1Ti_3:16. Without controversy great is the mystery of godliness: God was manifest in the flesh, justified in the Spirit, seen of angels, preached unto the Gentiles, believed on in the world, received up into glory.
IT has been often said by infidels, that, where mystery begins, religion ends. But, if this were true, there would be no uniformity or consistency in the works of God. All his works both of creation and providence are full of mysteries: there is not any one substance, of which we know all the properties, or any one event, for which we can assign all the reasons. If then there were nothing in religion above the comprehension of man, it would afford a strong presumption, that our religion was not from heaven: for why should it be revealed, if man could have devised it without a revelation? But the inspired writers represent the Gospel as “the wisdom of God in a mystery [Note: 1Co_2:7.],” as “a mystery hid from ages [Note: Col_1:26.],” and “kept secret from the foundation of the world [Note: Rom_16:25.]:” they speak of many of its fundamental doctrines as a mystery [Note: 1Co_15:51.], a great mystery [Note: Eph_1:9; Eph_5:32.], a gloriously rich mystery [Note: Col_1:27.]; and of its ministers as “stewards of the mysteries of God [Note: 1Co_4:1.].” In the words before us, many of the principal events, relating to Christ, and the establishment of his religion in the world, are enumerated, and confessedly declared to be a “great mystery.” Let us then contemplate them in their order, and enter with deepest reverence into the investigation of them.
“God was manifest in the flesh”—
[It was not a mere creature that took upon him our nature, but God himself, as the Scriptures both of the Old [Note: Isa_9:6; Isa_7:14. with Mat_1:23.] and New Testament [Note: Joh_1:1. Rom_9:5. Php_2:6. Joh_10:30.] uniformly assert. He had for many ages manifested himself in the Shechinah, the bright cloud that first abode upon the tabernacle, and afterwards resided in the most holy place of the temple: but at the appointed time he assumed our very nature, with all its sinless infirmities, into a real union with himself, and dwelt substantially on earth in the person of Jesus Christ [Note: Col_2:9.].
What an astonishing mystery was this! that the Creator of all things should become a creature, and that the infinitely holy God should be made “in the likeness of sinful flesh [Note: Rom_8:3.]!” Let us incessantly adore him for this his ineffable condescension, his incomprehensible love.]
He was “justified in (or by) the Spirit”—
[So deep was the humiliation of Christ throughout the whole period of his sojourning on earth, that he needed the most signal evidences from heaven to justify his pretensions, and to vindicate his character from the charges of blasphemy and imposture. The office of justifying him was committed to the Holy Spirit, who visibly interposed on many occasions to attest his divine mission. When our Lord submitted to baptism, and thereby seemed to acknowledge himself a sinner, who needed to be washed in the laver of regeneration, the Spirit bore witness to him as God’s beloved Son, and as the spotless Lamb that was to take away the sin of the world [Note: Joh_1:29-34.]. When he was accounted a deceiver, and a confederate with the devil, the Spirit enabled him to work the most stupendous miracles in proof of his being the true Messiah [Note: Mat_12:24-28.]. When he was dead, and imprisoned in the grave, so that his very Disciples thought they had been deceived by him, the Spirit raised him from the dead [Note: 1Pe_3:18.], and thereby declared him to be the Son of God with power [Note: Rom_1:4.]. And when Christ had, as it were, staked the whole credit of his Messiahship on the descent of the Holy Spirit after his own ascension to heaven, the Holy Spirit did descend according to his word, and not only rested visibly on the Apostles, but endued them with power to speak divers languages, and to confirm their word with signs following [Note: Joh_15:26. Act_2:3-4. Heb_2:4.].
And is not this a mystery, that God should reduce himself to such an abject state as to need these attestations to his character; and that the Third Person in the ever-blessed Trinity should be thus necessitated, as it were, to “glorify him,” in order to counterbalance the offence which his humiliation had occasioned [Note: Joh_16:7-11; Joh_16:14.]?]
He was “seen of angels”—
[The angels had beheld his face, and had worshipped before his throne from the first moment of their existence: but when he became incarnate, they had views of him, which, before that period, they could not have conceived. How did they exult when they saw him a helpless babe lying in a manger [Note: Luk_2:12-14.]! But what different feelings must have been excited in their breasts, when they beheld him conflicting with Satan in the wilderness, and sinking under the load of his Father’s wrath in the garden of Gethsemane, and in both seasons needing their friendly aid [Note: Mat_4:11. Luk_22:43.]! Nothing is spoken of their viewing him on the cross; but doubless they, who had been so deeply interested about him from his very birth to the hour of his crucifixion, could not but gaze upon him with astonishment and sympathy in his expiring moments. And how gladly did they obey the mandate to confound his adversaries, and to rescue him from the tomb [Note: Mat_28:2-4.]! With what joy did they attest his resurrection [Note: Mat_28:5-6.], and wait upon him in his ascension to the highest heavens [Note: Psa_68:17-18.], and announce his intention to return again, in like manner as he had ascended, to judge the world [Note: Act_1:10-11.]!
