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1 Timothy 3:1-7
The office of a bishop.
The office of a bishop a good work
If a man desire the office of a bishop from right principles, he desireth.
not a secular dignity--not a good benefice--not a post of honour or profit--not an easy idle life--but he desireth a work; a good work indeed it is: but still it is a work.
I. It may properly be called a work, if we consider the duties of the office, which require the utmost assiduity, and some of which are peculiarly painful and laborious.
II. It is a good work, whether you consider, for whom, with whom, or for what you work. The ministers of the gospel work for God, who is carrying on the grand scheme of salvation in our world. His immediate service is the peculiar business of their lives. Ministers also work for Jesus Christ. It was He that originally gave them their commission; it was He that assigned them their work; it is He that is interested in their success. Again, the ministers of the gospel work for the souls of men. To do good to mankind is the great purpose of their office. Let us next consider with whom the ministers of the gospel work; and we shall see how good their employment is. “They are workers together with God.” (2 Corinthians 6:1). They are also co-workers with Jesus Christ, promoting the same cause for which He became man; for which He lived the life of a servant, and died the death of a malefactor and a slave. They may also be called fellow-workers with the Holy Spirit, whose great office it is to sanctify depraved creatures, and prepare them for the refined happiness of heaven. They also act in concert with angels; for what are these glorious creatures but “ministering spirits sent forth to minister to them that shall be heirs of salvation”? (Hebrews 1:14). An angel once condescended to call a minister of the gospel his fellow-servant (Revelation 19:10). Ministers also are engaged in that work in which the apostles went before them. The office of a bishop will farther appear a good work, if it be considered for what it is that ministers work. They do not indeed work for a reward upon the footing of personal merit; but they hope for it on the plan of the gospel, through Jesus Christ. In this view, like Moses, they have “a respect to the recompense of reward” (Hebrews 11:26). And thus it appears, their laborious and painful work is good--good in itself, good for the world, and good for themselves. (S. Davies, M. A.)
The ideal minister
The apostle who most boldly maintained the brotherhood of believers clearly recognized the necessity for order and office in Christian communities.
I. The moral characteristics of the ideal pastor are strongly insisted upon. Strangely enough, nothing is said about his piety, his love to God, his communion with Him, his delight in Him, his devotion to Him; but this is naturally presupposed as the basis of the rest. It is not alluded to here, partly because Timothy did not require to be reminded that personal religion is the first essential in all spiritual work, and partly because he was less able to judge of inward piety in others than of the qualities mentioned here.
1. Self-rule is one of the principal of these, and it is to display itself in all directions. The bishop is to be sober, exercising habitual self-restraint, not only in respect of intoxicating drinks, but also in respect of indulgence in pleasures of all kinds, setting an example of dominion over the carnal and sensuous. But temper is to be as much under control as other passions, for the Christian teacher must be no “brawler,” no striker, “but patient.”
2. Again, sound judgment is a qualification much needed by every pastor and teacher. This is no doubt one reason of Paul’s for urging on Timothy, as he does in the sixth verse, that a pastor in the Church should not be a “novice,” i.e., a recent convert. If the young life of a plant be exposed to the glare of the sunshine, death will supervene. And in the life of every creature--insect, and bird, and beast, and most of all in the life of man--the period of development must precede the period of manifestation.
3. Another characteristic of the ideal minister should be open-heartedness and open-handedness. The phrase “given to hospitality” in Authorized Version, or more correctly “a lover of strangers,” denotes what was relatively more important then than now.
II. The relations of the minister to those around him, his right relation with God being pre-supposed.
1. He is to be the husband of one wife.
2. Then allusion is made to the pastor’s own house as distinguished from God’s house. So it is urged that any leader in the Church should rule well his own house, having his children in subjection with all gravity. On which Dr. Reynolds has beautifully said, “The child-life of the pastor’s home should suggest the sacred ness of a temple and the order of a palace.” And is not this true for us all? Is it not in the home that we are the most tested, and is it not there we can best glorify God?
3. The relation the pastor should hold towards the world. Much stress is laid in this passage on being “blameless,” and having “a good report of them that are without”--those, namely, who are outside the kingdom of Christ. We cannot afford, as Christ’s representatives, to defy the world’s opinion about us so far as moral reputation is concerned. The world is a poor judge of doctrine, of motive, and of religious hopes and thoughts; but it is a keen and on the whole an accurate judge of character; and when the members and leaders of the Church are recognized by the world as honest, sincere, trusty, pure men and women, Christ will win the day against His foes. (A. Rowland, LL. B.)
Preference for the ministry
A remarkable avowal of the late Senator John A. Logan is reported by a clergyman in a letter to us. He says that in talking with the senator not long before his death, Logan said: “I have often thought that I would like to be in the ministry.” I replied: “To have done that, general, you must have surrendered many ambitions.” “That,” was his noble reply--“that would be nothing. The end will soon come, and these things will then be seen to be worthless.” I was convinced of his transparent honesty when he uttered these words, and am of opinion that he simply spoke as he believed and felt. (Philadelphia Press.)
The dignity of the Christian ministry
Moreover, if we weigh all things in the balances of justice, we shall see that there is no king, whatever may be the pomp that surrounds him, who as a king is not in dignity below, I will not say a bishop only, but even a simple village pastor, regarded as a pastor. We have only, in order to realize the fact, to cast our eyes on the functions of the pastor and of the king respectively. What do the labours of princes regard? Is it not that evil-doers may be kept down by the vigilance of the law, and that the good may not be disturbed? That is to say, so to act that the persons and property of the citizens of the state shall be in safety? But how much more excellent is the aim of the minister of the gospel, who desires to establish in each individual soul the serenest tranquility by quieting and subduing the lusts of the world! The king’s labours are intended to secure that the state shall live at peace with its neighbours; the priest’s aim is that every one may be at peace with God, that each may possess peace within, and that no one may have it in his heart to injure another. The prince designs to protect the house, lands, and cattle of particular persons from the violence of depredators. But what does the priest design? To defend the property of the souls entrusted to him, their faith, their charity, their temperance, their purity against the assaults of the devil; property which confers happiness on those who possess it, and the loss of which plunges them into the direst misfortune... In one word, all that comes under the management of the prince is earthly and transient; but that which occupies the pastor is divine, celestial, eternal. And, therefore, as much difference as there is between the heaven and the earth, between the body and the soul, between temporal goods and eternal possessions, so much difference is there between the functions committed to the king and the trust devolved on the priest. (Erasmus.)
A well-governed family
When there is to be a real order and law in the house, it will come of no hard and boisterous or fretful and termagant way of command. Gentleness will speak the word of firmness, and firmness will be clothed in the airs of true gentleness. How many do we see who fairly rave in authority, and keep the tempest up from morning till night, who never stop to see whether anything they forbid or command is in fact observed! Indeed, they really forget what they have commanded. Their mandates follow so thickly as to crowd one another, and even to successively thrust one another out of remembrance. The result is, that by this cannonading of pop-guns, the successive pellets of command ment are in turn all blown away. If anything is fit to be forbidden or commanded, it is fit to be watched and held in faithful account. On this it is that the real emphasis of authority depends, not on the windstress of the utterance. Let there be only such and so many things commanded as can be faithfully attended to; these in a gentle and film voice, as if their title to obedience lay in their own merit; and then let the child be held to a perfectly inevitable and faithful account; and by that time it will be seen that order and law have a stress of their own, and a power to rule in their own divine right. The beauty of a well-governed family will be seen in this manner to be a kind of silent, natural-looking power, as if it were a matter only of growth, and could never have been otherwise. (Horace Bushnell.)
Luther and his children
Luther used to teach his children to read the Bible in the following way. First, to read through one book carefully, then to study chapter by chapter, and then verse by verse, and lastly word by word, for, he said, “It is like a person shaking a fruit tree. First shaking the tree and gathering up the fruit which falls to the ground, and then shaking each branch and afterwards each twig of the branch, and last of all looking carefully under each leaf to see that no fruit remains. In this way, and in no other, shall we also find the hidden treasures that are in the Bible.” (J. Stewart.)
A minister above the love of money
A little while ago, in Calcutta, a native, a Christian merchant, was deeply interested in a community of “outcasts,” and he made an offer of £60 a-year to any native Christian who would go and live among these people, and teach them the Word of Life. The offer had no sooner been made than a candidate for the office appeared. Who was he? As humble and devoted and consistent a Christian as you ever met. He was a professor in a missionary college, M.A. and LL.B. of the Calcutta University, and drawing a salary of £200 a year. Such was the candidate for this office of £60 a year! (Christian Herald.)
A liberal bishop
Bishop Baring’s generosity and munificence were unbounded. One instance may be given out of many. He was spending the Sunday with a vicar blessed with very moderate means and a large family. His lordship noticed the pale faces of the children, and said to their mother, “You must take these little ones to the seaside, and their father, too, must have a complete rest. I will provide his duty for six weeks.” The good lady wondered where she was to find the wherewithal to carry out this excel lent scheme. As the bishop, however, shook hands with her on leaving he put a £50 note into her hand in the kindest way, and solved the difficulty. It is not, however, every one who has such hereditary wealth as the late Bishop of Durham. (Christian Herald.)
Ministers not contentious
(Revised Version):--How a soft answer can turn away wrath, as well as dissatisfaction, is illustrated in the following anecdote of the late President Wayland. Deacon Moses Pond went to Dr. Wayland once with the complaint that the preaching did not edify him. “I’m sorry,” said the pastor; “I know they are poor sermons. I wish I could make them better. Come, let us pray that I may be able to do so.” The deacon, telling the story, used to say, “Dr. Wayland prayed and I prayed; he cried and I cried. But I have thought a hundred times that it was strange that he did not turn me out of the house. I tell you there never was a better man nor a greater preacher than Dr. Wayland.” (W. Baxendale.)
Apt to teach.--
The pulpit a light and Tower
These three words are but one in the Greek. Ignorance is the inheritance of our fall in Eden. The grand work of the ministry of Christ is to illuminate the darkened mind. There is a fire that does not give light, and a cold phosphorescent flame that yields no heat. Our teaching, while it dispels the darkness of sin, must shed its beams to warm the frozen virtues into life.
1. To meet the claims of a good teacher one must he willing to learn. The apostles, dropping their nets and other worldly craft, went to a school of the prophets, such as never before or since existed on earth. Its sole instructor was the Great Teacher, the Creator of all things. They learned wisdom without a book from the source of all knowledge.
2. If we would be apt to teach, we must have a lesson to impart.
3. To be apt to teach, one must be master of the lesson he would impart.
4. To be apt to teach, a sacred enthusiasm is indispensable.
5. To be apt to teach under the wings of the Eternal Spirit, Holy Dove, we must gather strength and success by prayer.
6. Apt to teach, finally, has the element of faith. (W. H. Van Doren.)
Take care of the Church of God.
Observe the sacred charge committed to God’s appointed bishops, or shepherds, or pastors. I should, first of all, insist that Christ’s pastors, who take care of the Church committed to their charge are to take care of their food--that they shall have nothing to eat but what is pure and wholesome. That in the care which God’s servants have to take of the Church committed to their charge, they have to nourish three descriptions of character, or three classes of the family specified in Scripture--as babes, young men, and fathers. This care taken of the Church must be with all tenderness, but with all firmness, and under the consciousness of responsibility. It must be with all tenderness. We must be gentle, as the apostle says, “even as a nurse cherisheth her children; and because we were desirous of your welfare, we were ready to impart unto you our own souls, because ye were dear to our souls.” But we are not only to use tenderness--“in meekness instructing those that oppose themselves”--towards the lambs, the weak lings, the little ones; but we must use all firmness. Moreover, if we would fake care of the Church of God, it must be by keeping our hearts and thoughts fixed on our responsibility. (J. Irons.)
Not a novice.--
Vanity in preachers
I. Young preachers are especially subject to such vanity. It is the novice that is liable to be “lifted up with pride.”
1. The young are naturally disposed to over-rate their abilities.
2. They are peculiarly susceptible to adulation. The more unenlightened and unreflective men are, the more they are given to flattery.
II. The devil’s destiny must follow such vanity. “Fall into the condemnation of the devil.” (The Homilist.)
Ministerial pride rebuked
An aged Scotch divine had occasionally to avail himself of the assistance of probationers. One day, a young man, very vain of his accomplishments as a preacher, officiated, and on descending from the desk, was met by the old gentleman with extended hands, and expecting high praise, he said, “No compliments, I pray.” “Na, na, ha, my young friend,” said the parson, “nowadays I’m glad o’ onybody.” Rowland Hill on ministerial work:--No man ever had stronger views than Mr. Rowland Hill of the true nature of the ministerial work, and of the necessity of a humble dependence on the Lord’s assistance for a blessing in it. One of his remarks was, “If favoured at any time with what is called a good opportunity, I am too apt to find myself saying, ‘Well done!,’ when I should lie in the dust, and give God all the glory.” Another was, “Lord, make me distrustful of myself, that I may confide in Thee alone; self dependence is the Pharisee’s high road to destruction.” He was accustomed strongly to urge on all who entered the sacred office the necessity of maintaining Christian and heavenly tempers among their people. “Some folks,” he would say, “appear as if they had been bathed in crab verjuice in their infancy, which penetrated through their skins, and has made them sour-blooded ever since; but this will not do for a messenger of the gospel; as he bears a message, so he must manifest a spirit of love.” He used to like Dr. Ryland’s advice to his young academicians--“Mind, no sermon is of any value, or likely to be useful, which has not the three R’s in it,--Ruin by the Fall, Redemption by Christ, Regeneration by the Holy Spirit.” Of himself he remarked, “My aim in every sermon is a stout and lusty call to sinners, to quicken the saints, and to be made a universal blessing to all.” It was a favourite saying with him, “The nearer we live to God, the better we are enabled to serve Him. Oh how I hate my own noise, when I have nothing to make a noise about! Heavenly wisdom creates heavenly utterance.” In a letter to Mr. Jones, he observes, “There is something in preaching the gospel, with the Holy Ghost sent down from heaven, I long to get at. At times I think I feel somewhat like it, and then I bawl almost as bad as the Welshman. If we deal with Divine realities, we ought to feel them such, and the people will in general feel with us, and acknowledge the power that does wonders on the earth; while dry, formal, discussional preaching leaves the hearers just where it found them. Still, they who are thus favoured had need to be favoured with a deal of humility. We are too apt to be proud of that which is not our own. Oh humility, humility, humility!” It is no wonder, with such impressions as to the nature of his work, and the state of his mind, that Mr. Rowland Hill’s preaching was so honoured and blessed of God. “Lord, help!” was his constant and earnest prayer, and it was heard. (Scottish Christian Herald.)
Humility in ministers
The Rev. George Gilfillan, who died in 1877, was not only an author of some distinction, but a wit. A congregation to whom he had been preaching presented him, when a probationer, with a suit of clothes; and after he had put them on, the old ones were tied up in a bundle. “Where shall I send them?” said the tailor. “I will take them myself,” said Mr. Gilfillan; “I have carried them too long upon my back to be ashamed of carrying them under my arm.” There was no false pride about him. He gave due honour to old friends. (Christian Herald.)
Ministerial pride rebuked
The American religious journal, the Independent, relates the following story of rebuked vanity, which was told recently in a gathering of ministers, by the Rev. Dr. Gould, of Worcester. “A certain Rev. Samuel Smith had been discoursing very learnedly and loftily, and was now walking home with his brother, eagerly waiting for some word of commendation. Not finding it forthcoming, he dropped a slender oblique hint, to see what could be drawn out. He was somewhat startled and shocked by the outburst: “I tell you, Sam, what it is. Instead of preaching “Jesus Christ and Him crucified,” you seem to have been preaching Samuel Smith and him dignified.” How necessary it is for preachers of the gospel to hide themselves in the shadow of Christ’s Cross, and to forget themselves in the majesty of the message which they deliver.
I. A minister of good report:--About thirty years ago the present Bishop of Minnesota went to Chicago, and built a church near the business centre of the city. In those days there were no street cars, and it happened that the reverend gentleman took up his residence in West Chicago, convenient to an omnibus line. It frequently occurred that the omnibus would be crowded, and many obliged to take “deck passage.” The writer was riding on the seat with the driver one Saturday night, when the conversation turned upon Sunday labour and the consistency of professed Christians, the driver thinking it rather hard that he should be obliged to labour on Sunday, while others should take their rest. It appeared from his conversation that his faith in Christianity was rather weak; but turning to me he said, with considerable emphasis, “There is one clergyman whom I respect and believe to be a consistent Christian.” Being a little curious to know who the clergyman was, and upon what evidence he had based his opinion, I asked him for an explanation. “Well,” said he, “there is the Rev. Mr. Whipple, who built that church down town; he has a free pass over this line, but walks down and back on Sundays rather than compromise his Christianity; that proves to me that he is a consistent Christian.” It sometimes occurs that a clergyman’s most eloquent sermon is being preached when he least expects it; and any private Christian may preach the same kind of sermon. (Christian Age.)
