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THE TRIALS AND CONSOLATIONS OF MINISTERS USEFUL TO THEIR PEOPLE
2 Corinthians 1:3-4. Blessed be God, even the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies, and the God of all comfort; who comforteth us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to comfort them which are in any trouble by the comfort, wherewith we ourselves are comforted of God.
THE former Epistle to the Corinthians abounded with reproofs, for which indeed there was in that Church but too much occasion. This epistle is altogether of a different kind, and contains a rich fund of paternal and most affectionate instruction. In the opening of it, St. Paul quite forgets all the pain and sorrow which they had occasioned him, and blesses God for the consolations he enjoyed, especially in the view of those blessed effects which had been produced upon their minds by his former letter [Note: 1 Corinthians 7:4-7.]. How “full of comfort” he was, we may judge from the frequent repetition of the word “comfort;” he knew not how to leave the subject, or to vary his expression: his whole soul appears to have been swallowed up in the contemplation of the comfort which he had received from God, and which he hoped to be the means of communicating to them also.
That we may enter into the spirit of his words, let us notice—
His representation of the Deity—
In the Old Testament, Jehovah was known as “the God of Abraham;” but in the New Testament, he is exhibited under a yet more endearing character, as “the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies, and the God of all comfort.” Observe here,
His relation to Christ—
[There is in the Godhead a distinction between the Three Persons of the ever-blessed Trinity; the first Person is called the Father; the second Person, the Son; and the third Person is called the Holy Ghost. The Son is said to be “the only-begotten of the Father:” but of this inscrutable mystery it were in vain to speak, since we should only “darken counsel by words without knowledge.” It is sufficient for us to know, that such a distinction in the Godhead does exist, and that, in this sense, God was, from all eternity, “the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
Of the manhood of Christ, formed as it was by Omnipotence without the intervention of man, God may in a more definite sense he said to have been the Father: and in reference to this, his miraculous conception in a virgin’s womb, Jesus was especially designated “the Son of God [Note: Luke 1:35.].”
In his mediatorial capacity also, as “Emmanuel, God with us,” our Lord Jesus Christ stands in covenant relation to God, as a Son to a Father; agreeably to what he himself says, “I ascend unto my Father and your Father, to my God and your God [Note: John 20:17. Acts 13:33.].”
Now, as all the children of Israel claimed a special interest in Jehovah as being the seed of Abraham whose God he was, so we, who look to Jesus as our common Head and Saviour, are entitled to consider his God as our God, since we are in him as members of his mystical body, and are altogether “one spirit with him.” And, as Jesus is infinitely greater in himself, and more dear to God, than ever Abraham was, our interest in God, by virtue of our union with Jesus, is proportionably greater and more endeared.]
His relation to us—
[To us, who are involved in the deepest guilt and misery, he is revealed as “the Father of mercies, and the God of all comfort.” What remarkable expressions are these! There is not a mercy which we enjoy, but it must be traced to him as its proper source; nor is there a mercy which we want, but it may be found in him to the utmost extent of our necessities. Nothing but mercy properly flows from him: “judgment is his strange act,” which is never called forth, till mercy has been as it were exhausted. Judgments are his servants; but mercies are his children, in whom is all his delight [Note: Micah 7:18.]. As for comfort, he is the God of it, “the God of all comfort.” Were his will complied with, there would be nothing but comfort in the whole universe: it would flow from him as light from the sun; so free, so rich, so abundant would be his communications of it to every soul. Let the afflicted, of every name and every class, only go to him, and he will approve himself “the comforter of all them that are cast down,” and “the God of that particular comfort” which they need; as if all his perfections and all his powers centered in that point alone, and were exerted to their utmost extent for the relief of their particular wants.
Such is the view which we should at all times have of the Deity. If we regard him only as a Lawgiver and a Judge, we have no better apprehensions of him than Satan himself has. It is our privilege to know him, not merely in the terrors of his majesty, but in all the endearments of his love and mercy.]
With this beautiful description of the Deity the Apostle combines,
His thanksgiving to him—
Great and manifold were the tribulations which he was called to sustain—
[The whole world, both of Jews and Gentiles, seemed to be confederate against him. Every man, with the exception of those who were converted by his ministry, was his enemy, and sought his destruction; insomuch that he was in daily, and hourly, expectation of a violent death [Note: 1 Corinthians 15:30-31.]. From the Church itself too he endured much. The false brethren, who laboured incessantly to undermine his influence, and to create dissensions in the Church, were a source of continual sorrow to his mind. Nor was he free from internal trials also, which caused him great uneasiness. What “the thorn in his flesh” was, we do not exactly know: but he regarded it as a “messenger of Satan, sent to buffet him;” nor could he find any relief from the anguish it occasioned, till he was assured, in answer to his repeated and earnest cries, “that a sufficiency of grace” should be imparted to him, and that “Christ’s strength should be perfected in his weakness.”
Not that these trials were peculiar to him: he felt them indeed in a more abundant measure than others; but every faithful minister in his measure experiences the same. Who that is zealous for his God does not incur the hatred of an ungodly world? Who that has long ministered in holy things has not had occasion to deplore the fall of some, the apostasy of others, and the little progress of almost all; insomuch that with many he is made to “travail, as it were, in birth a second time, till Christ be formed in them?” Some perhaps, who would once have plucked out their own eyes and given them to him, are now “become his enemies, because he has told them the truth,” and reproved them for their reigning and besetting sins. And in himself also every minister will find abundant occasion to sigh and mourn, especially when he reflects on his great insufficiency for the work assigned him, and the effects of his unprofitableness upon the souls of others.]
But he had rich consolations to counterbalance his afflictions—
[It was no small comfort to the Apostle that his trials were endured in so good a cause. The cross he bore was the cause of Christ; and his afflictions were but the filling up of the measure of Christ’s afflictions [Note: Colossians 1:24.]. Moreover they were so many testimonies to him of his fidelity; and of God’s acceptance of him in his work [Note: Luke 21:12-13.]. He was sure also that in due time they would all be richly recompensed, agreeably to that blessed promise, that “if we suffer with Christ, we shall also reign with him,” and “be glorified together with him” for evermore [Note: 2 Timothy 2:12.Romans 8:17; Romans 8:17.]. But besides these consolations of faith and hope, he had, as every faithful minister shall have, special manifestations of God to his soul, sufficient to make him “exceeding joyful in all his tribulations.” What but a sense of redeeming love carried him forward with such zeal and steadfastness in all his course? What but this enabled him, when his back was torn with scourges, and his feet were made fast in the stocks, to fill his prison, not with mournings and complaints, but with songs of praise and thanksgiving? And in like manner shall all who serve the Lord with fidelity be supported under their trials, and be favoured with consolations proportioned to their afflictions.]
To enter into his feelings aright, it will be proper to notice yet further—
The more particular grounds of his thanksgiving—
The design of God in these dispensations was in a more especial manner an occasion of gratitude to his soul. He felt that by this his diversified experience, he was better fitted for the discharge of his high office, and better qualified to comfort his afflicted brethren. By it,
He was better qualified to comfort others—
[None but those who have been in deep waters are capable of entering into the feelings of a tempest-tossed soul. It was from his “having been in all points tempted like as we are, that Jesus himself was so tenderly touched with the feeling of our infirmities,” and that he acquired, so to speak, “a power to succour his tempted people [Note: Hebrews 2:18; Hebrews 4:15.].” Thus Paul learned to participate with others both in their joys and sorrows. Were they assaulted either by men or devils, he knew both the extent of the trial, and the consolations proper to be suggested for the mitigation of it. He could delineate the workings of the afflicted mind: he could state its various discouragements, and the devices by which Satan laboured to aggravate its sorrows. He needed only to report his own experience, and to apply to others the remedies he had found effectual for his own soul. In a word, the lessons which he himself had learned in the school of adversity, he was enabled to teach others, and thus eventually to “comfort others with the same comfort where-with he himself had been comforted of God.”
