Charles Simeon's Devotional Commentaries
Charity the True Scope of the Gospel
1 Timothy 1:5. Now the end of the commandment is charity out of a pure heart, and of a good, conscience, and of faith sincere.
THE Gospel of Christ is thought by many to be a source of evil: and certain it is, that evils have frequently followed in its train. But we must distinguish between two things, which are very often confounded; namely, the cause of evil, and the occasion of evil. There is not any blessing which divine Providence has bestowed upon us, which may not be an occasion of evil, if it be not used in the manner, and for the ends for which it was intended. Our corporeal and mental faculties may be all abused, for the production of evil; and all the fruits of the earth may be made subservient to the gratification of inordinate desire. This has happened in relation to the Gospel. Even in the primitive Churches, some, instead of delivering their divine message with the simplicity that became them, made it, in many instances, an occasion of promulgating their own vain and superstitious notions; thus administering to strife and contention, where they should have labored only for the edification of souls in faith and love. Paul, in order to correct this, directed Timothy to protest against it, as an abuse of the Gospel; and to make it appear, that the Gospel was in no respect to be blamed for these evils; since, in its own nature, it tended only to love: "The end of the commandment is charity out of a pure heart, and of a good conscience, and of faith sincere."
From these words I shall take occasion to show,
I. What is the true scope of the Gospel, as contrasted with the use too often made of it.
The use too often made of it has been, to spread disputation and division.
To such a degree did this evil obtain at Ephesus, that Paul, when going into Macedonia, was constrained to deprive himself of the comfort of Timothy's society, in order that he, by abiding still at Ephesus, might charge the teachers to confine themselves to the great truths of the Gospel, instead of "giving heed to fables and endless genealogies," as they were accustomed to do; "whereby they ministered to vain questions, rather than to godly edifying." This lamentable evil prevailed also at Colosse; and, more or less, in all the Churches. Jewish converts would insist upon some favorite observances of their law, which was now abrogated and annulled: and the Gentile converts strove to blend with the Gospel the notions of their philosophers: so that the Apostle was constrained to guard the people against both the one and the other; bidding them to "beware, lest any man should spoil them through philosophy and vain deceit, after the tradition of men, after the rudiments of the world, and not after Christ."
In every subsequent age, the Church has been torn and rent with heresies of different kinds; so that, in fact, the history of the Church contains rather a record of successive contentions between different parties in it, than any account of practical and experimental piety. The smallest knowledge of ecclesiastical history will suffice to convince us of this deplorable fact.
And what is the state of things at this day? Is there anything like unity in the Church of Christ? The seamless garb of our adorable Savior is rent into a thousand pieces. On all the leading subjects of doctrine and of discipline, there is in the Church, not merely a diversity of sentiment, but a violent hostility; whole Churches anathematizing each other, and individuals ready to "bite and devour one another" as enemies to the public weal. Nor is this acrimony confined to those who differ on fundamental points, as Papists and Protestants: it obtains equally among those who are agreed in professing the reformed religion; and sets at a distance from each other the Calvinist and Arminian, the Churchman and Dissenter, as if there were no common bond of union for them in Christ Jesus. This is cast in our teeth by the Papist, from whom we have separated: and it lays a stumbling-block before the Jew; who, with some shadow of justice, says to us, "Call not on me to embrace your religion, until you are yourselves agreed what that religion is."
But the proper end of the Gospel is charity.
"The commandment" of which the text speaks, is, by some, supposed to mean the law; and, by others, the particular injunction given by Paul to Timothy. But its connection with "the pure heart, and good conscience, and sincere faith," from which "the charity, which is its end," proceeds, clearly shows, in my judgment, that it must be understood of the Gospel.
Now the end of the Gospel is love; its chief object being to bring man back again to the state in which he was originally formed, and to renew him after the image of God, whose name and nature is love. Fallen man possesses it not: he is by nature altogether selfish; and whatever stands in the way of self-gratification and self-advancement, he hates. Hence man universally opposes his fellow-man, as soon as ever a prospect opens to him of promoting his own interests, though at the expense of his neighbor's welfare. In nations, whether civilized or uncivilized, this universally appears. The same is found in rival societies; yes, to such a degree does this malignant spirit operate, that it is a miracle if even a single family be found altogether united in love. But these malignant passions are mortified and subdued by the Gospel; according to that prediction of the Prophet Isaiah: "The wolf shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid; and the calf, and the young lion, and the fatling together; and a little child shall lead theme." In confirmation of this truth, we need only look to the day of Pentecost, and see what a change was wrought on the most malignant characters that ever disgraced our fallen nature: three thousand of them, who had but a few hours before concurred in shedding the Savior's blood, became all of one heart and one mind, and gladly surrendered all that they possessed, with a view to the welfare of the whole body. Not that the Gospel will prevent all difference of sentiment among men; for, constituted as the human mind is, and different as are the degrees of man's information upon different subjects, it is not possible that all men should have precisely the same views, even of any subject, and much less of all; but it will induce a mutual forbearance, in reference to things that are dubious and non-essential; and will form all the variously-constructed members into one harmonious and compact body. And unless it have this effect, it leaves us without any hope of its ultimate and eternal blessings.
It is of great importance, however, to be informed,
II. When that end may be said to be truly and properly attained.
The love here spoken of is not that which exists in the bosom of the natural man; nor is it that which is engendered by a party-spirit: it is a love formed by the Gospel, through the instrumentality of "a pure heart, and a good conscience, and of faith sincere." Such is the account given of it in the text; and it is of importance to observe the order in which these words are introduced. "a pure heart" is first mentioned, as being the proximate cause of love: in the production of which, "a good conscience" operates as a more remote cause; while its primary cause, which sets the others in motion, is, "an sincere faith."
These are the immediate effects of the Gospel.
The Gospel, bringing home conviction to the soul, creates there "an sincere faith," without which no one of its truths can be received aright. The faith that is insincere, like that of Simon Magus, will soon betray its worthlessness; nor can it ever prevail for the subjugation of our selfish propensities. But when the Gospel leads us to embrace the Lord Jesus Christ in all his offices, and to look for salvation through him alone, then it will bring with it "a good conscience," purged from all sense of guilt, and filled with a peace that passes all understanding. Thence will flow a purification of the heart from everything that is "earthly, sensual, or devilish," and a transformation of the soul into the Divine image. Only let a man so embrace "the promises" as to obtain peace with God, and he will instantly begin to "cleanse himself from all filthiness, both of flesh and spirit, and to perfect holiness in the fear of God." Having a good hope that he is "accepted in Christ," he will labor to purify himself, even as Christ is pure."
Then, through the combined influence of these, it works its destined end.
The soul is, by nature, narrow and contracted: its desires both originate in self, and end in self. Self is its center and circumference. The natural man will indeed assume, on many occasions, an appearance of generosity; but, of the "charity that suffers long, and is kind; that envies not; that vaunts not itself; that does not behave itself unseemly; that seeks not her own, is not easily provoked, thinks no evil: rejoices not in iniquity, but rejoices in the truth; that bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things;" of that charity, I say, he knows nothing. But the Gospel expands the soul; filling it with a sense of the Savior's love, and stirring it up to a holy imitation of it; and bringing home to it, with irresistible force, this blessed truth, "If God so loved us, we ought also to love one another." Thus, at the same time that it disposes the soul for love, it also forms love in the soul. It brings men into the closest union with the Lord Jesus Christ, and with each other in him, so as to make of all "one body in Christ." All look to him as their common head; and all regard each other as members of the same mystical body; and, in consequence of that union, are penetrated with a love that is reciprocal and universal. The degree of affection that is experienced by them is unknown in the whole world besides. The union, that from thenceforth exists between them, is so close, that nothing short of the union between Almighty God and his only dear Son can adequately describe it. This is what the Lord Jesus Christ himself has affirmed: "I pray for them, that they all may be one, as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they may all be one in us. And the glory which you have given me, I have given them, that they all may be one, even as we are one; I in them, and you in me, that they may be made perfect in one."
This, then, may suffice to show us, not only what the true end of the Gospel is, but when that end may be said to be truly and properly attained: for it never is truly wrought in us, until we are brought into this union with each other in Christ, and are made to exercise the dispositions which must necessarily result from it.
That I may not be thought to have insisted too strongly on this matter, let me confirm it from the express declaration of an inspired Apostle; a declaration in which not only the same truth is maintained, but the very same process is accurately described. Peter, speaking to his believing brethren throughout all the world, says, "Seeing you have purified your souls in obeying the truth, through the Spirit, unto sincere love of the brethren, see that you love one another with a pure heart fervently."
Let me now address a few words to you on the subject of the Gospel,
1. In reference to its primary operations.
The peculiar process here described is not alike visible in all: in some it advances rapidly; in others with a more tardy step. But it must be found in all.
Brethren, see to it, that "your faith" in the Gospel be "sincere." It must be such a faith as brings you, in penitential sorrow and utter self-renunciation, to the foot of the Cross; and causes you to "live altogether by faith in the Son of God, as having loved you, and given himself for you." See to it, also, that you obtain "a good conscience." There must not be a day or an hour in which you do not apply "the blood of sprinkling" to your souls: for it is by that only that "your conscience can be purged from dead works to serve the living God." Take care, too, that your heart be purified from all "earthly, sensual, and devilish" affections. No evil whatever must be harbored in your bosom. The whole of your life must be occupied in "putting off the old man, which is corrupt according to the deceitful lusts; and in putting on the new man, which, after God, is created in righteousness and true holiness." These things are absolutely indispensable: and if the Gospel produce them not in your souls, it is in vain for you to expect any blessing from it in the world to come.
2. In reference to its ultimate effect.
Never forget what is the great scope and end of all: it is not to save your soul from destruction, but to save your soul from sin. Heaven is a region of love; and no man could be happy there who has not been previously "rendered meet for it" in this world. He would be out of his element: he would have no delight in God himself, nor any sympathy with those who were around his throne. Away, then, with selfishness, and apathy, and party-spirit; and begin to realize a Heaven upon earth. This is the way to fulfill the law; this is the way to adorn the Gospel; this is the way to answer all God's purposes of love towards you. Remember this, then, I pray you. And as I am "charged of God to teach no other doctrine among you," so I must charge you, in the name of God, to receive no other among yourselves. You will find persons without number ready to obtrude upon you some matters of doubtful disputation; yes, and within your own bosoms you will find much to contend with that is contrary to love. But set the Lord Jesus Christ before you. See how love burned in his bosom, until "his zeal had even consumed him," and until he had surrendered his life upon the cross. So grow you up into him in all things: and as you have been taught of God to "love one another, see that you increase more and more."
The Law Good, If Used Aright
1 Timothy 1:8. We know that the law is good, if a man use it lawfully.
TO live under the government of laws that are wisely enacted and well administered, is a blessing of no ordinary kind. But the best of laws, if perverted to ends which were never contemplated by the legislature, may be made sources and instruments of the most grievous oppression. In like manner, even the law of God itself may be abused, and, through the perversion of it, be made injurious to the souls of men. Of this there is abundant evidence in the passage before us; where we find persons turning the Scriptures into an occasion of dispute; and occupying themselves with subjects which ministered to "vain jangling," rather than to "edification in the faith of Christ." This, however, afforded no just objection to the law itself; for that was good, and "must ever be good, if only it be used lawfully," according to the ends for which it was given.
In confirming the Apostle's assertion, I shall consider it,
I. In reference to the law which belonged exclusively to the Jewish people.
The Jewish dispensation itself was good, as being well adapted to the persons to whom it was given, and for the purposes for which it was established. God intended to keep the posterity of Abraham a separate and distinct people; and, in due time, to bring forth from them, and in the midst of them, the promised Messiah. For this end were ordinances given to them; even such ordinances, as, if observed, must prevent them from ever becoming blended with the other nations of the earth. Still, if this dispensation were regarded as of universal and perpetual obligation, its excellence would wholly disappear.
But, to speak more particularly of the whole Ceremonial Law, which formed the great line of distinction between them and others; this was good:
It was good, I say, if used lawfully.
The ceremonial law was intended to shadow forth the mysteries of the Gospel, the privileges of the Gospel, the duties of the Gospel; and thereby to prepare men for the Gospel itself.
Does the Gospel hold forth to us the incarnation of our Lord Jesus Christ, and his substitution in the place of sinful man, and the reconciliation effected between God and man by the blood of his cross? Does it declare, that, by the operation of the Spirit of God upon the soul of man, the most polluted of sinners may be sanctified and saved? All this was shadowed forth by the special presence of the Deity in the most holy place; by the sacrifices offered upon the altar; by their blood sprinkled upon the mercy-seat; and by all the various washings and sprinklings which were appointed for the cleansing of the offerers, and of everything connected with them. Even the offices of Christ were distinctly marked: as the Sacrifice, he bled, while, as the great High Priest, he offered up himself; and with his own blood he entered within the veil, there to offer up continual intercession in behalf of those for whom he died. The more this subject is prosecuted, the more excellent will that law appear, which so minutely exhibited every part of this mysterious dispensation.
The privileges too, that are enjoyed by means of the Gospel, are no less clearly marked. For here we see the offender transferring to his victim all his guilt; and liberated from the judgments to which, on account of his transgressions, he had been exposed. Whatever his offence had been, we see him bringing an appropriate offering, which God had promised to accept; and not only receiving a personal absolution on every different occasion, but annually, on the great day of atonement, having the pardon sealed on his soul, in common with every other offender in the whole nation.
Nor was he less instructed in the path of duty by this law which God had given him. The whole life of faith and holiness was here held forth to him. He was taught to approach his God on all occasions through a Mediator; to trust altogether to the blood of the sacrifice that was offered for him; and to expect the renovation of his soul through those very ordinances by which he was reconciled to God. The water which was sprinkled on him, in conjunction with the blood, taught him, that sanctification must be sought no less than pardon, and that those who obtained remission of their sins must henceforth walk in newness of life.
Yet, if used unlawfully, its goodness was destroyed.
Many there were who relied upon the outward act which had been prescribed, instead of looking, through the act, to Him whom it shadowed forth: many also put the observance of their ceremonies in the place of morality itself; laying a great stress on some trifling matter, while they disregarded the weightier and indispensable duties of "judgment, mercy, and faith." Now, this was an abuse of the law, which was never intended for such ends as these. For "how could the blood of bulls and of goats ever take away sin?" or how could sacrifice ever be accepted in the place of mercy? To make such an use of the law as this, was to "frustrate the grace of God, and to make the very death of Christ himself in vain." Hence God himself, when he found how the law was perverted, spoke of it in the most contemptuous terms. Paul also represents it as consisting of "weak and beggarly elements," and as "disannulled on account of the weakness and unprofitableness thereof."
Let us further consider our text,
II. In reference to the law; which, though given by God himself to the Jews, belongs equally to the whole world.
It is of the Moral Law that the Apostle principally speaks in my text: for it was that law which forbad all the different kinds of immorality which he proceeds to specify. And this law was not, so to speak, "made for the righteous," but, as all human laws are, for the prevention of evil: and hence, with the exception of the fourth commandment, the whole Decalogue consists of prohibitions, rather than commands; and tells us rather what we are not to do, than what we are to do.
Now this law also is good, if used lawfully.
It is good, in that it restrains us from the commission of evil, whether towards God or man. It is good, also, in that it shows how much sin has abounded in the world, and what reason we all have to humble ourselves on account of it. It is good, in that it points out to us the necessity of a Savior, and leads us to welcome that Savior to our hearts. Still further it is good, in that it directs us how to walk and to please God, when we have obtained mercy with him through his dear Son. These are the proper uses for which it was designed: and, when improved for these ends, we may well account it "dearer to us than thousands of silver and gold."
But, if perverted, even this also ceases to be good.
True, in itself it is, and ever must be, "holy, and just, and good," but, in its use, it proves an occasion of death to many souls. Many there are who seek to establish a righteousness for themselves, by their obedience to it. But to fallen man it never could answer any such end as this: and to attempt to make any such use of it, to set aside the whole Gospel, and to make void all that Christ has done and suffered for us, in this very way it proved fatal to millions among the Jews, and still becomes an occasion of death to millions among ourselves. If we will follow it as "a schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ," it will prove an inestimable blessing to our souls: but if we will set it up against Christ, and found our hopes of salvation on our obedience to it, we shall despoil it of its true excellence, and make it only a stumbling-block to our eternal ruin.
Having thus explained the Apostle's assertion, I will now endeavor to point out the proper bearings of it, in a few reflections.
1. How inexpedient is it for novices to dogmatize in matters of religion!
It was in a way of reproof to such persons, that the Apostle uttered the words before us. There were some who "desired to be teachers of the law, while yet they understood not what they said, nor whereof they affirmed." Now, such persons there are in the Church at all times: and, in fact, there are no persons more dogmatic than those who have espoused some favorite theory of religion; nor is there any subject whatever on which men express greater confidence than this. And what is the consequence? They are given to "vain jangling;" and all their conversation is on subjects which, when so treated, can never administer to "godly edifying." Earnestly would I entreat all persons, and especially those who are but novices in religion, to remember, that they have yet much to learn; and that they need to be well instructed themselves, before they presume to make their own sentiments a standard for all around them.
2. How absurd is it to condemn religion for the faults of those who profess it!
The persons whom the Apostle reproved, had abused the law. But did the Apostle account the law itself responsible for them? No, he said, and said with confidence, "We know that the law is good, if a man use it lawfully," and, if he use it unlawfully, it is he, and not the law, that is to be blamed. So, then, do I say in relation to religion itself. I will grant, that, among those who profess it, there are still many who are full of pride, and conceit, and uncharitableness, and a thousand other evils, just as there were in the Apostle's days. But must religion itself therefore be condemned? As well might you condemn religion for Judas' sake. Learn to judge righteous judgment. You do not condemn reason, because some pervert it in support of error, and assume to themselves the title of rational Christians: neither, then, should you think the less favorably of religion, because some, under its sacred guise, indulge unholy and injurious dispositions. If, indeed, it generated, or even sanctioned, anything that was unholy, it might well be an object of reproach: but if it inculcate only what is good, then let it have the praise that is due unto it, and those who violate it bear the blame of their own ungodliness.
3. How necessary is it to distinguish justly between the use, and the abuse, of that which is in itself good!
The world is good, to one who makes the proper use of it: and therefore we are told to "use the world as not abusing it." So the law is good, and the Gospel also, if used lawfully; and, as I have said, neither of them is to be condemned on account of the faults or follies of those who profess a regard for them. But you will ask, perhaps, What is the legitimate use of the Law? and what of the Gospel? I answer, The Law must be used evangelically; and the Gospel practically. Then will they subserve the best of purposes, and be instrumental in effecting all for which they have been given. But if the Gospel be not kept in view while we pay attention to the Law, we shall never attain the liberty of God's children, nor ever possess the kingdom which he has prepared for us. So also, if we separate holiness from the Gospel, we shall lose all the benefits which the Gospel is intended to convey: for God has expressly ordained, "that without holiness no man shall see the Lord."
4. How desirable is it to make a just improvement of every word of God!
As the law is capable of a right use, so is every word of God. We are not to take one part of the inspired volume, and to leave another; not to embrace one doctrine because it is agreeable to our minds, and to reject another because it offends our prejudices. Earnestly would I guard you against that. The law bids you, "Do, and live," the Gospel says, "Believe, and be saved." Set them in opposition to each other, and you will fall into a fatal error: but take the one in subserviency to the other, and all will be well. So would I say respecting many other points, which have been made grounds of controversy and contention for hundreds of years. Only let the different declarations of Scripture find their proper place, and be improved to their proper end, and numberless difficulties will vanish; and the whole system of divine truth will be found harmonious, even as the stars which move in their orbits. To a superficial observer, the various truths may appear to clash; but to one that is conversant with the design of God in them, they will all be found to promote his glory, and to advance the welfare of those who, with childlike humility, embrace them. I mean not to say that you are to take anything without examination: for you are to "prove all things, and then hold fast that which is good." But look for the practical use of everything that the Scriptures contain, and then will you derive benefit from all, and have reason to bless your God for all.
Nature and Office of the Gospel
1 Timothy 1:11. The glorious Gospel of the blessed God.
THE words which I have just read, being only an incomplete member of a sentence, without any definite sense, must be considered only as a motto to what I shall have occasion to advance, and not as a foundation whereon any statement is to be established. The Apostle is exhorting Timothy to check those false teachers, who, under a professed zeal for the Law, in reality undermined the Gospel: some, by insisting only on frivolous questions respecting the law; and others, by making it the ground of a sinner's hope before God. All of these desired to be teachers of the law, while "they understood not what they said, nor whereof they affirmed." The law, properly explained, was good, even as the Gospel itself: they were in perfect harmony with each other: for the Gospel condemned sin as much as the law itself could do, and inculcated holiness as strongly; and, in this view, it deserved that honorable appellation here given it, "The glorious Gospel of the blessed God." In fact, the Law and the Gospel were one great whole; and, when viewed aright, contributed equally, though in different ways, to advance the honor of God and the welfare of mankind.
The law, with its proper and legitimate uses, I have, on a former occasion, considered. The Gospel is that to which I would wish to draw your attention throughout the present course: and, for the purpose of introducing it to your view, I have selected the very striking expression by which it is here characterized.
The Gospel is called, by the Apostle, "the Gospel of the grace of God;" because it reveals God's purposes of love and mercy towards sinful man. He calls it also "the Gospel of salvation;" because, while it reveals a salvation from God, it imparts that blessing to all who truly receive it. But the designation given to it in the passage before us is preeminently grand and beautiful; and will properly lead me to take a view of the Gospel in all its boundless extent, and to mark in succession, its nature and office—its riches and fulness—its suitableness and sufficiency—its excellency and glory.
And may God of his infinite mercy so reveal it to our minds, and bring it home with efficacy to our hearts, that it may prove "the power of God to the salvation" of all who hear it!
To investigate the nature and office of the Gospel, will be sufficient to occupy us at this time.
To understand the Gospel aright, we must contemplate,
I. The state in which it finds us;
II. The provision which it makes for our deliverance from that state; and,
III. The means which it prescribes for our participation of its blessings.
I. The state in which it finds us.
Man is not in the state in which he was first created. He was formed at first, in the very image of his God; pure as God himself is pure; and perfect, according to his capacity, as God himself is perfect. But Adam fell; and his children, descending from him in his fallen state, could not but partake of his corruption: for the Scripture says, "Who can bring a clean thing out of an unclean?" Now, to mark clearly and distinctly the condition of fallen man, is of the utmost importance; because the knowledge of that lies at the root of all true religion. The Scriptures declare it with the utmost simplicity: and, if we receive with humility the declarations of God respecting it, we shall gain an insight into the whole Gospel, which is, in fact, a provision of God for the necessities of man.
Now, there are two things which characterize the condition of fallen man; namely, guilt, and weakness: as the Apostle has said, "While we were yet without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly."
Let us then contemplate these two points, the sin-fullness of fallen man, and his weakness.
Exceeding great is the depravity of our fallen nature. In every faculty of our mind we are corrupt; nor less so in every member of our body. Our understanding is dark; our will perverse; our affections sensual; our conscience partial; our very memory indisposed for the retaining of heavenly truths. And our bodies, being altogether under the influence of a depraved mind, are corrupt in all their parts; every member, instead of ministering unto holiness, being a willing "servant of sin, and an instrument of unrighteousness unto iniquity." Paul not only states this, but accumulates a great number of passages of Holy Writ to illustrate and confirm his statement: and, with a most remarkable particularity, specifies our members, as it were from head to foot, as involved in the general calamity, and as contributing, according to their respective powers, to bring into effect every evil disposition of the mind: "We have proved," says he, "both Jews and Gentiles, that they are all under sin: as it is written, There is none righteous, 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: their throat is an open sepulcher; with their tongues they have used deceit; the poison of asps is under their lips: whose mouth is full of cursing and bitterness: their feet are swift to shed blood: destruction and misery are in their ways; and the way of peace have they not known: there is no fear of God before their eyes." And this description he gives in order to show that "every mouth must be stopped, and all the world become guilty before God."
With equal force the Scriptures mark the incapacity of man to restore himself either to the favor or the image of God. So far is man from being able to recommend himself to God, that "every imagination of the thoughts of his heart is evil, only evil continually." Nor can he of himself return to God; since it is "God alone who can give him either to will, or to do, anything that is good."
I forbear to expatiate upon this; because, as I am anxious not to overstate the necessities of man, so I am desirous that all which I do state should be as far as possible in the words of God himself.
Yet I would observe, that this statement, brief as it is, ought to be well understood, and well considered: for, unless we clearly discern the necessities of man, we can never duly appreciate the provision which God has made for the relief of them. In truth, we cannot better understand the necessities of man, than by comparing his condition with that of the fallen angels. They, when they had contracted guilt, were unable to remove it; and, when they had lost the divine image in which they were created, were unable to restore it: and, having no provision made for them by God himself, they are left to endure the penalty of their transgression, in endless, irremediable misery. And I am not aware of even a shadow of difference between them and us in this respect, except so far as the sovereign grace of God, in which they found no interest, has interposed for us. I think this is the very truth before God; nor can I conceive that any one of a candid mind can entertain a doubt respecting it. But, if this were really felt, our work in establishing the truth of the Gospel would have no difficulties to encounter. It is the pride of the human heart which interposes the great obstacle to men's reception of the Gospel. They are averse to see the extent of their necessities: they will contend for some remnant of goodness or power in themselves, that shall lessen their obligations to the grace of God. But let a man acknowledge himself as wholly and forever lost, and then he will be prepared to hear of a Savior, and to embrace the salvation that is provided for him in the Gospel.
II. What provision God has made for our recovery comes now, in the second place, to be considered.
Are we in a state of guilt? God has provided a Substitute and a Surety for us, in the person of his dear Son. Are we in a state of weakness? God has provided all needful strength for us, in the operations of his Holy Spirit. I might here enter at large into all the offices of Christ, as the Prophet, Priest, and King of his Church; and unfold all the offices of the Holy Spirit, who has undertaken to work in us the whole work of God, and, by his all-powerful influence, to "perfect in our souls all that concerns us." But it is my wish to simplify everything; and to exclude from my discussion everything which, however instructive, may have the effect of diverting the mind from the main object—the beauty and simplicity of the Gospel. Let us, then, limit our views of the Savior and of the Holy Spirit to the two points which we have mentioned; and mark distinctly the way in which the one removes our guilt, and the other our weakness.
When no possible way remained for man to make compensation to the Deity for the guilt he had contracted, God was pleased to give his only dear Son, to stand in our place, and, by his own vicarious sufferings, to expiate our guilt. For this end, God prepared for him a body in the womb of a pure virgin: that so, while he should partake of our nature, he should neither be involved in the guilt of our progenitor, nor inherit his corruption. So far as our sinless infirmities were concerned, God made him like unto us: but so far as anything of corruption was concerned, he made him perfectly without sin: for, if he had had any sin of his own, he could not have been a fit person to take away sin from us: if he must be a victim for the sins of others, he must himself be without spot or blemish. Thus, in the person of the Lord Jesus, were united both God and man. In his own nature he was God equal with the Father, even "God over all, blessed forever." By assuming our nature into union with his own, he became capable of suffering in our place and stead. And he did suffer in our place; for we are expressly told, that "God laid on him the iniquities of us all." Nor did he only suffer the penalties of the broken law, which, without his merciful intervention, we must have endured forever; but he fulfilled, in its utmost possible extent, all its holy precepts, and thereby wrought out a righteousness for us, "a righteousness which might be imputed to all, and put upon all, those who should believe in him." As for considering how all this could be; how God could become a man: how he could stand in our place and stead: how he could, by his vicarious sufferings, atone for sin; how such a plan could avail for affecting a reconciliation between God and man; and how God can accept man through a righteousness not his own, but wrought out for him by another, and imputed to him; and how God's perfections can be reconciled and glorified in such a way of saving man; these are questions which God alone can resolve: it is sufficient for us to know, that God has provided such a way for the removal of our guilt; and that "of those who come to him in his Son's name, not one shall ever be cast out." We sum up, therefore, this part of our subject in the inspired declaration, which we are commissioned to proclaim to the whole world, that "God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them."