The causes and remedies of pride
You can hardly fail to perceive that this reasoning of St. Paul’s proceeds on the supposition that they who know but little are most in danger of pride. It is just because man is a novice that he is likely to be lifted up. Is it not a confessed and well-known fact that the arrogant and conceited person is ordinarily the superficial and the ignorant? You will hardly ever find the man of real power and great acquirement other than a simple and unaffected man. It would scarcely ever lead you to a false estimate of persons, were you to take it as a rule, that where there is the manifestation of conceit, there is shallowness of intellect. And why is this, but because he who knows most is most conscious how little he knows? Can he be vain of his mental power who, having applied it to the investigation of truth, has discovered little more than that truth would exhaust power a thousand-fold greater? Can he be proud of his scientific progress who, having laboured long and hard, finds himself only a beginner, so vast are the spreadings which lie dimly beyond? Oh! it is not, and it never will be, the man of experience who shows himself haughty and conceited. We have thus taken the case generally of a novice in knowledge, as it helps to place under a clearer point of view the gist of St. Paul’s argument--namely, that ignorance is the great parent of pride. But we will now confine ourselves to such particular branches of life as must have been referred to by the apostle, when he penned the direction for the exclusion of a novice; and forasmuch as it is the novice in Christian doctrine of which he speaks, we shall perhaps thoroughly compass his argument if we give our attention to knowledge of ourselves, in the two grand respects of our state by nature and our state by grace. Of all knowledge there is confessedly none which is either more valuable in itself, or more difficult of attainment, than self-knowledge; none more valuable, for a man has an immeasurably greater interest or deeper stake in himself than in the whole surrounding universe; none more difficult of attainment, for we have it on the authority of the Bible itself, that none but a Divine Being can search the human heart. And if we were not able to show of all knowledge whatsoever that it is a corrective of pride, or at least reads such lessons to each, as to his incompetence and insignificance, as leaves him inexcusable if he be not humble, we should have no difficulty in doing this in regard to self-knowledge. Let it be, if you will, that the study of stars in their courses might tend to give a man high thoughts of himself; for, indeed, till you look closely into the matter, there is something ennobling--something that seems to excuse, if not to form, a lofty estimate of power--when, with daring tread, the astronomer pursues the heavenly bodies into untravelled regions, tracking their wanderings and counting their revolutions; but in regard, at all events, of self-knowledge, there can be no difficulty in showing to any one who will hearken that pride can subsist only where this knowledge is deficient. If we consider man in his natural condition, how could any one be proud who thoroughly knew that condition? Self-knowledge--knowledge of the body--as appointed to all the disorders of the grave, would be the most effectual corrective to the self-complacency, of which beauty is the food. Who, again, could be proud of rank, puffed up because of some petty elevation above his fellow-men, who was deeply aware of his own position as an accountable creature? Who, once more, could be proud of his intellectual strength, of his wit, his wisdom, his elocution, who knew the height from which he had fallen--and saw in himself but the fragments--we had almost said the rubbish--of what God designed and created him to be? Indeed, you have here in the general the grand corrective to pride. Men have but to know themselves as fallen and depraved creatures, and we might almost venture to say that they could not be proud. But we have spoken of self-knowledge as though it were knowledge of man in regard only of his natural condition. We must, however, consider him as a redeemed being, and not merely as a fallen; for possibly, though knowledge of him in his ruined state be the corrective of pride, it may not be the same with knowledge of him in his restored state. Yes, a slight knowledge of the gospel, so far from generating humility, may even tend to the fostering pride. There is such an opposition between man ruined and man redeemed, if in the one state he may be exhibited as loathsome and worthless, in the other he may be thought of some such importance as ransomed by Christ whilst angels were left to perish, that it is hard to avoid on first hearing of the gospel, feeling that, after all, our degradation must have been exaggerated and our insignificance overdrawn. Thus the novice is once more in danger of being lifted up with pride. As the novice in that knowledge which has to do with man fallen, so the novice in that knowledge which has to do with man redeemed, is liable, through his knowing but little, to the thinking more highly of himself than he ought. And will not the danger diminish as the gospel is more thoroughly studied and understood? Yes, indeed; for what were it but the worst libel on the system of Christianity to suppose it not adapted to the producing humility? And if to this argument for humility, which is interwoven with the whole texture of the gospel, you add the constant denunciations of that gospel against pride--its solemn demands of lowliness of mind as essential to all who would inherit the kingdom of God--you will readily see that the further a man goes in acquaintance with the gospel, the more motives will he have to the abasing himself before God. Redemption as a scheme of wonders into which the very angels desire to look, may kindle in him a dream of his importance; but redemption as emanating from free grace, will convict him of his nothingness; and redemption as requiring from him the mind which was also in Christ, will cover him with confusion. And thus we reach the same conclusion, when we examine self-knowledge in regard to our condition as redeemed, as we reach when we examine it in regard of our condition as fallen. It is the novice who is in most danger of pride; it is his being a novice which exposes him to danger. (H. Melvill, B. D.)
1 Timothy 3:8-13
Likewise must the deacons be grave.
The ideal deacon
I. Deacons should be of noble character (1 Timothy 3:8).
1. They were to be grave--i.e., of serious deportment--not sharing in the follies and gaieties of pleasure loving cities like Ephesus, but revered as men living in a higher and purer atmosphere.
2. Not double-tongued, saying one thing to this man and another to that, and thus giving rise to misunderstandings and differences. Gossip is sometimes as harmful as slander.
3. Not given to much wine. Such temper ance should be a characteristic of any true Christian, and is absolutely essential to one who would lead and represent the Church.
4. Not greedy of filthy lucre, or “base gain.”
II. Deacons should re strong in the faith (1 Timothy 3:9). “Holding the mystery of the faith in a pure conscience.”
III. Deacons should be trusted by the church (1 Timothy 3:10). “Let these also first be proved,” for their qualifications ought to be evidenced and recognized, in order that they may have the confidence of their brethren.
IV. Deacons may look for the recompense of reward (1 Timothy 3:13). The phrase “purchase to themselves a good degree,” or, as in Revised version, “gain to themselves a good standing,” includes the idea of obtaining high reputation amongst the brethren; and that is not without its value. But it implies, also, advance in faith, in courage, and in wisdom, as the result of active and faithful service. And this is the preparation for, and the pledge of the honour which will be given in, the last great day--honour which will vary among the saints according to the measure of their capacity and fidelity. (A. Rowland, LL. B.)
During the civil war in America, three Northern officers were appointed on a commission with three Southern officers, after the battle of Prairie Grove, to negotiate an exchange of prisoners. While the commission was sitting, an aged farmer strayed into the room, thinking it was the provost’s office. His eyes were dim, but he quickly noticed the uniforms, and supposing himself in the presence of the Northern staff, began protesting his loyalty to the Union. One of the officers facetiously advised him to be cautious, and, pointing to the Southern officers, told him to look at them. The old man put on his spectacles, and recognizing the uniform, explained that his heart was with the South in the great struggle, and that his only son was a soldier in the Southern army. Gazing around the room, he recognized the Northern uniforms also, and was bewildered. At last he leaned both hands on the table, and surveying the entire party, he said, “Well, gentlemen, this is a little mixed; but you just go on and fight it out among yourselves. I can live under any government.” (Christian Herald.)
An equivocal life to be avoided
Some time ago two travellers went to Africa. Coming to a lake, one sought to find whither the current tended by throwing a float on its surface; and slowly, but surely, it floated eastward. “The current is eastward,” said the traveller, satisfied with his discovery. Some time afterwards another traveller stood by the same lake, asking” himself the same question, “Whither does the current tend?” He, too, cast a float upon the surface of the water, which at once floated westward. “The current is towards the west,” he said; and, following out his discovery, he gained its out-let, and so traced it to where it emptied itself into the Atlantic Ocean. Let us see to it that our life is not uncertain, like this lake, at one time seeming to be going heavenward, and at another seeming to be going with the world. But rather may we, who bear the name of Jesus, let our lives run like a quiet and steady stream, and, as we go, leave a bright record of our lives behind us. (Christian Herald.)
Holding the mystery of the faith.
Accepting mysteries of the faith
I can drink of the clear cold spring, and be refreshed, though I may not hope to pierce the awful foundation of granite from whence it comes rushing up. I can take of the grain of the tawny sheaves, or of the laden vine, though I cannot tell how the unconscious root and fibres select, elect--never mistaking--out of a common soil that which shall produce their specific fruit. I can rejoice in the shining sun, and fan my cheek with the breathing wind, though I am ignorant as an infant of the great palace of light, and “know not when the wind cometh, nor whither it goeth.” Even so; I stoop my parched lips to the “living water,” and I rise revived; and I know not man nor woman who ever sought to do so and was hindered. I am content with that. (A. B. Grosart.)
The mystery of the faith
I. Now there is a prevailing error to which we are exposed in the present day, of not sufficiently recognizing in revealed truth mysteries which lie beyond the reach of human comprehension. By far the greater portion of the doctrines which compose the scheme of Christianity are mysteries which pass man’s understanding. Such, for example, is the doctrine of the Trinity in Unity. Here, however, let me observe that although a mystery, it is a mystery of faith. It is not a revelation of which the mystery affords any excuse for unbelief. It is a mystery, I confess, upon God’s part, of incomprehensible wisdom, power, and love; but yet it is a mystery upon which we may rely with the fullest assurance. It is the more important to observe this, because there are many minds before which the mysteries of Divine truth present themselves as an apology for unbelief. The facts of Christianity, and the doctrines which flow out of them, are amply attested. There is a marvellous self-evidencing property in the Gospel. Crowded though it be with mysteries, it is so constructed as to bespeak its suitableness to the moral necessities of the fallen. We appeal, then, not only to the evidence upon which the truth of the gospel rests, as contained in God’s Word, but also to the results which have attended its proclamation, in corroboration of its claim, mystery though it be, to implicit faith. It is this mystery which has conferred upon mankind ten thousand blessings for time, the pledges and foretokens of yet richer blessings in eternity.
II. But here the practical question arises, what is it to “hold the mystery of the faith in a pure conscience”; or, in other words, to what course of action are we summoned by the direction which the apostle here gives? Now, a pure conscience is “a conscience void of offence towards God and towards man.” It is a conscience enlightened by the Holy Ghost, and free from accusation, whether on the ground of duty omitted or of precept infringed. To hold the mystery of the faith in a pure conscience, is therefore to be so under the influence of revealed truth as to be thereby impelled to practise all that God has enjoined, and to avoid whatsoever God has forbidden. Now, for nothing is the Bible more remarkable than for the practical nature of all its disclosures. There is not a doctrine of revealed truth which is not both designed and adapted to influence the daily life and conversation; and never can the truth be held in a pure conscience but where the creed which is professed is exemplified in the conduct. Take, for example, any of the elementary truths of revelation, and you may discern at once their practical character. There is the revealed truth of the omnipresence of God, a truth which no man can hold the mystery of the faith and yet deny. According to this doctrine, we believe that God is everywhere and at all times present. Never can we escape from His observation--never elude His watchful inspection. This is a part of the mystery of the faith. And so with regard to every component part of the mystery of the faith. To hold it in a pure conscience is to allow every Christian doctrine to have its legitimate influence over the entire walk and conversation. This, then, it is to “hold the mystery of the faith in a pure conscience.” It is to make every revealed doctrine a fresh motive for striving after moral perfection. Alas! there may be a “holding the mystery of the faith,” but not “in a pure conscience.” There may be familiarity with Christian truth, orthodoxy of creed, clearness in the enunciation of the Gospel mysteries, zeal in the maintenance of the truth, and skill in contending against error, where, nevertheless, we look in vain for a correspondence between the profession of the lip and the language of the daily life. The mystery of the faith is held; it is expounded, professed, defended, and yet it is not held in a pure conscience. Its influence is counteracted by a life not regulated by the principles confessed. (Bp. Bickersteth.)
1 Timothy 3:11
Even so must their wives be grave.
The pastor’s wife
A good example is the pastor’s first ministry, and Paul associates the wife in this ministry, when he wishes the wives to be “grave, not slanderers, sober, faithful in all things.” This has been felt to be so important that in certain churches, those of Hungary, the minister has been made positively responsible for the conduct of his wife. He is everywhere so morally, and the responsibility is a grave one, the ministry may suffer considerably if it is not regarded. How much may the humours and vices of the wife (slander, avarice, negligence, display, etc.), compromise the respectability of the pastor? And conversely: Julian the apostate, observing that one cause of the success of the gospel was the purity in the manners of its followers, and especially its ministers, and wishing to enable paganism to compete with Christianity, ordered the pagan priests to maintain their wives, children, and domestics in the same sanctity of manners. (Vinet.)
Hannah More had a good way of managing tale-bearers. It is said that whenever she was told anything derogatory of another, her invariable reply was, “Come, we will go and ask if this is true.” The effect was sometimes ludicrously painful. The tale-bearer was taken aback, stammered out a qualification, or begged that no notice might be taken of the statement. But the good lady was inexorable; off she took the scandalmonger to the scandalised, to make inquiry and compare accounts. It is not very likely that anybody ever a second time ventured to repeat a gossipy story to Hannah More. Milton being asked if he intended to teach his daughters languages, replied, “No, one tongue is enough for a woman!” (E. J. Hardy, M. A.)
1 Timothy 3:12
Husband of one wife.
A negligent father
I was once the guest, says Mr. Moody, of a Christian man, whose children were turning out badly. One night a conversation took place about them; and with tears trickling down his cheek he said, “My four eldest sons turned out badly, and I am afraid that the others are following their example.” I said: “Let us look into this thing. Tell me about your family. How many nights do you go to church?” “On Sunday night. I am an officer in the church, and I am there on Sunday night.” “What about Monday?” “Oh, I am a deacon, and I am at the church on Monday night.” “What about Tuesday night?” “I am connected with the city government, and I have to attend committee-meetings of the council.” “Wednesday night is prayer-meeting, and you go to church?” “Yes.” “That is how you are occupied four nights. What do you do the other three?” “I belong to the Masons. I hold a high office in the lodge, and have to be there.” “That accounts for five nights. Of course, as you hold a high social position, you are often out at dinner-parties and committees. You go out perhaps one night each week to dinners and committees.” “It will average all that.” “Then,” I said, “there is one more night, that is, Saturday night; what do you do then?” “Oh, I am superintendent of the Sabbath school, and I lock myself in my room and prepare the lesson for my Bible-class on the following day.” “You don’t let your children into your room then, do you?” “No; certainly not.” “Then your children have to get off early in the morning, and they are away from family prayer?” “Yes; some get off early, and others rise late, and they are not present at morning worship.” “And you have to get away as early, as possible to your business” as soon as I get through worship I am off. What time do you take dinner. At six o’clock.” “You see your children at six. But you are not always prompt. I suppose half-past six, is it not?” “Yes, that is about the average.” “And your meetings begin about half past seven; so that you have but little time with your children. What have you done for them?” And at that very time he was trying to be made mayor of the city. He dropped his head, and said that he had never thought of it in that light before. There are many just like that. They are giving their time to public affairs, to the utter neglect of their children and their homes.
Evils of polygamy
Titus, brother of Africaner, was the only individual on the station who had two wives, and fearing the influence of example, I have occasionally made a delicate reference to the subject and by degrees could make more direct remarks on the point which was one of the barriers to his happiness; but he remained firm, admitting, at the same time, that a man with two wives was not to be envied, and added, “He is often in an uproar, and when they quarrel he does not know whose part to take.” He said, he often resolved when there was a great disturbance, he would pay one off. One morning I thought the anticipated day had come. He approached my door leading an ex upon which one of his wives was seated. “What is the matter?” I inquired. Giving me a shake of his hand, and laughing, he replied, “Just the old thing over again. Mynheer must not laugh too much at me, for I am now in for it.” The two wives had quarrelled at the outpost, and the one in a rage had thrown a dry rotten stick at the other, which had entered the palm of her hand, and had left a piece about an inch long, and the thickness of a finger. The hand had swollen to nearly four times its usual size. “Why” I asked, “did you not bring her sooner?” “She was afraid to see you, and would not come till I assured her that you were a maak mensche”(a tame man). Having made an incision and extracted the piece of wood, she was melted into tears with gratitude, while I earnestly exhorted her to a better way of life. (Dr. Moffatt.)
