NATURE AND OFFICE OF THE GOSPEL [Note: The reader is recommended to read the Sermons on Gal_3:19. in connexion with, and immediately before, these. The two together contain one continuous exhibition of the Law and Gospel.]
1Ti_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, whilst “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 honourable 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 honour 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 [Note: Act_20:24.];” because it reveals God’s purposes of love and mercy towards sinful man. He calls it also “the Gospel of salvation [Note: Eph_1:13.];” because, whilst 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,
The state in which it finds us;
The provision which it makes for our deliverance from that state; and,
The means which it prescribes for our participation of its blessings.
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 saith, “Who can bring a clean thing out of an unclean [Note: Job_14:4.]?” 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 [Note: Rom_5:6.].”
Let us then contemplate these two points, the sin-fulness 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.” St. 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 understandeth; there is none that seeketh after God: they are all gone out of the way: they are together become unprofitable; there is none that doeth good, no, not one: their throat is an open sepulchre; 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 shew that “every mouth must be stopped, and all the world become guilty before God [Note: Rom_3:9-19.].”
With equal force the Scriptures mark the incapacity of man to restore himself either to the favour 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 [Note: Gen_6:5.].” Nor can he of himself return to God; since it is “God alone who can give him either to will, or to do, any thing that is good [Note: Php_2:13.].”
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 for ever lost, and then he will be prepared to hear of a Saviour, and to embrace the salvation that is provided for him in the Gospel.
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 every thing 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 Saviour 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, whilst 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 any thing 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 for ever [Note: Rom_9:5.].” 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 [Note: Isa_53:6.].” Nor did he only suffer the penalties of the broken law, which, without his merciful intervention, we must have endured for ever; 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 [Note: Rom_3:22.].” 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 [Note: Joh_6:37.].” 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 [Note: 2Co_5:18-19.].”
But, to remedy our weakness, a commission also was given to the Third Person in the ever-blessed Trinity, to reveal the Saviour to us, and to “fulfil 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 [Note: Eph_2:1.].” 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 honour 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 Saviour to us (for it is his office to “glorify Christ;” and to “take of the things that are Christ’s, and to shew them unto us [Note: Joh_16:14.]”). 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 honour 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 [Note: This is done in a Course of Sermons on Rom_8:9. which the reader should peruse after these.]. But, be that as it may, my object on the present occasion is to simplify every thing, 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 [Note: Eph_2:18.].” It is for this end that the Spirit is given; and this end he will accomplish in all who implore his aid.
Now we are come to our third point; which is, to shew 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 any thing 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 favour? 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 Saviour, 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 [Note: Joh_15:5.];” 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 Saviour 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 [Note: 2Co_3:5.].” 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 us [Note: Gal_2:20.].” 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 fulness 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 [Note: Joh_1:12.], or perform unto him any acceptable service [Note: Heb_11:6.].
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 [Note: Act_5:31.].” 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 unblameably,” 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, whilst 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 for ever and ever. Amen [Note: Rev_1:5-6.]” 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 Saviour 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 Saviour in whom he professes to believe, and see whether his faith produce in him somewhat of “the mind that was in Christ [Note: Php_2:5.],” and constrain him to “walk as Christ walked [Note: 1Jn_2:6.].” 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 any thing 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, till 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 [Note: Eph_3:9.]:” 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 [Note: Isa_55:8-9.].” 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 [Note: Hos_11:1.];” 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, shew 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 theatre for endless disputes.
To keep out of view every thing that is of a questionable nature, has been, and shall be, my earnest endeavour. 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 “distil as the dew upon our souls, and come as rain upon the new-mown grass.” The sound of salvation purchased by our incarnate God! verily, 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 [Note: Luk_2:14.].” 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 [Note: Act_13:39.].” 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 amongst us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ [Note: 2Co_4:6.].”
RICHNESS AND FULNESS OF THE GOSPEL
1Ti_1:11. The glorious Gospel of the blessed God.
