Eph_3:10. To the intent that now unto the principalities and powers in heavenly places might be known by the Church the manifold wisdom of God.
CHRISTIANITY is altogether a deep stupendous mystery; such as could never have entered into the mind of man; such as never could have been devised by the highest archangel in heaven. Even subordinate parts of it, such as, the calling of the Gentiles, and the uniting of them in one Church with the Jewish people, are spoken of under this character, even as a “mystery, which in other ages was not made known unto the sons of men, as it is now revealed unto his holy Apostles and Prophets by the Spirit; even that the Gentiles should be fellow-heirs, and of the same body, and partakers of his promise in Christ by the Gospel.” Indeed, so mysterious was this particular appointment in the eyes of the Apostle Paul, that, in the contemplation of it, he exclaimed, “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.]!” It is upon that subject primarily that the Apostle is speaking in the whole preceding context. He declares himself to have been expressly ordained by God as “a preacher to the Gentiles,” that, through him “all men,” not Jews only, but Gentiles also, might “see what was the fellowship of the mystery, which from the beginning of the world hath been hid in God, to the intent that now unto the angels also might be known by the Church the manifold wisdom of God.” Here the mystery which he refers to is the Gospel, in which are contained “the unsearchable riches of Christ,” and in which also is pre-eminently displayed “the manifold wisdom of God.”
In unfolding this great subject, I shall endeavour, as God may help me, to set forth,
The manifold wisdom of God, as exhibited in the Gospel—
Verily, it is wonderfully displayed,
In making salvation possible—
[As far as any finite intelligence could see, it was impossible for man to be saved, when once he had transgressed the law of God: for the honour of God’s law demanded the execution of its sanctions on those who had violated its commands. Divine justice must be satisfied; nor could it in any way relax its claims of vengeance. The truth of God, also, was pledged to inflict on man the penalty of death; nor could the decree, once passed, be in any wise rescinded. What then could be done? Shall mercy triumph at the expense of all the other perfections of God? Shall it be said, that God has no regard for the honour of his law, for the rights of justice, for the sacredness of truth? Shall the holy God be thus divested of the attribute of holiness, in order that unholy beings may escape the sentence which, by their iniquities, they have incurred? It cannot be: yet how shall man be saved without it? Here the wisdom of Almighty God found out an expedient, which should at once solve every difficulty, and open a way for the exercise of mercy, in perfect consistency with every other perfection of the Deity. A surety shall be found; a substitute for sinful man; one, by whose obedience the law should be honoured; by whose sufferings, also, justice shall have its claims fully satisfied; by executing the penalty of transgression upon whom, as the representative of our fallen race, shall truth be kept inviolate; and the holiness of the Deity shall not be tarnished, even though the sinner be re-admitted to the bosom of his God. This one point of substitution clears the whole. But how can this be? To stand in man’s place, he must be a man; and, to render his substitution available for the whole race of mankind, he must be possessed of infinite dignity and worth. Both these things combined in the substitute that Divine wisdom provided. God’s co-equal, co-eternal Son was sent to take our nature upon him; and, in that nature, to obey the law which we had broken, and to endure the penalty which we had incurred. Thus was salvation brought within the reach of fallen man.]
In devising a salvation suitable to man—
[Desperate, beyond measure, was the state of man. Not the fallen angels themselves were more incapable of restoring themselves to the favour of their God, than he. But in the provision which Divine wisdom made for him was every want supplied. Was he laden with guilt? it shall be removed by a sacrifice. Was he King under a curse? he shall be delivered from the curse, by one “becoming a curse for him.” Did he need a righteousness wherein to stand before God? a righteousness shall be wrought out for him, and imputed to him. Is he, by reason of his natural depravity, incapable of enjoying God’s presence, or of doing his will? A new nature shall be given him, and, “through the strength of Christ, he shall be enabled to do all things [Note: Php_4:13.].” Is he unable to do any thing whereby he shall merit any of these things? they shall all be given to him freely, “without money and without price [Note: Isa_55:1.].” Is he, even when restored, unable to keep himself? the Lord Jesus Christ shall “carry on and perfect in him the work he has begun [Note: Php_1:6.].” May that enemy, who assaulted and ruined him in Paradise, yet prevail over him again? “his life shall he hid with Christ in God,” beyond the reach of harm; so that when Christ, who is his life, shall appear, he “shall be secured to appear with him in glory [Note: Col_3:3-4.].” Nor is this salvation suited to man’s necessities in its provisions only, or in the freeness with which it is bestowed: the means by which it shall be communicated are also precisely such as his necessities require: he has nothing to do, but simply to look to Christ by faith; and all these blessings shall flow down into his soul precisely as health did into the bodies of the dying Israelites, the very instant they looked to the brazen serpent. The only difference between them shall be, that, whereas the Israelites looked but once, and had their health completely restored, the sinner must look to Jesus continually, and derive from him such gradual and progressive communications as his necessities require. All “this, I say, is by faith, that it may be by grace, and that the promise may be sure to all the seed [Note: Rom_4:16.].”]