But, to remedy our weakness, a commission also was given to the Third Person in the ever-blessed Trinity, to reveal the Savior to us, and to "fulfill in us all the good pleasure of his goodness" for our full and final salvation. Our incapacity to save ourselves was, in fact, like that of a body actually dead. So far as relates to spiritual feeling or power, we are altogether destitute either of the one or the other. Of natural feelings or powers, I forbear to speak: they may be carried to any extent; and it will make no difference in my positions. I would not degrade man below what he really is: I am willing to allow him all that any man can reasonably wish. It is of spiritual powers alone that I speak; and in relation to them I say, that man is altogether "dead in trespasses and sins." But the Spirit of God undertakes to quicken us by his Almighty power: and it is by his power alone, even by "the working of that mighty power which raised Christ himself from the dead," that any soul of man attains the least disposition to serve and honor God. Having quickened our souls, the Holy Spirit proceeds to discover to us the extent of our necessities, and to humble us under a sense of them. Then he stirs us up to cry unto our God: then he reveals the Savior to us (for it is his office to "glorify Christ;" and to "take of the things that are Christ's, and to show them unto us"). He then enables us to exercise faith in Christ, and to receive him for all the ends and purposes for which he has been sent. He then fills us with a principle of love to Christ, and constrains us to live unto him. He enables us progressively to mortify all our sinful propensities, and to honor God by a holy conversation. In this way he transforms us gradually into the Divine image, and makes us "meet for the inheritance of the saints in light."
For the same reason that I forbore to enter more fully into the offices of Christ, I forbear to expatiate upon the different offices of the Holy Spirit. This is a subject which would occupy an entire course of sermons by itself; and, if I should ever live to address another course to this assembly, would complete my series. But, be that as it may, my object on the present occasion is to simplify everything, that my subject, from beginning to end, may be clearly seen, and fully comprehended.
As to any nice speculations relative to the mode of the Spirit's agency, they would be altogether beside my purpose. It is sufficient to say, that no man, who believes the Holy Scriptures, can doubt of the Holy Spirit being sent of God to apply to the souls of men the redemption which Christ has wrought out for them; and that if ever we have "access to God, it must be through Christ, and by the Spirit." It is for this end that the Spirit is given; and this end he will accomplish in all who implore his aid.
III. Now we are come to our third point; which is, to show the means which the Gospel prescribes for our participation of its benefits.
The first thought which occurs to men is, that they must do something to merit and to earn salvation. But, if we consider the condition of our first parents after the fall, we shall see how vain must be such a conceit, how fallacious such a hope. What could they do to recommend themselves to their offended God? As for doing anything to merit the gift of God's only dear Son, and the influences of the Holy Spirit upon their souls, it is obvious that no such idea could, by any possibility, enter into their minds. What can the fallen angels, at this instant, do to merit a restoration to God's favor? Yet they are as capable of it as we.
But it may be said, that now God, of his own mercy and grace, has given us a Savior, we must do something to deserve an interest in him. What then, I would ask, can we do? Our blessed Lord has told us, that "without him we can do nothing;" so that the communication of his grace must precede, not follow, the performance of any good act whatever: and, consequently, we must be indebted altogether to the sovereign grace of God, which first "gives us to will, and then to do, of his good pleasure."
The truth is, as the first gift of a Savior sprang altogether from the sovereign grace of God, so must salvation in all its parts; seeing that "we have not of ourselves a sufficiency even to think a good thought." It is by faith alone that the good work of salvation must be wrought in us. We must first believe God's record respecting his dear Son: then, in the exercise of the same faith, we must look to his Son for the communication of his purchased benefits. So, throughout our whole continuance on earth, "the life which we live in the flesh, we must live by faith in the Son of God, who has loved us, and given himself for usu." Let any one reflect, for a moment, What other way is there for any soul of man to participate the benefits which God has treasured up for us in his dear Son? Is there any other way of our being united to him, "as branches of the living Vine;" or of our "receiving out of his fullness the grace" that we stand in need of? is there any other way, I say, than by faith? If we look into the Scriptures, we shall find that faith is continually represented as the means whereby alone we can either receive from God any spiritual blessing, or perform unto him any acceptable service.
I grant, that we must repent. But repentance will neither atone for past sin, nor stand in the place of future obedience: and even repentance itself must be given us by the Lord Jesus Christ, "who is exalted to the right hand of God, to give repentance, no less than remission of sins." I grant, also, that when we have believed in Christ, we must walk in his ways, and yield obedience to his commandments. But this obedience cannot supersede the necessity of faith: on the contrary, it can exist only as the fruit of faith: and, instead of purchasing salvation for us, it is itself a part of that very salvation which the Lord Jesus Christ purchased for us upon the cross.
Now these truths have been greatly controverted, in every age of the Church. Persons have raised subtle questions upon every part of this subject, and made them the occasions of acrimonious dispute: whereas there is nothing under Heaven more plain and simple than the way of salvation as prescribed for us in the Gospel. I think we may, by one single word, throw such light upon it, as shall supersede, I had almost said, all controversy respecting it. I do not mean to say, that persons who love controversy may not yet find, or make, abundant occasion for it: but I do say, that, by one single word, the whole of salvation may be so plainly declared, that a humble and contrite soul shall be enabled, for all practical purposes, to view it in all its length and breadth. What, then, is that word which will thus exhibit the Gospel in so bright and clear a light? It is the word, remedy. Let us come back to the state of fallen man: he is in a guilty, polluted, helpless condition. In this state God provides for him a remedy, and both inclines and enables him to apply that remedy. For his guilt he applies to himself the atoning blood of Christ: for his pollution and weakness, he looks to the Holy Spirit to begin and carry on a work of grace within him. By looking to Christ, he obtains peace with God and in his own conscience: and, by yielding himself to the influences of God's Holy Spirit, he becomes renewed and sanctified in all his powers. His renovated health begins immediately to appear. He is enabled to mortify all his former corruptions; and to "walk holily, justly, and unblamably," before God and man. Gradually, he becomes transformed into the Divine image, in righteousness and true holiness. Ask him now, To what he ascribes the change that has taken place within him? and he will tell you, 'it is owing to the remedy which God has prescribed, and enabled him to apply.' To his latest hour he continues applying the same remedy (for, while here, he is only in a convalescent state, and not perfectly recovered): and when taken hence to his heavenly inheritance, he ascribes all the glory to his Almighty Physician; saying, "To Him that loved us, and washed us from our sins in his own blood, and has made us kings and priests unto God and our Father, to him be glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen" Now, what is there in all this to dispute about? What is there that is not perfectly plain and simple? What is there that a humble and contrite sinner needs beyond this, for the peace of his mind, or the sanctification and salvation of his soul? Here all appears to be of grace: both the Savior himself, and salvation through him, are the entire unmerited gift of God. The whole of the Christian's life, too, is here perfectly plain and simple: he is continually availing himself of the remedy prescribed, and experiencing its beneficial effects. If any one apply to him for information and instruction in relation to the soul, he directs him with confidence to this remedy; and attests with thankfulness, from his own experience, its divine efficacy. He even appeals to its effects, as evidences of its divine origin. He not only acknowledges, but is himself forward to assert, that all pretensions to divine communications must be tried by this test. He would say, 'Examine the remedy by this criterion: does it operate to bring man to his primeval state in Paradise; so that, in proportion as it becomes effectual, it subdues his evil propensities, regulates his tempers and dispositions, enables him to sit loose to the things of this world, and makes him to find all his happiness in God alone? Compare him, he would say, with the Savior in whom he professes to believe, and see whether his faith produce in him somewhat of "the mind that was in Christ," and constrain him to "walk as Christ walked." Compare him, also, with the Apostles and the primitive Christians, and see whether the remedy operate on him as it did on them. Then we may hope, indeed, that his heart is right before God; and that the remedy which he applies for the benefit of his own soul is that which will prove effectual for the whole world.
You will perceive that I have cautiously abstained from anything which might anticipate my future statements. It is my wish to keep every part as distinct as possible, that the subject may successively grow upon us, until it appear in all its incomprehensible majesty and grandeur. I know indeed, how unequal I am to the task of bringing it properly before you: but this I do hope, in some measure, to attain; namely, to give clear views of all which I state, and to exhibit the subject in as simple a manner as a due investigation of it will admit of. Not that it will be possible for us to divest the subject of all difficulties. For instance, the remedy of which we have spoken is represented as altogether "the gift of God," no less in the application of it to the soul, than in the revelation of it to the mind: and yet men are called upon to apply it to themselves, as much as if they were originally and of themselves perfectly competent to that task. It may be said, If we can attain it of ourselves, why represent it as a gift? and if we cannot attain it of ourselves, why represent that attainment as a duty? I answer, To simplify our statements so as to remove all difficulties, is impossible; because the Gospel is, "a mystery, hid in God from the beginning of the world," but, to state it in so plain and simple a way as shall approve itself to every candid mind, is an object which should be aimed at, and may certainly be attained. That which introduces such obscurity into the Gospel is, the attempt of men to reduce Christianity to a system, such as man himself would devise, or such as his unenlightened reason would approve. But "God's thoughts are not as our thoughts, nor are his ways as our ways." No; they infinitely transcend ours: and the true way to comprehend God's system is, to consider for what ends he has revealed his Gospel. We have said, His Gospel is a remedy: and it is a remedy, suited in itself to the necessities of man; and suited, in the manner of its proposal, to the powers of man. Now man, however fallen, has faculties and powers, agreeably to which God will deal with him: for God draws us, not as beasts, or as stocks and stones, but "with the cords of a man;" that is, in a way consistently with our intellectual and moral powers. Now man has within him certain principles, as hope and fear; and by these principles God will move him. But, if there were in the Scriptures nothing but promises, what scope would there be for fear? or if there were nothing but commands and threatenings, what ground would there be for hope? But the Scriptures, meeting both of these principles with appropriate declarations, call forth both of them into act and exercise; and thus, as two forces from different angles, striking simultaneously and with equal strength on a given object, will propel that object forward in a straight line, so do these different declarations operate on the mind of man, and urge him forward in the path of duty and of holiness. As for those who would wrest the Scriptures to make them all speak one language, they, whether Calvinists or Arminians, show that they have not duly considered the true design of God in the revelation of his will. They need to be reminded of this great peculiarity in the sacred records, that they are altogether suited, no less to the powers, than to the necessities, of man; and if the different parties would agree to meet upon that ground, there would be an end of all their controversies and animosities. Only strive to simplify the Scriptures, and they will be simple: but strive to perplex and confound them, and they may soon be made a theater for endless disputes.
To keep out of view everything that is of a questionable nature, has been, and shall be, my earnest endeavor. It is the practical effect of the Gospel which I am alone anxious to promote: and now, therefore, in conclusion, I take the liberty to recommend two things: first, That we all seek a deep acquaintance with our state before God: and next, That we apply to ourselves the remedy which God has set before us in the Gospel.
Would we but comply with the former of these requests, what might we not hope for from the remedy which has been set before us? Had we but a due preparation of heart for the reception of the Gospel, surely it should "distill as the dew upon our souls, and come as rain upon the new-mown grass." The sound of salvation purchased by our incarnate God! truly, it would transport our souls, as once the angels in Heaven were transported, when they sang, "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace; good-will towards men." And what ineffable joy would spring up within us, from the thought of an indwelling Deity undertaking our cause, and working effectually upon our souls! Methinks we should already seize upon Heaven as our own, and, with confident exultation, defy all the powers, whether of earth or Hell, to rob us of it. Especially, if we began in earnest to realize these truths, then would our peace flow down like a river, and "our souls become as a well-watered garden, and as springs of water whose waters fail not." But let us remember what is indispensably necessary to our profiting by the Gospel: we must feel, and deeply mourn over, our lost estate. "The whole need not a physician, but they that are sick," and the remedy can be of no use to us, if we be not sensible of our disease. I pray God that this may not be forgotten by us. A mere speculative knowledge of the Gospel, however accurate, will avail us nothing. We must all be as patients in an hospital, and receive with thankfulness the remedy prescribed. If we neglect it, or attempt to substitute any other in its stead, we shall do so to our eternal ruin. We must look to Christ for the justification, and to the Holy Spirit for the sanctification, of our souls. "There is salvation for us in no other way whatever. There is no other name under Heaven given among men, whereby we can be saved, but the name of Jesus Christ." But "through Him, all that believe shall be justified from all things." Let us, then, implore of God now to "give testimony to the word of his grace;" and so to "shine into our hearts, as to give to every one among us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christi."
Richness and Fullness of the Gospel
1 Timothy 1:11. The glorious Gospel of the blessed God.
Ephesians 3:8. Unto me, who am less than the least of all saints, is this grace given, that I should preach among the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ.
OF the nature and office of the Gospel, I have spoken in my former discourse. Of its riches and fullness, I am now to treat. But "who is sufficient" for such an undertaking? The "riches of Christ," as revealed in the Gospel, are declared to be "unsearchable," how, then, can we hope to bring them forth in any measure suited to the occasion? Yet we must make the attempt; because, to bring them forth, and exhibit them to view, is the duty of all who would approve themselves faithful in the ministerial office. This was the work assigned to the Apostle Paul: and it is no less required of us at this day, if we have been called to minister in holy things, and to serve God in his sanctuary. Yet, methinks, instead of calling this a duty, I would rather call it a privilege; not a work imposed, but rather, as my text expresses it, "a grace given," for no higher honor can be conferred on mortal man than to be sent forth by God to minister unto his fellow-sinners "the glorious Gospel of the blessed God." Let it not, however, be thought that this high commission has any tendency to generate pride in the hearts of those who have received it: on the contrary, it will operate rather to humble and abase the soul under a sense of its own unworthiness and insufficiency. Thus it wrought on the Apostle Paul; who, finding no word whereby to express his unworthiness of such an honor, formed a word for the purpose, and called himself, not the least of all saints, but "less than the least," "Unto me, who am less than the least of all saints, is this grace given, that I should preach among the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ." In like manner, I would now, under a becoming sense of my own utter insufficiency, proceed with the work assigned me; and endeavor, as God shall enable me, to set before you the riches and the fullness of the Gospel of Christ.
For this end, I would consider the Gospel in a threefold view:—as an expedient devised—as an instrument employed—and as a gift bestowed. And I would, under each head, set forth the riches of it:.
The riches of wisdom contained in it as an expedient;
The riches of power, as an instrument; and
The riches of grace, as a gift.
First, then, I will endeavor to set forth the riches of wisdom contained in the Gospel, as an expedient for the salvation of ruined man.
The Gospel is called "the wisdom of God in a mystery," and, truly, the wisdom exhibited in it is deeply mysterious. Suppose, for a moment, it had been left to man to devise a way for his own restoration to the Divine favor; or that all the angels in Heaven had been consulted by him for that end: I conceive that no way but that of an absolute pardon by a sovereign act of mercy could have entered into the mind of any finite intelligence. Whether such an exercise of mercy could have consisted with God's honor, it is not for us to determine. None but God can know what is within the power of God to do. But we may safely declare, that, even supposing such an exercise of mercy, under the existing circumstances, possible, it was not the way which was most suited to the occasion, nor the way that would bring the most honor to God: and therefore it was not the way which a God of infinite wisdom thought fit to adopt. God, at all events, determined to make the fall of man an occasion of displaying his own glorious perfections: and, therefore, the question to be resolved was, How the removal of man's guilt, and the restoration of a ruined world to the favor of God. should be made to subserve that end?—in a word, How God should be glorified, and the sinner saved?
The holiness of God was called, to express its abhorrence of sin. The justice of God was called, to execute vengeance on those who had committed sin. The truth of God was called, to fulfill the threatenings denounced against sin. But how shall holiness be displayed, justice be honored, and truth be kept inviolate, if the offender receive a full, gratuitous remission of his guilt? Here are difficulties, which not all the wisdom of men or angels could surmount. No means had been devised for the restoration of the fallen angels; nor was it within the reach of any finite intelligence to declare, how any remedy could be found for fallen man. Suppose that the idea of a substitute had entered into the mind of any, how could an innocent creature be punished in the place of the guilty? How could it be conceived, that God should ever consent to accept such a vicarious offering? and how could it be imagined, that he should ever be induced to inflict, with his own hand, on one that was innocent, the wrath due to the guilty, and to punish the innocent for the guilty?
But, suppose such a thought suggested, where was there to be found one capable of representing the whole world, and of sustaining the punishment due to all the millions of mankind? Was there an angel that could take upon him this office? Were all the angels in Heaven capable of rendering such a service to mankind? Could any one less than God himself undertake so great a work? And could it be conceived possible that God should exercise such love towards those who had trampled on his laws, and risen up in rebellion against him? But, supposing that God was willing to undertake the office of restoring man, how shall he do it? How shall God endure sufferings for man? How shall he put himself in the place of man? How shall anything that he can do be made available for man, so as to be put to man's account, as if he had done it? And, supposing that God were to become a man, for the purpose of putting himself in the place of man, and doing and suffering what man was bound to do and suffer, how could it consist with the holiness and justice and truth of God, to let the innocent suffer and the guilty go free; yes, to let the innocent suffer on purpose that the guilty might go free?
The more we enter into the consideration of these things, and contemplate the difficulties which lay in the way of man's recovery to God, the more we shall see how impossible it was that any created wisdom should devise a way for effecting it, in consistency with God's honor. But here Divine wisdom interposed; and in the councils of the Eternal Three it was determined, that God's co-equal, co-eternal Son should "undertake for us;" that "a body should be given him;" that, in the fullness of time, he should be born into the world, and, as the Substitute and Surety of all mankind, should bear their sins in his own sacred body; and, by his own obedience unto death, should work out a righteousness or all who should believe in him, even a righteousness commensurate with the fullest demands of God's law; that so, Divine justice being satisfied, "God might be just, and yet the justifier" of our sinful race.
Contemplate now this mystery. A Mediator! that Mediator, God!—that God, man!—that Deity incarnate, suffering!—those sufferings, vicarious!—his whole obedience, too, accepted as vicarious, and imputed to sinful man!—man, so rescued, brought into a state of peace with God!—man, so rescued, restored to the Divine image, approved of his God, justified before the whole assembled universe, and exalted to a throne of glory! and all in perfect consistency with the honor of God himself; yes, and all the Divine perfections glorified in this very way!—What shall we say? We are amazed: we are confounded: we can scarcely believe our own statement: it must surely be "a cunningly—devised fable." But no: it is God's plan for the salvation of a ruined world; and, in the contemplation of it, we can do nothing but exclaim with the Apostle, "O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments, and his ways past finding out!"
Now this Gospel is, as I am to show in the next place, the great instrument which God is pleased to employ for the restoration of the world to him: and the riches of his power as so exerted, and as effecting the complete deliverance of man from his fallen state, is now, in the Second place, to be set before you.
It will be remembered, that while, in the eyes of the self—righteous Jews, the Gospel was a stumbling-block, and among the conceited Greeks was accounted foolishness, the Apostle declared it to be "the wisdom of God, and the power of God." It seemed, to those who confided in their own wisdom, inconceivable that the salvation of man should ever be effected by means which they judged so unsuited to the end. But the Apostle hesitated not to affirm, that the Gospel would surely answer all the ends for which it had been ordained; would prove alike powerful for us, through the work of Christ; and in us, through the operation of his Spirit on our souls.
Behold its power for us! Satan had ruined our first parents, and, with them, their descendants also throughout the whole world; over whom he had usurped and exercised the most despotic sway. Hence he is called "the God of this world," and "the prince of the power of the air; the spirit that works in all the children of disobedience." But the Lord Jesus Christ undertook to rescue us from his dominion, and to establish his own empire over every child of man. And how would he effect this? Would it be in the way of mighty conquerors, who subdue the world by force? No; but by giving himself up into the power of his enemies, and suffering them to put him to death upon the cross. Yes, strange as this way of conquering was, "by death he overcame him that had the power of death, that is, the devil, and delivered them who, through fear of death, were all their life—time subject to bondage." When he hanged upon the cross as an expiring malefactor, and was himself to all appearance subdued, it was even then that "he spoiled all the principalities and powers of Hell, and made a show of them openly, triumphing over them in his cross." And this one record, 'That he died for sinners upon the cross,' is the instrument which, from that very moment, has been effectual for the demolition of Satan's empire, and for the establishment of Christ's kingdom throughout the world. This one record has been a weapon which neither men nor devils have been able to withstand: it has been "mighty, through God, to the pulling down of strong—holds, and bringing the very thoughts of men into captivity to the obedience of Christ." See the effect of it throughout all the Roman empire: how did all the gods of the heathen fall before it; and all the prejudices and passions of mankind yield to its sway! Yes, foolish as it seemed, and weak, "the foolishness of God was wiser than men, and the weakness of God was stronger than men: and "this stone, cut out without hands, shall break in pieces all the powers of the universe" that shall attempt to withstand itl.
And as the Gospel is thus powerful for us through Christ, so shall it also be powerful in us, through the influences of the Holy Spirit. Look at every soul of man: that wicked adversary, the devil, "takes us all in his snare, and leads us captive at his will." And how are any delivered from his chains? Is it by human eloquence, or by the powers of moral suasion? No, in no instance have they been ever able to prevail. Nothing but the Gospel has ever truly emancipated one single soul, or brought one to the enjoyment of solid peace. But this has been "quick and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the dividing asunder of joints and marrow, and been a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart." See, on the day of Pentecost, what a change it wrought on thousands of the most blood-thirsty murderers! See, in instances without number, how it "turned men from darkness unto light, and from the power of Satan unto God!" Multitudes there are, at this day, that are living witnesses of its power; multitudes, who, by its enlightening, comforting, and sanctifying efficacy, are created altogether anew, and "filled with joy and peace in believing." These effects the world beholds, and wonders at, and is unable to account for: but they are seen in every place where the Gospel is faithfully administered: yes, the simple exhibition of Christ crucified is still, as truly and as effectually as ever, "a hammer to break the rock in pieces;" and a mold, to form into Christ's likeness all that are "delivered into it," even all that are subjected to its divine influence. If it be asked, how all this comes to pass: I answer, that the Holy Spirit of God, the Third Person of the ever-blessed Trinity, has undertaken to "glorify Christ," and to render his word effectual for all the ends and purposes for which it has been proclaimed; and the miracle wrought by Peter on the man lame from his birth is still realized, in a spiritual way, from day to day: "for the name of Jesus, through faith in his name, does still make many whole; so that, whereas they were from their very birth both lame and impotent, they now walk and leap for joy in the temple," and in the service of their God. And how great the power is that thus restores them to God may be seen in the comparison by which Paul sets it forth, when he prays for the Ephesian Church, and that in terms which no translation can ever adequately express, that they "may know what is the exceeding greatness of God's power towards them that believe, according to the working of his mighty power which he wrought in Christ when he raised him from the dead." I say, then, that we may here behold the riches of power exerted by this apparently weak instrument in converting men to the faith of Christ; and that it is at this hour, no less than in the apostolic age, "the power of God unto salvation to all them that believe."
But, agreeably to the plan proposed, I must go on further, in the Third and last place, to show the riches of grace which are displayed in the Gospel, as God's gift to sinful man.
Paul, you will remember, states, that in the whole work of salvation, as revealed in the Gospel, God especially designed, "that in the ages to come he might show the exceeding riches of his grace in his kindness towards us through Christ Jesus." We seem called upon, therefore, to enter somewhat more fully into this part of our subject; and the rather, because it falls more within the reach of our comprehension, and seems capable of more easy development. I think, too, that the impression which this part of our subject is calculated to make will be of a deeper and more abiding character; not only because it is of a less abstract nature, but because it applies itself more to the best feelings of our hearts.
But, while I enter on this part of my subject, I feel that, from the mode in which I propose to illustrate it, I may, to those who are not conversant with the Scripture history, be thought to treat it with less reverence than so deep and mysterious a subject demands. But I beg leave to say, that no man under Heaven would more revolt from anything that was irreverent in the ministration of the Gospel, than he who is about to submit to you the statement which is now contemplated. It must be remembered, that the condescension of the Deity is that which is particularly to be set before you; and that, if it be brought before you in a way that is not usual, it is exhibited in the very light which the Scriptures themselves most fully authorize. I need not remind this audience of the condescension of God to Abraham, when he permitted him to intercede for Sodom; and to reiterate his requests with continually increasing enlargement, until he had reduced the number of those for whose sake he desired the devoted cities to be spared, from fifty to forty-five, from forty-five to forty, from forty to thirty, from thirty to twenty, and from twenty to ten. Nor need I remind you of God's condescension to David, in reference to the judgments to be inflicted on him for numbering the people, in that he left altogether to the decision of the offender himself the judgment with which he should be visited. But there is yet another instance of condescension which comes more fully to our point, and that is, God's own permission to Solomon to ask for himself whatever he chose ("Ask what I shall give you"): and his high approbation of the petition offered, in that he not only granted the thing desired, but added also other valuable blessings which the petitioner had forborne to ask.
Now, if we take these Scripture examples, and consider Adam after the fall as summoned into the presence of his Maker, and as having the same liberty accorded to him as had been given to these favored servants of the Deity; if we suppose the Almighty saying to him, in like manner as to Solomon, "Ask what I shall give you," in order to the restoration of yourself and all your descendants to my favor; and then as permitting him to offer successive requests in the form of a dialogue with the Deity, after the manner of Abraham; we shall behold the grace of God in a most astonishing point of view; and, I may add, in a point of view which will fill all our souls with gratitude and praise. But I must again entreat that my statement may not be misconstrued, as bearing the least appearance of irreverence: for I again say, that I would on no account whatever utter a single expression that should be justly open to such a reproach. But, indeed, my statement shall not be mis—apprehended, if only you will bear in mind what we ourselves, under the New-Testament dispensation, are authorized to do in our approaches to God, and to expect at his gracious hands. Our blessed Lord has expressly said to us, "You shall ask what you will, and it shall be done unto you." And Paul, to encourage our boldness and confidence in prayer, assures us, that "God is able, and doubtless willing too, to do exceeding abundantly for us, above all that we can ask or think," so that, in fact, God says to us, "Ask of me all that your necessities require; and when language fails you, stretch your imagination to the uttermost, in order to comprehend all that can, by any possibility, be desirable for you; and I will do it; I will do it all; I will do above all; I will do abundantly above all; I will do exceeding abundantly above all, even above all that you can ask or even think," "open your mouth ever so wide, I will fill it."
Now with this cautious and labored endeavor to bespeak your candid reception of my statement, I will proceed to suppose Adam, after he had fallen, standing in the presence of his Maker, and addressed by his Maker to the following effect: 'You have fallen; and all your descendants, whose head and representative you have been, are fallen in you. But I have designs of love and mercy towards both you and them. I have already declared to your adversary the devil, that one shall spring from you to bruise his head: and now I say to you, that I will not only send you a Savior, but I will give you salvation in any way that you yourself shall desire, provided only it be not derogatory to my honor, or inconsistent with my perfections. Now, therefore consider your necessities, and I will supply them all; so that nothing shall be wanting, either to yourself or your posterity, that can conduce to their happiness in time or in eternity. I tell you again, that I will grant you a Savior; and in him shall be combined everything that you yourself shall desire.'