Eph_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 fulness, I am now to treat. But “who is sufficient” for such an undertaking [Note: 2Co_2:16.]? 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 honour 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 honour, 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 endeavour, as God shall enable me, to set before you the riches and the fulness 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 endeavour 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 [Note: 1Co_2:7.]:” 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 favour; 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 honour, 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 honour 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 favour 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 fulfil the threatenings denounced against sin. But how shall holiness be displayed, justice be honoured, 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 any thing 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; yea, 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 honour. 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 fulness 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 [Note: Rom_3:26.].
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 honour of God himself; yea, 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 [Note: Rom_11:33.]!”
Now this Gospel is, as I am to shew 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 whilst, in the eyes of the self—righteous Jews, the Gospel was a stumbling-block, and amongst the conceited Greeks was accounted foolishness, the Apostle declared it to be “the wisdom of God, and the power of God [Note: 1Co_1:24.].” 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 worketh in all the children of disobedience [Note: 2Co_4:4 and Eph_2:2.].” 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 [Note: Heb_2:14-15.].” 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 shew of them openly, triumphing over them in his cross [Note: Col_2:15.].” 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 [Note: 2Co_10:4-5.].” 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 [Note: 1Co_1:25.]: and “this stone, cut out without hands, shall break in pieces all the powers of the universe” that shall attempt to withstand it [Note: Dan_2:34-35.].
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 [Note: 2Ti_2:26.].” 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 [Note: Heb_4:12.].” 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 [Note: Act_26:18.]!” 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 [Note: Jer_23:29.];” and a mould, to form into Christ’s likeness all that are “delivered into it [Note: Rom_6:17. the Greek.],” 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 St. 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 [Note: Rom_1:16.].”
But, agreeably to the plan proposed, I must go on further, in the Third and last place, to shew the riches of grace which are displayed in the Gospel, as God’s gift to sinful man.
St. 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 shew the exceeding riches of his grace in his kindness towards us through Christ Jesus [Note: Eph_2:7.].” 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 developement. 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, whilst 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 any thing 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, till 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 [Note: Gen_18:23-32.]. 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 [Note: 2Sa_24:12.]. 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 whatsoever he chose (“Ask what I shall give thee”): 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 [Note: 1Ki_3:5; 1Ki_3:12-13.].
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 vouchsafed to these favoured servants of the Deity; if we suppose the Almighty saying to him, in like manner as to Solomon, “Ask what I shall give thee,” in order to the restoration of thyself and all thy descendants to my favour; 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, “Ye shall ask what ye will, and it shall be done unto you [Note: Joh_15:7.].” And St. 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 [Note: Eph_3:20.]:” 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 [Note: Psa_81:10.].”
Now with this cautious and laboured endeavour 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: ‘Thou hast fallen; and all thy descendants, whose head and representative thou hast been, are fallen in thee. But I have designs of love and mercy towards both thee and them. I have already declared to thine adversary the devil, that one shall spring from thee to bruise his head [Note: Gen_3:15.]: and now I say to thee, that I will not only send thee a Saviour, but I will give thee salvation in any way that thou thyself shalt desire, provided only it be not derogatory to my honour, or inconsistent with my perfections. Now, therefore consider thy necessities, and I will supply them all; so that nothing shall be wanting, either to thyself or thy posterity, that can conduce to their happiness in time or in eternity. I tell thee again, that I will grant thee a Saviour; and in him shall be combined every thing that thou thyself shalt desire.’
To this we may suppose Adam to reply: ‘O my God, I am filled with wonder at thy condescension and grace, to one who deserves nothing at thy hands but wrath and indignation: and I would rather refer it back again to thee, to give me such a Saviour as thou shalt see fit: for, indeed, “I know neither what to ask, nor how to ask it [Note: Rom_8:26.].” I feel that I am so deeply fallen, that not the highest archangel about thy 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 [Note: Joh_3:16.];” “ray Fellow [Note: Zec_13:7.],” who is altogether One with me [Note: Joh_10:30.]; 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 thee, he shall assume thy nature [Note: Heb_2:14.]; and from his own experience of temptation, be prepared and qualified to succour thee in thy temptations [Note: Heb_2:18.]. “I will prepare him a body” for this very end [Note: Heb_10:5.]: and, that he may not inherit any taint from thee, 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 [Note: Luk_1:34-35.].’