It is perhaps to these testimonies which the angels bore to Jesus, rather than to the mere circumstance of their seeing him, that the Apostle alludes in the words of our text. And surely, if it be mysterious, that the Spirit of God should bear testimony to him, it is no less a mystery, that his own creatures should be employed in such an office.]
He was “preached unto the Gentiles, and believed on” by them—
[The Jews, who had for two thousand years been the peculiar people of God, could not conceive that any but their own nation should be admitted to the Divine favour: and indeed, to such a degree were the Gentiles immersed in ignorance and sin, that they seemed as if they were utterly excluded from the hope of mercy. But “God’s thoughts were not as man’s thoughts, or his ways as man’s ways:” for, by his express appointment, the Gospel was preached to all nations, and salvation through Christ was proclaimed to every creature. The Apostle himself had been the honoured instrument of conveying this mercy to them; and had the happiness of seeing, that he had not laboured in vain, or run in vain. There were multitudes in every place who received the word with all readiness of mind, and rested all their hopes of salvation on their incarnate God. Their prejudices vanished; their passions were overcome; and their whole souls were subdued to the obedience of faith.
And were not these things also mysterious, that the poor idolatrous Gentiles should have such glad tidings proclaimed to them; and that he, who had not saved himself, should be regarded as the Saviour of the whole world?]
He “was received up into glory”—
[The return of Jesus to his heavenly mansions is generally thought to be here referred to: but perhaps the reference rather is to the glorious reception which he met with among those who believed on him [Note: It seems that the different members of the text received their accomplishment in a successive order of time: and, if this be duly considered, the interpretation here given to the last clause will appear the most suitable of any: and it is certain that
may very properly be translated, he was received gloriously. See in the Greek, Act_20:13-14. Php_4:19. with other passages referred to by that most instructive and judicious commentator, Dr. Guyse.]: they did not merely assent to the truth of his Gospel, but received him into their hearts with most fervent love. “No sooner did they hear of him, than they obeyed him [Note: Psa_18:44.],” and accounted his service to be perfect freedom: and so unreserved was their surrender of themselves to him, that they desired “every thought,” as well as every action, “to be brought into captivity” to his will [Note: 2Co_10:5.]. In short, they “counted all things but dung for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus their Lord;” nor were their goods, their reputation, their liberty, or their life, of any value, when put in competition with his will, or when an opportunity was offered to sacrifice them to his honour [Note: Php_3:7-8.].
Such was the reception given him wherever his name was preached: multitudes in every place “blessed themselves in him [Note: Psa_72:17.],” and “rejoiced in him with joy unspeakable [Note: 1Pe_1:8.].” And what a glorious mystery was this! that foreigners should so highly honour one who had not only been abhorred by all his own countrymen, but had been executed by them as the vilest of malefactors! and that men of every nation under heaven should feel such love to one whom they had never seen, as to renounce for his sake all that their eyes had seen, and all that was held dear among them! This was wonderful indeed: yet, wonderful as it is, it is still daily experienced, and daily manifested, by all that believe.]
We conclude with submitting to your consideration two important questions:
What reception have you given to this mystery?
[Are the great subjects of Christ’s humiliation and glory entertained by you with that reverence which is due to such mysterious truths? I thank God they are preached among you; but are they not in too many instances neglected by you, instead of meeting with that reception they deserve? — — — Beg then that the Holy “Spirit would take of the things that are Christ’s and shew them unto you [Note: Joh_16:15.].” And endeavour to give the Lord Jesus such a reception now, that you may be welcomed by him in the great day of his appearing.]
Are you experiencing the Gospel to be indeed a mystery of godliness?
[It is to but little purpose to “call Christ Lord, if we do not the things which he says.” He will “save us from our sins;” but never in them. He came to “redeem us from iniquity, and to purify unto himself a peculiar people zealous of good works [Note: Tit_2:14.].” Let us not then attempt to make him “a minister of sin [Note: Gal_2:17.];” but endeavour to shew the sanctifying, as well as saving, efficacy of his Gospel. Let us shew, that while “the grace of God bringeth salvation to us, it teaches us to deny all sin, and to live righteously, soberly, and godly in this present world [Note: Tit_2:11-12.].”]