To this we may suppose Adam to reply: 'O my God, I am filled with wonder at your condescension and grace, to one who deserves nothing at your hands but wrath and indignation: and I would rather refer it back again to you, to give me such a Savior as you shall see fit: for, indeed, "I know neither what to ask, nor how to ask it." I feel that I am so deeply fallen, that not the highest archangel about your throne could save me.'
'True,' we may suppose Jehovah to say; 'no creature could be sufficient for that end. But "the person whom I will appoint to that office shall be my only—begotten Son;" "My Fellow," who is altogether One with me; in glory equal, in majesty co-eternal.'
'But, O my God, how shall I dare to approach him, or to spread my wants before him? I should fear, he would spurn me from his footstool, and never condescend to look on so vile and worthless a being as I am.'
'No; in order that he may sympathize with you, he shall assume your nature; and from his own experience of temptation, be prepared and qualified to support you in your temptations. "I will prepare him a body" for this very end: and, that he may not inherit any taint from you, I will form him in the womb of a pure Virgin; so that in his human, no less than in his divine nature, he may be the Son of God.'
'But how shall I know his love towards me?'
'You shall have evidence of it, beyond all conception. For, notwithstanding "he has from all eternity been in my bosom," "a partaker with me in all my glory," he shall "empty himself of it all," in order that he may accomplish the work entrusted to him. Nor shall he only do this great thing, but he shall suffer for you all that you have deserved to suffer, "bearing your sins in his own sacred body," and expiating your guilt by his own obedience unto death. Yes, "his visage shall be so marred more than any man's, and his form more than the sons of men," that "by his chastisement your peace may be effected," and "by his stripes you may be healed."
'I marvel, O my God, at this stupendous grace. But how shall I get access to him, to spread my wants before him?'
'He shall be ever with you, and with every one of your believing posterity, even to the end of the world; so that, wherever you are, and under whatever circumstances, you may have the most endearing "fellowship with him," and pour your every request into his gracious ear.'
'But how can I hope that his merciful interposition shall so prevail, as to procure for me an everlasting acceptance with you?'
'He shall make an atonement for your sins, and work out a righteousness for you and for all your believing posterity. He shall also, by the influence of my Holy Spirit, whom he will impart unto you, restore you to my image, which you have lost: and he shall be ever at my right hand, to plead his own merits in your behalf, and, by his effectual intercession, to prevent any expression of my displeasure on account of your short-comings and defects.'
'But, O my God, you know what a subtle adversary I have, even that cruel enemy that has reduced me to my present calamitous condition. And, if he prevailed against me when I was yet in innocence, how shall I be able to withstand him now that I am so weak, and encompassed, as I shall be, with such incessant and powerful temptations?'
'This I will do for you: "I will set Him upon my throne, even upon my holy hill of Zion," and I will especially constitute him "Head over all things to the Church," and "He shall reign until he has put all enemies under his feet;" so that, if only you trust in Him, you may be assured, that "not all the powers of darkness shall ever be able to separate you from his loved." '
'May I then venture to hope, that, while ordering the affairs of the whole universe, he will condescend to notice such a worm as me?
'Yes; he shall have such an interest in you, as a monarch would have in his jewels and in his crown; of which he would never, if by any means he could prevent it, suffer himself to be despoiled.'
'But, O my God, what shall I do when I am called to your bar of judgment? Oh! what hope can I entertain of acceptance with you in that awful hour?'
'The fixing of your doom shall depend on Him. He, in whose atoning sacrifice you have trusted for the remission of your sins, and by whose effectual grace you have been sustained even to the end; He, whose interests are bound up in your, and who is to possess you as the reward of all his travail; even He, I say, who witnessed all your tears, your struggles, your services, your pleas; He, who has been your Savior, shall then, in the capacity of a Judge, complete his work, and assign to you the kingdom of Heaven as your inheritance: so that, instead of trembling at the prospect of the judgment—day, "you may have confidence before him at his coming."
'Let there now be an end of all your fears, and hear what I have decreed to do for you, for the magnifying of my own grace and mercy.
'Would you that I should "lay help for you on One that is mighty? Your Savior shall be "the Mighty God," even "God over all, blessed for evermore."
'Would you that, notwithstanding his greatness, you may be able to approach him with humble confidence? He shall partake of your very nature, and be a man even as you are, "bone of your bone, and flesh of your flesh;" so that, while, by reason of his Deity, he is one with me, he shall, by reason of his humanity, be one with you also. He shall be "God manifest in human flesh;" and "the very name whereby you shall be privileged to call him shall be, Emmanuel; which, being interpreted, is God with us."
'Do you desire some assurance of his love? You shall have such evidence of it as shall remove from you even a possibility of doubt: for, for you he shall give up all the glory and felicity of Heaven; for you sustain, for a season, what shall be equivalent to all the horrors and miseries of Hell; and for you work out a righteousness, wherein you shall stand before me without spot or blemish; and by his effectual grace he shall "transform you into my image, in righteousness and true holiness."
'Do you desire that, as your Mediator, he may be ever present with you, to learn your wants; and at the same time be ever present with me, to obtain for you a supply of them? This also shall be done. He shall ever dwell, by his Spirit, in your very bosom; and shall ever be at my right hand in Heaven, as your Advocate and Intercessory.
'If you have any fears respecting his sufficiency to help you, know this, that for your sake I will commit the government of the whole universe into his hands; so that nothing shall be done, "not even an hair of your head shall fall" to the ground, without his special permission.
'Nay more; for your satisfaction and security, there shall be a perfect identity of interests between him and you; so that "whoever touches you, shall touch the apple of his eye;" and "whoever shall give but a cup of cold water to you, shall be considered as having given it directly and personally to him."
'And, that there may not remain a wish of your heart unaccomplished, I have ordained that this Savior shall be your Judge. Yes, He who has "lived in you," and "been your very life," shall bear testimony to you before the assembled universe, that you are his redeemed child; and shall claim you, as "his treasure," "his inheritance," "his purchased possession."
Of course, this supposed conference between Jehovah and his fallen creature, Adam, will not be taken by you in a strict sense, but only as a mere illustration of the condescension and grace of God. And, if it. be remembered how Moses pleaded, and even expostulated, with God; and how "Jacob wrestled with Jehovah the whole night in prayer, saying, I will not let you go except you bless me," and yet, instead of being reproved as guilty of presumption, was commended for his perseverance, and was honored with the name of Israel in remembrance of it; and, above all, if it be borne in mind that not one word has been put into Jehovah's mouth which has not actually proceeded from his lips, this fictitious statement, or ideal conference, will not be thought more than what the whole Scripture justifies; and that, in fact, it places in the clearest light what I so earnestly wish to impress upon your minds; namely, the infinite extent of God's grace, which so far transcends all that it was possible for any created intelligence to "ask, or even think."
But, dismissing from our minds the illustration, what must we think of the point illustrated? What must we think of the grace of God displayed in this dispensation, when there is not any one thing which the whole universe assembled in council, could ask, provided it were really good for them, and consistent with God's honor to bestow, which is not actually given to them, unsolicited and unsought, in the Gospel of Christ? Even things the most remote from human apprehension, and which we should have been ready to imagine incapable of being combined in the same person, are actually made to meet in the Savior, whom God has raised up for us. Methinks, even the slightest knowledge of this incomprehensible mystery is sufficient to fill all our souls with wonder and admiration, with gratitude and praise.
Having already trespassed upon your time too long, I must wave much which the occasion calls for; and content myself with suggesting, in conclusion, that if it be a minister's duty, as doubtless it is, to "preach the riches of Christ," and to dig deeply into the mine of Scripture in order that he may be able to bring them forth; and if these riches be absolutely "unsearchable; then ought we all to seek after them with our whole hearts, and to account all other acquisitions but "as dung and dross, in comparison of them." This was, beyond all doubt, the judgment of the Apostle Paul, who says of all his high privileges and attainments, "What things were gain to me, those I counted loss for Christ; yes, doubtless, and I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord." To this same judgment and experience I would invite all who hear me this day: for, what is there under Heaven that can be compared with these riches? It is much to be lamented, that the great mass, even of those who read the Scriptures, content themselves with a very superficial view of all the wonders contained in them. But I would that the riches of redeeming love were sought out by every one of us with all diligence; and treasured up in our minds as of inestimable value. It is by these that the souls of men are enriched; and by these that they are adorned. It is by "beholding, with an unveiled face, the glory of Christ, that we are changed into his image, from glory to glory, by the Spirit of the Lordn," and it is "by comprehending the breadth, and length, and depth, and height, of his unbounded love, that we are filled with all the fullness of God." I do therefore again invite you to contemplate this subject, and to explore the riches of divine wisdom contained in it: I would also have you experience in your souls the riches of its power; that, being transported with a sense of God's grace and love, you may enjoy, in all its fullness, "the glorious gospel of the blessed God."
Suitableness and Sufficiency of the Gospel
1 Timothy 1:11. The glorious Gospel of the blessed God.
1 Corinthians 10:3, 4. They did all eat the same spiritual meat; and did all drink the same spiritual drink: for they drank of that spiritual Rock that followed them; and that Rock was Christ.
ON entering upon my present course, I proposed to take a comprehensive view of the Gospel; and to set it before you in its nature and office, its riches and fullness, its suitableness and sufficiency, its excellency and glory.—The first two parts have been submitted to your consideration: the third part, the suitableness and sufficiency of the Gospel, comes now to be considered by us; and the words which I have read will afford me a very fit occasion for bringing the subject before you. They refer to the sustenance afforded to the whole Jewish nation in the wilderness; and they distinctly mark the parallel that is to be drawn between the food given to them, and that on which our souls are to live under the Gospel dispensation. To all the people of Israel there was but one bread, and one stream of water that followed them. The oldest and the youngest were alike sustained by that food; and all found it equally sufficient for them: nor could any one have desired any other food, without sinning against God, and against his own soul. Had any one refused that food, he of necessity must perish: and so it is under the Gospel dispensation. Christ is that Bread that came down from Heaven; and that Rock also from whence the living water proceeds: and, if we make light of that provision, and refuse to partake of it, we die. So our blessed Lord assures us: "Except you eat the flesh of the Son of man, and drink his blood, you have no life in you: but whoever eats my flesh, and drinks my blood, has eternal life: for my flesh is meat indeed, and my blood is drink indeed;" that is, the provision made for sinners in my Gospel, while it is necessary for all, is also suited to all, whatever be their states; and sufficient for all, whatever be their necessities.
Let us consider, then,
I. The suitableness of the Gospel.
There are three points of view in which it commends itself to us as suitable; namely, as offering to us freely—and communicating to us fully—and securing to us finally, all the blessings which it has provided for us.
First, it offers them to us freely. It requires nothing to be done by us, in order to merit its blessings, or to earn, if I may so speak, an interest in them. They are altogether a free gift of God to man; as much as ever the manna was which was rained about the tents of Israel, or the stream which followed them through all their wanderings in the wilderness. In this light they are represented throughout the whole inspired volume. It is remarkable, that the very first promise of a Savior was not only given without any solicitation on the part of our first parents, but it was not, strictly speaking, given to them at all; it was included in the threatening denounced by God against the serpent who beguiled them, and was not given directly either to Adam or to Eve: "I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her seed: it shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel." Not only was the Lord Jesus Christ himself the gift of God to man; but every blessing which he has purchased for us comes to us also under that endearing character: as it is written, "The wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life, through Jesus Christ our Lord." Hence all the invitations of the Gospel are sent to us unclogged with any conditions: nothing is required but a desire after them, and a willingness to receive them freely at the hands of God: "Ho, every one that thirsts, come you to the waters; and he who has no money, come you, buy, and eat; yes, come, buy wine and milk, without money and without price." Again: "The Spirit and the bride say, Come: and let him that hears, say, Come: let him that is athirst come: and whoever will, let him come and take of the water of life freely." Now this renders the Gospel suitable to us all: for if we were required to do something to deserve its blessings, what could we do? or what hope could we entertain of acquiring an interest in it? Were an offer of salvation now made to the fallen angels upon such conditions, what would it avail them? They, in their present state, are incapable of doing any thing to merit God's favor in the slightest degree: and in that same state, that state of incapacity to help ourselves, are we also. But, through mercy, no such work is required at our hands. Both Moses in the law, and Paul in the Gospel, concur in this beneficial counsel: "Say not in your heart, Who shall ascend into Heaven? that is, to bring Christ down from above: or, Who shall descend into the deep? that is, to bring up Christ again from the dead. But what says it? The word is near you, even in your mouth and in your heart; that is, the word of faith which we preach." Yes, we do preach, that to receive everything by faith is the office that is assigned to every child of man: and though, after we have embraced the Gospel, there is much for us to do in order to honor and adorn it, our first reception of its blessings must be altogether free, and we must stand indebted for them solely to the sovereign grace of God.
But, in truth, I say too little, if I merely affirm that the Gospel offers everything to us freely. The fact is, that Paul expresses the greatest jealousy upon this head; and declares, that if we attempt to do anything, however good in itself, with a view, either in whole or in part, to merit salvation by it, we make void the whole Gospel; "Behold, I Paul say unto you, that if you be circumcised, Christ shall profit you nothing." He tells us, that salvation must be "wholly of works, or wholly of graceg." He reminds us, that if salvation were of works, in ever so small a degree, there would, in that degree, be room for boasting: whereas boasting must be wholly and forever excluded; and salvation, from first to last, be received as a free gift of God for Christ's sake.
This is not pleasing to the proud heart of man; because we are ever looking for something within ourselves, as a ground of self-preference or self-delight. But, what if God had waited until Israel had done something to merit the heavenly food with which he supplied them? It was a free gift which they needed: and it is that which we also need, and which renders the Gospel altogether suitable to fallen man.
Next, the Gospel communicates its blessings to us fully. There is not a want in man which it does not supply. Are we "wretched and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked?" "It gives us gold tried in the fire, that we may be rich; and white clothing to cover us, that the shame of our nakedness may not appear; and it anoints our eyes with eye—salve, that we may see." This is a feature of the Gospel which the Prophet Isaiah portrays in very lively colors: "The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me; because the Lord has anointed me to preach good tidings to the meek: he has sent me to bind up the broken-hearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to them that are bound; to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all that mourn; to appoint unto them that mourn in Zion, to give unto them beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness; that they may be called trees of righteousness, the planting of the Lord, that he may be glorifiedl." Now, this passage peculiarly illustrates the point before us; because it takes a view of mankind in a vast diversity of conditions, and represents the Gospel as adapting itself to every different state, and as supplying the precise wants of every individual. And it is the more to be noticed, because our blessed Lord, in the first public discourse that ever he delivered, turned to that very passage, and cited it, and declared it to be that very day fulfilled in their ears. Now, conceive of man in every state that can be imagined; conceive of him as bowed down with a sense of guilt, or harassed with temptations of Satan, or sinking under persecutions from men, or under the hidings of God's face, or in the prospect of immediate dissolution; the Gospel contains that very thing which he needs—pardon for all sin, strength against every temptation, support under every trial, comfort under every affliction, and life by the simple exercise of faith, precisely as it was given to the dying Israelites by a view of the brazen serpentn. Were there any one situation for which it did not yield a supply, or any one thing which it required us to provide from our own store, it would not be a suitable remedy for us. Suppose, for a moment, that the Israelites in the wilderness had been provided with bread and water; but that they had been left to their own guidance, or that no miracle had been wrought to preserve their clothes, or to keep their feet from the common effect of long and wearisome toil; the want of any one thing would have rendered all their other blessings vain and nugatory. And so it would be with us. Say, for instance, to a dying man, 'You must render such and such services to the Lord, before you can be accepted by him;' what hope would such painful tidings inspire? But tell him that "Christ died for the very chief of sinners," and that "those who come unto him he will in no wise cast out," and you will comfort his soul: and though such death-bed experiences are by no means to be trusted in, yet he may perhaps be made such another monument of grace as was the dying thief, and may be a "jewel in the Redeemer's crown" for ever and ever.
But, thanks be to God! there is nothing which the Gospel does not impart to us in the hour of need: pardon, peace, holiness, glory, all are given to us for Christ's sake; "who of God is made unto us wisdom, and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption."
But that which renders the Gospel pre—eminently suitable to us, is, that it finally secures to us the full possession of its blessings. It represents salvation, with all its attendant benefits, as contained in an everlasting covenant, and made over to all who truly believe in Christ. It represents that covenant, also, as "confirmed by God himself with an oath, in order that, by two immutable things, in which it is impossible for God to lie, we may have strong consolation, who have fled for refuge, to lay hold upon the hope set before usr." It further represents Christ as the Mediator of that covenant, and all its blessings as treasured up in him for our uset: and therefore treasured up in him, because, if they had been committed to us, they would have been insecure, or, rather, would infallibly be lost. The statements of Scripture upon this head are as strong and express as can well be conceived. The Lord Jesus Christ himself is said to live in the believer: "I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live: yet not I; but Christ lives in me." But stronger still is the Apostle's language in another place: "You are dead, and your life is hid with Christ in God. When Christ, who is our life, shall appear, then shall you also appear with him in gloryx." Here, not only is Christ called our life; but our life is said to be "hid with Christ in God," and from that very circumstance we are justified in hoping, that, when he shall appear, we also shall appear with him in glory. But I apprehend that the real force of these words is not generally seen. I conceive the true import of them to be to the following effect. When God first made man, he committed the life of the whole universe to Adam, as their head and representative, that they might stand in him, or fall in him. But, notwithstanding Adam was perfect, and had but one single restraint imposed upon him as a test of his fidelity, he fell; and, by his fall, brought death and destruction upon all his posterity. Now, in restoring men to his favor, God says, 'I will not commit your eternal interests into your own hands: for if I do, weak as you are, and surrounded with temptations, and having your own interests alone confided to you, what can I hope, but that you will cast them all away, and perish? I will therefore give you another Covenant Head and Representative, even my only dear Son, and commit all your interests to him: he shall be your hope: "he shall be your very life;" yes, "your life shall be hid with Christ in God," then I shall be sure that no enemy shall prevail against you: for "none can pluck you out of his hands; much less shall any pluck you out of my hands." '
In what I have said on this sublime portion of Holy Writ, I would be understood to speak with diffidence. But I believe that the interpretation which I have put upon it is the true sense, and that no one can enter into its full meaning who does not view it in this light. But the point I am insisting on depends not on one or two particular passages: it is the statement of the whole Scriptures. Every soul is given into the hands of Christ, that he may "keep it by his own power, through faith unto salvation." Hence it is that he could appeal to his Father in his last intercessory prayer, that "of those who had been committed to him he had lost nonea." And hence it is that Paul was so "confident, that, wherever the good work was begun in a soul, it should be carried on and perfected unto the end." He knew that Christ was the Author of true faith, wherever it existed; and that he, who was "the Author, would also be the Finisher, of itc," and hence he assured both himself and every believing soul, that, inasmuch as "Christ has said, I will never leave you nor forsake you," we may dismiss all fear, and rest in perfect confidence, that "what he has promised, he is able also to perform."
Now, then, see how suitable to us the Gospel is, in this point of view. It shows us where our hope is; and that, as "Christ is able to keep us from falling, and to present us faultless before the presence of his glory with exceeding joy," we have nothing to do, but to commit ourselves into his hands, and to "live the life which we now live in the flesh, simply by faith in the Son of God, who has loved us, and given himself for usg." And, if we only know and remember "in whom we have believed," we may be assured, that "he will keep that which we have committed to him," and "preserve us blameless unto his heavenly kingdomi."
If any suppose that such a confidence in Christ would supersede the necessity of holy fear and watchfulness, I beg leave, once for all, to say, that, notwithstanding all that God has treasured up for us in Christ, we are still weak in ourselves, and to our latest hour "must we work out our salvation with fear and trembling." We are saved by faith, as far as it respects God; but we are saved by fear, as far as it respects ourselves: and to every soul under Heaven are those words addressed; "You stand by faith: be not high—minded, but fear."
II. The sufficiency of the Gospel comes now, in the second place, to be considered.
Truly, it is sufficient for every soul of man, even as the manna and the water were for the whole nation of Israel. For our comfort, for our sanctification, and for our complete salvation, it is perfectly sufficient. It is sufficient for our comfort. Suppose a man to be brought, by a view of his own sinfulness, to the very borders of despair; what can he need more, than to hear that God himself has undertaken his cause, and assumed his nature, and expiated his guilt, by his own sufferings unto death? What would he wish to add to this? What can, by any possibility, be added to it? If this be not sufficient, what can be? His sins, even though they were as numerous and heinous as those of Manasseh himself, are but finite: whereas the atonement offered for him is of value infinite; yes, and the righteousness wrought out for him is also of value infinite. We are told expressly that "the blood of Jesus Christ will cleanse from all sin;" and that "all who believe in him shall be justified from all things, from which they could not be justified by the law of Mosesn." Let a man's sins be of ever so deep a dye, even "though they were red as scarlet or as crimson, they shall be made white as snow." We can scarcely conceive of greater guilt than that of David, after all the mercies that had been given to him, and all the profession of piety which he had made; and yet he prays, "Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow," and then he acknowledges the efficacy of this remedy, saying, "You have made the bones which you have broken to rejoiceq." The instances in the New Testament of the efficacy of the Gospel to comfort a believing soul, are numberless. Behold the three thousand on the day of Pentecost, whose hands were yet reeking with the Savior's blood: scarcely had they believed in Christ one hour, before they all "ate their bread with gladness and singleness of heart, blessing and praising God." Wherever Christ was preached, great joy sprang up in the hearts of those who heard the words. And is it not so at this day? What "though we do not see Christ, yet we love him; and, believing in him, we rejoice with joy unspeakable, and glorified." This is declared to be the invariable effect of the Gospel throughout the whole world: "Sing, O you heavens; for the Lord has done it: shout, you lower parts of the earth; break forth into singing, you mountains, O forest, and every tree therein: for the Lord has redeemed Jacob, and glorified himself in Israel." Only let the Gospel descend as dew upon any place, and "the wilderness will be glad, and the desert will rejoice, and blossom as the rosex," for "the Lord will comfort Zion; he will comfort all her waste places; and he will make her wilderness like Eden, and her desert like the garden of the Lord: joy and gladness shall be found therein, thanksgiving, and the voice of melody."
I forbear to speak of other sorrows, and of the consolation which the Gospel will administer under them; because there is no sorrow whatever, which, in weight or poignancy, can be compared with that which a sense of guilt creates in the soul: and, if the supports of the Gospel are so effectual under that, we may well suppose that all minor sorrows shall flee before it, even as the mists before the noon—day sun.
I would observe therefore next, that the Gospel is sufficient for our sanctification. Never was anything found to change the heart of man but the Gospel. Let any one call to mind the labors of the ancient philosophers, and inquire whether any one ever prevailed so far as to sanctify the hearts, of many, shall 1 say? nay, of one single individual? No; never, from the foundation of the world, did philosophy effect this, in one single instance. But, when the Gospel was preached, what effects were produced in every place! The passions of men were subdued; their lusts were mortified; their habits were changed; their dispositions were made altogether new; and those who had borne in every feature a semblance of their father, the devil, were "transformed into the image of their God, in righteousness and true holiness." This was nothing but what the voice of prophecy had long before announced: "As the rain comes down, and the snow, from Heaven, and returns not thither, but waters the earth, and makes it bring forth and bud, that it may give seed to the sower, and bread to the eater; so shall my word be that goes forth out of my mouth: it shall not return unto me void, but shall accomplish that which I please, and it shall prosper in the thing whereto I sent it.… Instead of the thorn shall come up the fir-tree; and instead of the brier shall come up the myrtle-tree: and it shall be to the Lord for a name, for an everlasting sign that shall not be cut off."
If it be asked, How the Gospel effects this change? I answer, It reveals a Savior to us in all the wonders of his love; and thus generates in the soul a desire to serve and honor him. No sooner do we see that we have been "bought with a price," than we desire to "glorify God with our bodies and our spirits, which are his." In aid of these new desires, it brings down the Holy Spirit into the soul. That Divine Agent is promised to all who believe in Christ: and Christ does send him down into the hearts of his people, to "strengthen them with might in their inward manb," and to "work all their works in them." Thus they become "sanctified in body, soul, and spiritd," and are rendered "meet for the inheritance of the saints in light." Thus does the Gospel sanctify men; filling them with new principles, to which they were utter strangers before; and imparting to them new powers, which none but a believing soul can ever exercise.
I add once more, the Gospel is sufficient for our complete salvation. In no situation whatever can we be placed, wherein it does not afford us "strength equal to our day." It not only makes us conquerors, but "more than conquerors;" rendering our very troubles a source of joyg, and our conflicts an occasion of more exalted triumphs. Behold the Apostle Paul under a trial of no ordinary kind; a trial so grievous that it seemed almost entirely to overwhelm him: yet, when the Lord Jesus had given an answer of peace to his soul, he was not only reconciled to his trials, but actually took pleasure in them, "I take pleasure," says he, "in infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses, for Christ's sake: for when I am weak, then am I strong." Nay, when in expectation of martyrdom itself, he not only felt no apprehensions, but regarded his sufferings rather as an occasion of joy; and not only congratulated himself upon his prospects, but desired his Christian friends to congratulate him alsoi. But, to enter properly into this part of our subject, we should see what an inconceivable superiority to all the powers, whether of earth or Hell, the Gospel imparted to that highly-favored servant of Christ. Hear his own words, even while he was yet contending with all his enemies: "If God be for us, who can be against us? He who spared not his own Son, but delivered him up for us all, how shall he not with him also freely give us all things? Who shall lay anything to the charge of God's elect? It is God that justifies; who is he who condemns? It is Christ that died; yes, rather, that is risen again; who is oven at the right hand of God, who also makes intercession for us. 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. For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord." Now here I wish it to be particularly noticed, that not one word of all this is spoken by him as an attainment peculiar to himself as an Apostle: the whole is spoken upon principles common to the whole Christian world: Is God for us? did Christ die for us? and is he risen and making intercession for us? then is the whole of this experience proper for us also, as well as for him: and in it we see, that the Gospel is sufficient to perfect everything that concerns us; and so to carry us through things temporal, that we may finally attain the things eternal.
Such, then, is the spiritual food which God commends to you this day. And now let me invite you all to partake of it. In rich abundance is your heavenly Father causing the manna to fall around your tents; and at this moment are the streams gushing out like a river, for the satisfying of your thirsty souls. O that we all felt our need of the bread and water of life, as the Israelites did of the food that perishes! Paint to yourselves the sense of obligation which they felt at having all their wants supplied; and the avidity with which they seized the provisions which were thus afforded them. Would to God that we had some resemblance to them, and could feel an intensity of interest suited to the occasion, now that Christ is freely offered to us for the support of our souls! Remember, I pray you, that not one among them was benefitted by merely hearing or seeing what God had done for them: no, it was by applying to themselves the heavenly gift, for their own personal comfort and support. In like manner must we also apply to ourselves all the rich provisions of the Gospel: we must "eat the flesh of Christ, and drink his blood," if we would have our souls nourished unto eternal life. Earnestly would I wish that this distinction should be made, and carefully remembered. We are ready to think that we have done enough when we have heard the Gospel, and approved of the truths contained in it. But we must receive them into our hearts by faith; yes, they must enter into our very souls; and we must live upon them from day to day. Never are we to be weary of feeding upon Christ: we must see and feel that "his flesh is meat indeed, and his blood is drink indeed," and, feeding daily upon him, we must hunger for nothing else, and thirst for nothing else. At the same time, we must take care to show that we are really invigorated by this heavenly food, and fitted to prosecute our journey through this dreary wilderness. In a word, while we take it to ourselves as suitable, we must show to others its sufficiency for all that our necessities can require. Let none despise this food. Whether we be old or young, rich or poor, learned or unlearned, Christ is alike needful for us, and will be alike sufficient for us. There is one peculiarity, however, in which the parallel fails, and must be turned into a contrast. Those who ate of that spiritual food died. But shall any one perish who feeds on Christ? No, truly: whoever he may be, he shall become a monument of saving grace, and his soul shall live forever.