‘But how shall I know his love towards me?’
‘Thou shalt have evidence of it, beyond all conception. For, notwithstanding “he has from all eternity been in my bosom [Note: Joh_1:18.],” “a partaker with me in all my glory [Note: Joh_17:5.],” he shall “empty himself of it all,” in order that he may accomplish the work entrusted to him [Note: Php_2:6-7.]. Nor shall he only do this great thing, but he shall suffer for thee all that thou hast deserved to suffer, “bearing thy sins in his own sacred body [Note: 1Pe_2:24.],” and expiating thy guilt by his own obedience unto death [Note: Php_2:8.]. Yes, “his visage shall be so marred more than any man’s, and his form more than the sons of men [Note: Isa_52:14.],” that “by his chastisement thy peace may be effected,” and “by his stripes thou mayest be healed [Note: Isa_53:4-5.].” ’
‘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 thee, and with every one of thy believing posterity, even to the end of the world [Note: Mat_28:20.]; so that, wherever thou art, and under whatever circumstances, thou mayest have the most endearing “fellowship with him [Note: 1Jn_1:3.],” and pour thine every request into his gracious ear [Note: Php_4:6.].’
‘But how can I hope that his merciful interposition shall so prevail, as to procure for me an everlasting acceptance with thee?’
‘He shall make an atonement for thy sins, and work out a righteousness for thee and for all thy believing posterity [Note: Rom_3:25; Rom_5:18.]. He shall also, by the influence of my Holy Spirit, whom he will impart unto thee, restore thee to mine image, which thou hast lost [Note: Act_2:38-39.]: and he shall be ever at my right hand, to plead his own merits in thy behalf, and, by his effectual intercession, to prevent any expression of my displeasure on account of thy short-comings and defects [Note: Heb_7:25. ].’
‘But, O my God, thou knowest 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 thee: “I will set Him upon my throne, even upon my holy hill of Zion [Note: Psa_2:6.]:” and I will especially constitute him “Head over all things to the Church [Note: Eph_1:22.],” and “He shall reign till he hath put all enemies under his feet [Note: 1Co_15:25.];” so that, if only thou trust in Him, thou mayest be assured, that “not all the powers of darkness shall ever be able to separate thee from his love [Note: Rom_8:38-39.].” ’
‘May I then venture to hope, that, whilst 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 thee, as a monarch would have in his jewels [Note: Mal_3:17.] and in his crown [Note: Isa_62:3.]; 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 thy bar of judgment? Oh! what hope can I entertain of acceptance with thee in that awful hour?’
‘The fixing of thy doom shall depend on Him [Note: Joh_5:22. Rom_14:10.]. He, in whose atoning sacrifice thou hast trusted for the remission of thy sins, and by whose effectual grace thou hast been sustained even to the end; He, whose interests are bound up in thine, and who is to possess thee as the reward of all his travail; even He, I say, who witnessed all thy tears, thy struggles, thy services, thy pleas; He, who has been thy Saviour, shall then, in the capacity of a Judge, complete his work, and assign to thee the kingdom of heaven as thine inheritance: so that, instead of trembling at the prospect of the judgment—day, “thou mayest have confidence before him at his coming [Note: 1Jn_2:28.].”
‘Let there now be an end of all thy fears, and hear what I have decreed to do for thee, for the magnifying of my own grace and mercy [Note: Eph_2:7.].
‘Wouldst thou that I should “lay help for thee on One that is mighty [Note: Psa_89:19.]? Thy Saviour shall be “the Mighty God [Note: Isa_9:6.],” even “God over all, blessed for evermore [Note: Rom_9:5.].”