Purchase to themselves a good degree.--
The good degree
The words refer, in the first place, to a faithful discharge of the duties attached to the office of the deacon. They that have “used the office of a deacon well” are they who have laboured in the diaconate with honour to themselves and glory to their Master; for “well” is the same word used in the latter part of the verse, and translated good--a good degree. It is the specific term for the beautiful in human action, in contrast to the grudging discharge of mere obligation. It implies in the labourer not only diligence and zeal, but also carefulness and purity of motive; and the best use of every power and opportunity that God has entrusted to us--the frank, loving, self-abandoning, self-forgetting discharge of a holy obligation. Such an idea cannot be confined to any special office, and it is not, therefore, the particular work done which is thrown into the front, but the grace shown in the mode of doing it--the beautiful discharge of duty for God, in whatever sphere of the Church it may be, and whatever the exact nature of the duty Which is done. But, further, the words furnish a stimulating motive to this earnest discharge of duty, by setting before the soul’s desire a certain advantage that is to be secured by it. Here we must carefully put away the idea of buying--that is, of meriting in any way, as if we bargained with God. It has been thought that the word “degree” refers to ecclesiastical position and church office; but such a meaning would be an appeal to professional selfishness, and would be utterly out of harmony both with the spirit of St. Paul, and with the meaning of his language. We must look much deeper to find the mind of God. A good degree is a degree full of honour, praise, and joy, and such as the soul may covet with all the force of a renewed and sanctified affection. In what consists the good degree, which results from the honourable discharge of duty?
I. It consists in a higher state of spiritual life, a stronger faith, a brighter hope, a more entrancing and captivating love; in short, a larger possession of god, as if the Deity within flung His own grace and glory over the soul in which He dwells. Grace is but the soul’s health, the restoration of a sin-stricken creature into the full enjoyment for which it was intended. A large measure of grace is, therefore, a high measure of health--and is not health delightful? Is there pleasure in the aching head, in the weary limb, in the scorching fever, or the racking pain, or the feebleness and languor and strange incapacities of sickness and disease? But must not the same thing be true of the soul? Doubts, fears, alarms, conflicts, strange searchings of heart, dim gropings of spirit, and occasional agonies of conscience, and the gnawing aching pain of a self-upbraiding memory, are all the symptoms of spiritual sickness. That the honourable discharge of every duty promotes the health of the soul is clear enough. The more constantly duty is done, the more constantly faith and hope and love are present; and then they grow by exercise till they become the soul’s habit, its very life, the breath of its being, a part of the living self in the all-pervading presence and power of God. That this high measure of spiritual life is the good degree of the text, is shown by the last words, “great boldness in the faith.” The literal meaning of the word translated “boldness” is freedom, frankness, and confidence of speech. It has two relations. One looks toward man when the soul, rich in its own love for Christ, and actually overflowing with icy in the Holy Ghost, pours out to others the fulness of its own affection--not with an effort, but freshly, naturally, spontaneously, as the living spring within the soul itself, the power of the Holy Spirit of God flows forth into utterance. Such a boldness of speech to others about their souls implies a glow and warmth of emotion, a strength of experience, and a power of love such as might fill the soul of an angel. Then there is another meaning of the word. It is used elsewhere for boldness of access to God.
II. But a good degree includes a further idea, and that is a higher state in glory, a place nearer God in the world to come, a more perfect knowledge of Him, and a more entrancing enjoyment of Him for ever and ever. This, we must bear in mind, springs from the other, and is but its completion. God is infinite. His gifts will be boundless as Himself; His gifts of knowledge, of holiness, of strength, of joy and rapture, will be infinite. There is in God no limit whatever. If for all eternity we shall enjoy more and more of God, it will be because the power to enjoy grows by enjoyment as the soul becomes larger and larger with the God who fills it. Grace here increases the capacity for glory hereafter. The more grace, the more glory. (E. Garbett, M. A.)
Faithfulness in an inferior position leads to a higher
Dr. Morrison wrote to his friends in England and asked them to send him out another missionary. A young man from the country came and offered himself. He came to the office of the Missionary Society and was introduced to the gentlemen of the board and had a long talk with them. They then asked him to call again in an hour or two, and they would give him an answer. In talking the matter over after he was gone, they came to the conclusion that this young man would not do to go as the colleague of Dr. Morrison. Finally, they said to Dr. Phillips, one of their members: “Doctor, you see the young man and tell him that we do not think him fit to be a missionary; but that if he would like to go out as servant to the missionary we will send him.” The doctor did not like much to do this; but he did it. He told the young man just what the board said. Now, many a young man would have been angry on hearing this, and would have said: “No, I shall do no such thing. If I can’t go out as a missionary, I won’t go at all.” But this young man did not feel or act so. After hearing what the doctor said, his answer was: “Well, sir, if the gentlemen don’t think me fit to be a missionary I will go as a servant. I am willing to be a hewer of wood, or a drawer of water, or do anything to help on the cause of my heavenly Master.” He was sent out as a servant, but he soon got to be a missionary, and turned out to be the Rev. Dr. Milne, one of the best and greatest missionaries that ever went to any country. (R. Newton, D. D.)
1 Timothy 3:15
That thou mightest know how thou oughtest to behave thyself in the house of God.
What the Church should be
I. The glorious name of the Church--“The Church of the living God.”
1. It is called the Church. What is a church? It is an assembly; and a Christian Church is an assembly of faithful men; of men who know the truth, believe it, avow it, and adhere to it. The Greek word signifies an assembly summoned out of the whole population to exercise the right of citizenship. An ecclesia, or Church, is not a mob, nor a disorderly gathering rushing together without end or purpose, but a regular assembly of persons called out by grace, and gathered together by the Holy Spirit. Those persons make up the assembly of the living God.
2. But the title grows upon us when we read it as “the Church of God.” There is a synagogue of Satan, and there is a Church of God. There are churches so-called which are not of God, though they take upon themselves His name; but what an honour it is to be one of the assembly of God, to be one of those whom God has chosen, whom God has called, whom God has quickened, whom God has sanctified, whom God loves and calls His own I How honoured is that assembly in which He resides I The title is enhanced in its excellency by the word which it is applied to God.
3. It is “the Church of the living God,” not thy congregation, O Diana, though they said of thee that thou didst fall from heaven, for thou art a lifeless image! What was Diana of the Ephesians? What life or power was in that senseless block? Timothy knew that the assembly which gathered in the name of Diana was not called out by a living god. It is a glorious fact that our God, the God of the Church, liveth and reigneth, and that He shows His life all around us. We see Him sustaining nature, ruling providence, and reigning in the midst of His Church; and while we see Him we adore Him. If you have never been quickened by the Spirit of God, if you are dead in trespasses and sins, what have you to do with the Church of the living God? Oh ye dead and corrupt, how can ye have communion with the living in Zion.
II. Her design in reference to God. The apostle speaks of the Church of the living God as the house of God.
1. I suppose we are to understand by the Church being God’s house, that it is the place of His worship. As of old the Temple was the holy place to which the children of Israel went up in pilgrimage, the point towards which they opened their windows when they prayed, and the place of the one altar and the one sacrifice; so now the Church of God is the sole place of God’s true worship. He is spiritually worshipped nowhere else. Do not dream, ye ungodly, that ye can worship the living God. The first essential to your acceptance is that ye accept His salvation.
2. But I like better still to get away from the somewhat ceremonious idea of a temple to the more familiar thought of a house or home. The Lord makes the Church the place of His indwelling. The thought itself is charming. It is that old prophecy fulfilled, “I will dwell in them and walk in them.” God calls His Church a house in the sense of His residing there. Of the Church we read, “God is in the midst of her, she shall not be moved.”
3. In his own house a man not only dwells, for he might do that in any inn; but there he feels himself to be at home, and therefore it is the place of his manifestation. You do not see the man on the bench, for there you see the judge; nor on business, for there you see the trader; but at home, with the children, as one of them, you see the man, the father, the husband; you see his heart and soul. And God is not seen in all the universe with anything like the degree of clearness that He is beheld in the midst of His people. The Lord God is more gloriously manifested in His people than in all the works of creation.
4. A man’s house is also the place of his paternal rule, In the Church we are under the present rule of our heavenly Father. In the Church of God you will sometimes see this very remarkably.
5. Once again, it is for his own house that a man works and spends his strength; it is the object of his choicest purposes. If a man shall compass sea and land to gain gold, it is for his house. If he rise up early and sit up late and eat the bread of carefulness, it is still for his house. And so the great Householder ruleth all things for His chosen family, and the end and the design of all providence, if we were to trace it to its ultimate object, is the good of them that love God, and are the called according to His purpose. We will not leave this point without observing how holy, then, should all members of Christian Churches be! “Holiness becometh thine house.” How obedient also should we be; for if we are a part of the house of God, let it be our joy to submit ourselves to the Master. How struck with awe ought every church member to be to think that he is built into God’s house. “How dreadful is this place! It is none other than the house of God.” At the same time, how full of love ought we to be, for God is love! A house is no home if love be absent, and a Church is unchurchly if there be division among the brethren.
III. The design of the Church in reference to the truth. Paul compares it to a pillar and its pedestal or basement; for that, I think, would be a fair translation. The temple of Diana, at Ephesus, was adorned with more than a hundred columns of stupendous size. They were mostly of Parian marble, and were either furnished by the various cities of Asia as offerings to the goddess, or were contributed by wealthy men and princes. These pillars are said to have been immense monoliths: single stones of sixty feet in height, and they were set upon a basement which was elevated ten steps above the surrounding area. Diana had her pillar and her basement, but she had no pillar or basement of truth, hers was all imposture throughout. Now, Paul calls the Church of God the basement and pillar of the truth. What does he mean? Notice, that she is not the creator of the truth, nor the inventor and fashioner of doctrine. Let it be remembered also, that the figure must not be pushed beyond what it was meant to teach. In a certain sense the Church cannot be the pillar and ground of the truth. Truth is true of itself, and owes its origin to God Himself and the nature of things. The Church is not here described as the deepest foundation of the truth, for the basement of the pillar of truth rests on a rock, and the Church rests on God, the Rock of ages. But truth in itself is one thing, as truth as existing in the world is another thing. I daresay the proverb is true, but truth never prevails till some living mind believes it, vindicates it, and proclaims it abroad. The person who thus takes up a grand truth, declares it, fights for it, and makes it known, may be very properly called the pillar and the basis of the cause; for the spread of the principle depends upon him. We may say of the Reformation, Luther was its pillar and basement; or of Methodism the same might be said of Wesley. Note how in another place Paul says that James and Cephas and John seemed to be pillars; that is to say, they were upholders of the good cause. Notice that the text speaks of “the Church of God,” meaning all the people of God, and not the clergy alone. What does the expression mean--the pillar and basement?
1. I think it means, that in the Church the truth should abide. In the Church of the living God it always does abide, even as a pillar stirs not from its place. In the confession of the Church made by each one of her members, in the teaching of her ministers, and in the witness of the whole body, truth will be found at all times. The Church of God is not the quicksand of the truth, but the pillar and pedestal of it: she is not the floating island of the truth, but the eternal column of it.
2. It means that in the true Church the truth is uplifted as upon a pillar. Truth not only rests there as a pedestal, but it stands upright as a pillar. It is the duty and the privilege of the Church of God to exalt the truth into the open view of all mankind. Possibly you may have seen the column of Trajan, or the column in the Place Vendome in Paris; these may serve as illustrations. Around these shafts you see the victories of the conqueror pictured in relief, and lifted into the air, that all may see them. Now, the Church of God is a pillar which lifts up and publishes, far and wide, the achievements of our conquering Lord.
3. Again, a Church is intended by God to set forth the truth with beauty; for in a temple pillars and columns are meant for ornaments as well as for service. God’s service should be formed in the beauty of holiness.
4. Once more, it is the Church’s business to maintain the truth with all her might. She is set as a brazen wall and an iron pillar against all error.
The truths which may be derived from the text are of one order.
1. The whole Church is to maintain the truth.
2. Next, remember that a Church is unchurched which is not faithful to the truth.
3. Next, recollect that any Church fails in her design as being the pillar and pedestal of the truth in proportion as she departs from the truth. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
Proper behaviour in God’s house
It was no vain superstition which prompted old Dr. Johnson to uncover his head, while standing within the deserted walls of a ruined chapel, in the Orkneys, saying to his less devout companion, “I look with reverence upon every place that has been set apart for religion.” The crying sin of our own day is the sin of irreverrence the only occasion when our blessed Lord is said to have been angry, was when He saw His Father’s house profaned. Many years ago, a worthy minister of the Scottish Kirk, attended a missionary meeting in London, and spent a Sunday there. A journey from Scotland to the great city was then not so common an occurrence as to pass without notice, and, on appearing in his own pulpit again, he wished to “improve” the occasion for the spiritual benefit of his flock. He accordingly remarked, in the course of his morning sermon, “I have three wonders to tell you of to-day, which I saw when in London,” and then went on in his usual vein of preaching, without the slightest reference to his promise. On leaving the place of worship, many inquiring looks were cast at the worthy man, as much as to say, “You have forgotten to tell us the three wonders!” At the afternoon service the building was crowded to overflowing, curiosity (as usual) bringing out more people than a sense of duty. After concluding the accustomed worship, the venerable preacher remarked, “Well, my friends, I have now to tell you of the three wonders I saw in London.” Amidst breathless silence, he thus went on: “The first wonder I have to tell which I saw in London is, when I took my place in the pulpit, the folks were all waiting for me, and I had no occasion to wait for them; and I never saw the like of that here. The second wonder which I saw in London is, that as the prayer was drawing to a close, there was no jostling and making a noise; and I never saw the like of that here. The third wonder is, that there was no reaching for hats, and bundling up of Bibles, when the last psalm was a-singing, and no going out while the blessing was being pronounced; and I never saw that here, till this afternoon.” Church manners have certainly improved very much, everywhere, since then, but the day has not yet dawned when most congregations would not be the better for hearing this simple story. We have come to this place to worship God, and we may properly ask ourselves whether we have really been doing what we came for? Have we borne our part in the solemn service with heart and voice? The responsive part of our beautiful worship is one of its most striking and important features. There is something so animating in the hearty acclaim of a multitude of voices, that every tongue should be unloosed, and every heart give utterance to its gratitude and joy. “What would be thought if but a single bird should celebrate the dawn with his feeble note? It is when the air is filled with melodious voices, and, when from every bush and tree-top, and through all the fields and groves, there is the cheerful commingling of tuneful praise, that the responses of the birds are worthy of the morning. And, surely, the service of the temple calls for a spontaneous utterance from all the worshippers. Who that has listened to the waves, as they come breaking upon the shore in distant, strong and stately rhythm, has not felt their power? And there is nothing like this massing of sound to be moving and inspiring. There are times when the still small voice shall suffice; but, for the ends of public worship, even the inanimate world bespeaks something more” (John Cotton Smith). We are learning to behave ourselves properly in God’s holy temple, here, that we may enjoy the worship of the heavenly sanctuary hereafter. The things which we now behold are but shadows of the true and the enduring. (J. H. Norton.)
The Church the house of God
I. Here is The Church of God. In common discourse, we generally mean by this word a building set apart by Christian people for public worship; but it is doubtful whether the Greek term which we translate “church,” is ever used in Scripture in this sense. The original word signifies an assembly, an assembly of any kind; and it is frequently so translated in our English Testament. But we must follow the word yet farther. It is often used to signify all the churches that are in existence at the same time on the earth. And even yet we have not done. There is one meaning more which the expression bears, and the highest of all. It has nothing to do now, however, with the merely nominal Christian; it takes now a purely spiritual though a wide sense. By the Church, then, as we are using the word to-day, we mean all the people of God of every age and nation viewed as one assembly. This we are now to look on in a particular light.
II. It is a house.
1. It has a foundation. And it is one part of vital godliness, and the main part, to understand this. It is not self-evident. Men do not see the foundation of a building. The child that comes into this house of prayer never thinks of the buried work which bears up its walls. Set him to build a mimic church in imitation of it; he lays no foundation whatever. But the architect, the practical workman, begins with the foundation. He cannot overlook it, for he understands its importance. So the mere pretender to godliness thinks that the Church has little to do with the Lord Jesus, but to bear His name. He imagines that he himself can do without Him.
2. The materials, too, of this house are found mentioned in Scripture. They are, however, the very last we should have thought likely to build it. We come, then, to this conclusion--no meanness, no guilt, will cause God to reject any one of us. But though all alike earthly and all vile, yet these materials, in some points, differ very much from each other. We see among them men of all countries, all classes, all characters, all ages; here a poor man, there a rich and noble one; here a man of the loftiest intellect. One thing more, however, must be said of these materials--in all this diversified mass there is nothing to be found which is not prepared for the heavenly building before it goes to it. True, God does choose in His wonderful mercy earthly and base materials wherewith to build His house; there could not be baser; but He does not leave them base, no, nor yet earthly. He works on them. Though He does not find them fit for heaven, he makes them so.
