to Adam, "it was ordained to life," to his fallen descendants it has been found only "to death." Hence he calls it also "a ministration of death, and of condemnation," because nothing but condemnation and death can result from it to fallen man. So true is that declaration of his, that "as many as are under the law, are under the curse."

In opposition to this, the Gospel is set forth as "a new covenant," given to us to remedy the defects of the former covenant. In this new covenant a Savior is provided for us; and the Holy Spirit also is promised to us, to effect in our hearts all that our necessities require. Are we blind? this blessed Spirit will enlighten us. Are we weak? He will give us strength. Are we polluted? He will sanctify us throughout: and thus will he impart to us all that the Savior has obtained for us, even peace, and righteousness, and life. Hence the Apostle calls the Gospel, "the spirit that gives life;" and represents the ministration of it as "a ministration of the spirit, and of righteousness."

In the Epistle to the Hebrews this contrast is more fully opened: "Behold, the days come, says the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah; not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers, in the day when I took them by the hand to lead them out of the land of Egypt: … for this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord; I will put my laws into their mind, and write them in their hearts; and I will be to them a God, and they shall be to me a people. For I will be merciful to their unrighteousnesses, and their sins and iniquities will I remember no more." Here, then, the defects of the former covenant are completely supplied. The law issued commands without aid, and menaces without hope: but the Gospel offers a free pardon of all sin, and communicates strength for future obedience. Thus the one is "a letter which kills;" the other is "a spirit, which gives life."

This is the Gospel which we also preach.

We are careful to distinguish between the two covenants; well knowing, that all who remain under the former covenant must perish; and that there is no salvation for any man, but on the terms prescribed I the new covenant, the covenant of grace. In accordance with this, it is our constant labor to mark the danger of trusting to any works of righteousness which we can perform, and to show the indispensable necessity of looking to Christ as "all our salvation and all our desire." In a word, Paul's views, as declared by himself, are those which we endeavor both to adopt and follow. He says, "Moses describes the righteousness which is of the law, That he who does those things shall live by them. But the righteousness which is of faith speaks on this wise … The word is near you, even in your mouth, and in your heart: that is, the word of faith which we preach; that if you shall confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus, and shall believe in your heart that God has raised him from the dead, (and consequently, that he is the promised Messiah,) you shall be saved. For with the heart man believes unto righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation. For the Scripture says, Whoever believes on Him shall not be ashamed."

Having thus declared what the Gospel is which we preach, let me also declare,

II. What we look for as the fruit of our ministrations.

Paul had spoken of himself "as a savor of life unto life" and salvation to many. And this is what we also hope to be, and what we aim at in all our ministrations. We hope, and, so far as God shall render our word effectual, expect,

1. To deliver you from all legal bondage.

Every man by nature is under the law, and expects to be saved by his obedience to it. Hence arise those self-denying efforts which unenlightened heathens make to commend themselves to their deities; and hence also spring those laborious exertions which Christians of a Pharisaic cast put forth to purchase the favor of the Most High. But, however much they labor, they cannot attain solid peace. There always remains upon their mind, as well there may, a doubt, whether they have done enough to purchase the remission of their sins, and enough also to secure a title to Heaven. Hence they spend their days in a state of bondage, laboring incessantly to acquire such a measure of righteousness as shall serve as a foundation of hope, and yet are unable so to satisfy their conscience as to find peace in their souls. But, in bringing before you the new covenant, we show that you may dismiss all your fears, and indulge a better hope; since the Lord Jesus Christ has suffered for your sins, and has wrought out a righteousness wherein you may stand accepted before God. Thus you may be brought at once into the condition of a prisoner, who, having been long shut up under a state of condemnation, has at last had his pardon sealed, and is permitted to live free from all fear or painful restraint.

2. To bring you into perfect liberty.

A mere hope of pardon is by no means the full extent of the mercy accorded to us under the new covenant. There is a perfect peace, into which they are introduced who believe in Christ; yes, they possess "a joy unspeakable and glorified." The Spirit of God is to the believer a Comforter, who "sheds abroad the love of God in his heart," and "seals him unto the day of his final redemption." O, who can declare the full liberty of the children of God; the sweet confidence which they have in God; and the exquisite delight they feel in communion with him? Who can adequately declare the foretastes which they enjoy of their heavenly inheritance? Now, to these blessings we hope to introduce you: nor do we ever consider our ministry as fully answering the ends which God has ordained, until we see you "rejoicing in hope of the glory of God;" and longing to be dissolved, that you may be with Christ. "Wherever the Gospel has its proper work, there is the liberty" which I have here described.

3. To effect in you such a change as shall commend our doctrine to the whole world by your life and conversation.

No other "commendation" do we desire either to you or from you. Applaud us as much as you please, and we shall regard that as, at best, a very doubtful evidence of our real usefulness. But let us see you changed both in heart and life; let us see you so changed, as to be "epistles of Christ, known and read of all men;" and we shall desire no better testimony, either from God or man. If we see "you crucified to the world by the cross of Christ;" if we behold you dedicating yourselves to the service of your God, and "renewed after his image in righteousness and true holiness;" if your spirit and temper in your families; your meekness, your gentleness, your patience, your forbearance, and your conformity to "the mind that was in Christ Jesus," be visible to all around you; that, that is the object which we aim at; that so, if our doctrine be condemned, we may challenge the world to produce such effects wrought by any other means than those which we use,—an exhibition of "Christ crucified," and an unqualified offer of salvation to all who will believe in him.

Application.

1. Inquire, then, I pray you, what reception you have given to this Gospel.

It is not a mere outward approbation of it that will suffice. You must embrace it with your whole souls. You must "be delivered into it, as into a mold;" and assume the features of it, in every part of your character and conversation. There is found in many a very considerable change, as wrought by legal doctrines. The Pharisees of old were very abundant in outward acts of righteousness: but their services were altogether performed on self-righteous principles, and not from love; and were wrought for their own glory, and not for the glory of their God. But you must render a far higher obedience: for you "are delivered from the law; that being dead wherein you were held;" and therefore you are expected to "serve God in newness of spirit, and not in the oldness of the letter." The works which proceed from self-righteous principles are such as please men: but those which are expected from you, will please God only: they proceed from the heart; and they alone prove you to be Christians indeed: as God has said, "He is a Jew who is one inwardly; and circumcision is that of the heart, in the spirit, and not in the letter; whose praise is not of men, but of God."

2. Beg of God a blessing on our ministrations.

It is God alone who can instruct ministers to proclaim his Gospel; as Paul has said in my text: "Our sufficiency is of God, who has made us able ministers of the new testament." Hence Paul so often entreated his brethren to "pray for him, that utterance might be given him to speak truly and faithfully, as he ought to speak." And it is God alone who can render the word effectual for the good of those who hear it. "Paul may plant, and Apollos water, to no purpose, unless God himself shall give an increase." Pray, then, that the word may come to you, not in word only, but in power, and in the Holy Spirit, and in much assurance," for it will then only be profitable to your souls, when "it comes to you in demonstration of the Spirit and of power."

 

MMVIII

The Law and the Gospel Compared

2 Corinthians 3:6. The letter kills, but the spirit gives life.

THE Gospel is that weapon, whereby God subdues a rebellious world to the obedience of faith: and the Apostle Paul, when his commission to preach it was called in question, appealed to the effects wrought by it on the hearts of his hearers, as a decisive evidence that he was sent of God to proclaim it, and that the word he preached was the true Gospel. But, though constrained thus to vindicate his apostolic character, he would not arrogate to himself any praise, as though the work had been wrought by any wisdom or power of his own: he disclaimed "all power even to think a good thought," and much more to produce such a wonderful change on the hearts of others: this change was effected by a simple exhibition of Gospel truth; yet not by the mere promulgation of it as a record, but by a representation of it as God's appointed instrument to save the world. In this respect, his ministry differed widely from that of the priests under the Law, and from that of the false teachers under the Gospel: for both the one and the other of those, resting in externals, betrayed their hearers to their ruin; whereas he, by setting forth the true Gospel according to its spiritual import, was instrumental to their salvation: "He was a minister of the new testament," not of the letter, but of the spirit: for, says he, "the letter kills, but the spirit gives life."

How any revelation from God should have the effect of "killing "those to whom it was given, and, more especially, how the new testament should be attended with any such consequences, does, it must he confessed, at first sight appear strange and incredible. But the Apostle's declaration is true: "the letter does kill; and the spirit alone makes alive." This will be seen,

I. By contrasting the new testament with the old.

The old-testament dispensation had no power to give life.

The Law, as given to man in Paradise, was undoubtedly "ordained unto life," and was capable of giving him life, if he had continued obedient to it: but to fallen man it never has been, or can be, a source of life.

Its commands are such as fallen man cannot obey. It requires us to "love God with all our heart, and all our mind, and all our soul, and all our strength, and our neighbor as ourselves." But who can do this? Who, except the Lord Jesus Christ himself, has not failed in some particular?

At the same time that its commands are so difficult, it affords no strength whatever for the performance of them. It simply says, Do this, and live: but it contains no promise of assistance for the doing of it, nor any intimation of pardon for one single act of disobedience.

It moreover enforces its commands with a most awful sanction, denouncing "a curse against every man who continues not in all things that are written in the book of the law to do them," so that if there be in our obedience no absolute dereliction of duty, but only a defect; and if that defect be of the slightest kind, and occur only once in the whole course of our lives; the penalty instantly attaches to us, and is irreversibly denounced against us.

Thus, in itself, the law is, as the Apostle justly calls it, "a ministration only of death and of condemnation."

But, in the manner in which it is promulgated, it has yet a further tendency to "kill." For it is promulgated now exactly as it was in Paradise: and there is no notice given in the decalogue that we are not to trust in it for acceptance: so that a person who does not inquire diligently into the design of God in giving it, is but too likely to misapprehend its real use, and to rest in it, instead of looking out for some other law in which he may rest.

Further, the ceremonial law also has, through the ignorance of man, the same tendency to "kill" those who are placed under it. For, while it prescribes certain observances, as means of expiating transgression, it gives no direct information concerning the precise nature and extent of the remission obtained by them: so that a person performing the appointed ordinances would be likely to conceive that his sins were actually pardoned in the sight of God; while, in reality, the annual repetition of the same sacrifices might teach him that they were not completely and finally forgiven.

The truth is, that neither the moral nor ceremonial law was given for the purpose of enabling any one to obtain, by means of it, a justifying righteousness. They were both given with a view to prepare men for that better dispensation which was in due time to be introduced; the moral law shutting them up under condemnation; and the ceremonial law opening to them a door, whereby they might find access to that better dispensation, which should in due time be revealed.

It will naturally, then, be asked, 'Did the legal dispensation actually "kill" all who lived under it?' I answer, God forbid. There were multitudes saved under that dispensation; not, however, through any influence of the law itself, but by looking forward to the Gospel, and by apprehending that Savior who was held forth to them in their types and shadows. "Abraham by faith beheld the day of Christ, and rejoiced;" and so did thousands of his believing posterity. The giving of the law made no difference in that respect. The use of the law was to show men their need of a better dispensation, and to prepare them for it; that, when the time for the full manifestation of the Gospel should arrive, the Savior might be welcomed by his own people, and the whole world be made partakers of his salvation.

The office of giving life was reserved for the Gospel.

The Gospel contains the substance, of which the law was the shadow. The commands of the Gospel are different: the law says, "Do," the Gospel says, "Believe." The promises of the Gospel are different. Under the law no mention was made of spiritual assistance to anyone: but under the Gospel, the Spirit is promised to every believer: and "grace sufficient for him," how great soever his necessities may be. In fact; the Gospel provides a remedy for every want of man. Is he guilty? it provides a righteousness wherein he may stand faultless in the presence of his God, even the righteousness of our Lord Jesus Christ. Is he a polluted creature? it provides, that through the operations of the Holy Spirit he shall "be sanctified wholly in body, soul, and spirit." However weak he may be in himself, "God's strength shall be perfected in his weakness;" so that he may boldly say, "I can do all things through Christ who strengthened me." Is he deserving of the lowest Hell? by embracing this Gospel he shall obtain all the glory and felicity of Heaven.

If it he asked, Whether the Gospel produces this effect on all to whom it is sent I must answer, No, and this will lead me to make distinctions in reference to the Gospel itself,

II. By contrasting the new testament as externally administered, with the same as internally and spiritually received.

The new testament itself, as a letter, has no other effect than that of "killing" those to whom it is proclaimed.

The new-testament dispensation is, in its very nature, calculated to offend the pride of man, and to prove a stumbling-block to the unhumbled spirit. It was declared, by the Prophet Isaiah, that it should be so: "Sanctify," says he, "the Lord of hosts himself; and let him be your fear, and let him be your dread: and he shall be to you for a sanctuary; but for a stone of stumbling and a rock of offence to both the houses of Israel, for a gin and for a snare to the inhabitants of Jerusalem; and many among them shall stumble, and fall, and be broken, and be snared, and be taken." And when the Savior came into the world, the holy man, who took him up in his arms, declared, that "he was set no less for the fall than for the rising again of many in Israel." And did not the event correspond with these predictions? Peter tells us, that, while "to some he was precious, to others he was a stone of stumbling and a rock of offence, even to those who stumbled at the word, being disobedient." It was from foreseeing these effects, that our blessed Lord gave that solemn caution to his hearers, "Blessed is he who shall not be offended in mem." If it be thought that this offence arose only from his person, as appearing in a low and degraded state, I answer, that it arose from the entire constitution of the Gospel altogether. The whole doctrine of salvation by "the cross of Christ was to the Jews a stumbling-block, and to the Greeks foolishness." The Jews could not conceive how the Mosaic law should be superseded, and how they should be required to look for salvation otherwise than by their obedience to it: and the Greeks thought it perfectly absurd to expect salvation from one, who, in appearance, Was not able to save himself. So, at this day, thousands who hear the Gospel are offended at being told that they must renounce all dependence on their own works, and be saved simply by faith in Christ. They cannot comprehend how we are to be dead to the law as a covenant, and yet alive to it as a rule of life: and the being saved entirely by the righteousness of another appears to supersede all occasion for any righteousness of their own. They can see no more suitableness or sufficiency in such a Gospel, than Naaman could see in the direction given him to wash in Jordan in order to cure his leprosy.

Thus, in the very constitution of the Gospel, there is much which has a tendency to kill those who are not of a humble mind.

But the Gospel is thus fatal, not only to those who reject it, but to many, also, who imagine that they have received it. For, through the corruption of the human heart, the very principles of the Gospel are themselves often perverted; so that even "the grace of God is turned into lasciviousness," and "Christ himself is made a minister of sin." This was the case with some in the apostolic age: and it is the case with some at this time also. There are at the present day some who so embrace the letter of the Gospel, as altogether to overlook its spirit; and who so glory in a salvation finished for them, as to disregard the salvation that remains to be accomplished in them: and thus they take occasion, from the freeness and fullness of the Gospel salvation, to represent all demands of labor and watchfulness on their part as legal: and because God has undertaken to work in them both to will and to do his will, they cannot see any necessity for them to work out their own salvation with fear and trembling. Thus, I say, some take occasion, even from the promises, to rest satisfied without attaining the things promised.

But, besides these, there are others, who take occasion from the precepts of the Gospel, to make their obedience to them a joint ground of their hope. They see rewards promised to obedience; and they know not how to distinguish between a reward of grace, and a reward of debt; or between that which forms their justifying righteousness before God, and that which shall be approved in those who are already justified. Thus, by uniting their own righteousness with that of Christ, they make void all that Christ has done, and perish without any interest in his salvation.

Thus even the new testament, as externally administered, but not rightly and vitally apprehended, may "kill," no less than the law itself. And so Paul has told us, that the word which he preached, while "to some it was made a savor of life unto life, became to others a savor of death unto death."

But, when internally and spiritually received, it "gives life."

To some "the word comes, not in word only, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power," and to them it is a source of life. It conveys to them a new and vital principle, whereby they are enabled to live unto their God: or, as the Scripture expresses it, "they, by means of it, are made partakers of a divine nature," and "have all things given them that pertain unto life and godliness." They now, from their own experience, know the meaning of that declaration of our Lord, "I am the resurrection and the life: he who believes in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live; and whoever lives and believes in me shall never die." Their whole conduct now evinces the change that has been wrought in them. Being quickened from the dead, they henceforth "live no more unto themselves, but unto Him who died for them, and rose again." And now they can look forward to the eternal state with sweet assured confidence, that, "because their Savior lives, they shall live also;" and that "when He, who is their life, shall appear, they also shall appear with him in glory."

Learn, then, from hence,

1. What the hearers of the Gospel should more especially guard against.

Of those who hear the Gospel, many think, that if they receive the truths of Christianity into their minds, so as to be orthodox in their sentiments, they have no need of anything further to make them partakers of its benefits. But God forbid that any of you, brethren, should be left under any such delusion. You must not be satisfied with hearing the truth, but must consider "how you hear it;" whether you give merely a speculative assent to it; or whether you receive it into your hearts, as the ground of all your hopes, and as the well-spring of all your joys. Dearly beloved, it is for this end that, as "a minister of the new testament," I would impress on your minds the truths which I declare. And, if at any time I manifest a jealousy over you in relation to these matters, know, that, it is not an uncharitable, but "a godly, jealousy;" which I am bound to exercise over you for your good. I am bound to "stand in doubt of you, until I can see Christ formed in your hearts," the hope of glory. Concur then with me in this important work. Bear in mind that you are in danger, even from the Gospel itself; in danger of deceiving your own souls by means of it; and of causing "that which is ordained to life, to be found at last unto death." You may possibly delight in the ministry of the word, like Ezekiel's hearers; who came to him, just as those who were truly pious did; and he was to them as "a very lovely song of one that had a pleasant voice, and played well upon an instrument: but though they heard his words, they would not do them; for their heart went after their covetousness." Beware, lest by any means the Gospel prove but a dead letter: for if it bring not your whole soul into captivity to Christ, it will be preached, as it respects you, in vain. Beware, I say, of this: for our Lord himself gives you this very caution; "It is the spirit," says he, "that quickens: the flesh profits nothing: the words that I speak unto you, they are spirit, and they are lifer."

2. What fruit a minister expects to find from his labors.

The Apostle spoke of the Corinthians themselves as bearing the best testimony to his ministrations: and that is the return which we hope to receive from you. Beloved brethren, you yourselves are to be as "epistles of Christ, known and read of all men." Let it be seen that you are such indeed; that you are "epistles, written, not with pen and ink, but with the Spirit of the living God." The Gospel, while it saves you from condemnation, must save you also from sin; and, while you are "delivered by it from the law, as a covenant of works, you are to be serving God, in newness of spirit, and not in the oldness of the letter." Let us, then, behold this change in you: let us see that "the Son of God has made you free indeed;" free from carnal desires; free from legal hopes or fears; free to run, with enlarged hearts, the way of God's commandments. Then shall we know that we have not labored in vain; and that God has set his seal to our ministry for your good: for "he is not a Jew who is one outwardly; neither is that circumcision which is outward in the flesh: but he is a Jew who is one inwardly; and circumcision is that of the heart, in the spirit, and not in the letter; whose praise is not of men, but of God."

 

MMIX

The Glory of the Gospel above that of the Law

2 Corinthians 3:7–11. If the ministration of death, written and engraved in stones, was glorious, so that the children of Israel could not steadfastly behold the face of Moses for the glory of his countenance; which glory was to be done away: how shall not the ministration of the spirit be rather glorious? for if the ministration of condemnation be glory, much more does the ministration of righteousness exceed in glory. For even that which was made glorious had no glory in this respect, by reason of the glory that excels. For if that which was done away was glorious, much more that which remains is glorious.

THE Apostle, in vindicating his claim to apostolic authority against the false teachers at Corinth who disputed it, appeals to the Corinthians themselves as proofs and evidences of his divine mission; since the work of God upon their hearts abundantly manifested, that his ministrations among them had been attended with a power more than human. In thus substantiating his title to apostolic authority, he is led, incidentally as it were, to mention the excellency of that Gospel which he was sent to preach; and from thence to show, that the deference due to him was the greater, in proportion to the excellency of the Gospel which he ministered unto them. Honorable as the state of the Levitical priesthood was, it was not to be compared with that of those who preached the Gospel; because the law, as ministered in the "letter" of it, proved fatal to all who trusted in it; whereas the Gospel was a source of "life" to all who cordially embraced it: the one, as a mere "letter, killed;" the other, as a quickening" spirit, gave life."

The Apostle, having touched upon this point, proceeds to open it more fully in the words which we have just read: for the fuller understanding of which we shall consider,

I. The different terms by which the law and the Gospel are here designated.

The law is called "the ministration of death and of condemnation."

The law as given to Adam in Paradise "was ordained to life," and would have entitled him to life if he had continued obedient to it: but, as republished by Moses, it was never intended to give man. any title to life; nor could it possibly give life, because every human being is corrupt, and incapable of rendering to it a perfect obedience. The law is a perfect transcript of God's mind and will. It makes known to man the whole extent of his duty; and requires a perfect obedience to every one of its commands. If transgressed in any one particular, it denounces death: it says to every soul of man, "The soul that sins, it shall die." At the same time that it thus rigorously exacts a perfect obedience, it neither imparts to man any strength for obedience, nor provides any remedy for one single act of disobedience: and hence it is called in our text, "a ministration of death and of condemnation." Its voice to all is, "Do this and live: transgress, and perish." But as every man has transgressed it, and consequently can never do all that it commands, it consigns to death every child of man, according as Paul has said; "As many as are of the works of the law are under the curse: for it is written Cursed is every one that continues not in all things that are written in the book of the law to do them." We must not desire to do them, but "do" them; not some, but "all;" not for a time, but for a "continuance," from the first to the last moment of our lives: nor is there any exception in favor of any child of man; for "every one" must stand or fall, be saved or "cursed," according to this law; and consequently, every man being of necessity born under this law, "every mouth must be stopped, and all the world become guilty before God."

The Gospel is called "a ministration of righteousness and of the Spirit."

The law condemning all, the Gospel applies a remedy: it reveals a Savior, who, by his own obedience unto death, has "made reconciliation for iniquity, and brought in an everlasting righteousness." This righteousness is revealed to us in the Gospel to be apprehended by faith; and it is actually given "unto," and put "upon," "all who believe" in Jesus, his righteousness is totally independent of any obedience to the law on our part: it exists in Christ alone, and is imputed unto us by faith: and, so far from being augmented by any works of ours, it would be made void by the smallest dependence on our own works; and we must renounce all hope in ourselves, before we can have any part or lot in the righteousness of Christ. Hence the Gospel is called "a ministration of righteousness," because it reveals a righteousness commensurate with all the demands of the law, and offers that righteousness to every man who will believe in Christ. It declares that "Christ himself is the end of the law for righteousness to every one that believes;" and that the law was given as a ministration of death on purpose to shut men up to this righteousness, and to constrain them to seek salvation in the way provided for them.

The Gospel is also "the ministration of the Spirit." In the first ages, the Spirit was given in his miraculous powers to attest the truth and Divine authority of the Gospel. That end having been fully answered, his miraculous powers are no longer exercised: but his gracious influences still continue, and will continue to the end of time. Still is he sent "to convince the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment;" still it is his office "to glorify Christ," and to "take of the things that are Christ's, and to show them unto us," still does he enlighten the minds, and sanctify the souls, of them that believe: still does he, as the Comforter promised to the Church, operate in the saints as "a Spirit of adoption," "witnessing with their spirits that they are the children of God," and "sealing them unto the day of redemption." To none is he imparted for these ends but through the Gospel of Christ; and, wherever the Gospel is faithfully ministered, he does accompany it with these blessed influences; producing holiness and comfort in all who truly receive it.

Thus the Gospel supplies what the law knew nothing of. We have before said, that the law spoke nothing of pardon to the guilty, or of strength to the weak: but the Gospel administers both; and that too in such an abundant measure, as is adequate to the necessities of the whole world: it ministers righteousness sufficient to justify the most guilty sinner upon earth; and imparts the Spirit, so that the weakest may be more than conqueror over all the enemies of his soul.

Corresponding with this description of the law and of the Gospel were,

II. The different degrees of glory pertaining to each.

The law was truly glorious.

It was proclaimed by God himself with an audible voice in the midst of such displays of glory as had never been seen from the foundation of the world: and, that it might never be forgotten, it was written also by the finger of God in tables of stone. Moreover, the person through whom it was given to Israel, had such glory imparted to him, that the people of Israel were no more able to look steadfastly upon his face, than upon the face of the meridian sun. While this reflected a very high degree of glory upon the law itself, it was especially intended to intimate to all Israel, that they were unable to apprehend the full scope and meaning of the law! They thought it a covenant whereby they were to obtain acceptance with God; whereas it had an infinitely higher office, even that of "a schoolmaster to bring them to Christ, that they might be justified by faith." But this, which was its chief glory, they were not able to discern: and, in consequence of their ignorance of its true meaning, they supposed it to be of everlasting obligation; whereas it was, together with all its attendant rites and ceremonies, to continue only until Christ should come, and then to give way to a more perfect dispensation. Still, however, when all the circumstances attending its promulgation are considered, it was certainly exceeding glorious.

But the Gospel was far more glorious.

As imparting life, it must of necessity be far more glorious than that which only occasioned death: for the law did really occasion death; inasmuch as, if there had been no law, there would have been no transgression, and consequently neither sin nor death. In revealing such a way of salvation too, it is inconceivably glorious. How mysterious is that record, "that God has given unto us eternal life; and this life is in his Son: that whoever has the Son, has life; and he who has not the Son of God, has not life's," and finally, that "he was made sin for us, who knew no sin, that we, who had no righteousness, might be made the righteousness of God in him!" Well is this called, "The glorious Gospel of the blessed God!" for in it are "riches" of love that are altogether "unsearchable," and heights and depths that can never be explored.

That the Gospel too transforms the soul into the Divine image is another ground of excellence, which exalts it infinitely above the law. The law rather irritates and inflames the corrupt principle within us, than tends at all to the subjugation of it; but the Gospel both frees us from the dominion of sin, and liberates us from all its penal consequences: "the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus makes us free from the law of sin and death."

The Gospel too, as being God's last dispensation, will endure forever; while the law, which was only introductory to it, is altogether abolished. So that in this respect also its superiority to the law is great and indisputable.

Compare the two then, and see the difference between them: the luster imparted by the one was external, on the face of Moses; the change wrought by the other is internal, in the heart and in the soul. In the one, the radiance shone from one only; in the other, it is conferred on all who believe. In the one, it passed away quickly; in the other, it is abiding, even to the end of life, and through eternal ages. In the one, it was to be veiled from the sight of all; in the other, it is to be displayed for the instruction of all, that all may see in it the hand of God, and learn to glorify its Divine Author. Well then may it be said, that "that which was made glorious, had no glory in this respect, by reason of the glory that excels," for in truth, though the law shone like the starry heavens in the brightest night, the Gospel, like the meridian sun, has eclipsed its splendor, and cast a veil over all its glory.

Let not this however be with us a matter of speculation only: let us consider,

III. The conduct which our superior dispensation demands—And,

1. Of ministers.

The influence which these considerations had upon the Apostle was, to make him "use great plainness of speech." He would not, like Moses, "put a veil upon his face," to conceal any part of the splendor of this Gospel; but would preach it with all fidelity, and, by the fullest possible "manifestation of it, commend himself to every man's conscience in the sight of God." This then is what we must do; and what, through grace, it is our delight to do. Yes, brethren, we declare to you freely that the law, as a covenant of works, is abrogated; and a new covenant, with a better Mediator, and with better promises, is proposed to you in the Gospel. This new covenant provides, as you have heard, righteousness for the guilty, and strength for the weak; and authorizes every believer to say, "In the Lord have I righteousness and strength." O that we might be instrumental to the bringing you into a near and full acquaintance with this better dispensation! Never would we forget that our one great office is, to make it known to you, and to bring you to the enjoyment of all its blessings. We would go up to the holy mount ourselves to receive it from God, and we would come down with it in our hands and in our hearts to proclaim it to you. We do proclaim it to you at this moment: we do declare to you, that the most guilty sinner in the universe may now find acceptance with God through the blood and righteousness of the Lord Jesus Christ: and we declare also, that a new heart shall be given you, and a new spirit shall be put within you, and the whole law of God be written in your hearts, if only you will believe in him: for he will send down his Holy Spirit upon you, according to his promise, and, by his gracious influences upon your souls, will "cause you to keep his statutes and his judgments." All this shall be "ministered unto you abundantly through the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ," if only you will come unto him; and it shall be given you "freely, without money and without price."

2. Of the Church at large.

Your minds should be intent on this great subject: you should seek to grow daily in the knowledge of it: you should come up to the house of God with the same preparation of heart to receive the word of God from your ministers, as the Israelites did to receive the law from the hands of Moses: your state of mind should be like to that of Cornelius and his company, when Peter came to preach the tidings of salvation to them; "Now are we all here present before God, to hear all things that are commanded you of God." And as there is no veil put before our face, so you should beg of God that no veil may remain on your hearts. The law was hid from Israel without involving them in any guilt or danger, if only they complied with it as far as it was revealed to them: but "if the Gospel is hidden from you, you must eternally perish;" because it is the only possible way of salvation, and can save only by operating effectually both on the understanding and the heart. O then beg of God to counteract the devices of Satan, who strives continually to hide this Gospel from you; and entreat him "to shine into your hearts to give you the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christi!"

At the same time you must remember, that in this respect the obedience you pay must correspond with the privileges you enjoy. Being liberated from the law, you are released also from all servile hopes and fears: and your service must be no longer that of a slave, but of a child: you must serve God, not in the oldness of the letter, but in newness of the spirit; and in this way you will attain all the blessings which the Gospel is intended to impart. The intent of this Gospel is, to assimilate you to that Savior who proclaims it to you. While you receive it from him, a portion of his splendor must cleave unto you, so that all who behold you may see of a truth that you have been with Jesus. You must be "his epistles" to an ungodly world: and so plain must be the characters written on your heart and life, that they may be "known and read of all men." Daily must this writing be more visible; and daily shall the radiance around you increase, if you live near to the Lord, contemplating continually the wonders of his love: for, "if with unveiled face you behold as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, you shall be changed into the same image from glory to glory by the Spirit of the Lord."

 

MMX

The Future Conversion of the Jews

2 Corinthians 3:15, 16. Even unto this day, when Moses is read, the veil is upon their heart. Nevertheless, when it shall turn to the Lord, the veil shall be taken away.

THERE is confessedly much obscurity in different parts of the sacred volume: even in Paul's writings there are, as Peter tells us, "some things hard to be understood." And this is no more than might well be expected, considering the depth of the subjects treated of, even all the hidden counsels of the Almighty, and the necessary ambiguity of prophetic language, in order to conceal the purposes of the Deity, until the prophecies should be unraveled by subsequent events. Other difficulties arise out of errors, which in the course of so many hundred years have, through the inadvertence of transcribers, crept into different copies of the Holy Scriptures. But, after all, the chief source of obscurity is, the veil that is on the heart of man, (the veil of prejudice, and ignorance, and unbelief,) which conceals from unconverted men even the plainest truths. To intimate the existence of such a veil, was one of the reasons for Moses putting a veil over his face when he came down from the holy mount with the tables of the law in his hands. He intimated thereby, that the children of Israel could not look to the end of that which was to be abolished; that is, that they could not comprehend the nature of the dispensation which he was commissioned to establish; seeing that there was a veil upon their hearts, "by which their minds were blinded." That veil remained on their hearts during the whole of that dispensation; and, notwithstanding "it is done away in Christ," so that, if they were disposed to avail themselves of the light which Christianity reflects on their inspired writings, they might now acquire a clear insight into them, "the veil yet remains on their hearts even unto this day." But it shall not be always so: there is a time coming, "when that infatuated nation shall turn unto the Lord; and then the veil shall be taken away."

To enter fully into this subject, we must distinctly mark what was intimated by his putting on the veil to speak with them, and his putting off the veil to speak with the Lord.

I. His putting on the veil was designed to show their present blindness.

Truly there is a veil, a thick veil, upon their hearts; so that to this day they cannot see,

1. The scope and intent of the Mosaic dispensation.

The Mosaic dispensation was partly legal, partly evangelical, and partly a national covenant, relating only to the temporal state of the Jewish people. The law of the ten commandments was a re-publication of the law originally written upon the heart of man, by an obedience to which our first parents were to obtain eternal life. The ceremonial observances were appointed to shadow forth the salvation offered to us in the Gospel, and to prepare the minds of the Jews for the Messiah, who should in due time be sent to fulfill all that was required by the moral law, and all that was shadowed forth in the ceremonial. The moral law was not given them in, order that they might seek justification by it; but in order to show them was impossible for fallen man ever to be justified by it, and that, as transgressors, they must look for salvation solely by faith in the promised Messiah. But of these things they had no idea: they could see nothing in the whole dispensation but a covenant made with them as God's peculiar people; by an obedience to which, according to the mere letter of it, they supposed that they should obtain all the blessings both of time and eternity. And this is the notion which has been entertained by them in all successive ages even to the present day. Notwithstanding it is impossible for them now, by reason of their dispersion, to obey their ceremonial law, they still suppose that they are to be saved by their own obedience. They have no idea of the atonement that has been offered for them, or of the righteousness that has been wrought out for them, by Christ's obedience unto death: they cannot raise their minds above a compliance with certain rites (many of them appointed by man only, and substituted in the place of those which were appointed of God), and an external conformity with the mere letter of the moral law: like Paul, in his unconverted state, if they have been kept from any gross violations of their law, they account themselves "blameless;" and if they have transgressed their law in ever so great a degree, they have no conception of anything but their repentance and reformation to re-instate them in the Divine favor. They will indeed speak of their Messiah whom they expect, and in whom they profess a kind of confidence; but they have no definite idea of what he is to do for them, or in what way he is to recommend them to God. They know nothing of "the law as a ministration of death and of condemnation" nor do they know anything of "Christ as the end of the law for righteousness to those who believe in him." In a word, they know nothing of their ceremonial law as completed in him nor of their moral law as shutting them up to him: but they stand fully on their own obedience, interpreting the promises, which related only to their continuance in Canaan, as the ground on which they look for eternal life. Thus, though following after righteousness, and in some instances with considerable zeal, they neither do, nor can, attain to it, because they cleave to the law as the ground of their hopes, and make a stumbling-block of that stone, which is the only foundation on which a sinner can ever stand before God.

2. The true meaning of their prophecies.

They do not see that chain of prophecy, commencing with the promise of "the Seed of the woman who should bruise the serpent's head," and gradually proceeding through all successive ages, with ever increasing clearness and precision, until it terminated in the person of Jesus of Nazareth. In this respect the Jews of later ages are blinder than their forefathers. The Jews previous to the coming of Christ did so far understand the prophecies, that they knew of what tribe the Messiah was to be born, and what was to be the place of his nativity: they knew also, that the various prophecies which were cited by our Lord and his Apostles were cited according to their true import: for we do not find them on any one occasion controverting the application of those passages to the promised Messiah. But Jews of later ages, seeing how demonstrably those passages prove the Messiahship of Jesus, have resorted to other interpretations, in order to weaken the force of the arguments with which they are pressed. Even the fifty-third chapter of Isaiah, which seems to defy the ingenuity of man to pervert it, is explained away by them as not relating to the Messiah. The idea of a suffering Messiah they cannot bear: and they, who are constrained to confess that such an one is indisputably predicted in the prophecies, say that they shall have two Messiahs, one a suffering, and the other a triumphant, Messiah. As for all the prophecies that determined the time for the Messiah's advent, as to be before the departure of the scepter from Judah, and during the existence of the second temple, they get over them by saying, that God did indeed intend to send the Messiah at that time; but that he has deferred it these eighteen hundred years, and still defers it, on account of the wickedness of their nation. And the Messiah whom they expect is to be a mere temporal Prince, who shall subdue all their enemies, and make them in a temporal view the head of all nations.

Thus is there an impenetrable veil upon their hearts, as thick as that which was on the hearts of those who crucified the Lord of glory. We are told, that "their rulers at that time, not knowing the voices of the prophets which were read every Sabbath-day, fulfilled them in condemning him," and the same is true of all the Rabbis at the present day. Even the Apostles themselves, after they had been instructed by their Divine Master for above three years, were still so blinded by the prejudices of their nation, that they could not admit the thought of a suffering Messiah, even when they were told of it by our Lord himself in the plainest terms: yes, even after his resurrection, they still dreamed of only a temporal Messiah. From them, through the tender mercy of their Lord, this veil was at length removed; but on their unhappy countrymen it still remains, according to the predictions of the Prophet Isaiah, as cited and explained by the Apostle Pauli. And it is remarkable that, at particular seasons, the Jews, not excepting children of ten or twelve years of age, at this hour wear veils in their synagogues; a sad emblem of the veil which yet remains upon their hearts!

But let us turn from this painful subject to observe, that,

II. His putting off the veil was designed to show the manifestations that await them.

When Moses spoke with the children of Israel, he put the veil on his face; but when he went in to speak with the Lord he took off the veil. However this, so far as his own feelings were concerned, might mark his humility, it covertly intimated to the Jews, that while they should converse only with men, and hearken to nothing but their own superstitions, the veil would remain on their hearts: but, "when once they should turn to the Lord their God," to converse with him, and to seek instruction from him, "the veil that w s on their hearts should be taken away." So God promised them by Moses, at the very time that he foretold their present dispersion; and so it shall assuredly be in due season. In this respect their conversion will differ widely from the conversion of the heathen. The heathen, for want of previous instruction, will have their eyes gradually opened: the removal of the veil from their heart will do no more than give them a suitable disposition to receive the great truths of Christianity, which shall be subsequently set before them: but the Jews, being previously acquainted with their own law and with the writings of their prophets, will at once behold them all as centering in the Lord Jesus: their sight will be like that of a man, who, having been long conversant with the different wheels and springs of some complicated machine, (a steam-engine or a watch,) but never having had any notion of their relation to each other, and their harmonious adaptation to one common end, beholds them at once combined, and in full activity: they will have glorious views of the Gospel salvation: they will behold, with an evidence brighter than the meridian sun,

1. Its truth and certainty.

Being already to a certain degree conversant with their types and prophecies, though ignorant as to their true import, they will, as soon as the veil is removed from their hearts, be astonished to see how every particle of them is fulfilled in Christ: and such will be their conviction of his Messiahship, that they can no more doubt of it than Paul did, after the revelation which he received in his way to Damascus. The Scriptures will then appear to them like the impression of a seal on which are engraved ten thousand figures; so clear and manifest will be the correspondence between the shadow and the substance, the type and the antitype. Their views of this will be incomparably clearer than those of Christians in general at this day: "The light of the moon will be as the light of the sun, and the light of the sun seven-fold, as the light of seven days, in the day that the Lord shall bind up the breath of his people, and heal the stroke of their wound."

2. Its mysteriousness and sublimity.

How "great will that mystery of godliness, God manifest in the flesh," appear to them, when they shall see, that that very Jesus, whom their fathers crucified, was indeed "the Lord of glory," "Jehovah's fellow," "Emmanuel, God with us!" Then they will see, that every part of their ceremonial law was fulfilled and realized in him: that he was the true Temple, "in whom dwelt all the fullness of the Godhead bodily;" the altar, which sanctifies all our gifts; the sacrifice, that takes away the sins of the whole world; the priest, that offered that sacrifice, and is gone with his own blood within the veil, and ever lives there to make intercession for us. Then they will see why God repeatedly gave that particular command to Moses, "See you make all things according to the pattern shown to you in the mount." Every the minutest point that was revealed to Moses, portrayed something in the character of Christ; so that, if anything had been omitted, or added, or altered in any respect, the resemblance between the type and antitype would have failed, and God's work would have been imperfect; the edifice and the model would not have been alike. All the offices of Christ, as Prophet, Priest, and King, together with all that he should do in the execution of them, was there delineated: and, when the completion and concentration of them all shall be made manifest to them, with what wonder and admiration will they exclaim, "O the depths both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! how unsearchable are his judgments, and his ways past finding out!"

3. Its fullness and excellency.

The contrast between the imperfection of their law and the perfect efficacy of the Gospel will in this respect be to them most delightful: their law was burdensome in the extreme; a yoke which they were not able to bear: but "Christ's yoke is easy, and his burden light." Their observance of the appointed ceremonies brought them no solid peace: the very repetition of the same sacrifices showed, that their sins were not fully removed: for indeed "it was not possible that the blood of bulls and of goats should take away sin." Their sacrifices were, in fact, no more than a remembrance of sins yet unforgiven. But the blood of Jesus Christ cleanses from all sin; "it purges the conscience from dead works to serve the living God." Thus they will see, that, though "the law made nothing perfect, the bringing in of a better hope does," "it perfects forever all them that are sanctified." Now the veil of the temple (the body of the Lord Jesus) being rent in twain, they will find access into the holiest of all, every one for himself, and be emboldened to "cry, Abba, Father." Now they will see that they, without exception, are all kings and priests unto God and the Father, and are entitled to "an inheritance that is incorruptible, and undefiled, and never-fading." O what joy will they experience, when they see the fullness of the provision made for them in Christ Jesus, and the freeness with which it is offered, even "without money and without price!" Truly when they are brought to look on him whom they have pierced, they will mourn and be in bitterness, as one that mourns for his first-born; and the very instant they believe in him, they will rejoice with joy unspeakable and full of glory."