‘Wouldst thou that, notwithstanding his greatness, thou mayest be able to approach him with humble confidence? He shall partake of thy very nature, and be a man even as thou art [Note: Rom_8:3.], “bone of thy bone, and flesh of thy flesh [Note: Eph_5:30.];” so that, whilst, by reason of his Deity, he is one with me, he shall, by reason of his humanity, be one with thee also. He shall be “God manifest in human flesh [Note: 1Ti_3:16.];” and “the very name whereby thou shalt be privileged to call him shall be, Emmanuel; which, being interpreted, is God with us [Note: Mat_1:23.].”
‘Dost thou desire some assurance of his love? Thou shalt have such evidence of it as shall remove from thee even a possibility of doubt: for, for thee he shall give up all the glory and felicity of heaven [Note: Joh_6:38.]; for thee sustain, for a season, what shall be equivalent to all the horrors and miseries of hell [Note: Gal_3:13.]; and for thee work out a righteousness, wherein thou shalt stand before me without spot or blemish [Note: Php_3:9.]; and by his effectual grace he shall “transform thee into mine image, in righteousness and true holiness [Note: Eph_4:23-24.].”
‘Dost thou desire that, as thy Mediator, he may be ever present with thee, to learn thy wants; and at the same time be ever present with me, to obtain for thee a supply of them? This also shall be done. He shall ever dwell, by his Spirit, in thy very bosom [Note: Eph_3:17.]; and shall ever be at my right hand in heaven, as thine Advocate and Intercessor [Note: 1Jn_2:1-2.].
‘If thou hast any fears respecting his sufficiency to help thee, know this, that for thy sake I will commit the government of the whole universe into his hands [Note: 1Pe_3:22.]; so that nothing shall be done, “not even an hair of thine head shall fall” to the ground, without his special permission [Note: Luk_12:6-7. ].
‘Nay more; for thy satisfaction and security, there shall be a perfect identity of interests between him and thee; so that “whoso toucheth thee, shall touch the apple of his eye [Note: Zec_2:8.];” and “whoso shall give but a cup of cold water to thee, shall be considered as having given it directly and personally to him [Note: Mat_25:40.].”
‘And, that there may not remain a wish of thine heart unaccomplished, I have ordained that this Saviour shall be thy Judge. Yes, He who has “lived in thee [Note: Gal_2:20.],” and “been thy very life [Note: Col_3:4.],” shall bear testimony to thee before the assembled universe, that thou art his redeemed child [Note: Mat_10:32.]; and shall claim thee, as “his treasure [Note: Exo_19:5. ],” “his inheritance [Note: Deu_32:9.],” “his purchased possession [Note: Eph_1:14.].” ’
Of course, this supposed conference between Jehovah and his fallen creature, Adam, wilt 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 [Note: Exo_32:11-14.]; and how “Jacob wrestled with Jehovah the whole night in prayer, saying, I will not let thee go except thou bless me,” and yet, instead of being reproved as guilty of presumption, was commended for his perseverance, and was honoured with the name of Israel in remembrance of it [Note: Gen_32:24-28.]; 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 honour to bestow, which is not actually vouchsafed 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 Saviour, 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; yea, doubtless, and I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord [Note: Php_3:7-8.].” 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 Lord [Note: 2Co_3:18. ]:” and it is “by comprehending the breadth, and length, and depth, and height, of his unbounded love, that we are filled with all the fulness of God [Note: Eph_3:18-19.].” 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 fulness, “the glorious gospel of the blessed god.”
SUITABLENESS AND SUFFICIENCY OF THE GOSPEL
1Ti_1:11. The glorious Gospel of the blessed God.