And now, need I add anything more to show the importance of receiving Christ, and feeding upon him? Alas! alas! the Israelites in the wilderness needed none to urge them to use the food provided for them, notwithstanding all the benefit to be derived from it was the prolongation of their bodily life, which must at all events terminate in a few years. But what exhortations and entreaties are necessary to induce us to feed on Christ, for the life of our souls! Some fee! no need of Christ, others pour contempt upon him, as unsuitable: others, again, think they must add to him, as insufficient: and few, very few, will live upon him, as "all their salvation, and all their desire." To those, however, who do sec the suitableness and sufficiency of Christ, I would say, Gather up your portion of the manna daily, before the risen sun has had time to melt it; and refresh yourselves with the living waters with exquisite delight: and, in the strength of this your food, go on your way rejoicing. Yes, "as you have received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk you in him, rooted and built up in him, and established in the faith as you have been taught, abounding therein with thanksgiving."
The Excellency and Glory of the Gospel
1 Timothy 1:11. The glorious Gospel of the blessed God.
Ephesians 3:18, 19. Be able to comprehend with all saints what is the breadth, and length, and depth, and height; and to know the love of Christ, which passes knowledge, that you might be filled with all the fullness of God.
FROM no part of Holy Writ do we obtain a deeper insight into the great mysteries of the Gospel, than from the prayers of the Apostle Paul. He there embodied, as it were, all his views of divine truth, and poured forth his soul to God in terms altogether out of the reach of an uninspired mind; in terms so vast, so grand, so comprehensive, that, with the utmost stretch of our imagination, we find it exceeding difficult to grasp the thoughts contained in them.
I will not detain you with any comment on this prayer, because the subject which I have to bring before you is of itself sufficient to occupy all the time that can reasonably be devoted to one discourse. I have omitted the former part of this prayer, because it is the latter part alone that is applicable to the subject before us, or proper to be brought forward as introductory to this discourse. But to that part I would wish to draw your more particular attention; because, in praying for the Ephesians, that they might "be able to comprehend, with all saints, what is the breadth, and length, and depth, and height of the love of Christ, which passes knowledge, and by comprehending it be filled with all the fullness of God," he not only adverts to the subject which I am about to bring before you, but declares that "all saints in the universe ought in some good measure to comprehend it." It is obvious, on the most superficial view of these words, that the Apostle saw a glory and excellency in the Gospel, beyond what it was in the power of language to express, or of any finite imagination fully to comprehend; and that he regarded a discovery of that excellency as the appointed means of accomplishing in men the whole work of divine grace, and of ultimately filling them with all the fullness of God. Hence it will be seen how appropriate these words are to our present subject; wherein I am to set before you, as God shall enable me, the Gospel of Christ, in all its excellency and in all its glory.
In prosecution of this great object, I will endeavor to exhibit the Gospel, as honoring God's law; as glorifying his perfections: and as laying a foundation for greater happiness, both to men and angels, than either of them could ever have enjoyed, if man had never fallen.
First, I am to set it forth as honoring God's law.
This is a point of view in which it deserves the most attentive consideration. For, if we proclaim a free and full salvation, and that simply by faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, we immediately appear to men to set aside the law. And more particularly, when we state, that the law cannot justify any man—that it is not to be observed with any view to obtain justification by it—that we must not so much as lean to it in the slightest degree—and that the placing of the smallest dependence upon it will invalidate the whole Gospel—we are supposed to be downright Antinomians in principle, whatever we may be in practice; and our doctrines are represented as quite dangerous to the community. Now, it must be remembered, that Paul's own statements were, in the judgment of many, obnoxious to this very reproach; and that he was, therefore, constrained to vindicate them from this charge: "Do we, then, make void the law through faith? God forbid," says he: "yes, we establish the law."
The law, you will remember, requires perfect obedience to all its commandments, and denounces a curse against every one who shall violate even the least of them in the smallest possible degree. Now, it is manifest that we have broken them in ten thousand instances, and are consequently obnoxious to its heaviest judgments: and yet we say to those who believe in Christ, that they have nothing to fear; for that "there is no condemnation to them that are in Christ Jesus." Here, then, we seem to set aside the law altogether, both in its commanding and condemning power. But the truth is, that we establish the law in both respects: for the Gospel declares, that the Lord Jesus Christ, the Creator of Heaven and earth, was "made of a woman, made under the law," on purpose that, in his own person, he might fulfill the law which we had broken, and endure the penalties which we had incurred; that so not a jot or tittle should pass from the law, until the whole of it, in every possible view, should be fulfilled. This work he both undertook and executed. He obeyed the law, in its utmost possible extent; and he endured the wrath due to the sins of the whole world. Now, consider how greatly the law was honored by this. It would have been honored, if all mankind had obeyed it: and it would also have been honored, if they had all been consigned over to the punishment they had merited by their disobedience. In either case, its authority would have been displayed and vindicated. But when the Lawgiver himself, the Mighty God, becomes a man, and puts himself under its authority, and obeys all its precepts, and suffers all its penalties, and does this on purpose that the law may be honored, and that the salvation of man may be rendered compatible with its demands, this puts an honor upon the law which it would never have obtained by any other means, and must forever render it glorious in the eyes of the whole intelligent creation.
But it is not in the Lord Jesus Christ alone, as our Head and Representative, that the law is honored: the Gospel engages that every sinner who is interested in its provisions shall himself also honor the law in his own person. For every one, at the time that he comes to Christ for mercy, must acknowledge, that he is justly condemned by the law; and that, if, for his transgressions of the law, he be cast into the lake that burns with fire and brimstone, it will be no more than his just desert. And this must he acknowledge, not in mere words only, that carry not the heart along with them: no; he must feel that he is actually in danger of this very punishment; and that nothing but a most wonderful act of mercy can ever deliver him from it. He must go to God, as one that sees this very punishment awaiting him; and must, from his inmost soul, cry out with Peter, when sinking in the waves, "Save, Lord, or I perish!" Moreover, in his supplications for mercy, he must plead the sufferings of the Lord Jesus Christ in his behalf. He must not even desire that the authority of the law should be made void; no, not even for the salvation of his soul: he must found all his hopes on the honor done to the law by the sufferings of Christ; and must desire, that those sufferings may be put to his account, as if he himself had endured them: nor is his own mind to be satisfied with anything which does not satisfy the law, and put honor upon the law. Nor is this all: for he must acknowledge, that without a righteousness commensurate with the utmost demands of the law, he never can be, nor ever ought to be, accepted of his God. He must deeply lament his utter inability to keep the law in this manner; and must renounce all hope in himself; assured, that nothing but perfect obedience can ever be received by God, or be acknowledged by him as honoring his law. A man rightly instructed would deem it an insult to the law to desire that his partial and worthless performances should be regarded as answering its demands: and, in this view, renouncing all hope in himself and his own works, he will plead the obedience which his incarnate God has paid to the law, and trust in that alone for righteousness and salvation. He will not even wish for acceptance with God on any other terms than those of having rendered, either in himself or in his divine Surety, a perfect obedience to the law: in a word, he will regard the Lord Jesus Christ as "the end of the law for righteousness to the believing soul," and trust in him altogether under that character, "The Lord our Righteousnessc." Thus you perceive that the Gospel provides for the honor of the law, not only in showing that it has been honored by the obedience and sufferings of our incarnate God, but in requiring every sinner in the universe to honor it in his own person, by founding all his hopes on that very mediation by which the law has been so greatly honored.
Nor have we yet attained a full view of this part of our subject: for the Gospel yet further requires, that all who in this way have found acceptance with God shall endeavor to honor the law by their own obedience to it in every respect. True, indeed, the believer feels that he cannot perfectly obey it: he feels too that he can never, by his best attempts to obey it, recommend himself to God, so as to obtain a justifying righteousness before him: yet he regards the law as "holy, and just, and good;" and endeavors to fulfill it, as much as if he were to be saved altogether by his obedience to it. "The grace of God, which brings salvation, teaches him this: it teaches him, that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, he should live soberly, and righteously, and godly, in this present world." While, therefore, he embraces the promises of the Gospel as the one ground of his hope, he will make use of those promises as an incentive to "cleanse himself from all filthiness, both of flesh and spirit, and to perfect holiness in the fear of Gode."
Now, this effect of the Gospel is not produced only in a few particular instances; it is universal: nor is there so much as one sinner that ever finds acceptance through Christ, without having this experience realized in his soul. If any person under Heaven profess to have obtained salvation through Christ without having this humiliation under a sense of sin—this conviction of his lost estate—this acquiescence in the justice of God as consigning him over to perdition—this consciousness of his inability to repair his breaches of the law—this persuasion that the law ought to be honored both in its commanding and condemning power—this hope in Christ, as having so honored it in both respects—this utter renunciation of every other hope—and, in addition to it all, this desire to obey the law, and this determination to honor it in every possible way—I say, if any person without this, as the deep and abiding experience of his soul, should profess an expectation of salvation by Christ, we should not hesitate to say of him, what the Apostle said of the self-deceiving Jews, that, however he may be "seeking after righteousness, he neither has attained it," nor ever will attain it, in the way in which he is proceeding: he is yet a stranger to the law, and the glory of the Gospel is yet hid from his eyes. He has yet to learn, that, as the Gospel honors the law, so every one that is saved by the Gospel does, and must, in every possible way, and to the utmost extent of his power, contribute to this good work of "magnifying and making honorable the law of Godg."
The next point of view in which the excellency of the Gospel is to be shown, is, that it glorifies all the perfections of the Deity.
That there was a difficulty in making the salvation of man to consist with the honor of the Divine perfections, was mentioned in a former discourse; wherein were shown the wisdom of God in contriving a way, the power of God in effecting it, and the grace of God in accommodating it to all the wants and necessities of fallen man. My present point will lead me to show, not merely that this consistency is secured, but that all the perfections of God are more glorified in this way than they could have been in any other. For instance, suppose that man, with all his descendants, had been consigned to misery: the justice of God would have appeared; and his truth also would have been seen: but it would not have been known that there existed in the Deity any such attribute as mercy; or that, if it did exist in him, it could ever find a fit scope for exercise: since the exercise of it must, of necessity, involve in it some remission of the rights of justice, and some encroachment on the honor of the law. On the other hand, if free and full remission of sins had been granted unto man, it would not have been seen how such an act of grace could consist with the rights of justice and holiness and truth. But, in the method of salvation which the Gospel reveals, not only are these perfections reconciled with each other, but all of them are exceedingly enhanced and glorified.
That I may keep as clear as possible of my former subject, I will now confine myself to three of the Divine attributes—justice, mercy, and truth; and show how a tenfold luster is reflected upon them in the Gospel salvation, beyond what could ever have beamed forth in any other way.
Justice, as I have said, would have been seen in the condemnation of the human race. But what shall we say of it as exhibited in the Gospel? Behold, the Lord Jesus Christ, who is "God over all," puts himself in the place of sinful man, and undertakes to endure for man all that the sins of the whole world had merited. But what will justice say, when it finds our sins transferred to him? Will it venture to seize on him? Will it exact the debt of him? Will it draw forth the sword against him, who is "Jehovah's Fellow?" Methinks the sword, stretched out, would fall from the hand of justice, and refuse to execute its appointed work. But, no: sin is found on our incarnate God. True, it is in him only by imputation: yet, being imputed to him, he must be made answerable for iti, and must himself endure all that it has merited at the hands of God. Behold, then, for the honor of God's justice, the cup is put into the hands of our blessed Lord: and the very dregs of the cup of bitterness are given him to drink: nor is he released from his sufferings, until he can say, "It is finished." Contemplate, now, this mysterious fact; the God of Heaven and earth becoming man, and, by his own obedience unto death, satisfying the demands of law and justice, in order that God, through his vicarious sufferings, may "be just, and yet the justifier of them that believe in Christ." But could justice be satisfied with nothing less? Would it accept of nothing less? Would it not consent to the salvation of a human being on any other terms than these? Behold, then, I say, how exalted is its character! how inalienable its rights! how inexorable its demands! Truly, in all that it inflicts, either on men or angels, it is not so glorified, as it is in this stupendous mystery.
Next, let us take a view of the same subject in reference to mercy. This Divine attribute would doubtless have been displayed, if man, by a mere sovereign act of grace, had been pardoned. But it did not seem good to the Deity that mercy should so triumph over all his other attributes. It shall indeed be brought forth to light, and have full scope for operation; but its actings shall be such only as shall consist with the honor of every other attribute. But what way shall be devised for this? Divine wisdom, as I have before shown, contrived a way, wherein God might be at the same time "a just God and a Savior." The plan proposed was, that God's only dear Son should be substituted in the place of sinners. But shall mercy be exercised at such an expense as this? Better were it that all its gracious purposes should be abandoned, than that Almighty God should stoop to such a condescension as this. What! that mercy shall be shown towards a number of rebellious worms—of creatures that can never contribute anything to the happiness or honor of their God—of creatures, millions of whom, if necessary for God's honor, could be created in an instant, in the room of those that should perish; that mercy, I say, might be shown to these, shall the God of Heaven divest himself of his glory? shall the Creator of the universe become a man? shall he have the sins of a rebellious world laid on him? shall he become a victim, and be offered upon the altar of divine justice—that man, worthless man, may be spared? Surely mercy can never require this: it will be content to lie hid in the bosom of the Deity to all eternity, rather than that such a sacrifice should be made for its honor. But no; mercy cannot be so restrained: it pants for an opportunity of pouring forth its benefits into the souls of men. Its affections are so moved at the sight of a perishing world, that it will not, it cannot, rest. Everything but God's honor shall give way to it: and now that that can be secured, no price shall be too great for its descent from Heaven to bless our ruined race. Go now to Bethlehem, and see in the manger that new-born infant, your incarnate God, "God manifest in the flesh." Who sent him thither? Who brought him from his throne of glory, into this world of sin and misery? It was mercy, struggling in the bosom of Almighty God, and prevailing for its own development in this mysterious way. Go again to Gethsemane and Calvary: behold that innocent sufferer: see him prostrate on the ground, bathed in a bloody sweat! see him hanging on the cross, agonizing under a load of his creatures's guilt, crying in the depths of dereliction, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" and expiring under the wrath of Almighty God, the wrath due to him as the Surety and Substitute of a guilty world! Who has brought him to this state? 'Twas mercy: mercy would not rest: it would break forth: rather than not exercise itself towards mankind, it would transfer to God himself the penalty due to them, and write in the blood of an incarnate God the pardon it designed for sinful man. Say, now, whether mercy be not glorified in this astonishing mystery, which the Gospel has so fully revealed?
And truth, also, has derived to itself no less a measure of glory from this stupendous mystery. God had said, "In the day that you eat of the forbidden fruit, you shall surely die." When, therefore, man had eaten, what remained but that the threatened penalty should be inflicted on him? The word had gone forth: it could not be revoked: nor could its sentence he reversed, consistently with the sacred rights of truth. What then shall be done? If the sentence is executed on man, the veracity of God is displayed and honored: but how can man be spared, and truth be kept inviolate? The suggestions of wisdom being approved, and the substitution of God's only-begotten Son in the sinner's place admitted, truth willingly accepts the proposal, gladly transfers the penalty, and joyfully inflicts on the victim the sentence due to the offender:—and thus is consummated that mystery which none but God could ever have devised, "Mercy and truth are met together, righteousness and peace have kissed each othern." Thus are not only the different perfections of God made to harmonize in the salvation of man; but justice is exercised in a way of mercy, and mercy is exercised in a way of justice; and both of them, in a way of holiness and truth.
But the glory and excellency of the Gospel yet further appear, in that the Gospel, as I observed in the third place, lays a foundation for greater happiness, both to men and angels, than either of them could ever have enjoyed, if man. had never fallen.
The felicity of angels doubtless is great; as would that of men also have been, if man had never fallen. But, from the Gospel, both the one and the other derive a vast accession to their happiness, beyond all that they would otherwise ever have possessed. In reference to angels, I may say, that if in no other respect they were benefitted by the Gospel, they would derive an immense advantage from it, in that, from seeing how great a sacrifice was necessary to restore man to happiness, they must of necessity form a higher estimate of the happiness that has been freely conferred on them: and, in proportion to the sense which they feel of the obligations conferred upon them, must their love to God be augmented, and their felicity advanced.
But, independent of this consideration, I doubt not but they have received by the Gospel a vast accession to their bliss.
I think it will readily be acknowledged, that the happiness of the angelic hosts is derived chiefly, if not entirely, from beholding the glory of their God. From the first instant of their creation, they must therefore have been inconceivably blessed; because, without intermission, they have been basking, as it were, in the beams of divine glory. But, when some intimation was given of the Divine purpose to restore to happiness our fallen race, what astonishment must have seized the whole heavenly choir! They had seen millions of their own species consigned to misery, and Hell itself created for their sad abode: and, when man had fallen, they could expect nothing, but that those who were partners in transgression should also be fellow-heirs of the doom assigned to it. But, when they saw that a purpose existed in the Divine mind to pardon man, an entire new view of the Deity must have struck their minds, and filled them with wonder and admiration. From that moment, the great mystery of redemption has been gradually unfolding to mankind: and by every discovery made to the Church, the angels themselves have gained a deeper insight into it. They were represented, under the Mosaic dispensation, by the two cherubim who covered the ark. Those were formed in a bending posture, looking down into the ark, as if desirous of discovering more fully the wonders contained in that typical emblematic ordinance. Peter assures us of this; when, speaking of the prophecies relating to the sufferings and glory of our Lord, he says, "Which things the angels desire to look into." The very word he usesq refers to their bending posture, which I have before mentioned. And that they are brought to more enlarged views of God's glory in the face of Jesus Christ, by the revelation of it which is given to us, is expressly asserted by Paul; who says, that "God would have all men see what was the fellowship of the mystery which, from the beginning of the world, had been hid in God, who created all things by Jesus Christ, to the intent that now unto the principalities and powers in heavenly places might be known by the Church the manifold wisdom of God. Hence we find that, at the incarnation of our Lord, a new song commenced in Heaven: "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good-will towards mens." From that hour have they been contemplating all the wonders of his love: and still are they beholding the radiance of his glory, and of the glory of God beaming forth from his face; and from every discovery of the divine perfections they receive a still further augmentation of their bliss. Until the foregoing method of reconciling and glorifying the divine perfections had been revealed to us, the angels could have had no more conception of it than we. They had seen in the works of creation, and had experienced in their own bosoms, a marvelous display of the wisdom and goodness and power and love of Almighty God: but they could never have conceived the least idea of them, as they are exhibited in the gift of his only begotten Son to die for man. All this they learn from the Gospel only: and, consequently, the Gospel, which has contributed so greatly to their happiness, has, on that very account, an excellency of glory deserving of the highest admiration.
And how is the happiness of man also advanced by this great salvation? Doubtless, as I have said before, he would have been happy, if he had never fallen. But what is his happiness in glory now! What views must he have of the divine perfections! What a sense must he feel of "the love of Christ, the breadth and length, and depth and height, of which are utterly incomprehensible!" If, as beholding the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ, man is on a par with angels, in this respect he is elevated far above them, in that he can say, in reference to the whole work of Christ, 'All this was done for me.' When he beholds the Lord Jesus Christ in his human nature, he must say, 'My God assumed that nature for me.' When he sees Christ "upon his throne, as a Lamb that has been slain," and surveys the wounds once inflicted on his hands and side, he must say, 'Those wounds were endured for me.' When he contemplates all the glory and felicity of Heaven, he must say, 'This throne was bought for me; this crown for me; this inheritance for me; yes, and bought too with the blood of my incarnate God!' Every smile of God the Father must be endeared to him, by the thought, that it was purchased for him by the agonies of God the Son, and secured to him by the agency of God the Spirit. Truly, this realizing sense of an interest in all the wonders of redemption must augment the felicity of the saints far beyond that of the angels themselves: and accordingly we find, that the saints are nearer to the throne of God than the angels themselves. "The saints stand round about the throne; and the angels stand round about the saints." We find, too, that the saints lead the chorus, with an exulting acknowledgment of their own interest in Christ; saying, "You are worthy: for you were slain, and have redeemed us to God by your blood, out of every kindred and tongue and people and nation; and have made us unto our God kings and priests." But all that the angels can do, is to join in the acknowledgment that Christ is worthy: not one word can they add about their own interest in his work: all that they can say is, "Worthy is the Lamb that was slain to receive power and riches and wisdom and strength and honor and glory and blessing," therefore, "Blessing and honor and glory and power, be unto Him that sits upon the throne, and unto the Lamb for ever and ever."
Say now, Whether there be not a glory and excellency in the Gospel, not only beyond anything which is generally contemplated, but far beyond what any finite capacity can ever fully comprehend? Yet, how is it regarded among us? Does it in any degree corresponding with its importance, occupy our minds as Christians, and our ministrations as ambassadors of Christ? On the contrary, is it not rather viewed with suspicion, and in too many instances loaded with contempt? But would it be so treated, if it were properly understood? See what effects are ascribed to it, and what blessings a just comprehension of this mysterious subject is calculated to impart. In my text it is said, that a view of this sublime mystery will "fill us with all the fullness of God." And what can be meant by this? Can it be supposed that a creature should ever resemble God in his natural perfections? No, but in his moral perfections we both may and must resemble him, if ever we would behold the face of God in peace. Nay more; we must not only partake of his moral perfections, but must have them all united and harmonizing in us, even as they unite and harmonize in God himself, and in this stupendous mystery, which has emanated from him. For instance; while justice, and mercy, and truth, and love, find in us, on all occasions, their appropriate operations, we must be careful that the opposite graces of faith and fear, humility and confidence, meekness and fortitude, contrition and joy, have full scope, not only for occasional, but for constant and harmonious exercise. In a word, we should resemble "God, who is light" itself. In light, you know, there is an assemblage of widely-different rays; some of which, if taken separately, might be thought to approximate rather to darkness than to light. But if the more brilliant rays were taken alone, though they might produce a glare, they would never make light. It is the union of all, in their due proportion, and in simultaneous motion, that constitutes light: and then only, when all the different graces are in simultaneous exercise, each softening and tempering its opposite, then only, I say, do we properly resemble God.
But how shall this character be formed in us? How shall we "be filled thus with all the fullness of our God?" Can it be effected by philosophy, or by the operation of any natural principles? Can anything but the Gospel of Christ effect it? No; nothing under Heaven ever did, or ever can, form this character, but an overwhelming sense of the love of Christ in dying for us: and it is on this account that I have endeavored to bring this great subject before you. And, O, that it might have a suitable operation upon your souls! Truly, it should fill the soul: it should produce in us somewhat of the effect which it is at this very moment producing in Heaven. Behold both saints and angels, all of them prostrate on their face before the throne of God. And wherefore is it that those happy spirits are in such a posture as this? they are all, without exception, overwhelmed with admiring and adoring views of God and of the Lamb. And should not such be the prostration of our souls also, under a sense of the incomprehensible love of Christ, as revealed in the Gospel? Behold the seraphim in Isaiah's vision: each of them had six wings; with two of them covering his face, as unworthy to behold the Deity, and with two his feet, as unworthy to serve him; and with the remaining two flying through the vast expanse of Heaven, to fulfill their Maker's willz. Now this is the use that we also should make of our powers: humiliation and contrition should be united with zeal, throughout our whole deportment: and if we so employ our powers, we may be sure that our progress in the divine life will be advanced, rather than impeded, by these holy self-abasing exercises. In truth, if with David we desire that "the beauty of the Lord our God may be upon us," it is by this assemblage of graces, so qualified and so tempered, that we must attain the desired blessing.
And now let me entreat, that all, who have heard the subjects which have been discussed, will bear in mind their true scope and intent. Let our aim be high: let our desires be enlarged: let none of us be satisfied with low attainments in religion: let us be content with nothing less than being "filled with all the fullness of God." Let us take our incarnate God himself for our pattern: for we are expressly told, that "he has set us an example, that we should follow his steps." "Let the same mind be in us which was also in Christ Jesusc," that so "Christ himself may be formed in us." You have seen what self-denial he exercised for us: what then, I would ask, should we not be ready either to do or to suffer for him? Should there be any bounds to our gratitude and zeal and love? Truly, if we be not brought to a sense of his love, and a corresponding devotedness of heart to him, I shall have spoken in vain, or rather worse than in vain: for "the word, which should have been a savor of life to our salvation, will only prove a savor of death," to our heavier condemnation. But I trust you will not suffer the subject to pass from your minds with the occasion that has brought it before you; but that you will seek to experience it, in all its sanctifying and saving efficacy. Let "the love of Christ" be contemplated by you, until it has "constrained you to live altogether unto him," and never cease to "behold, as in a glass, the glory of the Lord, until you are changed into the same image, from glory to glory, by the Spirit of the Lordf."
And now, having closed my subject, I humbly "commend you all to God, and to the word of his grace, which is able to build you up, and to give you an inheritance among all them that are sanctified."
Christ Came to Save Sinners
1 Timothy 1:15. This is a faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners.
IT is said of the Athenians that "they spent their time in nothing else but in telling or hearing some new thing." This, to say the least, was a very unprofitable way of employing their precious hours: for of the reports that are most industriously circulated, many are false, many doubtful, many frivolous; and of those that are true and important, the far greater part do not properly concern us. But there is one report that has spread far and wide, in which we are all deeply interested; the particulars of which, together with the general character of the report itself, it is our intention to lay before you.
I. The report itself.
In general the report is, that "Jesus Christ came into the world to save sinners." But because of its singular importance, it will be proper that we enter into particulars, and tell you distinctly,
1. Who Jesus Christ was.
He was a man in every respect like ourselves, sin only excepted. But he was God also: he was the only-begotten Son of God, "God of God, light of light, very God of very God." To declare fully who he was, is beyond the power of any finite being: since "none knows the Son but the Father," yet we know infallibly from Scripture that he was the eternalb, immutable Jehovah, God manifest in the fleshd, God over all, blessed for ever.
2. How he came into the world.
He was born like other men; but he was not begotten in the way of ordinary generation. He was formed by the power of the Holy Spirit in the womb of a pure virgin, that he might partake of our nature without inheriting our corruption. He was born under circumstances of peculiar baseness: his life also was spent in poverty and disgrace: and his death was the most cruel and ignominious that could be inflicted on him. But he foreknew from the beginning all that he should suffer, and yet voluntarily took upon him our nature, that he might both do and suffer all that was appointed of the Father.
3. For what end he came into the world.
Never was there such an errand before, or since. His own creatures had ruined themselves; and he came to save them. Though it was his law that they transgressed, and his authority that they despised, and his yoke that they cast off; yes, though he was the one great object of their contempt and abhorrence, he came to save them. Though he knew that they would murder him as soon as ever he should put himself into their power, yet he came to save them; to save the vilest of them, not excepting those who unrighteously condemned him, or insultingly mocked him, or cruelly pierced him with the nails and spear. When there was no alternative but either that they must perish, or he come down from Heaven to suffer in their stead, down he came upon the wings of love, and "saved them from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for them." He suffered that they might go free; and died, that they might live forever.