Now this very consideration constituted no small part of that comfort for which he so gratefully adored his God. He saw that, whether he was afflicted or comforted, his experience was designed to promote, and did actually promote, “the consolation and salvation of others [Note: ver. 6.]:” and there he did rejoice, and determined, even though his trials should proceed to the utmost possible extremity, to rejoice, and to bless and magnify his God [Note: Philippians 2:17-18.].
In this view will every faithful minister rejoice, thankful alike either for joys or sorrows, if only they may fit him for a more profitable exercise of his ministry, and ultimately advance that for which alone he deserves to live, the consolation and salvation of those committed to his charge.]
He was made to edify others by his example—
[The supports which Paul experienced under his accumulated trials, were a source of great encouragement to others. His imprisonment at Rome, which he was apprehensive might intimidate many, and impede the success of his ministry, “turned out rather to the furtherance of the Gospel: for his bonds in Christ being manifest in all the imperial palace, and in all other places, many of his brethren, waxing confident by his bonds, were so much the more bold to speak the word without fear [Note: Philippians 1:12-14.].” Thus, though he was bound, “the word of God was not bound;” on the contrary, “it had free course and was glorified:” and the tidings which he received respecting the steadfastness of his converts, far overbalanced all his pains and sorrows. Hear how he speaks of this in his First Epistle to the Thessalonians: “When Timotheus came from you unto us, and brought us good tidings of your faith and charity, we were comforted over you, brethren, in all our affliction and distress by your faith: for now we live, if ye stand fast in the Lord [Note: 1 Thessalonians 3:6-8.].”
And who that loves his people will not gladly lead them in the van of the battle, if he may but encourage them to “fight the good fight of faith?” Surely no good soldier of Jesus Christ will regret the wounds he receives in this holy conflict, if others be animated by his example to “quit themselves like men” till they have gained the victory.]
Those who are afraid of suffering for Christ’s sake—
[Let it not be thought that the cross of Christ is so heavy as it appears to be. Were we indeed left to bear it alone, or were there no consolations afforded by him to his suffering people, we might well be terrified at the idea of being called to sustain it. But the Lord himself will lighten it by his almighty power, and will succour us with such preternatural strength, that, instead of sinking under the weight, we shall rejoice that we are counted worthy to bear it, and shall account our very sufferings an inestimable gift bestowed upon us for his sake [Note: Philippians 1:29.]. And if here we are enabled so to “glory in the cross of Christ,” what shall we do hereafter? Do any of those who once “came out of great tribulation,” now regret any thing that they ever endured for Christ’s sake? Are not their present joys an abundant recompence for all their sorrows [Note: Revelation 7:13-17.]? — — — Fear not then to follow Christ, though you should have to take up the heaviest cross that can be laid upon you: for, if you will but bear it after him, you shall find that “his yoke is easy, and his burthen light.”]
Those who have experienced the consolations of the Gospel—
[Make the improvement of them which the Apostle did; Bless God for them; and improve them for the good of others. Have you by your own experience found God to be “a Father of mercies, and a God of all comfort?” acknowledge him under this blessed character, and commend him to all for the instruction and comfort of their souls. Your consolations are not given you for yourselves merely, but for others also; that you may be channels of communication between God and them. Many there are who need your friendly offices; many with weak “hands, and feeble knees, and fearful hearts,” whom, with God’s blessing, you may support and comfort. O remember, that it is a god-like office to “comfort them that are cast down,” “to give them beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, and the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness!” And in thus improving your diversified experiences, you will enrich both yourselves and others: I may add too, you will have the best evidence, that they are wrought in you by the Spirit of God: for it is in this improvement of them that “pure and undefiled religion” very principally consists [Note: James 1:27.]. You may be assured also, that, in thus drawing out your soul to the hungry, and satisfying the afflicted soul, “your own souls shall become like a watered garden, and like springs of water, whose waters fail not [Note: Isaiah 58:10-11. If this be addressed to a Visiting Society, this idea must be more fully insisted on.].”]
THE TESTIMONY OF A GOOD CONSCIENCE
2 Corinthians 1:12. Our rejoicing is this, the testimony of our conscience, that in simplicity and godly sincerity, not with fleshly wisdom, but by the grace of God, we have had our conversation in the world.
GREATLY as the Apostle merited the admiration of all, there was not any thing which he did that was not made an occasion of complaint against him. His enemies at Corinth were numerous and powerful: and so grievous had been their influence in producing divisions and contentions amongst his converts, that he was constrained to menace them with a speedy visit, in case his remonstrances with them should not be duly regarded [Note: 1 Corinthians 4:18-21.]. Had he proceeded thither immediately, they would have represented him as a man, who could not endure the least contradiction, but tyrannized over his followers in a most despotic manner: but when a few months elapsed without their seeing him, they spoke of him as a weak man, who did not know his own mind, or dared not to execute his own purpose. But against these accusations he answered, that the delay of his journey had been not at all owing to any versatility of mind in him, but partly to outward impediments which he could not easily have removed, and partly to the unwillingness he had felt to exercise the severity which their misconduct called for [Note: ver. 8, 23.]. Under all their misrepresentations, however, he had felt much peace of mind: because he had the testimony of his own conscience, that, in his ministrations in general, and in his whole conduct towards them in particular, he had acted to God, without any corrupt bias whatsoever. This he asserts in our text; from whence we shall take occasion to shew,
Of what kind our conversation in the world should be—
That our actions should be consonant with all the strictest rules of morality, is a truth so obvious, that we need not at present insist upon it. It is not so much of actions, as of principles, that we are now called to speak. The Christian should have respect to God in all that he does, and should approve himself to God,
In his ends and designs—
[There should be no leaning to self in any thing that we do; no view to the advancement of our own interest, or reputation, or influence, but a single desire to do only what we verily believe to be the will of God, and what shall most conduce to his glory. This principle is to be carried into every thing, the most minute, as well as the most important: “Whether we eat, or drink, or whatever we do, we should do all to the glory of God [Note: 1 Corinthians 10:31.].” By this the Apostle had regulated his conduct towards the Corinthian Church. Whether he had exercised authority or forbearance, he had had this only in view; And we in like manner, whether we proceed in an uniform tenour, or diversify our conduct according to existing circumstances, should exclude every other consideration from our minds: “we should choose only the things that will please [Note: Isaiah 56:4.]” and glorify our God.]
In the means by which he prosecutes his ends—
[Here the utmost simplicity of mind should always prevail. We should not listen to the dictates of “fleshly wisdom,” but with “godly sincerity” proceed in a plain straight-forward way. Not that we are to discard human wisdom: for we are told to “walk in wisdom towards them that are without.” But, though we are to he “wise concerning that which is good, we are to be simple concerning evil [Note: Romans 16:19.],” and are to combine the “wisdom of the serpent with the harmlessness of the dove [Note: Matthew 10:16.].” In no respect are we ever “to do evil that good may come.” Here, however, many fail. On two different occasions do we find even Abraham himself grievously erring in this particular, and reproved for it by a heathen prince [Note: Genesis 12:13; Genesis 12:18-19; Genesis 20:2; Genesis 20:5; Genesis 20:9-10.]. And Isaac also was faulty in the very same thing, denying his wife, lest for her sake he should be put to death [Note: Gen 26:7-10]. It was to the same weakness that we must ascribe the conduct of Peter, when, through fear of Judaizing teachers, he constrained the Gentiles to conform to the Jewish rites. He thought he should in that way remove a stumbling-block from the Jews: and so far he was right, in wishing to remove a stumbling-block out of their way; but he was wrong in the means he adopted for that end: he knew that the Gentiles were not bound by the Jewish law; and therefore he had no right to impose this yoke upon them: and he was justly blamed by Paul as “not walking uprightly” in this particular [Note: Galatians 2:11-14.]. Whatever be our end, we must do nothing to accomplish it which will not bear the light, and stand the test of the severest scrutiny. We must act simply under the influence of “the grace of God,” and never in a way of carnal policy. Our ends, and our means, must be alike regulated by the word of God, and alike conducive to the glory of his name.