1Co_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 fulness, 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 ye eat the flesh of the Son of man, and drink his blood, ye have no life in you: but whoso eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, hath eternal life: for my flesh is meat indeed, and my blood is drink indeed [Note: Joh_6:53-55.];” that is, the provision made for sinners in my Gospel, whilst 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,
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 Saviour 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 thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed: it shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt 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 [Note: Rom_6:23.].” 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 thirsteth, come ye to the waters; and he that hath no money, come ye, buy, and eat; yea, come, buy wine and milk, without money and without price [Note: Isa_55:1.].” Again: “The Spirit and the bride say, Come: and let him that heareth, say, Come: let him that is athirst come: and whosoever will, let him come and take of the water of life freely [Note: Rev_22:17.].” 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 favour 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 St. Paul in the Gospel, concur in this salutary counsel: “Say not in thine 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 saith it? The word is nigh thee, even in thy mouth and in thine heart; that is, the word of faith which we preach [Note: Rom_10:5-8.].” Yes, we do preach, that to receive every thing 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 honour 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 every thing to us freely. The fact is, that St. Paul expresses the greatest jealousy upon this head; and declares, that if we attempt to do any thing, 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 ye be circumcised, Christ shall profit you nothing [Note: Gal_5:2; Gal_5:4.].” He tells us, that salvation must be “wholly of works, or wholly of grace [Note: Rom_11:6.].” 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 for ever excluded [Note: Rom_3:27.]; and salvation, from first to last, be received as a free gift of God for Christ’s sake [Note: Eph_2:8-9.].
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-complacency. But, what if God had waited till 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 raiment to cover us, that the shame of our nakedness may not appear; and it anoints our eyes with eye—salve, that we may see [Note: Rev_3:17-18.].” This is a feature of the Gospel which the Prophet Isaiah portrays in very lively colours: “The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me; because the Lord hath anointed me to preach good tidings to the meek: he hath 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 glorified [Note: Isa_61:1-3.].” 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 [Note: Luk_4:18-21.]. 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 serpent [Note: Joh_3:14-15.]. 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 [Note: Joh_6:37.],” and you will comfort his soul: and though such death-bed experiences are by no means to be trusted in, yet he may peradventure 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 vouchsafed to us for Christ’s sake; “who of God is made unto us wisdom, and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption [Note: 1Co_1:30.].”
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 [Note: Heb_8:8-10.]. 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 us [Note: Heb_6:17-18.].” It further represents Christ as the Mediator of that covenant [Note: Heb_9:15.], and all its blessings as treasured up in him for our use [Note: Col_1:19.]: 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 liveth in me [Note: Gal_2:20.].” But stronger still is the Apostle’s language in another place: “Ye are dead, and your life is hid with Christ in God. When Christ, who is our life, shall appear, then shall ye also appear with him in glory [Note: Col_3:3-4.].” 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 favour, God says, ‘I will not commit your eternal interests into your own hands: for if I do, weak as ye 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;” yea, “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 [Note: Joh_10:28-29.].” ’
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 [Note: Joh_17:2, 1Pe_1:5.].” 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 none [Note: Joh_17:12.].” And hence it is that St. Paul was so “confident, that, wherever the good work was begun in a soul, it should be carried on and perfected unto the end [Note: Php_1:6.].” 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 it [Note: Heb_12:2.]:” and hence he assured both himself and every believing soul, that, inasmuch as “Christ has said, I will never leave thee nor forsake thee [Note: Heb_13:5-6.],” we may dismiss all fear, and rest in perfect confidence, that “what he has promised, he is able also to perform [Note: Rom_4:21.].”
Now, then, see how suitable to us the Gospel is, in this point of view. It shews 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 [Note: Jude. ver. 24.],” 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 us [Note: Gal_2:20.].” 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 [Note: 2Ti_1:12.],” and “preserve us blameless unto his heavenly kingdom [Note: 2Ti_4:18.].”
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 [Note: Php_2:12.].” 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; “Thou standest by faith: be not high—minded, but fear [Note: Rom_11:20.].”