3. But materials, however selected and prepared, will not of themselves form a building, no, not even if east on a good foundation. There must be, further, a putting of them together. They must be sorted and arranged and united; each one must go into its proper place; otherwise they will be a confused heap, not a house. Now, there is a great overlooking of this fact amongst us, as applied to the Church. We almost forget that God has a Church. We feel as though we stood alone before Him, and were to be saved alone.
III. We have now looked at the Church as a house, but the text goes farther; it calls it The House of God.
1. He is the Builder of this house. The plan of it is His, and so is the progress and completion.
2. He is also the Owner of this house. He is building it for Himself. “This people,” He says, “have I formed for Myself.”
3. And He, too, is the great Inhabitant of this house. It is built for this very purpose, to be “a habitation of God through the Spirit.” “Behold,” says St. John, when speaking of it as the new Jerusalem, “Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men.” (C. Bradley, M. A.)
In the house of God
1. Thou oughtest to behave thyself quietly.
2. Thou oughtest to behave thyself attentively.
3. Thou oughtest to behave thyself seriously. (P. Carter.)
The house of God
I. The house of God is the dwelling-place of God.
1. The house of God should be the abode of love. The Church is not only the place where the Father dwells, but where His sons and daughters live in mutual confidence under the sway of supreme love to Him. It is this loving confidence which is the essence of a home. A splendid house with luxurious appointments is not a real home if love is not in it.
III. The house of God should be the sphere of service. The Church is our Lord’s instrument of working.
IV. The house of God is to be the maintainer of God’s truth. There seems to be little doubt that Paul meant what the grammatical structure of the sentence states--that the Church, which is the house of God, is also “the pillar and ground (or basement) of the truth.” The Church, then, is to be what Christ was, the Witness of the Truth. It is through human experience that the world will know it. God’s truth cannot become influential and living if it is left in texts and creeds, in symbols and in formulas. It must enter into men’s consciousness; it must become a living experience; it must find expression in character and action, and reveal itself in love, worship, and obedience. (A. Rowland, LL. B.)
Which is the Church of the living God.
The Church and soul-life
I am to treat of the Church as the promoter of soul-life among men who are already really regenerate. Let us proceed, then, to inquire whether or not the Church sustains a developing and perfecting relation to the soul-life of its own numbers. I take the ground that it does sustain such a relation, and I argue this--
I. From the general drift of divine revelation as to the influential position which the Church sustains in the great redemptive economy. One of the grandest facts in the history of man is, that God has never taken one discoverable step, nor put forth one visible act, for his redemption, but through the Church. This is true both of the primary and completed history of redemption. Not a priest was consecrated, not an altar was built, not a victim was appointed, not a bard touched his lyre, not a prophet raised his voice, and not a hope was cherished in the primary dispensation under the law, but through the Church. When the elaborated principles and purposes of redemption were fully enunciated in the finished acts of the gospel, still God spoke and acted by the Church. His disciples were living scions of the same goodly fellowship. Not a miracle did Christ work, not a truth did He utter, not a pang did He endure, but for His Church. And His servants were as their Master in this matter. Every journey which they made, every insult which they received, every book which they penned, and every martyrdom which they welcomed, was for the Church. From all this, it is clear that the Church is not a matter of trivial import in the world, but is one of the great moral forces in the universe. She is no less than the subservient apparatus of redeeming love, the scaffolding which men and angels mount to pry into the secret architecture, and steal a thought from this stupendous temple. So that the Church is not the arbitrary mandate of the servant, but is the authoritative institution of the Lord. She was to form a sort of centre in Jehovah’s boundless empire, the palace of the great King, from which He should sway the sceptre of moral administration in mercy and in peace.
II. From the intimate relations which exist between her and “Christ our life.” One of the most difficult points in this discussion will be to define, with anything like clearness and comprehensiveness, the specific union which binds Christ and His Church together. Happily our text introduces us into the central idea of this unity by the use of the one word “living”--“The Church of the living God.” This fearful appellation of the Deity is used very seldom in the Scriptures, and never but upon occasions and subjects of very great importance. For instance, we find it in the deep soul-struggle of David when he cries, “My soul thirsteth for God, the living God,” indicating the most intense longings of an immortal soul after its original life-sources. Again, it is used in the supernatural revelation of Christ’s Divinity, made to Peter: “Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God.” She is called the “Church of the living God.” Now, we never read of the Church as the “Church of the most high God,” although we read of the “servants of the most high God.” We never read of the Church of the everlasting God, although we read of the “commandment of the everlasting God.” We never read of the Church of the holy God, although we read that the “Lord our God is holy”: nor of the Church of the mighty God, although we read of Christ, that “His name shall be called the Mighty God.” But when the inspired pen comes to give us the intricacies of His relations to the Church this mystical language is invoked. She is coupled with Him either as the Church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth, or as Mount Zion, the city of the living God. Herein we discover the nice distinction which the Holy Spirit uses in gospel definition. The Church is united to Christ, not as a dead bride, “for He is not the God of the dead, but of the living.” She is allied to Him, not as to a God of the imagination, but as to the Fountain of all vitality. She possesses Him, not as the personated ideal life of God, but as the God of life--“the living God.” Here, then, life throbs after life. To be sure, God is the cause of all causes, the life of all lives, the prolific original of every existence. He is not only the Universal Life, but the “living God” universal. In Him all lives “live and move and have their being,” from leviathan that lashes the ocean into fury, to the insect that imperceptibly wheels in the eddies of the air. But in the Church there is an embodiment of every attribute and perfection of “the living God,” which forms an inherent indwelling, and not a mere relation of influence. The life of His inferior creatures gives expression to His government, but the Church gives expression to His personality, to all His moral nature, and you can see it nowhere else as you find it there. God dwells in the midst of His Church in tangible reality. The Church can say, as no other body of men can say, “We are made partakers of the Divine nature.” The life of the Church has been her most glorious characteristic; for it is a remarkable fact that, outside of the Church, no great moral forces have yet been discovered in the elevation and salvation of the race.
III. From the general tenor of scriptural thought and expression, which treats of the Church as the church.
IV. From the historical life-developments of the Church itself. Real soul-life has always been found in the Church, and it has not been found out of it. God has always largely wrought out the life of the Church by the Church. Men never look elsewhere for light but to the sun. Men never look for soul-life but to the Church. Sometimes that life has been extremely feeble in the Church. The reason is, that, like all other sorts of life, it has always dissolved itself in a succession of classified manifestations. You always find it in the same place and under the same conditions. You always find flower-life in the rosebud, and forest life in the forests. You always find sympathetic life in the heart, and intellectual life in the brain. Where, then, will you look for soul-life but in the Church? Where will you look for this overmastering impulse but where the living God has planted it? Life of His planting is deep seated in that palpitating soul-nature which is so nearly allied to His own essence. You can only see it in its developments. But where it exists there will inevitably be “first the blade, then the ear, then the full corn in the ear.” The Divine life will develop itself in its fecundity of blessings. A living Deity must have a living temple. Yet no device of man can fabricate this life; every spark of the fire and every form of the flame is from “the living God.” Man’s appendages may enfeeble it, mystic observances may out-dazzle it, but it burns divinest in its own radiance. These are my arguments in support of the proposition that the Church sustains a developing and perfecting relation to the soul-life of its own members. Soul-life in the Church is capable of enkindling the same life in others. The newly-awakened power of this fellow ship out-weighs all other feelings, and subordinates them to itself. It betokens a coincidence of motive, sentiment, and principle, which enhances the life of the whole body, and blends the common force of the community into the tenderest relationships. Their organic life is a sacred trust, and “the living God” claims its use. They are the leaven, and in a silent, secret process of fermentation they are, by the forces of their continued operations, to diffuse the moisture through every particle of the mass. And yet no one must lose himself in the aggregate--no one must invite insignificance. The most self-depreciating member can stamp the impress of his moral life on every other living soul of the fellowship. (T. Armitage, D. D.)
The Christian Church, the House of God
Sacred tropology, by which I understand the various figures and similitudes whereby persons, characters, and events are brought under our notice, and made familiar to our minds, in the Bible, opens to the student of Holy Scripture, a field of thought and inquiry at once most beautiful and instructive. God the Father, for instance, is represented as a King, a Governor, a Householder, a Parent, a Master. God the Son is brought before us as the Word, a Shepherd, a Kinsman, a Redeemer, Rock, Light, Vine, Door, Bridegroom, Prince of Peace; God the Holy Ghost, as Fire, Water, Comforter, Witness, Spirit of Adoption, Fountain. Faithful Christians are called saints, disciples, children, servants, friends, priests, and kings unto God. Ministers are designated by suitable titles--watchmen, shepherds, ambassadors, stewards.
I. The house itself, called pre-eminently “the house of God.” There is fitness, design, beauty, and force in comparing the Church of the living God, wherewith we have membership, and to which we owe allegiance, unto His house.
1. Its Builder is God Himself. A system at once so simple and stupendous, as that exhibited in the origin and end of the Church, could no more have been the result of human device, than the creation of the universe, with all the harmonies of its movements, and all the beauty of its parts. Unfathomable love designed, unsearchable wisdom contrived, and Power Almighty executed that device of goodness to a lost and ruined world embodied in the gospel. When the command of the Most High came to Moses in the wilderness, whither he had lead the chosen host, saying, “Make Me a tabernacle that I may dwell among them,” every portion of that mysterious tent, even to the very meanest, was to be made according to a pattern shown him by God Himself. And wherefore? Because it was to be a type of His Church, in which, as to its spiritual form, character, use, appointments, end, nothing was to be of human device.
2. Its chief corner-stone is Christ Jesus. The voice of prophecy attests this glorious element of the Church’s stability.
3. The apostles and prophets are the foundations on which the Church is built.
II. The inhabitants of the house.
1. He hath given Jesus Christ to be the Head over all things to His body the Church, the fulness of Him that filleth all in all. He, then, is the High Priest over the house of God. He is the Master of that great family, both in heaven and earth, which is called by His name.
2. The indwellers of this house of God are all they who enter the Church by baptism, in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.
III. The blessings of God’s house, the Church.
1. The Church affords shelter and sanctuary to its faithful indwellers. “The sparrow,” saith the inspired Psalmist, “hath found a house, and the swallow a nest for herself where she may lay her young; even Thine altars, O Lord of Hosts, my King and my God.” Without the Church’s pale, the sinner is houseless, naked, miserable.
2. The Church, God’s house, is a state of discipline and government. Order is heaven’s first law, and without it the whole frame and fabric of Society would fall into cureless ruin.
3. But food is also necessary to the family of heaven, and the Church of God affords it.
4. The great Head of the spiritual family administers His house by stewards.
5. One of the chief blessings in the Church, considered as the house of God, here or in heaven, is gracious intercourse and communion.
IV. The end for which that house was founded, and that family organized. (R. P. Buddicom , M. A.)
The Church of the living God
I. In the first place, then, I observe that the Church bears testimony to a truth--to a special truth--and in this relation it may be termed “the pillar of the truth.” It is a pillar of testimony. That truth is the revelation of God in Jesus Christ. Of that revelation the Church holds the record, maintains the verity, and illustrates the power. The Church itself is a witness that such a revelation has been given. We trace this body of Christian believers through past ages, until we reach a period when it did not exist. It bears witness to the New Testament account of its own origin. It is itself an abiding evidence to the authenticity of that account. We may try this evidence by negative and positive tests. In the first place, if the New Testament does not furnish a satisfactory account of the origin of the Christian Church, nothing else does. Or, if we assume that there never was an actual personality such as that to which the Church bears witness, and upon which it is founded--that this is only an ideal life, which, by a process of mythical evolution, has been developed from a slender reality into that which stands on the pages of the Gospel--we may well ask, how has this accretion crystallized into such harmony, and produced an ideal that satisfies the loftiest conceptions of all ages and all men? If such a person could not have been fabricated, or mythically evolved within the time when we must admit the existence of our written records, we are driven upon the positive test that such a Being did live and teach and act, and the Church stands firm as a pillar of testimony to that Divine manifestation in Jesus Christ. Moreover, while the Church preserves the record and maintains the verity of this revelation, it also illustrates its power. Again, taking the Church as it stands to-day--an undeniable, existing institution--and tracing back we come once more upon the fact to which it ascribes its origin. I need not say what a remarkable period that was in the history of mankind. An exhausted world, a troubled world, a world lying in the sad twilight of an eclipse. And then, suddenly, a new era emerging from the old--a sharp, distinct furrow breaking up the surface of history, new ideas, a new faith, a new life. An evident transformation--in its rapidity, depth, and thoroughness, really a miracle of transformation. There is no effect without a cause. And for such a stupendous effect as this there must have been a special cause. Where can we find such a cause? In the conditions of the old world, just alluded to? That Church stands yet, an unimpeachable witness to the revelation of God in Christ, and the operation of that truth in the earth. Divine in its origin like the creative act in the material world, like the procedure of the material world since the creation it now works by ordinary laws and in human conditions. It is advanced by human instrumentalities. It is distorted by human errors. It is hindered by human sins. And yet it manifestly triumphs, as an intrinsic power, through these instrumentalities. It dissipates these errors. It melts away these sins. It evidently acts as a special truth, a Divine force, in the world. It changes customs. It moulds manners. It works into laws. It springs up into beneficent institutions. It transfigures the lives of men. It survives the wreck of dynasties. It abases the proud. It exalts the humble. It reveals the worth of humanity. It gives to the lowliest a faith that is more glorious than a crown, a dignity grander than coronation robes. Even when evoked for evil, it serves the good.
II. I have been speaking of the Church as the witness, the pillar of testimony to a special truth. In the next place, let me refer to it as in a certain sense the ground of all truth. And, as I have suggested, there is a sense in which the Church is not only the “ground of the special truth” which characterizes the New Testament, but, as it rests upon, so, in turn, it enshrines--or, I might say, incarnates--the ultimate verity which exists behind all forms of truth, behind the visible facts which science explores and the invisible things which faith apprehends. Thus it affirms an “eternal and immutable morality,” enthroned above the fluctuations of expediency and the caprice of self-will--a reality of Spiritual Being from which all life springs forth--and so authenticates conscience, vindicates prayer, explains the order of the physical world, and interprets the aspirations of the human soul. And this also is certain: the facts of science cannot be cancelled. Therefore, in relation to the great interests of religion, they must be adjusted. The Church, as assuming to be the “ground of truth,” must try them by the simple truth. And, in this computation, what are facts? The naturalist verifies the objects of his senses and his reason, and calls them “facts.” But the Christian believer, in his own consciousness, has the same evidence of “facts.” The geologist is not more confident as to the trilobrite in the rock, or the astronomers as to Sirius in the sky, than is the devout soul as to communion with its Saviour and its God. The philosopher points his telescope, or arranges his microscope, and tells what God has done in the world without--in the glittering armies of heaven, or the infusorial myriad fold throbbing with the universal life. But the mourner takes the lens of faith, and gazing through the broken tomb of Jesus, commands the horizon of the immortal world. Through the clear-shining of his tears the penitent looks into his own heart, and in the illumination of Divine love beholds new hopes, new purposes, new possibilities, quickened in the transfiguration of a regenerated life. He knows in whom he has believed. He knows what Christ has done for his soul. He knows into what an atmosphere he mounts by prayer. And here let me make a practical suggestion based upon this unity of truth. No exhortation to the young minister is more common than that he should “study the Bible.” But this does not imply mere textual study. We are studying the Bible when we study any truth. That live Scripture is to be read, and learned, and applied in the presence of all nature and all history. We must carry its light into the world around us, and come back with our knowledge and experience to find in it fresher reality and profounder depths of meaning.
III. But I proceed to observe that this is “the Church of the Living God.” Not only does it bear witness to a special truth--not only does it affirm all truth--it is also the vehicle of Divine life. (E. H. Chapin.)
The Church of the Living God
But what does it mean when it is said so expressly, “the Church of the Living God”? Is it in contrast to the temples of the heathen, whose gods are dead, and cannot hear, or speak, or see. Or does it mean more expressly that it is “the Church of God” who is “living” to keep, guide, bless, and give life to His people; and, therefore, because it is “the Church of the Living God,” it can never die. It may be changed, but it cannot die. Christ lives, and we are all members of Christ. Living members of a Living Head; and from that Head life is ever flowing down into the body. Therefore, “the Church” in Him cannot help being “a living Church.” And we are “the temple of the Holy Ghost who liveth in us.” But this is only a part of what it means. It must, like its great Author, if it is a Living Church, show signs of life. Now, what are the evidences of life? Let us take the analogy of the human life.
1. To make human life there must be the breath. Every one who lives must, of necessity, breaths. So it is with “the Church,” and with every member of the Church. There is a breath. The Holy Spirit is the breath. We must breathe that breath of the Spirit; and thus breathe warm thoughts, loving thoughts, happy thoughts, holy thoughts.