That this is "not a cunningly-devised fable," will appear, if we consider what is said in the text respecting,
II. The character of this report.
Paul, who had examined it thoroughly, declares that it is,
1. Worthy of credit.
So strange a report as this ought on no account to be believed, unless it can be proved beyond a possibility of doubt. Credulity in a concern that so deeply involves the honor of God and the welfare of all the human race, would be criminal in the highest degree. But we need be under no apprehensions respecting the truth of this report. "It is a faithful saying," it is attested by the accomplishment of prophecies the most numerous, the most minute, the most opposite and irreconcilable; of prophecies, which no human wisdom could have devised, no human power could accomplish. It has been credited by thousands who were at first most adverse to it: it has always appeared with more convincing evidence in proportion as it has been scrutinized and examined: and multitudes have propagated it at the peril of their lives, and sealed the truth of it with their blood. There is no species of evidence wanting to confirm it: so that it is impossible to doubt of its truth, if only we inquire into it with diligence and candor.
2. Worthy of acceptance.
There are many reports that are true, which yet are unworthy of any serious concern. But this is so universally interesting, and withal so precious, that it is worthy to be received by all mankind with the liveliest joy and exultation. If it be considered only as affecting the present happiness of men, there is no other report deserving of the smallest attention in comparison of this. None but God can tell, how many myriads of souls it has delivered from the deepest distress and anguish, and filled with peace and joy unspeakable. In truth, there is no solid comfort upon earth but what arises from the belief of these joyful tidings. But if we extend our views to the eternal felicity which the crediting of this report has occasioned; if we look at the myriads of saints that are already around the throne of God, and consider what numbers are continually adding to them from this lower world, and what an innumerable host there will be at the last day, that will have been rescued from Hell, and exalted to glory solely through their crediting of this report, surely we shall say it is "worthy of all acceptance," worthy, not merely to be credited, but to be entertained in our hearts with the devoutest gratitude and thanksgiving.
We shall conclude with recommending "this saying" to the attention of,
1. Those who have lived in a willful course of sin.
You cannot but have some secret apprehension that "your end will be according to your ways," How acceptable then ought these tidings to be to you! Do not despise them. Do not aggravate your eternal condemnation by rejecting them; neither put them from you, as though they were too good to be true: for Christ came to save even the very "chief of sinners;" and you, if you will believe on him, shall experience his salvation.
2. Those who have been more exemplary in their lives.
Do not imagine that you are able to save yourselves: if you have not been such profligate sinners as others, still you are "sinners," and must be saved by Jesus Christ, or not at all. You are but too apt to overlook all that Christ has done and suffered for you, under an idea that your moral and religious duties will conciliate the Divine favor: and hence it too often happens, that, while "publicans and harlots enter into his kingdom, persons of your description exclude themselves from it. But know, that "there is salvation in no other," Christ is, and must be, your only refuge, and your only hope.
3. Those who have already received it into their hearts.
Doubtless this report has already been a source of joy and consolation to you. But you cannot even conceive how rich a source of blessings it will be, if only you continue to reflect upon it. In it are contained "all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge," it has a height, and depth, and length, and breadth, that no finite being can comprehendk, and that through eternal ages will afford incessant and increasing cause for wonder and adoration. Let this report then be your meditation day and night, and while we, as God's ambassadors, endeavor to propagate it with our lips, do you endeavor to recommend and confirm it by your lives.
1 Timothy 1:16. For this cause I obtained mercy, that in me first Jesus Christ might show forth all longsuffering, for a pattern to them which should hereafter believe on him to life everlasting.
THE first question that should occur to our minds, is this, Have I obtained mercy? If a favorable answer can be returned to that, we should inquire, In what manner, and for what ends, mercy has been shown us? There can be no doubt, but that if persons who are converted to God would frequently look back upon the state in which they were previous to their conversion, they would find the retrospect attended with the most beneficial consequences. Their recollection would furnish them with innumerable facts, which would tend to humble them in the dust, and to excite adoring thoughts of that grace which has so distinguished them. Paul appears to have taken peculiar pleasure in this exercise of mind. He embraces every opportunity to speak of his former hostility to Christ, in order to exalt to the uttermost the honor of that God, by whom he had been elected, redeemed, and sanctified. In the preceding verses he had expatiated on this painful subject: and now he improves it for the benefit of others.
In discoursing on his words, we shall notice,
I. The circumstances under which the Apostle obtained mercy.
If Paul had more to boast of than any, on account of his birth, his education, his strictness, and his zeal, he had also more to be humbled for than almost any other person. For consider,
1. His ignorance of himself.
He had been educated under the most celebrated teacher of his day, Gamaliel; and had made a proficiency beyond any of his age. Yet, skilled as he was in Rabbinical learning, he was wholly ignorant of his own state and character. He knew not that he was a condemned sinner, He knew not the spirituality and extent of the law. He had no idea, that it required perfect unsinning obedience, and consigned men over to perdition for one single offence, whether in thought, word, or deed. Through his ignorance of the law, he imagined himself to be "alive," and entitled to everlasting life. He moreover judged that he was practicing all the moral duties, while he was destitute of almost every just sentiment, or proper feeling. Instead of being humbled as a sinner in dust and ashes, he was lifted up with pride and self-conceit. Instead of being animated with love, and pity, and compassion, he was inflamed with a fiery and wrathful zeal. "He knew not at all what spirit he was of." In short, he was the very reverse of what he afterwards became.
2. His enmity against Christ.
He might have had many opportunities of seeing and hearing Christ, on a supposition he bad chosen to embrace them. But, like proud and ignorant bigots of later ages, he would not condescend to hear one who was so generally despised. He probably believed all the scandalous reports that were circulated respecting Jesus, and therefore thought him unworthy of his attention. From the prophecies indeed he could not but know that the promised Messiah was to appear about that time: but having imbibed the prejudices of his countrymen respecting a temporal Messiah, he concluded that Jesus was an impostor; and no doubt rejoiced when the influence of that deceiver (as he thought him) was terminated by his death. But when the doctrines of the Gospel were propagated with such success by the Apostles, then his disappointment appeared, and he broke forth into the fiercest rage against Christ. He determined to extirpate his followers, and to blot out, if possible, the very remembrance of his name. Such was his opinion of Christ, that "he thought he ought to do everything in his power contrary to his name," and adverse to his cause. Nor can we doubt, but that if Jesus had put himself again in the power of the Jews, Paul would have been among the first to apprehend and destroy him. None would have been found more ready than he to nail him to the cross, or to pierce his heart with the spear.
3. His cruelty to his fellow-creatures.
He was present at the stoning of the first martyr, Stephen. He heard the discourse of that holy man; he saw "his face shining like the face of an angel," he heard him with his dying breath praying for his murderers; but was unconvinced, unrelenting, unmoved. One would have thought that a young man (whose feelings are quick), and a man pretending to morality, should have felt some pity towards one, whose whole appearance was so devout and holy: and that, when the first stone made the blood to gush out, he should have turned away with disgust and horror. But no such effect was produced on him. On the contrary, he feasted his eyes with this bloody spectacle; and testified his consent to the murderous deed, by holding the garments of the murderers, and giving in his looks very evident tokens of his approbation. Having thus tasted of human blood, he thirsted for it, and, like a blood-hound, would be satisfied with nothing else. He volunteered his services in hunting down the victims of his raged. He obtained authority from the chief priests; and in the exercise of it, not only drove the Christians from Jerusalem, but followed them to foreign cities, where he had no jurisdiction. He showed no pity even to helpless females; but dragged all, men and women, to prisonf, and gave his voice against them that they should be put to death. He suffered none to escape, on any other condition than that of blaspheming the name of Jesush; and thus, while he inflicted on some the pains of martyrdom, he consigned others over to the damnation of Hell. From his own description of himself, he more resembled an incarnate fiend than a human being.
So strange were the circumstances under which this fiery bigot obtained mercy, that we are peculiarly concerned to inquire into,
II. The ends for which mercy was given to him.
Doubtless many blessed ends were answered. But, without attempting to enumerate them, we shall notice those only that are specified in the text. It was,
1. For "the manifesting of Christ's patience and long-suffering."
The long-suffering of Christ appears in the forbearance he exercises towards mankind at large. It was eminently conspicuous in his conduct towards the antediluvian world, whose wickedness he endured for the space of a hundred and twenty years. It was wonderfully displayed also in not executing the most signal vengeance on his cruel adversary, and setting him forth as a distinguished monument of his wrath and indignation. But how truly wonderful does it appear, when we see him stopping this blood-thirsty persecutor in the midst of his career, and revealing his pardoning love and mercy to his soul! To take such a viper to his bosom! to make such a creature "an elect vessel," an eminent saint, a distinguished Apostle! to exalt such an one to the most honorable service on earth, and the highest throne in glory! how does this love surpass all knowledge and all conception! How is Jesus now glorified in him! and how must he be admired in him forever, both in the Church militant, and the Church triumphant!
This then was one principal end of so marvelous a conversion, namely, that the exceeding riches of the Redeemer's grace might be displayed before the whole universe, both in time and eternity.
2. For the encouraging of sinners to believe in him.
It is not uncommon for persons to apprehend themselves so vile that they cannot be forgiven. But our blessed Lord has given a most effectual antidote to this in the conversion of Paul. It is not without reason that Paul repeatedly styles himself "the chief of sinners," and he expressly tells us, that he was designed to be a "pattern to all who should hereafter believe on Jesus." Our adorable Savior points, as it were, to him, and says; 'See, you tempted soul, if you are as blind as that infuriated bigot, I can make "the scales to fall from your eyesn," if your enmity against me be as rooted as his, I can slay it: if you possess all that is malignant and diabolical, I can change you: there is nothing too great for me to do, nothing too good for me to give, even to the chief of sinners. I am the same gracious and almighty Savior that I was in the day that I converted him; and I am able and willing to do the very same things for you. You see how freely I bestowed my grace on him. If wrath and malice, and murder and blasphemy, could entitle him to my favor, then certainly he had as good a title as man could have: but if these things rather entitled him to a distinguished place in Hell, then you see how free and sovereign my grace is; and have a proof, that "where sin has abounded, grace can, and shall, much more abound." '
Who, after beholding this pattern, can despond? Who will put away mercy from him under the idea that he is unworthy of it? Who will be afraid to come to Jesus, because he has no good work to bring as a price of his favor? None that reflect on the salvation of Paul, can ever doubt either the freeness of Christ's offers, or the sufficiency of his grace.
There are two things which, on account of their singular importance, we will further endeavor to impress upon your minds:
1. No good that can be possessed will supersede our need of mercy.
Paul, as has been hinted at before, bad much to boast of: but, notwithstanding all his learning, and strictness, and zeal, he had perished forever, if he had not "obtained mercy." Let all consider this; and, renouncing all dependence on themselves, trust in Christ alone, and seek "life everlasting" solely "by believing in him."
2. No evil that can have been committed, shall exclude us from mercy, if we believe on Christ.
This is the grand scope of the text, and of the discourse upon it. But it never can be repeated too often, or impressed too earnestly on the heart and conscience. It is uniformly attested by all the inspired writers. May God help us to believe the record; and cause us all to experience its truth! If our guilt have been as extraordinary as Paul's, it may, for ought we know, have been permitted, on purpose that, like him, we may be extraordinary monuments of grace. At all events, we may urge it as a plea with God, that he will be transcendently glorified in our salvationr.
Salvation for All
1 Timothy 2:3, 4. God our Savior … will have all men to be saved, and to come unto the knowledge of the truth.
IT is truly lamentable to see how men, in every age, have strained and wrested the Holy Scriptures, in order to make them speak the language of their own particular creed. Some, averse to the idea that God should express his good-will to all the sinners of mankind, limit the word "all," and make it signify nothing more than some of all descriptions and characters; while others run to a contrary extreme, and deduce from this expression a persuasion that none shall ever perish. It were well, if, instead of contending for human systems, and especially those of Calvin and Arminius, we were content to receive the Scriptures with the simplicity of little children: for, after all that has been said or written in support of those two most prominent systems, it is impossible to reduce the Holy Scriptures either to the one or to the other of them: for, on both hypotheses, there are difficulties which can never be surmounted, and contrarieties which man can never reconcile. It is by attempting to be wise above what is written, that we involve ourselves in all these difficulties. If we would be content to take the Scriptures as they are, and to leave the reconciling of them unto God, by whose inspiration they were written, we should find them all admirably calculated to produce the ends for which they were designed. How delightful is the truth here intimated! and how strange is it, that, instead of enjoying it, and adoring God for it, men will make it only a ground of acrimonious contention! I thank God, that all the Scriptures, whatever be their bearing, are alike acceptable to me; and that, whether they mark the sovereignty or the mercy of God, I am alike ready to prosecute them, in accordance with their plain and obvious meaning. By attending to the original, we shall often find our way clear, when, from a diversity of idiom, a translation scarcely conveys the precise idea. The passage before us, for instance, does not convey in the original anything like a secret determination in God, but only a willingness, that all should be saved: it is precisely parallel with what is spoken by Peter, when he says, "God is long-suffering to us-ward; not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance." And this is assigned as a reason why God would have us pray for all men. Our intercessions for them are pleasing and acceptable to him, because "he is willing to save all," without exception and without reserve.
In the words before us, then, we see,
I. The disposition of God towards our fallen race.
We are not to understand the text as expressing any decree, either in reference to some favored individuals, or in reference to all mankind. We have said, that it imports only a willingness to save; and that in that sense it has no limit whatever; the whole human race being objects of his tender compassion, and equally accepted of him, when they seek him in his appointed way.
1. For all, without exception, has God given his only dear Son.
This is affirmed by our Lord himself: "God so loved the world, that he gave his only-begotten Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish, but have everlasting life." And with this agrees what God spoke to the Messiah by the Prophet Isaiah; "I will give you for a light to the Gentiles, that you may be my salvation to the ends of the earthd." With this agrees also what is spoken in immediate connection with my text: "Christ gave himself a ransom for all, to be testified in due time."
2. To all has he commanded also his Gospel to be preached.
"Go into all the world" says our Lord, "and preach the Gospel to every creature." How amazing is it, that, after such a command, any should call in question the propriety of offering salvation indiscriminately to every child of man! Nor is it the mere tidings of the Gospel that we are to proclaim; but we are to "preach expressly repentance and remission of sins, in the name of Christ, to all the nations upon earth," and to every individual under Heaven. Wherever there is a sinner doomed to wrath, there is a person in whose ears the voice of mercy should be made to sound.
3. Nor is there a human being whom God is not willing to receive.
What can be the meaning of that invitation, "Look unto me, and be saved, all the ends of the earth?" or of that, "Ho! every one that thirsts, come you to the waters; come, buy wine and milk, without money and without pricei?" What can our Lord mean, when he says, "Him that comes unto me I will in no wise cast out?" It can import nothing less than what Paul has said: "There is no difference between the Jew and the Greek: for the same Lord is rich unto all that call upon him: for whoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved."
4. God has made these things the subject of the strongest possible asseveration.
To the whole world does God appeal respecting it: "Have I any pleasure at all that the wicked should die, says the Lord, and not that he should return from his ways and live?" What answer can any man, who maintains the doctrine of absolute reprobation, return to this? But, to put the matter beyond the possibility of doubt, God makes it also the subject of a solemn oath: "As I live, says the Lord God, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and live. Turn you, turn you from your evil ways; for why will you die, O house of Israel?" Truly, if such declarations determine not the point, there is no certainty in language: but if they do, in what an endearing light is God here set forth to us; and with what delight should we contemplate him under the character of "God our Savior!"
We must not, however, forget to notice,
II. The means whereby his gracious purposes are to be accomplished.
There is but one way of salvation for fallen man.
"I am the way, the truth, and the life, says the Lord Jesus: no man comes unto the Father but by me." This is plain and positive: and it is confirmed by many passages of Holy Writ, that are equally plain, and equally express: "Other foundation can no man lay, than that is laid, which is Jesus Christp." And again: "There is no other name under Heaven given among men whereby we can be saved, but the name of Jesus Christ."
And this way of salvation must be known and embraced.
"By his knowledge," says God, "shall my righteous servant justify many." An unknown Savior is no Savior at all. There may, it is true, be different degrees of knowledge required, agreeably to the different degrees of information that we have received. The Jews, before the coming of Christ, could not be expected to have such clear views of him as we possess, because he was not then so fully revealed. As to what shall be required of the heathen, we know but little: nor is it for us to determine what God shall do respecting them. But, in relation to ourselves, the matter is clear: we must know the Savior, every one of us for ourselves: for "this is life eternal," says our Lord, "to know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent." On the other hand, "to them that know not God, and obey not the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ, God will come to take vengeance on them" in the great and awful day. In confirmation of this truth, Peter appeals even to our own consciences: "What shall the end be of them that obey not the Gospel of Godu?" Our text informs us, that we must "come to the knowledge of the truth," yes, and to the acknowledgment of it also. In other words, we must believe in Jesus Christ for the remission of our sins, and must make him all our hope and all our salvation: then shall the blessings of grace and glory be accorded to us, and all God's purposes of love be accomplished in us.
From hence we may see,
1. Whence it is that any are saved.
To God alone must all the glory be given, if so much as one be ever admitted to the realms of bliss. For what but his love provided a Savior for us? or what but his grace ever enabled us to believe in him? Never had we "come to the knowledge of the truth," if he had not revealed it in our hearts; nor would it ever have proved effectual for us, if his almighty power had not made use of it for the renovation and salvation of our souls. It was "He, and he alone, who of his good pleasure wrought in us either to will or do" what was acceptable in his sight.
2. Whence it is that any perish.
To none but ourselves can any blame attach in this matter. Even the most ignorant heathen are "without excuse," because they walk not according to the light they have. And as for us, to whom the Gospel is revealed, our blessed Lord complains, "How often would I have gathered you, even as a hen gathers her chickens under her wings, and you would nota!" The fault is altogether in yourselves: "you will not come unto me, that you may have life." Yes, brethren, I testify against you this day, that whatever excuses you may now urge, when the Judge of quick and dead shall call you to account, you will be "speechless" (muzzled), even as he was who had not on the wedding-garmentc: and to all eternity will your anguish be inconceivably enhanced by this reflection, that, in all you suffer, you reap only the fruit of your own obstinacy and unbelief.
The Mediation of Christ
1 Timothy 2:5, 6. There is one God, and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus; who gave himself a ransom for all, to be testified in due time.
IT is deeply to be regretted that the Holy Scriptures, instead of being improved for the ends for which they were given, have been made an occasion of the most bitter contentions by the very persons who have most professed to reverence their authority. Men have not been satisfied with receiving the dictates of inspiration with child-like simplicity, but have determined to reduce them to systems of their own; and have wrested to their own views every passage that militated against their pre-conceived opinions. The partisans on either side have been equally guilty in this respect. Among modern controversialists, none have more divided the Church, or indulged more acrimonious feelings against each other, than Calvinists and Arminians. The one party have taken all those passages which represent God as a Sovereign, dispensing his blessings according to his own will and pleasure, and have made all the rest of the Scriptures bend to them: the other party have done the same with respect to the passages which assert the freedom of the human will, and which speak of men as the sole authors of their own condemnation. It seems never to enter into the minds of either party, that those passages which they set at variance, may, like wheels moving in opposite directions, be in perfect harmony with each other; and that there may be a subserviency, where they see nothing but direct opposition. If they were once brought to consider this, they would be more candid in their interpretation of each other's sentiments, and more cautious of wresting from their plain and obvious meaning the passages which they cannot reconcile with their own exclusive system. The words we have just read are a strong-hold for those who adopt the sentiments which are called Arminian. And how does the Calvinist get over them? how does he make the universality of redemption accord with his particular election? He knows not how to do it in a way that shall agree with his own system; and therefore he denies at once that Christ did give himself a ransom for all; and says, that by "all" is meant some of every description, that is, some of all different ranks and orders of men, Jews and Gentiles, rich and poor. But how much better were it for men to confess their own ignorance, than thus to pervert the word of God! It is true that God acts as a Sovereign; and that salvation, from first to last, is all of grace, whether we can reconcile this truth with every other portion of God's word, or not: nor are we any more at liberty to distort the passages that appear to militate against this system, than Arminians are to misinterpret those which obstruct their views. There is beyond all doubt a harmony in all the parts of the inspired volume, though we cannot exactly see it: (not but that we might see it, and clearly too, if we entered fully into the idea of the subordination of one set of truths to another:) and if we determine to speak all that the Scripture speaks, and as the Scripture speaks it, we shall not be far from the very truth of God. This will not please the partisans of human systems: but it will, as far as such a plan is adopted, produce moderation in our own minds, and forbearance towards all who differ from us.
The way in which the text is introduced deserves particular attention. The Apostle inculcates the duty of "interceding, and giving thanks, for all men" without exception, but especially "for kings and all in authority," because on them in a very great degree depends the peace and welfare of the Church. As a reason for extending our regards to all, he observes, that God does so in the government of the world, and that Christ has done so in the exercise of redeeming love, seeing that he "had given himself a ransom for all." The Apostle, whatever be the subject he is treating of, finds an easy and natural transition to Christ, and especially when speaking upon anything connected with Christian love, of which the love of Christ to us is the great exemplar. This is discovered chiefly in his mediation between God and man: and of that mediation we are led to speak,
I. As ordained of God.
"There is one God," the Creator and Governor of all.
Among the heathen "there were gods many, and lords many; but there is one God, the Father, of whom are all things." "He is the God of the Jews, and the God also of the Gentilesb;" and both the one and the other he will justify in the same way, "having no respect of persons." "In every nation under Heaven, he who fears God, and works righteousness, shall be accepted of himd."
He has also given one Mediator for all.
He is justly offended with his creatures of mankind, because they have sinned against him. In respect of transgression they are altogether on a par with the fallen angels; and might well have been left, like them, to perish in their sins. But God provided a Mediator for them, that through him reconciliation might be effected with them in perfect consistency with his own perfections. This Mediator is his only-begotten Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, who being in the form of God, and accounting it no robbery to be equal with God, was found in fashion as a man, and took upon him the form of a servant. This "man, Christ Jesus," is the "one Mediator" between God and men. There is no other; there needs to be no other; seeing that he is equally the Mediator of all, and equally ready to effect reconciliation for every sinner under Heaven. The typical mediators, Moses and Aaron, and the high-priests in all successive ages, executed their office for the Jews only: but Christ, whom they typified, is the Advocate of all, and "a atoning sacrifice equally for the sins of the whole world."
Seeing then that God is alike the Father of all, distributing blessings to all with an indiscriminating hand; and that he has given his own co-equal co-eternal Son to be alike the Mediator for all, it becomes us to testify our common concern for all, and to promote by every possible means their eternal welfare.
Let us next view the mediation of Christ.
II. As executed by himself.
"He gave himself a ransom" for sinful man.
A ransom is a redemption-price. Man was in bondage to sin and Satan, death and Hell; and to liberate him from this was the end of Christ's mediation. But how was this deliverance to be effected? The law, which had been broken, must be honored; and divine justice, which demanded the punishment of the offender, must be satisfied. But fallen man could neither honor the one, nor satisfy the other. Nothing was left for him, but to endure to all eternity the penalty which justice demanded and the law denounced. To render the salvation of man compatible with the rights of law and justice, Jesus assumed our nature, and "was made man," that in the nature which had sinned he might suffer, and by his own sufferings make an atonement for our transgressions. Having undertaken this great work, he executed it: and there being no other sacrifice sufficient for the occasion, "he gave himself a ransom for us." "The blood of bulls and of goats could never take away sin." They were acceptable to God as shadowing forth his sacrifice: but it was his sacrifice alone that could atone for sin, and effect the desired reconciliation between God and man: this therefore he offered, and, when the cup of bitterness was put into his hands, he drank it to the very dregs.
And this he did "for all" without exception.
To say that he died for the elect only, is neither scriptural nor true. He died for all: according as it is elsewhere said; "We thus judge, that if one died for all, then were all dead; and that he died for all, that they who live should not henceforth live unto themselves, but unto Him who died for them and rose again." If all be not ultimately saved by his death, it is not owing to any want of sufficiency in his sacrifice to procure acceptance for them, but to their own impenitence and unbelief. And if all do not come to him for an interest in his sacrifice, it is not owing to any decree of God that of necessity excludes them from a participation in the benefit, or to any want of inclination in the Lord Jesus Christ to save them, but to their own obstinacy in sin. Our Lord said to the whole Jewish nation, "How often would I have gathered you, even as a hen gathers her chickens under her wings; but you would not." This is applicable to the whole human race; and at the last day it will be said to all the ungodly, and especially to those to whom the Gospel of salvation had been sent, "I would, but you would not."
Here again then we see the propriety of interesting ourselves with God in behalf of all, since for all without exception did Jesus die.
It will be proper to consider the mediation of Christ yet farther,
III. As attested by the Holy Spirit.
This mediation was "to be testified of in due time."
1. It has been abundantly attested by the Holy Spirit in times past.
In the writings of the Old Testament it is fully declared. "He was cut off, but not for himself," "he was wounded for our transgressions: the chastisement of our peace was upon him: the Lord laid on him the iniquities of us allg." Of the New Testament this truth forms the sum and substance. When Jesus was just beginning his ministry, he was pointed out by his forerunner as "the Lamb of God that should take away the sin of the world." Our Lord spoke of himself as "giving his life a ransom for manyi." Paul tells us, that "we have redemption through his blood, even the forgiveness of sins," and "reconciliation through the blood of his crossl." Peter assures us, that "He bore our sins in his own body on the tree, and suffered, the just for the unjust." But it would be endless to accumulate passages; since the whole Scriptures testify of this blessed truth in every part. Suffice it to say, that it forms the one theme of all the glorified saints in Heaven, who sing praises day and night "to Him who loved them, and washed them from their sins in his own blood;" saying, "You are worthy, for you were slain, and have redeemed us to God by your blood, out of every kindred, and tongue, and people, and nationn."
2. We also are called to testify of it at this time.
To preach Christ crucified is the one employment of ministers: and our ministry is called "the ministry of reconciliation" on this very account, because we proclaim to sinners, "that God was in Christ reconciling the world unto himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them." O that our testimony among you on this subject were more fully credited, and more deeply felt! We do declare it: we declare it with joy: for "it is a faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptance, that Jesus Christ came into the world to save sinners, even the chief." None are excluded from an interest in him, but through their own fault. God has no pleasure in the death of any sinnerq. He even condescends to confirm this truth with an oath. Paul bears witness to it in the verse before our text. Peter also confirms it, and assures us, that "God is not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance and live." And, to add no more, John says, "If any man sin, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous; and he is the atoning sacrifice for our sins; and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world." Away with the systems that discard these blessed truths, and wrest from their obvious meaning these reviving declarations. Believe it, brethren, that Jesus "gave himself a ransom for all;" and know, that at this moment he addresses you by my mouth, saying, "Look unto me and be saved, all the ends of the earth; for I am God, and there is none else."
1. Stand amazed at this mystery.
"Great indeed is this mystery of godliness, God manifest in the flesh," and dying under the load of his creatures' sins. Whence is it that this mystery is so little contemplated among us, and so little felt? Is it that there is any other subject which deserves our attention in comparison of it? No, there is nothing worth a thought in comparison of it. "For the excellency of the knowledge of it, all that the world holds dear is but dung and dross." Let it then occupy your minds day and night, and fill your souls with transport, as it does the souls of the glorified before the throne of God.