In appointing a salvation so conducive to his own glory—
[By this wonderful device, the substitution of God’s only dear Son in the place of sinners, God not only prevented any dishonour accruing to himself by the exercise of mercy, but actually secured more glory to himself than he ever could have derived from any other source. Justice would doubtless have been honoured, if the whole human race had been consigned over to the curse which they had merited. But how much more was justice honoured, when God’s co-equal, co-eternal Son was subjected to its stroke; not because lie had committed sin himself, but because he had taken upon him the sins of others! How highly was it honoured, when not the smallest measure of its claims could be set aside; but Jesus, as our representative, was constrained to pay the utmost farthing of our debt, before one single soul could be liberated from its obligations to punishment! And how was the law honoured! It would have been honoured, indeed, by the obedience of man: but how was it honoured by having God himself, in an incarnate state, subjected to its dominion; and by the determination, that not any child of man should ever be saved, except by pleading Christ’s obedience to the law, as his only ground of hope! Well does the prophet say, “He hath magnified the law, and made it honourable [Note: Isa_42:21.].” As for holiness, O how bright it shines, in this mysterious dispensation. Not a sinner shall be saved, that does not acknowledge his desert of everlasting perdition; and that has not a perfect righteousness wherein to appear before God; or that does not plead for mercy at the Saviour’s hands as much for the smallest defect in his best deeds, as for the most flagrant transgression that he ever committed. I may add, too, that truth is no less honoured, seeing that, rather than there should be the smallest departure from it, God’s only dear Son should have its utmost denunciations fulfilled in him, and not a sinner be saved, who did not plead this very execution of God’s judgments as the reason for their being averted from himself.
May we not, in the review of these things, adopt the language of the Apostle, and say, “O the depths!” Verily this “wisdom is manifold;” and in this salvation are “hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge [Note: Col_2:3.].”]
But my text, whilst it speaks of the wisdom contained in the Gospel, leads me particularly to declare,
The instruction which the angels themselves derive from the revelation of it to the Church—
The angels, from the first moment of their creation, saw much of God: but of him, as exhibited in the Gospel, they could have no conception, till that fuller revelation of him was given to the Church.
Then the angels began to see.
The extent of his perfections—
[They had seen his wisdom, power, and goodness, in the works of creation. They themselves, indeed, were bright monuments of these perfections. The justice of God, too, they had beheld in very awful colours, in the judgments inflicted on myriads of their fellows, who were once as holy and as happy as themselves. They had seen in what profusion love had poured its blessings on the innocent. But could it extend to the guilty? Could it extend so far as to send his only-begotten Son to stand in the place of the guilty, and to bear their punishment? Impossible! Shew love to the guilty, and anger to the innocent? yea, and shew anger to the innocent, as the only way of shewing love to the guilty? It could not be: it must be abhorrent from the very soul of a holy God so to act. Yet, behold, Divine Wisdom did so ordain to act. But how could Justice concur in this? Can that be brought to execute vengeance on one that is innocent, for the sake of sparing others that were guilty? Methinks that the sword, if seized for such an end, would fall from the very hands of Justice, and refuse to do its office. Yet did Justice proceed thus far, and not suffer Mercy to prevail in he-half of any child of man, till its claims were thus satisfied by the sinner’s Surety. We may conceive, that, from what they had seen of the goodness of God, they would believe him ready to exercise mercy, on a supposition it were compatible with his honour in all other respects: but that he should devise such means for the exercise of mercy, and be capable of carrying those means into effect, they could never have imagined. Yet, in the provisions of the Gospel they beheld all this, not only contemplated, but carried into effect. We wonder not, that, on. attaining such views of the Deity, they sang, “Glory to God in the highest;” for, verily, “great is the mystery of godliness, God was manifest in the flesh [Note: 1Ti_3:16.].”]