Here then we may see,

1. What we should seek for ourselves.

We must not imagine that there is a veil on the heart of Jews only; for there is one on the heart of Gentiles also, even of every child of man. Yes, we, who call ourselves Christians, are by nature blind as the Jews themselves. The veil that is upon the Mosaic dispensation, is indeed "done away in Christ," but the veil that is on our hearts is not done away: on the contrary, it is as visible upon us as upon any others of the human race. Look around and see how few are there who with unveiled face behold "the glory of God shining in the face of Jesus Christ!" How few are so affected with a sight of Christ, as to be "changed into the same image from glory to glory by the Spirit of the Lord!" Are there not on every side myriads, who, like the Jews themselves, are looking for acceptance with God by a superstitious observance of ordinances, or, at best, by their own repentance and reformation; and who have no higher views of Christ than as purchasing for them a right and title to be their own saviors? Yes, such is the state of the generality among us: and those who glory in the cross of Christ, and walk faithfully in his steps, are at this day "for signs and for wonders," almost as much as they were in the days of the Prophet Isaiah. In every age, and in every place, they are but "a little flock," a mere "remnant," and it is only by the removal of the veil from their hearts that any can become of their happy number. Whatever advantages we may enjoy, it is "not flesh and blood that can reveal Christ unto us, but only our Father that is in Heaven." If we have not "a spirit of wisdom and revelation given us for the enlightening of the eyes of our understanding," we shall continue in darkness, notwithstanding the true light shines all around us. The Lord must open our hearts; or they will continue closed, even to our dying hour. Let us seek then to have the veil removed from our hearts, that the Gospel may not be hid from us. This is a blessing which God has promised to us, yes, to us sinners of the Gentiles: and, if we will turn to him, and seek him with our whole hearts, he will grant it unto us; and "bring us out of darkness into the marvelous light of his Gospel."

2. What we should seek in behalf of our Jewish brethren.

The removal of this veil is all that is wanting on their behalf. But many think it in vain to labor for this end: they seem to imagine that nothing but a miracle can effect so great a work. But why should it be more difficult with them than with others? Are not the Gentiles as blind as ever the Jews can be? Look at the worshipers of Mahomet, of Brahma, and Confucius, and see if they are not as blind and bigoted as the Jews themselves. What were our forefathers, when first the Gospel was preached to them? Were not they as far off from God as the Jews are at this day? Yet see what has been wrought by the Gospel in this happy land. People do not despair of the conversion of the most savage tribes of Africa and America: why then should we despair of seeing "the scales fall from the eyes" of Jews? Is not God as able to engraft the Jews on their own stock again, as he was to engraft in us? "If we who were cut out of the olive-tree, which is wild by nature, were engrafted contrary to nature into a good olive-tree, how much more shall they who are the natural branches be grafted into their own olive-tree?" It is impious to despair; because God himself has engaged to take the veil from them, the very moment they turn unto him. Let us then exhort them to turn to him, and to look to him for that direction which alone can prove effectual. Surely this is not such a hopeless task! We may not perhaps succeed so rapidly as we could wish in the first instance: but did the prophets suspend their labors because Isaiah and Hosea had labored so long almost in vain? Or did the Apostles decline speaking to the Jews, because their Divine Master had succeeded with so few? Let us do our duty, and leave to God to bless our endeavors as he shall see fit. If we should run in vain, as it respects the Jews, our labors shall at least "be recompensed into our own bosom," nor shall so much as a cup of cold water given them for the Lord's sake be forgotten. As for the idea that the time is not yet come; who is authorized to declare that? To whom has the Lord revealed that? A similar objection was made by those who had no mind to incur the expense and trouble of building the second temple: they could build ceiled houses for themselves, but lay out nothing for the Lord: and this is the true secret of all such objections at this day: they are only so many excuses to veil our own want of faith and love. Let us arise and build without delay; and God will be with us. We have never yet tried to take the veil from their hearts: or the exertions that have been made, have been made too much in our own strength. Now there is a way adopted, which, we hope and trust, God will make effectual for the conversion of many; I mean, the giving to them their own Scriptures, together with the New Testament also in their own language, and both of them in other languages which they better understand. This, in concurrence with the other means that are using, will, we hope, be the means of removing the veil from the hearts of many, and of hastening forward the happy day, when the "children of Israel shall return, and seek the Lord their God, and David their king;" and so "all Israel shall be saved."

And here let me observe, that to impart to them the light which we ourselves have received, is a duty of the first importance, because it has been committed to us for the express purpose of communicating it to them; God having especially ordained, that "through our mercy (or the mercy given to us) they (the unbelieving Jews) should obtain mercy." Now, what should we say of any person to whom the care of a lighthouse had been committed, if, through his neglect to exhibit the light, the very fleet which he was appointed to preserve should suffer shipwreck, and ten thousand mariners be drowned? would not the whole nation charge him with the guilt of their destruction, yes, and visit him too with condign punishment for his offence? Yet he would be innocent in comparison of us, who have been accessary not to the loss of the bodily life of a few thousands; but to the eternal perdition of millions, in that we have neglected to set before them that light by which alone they could be saved. O let us not blame the Jews for the veil that is upon their hearts, but cast the blame where it is more justly due—on the Christian world, who have used no efforts to rend it from them, and to give them the light of life. And, as our neglect has been of long continuance, let us now exert ourselves with an energy that shall at once evince the depth of our repentance for our neglect of them, and the sincerity of our gratitude for the mercies given to us.

 

MMXI

Christ the Soul of the Entire Scriptures

2 Corinthians 3:17. Now the Lord is that Spirit: and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty.

THE Scriptures are not sufficiently viewed as a whole. We are apt to take detached parts only, and to form opinions from them, when we ought rather to regard every part in its connection with the rest; and so to get a comprehensive view of religion, in all its parts, and in all its bearings. The truth is, that revelation is the same from the beginning, and constitutes one great whole; it is a body having many parts that are visible and tangible: but it is penetrated by a soul, which, though invisible, really pervades every part; and that soul is Christ.

The Apostle, in the preceding context, is comparing the Law and the Gospel; which, if disjoined, may be considered, the one as a "mere letter," a ministration of death; the other, as a Spirit, a "ministration of righteousness and life," but if they be viewed in their relation to each other, then is the one the shadow, whereof the other is the substance; the body, whereof the other is the soul.

This seems to be the import of the passage which I have just read. The Apostle is speaking of glorious truths veiled under the law; which, though in itself carnal, was full of "life and spirit." Now, says he, "the Lord is that Spirit: and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty;" that is, where the true spiritual import of the Scriptures is understood, and Christ is clearly seen in them, and received into the heart through them, "there is that very liberty" which they were designed to impart.

The words thus explained will give me occasion to take a view of the whole revelation of God:

I. In its substance, as an exhibition of Christ.

The Old Testament, comprehending the law and the prophets, is one great body: but Christ is the soul that animates it throughout. He is the substance of,

1. The law.

The moral law may seem to consist only of prohibitions and injunctions; enforced with promises to obedience, and threatenings to disobedience. But it is, in fact, a revelation of Christ, inasmuch as it "shuts us up to Christ, and is a schoolmaster to bring us to him," for, in reality, every command, while it shows us how defective our obedience is, directs us to Christ; who has fulfilled it in its utmost extent, and has thereby wrought out a perfect righteousness for his believing people. This is the account given of it by an inspired Apostle, who says, "Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to every one that believes."

The ceremonial law was nothing but a mass of "carnal ordinances," which had no force or value in themselves; but, as representations of Christ and his perfect work, were of infinite value. In them "the Gospel was preached, precisely the same Gospel as is now preached unto us." Christ was contained in every part of them; and was, in fact, the substance of which they were the shadow. This may be seen in all its sacrifices, etc. etc..

2. The prophets.

These confessedly, with one voice, spoke of Christ: so that, from the first promise of "the seed of the woman to bruise the serpent's head," to the last that was uttered respecting "the Sun of Righteousness that should arise with healing in his wings," all spoke of him; all directed to him; and he was the life and soul of all.

To those who thus enter into the full scope of revelation, it will be made known,

II. In its effects, as a ministration of liberty.

The whole of it, altogether, is "that truth which will make us free."

It will impart liberty,

1. From all legal obligation.

As for the ordinances of the ceremonial law, they were all intended to be "abolished," and are abolished. But even the moral law itself, so far as it was a covenant of life and death, is abolished. We are brought under "a better covenant." a covenant of grace. We therefore hear the curses of the law without any emotion, except of love and gratitude. The thunders of Mount Sinai have no terror for us: "there is no condemnation to us," because we believe in Christ, and have in him a righteousness full commensurate with its strictest demands. He has borne its curse for us; and left for us nothing but unalloyed and everlasting blessings.

2. From all legal exertions.

We no longer abstain from anything through the fear of Hell, nor engage in anything to purchase Heaven. As far as we are animated by the spirit of the Gospel, we can adopt those words of David, "I esteem all your precepts concerning all things to be right, and I hate every false way," that is, I view your ways as so excellent, that I would walk in them though there were no reward annexed to such a line of conduct: and I view sin as so odious, that I would not live in it, though I might do so with impunity. Indeed, were the Christian penetrated with any other spirit than this, he would render all his obedience worthless in the sight of God; who, though he tells us to buy the blessings, of salvation, tells us that we must buy them "without money, and without price." Any attempt to obtain his favor by our own works will make void his whole Gospel, and infallibly disappoint our hopes: for nothing but perdition awaits such ignorant and ill-advised zeal.

3. From all legal views and dispositions.

Those who have truly received Christ into their hearts are "not his servants, but his friends;" yes, they are "sons of God," and, with "a spirit of adoption, are enabled to call him, Abba, Father." They go in and out before him with the liberty of endeared children: for "the Lord Jesus has made them free; and they are free indeed." Formerly they were, as all men by nature are, in a servile spirit, doing everything rather by constraint than choice: but now, "having no more the spirit of bondage to fear, they have received the spirit of power, and of love, and of a sound mind;" and, under the influence of this spirit, they "walk at liberty," and account the service of their God to be perfect freedom.

4. From the power of sin altogether.

This is the most blessed part of their inheritance. A freedom from "the bondage of corruption is the most glorious part of the liberty of the children of God." And that this is possessed by them, the whole Scriptures bear witness. Let the sixth chapter of the Epistle to the Romans be read throughout, and this matter will appear in the clearest light. A believer is dead with Christ; and therefore cannot possibly live in sin. The being under the covenant of grace ensures to him a victory over sin of every kind. From the moment that he embraced this better covenant, he was made free from sin (from its dominion); and being "become a servant of God, he has his fruit unto holiness, and the end everlasting life." The whole of this matter is placed, if possible, in a stronger point of view in the eighth chapter of the same epistle; where the Apostle gives precisely the same view of the whole of revelation as we have done, and ascribes to it precisely the same efficacy: "The law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has made me free from the law of sin and death. For what the law could not do, in that it was weak through the flesh, God, sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and for sin, (has done; that is, he has) condemned sin in the flesh; that the righteousness of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit." Thus does the whole revelation of God, whether Law or Gospel, when rightly viewed, appear to be, as it is beautifully designated by James, "a perfect law of liberty;" and thus it is found to be, by all who embrace it "in spirit and in truth."

In conclusion, let me urge you,

1. To enter with all diligence into the true spirit of the Scriptures.

They are in themselves "a sealed book," nor can any but the adorable Lamb of God open them to our view. But beg of him to take away the veil from them; and from your hearts also, when you read them. Then will there be found a glory in them, even all the glory of God shining in the face of Jesus Christ. Be not contented with anything short of this: for this alone will produce those glorious effects which are here ascribed to it.

2. To make a right use of the liberty which they impart to you.

There are some who profess godliness, and yet would "promise you liberty, while they themselves are servants of corruption." But it is not a liberty in sin that Jesus gives; but a liberty from sin. Paul carefully guards us on this head; saying, "You, brethren, have been called unto liberty: only use not liberty for an occasion to the flesh." Your liberty is, to "run the way of God's commandments with an enlarged heart." "Stand last, therefore, in that liberty with which Christ has made you free; and be not entangled again with the yoke of bondage." Use, I say, your liberty aright for a little while; and soon you shall be as free and happy as the very angels of God around his throne.

 

MMXII

The Excellency and Efficacy of the Gospel

2 Corinthians 3:18. But we all, with open face beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord.

THE Jews, when compared with the heathen world, were highly privileged; but the dispensation under which they lived was in every respect inferior to that of the Gospel. Of this we are fully informed in the chapter before us. The Apostle, in vindicating his own character, incidentally mentions the blessings which the Corinthians had experienced by means of his ministry: hence he takes occasion to set forth the superior excellency of the Gospel above the law. In confirmation of this point, we will show,

I. The excellency of the Gospel.

In the context the law is spoken of as a ministration of condemnation; whereas the Gospel is a ministration of the Spirit and of righteousness. Of the Gospel it may be said,

1. It is a revelation of the "glory of the Lord."

The law was in some degree a manifestation of the Divine glory; it displayed, however, chiefly the majesty and holiness of the Deity: but the Gospel displays the love and mercy of God; it exhibits all the perfections of God harmonizing and glorified in the work of redemption. Thus it is a revelation of "the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ."

2. It manifests this glory to the soul.

Moses veiled the Divine luster which shined in his face. This was an intimation to the Jews that they could not comprehend the full scope of the law which he published: but this veil is taken away by Christ. The Gospel reflects Christ's glory as a mirror reflects the sun—We behold that glory "with open, I. e. unveiled face." This is the common privilege of "all" who believe.

Nor is it more excellent in its discoveries than in its effects:

II. The efficacy of it.

The Apostle ascribes a wonderful efficacy to the Gospel. Experience attests the truth of his declarations. It transforms the soul into the Divine image.

A view of Jehovah's glory caused the face of Moses to shine; but a view of Christ's glory in the Gospel changes our hearts. It renews us after the very image of our Lord and Savior. It does this in every person who truly beholds it.

Every fresh discovery which it makes to us of Christ's glory increases that effect.

The first exercise of faith in Christ makes a great change, but subsequent views of his glory advance the work of sanctification. In this way is our progress in holiness carried on to perfection.

This power, however, it derives wholly from "the Spirit of the Lord."

The Gospel has not that power in itself. Were its power inherent, it would operate uniformly on all: but its operation is dependent on the will of God. The word is called "the sword of the Spirit." It is the Spirit's instrument whereby he subdues souls to the obedience of faith. Every fresh effect produced by it arises from the concurring operation of the Spirit: yet as it is the great instrument whereby the Spirit works, the effects are properly ascribed to it.

Inferences.

1. How great a blessing it is to have the Gospel preached to us.

Nothing else will produce the effects here ascribed to the Gospel. The terrors of the law may alarm, but will not sanctify the heart; but the mild accents of the Gospel win the soul. A manifestation of Christ's glory constrains us to obedience. Let all rejoice therefore in hearing the glad tidings. Let all endeavor to experience these glorious effects.

2. Whence it is that many make so small a proficiency in holiness.

Many truly desire to advance in holiness, but they seek it in dependence on their own strength. Hence they make but a small progress in the divine life. They should rather use the means prescribed in the text. They should be often occupied in surveying the glory of Christ. The discoveries of his glory would do more than all their legal exertions—Let every eye therefore be fixed on him, until the effects appear both in our hearts and lives. Our views of him before long shall be incomparably brighter; then the effects also shall be proportionably increased.

 

MMXIII

The Contest Between God and Satan

2 Corinthians 4:4–6. The God of this world has blinded the minds of them which believe not, lest the light of the glorious Gospel of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine unto them. For we preach not ourselves, but Christ Jesus the Lord; and ourselves your servants for Jesus' sake. For God, who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, has shined in our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.

THE office of the ministry, if conscientiously discharged, is the most honorable and useful that a human being can execute: but, if perverted to carnal ends and purposes, it debases a man's character, and renders him more injurious to society than a raging pestilence. A minister, if he be upright before God, will not seek his own honor or interest, but the salvation of his people: he will be the servant of men for Christ's sake: he will employ all his time and talents in the line of his own peculiar profession; and will gladly sacrifice, not his reputation only or his interests, but his very life, if need be, in the service of his fellow-creatures: feeling the importance of his work, he will never degrade the pulpit by making it a theater whereon to display his own abilities; but will commend himself to every man's conscience in the sight of God, and exert himself to the utmost to rescue sinners from the jaws of the devouring lion. Paul, in the passage before us, labors to impress this thought on our minds. Speaking of the blindness of men, not only under the law, but even under the clearer light of the Gospel, and having ascribed it to the agency of Satan, he affirms, that his one employment as a minister was, to co-operate with God in defeating the purposes of that wicked fiend.—Not content with having declared this sentiment in the verses preceding the text, he interrupts, as it were, the thread of his discourse, to repeat it; intimating thereby, that as he could not repeat it too often, so they who should follow him in the ministerial office could never dwell upon it too much; "We preach not ourselves," says he, "but Christ Jesus the Lord, and ourselves your servants for Jesus' sake."

It is however to the other parts of the text that we wish to draw your attention at this time: they exhibit in a contrasted view,

I. The great powers that interest themselves about the souls of men.

Satan is more earnestly occupied respecting us than we are aware of.

The power here called "the God of this world" is most assuredly the devil. His character is put in direct opposition to that of Jehovah; and therefore, however august the title may appear, it must be understood in reference to him, who has shown himself from the beginning the great enemy both of God and man. He is called the God of this world, because the whole world lies under his dominion. Not that he is the rightful governor; he is a vile usurper, that has reduced our fallen race under his power, and exercises over them the most despotic sway. Repeatedly is he called by Christ himself, "the prince of this world;" and by the Apostle, "the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that now works in the children of disobedience." It is by blinding their minds that he retains his power, and makes them account that liberty, which is, in fact, the sorest bondage. Is it asked, How does he blind their minds? We answer, He has a multitude of devices, which cannot be discovered without much deep experience, and much divine instruction. He puffs us up with a conceit that we know enough already; and thereby keeps us from seeking information. He stimulates us to the gratification of our corrupt propensities, that we may have neither leisure nor inclination to attend to our spiritual concerns. He fills us with prejudice against the doctrines of the Gospel as erroneous, and against the ministers and people of God as hypocrites or enthusiasts; and thus confirms us in our natural enmity against God himself. Sometimes he represents God as too merciful to punish; and, at other times, as too inexorable to forgive; and thus either lulls us asleep in security, or enervates us by despondency. By these and other wiles too numerous to recount, he keeps men in his snares, and "leads them captive at his will."

Jehovah also condescends to interest himself in our behalf.

The God of Heaven is here opposed to the God of this world; and is described by an expression of his omnipotence no less wonderful than the creation of the universe out of nothing; "he commanded the light to shine out of darkness." While Satan is endeavoring to blind men, Jehovah exerts himself to enlighten their minds. He could indeed effect his purpose in an instant; but he is pleased to make use of means, and to form his new creation in a gradual manner. He sends his ministers to declare his truth, and his Spirit to seal it on our hearts. Thus, by fixing our attention to it, by making us to see its correspondence with our experience and our wants, and, finally, by giving us to taste its sweetness and excellency, he shines into our hearts, and dissipates the darkness wherein we were enveloped.

The contrasted representation of these great powers exhibits to us also,

II. The ends and purposes they are endeavoring to accomplish.

Satan strives as much as possible to hide Christ from our eyes.

Satan is aware that no one, who has a discovery of Christ's glory, will ever continue submissive to his government. Let a soul be favored with a ray from Heaven, whereby it shall have a glimpse of the glory of God in the face of Jesus, and it will instantly cast off its allegiance to Satan, and take up arms against him. But, while the veil continues on the heart, and this heavenly light is concealed from the view, the soul will be satisfied with its state, nor ever exert itself in earnest to break the yoke imposed upon it. This therefore it is the great work of Satan to accomplish: he cares not what we know or what we do, if he can but keep us from beholding the Divine image in the face of Jesus. As everything short of this will be ineffectual for our salvation, so he is willing that we should have every attainment in knowledge or morality, if he can but succeed in this one point. This is the very marrow of the Gospel, if we may so speak; it is that which infuses life into the dry bones: in vain will each kindred bone resume its proper station in the body; in vain will the flesh and sinews be superinduced upon them; the body will be no other than a breathless corpse, until a spirit of life be infused into it: so will the soul, however exactly fashioned as to the outward appearance, be altogether destitute of spiritual life, until Christ be revealed to it, and formed within it. While "the Gospel is hid from the soul, it is, and must be, lost."

God, on the other hand, strives to reveal Christ unto us.

He knows that nothing short of a discovery of Christ will ever save the soul. If we speak with the tongues of men and of angels, if we have faith that can remove mountains, if we give all our goods to feed the poor, and our body to be burned, and have not that view of Christ which fills our souls with love to God and man, it profits us nothing. Not even a knowledge of Christ himself will be of any effectual service, if we do not see the Divine perfections united in him and glorified in the redemption which he has wrought out for us. Hence, in every dispensation, whether of providence or of grace, he aims at leading sinners to the perfect knowledge of his Son: nor can he ever look upon them with pleasure and delight until this be accomplished.

This subject will clearly show us,

1. The value of our souls.

Shall two such great powers interest themselves so much about us, and we imagine that our souls are of little worth? Surely that which incessantly occupies their attention must well deserve our incessant care.

2. Our state before God.

Let us not ask ourselves merely whether we be moral or immoral, but whether the scales have ever fallen from our eyes, and the glory of Christ been ever revealed to our souls? We must be made sensible that Satan once blinded us; that through his influence we were in unbelief; that nothing but a light from Heaven could dispel this darkness; and that such a revelation of Christ to the soul is the only possible source of life and salvation. Let us inquire whether we have ever felt that conviction, and whether, under the influence of it, we have sought and obtained that divine illumination? This is the criterion by which we must judge ourselves, and by which our state will be determined to all eternity.

3. The constant duty of our lives.

Though we are not to neglect our earthly calling, we must seek above all to "grow in grace and in the knowledge of Jesus Christ," even after we have been enlightened, we need be careful lest Satan blind us again and again. We should seek continually the illumination of God's Spirit, and, by increasing views of Christ's glory, to be changed into his image from glory to glory by the Spirit of the Lord.

MMXIV

Ministers, the Bearers of a Rich Treasure

2 Corinthians 4:7. We have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellency of the power may be of God, and not of us.

ST. PAUL was occasionally constrained to vindicate his own character against the accusations of his enemies. He was averse to it; and, when so doing, accounted himself "speaking as a fool." But, when-soever he boasted, his endeavor was to magnify, not himself but his office. As for himself, no terms were too humiliating for him to use, whether he spoke of his former life, or of his present exertions in the cause of his divine Master. The passage before us well illustrates his views in both respects. The Gospel which he ministered was, in his estimation, "a treasure," but he himself, and all his colleagues, were no better than "earthen vessels;" worthless in themselves, and only useful as imparting unto men "the riches which they contained."

The passage before us will lead me to notice,

I. The true character of the Gospel.

It is here called "a treasure," and well it deserves the name.

In itself, it is utterly invaluable.

If considered as the product of Divine wisdom, it infinitely surpasses all that could have been conceived by the brightest intelligences in Heaven: and, as an effort of Divine love, it is so stupendous as to be absolutely incomprehensible. In it, all the glory of the Godhead shines, with a splendor never before seen even by the angels around the throne. There is not a perfection of the Deity which is not honored by it, and magnified far beyond what it could ever have been by any other device, or any other dispensation.

As dispensed, it marvelously enriches all who receive it.

To every soul of man that embraces it, is imparted a forgiveness of all sin, a peace that passes all understanding, a strength that shall triumph over every adversary, and, at the close of this present life, all the glory and felicity of Heaven. In comparison of this, the riches of ten thousand worlds were nothing. Possessed of this, a Lazarus were rich; and in the want of it, the greatest monarch in the universe were poor.

Most unsuited to this, however, appears to be,

II. The character of those to whom it is committed.

We should naturally expect, that those who are appointed to dispense this treasure should be taken from the highest order of creation, and from the very first rank among them. We should imagine that none but angels and archangels should be counted worthy of so high an honor. But God has judged otherwise; and has committed this treasure to "earthen vessels."

The Apostles are justly so denominated.

They were men of low origin, a few poor fishermen. They were exceeding frail in their nature, not one among them without some great blemish: for in the hour of their Lord's extremity, "they all forsook him, and fled." They were all worthless in themselves, "made of the earth, and earthly," nor had they anything in themselves, either to recommend the treasure, or to augment its efficiency. If Paul be thought an exception, on account of his learning and eloquence, he purposely laid aside his eloquence, from a persuasion that the wisdom of words had no other tendency than to make void the cross of Christ.

And this is the character of God's most faithful servants at this day.

It is not from among the wise and learned that God, for the most part, selects his most active and efficient instruments. Not that he proscribes learning; but because he is jealous of his own honor, and would "have our faith to stand, not in the wisdom of men, but in the power of God." He "chooses the weak things of the world to confound the mighty." Not that any, however eminent, can claim any higher title than that assigned them in the text: for all are guilty, and need the same mercy which they preach to others; all are weak, and must be upheld by God every moment, lest they fall and perish. And not one among them can convert or edify one single soul by any power of his own. However useful any be, they are only like the pitchers which contained the lamps of Gideon—it was not the pitchers that in any respect contributed to his success; no, nor yet the light which they contained: it was the power of God accompanying that light, which obtained the victory; and which alone prevails at this day for the subduing of men to the obedience of faith.

Let us now proceed to contemplate,

III. The peculiar advantage arising from this dispensation.

There is an "excellency of power" in the Gospel.

There is nothing under Heaven that accomplishes such wonders as this. It comes to men who are dead in trespasses and sins, and by a divine energy brings them forth to life. The prophet's vision of the dry bones gives a just representation of its effects—We see how it wrought on the day of Pentecost, and afterwards throughout all the Roman Empire—And the same effects does it produce at this day, wherever it is preached in simplicity, and accompanied with power from on high. There are many living witnesses (not a few, I would hope, in this place) who can attest, that, by means of it, their "eyes have been opened, and their souls been turned from the power of Satan unto God."

By the weakness of those who dispense it, the power of God that accompanies it is the more displayed.

If it were ministered by angels, men would be ready to ascribe its efficacy to the instruments by whom it was dispensed. But, when it was preached by poor fishermen, without learning, without any earthly power to support them, and in direct opposition to all the prejudices and passions of mankind, to what could its wonderful power be ascribed? To nothing, surely, but the mighty operation of the Spirit of God. So, if at this day God made use of none but the great and learned, we should give the honor unto those by whom he wrought, rather than to Him alone. But when he ordains strength, as it were, in the mouths of babes and sucklings, we are constrained to say, that He who works either in us, or by us, is God. By this it is clearly shown, that "neither he who plants is anything, nor he who waters; but God, that gives the increase," it is He who is "all in all."

We may see, then, from hence,

1. How we are to preach the Gospel.

The Gospel was never intended to give to men an opportunity of displaying their own talents, and of getting glory to themselves; no: we are "not to preach ourselves, but Christ Jesus the Lord." It is a treasure committed to us, that, as God's almoners, we should dispense it to an ungodly world. We are to think of nothing, but of enriching immortal souls. If we see not this effect, we should account nothing done to any good purpose, even though our names were celebrated over the face of the whole earth. And if we see this seal to our ministry, we should account ourselves truly blessed, though we were considered in no other light than as "the filth of the world, and the off-scouring of all things." In preparing for our public addresses, we should keep this end in view: in delivering them, too, we should labor with all our might to attain it: and we should consider the enriching of one single soul with the unsearchable riches of Christ, a far more glorious recompense than all the dignities and wealth that could be heaped upon us.

2. How you should hear the Gospel.

You should lose sight of man altogether, and look only unto God. To "be of Paul, or Apollos, or Cephas," is a proof of sad carnality; and is the sure way to rob yourselves of God's blessing. You should consider the public ordinances as God's appointed means of dispensing wealth to your souls. You should go up to them poor, that you may be enriched; and empty, that you may be filled. As for the particular talents of the preacher, or the peculiarities which attend his ministrations, you should, as far as possible, overlook them; and fix your attention only on the treasure which he unfolds to your view, and presents for your acceptance. You would act thus in reference to a casket of jewels which was set before you: you would not despise them because the casket was plain; nor regard them because it was elegant. The enjoying of the possession is that which would be uppermost in your mind: and so it should be when the treasures of the Gospel are offered to you. You should not consider the vessel in which they are brought: if it be of gold, your regards should not be fixed on that; nor, if it be "earthen," should you undervalue the treasure it contains. To be enriched with all spiritual and eternal blessings should be the one object of your pursuit; and for that your mouth should be opened in prayer to God in secret; and your, soul be expanded under the ministration of his word. Above all, be sure to look to God, and not to man; lest you provoke your God to jealousy, and he withhold from your souls his saving benefits.

 

MMXV

The Trials of Christians the Means of Magnifying their Lord

2 Corinthians 4:11. We which live are always delivered unto death for Jesus sake, that the life also of Jesus might be made manifest in our mortal flesh.

THAT the Lord Jesus Christ, the eternal Son of God, was the Creator of all things, is readily acknowledged: nor will the assertion, that "without him was not anything made that was made," be for a moment disputed by any one who believes the Scriptures: but when the same expressions are used in reference to the events of daily occurrence, they gain not the same easy access to our minds: yet it is true in reference to all the works both of providence and grace, that "without him is not anything done that is done," all the evil that is done, is done by his permission: and all the good, by his agency. To direct the attention of men to him as the Sovereign Disposer of all events, is the continual aim of the sacred writers, who teach us to regard him as "upholding all things by his own power," and overruling them for his own glory. One reason for his committing the ministration of his Gospel to a few poor fishermen was, that the enriching of the world with its treasures might not be ascribed to human wisdom, but altogether to the Divine power. For the same reason did he leave these "earthen vessels" to be treated in such a way as almost to preclude a hope of any long continuance of their ministrations: it was, to give the most decisive evidence to the world, that He reigned on high, and by his almighty power preserved them, until they had finished the work which he had given them to do.

Paul, maintaining the authority of his Apostleship against those who disputed it, shows, that, while the trials to which he was exposed appeared to render his divine mission questionable, the supports and consolations that were afforded him placed it beyond a doubt; yes, both the afflictions and consolations were sent on purpose that the almighty power and continual agency of the Lord Jesus Christ might be the more conspicuously seen, and more universally acknowledged. Twice is this declared in the short space of two verses; and it is a truth that demands from us the most attentive consideration. But that we may take the subject in the connection in which it stands, we shall show,

I. What was the state of the first Christians.

Perhaps the Apostle primarily refers to himself and his fellow Apostles.

Their trials were beyond all conception great. While their Divine Master continued upon earth, they were screened from persecution: but when he was removed, they stood in the fore-front of the battle. At the very commencement of their work, they were all imprisoned, and beaten for their Lord's sake: and from that time they were treated with all imaginable contempt and cruelty. Paul, in this very epistle, enumerates such a catalogue of sufferings as would have broken the spirit of any man who was not miraculously strengthened by Divine grace: "He was in labors more abundant than any other Apostle, in stripes above measure, in prisons more frequent, in deaths oft. Of the Jews, be five times received nine-and-thirty stripes; (forty being the utmost that the Jewish magistrates were authorized to inflict on any criminal;) thrice was he beaten with rods; once was he stoned; thrice he suffered shipwreck; a night and a day he was (on some piece of a wreck) in the deep; in journeyings often, in perils of waters, in perils of robbers, in perils by his own countrymen, in perils by the heathen, in perils in the city, in perils in the wilderness, in perils in the sea, in perils among false brethren; in weariness and painfulness, in watchings often, in hunger and thirst, in fastings often, in cold and nakedness." Now though he had a greater measure of these trials than others, they were to a very great extent the common lot of all: for it is not of himself only, but of all, that he speaks in another place, saying, "I think that God has set forth us the Apostles last, as it were appointed to death: for we are made a spectacle unto the world, and to angels, and to men. Even unto this present hour we both hunger, and thirst, and are naked, and are buffeted, and have no certain dwelling-place: we are made as the filth of the world, and the off-scouring of all things unto this day." Every one of them might with truth make the same solemn assertion as Paul did, "I protest by my rejoicing, which I have in Christ Jesus my Lord, I die daily."

But the whole Church were in fact exposed to the heaviest trials.

Stephen, being distinguished by his gifts and graces, speedily fell a victim to the people's rage: and his death was a signal for a general persecution against the whole Church: and so bitter was this persecution, "that the people were scattered abroad through all the regions of Judea and Samaria, none daring to continue at Jerusalem, except the Apostles." They had been taught from the beginning to expect this: they had been told, that, "if they would be Christ's disciples, they must take up their cross daily," and "forsake all," and follow him. The saints of former days had been called to suffer like things; and the same path was now prescribed to all the followers of Christ: "they must bear about in their body the dying of the Lord Jesus," and "through much tribulation must enter into the kingdom of Heaven." By "bearing about in their body the dying of the Lord Jesus," I understand the being subjected to the same trials as the Lord Jesus Christ himself endured when on earth: and this was, more or less, the appointed portion of all the early Christians: the same description of people who hated him, and persecuted him, hated and persecuted all who resembled him, and all who honored him: "they had called the Master of the house Beelzebub;" and by the same ignominious name did they designate "those of his household." In a word, so vehement and universal was the hatred against the very name of Christ, that the mere profession of faith in him was esteemed a sufficient ground for imprisonment and death: so that the prediction of David respecting them was fully verified, "For your sake we are killed all the day long; we are counted as sheep for the slaughter."

How greatly we are interested in their history will appear, while we consider,

II. The instruction to be derived from it.

The reflections which most powerfully suggest themselves to our minds, are,

1. How worthy the Lord Jesus Christ is to be loved and served.

Every convert was taught beforehand what he was to expect: vet, in the face of all these dangers, millions embraced, and openly professed, the faith of Christ: and as fast as one set of Christians sealed the truth with their blood, others came forward to confess the same Lord, and "were baptized in the room of the dead," like soldiers instantly springing forward to occupy the ranks which the devouring sword had thinned. So far were they from being intimidated, they were rather emboldened, by all that they saw and heard: if they fled from the sword of persecution, they availed themselves of the opportunity which their flight afforded them, to preach the Gospel throughout all the Roman empire, and "rejoiced that they were counted worthy to suffer for Christ's sake." The example of the Apostle Paul, though transcendently eminent in these respects, may serve to show us what was the general feeling of the whole Church. Though his afflictions were so numerous and heavy, yet "none of these things moved him, neither counted he his life dear unto him, so that he might but finish his course with joy." He was "willing not only to be bound, but also to die, at any time, and in any manner, for the Lord Jesus."

Now in this way did the primitive saints show their regard for Christ: when informed what sacrifices they should be called to make for him, they counted the cost; and considered the pearl cheaply purchased at the price of all that they possessed.

And is this pearl sunk in value? Does not the Lord Jesus Christ deserve as much at our hands as he did at theirs? Yes; it is in this way that we must all receive him: we must "account all things but loss and dung, that we may win him," and "if we hate not father and mother, and even our own lives also in comparison of him, we cannot be his disciples." Inquire, brethren, whether you have ever come to Christ in this way? whether you have ever had such exalted views of his excellency, as to determine you to know nothing, and value nothing, but him? and whether you have felt such a deep sense of your obligations to him as to "glory in the cross for his sake," and to make even the most cruel death for his sake a subject of congratulation and joy, rather than of sorrow and condolence? When such are our views of Christ, and such the dispositions of our minds towards him, then, and then only, have we any scriptural evidence that we truly know him, and really belong to him.

2. What rich provision we have in Christ.

If we are Christ's, we must expect "fiery trials to try us;" for "all who will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution." But "if our afflictions abound for his sake, he will make our consolations to abound also." In this respect the Apostle's experience shall be realized in us: like him, we may be greatly tried; but, "though troubled on every side, we shall not be so straitened," as to have no way to escape: we may be so "perplexed," as not to know what to do; but "we shall not be left to despair," as though we had none at hand that was able to help or deliver. We may be "persecuted" by the whole human race; yet shall we "not be forsaken" by our God: we may be "cast down," and apparently vanquished, for a season; but we shall "not ultimately be destroyed." This is expressly promised to every member of the Church of Christ. "He will not suffer us to be tempted above that we are able, but will with the temptation make also a way to escape, that we may be able to bear it," and in the full confidence of this we may exult as the Apostle did, "Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? Nay, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him that loved us." Our extremities may be such as almost to destroy all hope: but they shall be the Seasons of his effectual interposition. "In the mount He shall be seen" by us, just as he was by Abraham: "when he sees that our power is gone, and that there is none shut up or left" to assist us, "then will he repent himself for us, and interpose for our relief," and "when we are cast down, then shall we say, There is lifting up: for God will save the humble person."

Beloved brethren, know what provision there is for you in this adorable Savior—and, while you reflect on "the help which is thus laid up for you on One that is mighty," learn to confide in him, and to say, "If God be for me, who can be against me?" "If my God and Savior be on my side, I will not fear what either men or devils can do against me."

3. How thankful we should be that we are permitted to serve the Lord Christ on such easy terms!

Though we must all have some cross to bear, yet our trials are nothing in comparison of those that were endured by the primitive Church. The worst that we are called to sustain is, a sneer, an opprobrious name, or some trivial loss. How light would the first Christians have accounted such petty sufferings as these! Yet even by these are many among us so intimidated, that they dare not to confess Christ openly. What then would such persons do, if the sword of persecution were drawn against them now, as in former days, or as at the time of the Reformation in our own land, when so many were burnt alive for the Gospel's sake? Well may we be thankful that such trials of our faith as these no longer exist: for, if such a sifting time were to arise, many, very many, among us, it is to be feared, would be found no better than chaff: many who now look mirthful, "receiving the word with joy, would on the rising of temptation and persecution presently fall away, and make shipwreck of their faith." Let us all then be thankful for the rest we enjoy—and improve it for our more abundant edification in faith and love; that, if God should see fit again to loose the chain by which our great adversary is bound, we may "be able to resist in the evil day, and, having done all, to stand."

4. What under all circumstances should be our main concern.

The end for which such grievous persecutions were permitted to harass the primitive Church was, that Christ's power and grace might be visibly seen in those who were called to endure them: and this very consideration made Paul to "take pleasure in all his distresses," because he knew, that the power of Christ would rest upon him, and "be perfected in his weakness." In like manner should we also rise superior to the concerns of time and sense, and be anxious only, "that Christ may be glorified in our body, whether by life or death." He is now seated at the right hand of God, and possesses "all power both in Heaven and earth." In him is treasured up all fullness for the use of his Church, that out of it all his members may receive according to their several necessities. He is their life; and "they live by him, exactly as he, when on earth, lived by his Father," with whom he was altogether one. In all his miracles the finger of God appeared, because they were wrought by God: so m all the exercises of our spiritual life Christ is seen: because it is only by strength communicated from him, that we can either do, or suffer, as we ought. Let this then be our endeavor, namely, so to live, as to carry conviction to all who see us, that we are under the guidance and care of an all-wise, almighty Being. Let our every act, as it were, show, not only how Christ lived on earth, but that he now lives, and rules, in Heaven; and that he is still as present with his people by his Spirit, as ever his own Father was present with him in the days of his flesh. This is an object worthy the ambition of the first archangel: yet is it attainable by all of us, if only we will "live by faith on Christ," and "cleave unto him with full purpose of heart."

 

MMXVI

The Christian's Experience in Affliction

2 Corinthians 4:17, 18. Our light affliction, which is but for a moment, works for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory; while we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen: for the things which are seen are temporal; but the things which are not seen are eternal.

THE Christian in every state, whether of prosperity or adversity, differs widely from the unconverted world. While others are elated by the one and depressed by the other, he is kept in an equable frame of mind. As he does not place his happiness in earthly things, he is not much affected either with the acquisition or the loss of them. He is thankful for success, but not overjoyed, as though some great thing had happened unto him; and is patient in tribulation, knowing that in the issue it shall work for his good. To this effect the Apostle speaks in the text, in which he assigns the reason why, notwithstanding the greatness of his afflictions, he was kept from fainting under them. And his words afford us a proper occasion to consider,

I. The disposition which the Christian cultivates.

The account which Paul gives of himself is characteristic of every true Christian.

His chief aim is to attain things that are invisible.