2. But the breath requires feeding with words which look and express this inward feeling. Words of praise, words of prayer, words of glory, words of power. Can there be life without expression? If it be not in speech, will it not be by some other way?
3. And can it go on without growth? If the man be a man of God, and if the Church be “the Church of the Living God,” there must be growth. The man’s soul must grow. All the fruits of the Spirit must grow in him. It is equally the consequence and sign of life. A Church which does not grow may doubt whether it is a Church at all!
4. And with the growth and the breathing will come action! Action in accordance with the principle which is working within us.
5. There must be expansion. It is the principle of all true religion, and of every Church. (J. Vaughan, M. A.)
The Church: its nature and functions
Laying aside the notion of infallibility, let us proceed to consider how properly, without any such futile and arrogant claim, the Church is called the pillar and ground of the truth.
1. In the first place, and chiefly, the Church is so called, because, to use the language of our Twentieth Article, she is a “witness and keeper of Holy Writ.” Christianity is found in the Bible, and originally and purely nowhere else. Who should keep the book but those that use it? Who be anxious for its preservation but those who value it, make it the rule of their life? This is at once natural and necessary. Who keep the records of literature and science but men of learning; and who the divine record of religious knowledge but men of religion? They ever have kept it and ever will keep it, as long as religion exists in the world.
2. But further, the Church does not barely keep the volume, attesting its authenticity and watching over its integrity, and so acting as a pillar and ground of the truth; but she seeks to promote the truth by a system of instruction, the basis of which is the contents of that volume. She does not act simply as a publisher of the book, but as a lecturer upon it. Her thoughts axe not her own. She makes no such arrogant pretension. She has light, but it is borrowed light. She shines, but it is by reflection from the Holy Book. It is further worthy of remark, that the Church in the discharge of this function, is not doing a merely optional thing; she is necessitated to do it. The office is inseparable from her being.
3. It would be a further illustration and enforcement of this point to show in what manner the Church is required to discharge this duty. She is required to circulate the Scriptures. (William Sparrow.)
The pillar and ground of the truth.--
The pillar and ground of truth
I. That the Church is the pillar and ground of truth.--
1. That by the Church in this text he does not mean only the ministers.
2. It is far from concluding that one Church is the pillar of truth to another.
3. It is plain from all reason as well as Scripture, that truth is the pillar and growth of the Church, and not the Church of truth (Eph 11:20-21; 1 Corinthians 3:9-11).
Here we may inquire what that truth is which the apostle speaks of. There is a truth of history that we take delight in; to know what is doing in distant countries, or has been done in former ages, but this is rather our entertainment than our concern. There is a truth of argument. This is still more engaging, as it is the proper food of our reason. There is also a truth of conversation; which is what we call integrity. Besides these, there are truths of philosophy, that have no con-tern with the doctrine of Christ Jesus. But the truth that our apostle means is of another kind.
1. It is about the greatest concerns.
2. It comes with the fullest evidence.
3. It is always the same.
4. It is followed with the best effects. (T. Bradbury.)
The pillar and ground of the truth
I. LET US CONSIDER THE APPROPRIATE ATTRIBUTE HERE ASCRIBED TO GOD. He is called the “living God” and He is thus designated not in this place only, but also in numerous other places. He is self-existent and independent. There never was a time when He began to exist, and there never will be a time when He will cease to exist--He has “neither beginning of days nor end of life.” He is also “the Fountain of Life” to all other beings throughout the whole creation. There is also a higher life, which, if we are Christians indeed, we have received from Him.
II. Let us consider the significant name here given to the Church of God. It is called the house of God. “The house of God, which is the Church of the living God.” He dwells in them individually, taking up His abode in their heart, and making it a holy temple unto Himself. “Know ye not,” asks our apostle in writing to the Corinthians, “that your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost which is in you, which ye have of God?” He dwells also among His people collectively, being present in all their assemblies, as it is written, “In all places where I record My name, I will come unto thee, and I will bless thee.” But there is another sense in which the word house issued in Scripture, and in which it may with propriety be understood here. It sometimes stands for the inhabitants of the house, the household, or the family. Thus it is said of Cornelius, the Roman centurion, that he was “a devout man, and one that feared God with all his house”; meaning all his family. The Church is the family of God. How great, then, is the privilege of those who belong to the house and family of God!
III. Let us consider the important office sustained by the Church in the world. It is present in the text as “the pillar and ground,” that is, the stay and support “of the truth.” In furtherance of this object, its ministers are to preach the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. The members of the Church also are to co-operate with its ministers in giving support and currency to the truth.
IV. To call your attention to the manifest duty that rests upon us as members of the visible Church of Christ, and particularly as members of that apostolical branch of it established in these kingdoms. “That thou mayest know how thou oughtest to behave thyself in the house of God, which is the Church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth.” There is also another duty that rests upon us as members of the Church--we must live the truth. In other words, we must exemplify its holy effects in our life and conversation. But there is a third duty which we are called upon to discharge as members of the Church, namely, to make known the truth, as far as we can, to those who are ignorant of it. (D. Rees, M. A.)
Security of the Church
Speaking of that enormous mountain peak known as the Matterhorn, which is the universal admiration of Alpine travellers, a writer says that the materials of which it is composed are remarkable, and he goes on to gives the following description: “Few architects would like to build with them. The slope of the rocks to the north-west is covered two feet deep with their ruins, a mass of loose and slaty shale, of a dull red brick colour, which yields beneath the feet like ashes, so that, in running down, you step one yard and slide three. The rock is indeed hard beneath, but still disposed in thin courses of these cloven shales, so finely laid that they look in places more like a heap of crushed autumn leaves than a rock, and the first sensation is one of unmitigated surprise, as if the mountain were upheld by miracle; but surprise becomes more intelligent reverence for the Great Builder when we find, in the middle of the mass of these dead leaves, a course of living rock, of quartz as white as the snow that encircles it, and harder than a bed of steel. It is only one of a thousand iron bands that knit the strength of the mighty mountain. Through the buttress and the wall alike the courses of its varied masonry are seen in their successive order, smooth and true as if laid by line and plummet, but of thickness and strength continually varying, and with silver cornices glittering along the edge of each, led by the snowy winds and carved by the sunshine.” Now, all this suggests a parable. The Church of God, that glorious mountain of His habitation, is apparently built of very frail materials. The saints are, to all appearance, more like “a heap of crushed autumn leaves than a rock,” and beneath the feet of tyrants and persecutors they seem to yield like ashes; and yet the Church defies the storm and towers aloft, the obelisk of the truth, the eternal pillar of almighty grace. Faith, with eagle gaze, perceives the thousand iron bands which prevent the disintegration of the mass, and the central foundation harder than a bed of steel upon which the colossal fabric rests. The Church abideth for ever: infinite love, faithfulness, and power sustain her, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against her. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
1 Timothy 3:16
And without doubt great is the mystery of godliness.
I shall deliver the nature of the thing itself in this definition, viz., that a mystery is truth revealed by God above the power of natural reason to find out or comprehend.
1. That it is a truth. By which we exclude everything from being a mystery that is absurd and contradictions, since a truth can by no means be so.
2. That it be revealed by God, viz., as to its existence, that there is such a thing. For otherwise, as to the nature of the thing itself, and several other respects in which it may be known, the revelation of it is not supposed to extend so far.
3. That it surpasses all the power of natural reason to discover or find it out.
4. That it be such a thing as bare natural reason (even after it is discovered) cannot comprehend. I say comprehend, that is, know it perfectly, and as far as it is capable of being known (1 Corinthians 13:12). That the mysteriousness of those matters of faith is most subservient to the great important ends of Religion, and that upon these following accounts.
I. Because religion, in the prime institution of it, was designed to make impressions of awe and reverential fear upon men’s minds. Distance preserves respect, and we still imagine some transcendent worth in things above our reach. Moses was never more reverenced than when he wore his veil. Nay, the very sanctum sanctorum would not have had such veneration from the Jews had they been permitted to enter into it, and to gaze and stare upon it as often as they did upon the other parts of the Temple. The high priest himself, who alone was suffered to enter into it, yet was to do so but once a year, lest the frequency of the sight might insensibly lessen that adoration which so sacred a thing was still to maintain upon his thoughts. In all great respect, or honour shown, there is something of wonder; but a thing often seen (we know), be it never so excellent, yet ceasing thereby to be new, it ceases also to be wondered at. Forasmuch as it is not the worth or excellency, but the strangeness of the thing, which draws the eyes and admiration of men after it. For can anything in nature be imagined more glorious and beautiful than the sun shining in his full might? and yet how many more spectators and wonderers does the same sun find under an eclipse? But to pursue this notion and observation yet farther, I conceive it will not be amiss to consider how it has been the custom of all sober and wise nations of the world still to reserve the great rites of their religion in occulto. Thus how studiously did the Egyptians, those great masters of all learning, lock up their sacred things from all access and knowledge of the vulgar!
II. A second ground of the mysteriousness of religion (as it is delivered by God to mankind) is his most wise purpose thereby to humble the pride and haughtiness of man’s reason. In short, man would be like God in knowledge, and so he fell; and now, if he will be like Him in happiness too, God will effect it in such a way as shall convince him to his face that he knows nothing. The whole course of his salvation shall be all riddle and mystery to him; he shall (as I may so express it) be carried up to heaven in a cloud. Instead of evidence springing from things themselves, and clear knowledge growing from such an evidence, his understanding must now be contented with the poor, dim light of faith, which guides only in the strength and light of another’s knowledge, and is properly a seeing with another’s eyes, as being otherwise wholly unable to inform us about the great things of our peace, by any immediate inspection of those things themselves. For as the primitive effect of knowledge was first to put up and then to throw down, so the contrary method of gram and faith is first to depress and then to advance. The difficulty and strangeness of some of the chief articles of our religion are notable instruments in the hand of God to keep the soul low and humble, and to check those self-complacencies which it is apt to grow into by an over-weening conceit of its own opinions more than by any other thing whatsoever. For man naturally is scarce so fond of the offspring of his body as of that of his soul. His notions are his darlings; so that neither children nor self are half so dear to him as the only begotten of his mind. And therefore in the dispensations of religion God will have this only begotten, this best beloved, this Isaac of our souls (above all other offerings that a man can bring Him) to be sacrificed and given up to Him.
III. God has been pleased to put a mysteriousness into the greatest articles of our religion, thereby to engage us in a closer and more diligent search into them. He would have them the objects of our study, and for that purpose has rendered them hard and difficult. For no man studies things plain and evident, and such as by their native clearness do even prevent our search, and of their own accord offer themselves to our understandings. The foundation of all inquiry is the obscurity as well as worth of the thing inquired after. And God has thought good to make the constitution and complexion of our religion such as may fit it to be our business and our task; to require and take up all our intellectual strength, and, in a word, to try the force of our best, our noblest, and most active faculties. For no man can outlive the reasons of inquiry so long as he carries any thing of ignorance about him. And that every man must, and shall do, while he is in this state of mortality. For he, who himself is but a part of nature, shall never compass or comprehend it all. Truth (we are told) dwells low, and in a bottom; and the most valued things of the creation are concealed and hidden by the great Creator of them, from the common view of the world. God and diamonds, with the most precious stones and metals, are couched and covered in the bowels of the earth; the very condition of their being giving them their burial too. So that violence must be done to nature before she will produce and bring them forth. And then, as to what concerns the mind of man, God has in His wise Providence cast things so as to make the business of men in this world improvement; that so the very work of their condition may still remind them of the imperfection of it. (R. South.)
The mystery of godliness
I. That the scheme of godliness is greatly mysterious with regard to its contrivance. Thus, how the case of man’s fall was to be met, and how his salvation was to be wrought out in perfect harmony with all the Divine attributes, remained a profound secret, until God Himself was pleased to announce it to the world. Even angelic intelligence was inadequate to its contrivance.
II. That the scheme of Godliness is greatly mysterious with regard to its mode of development. That, in fact, its main and most important truths should have been so long concealed from the world, or only he darkly shadowed forth by types and figures; that their revelation should have been so gradual, and so late in reaching its consummation may well be reckoned a mystery. Why did He suffer so many millions of the race for whose benefit it was designed, and for whose salvation a knowledge of it seems necessary, to die without even having heard of it?
III. That the scheme of Godliness is greatly mysterious with regard to the nature and mode of its operations. We gather from the words of our Lord, that the operations by which the Holy Spirit regenerates men through the system of evangelical truth would be inscrutable. “The wind bloweth where it listeth,” etc. How, for instance, does this system of truth illuminate the mind, convey conviction to the judgment, awaken and alarm the conscience, gain the assent of the understanding, fill the sinner with penitence and godly sorrow, win his affections, subdue his whole soul to God, and transform him, a guilty and polluted spirit, into a new creature in Christ Jesus? What is the nature of those unseen, impalpable operations by which man is enlightened, pardoned, and born again? How is celestial light produced in the sin-darkened mind?
IV. That the scheme of Godliness is greatly mysterious with regard to its triumphs. The external means and agency by which these triumphs are secured may be plain and obvious enough as facts; but then they seem altogether inadequate to achieve them.
V. That the scheme of Godliness is greatly mysterious with regard to its consummation. Its character is thus uniform from the beginning to the end. This grand drama of truth and mercy was opened by the most mysterious resolutions and stupendous acts; it is sustained and carried on by the sublimest evolutions and agency; and it will close amid the most transcendent and ineffable scenes of grandeur and bliss. All the dead are to be raised. Men and devils are all to be arraigned before the judgment-seat of Christ. The old heavens and earth are to pass away. A new heaven and earth of surpassing beauty and holiness are to be created for the reception of the redeemed.
1. This subject teaches us the necessity of implicit faith in all the truths and doctrines which God has revealed in His Word. This, indeed, we shall often find to be necessary. Mysterious facts which baffle our reason, demand our faith. In His darkest utterances, God must be implicitly credited.
2. This subject teaches us the necessity of cherishing the spirit of patience and humility. This, too, we shall find to be all-important. We cannot anticipate the end, nor rush to its disclosures before the time appointed by the Father.
3. This subject teaches us that we ought most gratefully to receive the unspeakable and eternal benefits which this grand and mysterious scheme of godliness was designed to confer on redeemed men. To refuse them, or even to be unconcerned about them, is surely the blackest and most hateful ingratitude, and must form the very climax of rebellion and guilt! (S. Lucas.)
The mystery of godliness
I. A mystery is something kept secret, locked up from the view of men. This sense of it agrees to the doctrines of Christianity upon a threefold account.
1. As they were concealed from former ages.
2. As they are yet so from the greatest part of the world.
3. As they continue so in some degree to God’s own people.
The temple of God is not to be opened till we get to heaven, and there we shall see the ark of His covenant. Upon these accounts it may be said our gospel is hid; it was so to the Jews, it is so to those that are lost; and, in part, it is so to the believer him self; and therefore it may be called a mystery.
1. It is called a mystery from its importance.
2. It is called a mystery because it never could have been known but by revelation.
3. A mystery is something above the comprehension of our reason. The things of God knows no man, but the Spirit of God. And this leads me to--
II. Show that the mystery of any doctrine does not hinder it from being true.
1. The difficulty or easiness of a doctrine does not make it the matter of our faith, but we go entirely upon the sufficiency of the evidence.
2. This obtains in every part of life, and it is strange we should exclude it from religion.
3. It is no way unaccountable that the nature and the designs of God should be” incomprehensible to us.
4. It is necessary that our understanding should honour the revelation of God by a subjection, as well as our wills by a compliance.
5. These are not mysteries of man’s forging, but we have them in the Book of God.
6. They are not concealed by any party or tribe among us, but lie open to be seen and read of all men. Therefore--
7. The design of preaching them is not to set up the tyranny of priests, but to lead people to a veneration for their God, a dependence upon Him, and an application to Him.
III. What is the benefit of having mysteries in the Christian religion? Why could not our lawgiver have done as others did, only laid before us a set of rules, and distributed them under the several heads of practice, without ever engaging our faith in any speculations at all? When the law is established by faith, it gets a firmness and an influence that it could never have had any other way.
1. By the mysteries of the gospel we are led to an esteem for the salvation itself that God has given us, because thus we see that it was the contrivance of infinite wisdom.
2. We have the best arguments for our duty from the incarnation, satisfaction, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
3. We have the noblest example of all practical holiness from God’s being manifest in the flesh.
4. We are in particular inclined and encouraged to the duty of prayer, by this new and living way that is consecrated for us through the veil, that is to say, His flesh. (Hebrews 10:20).
5. We have the best hope of succeeding in the whole work of our duty, from the redemption that is now established.
6. By these mysteries the principles of all practical religion are enlarged and encouraged. It is in a meditation upon these that we stir up the grace of God that is in us.
7. We are by this means kept low in our own eyes; as we find there are things above the reach of nature, and beyond the comprehension of faith.