Such then is to be our conversation in the world; it must not only be moral, but religious, having respect in all things to God’s word as the rule, and his honour as the end; whilst all selfish ends and human policy must be utterly discarded.]
But as internal principles are difficult to be dis cerned, we proceed to shew,
What evidence we should have, that it is such as God requires—
Men can judge only of acts, and can ascertain principles no farther than they are illustrated by the outward fruits produced by them. The inward motives and dispositions of the mind can be discerned only by ourselves, and by God, who searcheth the heart. Nor can they be discovered even by ourselves without great care and watchfulness. We are very apt to mistake our own motives and principles, just as the Disciples did, when they would have called fire from heaven to consume a Samaritan village: “they knew not what spirit they were of.” But we ought not to be so deceived respecting our conversation:
We ought to have “the testimony of our conscience” respecting it—
[We should have a consciousness, that we do indeed desire to do the will of God, and that we would not willingly either go beyond it, or fall short of it, in any thing. We should be able to make the same appeal to our God and Saviour as Peter did, “Lord, thou knowest all things; thou knowest, that I love thee,” and that I am seeking nothing but the glory of thy name: ‘thou knowest that, in order to find out thy will, I study thy blessed word, and seek instruction from thy good Spirit, and commit my ways to thy guidance: thou knowest that, though I often have doubts and misgivings whether I do really adopt the most perfect line of conduct, I do not intentionally deviate from any thing which I believe to be pleasing and acceptable to thee. I can appeal to thee, that I do continually exercise myself to keep a conscience void of offence both towards God and man.’]
Such a testimony may be enjoyed by every one of us—
[It is not the result of pride, as some would imagine; but the voice of God’s blessed “Spirit bearing witness with our spirits.” When Job was accused of harbouring some hidden iniquity, which had brought down such signal judgments upon him, he made his appeal to God in these energetic terms, “Thou knowest that I am not wicked [Note: Job 10:7.].” The Apostle Paul frequently appealed in like manner to the heart-searching God. In the very chapter before us he says, “I call God for a record upon my soul, that, to spare you, I came not as yet unto Corinth [Note: ver. 23.].” But in the Epistle to the Romans we have a more remarkable instance. It was supposed by the Jews, that the Apostle’s love to the Gentiles necessarily argued a want of love towards his brethren of the Jewish nation: and he, in order to silence for ever such an accusation, says, “I say the truth in Christ, I lie not, my conscience also bearing me witness in the Holy Ghost, that I have great heaviness, and continual sorrow in my heart for my brethren [Note: Romans 9:1-2.].” What forbids then that we should have the same testimony respecting our principles, and that we should be able to make the same appeal to Almighty God? If we have really walked as before him, we “have the same witness of it in ourselves [Note: 1 John 5:10.],” and may say with Job, “He knoweth the way that I take: when he hath tried me, I shall come forth as gold. My foot hath held his steps: his way have I kept, and not declined [Note: Job 23:10-11.].”]
Blessed is that man who has such an evidence within him! but no words can adequately describe,
The comfort which such a testimony will produce—
It was a matter of no small comfort to the Apostle that he had this testimony. And to every one who possesses it, it is a solid ground of joy and triumph [Note: καύχησις.]. It is of unspeakble comfort,
Under the reproaches and calumnies of men—
[The servants of God will always be hated and calumniated by an ungodly world: and, generally speaking, the more zealous they are in the discharge of their duty, the more virulent will be the opposition made to them. We have seen already the construction which the Apostle’s enemies at Corinth put on the delay of his journey thither: and in other parts of this epistle we are told, that he was represented by them as “walking after the flesh [Note: 2 Corinthians 10:2-3.],” and as “craftily endeavouring to catch men with guile [Note: 2 Corinthians 12:16.].” And it is highly probable that those who did not understand the principles on which he acted, would speak of him as the most changeable and inconsistent of men; sometimes observing days and ceremonies, and at other times violently opposing the observance of them. But he cared little for their censures, when he had the testimony of his own conscience that he was acting right. Thus it is that pious characters are judged at this day. People are glad to find fault with them. Every thing they do is made an occasion of reproach to them. Whether they more affect the austerity of John, or the ease and familiarity of Jesus, whether they pipe or mourn, they are equally condemned [Note: Matthew 11:17-19.]. As for the reasons of their conduct, or the truth of the reports that are circulated respecting them, no one will take the trouble to make the least inquiry. Sometimes it happens, as in the case of Joseph, that appearances are against them, and that they have no means of clearing their own character: O what a satisfaction is it to them under such circumstances, that God knoweth their hearts, and will vindicate them in the last day from the aspersions that are cast upon them! Doubtless that pure and conscientious man had much sweeter composure of mind in prison, even whilst “the iron of the stocks entered into his soul,” than had the adulterous queen, at whose instance these pains were inflicted on him. And every man who enjoys the testimony of his own conscience, is out of the reach of those shafts by which ungodly men endeavour to wound his reputation, and destroy his peace.]
In the prospect of death and judgment—
[No man who knows his own sinfulness will presume to justify himself before God: but, in relation to particular accusations, or to the general desire of his soul to please God, every man, who is truly upright, may enjoy the richest consolation in the prospect of that day when the truth shall be brought to light, and every man who has served God in sincerity and truth shall have a sentence of approbation from the lips of his Judge. It was in the view of this day, that Paul made so light of the obloquy that was cast upon him [Note: 1 Corinthians 4:3-5.]. And in the near approach of death, Hezekiah found in the records of his own conscience a most consolatory reflection. For his country, and for the cause of God in the land, “he wept sore:” but for his own departure he had no reason to mourn [Note: Isaiah 38:3.]: he had approved himself faithful in the discharge of his duty; and he had no ground to dread the judgment that would be pronounced upon him. But would the same confidence become us? Yes, in proportion as the same grounds exist for it: for “if our heart condemn us, God is greater than our heart, and knoweth all things: but, if our heart condemn us not, then have we confidence towards God, and may assure our hearts before him [Note: 1 John 3:19-21.].”]
Seek to have your conscience duly enlightened—
[If conscience itself be not enlightened by the word and Spirit of God, its testimony will be extremely fallacious: it may give a sentence of approbation where the severest condemnation is due [Note: Acts 26:9.]. If not itself regulated according to the Scriptures of truth, it will be a false guide and a deceitful comforter — — —]
Consult it daily as in the presence of God—
[Inquire into its records of the past, and seek its direction for the future. Consult it in reference to even part of your duty, and especially in reference to the end for which you live, and the means you are using to attain it. If you will listen to its voice, it will tell you whether you are living to yourselves, or to your God; and whether you are exercising that care and watchfulness, that labour and self-denial, that zeal and love, which are necessary to bear out a testimony in your favour — — — The more diligently you consult it in your hours of leisure and retirement, especially if you take care to implore earnestly from God the influences of his Spirit, the more salutary will be its warnings, and the more consoling its testimonies in your favour.]