By "the things which are seen" we understand everything which relates merely to the present world, which the Apostle comprehends under three names, "the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eye, and the pride of life." By "the things which are not seen" must he meant the love and favor of God, the renovation of our inward man, the glory and felicity of Heaven. The latter of these are the objects towards which the Christian turns his principal attention. Not that he neglects the concerns of this world; this would be absurd and criminal; but his great end and aim is to obtain an inheritance beyond the grave: even while he is most actively employed in secular concerns, he looks through them all to this grand object, and labors incessantly to secure it.

To this he is led by the transitoriness of earthly things.

The things of this world perish with the using. If they be not withdrawn from us, we must soon be taken away from them; nor will so much as one of them remain to be enjoyed in the future world. But spiritual things remain forever. If we secure the love of God now, it shall abide with us to all eternity. An interest in the Redeemer's merits, and a title to all the glory of Heaven, shall never be taken away from us. Death, so far from terminating our enjoyments, will bring us to the full possession of that glory, of which our present foretastes are an earnest and pledge. The Christian, seeing the infinite disparity between these things, determines to make invisible things the supreme objects of his regard, and comparatively disregards all that can be offered to the eye of sense.

In this pursuit he is aided by his afflictions, as will appear, if we consider,

II. The privilege he enjoys.

The Christian has troubles as well as others.

The very conduct he observes with respect to temporal things has a tendency to involve him in trouble. The world cannot endure to see their idols so disregarded, and their conduct so reproached. One would have supposed from the account given us of his sufferings, that Paul must have been the vilest miscreant that ever lived: but the more we resemble him in holiness, the more shall we resemble him in sufferings also. Our enemies indeed will not professedly persecute us for our holiness; they will assign some specious reason. Elijah shall be called "The troubler of Israel;" Paul, "The man who turns the world upside down;" and Christ shall be punished as a blasphemer and an enemy to civil government. But the same reason obtains with respect to all,—the world cannot endure the light of their example.

These troubles however shall work for his good.

They "are not in themselves joyous, but grievous;" but they tend to refine his soul, and to fit him for glory; yes, inasmuch as these sufferings constitute a part of the obedience required of him, they bring with them a correspondent reward. In this view they are mentioned in the text as highly beneficial. They work for the faithful Christian a reward of glory; "a weight of glory" as great as his soul is able to sustain, and as durable as eternity itself. In comparison of this, the Apostle calls his troubles light and momentary, yes, not only light, but lightness itself; and intimates, that, if hyperbole were heaped upon hyperbole, it would be impossible for language to express, or for imagination to conceive, the greatness of that glory which his afflictions wrought for him.

The preceding subjects being, to appearance, so remote from each other, it will be proper to mark,

III. The connection between them.

Afflictions do not necessarily produce this effect.

In too many instances the effect that flows from them is altogether opposite. Instead of purifying the soul, they fill it with impatience, fretfulness, and all manner of malignant passions; and instead of working out a weight of glory for it, they serve only to prepare for it a more aggravated condemnation. "The sorrow of the world," says the Apostle, "works death."

It is only where the pursuits are spiritual, that sufferings are so eminently beneficial.

If the mind be set upon carnal things, it will be cast down when it is robbed of its enjoyments; it will say, like Micah, "I have lost my gods, and what have I more?" But the soul that affects heavenly things will be comforted with the thought that the objects of its desire are as near as ever. "While it looks at things invisible," it will be quickened in its pursuit of them: it will be made to feel more sensibly the vanity and insignificance of earthly things, and be urged more determinately to seek "a kingdom which cannot be moved," every fresh trial will make it long more and more for the promised rest; and the storms which menace its existence, will thus eventually waft it with more abundant rapidity towards its desired haven.

Inferences.

1. How infatuated are the generality of mankind!

It is but too evident that the generality of the world are seeking earthly things, while they who are pressing forward in pursuit of heavenly things are comparatively few in number. What a melancholy proof is this of men's blindness and folly! Who is there that, however much he may have gained of this world, has not found it all to be vanity and vexation of spirit? What comfort has any one derived from earthly possessions in an hour of deep affliction? And what benefit will accrue from them in the eternal world? Say, you libertine, you worldling, or you false professor, what has the world done for you? And what have you of all that is past, except shame and remorse in the remembrance of it? Who does not acknowledge the truth of these observations the very instant he begins to have a prospect of the eternal state? Yet, so infatuated are we, that though every successive age has seen the folly of such conduct, they have trodden the same delusive path, according to what is written, "This their way is their folly, and yet their posterity approve their saying." Let us, however, awake from our slumber; let us not so regard the things that are visible and temporal, as to forget that there are things invisible and eternal; let us live and act as for eternity; let us read, and hear, and pray, as for eternity. In this way we shall remove the sting from all present afflictions, and secure "an inheritance that fades not away."

2. How blessed is the true Christian!

As there is no state, however prosperous, in which an unconverted man is not an object of pity, so there is no state, however afflictive, wherein the Christian may not be considered as a happy man. However severe or long-continued his troubles may be, they appear to him but light and momentary; and however they may be productive of present pain, he has the consolation of knowing that they work for him a weight of glory, which will infinitely overbalance all that he can endure in the body. "Who then, or what, can harm him, while he continues thus a follower of that which is good?" Surely, even in this present world the Christian has incomparably the best portion. What he will enjoy hereafter, when he shall come to the full possession of his inheritance, it is needless to say. We can have no doubt but that the invisible realities will be found a very sufficient recompense for all his zeal and diligence in the pursuit of them. Let us then keep those realities in view, and the nearer we come to the goal, let us be the more earnest in "running the race that is set before us."

 

MMXVII

The Christian's Assured Prospect of Glory

2 Corinthians 5:1–5. We know that if our earthly house of this tabernacle were dissolved, we have a building of God, an house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. For in this we groan, earnestly desiring to be clothed upon with our house which is from Heaven; if so be that being clothed we shall not be found naked. For we that are in this tabernacle do groan, being burdened: not for that we would be unclothed, but clothed upon, that mortality might be swallowed up of life. Now he who has wrought us for the selfsame thing is God, who also has given unto us the earnest of the Spirit.

IT has justly been said of Christians, that if in this life only they had hope, they would be of all men in the most pitiable condition; seeing that they renounce all the pleasures of sin, and are exposed to all manner of trials for their Lord's sake. And certainly, if we consider the variety and greatness of Paul's sufferings, this may be applied to him with more propriety than to any other of the children of men. But, notwithstanding he was "delivered daily unto death for Jesus' sake, he was still cheerful and still happy: and, notwithstanding "his outward man decayed, his inward man was renewed day by day." Do we seek the cause of this? he had his eye fixed on eternal things, and derived from thence a fund of consolation sufficient to bear him up above all his afflictions. Death had no terrors for him; because "he knew that, when his earthly tabernacle should be dissolved, he had a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens."

But, as this experience was not confined to him, we shall take occasion from the words which we have read to show,

I. The Christian's experience in the prospect of the eternal world.

He knows that there is a glorious mansion prepared for him.

Here he dwells in a poor frail "tabernacle," like the patriarchs of old, exposed to vicissitudes of every kind, and uncertain how soon he may be called to change his precarious abode. But he has a better tabernacle prepared for him, a house more glorious in its structure, and more lasting in its duration, even "a building of God, not made with hands, eternal in the heavens." Nor is his speedy enjoyment of this house a matter of conjecture with him, nor even of hope; it is a certainty, of which he is assured: he "knows" that such a tabernacle is prepared, prepared for him too; and that, "as soon as his earthly tabernacle shall be dissolved," he shall instantly be translated to it. It is the inheritance to which he has been born; and which is therefore "reserved for him," as he also is for it; the very power which made it for him being pledged to put him into the possession of it. To it the patriarchs looked forward as the certain termination of their earthly pilgrimage: and with still greater certainty does the Christian look forward to it, as being at this instant occupied by his forerunner, the Lord Jesus Christ, "who is gone before to prepare it for him, and is coming speedily to remove him to it." Like Job, he can say, "I know that my Redeemer lives, and that he shall stand at the latter day upon the earth, and my eyes shall behold him;" and with the same blessed assurance also he can add, "I shall be with him, and be like him," forever and ever.

In the prospect of this he longs for the period of his dissolution.

In his present tabernacle he is laden with grievous corruptions, and beset with manifold temptations, and exposed to injuries on every side: and, from "his fightings without, and fears within," his time is often spent in sighs and groans. Many, many times does he exclaim with Paul, "O wretched man that I am, who shall deliver me?" Notwithstanding "he has within himself the first-fruits of the Spirit, he groans within himself, waiting for the adoption, to wit, the redemption of the body." Twice is this mentioned in our text, to certify us the more fully, that groans are the common language of the heaven-born soul; and that it is in that language more especially that "the Holy Spirit makes intercession for us."

"To be delivered from the bondage of corruption," is certainly one great object which the Christian pants after: but he also longs, and "earnestly desires," to be brought "into the glorious liberty of the children of God." He knows that "when unclothed, as it respects his present tabernacle, he shall not be found naked" and destitute, seeing that a better habitation is ready for him; and it is his desire after this better habitation, that chiefly actuates him in his longings for the dissolution of his earthly tabernacle. It is "not merely to be unclothed," and to get rid of his present troubles, but "to be clothed upon with his house from Heaven," and have "mortality swallowed up of life." It is no disparagement to a godly soul to say, "O that I had wings like a dove! for then would I flee away and be at rest," but it is a higher attainment to say, "I long to be dissolved, that I may be with Christ."

We are ready to imagine that there is a confusion of metaphor in this place, and that "to be clothed upon with a house," is an absurd expression: but, if we advert to the circumstance, that that house is "a tabernacle," and that a tabernacle is constructed with an awning or covering cast over it, the propriety, and indeed the beauty, of the expression will appear at once. And when it is considered that even the tabernacle of the Most High was not so far superior to the accommodation of the meanest Israelite, as the mansions prepared for us are above the tabernacle in which we now live, we shall not wonder, that the soul of the believer sighs and groans for his blessed abode; his abode, the residence of angels, the habitation of his God. It was this consideration that made Paul so satisfied in the near prospect of martyrdom: "I am now ready to be offered, and the time of my departure is at hand: but there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, shall give me." It was the same, that rendered Peter also equally composed in the near approach of crucifixion. He designates even that cruel death by the gentle term of "putting off this tabernacle;" to which he was reconciled by the thought that an infinitely better mansion awaited him at his departure hence. But is it for Apostles only to enjoy this sweet assurance? Are they alone authorized to look forward with delight to the eternal world? No, this is the privilege of every saint. Heaven is the believer's home: while he is here, he is a sojourner, in a state of exile from his Lord: and when he goes hence, he ceases from his pilgrimage, and goes home to the bosom of his God. If we are "walking by faith and not by sight," that is, if we are true believers, that is our present portion, and "our eternal great reward."

But, while we assert that this is the Christian's experience, it will be proper to show,

II. How he attains to it.

It is wrought in him by his God.

Man cannot work it in himself. Man may desire to get rid of his present trials, and in a fit of impatience may "choose strangling rather than life," indeed it is but too common for those who are bowed down with a load of worldly troubles, to seek relief in suicide. But this is very different from the experience in our text, a principal ingredient in which is a desire after the glory and felicity of Heaven. This no man can produce in his own soul. Man, of himself, has no conception of that blessedness, nor any taste for the enjoyment of it: much less has he such a view of it as will incline him to brave the most cruel death for the attainment of it. He who alone can work this in the soul of man, is God. He alone, who opened the eyes of Stephen to behold God, and Jesus Christ standing at the right hand of God, can give to any man a just apprehension of the heavenly glory, together with an assurance of his title to it, and his interest in it. He alone, who raised up the Lord Jesus from the dead, can so deliver us from the fear of death, that it shall appear to us a desirable acquisition. He alone, who has enabled us to say, "To me to live is Christ," can enable us to add, "To me also it is gain to die."

How God works this in the soul, it is not easy to state. We are but little acquainted with the workings of our own spirit, and still less with the operations of the Spirit of God. We know little of wind, but by its effects: as to the mode of its operation, we have but very indistinct notions about it: it is no wonder therefore that there should be many things relative to the operation of the Holy Spirit on our souls which we are not able clearly to define. But from the effects produced by him, we do assuredly collect his agency: and where we see an ardent desire after the heavenly glory, we do not hesitate to affirm, that the author of it is God; since none but He, who created the universe out of nothing, can create so blessed a disposition in the soul. This disposition is called "the earnest of the Spirit," which God gives to his believing people. Now an earnest is, not merely a pledge of anything, but a part of the thing itself, given as a pledge that the remainder shall be imparted in due time: and hence that which is called in our text "the earnest of the Spirit," is in another place called "an earnest of our inheritance;" which being given to the soul by God, is to that soul a ground of the strongest assurance that the promised blessing shall in due time be communicated in all its fullness.

It shall be wrought in all who heartily desire it.

One of the most important lessons which the Gospel teaches us, is, that we should be ever "looking for that blessed hope, even the glorious appearing of the great God and our Savior, Jesus Christ." We should not only be looking for it, but "hastening unto it," even "to the coming of the day of Christ," and the character given to all Christians is, that they do thus "love his appearing." But, if we have not a well-grounded hope of glory, how can we delight ourselves in the prospect of that day? It is our taste of the grapes of Eshcol that assures to us the full enjoyment of the promised land: and it is our partial entrance on our rest in this world, that assures to us the complete possession of "the rest that remains for us." Let us therefore seek the first-fruits, and we need entertain no fears respecting the full harvest.

From hence we may learn,

1. How desirable it is to have the evidences of our conversion clear.

Though the earnest of the Spirit is itself both a seal and evidence of our conversion, it must not be found alone; much less must it be supposed to exist, where any habitual or allowed sin attests the contrary. The witness of the Spirit is in perfect harmony with the written word: and though it may for wise and gracious reasons be withheld from a person who is walking uprightly before God; (for a man may "fear the Lord, and yet walk in darkness and have no light;") yet it never is given to any one who is not serving God in sincerity and truth: and the man who imagines that he has the earnest of the Spirit, and the witness of the Spirit, while yet he is not sincerely and unreservedly devoted unto God, deceives his own soul. Some imagine that to speak of evidences is to encourage legality: but it is impossible to read the Epistles of John, and not to see, that he lays down, I had almost said, a system of evidences, whereby a man should try his state before God. Feelings, however strong, and whatever confidence they may generate in the soul, cannot be depended on, if separated from the dispositions and actions produced by them: and therefore I cannot but earnestly recommend every one to examine carefully the state of his own soul, lest he dream of Heaven and awake in Hell."

2. How light all trials should be to the believing soul.

Well does the Apostle in the words before our text call them "light and momentary;" so light, as to be "lightness" itself. Of what moment are the accommodations of an inn, where the traveler stops an hour in his journey to his father's house? Such travelers are we; and the period of our stay is at the utmost an hour, or rather, the twinkling of an eye. I may ask too, of what moment are his little inconveniences there, in comparison of the great and permanent felicity that awaits him? This is the true way to estimate our sufferings, of whatever kind they bey. You who are most tried, fix your eyes upon the glory that shall be revealed: think of "the grace that shall be given you at the revelation of Jesus Christ." Think especially too of your trials as loosening the pins of your present tabernacle, and hastening forward your entrance into that tabernacle that is prepared for you: view them, I say, in this light, and you will be so far from complaining of them, that you will rejoice and glory in them as the wise appointments of a gracious God: and "the trial of your faith will be precious, because it will be found to his praise and honor and glory at the appearing of Jesus Christ."

3. How blessed is the portion of every child of God.

Inconvenient as his present abode is, and painful as his state at present is in some respects, he yet is truly blessed. Consider what prospects he enjoys, yes, what anticipations and foretastes of his future bliss; for by faith he has already as clear evidence of the future glory, as if he saw it with his bodily eyes; and as truly the substance of it, as if he had it already in his possession. Tell me not of his trials; for I say, he is a truly blessed man: and our blessed Lord again and again declares him blessed. Then think of his state as soon as this earthly tabernacle is dissolved; think of him as clothed upon with his house from Heaven, and mortality, with all its attendant pains, "as swallowed up of life." Not an atom of his former troubles or weaknesses remains; all is swallowed up, and is as if it had never been. Read the account of him as dwelling in the tabernacle of his God, and you will break forth into the most heart-felt congratulations, "Happy are you, O Israel, O people saved by the Lord!"

 

MMXVIII

The Christian Walking by Faith

2 Corinthians 5:7. We walk by faith, not by sight.

IF we behold any wonderful effects, we naturally inquire after the cause that has produced them. Now in the preceding context we behold as extraordinary a phenomenon as can be conceived: a sinner, like ourselves, not only divested of all fear of death, but longing after it as the consummation of all his hopes, and the completion of all his desires. This is a frame of mind totally unknown to man by nature, and incapable of being produced by any natural means. How then was it produced in the Apostle Paul? He tells us, "He who has wrought us to the self-same thing, is God." But how did God work it? for it is certain that he works by means. I answer, By forming in his soul a principle of faith, and making that the great moving cause of all his actions. This is the account which Paul himself gives us in the words before us: "We are willing to be absent from the body, and to be present with the Lord; for we walk by faith, not by sight." It was by faith that he attained this blessed state: and if, like him, we cultivate that heavenly principle, and take it as the spring and source of all our conduct, we shall find it productive of similar blessedness in our souls. It is, in truth, this principle, which above all others distinguishes the true Christian from every other person under Heaven.

To explain and vindicate his conduct in reference to this matter, we will show,

I. The principle by which the Christian is actuated.

He fixes his eye, not on things visible and temporal, but on things invisible and eternal.

This is declared at the close of the preceding chapter; and the same contrast is marked in our text. Faith is opposed to sight, and has respect entirely to things which are beyond the reach of mortal eyes. It looks upon an unseen God; even as Moses did, who feared not the wrath of Pharaoh, because "he saw him that is invisible." This great and adorable Being it beholds, and contemplates all his glorious perfections. It sees all his mind and will in the book of revelation: it recognizes his superintending providence in all events: it regards him as inspecting continually the most hidden recesses of our souls, and noting everything in the book of his remembrance in order to a future judgment.

Faith also views an unseen Savior as the supreme object of his people's love, and the only foundation of all their hopes. It beholds him dying for their sins, and rising again for their justification: yes, it sees him interceding for them at the right hand of God, and preserving for them that peace which by their sins and infirmities they would soon forfeit. It enters into the whole of the Savior's work and offices, surveying them in all their extent and variety; and particularly regards him as the fountain of life to all his people; as having in himself all fullness of spiritual blessings treasured up for them, and imparting to them continually out of that fullness according to their several necessities.

Faith views an unseen Heaven also. It soars and penetrates into the very paradise of God, and surveys the crowns and kingdoms which God has there prepared for all that love him. There it beholds that glorious tabernacle which the soul shall inhabit as soon as this earthly house shall be dissolved: and in the promises recorded in the written word, it sees the possession of that glory assured to every believing soul, assured by an everlasting covenant, and by the oath of a "God that cannot lie."

Such are the objects of faith! and such the objects on which the Christian's eye is continually fixed!

By these he regulates the whole of his life and conversation.

These are the things which draw forth his regards; and in comparison of these all earthly things are but as dung and dross. For these he sighs, and groans, and weeps, and strives: to obtain an interest in them is more to him than ten thousand worlds. Whatever will endanger the loss of these, he flees from, as from the face of a serpent: and whatever has a tendency to secure his interest in them, he labors incessantly to perform. In these all his affections center: his hopes and fears, his joys and sorrows, all terminate in these: and, in exact proportion as he is enabled by faith to realize and apprehend these, he is happy. In a word, "he walks by faith," and every step he takes is under the influence of that principle. Faith is to the Christian what the compass is to the mariner in the trackless ocean: under all circumstances he consults its testimony, and follows its directions: and, in so doing, he fears not but that in due time he shall arrive at his destined haven.

This was the character of the Apostle Paul: and it is the character of every true Christian under Heaven: "the life which he now lives in the flesh, he lives by the faith of the Son of God, who loved him, and gave himself for him?"

But as to those who understand not his views he appears to act absurdly, we will proceed to mark.

II. The reasonableness of his conduct in this respect.

Doubtless the people who are strangers to this principle must "gaze strangely at" the Christian, and account him almost mad. The overlooking with comparative contempt all that he has ever seen, and following with all possible ardor things which no mortal eye ever did see, must appear the height of folly and enthusiasm; and we wonder not if many should say to him, "You are beside yourself; much thoughtfulness has made you mad." But we reply, that there is no comparison between the wisdom of walking by faith or of being actuated by sight.

The principle of faith is,

1. More exalted in its objects.

The objects of sense are all poor, and mean, and worthless. Take all that eye ever saw, or ear heard, or heart conceived; and it would not weigh against one glimpse of the Savior's glory, or one taste of his love. Besides, it is all transient and of very short duration. But think of Almighty God and his covenant of grace; think of the Lord Jesus Christ, and all the wonders of redeeming love; think of Heaven, and all its glory and blessedness; and then say, which are most deserving of our regard? In attaching ourselves to the one, we degrade ourselves to the state of unenlightened heathens, I had almost said, of the brute beasts; but by living wholly with a reference to the latter, we emulate, as it were, the glorified saints and angels. The one is as high above the other, as the heavens are above the earth.

2. More certain in its testimony.

Earthly things may dazzle us with their glare and glitter: but they are all a lie, a cheat, a shadow, a delusion: there is no substance in them. With whatever confidence we press forward for the attainment of them, the more they disappoint our endeavors: and, when we think we have secured you prize, we no sooner stretch out our hands to lay hold on it, than it eludes our grasp: or, if we apprehend the object of our desires, it proves to us no better than vanity and vexation of spirit. But was ever any one deceived in apprehending the realities of the eternal world? Did ever any one who sought them by faith, fail in the pursuit of them, or find them, when attained, below his expectation? No truly: it is justly said by the Lord Jesus Christ under the character of wisdom, "I cause them that love me to inherit substance," and every promise that makes over these things to the believing soul, is as immutable as God himself.

3. More excellent in its operations.

The tendency of visible things is to sensualize and debase the soul: but the effect of heavenly things is to purify and exalt it. The more we contemplate the Divine Being, the more shall we be transformed into his blessed image. The more we exercise faith on the Lord Jesus Christ, the more will grace, and mercy, and peace be multiplied unto us. The more we breathe the atmosphere of Heaven, the more shall we be fitted for the everlasting enjoyment of it. "Every man that has such hopes in him, purifies. himself even as God is pure," and the very promises by which he apprehends them, lead him to "cleanse himself from all filthiness both of flesh and spirit, and to perfect holiness in the fear of God." Truly "by these he becomes a partaker of the divine nature," and is progressively "changed into the divine image from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of our God."

4. More conducive to our true happiness.

What does he possess who has the whole world at his command? A mere phantom: and, if he look for any solid happiness from it, he will find, that he has only "filled his belly with the east wind." But who can describe the happiness of him, who, by faith, has already in his soul "the substance of things hoped for, as well as the evidence of things not seen?" Who can declare the blessedness of him, who has God for his Father, Christ for his Savior, the Holy Spirit for his Comforter, and Heaven for his home? This man lives on "angels' food." He has grapes of Eshcol already by the way: he stands on Pisgah's top, surveying in all its length and breadth the land of promise: he has already an earnest and foretaste of the heavenly bliss: and, when he goes hence, he will change neither his company nor his employment: he is already dwelling in, and with, his God; and tuning his harp ready to join the choirs above, as soon as ever his attendant angels shall have received their commission to bear him hence.

Address.

1. Those who are walking by sight.

You are reputed wise by the men of this world; but are worse than fools in the estimation of your God. What has the world ever yet done for you? Has it ever yet afforded you any solid satisfaction? Possess what you may, will not a pain, a loss, a disappointment, be sufficient to rob you of all your enjoyment? And what can it do for you in a dying hour? Will it prolong your life, or assuage your anguish, or pacify your conscience, or take away the sting of death? But, above all, what will it do for you at the bar of judgment? Will it bribe your Judge, or avert the wrath of an offended God, or mitigate your torments in the world of woe? You think the Christian unwise in having respect to things which his eye has never seen. But who will be found the wise man in that great and awful day? Not he who neglected God and his own soul; not he who trampled under foot his dying Savior, and poured contempt on all the glory and blessedness of Heaven; but he who lived as a pilgrim and a sojourner here, and "looked for a city that has foundations, whose builder and maker is God." O, that you "may be wise, and consider, before it be too late, your latter end!"

2. Those who profess to walk by faith.

We thank our God that there are a goodly number of you who have learned to estimate things by their relation to eternity. O beg of God to "turn off your eyes from beholding vanity, and to quicken your souls in his way." Pray to him to "increase your faith," that your discernment of unseen things may be more clear, your enjoyment of them more rich, your improvement of them more uniform and abiding. Pray that your faith may be more and more influential on the whole of your life and conversation: and strive, in dependence on the Spirit of God, to walk more and more "worthy of your high calling." Paul, in his most assured prospects of glory, "labored, that, whether present in the body, or absent from it, he might be accepted of the Lord." Do you in this respect follow his example: "not setting your affections on anything here below," but "having your conversation altogether in Heaven, from whence you look for the Lord Jesus Christ" "to come and take you to himself," that you may "be with him, and like him "forever.

 

MMXIX

The Improvement to be Made of the Doctrine of a Future Judgment

2 Corinthians 5:10, 11. We must all appear before the judgment-seat of Christ; that every one may receive the things done in his body, according to that he has done, whether it be good or bad. Knowing therefore the terror of the Lord, we persuade men.

TIME is generally thought to be of little use, except as it may be employed in amusements or in the prosecution of worldly business; but its value, as it stands connected with eternity, exceeds all calculation. The manner in which every hour is spent is recorded in Heaven; every moment, as it were, increases our eternal happiness or misery. This consideration made the Apostle solicitous to redeem time himself, and to improve it for the good of others: "We knowing therefore," etc.

I. The Apostle's account of the day of judgment.

"Christ" is the person who shall judge the world.

He who stood at Pilate's bar is exalted for this purpose. Our Lord himself plainly and repeatedly affirmed it.

He will erect his "tribunal" in a solemn and public manner.

Daniel spoke of this in very exalted terms. Our Lord also has declared it.

Before this "we must all appear."

All who have ever existed from the beginning to the end of the world shall stand at his bar. None shall be able to elude or to withstand the summons.

All that we have done in the body will then be made manifest.

The secrets of every heart shall be disclosed. The mask will be taken from the face of the hypocrite: the tears and sighings of the contrite will be declared before all.

Then shall every one receive according to his doings, "whether they be good or bad."

The seeming inequalities of the Divine government will then be rectified: the godly will not then be any more condemned, or the wicked be justified. They who from faith and love have obeyed God shall be rewarded: they who have been disobedient and unbelieving shall be punished.

The rewards and punishments shall be respectively proportioned to the good or evil that has been done.

They who have greatly improved their talents will be greatly rewarded: they whose sins have been peculiarly aggravated will be more severely punished.

A more important consideration than this cannot enter into the mind of man.

II. The improvement which he made of it.

This subject is extremely awful even to the best of men.

The most eminently pious are conscious of many defects. They know also the deceitfulness of their hearts. Hence not even Paul himself could fully rely on the verdict of his own conscience.

But it is full of "terror" to the ungodly.

To see him as their Judge, whose dying love they despised! To be confronted with all their accomplices in wickedness! To have the books of God's remembrance opened! To have all their secret thoughts and desires exposed! To know that their doom is irrevocably fixed! To wait the dreadful sentence from the mouth of their Judge! To have nothing but an eternity of unmixed misery before them! What can be more terrible?

Paul well "knew" this terror of the Lord. He therefore labored "to persuade men."

He persuaded men to "flee from the wrath to come, and to lay hold on eternal life," he spared no pains to attain this object of his wishes—he regarded no sufferings if he might but prevail on some.

Application.

We would improve this subject as the Apostle did. We know most assuredly these terrors of the Lord. We, on account of our office, are peculiarly interested in the events of that day: we therefore would persuade you to repent, and believe the Gospel: we would persuade you by every alarming or encouraging consideration. Consider the certainty of that day—the nearness of it—the greatness of the preparation necessary—and the consequence of dying unprepared. Consider the free remission, and the almighty assistance now offered you, and the blessedness of being prepared to meet your God. May we all lay these considerations to heart! May we at the last be found, not only almost, but altogether Christians!

 

MMXX

The Constraining Power of Christ's Love

2 Corinthians 5:14, 15. The love of Christ constrains us; because we thus judge, that if one died for all, then were all dead: and that he died for all, that they which live should not henceforth live unto themselves, but unto him which died for them, and rose again.

ST. PAUL was more abundant both in labors and in sufferings than any other of the Apostles: but his zeal was by many considered as no better than madness. To the lukewarm, as well as to those who were altogether careless, he appeared to be transported far beyond the bounds of reason and propriety; and they therefore did not hesitate to say that "he was beside himself." But while he was thus condemned as a wild enthusiast, he cultivated in reality the strictest sobriety; as is evident throughout his whole history, and in all his epistles. But, "it was with him a small matter to be judged of man's judgment," he cared not what opinion his adversaries formed of him, while he had the consciousness that he was actuated by zeal for God, and by love to man. Nevertheless he was not backward to declare whence his zeal arose; nor was he afraid to let his enemies themselves judge whether it was rational or not. He tells them, that, "if he was beside himself, it was to God," that he might be glorified; or, "if he was sober, it was for their cause," that they might be benefitted: but that, whatever judgment might be passed upon him, the love of Christ constrained him, and under the influence of that he thought it right to live entirely to his God.

In vindication of the Apostle, and for the regulating of our own minds, we shall inquire,

I. What it was which stimulated him to such unparalleled exertions.

It was "the love of Christ which constrained him." By this I understand, not his love to Christ, but Christ's love to him; which is here mentioned in its two great leading features;

1. His dying for us.

Wonderful indeed was this love! that when he was incapable of any increase of honor or happiness himself, he left the bosom of his Father, and took our nature upon him with all its sinless infirmities, on purpose that he might expiate our guilt by his own blood, and work out a righteousness for our acceptance before God—That he should do this so readily, undertaking everything as soon as it was proposed to him by the Father, and adhering to his engagement until it was perfectly fulfilled, not dissuaded by any, nor deterred by the dreadful prospect of all his sufferings, but drinking to the very dregs the bitter cup, and completing everything until he could say "It is finished," well may it be said, "What manner of love was this!"

2. His employing for us the life that was restored to him at his resurrection.

As "he died for our offences, so he rose again for our justification." He is as much occupied about the work of our salvation now, as he was when living on earth, or dying on the cross: "He ever lives to make intercession for us." Everything is put into his hands, in order that he may manage it for our good. All the works of Providence are directed and overruled by him for the furtherance of our welfare: and he, as the living Head of his people, imparts to them such measures of grace as he sees needful for them. In a word, he lives in them as in his temple, and carries on the whole work of grace in them, and never suffers so much as "one of them to perish"—Can we wonder that such love as this constrained the Apostle, and carried him forward, like a resistless torrent, in the service of his God?.

The Apostle, in further vindication of himself, proceeds to state,

II. Why he suffered it to have such an ascendant over him.

He acted not from feeling only, though doubtless the flame of love that was thus kindled in his soul burned with inextinguishable ardor; but from judgment also: "he judged,"

1. That our obligations to the Lord Jesus Christ are infinite.

It is plain, that "if one died for all, then were all dead." And was this our state? Were we dead in trespasses and sins, and under a sentence of eternal condemnation? O! what do we owe to that Savior who emptied himself of all his glory for us, "who died for us when enemies," and actually became a curse for us, bearing in his own person all that was due to the iniquities of a guilty world! The apostate angels had no such mercy shown to them: they fell, and had none to help them; and are therefore "reserved in chains of darkness unto the judgment of the great day." And had not the Lord Jesus Christ died for us, we had been dead still, and should have been to all eternity companions with the fallen angels in misery, as we have been in transgression. Moreover, his life is as necessary for us as his death: for if he did not keep us every moment, even as the apple of his eye, no one of us could endure unto the end: the great adversary of mankind, who tempted our first parents to sin, would beguile and ruin us forever, if Jesus did not carry us in his bosom, and give us grace sufficient for our returning necessities.

Judge then whether this be not a reason for loving him, and for devoting ourselves unreservedly to his service? Can too much be done for him, who has done, and is doing, so much for us? Or should we think much of any sufferings that we may be called to endure for him? Should we not even rejoice if we are counted worthy to suffer for him, and welcome even death itself, if only "his name may be magnified?" If to entertain such sentiments, and to pursue such conduct, be madness, I would to God that we all were as obnoxious to the charge as Paul himself! But let the world say or think as they will, such a devotedness to God is "a reasonable service."

2. That the very end for which the Lord Jesus Christ has conferred those obligations upon us, is, that he may bind us to himself in a state of holy obedience.

It is not to rescue us from death and Hell only, that Jesus has died for us, but to deliver us also from sin and Satan, and to bring us back to the state from which we are fallen. Were we created holy and happy, even like the angels themselves? to that state would the Lord Jesus elevate us again, that both in this world and to all eternity we may delight ourselves in God. This is declared to be the express purpose of his death." Did he then "die to redeem us from all iniquity," and shall we still live in sin of any kind? Did he die to purify unto himself a peculiar people zealous of good works; and shall we not labor to attain this blessed character? Shall there be any bounds to our zeal; or shall we restrain it because a blind and ungodly world agree to call it madness? What if Mary was censured by the proud Pharisee for her over-righteous zeal; did Christ condemn it? Did he not even compel the Pharisee unwittingly to condemn himself? We mean not by this to justify any departure from real sobriety of mind; for religion is a sober thing, being not like the transient glare of a meteor, but like the steady course of the sun: but this we would do; we would dissuade all from living in any measure to themselves, and bring them to live wholly and entirely to their God; and, if the world deride this as enthusiasm, and prescribe to us a lower standard of duty, we would say with Peter, "Whether it be right to hearken unto you more than unto God, judge you;" for we cannot but consult his will, and approve ourselves to him.

Application.

1. Let us all seek an interest in Christ.

Has he died for us; and shall we die too? God forbid. It is a blessed truth, that he has "died for all," and "given himself a ransom for all," and "tasted death for every man," and made himself "a atoning sacrifice for the sins of the whole world." How awful then the thought that any should "perish, for whom Christ died!" What a bitter reflection will it be to such persons in the eternal world, that Christ died for them, and yet they would not seek for salvation from him! O that this may not be our unhappy state! Let us look to him, and believe in him, and live by faith upon him now, that we may live with him for evermore.

2. Let us meditate much upon his love.

Were we but duly sensible of his love to us, we could not refrain from loving and serving him. O think what a subject for contemplation this is! It has been the one theme of praise and adoration in Heaven for thousands of years, and will be to all eternity; and shall we not delight in the contemplation of it? It has "a height and depth, and length and breadth, that is utterly unsearchable." Beloved brethren, meditate upon it, until the fire kindle in your hearts, and you be constrained to "glorify him with your bodies and your spirits which are his."

3. Let us endeavor to answer the true end of all his love.

You have heard what this was, even "that you should not henceforth live unto yourselves, but unto him." Now, then, set about the blessed work. Let the pleasures, the riches, the honors of the world be to you as the dirt under your feet: "be crucified to the world, and let the world be crucified unto you." And begin to walk as Christ walked, and to follow the example which Paul has set you. Let the world despise you, if they please; seek you the approbation of your God: and when they, like Michal, deride your piety, say with holy David, "If this is to be vile, I will be yet more vile than thus."

 

MMXXI

The Christian a New Creature

2 Corinthians 5:17. If any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new.

A FAITHFUL discharge of our duty to God has in every age rather provoked the displeasure, than conciliated the favor, of a wicked world. The most eminent characters, instead of escaping censure by means of their distinguished piety, have on the contrary incurred the greatest portion of obloquy and reproach. It was thus that Paul's love and zeal were requited by many at Corinth; he was deemed "beside himself." But indifferent both to their censure and applause, he declared to them the motives by which he was actuated; he told them plainly that he was under the constraining influence of the love of Christ, and that, however strange his views and actions might appear, they, if they were Christians indeed, would certainly adopt and imitate them; their present views and habits would pass away, and all become new. In the words of the text we have the character of a Christian,

I. Figuratively expressed.

A man is said to be "in Christ," when he is engrafted into him as a branch of the living vine, or, in other words, when he truly believes in Christ: he is then a Christian. But in order to show what a change every man experiences when he becomes a Christian, the Apostle says of him that he is "a new creation." In this term there is a reference to the creation of the world, which may be considered as a type or pattern of that work which God performs in the hearts of his people. The correspondence between them may be seen in the manner, the order, and the end of their formation.

1. In the manner.

The world was created by God, according to his own sovereign will, without the intervention of human aid: and, though brought into existence in a moment, was gradually perfected in its various parts. Thus the souls of God's people are regenerated purely by the sovereign will of God, and entirely through the agency of his word and Spirit; though they use the appointed means, it is God alone that renders those means effectual; "He who made the light to shine out of darkness, shines into their hearts to give them the knowledge of his glory in the face of Jesus Christ." There is an instant of time, however unknown to us, when the new man as well as the old, receives the vital principle; a moment, wherein we are "quickened from the dead," and "pass from death unto life," but the work of grace is carried on in a constant progression, and "the inward man is renewed day by day."

2. In the order.

Light was the first thing that was produced in the material world: and, after that, the confused chaos was reduced to such a state as that there should be an harmony in all the parts, and a subserviency in each to the good of the whole. Thus light is first darted into the mind of the regenerate man; a view of his guilt and misery is given to him, and then his disorderly passions, which blinded his judgment and sensualized his soul, are rendered subject to reason and religion.

3. In the end.

The world was formed by God for his own glory: as all things were by him, so also were they for him, It is for this end also that he renews the souls of men after his own image. He rejoices indeed in the good of his creatures, and in a subordinate measure may propose that as the end of his dispensations: but we are assured his principal intent is, to show forth the exceeding riches of his own grace, and to exalt himself in the eyes of his redeemed people.

We are at no loss to understand the preceding figure, since we have, in the text, its import,

II. Plainly declared.

Justly is a work of grace represented as a new creation; for, as in the reduction of the confused chaos to order and beauty, so also in the restoration of the soul after God's image, "old things pass away and all things become new." The Christian experiences this change,

1. In his views of every important subject.

He once judged sin to be a light and venial evil: if it were of a very gross nature indeed, or committed against himself in particular, he might feel some indignation against it: but if it were not reprobated by the world, or injurious to himself, he would behold it without sorrow and practice it without remorse. But very different are his views of it when once his eyes are opened to behold it in its true colors: it then appears to him as base, loathsome, abominable: he hates it from his inmost soul: he desires deliverance from it as much as from Hell itself: he would not harbor it in his heart for one moment, but would extirpate it utterly, as well from his thoughts as from his actions. Nor are his sentiments less altered respecting Christ: he once felt no love towards him, notwithstanding he complimented him with the name of Savior. But now the name of Jesus is precious to him: he is filled with admiring thoughts of his incomprehensible love: he adores him with devoutest affection; and "cleaves to him with full purpose of heart." He once "saw no beauty nor loveliness in him;" but now views him as "fairer than ten thousand, and altogether lovely." The same change takes place with respect to the world, and holiness, and everything that has any relation to eternity: so that he really becomes altogether a new creature.

2. In the great ends and aim of his life.

The unregenerate man, to whatever class he may belong, whether he be sensual and profane, or moral and devout, invariably makes self the principle and end of all his actions: his life is one continued scene of self-seeking, self-pleasing, self-delight. He makes his very duties to God subservient to his main end of gratifying his desire after self-approbation and the applause of man. But these old desires are mortified when once he becomes a real Christian: they will indeed often rise in his mind, because he is "renewed only in part;" but he has a far higher end, which he infinitely prefers, and to which he gives a deliberate, determined ascendency. He has a concern for the honor of his God; and he strives that God in all things may be glorified through Christ Jesus. Whether his actions be of a civil or religious nature, he still proposes to himself the same end, to glorify God with his body and his spirit which are God's. To this the Apostle seems to have peculiar respect in the preceding context; nor is there anything that more strongly characterizes the child of God.

Application.

1. Let every one put this question to himself, Am I a real Christian?

The Apostle leaves no room for exceptions in favor of any man whatever; "if any man be a Christian, he is, and must be, a new creature." Nor does this import a mere change from profligacy to morality, or from a neglect of outward duties to the performance of them: the change must be entire; it must pervade every faculty of the soul; it must influence all our words and actions, our thoughts and desires, our motives and principles. Has then this great change been accomplished in us? On this point eternity depends. O that we might not give sleep to our eyes or slumber to our eyelids, until we can return a favorable answer upon sure and scriptural grounds!

2. Let those who have experienced a work of grace, seek to have it carried on and perfected in their souls.

It must ever be remembered, that the renovation of the soul is a gradual and progressive work: we are to be continually putting off the old man, and putting on the new. Let us then not rest in low attainments; but rather, "forgetting the things that are behind, let us press forward unto that which is before." Let us beg of God to "perfect that which concerns us," and to form us altogether "into his own image in righteousness and true holiness." It is by our progress that we must manifest the work to have been begun; and then only can we be sure that our path is right, when, "like the light, it shines more and more unto the perfect day."