The harmony of his perfections—
[Of this there was not a trace in all the universe besides. But here “mercy and truth met together, righteousness and peace kissed each other [Note: Psa_85:10.].” Here that was visible, which the prism of the philosopher discovers in the rays of light. There are, in light, rays of a more sombre hue, as well as others that are more brilliant; and it is the perfect union and simultaneous motion of them all that constitutes perfect light. Such light is God himself. His perfections are various, and of a diversified, though not of an opposite, aspect. But they all combine in Christ, “in whose face is seen the light of the knowledge of the glory of God [Note: 2Co_4:6.].” Yes, he is “the brightness of his Father’s glory, and the express image of his person [Note: Heb_1:3.].” In this mysterious dispensation, they saw not only every perfection of the Deity exercised so as not to interfere with each other, but every perfection of the Deity, that was most adverse to the sinner’s welfare, made his most strenuous friend and advocate. Justice, which had demanded the execution of the penalty upon him, now demands his liberation from it; because every thing that justice could require has been done by the sinner’s Substitute and Surety. It, in human judicatures, justice require a debtor to be sent to prison, it pleads no less powerfully for his liberation from prison, the very instant that his debt is paid. And exactly thus is Justice itself now become the sinner’s friend. In like manner, truth and holiness are also friendly to the happiness of man; because they demand for him the execution of every engagement that has been made in their behalf by God, with their great Head and Representative, the Lord Jesus Christ. How infinitely was this beyond the conception of the angelic powers, before it was revealed to the Church! But by the Gospel, into which they are continually searching, they have obtained the knowledge of it. St. Peter, speaking of this very salvation, says, “Which things the angels desire to look into [Note: 1Pe_1:12.].” In the most holy place of the temple there were, the ark, which contained the law; and the mercy-seat upon the ark; and two cherubim upon the mercy-seat, bending down, in order to search into the mysteries contained in it
.]. The great mystery there shadowed forth was, the Lord Jesus Christ (the true Ark), containing in himself, and having fulfilled for us, the law: and God the Father, extending mercy to all (for the mercy-seat was of exactly the same dimensions as the ark) who should come to him by Christ. This mystery they saw unravelled when Christ came into the world, and executed his high office for the salvation of man. But in it there are yet depths utterly unexplored, even by the highest archangel; and the wonders of wisdom and love contained in it will be more and more unfolded, as long as there shall continue any portion of that mystery unfulfilled.]
The felicity arising from this exercise of his perfections—
[When man fell, the angels could expect no other than that the fate of the fallen angels would be his. But, when a salvation was revealed, whereby millions, numerous as the sands upon the sea-shore, shall be restored to God, with what surprise and joy must those benevolent beings be penetrated! We are told, that even “one sinner turning” with penitential sorrow to his God causes joy throughout all the angelic hosts. What then must they have felt, when this mystery, whereby millions of millions shall be saved, was revealed! How must they be transported with joy at the continual increase of the Lord’s people on earth, and the constant influx of perfected saints to the regions of bliss, and the consequent augmentation of the choir, by whom praise is continually ascribed to God and to the Lamb! Nor is their surprise a little heightened by this, that whereas, if men had continued upright, they would have possessed a glory commensurate only with a creature’s righteousness, they are now clothed with the righteousness of their Creator himself, and put into possession of a glory and felicity proportioned to it. With what amazement must the whole of this dispensation fill them!
Besides, their own happiness is also greatly augmented by this: for though they have never sinned, and therefore derive not salvation from Christ, as we do, their views of the Deity are marvellously enlarged: and, as their happiness, from necessity, arises from beholding the glory of God, it must have been increased in proportion as their knowledge of this mystery has been enlarged. All this they had yet to learn, before that salvation was proclaimed to man: but, by the revelation of it to the Church, they have been instructed in it; and their views of it, and blessedness arising from it, will yet be more and more enlarged, till the “mystery itself be finished,” and every redeemed soul be perfected in bliss.]