Endeavour to keep it pure—
[Excellent was that resolution of Job, “My heart shall not reproach me as long as I live [Note: Job 27:6.].” True it is, that whilst you are in this ensnaring world, exposed as you are to temptations without and to corruptions within, there will be frequent occasion to lament the defilements you contract. But go from day to day, and from hour to hour, to the fountain of Christ’s blood, which is “able to cleanse you from all sin,” and “from an evil conscience.” And let not any sin, however small it may in appearance be, continue unrepented of, or unmortified — — —]
Aim at the highest attainments—
[It is not at a course of moral actions only that you must aim, but at a life entirely and unreservedly devoted to God. “The single eye” is that after which you must aspire; and “the simplicity that is in Christ,” is that which you must hold fast under all possible circumstances. Every action, every word, every thought, must, if possible, be under the influence of Divine grace, and be “brought into captivity to the obedience of Christ.” Strive for this with all your might; and then we will venture to say, that in you shall that word be fulfilled; “Mark the perfect man, and behold the upright; for the end of that man is peace [Note: Psalms 37:37.].”]
THE CHURCHMAN’S CONFESSION, OR AN APPEAL TO THE LITURGY
2 Corinthians 1:13. We write none other things unto you, than what ye read or acknowledge.
AS the testimony of one’s own conscience is the strongest support under false accusations, so an appeal to the consciences of others is the most effectual means of refuting the charges that are brought against us. To this species of argument God himself condescended to have recourse, in order to convince his people, that the evils which they imputed to him originated wholly in their own folly and wickedness: “O inhabitants of Jerusalem and men of Judah, judge, I pray you, betwixt me and my vineyard. What could have been done more to my vineyard, that I have not done in it? wherefore when I looked that it should bring forth grapes, brought it forth wild grapes [Note: Isaiah 5:3-4.]?” ….. “Have I been a wilderness unto Israel? a land of darkness? wherefore say my people, We are lords, we will come no more unto thee [Note: Jeremiah 2:5; Jeremiah 2:31.]?” “Ye say, the way of the Lord is not equal. Hear now, O house of Israel, Is not my way equal? are not your ways unequal [Note: Ezekiel 18:25.]?” The inspired writers also not unfrequently vindicate themselves in a similar manner. St. Paul, for instance, had been represented by some at Corinth as fickle and inconstant, because he had not come to them at the time they had expected him. To clear himself from this imputation, he informs them, that he had met with insuperable obstacles in Asia, which had prevented him from prosecuting his intended journey; and that in the whole of his conduct towards them he had been actuated, not by temporizing motives and carnal policy, but by the most strict unblemished integrity. He declares, that he had “the testimony of his own conscience” respecting this [Note: 2 Corinthians 1:12.]; and that he had a further testimony in their consciences also, respecting the truth of what he said; that, in asserting these things, “he wrote no other things than what they read in his former epistle, and were constrained to acknowledge; and he trusted they should acknowledge even to the end.”
The faithful minister of Christ derives great advantage from being able to appeal to records, the authority of which is acknowledged by his hearers. By referring them to the Holy Scriptures in proof of all that he advances, he establishes his word upon the most unquestionable authority, and fixes conviction upon their minds. The ministers of the Church of England have yet further advantage, because, in addition to the Scriptures, they have other authorities to which they may refer in confirmation of the truths they utter. It is true, we are not to put any human compositions on a level with the inspired volume: the Scriptures alone are the proper standard of truth; but the Articles, Homilies, and Liturgy of the Church of England are an authorized exposition of the sense in which all her members profess to understand the Scriptures. To these therefore we appeal as well as to the sacred records. But because it would occupy more time than can reasonably be allowed for one discourse to appeal to all at once, we shall content ourselves with calling your attention to the Liturgy, and especially to that part of it which we call the General Confession. We will briefly state what doctrines we insist upon as necessary to be received; and under each we will compare our statements with what we “read” in the Scriptures, and “acknowledge” in our prayers: And we trust that, after having done this, we shall be able to adopt the language of the text, and say, “We write none other things unto you than what ye read, and acknowledge.”
There are three things, which, as it is our duty, so also it is our continual labour, to make known; namely, Our lost estate—The means of our recovery—and The path of duty.
Permit me then to state what we declare respecting the first of these points, Our lost estate.
We declare, that every man is a sinner before God: that both the actions and the hearts of men are depraved: that whatever difference there may be between one and another with respect to open sin, there is no difference with respect to our alienation from God, or our radical aversion to his holy will. We affirm, that, on account of our defection from God, we deserve his heavy displeasure: that the most moral and sober, as well as the base and profligate, are under condemnation on account of sin: and that all of us without exception must perish, if we do not turn to God in the way that he has prescribed.
We think, yea we are sure, that we have abundant proof of these things in the Holy Scriptures. The universality of our departure from God, and of our danger in consequence of it, is declared in the strongest terms by St. Paul in his Epistle to the Romans. “There is none righteous,” says he, “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.” To this he adds, “that every mouth must be stopped, and all the world become guilty before God [Note: Romans 3:10-19.].” We could wish you particularly to notice what an accumulation of words there is in this short passage to prove the universality of our guilt and misery. Of righteous persons, there is “none,” “none,” “none,” “no not one,” “no not one:” “all” are guilty, all “together,” even “every” person, and “all the world.” Will any one, after reading this passage, presume to think himself an exception?
Nor is the depth of our depravity less clear than its universality. “The heart,” says Jeremiah, “is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked; Who can know it [Note: Jeremiah 17:9.]?” This is spoken, not of some particular person or age or country, but of mankind at large, even of our whole race. Solomon affirms the same when he says, “The heart of the sons of men is full of evil; madness is in their hearts while they live, and after that they go to the dead [Note: Ecclesiastes 9:3.].” And to the same effect is that declaration of St. Paul, that “the carnal mind is enmity against God, for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be [Note: Romans 8:7.].” To these general affirmations of Scripture, we may add the confessions of the most eminent saints. Job, who was the most perfect man on earth in his day, no sooner attained the knowledge of his real character, than he exclaimed, “Behold I am vile [Note: Job 40:4.].” St. Paul also, speaking of himself and of all the other Apostles, says, “We all had our conversation in times past in the lusts of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind; and were by nature the children of wrath, even as others [Note: Eph 2:3 and Titus 3:3.].”
In labouring to establish these awful truths, we are often considered as libelling human nature, and as representing men in such an humiliating and distressed state as to fill them with melancholy, or drive them to despair. Let us then, in vindication both of ourselves and of our doctrines, compare these assertions with our public acknowledgments. We begin our Confession with saying, “We have erred and strayed from thy ways like lost sheep.” This is a peculiar expression that must not be overlooked. We apprehend it does not mean merely that we have departed from God, but also that we have never sought to return to him: for other animals will find their way back when they have wandered from their home; but it is rarely, if ever, known that the sheep traces back its footsteps to the fold from whence it has strayed: if it return at all, it is not by any foresight of its own. How just a picture does this exhibit of our fallen race! That we have departed from God is too plain to be denied: but in how few do we behold any solicitude to return to him! How few are there who search the Scriptures daily, in order to find their way back! How few who implore help and direction from their God with an earnestness at all proportioned to the urgency of their case!
Is it inquired, wherein we have so greatly erred? Our own acknowledgments contain the most satisfactory reply: “We have followed too much the devices and desires of our own hearts.” How true is this! Look at all mankind; see them from infancy to youth, and from youth to old age; What are they all following? are they obeying unreservedly the commands of God? are they, in compliance with his will, mortifying every evil propensity, and doing the things which are pleasing in his sight? Alas! nothing is further from their minds than this. Their pursuits indeed vary according to their age, their circumstances, their habits; but whatever they be, they are no other than the devices and desires of their own hearts: if in any thing they appear to do the will of God, they do not act from a principle of love to him, but from a desire to conform to the customs of their country, and to lay a foundation for self-applause. The whole tenour of our lives is but too justly marked in those following acknowledgments, “We have offended against thy holy laws: we have left undone those things which we ought to have done; and have done those things which we ought not to have done.” Permit me to ask, which of the laws of God have we not violated times without number? Shall we say, We have not committed murder or adultery? How vain the boast, if we interpret the commandments in their full latitude, and call to mind the declarations of our Lord, that an angry word is murder, and a wanton look adultery [Note: Matthew 5:27-28.]! To go into all our sins of omission and commission, were an endless task. Suffice it to say, that in ten thousand instances “we have sinned, in thought, word, and deed, against the Divine Majesty;” and have habitually neglected the interests of our souls.