 

MMXXII

The Ministry of Reconciliation

2 Corinthians 5:19, 20. God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them; and has committed unto us the word of reconciliation. Now then we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God did beseech you by us: we pray you in Christs stead, be reconciled to God.

NATURAL as well as revealed religion teaches us that God is the author and giver of all good things. He originally formed man out of the dust of the earth, and still brings us into existence in our successive generations. He appoints the time and place of our birth: he bestows the talents we severally possess: he preserves the health of our bodies, and the vigor of our minds: "in him we altogether live, and move, and have our being." Nor is it less evident that redemption also is the work of his hands: for he formed the plan alone, and executed it without the creature's aid. He sent his Son; and qualified him for his office; and upheld him in it. He laid our iniquities on him; and accepted his vicarious sacrifice; and commissioned his Apostles to declare these tidings to the world. All this is plainly asserted in the passage before us; from which we shall,

I. Show what God has done to save us.

There are two things particularly specified in the text:

1. He has wrought salvation for us.

Man in innocence walked with God as a friend; but, as soon as he had fallen, shunned his presence, and fled from him as an enemy. Since that time "the carnal and unrenewed mind has been in a state of enmity against God;" and all the children of men have shown themselves "enemies to God in their minds by wicked works." To effect a reconciliation for themselves was impossible: but God, in his infinite mercy, opened a way for their restoration to his favor. He assumed our nature, and, in the person of Jesus Christ, became our substitute and surety; that, by his own obedience to the law which we had broken, and his enduring of the penalties which we had incurred, he might make satisfaction to his injured justice, and pardon us without any dishonor to himself. By this means "he has reconciled the world unto himself;" "nor will he impute to any their trespasses," if they will accept the reconciliation which he offers them.

2. He has sent salvation to us.

God has in every age raised up men to whom "he has committed the word of reconciliation," on purpose that they might publish it to their fellow-creatures. He has not committed it to angels, whose presence would confound us, and who, from their never having tasted the bitterness of sin, would probably be unable to sympathize with us: but he has appointed those to speak to us, who are "encompassed with the same infirmities," and who need the same forgiveness, as ourselves. To these "he has given the ministry of reconciliation." He sends them forth, not to tell men how to purchase his favor, or how (as the common expression is) to make their peace with God; but to inform them, that "Christ is our peace," and that "God, for Christ's sake, is ready to forgive us all our trespasses." This is the sum and substance of the Gospel. This is the "treasure which God has put into us earthen vessels," for the enriching of the poor, and the saving of the lost. And, in having thus sent the tidings of salvation home to our own doors, he has done what will leave us without excuse forever.

That such grace may not be displayed in vain, let us,

II. Urge you to accept salvation.

The message we are commissioned to deliver to you, is, "Be reconciled to God."

Acknowledge that you have indeed been enemies to God. Surely none of us can doubt whether such have been our state. Let us only look back upon our violations of his law, and they will bear ample testimony to this melancholy truth.

Being convinced of your enmity against God, be humbled for it in dust and ashes. It is not possible to bewail too deeply the guilt which you have contracted.

Be careful to seek reconciliation with God in the way which he has pointed out. Beware of attempting to make satisfaction, as it were, for your sins; for you owe ten thousand talents, and cannot pay one single mite. God in Christ has taken your debt upon himself; and he is willing "frankly to forgive you all." Go to him then, and receive mercy at his hands "without money, and without price."

As ambassadors of Christ we would urge our suit with becoming earnestness.

Though we are neither inspired, nor empowered to work miracles, like the Apostles of old, yet are we truly "ambassadors from Christ" to a guilty world; and we come in his name and stead to treat with you respecting peace. We proclaim an eternal amnesty, if you return to your allegiance: and though, as God's representatives, we might command, yet, after Christ's example, "we beseech you to be reconciled to God."

And is this an unreasonable request? Is it not, on the contrary, most reasonable that you should be reconciled to him, who never rendered anything to you but good, in return for all the evil you have done against him? Is it not madness to continue in rebellion against him, who must prevail at last? And is it not better to bow to the scepter of his grace, than to be "broken in pieces with his rod of iron?"

What would you reply, if God should entreat you by a voice from Heaven? would you still refuse? Know then, that "God himself beseeches you by us;" and if you continue to pour contempt on this mercy, your "punishment will be sore" indeed.

Application.

What account now shall we give to him who sent us? Must we return and say, "Lord, we have spoken to them; but they will not hear; we have invited; but they all begin with one consent to make excuse?" O think with yourselves, how soon "this day of acceptance and salvation" may be passed; and how aggravated will be your condemnation, if you reject these overtures of mercy! Let not our embassy be unsuccessful; but be prevailed upon to "seek the Lord while he may be found, and to call upon him while he is near." Remember however that, if you be restored to God's favor, you must also be reconciled to his government: you must not assume a subject's name, and retain a rebel's heart: if you "name the name of Christ, you must depart from all iniquity."

 

MMXXIII

The Way of Reconciliation with God

2 Corinthians 5:21. For he has made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him.

A MORE important question cannot be asked than this, "How shall man be just with God?" In the words before us, that question is resolved. The Apostle has before declared in more general terms, that "God was in Christ reconciling the world unto himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them," but in our text he enters more particularly into the subject, and informs us, that, in order to effect a reconciliation between our offended God and us, God caused a double transfer to be made; first, of our sins to Christ, that they might be punished in him; and next, of Christ's righteousness to us, that it might be rewarded in us, and that we might be accepted through it. This doctrine of the mutual transfer of our sins to Christ, and Christ's righteousness to us, being not generally understood, we will,

I. Explain it.

Two things are to be explained:

1. The imputation of our sins to Christ.

It is an undoubted fact, that the Lord Jesus Christ died under the curse of God's broken law. But was he himself a sinner? No, in him was no sin: both in his Divine and human nature he was perfectly holy: and he was able to appeal to his bitterest enemies, "Which of you convinces me of sin?" Indeed, if he had sin himself, he could not have atoned for our sins. The lamb that was slain at the Passover was to be without spot or blemish: and such was Christ, after the fullest possible examination, proclaimed to be by the very judge who condemned him. It was for our sins that he died: they were laid upon him by his own consent, that they might be punished in him, and that through his vicarious sacrifice we might be absolved. This will be best understood by the sacrifices which were offered under the law. The person who had sinned was exposed to the wrath of his offended God. But by God's appointment he brought an offering, a bullock or a kid, and, after putting his hands upon the head of his offering in token of his transferring his guilt to it, the victim was slain in his stead, and he was absolved from his guilt. The particular command, that the offender should put his hand on the head of his offering, place beyond all reasonable doubt the point we are insisting on.

2. The imputation of Christ's righteousness to us.

Man, though forgiven, was still incapable of fulfilling perfectly in future the law of God, and consequently was incapable of working out a righteousness wherein he could stand before God. A righteousness therefore was provided for him fully adequate to all the demands of God's holy law, even the righteousness of the Lord Jesus Christ, who, by his own obedience unto death, not only "made an end of sin, and reconciliation for iniquity, but brought in also an everlasting righteousness," which is "unto all, and upon all them that believe in him." It is on this account that he is called, "The Lord our righteousness." Thus, "He is made righteousness unto us," and we are made, as our text expresses it, "the righteousness of God in him." It is not to be expected that this should be capable of such illustration as the former point, because nothing similar to it ever did, or could, exist: yet we may behold something of the kind in the very sacrifices which were first offered. We are informed, that, after their fall, our first parents "sewed fig-leaves together, and made themselves aprons," because by their sin they had made themselves naked to their shame. But God, we are told, "made coats of skins, and clothed them." If it be asked, of what beasts were these skins? we answer, of those beasts which God had previously appointed to be offered in sacrifice to him: (for, if this was not the time when sacrifices were ordained, we have no account whatever of their first institution, notwithstanding they were undoubtedly of Divine origin:) and the very beasts which died as sacrifices for their sins, provided them also with clothing to cover their nakedness. Thus the Lord Jesus by his death atones for our sins, and by his righteousness clothes us as with an unspotted robe, in which we stand before our God without spot or blemish.

But as this doctrine is disputed by many, we will proceed to,

II. Vindicate it.

Some deny this doctrine as unscriptural, while others abuse it to licentiousness: but against all we will vindicate it as the only true way of reconciliation with God: against,

1. The proud infidel.

One will say, this doctrine of a mutual transfer is not agreeable to my reason. But reason is not competent to judge of these matters. This is a point of pure revelation: and the office of reason in relation to it is, not to sit in judgment upon it, but to inquire whether it be really revealed: and, if it be, then is it to be assented to as true, whether we can comprehend it or not. But it is not at all repugnant to reason. We see daily somewhat of a similar nature transacted before our eyes. A man has made himself surety for his friend; that friend becomes insolvent; and his debt is required at the hands of his surety. If it be not discharged, the surety is imprisoned: but if the surety discharges the debt, the original debtor has no further claim made upon him. Thus do reason and experience fully sanction the substitution of the innocent for the guilty, and the liberation of the guilty through the sufferings of the innocent. And that this is the way for man's reconciliation with God, is abundantly testified throughout all the inspired writings. That the types are all founded in this notion, has already appeared: and the prophecies declare the same with one voice. No one can read the fifty-third chapter of Isaiah and doubt of this truth. "All our iniquities were laid upon him," "he was wounded for our transgressions and bruised for our iniquities; the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and by his stripes we are healed." The New Testament speaks the same language throughout: "He bare our sins in his own body on the tree," and "suffered, the just for the unjust." Here there is a substitution of Christ in the place of sinners: just as it is said, that perhaps for a good man some would even dare to die; that is, would die in his place, in order to preserve his life; so Christ died for, and in the place of, the ungodly, that by his own death he might preserve them from everlasting death. Yes, however the scoffing infidel may deride these things, they are the very truth of God; nor is there any other way of reconciliation for any child of man.

2. The self-righteous Pharisee.

Many will admit that Christ died for sinners, who yet cannot receive the idea of his righteousness being imputed to them for their justification before God. They think that, though Christ by his death atoned for our sins, we are to procure for ourselves a title to Heaven by a righteousness of our own. But this cannot be; for it would give to man a ground of glorying before God, when God has expressly said that all boasting is excluded by the Gospel, and that men must glory in Christ alone. This was the great error of the Pharisees of old; and it proved a stumbling-block to them to their everlasting ruin. This is the great error of the Papists also, and, more than all other things, contributed to stir up the more enlightened part of the Christian world to separate themselves from the corruptions of the Church of Rome. Happy would it be, if many, who call themselves Protestants, did not in this matter go back again to the heresies which they profess to have renounced! But however pertinaciously men cling to the covenant of works, they never can obtain salvation by it: they must lay hold on the covenant of grace: they must renounce their own righteousness, even as the Apostle Paul himself did, and seek for acceptance by Christ's alone: "in Christ shall all the seed of Israel be justified, and shall glory."

3. The Antinomian professor.

There are, it must be confessed, some who abuse the doctrine of our text, and maintain, that, because Christ is our righteousness, we need no righteousness of our own. They acknowledge indeed that Christ is our sanctification: but they suppose that his sanctification is imputed to us in the same way as his righteousness. But this is contrary both to reason and Scripture; for sanctification necessarily implies a change both of heart and life. We may easily conceive righteousness to be imputed, and that persons not righteous in themselves, may be dealt with as righteous on account of the righteousness of another: but it is not possible that a person can be made inwardly holy by the holiness of another, any more than a dead tree can be made a fruitful one by having the fruit of another tree suspended on it. And the Scripture universally requires us to be daily putting off the old man and putting on the new. If real and radical holiness be not required of us, why is it so strongly and so continually inculcated throughout all the apostolic writings? Of those who deny that the law is to the believer a rule of life, we would ask one question: What does the law require which the Gospel does not? The law requires us to love God with all our heart and mind and soul and strength, and our neighbor as ourselves; and what does the Gospel require less? What part of our duty does it dispense with? Alas! it is a fatal error to imagine that holiness is not as necessary now as formerly. Were this true, Christ would actually be a minister of sin, in that he would be vacating the obligations of God's law, which is as immutable as God himself. For our justification, it is true, we do not need any righteousness of our own; and if we were to attempt to unite our righteousness to that of Christ, we should make void the whole Gospel; and Christ would have died in vain. But to attest the reality of our faith, and manifest our love to Christ j to glorify our God on earth, and obtain a fitness for Heaven, holiness is absolutely indispensable; and if we cultivate it not, even universal holiness of heart and life, we shall never see the kingdom of God.

Having thus endeavored to establish the doctrine of our text, we proceed,

III. To improve it.

1. Let no man despair of mercy.

What can any person want in order to his reconciliation with God, which has not been already wrought? There is a perfect atonement for your sins, and a perfect righteousness for your justification; and the benefits of both are offered you freely, without money and without price. All that is necessary to your reconciliation on God's part, is already done by Jesus Christ: and all that remains to be done on your part, is to receive gratefully what God offers freely. Truly this is, if I may so call it, the religion of a sinner: it is suited to sinners of every class: and wherever it is received in truth, it shall prove effectual for our present peace, and our everlasting salvation.

2. Let no man attempt to alter the plan which God himself has devised.

We are ever leaning to the side of self-righteousness. But the righteousness which God imputes to us is, and ever must be, "a righteousness without works." We must be justified freely by God's grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus. Why should we wish to alter this? What is it less than madness for a person destitute of one single farthing to undertake to pay ten thousand talents, when he may be freely forgiven his whole debt? Be content to be indebted wholly to the grace of God. and the mediation of the Lord Jesus: and let God alone be exalted in your salvation.

3. Let all who embrace this salvation endeavor to adorn it.

This is the duty of all, and the privilege of all; this is what "the grace of God teaches us;" and it is a most important end of our union with Christ. Are you reconciled to God? endeavor henceforth to manifest your friendship towards him in every possible way. Think not much of anything you are called either to do or suffer for his sake. Can anything be too much to do for one who has done so much for you, or to suffer for one who has suffered so much for you? If a man will lay down his life for an earthly friend, of how small account should you reckon any temporal interests, or even life itself, for such a friend as this? Seek to know more and more of this stupendous mystery revealed in our text: and, while you are filled by it with rapturous admiration, give full scope to all its transforming efficacy, until it has changed you into the very image of your God.

 

MMXXIV

The Grace of God not to be Received in Vain

2 Corinthians 6:1, 2. We then, as workers together with him, beseech you also that you receive not the grace of God in vain. For he says, I have heard you in a time accepted, and in the day of salvation have I succored you: behold, now is the accepted time; behold, now is the day of salvation.

"THE grace of God," mentioned in the words before us, is the same with that which in the preceding context is called "the word of reconciliation," it is the declaration, that "God was in Christ reconciling the world unto himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them." This is elsewhere called, "the Gospel of the grace of God;" and a wonderful display of divine grace it is: because from the first devising of this plan of reconciliation in his eternal counsels, to the last bestowment of its blessings on any child of man, it is altogether of grace: grace laid the foundation; grace raised the superstructure; and, when the head-stone shall be brought forth, the universal shout will be, "Grace, grace unto it." In bringing men into a state of reconciliation with God, we ministers are fellow-laborers with God. Not that we do, or ever can do, anything towards perfecting the work of Christ; (that was finished by him upon the cross, when he offered himself a sacrifice for the sins of the whole world;) but we are ambassadors from God, and speak to men in Christ's stead, and thus are "workers together with God," and in this character we beseech you, as the Apostle did the Corinthians, "not to receive the grace of God in vain."

That we may proceed agreeably to the example set before us in our text, we shall consider,

I. The exhortation here given.

And here we shall separately notice,

1. The subject-matter of it: "Receive not the grace of God in vain."

The generality of those to whom the word of reconciliation comes, hear it to no purpose. Many pay no attention at all to it, but, like Gallio of old, care for none of these things. Many hate it, and oppose it with all their might; either regarding it as foolishness, through their philosophic pride, or making it a stumbling-block, through their self-righteous habits. To all such it comes in vain, or rather, worse than in vain, seeing that it proves to them a savor of death to their more aggravated condemnation. In truth, all receive it in vain, who do not welcome it into their hearts, and conform to it in their lives. O that it might be embraced thus by all to whom it now comes! Receive it, brethren, as the most stupendous effort of Divine Wisdom for the salvation of your souls.

2. The manner of it: "We, as workers together with God, beseech you."

We come not in our own name, when we announce these glad tidings, but in the name of our God and Savior. We have no private ends to accomplish: it is the work of God, and that only, that we endeavor to advance: we have the same end in view that God himself had, when he sent his only dear Son into the world; the same that Christ had, when he died upon the cross: the ministry of reconciliation is committed to us; and, in the exercise of this ministry, "we are fellow-workers with God." In this capacity we might command you all: but we choose rather, like the Apostle, to use the language of entreaty: yes, "We beseech you;" in the very name and stead of Christ himself, we beseech you, that you receive not this grace in vain. If you will not listen to us, listen to that God in whose name we speak; and, if you will not bow to his commands, resist not his entreaties; for it is he himself who beseeches you, by our mouth, "Be you reconciled to God."

To impress this exhortation the more deeply on your minds, We will call your attention to,

II. The considerations by which it is enforced.

The Apostle urges his request.

1. From the written word.

"Whatever was written aforetime, was written for our learning, that we through patience and comfort of the Scriptures might have hope." Every promise of God throughout the Bible has a general aspect upon the Church of God, and, in the spirit of it, may be applied to individuals of the present day, as well as to those to whom it was more immediately addressed. The promise before us was primarily addressed to the Messiah, assuring him of success among the Gentiles: but it is also fitly applicable to us; because all the blessings promised to the Head, belong also to all the members of his mystical body. To him this promise was fulfilled: in every time of need he was succored; and in due season he was exalted above all his enemies: and so shall it be to us also, if we embrace his offered salvation: what a delightful thought is this, that the very promise which was made to Christ, and fulfilled in him, is made to us, and shall be fulfilled in us! What an encouragement is this to receive the grace of God aright, when we are thus assured of the very same assistances and triumphs as Christ himself enjoyed!

2. From his own inspired comment upon it.

The accepted time, the day of salvation, was then come to the Gentile world; and we may say with truth that it is come to us also. It is come to us, because the word of reconciliation now sounds in our ears, and is proclaimed to us in the name of God himself. How long this shall continue we know not. We know that the candlestick has long since been removed from Churches, where the light of the Gospel once shone as with meridian brightness: and how soon it may be removed from us, who can tell? But it does now shine, and the grace of God is displayed among us in all its freeness, and in all its fullness: we are authorized therefore to say with full assurance, that it is now the accepted time respecting you. But further, it is the accepted time with you, because you are yet here to receive these tidings. With multitudes who once heard the word of reconciliation, the day of grace is passed: they are now gone into that world where offers of mercy are never sent. And how soon may this be the case with you! Many who, but year ago, were as likely to live as you, have been summoned into the presence of their God in the past year; and many who are now in health will, before another year, be called to follow them: but who they shall be we know not: the young and vigorous have no more security than the weak and sickly: it is of the present hour only that we can speak with any measure of certainty; and it is of that only that we can say, "It is the day of salvation." But it is possible that you may still be preserved in life, and the Gospel be yet sounding in your ears, and your day of salvation may have actually already come to a close. We may, by our obstinate rejection of mercy, provoke God to withdraw his Holy Spirit, who alone can make those offers effectual for our good. He has said, that "his Spirit shall not always strive with man," and when he sees us obstinately bent on our own evil ways, he may say of us, as he did of Israel of old, "Ephraim is joined to idols; let him alone." He has given us many awful warnings on this subject, and many fearful examples of the judgment actually inflicted. Surely, this should lead us all to "seek the Lord" while he may be found, and to call upon him while he is near. The Lord grant that we may know the day of our visitation, and "seek the things belonging to our peace, before they be forever hid from our eyes!"

That this subject may be yet further impressed upon your minds, consider,

1. How wonderful this grace is.

The more we consider the gift of God's only-begotten Son to assume our nature, and to expiate our guilt by his own blood, the more shall we be lost in wonder, love, and praise—And shall all this be done in vain? Shall he become sin for us, and we not seek to be made the righteousness of God in him?.

2. How awful will be the consequence of rejecting it.

Happier will Tyre and Sidon, yes, and Sodom and Gomorrah, be in the day of judgment, than those who hear and make light of these overtures of reconciliation. Think of those awful words, "How shall we escape, if we neglect so great salvation?"

3. How truly blessed they are who receive the grace of God in truth.

Well does the Psalmist say, "Blessed are the people that know the joyful sound!" Truly, they are beyond expression, and beyond conception, blessed. In this world, their "peace passes all understanding," and their "joy is unspeakable and glorified," but their portion in the world to come, who shall declare? An archangel would in vain attempt to give it utterance. And shall all this belong to those who accept God's offers of reconciliation aright?—Let not one of you delay to flee for refuge to the hope that is set before you.

 

MMXXV

The Character of a Christian Minister

2 Corinthians 6:4–10. In all things approving ourselves at the ministers of God, in much patience, in afflictions, in necessities, in distresses, in stripes, in imprisonments, in tumults, in labors, in watchings, in fastings; by pureness, by knowledge, by long-suffering, by kindness, by the Holy Spirit, by love sincere, by the word of truth, by the power of God, by the armor of righteousness on the right hand and on the left, by honor and dishonor, by evil report and good report: as deceivers, and yet true; as unknown, and yet well known; as dying, and, behold, we live; as chastened, and not killed; as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, and yet possessing all things.

WHAT a portrait is here drawn! Was there ever, from the foundation of the world, an uninspired man that could pour forth an extemporaneous effusion like unto this? By much study, a man of deep thought may ramify a subject, and distribute it into a great variety of minute particulars: but the passage before us smells not of the lamp: it savors not of scientific arrangement: it is no labored accumulation of particulars, brought forward in order to display a fund of learning, or to exhibit the resources of ingenuity: it is an effusion out of the fullness of a heart devoted to the Lord, of a heart enlarged in the service of mankind.

To enter minutely into the different expressions here brought before you, would be unprofitable in a public discourse. It is by taking the passage in the aggregate, as one vast compendious whole, that we shall best consult the edification of your souls. It refers primarily, no doubt, to Paul himself: but, improved in the way I propose, it will be of essential benefit to the whole Christian world: for which end, I shall take occasion, from it, to set before you the ministerial office.

I. As executed by him.

His whole life, after his conversion to Christianity, was one continued scene of "afflictions," to which he submitted with unconquerable "patience." Those two words ("afflictions" and "patience") may be considered as comprehending the whole, which in all that follows is branched out into a variety of particulars. Bearing that in remembrance, there will be found a climax throughout the whole. It will be proper to notice,

1. The circumstances in which he was placed.

He was in one continual state of trial, as arising from different sources. Mark his trials; first, as arising from the occurrences of every day: he was often in such "necessities," as to want everything that was needful for the body, and to suffer much from hunger and cold and nakedness: his "distresses," too, were often of so embarrassing a nature, that he knew not how to extricate himself from them. Mark them, next, as arising from the treatment he met with: multitudes were embittered against him to the last degree; sometimes loading him with "stripes;" at other times tormenting him with "imprisonments;" and at other times raging against him with such "tumults," that he was literally in danger of being torn in pieces by his infuriated enemies. Mark them, yet further, as arising from his own zeal in the discharge of his high office. His "labors," and "watchings," and "fastings," were doubtless sometimes imposed upon him by necessity; but they were also sometimes voluntarily undertaken, for the advancement of God's work in his own soul, and for the furthering, by means of more fervent intercession, the glorious cause he had undertaken to promote.

Now let us turn our attention to,

2. The manner in which he conducted himself under them.

On this he dilates, with a richness and a copiousness unrivaled perhaps in the whole world. He speaks of his patience under these diversified trials, and of his deportment under them; first, in a way of active exertion. He was careful, above all things, that no one should have cause to impeach the "pureness" of his principles; and he strove to act with such judgment, that his "knowledge" of God's will should be evident to all, and be exercised to the uttermost, for the benefit of all. At the same time, he took care, by his "long-suffering," to show that he could not easily be stimulated to resentment against his persecutors: on the contrary, he lost no opportunity of requiting by "kindness" the injuries they inflicted; evincing, by this, that he was under the influence of "the Holy Spirit," and actuated altogether by "sincere love" to every child of man. "The word of truth" was constantly upon his lips; and it was attended always, in a greater or less degree, by "the power of God" to the souls of men: while, in consequence of being clad with "the armor of righteousness on the right hand and on the left," he was enabled to defy all the assaults, whether of men or devils.

At the same time, he manifested his superiority to all his difficulties, in a way of patient submission. Passing through "honor and dishonor," he showed that he was neither elated with the one, nor depressed with the other. With some he was an object of "evil report," and with others of "good report;" some calumniating him in every possible way; and others exalting his character in terms of the highest approbation: but he was alike unmoved both by the one and the other. What if he was accounted a "deceiver," who took advantage of the weakness or wickedness of others, to impose upon them, and thereby to advance his own interests? This did not move him, while he knew himself to be "true," and a faithful minister of the truths which he had been commissioned to declare. The proud looked down upon him with contempt, as one altogether "unknown," and unworthy of regard; while, in fact, he was "well known" by the many blessings which he imparted wherever he went. It was supposed, inasmuch as he was "dying" daily, that his course would soon be finished: but yet, contrary to all human expectation, though sometimes left for dead, he was "yet alive." He was "chastened" with all imaginable severity by magistrates, on different occasions; yet was he "not killed." Viewed according to his outward appearance, he was in a most "sorrowful" condition; yet was he, in reality, "always rejoicing" in the testimony of a good conscience, and in the favor of his God. He was "poor," no doubt, and bereft at times even of the most common necessities of life; but yet, in the whole course of his ministry, he was "making many rich," yes, richer far than all the monarchs upon earth could ever make them. Finally, he was as one "having nothing;" and yet, both as to his present enjoyments and future prospects, he was as one "possessing all things;" so that, if the whole world could be given him, it would not add one atom to his wealth.

What a surprising description is this! How remote from all the conceptions of the natural man! yet how exactly suited to the experience of every faithful minister on earth!

Leaving now these views of the Apostle's ministry to the contemplation of those who are called to minister in holy things, I will proceed to speak of it,

II. As appointed for us.

Let us conceive of the Apostle as set apart to this office by Almighty God, and, as informed, at the very time of his appointment to it, "how great things he should suffer" for his Master's sake; and let us further bear in mind, that all who are in every age ordained to the office of the ministry are called to a measure of the same experience; and how strongly will it impress our minds with,

1. The exceeding great value of the soul.

The souls of men were "perishing for lack of knowledge." God, in his mercy, determined to set apart an order of men to instruct them, and to guide them into all truth. But the wickedness of men would "not endure sound doctrine," they would hate the light, and endeavor to extinguish it, wherever it should appear. This, however, should tend rather to the furtherance, than to the obstruction, of God's gracious purposes. It should tend to complete the work of his grace in the souls of his servants, whom he should thus send forth; and it should serve to illustrate the power of his grace, in upholding them under circumstances of such peculiar trial. Conceive now of persons so separated and so appointed, in every age, for the benefit of mankind; and what an idea will it give us of the value of their souls! What; shall strangers, unconnected with the world, except as being partakers of the same nature, be raised up to devote themselves to such labors, and to undergo such sufferings for us? to warn us, instruct us, encourage us, and lead us into the way of peace? Truly, then, the interests of an immortal soul are not of so little importance as the world at large seem to imagine. Indeed, brethren, if we are bound, by our high office, to live as the Apostle lived, and in the whole of our ministerial career to follow him for the benefit of your souls, it can never be that you should be at liberty to neglect your own souls, or to manifest less concern for yourselves, than we are to exercise for you. Doubtless, that which most marks the value of an immortal soul, is the gift of God's only-begotten Son to die for you: but next to that, is the appointment of an order of men, who are to go with their lives in their hands, and endure all that an ungrateful world can inflict, for the purpose of "turning you from darkness unto light, and from the power of Satan unto God." Read carefully the text in this view; and then say, "He did all this for me, and suffered all this for me: and then you will see what is that measure of zeal which you are called to exercise for your own souls.

2. The true nature of the Christian warfare.

There was nothing in the Apostle's experience which we ourselves are not, according to our measure, called to undergo: and we ourselves must approve ourselves servants of God, precisely in the same way as he "approved himself a minister." In degree, our trials may differ from his; but in substance they will be the same. We may not be called to stripes and imprisonments for the Lord's sake: but we should be prepared for them, if it should please God that persecution should rage against his Church, as it has done, not in the apostolic age only, but in ages not very remote from that in which we live; and in this country too, not less than in other kingdoms. But whatever be the measure of our trials, our spirit must be the same as his. We must be proof against all the assaults of our enemies; "not being overcome of evil, but overcoming evil with good." As to all the contempt that shall be poured upon us, or the privations we may be called to undergo, they must be as nothing in our eyes, by reason of our enjoyment of the Divine presence that bears us up above them, and our prospect of the Divine glory, that will compensate for all the labor or suffering that ever we could endure, if our lives were protracted for ten thousand years. The Apostle expressly calls upon us to follow him: and to "be imitators of him, even as he was of Christ." And I would call on every one of you to set before your eyes the pattern as it is here drawn; and to aspire after the highest conformity to it that God shall enable you to attain.

3. The great blessing of a faithful ministry.

What would the world have been, if no such persons as the Apostle had been raised up to instruct them? See what the heathen were, as described by Paul in the first chapter of his Epistle to the Romans; and what the Jews themselves were, as described in the second chapter. Or see what heathen countries are at this day, yes, and Christian countries too, where the Gospel is not preached with fidelity and power. Then look at the Churches formed by the Apostles, and at Churches even at this day, where Christ is preached in sincerity and truth. This will show how great a blessing is a faithful ministry. But let us go no further than to the Apostle Paul; and compare his picture as drawn previous to his conversion, with that which is drawn in the passage before us: does not the difference strike us as truly wonderful? Yet it was all formed by the grace of God operating upon his soul, through the principles he had imbibed. And, permit me to say, that I consider my ministry as of no use, any further than it operates to the production of the same change in you. If it have wrought on any to their conversion, let them be thankful for it; and strive more and more to show its power, by an entire conformity to the Apostle both in heart and life. But if it have not, (and how many of you are there that are in this awful predicament!) remember your sad responsibility to God; and tremble, lest that, which God has sent you for your salvation, prove only an occasion of your more aggravated condemnation!

Address.

 

MMXXVI

Paradoxical Experience

2 Corinthians 6:10. As sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, and yet possessing all things.

THEY who form their opinions on mere outward appearances, will almost invariably err. But in nothing will they be more mistaken, than in their judgment of the Christian state. The experience of one that is converted to God is a perfect paradox: and they who are strangers to it, evince that they yet need to learn the very first principles of true religion.

Paul is enumerating a great variety of things whereby he had "approved himself a faithful minister of God," and after a multitude of other paradoxes, he comes at last to those in the text. Doubtless, they had a more immediate reference to his own state, and, in some points of view, were applicable to him alone: but in other respects, they are equally true of "all who love the Lord Jesus Christ in sincerity."

We shall take occasion from these words to show,

I. How poor the Christian is in himself.

The bitter persecutions, the painful wants, and the continued load of care, under which the Apostle labored, might well make him sorrowful. But if we drink not of his cup in these respects, there yet are other grounds on which we may be called, like the Laodiceans, "wretched, and miserable, and poor."

1. We are destitute of all that is truly desirable.

The man who wants all the necessities of life, does not feel himself more destitute than the Christian.

How poor is he who has no righteousness to justify him before God! Yet the Christian has none in himself; he has nothing whereon he can rely, no, not any more than the fallen angels themselves.

How poor is he who has no strength whereby to serve God! Yet this is the Christian's condition. If the thinking of a good thought would save him, he has not of himself a sufficiency to do it.

How poor is he who has no wisdom to guide him one step of his way towards Heaven! Yet thus destitute is the Christian. If he should in any one instance lean to his own understanding, he would as surely err, as if he should attempt blindfold to explore the most intricate path.

In short if he had attained the eminence of Paul himself, he still must say, "In me (that is, in my flesh) dwells no good thing."

2. We have continual cause of sorrow.

Numberless are the conflicts which the Christian has to maintain with his indwelling corruptions: and too frequently he receives a wound that fills him with the acutest anguish.

Many are the seasons too when his soul is "in heaviness through manifold temptations," and when, through the hidings of God's face, he "walks in darkness and has no light."

Supposing him ever so free from persecution, still he has in these things abundant reason for grief. Well may he on these accounts exclaim, with the Apostle, "O wretched man that I am!"

But the Christian's poverty is rather a subordinate point in the text; we therefore pass on to show more fully,

II. How rich he is in Christ.

With respect to this, every Christian is on the same footing with the Apostle himself.

1. He has an inexhaustible fullness of all good.

Is not he rich, that has reconciliation with God; and that has "all his iniquities cast into the depths of the sea?"

Is not he rich, that has liberty of access to God at all times, and that can obtain, day and night, the manifestations of his presence, and the testimonies of his love?

Is not he rich, who, besides the present aids and consolations of God's Spirit, has an assured prospect of eternal happiness and glory?

Yet this, and more than this, does the Christian possess in Christ. "All things are his, when he is Christ's." He is "complete in Christ;" he is "enriched with unsearchable riches;" and "blessed with all spiritual and eternal blessings."

Compare with these things all the wealth of kingdoms; and say, whether it be not lighter than vanity itself.

2. He has an incessant ground of joy and glorying.

Let the Christian he in the most afflictive circumstances with respect to the things of time and sense, and yet may he rejoice in Christ,

What an inexpressible comfort must it be to him to contemplate the virtue of his sacrifice—the efficacy of his intercession—the sufficiency of his grace—the extent of his promises—and lastly, his inviolable truth and faithfulness! May not he well adopt the language of the text, "I am sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; having nothing, and yet possessing all things?" Yes; it is his privilege to "rejoice in the Lord always;" and that too, "with joy unspeakable and glorified."

Inferences.

1. What an exalted character is the true Christian!

The men of this world are altogether dependent on outward circumstances for their happiness; and, if their cistern fail, they are bereft of all. But the Christian is independent of everything here below. He may be deprived of health and liberty, of possessions and friends; but nothing can hinder his communion with Christ. Neither men nor devils can intercept the communications of Heaven; which, for the most part, are increased, in proportion as other comforts are withdrawn.

Let Christians then show by their contempt of this world, that they are born from above; and prove in the midst of all their tribulations, that they possess indeed the magnanimity imputed to them.

2. How pitiable is the state of unconverted men!

If they be poor and afflicted in a temporal view, they have nothing to sustain their drooping spirits. If, on the contrary, they be rich and mirthful, still their happiness is but empty, transient, delusive. In a little time they will be poor, and miserable beyond conception. In their very best estate therefore they are objects of pity and compassion: they may possess much, but yet are destitute of all things; they may be often rejoicing, but have continued occasion for grief and sorrow.

O that they were wise, and would consider this! O that they would begin to seek an interest in Christ, that through him their state might be reversed, and that they might participate the Christian's lot!

3. What a blessed work is that of the ministry!

The Apostle gloried in this, that "though poor, he made many rich." And is not this the one intent of our ministry? Is it not that for which we were consecrated to the service of the sanctuary? Has the Christian preacher no better end in view than to display his talents, and obtain applause? Surely, if we have been anointed with an heavenly unction, and ever learned the true nature of our office, our only desire is to "win souls," and, as that is the scope of our labors, so, when we behold one and another coming to the possession of the true riches, we consider our success as the most glorious of all rewards.

O that every minister might view his office in this light; and every faithful preacher be thus recompensed for his labors!

 

MMXXVII

Effects of the Gospel in Enlarging the Heart

2 Corinthians 6:11–13. O you Corinthians, our mouth is open unto you, our heart is enlarged. You are not straitened in us, but you are straitened in your own affections. Now, for a recompense in the same, (I speak as unto my children,) be also enlarged.

THE ministers of the Gospel sustain an office characterized in Scripture by the most exalted terms. They are ambassadors of the Lord Jesus Christ: they address men in the name, and in the very place, of God himself: and they are in this respect fellow-workers with God. But, though they are at liberty, and indeed are bound, to "magnify their office," they are not at liberty to magnify themselves: nor, indeed, will they be disposed to do so: they know, that, while they bear for the good of others an inestimable "treasure, they are themselves but earthen vessels," and, if they glory at all, they can "glory only of their infirmities," by means of which the Lord Jesus Christ is honored, and his work advanced. It is to these that the Apostle, in the passage now under our consideration, refers, as the proofs of his appointment to, and his fidelity in, the apostolic office: and so ample is his enumeration of the difficulties and trials to which he had been subjected in the discharge of his duty, that he apologizes, as it were, for the fullness of his description; and entreats his Corinthian converts to exercise towards him the same disposition which he was at this instant exercising towards them.

The words which we have read to you will afford me occasion to show,

I. How the Gospel enlarges the heart of a faithful minister.

To the servants of Christ is committed the ministry of reconciliation.

In this respect, a common minister is on a par with an Apostle. Paul himself could declare nothing, but that "God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself; not imputing their trespasses unto them," and those blessed tidings we also are privileged to bear; as we are, also, to "beseech men, in Christ's stead, to be reconciled to God." And this office I will now perform, if perhaps God may give his blessing to the word, and bring the soul of any one among you into a state of favor and acceptance with himself.

In the discharge of this high office they have many difficulties to encounter.

The Apostle here, with astonishing enlargement, sets them forth, and adduces them as evidences of his fidelity to God and man. He had "approved himself as a minister of God" in the diversity and intenseness of his sufferings; "in much patience, in afflictions, in necessities, in distresses, in stripes, in imprisonments, in tumults, in labors, in watchings, in fastings." He had approved himself, also, in the whole of his spirit and conduct; "by pureness, by knowledge, by long-suffering, by kindness, by the Holy Spirit, by love sincere, by the word of truth, by the power of God, by the armor of righteousness on the right hand and on the left." He had given yet further evidence of his fidelity, in the different kinds of reception he had met with; "by honor and dishonor, by evil report and good report; as a deceiver, yet true; as unknown, yet well known; as dying, yet, behold, he lived; as chastened, yet, contrary to all human expectation, not killed." Lastly, he had shown himself a true minister of God, in the supports and consolations that had been administered to him; "as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, and yet possessing all things." The eloquence of this passage has perhaps never been surpassed: and it proceeded, not from the richness of his imagination, but from the fullness of his heart; as he says: "O you Corinthians, our mouth is open unto you, our heart is enlarged."

And were these things peculiar to the Apostle? Has not every faithful minister a measure of the same? What, if we have not to experience bonds and imprisonments, have we not to go "through honor and dishonor; through evil report and good report; as deceivers, and yet true; as unknown, yet well known?" Yes, and under the lowest pressure of adverse circumstances, we trust we can say, "As sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, and yet possessing all things."

But difficulties, of whatever kind, are of no account with them, if only they may be rendered subservient to the progress of the Gospel, and the salvation of immortal souls.

It was not in a way of complaint, and much less in a way of boasting, that the Apostle dilated thus on his experience: no; it was for the purpose of convincing the Corinthians that he longed for their welfare, and accounted not his life dear unto him, if he might by any means promote their eternal happiness. He had himself obtained, by the Gospel, reconciliation with God; and he panted to make them also partakers of the same benefit. This hope it was that made him so indefatigable in all his labors, and so invincible under all his sufferings.

And I may safely say, that the same blessed hope will animate every faithful minister to tread in the Apostle's steps, and to be a follower of him, as he was of Christ.

In this address of Paul to the Corinthians, we yet further see,

II. What reciprocity of feeling he may hope to find among those to whom he ministers.

If this experience attends a faithful ministration of the Gospel, so does it also, in some degree, a faithful reception of it: and if it should be welcomed by the preacher as an evidence of his fidelity, so should it also be welcomed by his hearers as a testimony borne by God himself in their favor. I call you then, beloved, to show a measure of that enlargement which was so conspicuous and unrivaled in the Apostle Paul. To every one of you I say, Resemble him.

1. Let your reception of the Gospel be alike cordial.

It is as worthy of your reception, as it was of his; and will be as rich a source of blessings to you as ever it was to him.

2. Let your devotion to it be alike entire.

See how entirely he devoted himself to God, from the very first moment that the Lord Jesus revealed himself unto him. "He conferred not with flesh and blood." Having asked, "Lord, what will you have me to do?" he knew of no will, but God's; no way, but that which the Lord himself prescribed. Be you, brethren, alike upright in the service of Him who "has reconciled you to God by the blood of his cross." "You are not your own: you are bought with a price: therefore you must glorify God with your body and your spirit, which are his."