From this wonderful subject we may see,
What guilt they contract who pervert the Gospel of Christ—
[A blending of any thing with the merits of Christ is, as St. Paul informs us, a substitution of “another Gospel” in the place of that which is revealed; or rather, it is “a perversion of the Gospel of Christ [Note: Gal_1:6-7.].” And how many are there who are guilty of this? In fact, it is with the utmost difficulty that any one is kept from this sin. All are ready to lean to their own righteousness, and, in one way or other, to look to themselves for something to recommend them to God, and to entitle them to his favour. But, whoever does this, makes the cross of Christ of none effect [Note: Rom_4:14. Gal_5:2; Gal_5:4.]. Shall this declaration be thought harsh? Look then, and see what this conduct does: see what contempt it pours on the wisdom of God, and on all that he has done for the salvation of man. See how it dishonours and denies every perfection of the Deity. In blending any thing of our own with the work of Christ, we deny that justice was so inexorable, or holiness so immaculate, or truth so inviolate, or mercy itself so great, as the Gospel represents: and we assert, in opposition to it all, that man, with all his infirmities, can by his own good works lay a foundation for boasting before God. Brethren, this is, of all sins, most venial in the sight of man, but most hateful in the sight of God. Nor is this without reason: for other sins withstand only the authority of God; whereas this makes void all the counsels of his love, and all the purposes of his grace. I say then to you, as the Apostle does, that whoever he be that entertains in himself, or encourages in others, such a conceit as this, must be accursed; yea, “though he were an angel from heaven, I repeat it, he must, and shall be, accursed [Note: Gal_1:8-9.].”]
What folly they commit who neglect it—
[The angels are not interested in this mystery as we are: yet, behold, how earnest they are in searching into it! Yet, to the generality of those who call themselves Christians, it is little better than “a cunningly-devised fable.” Methinks, if men were fond of science of any kind, they might be expected to find pleasure in this: for there is no mystery so deep, there is none so certain, there is none which will so richly repay the labour of investigation, as this. This observation I should make, if this mystery were merely a matter for speculation and research. But it is not to be regarded by any one in that light: it is not a subject to occupy the meditations of a theorist, but to engage the devoutest affections of the soul. It is our very life: it is that in which the eternal welfare of our souls is bound up [Note: Deu_32:47.]. It prescribes the only possible way of acceptance with God: and he who will not walk in that way, not only renounces all hope of heaven, but plunges himself infallibly into all the miseries of hell. Dear brethren, awake to your duty: awake to your most urgent and important interests: and let the salvation of Christ become the one object of your pursuit. You perceive that St. Paul was sent to preach, that “all men” might know the fellowship of this mystery. Seek, then, to answer the ends for which it is transmitted to you in the written word, and the ends for which it is preached to you by every minister of Christ.]
What happiness is reserved for the saints in heaven—
[The happiness of the holy angels consists mainly in this, in singing, “Worthy is the Lamb that was slain, to receive power, and riches, and wisdom, and strength, and honour, and glory, and blessing [Note: Rev_5:11-12.].” And how much more must this be the ease, with those who can say, “He hath loved us, and washed us from our sins in his own blood [Note: Rev_1:5.]!” There can be no doubt but that our happiness will consist in contemplating all the wonders of Christ’s love, and in beholding the glory of God’s perfections as displayed in the great mystery of redemption. And if here, in this world, a little glimpse of Christ is sufficient to fill us “with joy unspeakable and glorified,” what must a full discovery of his glory effect upon our souls? Here even Paul himself saw Christ only “as in a glass darkly:” but in heaven, the least and meanest of the saints shall behold him “face to face.” Shall we not, then, long for the time when we shall be translated to that blissful place, where we shall have the full vision of his glory, and see him as we are seen, and “know him as we are known [Note: 1Co_13:12.]?” Let us, then, contemplate this blissful scene, till we have already obtained Pisgah views of its excellency, and foretastes of its blessedness. And, whatever hastens us to that land, or prepares us for it, let us welcome it from our inmost souls; “looking for, and hasting unto, the coming of the day of Christ;” that “when his glory shall be revealed, we may rejoice before him with exceeding joy [Note: 1Pe_4:13.].”]