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 [Note: 1Jn_1:7.];” and that “all who believe in him shall be justified from all things, from which they could not be justified by the law of Moses [Note: Act_13:39.].” 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 [Note: Isa_1:18.].” We can scarcely conceive of greater guilt than that of David, after all the mercies that had been vouchsafed 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 [Note: Psa_51:7.]:” and then he acknowledges the efficacy of this remedy, saying, “Thou hast made the bones which thou hast broken to rejoice [Note: Psa_51:8.].” 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 Saviour’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 [Note: Act_2:46-47.].” Wherever Christ was preached, great joy sprang up in the hearts of those who heard the word [Note: Act_8:5; Act_8:8.]. 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 [Note: 1Pe_1:7-8.].” This is declared to be the invariable effect of the Gospel throughout the whole world: “Sing, O ye heavens; for the Lord hath done it: shout, ye lower parts of the earth; break forth into singing, ye mountains, O forest, and every tree therein: for the Lord hath redeemed Jacob, and glorified himself in Israel [Note: Isa_44:23.].” 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 rose [Note: Isa_35:1.]:” 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 [Note: Isa_51:3.].”
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 any thing found to change the heart of man but the Gospel. Let any one call to mind the labours 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 cometh down, and the snow, from heaven, and returneth not thither, but watereth the earth, and maketh it bring forth and bud, that it may give seed to the sower, and bread to the eater; so shall my word be that goeth 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 [Note: Isa_55:10-11; Isa_55:13.].”
If it be asked, How the Gospel effects this change? I answer, It reveals a Saviour to us in all the wonders of his love; and thus generates in the soul a desire to serve and honour 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 [Note: 1Co_6:20.].” 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 man [Note: Eph_3:16.],” and to “work all their works in them [Note: Isa_26:12.].” Thus they become “sanctified in body, soul, and spirit [Note: 1Th_5:23.],” and are rendered “meet for the inheritance of the saints in light [Note: Col_1:12.].” 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 [Note: Deu_33:25.].” It not only makes us conquerors, but “more than conquerors;” rendering our very troubles a source of joy [Note: Rom_5:3.], 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 [Note: 2Co_12:10.].” 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 also [Note: Php_2:17-18.]. 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-favoured servant of Christ. Hear his own words, even whilst he was yet contending with all his enemies: “If God be for us, who can be against us? He that 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 any thing to the charge of God’s elect? It is God that justifieth; who is he that condemneth? It is Christ that died; yea, rather, that is risen again; who is oven at the right hand of God, who also maketh 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 [Note: Rom_8:31-39.].” 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 every thing 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 perisheth! 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 amongst them was benefited 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; yea, 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 [Note: Joh_6:35.]. At the same time, we must take care to shew that we are really invigorated by this heavenly food, and fitted to prosecute our journey through this dreary wilderness. In a word, whilst we take it to ourselves as suitable, we must shew 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 for ever.
And now, need I add any thing more to shew 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 [Note: 1Ki_19:8.]. Yes, “as ye have received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk ye in him, rooted and built up in him, and stablished in the faith as ye have been taught, abounding therein with thanksgiving [Note: Col_2:6-7.].”
THE EXCELLENCY AND GLORY OF THE GOSPEL
1Ti_1:11. The glorious Gospel of the blessed God.
Eph_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 passeth knowledge, that ye might be filled with all the fulness 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 passeth knowledge, and by comprehending it be filled with all the fulness 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 fulness 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 endeavour to exhibit the Gospel, as honouring 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 honouring 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 St. 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: “yea, we establish the law [Note: Rom_3:31.].”
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 fulfil 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, till 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 honoured by this. It would have been honoured, if all mankind had obeyed it: and it would also have been honoured, 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 honoured, and that the salvation of man may be rendered compatible with its demands, this puts an honour upon the law which it would never have obtained by any other means, and must for ever 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 honoured: the Gospel engages that every sinner who is interested in its provisions shall himself also honour 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 burneth 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 honour 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 any thing which does not satisfy the law, and put honour 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 honouring 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 [Note: Rom_10:4.],” and trust in him altogether under that character, “The Lord our Righteousness [Note: Jer_23:6.].” Thus you perceive that the Gospel provides for the honour of the law, not only in shewing that it has been honoured by the obedience and sufferings of our incarnate God, but in requiring every sinner in the universe to honour it in his own person, by founding all his hopes on that very mediation by which the law has been so greatly honoured.