3. Let your zeal for it be alike ardent.

In the whole passage we have read to you, you have heard what labors he undertook, and what sufferings he endured, in order to diffuse the knowledge of that Gospel which he had found so beneficial to his own soul. And shall not "the love of Christ constrain you" also? Shall any labor be accounted too great, or any suffering too severe, if you may be instrumental to the advancing the Redeemer's kingdom upon earth?.

4. Let your sacrifices for it be alike welcomed.

By the cross of Christ, in which Paul gloried, "the world was crucified to him, and he unto the world," and he regarded all that it contained, just as a man dying on a cross would regard it. Yes, in his Master's service he was ready to welcome martyrdom as an occasion of self-congratulation and joy. A noble example! Seek to imitate it, my beloved brethren; and instead of repining at anything you may suffer for the Gospel's sake, "count it all joy when you fall into divers temptations;" and "rejoice, if you are counted worthy to suffer for your Lord's sake."

And now let me, in conclusion, "speak to you as my children."

Would to God I could say, that "you have never been straitened in us," Alas! we are conscious that in out ministrations we have often been cold and dead. But, on the present occasion, we hope that, in some small degree, we may adopt the Apostle's words; and, "in recompense for the same," we would add with him, "Be you also enlarged." Truly, if you had not been "straitened in your own affections," many, many blessings would have flowed down upon you, which yet have been withheld, because you were not sufficiently alive to the importance of the subject propounded to you—You well know, that a vessel with a contracted opening receives but little of the showers of Heaven, in comparison of one that presents to them a wide and expanded orifice: and thus it fares with many, who, through prejudice or worldly-mindedness, have their hearts almost closed to the glad tidings of the Gospel. O that you might henceforth be enlarged, so as to come with minds fully prepared to receive at God's hands all that his dear Son has purchased for you, and all that his own unbounded mercy is ready to bestow! Come to the house of God as rebels that have subjected yourselves to God's heavy displeasure. Come as penitents, imploring mercy at his hands. Come as believers, that are persuaded of the fullness of the salvation provided for you in Christ, and of the willingness of God to bestow it on every believing penitent. In a word, Come to hear the testimony of God, in the manner, and in the spirit, that Paul went forth to announce it to his hearers. Let but this feeling be reciprocal, (the Lord grant it may be more and more found in me!) and then we shall not speak in vain, nor will you hear in vain.

 

MMXXVIII

Separation from the World Enjoined

2 Corinthians 6:14–18. Be not unequally yoked together with unbelievers: for what fellowship has righteousness with unrighteousness? and what communion has light with darkness? and what concord has Christ with Belial? or what part has he who believes with an infidel? and what agreement has the temple of God with idols? for you are the temple of the living God; as God has said, I will dwell in them, and walk in them; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. Wherefore come out from among them, and be separate, says the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing; and I will receive you, and will be a Father unto you, and you shall be my sons and daughters, says the Lord Almighty.

A MINISTER never appears, to young people especially, in so forbidding an aspect, as when he is circumscribing men's fellowship with the world, and marking with precision the spirit that characterizes the true Christian in relation to the things of time and sense. Many on such an occasion are ready to account him an enemy to their happiness, and to censure him as a promoter of gloom and melancholy. But where do we find the Apostle pouring out such copious streams of love, as in the chapter before us? So accumulated were the expressions of his regard, that he thought it almost necessary to apologize for the more than ordinary effusions of his heart: "O you Corinthians, our mouth is open unto you, our heart is enlarged." Yet in that very frame of mind did he give the directions in our text. As a parent in his dying hour would most tenderly guard his children against the temptations which were most likely to draw them aside from the paths of virtue and happiness, so does the Apostle on this occasion instruct and caution his Corinthian converts: and with a measure of the same spirit we would now proceed to the consideration of the subject before us.

That we may bring it before you with the greater perspicuity, we shall show,

I. What is that separation from the world which Christianity requires.

It must be confessed, that the expressions in our text are often quoted and urged in too unqualified a manner, and without a due consideration of the difference between the heathen world, among whom the Corinthians dwelt, and the professedly Christian world, among whom we dwell. Certainly a greater measure of separation was necessary for them than for us: inasmuch as the dangers to which fellowship with heathens would subject them, were greater than those to which we are exposed by fellowship with those who profess the same faith with ourselves. Even they were not debarred from the courtesies of social life, nor from some degree of fellowship even with the most ungodly and profane: much less are we from such a measure of communication with them, as is necessary for the discharge of our civil and social duties. But still we must "not be unequally yoked with them,"

1. We must not have fellowship with them in any of their evil deeds.

It is probable that in the caution here given, the Apostle had some respect to idolatrous ceremonies, and idol feasts, in which a true Christian could not consistently take any part. Being himself "the temple of God, he could not have any communion with idols." Not but that the prohibition must extend also to every kind of evil, as well as to idolatry: for, in another place, the same Apostle speaks of "impurity, and covetousness, and foolish talking, and jesting, as bringing down the wrath of God upon all the children of disobedience;" and then adds, "Be not you therefore partakers with them," and again, "Have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather reprove them." This therefore is a law unto us, and to the Church of God in all ages, that, though we may to a certain degree unite with ungodly men in things that are indifferent, we must not unite with them in anything that is evil, however much it may be sanctioned by the customs and usages of the world: "we must not follow a multitude to do evil."

2. We must not form any close connection with them.

Under the law, men were forbidden to sow their fields with different kinds of seed, or to wear clothes that were formed of different kinds of materials, as of woollen and linen: nor were they to yoke together an ox, which was a clean animal, with an donkey, which was unclean. The import of these different laws was the same: they were all intended to intimate, that in the Lord's people there should be a perfect simplicity of mind, and an entire freedom from all mixture of evil. It is to the yoking of the clean and unclean together, that the Apostle refers in our text: and his illustration of it is beautiful. He represents believers as the temple of the Lord, in which nothing but what is holy should be found. All the vessels of that temple must be holy; and all the priests that officiate in it must be holy also. In confirmation of this he quotes a passage from the Prophet Isaiah, where the priests in Babylon are enjoined to keep themselves from every species of defilement, in daily and hourly expectation that the order for their return to their own country shall be issued, and that they may be in a fit state to bear the vessels of the Lord, which would be restored by Cyrus for the service of the sanctuary at Jerusalem. In such a state must all Christians, who are a holy priesthood, keep themselves, if they would please and honor God: they must "come out from among the ungodly, and be separate, and not touch anything that is unclean." In Babylon they must be, until the time of their release from it: but they must keep themselves from all close connection with the people of it, and be in heart and mind as separate as the vessels of the sanctuary are from any profane use. The Apostle's direction, not to be unequally yoked with unbelievers, is justly urged against that most fatal of all connections, the union of a believer with an unbeliever in the indissoluble bonds of marriage. This union on the part of a believer, is to be formed "only in the Lord," and with such a partner as will prove an helpmate for the soul. But the same rule should as far as possible be observed in every other relation of life, that so the spiritual person may not augment his difficulties in the way to Heaven.

3. We must not cultivate any unnecessary intimacy with them.

What is necessary for the discharge of our social duties must, as we have before said, be allowed: yet even that is rather to be submitted to from necessity than be sought from choice. The whole of the Apostle's argument extends to this. He supposes, that, as "the whole world lies in wickedness," it is almost impossible for a believer to be much in union with it without contracting some defilement. Hence he says, in reference to all who would divert us from the path of duty, or impede in any way our spiritual progress, "Come out from among them and be separate, and touch not the unclean thing." Aware how soon "evil communications will corrupt good manners," his advice is like that of Solomon, "enter not into the path of the wicked, and go not in the way of evil men: avoid it, pass not by it, turn from it and pass away." In a word, the true line of conduct seems to be that which a physician would follow in the time of a pestilential disease. He would go among the infected from a sense of duty, and with a desire to do them good: but he would not make them his companions, nor stay longer with them than his duty, and their necessities, required: and both before and after his visit, as well as during his fellowship with them, he would use all proper means to preserve himself from the contagion which he had reason to apprehend.

Such being the separation from the world which Christianity requires, we proceed to show,

II. Whence the necessity for it arises.

On this part of the subject the Apostle speaks very fully: and, because of the perfect conviction of his own mind, he addresses us in a way of appeal, determining to make us judges in our own cause.

The difference between the believer and unbeliever he supposes to be as great as between light and darkness, or Christ and Belial. And though this at first appears harsh and extravagant, it is really no exaggeration, if only we consider, that the one is a partaker of the Divine nature and a child of God, while the other is altogether carnal, a child of disobedience, a child of Satan. The question then is, What real fellowship can there be between persons so dissimilar? Let any one think what a total difference exists,

1. In their taste and sentiments.

The believer affects only heavenly things. As for the things of time and sense, he is dying to them daily, and suffers them to have as little influence as possible upon his mind. He is convinced that everything in this world is lighter than vanity itself; and that the care of the soul is the one thing needful. To have a sense of the Divine presence, and an assured hope of dwelling with God forever, to see sin increasingly mortified in his soul, and the image of God progressively advancing there, this is happiness in his estimation; and it is the only happiness he desires. But how different are the taste and sentiments of the merely natural man! All his affections are set on earthly things: nor has he any wish beyond them. If he could have an uninterrupted enjoyment of health, and wealth, and honor, he would wish for no other Heaven: he would be well satisfied with his state, though he had never one glimpse of God's countenance, nor one foretaste of the heavenly glory.

Now we ask, What communion can there be between persons so totally discordant from each other? They live in a different element; and what is life to the one, is to the other death.

2. In their habits and pursuits.

The believer delights in the word of God and prayer. Meditation on heavenly things is the very food of his soul. "The life which he now lives in the flesh, he lives by the faith of the Son of God, who has loved him and given himself for him." To receive out of his Savior's fullness more abundant communications of grace and peace, and to glorify him more in the midst of a wicked world, this is his daily desire, habit, and pursuit. But is it thus with the unbeliever? Does he appear like a man running in a race, and determined to win the prize? No; there is no resemblance between the two characters: and, if yoked together, their union would be like that of a reptile and a bird: the reptile fetters the bird to the earth, while every motion of the bird, when aspiring after liberty and affecting its usual flights, incommodes and pains the reptile: and the sooner a separation is effected, the better will each of them be pleased.

Now these things are by the Apostle made a matter of appeal. And we also appeal to yourselves respecting them: Is there not, in profession at least, this contrariety between the characters, and, as far as the believer acts agreeably to his profession, does it not exist in practice also? Here then is abundant reason for the separation before spoken of: for it is impossible for the believer to derive either comfort or benefit from an fellowship that damps all his best feelings, and obstructs all his best interests. And his true way to be holy and happy is, to "Come out from the world, and be separate, and if possible, not to touch the unclean thing."

Nor will this separation be thought painful, if only we bear in mind.

III. The honor which God will confer on all who steadfastly maintain it.

The people of the world, in order to retain the believer in a state of bondage, hold out to him the benefits of which a separation from them will deprive him.

They tell him of his reputation, which will suffer; and of his interests, which will be impaired by what they call his needless singularity—Perhaps, and indeed not uncommonly, his own parents will be the most forward to discourage him in his heavenly course, and "his greatest foes will be those of his own household—"

But the encouragement here afforded him is sufficient to outweigh it all.

What astonishing words are these! "I will receive you, and be a Father unto you, and you shall be my sons and daughters, says the Lord Almighty." What need we care about being cast out by men, if we are received by God? yes, if even disowned and disinherited by earthly parents, what loss do we sustain, if God himself acknowledge us as his sons and daughters, and provide an inheritance for us worthy of that high relation? Think of the sweet access which a child has to his parent, the delightful confidence he has in his love, and the full assurance he enjoys of all suitable provision in the time of need. This, and infinitely more than this, does the believer enjoy in the presence of his God: and beyond all this he looks forward to an inheritance incorruptible, and undefiled, and that fades not away. Say, believer, how small are your privations, when such are your enjoyments! how contemptible are your losses, when such are your gains!.

Address.

1. Those who are just entering on the divine life.

"Let every one who sets himself to seek his God, prepare his soul for temptation." Yes, beloved, if you will be followers of Christ, you must have some cross to bear. The servant cannot be above his lord: if they have called the master of the house Beelzebub, much more will they those of his household. Be content then to have it so. Do not imagine that you can ever reconcile the ungodly to the ways of God. If you will maintain friendship with them you must renounce your friendship with him. "You cannot serve God and Mammon," and even a wish to do so is in God's estimation constructive treason. You think perhaps to do them good: but you are infinitely more likely to be injured by them, than to impart any solid benefit to them. They must come to you; not you to them. To attempt to unite with them is folly and madness. You do not meet on equal terms. There is nothing that they will not say and do to draw you from God: but they will not suffer you to say or do anything to draw them to God. They will propose to you to join with them in their amusements: but if you were to propose to them to join with you in reading the word of God and prayer, they would pronounce you mad. Come out then from among them and be separate, even as your Lord and Savior did. "You are not of the world," says our Lord, "even as I am not of the world." Let this saying be verified in you: and let such be your love to his cross, that by means of it "the world may be crucified unto you, and you unto the world."

2. Those who have made some progress in the Divine life.

Do not imagine that, because the world have not hitherto prevailed to draw you back to them, you need not be on your guard against them. Remember Demas: "Remember Lot's wife." The world will never cease from their efforts, because, while you walk steadfastly with God, you are a reproach to them. Like Noah, you, by your lively faith, and practical fear, "condemn the world." Your own experience will be a sufficient warning to you in future. You have doubtless at times been drawn into a closer intimacy with the world than was expedient: and what, I would ask, has been the effect of it? Have you found the same satisfaction in their vanities that you have found in holy exercises? Have you not found that fellowship with them has invariably tended to interrupt your fellowship with God? When you have been walking closely with God, you have known somewhat of what is meant by those words, "I will dwell in them, and walk in them," but have you ever been taught this by communion with the world? Your own consciousness will give the best answer to these questions. Let past experience teach you; for it is in perfect unison with the word of God, that to be "holy, and to be harmless, you must be separate from sinners." Let your one concern then be, to "present yourselves as living sacrifices unto God, which is your reasonable service." And "be not conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God." And be assured, that if, like the little remnant in the Church of Sardis, you keep your garments undefiled, you shall walk with God in white, approved by him as conquerors, and rewarded with "a crown of glory that fades not away."

 

MMXXIX

Sanctification Wrought by the Promises

2 Corinthians 7:1. Having therefore these promises, dearly beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God.

CHRISTIANITY, if viewed aright, is a remedy suited to the necessities of fallen man. Man has lost both the favor and the image of God: and the Gospel restores him to both: to his favor first, and afterwards to his image. The promise made to Adam in Paradise, that "the Seed of the woman should bruise the serpent's head," was given without any preparation of heart on Adam's part, yes, altogether unsolicited and unsought. It was, in fact, not given to Adam personally; but was rather a part of the judgment denounced against the serpent that had beguiled him. Thus, in the passage before us, the promises in the close of the preceding chapter are given freely to the sons of men: and the sanctification that follows it, is to be the fruit and effect of the promises apprehended by them, and applied to their souls.

To put this matter in a clear light, we shall show,

I. The nature and extent of the sanctification required of us.

Sanctification is not a mere removal of evil from the soul, but a positive renovation of the whole man. It is set forth in our text as,

1. The mortification of all sin.

As man consists of two parts, flesh and spirit, so sin resides in both, and defiles both: and is therefore distinguished into fleshly and spiritual filthiness; the former assimilating us to the beasts, and the latter to that great enemy of God and man, the devil: as our Lord has said, "You are of your father the devil; and the lusts of your father you will do." By "the filthiness of the flesh," we understand, all those sins which take their rise from, and are acted by, the body; as impurity, intemperance, sloth. By "the filthiness of the spirit," we understand, those sins which are more independent of the body, and have their proper residence in the mind; as pride, envy, malice, wrath, revenge; discontent, covetousness, deceit; impenitence, unbelief, and numberless other evils. But from all of these we are to be cleansed. If one be retained willingly, deliberately, habitually, it will so defile, as utterly to destroy, the soul: as God has said, "If any man defile the temple of God, him will God destroy." It is to no purpose for any to plead, that God has given them passions, and that they are not able to restrain them; for God will enable us to restrain them, if we cry to him for help: He has declared, that "his grace shall be sufficient for us." Neither, on the other hand, must any one think well of himself, merely because he does not indulge any gross corporeal lusts: for he may be "fulfilling the desires of the mind to a vast extent," even while he restrains "those of the flesh;" and the indulgence of spiritual lusts is no less hateful in the sight of God, than the gratifications which are more disgraceful in our eyes. A proud Christian, a passionate Christian, a discontented Christian, or an unbelieving Christian, is as palpable a contradiction in terms, as a drunken or a lewd Christian. Evil tempers and dispositions of whatever kind must be subdued and mortified; if but one reign in the soul, we are Christians in name only, and not in deed and in truth: for "they that are Christ's have crucified the flesh with the affections and lusts." Would to God that professing Christians would more attentively consider this! It is a grievous mistake to imagine, that any notions however scriptural, or any virtues however specious, will be of any avail, as long as one evil temper remains in us unmortified and unsubdued. "If we regard iniquity in our hearts (of whatever kind it be), the Lord will not hear us."

2. The cultivation of universal holiness.

Not contented with "putting off the old man," we are to be continually "putting on the new man, which after God is created in righteousness and true holiness," we are to be "renewed in the spirit of our mind." This is an expression that deserves to be deeply considered: for it contains the very essence of real sanctification. We must "put on the Lord Jesus Christ," and have in ourselves the very "mind that was in him." Mark his every disposition; his delight in God's presence, dependence on his care, and zeal for his glory; his self-denying habits of every kind, and, at the same time, his patience and meekness, his compassion and love towards the children of men, even towards his most inveterate enemies: these are to be the dispositions which we are to cultivate, and in which we are to grow up even to perfection. Whatever we have attained, we are to "forget it all, and press forward for more," and to "grow up into him in all things as our living Head." All this we are to do "in the fear of God." This expression must be particularly marked: for in "the fear of God" the perfection of holiness consists. By "the fear of God," I understand that tenderness of conscience, and watchfulness of mind, that guards against even a thought which would be displeasing to God. There is a susceptibility of impression (such as exists in the apple of the eye when touched by the smallest mote in the air), which we should keep alive in our hearts in reference to sin, and have in uninterrupted exercise. In this the Lord Jesus Christ himself pre-eminently excelled, being "of quick understanding in the fear of the Lord," and it is by this that God has engaged to perfect his work within us, "causing us to fear him forever," and "putting his fear into our hearts that we may not depart from him."

This is the crown of all Christian graces and attainments: without which nothing is of any value. It is the lowered tint which marks the ripeness and maturity of our choicest fruit: it is that by which the man of God is perfected, and the image of God is completed in the soul.

The mention of the promises in connection with this, leads me to show,

II. The use of the promises in the production of it.

Peter tells us, that "by the promises we are made partakers of the Divine nature," and to the same effect does Paul speak in the words before us. It is by the promises that we are to accomplish the task assigned us in the text. For this blessed work they are well fitted: for they operate,

1. In a way of motive.

Who can contemplate the promises in the preceding context, and not feel his obligations to Almighty God so great as to outweigh every other consideration under Heaven? Does God promise to "dwell and walk in us" as in his temple? Does he engage to "be our God," as much as if there were no other creature in the universe besides ourselves that had any interest in him? Does he declare that he will both "receive us," and act towards us, as the most indulgent Father towards his own beloved "sons and daughters?" Is all this promised to us freely, even to all who will separate themselves from an ungodly world, and seek his face? Who can contemplate this, and not instantly inquire, "What shall I render to the Lord for all these benefits?" Who can have such a hope in him, and not endeavor to "purify himself, even as God is pure?" It is thus that Paul felt his obligations to the Lord; and it is from the consideration of them that he urges us to an unreserved devotedness of ourselves to God, assuring us that the mercies conferred upon us render an entire consecration of ourselves to him "a reasonable service."

2. In a way of encouragement.

Any one who should merely contemplate the greatness of the work assigned him, would sit down in despair: "How shall I hope so to cleanse myself from all sin, and to perfect holiness in the fear of God?" But in the promises, he finds ample ground of confidence and joy. "What! has God freely given to me his only dear Son, and will he not with him also freely give me all things?" Would an earthly father not refuse bread to his famished child, and will my Heavenly Father not give his Holy Spirit to me in the measure that I need his influences? To what purpose are all these promises which he has given me, if he will not work in me that measure of sanctification which is necessary to the complete enjoyment of them? But I find holiness among the most distinguished of his promises. He has said, "I will sprinkle clean water upon you, and you shall be clean: from all your filthiness, and from all your idols will I cleanse you," etc. I will not fear then to engage in the work of "cleansing myself," since God has promised to perform it in me: for "if he work, who shall let it?" My weakness, so far from being an obstacle to him, shall rather be an occasion for him to glorify himself the more: and, "through him strengthening me, I can do all things."

3. In a way of actual efficiency.

The promises, as contained in the word, effect nothing: it is only as dwelling in the heart, and relied upon in the soul, that they produce any saving operation. Then they are of necessity accompanied by the Holy Spirit, who works in and by them; and who, on that very account, is called "The Holy Spirit of promise." When applied to the soul by him, they have, if I may so speak, a buoyancy, bearing up the soul to high and heavenly things. We know that we, by filling a capacious vessel with air of a lighter species, can cause it to rise by its own buoyancy, and to soar above the clouds: how much more then shall we, when "filled with the Spirit," and borne up upon the wings of promise, rise in our hearts and minds to the highest heavens! We are aware that this illustration is not to be pressed too far; but neither is it to be discarded altogether as fanciful, since our blessed Lord himself has said, that "his Holy Spirit in us shall be within us a well of water springing up unto everlasting life." Here the heavenly tendency of the principle within us is plainly asserted: and, whatever be the word which first begets us to the heavenly life, it is the word of promise which brings the soul to its full maturity of Christian perfection. It was the abundant indwelling of the promises in the Apostle's soul that filled him with "the love of Christ, and constrained him" to live unto his God and Savior in a way that no other man ever did, and caused his "conversation to be continually in Heaven." And in proportion as they are realized in our souls, will be the sanctifying effects produced by them.

Address.

1. Those who are seeking holiness as their end, without using the promises as the means.

This is common both in those who are altogether ignorant of the Gospel, and in those whose views of it are yet dim and clouded: in the one, it springs from self-righteous pride; in the others, from mistaken and misplaced humility: but in both it is a fatal evil.

As for the self-righteous formalist, he would reverse the Apostle's exhortation, and, instead of saying, "Having these promises, let us cleanse ourselves," they would say, Having cleansed ourselves, let us expect a fulfillment of all the promises. But no man shall ever attain salvation in such a way as that. No man can ever attain such holiness as God requires, but by the promises: nor, if he could, would such attainments ever purchase him an interest in the promises. They must be received as freely as they are given: they are given to us as sinners, as "ungodly," as having no works whatever to bring to God: and, if we will not embrace them under this character, renouncing all dependence on our own righteousness, and seeking to be saved by grace alone, we shall never have so much as one of them fulfilled to us.

Nor is the legal Christian in reality building on any better foundation than the self-righteous formalist: for, though he does not profess to found his hopes on his own righteousness, yet he looks to his own attainments as his warrant for relying on the promises of his God. He thinks it would be pre-sumptuous in him to rely on the promises, because he cannot find in himself that measure of holiness which he considers as necessary to qualify him for an interest in them. But this is the very same error which the self-righteous formalist runs into: and the same answer, in a measure, must be given to it: only, while to the formalist I say, You must rely upon the promises; to the legal character I say, You may. They are all given as freely as the air you breathe: and precisely as the converts on the day of Pentecost apprehended them, so may you apprehend them freely, without money and without price: and as the jailor was justified by his faith the very instant he believed, so shall you be.

Nor need we be afraid of this doctrine as having a licentious tendency; for what was the effect of it in the apostolic age? the same shall it be in this and every age; the promises of God will always, when duly received, operate to the production of holiness; and every one who embraces them aright, will proceed to cleanse himself from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, and to perfect holiness in the fear of God.

2. Those who rest in the promises without regarding the end to be produced by them.

Such persons there are, and ever have been, in the Church of God; persons, who think it legal to exhort men to holiness, and who make no other use of the promises, than to cherish in themselves an assurance of their own acceptance with God. These persons would correct the Apostle as an ignorant and ill-instructed teacher. They would say, "Having these promises, let us be full of confidence and joy," but they would never deign to say, "Having these promises, let us cleanse ourselves," this, forsooth, is legal. But whether they be right, or the Apostle, judge you. Let such self-deceiving and conceited professors imagine as they will, God does not make so light of holiness: on the contrary, he tells us, that by our works we shall be judged in the last day, and by our works we are to be judged even now. Yes, by their fruits shall the followers of Christ be known: and if we slight them, we shall find all our pretended faith to be of no effect. "In vain shall we say, Lord, Lord, if we do not the things which he says." I must entreat all then to shun this deadly heresy; and to search and try themselves, and see what effect the promises have produced upon them; for, as God is true, "without holiness shall no man see the Lord."

3. Those who are seeking the end by the appointed means.

Shall you fail of success? Assuredly you shall not: for "the word of promise will bring forth fruit in you, as it does in all the world." Treasure up in your minds all "the exceeding great and precious promises," which "in Christ Jesus are yes and Amen;" dwell upon them: plead them before God in prayer: declare to him your affiance in them: expect their accomplishment: limit not the Holy One of Israel in anything: bear in mind that with him all things are possible. Truly, if you will thus believe, you shall see the glory of God. Sin shall be weakened in you: Satan shall flee before you: all the principalities and powers of Hell shall be bruised under your feet: in a word, Christ shall be formed in you, and "you shall be changed into his image from glory to glory by the Spirit of your God." Strengthened by these, your consolations shall be rich, your progress rapid, your victories secure: and in due time you shall possess the full substance of all the promises in the complete attainment of God's perfect image, and the everlasting fruition of his glory.

 

MMXXX

The Grounds of a Minister's Regard for His People

2 Corinthians 7:3. You are in our hearts to die and live with you.

THERE is in every man a quick sensibility with respect to anything that may affect his character: even a slight insinuation, that seems to convey reproof, is keenly felt. On this account we ought to be extremely cautious, not only when criminating others, but even when vindicating ourselves; because a necessary self-vindication may easily be construed as an oblique censure upon others. We cannot but admire the delicacy of the Apostle's mind, when asserting the integrity of his conduct towards the Church at Corinth. There were some in that place who had traduced his character: for the sake of others therefore it was necessary that he should declare his innocence with respect to the things that were laid to his charge. But fearing that, in doing this, he might appear to cast a reflection indiscriminately on the whole body, he adds, with exquisite tenderness and affection, that, so far from intending to condemn them all, he was willing, if his other duties would admit of it, to live and die among them.

In order to promote in all this amiable disposition, we shall consider,

I. The grounds of the Apostle's love.

Paul felt a love towards the whole human race: but he was filled with a peculiar affection towards the Corinthians on account of,

1. Their relation to God.

The Apostle had reason to believe that the Corinthians, notwithstanding some great evils which obtained among them, were truly converted to God; and that the greater part of them were very eminent Christians.

This was a just ground for loving them. Indeed, if he had not been penetrated with an sincere regard for them, he would have had no evidence of his own love to God: for "he who loves him that begat, must love those who are begotten of him."

2. Their relation to himself.

Having been, in God's hand, the instrument of their conversion, he stood related to them as their spiritual father. Now, as a peculiar affection exists between those who bear this relation according to the flesh, so it is reasonable that there should be a mutual regard between those also who are thus united in the bonds of the Spirit. Doubtless the Apostle did not confine his regards to these: but, having "travailed in birth with them," he felt all the anxieties and affections of a parent towards them.

The fervor of his love will appear from,

II. The way in which he manifested it.

We may notice in the context,

1. His affectionate remembrance of them.

He boasted of them wherever he went: he held them up as peculiarly worthy of imitation: and so great was the satisfaction which he felt in hearing of their welfare, that it far over-balanced all the sufferings he endured. What clearer proof could he give of his affection for them?

2. His faithful admonitions.

Though he loved them, he was not blind to their faults. When he saw them deviating from the path of duty, he performed the office of a monitor and guide. He changed his voice towards them, as he saw occasion: sometimes he spoke with the authority of an Apostle, and sometimes with the tenderness of a friend or parent. This was an eminent proof of his love, because it showed that his concern for their souls swallowed up every other consideration.

3. His devotion to their service.

He regarded not wealth, or ease, or honor; but would have been contented "to live and die with them" who had but ill requited all his past kindness: yes, he declared, that "he would most gladly spend and be spent for them, though the more abundantly he loved them, the less he were loved." Nothing short of laying down our life for any person could testify more love than this.

Application.

1. Let us improve our fellowship with each other in life.

It is the happiness of a minister and his people to have frequent and familiar fellowship with each other. We have through the mercy of our God enjoyed it; but alas! how little have we improved it! Let us look unto our God for his blessing upon us in future: for without that "neither Paul can plant, nor Apollos water, to any good purpose."

2. Let us prepare for our separation in death.

As "the priests under the law could not continue by reason of death," so neither can we under the Gospel. We must go to give an account of our stewardship; and you to answer for the advantages you have enjoyed. Let us be looking forward to that solemn meeting which we shall have at the bar of judgment. Let us implore help from God, that we may discharge our duties towards each other aright; and meet again, not as witnesses against each other, but as fellow-heirs of his glory. And the Lord grant that we may then be your joy, and that you may be "our joy and crown of rejoicing" to all eternity!

 

MMXXXI

Repentance Exemplified in the Corinthian Church

2 Corinthians 7:10, 11. Godly sorrow works repentance to salvation not to be repented of: but the sorrow of the world works death. For behold this self-same thing, that you sorrowed after a godly sort, what carefulness it wrought in you, yes, what clearing of yourselves, yes, what indignation, yes, what fear, yes, what vehement desire, yes, what zeal, yes, what revenge! In all things you have approved yourselves to be clear in this matter.

IT is sometimes urged against faithful ministers, that they distress the minds of their auditors by their preaching: and it must be confessed that the accusation is true. But it must not be concluded from thence, that they take a pleasure in grieving any, or that they are too harsh in their ministrations: they must declare the mind of God respecting sin and sinners, in order to bring men to repentance: and if they find any persons truly humbled for their sins, they account it the richest reward of their labors.

Paul had reproved the Corinthian Church for taking part with the incestuous man, instead of casting him out from their society: and his epistle had been the means of producing in them a godly sorrow, together with a suitable demeanor. When he found this to be the case, he wrote again to them, and told them, that it had pained him exceedingly to grieve any of them; but that he rejoiced in seeing their grief operate in so beneficial a manner; this godly sorrow had answered the very end of his admonitions; and he was now ready to pour the oil of joy into the wounds which he had inflicted.

We shall take occasion, from the words before us, to trace repentance,

I. In its nature.

Repentance, as a grace, proceeds from God, the giver of every good gift, and from Christ, who is exalted to bestow it; and who alone can produce in the heart that "godly sorrow which works it."

To ascertain what godly sorrow is, we must compare it with "the sorrow of the world," with which all of us are in some measure acquainted. The sorrow of the world may either relate to that sorrow which arises from worldly troubles, or that sorrow which a worldly man may have in reference to his sins. In either view it is a sorrow which "works death."

The troubles of this life often depress men, so as to indispose them for their proper business, and rob them of all their comfort, and destroy their constitution, and ultimately to bring them to the grave.

Many also are greatly distressed in reference to their sins: they are filled with dreadful apprehensions of God's wrath; they are harassed with unbelieving fears; they are even brought into the depths of despair, conceiving, that there is no mercy for them—that they are not of the number of God's elect—that they have committed the sin against the Holy Spirit—and that it would be either hypocrisy or presumption in them even to offer up a prayer to God. Now this sorrow, like that before-mentioned, works only death. It keeps us from God, instead of bringing us to him; it leads us to cloak and extenuate, rather than to confess and aggravate, our sins; it stimulates only to self-righteous purposes and endeavors, which are invariably frustrated by the power of indwelling corruption; and sometimes it terminates even in suicide itself. At all events it causes hard thoughts of God, and utterly unfits the soul for real humiliation and contrition; so that, whether it be more or less afflictive at present, it equally furthers our eternal condemnation.

In direct opposition to this is that godly sorrow which produces genuine repentance. The fore-mentioned sorrow consists of unbelief, despondency, and fear of punishment; but the most essential ingredients of godly sorrow are faith, hope, and love. The person sorrowing goes to God, believing him to be a rewarder of them that diligently seek him—He goes to God through Christ, hoping that for Christ's sake his sins shall be forgiven him—He goes to God with love in his heart, determining to justify God in whatever he shall do, yes, even in his own eternal condemnation.

Now this sorrow works repentance to salvation: it disposes a man to search out all his sins, and to humble himself for them in dust and ashes: it urges him to plead with earnestness the promises which God has made to returning penitents, and humbly to rely upon them: it causes him to seek after a conformity to God's image; and determines him to glorify his Savior with all the powers that he has. Such a repentance as this no man ever yet repented of; nor would he ever repent of it, however distressing the means had been by which it had been wrought in him. Every sorrow, short of this, would only issue in everlasting sorrow: but this sorrow invariably works repentance to life.

Thus we have traced repentance to its source, and seen it in its cause. Let us proceed to trace it,

II. In its effects.

The Apostle enumerates a great variety of effects produced in the minds of the Christians at Corinth: and his words have certainly a primary reference to that particular people on that particular occasion: but they admirably express also the emotions which are universally produced by true repentance, in whoever it obtains. We may therefore be permitted to consider them in that view, or, at least, to accommodate them to that subject.

For the sake of an easy distribution of the subject we shall transpose the first word, and consider it last: we shall then see the effects of genuine repentance in reference to our past, present, and future conduct.

The Corinthians, humbled by Paul's reproofs, were studious to "clear themselves" to the world, to the Church, to their monitor, and to God himself; and to show that they sincerely repented of what they had done amiss. They felt an "indignation" against the sin they had committed, and against themselves for having committed it; nor could they forgive themselves, until they knew that God had forgiven them. Thus will every true penitent endeavor to "clear himself," and render it conspicuous both to God and man, that he is indeed a new creature—He is "indignant," nor can he endure himself, when he reflects on his past life: when he calls to mind his rebellion against God, and his contempt of Christ's redeeming love, he is covered with shame and confusion of face.

The Corinthians, penetrated with a sense of their misconduct, felt a holy "fear," lest they should ever relapse into the sin of which they were repenting, or be drawn aside again to any similar enormity. They "vehemently desired" pardon of God for their past transgression, and grace, that they might be enabled to act with more consistency in future. They were animated in this with a "zeal" which nothing could damp, and with a "revenge" which determined them neither to spare the public offender, nor the evil dispositions of their own hearts. And do we not see in them the character of every true penitent? In all who truly repent, there will be an humble "fear" of falling again under the power of those lusts which formerly led them captive—a "vehement desire" to serve, to enjoy, to glorify their God—a "zeal," which enables them to set their faces as a flint against the whole world—and a "revenge" that determines them to sacrifice their bosom lusts, though dear as a right eye, or useful as a right hand.

The Apostle further notices the "carefulness" with which the Corinthians exerted themselves to avoid everything in future which might turn them aside from the path of duty. What word can more fitly characterize the disposition of a penitent in reference to his future conduct? Once he could walk at large, without taking any heed to his ways; but now he inquires whether the action be pleasing to God or not: he watches over the motives and principles by which he is actuated: he considers what may be the consequences of his actions both to himself and others: he is solicitous to avoid not only what is in itself evil, but whatever may be the means and occasion of evil. Hence he will not readily expose himself to temptation: he keeps at a distance from those amusements, and those companions that have formerly ensnared him: and he begs of God to guide his every step, and to "preserve him blameless unto his heavenly kingdom."

We conclude with inquiring whether the commendation bestowed on the Corinthians in the text, can with propriety be applied to us?

"Have we in all things approved ourselves to be clear in this matter?" We ask not, whether we have had any repentance at all or not, (though perhaps there are many among us that have had no concern for their past sins, and that feel no anxiety about their eternal salvation): but we ask, whether we have had any other sorrow for sin, than such as will spring from worldly principles, and consist with a worldly mind?

Let us inquire whether our sorrow be of an unbelieving, desponding, nature, that is little else than slavish fear; or whether it be of an sincere kind, that leads us to rely on Christ in the exercise of an humble hope, and fervent love?.

Let us thoroughly examine the effects of our sorrow, and see whether they accord with those which were produced in the Church at Corinth? Can we appeal to God, that we have "approved ourselves to be clear in this matter," so that there is no room to doubt whether our repentance be genuine or not? If God were now to call us to his judgment-seat, could we appeal to him, as the searcher of our hearts, that it has been, and yet is, our daily endeavor to exercise such repentance as this?

Let it be remembered, that all other repentance must, and will, be repented of: all other repentance will leave us short of salvation: all other repentance will deceive us to our ruin. Our blessed Lord has told us, that, "except we repent, we must all perish," and we have now seen the nature of repentance, not in a mere superficial manner, but as it may be distinguished from everything that is apt to be mistaken for it. Behold then, life and death are before us; let us beg of God to undeceive us all, and to give unto us that repentance which shall never be repented of.

 

MMXXXII

Liberality to the Poor

2 Corinthians 8:1–5. Moreover, brethren, we do you to wit of the grace of God bestowed on the Churches of Macedonia; how that in a great trial of affliction the abundance of their joy and their deep poverty abounded unto the riches of their liberality. For to their power, I bear record, yes, and beyond their power they were willing of themselves; praying its with much entreaty that we would receive the gift, and take upon us the fellowship of the ministering to the saints. And this they did, not as we hoped, but first gave their own selves to the Lord, and unto us by the will of God.

THE texture of the human mind is extremely delicate: and every one, who would produce any beneficial effect upon others, must approach them with tenderness and care. We may, by an unseasonable urgency, cause a person to revolt from a measure, to which by a more gentle address he might have easily been persuaded. The mind of man naturally affects liberty; and will be more powerfully moved, when its decisions appear to be the consequence of volition, than when they are called forth by the compulsory influence of persuasion. This the Apostle Paul well understood, and bore, as it were, in constant remembrance. Not that he on any occasion acted with artifice: no; his caution was the result of his own exquisite delicacy and holy refinement: and his success in affecting the minds of others bore ample testimony to the wisdom of his measures. He was anxious to obtain from among the Gentile Churches relief for the distressed and persecuted saints at Jerusalem. In writing therefore to the Church at Corinth who were more opulent, he endeavored to interest them in behalf of their suffering brethren in Judea. But he did not proceed, as we might have expected, to expatiate upon the wants of the sufferers, or on the obligations of the Church at Corinth to relieve them; but simply communicated, as an article of pleasing intelligence, the liberality that had been displayed towards them by the poorer Churches of Macedonia; and then stirred them up to imitate so laudable an example.

With the same view we shall now,

I. Consider the example here set before us.

The Churches here referred to were those of Thessalonica, Berea, and Philippi: and truly their example was most eminent in respect of,

1. Their liberality.

The real extent of liberality must not be judged of by the sum given, so much as by the circumstances under which it is given: our blessed Lord has told us, that the widow's mite exceeded in value all that the most opulent had bestowed, because their donations were a small portion only of what they possessed, whereas her's was her all, even all her living. To view the liberality of the Macedonians aright, we must particularly notice the time and manner of its exercise.

It was in a time of "great affliction and of deep poverty." Now persons in great affliction are for the most part so occupied with their own troubles, as to have but little either of leisure or inclination to enter into the concerns of others—And, if they be at the same time in a state of deep poverty, they seem by their very situation, as it were, to be exempt from any obligation to relieve the wants of others: if they shed a tear of sympathy, it is as much as, under their circumstances, can be expected of them—But behold, it was in this very state, and under these circumstances, that the Macedonian Churches exerted themselves for the relief of persons belonging to a different and distant country, of persons too, who, though agreeing with them in the profession of Christianity, differed widely from them in many points of subordinate importance.

The manner too in which their liberality was exercised deserves particularly to be noticed. It was put forth voluntarily: they waited not for any application to this effect from the Apostle; they were willing of their own mind to embrace the opportunity afforded them of fulfilling a duty so congenial with the best feelings of their hearts. It was exercised also bountifully. Their ability was the only measure of their gifts. In some respect they seemed, as it were, to exceed even that: for "to their power, and beyond their power," they exerted themselves, insomuch that, according to God's estimate of their gifts, they "abounded unto the riches of liberality." And what they did, they did zealously. They did not make an offer which they hoped would be refused, and then, on the refusal, feel pleased that the will had been accepted for the deed: no; they forced the Apostle to accept their donations: they would not suffer him to decline their offer; "they prayed him with much entreaty that he would be their almoner, and be the medium of conveying to their afflicted brethren the relief which God had enabled them to bestow.