Perhaps it may be said, “Our actions indeed have been evil, but our hearts are good.” But how does this accord with that which in our confession forms the summit of the climax, “There is no health in us?” Here our Church has taught us to trace all the evils of our life to the fountain-head, a corrupt and wicked heart. In this expression she evidently refers, either to that confession of the Apostle, “In me, that is, in my flesh, dwelleth no good thing [Note: Romans 7:18.];” or rather to that most humiliating declaration of the prophet, “From the sole of the foot even to the head, there is no soundness in us, but wounds, and bruises, and putrifying sores [Note: Isaiah 1:5-6.].” The import of the words is plain: we confess before our God, that we are altogether depraved; that we are disordered in every member of our body, and in every faculty of our soul; that our understanding is darkened, our will perverse, our affections sensual, our memory treacherous, our conscience seared, and all our “members instruments of unrighteousness and sin.”
Thus far then we are fully vindicated, vindicated too, we trust, in your consciences, in all that we have affirmed respecting the lost estate of man. We do indeed represent the whole human race as in a most deplorable condition: but no member of our establishment can controvert our positions without denying the plainest asseverations of Holy Writ, and contradicting his own most solemn acknowledgments.
Let us now turn our attention to the second point which we proposed to notice, namely, The means of our recovery from this state.
We affirm that, in order to obtain salvation, two things are necessary; “Repentance towards God, and faith in our Lord Jesus Christ [Note: Acts 20:21.].” By repentance, we do not mean that superficial work which consists in saying, ‘I am sorry for what I have done;’ but in such a deep sense of our guilt and danger, as leads us with all humility of mind to God, and stirs us up to a most earnest application to him for mercy. We must feel sin to be a burthen to our souls: we must be made to tremble at the wrath of God which we have merited: we must cry to him for deliverance from it, as Peter cried for preservation from the waves, “Save, Lord, or I perish:” and this must be our experience, not merely after some flagrant transgression, or on some particular occasion, but at all times: it must be, as it were, the daily habit of our minds.
Is it needful to confirm this from the Holy Scriptures? Surely we need not be reminded of what our Lord has repeatedly affirmed; “Except ye repent, ye shall all perish [Note: Luke 13:3; Luke 13:5.].” We need not be told that it is “the weary and heavy laden” whom Christ invites [Note: Matthew 11:28.]: that it is “the broken and contrite heart which God will not despise [Note: Psalms 51:17.]:” that we must “lothe ourselves for all our abominations [Note: Ezekiel 36:31.];” that we must “sow in tears, and go on our way weeping [Note: Psalms 126:5-6.]:” that we must cry with Paul, “O wretched man that I am, who shall deliver me [Note: Romans 7:24.]?” and with Job, “I repent and abhor myself in dust and ashes [Note: Job 42:6.].”
Yet, when this is insisted on, and pressed upon the conscience as of universal, absolute, and indispensable necessity, we are told, that we carry matters to excess: that, however such bitter contrition may suit the profligate and abandoned, it is unnecessary in the case of the more moral and decent: they have never done any thing that requires such deep humiliation; they have no such cause to fear and tremble; they have indeed sinned, but are in no danger of perishing; nor have they ever merited the wrath of God.
But is it not astonishing that any member of the established Church should be so ignorant as to make these vain assertions? What are the terms in which we address the Divine Majesty every time that we attend his worship? “Do thou, O Lord, have mercy upon us, miserable offenders: Spare thou them, O God, which confess their faults: Restore thou them that are penitent.” Have we then been dissembling with God all our days; calling ourselves “miserable offenders,” when we feel no misery at all; and when, instead of bewailing our offences, we think ourselves almost, if not altogether, as good as we need to be? In this prayer we do not presume even to expect mercy, except as persons deeply penitent and contrite. And let it be remembered, that these petitions are put into the mouths of all the congregation; there is not one form for one class of persons, and another for another; but all profess to approach God as the repenting publican, “smiting upon their breasts, and crying, God be merciful to me a sinner [Note: Luke 18:13.]!” We mean not to say, that no person can hope for mercy, who does not feel such or such a measure of contrition (for all who pray in sincerity may hope for acceptance, though ther hearts be not so contrite as they could wish), but to shew, that all members of the Church of England acknowledge that penitence is highly suited to their state.
But, besides their repentance, we observed, that faith also was necessary, even faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. This we invariably and inflexibly affirm. As it is not our good works and meritorious life that will save us, so neither will our repentance save us. If we could shed rivers of tears, they would never avail to cleanse us from one single sin. It is the blood of Christ, and that alone, that can atone for our guilt: That is “the fountain that was opened for sin and for uncleanness [Note: Zechariah 13:1.]:” and as long as the world shall stand, we must require of sinners to wash in it, in order that they may be clean. And, forasmuch as men are with great difficulty turned from endeavouring “to establish their own righteousness [Note: Romans 10:3.],” or to unite their own fancied merits with the merits of Christ, we guard them strongly against this fatal error; we declare to them, that, if they do this, they will invalidate the whole Gospel; and that, if ever they be saved at all, it must be by a humble, simple reliance on the Lord Jesus Christ. That there are blessings promised to the penitent, and to the obedient, we very willingly allow: and on proper occasions we are glad to bring forward those promises, in order to encourage men to repent and obey: but that men are justified by their repentance or obedience, or in any other way than by faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, we utterly deny. And we declare that, if men seek to be justified in any other way, “Christ shall profit them nothing [Note: Galatians 5:2.].”
And do we, in affirming these things, deviate at all from what we read in the Holy Scriptures? Does not our blessed Lord expressly say, “I am the way, the truth, and the life; no man cometh unto the Father but by me [Note: John 14:6.]?” He tells us plainly, that “he who believeth on him, hath everlasting life; and that he who believeth not, shall not see life, but the wrath of God abideth on him [Note: John 3:36.]:” and again, “He that believeth, shall be saved; and he that believeth not, shall be damned [Note: Mark 16:16.].” To the same effect also is the testimony of his Apostles: we find them invariably directing penitents to believe in him as the only, and effectual, means of obtaining acceptance with God. When the jailor came in to Paul and Silas, trembling, and crying, “Sirs, what shall I do to be saved?” the answer given him was, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved [Note: Acts 16:30-31.].” Instead of varying their directions according to the different characters they addressed, they affirm, in the strongest manner, that “there is no other foundation whereon any man can build [Note: 1 Corinthians 3:11.],” “nor any other name whereby any man can be saved [Note: Acts 4:12.].” And when they saw in any a disposition to unite the observance of some ceremonial or moral duties as a joint ground of their hope, they warned them plainly, that their salvation must be “wholly of grace or wholly of works [Note: Romans 11:6.];” and that, if they relied in any measure upon their works, “they were fallen from grace,” they were “become debtors to do the whole law,” and that “Christ was become of no effect unto them [Note: Galatians 5:3-4.];” with respect to them “he was dead in vain [Note: Galatians 2:21.].”