2. Improve it for the salvation of your own souls.
On your acceptance of this testimony your everlasting salvation depends. "If you believe in Christ, your salvation is sure; if not, you are condemned already, and the wrath of God abides on you." Believe then, every one of you, that Christ died for you; and pray to God, that you may be able to see your interest in him, and with joyful confidence to exclaim, "He has loved me, and given himself for me." Thus shall you be feasted with the foretastes of Heaven, and grow up into an increasing fitness for the glory prepared for you.
The Great Mystery of Godliness
1 Timothy 3:16. Without controversy great is the mystery of godliness: God was manifest in the flesh, justified in the Spirit, seen of angels, preached unto the Gentiles, believed on in the world, received up into glory.
IT has been often said by infidels, that, where mystery begins, religion ends. But, if this were true, there would be no uniformity or consistency in the works of God. All his works both of creation and providence are full of mysteries: there is not any one substance, of which we know all the properties, or any one event, for which we can assign all the reasons. If then there were nothing in religion above the comprehension of man, it would afford a strong presumption, that our religion was not from Heaven: for why should it be revealed, if man could have devised it without a revelation? But the inspired writers represent the Gospel as "the wisdom of God in a mystery," as "a mystery hid from agesb," and "kept secret from the foundation of the world," they speak of many of its fundamental doctrines as a mysteryd, a great mystery, a gloriously rich mysteryf; and of its ministers as "stewards of the mysteries of God." In the words before us, many of the principal events, relating to Christ, and the establishment of his religion in the world, are enumerated, and confessedly declared to be a "great mystery." Let us then contemplate them in their order, and enter with deepest reverence into the investigation of them.
I. "God was manifest in the flesh."
It was not a mere creature that took upon him our nature, but God himself, as the Scriptures both of the Old and New Testament uniformly assert. He had for many ages manifested himself in the Shechinah, the bright cloud that first abode upon the tabernacle, and afterwards resided in the most holy place of the temple: but at the appointed time he assumed our very nature, with all its sinless infirmities, into a real union with himself, and dwelt substantially on earth in the person of Jesus Christk.
What an astonishing mystery was this! that the Creator of all things should become a creature, and that the infinitely holy God should be made "in the likeness of sinful flesh!" Let us incessantly adore him for this his ineffable condescension, his incomprehensible love.
II. He was "justified in (or by) the Spirit."
So deep was the humiliation of Christ throughout the whole period of his sojourning on earth, that he needed the most signal evidences from Heaven to justify his pretensions, and to vindicate his character from the charges of blasphemy and imposture. The office of justifying him was committed to the Holy Spirit, who visibly interposed on many occasions to attest his divine mission. When our Lord submitted to baptism, and thereby seemed to acknowledge himself a sinner, who needed to be washed in the laver of regeneration, the Spirit bore witness to him as God's beloved Son, and as the spotless Lamb that was to take away the sin of the world. When he was accounted a deceiver, and a confederate with the devil, the Spirit enabled him to work the most stupendous miracles in proof of his being the true Messiahn. When he was dead, and imprisoned in the grave, so that his very Disciples thought they had been deceived by him, the Spirit raised him from the dead, and thereby declared him to be the Son of God with powerp. And when Christ had, as it were, staked the whole credit of his Messiahship on the descent of the Holy Spirit after his own ascension to Heaven, the Holy Spirit did descend according to his word, and not only rested visibly on the Apostles, but endued them with power to speak divers languages, and to confirm their word with signs following.
And is not this a mystery, that God should reduce himself to such an abject state as to need these attestations to his character; and that the Third Person in the ever-blessed Trinity should be thus necessitated, as it were, to "glorify him," in order to counterbalance the offence which his humiliation had occasioned?
III. He was "seen of angels."
The angels had beheld his face, and had worshiped before his throne from the first moment of their existence: but when he became incarnate, they had views of him, which, before that period, they could not have conceived. How did they exult when they saw him a helpless babe lying in a manger! But what different feelings must have been excited in their breasts, when they beheld him conflicting with Satan in the wilderness, and sinking under the load of his Father's wrath in the garden of Gethsemane, and in both seasons needing their friendly aidt! Nothing is spoken of their viewing him on the cross; but doubless they, who had been so deeply interested about him from his very birth to the hour of his crucifixion, could not but gaze upon him with astonishment and sympathy in his expiring moments. And how gladly did they obey the mandate to confound his adversaries, and to rescue him from the tomb! With what joy did they attest his resurrectionx, and wait upon him in his ascension to the highest heavens, and announce his intention to return again, in like manner as he had ascended, to judge the worldz!
It is perhaps to these testimonies which the angels bore to Jesus, rather than to the mere circumstance of their seeing him, that the Apostle alludes in the words of our text. And surely, if it be mysterious, that the Spirit of God should bear testimony to him, it is no less a mystery, that his own creatures should be employed in such an office.
IV. He was "preached unto the Gentiles, and believed on" by them.
The Jews, who had for two thousand years been the peculiar people of God, could not conceive that any but their own nation should be admitted to the Divine favor: and indeed, to such a degree were the Gentiles immersed in ignorance and sin, that they seemed as if they were utterly excluded from the hope of mercy. But "God's thoughts were not as man's thoughts, or his ways as man's ways," for, by his express appointment, the Gospel was preached to all nations, and salvation through Christ was proclaimed to every creature. The Apostle himself had been the honored instrument of conveying this mercy to them; and had the happiness of seeing, that he had not labored in vain, or run in vain. There were multitudes in every place who received the word with all readiness of mind, and rested all their hopes of salvation on their incarnate God. Their prejudices vanished; their passions were overcome; and their whole souls were subdued to the obedience of faith.
And were not these things also mysterious, that the poor idolatrous Gentiles should have such glad tidings proclaimed to them; and that he, who had not saved himself, should be regarded as the Savior of the whole world?
V. He "was received up into glory."
The return of Jesus to his heavenly mansions is generally thought to be here referred to: but perhaps the reference rather is to the glorious reception which he met with among those who believed on him: they did not merely assent to the truth of his Gospel, but received him into their hearts with most fervent love. "No sooner did they hear of him, than they obeyed himb," and accounted his service to be perfect freedom: and so unreserved was their surrender of themselves to him, that they desired "every thought," as well as every action, "to be brought into captivity" to his will. In short, they "counted all things but dung for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus their Lord;" nor were their goods, their reputation, their liberty, or their life, of any value, when put in competition with his will, or when an opportunity was offered to sacrifice them to his honourd.
Such was the reception given him wherever his name was preached: multitudes in every place "blessed themselves in him," and "rejoiced in him with joy unspeakablef." And what a glorious mystery was this! that foreigners should so highly honor one who had not only been abhorred by all his own countrymen, but had been executed by them as the vilest of malefactors! and that men of every nation under Heaven should feel such love to one whom they had never seen, as to renounce for his sake all that their eyes had seen, and all that was held dear among them! This was wonderful indeed: yet, wonderful as it is, it is still daily experienced, and daily manifested, by all that believe.
We conclude with submitting to your consideration two important questions:
1. What reception have you given to this mystery?
Are the great subjects of Christ's humiliation and glory entertained by you with that reverence which is due to such mysterious truths? I thank God they are preached among you; but are they not in too many instances neglected by you, instead of meeting with that reception they deserve?—Beg then that the Holy "Spirit would take of the things that are Christ's and show them unto you." And endeavor to give the Lord Jesus such a reception now, that you may be welcomed by him in the great day of his appearing.
2. Are you experiencing the Gospel to be indeed a mystery of godliness?
It is to but little purpose to "call Christ Lord, if we do not the things which he says." He will "save us from our sins;" but never in them. He came to "redeem us from iniquity, and to purify unto himself a peculiar people zealous of good works." Let us not then attempt to make him "a minister of sini;" but endeavor to show the sanctifying, as well as saving, efficacy of his Gospel. Let us show, that while "the grace of God brings salvation to us, it teaches us to deny all sin, and to live righteously, soberly, and godly in this present world."
Godliness Profitable unto All Things
1 Timothy 4:8, 9. Godliness is profitable unto all things, having promise of the life that now is, and of that which is to come. This is a faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptance.
AS in the natural man there is a total alienation of heart from God, so, after that he has been in some measure awakened to a sense of his duty, there is in him a constant proneness to turn aside from God, and to rest in something short of a total surrender of the soul to him. This appears from the numerous controversies which were agitated in the apostolic age. Christians even in that day were not contented with receiving the truth as it is in Jesus, but labored to blend with it some favorite notions, either of Jewish superstition or Gentile philosophy; by means of which they drew away the minds of many from the simplicity of the Gospel, and from that practical regard to it which constitutes our highest duty. It is observable, too, that persons addicted to this habit always lay a very undue stress on their own peculiarities, and display more zeal in the propagation of them than in the diffusion of the Gospel itself. It is in reference to such practices that the Apostle is speaking in the words before us. He is cautioning Timothy against being led astray by them, or giving any countenance to them in his ministrations, which should rather be directed to the inculcating and enforcing of vital godliness: "Refuse profane and old wives' fables," says he; "and exercise yourself unto godliness: for bodily exercise, that is, a carnal attention to such things, profits little: but godliness is profitable unto all things, having promise of the life which now is, and of that which is to come. This (this character of godliness, as deserving and demanding our exclusive regards) is a faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptance."
In confirmation of this saying, I will endeavor to show,
I. The profitableness of true godliness.
"Godliness" here stands in opposition to all that superstitious or contentious men would place in its stead. It is to be understood as comprehending a surrender of ourselves to God, as his redeemed people, and a life of entire devotedness to his service. Now this is profitable,
1. In relation to the present life.
What is it that has deluged the whole world with misery? What but sin? The world would still have been a paradise, if man had continued to retain his primitive holiness: and, so far as divine grace prevails to restore holiness to man, the world is again restored to its paradisiacal state of happiness. True it is that the best of men are yet subject to wants, diseases, and death; so that how holy soever they may be, they must yet partake of the bitter consequences of sin. But the advantages enjoyed by the godly over all the rest of mankind are exceeding great.
First, The godly are delivered from the dominion of evil passions, which agitate all the rest of mankind.—See what the state of the world is by reason of pride, envy, malice, wrath, revenge: see what evils abound by reason of covetousness, ambition, lewdness, and selfishness, in ten thousand forms: mark the jealousies of rival kingdoms; the contentions in smaller societies; the feuds in families; and the workings of evil tempers in individuals: see how almost every human being has his life embittered by something inflicted by others, or brooding in his own bosom: and then say, Whether he has not the advantage, who has learned to "mortify his earthly members," and to "crucify his flesh with its affections and lusts?"
Next, The godly are enabled to live under the influence of love:—and need I say what a source of comfort that is? Read the description of love as set forth in the 13th chapter of Paul's First Epistle to the Corinthians, and judge, whether the exercise of such dispositions be not conducive to the happiness of the soul.
Again; The godly are freed from numberless temptations, into which the ungodly rush without restraint.—The ungodly, by their fellowship with each other, are walking, either in the midst of thorns and briers, where they constantly receive or inflict some painful wound; or, if their path be more pleasant, they only countenance each other in ways, which bring guilt upon their souls, and involve each other in irremediable ruin. The godly, on the contrary, by keeping at a distance from such snares, avoid the evils connected with them; and by their mutual fellowship promote the edification of each other in faith and love, in peace and holiness.
Add to all this, The godly enjoy peace with God, and a blessed prospect beyond the grave.—Oh! who can estimate this advantage? Who can tell what joy a sense of God's pardoning love brings into the soul? Who can declare what the believer feels in his secret walk with God; in pouring out his soul before him, in apprehending and pleading God's gracious promises, in surveying the fullness of righteousness and grace which is treasured up for him in Christ Jesus, in contemplating every event as ordered for his spiritual and eternal good, and in looking forward to an eternity of bliss in Heaven? Who, I say, can calculate these advantages, which are the exclusive portion of the godly?
If it be said, that this description of the believer's advantages is not realized in fact, I grant that the generality of religious professors do not experience them to the extent that we have spoken of them. But why do they not experience them to this extent? Is it that they do not necessarily attach to vital godliness? No, but that godliness is but at a low ebb among those who profess to live under its influence. Were the professors of religion more like to the Apostles in vital godliness, they would, in the same proportion, be elevated above all the rest of the world, both in their character and enjoyments. They would indeed have their afflictions, as the Apostles had: but their "consolations should abound far above their afflictions," yes and even by means of their afflictions. And, as it is said that "godliness has the promise of all this," I will leave it all to rest upon that one saying, "If a man love me, he will keep my words; and my Father will love him; and we will come unto him, and make our abode with him." Let the love of God the Father, and the in-dwelling of the Father and of Christ Jesus in the soul, be duly estimated, and we will leave any man in the universe to judge, whether godliness be not profitable as it respects this present life.
2. In reference to the life to come.
Of this there is so little doubt, that we need scarcely stop to confirm it, more especially as our further views of this subject demand a very peculiar attention. Let it only be recollected, that "to those who by patient continuance in well-doing seek for glory and honor and immortality, God has promised eternal life;" and that "they who overcome in this warfare shall sit down with Christ upon his throne, as he sits on his Father's thronec," and nothing more need be added to establish this obvious and acknowledged truth.
Such being the profitableness of true godliness, we proceed to state,
II. The importance of it in that particular view.
Those who have not duly considered this subject would not have expected to find such a peculiar confirmation of it as the Apostle has added in our text. When, in a preceding chapter, he was about to declare the stupendous mystery, that "Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners," he prefaced it with this declaration, that the truth he was about to utter was "a faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptance." There the importance and mysteriousness of the truth easily account for the solemnity with which it is introduced: but where there is nothing affirmed but the profitableness of godliness, we seem to think so solemn a confirmation of it quite unnecessary. But we shall soon be of a different opinion, if we contemplate this truth in connection with the subjects which both precede and follow it. We say then, that the profitableness of vital godliness ought to be regarded as a matter of primary and universal importance;
1. As tending to keep the mind from unprofitable speculations.
The whole preceding context refers to speculations which either already existed in the Church, or should at a future period be introduced. Heretics and apostates were even then at work to spread their pernicious doctrines; those who were of Jewish origin "giving heed to fables and endless genealogies, which ministered questions rather than godly edifying that is in faithf;" and those from among the Gentile converts obtruding upon the Church their "profane and vain babblings, and oppositions of science falsely so called." The effect of these speculations was exceedingly pernicious: for while "conceited and ignorant men doted about such questions and strifes of words, they filled the Church with envy, and strife, and railings, and evil surmisings, and perverse disputingsh," and eventually turned many from the faith.
Now in every age of the Church there are many, who, being themselves, through the subtlety of Satan, turned away from the simplicity of the Gospel, labor to propagate their own peculiar opinions, and to "draw away disciples after them." Their views are often extremely specious, as were those of the Jews who sought to honor Moses, and those of the Gentiles who from a professed regard for the honor of Christ pleaded an exemption from obedience to the moral lawl. Frequently there is much truth mixed up with their errors; and their mistake lies not so much in what they would maintain, as in the undue importance which they attach to some points to the exclusion or neglect of others that are equally important. In a word, they, though "false apostles" in reality, are often so specious, that they appear like apostles of Christ himself.
How then are we to guard against such deceivers? I answer, By having our minds fully intent on practical and vital godliness. We shall see in a moment, that by suffering our minds to be turned into the channel of controversy, we shall lose much of that heavenliness of mind, that sweetness of temper, that expansion of love, and that singleness of eye, which are the brightest ornaments of our religion, and indispensably necessary to our true happiness. And what shall we gain to compensate for this loss? Nothing but a conceit of our own superior wisdom, and an uncharitable contempt or hatred of all who differ from us. This is the point which the Apostle labors so strenuously to impress upon our minds. "Refuse," says he, "all such exercises; for they are of little profit: but exercise yourself unto godliness," the profit of which can never be duly estimated. Keep habitually upon your minds a sense of the value of true godliness, and you will have no disposition for controversies, nor any satisfaction in the company of those who would obtrude their noxious sentiments upon you. You will act rather in conformity with the apostolic injunction, "From such withdraw yourself."
2. As sustaining the mind under all the trials and difficulties that we may have to cope with.
To this the Apostle refers, in the words following my text. Exercise yourselves, says he, in this, which will be so profitable to your souls; "for" from my own experience I can declare, what support you will find from such conduct, in all the trials that you may be called to endure; "for therefore we both labor (gladly), and suffer reproach (cheerfully), because" we are upheld by a consciousness that we are living entirely upon God, and for God. That the lovers of subtle questions and curious disputations have a zeal, we acknowledge; and that they will often make sacrifices in defense of their tenets, we acknowledge: but in self-denying labors, and patient sufferings for the honor of God and the welfare of mankind, their exertions are paralyzed. Their minds become contracted; and they are altogether occupied in maintaining their peculiar notions, and in gaining proselytes to their own party. Not so the persons who steadily labor for the attainment of vital godliness. They have their hearts more and more enlarged with love both to God and man. They feel so rich a recompense sweetly and continually flowing into their souls, that they only regret they cannot do a thousand times more for God, and that they should ever experience anything but unqualified delight in what they suffer for himp. They will "forget all that is behind, and press forward to that which is before;" like persons in a race, who have no desire but to fulfill the will of God, and to "finish their course with joy." In this respect then, no less than in the former, is godliness truly profitable; and that it is so, "is a faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptance."
Let me then, in this view of the subject, entreat you all,
1. To esteem godliness according to its true character.
The greater part of mankind deny the necessity of it even to their eternal welfare: and, if you justify your zeal by a reference to the future judgment, they will not hesitate to affirm, that such exertions are not necessary to the salvation of the soul, and that to abound in them is to be "righteous over-much." Then, as to the present life, almost all will maintain, that such godliness as the Gospel requires will be subversive of our interests and our happiness in the world; and from those considerations will urge us to lay aside what they call our needless peculiarities. But be assured, that there is no real happiness even in this world, and much less in the world to come, but through an entire devotion of the soul to God. Let no man deceive you in relation to this matter; for "it is a faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptance." The whole Scripture, from the beginning to the end, bears testimony to this truth, that God's service is perfect freedom, and that religion's "ways are ways of pleasantness and peace." If it be said, that piety will involve us in trouble, for that "all who will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution;" we reply, It is true: but nevertheless the consolations of the godly shall infinitely over-balance their afflictions; nor are "the sufferings of this present life worthy to be compared with the glory that shall be revealed in us." Let this then be a fixed principle in all your hearts, that "the fear of the Lord, that is wisdom, and to depart from evil is understanding."
2. To seek it according to its real worth.
The word which we translate, "exercise yourself" unto godliness, is taken from the Grecian games, in which those who engaged stripped themselves of all unnecessary clothing, in order that they might be able to exert themselves with more effect, Now in this manner should we address ourselves to the work of religion. We should feel that the utmost possible exertions are necessary for the attaining of such a measure of it as will secure the prize. We should cast off everything that may impede our progress in it; and determinately engage in it as those who will at least take care not to lose the prize through any fault or negligence of their own. You well know how those who were to contend in the Olympic games denied themselves, and by what a long course of training they endeavored to fit themselves for their respective contests. O, brethren, enter thus into the prosecution of true piety, "avoiding all foolish questions as unprofitable and vain;" and keeping your eye steadily fixed on the attainment of the Divine image in your soul: then will you "grow up into Christ in all things as your living Head," and then will you find that "you will not labor in vain or run in vain."
Address to Young Persons
1 Timothy 4:12. Let no man despise your youth; but be than an example of the believers, in word, in conversation, in charity, in spirit, in faith, in purity.
TO be earnestly engaged in advancing the welfare of our own souls, is doubtless our first concern. But we should consider, also, how far our conduct may affect the souls of others; and should endeavor so to demean ourselves, that we may prove stumbling-blocks to none, but helpers to all. Of course, those who are engaged in the ministerial office, inasmuch as their conduct is more noticed than that of others, and their influence consequently more extensive, are peculiarly bound to walk with all possible circumspection, "giving no offence in anything, that the ministry be not blamed." But the same care is requisite in all: and the exhortation addressed by Paul to Timothy may with great propriety be addressed to all young persons professing godliness: "Let no man despise your youth; but be examples to all around you, and in everything that is good." To such, therefore, would I apply the Apostle's directions, which may be regarded as delivered,
I. In a way of caution.
It is certain that young persons are liable to err.
Their knowledge is contracted, in comparison of what it most probably will be at a more advanced period of life: and consequently their judgment cannot yet have been matured. Their experience too must, of necessity, have been small; so that, as yet, they do not exactly see what will be the probable result of any line of conduct upon the world around them. They are apt also to take but a partial view of things, and to be actuated more by feeling than by sound judgment; and to be more anxious about what relates to their present real or supposed interests, than about what shall eventually prove most beneficial to themselves and others. Hence, as may reasonably be expected, they do not always approve themselves to the judgment of those who are more considerate and wise.
It must also be acknowledged, that there is among those who are more advanced in life, a proneness to condemn what is done by their younger brethren, especially what is done by them under the influence of religion.
Persons of maturer years have no conception that the young and inexperienced should have juster views of things than themselves: and they judge it to be presumptuous in the young and arrogant to depart from the line prescribed and followed by their elders. To see persons just entering into life averse to pleasures which their fathers have so long pursued, and observant of duties which their fathers have altogether disregarded, is very offensive to the world; who are thus reduced to a necessity, of either acknowledging their own ways to be evil, or of condemning the ways of their younger brethren as fanatical and absurd. Which alternative they will prefer is obvious enough: and therefore it is always found, that the piety of young persons is a matter of offence to their ungodly superiors. "To the natural man, universally the things of the Spirit are foolishness," even though they be found in persons of the most mature age and of the soundest discretion: much more, therefore, are they so reputed, when found in persons who possess not the advantages attached to age and experience: and, consequently, those who profess religion in early life must expect to be sneered at and despised by those whose habits are unfriendly to religion, and who "hate the light, because it reproves their evil deeds."
But from hence arises a necessity for peculiar care on the part of young persons, that "no man may have occasion to despise their youth."
It will be well for young persons to bear in mind the two points which we have just adverted to; namely, their own liability to err, and the proneness of their seniors to judge them harshly. To obviate both these evils, the greatest circumspection is necessary: nor can I give any better rule to the young than to exchange places with their seniors; and to consider, on every particular occasion, what judgment they themselves would form in a change of circumstances. I know, indeed, and they also should know, that "God alone can give them a right judgment in anything." But multitudes deceive themselves, while in praying to God for direction, they are yet following blindly the way of their own hearts. To obtain a right direction, the mind must be divested of every undue bias: and this will be effected by nothing better than the plan which I have just suggested.
It is highly desirable, also, that young persons be on their guard against raising matters of trifling consideration into an undue importance, and laying a stress on them, as though they were of vital interest to the soul. This is too much the habit of youth and inexperience; and it affords but too just an occasion for their seniors to complain of them, as ignorant, and willful, and pertinacious, and absurd.
Let it be remembered then, that if piety spread the sails, wisdom should be at the helm; and that the determination of all, and of young persons in particular, should be in unison with that of David: "I will behave myself wisely before you in a perfect way." Everything that is extravagant should be avoided. Times and circumstances should be taken into the account. The manner of doing everything should also be an object of attention. In a word, it should never be forgotten, that we are in the midst of enemies, who will be glad to cast blame upon us; and that our wisdom is, so to conduct ourselves, that "they who are on the contrary part may be ashamed, having no evil thing to say of usd."
But, with the Apostle, let us prosecute the same idea,
II. In a way of encouragement.
Young people are condemned for not keeping their religion to themselves. But they are not to put their light under a bushel: on the contrary, they are, as much as they ever will be at any future period of their lives, bound to "let their light so shine before men, that all who behold it may be constrained to glorify their Father who is in Heaven." There is no eminence to which it is not their duty and their privilege, to attain. And, if Timothy, at his early age, was to be "an example," not to the world only, but "to believers" also; so should every young person endeavor to be, in the place and station where God has appointed him to move.
Let every one of you, then, be an example even to believers,
1. In word.
The statements of Timothy were to be made in perfect accordance with God's revealed will: and so should yours be also. Your adversaries will be glad to take advantage of any thing that is unsound in your sentiments; and, in order to find occasion against you, they will be urging you upon difficult questions and on matters of doubtful disputation. But, in all your fellowship with them, I would advise you to take your stand on ground that is utterly unassailable. That to seek the salvation which God offers us in the Gospel, is of indispensable moment to every child of man; and that so to live, as, at the hour of death, we shall wish we had lived, is the part of sound wisdom. These, and such like topics, I should recommend to the young when conversing with their seniors who are of an adverse mind: it will be time enough to enter into deeper subjects, when the ears of persons are open to hear, and their hearts are also open to receive, the truths which you may be able to lay before them. To spread pearls before persons who are disposed only to trample them under their feet, is at all times inexpedient and unwise: and even when young persons do make fuller statements of their views, they should do it with modesty, and caution, and moderation.
2. In conversation.
The whole of a young person's deportment, too, should be such as becomes the Gospel of Christ. Everything of levity and folly should be put away, and nothing admitted but what is consistent with "sound wisdom and discretion."
3. In charity.
Nothing should be said or done that is contrary to "love." Whether in judging others, or in acting towards them, we should breathe nothing but love. True it is, that the treatment which persons in the exercise of early piety are likely to receive, is calculated to generate somewhat of resentment in their minds: but they must be much on their guard to "render nothing but good for evil," until they shall have "overcome the evil with their good."
4. In spirit.
There is a peculiar need for young persons to guard against everything of conceit and forwardness, and every disposition that is contrary either to humility or love. Who does not admire modesty, and gentleness, and kindness, and all similar graces, which combine to render a person amiable? Let those graces then be ever cultivated, and ever in exercise, so that you may ever be seen "clothed with humility." This will do much to recommend religion: and this will render you worthy of imitation by all who behold you.
5. In faith.
There is in young persons too great a readiness to yield to discouragement, and to rely on an arm of flesh in times of more than ordinary trial. But you must look to God with all simplicity of mind, and confide in him, as engaged to make "all things work together for your good." Never must you stagger at any promise through unbelief; but be strong in faith, giving glory to God."
6. In purity.
The very regard which is first created by sympathy and concord on the subjects of religion, may, if not watched, degenerate into feelings of a less hallowed kind; and especially at a period of life when the passions are strong, and a want of experience may put us off our guard. Every word and every look, yes, and every thought, ought to be well-guarded, in order that Satan may not take advantage of us, and that not even the breath of scandal may be raised against us.
In a word, the counsel given to Titus is that which every one of us should follow: "Young men exhort to be sober-minded; in all things showing yourself a pattern of good works."
1. Those who are inclined to take offence at religion or its professors.
There is an extreme unreasonableness in many, who expect, that the very instant a person becomes religiously inclined, he shall be freed at once from every infirmity incident to our fallen nature; and however young he may be, he shall become at once as wise and judicious as the most experienced Christian. But wisdom is not so soon attained; nor are the corruptions of our nature subdued without many severe conflicts, and many humiliating falls: and the fair way to judge any man, is, to inquire what he would have been without religion, and then to compare that with what he is as professing godliness. I may go further, and say, that even that is scarcely a fair criterion; because he is, by means of his new dispositions, brought into circumstances so entirely new, as that no part of his former experience will avail him for the direction of his conduct: and, inasmuch as the considerations of religion infinitely outweigh all others that can operate upon his mind, it is no wonder if they sometimes divert his attention from matters of subordinate importance, which yet ought to be noticed by him in order to a perfect regulation of his conduct.