If we would know whence it was that they were enabled so to act, the text informs us: it was, primarily, from "the grace of God" operating powerfully on their hearts; and, next, from the joyful frame of their minds, which bore them up above all their own trials, and exulted in every opportunity of manifesting their love to their blessed Lord and Savior. They had "an abundance of joy" in the midst of their deep poverty; and that "joy in the Lord was their strength."

2. Their piety.

This was not a whit less remarkable: indeed, it was the foundation, of which their liberality was the superstructure. They "first gave up themselves to God" in a way both of secret surrender, and of open profession.

They surrendered themselves wholly to Christ as his willing subjects and servants. Without this, all their liberality would have been a mere heathen virtue. If, without love to man, a person might "give all his goods to feed the poor, and yet be no better than sounding brass or a tinkling cymbal," much more would his best actions be of no value, if not springing from love to God. It is this principle that constitutes the perfection of everything we do, and makes a wish, a sigh, a groan more acceptable to God than the most splendid action without it. Everything emanating from it has "an odor of a sweet smell, and is a sacrifice truly acceptable and well-pleasing to God."

At the same time they openly and boldly confessed Christ before men: "They gave themselves to the Apostle and to the Church, by the will of God." They were not timid Christians, fearful of augmenting their afflictions by an open profession of the Gospel: they were willing to bear any cross which their adherence to Christ might bring upon them. They had already been brought into "a great trial of affliction, and to deep poverty," for his sake: but none of these things moved them, nor did they "count even life itself dear to them," if only they might but honor their Divine Master, and finish their course with joy. This put an additional value on their services, as manifesting the very spirit that was in Christ, "who willingly impoverished himself to enrich a ruined world."

Having so excellent an example before us, we will now,

II. Propose it to your imitation.

First, we would call you to imitate their piety.

This, though last mentioned in the text, was first in point of time, and was, in fact, the source and fountain of all the graces which they exercised.

We call upon you then to "give yourselves up wholly to the Lord." This is the indispensable duty of every child of man. As creatures, we are bound to serve and glorify our God, from whom we have received all that we are and have; but, as redeemed sinners, our obligation to serve him is infinitely enhanced. The Apostle tells the Corinthians in his former epistle, "You are not your own; you are bought with a price," so say I to every one among you, "You are not your own." Nothing, that you either are or have, is your own: the members of your bodies, the faculties of your souls, your time, your property, your influence, all belong to him, "whose you are, and whom you are bound to serve," all are to be improved for his glory; as Paul has said, "You are bought with a price; therefore glorify him with your body and your spirit, which are his." And this is as reasonable as it is necessary; agreeably to what he has elsewhere said, "Yield yourselves a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service."

But with this secret surrender of yourselves to the Lord Jesus Christ there must also be an open avowal of your adherence to him. "With the heart man believes unto righteousness; but with the mouth confession is made unto salvation." "If we will be Christ's disciples indeed, we must take up our cross daily and follow him," we must follow him "without the camp, bearing his reproach," and so far must we be from dreading his cross, that we must "glory in it," and "rejoice that we are counted worthy to bear it," and "esteem as Moses did, the reproach of Christ as greater riches than all the treasures of Egypt." We must never be ashamed of Christ; for, if we be, he will be ashamed of us "in the presence of his Father, and of the holy angels." "If we confess him, he will confess us; but, if we deny him, he will deny us." When the Apostle says, "they gave themselves unto us by the will of God," it must not be understood as if he gloried in gaining proselytes to himself: it is of their union with the Church, as avowed friends and followers of Christ, that he speaks; and this all must be, if they would approve themselves faithful to their Lord and Master: this is the will of God respecting every child of man; that we "come out from the world, and be separate" from it, and be "as lights shining in a dark place," "holding forth in the whole of our spirit and conversation the word of life."

Let me then urge upon you all this duty. The Churches of Macedonia acted thus in defiance of all the malice of men or devils: though brought by means of it into "a great trial of affliction and deep poverty," they turned not back, but strove the more to glorify their God in proportion as their enemies sought to suppress their zeal. So then do you also: harbor not for a moment that "fear of man which brings a snare;" "fear not man, who can only destroy the body; but fear him, and him only, who, when he has destroyed the body, can destroy both body and soul in Hell."

Next, we would invite you to imitate also their liberality.

Your obligations to it are as great as theirs: for you, as well as they, "have been redeemed by the precious blood of that spotless Lamb, the Lord Jesus Christ"—The occasion too, if not altogether similar, is quite as urgent: for if we plead not now in behalf of persons reduced to the deepest distress by persecution, we plead for those whose circumstance are most indigent, and whose temporal benefit is consulted with an ulterior view to the welfare of their souls—May I not add too that the means afforded you are similar? You cannot personally perform all the offices that are executed by those who have undertaken to dispense your charity—Nor will it be necessary for you to "pray others with much entreaty" to be your agents; since a number of suitable persons have voluntarily devoted themselves to this good work.

Let me then call upon you all to "manifest" by your liberality "the sincerity of your love to Christ." I will not except any from this labor of love. Are any of you "in a great trial of affliction," and at the same time "in deep poverty?" I would not on that account dispense with your exertions; nor would you wish me so to do, if you have received the grace of God in truth. I will not indeed be importunate with you, as with others: but I will remind you of what was done by the Christians of former days in circumstances more afflictive than your own: and I will add, that their conduct is set forth by the Apostle as worthy to be followed by Christians in every age: I say, I will not urge you to liberality on this occasion; but I well know what you will do, if "God has bestowed his grace upon you," I know, that "to your power, and even beyond your power, you will be willing of yourselves." But to those who are in circumstances of ease and affluence I would say, Look at the example set before you; and think what exertions your circumstances require. O, give not in a grudging or sparing manner; but let it be seen by your donations what you understand by "abounding unto the riches of liberality," and, as God in his providence has enabled you to stretch forth Corinthian hands, show that he has also in his mercy given you Macedonian hearts.

 

MMXXXIII

Liberality to the Poor Recommended

2 Corinthians 8:7, 8. As you abound in everything, in faith, and utterance, and knowledge, and in all diligence, and in your love to us, see that you abound in this grace also. I speak not by commandment, but by occasion of the forwardness of others, and to prove the sincerity of your love.

THOUGH there is no such thing as absolute perfection in this life, the Christian, if his life really correspond with his profession, is in some sense a perfect character. In this respect, the new creation of the soul resembles the first creation of the body. A child, the very instant it comes into the world, is perfect in all its members: advancing years will strengthen him, indeed, in every one of them, but will add to him no new faculty, or sense, or power. So the child of God, when once he is truly regenerate, possesses in himself the whole circle of Christian graces, though at first in a state of infantile weakness only: but the more he cultivates them, the more will they all improve. The particular grace which is here mentioned requires more than ordinary attention, because of its transcendent excellency, and because of the frequent occasion which arises to the whole Christian world for the exercise of it. The Apostle acknowledged, that in other graces the Corinthians greatly excelled; and therefore he took encouragement to recommend to them a similar pre-eminence in this grace also.

To bring this subject before you to advantage, I must mark,

I. The commendation given.

The approbation here manifested was doubtless exceeding strong.

Many are afraid to express approbation of what is good, lest the person commended should make it an occasion of pride. But this was not the mind of the Apostle Paul. He would not indeed pay a compliment to any man at the expense of truth: he even appeals to man, and calls God himself also to witness, that "he had not at any time used flattering words," but yet he saw no reason for withholding from men a testimony of his approbation, when the expressing of his sentiments would encourage them to increased exertions in the cause of God. To the Christians at Rome he expresses himself thus: "I am persuaded of you, my brethren, that you are full of goodness, filled with all knowledge, able also to admonish one another." To the Corinthian Church he speaks in yet stronger terms: "I thank my God always on your behalf, for the grace of God which is given you by Jesus Christ; that in everything you are enriched by him, in all utterance, and in all knowledge; even as the testimony of Christ was confirmed in you; so that you come behind in no gift; waiting for the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ." So again, after the high eulogy which he had given them in my text, he tells them, in the very next chapter, that all who had heard of their liberality "both prayed for them and longed after them for the exceeding grace of God in them."

And good reason there was for this commendation: for their "faith" was genuine; their "utterance" easy and intelligible to all whom they addressed: their "knowledge" was diversified; so that they delivered their sentiments to great advantage: and so devoted were they to the service of God in their respective spheres, that nothing could exceed their "diligence," and in addition to all this, instead of setting up themselves or others against him, as had formerly been the case with many among them, they abounded also in "love to him," as their common parent. Truly this was a state highly creditable to them, and most honorable to Christianity itself.

And may I not adopt, in some measure at least, the language of my text towards you?

God knows, my brethren, that I would not knowingly "use flattering words towards you," but I must and will say, in reference to many of you, that your "faith" is remarkably simple, unmixed with erroneous notions of any kind. You do also, in your respective spheres, communicate instruction to others with a ready "utterance," and with a "knowledge" that is at once enlightened and discreet. You discharge also, with "diligence, all" your offices in common life. And I should be ungrateful in the extreme, if I did not acknowledge also your "love to your minister," and your readiness to promote any measures for the good of others which he proposes for your adoption and support. And, from this view of your character, I am emboldened to exhort you to bear with me, while I call your attention to,

II. The advice administered.

"See that you abound in this grace also," the grace of liberality to the poor. The words added in our translation here are too strong. The Apostle tells us, that "he did not speak by way of commandment, but only in a way of advice." He tells us, also, on what grounds he offered this advice; namely,

1. Because he wished them not to be outdone by others.

He had said of the Macedonians, that "they, out of their deep poverty, had abounded unto the riches of liberality." Now, shall the rich Corinthians be exceeded by the poor and afflicted Macedonians? God forbid. It would be a disgrace to them to be found wanting in a duty which they were so much better able to fulfill: and therefore, "from the forwardness of others, he takes occasion" to excite in them a holy ambition to excel. Some would be ready to think that such a motive was low, and carnal, and unworthy of a Christian mind. I grant there is an unholy ambition; but there is also a holy emulation, to which men may with propriety be called; such as that which Paul endeavored to excite in his Jewish brethren, when he addressed the Gospel to the Gentiles, and "magnified his office as a minister of the Gentiles, if by any means he might provoke to emulation them who were his flesh, and might save some of them."

And on this ground I would now address myself to you.

2. Because he would have them "place beyond a doubt the sincerity of their love."

Love must be operative, if it be sincere; yes, and must operate too in this way: for "if we see a brother have need, and shut up our affections of compassion from him, how dwells the love of God in us?" or, "if we see a brother or sister have need, and bid him be warmed and filled, while we administer nothing for his relief, what are our professions of love to man, but downright hypocrisy?" If we have truly Christian love, it will resemble "the love of Christ, who, though he was rich. yet for our sakes he became poor, that we through his poverty might be rich." Then I call you, brethren, to this proof of your love. Let it be seen that "you love not in word, and in tongue; but in deed, and in truth." The occasion for your liberality is great and urgent—and I trust, that "as you abound in" every other grace, so you will not merely exercise, but every one of you according to your ability "abound in" this grace also.

Brethren, let me, in conclusion, entreat you,

1. To merit this commendation.

Truly, if the Christian world at large were addressed in such terms as these, it would be as keen a satire as the most malignant infidel could utter—But I must say, that if you answer not, in some measure at least, to this character, you have no just title to the Christian name: you resemble those rather in the Church of Philadelphia, "who said that they were Jews, but did lie." "He who is a Jew in deed, must be a Jew inwardly; and have the circumcision, not of the flesh only, but of the Spirit also; the praise of which is not of men, but of God."

2. To fulfill this duty.

Need I say, that charity brings with it its own reward? You may conceive that the indigent and distressed are greatly comforted by the seasonable relief that is administered to them: but this I tell you with confidence, that they who on Christian principles administer to their relief, are the happier of the two: for we have authority to declare, and it was a favorite saying of our Lord, that "it is more blessed to give than to receive."

 

MMXXXIV

The Grace of Christ

2 Corinthians 8:9. You know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that, though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, that you through his poverty might be rich.

THE excellence of Christianity with respect to the mysteries it reveals, and the precepts it inculcates, is generally acknowledged; but few see it with respect to the motives by which it enforces the performance of our duty. But in this last respect it differs as widely from all other religions as in either of the former; and claims an undoubted superiority over all the dogmas of philosophy, and over Judaism itself. The love of Christ in dying for us is not merely proposed as a tenet to be believed, but is urged as the most powerful, and indeed the only effectual, argument for the quickening of us to an universal and unreserved obedience. This was the consideration by which Paul enforced his exhortations to liberality when writing to the Corinthian Church: and it will be universally operative, wherever it is understood and felt.

In discoursing on this subject we shall not enter in a general way into our fall, and our recovery by Christ, but will,

I. Set forth the grace of Christ as it is here delineated.

There are four distinct considerations in the text, every one of them reflecting light upon this point, as so many mirrors uniting their rays in one common focus. These we shall view in their order:

1. The pre-existent state of Christ.

In the text we are told, "He was rich." This idea when applied to our fellow-creatures we can easily understand: but who can comprehend it when applied to Christ? What adequate conception can we form of his glory or felicity? He was from all eternity "in the bosom of his Father," and was "daily his delight." He had a communion with the Father in all that he knew, in all that he did, in all that he enjoyed. He had a most perfect Oneness with the Father, possessing in himself all the fullness of the Godhead, and receiving together with him the adoration of all the angels in Heaven. Such was the glory which Christ had with the Father before the world was brought into existence. Nor was he capable of receiving any addition either of honor or of happiness from his creatures. He would have been equally great and glorious though no creature had existed either in earth or in Heaven to behold him; or though all who transgressed against him should perish forever. Yet such was his love, that in the midst of all his blessedness he thought of us, and undertook our cause, and engaged to become our substitute and surety.

How infinitely does this "grace" transcend our highest conceptions! Indeed we do but "darken counsel by words without knowledge," when we attempt to speak on this mysterious subject.

2. The humiliation to which he submitted.

It was a marvelous act of grace that he should condescend to form creatures, and to give them a sight of his blessedness and glory. But that he should notice them after they had left their first estate, and despoiled themselves of their original righteousness, this was an act of condescension which we should have deemed impossible, if he had not actually evinced by his conduct that it could be done. But who would believe it possible that he should stoop so low as to take our nature upon him? Yet even that he did; and that too not in its primitive state, but in its present fallen state, subject to numberless infirmities and to death itself. He was "made in the likeness of sinful flesh," and was in all things like unto us, sin only excepted. Nor did he assume even our fallen nature in its highest condition: he was born, not in a palace, but a stable; he spent his life, during the first thirty years, in the low occupation of a carpenter; and, for the four last years, he was often destitute of the common necessities of life, yes, even of a place where to lay his head. He was aware that he should meet with nothing but contempt and persecution from men; and yet he submitted to it for their sakes. But even this, great as it was, by no means reaches to the full extent of his debasement: No; he put himself in the place of sinners, that he might endure the curse due to their iniquities: he submitted to bear the assaults of Satan, and the wrath of God. If therefore we would form a just idea of his humiliation, we must visit the garden of Gethsemane, and see him bathed in a bloody sweat, and hear him "making supplication to his Father with strong crying and tears," for the removal of the bitter cups: we must then follow him to Calvary, and hear his bitter complaints under the depths of dereliction, and behold him in the midst of inexpressible agonies of soul and body, dying the accursed death of the cross: and lastly, we must view him imprisoned in the grave under the sentence of the law, of that law which doomed us all to everlasting death. Here, here was humiliation, such as filled all Heaven with wonder; here was poverty, such as never can be comprehended by men and angels.

In this view the Apostle elsewhere describes the grace of Christ, contrasting the dignity of his pre-existing state with the state he assumed, and the degradation he endured. O that we might have worthy conceptions of it, and be enabled in some poor measure to comprehend its unexplored heights, its unfathomable depths!

3. The objects for whom he interposed.

It was not for angels, the highest order of created beings, that Jesus interested himself, but for man: he passed by them, and deigned to notice us. But was there anything in us more than in them, to recommend us to his regard? No, we were destitute of any the smallest good; and full of all imaginable evil. There was not a faculty of our souls that was not debased by sin, nor a member of our bodies that was not polluted with iniquity. We were even haters of God himself; and so full of enmity against him, that we were actually incapable of obeying any of his laws, and as far as our influence or example could prevail, we strove to banish him from the world.

Our misery too was as great as our wickedness. We were under sentence of condemnation, and exposed to all the curses of the broken law: "the wrath of God abode upon us;" and nothing remained but that the thread of life should be cut, and we should have been miserable in Hell for evermore. Yet such was his compassion that he interposed for us, and became our mediator with God, our "advocate with the Father." How wonderfully does this enhance the grace he has manifested! It would be a marvelous effort of love, if a king should put himself in the place of a condemned rebel, and suffer the sentence of the law in his stead: but for the Creator himself to become a creature, that he might suffer in the place of those who deserved nothing but death and Hell, well may this be termed "the exceeding riches of his grace," the very masterpiece of Divine love!

4. The state to which, by that interposition, he exalts us.

If he had procured a remission of our sentence, and the favor of annihilation, what a mercy would it have been! and what a mercy would the devils account it, if they could obtain such a favor at his hands! But this would not satisfy our adorable Savior: he had far higher views in undertaking for us: he determined to restore us to a state of reconciliation with God; to renew our nature, and thereby fit us for the enjoyment of God. Moreover, to all the blessings of grace and peace he determined finally to add that of everlasting glory. He determined, not merely to remove our poverty, but to make us "rich." And in order to see how rich he makes his people, contrast for one moment the state of Dives in Hell, crying in vain for one drop of water, and Lazarus enjoying all the fullness of God in Abraham's bosom. Such are the riches he designs for us: to procure them for us was the very end of his incarnation and death: nor will he ever relinquish those whom he has purchased with his blood, until he makes them "joint-heirs with himself," and puts them into possession of that "inheritance which is incorruptible, and undefiled, and never-fading." In a word, he became bone of our bone, and flesh of our flesh, that we might be one spirit with him. He emptied himself of his glory, and descended, as it were, to the lowest Hell, that he might "pluck us as brands out of the burning," and exalt us to the throne from whence he came.

Such, such was the grace of Christ: it was infinitely more than words can express, or than imagination can conceive.

Having endeavored to unfold this mystery, we will,

II. Inquire what you "know" respecting it.

It is here taken for granted that all Christians "know" this grace. Let me ask then, What you do know of it,

1. As an article of faith.

Multitudes who are called Christians, know scarcely anything respecting the faith which they profess; and, if interrogated concerning the ground of their hopes of salvation, would be found to expect it, not as purchased for them, by the death of Christ, but as obtained and merited by their own repentance and good works.

Many indeed are decidedly opposed to the principles of the Gospel, denying strenuously the divinity of Christ, and the atonement made by him, and the doctrine of justification by faith in him. As for such persons, they, with all their pretended knowledge, are as ignorant of the Gospel as if they had never heard it at all: and, if they were to attempt to expound my text, would reduce it to the truest absurdity; divesting the work of Christ of all its grace and of all its efficacy.

But you, I hope, brethren, "have not so learned Christ." You, I trust, do indeed believe in him as "Emmanuel, God with us." You believe that all the glory of the Godhead was his; and that laying aside, as it were, for a season that glory, he become a man, and lived and died for you; that by his atoning blood he might reconcile you to God, and by his all-perfect righteousness he might obtain for you a title to an heavenly inheritance. You believe that if ever you possess the felicity of Heaven, it must be altogether through the poverty which he submitted to for you: and all your hopes of Heaven you found on him alone.

Hold fast then this faith. Yet let it not be in you as a mere speculative truth, but seek to improve it,

2. As an influential principle.

It is in this view that it is particularly brought forward in my text. And in this view chiefly was it endeared to the Apostle Paul, who bears this testimony respecting it; "The love of Christ constrains me." He rightly judged, that, "if one died, then were all dead; and that he died for all, that they who live, should not live unto themselves, but unto him who died for them and rose again." Now then has it that same influence on you? Does it fill you with wonder and admiration, that the God of Heaven and earth should stoop so low for you, and submit to such indignities for you, and endure such sufferings for you, and by such mysterious methods obtain eternal glory for you? My dear brethren, if you know this mystery aright, it will so operate upon you, as to make you feel, that all you are, and all that you have, is Christ's, to be employed solely and exclusively for him, whose you are, and whom you are bound to serve. "You will live not to yourselves, but altogether for him who is by every possible claim the rightful Lord both of the dead and living.

The consideration of this love too will lead you to walk in his steps, and to show to others, as far as you are able, the love which he has shown to you—True indeed, you are not in existing circumstances required to impoverish yourselves to enrich others; but to make "your abundance the means of supplying the necessities of your poorer brethren" you are called; yes, and you are bound so to improve your talents, in order "to show the sincerity of your love to Christ."

Application.

1. Seek then this knowledge.

You well know with what labor and industry worldly knowledge is obtained: and will you grudge the labor that is necessary for the attainment of divine knowledge? What are all earthly sciences in comparison of "the grace of Christ?" Paul, the most learned man of his day, "accounted all things but dung for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus his Lord." And you also, if you estimate things aright, will never rest, until you have acquired some insight into the great mystery of redemption through the sufferings of your incarnate God—As to the poor and illiterate, the knowledge of philosophy is far beyond their reach: but not so the knowledge of divine mysteries. "What God has hid from the wise and prudent, he does and will reveal to babes." "The weak and foolish he has chosen in preference, in order that he may confound the wise and mighty, and constrain all to glory in him alone." Only ask of God to enlighten your minds by the influence of his good Spirit, and "he will give to every one of you liberally, and without upbraiding."

2. Endeavor to improve it for the good of others.

This is the knowledge which saves the soul. In "this is eternal life," which is the inalienable property of all who possess it. Will you then "hide this light under a bushel, instead of making use of it for the benefit of all around you?" That be far from you. No, my brethren, seek to "grow in the knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ" yourselves, and diffuse it, if possible, to the very ends of the earth.

 

MMXXXV

Liberality Encouraged

2 Corinthians 8:13–15. I mean not that other men be eased, and you burdened: but by an equality, that now at this time your abundance may be a supply for their want, that their abundance also may be a supply for your want: that there may be equality: as it is written, He who had gathered much had nothing over; and he who had gathered little had no lack.

YOU have heard the king's letter read to you: and if Paul thanks God for "putting into the heart of Titus an earnest desire" to improve his influence at Corinth for the relief of the distressed Christians at Jerusalem, well may we acknowledge with thankfulness the goodness of God, who has "put it into the heart of our king" to exert his influence with us in behalf of our distressed brethren in the north: and I do trust, that a measure of the same success which Titus was favored with at Corinth, will attend the appeal now made in the king's name to your liberality on this occasion. The distress being extremely great and urgent, I will show you,

I. What the inequalities of Divine Providence call for at our hands.

That there are great inequalities in the states of men, is obvious, in all places and in all ages. Even in the country which was governed more immediately by God himself, it was declared, that "the poor should never cease out of the land," much more, therefore, may we expect to see the same dispensations in our land.

Certainly there are great inequalities in the states of men.

These occur, from birth, from education, from accident. One person is born to opulence, and, from the moment he comes into the world, enjoys all that this world can afford: another, from the first instant of his birth, is destitute of the most common necessities of life, or would be so if they were not supplied by the hand of charity—One, from early infancy, is instructed in some branch of knowledge that may fit him for a higher sphere; while the mind of another is left without any culture whatever: and hence we see some, even of the lower classes of society, rise to wealth and eminence; while others, for the want of such advantages, are left to perform the most degrading offices in life—And from what we call accident, that is, from occurrences which could neither have been anticipated nor avoided, have the most astonishing changes been produced; the rich being reduced to poverty, and the poor being elevated to situations of wealth and dignity. The greatest acquisitions have been made by some unforeseen event, that has prepared the way for them, and almost forced them, as it were, upon us. On the other hand, what bereavements have been suffered, from fire, from inundation, from reverses in trade, from the failure of others, from war, from civil commotion, or even from sickness, which has incapacitated men for their proper duties!.

And what do these call for at our hands?

Are the rich to sit down satisfied, as if their abundance was given them for themselves alone? or are they not rather to consider themselves as stewards of the Lord, appointed by him to minister to the necessities of their poorer brethren? God himself, in the wilderness, showed us what his end was, in so diversifying the lots of men. He gave to his people manna from the clouds of Heaven; and he appointed that every one should gather an omer of it daily, for his own use. But it frequently happened, through some accidental circumstance, that some gathered less than the measure prescribed, and some, perhaps through illness, gathered none at all: yet, without any concerted plan, it constantly happened, that if some of a family gathered less than their proper measure, others had gathered more: and in all the families of Israel, for the space of forty years, it was found, that when the whole of a family put their gatherings together, they amounted to the precise quantity that was enjoined; "those who had gathered much having nothing over, and those who had gathered little having no lack." Now God would have us also to know, that all which we have, however laboriously gathered up by us, was His gift, and given by him for the express purpose of administering to the necessities of our more indigent brethren. True, we are not called now to put all we have into a common stock; but we are called to "make our abundance a supply for the necessities of others;" that so there may be such a measure of "equality," as will consist with a due maintenance of all the different orders in civil and social life.

With these inequalities we shall be well satisfied, if we consider,

II. The vast advantages derived from them.

Exceeding great benefits arise from such dispensations: for,

1. They call forth from men the greatest possible exercise of grace.

To all classes of the community, the poor as well as the rich, are these dispensations truly beneficial. The poor derive instruction, which they would not attain in any other way: they learn both resignation to the Divine will, and dependence on the care of Heaven. If tempted at any moment to repine, they learn to say, '"Shall a living man complain?" If I had my desert, it is not bodily sustenance that I should want, but a drop of water to cool my tongue in hell—I see the birds, that plow not, nor sow, nor gather into barns, have food in due season provided for them: why, then, should I despond? The God that feeds the ravens, can feed me: and he will rather send me food by the very ravens themselves, than suffer me to want what he sees to be good for me.'.

The rich, too, are taught most invaluable lessons by what they see around them. From beholding the distresses of others, they learn to sympathize with the afflicted—(what an invaluable lesson is that!) They learn, also, self-denial, which they gladly practice, "that they may have to give to him that needs." And I hesitate not to say, that they have more exquisite pleasure in any instance of self-denial, than any person upon earth has in the most unbridled sell-indulgence. But what shall I say of the delight they feel in acts of beneficence? This is the very occupation, if I may so speak, of God himself, "who is good to all, and whose tender mercy is over all his works." This, too, is pre-eminently the point in which they are conformed to the image of "their Lord and Savior Jesus Christ; who, though he was rich, yet for our sakes became poor, that we, through his poverty, might be rich."

And now tell me, I pray you, whether these different classes be not greatly benefitted, when called to the exercise of such graces; for which there would be comparatively no scope, if these inequalities in providence did not exist?.

2. They bring to God the greatest possible acquisition of glory.

Take all these persons in their respective stations: and see how all of them admire and adore God for the manifestations which he thus gives of his providence and grace; the poor, in having their wants so seasonably supplied; and the rich, in being made God's honored instruments of good to man—This is very particularly noticed by Paul, in the following context; and in comparison of this honor accruing to God, the relief conferred upon the poor he accounts as nothing: "The administration of this service," says he, "not only supplies the want of the saints, (that is comparatively a small matter,) but is abundant also by many thanksgivings unto God; while, by the experiment of this ministration, they glorify God for your professed subjection unto the Gospel of Christ, and for your liberal distribution unto them, and unto all men; and by their prayer for you, who long after you for the exceeding grace of God in you." And then he adds, with a heart overflowing with gratitude to God, "Thanks be unto God for his unspeakable gift!"

Now, if there were no such inequalities, there would be no scope for the rectifying of them; and, consequently, none for the adorations and thanksgivings offered unto God by those for whom he had so mercifully interposed. Say, then, whether these inequalities be not, on the whole, an unspeakable blessing to mankind; and whether, instead of repining at them, we ought not to adore and magnify our God, who makes such use of them, for the exercise of such grace, and for the manifestation of such glory unto men?

Let me not, however, forget your necessities, brethren, while I plead for the relief of others: but let me entreat you,

1. To seek from God the supplies which you yourselves need.

None of your fellow-creatures, how destitute soever they may be in respect of temporal necessities, are half so necessitous as you, in relation to your spiritual condition. In this respect, all, whether rich or poor, are on a level. Truly, there is a sad "equality" with respect to this: all being not only "wretched and miserable," in a general view, but "poor, and blind, and naked," in particular. And who shall give you relief? Shall any fellow-creature be able to support you? No, the best man on earth has "no more oil in his vessel than is needful for himself." There is no help for any man, but "in Christ Jesus, in whom it has pleased the Father that all fullness should dwell;" and "from whose fullness he has ordained us to receive." Get then, I pray you, brethren, a just sense of your necessities; and look to Christ for a supply of them: for "he is able to make all grace abound towards you, that you, having always all-sufficiency in all things, may abound unto every good work."

2. To impart to your fellow-creatures the relief which they need.

The occasion is indeed urgent—And I may well call upon you to impart out of your abundance, according to your ability. Of course, some of you are able to give but little: but, "if there be first a willing mind, it is accepted according to that a man has, and not according to that he has not." This, however, I must say, "He who sows sparingly, shall reap also sparingly; and he who sows bountifully, shall reap also bountifully." Nor is it unwise for you to consider what changes may yet occur with respect to your own temporal condition: and how much you yourselves may hereafter need relief from the very persons you now relieve. In this view, I would say, for your encouragement, that "what you give to the poor, you lend to the Lord;" and in the hour of necessity he will repay you. Arise, then, all of you, to this good work; and "cast your bread upon the waters, that you may find it after many days." In Heaven, at all events, you shall find it: for God has promised, that not so much as "a cup of cold water given for his sake shall lose its reward."

 

MMXXXVI

The Benefit Arising from Attention to the Poor

2 Corinthians 9:12–15. The administration of this service not only supplies the want of the saints, but is abundant also by many thanksgivings unto God; whiles by the experiment of this ministration they glorify God for your professed subjection unto the Gospel of Christ, and for your liberal distribution unto them, and unto all men; and by their prayer for you, which long after you for the exceeding grace of God in you. Thanks be unto God for his unspeakable gift.

IN this happy country, benevolent institutions of every kind abound, insomuch that there is scarcely any distress to which human nature can be subjected, for which some appropriate provision is not made.—But of all charities, there are none that deserve our support more, than those which have respect to the poor in an hour of sickness, and provide for their temporal and spiritual wants at the same time. Such is the institution to which we are to call your attention this day. We will briefly set before you,

I. The nature of the institution.

It is called 'A Visiting Society.' Its design is to find out the modest and industrious poor in a time of sickness, and to administer to them relief for their bodies, and, at the same time, instruction for their souls. For the better accomplishment of this design, the town and neighborhood are divided into districts; in each of which, two persons, one of each gender, are appointed to superintend their immediate vicinity, to inquire into such cases of distress as may come within their knowledge, and to afford them such relief as their immediate necessities may seem to require. As in such seasons the ears of men are more open to instruction, the visitors are to avail themselves of the opportunity thus afforded them, to direct the attention of the poor to the concerns of their souls, and to lead them to that adorable Savior, who calls himself "The way, the truth, and the life." Of these visitors, there is a meeting once a month under the superintendence of their minister, to report what persons they have visited; and to be advised, in case of any difficulty, what is most fitting to be done. At those meetings also the accounts of every district are settled; and the book which contains them is kept open to the inspection of them all."

From this short view of the institution may be judged.

II. Its great utility.

The words of our text refer to the contributions sent from Macedonia and Achaia to relieve the necessities of the saints at Jerusalem: and they mark with great distinctness the chief excellencies of the institution before us. Its obvious tendency is to advance,

1. The comfort of the poor.

The poor in a time of health are happy; because their minds and habits are fitted to their state. But in a time of sickness their situation is truly pitiable; because they are unable to procure those comforts which their necessities require. Their very application for parochial relief sometimes subjects them to unkindness: and those, who have been familiar with them in a season of prosperity, too often neglect them in a time of need. Conceive then at such a season a visitor coming to them, and not only tendering to them that relief which they could not have obtained from any other source, but expressing the tenderest sympathy with them under their affliction: What a balm must this be to the wounded feelings of the poor sufferer! If the rich, who are accustomed to kindness from their friends, find it doubly acceptable at such a season, what must the poor man feel at the unexpected and unsolicited attentions of a perfect stranger!

But conceive the poor man now for the first time led to call upon his God; now instructed in the knowledge of a Savior; now blessed with the first dawn of spiritual light, and begotten to a hope full of immortality: conceive him now saying with David, "It is good for me that I have been afflicted," "Before I was afflicted I went astray, but now have I learned your law," How altered is his state! How peaceful is his mind! How exceeding joyful is he in all his tribulation!

Know you then that such effects have frequently arisen from the exertions of those who are engaged in this good work; and it is the manifest tendency of the institution to produce them. This therefore may well recommend the institution itself to your support.

2. The welfare of all engaged in it.

To enter cordially into a work of this kind is no small exercise of grace: it truly displays "the exceeding grace of God in us," and where grace is so exercised, it will assuredly be strengthened and confirmed. God has said, that "he who waters, shall be watered also himself." And we will appeal to all who have ever visited the chambers of the sick, and labored for the spiritual welfare of their fellow-creatures, whether they have not been richly repaid by the blessing of God poured out upon their own souls? We know assuredly, that in proportion as any have offered unto God these sacrifices of love, they have been made by him to feast upon their own sacrifice.

But further, we are told in our text, that the persons relieved will offer up "their prayers" to God in behalf of those who relieve them: and is this a small benefit? Possibly the prayers may be only devout aspirations to God, such as "God bless you!" but shall such prayers go forth in vain? If God hears the cries of the injured, and punishes their oppressors, will he not hear and answer the prayers of men when offered for their benefactors? No doubt he will; and will recompense into the bosoms of the benevolent every benefit they have conferred.

Nor is it a small benefit to such benevolent persons that their names are respected, and their company desired. True indeed, we are not to engage in such services with a view to the applause of man: but we are not to despise the approbation and love of our fellow-creatures, but rather to accept it as an expression of God's kindness to our souls. See how Job's exertions in this way were recompensed: and was this a despicable reward? But consider how such benefactors are loved by the objects whom they relieve; "how greatly they are longed after for the exceeding grace of God in them." How do the poor people count the hours, and almost the minutes, when these kind friends are expected to arrive! Truly this is a great honor from the Lord, and an unspeakable comfort to those who have rendered themselves so respected and beloved.

3. The honor of the Gospel.

Of this also the text particularly speaks. These kind offices are regarded both by God and man as a "professed subjection to the Gospel of Christ." The Gospel expressly requires these offices of love. "Pure religion," we are told, "is to visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction," and again it is said, "Bear you one another's burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ." When therefore these offices are performed, the Gospel appears, in its true light, a religion of love.

And here we cannot but observe, how such conduct in the professors of the Gospel is calculated to silence all its enemies. Many cry out against the Gospel as inculcating faith only, and leading its advocates to neglect good works. But where shall we find among the enemies of the Gospel such institutions as these? where shall we find that a regard for the souls of men forms a leading feature in any charity of theirs? It is under the Gospel only that these institutions flourish; and no sooner does any one receive "the truth as it is in Jesus," than he delights to aid such institutions to the utmost of his power. Truly this is most honorable to the Gospel: and that which so adorns the doctrine of God our Savior, must needs be itself worthy of universal support.

4. The glory of God.

Doubtless it is not in the power of man to add anything to the glory of his God. Yet, inasmuch as these institutions lead men to acknowledge the providence of God, and to adore him for his gracious interposition in their behalf, they may be justly said to advance the glory of God. And this view of the subject is repeatedly mentioned both in the text and context. The visitor may possibly, in the first instance, be regarded as the sole source of the benefit conferred: but his instructions soon lead the grateful person to behold the hand of God, and to render thanks to Him as the true and only source of good. Then the benefactor is viewed in his true light, even like the angel sent by God to deliver Peter from his prison: but God is viewed as "the Author and Giver of the gift." Then "thanksgivings abound to Him;" and the person who perhaps thought nothing of his God before, now adores him and magnifies him from his inmost soul. This is the only tribute that man can pay to his Maker: but it is "a sacrifice most pleasing unto God."

Conclusion.

We now call upon you all to adopt the language of our text, and say, "Thanks be unto God for his unspeakable gift!"

The true import of these words is not generally understood. It is supposed, that, because our blessed Lord and Savior calls himself "The gift of God," and is undoubtedly the greatest of all God's gifts to man, the passage must relate to him: but, both from the text and context, it is evident that we must understand it as relating to the alms which were collected for the service of the Church at Jerusalem. Speaking of the part which Titus had taken in this measure, Paul says, "Thanks be to God, who put the same earnest care into the heart of Titus for you," where it is observable, that he traces the blessing to God as its true Author, and returns thanks to God for it. So in our text he speaks of "Thanksgivings to God" occasioned by it, and "God as glorified for it," and "the exceeding grace of God" as manifested in it. Hence the import of it undeniably is, that "Thanks" should be given by all to God for so "unspeakable a gift."

And truly it is "the gift of God," it is God alone that has put it into the heart of so many persons to unite in so good a work. It is to his grace alone that we can trace this tender concern for the temporal and eternal welfare of our fellow-creatures. Man, by nature, has it not: and those who are ignorant of the Gospel have it not: they may talk about good works; but this is a work in which they never engage. We must therefore glorify God for it, as being the only true source from whence it proceeds.

And it may well be called an "unspeakable gift." It is unspeakable, whether as existing in the visitors, or as operating on those who are visited. No grace can justly be considered as a light matter, since the smallest portion of it that can exist in the soul is of more value than the whole world. Of what value then must such "exceeding grace" be, such grace as most assimilates us to God himself! Was "the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ" most displayed in this, that "when he was rich, he for our sakes became poor, that we through his poverty might be rich?" This is the pattern which the visitors desire to imitate, so far at least as, by the most self-denying offices of love, to contribute to the utmost of their power to the happiness of their afflicted brethren.

If we look at the effects which have followed from their exertions, these are "unspeakable" indeed: for, in addition to the temporal comfort administered to Christ himself in many of his poor members, I doubt not but that there are at this very hour before the throne of God several, whose first thoughts about religion originated altogether in the instructions received from this society. Had there been but one soul brought out of darkness into the marvelous light of the Gospel by means of this institution, the labors of all connected with it would have been richly recompensed: but we say again, that several, we doubt not, will have to bless God for it to all eternity.

Let all then give thanks to God that such an institution exists; and let all contribute liberally to its support—We beg to remind you all, that the contributors, no less than the visitors, are accessary to all the good that is done by it; and may expect a blessing on their own souls: and we close our subject with that admonition of the Apostle, "He who sows sparingly, shall reap sparingly; and he who sows bountifully, shall reap also bountifully."

 

MMXXXVII

Efficacy of the Gospel

2 Corinthians 10:3–5. Though we walk in the flesh, we do not war after the flesh: (for the weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but mighty through God to the pulling down of strong holds;) casting down imaginations, and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God, and bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ.

EVERYTHING, however good, may be made to appear in a disadvantageous light, if we choose to put a perverse construction upon it: and the more diligent any person is in approving himself to God, the more must he expect to suffer from misrepresentation and calumny. His humility will be called superstition; his zeal, ostentation; his devotion, enthusiasm; and his whole deportment, hypocrisy. No man ever labored to do what was right more than the Apostle Paul; yet no man was ever more calumniated. There was no self-denial which he did not exercise, no suffering which he did not cheerfully endure, for the good of others: yet through the artifices of false teaches, who sought to establish their own influence on the ruins of his, everything he did became to him an occasion of reproach. There were great disorders in the Corinthian Church, which he sought to rectify. He in the first instance adopted the mildest methods: when these were ineffectual, he threatened to exert his apostolic authority: when still he could not prevail, he was extremely averse to use the necessary seventy; and forbore to do it, in hopes that his lenity might conciliate their regards, and reduce them to a willing obedience. But they construed all this change of conduct as the result of deceit, or timidity. They considered him as influenced by a view to his own carnal interests, and as being unworthy of their respect in proportion as he strove to merit it. Of this he complains in the passage before us. He assures his adversaries that, though like other men he was still encompassed with infirmities, he was not actuated by any considerations of ease, or honor, or interest, but was intent on mortifying every evil thought in himself, as well as of checking it in them: and that, as he was impelled by a sense of duty in the whole of his conduct towards them, so, if his present kind entreaties should be without effect, he was ready and determined to exert his apostolic authority in casting out of the Church all obstinate offenders, and in inflicting on them also, by his miraculous powers, some heavy judgment.

This seems to be the import of the text as it stands connected with the context. But if we divest it of the peculiarities arising from the occasion, we shall find in it a summary view of the effects produced by the Gospel in the Apostle's own mind, and, through his instrumentality, on the minds of others also. In discoursing upon it we shall be led to show,

I. The opposition which sinners make to God.

We might here lay open the actions of men, and show their contrariety to the commands of God. But the text speaks of "imaginations and of high things which exalt themselves," not merely against the authority, but "even against the knowledge, of God." We must therefore mark the rebellion of men as it shows itself in their "thoughts" which serve as "strong-holds" in which they are intrenched and fortified, and by means of which they exclude God from their hearts.