8. This shows us the necessity of depending upon the Spirit for illumination, as well as upon Christ for acceptance.
9. This teaches a greater value for the revelation God has made of Himself.
10. This draws out our desires towards heaven, without which there can be neither the purity nor the comfort of religion. We long to be where the veil is taken off from the object, and the fetters from the faculty.
IV. When the apostle calls this a great mystery, i suppose He does it in a way of pre-eminence to what is contained in other religions, more especially these two.
1. The mysteries of the heathen.
2. There were mysteries in the Jewish religion. (Psalms 111:4; Psalms 48:9), in the midst of His temple, and He was terrible out of His holy places.
(1) The mystery of godliness is in this respect greater than any among the heathen in that we learn it at once. Here are no years thrown away in a tedious preparation. There is no keeping of people in a preparatory dulness.
(2) This mystery is about matters of more importance to our final happiness. This is life eternal, to know the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom He has sent. (John 17:3).
(3) These mysteries were given us by God Himself.
(4) These mysteries are to be diffused and made known.
2. There were undeniable mysteries among the Jews,
(1) Our mysteries are distinguished from those that God gave to the Jews by their continuance.
(2) Our mysteries refer us to themselves. The Jews had a respect to something else.
(3) Our mysteries come in a nobler way, in a method more agreeable to the lofty nature of a rational soul.
(4) This mystery is attended with a greater influence, both as to purity and peace. It is further said that this mystery is great without controversy.
1. It does not mean there should be no dispute about it. The natural man never did, and never will receive the things of the Spirit of God; they are foolishness to him.
2. This mystery is without controversy to all the ages of God’s people.
3. This mystery is without controversy to those whom the grace of God has brought from the darkness of infidelity.
4. This is a mystery without controversy, because it still continues to be a mystery after all the ways that men have taken to explain it.
A few practical directions about the use that should be made of mysteries in religion.
1. If you would treat Christianity or any particular article as a mystery, be careful to separate the doctrine from all the mixtures that curiosity or superstition have brought into it.
2. Read the Scriptures diligently, comparing spiritual things with spiritual.
3. Attend the ordinances of the gospel. He that walks with wise men shall be wise.
4. Pray for the Spirit.
5. Take care of quarrelling about these mysteries, and becoming vain in your imaginations.
6. Be more concerned about the improving of a mystery than the explaining it. (T. Bradbury.)
The mystery of godliness
I. Let us inquire what are the features of mystery which belong to the scheme of redemption.
1. It is a mystery if we consider the subjects of that redemption.
2. There is mystery in the mode of this redemption.
3. There is mystery in the magnitude of the accruing consequence of this redemption. The feud between heaven and earth has been adjusted by it.
4. It is a mystery, because no human wisdom could ever have devised it. It is a gem of grace dug from the deepest mine of the Divine intelligence, and lifted from the profoundest recess of the Divine compassion.
5. It was a mystery which baffled the malignant wit of devils to explain.
6. And if it passed the understandings of the dark confederacy of hell, it equally exceeded the capacity of angels to unravel its intent.
7. It is a mystery which will need eternity to explore it.
II. Observe the appropriateness of the phrase--“the mystery of godliness.”
1. It is so, because it reveals the only basis of godliness.
2. By a belief in this we become entitled to all the blessings of godliness.
3. By its influence on heart and life it leads to the practice of godliness.
4. Because the whole redounds to the honour and glory of God. From this mystery we may learn to raise our appreciation of the greatness and sublimity of the Christian revelation. (A. Mursell.)
The mystery of godliness
I. The mystery of Godliness itself.
1. The fact that God was manifest in the flesh.
(1) The manifestation affirmed is the manifestation of God. It is the manifestation of Jehovah--of the Creator, Preserver, and Lord of all--of Him to whom all worship is due, and all dominion and glory belong. This much lies upon the very surface of the text. Is there nothing more to tell? There is more. God is One. But the Persons of the Godhead are three. And this is not the manifestation of the First, or of the Third, Person of the Godhead, but of the Second. It is the manifestation of God the Son.
(2) As to the other question--the nature of this manifestation--we remark that it was personal. There are many manifestations of God--manifestations of Him in the world and in the Church, in His works, and in His Word. But these are manifestations of character and perfections. A manifestation of the Divine wisdom, and power, and holiness, and love, is a manifestation of God; but it is not a personal manifestation. It is a manifestation of the attributes and glory of God, and of the attributes and glory of the Persons in the Godhead; but it is not a manifestation of the Persons themselves. There is a manifestation of the Father in those who are His children; there is a manifestation of the Son in those whom He is not ashamed to call His brethren; and there is a manifestation of the Spirit in all whom He regenerates and sanctifies. Yea, doubtless, the Divine Persons are thus manifested. But, though the manifestation be a manifestation of Persons, it is not a personal manifestation of them. They are manifested mediately, not immediately--as the worker is manifested by his work. There is no immediate personal manifestation of God, which has been afforded to man, except that manifestation of Him which constitutes the mystery of godliness. We do not overlook the manifestations of God that were enjoyed by the patriarchs--such as that which Abraham had in the plains of Mature, and that which Jacob had at Peniel. These were foreshadowings of that mystery of godliness which the fulness of time disclosed. The personal manifestation of God is highly to be prized. We may judge of it by the desire which is felt to see the sage or philosopher who has enriched the stores of our knowledge by his speculations and discoveries. We may have read the great man’s history again and again; we may be familiar with what he has achieved; we may have seen the fruits of his genius, his toil, his valour; we may possess his portrait too; but the effect of it all will be, not to diminish, but to increase, the desire to behold his person, and to see himself. Just so it is in the case before us. The knowledge of God’s ways and doings, the light east upon His character and glorious perfections by the teachings of Scripture and the experience of the Church, will never quench the desire for the vision of God Himself. We must further remark, with respect to the nature of this manifestation of God, that it was a manifestation “in the flesh.” “God was manifest in the flesh.” We read of the Holy Ghost coming down in a bodily form, like a dove. But the Holy Ghost was not a dove. He took, for the occasion, the visible form of a dove; but there was no real dove in the case, any more than there is in the image or likeness of a dove which the pencil of the artist may create. God the Son, however, was man. He was Man as truly and really as He was God. Had He come with no more than the figure or likeness of a man--that likeness being temporarily assumed--it could not so well be said that God was manifested. It may serve to open up still farther this manifestation of God in the flesh, if we explain a little, as we can, and as Scripture enables us, how the manifestation was brought about. This much we are in a condition to say--that God was manifested in the flesh by the assumption into His Person, on the part of the Son, of the human nature, as consisting of a true body and a reasonable soul. The Son assumed human nature into His Person. He assumed it into His Person so that God the Son and the man Christ Jesus were not two Persons, but one. It was not that a new Person was constituted out of two Persons previously existing. His human nature never existed by itself, or as a person; and the Person of the Son was eternal. Into that Person the human nature was taken, or assumed, as has been said--the identity of the Person remaining unchanged. There was no conversion of the Divine into the human nature. Had that been the case, He must have ceased to be God by becoming man. Nor was there any mixture of the natures. The two natures did not become one nature, combining their attributes. There was a union, however, between the two natures. But this union was not like other unions with which we may be acquainted. It was unlike the union between the soul and body of man. It was unlike it in this--that body and soul make but one nature between them. It was unlike the union between Christ and believers; for that is a union where distinct personality is preserved. And it was unlike the union among the Persons in the Godhead. The cases, indeed, are completely in contrast. There, we find distinct Persons, and one nature. Here, we find one Person, and distinct natures.
2. Passing now from the fact declared, that God was manifest in the flesh, we come to the reason of it. The reason was no other than the salvation of sinful man. A created nature was necessary, because a created nature alone could suffer, and on a created nature alone the stroke of wrath could fall. He took not, however, the nature of angels. The human nature was necessary, to connect Him more closely with our broken covenant, on the one hand, and with us who broke it, on the other. It was flesh that He took, because He was to be the second man, the last Adam; and, in that capacity, to magnify the law and make it honourable, and bruise the serpent’s head. But a finite nature must have failed by itself. It need not have failed in purpose, or for want of will; but it must have failed in sufficiency, and for want of strength.
II. The circumstances that commend the mystery of Godliness to our faith and admiration. (A. Gray.)
God was manifest in the flesh.--
The important mystery of the Incarnation
I. I am to illustrate the doctrine of God manifest in the flesh. It is an undoubted truth, that the perfections and glory of God the Father were manifested in the Incarnation, life and death of His only begotten Son. If these, in one respect, veiled the Divine glory, they gave, in another, a new and fuller view of its brightness. The Scripture conceals not the reasons why God was thus manifest in the flesh. Perhaps, some may inquire, how can it be said that God was manifest in the flesh? Did not the nature He assumed, and the purposes of humiliation and suffering for which He assumed it, obscure, rather than manifest, His Deity? If, however, some circumstances of Christ’s incarnation indicated meanness and abasement; in others, Divine majesty and greatness were manifested. Heaven and earth, angels and devils, kings and subjects, friends and enemies, unite to do honour to His birth. Let me now direct your attention to the practical improvement of this subject. Judge not the opinions or character of any man, or society of men, by their outward circumstances. Despise not, for His birth, His poverty, or mean appearance, the man who teaches an excellent doctrine, or who exhibits an eminently virtuous example. Just ideas, and a correspondent behaviour, not wealth or indigence, are the true tests of worth. Think how wretched and forlorn thy circumstances, which required so great and astonishing means of deliverance. Admire and improve this amazing condescension. Let the warmest gratitude inflame every breast while contemplating the love which gave rise to this condescension. Labour that He who was manifested in your nature may also be manifested in your persons: or, as Paul expresses it, “That the life of Jesus may be made manifest in your body” (2 Corinthians 4:10). Reflect how highly human nature is dignified and ennobled by the incarnation of the Son of God. Improve and exult in the foundation laid, by God manifest in the flesh, for the encouragement of faith. Sink not under thy doubts and fears; for to rescue sinners from destruction He, who was in the bosom of the Father, pledged His heart as their ransom that, as their Advocate, He might approach to God and successfully plead their cause.
II. Paul describes this doctrine as a mystery. The word “mystery” is borrowed from the secret religious rites and exercises among the heathen, to which only a few, after trial of their secrecy, were admitted by the Hierophant or Mystagogue. Hence, it is transferred to the incarnation of Christ, and its important causes and consequences, which could be discovered only by the Spirit, not by our senses, imagination, or intellectual powers. To men, who have no other guide than nature’s light, the wonders of redeeming love were wholly unknown: and unknown they must have for ever remained, had not the first stewards of the mysteries of God learned them by inspiration, and been authorized to teach them. Under the Old Testament the Jews had only dark types and obscure prophecies of those good things to come. The wisdom of God in a mystery was a hidden wisdom, which none of the princes of this world knew; for, had they known it, they would not have crucified the Lord of Glory. Again, the gospel is a mystery; for to few who enjoy the external dispensation of the gospel is its native beauty and Divine energy inwardly revealed. Saints alone are divinely enlightened to perceive its certainty and glory.
III. The doctrine of our Lord’s incarnation, and of its causes and consequences, is, without controversy, a great mystery. It has not only been confirmed by the fullest evidence; but it is without controversy to all to whom Jesus hath manifested the Father’s name. Well, too, may this doctrine be termed great. It exhibits truths in their own nature transcendently excellent. All this, however, wilt not excuse our stumbling at this wisdom of God in a mystery, or these deep things of God.
IV. The doctrine of our Lord’s incarnation is a mystery of Godliness. It is allowed that truths altogether unknown, and doctrines perfectly unintelligible, can be no motives to piety. But, notwithstanding this, motives to piety may be derived from that, in a mystery, which is known and understood. Though I cannot comprehend the doctrine of the Trinity, or the Divinity and Sonship of Christ, I may understand enough of the love of the Father, in sending His Son to be the Saviour of the world, and of redemption being purchased by His blood, to influence my temper and conduct. Articles of natural religion deeply affect us which yet are obscurely and imperfectly known. Now, all this was revealed that we might be sanctified through the truth. The view which it exhibits, both of the justice and goodness of God, affords the strongest motives to reverence of God’s authority, value for His favour, trust in His mercy and obedience to His laws.
V. The doctrine of the incarnation is the pillar and ground of the truth: not of truth, or even religious truth in general, but of the word of truth, the gospel of our salvation, in which that plan of redemption is published: which reason could never have discovered. The original word, rendered ground, occurs nowhere else in the sacred writings. But it evidently signifies that upon which anything firmly rests. Here, therefore, where it relates to a building, and is joined to the word “pillar,” it means foundation. A pillar only supports part of a fabric. A foundation bears the weight of the whole building. The metaphor intimates that the doctrine of the Person and Incarnation of Jesus is necessary to the support of the whole doctrine of redemption; and that, if the doctrine of the Incarnation were taken away, the whole doctrine of redemption would fall to the ground. Every other article of faith rests upon, and derives stability from, its connection with this. If the Son of God did not assume a true body and a reasonable soul, He was not the “Lamb of God which taketh away the sins of the world.” The first thing in a building is the laying the foundation; and the first thing peculiar to Christianity which the apostles taught was the incarnation of Jesus, and His redeeming us to God through His blood: though to pave the way for this truth being received, they also inculcated the principles and obligations of natural religion, and the evidences of Christianity, from prophecy and miracles (1 Corinthians 15:1-3). And now, what is the conclusion of the whole matter? Think it not strange that the gospel often meets with bad entertainment, that some pronounce the mysteries of its foolishness, and others account the godliness these mysteries tend to produce an insupportable yoke. Learn from this subject to distinguish true religion and genuine piety from counterfeit appearances. Heathenism and popery have their mysteries; but they are mysteries of iniquity. Entertain this doctrine in a manner suitable to its nature. It is a mystery. Affect not to be wise above what is written. Admire and adore what thou canst not fully comprehend. It is a mystery of godliness. By indulging ease and security, while profligate and immoral, act not as if it were a mystery of iniquity. Remember that mere speculative knowledge will condemn, not save thee. It is the pillar and ground of truth. Prize that gospel which has published to thee a doctrine so transcendently glorious and important. (J. Erskine, D. D.)
The Mystery of godliness
The greatness and importance of the truth which the Church was to maintain is given as a motive to fidelity on the part of Christians.
I. The contrast between flesh and spirit. “He was manifested in the flesh, justified in the spirit.” For it is not what appeals to our natural observation, to our sensuous nature, or to our purely intellectual faculties, which awakens the conviction that He is our Lord, but it is His Divine touch, felt upon heart and conscience, which leads us, like Thomas, to fall at His feet and say, “My Lord and my God.”
II. The second suggested contrast is between the angels and the nations. “He was seen of angels and preached unto the Gentiles.” These are again natural opposites. Angels are the blessed inhabitants of a higher sphere; Gentiles are the most corrupt and debased inhabitants of this lower world. And it is His glory that His claims have been admitted by opposing and divergent nationalities, by the most varied types of men, as rightful King of all the world.
III. The last contrast drawn here is between the earthly and the heavenly. “He was believed on in the world, received up into glory.” What a contrast between the celestial brightness and purity in which He is enshrined, and the disease, the death, and the sin prevailing in the world. I know not how we Christians could still work hopefully if it were not that Jesus, the Almighty purifier, the one Saviour, can be believed on, and is believed on by us in the world--as One able and willing to bring salvation to the lost and degraded. (A. Rowland, LL. B.)
The fountain opened; or, the mystery of godliness revealed
1. Godliness is either the principles of Christian religion, or the inward disposition of the soul towards them, the inward holy affection of the soul. The word implieth both: for godliness is not only the naked principles of religion, but likewise the Christian affection, the inward bent of the soul, suitable to Divine principles. There must be a godly disposition, carrying us to godly truths. These blessed truths of the gospel, they require and breed a godly disposition; the end of them is godliness; they frame the soul to godliness. Thus we see the truths themselves are godliness, carrying us to God and holiness.
Hence follows these other truths briefly.
1. First of all, that no truth breeds godliness and piety of life but Divine truths; for that is called “godliness,” because it breeds godliness. All the devices of men in the world cannot breed godliness.
2. Again, hence, in that Divine truth is called godliness, it shows us, if we would be godly we must be so from reasons of Christianity; not, us I said, by framing devices of our own, as graceless foolish men do. But if we will be godly, it must be by reasons and motives from Divine truth. That breeds godliness.
3. Again, hence we may fetch a rule of discerning when we are godly. What makes a true Christian? When he nakedly believes the grounds of Divine truth, the articles of the faith, when he can patter them over--doth that make a true Christian? No. But when these truths breed and work “godliness.” For religion is a truth “according to godliness,” not according to speculation only, and notion. Religious evangelical truth is “wisdom”; and wisdom is a knowledge of things directing to practice. A man is a wise man when he knows so as to practise what he knows. The gospel is a Divine wisdom, teaching practice as well as knowledge. It works godliness, or else a man hath but a human knowledge of Divine things. Therefore a Christian hath godly principles out of the gospel, and a godly carriage suitable to those principles. Now this godliness is “a mystery.” What is a mystery?