Offensive as these statements are, and reprobated as being of a licentious tendency, wherein do they differ from our own acknowledgments? We pray that God would “restore to his favour them that are penitent;” but how, and in what manner, do we expect that restoration to be accomplished? Is it uncovenanted mercy that we ask? Or is it according to our own good works that we desire to find acceptance? No; we profess that our reliance is altogether on God’s promises as they are revealed in the Gospel; “Restore us, according to thy promises declared unto mankind in Christ Jesu our Lord.” Among the promises to which we may be supposed to refer, the following must certainly be numbered: “Look unto me, and be ye saved [Note: Isaiah 45:22.].” “Come unto me, and I will give you rest [Note: Matthew 11:28.].” “Him that cometh unto me, I will in no wise cast out [Note: John 6:37.].” “The blood of Jesus Christ cleanseth from all sin [Note: 1 John 1:7.].” “All that believe, shall be justified from all things [Note: Acts 13:39.].” “Though your sins be as crimson, they shall be white as snow [Note: Isaiah 1:18.].” But whatever the promises be, whether their reference to Christ be more or less plain, we are assured, that it is in him, and in him alone, that the promises are confirmed to us; for the Apostle says, “All the promises of God in Him are yea, and in Him amen [Note: 2 Corinthians 1:20.].” It is in Christ alone that God can “be just, and at the same time the justifier of sinners [Note: Romans 3:26.]:” and therefore when we plead that promise, that “if we confess our sins, God is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness [Note: 1 John 1:9.],” we can expect its accomplishment in no other way than through faith in Christ.
Thus under this head also may be seen a perfect harmony between those things which we have affirmed, and those which you “read” in the Scriptures, and “acknowledge” in your prayers.
Nor do we doubt a similar issue to our inquiries, while, under the last head of our discourse, we state to you The path of duty.
We inculcate the practice of every personal and relative duty. But we are not satisfied with that standard of holiness which is current in the world: we require a higher tone of morals: in addition to sobriety and honesty, we insist upon a life entirely devoted to God: we affirm, that it is every man’s duty to delight himself in God [Note: Job 26:10 and Psalms 37:4.];” to have such a lively sense of Christ’s love to him, as shall constrain him to an unreserved surrender of all his faculties and powers to the service of his Lord [Note: 2 Corinthians 5:14.]. We must live for God: we must be like a faithful servant, who inquires from day today what his master’s will is; and inquires, in order that he may do it. As a servant who had neglected all his duties through the day, would feel ashamed and afraid of his master’s displeasure, so should we feel ashamed and afraid, if any day pass without having executed to the utmost of our power the duties of it. We should walk as on the confines of the eternal world, and act as persons who must shortly give account of every talent that has been committed to them. To be “dead unto the world [Note: Galatians 6:14.],” and “alive unto God [Note: Romans 6:11.];” to attain more and more of the Divine image [Note: 2 Corinthians 3:18.]; to grow up into Christ in all things [Note: Ephesians 4:15.]; to enjoy fellowship with God [Note: 1 John 1:3.], and anticipate the enjoyments of heaven [Note: Ephesians 1:13-14.]; this is our duty, and should be our daily study and delight.
In requiring so much, we are supposed to require what is altogether impracticable, or, at least, what, if practised, would unfit us for all the common offices of life. But what do we read in the Holy Scriptures? Do they require of us less than this? Do they not teach us to “yield ourselves living sacrifices to God, as our most reasonable service [Note: Romans 12:1.]?” Do they not enjoin us to “live henceforth not unto ourselves, but unto him that died for us and rose again [Note: 2 Corinthians 5:15.]?” Do they not require that “whether we eat or drink, or whatever we do, we should do all to the glory of God [Note: 1 Corinthians 10:31.]?” And is not the Holy Spirit (through whose Divine agency alone we can do any thing that is good) promised to us for this very end, to renew us after the Divine image in righteousness and true holiness?
And wherein do our own acknowledgments differ from this? Let us attend to the supplications which we offer before God:—“Grant, O most merciful Father, for Christ’s sake, that we may hereafter live a godly, righteous, and sober life, to the glory of thy holy name.” Here, so far from putting godliness out of our thoughts, we profess to desire it in the first place; and justly do we ask that first, because, without that, all our acts of righteousness and sobriety would be no better than splendid sins; they would want the motives and principles which alone distinguish them from heathen virtues. Mark too the measure and degree in which we desire these virtues: we are not satisfied with that which shall gain us a name among men; we ask, (and let it ever be remembered that without the influences of God’s Spirit all our own efforts will be in vain,) that we may be enabled to attain such a degree of piety, as that God may be glorified in us, and that the transcendent excellence of Christianity may be visibly exhibited in our lives.
We appeal then to all; What do we, or what can we, ask of you more than this? And if these high attainments be not necessary, why do you ask of God for Christ’s sake to give them to you? If, on the other hand, they are necessary, why are we deemed enthusiastic and over-righteous for requiring them at your hands? If in your prayers you mean what you say, you justify us; and, if you do not mean what you say, you condemn yourselves; you confess yourselves to be hypocrites and dissemblers with God.
We have now finished our consideration of that truly scriptural prayer: and we will conclude with commending it to you as a test in a two-fold view.
First; Take it as a test whereby to try the discourses which you hear. As members of the Church of England, we have a right to expect that the discourses of ministers shall correspond with the Liturgy of our Church. Certainly, in the first instance, the Holy Scriptures are to be our guide: but, as all profess to have the Scriptures on their side, let us bring to our aid that excellent compendium of religion which we have been considering.
Are there any who descant upon the dignity of our nature, the goodness of our hearts, and the rectitude of our lives? What appearance do such sentiments make when brought to the touchstone of this prayer? Are they not as opposite as darkness is to light? and should we not regard such statements as the effusions of pride and ignorance? should we not tremble for those who hear them, lest, being “blind followers of the blind, they all together should fall into the ditch [Note: Matthew 15:14.]?”
Are there others who tell us that we are to be saved by our works, and who would thereby lull us asleep in impenitence, and divert our attention from the Saviour of the world? Let us not be deluded by the syren song. Let us turn to our own confessions, to refute such anti-christian doctrines: let us learn from them the necessity of humiliation and contrition, and of “fleeing to Christ, as to the refuge that is set before us.” As for the idea, that the founding of our hopes upon Christ, and upon the promises made to us in him, will lead to a neglect of good works, let us see what the compilers of our Liturgy thought of that, and what they have put in the mouths of all believing penitents. Do not the very same persons who seek for mercy through Christ, entreat of God that they may be enabled to “live a godly, righteous, and sober life, to the glory of his holy name?” And is it not notorious, that the very persons who maintain most steadfastly the doctrines of faith, are uniformly condemned for the excessive and unnecessary strictness of their lives?
In the same manner, if there be any who plead for a conformity to the world, and decry all vital godliness as enthusiasm, we may see what judgment is to be formed of them also. They may call themselves Christians; but they have nothing of Christianity, except the name.
Lastly; If there be any who separate the different parts of religion, inculcating some to the neglect of others; magnifying works to the exclusion of faith, or establishing faith to the destruction of good works; or confounding faith and works, instead of distinguishing them as the fruit from the root; if such, I say, there be, let their statements be contrasted with the order, the fulness, and the harmony of this prayer; and the erroneousness of them will instantly appear. We do not wish to produce critical hearers; but it is the duty of every man to “prove all things, and to hold fast that which is good [Note: 1 Thessalonians 5:21.];” and as we have the advantage of an authorized standard of divine truth, we invite all to search that, as well as the Holy Scriptures: and we do not hesitate to say of this prayer in particular, what the prophet speaks of the inspired volume, “To the law, and to the testimony; if ministers speak not according to this word, it is because there is no light in them [Note: Isaiah 8:20.].”