They fortify themselves then,

1. By proud thoughts.

It is scarcely credible that such an insect as man should exalt himself with such impious presumption in the presence of his God. If we assert the authority of God, and vindicate his claim to their hearts, they reply, like Pharaoh, "Who is the Lord that I should obey his voice? I know not the Lord; neither will I obey his voice."

2. By unbelieving thoughts.

We declare what will certainly be the issue of the contest; and that, if they will not bow to the scepter of his grace, they shall be broken in pieces with a rod of iron: and that, if they will not have Christ to reign over them, he will call forth his executioners to slay them before him. But not one word of this will they believe. They deny that God will ever execute his threatenings, or that they have anything to fear at his hands.

3. By worldly thoughts.

When we summon them to surrender themselves up to God, they tell us, that at some more convenient season they may listen to us; but at present they are so occupied with the cares or pleasures of life, that they cannot find leisure for such concerns as these. To all our pressing invitations, they either answer, more civilly, "I pray you have me excused," or, more rudely, "I cannot come."

4. By self-righteous thoughts.

When they are driven, as it were, from their out-posts, they raise interior fortifications with great zeal and industry: they encompass themselves with "works of righteousness," and there insist upon stipulations and agreements with God. They will pay him such a tribute; they will perform such services; they will surrender up a portion of their hearts, provided their old friends and allies may be permitted to continue unmolested in the remainder. The terms of the Gospel are too humiliating for them: and rather than they will come like Benhadad, trusting solely on the mercy of the king of Israel, they will die in the breach, and be buried in the ruins of their citadel.

5. By desponding thoughts.

God's entrance into the heart is not unfrequently obstructed by these, as much as by any other thoughts whatever. And it is surprising to see with what obstinacy they are defended. Sinners will even bring Scripture itself to support them against God, and to justify their rejection of his offered mercy. They are as studious to persuade themselves that "there is no hope" for them, as once they were to assure themselves that there was no ground for fear.

But impregnable as these "strong-holds" appear, God can "cast them down." To evince this, we proceed to show,

II. The means by which God overcomes them.

God in this warfare does not make use of "carnal weapons."

The sword of the civil magistrate is not wanted in it. It may indeed be properly used to suppress any evils which injure society, and to protect the godly in the free enjoyment of religious liberty: but it must not be put forth to propagate the truth. Let Muhammadans bathe their swords in blood, and Papists kindle their fires, to make proselytes to their religion; but God abhors such measures; and has declared, that "they who take the sword shall perish with the sword."

Neither are his servants to call in artifice to their aid. They are indeed, in some sense, to "become all things to all men, that by all means they may save some," but they are not to make any sinful compliances: they are to stand upon their own ground: they must "have their conversation in the world, not with fleshly wisdom, but with simplicity and godly sincerity;" they must not attempt to exercise craft, or to "catch men by deceit;" but, "renouncing the hidden things of dishonesty, they must commend themselves to every man's conscience in the sight of God."

Nor is oratory of any use in this warfare. Paul was qualified beyond most to fight with this weapon, if he had judged it expedient: but he laid it aside as an incumbrance: he knew that, instead of advancing the interests of his Lord, it would "render the cross of Christ of none effect," and therefore he determined to "preach not with the enticing words of man's wisdom," or "in the words which man's wisdom teaches, but in those only which the Holy Spirit teaches."

That which he renders effectual, is the simple preaching of the Gospel.

The law is usually that which first shakes the foundations of the citadel, and batters down the fortifications with which it was encompassed: yes, the Gospel itself also is at first alarming, because it proposes a remedy to persons perishing in their sins, and consequently apprises them of their danger, which they were not before aware of. But when it has convinced them of their guilt and misery, then it speaks peace unto their souls; and sweetly constrains them to yield up themselves unreservedly to God, as their reconciled God and Savior.

Not that it has this power in itself: it is in itself as weak as was the sound of rams' horns which cast down the walls of Jericho: but it is "mighty through God;" and, when accompanied by the operations of his Spirit, it compels the stoutest rebel to deliver up the keys of his citadel, and surrender at discretion.

The victories gained by this are perfect and complete.

The victories obtained by carnal weapons, may be followed by the subjugation of the vanquished people: but no conqueror could expect his newly acquired subjects to become instantly his active and faithful allies. Yet this invariably follows the triumphs of the Gospel: the vanquished sinner begins to fight as zealously for God as ever he fought against him. Moreover, as his thoughts and imaginations were the strongholds and fortifications whereby he maintained his stand against God, so now they are employed in his service, and are instrumental in repelling all the attacks of his enemies: "they are brought, not only into captivity, but also into obedience to Christ."

Now he entertains humble thoughts, abhorring himself forever rebelling against so gracious a God and Savior; and detesting the base servitude to which he submitted under the government of Satan. These, in proportion as they are entertained, form a very strong rampart around his soul.

Now he cherishes also jealous thoughts, aware of the subtlety of his great adversary, and of the traitors which yet remain within his own bosom. He stands upon his watch-tower, and guards every avenue whereby his enemy may again approach to hurt him.

Now also he raises up grateful thoughts, magnifying and adoring that love with which his blessed Lord has loved him, and that grace whereby his God and Father has distinguished him. These form a bulwark that may defy all the confederate hosts of earth and Hell.

Now moreover he forms resolute thoughts. He is menaced by an ungodly world; but he sets them all at defiance. Is he told that he shall be imprisoned and put to death for his adherence to Christ? He answers, "None of these things move me, neither count I my life dear unto myself;" "I am willing not only to be bound, but also to die for my Lord's sake," "Yes, if I be offered upon the sacrifice and service of your faith, I joy and rejoice with you all, and desire that you also will joy and rejoice with me."

In short, he labors that "every thought" which can give advantage to the enemy, may be "cast down," and every thought which can maintain the authority and promote the honor of God, may be established in the soul: so entirely does Christ overcome the strong man, and convert to his own use all his spoils.

We may learn from hence,

1. How to judge of our conversion.

Our words or actions are a very inadequate criterion whereby to judge: for, though they must of necessity be good if we are converted, and a want of piety in them will incontestably prove us unconverted, yet there may be nothing manifestly exceptionable in them, while we are still ignorant of Christ and of his salvation. But the thoughts will form an infallible rule of judgment. "As a man thinks in his heart," says Solomon, "so is he." Examine therefore whether proud, unbelieving, worldly, self-righteous, and desponding thoughts are subdued within you; and whether humble, jealous, grateful, and resolute thoughts are in habitual exercise. Far be it from us to say, that men are not to employ their thoughts about worldly things; for their duties in social life absolutely require that they should do so: but, to whatever point our thoughts lead us when they are wholly unconfined, that will show the real disposition of our minds: if we are carnal and worldly, our thoughts will be running out after things of a carnal and worldly nature: if, on the contrary, we are spiritual, then will our thoughts, which are known to God only, be spiritual and heavenly.

2. How to act when we are converted.

What is spoken proverbially in reference to the expenditure of money, may very fitly be applied to this subject; 'Take care of little things; and great ones will take care of themselves.' Be attentive to your thoughts; and we shall have no fear about your actions. There is not anything done, but it has been previously transacted in the thoughts. The heart is the womb in which everything is first conceived, whether it be good or evil. Out of the abundance that is there, will the mouth speak, and the members act. Let us then attend to the advice of Solomon, "Keep your heart with all diligence, for out of it are the issues of life." Let us endeavor to train the thoughts for God. Let us not suffer them to roam without restraint; but frequently arrest them, and inquire into their nature and tendency. Then shall we become ornaments to our holy profession, and acquire an increasing fitness for Heaven, where "every" thought will indeed be captivated to the obedience and enjoyment of Christ.

 

MMXXXVIII

The Faithful Minister's Desires

2 Corinthians 10:15, 16. Having hope, when your faith is increased, that we shall be enlarged by you according to our rule abundantly, to preach the Gospel in the regions beyond you.

THE Apostle Paul was a man of an enlarged heart: he panted for the salvation of the whole world, and to the utmost of his power labored to promote it. But, in his labors, he was under the direction of his Divine Master, who assigned to him the path in which he was to run. To the course that was prescribed to him he carefully adhered; neither going beside it, to interfere with others; nor going beyond it, as obtruding himself any where without an express commission. In these respects, he differed widely from some who sought to establish themselves on the foundation which he had laid at Corinth, and to subvert his influence in the Church which he had planted. To remedy the evils which had been introduced by them, he meditated another visit to that city; and hoped, after rectifying all abuses there, to proceed to other regions beyond them, for the purpose of diffusing more widely, than he had yet done, the Gospel of Christ. This intention, which he specifies in the words of our text, will lead me to set before you,

I. The desires of a faithful minister, in reference to any Church which he may have planted.

He will desire their growth in every grace.

However numerous his converts may be, no faithful minister will be satisfied, unless they make their profiting to appear. Every believer is enjoined to "grow in grace and in the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ," and it is in that way alone that he can either promote the honor of God, or advance his own happiness—Like persons engaged in a race, he must "forget what is behind, and reach forward to that which is before; and press towards the mark, for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus. A mother, however rejoicing over her infant child, would soon cease to rejoice, if she saw no advancement in his stature: and so can no faithful minister find pleasure in his converts, if he see them not gradually advancing in the divine life, and "growing up towards the measure of the full stature of Christ."

He will desire their growth in faith more particularly.

Faith is the root of every grace; and according to its vital operations in us, will be our growth in all that is good. When our Lord inculcated on his Apostles the exercise of a forgiving spirit, they replied, "Lord, increase our faith!" One would have supposed that they should rather have said, "Increase our love." But they judged well; because their love was sure to be augmented in proportion to their faith. It is precisely in the same view that Paul speaks to the Corinthians, when he refers to an expected "increase of their faith." It is by increasing discoveries of the great mystery of redemption, and of the glory of God as displayed in it, that we are to be assimilated to the image of our Lord and Master, Jesus Christ; and to be rendered meet for the service of God on earth, or the enjoyment of him in Heaven.

The Apostle's hopes of ultimately proceeding to regions beyond them, lead me yet further to notice,

II. The desires of a faithful minister, in reference to the whole world.

A truly benevolent mind will extend its efforts as far as possible for the welfare of mankind: it would not willingly leave one to "perish, for whom Christ died." In diffusing the blessings of salvation to the whole world, the pious minister,

1. Will labor personally with all his might.

A minister's first concern is, to instruct the people committed to his charge: nor will the most enlarged philanthropy justify a neglect of his more appropriate duties. But, while it is his duty to pray, "Your kingdom come," it is his duty to exert himself, according to his ability, to extend that kingdom to the very ends of the earth. If by his own personal labors he can carry the Gospel to foreign lands, he will account it his highest honor to engage in that service; and, like the Apostle, will regard every advance which he makes, a step towards regions and services yet beyond. But if his proper labors be stationary, he will exert all his influence to accomplish, through the instrumentality of others, what he cannot effect by his own personal exertions.

2. Will look for the concurrence and aid of all his people.

Paul hoped that his Corinthian converts would unite in furthering, to the utmost of their power, his efforts for the benefit of others beyond them. It is possible enough that the partiality of some towards him might have made them desirous of enjoying his continued labors, even at the expense of others whom he hoped to benefit. But such selfish wishes are decidedly wrong. We should be willing to make sacrifices for the good of others; and to "seek not our own profit, but the profit of many, that they may be saved." By such sacrifices the people do, in fact, concur in promoting and propagating the Gospel of the kingdom: and, if to these they add their financial contributions and their prayers, for the furtherance of this good work, they are, in the truest and sublimest sense, "fellow-workers with God." To this, therefore, the faithful minister will endeavor to bring his people: that, through the united efforts of many, that work may be done, which cannot be effected by individual exertion.

Let me now entreat you,

1. To improve your own privileges.

Through the tender mercy of God, "the Gospel is come unto you;" and many of you, I trust, have been led to "believe in Christ, to the saving of your souls." But let none of you continue "weak in faith." Your faith must increase: your views must be more enlarged, your affiance more simple, your confidence more firm: you must "be strong in faith, if you would give glory unto God." Remember, that it is "to perfect that which is lacking in your faith," that our labors are directed: and you yourselves must ever keep that object in view. Go on then, from grace to grace: and let this testimony be borne respecting you, that "your faith and love grow exceedingly."

2. To extend those privileges to all around you.

There is no need that any of you should overstep the line assigned you by Divine Providence: but, if your personal efforts are limited, your wishes and your prayers should know no bounds. I call upon you, then, to help forward the work of God in the world. Assist, to the utmost of your power, the different societies that are established for the conversion whether of Jews or Gentiles: for in this way, though you yourselves are stationary, the work of God will be advanced by you; seeing that the active agents of those societies, both at home and abroad, will "be enlarged by you abundantly."

 

MMXXXIX

The Folly of Pride and Boasting

2 Corinthians 10:18. Not he who commends himself is approved, but whom the Lord commends.

ONE would be ready to suppose, that the more any person excelled in everything that was good, the more he would be filled with self-delight; and that the less holy any person was, the more he would be humbled under a sense of his vileness. But observation and experience attest that the very reverse of this is true. The godly do indeed enjoy the testimony of a good conscience; but they are far from boasting of their own superior worth; they rather "prefer others in honor before themselves," and account themselves "less than the least of all saints." But formalists and hypocrites are ever ready to commend themselves on account of their imagined excellencies, and to assume a credit which does not belong to them.

There were at Corinth some of this description—some conceited teachers, who had entered into the Apostle's labors, and were endeavoring to advance their own influence in the Church by weakening and subverting his. To put the Corinthians on their guard against them, Paul shows them how different had been his conduct from that of these vain-glorious men: he had brought the Gospel to those regions where it had never been heard before; whereas they were "boasting in another man's line of things made ready to their hand," he had moved in the sphere appointed him by God; they were going beside and beyond the line marked out for them: he had sought only the glory of the Lord; while they were puffed up with pride, and seeking their own glory. He then lays down a rule, applicable indeed to these teachers in the first instance, but equally proper for us also. That "not they who commend themselves will be approved, but those whom the Lord commends."

In discoursing on these words we shall show,

I. From whence self-approbation arises.

The hearts of men are by nature proud: and their pride finds abundant scope for exercise;

1. From their over-rating the quality of their actions.

If what they do appears to be good, they are not strict in inquiring whether it be really so: they do not wish to detect those deficiencies which might render them dissatisfied with themselves. They do not examine the principle from which their actions flow, or the manner in which they are performed, or the end for which they are done: whereas these are the things which alone can determine the real quality of their actions. They take for granted that all is right, because they see nothing wrong; and thus are filled with self-admiration and self-delight, when, if they formed a proper estimate of their conduct, they would rather be filled with shame and self-abasement.

2. From their judging of them by an erroneous standard.

Though men are not nice and scrupulous in weighing their actions, they involuntarily and imperceptibly judge of them by some standard. Now the standard by which they try them, is that of popular opinion, and general practice: and whatever stands this test, they conclude to be deserving of praise. They never think of weighing themselves in the balance of the sanctuary: the popular scale is more suited to their minds: that is not turned by small matters: it is so favorably constructed that a small weight of virtue will over-balance a heavy load of iniquity; and the many grains of allowance thrown into it are almost sure to make it preponderate in their favor. No wonder then that they applaud themselves, when, if they took the word of God as their standard, they would find cause for nothing but humiliation and contrition.

3. From their ascribing them to a wrong cause.

Because they are free agents in all that they do, they suppose that the merit of every good action must belong to them. But they forget that "God is the sole author of every good and perfect gift;" that it is "he who of his own good pleasure gives us both to will and to do," and that consequently all the honor is due to him alone. Granting then that their actions were really as excellent as their overweening conceit would paint them, yet they would have no ground for self-commendation. The more they did for God, the more they would be indebted to God; by whose agency alone they were either inclined, or empowered, to do anything that was good. But when they leave God out of their thoughts, and ascribe their virtues to their own will and power, they must of necessity contract habits of self-preference and self-esteem.

4. From their overlooking their defects.

The proud and vain-glorious reflect only on what they do; and never think at all of what they leave undone, or of the deficiencies which are found in their very best actions. They perform one duty perhaps, and neglect many. They attend to some injunction of the second table, but forget entirely the precepts contained in the first. They mark their observance of the letter of a command, but quite overlook their inattention to its spirit. They will have no more gods than one: but they will not "love that God with all their heart, and mind, and soul, and strength." They will "draw near to God with their lips," but will not inquire whether they have "worshiped him in spirit and in truth." What can we expect from such partial views of their conduct, but that they will vaunt and boast themselves, as if they were worthy of the highest commendation?

Having traced the self-applause of men to its true source; we proceed to show,

II. The folly and danger of it.

To illustrate this, let two things be considered:

1. God will not regulate his judgment by theirs.

Man is often influenced by the opinions of his fellow-creatures; and it is proper that he should be so; because others may have more accurate information than he, or be more capable of forming a just conclusion from the premises before him. But "unto God all things are naked and open," however specious any appearances may be, He cannot be deceived: He will "lay righteousness as a line or plummet" to the souls of men, and thereby mark the smallest deviations from perfect rectitude. In vain will the boaster vaunt before him; for he will with one single interrogation confound him utterly, and lay him in the dust. In vain will the self-deceiver bring forward in his defense the good actions that he has done; for his God and Judge will indignantly dismiss him as unworthy of the smallest regard. To have the approbation of men will avail him nothing: for "God will not judge according to appearance, but will judge righteous judgment," "he will show, that many things which are highly esteemed among men, are an abomination in his sight," and, when he passes sentence on them, he will "be justified in his saying, and and clear when he judges."

2. Instead of sanctioning, he will reprove, their conceit.

Nothing is move odious in the sight of God than pride: "the proud in heart, we are told, are an abomination to the Lord." Indeed "pride was not made for man," it assimilates us, as much as anything can do, to the devil himself: and will certainly bring us into the same condemnation with him. Our own high opinion of ourselves will have an effect directly opposite to that which we wish. It will cause our God to "resist," abase, and utterly destroy us.

We need go no further to prove that men, "measuring themselves by themselves, and comparing themselves among themselves, are not wise."

That we may be preserved from this most destructive habit, we will point out,

III. The most effectual antidotes.

1. Study the holy law of God.

That is the only true standard of good and evil: and "by that is the knowledge of sin." That reaches to the inmost thoughts and dispositions, as well as to the outward acts.—It was by a view of that, as extending to every desire of the soul, that Paul was made to feel himself a guilty and undone sinner: and that once understood, will bring all of us into the dust before God.

2. Watch the motions of your own hearts.

Little do we suspect how much evil we should discover, if we were to mark the motives and principles by which we are actuated. Even when we are influenced by a good principle in the first instance, Satan will find some occasion to sow tares with the wheat, and to defile our very best actions. Let us then exercise a holy jealousy over ourselves: let us not be too confident, even when we are most unconscious of any secret evil: let us especially be on our guard against every self-complacent thought: and let us abase ourselves, that we may be exalted of our God.

3. Bear in mind the strictness of the scrutiny in the day of judgment.

God "weighs" not our actions only, but "our spirits," there is not a thought of our hearts that is not open to his all-seeing eye. He views at once the rule, and the observance of it; and every deviation from the line of absolute perfection is marked by him. True indeed it is, that while we are looking to the blood of Christ to cleanse us from our secret faults, and to the Spirit of Christ to perfect in us his good work, God will not "be extreme to mark what is done amiss," but, if we harbor any secret lust, or indulge any unhallowed principle, our God will search it out, and judge us according to it. Our self-commendation will then avail us nothing; but we shall stand or fall according to the decision of an omniscient and unerring Judge.

 

MMXL

Godly Jealousy the Duty of Ministers

2 Corinthians 11:2, 3. I am jealous over you with godly jealousy: for I have espoused you to one husband, that I may present you as a chaste virgin to Christ. But I fear, lest by any means, as the serpent beguiled Eve through his subtlety, so your minds should be corrupted from the simplicity that is in Christ.

TO boast of ourselves is a mark of a weak and foolish mind. Yet there are occasions whereon it may be necessary, particularly where the welfare of the Church of God is concerned. It would have ill become the Apostle to sit down in silence under all the calumnies that were cast upon him as a designing and deceitful man, who sought only his own glory, while he was assuming a character which did not properly belong to him. In vindication of himself, he appeals to the plain, visible, acknowledged testimonies which God had given in his favor; which far exceeded any which his opponents could produce, and equaled any which had ever been given to "the very chief Apostles." At the same time he entreats the Corinthians to "bear with his folly" in mentioning these things, since it was not for his own sake, but for theirs, that he adverted to them.

Now the jealousy which he felt for the saints at Corinth is precisely such as every minister should feel for his people, exposed as they are to temptations on every side: and that it may be seen how necessary such a jealousy is, we shall show,

I. In what near relation believers stand to Christ.

They are espoused to Christ.

Christ is the Head and Husband of his Church. Under this character he is described by the Prophet Isaiah: it is also given him in the Gospel: and the Apostle Paul largely and repeatedly assigns it to him. In the book of Revelation also the Church is expressly represented as "the Wife of the Lamb."

Truly, if it had not been so plainly revealed, we could not have dared to entertain such a thought in our minds. That sinners, so guilty, so polluted as we are, should be admitted into so near and so endearing a relation to our incarnate God: how wonderful! how surpassing all knowledge, and all conception! Yet so it is: and both the Church at large, and every member of the Church, is a partaker of this honor.

Into this relation they are brought by the ministry of the Gospel.

The Apostle says, "I have espoused you to one husband." Ministers may not unfitly be compared to Abraham's servant, who was sent forth to seek a wife for his master's son. They have received a commission from their Lord and Master: they make known to the children of men the excellencies of him in whose name they come: they look to God for the success of their labors: and by their means he works, "making persons willing in the day of his power." Sinners thus wrought upon agree to take the Lord Jesus Christ as their Husband; and by their union with him they hope henceforth to "bring forth fruit unto God." In him they see all that they can possibly desire; and on him they rely for the communication of it to their souls: they take him as their "wisdom, their righteousness, their sanctification, and redemption;" and they glory in him, even in him alone. Having thus accepted Christ for their all, they make a covenant with him, "a perpetual covenant not to be forgotten;" and they consecrate to him all that they are, and all that they have, to be disposed of from henceforth as his property according to his sovereign will and pleasure. They pledge themselves henceforth through grace to be entirely "for the Lord, and not for another;" and never more to yield their affections to any but him. This surrender the Lord Jesus Christ accepts; and to every one by whom it is made, he commissions his servants to proclaim in his name, "I will betroth you unto me forever; yes, I will betroth you unto me in righteousness, and in judgment, and in loving kindness, and in mercies; I will even betroth you unto me in faithfulness: and you shall know the Lord."

But while on the one hand we contemplate their privileges, we must on the other hand consider,

II. The danger to which they are exposed.

It is not to be supposed that he who ruined their first parents in Paradise, will leave them in the quiet possession of this high honor: No; as he envied the happiness of man in innocence, and never rested until he had robbed him of it, so he envies all who are brought into this near relation to the Lord Jesus, and never ceases from his efforts to deprive them of it.

The state which becomes those who are thus espoused to Christ, is that of perfect simplicity.

A person, espoused to a fellow-creature only, ought to possess a simplicity of mind towards him: she should have no interest, no desire, no wish distinct from his. Thus there should be a singleness of eye in all who are united in these holy bonds to our Lord Jesus Christ. There should be no dependence on anything but on him alone. The constant habit of the believer's mind must be, "In the Lord have I righteousness and strength." Nor must the betrothed person indulge a wish after any one but him to whom she is espoused: she must "forget her own people and her father's house, if she would have her Lord to find pleasure in her beauty." She must possess also a modest, humble, child-like spirit, free from all pride, conceit, and vain-glory. In a word, she must be wholly his, in body, soul, and spirit; "an Israelite indeed, and without deceit."

But from this state Satan is ever striving to divert us.

Innumerable emissaries has he at his command ready to take advantage of us. Many even of our fellow-creatures are used by him as his instruments: many who are, in fact, no other than "false Apostles and deceitful workers," under his influence transform themselves into "Apostles of Christ," even as that wicked fiend himself assumes the semblance of an angel of light." They will profess a great regard for truth, and under that garb will endeavor to commend their own erroneous principles. Under a profession of inculcating sublimer views of the Gospel, they will sap its very foundations, or build a superstructure altogether adverse to it, relaxing the obligations of the law, under a pretense of enhancing the excellency of the Gospel: and, as sure as any embrace their pernicious tenets, they are despoiled of all virgin modesty, and puffed up with pride and self-conceit. The same kind of artifices which Satan used in tempting Eve, he still makes use of by other serpents than he then inspired. He suggests the superior wisdom that will be acquired by embracing this or that dogma; and the gratification that will be derived from a compliance with such or such a temptation. He calls in question the import of such divine declarations as militate against his views, or at least the danger of acting in opposition to them: and by these devices he beguiles many to their everlasting ruin.

Persons so tempted are generally unconscious of their danger; and hence arises,

III. The duty of those to whom God has committed the oversight of them.

The work of a minister is but just begun when he has been the means of bringing any soul to Christ: he has yet to watch over that soul, and to prepare it and make it ready for its destined honors.

At a period yet future is the servant to present the bride to her Lord and husband.

Even the horrid and disgusting offices performed for the virgins who were to be presented to king Ahasuerus, may, when divested of the sensuality connected with them, serve to illustrate the purification necessary for every member of the Christian Church. In the great day of the Lord Jesus we are to present to him our every convert "as a chaste virgin." Yes, the Lord Jesus Christ himself is now by his word and Spirit preparing the Church, "that he may then present it to himself a glorious Church, not having spot or wrinkle, or any such thing, but that it may be holy and without blemish." If she be not made ready for him, and "clothed in fine linen clean and white, which is the righteousness of the saints," she can never be acknowledged as his bride. Any fundamental error in faith, or any allowed deviation from his law in practice, will entirely make void the covenant entered into at the espousals, and will cut her off from any hope of that felicity after which she aspires: and thus will all the minister's "labor prove in vain."

Until that period arrive, he must be jealous over her with a godly jealousy.

If he see any declension from the simplicity that is in Christ, he must instantly raise his warning voice. If he see only a device of Satan whereby her piety may be endangered, and her mind may be in any respect corrupted, he must instantly put her on her guard. He is not to wink at anything whether in doctrine or practice that is contrary to the mind of God. If there be only a secret leaning towards anything that is wrong, he must with all the solicitude of the tenderest parent point out the snare that Satan is laying for her feet. Her Divine Husband is "a jealous God," and a corresponding jealousy in his ministers must be ever awake to the discernment of incipient danger, and the correction of the slightest error. This is "a godly jealousy," it is the highest possible expression of love: and the minister who with most fidelity and affection discharges this duty, most approves himself to God, and displays the most valuable friendship towards man: "he watches for souls, as one that must give account."

Address.

1. Those who have given occasion for jealousy.

Is it asked, Who are they? I answer, Those who have either declined in their love to Christ, or have not made their profiting to appear. What would any of you feel towards an object, who, after having solemnly betrothed herself to you, and once professed towards you the most ardent affection, had ceased to delight in your society, or showed, that her more intimate acquaintance with you produced no increase of attachment towards you? Would your mind be easy? Would you be satisfied with such equivocal professions of regard? What then must the Lord Jesus Christ feel, and what should your ministers feel, when your whole spirit and conduct give so much reason for doubt and fear? They must be jealous; they ought to be jealous: and towards all who come under this character we must "change our voice." We do truly "stand in doubt of" such: and we are constrained to "travail in birth with them, as it were, a second time until Christ be formed in them." "Look well to yourselves, my brethren, that you lose not the things that you have wrought, but that you receive a full reward," for if you draw back from the Lord Jesus Christ, either in heart or life, "his soul shall have no pleasure in you."

2. Those in whom no visible occasion of jealousy exists.

We bless our God who has kept you thus far faithful to your engagements. Truly, "he who has established you in the midst of such manifold temptations is God"—But still, though we have no occasion to be jealous over you, it becomes you to be jealous over yourselves with a godly jealousy. For who can tell what a day or an hour may bring forth? David, when walking on the top of his house, little thought what a snare Satan had laid for him: and you little know how sorely he may thrust at you before another day has passed over your heads. "Be not high-minded, but fear." "Let him that thinks he stands, take heed lest he fall." Take notice from time to time how your minds stand affected to the Lord Jesus Christ: mariners are often forced out of their track by currents, and never discover their deviations until they have made their observations afresh. Make your observations then: Do you delight more in secret communion with Christ? Do you think less of every sacrifice you are called to make for him? Is it more and more the one endeavor of your soul to please him? And are you looking forward with increasing desire for that day when you shall be intimately and indissolubly united to him, and spend an eternity in the fruition of his love? By such marks as these you may judge of your own state, and acquire a confidence in relation to his judgment also. Leave nothing in suspense. Give yourselves to him: walk with him: cleave to him with full purpose of heart: and "be diligent that you may at last be found of him in peace, without spot and blameless."

And now to his holy keeping we commend you; even to him, "who is able to keep you from falling, and to present you faultless before the presence of his glory with exceeding joy. To whom be glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen."

 

MMXLI

Paul's Zeal Illustrated and Improved

2 Corinthians 11:23–29. Are they ministers of Christ? (I speak as a fool) I am more; in labors more abundant, in stripes above measure, in prisons more frequent, in deaths oft. Of the Jews five times received I forty stripes, save one. Thrice was I beaten with rods, once was I stoned, thrice I suffered shipwreck, a night and a day I have been in the deep; in journeyings often, in perils of waters, in perils of robbers, in perils by my own countrymen, in perils by the heathen, in perils in the city, in perils in the wilderness, in perils in the sea, in perils among false brethren; in weariness and painfulness, in watchings often, in hunger and thirst, in fastings often, in cold and nakedness. Beside those things that are without, that which comes upon me daily, the care of all the churches. Who is weak, and I am not weak? Who is offended, and I burn not?

THE people of the world are in the habit of representing religious persons as defective in every mental attainment, and negligent in the discharge of every social duty: and it becomes Christians not only to cut off all occasion for such reproach, but so to conduct themselves as to be able to appeal to all who know them, that they are in no respect below any other people who are similarly circumstanced with themselves. As Paul, when his adversaries sought to detract from his character, silenced them by this challenge, "Wherein any is bold, I am bold also: are they Hebrews? so am I; are they Israelites? so am I; are they the seed of Abraham? so am I," so ought Christians in every department of life to be able to challenge competition with other men, and boldly to say, 'Are they modest, prudent, kind, faithful, diligent? so am I.' This they should be able to do in reference to all heathen virtues, and worldly attainments. But in relation to everything of a spiritual nature, the Christian should so far excel, that no worldly person should be able to come near him. Our blessed Lord intimates this in the question which he puts to us; "What do you more than others?" We ought to do more than any other people in the world either do or can do; and, like the Apostle in our text, we should be able to enumerate many things, in which our adversaries, even the best of them, can bear no competition with us.

It is well for the Church of God that Paul was so calumniated by his enemies: for, if he had not been so traduced, he never would have recorded the extent of his labors, respecting which, from the brief history of them in the Acts of the Apostles, we should not have formed any adequate conception. True it is, indeed, that he again and again acknowledges, that, if not so compelled to declare the truth, he would have been a fool for boasting in this manner: and we too shall be guilty of the most egregious folly, if we without necessity proclaim our own goodness; but still, I say again, we should be inferior to the world in nothing that pertains to this life, and superior to them in everything that pertains to the life to come.

From this account, which the Apostle gives of his own labors, we shall take occasion,

I. To place them more distinctly before you.

Of course, it is only a cursory notice that we can take of them: and indeed it is the accumulated mass, rather than any minute particulars, which will best answer our end in this discourse. Yet, that we may have something of a distinct view of his labors, let us notice,

1. His sufferings.

Paul, at his conversion, had been told by the Savior "what great things he should suffer for his Master's sake," and truly they were great, greater far than those which fell to the share of any other Apostle. He was "in stripes above measure," being five times scourged by the Jews to the utmost extremity that their law allowed; and thrice by the Romans, though in direct opposition to the Roman law. "In prisons" all the Apostles had been; but not so frequently as he. So "often was he in deaths," that he felt himself "standing in jeopardy every hour," and could appeal to God that "he died daily." Thrice did he suffer shipwreck: and on one of those occasions he floated on a piece of the wreck "a day and a night," every moment in danger of being consigned to a watery grave. On one occasion he was stoned (at Lystra), and actually left for dead: and doubtless he would have died, if God had not, by a miraculous power, raised him up again, and restored him to the use of his limbs.

What patience, what resignation, what fortitude, must the Apostle have possessed, when he could persevere in the midst of such continued and severe trials as these! And how strange does it appear, that "in every place such bonds and such afflictions should await" such a man as he; whose only fault was, that he loved his God and Savior, and loved his fellow-creatures too even beyond his own life! But so it was; and so it will be, as long as ungodly men shall have it in their power to put forth into exercise their enmity against God: and, in proportion as any man resembles Paul in his zeal for Christ, and in his love to men, he will meet with the very same treatment that the Apostle did: and if he be not persecuted unto death, as Paul was, he will be indebted for his protection, not to the abated hostility of men, but to the laws of the land in which he dwells.

2. His dangers.

These were incessant, wherever he moved. Sometimes he was in peril "by waters," that is by rivers, which he was obliged to ford, or more probably by land floods, which he could neither foresee nor escape: sometimes by robbers, who, conceiving him to be carrying money with him from one Church to another, lay in wait to plunder him. Sometimes "by his own countrymen," who were incensed against him for going to the Gentiles: and at other times "by the heathen," who were indignant at his endeavors to overthrow idolatry. "In the city," he was beset by enraged mobs; "in the wilderness," by ravenous beasts; and, "in the sea," by frequent tempests, or by pirates, more to be dreaded than death itself.

But who would have thought that persons professing love to Christ should be found adverse to him; and that he should be in as much danger from their envy and jealousy, their subtlety and malignity, as from the more open assaults of professed enemies! Yet amidst his other perils he mentions those in which he was "among false brethren," who sought by misrepresentations to subvert his influence, and by treachery to destroy his life. Alas! alas! that such impiety should ever be concealed under a cloak of zeal for Christ! Yet the faithful minister shall find that such monsters do exist; and that there are yet in the Church, no less than in the apostolic age, "wolves in sheep's clothing," who, if only they can find opportunity to exercise their predominant dispositions, will tear in pieces the Church, and spare neither the shepherd nor the sheep.

3. His privations.

Amidst all his labors, he was often destitute of the comforts, yes, and of the common necessities of life; so that, in addition to all the weariness and painfulness of his exertions, he was exposed to "hunger and thirst, and cold and nakedness," not having clothing to protect him from the inclemencies of the weather, nor food to sustain his feeble body. And, as if all these privations were not sufficient, he often added to them by voluntary fastings, and by a sacrifice of needful sleep, that so he might be able to support himself without being burdensome to any, and make himself an example to those who accused him of seeking only his temporal advancement.

How lightly and thoughtlessly do we read this account, as though there were nothing very extraordinary in it! But if we had only to spend one single week in such trials as his, we should soon see what astonishing grace he must have had, that could enable him to bear them for a series of years, and even to "take pleasure in them," if only his Lord and Savior might be glorified by means of them!

4. His cares.

These, under such circumstances, were truly overwhelming. The Churches everywhere, whether planted by him or not, looked to him for guidance and direction in all their difficulties; so that there was a weight upon his mind sufficient to depress any one who did not feel his consolations and supports. The trials of Moses being great, seventy persons were appointed to bear the burden with him. But Paul had to bear his burdens all alone. He was the referee of all; the counselor of all; the director of all. Nor did he attend merely to the general concerns of all the Churches: no; he bore in mind the case of every individual that was brought before him; and labored as much for the benefit of each, as if he had no other object to engage his mind. For this he could appeal to the Corinthians themselves; "Who is weak, and I am not weak? who is offended, and I burn not?" If any, through prejudice, or ignorance of Christian liberty, or through any other cause, were weak, he sympathized with them, and accommodated himself to their feeble state, and labored by all possible means to comfort and encourage them. In like manner, if any were stumbled either by the artifices of false teachers, or the violence of persecution, he "burned" with an ardent desire to restore their minds, and to establish their hearts.

Such was the life of that holy man; and such were the labors in which it was continually occupied. We will now endeavor,

II. To suggest such considerations as obviously arise from them.

But where shall we begin? or, once begun, where shall we end? We must of necessity confine ourselves to a few which are of most general utility. Let us see then in these labors of his,

1. The incalculable value of the soul.

If we were to judge by the conduct of all around us, we should suppose that the soul were of no value: for the generality of men pay no more attention to their souls than if there were no future state of existence: and of those who profess to care for their souls, how few labor for their welfare with becoming zeal! If they be called upon to bear some reproach, or to sustain some temporal loss, they are ready to draw back, as though the interests of their souls were not worth the sacrifice. They are more terrified at the sneers of a fellow-creature, than at the threatenings of their God; and more desirous of the applause of man, than of the approbation of their Judge. But look at the Apostle Paul: Did he think so lightly of immortal souls? Would he have labored and suffered so much for them, if they were of no more value than men in general account them? Surely, either he was wrong, or we; if the souls of men deserved no more attention than is usually paid to them, he was a foolish and mad enthusiast: but if we may at all estimate their value by his labors for them, then are the world mad, in paying so much attention to worthless vanities, and in so little regarding what is of more value than the whole world. O you careless ones, whatever be your rank or age, let me expostulate with you on your more than brutish folly.

2. The vast importance of the Gospel.

When we urge on men the necessity of believing in Christ, and of living altogether by faith on him, they reply that there is no need of that entire surrender of ourselves to Christ; and that to condemn all who will not comply with such requisitions is uncharitable in the extreme. When we urge them also to use all possible means for the conversion of the heathen, they tell us that we may safely leave them to their respective creeds; and that God is too merciful ever to condemn them. But, if this be true, how can we account for the conduct of the Apostle? Why did he labor so for the conversion of Jews or Gentiles, if either Jews or Gentiles could be saved in any other way than through faith in Christ? Some labors and some sufferings we may suppose a man to undergo for the sake of proselyting others to his own opinions; but who would endure all that Paul endured, and that too so continually, and for so long a series of years, if he had not known that the everlasting welfare of men depended on their acceptance or rejection of his message? Know you then that the record of God, even that record which says, "God has given to us eternal life, and this life is in his Son; he who has the Son, has life, and he who has not the Son of God, has not life;" that record, I say, is true: and just so many of you as are living simply by faith on Christ, and receiving everything out of his fullness, are in a state of salvation: but every other person without exception is "under condemnation, and the wrath of God abides on him."

And here let me caution those who are convinced of this truth, to hold it fast and glory in it, though earth and Hell should conspire to turn them from it: for if the Apostles labored so much and endured so much to impart the knowledge of it to others, much more should we be in earnest to secure an interest in it for ourselves.

3. The spirit with which alone men should enter on the ministerial office.

Many, in undertaking this office, have no view but to their own case, or interest, or honor: and if in these things pre-eminence is to consist, they would have no objection to equal "the very chief Apostles." But if their preferment is to resemble that of Paul, they care not how many get before them: they have no taste for such things; and if they had ever so small a measure of them, they would account it much more an occasion of complaint than any ground of glorying. But it was in labors and sufferings that Paul gloried; first, because they were the best proofs of his ministerial fidelity; and, next, because they were the means of magnifying the grace of Christ, whose strength was perfected in his weakness. Would to God that more of his spirit were found among us! There would not then be such difficulty in finding men to go forth to the work of missions. Now, the leaving of earthly friends, the incurring of some danger from foreign climes, the having but small provision, and looking forward to many difficulties and privations; these are such formidable obstacles, that but few are willing to encounter them. But they who have so little zeal for God, as not to be willing to encounter trials and afflictions in his service, are not fit for the ministry in any place: they may satisfy themselves with a ceremonious round of duties; but they will not so satisfy their God, who requires his stewards to be faithful, and his soldiers to war a good warfare. We must tread in the steps of Paul, if ever we would "save ourselves and them that hear us."