The word signifies a hidden thing.
1. A mystery is a secret, not only for the present, but that it was a secret, though it be now revealed; for the gospel is now discovered. It is called a mystery, not so much that it is secret, but that it was so before it was revealed.
2. In the second place, that is called a mystery in the Scripture which, howsoever it be clear for the manifestation of it, yet the reasons of it are hid. As the conversion of the Gentiles, that there should be such a thing, why God should be so merciful to them, it is called a mystery.
3. In the third place, a mystery in Scripture is taken for that that is a truth hid, and is conveyed by some outward thing. Marriage is a mystery, because it conveys the hidden spiritual marriage between Christ and His Church. So, then, the whole evangelical truth is a mystery.
For these reasons:--
1. First of all, because it was hid and concealed from all men, till God brought it out of His own bosom: first to Adam in paradise, after the Fall; and still more clearly afterwards to the Jews; and in Christ’s time more fully to Jews and Gentiles. It was hid in the breast of God. It was not a thing framed by angels or men. Christ brought it out of the bosom of His Father.
2. Again, it is a mystery; because when it was revealed, it was revealed but to few. It was revealed at the first but to the Jews--“God is known in Jewry,” etc. (Psalms 48:3). It was wrapped in ceremonies and types, and in general promises, to them. It was quite hid from most part of the world.
3. Again, when Christ came, and was discovered to the Gentiles, yet it is a mystery even in the Church, to carnal men, that hear the gospel, and yet do not understand it, that have the veil over their hearts. It is “hid to them that perish” (2 Corinthians 4:3).
4. In the fourth place, it is a mystery, because though we see some part and parcel of it yet we see not the whole gospel. We see not all, nor wholly. “We see but in part, and know but in part.” (1 Corinthians 8:9.)
5. Yea, and it is mystery in regard of what we do not know, but shall hereafter know but is the doctrine of the gospel itself only a mystery? No. All the graces are mysteries, every grace. Let a man once know it, and he shall find that there is a mystery in faith; that the earthly soul of man should be carried above itself, to believe supernatural truths, and to depend upon that he sees not, to sway the life by reasons spiritual; that the heart of man should believe; that a man in trouble should carry himself quietly and patiently, from supernatural supports and grounds, it is a mystery. That the carriage of the soul should be turned universally another way; that the judgment and affections should be turned backward, as it were; that he that was proud before should now be humble; that he that was ambitious before should now despise the vain world; that he that was given to his lusts and vanities before should now, on the contrary, be serious and heavenly minded: here is a mystery indeed when all is turned backward. In Christ all is mystery: two natures, God and man, in one Person; mortal and immortal; greatness and baseness; infiniteness and finiteness, in one Person. The Church itself is a mystical thing. For under baseness, under the scorn of the world, what is hid?
A glorious people.
1. Is it so that religion is a mystery? Then, first of all, do not wonder that it is not known in the world: and that it is not only not known, but persecuted and hated. Alas! it is a hidden thing. Men know not the excellency of it.
2. Again, if it be a mystery, then it should teach us to carry ourselves suitable to it. Nature taught even the heathens to carry themselves reverently in their mysteries; Procul este profani, “Away begone all profane.” Let us carry ourselves therefore reverently toward the truth of God, towards all truths, though they be never so contrary to our reason.
3. Again, are these things mysteries, great mysteries? Let us bless God, that hath revealed them to us, for the glorious gospel. Oh, how doth St. Paul, in every Epistle, stir up people to be thankful for revealing these mysteries!
4. Again, it is a mystery, Therefore it should teach us likewise not to set upon the knowledge of it with any wits or parts of our own, to think to search into it merely by strength of wit and study of books, and all human helps that can be. It is a mystery, and it must be unveiled by God Himself, by His Spirit. We must not struggle with the difficulties of religion with natural parts. It is a mystery. Now, therefore it must have a double veil took off: a veil from the thing, and the yell from our eyes. It is a mystery in regard of the things themselves, and in regard of us. It is not sufficient that the things be light-some that are now revealed by the gospel, but there must be that taken from our hearts that hinders our sight.
5. Again, being a mystery, it cannot be raised out of the principles of nature, it cannot be raised from reasons. But hath reason no use, then, in the gospel? Yes. Sanctified reason hath to draw sanctified conclusions from sanctified principles. Thus far reason is of use in these mysteries, to shew that they are not opposite to reason, They are above reason, but they are not contrary to it, even as the light of the sun it is above the light of a candle, but it is not contrary to it. Here it is the greatest reason to yield reason to faith. Faith is the reason of reasons in these things, and the greatest reason is to yield to God that hath revealed them. Is not here the greatest reason in the world, to believe Him that is truth itself?
6. Again, seeing it is a mystery, let no man despair. It is not the pregnancy of the scholar here that carries it away. It is the excellency of the teacher. If God’s Spirit be the teacher, it is no matter how dull the scholar is.
7. It is a mystery, therefore take heed of slighting of Divine truths. The empty shallow heads of the world make great matters of trifles, and stand amazed at baubles and vanities, and think it a grace to slight Divine things. This great mystery of godliness they despise. How shall we come to know this mystery as we should, and to carry ourselves answerable? We must desire God to open our eyes, that as the light hath shined, as the apostle saith, “The grace of God hath shined” (Titus 2:11); as there is a lightsomeness in the mysteries, so there may be in our eye.
Now, the Spirit doth not only teach the truths of the gospel, but the application of those truths, that they are ours.
1. Again, if we would understand these mysteries, let us labour for humble spirits; for the Spirit works that disposition in the first place.
2. And bring withal a serious desire to know with a purpose to be moulded to what we know; to be delivered to the obedience of what we know; for then God will discover it to us. Wisdom is easy to him that will. Together with prayer and humility, let us but bring a purpose and desire to be taught, and we shall find Divine wisdom easy to him that will. None ever miscarry in the Church but those that have false hearts.
3. And take heed of passion and prejudice, of carnal affections that stir up passion; for they will make the soul that it cannot see mysteries that are plain in themselves. As we are strong in any passion, so we judge; and the heart, when it is given up to passion, it transforms the truth to its own self, as it were. Even as where there is a suffusion of the eye, as in the jaundice, or the like, it apprehends colours like itself; so when the taste is vitiated, it tastes things, not as they are in themselves, but as itself is. So the corrupt heart transforms this sacred mystery to its own self, and oft-times foreeth Scripture to defend its own sin, and the corrupt state it is in. It will believe what it list.
Therefore it is of great consequence to come with clean hearts and minds to the mysteries of God. “Great mystery.”
1. That is the adjunct. It is a “great mystery” And here I might be endless; for it is not only great as a mystery--that is, there is much of it concealed--but it is a great and excellent mystery, if we regard whence it came, from the bosom of God, from the wisdom of God.
2. If we regard the end of it, to bring together God and man--man that was fallen, to bring him back again to God, to bring him from the depth of misery to the height of all happiness; a “great mystery” in this respect.
3. Again, it is “great,” for the manifold wisdom that God discovered in the publishing of it, by certain degrees: first, in types, then after he came to truths; first, in promises, and then performances.
4. Again it is a great mystery, for that it works. For it is such a mystery as is not only a discovery of secrets, but it transforms those that know it and believe it. We are transformed by it to the likeness of Christ, of whom it is a mystery; to be as He is, full of grace. It hath a transforming, changing power.
5. If we consider any part of it--Christ, or His Church, or anything--it is a mystery, and “a great mystery.” It must needs be great, that the very angels desire to pry into (1 Peter 1:12).
6. If we regard those that could not pry into it; as it is 1 Corinthians 2:6; 1 Corinthians 2:8 that the wise men of the world understood nothing of it.
7. Again, it is a great mystery, because it makes us great. It makes times great, and the persons great that live in those times. What made John Baptist greater than all the prophets and others in those times? Because he saw Christ come in the flesh. Let us take heed, therefore, that we set a higher price on religion. It is a mystery, and a great mystery; therefore it must have great esteem. It brings great comfort and great privileges.
8. Again, it is a great mystery, if compared to all other mysteries. Creation was a great mystery for all things to be made out of nothing, order out of confusion; for God to make man a glorious creature of the dust of the earth, it was a great matter.
But what is this in comparison for God to be made man?
1. First of all, learn hence from blessed St. Paul how to be affected when we speak and think of the glorious truth of God; that we should work upon our hearts, to have large thoughts and large expressions of it. St. Paul thought it not sufficient to call it a mystery, but a great mystery. He doth not only call it riches, but unsearchable riches. Out of the riches and treasure of the heart the mouth will speak.
(1) And that we may the better do this, let us labour to have as deep conceits in our understandings as we can of that mystery of sinfulness that is in us, and that mystery of misery.
(2) Again, if we would have large and sensible thoughts and apprehensions of these things, such as the blessed apostle, let us set some time apart to meditate of these things, till the heart be warmed; let us labour to fasten our thoughts, as much as we can, on them every day; to consider the excellency of this mystery of religion in itself, and the fruit of it in this world and in the world to come. It is a good employment; for from thence we shall wonder at nothing in the world besides. What is the reason that men are taken up with admiration of petty mysteries, of poor things? Because their thoughts were never raised up to higher considerations.
2. Let us bring great endeavours to learn it, and great respect towards it, and great love to God for it. Let everything in us be answerable to this “great mystery,” which is a “great mystery.” “Without controversy.” It is so under the broad seal of public confession, as the word in the general signifies; by the confession of all, it is “great.” It is a confessed truth, that the “mystery of godliness is great.” As if the apostle had said, I need not give you greater confirmation; it is, without question or controversy, a great mystery.
(1) First, in itself, it is not to be doubted of. It is a great grounded truth, as lightsome and clear as if the gospel were written with a sunbeam, as one saith. There is nothing clearer and more out of controversy than sacred evangelical truths.
(2) And as they are clear and light-some in themselves, so they are apprehended of all God’s people. However it be controverted by others, yet they are not considerable. All that are the children of the Church, that have their eyes open, they confess it to be so, and wonder at it as “a great mystery.” They without all doubt and controversy embrace it. Things are not so clear in the gospel that all that are sinful and rebellious may see whether they will or no.
1. I will only make that use of it that a great scholar in his time once did upon the point, a noble earl of Mirandula. If there be no calling these things into question, if they have been confirmed by so many miracles, as they have been in a strict sense, why then, how is it that men live as if they made no question of the falsehood of them? What kind of men are those that live as if it were “without controversy,” that Christian truths had no truth at all in them? Men live so carelessly and profanely, and slight and scorn these great mysteries, as if they made no question but they are false.
2. Again, in that he saith, “without controversy,” or confessedly, “great is the mystery of godliness”: here we may know, then, what truths are to be entertained as catholic universal truths, those that without question are received. Now we come to the particulars of this great mystery. “God manifested in the flesh.” This, and the other branches that follow, they are all spoken of Christ. Indeed, the “mystery of godliness” is nothing but Christ, and that which Christ did. Christ was “manifested in the flesh, justified in the Spirit, seen of angels, preached to the Gentiles, believed on in the world, received up in glory.” So that from the general we may observe this, that “Christ is the scope of the Scripture.” Christ is the pearl of that ring; Christ is the main, the centre wherein all those lines end. He begins here with this, “God manifested in the flesh”; not God taken essentially, but taken personally. God in the Second Person, was manifested. All actions are of persons. The Second Person was incarnate. The Three Persons are all God; yet they were not all incarnate, because it was a personal action of the Second Person.
And why in that Person?
1. Because He was the image of God. And none but the image of God could restore us to that image. He was the Son of God, and none but the natural Son could make us sons. By “flesh,” here, is meant human nature; the property of human nature, both body and soul. And by “flesh” also is usually understood the infirmities and weakness of man, the miserable condition of man. In that God, the Second Person, appeared in our nature, in our weak and tainted disgraced nature after the Fall; from hence comes--
1. First of all, the enriching of our nature with all graces in Christ, as it is in Colossians 2:3.
2. The ennobling of our nature. In that God appeared in our nature it is much ennobled.
3. In the third place, hence comes the enabling of our nature to the work of salvation that was wrought in our nature. It came from hence, “God was in the flesh.”
4. And hence comes this likewise, that whatsoever Christ did in our nature, God did it, for God appeared in our nature. He took not upon Him the person of any man, but the nature.
5. Hence comes also the union between Christ and us. Whence is it that we are “sons of God”? Because He was the “Son of Man,” “God in our flesh.” There are three unions: the union of natures, God to become man; the union of grace, that we are one with Christ; and the union of glory.
6. Hence likewise comes the sympathy between Christ and us; for Christ is said to suffer with us.
7. Hence likewise comes the efficacy of what Christ did, that the dying of one man should be sufficient for the whole world.
It was, that “God was in the flesh.” The apostle may well call this, “God manifest in the flesh,” a “mystery,” and place it in the first rank.
1. And shall we think that so great a mystery as this was for small purpose? that the great God should take upon Him a piece of earth? Oh what boldness have we now to go to “God in our flesh”!
2. Again, from this, that God was “manifest in our flesh,” let us take heed that we defile not this flesh of ours, this nature of ours. What? Is this “flesh” of mine taken into unity with the Second Person? Is this “flesh” of mine now in heaven, “sitting at the right hand of God?”
3. Likewise, it should teach us to stoop to any service of Christ or our brethren. What! Did the love of God draw him into the womb of the virgin? Did it draw Him to take my nature and flesh on Him? Take heed of pride. God Himself emptied Himself, and wilt thou be full of pride? He became of “no reputation” (Philippians 2:7), and wilt thou stand upon terms of credit?
4. Lastly, let us labour that Christ may be manifested in our particular flesh, in our persons. As He was God manifest in the flesh in regard of that blessed mass He took upon Him, so we would every one labour to have God “manifest in our flesh.” How is that? We must have Christ as it were born in us, “formed in us,” as the apostle speaks (Colossians 1:27). (R. Sibbes.)
The mystery of the incarnate God
The Christian system is a great and holy mystery, presenting an important function for the maintenance of Divine truth. Mystery may only be a secret, and comprise nothing difficult in itself. When broken the secret may be the plainest thing. The calling of the Gentiles was such a concealment. But there are many who deride this view, who speak of mystery as incompatible with the purport of a revelation. Now this objection surely goes too far and urges too much. For it would then be inconsistent for any religion to pretend a Divine authority. Religion must, in addressing us, though its information be most scant, tell us of Deity, insisting on spiritual relations and eternal issues. The poorest pretext of any religion must be a theism. “Who can by searching find out God?” So vainly empty is the adage, Where mystery begins, religion ends l Nor less light is the remark, that ere a proposition be believed all its terms must be appreciated. There is something in every term of knowledge which defies this rigid perception. Others diversify the objection by taking for granted that revelation can only be an appeal to our reason, and that it will therefore contain no mystery; nothing but what is intelligible to reason. We cheerfully subscribe that reason must judge its evidence, that reason must ascertain its scope. The mystery is no object of our faith apart from the testimony which avouches it, and from the fact in which it consists. The proper notion for us to form of a revelation is that its essentials shall entirely exceed our powers of discovery. The light of reason has become so common a phrase that it may seem hazardous to call its correctness in question. But it is unmeaning. Reason can boast no light. It is only a capacity to judge upon any subject presented to it. It finds a general analogy of its function in the bodily eye. That does not impart the elemental light, but receives it, together with the impression of those images which it unveils. It is nothing more than an organ to be exercised upon things without. Reason is no more the source of knowledge than corporeal vision is that of day. A moral sun and a spiritual world are as much needed by the one as the physical sun and material world are for the other.
1. The ancient mysteries were only affectations of the wonderfulness ascribed to them. They surrounded themselves with a purposed reserve. They included nothing which might not readily be apprehended. If there was difficulty, they contrived it. If the course of revelation was slow, they made it slow. If the curtain was laboriously raised, they had hung it heavily that so it might be raised. All was intended to excite curiosity, to produce impression, to strike the aspirant with artistic effects. It was the scenery of a theatre. Unlike this wilful perplexity, this ample drapery to cover nothing, the mystery of godliness was really transcendent. It muffled itself in no fold, it was abhorrent from all disguise. It spoke in no swelling words of vanity. It encircled itself with no seeming of doubt and amazement. The cloud which was upon it was of its own glory.