Next, let us take this prayer as a test whereby to try our own experience. We may now discard from our minds all that this or that minister may lay down as necessary to our salvation. We have here, what no man can reasonably dispute, our own acknowledgments. We have here as beautiful, as just, as scriptural a summary of experimental religion, as ever was penned from the foundation of the world. The man, that from his inmost soul can utter this prayer, is a real Christian. Whatever be his views with respect to some particular doctrines (those I mean which are distinguished by the name of Calvinism,) his heart is right with God. Whether he admit or reject those abstruser points, he is accepted of God; and if he were to die this moment, he would be in heaven the next: the termination of his warfare would be to him the commencement of everlasting felicity. But is this the experience of us all? Would to God it were! All will repeat the words: but it is one thing to repeat, and another to feel, them. Let us then bring ourselves to this test; and never imagine that we are in a Christian state, till we can appeal to God, that this prayer is the very language of our hearts. In examining ourselves respecting it, let us inquire, Whether from our inmost souls we lament the numberless transgressions of our lives, and the unsearchable depravity of our hearts? When we cry to God for mercy as miserable offenders, do we abhor ourselves for our guilt, and tremble for our danger? Do we indeed feel that we deserve the wrath of Almighty God? Do we feel this, not only on some particular occasions, but, as it were, daily and hourly? Is the consciousness of it wrought into us, and become the habit of our minds, so that we can find no peace but in crying unto God, and pleading with him the merits of his dear Son? Is Christ, in this view, “precious” to our souls [Note: 1 Peter 2:7.]? Is he “our wisdom, he our righteousness, he our sanctification, he our complete redemption [Note: 1 Corinthians 1:30.]?” Having nothing in ourselves, do we make him our “all in all [Note: Colossians 3:11.]?” Are we at the same time “renewed in the spirit of our minds?” Do we hate sin, not merely as it is destructive, but as it is defiling, to the soul? Do we account “the service of God to be perfect freedom;” and instead of wishing his law reduced to the standard of our practice, do we desire to have our practise raised to the standard of his law? Is it our labour to “shine as lights in a dark world,” and “to shew forth in our own conduct the virtues of him that has called us [Note: 1 Peter 2:9. ἀρετὰς.]?” Let us all put these questions to ourselves; and they will soon shew us what we are. If this be not the state of our souls, we are in an awful condition indeed. Our very best services have been nothing but a solemn mockery: in our prayers, we have insulted, rather than worshipped the Majesty of Heaven; we have come before our God “with a lie in our right hand [Note: Isaiah 44:20.].” O that it might please God to discover to us the heinousness of our guilt; and that we might all be “pricked to the heart,” ere it be too late! Let us, the very next time we attempt to use this prayer, take notice of the frame of our minds: let us mark the awful incongruity between our professions, and our actual experience: and let a sense of our hypocrisy lead us to repentance. Thus shall the returning seasons of worship be attended with a double advantage to our souls: in praying for what we ought to seek, we shall be stirred up to seek it in good earnest: and, through the tender mercy of our God, we shall attain the experience of those things, which too many of us, it is to be feared, have hitherto hypocritically asked, and ignorantly condemned.
THE STABILITY OF THE PROMISES
2 Corinthians 1:20. For all the promises of God in him are yea, and in him Amen, unto the glory of God by us.
MANKIND in general discover much versatility in their spirit and conduct. They form purposes and rescind them according as they are influenced by carnal hopes or fears; but the Gospel teaches us to lay our plans with wisdom, and to execute them with firmness. A light, fickle, wavering mind, if not incompatible with, is at least unworthy of, the Christian character. St. Paul has been accused of “lightness” for not paying his intended visit to Corinth. It is probable too (as appears by his apology) that his enemies had thrown out insinuations against his doctrine also, as though it could not be depended upon. He thought such charges extremely injurious to his person and ministry: he therefore first affirms that his doctrines had been uniform, and next appeals to God, that there had been the same uniformity in his conduct also [Note: ver. 23. He assures them that he had delayed his journey, not from fickleness of mind, but from tenderness to them.]. In speaking of his doctrine he digresses a little from his subject; but, what he says of the promises, is worthy of peculiar attention. It suggests to us the following important observations:
All the promises of God are made to us in Christ Jesus—
God has “given to us exceeding great and precious promises”—
[He has engaged to bestow all which can conduce to our temporal welfare: all too, which can promote our spiritual advancement. To this he has added all the glory and felicity of heaven itself. Such are the benefits annexed by God himself to real godliness [Note: 1 Timothy 4:8.].]
But all these are given to us only in Christ Jesus—
[Man, the instant he had sinned, was exposed to the wrath of God; nor could he any longer have a claim on the promises made to him in his state of innocence; but Christ became the head and representative of God’s elect: with him God was pleased to enter into covenant for us [Note: Hebrews 8:6.], and to give us a promise of eternal life in him [Note: 2 Timothy 1:1.]. Our original election of God, our adoption into his family, with every blessing consequent upon these, were confirmed to us in him [Note: Eph 1:3 to Ephesians 5:11.]: hence, in the text, it is twice said, that the promises are in him; and, in another place, that they were made before the existence of any human being [Note: Titus 1:2.]: even when the covenant was apparently made with Abraham, Christ was the true seed in whom alone it was confirmed [Note: Galatians 3:16-17.].]
From this circumstance they derive all their stability.
In him they are all firm and immutable—
The terms “Yea and Amen” import steadfastness and immutability. Now the promises cannot fail unless they be either revoked by God, or forfeited by man; but God will not suffer them to fail by either of these means—
He himself will not revoke them—
[Some of his promises are absolute and others conditional: the conditional are suspended on the performance of something by man: the absolute are made without respect to any thing to he done by us [Note: Such are the declarations respecting the incarnation, life, death, resurrection, and ascension of Christ, together with the consequent calling of the Gentiles, and the salvation of all that from eternity were given to Christ. John 17:6.]. If the former fail, it is not so properly a breach of promise, as an execution of a threatening implied in it [Note: This is the true import of what God says, Numbers 14:34.]: the latter never have failed in any one instance; nor can one jot or tittle of them ever fail to all eternity. This is declared in various passages of Holy Scripture [Note: 1 Samuel 12:22.Isaiah 54:10; Isaiah 54:10. Jeremiah 31:35-37; Jeremiah 33:25-26.]. God’s word, like his nature, has “no variableness or shadow of turning:” he confirmed his promises with an oath, in order that we might he more assured of the immutability of his counsel [Note: Hebrews 6:17.]: hence it is expressly said, that “the promise is sure to all the seed [Note: Romans 4:16.].”]
Nor will he suffer his people to forfeit their interest in them—
[Doubtless his people, as free agents, are capable of apostatizing from the truth: yea, they are even bent to backslide from him [Note: Hosea 11:7.]; and, if left to themselves, they would inevitably fall and perish [Note: Isaiah 10:4.]: hence they are bidden to take heed lest they come short of the promised blessings [Note: Hebrews 4:1.]. St. Paul himself felt the need of much labour and self-denial to prevent his becoming a cast-away [Note: 1 Corinthians 9:27.]. Nevertheless these truths are not at all inconsistent with the doctrine insisted on: it is by the fear of falling, that God keeps us from falling [Note: Philippians 2:12-13.]; and he will keep us by his own power unto final salvation [Note: 1 Peter 1:5.]. Of this St. Paul was as confident as of any truth whatever [Note: Philippians 1:6.]; nor is there any other truth more abundantly confirmed in Scripture [Note: Romans 11:29. John 10:28-29.]. God will indeed punish his people for their declensions [Note: Psalms 89:30-32.]; but, instead of casting them off, he will reclaim them from their errors [Note: Psalms 89:33-35.]: if it were not thus, not one only, but all of those, who had been given to Christ, might perish. God however will effectually prevent this [Note: Matthew 18:14.Jeremiah 32:38-41; Jeremiah 32:38-41.]; and the weakest of his people may join in the Apostle’s triumph [Note: Romans 8:38-39.].]