But, if it be unreasonable for men to "despise the youth" of a religious professor, it is still more unreasonable to despise religion itself on account of the faults of those who profess it. Religion itself is the same, whatever be the conduct of its advocates; and it enjoins nothing but what is holy and just and good: and as well might a man despise the sun because of the exhalations of a dunghill, as despise religion on account of any thing which it may draw forth from the infirmities of our fallen nature. If we received it aright, and improved it as we ought, it would uniformly and universally assimilate us to our God.
Let candor then be exercised towards religion and its adherents. Let each stand or fall by their own merits. If those who profess religion walk unworthy of it, let them be condemned: but let not religion be condemned for their sake. And before they be finally condemned, let that allowance be made for them, which would be made for others of the same age, and similarly circumstanced. And if this candor be exercised, we fear not but that religion itself shall stand approved; and we trust, that the prejudices which exist against it shall be greatly diminished, if not utterly destroyed.
2. Those who would recommend religion.
Certainly, it is of vast importance that the professors of religion should adorn it, and walk worthy of it. To those who would approve themselves to God in this respect, I would say, remember how much the welfare of your fellow-creatures, yes, and the honor of your God too, depend on you. Be not hasty in your decisions, nor over-confident that you are right. Be willing to be advised by those of whose wisdom and piety you have reason to hope well. And be careful not to plead one duty as a reason and ground for the neglect of another. Sins and lusts may counteract each other; but graces and duties are, for the most part, harmonious: and if, in any case, you be compelled, for conscience sake, to refuse to man the submission he demands, let it be clear that you act from conscience only, and not from wilfulness: and be ready, not only with meekness and fear to assign your reasons for your conduct, but to submit those reasons to the test of sound wisdom and of real piety. In a word, endeavor "by your good and blameless conversation to win those" who would not listen to God's revealed will: so shall you prove blessings to those around you; and bring glory to that God, in whom you trust, and whom you profess to serve.
The Quality of Men's Works Discovered in the Day of Judgment
1 Timothy 5:24, 25, Some men's sins are open beforehand, going before to judgment; and some men they follow after. Likewise also the good works of some are manifest beforehand; and they that are otherwise cannot be hid.
AN attention to the context is of the greatest importance in explaining the Holy Scriptures: for there is not any error into which we may not run, if we overlook the connection in which every different expression stands. Yet it is possible to err even on that side: for the inspired writers are not so fettered, but that they sometimes pass from one subject to another without any connection except what existed in their own minds, and sometimes with an easy, though not a logical, transition. Many able Commentators, through an excessive attention to the context, would limit the words before us to the admission of persons to the ministerial office, of which the Apostle is speaking in the foregoing verses. But I am persuaded, that they ought not to be so limited. They arise indeed from that subject; but they carry the mind beyond it; and were intended to encourage Timothy to execute with fidelity the trust reposed in him: he must "not lay hands suddenly on any, lest he become a partaker of their sins," but if, after all his care, he should be deceived, he shall not be deemed guilty on that account, since God alone can see the heart: and the mistakes which are made respecting the characters of men in this life, shall all be rectified in the life to come.
Taking the words in this sense, they will be found to express the very same idea, and in the very same connection, which the same Apostle has suggested in other places; to which, in the progress of our subject, we shall have occasion to refer.
Fully persuaded in my own mind that the words do ultimately refer to the day of judgment, I shall proceed,
I. To mark the truths which are here declared.
These relate to all the different works of men—to,
1. Their evil works.
Many sins are so flagrant, that, as they render a person manifestly unfit for admission to the ministerial office, so they leave no doubt respecting the judgment which will be passed upon him in the last day. Nor do we include in this number those only which are of the grosser kind, and which are stamped with infamy by even the better kind of heathens, (such as fornication and adultery,) but those also which, though they bring with them no stigma in the estimation of mankind, are decidedly reprobated by the word of God. Among the foremost of these we must mention a worldly spirit, which as decidedly proves a person to be destitute of true religion as any other sin whatever: for to serve God and Mammon too is impossible. The true disciple of Christ is no more of the world than his Lord and Master wasd. A disregard of the Gospel too is another of those sins which will infallibly bring condemnation upon the soul: for "if judgment begin, as it surely will, at the house of God, what shall the end be of them that obey not the Gospel of God?" How is it possible that any should "escape, who neglect so great salvationf?" We might mention a variety of other sins, which, though they are accounted light and venial by the ungodly world, stamp the character so clearly and manifestly, that no one who believes the Scriptures can doubt one moment what the issue of them will be in the day of judgment.
But while these "go before to judgment," others of a more secret and dubious nature "follow after." There are many sins in the heart, which, though harbored and indulged there, escape the eye of men, and are known to God alone. It is no uncommon thing for men to stand well both in their own eyes and in the estimation of others, and yet to be hateful in the sight of the heart-searching God. Their works may externally be good, and yet not be perfect before God. Men may "have a name to live, and yet in reality be deadi." They may have much religion in appearance, and yet "all their religion be vain" But it is not until the day of judgment that their real character will be known: and, when disclosed by God, and visited with merited displeasure, it will cause the utmost surprise in all who once knew and admired them upon earthl. Then, if not before, "their sin will find them out."
2. Their good works.
Some men are so eminently holy, that no one could hesitate to pronounce them fit to be employed in the sacred ministry of the Gospel: nor can any one doubt respecting the safety of their state when they die. It is said of mariners, that, though the most experienced may sometimes mistake a cloud for land, the most inexperienced never mistakes land for a cloud; there being in the land something which carries its own evidence along with it. Thus vital godliness, when exhibited in bright colors, and in an uniform consistent tenor, commends itself to all who behold it: it is a light, which needs nothing else to testify of it, or to set it forth: its own effulgence is the most convincing evidence of its existence. The ultimate happiness of those who possess it, is foreseen with an assured confidence by all who mark its course.
But there are some whose piety, in consequence of the slenderness of their attainments, or the privacy of their situation, or the insuperable diffidence and reserve of their minds, is concealed from public view. External circumstances too may sometimes occasion the light, though real, to be obscured; as was the case with those "seven thousand men in Israel," who, though unknown to the Prophet Elijah, had never bowed their knee to the image of Baal. Indeed, it is of the nature of true religion to affect secrecy. The sighs, and groans, and prayers, and tears of the real penitent are poured forth in secret: and the consciousness of being seen or heard by any mortal man, would be sufficient to stifle all. The inward affiance of the soul too is unknown to any but God; as indeed are also all the sublimest workings of the affections towards God. None but "He who searches the heart and tries the reins" can discern that entireness of heart which constitutes a man "an Israelite indeed, in whom there is no deceit." But God does see, yes, and mark also, those more secret and refined exercises of the soul, which are hid from all besides. It is not for those only who speak often one to another that God records his approbation in the book of his remembrance, but for those also who in modest silence "think upon his name;" and though those thoughts were altogether hidden from their earthly friends, he will bring them forth at the last day as evidences in favor of those who fostered them in their bosoms, and will recompense them with testimonies of his warmest approbationn. "The hidden man of the heart" is that which constitutes our brightest ornament in this world, and which most insures his plaudit in the world to come.
Such being the truths contained in our text, we go on,
II. To deduce from them some important observations.
In the view of the future judgment,
1. We should diligently acquaint ourselves with God's rule of judgment.
The written word of God is the rule of our conduct: and it is that also by which we shall be tried in the last day. We are told, that "in that day, when the judgment is set, the books shall be opened," for the express purpose "that all may be judged out of them;" and though there may be various other books, as the book of providence, the book of conscience, and the book of life, yet we are sure that the book of the Scriptures must be one. Now that book changes not, nor accommodates itself to the wishes of any: and it is in vain for us to complain of it as too strict, or to say respecting anything in it, "This is an hard saying; who can hear it?" It is in vain to reduce its demands to any standard of our own. Whatever we or the whole world may say, God's requirements will be the same, and his judgment will be in perfect correspondence with them. We should not therefore be inquiring, What the opinions of men are in relation to these things, but What God speaks in his word. We should study that word with care: we should bring ourselves to it as a touchstone: We should pray over it, with an earnest desire to understand its true import, and with a full determination of heart, through grace, to follow it in every particular. We should beg of God to "write his law in our hearts," and to "cast our souls, as it were, into the very mold of his Gospel," for, when "truth exists in our inward parts," we need not fear but that "the Lord, the righteous Judge, will confer upon us a crown of righteousness in the great day of his appearingr."
2. We should contentedly refer ourselves to his judgment.
Let our conduct be ever so pure, and ever so wise, it will not be possible for us to escape the reproaches of an ungodly world. Even those who profess godliness are not always candid in their judgment: on the contrary, they are very apt to put an unkind construction on the conduct of others, especially when it militates in any degree against their wishes or interests. Who would have thought that even the Apostle Paul should be traduced as a time-serving man, whose views, and aims, and habits, were altogether carnal? Yet thus was he judged, even by many who professed a great zeal for religion. Who then can hope to escape the censures of men? Who can hope so to walk as never to be misrepresented by those who see his actions only, but are unacquainted with his motives and principles? It may be that even the heaviest charges may be brought against us without any foundation; and that we may be persecuted, as David was by Saul, with unrelenting fury, when our conduct has been as discreet and blameless as the most consummate piety could inspire. Well, if such be our lot, let it not weigh too heavily on our minds: let us say with Paul, "It is a small matter with me to be judged of man's judgment;" for God will, before long, "bring to light the hidden things of darkness, and make manifest the counsels of the heart; and then shall every man" who has deserved it, "have praise of God." The expression here in the original is remarkable; "It is a small matter to be judged of man's day." Man has his day: but God has his also. And man's day consists of but a few hours: but God's shall endure forever. Therefore we may well commit our cause to God without anxiety, and wait with patience the time of his coming, when "he will bring forth our righteousness as the light, and our judgment as the noon-day."
3. We should however be jealous over ourselves with a godly jealousy.
As our conduct may be misrepresented by others, so may it also be misjudged by ourselves. Self-love is very apt to blind us, and to make us form a favorable opinion of ourselves, when we are in reality widely deviating from the path of duty. How little did the Apostles imagine that they were actuated by a sinful principle, when they would have called fire from Heaven to consume a Samaritan village! They gave themselves credit for a holy zeal, while they were altogether under the influence of pride and revenge. And what our blessed Lord said to them, is but too applicable on many occasions to ourselves, "You know not what spirit you are of." We should bear in mind that we are partial judges in every tiling that relates to ourselves; and that excessive confidence of our own innocence is replete with danger, not only as preventing a careful self-examination, but as creating in us an unhallowed boldness before God: for "not he who commends himself shall be ultimately approved, but he whom the Lord commends." The Apostle Paul himself, though he was unconscious of anything amiss within him, would not venture too confidently to assert his innocence; but commended himself to the judgment of the heart-searching God: "I know nothing by myself," says he; "yet am I not hereby justified: but he who judges me is the Lordx." Thus we also should cultivate within ourselves a holy fear, lest some hidden "evils, which went not before to judgment, should follow after," and "find us out," when they can neither be rectified nor forgiven. There is "a fire that shall try our every work," and that only shall be approved which stands the test of that day.
4. We should act to God in all that we do.
It is in vain to act to man, or to seek the applause of man: for his judgment, whether favorable or unfavorable, will not affect our future state: the judgment of the whole world will not influence our Judge: he will "judge righteous judgment;" and either acquit or condemn, according as we are found conformed to him in holiness, or destitute of his blessed image. Man's rule of duty is so defective, that we shall greatly err, if we satisfy ourselves with that: yes, it is in the most essential matters so erroneous, that "if we seek to please men, we cannot be the servants of Jesus Christ." Our great object must be, to approve ourselves to God; and then we need not be much concerned whether our actions be followed by an "evil or good report" from the partial judges that are around us. I mean not by this that we should be inattentive to the opinions of men, or that we should disregard their censures: for, as far as we possibly can, "we should provide things honest in the sight of all men," but it is God's word only that we should take as the rule of our conduct, and him alone whom we should strive to please: and, if men be not satisfied with us for serving God according to his written word, we must be content to suffer obloquy from them, and determine to "obey God rather than man." However we may be "judged according to men in the flesh," we need fear nothing, if "we live according to God in the spirit." We shall "enjoy the testimony of a good conscience," as Hezekiah didb, "and have confidence before God now, and not be ashamed before him at his coming."
The Gospel Productive of Good Works
1 Timothy 6:3. The doctrine which is according to godliness.
THE objections which men urge against the doctrines of the Gospel, originate for the most part in their aversion to its precepts. The restraint which it imposes on their actions is irksome to them. They wish to follow the impulse of their passions, or the dictates of self-interest: and when they are checked in their progress, they complain, that the path marked out for them is too strait, and the yoke which we would put upon them is too heavy.
Paul is giving directions for the conduct of masters and servants towards each other: but, however "wholesome his words" were, he foresaw that some would "not consent to" them, notwithstanding they were "the words of Christ himself," and in perfect unison with the Gospel, which was, in that, as well as in every other respect, "a doctrine according to godliness." He then proceeds to animadvert upon such characters, and to show, that their dislike to the injunctions given them was owing only to their own pride, and ignorance, and love of sin.
The expression contained in the text is peculiarly worthy of our attention. It gives a just, and very important view of the Gospel; to illustrate and confirm which is the intent of this discourse.
In order to prove that the Gospel is indeed "a doctrine according to godliness," let us consult,
I. Its doctrines.
We might, if our time would admit of it, illustrate this in every one of the doctrines of our holy religion. But we shall confine ourselves to,
1. The representations which it gives us of God.
The systems of religion which obtained among the heathen, were calculated rather to promote, than to repress, iniquity: for even their gods themselves, according to their own representation of them, were monsters of iniquity. But our God is holy and just; so holy, that he cannot look upon sin without the utmost abhorrence of it; and so just, that he will never suffer it to pass unpunishedb.
If indeed these were his only attributes, men might sit down in despair, and take their fill of sin, because they would have no encouragement to depart from it. But "there is mercy also with him, that he may be feared;" yes, so "rich is he in mercy," that "none shall ever seek his face in vain."
How must the contemplation of such perfections tend to deter men from the commission of evil, and to foster in them every holy sentiment and desire!
2. The means which it prescribes for our reconciliation with him.
The leading feature of the Gospel is, that it proclaims pardon to penitent sinners, through the blood and righteousness of the Lord Jesus Christ.
Let any one reflect on this stupendous mystery, the incarnation and death of the Son of God; let him consider, that no less a sacrifice than that made by our incarnate God was sufficient to atone for sin; and will he then be willing to incur all the penalties of sin, and to bear them in his own person? Will not the tears and agonies of an expiring Savior compel him to exclaim, "If such things were done in the green tree, what shall be done in the dry?" and will not the love of Christ in submitting to such an ignominious death, on purpose that he might redeem him from iniquity, have any influence on his mind? Will he readily trample on the blood that was shed for him, and crucify his Lord afresh by continuing in sin?
Let us prosecute the same inquiry, in relation to,
II. Its precepts.
View the precepts relating to God and our neighbor.
The two great commandments of the law are confirmed and ratified by the Gospel, "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and your neighbor as yourself." Now ran any man love God, and not endeavor to do his will? Or, if he make his own self-love the rule and measure of his love to others, can he willingly injure them in anything or forbear to do them good? Would not an sincere love to these commands lay the axe to the root of all sin, and transform men into the very image of their God?
View the directions which it gives for self-government.
The Gospel does not regulate the actions only, but the heart: it extends its dominion over all the most secret motives and inclinations; and requires every thought to be brought into captivity to the obedience of Christ. It makes no allowance for temptations, as though they extenuated the guilt of sin, or were an excuse for the commission of iniquity; but teaches us to "heap coals of five on the bead of an enemy" by acts of kindness, and "not to be overcome of evil, but to overcome evil with good." It tolerates no kind or degree of sin, but enjoins us to "cleanse ourselves from all filthiness both of flesh and spirit, and to perfect holiness in the fear of God." It requires us to "be holy as God himself is holy," and "perfect, even as our Father which is in Heaven is perfect."
Can any one that considers these precepts, doubt what is the nature and tendency of the Gospel?
Let us examine further,
III. Its examples.
It calls us to an imitation of,
1. Our blessed Lord.
He was virtue itself embodied. Neither friends nor enemies could ever find in him the smallest spot or blemish. Under circumstances the most trying that can be imagined, he preserved the same serenity of mind, the same meek and heavenly disposition. While he was suffering the most injurious treatment, he was like a Jamb led to the slaughter: and in the very agonies of death, he prayed for nothing but blessings on the head of his cruel murderers. Now we are told, that in all this "he set us an example, that we should follow his steps," and that all his followers must "walk even as he walked."
2. His holy Apostles.
These were far inferior indeed to their Divine Master; yet were they bright patterns of everything that was excellent and praise-worthy. As being men of like passions with us, they manifested on some occasions their infirmities: and, in these instances, they are warnings to us, and not examples. But, for the most part, they conducted themselves in a way that excites our highest admiration. And though on account of their defects we cannot follow them in everything, yet we are called on the whole to tread in their steps, and to "be followers of them, as they were of Christ."
Are not these sufficient proofs of the holy tendency of the Gospel?
1. How little reason is there for objecting to the Gospel as unfriendly to morality!
Men ground this objection upon the doctrine of our being "justified by faith only, without the works of the law." But if they would consider that that faith is always preceded by repentance, and followed by obedience, they would see that there was no foundation at all for their objection. If we said that people might live and die in an impenitent and disobedient state, and yet be saved by their faith, then there were good reason to condemn the Gospel which we preach: but while we maintain the character of God as it is exhibited in the Gospel, together with the obligation of its precepts, and the purity of its examples, no man need to tremble for the ark of God. A roof is not the less necessary to a house, because it is not to be laid as a foundation: nor are works less necessary, because they cannot justify us before God. Let them but stand in their proper place, and they are as necessary as faith itself.
2. How deluded are they who hold the truth in unrighteousness!
There doubtless are many who profess to believe in Christ, while yet by their works they utterly deny him. There was one of this description even in the family of Christ himself. But will the faith which they exercise be sufficient to save them? No, their faith is dead, being alone: it is no better than the faith of devils: nor will it be productive of any benefit to their souls: yes rather, inasmuch as it argued light and knowledge, it will only enhance their guilt, and aggravate their condemnation. Let those who are not occupied in a careful imitation of their Lord, and an unreserved obedience to his will, know assuredly, that if, on the one hand, he who believes shall be saved, so, on the other hand, "the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of Heaven."
3. How great are the obligations of God's people to walk circumspectly!
The world will judge of the Gospel, not so much by what they hear, as by what they see. Now, though they have no right to act thus, we should be careful not to lay a stumbling-block before them. We should endeavor rather to make a good impression on their minds, and to give them no occasion from our conduct to speak evil of the truth itself. We should show them by our lives, that their fears respecting the licentious tendency of the Gospel are groundless. By walking as it becomes saints, we should put to silence their ignorant objections, and constrain them to confess, that, however the Gospel may be dishonored by its friends, or calumniated by its enemies, it is indeed a doctrine according to godliness.
Godliness with Contentment
1 Timothy 6:6. Godliness with contentment is great gain.
TO the great dishonor of Christianity, there are many professors, and even preachers of it, who are more intent on promoting their own temporal interests, or the interests of their party, than on advancing practical religion in the world. Of such persons Paul is speaking in the context: and he enjoins Timothy to withdraw himself from them, as from persons who disgraced the Christian name, by giving reason to people to conclude, that "they supposed gain to be godliness." In opposition to such characters, the Apostle reverses that which he had stated as their opinion; and declares, that though gain was not godliness, godliness was gain, yes, and "great gain," if it were joined "with contentment."
In vindication of this sentiment, we shall show,
I. What we are to understand by "godliness."
The frame of mind which we may conceive the angels to enjoy, would be by no means suited to our state: we are sinners, redeemed sinners; and therefore "godliness" must include such a frame of mind as becomes persons in our condition. In this view, it implies,
1. An affiance in God through Christ.
This is the foundation of all true religion. Whatever a man may possess without this, he has not one particle of real godliness. If we could suppose him to be as just and honest, as kind and amiable, yes, as devout and fervent, as ever man was, still, if he had not the heart of a sinner, of a sinner justly condemned, and delivered from condemnation solely by the blood of Christ, he would be utterly destitute of true religion.
2. A devotedness to God in Christ.
This must spring from the former: for though faith and practice differ from each other, as much as the root of a tree does from the fruit it hears, yet we must by no means separate them, since they are equally essential to real godliness. A reformation of the external conduct, or a partial surrender of the heart to God, will not suffice: if we would be approved by God, we must have "our whole selves, body, soul, and spirit, sanctified" to his service—And as Christ is theonly mediator through whom we approach to God, so must Christ, that is, God in Christ, be our only Lord and Governor.
When we have just views of the nature of godliness, we shall see,
II. Its connection with contentment.
Such godliness as has been described must bring contentment along with it, since all who possess it must feel,
1. A consciousness that they deserve the miseries of Hell.
No person can have an entire affiance in God through Christ, until he have felt his desert of God's wrath and indignation. And can such a person be discontented with any lot that may be assigned him? Must he not, even in the most afflicted situation, say, "Shall a living man complain, a man for the punishment of his sins?" Will he not call every affliction light, yes, lightness itself, in comparison of the misery he deserves? Will he not, under the pressure of the heaviest calamities, thank God that he is not in Hell?
2. A sense of infinite obligation to God for mercies received.
One who has within him the constituents of real godliness, must see himself to be infinitely indebted to God for the gift of his dear Son, for the knowledge of salvation by him, and for the prospect of everlasting glory. His sense of these mercies cannot but be heightened also by the consideration, that they were never once offered to the fallen angels, nor accepted by the great majority of those to whom they have been offered. Can such an one repine that he has a less measure of health, or riches, or temporal conveniences than others, when he is so far exalted above them in things of infinitely greater moment?
3. A willingness to be conformed to the image of Christ.
No true disciple of Christ expects or wishes to be in a state different from that which his Lord and Master experienced when on earth. But what was the condition of Jesus in the world? Did he live in ease and affluence and honor? No; "he was despised and rejected of men, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief." He subsisted oftentimes on the benevolence of his friends and followers; and often had not so much as "a place where to lay his head." Who that reflects on this, will murmur at his lot, even though nothing but poverty and persecution should await him? Will he not check the first risings of discontent with this obvious reflection, "The disciple cannot be above his Lord: it is sufficient for the disciple that he be as his Lord?"
The connection of godliness with contentment being thus plain, let us consider,
III. The advantage of it as so connected.
Paul tells us, that "godliness is profitable unto all things, having the promise of the life that now is, and of that which is to come." Let us view it then,
1. In reference to this life.
Money has obtained the exclusive title of "gain," but godliness has an incomparably greater right to that appellation. There are three principal ends for which money is considered as valuable; namely, to provide present gratifications, to secure against future troubles, and to benefit our children or dependents. But in these respects it cannot for one moment stand in competition with godliness,—that godliness I mean which is connected with contentment. Suppose money to afford ever such high gratifications, (though it is very much overrated by the generality,) will not pardon of sin, peace of conscience, and the enjoyment of the Divine presence, far outweigh them all? Suppose money to afford effectual relief in trouble, (though it cannot assuage our pain either of mind or body,) what consolations can it afford equal to those which result from godliness and contentment? The utmost that money can do, is to procure some outward relief; whereas the piety above described will convert every cross into a comfort, and every trouble into a fountain of joy. We are ready to acknowledge that money has its uses, and very important uses too, in reference to our children or dependents, (though it not unfrequently is a curse to them rather than a benefit,) yet even in this view is it far inferior to religion: for the godly and contented man will instruct his children and dependents in those principles which he has found so beneficial to himself: and who can duly estimate the benefit of such instructions, confirmed and enforced by such an example? Who can value sufficiently the intercessions of such a friend? Suppose a dying man to address his surviving relatives, 'I have not wealth laid up for you in my coffers, but I have thousands of prayers treasured up for you in Heaven, which, I trust, will come down in blessings on your heads, when I lie moldering in the dust: I have engaged my God to be the Husband of the widow, and the Father of the fatherless; yes, my dear wife and children, 1 have entreated him to take care of you; and I believe that my prayers have not gone forth in vain:' I say, such a legacy would be far better than thousands of silver and gold.
Thus in every view for which money is coveted, godliness with contentment is a richer portion.
2. In reference to the world to come.
The blindest worldling in the universe is not foolish enough to think that "riches will profit him in the day of wrath." In the words following the text this point is established beyond all contradiction; "For we brought nothing into this world, and it is certain that we can carry nothing out," Here therefore all competition ceases; and "gain" must be confessed to belong exclusively to the godly and contented mind.
1. Those who boast of contentment, while they are destitute of godliness.
That persons may feel contentment while enjoying all that they can wish, we readily acknowledge. But we have not real contentment, unless we could be contented with any change of circumstances which God might see fit to appoint. Nor indeed can this fruit spring from anything but real godliness. Therefore the delight which many take in their own imagined contentment, while they are uninfluenced by vital godliness, is a delusion, which, if not rectified in time, will issue in the most fearful disappointment and misery.
2. Those who profess godliness, but manifest a worldly or discontented spirit.
The tree must be judged of by its fruits. In vain are the highest pretensions to Christian experience, if we be not dead to the world, and resigned to the will of God. O brethren, how many professors of godliness have, "through a desire to be rich, fallen into snares and temptations, and into foolish and hurtful lusts, which have drowned them in destruction and perdition!" Remember, that "the love of money is the root of all evil, which while some have coveted after, they have pierced themselves through with many sorrows." But you man of God, flee these things, and seek rather to be "rich towards God."
3. Those who profess both godliness and contentment.
Know, that you have a richer portion than crowns or kingdoms. You never can have occasion to envy any man. Only seek to grow in these divine graces. Give yourselves up wholly to God; and "having food and clothing, be therewith content." Godliness is "durable riches;" and one grain of contentment is worth a talent of gold. Let it appear, beloved, that you live under a full persuasion of these things; and that your ardor in pursuit of Heaven is accompanied with a proportionable indifference about the things of time and sense.
Love of Money
1 Timothy 6:9, 10. They that will be rich fall into temptation and a snare, and into many foolish and hurtful lusts, which drown men in destruction and perdition. For the love of money is the root of all evil: which while some coveted after, they have erred from the faith, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows.
THERE is one general sentiment in the world, that riches will contribute greatly to our happiness, and that it is our wisdom to make use of all our time and talents in the acquisition of wealth. But widely different from this was the advice of the Apostle Paul, who tells us, that "having food and clothing, we should be therewith content;" and that the very disposition so universally cherished and inculcated in the world, "the love of money," "is the root of all evil."
In speaking of the love of money, we will,
I. Contemplate it as a "root."
Truly, as a root, it is very widely spread and deeply fixed in the heart of man; and richly does it deserve the character given of it in my text. For it is,
1. A base principle.
There is no intrinsic worth in money, nor anything that should make it in any respect an object of our regard. The man that possesses most of it has no advantage from it beyond "the beholding it with his eyes." It is well compared to "thick clay" adhering to the feet of a man engaged in a race; and which serves only to impede his way, and to endanger his successc. How unworthy it is of the affections of a rational and immortal being, may be seen by the contempt poured upon it by our blessed Lord; who, when he came into the world, was horn in a stable; and when he lived in the world, "had not a place where to lay his head."