4. The proper influence of redeeming love.

Look at the text, all you who profess to believe in Christ. See what faith will do, wherever it exists in truth. Look and see what you have ever done for the Lord that can be compared with this: say whether the best among you have not cause to blush and mourn for your unprofitableness? If you ask the Apostle Paul, what it was that animated him to such exertions, he will tell you, The love of Christ constrains me. This it was that carried him forward in the midst of so many difficulties, and enabled him to bear up under such accumulated afflictions. This made him ready to be bound or to die, at any time or at any place, content that "Christ should be magnified in his body whether by life or death." Beloved brethren, thus will it work in you: it will fill you with zeal for God, and with love to man. It will make you earnestly desirous to spread the knowledge of the Savior throughout the world; and will render sacrifices, whether of ease or property, delightful to you. You will account it an unspeakable honor that you are permitted to do or suffer anything for the advancement of his glory; just as the Apostles, after having been imprisoned and beaten by the Jewish council, departed, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer for their Redeemer's sake. Rise up then, you servants of the Lord Jesus, and gird yourselves to your Master's work. Let each inquire, What can I do for Christ? How can my time, my property, my talents, my influence be made serviceable to his cause? It is said of the angels, that they do their Maker's will, "hearkening to the voice of his word;" do you thus look for the first intimations of your Savior's will. If the most arduous and self-denying office be proposed, be ready instantly to say, "Here am I; send me." So will you approve yourselves his disciples indeed, and reap a glorious recompense in the great day of his appearing.

 

MMXLII

Christian Sympathy

2 Corinthians 11:29. Who is weak, and I am not weak? Who is offended, and I burn not?

TRULY, the testimony of a good conscience is a source of unbounded joy. There are, and ever were, those who would traduce the characters of the best of men. The Apostle Paul himself was reproached by many, yes, and by many who professed themselves Christians too, as a "weak" man, and "a fool." He was able, however, to give very abundant proof, that, while others gloried on false grounds, he had just and good ground for glorying; and that, "in no respect was he inferior, either to them, or to the very chief Apostles." In truth, the very things which rendered him contemptible in the eyes of many, were those which redounded most to his honor. His enemies thought that "hunger and thirst, and cold and nakedness, and persecutions" for Christ's sake, were occasions for reproach; whereas the Apostle judged that they were grounds rather for approbation from men, and for thanksgivings to God. And, while he vindicated himself thus from the charges that were brought against him, he could appeal to his very enemies, and ask, whether his labors had been of a mere general and ostentatious kind; or whether they had not, even to that very hour, been so universal and particular, as to entitle him to gratitude from every member of the Christian Church: "Who is weak, and I am not weak? Who is offended, and I burn not?"

Now, in this appeal we may see,

I. The infirmities incident to the people of God.

There were at that time, and have been in every age of the Church, some who need all possible attention from their brethren:

1. Those who are weak.

There are "children" in the family of Christ, no less than "young men" and "fathers." In truth, there are many who are "weak" in knowledge, having but very indistinct views of the Gospel and its attendant privileges—Some also are "weak" in faith, even as the Apostles themselves showed themselves to be on many occasions: "they stagger at the promises of God;" and, when greatly tried, are unable firmly to rely upon them—Some, too, are "weak" in hope: for though, under the Christian dispensation, we do not see so much of doubts and fears as under the darker dispensation of the law; yet we can have no doubt but that in the apostolic age, as well as now, there were many sincere persons, who felt secret misgivings respecting their own state before God, and wanted that "full assurance of hope" which some were privileged to enjoy. In conflict, doubtless, many are "weak." It is no easy thing to contend even with flesh and blood, and still more with the principalities and powers of darkness: not a man on earth would be able to stand, if not upheld by an almighty arm: in fact, the only way to be strong in the Christian warfare is, to feel ourselves "weak," and to be "strong only in the Lord and in the power of his might."

2. Those who are offended.

The consequence of weakness is, a liability to be offended and cast down by untoward circumstances of any kind. It is no uncommon thing for persons to be offended even at the very mysteries of our holy religion. When our Lord spoke of our eating his flesh and drinking his blood, some of his Disciples exclaimed, "This is an hard saying; who can hear it?" Upon which, our Lord, knowing in himself that his Disciples murmured at it, says to them, "Does this offend you? What, and if you shall see the Son of man ascend up where he was before?" So, at this day, many of the sublimer truths of Christianity are "hard sayings" in the ears of some, whose "hearts, we yet hope, are, on the whole, right with God"—Our Lord intimated that it would be so, when he said, "Blessed is he who shall not be offended in me."

And, as some are offended at the word of God, so are others at his providence: especially when they see what persecutions they have to endure for righteousness' sake, and how the ungodly triumph over the very Church and cause of God.

Nor are the falls or apostasy of professors an uncommon occasion of offence. We are apt to forget, that "all are not Israel who are of Israel." There was a Judas even among the Apostles themselves: and of the immediate followers of our Lord, so many went back and walked no more with him, that even the stability of the Apostles themselves was endangered.

What then is,

II. The duty of their more established brethren towards them?

Certainly the Apostle's example is that which we ought to follow, even as he himself followed Christ: of whom it is said, "A bruised reed shall he not break, and smoking flax shall he not quench, until he send forth judgment unto victory."

"With the weak, then, we must be weak."

We are on no account to despise our weaker brethren, but to treat them with all imaginable condescension and kindness; as the Apostle himself tells us: "We that are strong ought to bear the infirmities of the weak, and not to please ourselves. For even Christ pleased not himself; but, as it is written, "The reproaches of them that reproached you fell on me." We should listen to their statements with an attentive ear: we should enter into their feelings, and sympathize with them in their troubles: we should deal tenderly with their mistakes, and should gladly give them the advantage of our superior knowledge and experience. We should come down, as it were, upon their ground: and endeavor to make their way plain before their face. We should "strengthen the weak hands, and confirm the feeble knees; and say to them that are of a fearful heart, Fear not; your God will come and save you."This is particularly inculcated in the Epistle to the Hebrews: "Lift up the hands which hang down, and the feeble knees; and make straight paths for your feet, lest that which is lame be turned out of the way; but let it rather be healed." This doubtless is the duty of ministers primarily; because they are as fathers, who ought to feel for their children with parental tenderness; and even, as mothers, to "travail in birth with them, until Christ be formed in them." But it is also the duty of every true Christian: for it is said, "Bear you one another's burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ."

And "those who are offended, we should burn" with ardor to restore.

Behold the state of the Galatian Church: see them when they were in danger of being turned aside through the influence of Judaizing teachers: what zeal the Apostle manifested to keep them sound in the faith! He hesitated not to reprove even Peter himself, and that before the whole Church. See the Churches, both of Rome and Corinth, when they were in danger of being drawn to act contrary to the convictions of their own minds, in reference to the eating of meats, and the observing of certain days according to the Jewish law: he enjoined the more enlightened part, who understood the nature and extent of Christian liberty, to abstain from the use of that liberty in the presence of their weaker brethren, lest they should, by the indiscreet use of it, cast a snare and a stumbling-block before any: and as for himself, he determined not to eat meat so long as the world should stand, rather than make a weak brother to offend. Whatever be the stumbling-block in our brother's way, we should be inflamed with a desire to remove it, as much as we should to rescue an only child from any peril to which he was exposed. The value of his soul, and the honor of God as interested in it, should be present to our minds; and we should labor with all our might, and with the utmost tenderness of spirit, for the recovery and salvation of his soul.

And now see, from hence,

1. How arduous is the office of a minister!

Had he indeed only to perform a certain routine of duties, his office would be easy enough: but when he has to give an account of every soul committed to his charge, and should be able to say of every individual among them, "Who is weak, and I am not weak? Who is offended, and I burn not?" methinks the most zealous minister in the world must perform his office "in weakness, and in fear, and in much trembling." Paul himself was constrained to say, "Who is sufficient for these things?"

2. How lovely is true religion!

Religion consists, not in the adoption of any creed, but in a conformity to the Divine image. Doubtless there is no salvation but in Christ Jesus; and, whatever measure of holiness we attain, it can form no ground of glorying before God: but the faith which alone will save us, is "a faith that works by love." We may have the knowledge of angels, the liberality of saints, and the zeal of martyrs; and yet, for want of love, "be only as sounding brass, and a tinkling cymbal." See the Lord Jesus, during his ministry on earth: "He bare our sins and carried our sorrows," first in a way of sympathy, and afterwards as an atoning sacrifice. In the latter sense, this was his exclusive office; but in the former, it is ours also. Let us then show forth in our conduct the excellence of his Gospel; and exercise towards others the tenderness and compassion which we have ever met with at his hands.

 

MMXLIII

The Success of Fervent Prayer

2 Corinthians 12:7–9. Lest I should be exalted above measure through the abundance of the revelations, there was given to me a thorn in the flesh, the messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I should be exalted above measure. For this thing I besought the Lord thrice, that it might depart from me. And he said unto me, My grace is sufficient for you: for my strength is made perfect in weakness. Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me.

THERE is scarcely anything in the Scriptures that more deserves our attention than the remarkable instances of answers to prayer. Throughout the whole Bible, if we see any one betake himself to prayer, we may know beforehand the issue of his conflicts: whatever be his difficulties, if only he go to God, saying, "I have no might in myself, but my eyes are unto you," we may be well assured of his success: his petition invariably brings Omnipotence to his support; and he is made more than conqueror over all his adversaries. Paul relates a most encouraging instance respecting himself, wherein he found to his unspeakable comfort the efficacy of prayer. To illustrate it, we shall consider,

I. The trial with which he was so oppressed.

Highly favored as the Apostle was, he was nevertheless bowed down with a heavy affliction.

None, however honored and beloved of God, can hope to escape trouble. "What the particular trial was, with which the Apostle was assaulted, it is impossible to say. The most reasonable conjecture seems to be, that it was something occasioned by his vision, perhaps some distortion of his features, or impediment in his speech, that rendered both his person and his speech contemptible; and of which the false teachers, those "messengers and ministers of Satan," took advantage, to undermine his influence in the Church of God. This to the Apostle, whose heart was wholly bent upon glorifying God, and saving the souls of men, would be a heavy affliction, like "a thorn in the flesh," festering and causing the acutest pain. But, whatever it was, Satan took occasion from it to distress the mind of the Apostle with a far keener anguish than his body could have sustained from the severest blows of men. Nor need we regret that we are ignorant of the precise temptation with which Paul was harassed; since whatever our trials be, we may consider ourselves as in his situation, and obtain relief in the same way that he did.

The reason for which that affliction was sent him, it is of great importance to observe.

The Apostle was not yet perfect: and though he had been caught up into the third heavens, he was yet liable to sin: the seeds of pride were yet in his heart; and they would derive life and vigor even from those very mercies, which, to human appearance, should have had a tendency to destroy them. To counteract this evil of his heart, God sent him a heavy trial. And, if we were more attentive to the ends of God's dispensations towards ourselves, we might always find some good reason for them within our own hearts. Pride is a hateful and accursed evil; and, if suffered to reign within us, will bring us "into the condemnation of the devil," nor, however severe the remedy may be, should we be averse to endure it, if only it may be instrumental to the extirpating of this deeply-rooted propensity. In this case, though Satan may be the agent that inflicts the stroke, God is the kind friend that "gives" it: and though Satan intends us nothing but evil, God overrules it for our good.

The conduct of the Apostle under his trial will be instructive to us, if we consider,

II. The means by which he obtained deliverance from it.

He carried his trouble to a throne of grace.

Paul well knew the efficacy of fervent prayer, and how vain it was to contend with Satan in his own strength. He therefore besought the Lord to extract this thorn, and to relieve him from his distress. The Lord not immediately vouchsafing him an answer, he renewed his petitions with yet greater fervor: and when still no answer came, he became more and more urgent, determining, like Jacob of old, that he would not go without a blessing. This was a certain mean of obtaining deliverance. It was the mean which our Lord himself used under the pressure of that wrath that was due to our sins: He prayed "thrice" that the cup might pass from him. Nor is such urgent prayer at all expressive of a want of resignation to the will of God: it is our privilege and our duty to "call upon God in the time of trouble;" and troubles are often sent for this very purpose, to bring us nearer to God; and are continued for a time, to discover to us more abundantly the condescension of God in the removal of them.

The person, whom he immediately addressed, was the Lord Jesus.

Paul had heard Stephen in the hour of martyrdom calling on the Lord Jesus; and had seen what support was administered to him on that trying occasion. And where should he himself fly but to that same adorable Friend, who is "touched with the feeling of our infirmities," and, "having been in all points tempted like us, is able and willing to support his tempted people" That his petitions were immediately addressed to Christ, is certain; for we are told in the text, that it was Christ who answered him, and on whose promised aid the Apostle was enabled to rely.

In due time he received an answer to his petitions.

At last the suppliant was informed, that the grace of Christ which had already been so abundant in his first conversion, should be "sufficient for him" under every subsequent trial: and that however disheartened the Apostle might be on account of his great and manifold infirmities, he should experience no real evil from them: on the contrary, they should be a source of much good, inasmuch as they should be the means of displaying, and magnifying, the strength of Christ. Thus all cause of complaint was taken away from him, because Satan was sure to be defeated by him, and the work of Christ to be advanced both in his own heart, and by his ministrations in the world. This answer, though not precisely agreeable to the letter of the Apostle's petition, fully corresponded with the spirit of it. Our blessed Lord himself, when "supplicating with strong crying and tears" for the removal of the cup, did not obtain the precise object of his request; yet we are told that he "was heard," because he was strengthened, and enabled to drink it. Thus the Apostle's petitions also were crowned with success. The trial was indeed continued: but the end for which God sent it, was accomplished. Had God removed the thorn, it is possible that the Apostle might have been "exalted above measure," and might thereby have suffered irreparable loss in his soul: but by sanctifying the trouble, God confirmed him in his humility, and rendered him a distinguished instrument of good to his Church.

That the Apostle considered his petition as completely answered, will appear from,

III. The effect which this answer produced upon him.

From this moment all his sorrows were turned into joy.

Paul did not merely submit to the Divine will, and bear with patience a trial which he could not remove; but he even gloried in his tribulations; and made those very infirmities, which just before had been a subject of such pathetic lamentation, an occasion of joy and triumph. It is thus that every Christian is called to manifest his acquiescence in the appointments of Heaven: he should count it all joy when he falls into divers temptations, and, being strengthened unto all patience and long-suffering with joyfulness, he should give thanks unto the Father, who, by trials, is fitting him for glory.

The consideration that Christ would be glorified in him, was sufficient to counterbalance all that lie had suffered, or might yet suffer for his sake.

The honor of Christ was dear unto the Apostle, and should be dear unto all who call themselves Christians. The continuance of the trial in the Apostle's flesh, was an occasion of Christ's more abundant kindness towards him. His compassionate Savior drew near unto him, and dwelt as it were upon him, as God, by the symbol of his presence, had formerly rested on the tabernacle in the wilderness. And as the rebellious Israelites had been constrained to acknowledge the presence of God with Moses, so were Paul's enemies constrained to acknowledge that Christ was with him of a truth. The more weak and contemptible he was in their eyes, the more they must be compelled to glorify Christ, by whom he was strengthened in his spirit, and made successful in his ministrations. And if more glory might be brought to Christ by means of these infirmities, he was not only willing to endure them, but ready to glory in them even unto death.

Exhortation.

Let us inquire into the cause of our troubles.

The rod has a voice which we ought to hear: and, if we would attend to it, it would discover to us many hidden but grievous abominations, which lurk unseen in our hearts; and we should almost invariably find, not only that the chastisement was needed by us, but that it was that very trial which was most of all calculated to promote our spiritual and eternal good.

Let us carry them all to a throne of grace.

It is to little purpose to complain of them to our fellow-creatures: but "God never says to any, Seek you my face in vain." Who could have conceived that Paul should receive such a speedy and effectual answer to his prayer? But if we were alike urgent in our supplications, we should be crowned with the like success.

Let us exercise faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.

He says to us, "Believe in God; believe also in me." He is God, equal with the Father; and "in him all fullness dwells." His promise is addressed to all his suffering and tempted people; and the truth of it shall be experienced by them all. Only let us believe in him; and no adversary shall be too strong, no calamity too heavy, no duty too difficult; for "all things are possible to him that believes."

 

MMXLIV

A Sense of Weakness Conducive to Strength

2 Corinthians 12:10. When I am weak, then am I strong.

THERE are many things in Scripture which appear inconsistent and contrary to truth. Christ is represented as God, and yet a man; as the Lord of David, and yet his son; as a lion, and yet a lamb. And, as his person is thus variously described, so is his work: he is said to heal us by his own stripes, and to give us life by his death. But, however strange such expressions may seem, they contain many important truths. In the same manner the Apostle's words, which we have now read, may be thought to imply a contradiction: but they accord with the experience of all God's people, and justly deserve the most attentive consideration.

In discoursing on this paradoxical assertion, we shall illustrate, confirm, and improve it.

I. Illustrate it.

A part of David's history will help us to elucidate the words before us.

When the champion of the Philistines defied, and terrified, the whole army of Israel, David, "a stripling," without armor, defensive or offensive (except a sling and a stone), went forth against him; and, though unused to war himself, entered into combat with that experienced and mighty warrior. But the weaker he was in himself, the more confident was he in his God; and instead of being intimidated by the threatening aspect and boasting menaces of his adversary, he was as assured of victory, as if he had seen his enemy already under his feet.

But the context will give the best clew to the Apostle's meaning.

Paul labored under a heavy trial, which he calls a thorn in his flesh. Apprehensive that this would counteract his usefulness in the world, he cried most earnestly to the Lord Jesus Christ to remove it from him. But the Lord, not judging it expedient to grant him his request, promised him (what was incomparably better) more abundant communications of grace, whereby he should obtain in a more advantageous manner the desires of his soul. Observe the effect—Paul remained as weak as ever; but, being persuaded that Christ's power should be the more magnified through his weakness, he was satisfied; yes, rather, he made that a matter of joy and triumph, which had just before been a source of the greatest trouble. He was well assured that, however unable he was in himself either to bear his trials, or to fulfill his duties, he could not but succeed, when his Almighty Friend was pledged to support and support him.

The Apostle's assertion being equally applicable to all believers, we shall,

II. Confirm it.

A sense of weakness necessarily tends to make us strong, inasmuch as it makes us,

1. Watchful against temptations.

If we conceive ourselves to be strong, we shall be fearless of temptation; and by exposing ourselves to it, shall be in greater danger of falling: whereas, if we feel our utter weakness, we shall not only pray, "Lead us not into temptation," but shall carefully shun the places, the books, the company, that may ensnare us. Like Joseph, we shall not parley with the tempter, but flee in haste: or, if we cannot flee, we shall oppose our enemy at first; and thus vanquish that, which, if it had time to gather strength, would soon vanquish us.

2. Importunate in prayer.

It is the sick alone who calls for a physician; they who are strong in their own conceit, will never pray in earnest; but he who feels his need of divine assistance will seek it at a throne of grace. Now if we do not pray for God's aid, we cannot receive it; and therefore in the hour of trial shall surely fail. But, if we pray with importunity and faith, we shall obtain the things we ask for; and consequently shall be upheld, while others fall. It was by this means that Paul obtained strength; "he prayed to the Lord thrice," the answer given to his petition dissipated all his fears, and strengthened him with might in his inner man: and similar means will always be attended with similar success.

3. Dependent on the Lord Jesus Christ.

In proportion as we fancy ourselves strong, we must of necessity confide in our own strength; the consequence of which may be sufficiently seen in the repeated falls of Peter. Being strong in his own apprehension, he proved himself lamentably weak. But, if we are conscious that we are wholly without strength, and can do nothing of ourselves, we shall be more simple and uniform in our dependence on Christ. Now Christ will never suffer those who trust in him to be confounded. He would consider it as an impeachment of his own veracity, if he did not give them "grace sufficient for them;" consequently we never are so truly strong, as when we are deeply convinced of our own utter impotence.

This truth enters deeply into the experience of all the Lord's people: we shall therefore endeavor to,

III. Improve it.

Among the various lessons which it teaches us, let us especially learn two:

1. Not to be too much elated on account of any manifestations of the Divine favor.

Paul was caught up into the third heavens; but soon afterwards we behold him crying, with much anguish of mind, under a severe affliction. Thus it may soon be with us. Indeed the seasons most distinguished by God's favor to us, are often most distinguished also by Satan's malice. It was immediately after they had received peculiar tokens of God's love, that he assaulted Paul, and Peter, and Christ himself. Let us then, when most highly favored, "rejoice with trembling," and not while harnessed, boast as if we had put off our armor.

2. Not to be too much dejected on account of our manifold infirmities.

Jacob was lamed by God himself, that he might know he had not prevailed by his own strength. And Paul had a thorn in the flesh given him, "lest he should be exalted above measure." Now our infirmities are very painful: but they are necessary, in order to keep alive in our minds a remembrance of our own weakness and vileness: and, if we do but carry them to God in fervent prayer, he will glorify himself by means of them, and "perfect his strength in our weakness." "Let the weak then say, I am strong;" let them "be strong in the Lord, and in the power of his might;" and, doubtless, they shall receive that effectual support which believers, in all ages, have experienced, and shall invariably find their "strength according to their day" of trial.

 

MMXLV

The Duty of Ministers

2 Corinthians 12:14. I seek not yours, but you.

UNSELFISHNESS, in whatever it appears, is universally admired—But most of all does its excellency appear, when it is manifested in the service of the sanctuary. The ministers, whom the prophet represents as "greedy dogs that could never have enough," and who would "not so much as shut the doors of the temple, or kindle a fire on the altar for nothing," must be considered by every one as the most contemptible of men: whereas the appeal which the Apostle makes to the Church at Corinth, cannot fail of exalting his character in the eyes of all. We may learn from this declaration,

I. The paramount duty of ministers.

Ministers are the pastors of their flock; and ought to watch over them as parents over their children. Now a parent does not exercise kindness to his children from a selfish consideration of the profit which he may one day make of them, but from a real delight in their welfare; and he regards their happiness as his reward. Thus a minister must seek,

1. Not his own advantage.

To obtain honor and emolument is ardently desired by carnal and worldly men: but a minister of God must be superior to such low pursuits. He must not court the favor of men. He ought indeed to avoid needless offence both in his preaching and conduct: he should "choose out acceptable words," and endeavor to "please all men for their good to edification," but he must not conceal or adulterate any single expression of the word of God, or attempt to set forth the truths of God in a fascinating manner, for the purpose of gaining applause, or of shunning persecution: he must faithfully "declare the whole counsel of God," and "commend himself to every man's conscience in the sight of God," and, if he do not preach in this manner, "he cannot be a servant of Jesus Christ."

Neither must he seek to enrich himself with their property: "Those who serve at the altar have a right to live of the altar," "The ox was not to be muzzled, while he was treading out the corn." "The laborer is worthy of his hire." But the obtaining of a maintenance should not in the least degree operate with a minister as an inducement to undertake or execute his high office. If he were actuated by such a principle as this, he would degrade himself to a mere hireling. Nor can he suffer so mean a principle to influence him at all in his work, without greatly diminishing the value of his services, and their acceptableness in the sight of God. The injunction given to Christians in general should be regarded with peculiar scrupulosity by him, "Let no man seek his own, but every man another's wealth."

2. The advantage only of his flock.

Their sincere conversion to God, their progressive edification in faith and love, and their final everlasting salvation, are to be the unvaried aim of all his labors. "He must lift up his voice like a trumpet, and show the house of Israel their sins." He must not be satisfied with effecting a change in their sentiments and external conduct, but must continue "travailing in birth with them, until Christ be manifestly formed in their hearts." When that end is attained, his care of them, instead of being relaxed, must be increased. They still need his unremitting exertions, to administer to their numerous wants, and to give them from time to time that direction and encouragement which their necessities require. As long as they continue in this world, he is God's minister to them for good, and the medium through whom he will communicate to them the blessings of grace and peace. He is to live for them, to the end that he may be "an helper of their joy," and "perfect that which is lacking in their faith." This is to be his one employment; and he is to consider the salvation of their souls his richest recompense.

This subject naturally involves in it,

II. The corresponding duty of the people.

The relation of pastor and flock, like every other relation in life, has its peculiar and appropriate obligations. Those which arise out of the text, as pertaining to the people, are,

1. To seek above all things the salvation of their own souls.

We are far from saying that people are not to attend to their temporal concerns: on the contrary, we affirm, that a neglect of their worldly business is exceeding criminal in the sight of God; that their duties in civil and social life are as much to be attended to as any other duties whatever; and that their families and dependents would have just cause of complaint, if their temporal interests were disregarded. But still, the first of all duties is, the care of our own souls. Nothing can equal the value of the soul: "if we would gain the whole world, and lose our own soul, what should we be profited?" If a minister must not suffer any earthly interests to stand in competition with the souls of his people, how much less should the people suffer them to stand in competition with their own souls! In this view their duty is very strongly marked; and the reasonableness of attending to it is incontrovertibly established.

2. To improve the ministry with all diligence.

It has been shown that ministers should invariably keep in view the salvation of their hearers. What then should the hearers do when about to attend upon the means of grace? Should they not bear in mind their own responsibility for their due improvement of the ordinances? Should they not pray earnestly to God to prepare their hearts for the reception of divine truth, and to accompany it with the effectual working of his almighty power? Should they not entreat him to give unto their minister "a mouth and wisdom which none shall be able to gainsay or resist;" and to direct him "how to speak a word in season to their weary souls?" In short, should they not be as solicitous to receive, as their minister can be to communicate, good; and should not every other consideration be regarded as a matter of comparative indifference? Happy would it be for the Church of God, and happy for the world at large, if such dispositions obtained among the hearers, wherever the Gospel is proclaimed!

Application.

We ask, What is the improvement which you have made of our ministry? We presume not to compare ourselves with the holy Apostle: we know full well how remote we are from him in every attainment: yet we hope that, in some small measure, we may adopt his language in the text, and say, "We seek not yours, but you." (Would to God that we could affirm it as fully, and as confidently, as Paul himself!) Let each of you then put the question to himself, and ask, Whether the pursuit of your own salvation be the one concern which swallows up, as it were, all others? At least, are all other things comparatively worthless in your eyes? And are you, "as new-born babes, desiring the sincere milk of the word, that you may grow thereby?" Remember that, if we must give an account of your souls to God, much more must you give an account of your own souls; and the more our exertions for you are increased, the more will your condemnation be aggravated, if the prove ineffectual for your salvation.

 

MMXLVI

The Power of the Risen Savior

2 Corinthians 13:4. Though he was crucified through weakness, yet he lives by the power of God. For we also are weak in him, but we shall live with him by the power of God toward you.

AMONG the evidences of our holy religion, there are many which are of a recondite nature; and which, as superadded to those which are more obvious, are of great importance. The passage before us affords a strong proof that the Apostle Paul was no impostor. Suppose that he knew himself to have been acting the part of a deceiver, he would be extremely careful not to offend and irritate those who might detect his treachery. But behold, when he had occasion to reprove the Corinthians for their unchristian practices, he declared, that, if they persisted in them, he would exert his apostolical authority, and inflict upon them, in the Savior's name, some heavy judgment. Now, if he had not known that such an authority was delegated to him, and that the Lord Jesus Christ himself would uphold him in the exercise of it, he would not have ventured to utter such a threat as this; because it would, of necessity, lead to an exposure of his own weakness, and to the overthrow of that religion which he was endeavoring to establish.

The power of Christ, which he here asserts, must be considered by us in a twofold view:

I. As possessed by himself.

In his crucifixion, he appeared weak.

He did indeed exhibit somewhat of his almighty power, in beating to the ground with a mere word all the soldiers who came to apprehend him. And at the bar of Pilate he declared, that his judge could have no power at all against him, except it were given him from above. He could, if he had seen fit, have had twelve legions of angels sent to rescue him. But he had previously determined to submit to all the indignities which they should offer him. In the prophetic writings concerning him it had been foretold, that he should give his back to the smiters, and his cheeks to them that plucked off the hair; yes, that he should go as a lamb to the slaughter, and, as a sheep before its shearers, not so much as open his mouth in murmurings or complaints. Accordingly, he submitted to everything with such meek resignation, that he appeared to his enemies to be incapable of delivering himself from their hands. With this, the people around him taunted him, saying, "You that destroy the temple, and build it in three days, save yourself. If you be the Son of God, come down from the cross. Likewise also the chief priests, mocking him, with the scribes and elders, said, He saved others; himself he cannot save. If he be the King of Israel, let him now come down from the cross, and we will believe him. He trusted in God; let Him deliver him now, if he will have him: for he said, I am the Son of God." Thus, in apparent weakness, he died.

But he still lives by the power of God.

In vain were all the precautions taken by his enemies: the stone, the seal, the guard, were not able to detain him a prisoner in the grave. At the time he had foretold, he burst the bonds of death, by which it was impossible he should be held, and rose triumphant; and in due season ascended to the right band of his Father, far above all principalities and powers, whether in Heaven or in Hell. There He possesses all power in Heaven and in earth: there are all things committed to his hands: there is He, in a more especial manner, made Head over all things to his Church, to every individual of which he imparts whatever is needful for him—And there will he reign, until he has put all enemies under his feet.

In connection with this must we contemplate his power,

II. As delegated to his ministers.

The Apostles were invested with miraculous powers: which, when moved to it by him, they exercised, sometimes in a way of mercy, and sometimes also in a way of judgment. Paul had, by the authority committed to him, delivered to Satan, Hymeneus and Philetus, and the incestuous Corinthian: and, with a similar judgment, he threatened to visit other refractory persons at Corinth, if they should persist in their contemptuous and profane conduct. Those powers have long since ceased in the Church: but others are transmitted to God's faithful ministers in all ages.

Ministers are weak, like their divine Master.

Paul himself was, in all his sufferings, conformed to his blessed Lord; and, in enduring them, appeared weak as He. And ministers at this day are exposed to the same trials, which they are to bear in the same submissive manner. And so weak do they appear, that persons of every description, the poor as well as the rich, the young as well as the old, will venture to insult and injure them.

But, through Him, they also are strong.

Every word which they speak in their Master's name, supposing it to be really in accordance with the written word, shall be ratified in Heaven: "what they bind on earth, shall be bound in Heaven; and what they loose on earth, shall be loosed in Heaven." In them the Lord Jesus Christ will evince his own almighty power. He will manifest it in them personally; enabling them to sustain all their trials with fortitude, and to perform all their duties with fidelity—And he will manifest it by them ministerially, accompanying their word with power from on high, and enabling them to raise to newness of life those who were "dead in trespasses and sins." There was not a miracle wrought by our Lord in the days of his flesh, which, in a spiritual sense, he does not yet work by all his faithful ministers. Their cause, too, will he maintain against all their adversaries; and he will, before long, make it visible to all, that those who have persecuted them, have persecuted Him; and that they who have "touched them, have touched the apple of his eye."

Let me, from this subject, exhort you,

1. To look to the Lord Jesus Christ for all you want.

Look not unto man, as though he were able to supply your wants. "Paul himself may plant, and Apollos water; but it is God alone that can give the increase." The Lord Jesus Christ is "exalted to be a Prince and a Savior." He is the Head of all vital influence. He has a fullness of all things committed to him for you: and "out of his fullness you may receive, at all times, grace," answerable to the grace that there is in him.

2. Never to be discouraged on account of your weakness.

You are weak; but "your Redeemer is strong," yes, "there is help laid for you upon One that is mighty." Conceive of yourselves as reduced even to as helpless a state as Christ himself was, when dead upon the cross, and buried in the grave. Shall you despair? No, your weakness shall only be an occasion for the more glorious manifestation of God's power in the season of your greatest need. Only be strong in the Lord, and in the power of his might; and in due season the whole power of the Godhead, which was displayed in Christ in raising him from the dead, shall be displayed in you; and you, like him, shall, in God's appointed time, be exalted to his throne, and be a partaker of his kingdom forever and ever.

 

MMXLVII

Self-Examination Recommended

2 Corinthians 13:5. Examine yourselves, whether you be in the faith; prove your own selves. Know you not your own selves, how that Jesus Christ is in you, except you be reprobates?

IT is generally, perhaps always, found, that they who are most forward to censure others, have most need of personal reformation. So it certainly was with those who labored to injure the character, and undermine the influence, of the Apostle Paul. While they accused him as a weak, ignorant impostor, pretending to a heavenly commission which he had never received, they were in reality no other than ministers of Satan, scattering the flocks which they pretended to feed. Hence they constrained the Apostle to declare, that his forbearance towards them had a limit, and that their defiance of him, if further persisted in, would terminate before long in their own confusion. To prevent so painful an issue, he entreated them to examine themselves as to their spirit and conduct; and to beware lest, after all their boastings, they should be disapproved of their God at last.

But it is not to persons only who are so circumstanced that the exhortation ought to be addressed: it is of universal importance; and highly proper for our consideration at all times.

Let us then consider,

I. The duty to which we are here called.

Self-examination is a duty incumbent upon all.—But, instead of entering generally into the subject, we will confine our attention to two things:

1. The point more especially suggested for our inquiry.

The great question for every man to have settled in his mind and conscience is, whether he be in the faith, or whether he be yet in unbelief? To ascertain this point, we should ask ourselves, whether we have ever come to Christ as sinners, pleading for mercy solely through the blood of his cross, and "desiring to be found in him," accepted altogether through his meritorious death and passion? Yet, not content with this, we should prosecute the inquiry further, and ask, whether we be daily living by faith in the Lord Jesus, and receiving everything out of his fullness? Nor must we rest, even though we should receive a favorable testimony from our consciences in this matter: we must examine yet farther the fruits of our faith, and see whether it produce such a life as proves it to be "the faith of God's elect?" If our self-examination proceed not thus far, it will leave us as much under the power of self-deceit, as if we took no pains at all to investigate our state. These are the points which are of vital interest to every true Christian; and by them must the truth of our profession, and the safety of our state, be determined.

2. The manner of conducting that inquiry.

The words, "prove your own selves," are not a mere repetition: they are intended to mark more particularly the care and accuracy with which the investigation should be made. The Apostle refers to the trying of metals, in order to find what measure of alloy or dross may be in them. Not to mention the care exercised by the refiner, we all know what care is taken in reference to gold, even when there are but a few pieces of golden coin to be received. We subject it to the closest inspection; we mark its color, its sound, and, if there be any doubt, its size and weight, that we may not be deceived by counterfeits under the appearance of standard coin. Shall we then take so much pains about things of little value, and neglect the soul which is of more value than ten thousand worlds? Should not rather our care increase in proportion to the loss which we may possibly sustain? This then is the manner in which we should inquire into the concerns of our souls, and more especially into that on which beyond all others the welfare of our souls depends.

To impress the more deeply on our minds this duty, the Apostle suggests,

II. The importance of discharging it with all diligence.

We ought to know our own selves.

Each other we cannot know; seeing that both the best and the worst of every man is hid from human observation, and can be appreciated only by Him who searches the heart. But with "ourselves" we may be, and ought to be, acquainted. God has given to us an understanding, that we may know the quality of our actions; a memory, that we may trace them to their proper source; and a conscience, that we may pass sentence on ourselves according to our true character. Ignorance of ourselves is the worst of all ignorance: we may be ignorant of everything else, and yet come to God in Christ Jesus with acceptance: but if we are ignorant of ourselves, we must of necessity be unhumbled and impenitent, and consequently objects of God's utter abhorrence. The very manner in which the Apostle asks the question, "Know you not your own selves?" shows, that self-ignorance is a just ground for self-reproach.

Whatever we may think of ourselves, "if Christ be not in us, we are reprobates."

The term "reprobates" conveys a much harsher idea than is contained in the original. The Apostle, having bidden us prove our own selves as metals are tried and proved, tells us that, if in the issue we be found without Christ, we shall be regarded by our God as base metal, or as dross: we shall be disapproved, and rejected. And this is the very truth of God. If "Christ dwell in our hearts by faith," it is well: but if he be not in us, by his Spirit, by his influence, by his grace, we are mere counterfeits, and no better; we may pass current here, if I may so say, but we shall be detected and discarded in the great day of account—And is this a truth unknown to us? Has not God expressly said, that "Christ is our life," and that, "If any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of his?" How comes it then that this sentiment is ever doubted for one moment? Beloved brethren, neither the truth itself, nor its bearing on your own state before God, ought to be unknown to any of you. You ought to have the experience of it in your souls, and the evidence of it in your lives: nor should you ever cease to examine and prove yourselves until you are assured, on truly scriptural grounds, that "Christ has indeed been formed in you," and that you are so "joined to him as to be one spirit with him."

Permit me, in conclusion, to urge upon you this duty, from two important considerations: Consider,

1. The danger of self-deception.

The great mass of mankind deceive their own souls: the generality perform not this duty at all: and, of those who do, few carry it to a due extent. It is not sufficient to inquire into our external conduct: we must inquire into the life of faith upon the Son of God, and see how far that is realized in us. That, if we be tolerably right in external matters, we are apt to take for granted: but we must make that, above all, the subject of our diligent inquiry; because, if Christ be not in us, there is nothing in us that can ever be approved of by our God—O what a fearful thing will it be to be found dross at the last!—Remember, "Not he who commends himself is approved, but he whom the Lord commends."

2. The comfort of a self-approving conscience.

Paul felt this in a very high degree; and we also may enjoy it, if it be not our own fault. Some deride the idea of marks and evidences, and maintain that the Christian has no need of paying any attention to them. But, how we are to "examine and prove ourselves" without them, is beyond their power to inform us, and of mine to conceive. We must bring ourselves to the test of God's word: and if, from a diligent comparison of ourselves with the commands of God and the examples of his holy Apostles, we find that our experience is such as is required of us in the Gospel, then may we rejoice both in the retrospect of our past lives, and in the prospect of the future judgment: "if our heart condemn us, God is greater than our hearts, and knows all things: but if our heart condemn us not, then have we confidence towards God."

 

MMXLVIII

The Apostolical Blessing

2 Corinthians 13:14. The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit, be with you all. Amen.

THE priests, under the law, were appointed to bless the people. The ministers of the Gospel also may consider this as a part of their office. All Paul's epistles begin or end with an authoritative blessing: that before us is more full and comprehensive than any other.

We shall endeavor to point out,

I. Its meaning.

Various are the senses in which these words have been understood. We shall content ourselves with stating what we apprehend to be the best.

The "grace of Christ" is that grace which he communicates.

There is a fullness of grace treasured up in Christ: out of that all his people are to received; and all who depend upon it, shall find it sufficient for them.

The "love of God" is a sense of reconciliation and acceptance with him.

For this we are prepared by the grace of Christ; and by it we are brought to regard God as our Father and our Friend.

The "communion of the Holy Spirit" imports the abiding influence of the Spirit.

There are sublime communications of the Spirit, which the people of God receive. These are represented as a Spirit of adoption, a witness, a seal, an earnest of their eternal inheritance. By these they are enabled confidently to depend on God, and to delight themselves habitually in him; and by these they maintain continual fellowship with the Father and the Soul.

That all of these might be enjoyed by the Christians at Corinth, was the earnest wish and prayer of the Apostle.

They were not gifts peculiar to a few of the most exalted saints: they were the common privilege of "all" who truly believed; and are to be experienced now, as well as in former ages. We should therefore in the word, "Amen," express our own fervent desire to partake of them.

Having ascertained the meaning of this blessing, let us notice,

II. Its importance.

This will be manifest to all, if only we inquire,

1. What should we be without "the grace of Christ?"

Beyond a doubt we should be "dead in trespasses and sins." There is no other source of grace, but the Lord Jesus Christ: there is no substitute for grace that can have equal efficacy: there is no life without grace to any soul of man.

2. What should we be without "the love of God?"

There is no medium between a state of friendship with God, or of enmity against him. If we be not objects of his love and favor, we must be of his just and heavy displeasure.

3. What should we be without the "communion of the Holy Spirit?"

There is no access to God but by the Holy Spirit. If we be not brought to God by the Spirit, we must be afar off from him; and if we are without God, we are absolutely without hope. Such a state is a prelude to that which will exist forever.

Can anything more strongly mark the importance of this blessing than such considerations? But let us proceed to notice,

III. Its excellence.

In the text is comprehended all that is great and glorious.

1. It unfolds to us the deepest mysteries.

All the persons in the ever-blessed Trinity sustain distinct offices in the work of redemption. The Christian has, as it were, distinct communion with each of these divine persons. From each he receives that which his state requires; and from their combined influence arises his full salvation. How unsearchable are the heights and depths of this stupendous mystery!

2. It opens to us the most glorious privileges and blessings.

What on earth can be compared with these blessings? Contemplate "the grace of Christ," by which the dead are quickened, the vile are sanctified, the weak are made victorious. As for "the love of God," say, you glorified saints, what that means; or, you damned spirits, who know it only by your hopeless bereavement. And who can declare what "the communion of the Holy Spirit" is, when the taste of it creates a very Heaven upon earth? Would to God, that the words so often, and so carelessly repeated by us, were more deeply considered, and more richly experienced!

Learn then from hence,

1. The proper object of a Christian's ambition.

Earthly honors and carnal pleasures are unworthy of his pursuit; he should be satisfied with nothing but the full attainment of these blessings.

2. The benefit of fervent prayer.

We may ask the smallest things of man, and be disappointed of our hope: we may ask all that the blessed Trinity can give us, without fear of disappointment.

3. The misery of those who are careless about religion.

These blessings will not be bestowed unless we seek them; and, if we possess them not, we are poor indeed: if we die before we have attained them, it were better for us that we had never been born.