This doctrine is far from being a matter of speculation only:
In their accomplishment God is glorified, and the ends of our ministry are answered—
The promises, as recorded in the Scriptures, are the foundation of our hopes: but it is by their accomplishment alone that the effects attributed to them are produced. In that,
God is glorified—
[Every perfection of the Deity is interested in the accomplishment of his word: the mercy and love of God have given us the promises: his truth and faithfulness are pledged to fulfil them: his almighty power is engaged to execute whatever his goodness has given us reason to expect. Were his promises to fail of accomplishment, these perfections would be all dishonoured; but when they are fulfilled, these perfections are all glorified. Justice itself is made to harmonize with truth and mercy [Note: Psalms 85:10.], and matter is furnished for endless praise and adoration.]
The ends of our ministry are answered—
[The great ends of our ministry are to convert, edify, and comfort immortal souls. In pursuance of these, we set before men those promises which are most suited to their respective conditions; and assure them that their affiance in those promises shall bring them the blessings they desire. When therefore the contrite are brought to experience rest in Jesus, when the afflicted are comforted, the backsliding reclaimed, or the wavering established, then the great ends of our ministry are so far answered with respect to them. The truth of God in his promises is then made to appear; the benefits contained in them are enjoyed by our fellow-creatures; and our labours receive their richest recompence.]
[The Scripture speaks of some as “heirs of promise,” and others as “strangers from the covenant of promise.” Let us inquire to which of these characters we belong. Have we renounced every other hope, and rested simply on the promises made to us in Christ? And are we living in the earnest expectation of their full accomplishment? Have we so embraced them as to shew that we are seeking another country [Note: Hebrews 11:13-14.]? Let us not mistake our true and proper character. If we be strangers from the covenant of promise, we are without Christ, and without hope [Note: Ephesians 2:12.]. The threatenings, and not the promises, belong to us, and they will infallibly be executed upon us in due season. O that we might now flee for refuge to the hope set before us! But if we be “heirs of promise,” happy are we beyond all expression. Every promise of God, temporal, spiritual, or eternal, is made to us. Let every one then of this description be filled with consolation [Note: Hebrews 6:18.]: let them also be followers of those, who now inherit the promises [Note: Hebrews 6:12.]. May it never be said of them, that they glorify God by their faith, but dishonour him by their works! The promises are given, not merely to save, but to sanctify, the soul [Note: 2 Peter 1:4.]. Treasure up then, brethren, those inestimable pledges of God’s love, and let them operate according to the direction given you [Note: 2 Corinthians 7:1.].]
THE DIFFERENT OPERATIONS OF THE HOLY SPIRIT
2 Corinthians 1:21-22. Now he which stablisheth us with you in Christ, and hath anointed us, is God; who hath also sealed us, and given the earnest of the Spirit in our hearts.
IT is the inseparable property of divine grace to make us jealous for the honour of God, and studious to promote it to the utmost of our power.
St. Paul, when accused of instability, vindicated his own character, because it was connected with his usefulness in the ministry; but instantly ascribed to God the glory of whatever steadfastness he had been enabled to maintain.
His words naturally point out to our consideration,
The blessings which all true Christians enjoy—
Though all Christians do not attain the same measure either of holiness or of comfort, yet there are blessings common to all who are born of God.
They are established in Christ—
[All who believe in Christ are united to him as “branches of the true vine.” At first indeed they are but as babes, or children, liable to be tossed to and fro [Note: Ephesians 4:14.]; but by experience they become more rooted and grounded in Christ [Note: Colossians 2:7.]. As their views of their own weakness and of his sufficiency are enlarged, they grow more and more; nor was this peculiar to the Apostle, but the common privilege of all the Church at Corinth. Indeed, it is the great end for which all other blessings are communicated; and, in attaining it, the believer becomes immoveable as Mount Sion [Note: Psalms 125:1.].]
They are anointed with a heavenly unction—
[It is the communication of the Holy Spirit that first enables them to believe in Christ [Note: 1 John 2:20.]; but, as the lamps in the sanctuary, they have daily supplies of the holy oil. By means of these they obtain more abundant knowledge and grace [Note: Isaiah 2:2-3.], and are progressively renewed after the image of their God [Note: 2 Corinthians 4:16.]. Not that all, even of true Christians, are alike favoured; but every one receives according to the measure of the gift of Christ [Note: Ephesians 4:7.].]
They are sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise—
[A seal is for the purpose of both marking and securing property; and with both these views the Holy Spirit seals the people of God. He stamps the very image of God himself upon their souls [Note: Ephesians 4:23-24.]; he thus marks them as his peculiar, his “purchased possession;” he secures them also to the day of complete redemption [Note: Ephesians 1:14; Ephesians 4:30.].]
They have the earnest of the Spirit in their hearts—
[An earnest is both a part of a payment, and a pledge of the remainder; and such is the Spirit to us, not in one only, but in all his operations. In illuminating, quickening, sanctifying, or comforting the soul, he is an earnest of that light and life, that purity and joy, which will be more richly communicated to us in the future world. As a seal, the Spirit assures us of our right to heaven; as an earnest, he gives us a foretaste of it.]
The consideration of such inestimable blessings may well lead us to inquire after,
The source from whence they flow—
It appears needless, at first sight, to enter minutely into this part of our subject: but the very construction of the sentence shews that there is something particularly emphatical in it. It implies,
That these blessings are purely the gift of God—
[They are not the creatures of a vain and heated imagination; nor are they the offspring of man’s will and power [Note: John 1:13.]; nor, though imparted in the use of means, do they necessarily flow from the means themselves. They are purely and entirely the gift of God [Note: James 1:17.], and are bestowed by Him according to his sovereign will and pleasure [Note: 1 Corinthians 12:6; 1 Corinthians 12:11.].]
That they evidently bear the Divine stamp and character upon them—
[The visible creation manifestly approves itself to be of Divine workmanship [Note: Psalms 19:1.], and in the same manner do these blessings evidently appear to proceed from God. The very effects which they produce upon the soul, discover this: but the conviction, which they, who possess these blessings, feel of their Divine original, is inexpressibly clear and strong [Note: Isaiah 41:20.]: without the smallest hesitation they ascribe them to God as their only source [Note: 2 Corinthians 5:5.].]
That God is glorified by means of them—
[It is the Apostle’s express design to glorify God on account of them: and surely we cannot fail of admiring his power and goodness in them; or experience them, without an increased desire to devote ourselves to him; and most of all shall we adore him for these beginnings of his grace, when we shall have received their full completion.]
How little is true religion known and experienced in the world!—
[Christianity is in general viewed as a system of restraints, rather than as a source of enjoyments; but none can have a just view of it who do not experience a measure of these blessings. Let not any one then rest in false notions, or uninteresting professions. Let all seek rather such a religion as will make them holy and happy, and pray, with the Apostle, that God would fulfil in them all his good pleasure [Note: 2 Thessalonians 1:11.].]
How much do many true Christians live below their privileges—
[Many, instead of enjoying a heaven upon earth, are filled with doubts and fears: yet even these have the image of God manifestly instamped upon them, and the hope which they possess is more precious to them than the whole world: but we may well say to them, “Why art thou lean, seeing thou art a king’s son?” Let them be ashamed of giving such occasion to the enemies of religion to triumph; and let them seek that full liberty which God will vouchsafe to all his children.]
How astonishing are our obligations to each person in the Sacred Trinity!—
[The Father is the great source and fountain of all our blessings: Christ is the procurer of them, and the medium through whom they come: and the Holy Spirit is the agent, by whom they are conveyed to us. Let us hold fellowship with each in his distinct office and character [Note: 1 John 1:3.], and acknowledge with gratitude their united exertions; and let every blessing received from them quicken us to the service, and lead us to the enjoyment of our triune God.]
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Simeon, Charles. "Commentary on 2 Corinthians 1". Charles Simeon's Horae Homileticae. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 20 / Ordinary 25