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 endeavour to honour 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 endeavours to fulfil it, as much as if he were to be saved altogether by his obedience to it. “The grace of God, which bringeth 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 [Note: Tit_2:11-12.].” Whilst, 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 God [Note: 2Co_7:1.].”
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 honoured both in its commanding and condemning power—this hope in Christ, as having so honoured 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 honour 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 [Note: Rom_9:31.]: 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 honours 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 honourable the law of God [Note: Isa_42:21.].”
The next point of view in which the excellency of the Gospel is to be shewn, 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 honour of the Divine perfections, was mentioned in a former discourse; wherein were shewn 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 shew, 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 honour 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 shew how a tenfold lustre 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 [Note: Zec_13:7.]?” 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 it [Note: Isa_53:7. Bishop Lowth’s Translation.], and must himself endure all that it has merited at the hands of God. Behold, then, for the honour 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, till 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 [Note: Rom_3:20.].” 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 honour of every other attribute. But what way shall be devised for this? Divine wisdom, as I have before shewn, contrived a way, wherein God might be at the same time “a just God and a Saviour [Note: Isa_45:21.].” 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 shewn towards a number of rebellious worms—of creatures that can never contribute any thing to the happiness or honour of their God—of creatures, millions of whom, if necessary for God’s honour, could be created in an instant, in the room of those that should perish; that mercy, I say, might be shewn 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 honour. But no; mercy cannot be so restrained: it pants for an opportunity of pouring forth its benefits into the souls of men. Its bowels are so moved at the sight of a perishing world, that it will not, it cannot, rest. Every thing but God’s honour 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 hast thou 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 thou eatest of the forbidden fruit, thou shalt 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 honoured: 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 [Note: Isa_53:10.]:—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 other [Note: Psa_85:10.].” 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 benefited 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 [Note: Exo_25:20.]. St. 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 [Note: 1Pe_1:12.].” The very word he uses [Note
.] 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 St. 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 [Note: Eph_3:9-10.]. 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 men [Note: Luk_2:13-14.].” 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. Till 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 marvellous 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 [Note: Rev_7:9-11.].” We find, too, that the saints lead the chorus, with an exulting acknowledgment of their own interest in Christ; saying, “Thou art worthy: for thou wast slain, and hast redeemed us to God by thy blood, out of every kindred and tongue and people and nation; and hast 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 honour and glory and blessing:” therefore, “Blessing and honour and glory and power, be unto Him that sitteth upon the throne, and unto the Lamb for ever and ever [Note: Rev_5:9-13.].”
Say now, Whether there be not a glory and excellency in the Gospel, not only beyond any thing which is generally contemplated, but far beyond what any finite capacity can ever fully comprehend? Yet, how is it regarded amongst 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 fulness 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; whilst 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 [Note: 1Jn_1:5.]. 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 fulness of our God?” Can it be effected by philosophy, or by the operation of any natural principles? Can any thing 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 endeavoured to bring this great subject before you. And, O, that it might have a suitable operation upon your souls! Verily, 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 [Note: Rev_5:8; Rev_7:11.]. 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 fulfil their Maker’s will [Note: Isa_6:2.]. 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 [Note: Psa_90:17.],” 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 fulness 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 [Note: 1Pe_2:21.].” “Let the same mind be in us which was also in Christ Jesus [Note: Php_2:5.],” that so “Christ himself may be formed in us [Note: Gal_4:19.].” 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 savour of life to our salvation, will only prove a savour of death,” to our heavier condemnation [Note: 2Co_2:16.]. 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, till it has “constrained you to live altogether unto him:” and never cease to “behold, as in a glass, the glory of the Lord, till you are changed into the same image, from glory to glory, by the Spirit of the Lord [Note: 2Co_3:18.].”
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 [Note: Act_20:32.].”