2. A vitiating principle.
There is not a faculty of the soul which the love of money will not debase. It will pervert the judgment; so that we shall not be able to see our way, where a unselfish person would find no difficulty whatever—It will blind the conscience; so that, under its influence, we shall put evil for good, and mistake darkness for light—It will also harden the heart, and despoil it of all the filler feelings of compassion and love.
3. A domineering principle.
No better principle can find scope for operation where this prevails. It will swallow up every other, and govern with unbounded sway. In fact, so completely will it occupy the soul, as to make all its faculties subservient to the acquisition of gain.
4. A damning principle.
I am aware that I speak strongly. But would you have me withhold this awful truth? Would it not be cruelty to you to conceal this, or to soften it, when an inspired Apostle warns you, that this principle "drowns men in destruction and perdition?" Only let it be remembered, that "covetousness is idolatry;" and it will be seen at once, that the Apostle's representation is fully justified—Millions upon millions, it is to be feared, are at this very instant bewailing its fatal influence in Hell.
In confirmation of this, let us,
II. Examine its fruit.
See what it brings forth,
1. In the world at large.
What falsehood, in every species of commercial dealing! What injustice, wherever it exists on the side of power! What cruelty, in enforcing claims, and satisfying its demands! Who does not cry out against his neighbor on account either of oppression or fraud? But what shall I say of thefts, and robberies, and murders? Truly, notwithstanding the vigilance of magistrates, and the terror of legal penalties, these things exist to a vast extent. What, then, would the state of the world be, if these restraints were removed?.
2. In the religious world in particular.
Let but "the cares of this world, and the deceitfulness of riches," be suffered to grow up in the soul, and they will soon "choke all the good seed that has been sown in it," and render it unfruitful. How many, through its malignant influence, have erred from the faith, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows! Unhappy Judas! What "a pillar of salt" are you! an everlasting monument of the misery entailed by this fatal principle! Ananias, you had better prospects: you appearedst superior to these base feelings: but you had not gained the victory: and you yourself did fall a victim to this accursed lust. And you, Demas, you of whom even Paul did entertain so high an opinion as repeatedly to rank you with the Evangelist Luke; what became of you at last, through your love of money? "Demas has forsaken us, having loved this present evil world; and is gone to Thessalonica," a trading city, where he may find ample scope for indulging his predominant propensity. And, no doubt, multitudes of professing people, who have not thus openly made shipwreck of their faith, have, by their inordinate anxiety about their worldly interests, destroyed all the comfort of their souls; and, if they have been saved at all, "have been saved only so as by fire."
And here let me guard you against a common mistake. When it is said, "They that will be rich fall into temptation and a snare," and so on, it is supposed to refer to those only who are determined to be rich at all events. But this is not the meaning of the passage: the utmost that it means is, "they that are willing and desirous to be rich" for the desire, harbored in the soul, is amply sufficient to draw after it all the bitter consequences which are here said to result from it. We see this in the rich young man, who turned his hack upon the Lord rather than renounce his wealth: and Peter has associated, what will be ever found inseparable, "Covetous practices, and cursed childreni."
Do you ask, How shall I counteract in my soul this sad propensity? I answer,
1. Think how little the riches of this world can do for you.
Beyond "food and clothing," what can you possess? Your food may be of a more luxurious kind; but, after a time, you will not enjoy it more than the laborer his homely provision. And your vestments may administer more to pride, but will not really answer the end better than clothing of a coarser texture. Believe it, brethren, the rich have very little, if any, advantage of the poor. Thousands of servants may see clearly enough that they have even a happier lot than their employers: and those who have amassed wealth to ever so great an extent, will, for the most part, be constrained to acknowledge, that they have rather accumulated troubles, than acquired ease. They are not the happiest who have the largest means of indulgence, but they who have the fewest cares. Let this be well settled in your minds, and the principle we have been speaking of will be divested of its baneful influence upon your souls.
2. Think what infinitely better riches are offered you in the Gospel.
In Christ there are "unsearchable riches;" and all for you, if only you believe in him. Oh! how rich is the soul that has peace with God! how rich the soul that has all the glory and felicity of Heaven! Yet "is it all yours, if you are Christ's." In your desires after these riches, you cannot be too enlarged. You may "covet as earnestly as you will these gifts," nor will this principle ever operate, but for the production of good; good in yourselves, and good to all around you. Nothing but joy will ever result from this: the fruit of this will be joy in time, and glory in eternity. Get this principle rooted in the soul, and all the riches of this world will be as the dust upon the balance, yes, lighter than vanity itself.
Practical Piety Enforced
1 Timothy 6:11. You, O man of God, flee these things; and follow after righteousness, godliness, faith, love, patience, meekness.
NEVER can we lay too great a stress on the practical duties of Christianity, provided we keep them in their proper place, and perform them not for the purpose of making them a justifying righteousness before God, but of evincing the sincerity of our faith in Christ, and the truth of our love to him. The things of this world always stand, as it were, in competition with him; and the carnal man gives to them a decided and habitual preference. It is in vain that men are told how unsatisfying and transient a portion the world is, or what evils the love of it will entail upon us. The ungodly will affect riches as a source of happiness, and will pursue them as their chief good: but the true Christian must not do so: "You, O man of God, whoever you are, you must flee these things," and "follow after the things which will make for your eternal peace." There is in this exhortation a peculiarity worthy of our attention: and, that I may present it to you in its just view, I will point out,
I. The duties here inculcated.
They are two: the avoiding of evil, and the cultivating of good. Let us mark,
1. The evils to be avoided.
An inordinate desire of wealth, and an eager pursuit of it, are unworthy of the Christian character. Contentment is that rather which becomes him: for, in truth, it is but little that a man needs in this world, The richest man in the universe, what has he beyond "food and clothing?" That his food is more delicate, and his clothing more splendid, is of very small importance: the more homely comforts of the poor are as acceptable to them, as the luxuries of the rich to them. Habit soon familiarizes the mind to the situation in which we are placed; and equally reduces the zest with which abundance is enjoyed, and the pain with which poverty, if not too oppressive, is sustained. Under a conviction of this, the Christian maintains a holy superiority to the world and all its vanities; and learns, "in whatever state he is, therewith to be content."
2. The graces to be cultivated.
Here is a chain of graces, no link of which should be broken. "Righteousness" should pre-eminently characterize a child of God. There should be in us no disposition to encroach upon the rights of others; but a firm determination of mind to do unto all men as we, in a change of circumstances, would have them do unto us. But with this must be blended "godliness;" for, if we are to render unto man his due, so must we also unto God; giving to him our heart, and exercising continually those holy affections towards him, which insure the entire affiance of our souls, and the unreserved obedience of our lives, By the term "faith" we may understand either that belief in Christ, which is its general import: or a "fidelity" in executing whatever can be justly expected of us. In both points of view, it is a most important grace: for, in the former sense, it is that which interests us in the Lord Jesus, and in all that he has done, or is doing, for us; and, in the latter sense, it is that whereby alone we can approve the sincerity of our faith and love. To these must "love" also be added: for, what is a Christian without love? Let him know all that man can know, and do all that man can do, and suffer all that man can suffer, and "without love, he is no better than sounding brass or a tinkling cymbal." Together with these active graces, we must possess also such as are passive: we must exercise self-government, under all the circumstances that may occur; "possessing our souls in patience", under all the trials of life.: and "showing all meekness unto all men," however perverse they may be in their spirit, or however they may endeavor to irritate and inflame us. These graces are absolutely indispensable to the Christian character; and while we "flee" the foregoing evils, we must "follow after" these, without exception or intermission.
But to feel the force of the Apostle's exhortation in reference to these duties, we must consider,
II. Their mutual influence and relation to each other.
"The love of money" will altogether despoil the soul of these graces.
Only let self-interest get an ascendant over us, and we shall no longer listen to the claims of justice: there will be a bias upon our minds, that will affect, not our actions only, but our very judgment: we shall lean to self in all our decisions; and shall be led to infringe upon the rights of others, almost without a consciousness or suspicion that we are going beyond the bounds of justice and equity.
As for "godliness," it is impossible that that should flourish, where such noxious weeds, as the love of money generates, are suffered to grow. Truly that accursed evil will eat out everything that is good. It is called "the root of all evil," and it well deserves that character; for to serve God and Mammon too is absolutely impossible: whichever we adhere to, we must, of necessity, renounce the other.
The graces too of "faith and love," what scope have they for exercise in a heart imbued with selfishness? Darkness is not more opposed to light, than this evil is to those divine principles: nor can any person under its malignant influence follow, or even discern, the path which those sublime feelings would prescribe.
As for "patience and meekness," we must not look for them in a mind debased with the love of filthy lucre. Whenever the favorite disposition of the heart is thwarted, impatience will evince itself in no questionable shape, and irritability break forth, both in word and act.
In proof of these assertions, we need only survey the spirit of rival nations, when their interests are thought to clash: or we may look at kindred societies in our own country; or at individuals that are engaged in the same profession; or even at members of the same family, whenever their financial interests have been at stake. I speak not too strongly, if I say, that discord is almost the invariable fruit of conflicting interests; and that, in proportion as the love of money reigns in any bosom, the graces, of which we have spoken, are weakened and dispelled.
On the other hand, the exercise of these graces in the soul will keep down that hateful lust which we have been contemplating.
It is manifest that the high principles of righteousness and godliness, of faith and love, of patience and meekness, will give to the soul an elevation above the low, degrading, and debasing feelings of selfishness. They give to the mind a far different cast: they open to it sublimer views; they inspire it with nobler sentiments; they furnish it with a more exalted employment. Suppose an angel to be sojourning on earth; what a contempt would he feel for wealth, and what a pity for all who are fascinated by its allurements! So, in proportion as the grace of God operates in our souls, "the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eye, and the pride of life," will be held as objects worthy only to be despised and shunned.
1. The man of this world.
What clearer proof can you have of the vanity of wealth, than by viewing the disorders which the love of it produces through the whole world? Truly, the coveting after money is incompatible with real happiness, and has been the means of piercing the souls of men with many sorrows. Let me, then, entreat you to "flee these things." Flee not only from, the inordinate pursuit of wealth, but even from the secret love of it in your hearts. You should have higher objects in view, even the attainment of the Divine image, and the ultimate possession of the heavenly glory. Flee, then, from those things, and follow after these with your whole hearts.
2. The true Christian.
What a name is this by which you are here called—"a man of God!" Doubtless, in the first instance, it designates rather those who are in the office of the ministry: but as all saints are children of God, they may with propriety be addressed by the term that is here used. Consider, then, "you man of God," what line of conduct befits your character. Surely you should be "as a city set on a hill," you should be as "a light in a dark world." Oh! see to it that you "walk worthy of your high calling," and "worthy also of Him that bath called you." Let no earthly lusts debase your soul. Live to God: live for God: live as those who are born from above, and as those "whose treasure is in Heaven." Especially cultivate the graces that are here commended to your pursuit; and "let all who see you, acknowledge you as the seed whom the Lord has blessed."
The Good Fight of Faith
1 Timothy 6:12. Fight the good fight of faith, lay hold on eternal life.
THE Apostle Paul, being particularly conversant with the cities of Greece, and writing many of his epistles to Churches which he had established in that country, frequently alluded to the games which were there celebrated, taking from them metaphors whereby to illustrate the blessed truths of the Gospel. The public exhibitions of running, wrestling, fighting, formed the chief scenes of amusement to that people: those actions therefore being familiar to their minds, the terms by which they were commonly designated were well calculated to convey to them a full and comprehensive view of the different duties which they were called to perform. Indeed this is the great use of metaphors: they bring to the mind a vast accumulation of ideas under one single term; and serve at once, in a very peculiar manner, to instruct and edify the soul. The exhortation here given to Timothy is of this character. At the games, the prize for which the people contended was held forth to view: in allusion to which, the Apostle says, "Fight the good fight of faith; lay hold on eternal life." The words indeed which are here used by Paul are not quite so definite as those which are used in our translation. If the English language admitted of it, they would be better translated, "Contend the good contest of faith." The substance of them, however, may be considered by us under these two heads: Maintain the Christian's contest: Secure the Christian's prize.
I. Maintain the Christian's contest.
The life of a Christian is a life of faith.
The God whom he serves is invisible to mortal eyes; "being one whom no man has seen, or can see." Nor has the Savior, whom he loves, ever been revealed to his organs of sense. It is by faith alone that he apprehends both the Father and the Son; deriving from their love all his motives to action, and from their power all his ability to act. It was thus that Paul lived: "The life which I now live in the flesh," rays he, "I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me." The object too, after which he aspires, is altogether unknown to him as an object of sense: he has never been carried up to Heaven, to behold the glory that is there; nor has Heaven been brought down to him, that he might know wherein its blessedness consists. But he believes that there is such a place, and that the blessedness of it will be an ample compensation for all that he can do or suffer in the way to it: and therefore "he looks not at the things which are seen and are temporal, but at the things which are unseen and eternalb." In the whole of his way to Heaven, "he walks by faith, and not by sight."
This life, however, involves him in continual conflicts.
it is thought, by some, that a life of faith must, of necessity, be very easy, since the person so living has nothing to do but to believe. But it is no easy matter to go contrary to the dictates of sense; and to act, in reference to things invisible, as we would if they were present to our sight. In living by faith, we are withstood continually by those mighty enemies, the world, the flesh, and the devil. The world presents to us its temptations on every side, if by any means it may engage us to follow some object of time or sense, and relax our pursuit of those higher objects on which our souls are bent. The flesh too solicits us, and pleads, yes, and strives and fights for indulgence; and, being ever present with us, is at all times ready to betray us into the hands of our enemies, and to bring us into subjection to its unhallowed lusts. And need 1 say, that Satan, too, is active to destroy us? So inveterate is his enmity, and so powerful his opposition, that all other enemies together are nothing in comparison of him. Paul says, "We wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places." Who can tell what "devices" that subtle foe puts forth in order to destroy us? His wiles are absolutely innumerable: they are such as nothing but Omniscience can guard us against, and Omnipotence enable us to defeat.
And these conflicts he must steadily maintain.
It is "a good fight" which we have to fight: no contest was ever so reasonable as this—or so profitable to the soul—or so pleasing to Almighty God—But remember, no truce is to be made with any one of our enemies: we must contend with them as for our very life. We are "not to fight as one that," in a fictitious combat and in sport, "beats the air;" but with all our might; "keeping under our body, and bringing into subjection" every appetite; and never resting, until "Satan himself be bruised under our feete."
In maintaining this combat, we must use "faith" as our most effectual means both of assault and defense. No other "shield" have we in comparison of that; nor can we find any better weapon, whereby to withstand Satang, or subdue the flesh, or overcome the worldi.
To this exhortation the Apostle adds,
II. Secure the Christian's prize.
Eternal life is that prize which is set before him. The conquerors in the Grecian games had only a corruptible crown for their reward; but the victorious Christian has "a crown of glory, that fades not away." Yes, "this is the promise that God has promised us, even eternal life." To this "he is called;" and with nothing short of this should he be content.
Let us, then, ever keep this in view.
The sight of the prize held out to them, animated, no doubt, the people that were engaged in the various contests. And shall not the hope of eternal life encourage us? What could withstand us, if we kept that steadily in view? What could for a moment fascinate our minds, or what prevail to damp our ardor in the pursuit of it? In vain would the world offer its delights, or menace us with its displeasure: in vain would our corrupt appetites plead for a momentary indulgence, or Satan endeavor to beguile us with any promises whatever. If our eyes were only fixed habitually on the glory of Heaven, we should prove as victorious as Moses himself, when "he refused to become the son of Pharaoh's daughter; and chose to suffer affliction with the people of God, rather than to enjoy the pleasures of sin, because he had respect unto the recompense of the reward."
Let us never rest, until we are in actual possession of it.
We must "lay such hold upon it," that none shall ever be able to wrest it from us: as our Lord has said, "Hold fast that you have, that no man take your crown." "Look that you lose not the things that you have wrought, but that you receive a full rewardo." It is only "by a patient continuance in well-doing that we can attain to glory and honor and immortality." "If we draw back, God's soul will have no pleasure in usq," nor can we ever be "partakers of Christ in the eternal world, unless we hold fast our confidence in him firm unto the end." In every one of the epistles to the seven Churches of Asia, the final happiness of the saints was suspended on their fighting manfully unto the end, and overcoming all the enemies of their salvation: "Be you then faithful unto death, and God will give you the crown, of life's."
To what is here said, let me add,
1. A word of direction.
"Put on, and keep ever girded upon you, the whole armor of God"—Yet rely not on any preparation of your own; but "be strong in the Lord, and in the power of his mightu." Go forth, like David, in a simple dependence on your God; and he shall bring your every foe, however formidable, into the dust before you. True it is, that you must be good "soldiers of Jesus Christ," and "quit yourselves like men," and "war a good warfare." But "the battle is not yours, but God's." "By his own strength shall no man prevaily," but "he who trusts in the Lord shall not be ashamed or confounded world without end."
2. A word of encouragement.
It is no just ground of discouragement to any man, that he is weak: "when he is weak, then is he really strong; because God will perfect his own strength in his weakness." Nor need any be afraid because they are young. Timothy was but young: yet to him was the exhortation in my text directed. Are any of you fainting by reason of the difficulties which you have to encounter? Think who it is that is engaged in your behalf, even Jesus, "mighty to save." Think, too, what "a cloud of witnesses" are at this very moment viewing you with the deepest interest, and ready to rejoice in. your success. Think, also, what reflections you will have in a dying hour; when, in the retrospect of your present conflicts, you will be able to say, "I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith: henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, shall give me." Above all, think of the plaudit which in that day you will receive from your Lord and Savior: "Well done, good and faithful servants; enter you into the joy of your Lord." It is but a little longer that you will have to fight. Soon shall you rest from all your conflicts and from all your labors, and enjoy the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.
The True Use of Riches
1 Timothy 6:17–19. Charge them that are rich in this world, that they be not high-minded, nor trust in uncertain riches, but in the living God, who gives us richly all things to enjoy; that they do good, that they be rich in good works, ready to distribute, willing to communicate; laying up in store for themselves a good foundation against the time to come, that they may lay hold on eternal life.
TO inculcate duties, is no less the office of a pious minister, than to establish principles: nor should he show less zeal in the one than in the other. Our Lord commanded his Apostles to enforce the observance of what men ought to do, as well as the reception of what they ought to believe: and Paul, whose zeal was so conspicuous in establishing the doctrines of the Gospel, evinces in every epistle not a whit less zeal to bring men under the influence of its precepts. He even descends to particularize all the duties pertaining to the different relations of life, as of husbands and wives, parents and children, masters and servants, rulers and subjects; and he solemnly enjoined Timothy and Titus to do the same in their respective ministrations. Nay more, he "charged them" to speak on these subjects with all authorityb; and to press them on the attention of every distinct class of hearers, so that each might fulfill the duties which pertained more immediately to himself. The rich were not in this respect to be overlooked, any more than the poor; nor were they to be addressed with less authority than the poor. Timothy, though quite a young minister, was to consider himself as speaking in the name and with the authority of Almighty God; and was not merely to exhort, but to "charge," the richest and most powerful of his flock, and most solemnly to enjoin on them a conscientious use of their wealth, for the honor of God, and for the benefit of mankind.
In the charge which Timothy was to give to the rich, we see,
I. The temptations which they are to avoid.
To fix the standard, and to draw an exact line between those who are "rich in this world," and those who are not, is no easy task: because what would be wealth to a peasant would be poverty to a man whose rank and station in life called for a more enlarged expenditure. But we shall mark the character with sufficient precision, if we say, that the rich in this world are those who possess already, or are able by their different vocations to obtain, what is sufficient for their support in that rank of life wherein Divine Providence has placed them: for all persons so circumstanced have it in their power, by frugality and self-denial, to appropriate a portion of their income to the uses that are here specified.
But to persons so circumstanced many temptations will arise. They will in particular find occasion to guard against,
If from any source whatever a man have acquired an increase of wealth, and especially if he have acquired it by his own skill or industry, he immediately conceives himself entitled to a greater measure of respect and honor from all around him. He seems by that circumstance to have attained somewhat of intrinsic worth and excellence; never reflecting, that, as a horse is not a whit better for the trappings with which he is decorated, so neither is a man for the splendor with which he is encompassed. Even good King Hezekiah was led away with this folly, when the Babylonish ambassadors came to visit him: and the judgments inflicted on him on account of it, sufficiently show how hateful it is in the sight of God.
Yet, such is the infirmity of human nature, that a man of this description is ready to arrogate also to himself some superior value even before God. He is now no longer to be addressed with all that plainness and fidelity which he admitted when in a lower station. Because "he is full, he is ready to deny the authority of God, and to say, Who is the Lord?" or, if he pay attention to the outward observances of religion, he does It, not because they are due from him, but because he thinks it right to set a good example to others; just as if the duties incumbent on others did not attach equally to himself. A remarkable instance of such folly and impiety may be seen in King Uzziah; who, because he had greatly increased in military power, conceived himself authorized to invade the priestly office. But all such high thoughts of ourselves are most offensive to God: and therefore we solemnly caution all of you against admitting them into your minds; and "charge the rich in particular, that they be not high-minded."
It is exceeding difficult to possess riches, and not to trust in them for some measure of security or happiness; for both of which we ought to trust in God alone. Our Lord intimates this: for, when his Disciples expressed their wonder at that saying of our Lord, "How hardly shall they that have riches enter into the kingdom of God!" he immediately explained himself, by saying, "How hardly shall they that trust in riches enter into the kingdom of God," by which he would have them to understand, that very few could possess them without trusting in them. "The rich man's wealth is his strong city," says Solomon: he fancies himself encompassed with that which will protect him from evil, and secure to him the possession of present good. But this is greatly to dishonor God. He has given us all that we possess: he has given it to be enjoyed, yes, and richly to be enjoyed: but he never gave it to be trusted in: he never designed that men should rest in the gifts, and forget the Giver; or fix on senseless vanities the regards which are due only to "the living God." To them belongs nothing but "uncertainty," they cannot be depended on for one moment: they may, even while we think ourselves most secure of their continuance, "make themselves wings, and fly away." Or, if they be not removed from us, we may in an instant be removed from them by Him who said to the rich man, "You fool, this night shall your soul be required of you." Let me then guard you all against "making gold your hope, or saying to the fine gold, You are my confidence;" for it is a grievous impiety in the sight of God, and "an iniquity to be punished by the judge."
Wealth is given for far other purposes than these; as will be seen, while I point out to the possessors of it,
II. The duties they are to perform.
To be dispensed in acts of benevolence is the true use of wealth.
Nothing is given to us for ourselves alone. As the sun in the firmament possesses not its light and heat for its own aggrandizement, but for the benefit of the whole creation, so all that we possess is for the good of those who lie within the sphere of our influence. It is a talent committed to us by Almighty God, who will call us to an account for the improvement we make of it. He permits us, as we have before said, "richly to enjoy" whatever he has bestowed upon us: but our richest enjoyment of it should be in the exercise of Christian benevolence. We should "do good" with it: we should be "rich in good works;" accounting ourselves rich, not in proportion to what we can amass or spend upon ourselves, but in proportion to the good which we are thereby qualified to dispense, and the benefits which we are enabled by it to confer upon the Church and on the world around us. Nor should our wealth be disposed of in this way "grudgingly, or of necessity;" we should be "ready to distribute, and willing to communicate;" precisely as one member of our body would be to administer to any other that needed its assistance. These are the dispositions which the rich are to cultivate, and these the works in which they are to abound.
Nor is this less their interest than it is their duty.
By such acts as these "we lay up in store for ourselves a good foundation against the time to come, and eventually lay hold on eternal life." In hoarding up money, we lay it up for others (not by any means knowing who shall actually inherit it): but by dispersing it in acts of piety and beneficence, we store it up for ourselves, rendering that "a firm foundation," which was in itself "uncertain;" and that "eternally" permanent, which was in itself confined to "this present world." If the present enjoyment alone were considered, this mode of disposing of it would be our truest wisdom, since there is an infinitely richer zest arising from the exercise of love to God and of benevolence to man, than from all the selfish gratifications that wealth can ever purchase. But besides the present satisfaction arising from these sources, there is a full confidence in the soul that God himself will minister to our necessities in the time of need, and an assured hope of his approbation in the day that he shall judge the world. Not that there is anything meritorious in works of charity, or that they shall go before us to procure for us an entrance into Heaven: but "they will follow us" as evidences of our faith and love, and be brought forth before the universe for special approbation and reward. God has pledged himself, that "what we give to the poor he will regard as lent to him, and that he will repay it again;" not even a cup of cold water being forgotten, but every the smallest act of kindness being "recompensed at the resurrection of the just."
Such then being the duty of the rich in relation to their wealth, I come, in conclusion, to address to them a solemn charge respecting it.
Brethren, if I were addressing you as persons ignorant of Christ and of his salvation, I should, notwithstanding I come as an ambassador from God himself, and speak to you in Christ's stead, be satisfied with the language of entreaty; and should "beseech you, in Christ's stead, to be reconciled to God." But since you profess to have believed in Christ, you acknowledge your obligation to fulfill his will: and therefore, instead of beseeching you to make this use of your property, I solemnly charge you, or, as the word is elsewhere translated, "command" you, to comply with his injunctions in respect to these things.
1. If you would approve yourselves upright before God, fulfill you this duty.
Guard against the snares of wealth. Mark the operation and effect of riches upon your mind. See whether they produce a haughtiness of spirit, or a delight of mind, as if they could afford you any substantial comfort: and beg of God that you may, to your latest hour, be as lowly as the poorest of men, and as dependent upon your God as are the ravens, which exist by his providence from day to day. Remember, that God is a jealous God; and that a departure from this line of conduct will subject you to his heavy displeasure.
God in having imparted more liberally to you than to others, has conferred on you the distinguished honor of being his almoners: yes, if I may so speak, of being in his place to your more necessitous fellow-creatures: and by your cheerful execution of your trust he will judge of your love to him: for "if you see your brother have need, and shut up your affections of compassion from him, how dwells the love of God in you?" Be then like the Savior himself, who "went about doing good," and let it be the joy of your heart so to minister of your abundance to the poor, that "every ear which hears you may bless you, and every eye that beholds you may bear witness to you." If you be essentially defective in this duty, you are destitute of pure and undefiled religion.
2. If you would be accepted of God in the eternal world, be obedient to this command.
It is remarkable, that in the account which our Lord has given us of the day of judgment, the discharge or neglect of this duty are the prominent grounds of the sentence that shall be passed on the whole race of mankind. Doubtless there will be many other subjects of inquiry: but still the peculiar stress laid on the offices of love sufficiently prove, that whatever else may be brought forward, these must occupy the most distinguished place—"Make then to yourselves friends of the mammon of unrighteousness; that when you fail, and go hence, you may be received into everlasting habitations." "Lay up treasures in Heaven, where the bags will never wax. old, and where neither rust can corrupt, nor thieves break through to steal." The harvestman scatters, in order to a future harvest: do you the same: and know, that, "if you sow bountifully, you shall reap bountifully," but, if you cast your seed with a niggard hand, your harvest will be proportionably small and scanty. In a word, if you are rich in this world, endeavor to be "rich towards God;" and so act, that God himself may bear this testimony to you in the day of judgment; "he has dispersed, he has given to the poor; his righteousness endures forever; and his horn shall be exalted with honor."