2. The effect which initiation in the ancient mysteries wrought upon the mind of the candidate was generally that of disappointment and aversion. The man of intelligence, though he came to them a believer, could not go forth from them with any assurance. Indignation at the banded impostors was his first feeling. Contempt of the mummeries, however splendid, practised upon him would quickly follow. They had spoken “lies in hypocrisy.” Their “deceit was falsehood.” If any particle of the truth was in their possession, they had “held it in unrighteousness.” But they who have “knowledge in the mystery of Christ” rise in every sentiment of gratitude and satisfaction with every step of that knowledge. Nothing has failed of their expectation. Nothing has sunk in their esteem. It is marvellous in our eyes!
3. Much delay attended the probation of those who sought enrolment among the enlightened in the ancient mysteries. Their trials were protracted. Before the profession was attained there was every harassing and tedious ceremonial. Lustration followed lustration, each power of endurance was tasked to the utmost, subterranean chambers reverberated to each other, there was a prison-house and escape from its horrors was not sure, panic congealed the stoutest frame, all extremes of sensation were combined, and the whole service was fenced round with every caution against eager impatience or inquisitive haste. But the mystery of godliness knows no such suspicious restrictions. “Learn of Me” is the language of its Founder. A docile temper is the exclusive condition. We haste and delay not.
4. The most awful vows of secrecy were exacted of those who received the supposed purgation of these mysteries. A universal execration fell orb the betrayer. “We cannot but speak the things which we have seen and heard.” “We having the same spirit of faith, according as it is written, I believed, and therefore have I spoken; we also believe, and therefore speak.” “To make all men see what is the fellowship of the mystery.” They “used great plainness of speech.”
5. The whole arrangement of this singular discipline was invidious. It looked unfavourably on the great mass of our race. Selfish in its aims, destitute of any noble philanthropy, it intended the perpetual thraldom of the multitude in ignorance and degradation. It was the most cruel and potent auxiliary of priestly device and political despotism. In contradistinction to this haughty insolence, this vile contempt, with which the Mystagogues spurned and branded the species, Christianity surveys our nature in its broadest features, its truest intimacies, its grandest generalities. If it be marked by a partiality, it is toward the poor. It says: “How hardly shall they that have riches enter into the kingdom of God!” It says: “Let the brother of low degree rejoice in that he is exalted!” Among its brightest; evidences, crowning all its miracles, is this attestation: “To the poor is the gospel preached.” Its mercies are unto all. We may suppose that the inspired writer of the text, in styling the mystery of God indubitably great, bore in mind the common separation of the less and the greater ceremonies through which the respective postulants were called to pass. These were deemed alone worthy of the epithet, and alone capable of justifying it. Now the greater mysteries of the Pagan world pretended to solve religious difficulty. They promised that a great portion of the popular credulity might be simplified. They construed facts into allegories. They stripped the fable of its accessories, and exposed the moral which was couched in it. But the mystery of godliness was a grand interpretation. It was a key to cyphers. It was the substance of shadows. It was the fulfilment of visions. It gave light and meaning to “the dark sayings of old.” Those greater mysteries boasted of a predominant doctrine. We do not with certainty know what that was. Whether the unity of the Divine nature or the immortality of the soul has been questioned, we think that we may conclude, with perfect confidence, that it was neither the one nor the other. Now, the mystery of godliness has its cardinal truth. It is the Incarnate Word. All connected with this manifestation is like itself. It is sin-offering and propitiatory sacrifice. We receive the atonement. A form of doctrine is declared to us. It is the glorious gospel of Christ. Those greater mysteries commanded a powerful influence. The chambers of imagery would not be soon forgotten, even if its import was explained. Terror sometimes prevailed, or it yielded to joy and repose. Some felt an immitigable dread, others a calm relief. The mystery of godliness is power. Christ dwells in the heart by faith. All the springs of our being are moved. His love constraineth us. Those greater mysteries claimed to impart an inward life. The spirit was supposed to emerge from a mystic death, to acquire new powers, and to occupy new relations. The regimen of its novitiate was called its birth. The man who had passed through these exercises was publicly hailed as endued with an existence higher than intellectual. He was of a privileged class. This new birth is to holiness. It is regeneration, a making of us again. It is renewing, a making of us afresh. With a marked description is this mystery announced; it is the mystery of godliness. This mystery is characterised by its attributes of purity and pious excellence. They belong to it. It has a tendency to inspire them. They are its ever-present glories and its invariable emanations. But here rebuke is dealt. Those arcana to which the mystery of holiness is opposed, were the scandal of the ages through which they survived. They were “works of darkness.” But the proposition of the text is not exhausted. It asserts a particular use which the mystery of godliness subserves in relation to the truth. How is the mystery of the Incarnation the pillar and ground of the gospel? Its importance to the whole scheme of redeeming mercy is thus declared, and that importance is easily vindicated. (R. W. Hamilton, D. D.)
The Incarnate God vindicated
I. The fact of a Divine incarnation in the person of Jesus Christ. The proposition is complex, and we will, in the first instance, reduce it to its parts.
1. The manhood of Messiah.
2. That Messiah always possessed the Divine nature while He has assumed our own. Though there may be none who argue from His Godhead against the reality of His Manhood, however it is to be feared that too many extenuate it, it is most common to argue from His Manhood against His Godhead.
(1) Titles of Divinity and Manhood are given to Him. He is the Son of God and the Son of Man.
(2) Attributes of infinity and limitation are ascribed to Him.
(3) Representations of self-sufficience and dependence are assigned to Him.
II. This great mystery of godliness, God the Son taking our nature, is entitled a manifestation. The light of the knowledge of the glory of God is in the face of Jesus Christ. To know the only true God is to know Jesus Christ, whom He hath sent. As we cannot understand God, who is a Spirit, God is manifest in the flesh. It is the sensible copy, the transparent mirror, by which He will be known. A manifestation is a making clear of that which is difficult and obscure. It is of frequent occurrence when the later Scriptures speak of Christ. “The life was manifested, and we have seen it, and show unto you that eternal life which was with the Father and was manifested unto us.” Now there were works which He was to do as well as revelations to unfold. Nor let us suppose that this manifestation was always unperceived and unappreciated. He was actually recognized. “In the beginning of miracles He manifested forth His glory, and His disciples believed on Him.” (R. W. Hamilton, D. D.)
The mystery of Godliness
1. It agrees to the main design of godliness.
2. It has a tendency to promote it.
3. It has the best influence upon it.
1. There is nothing in the mysteries of religion inconsistent with holiness to God, and beneficence to men.
2. The doctrines of Christianity have a tendency to promote all godliness.
3. The mysteries of religion have not only a tendency to promote godliness, but they give the best influence to it.
I. What is the godliness here mentioned? Looking into this will give us an argument for those doctrines that promote it.
1. One article of godliness, and indeed the chief of them is, that we should bow down, and worship, before the Lord our Maker.
2. Our likeness to God. Godliness is God’s likeness.
3. Godliness consists in a communion with God, which is the exchange of love between Him and us.
4. This same godliness takes into it our expectation from God.
5. Godliness takes into it our regard to the Divine institutions.
6. Godliness takes into it our love to godly people.
7. Our usefulness to those who are yet without, is no small part of religion.
II. We shall now inquire how this Godliness, as it comprehends our duty to God and our beneficence to man, is promoted by the mysteries of religion.
1. Were it not for these mysteries we could not have had an open way to the throne of grace.
2. Another principle of godliness which the mysteries of religion do improve, is a reverence of the Divine Majesty.
3. It is in the belief of these doctrines that we feel the principles of our love to God, which are but the rebound of His to us.
4. We find by experience that this makes the worship of God our delight and pleasure.
5. In this revelation we have the greatest and best examples of our duty.
6. By this they were inspired with hope.
7. This has given good people a principle of charity to those that differ from them, and the truest value for those for whom they are agreed.
I will close what you have heard with a short application.
1. If these are mysteries of godliness, then you see the true spring of the opposition that is made to them, not because they are above reason, but because they are against corruption, and hide pride from man.
2. Let us improve the doctrines of religion to this purpose, to make us better as well as wiser. (T. Bradbury.)
The mystery of godliness
I. Jesus Christ was flesh--a real man. This has been denied. Some have said that Jesus was a mere phantasm or phantom--that men felt they saw a body like our own, but it was a spectre, a vision--the eyes with which they beheld were the eyes of imagination. Others have said He was more than an airy appearance, but not flesh; that the nature of Christ was a special material manifestation, say, a cloud acted upon by Divine power and made to appear a human body. Some have said that the flesh was heavenly substance, and not of the earth earthy; something ethereal which ultimately became absorbed in the sun. Others, again, have held that in the body of Jesus there was no common principle of life and no human soul. Jesus Christ was flesh--real man--flesh--and bones and blood spirit and soul and body.
II. Jesus Christ was God manifest in flesh. In this one Being we may see real Man and true God. He is not a godly Man, but God-man. A double life--higher and lower is indicated by many circumstances. He is born of a woman and conceived by the Holy Ghost. From Bethlehem to Olivet, and from Olivet to the great white throne, God is manifest in Jesus Christ’s flesh.
III. That Jesus Christ is God manifest in flesh is a profound mystery. The fact is declared, but the explanation is withheld. The manifestation of God in Jesus is proclaimed--the mode is hidden. Christian philosophers have, through centuries, tried to penetrate this manifestation; it is mystery still.
IV. This mystery is great. Not a sham and a trick, not puerile and ridiculous, not useless and injurious as the mysteries of the ancient heathen and of corrupt churches, but real and magnificent, momentous, solemn, and blessed in intent. The incarnation does not exist for the mystery, but mystery necessarily enshrines the fact. And the fact, although great in wonderfulness, is equally great in wisdom and in power, in goodness and in love.
V. But this great mystery is the mystery of godliness. The mysterious fact, not the mysteriousness of the fact, is God’s means of working godliness in us, and our means of working godliness to ourselves. Knowledge of God is essential to godliness; and this mystery is God manifest. The reality of God, His positive existence, His independence, His truth, His might, His wisdom, His knowledge, all the attributes that constitute Him the true God, are shown forth by Christ. The grace of God, His affection for His children, His graciousness to the penitent, these are revealed by Christ. A true and merciful God is manifested by the God-man. Faith in God is essential to godliness. Submission to God is essential to godliness; and this the mysteriousness of the incarnation secures. Love to God is essential to godliness. And to this the great mystery especially appeals. So that Jesus Christ as God manifest in flesh is a means of our knowing God, of our believing in God, and submitting to God, and loving God. This leads to devotion, entire consecration to God. This produces piety, the performance of every duty to God. The foundation of true religion is hereby laid bare, the object of religion is hereby disclosed, the nature of pure religion is hereby taught, the blessedness of godliness is hereby revealed, and godliness is hereby actually produced.
VI. Great is the mystery of Godliness without controversy. That is, by the consent of all, God manifest in flesh is a great mystery. How many use the light of day without holding any theory as to its nature, or even knowing that theories have been formed! How many breathe the air in ignorance of its component parts and unable to comprehend the explanation which science can give! A knowledge of the chemistry of food and of the physiology of digestion is not essential to nutriment; and a man may live by his labour without having an idea of the philosophy of toil. Now here is spiritual light in which, mystery although it be, we may walk. And here is a moral atmosphere which, mystery though it be, we may breathe. And here is a sphere of godly life in which, mystery though it be, we may move and act. God manifest in flesh is the great mystery of godliness. The lessons hereby taught are these:--
1. To be godly we must respond to God-manifest. God cannot be correctly and adequately known except through Christ; and knowledge of God is essential to real religion.
2. To receive God-manifest we must bow to mystery.
3. If we have received this mystery let us do our duty by it. (S. Martin.)
God manifest in the flesh
I. The person that he speaks of is God.
II. The great mystery of godliness tells us that this God was manifested. The revelation he has made of Himself is the ground of all our religion.
1. One manifestation that God has made of Himself is in a character that gives us our most early concern with Him, that He is the former of all things.
2. He is manifested as the object of universal worship. This flows from the former as a practical inference.
3. Another manifestation that we have of God, and in which the gospel exceeds all that went before, is that He is a lawgiver.
4. The gospel gives us a manifestation of the great God under the character of a judge.
5. God is manifested to us as one whom we have dishonoured; the offended party.
6. When God manifests Himself, it is as the author of our reconciliation.
7. God is manifested to us as the author or contriver of that righteousness in which we are justified.
8. God is manifest as the author and fountain of those graces by which we are wrought into his image.
9. God has manifested Himself as the great example and pattern of all our holiness.
10. Another manifestation that we have of God is, as He is the author and giver of those joys that are laid up for us in another world.
III. We are now to consider that particular manifestation of God which the text has led us to, and this is said to be in the flesh.
1. He has manifested Himself in voices: He used to speak out to the world.
2. He manifested Himself by dreams and visions of the night (Job 33:15-16).
3. He used to manifest Himself by raising up eminent persons, either as prophets to teach His people, or as saviours to defend them.
4. He manifested Himself in miracles.
5. He manifested Himself in a written law.
6. He manifested Himself by several ordinances.
7. He also manifested Himself by appearing frequently to them. The angel of His presence saved them (Isaiah 63:9).
8. The last and greatest manifestation that we have of God is in the flesh.
(1) His being manifest in the flesh exceeds all the other manifestations that He gave of Himself, as it is more familiar.
(2) This manifestation of God is most certain and convincing. Many times they could not tell whether it was God who spake to them or no.
(3) This manifestation in the flesh is most expressive of our union to Him (Psalms 68:20).
(4) This manifestation in the flesh was for the” working out of a great atonement (Hebrews 2:17).
(5) By this manifestation in the flesh He gave the best instructions in the matter of our duty.
(6) This gives us the greatest assurance of our happiness, because He has carried His body up with Him to heaven: Thither Jesus our forerunner is for us entered (Hebrews 6:20).
(7) This shows the goodness of God our Saviour towards men (John 3:16).
IV. The noble character that is here given of it, as a mystery of godliness. Under this head there are two parts.
1. That it is a mystery.
(1) Is it not a mystery that He who dwells in that light to which none can approach became visible to us?
(2) Another thing mysterious in this doctrine is, that He who has prepared His throne in the heavens should dwell among men.
(3) Another part of the mystery is, that He who has derived no being from a man should be born of a woman.
(4) He who was Lord of all takes upon Him the form of a servant. This carries the wonder a little deeper.
(5) He who was eternally holy came in the likeness of sinful flesh.
(6) He whose kingdom rules over all is a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief.
(7) It is another mystery, that He who is blessed for ever should become a curse for His people.
(8) It is another part of this mystery that the Prince of Life should be obedient to the death of the cross.
V. This is a mystery of godliness, and has a happy influence upon all practical religion. People are the better for believing it.
1. This doctrine is a great argument of our duty to God.
2. The belief of God’s being manifest in the flesh is raised upon our value for the revelation He has given us; and denying it carries the most dangerous conclusion against the best dispensation that ever a people were under.
3. This doctrine is the chief ground of our hope, and without that I am sure there can be no religion.
4. This doctrine is apparently the concern of good men, such as work out their own salvation with fear and trembling.
5. There is no practical inconvenience in believing that God was manifest in the flesh; it does no harm to our seriousness in any one article of piety or comfort.
6. It is certainly a thing very desirable, and to be wished for, that He who was manifest in the flesh should be God.
(1) It will be easily owned that for a God to be manifest in the flesh is infinitely more kind and condescending than for the highest creature that ever was formed.
(2) In this we have a greater proof of the satisfaction that He has made.
(3) In this doctrine we have a better ground for our dependence upon Him.
1. Hence we see it is quite wrong to pretend any explication of this doctrine, because that is the way to destroy all the mystery. There are two glories in the article: First, that it is true; and secondly, that it is too great for the comprehension of human reason; and I am sure it is no service to the former if we are striving to lay aside the latter.
2. If it is a mystery there is no knowing it without the help of the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 2:10). (T. Bradbury.)
Christ, the manifestation of God
We have no faculty by which to obtain an immediate perception of the Great Supreme. The King eternal, immortal, invisible, is by all unseen; and in His existence, His perfections, His purposes, He is to all beings a profound secret, except as He voluntarily discloses Himself to them. With what angels may know of God, or with what devils may know of God, we are not now particularly concerned. The text speaks of a manifestation of God to man. Man was not created to eat, and drink, and die; to pass his earthly existence absorbed in carnal pursuits, and earthly cares, and transitory pleasures. He was made to have communion with God, to serve Him, to contribute to His glory. But a God unknown and unrevealed cannot be worshipped nor obeyed. “God was manifest in the flesh.” I do not feel it necessary to prove to you now that this actually took place at the incarnation of Jesus Christ. It is as plain as it can be upon the face of the passage, that this is the event to which the sacred writer refers. We wish to consider the Incarnation as a manifestation of God. It does appear as though God, whose it is to bring good out of evil, and to make the wrath of man to praise Him, had made the guilty trespass of man which needed the Incarnation in order to its atonement, the occasion of bringing Himself nearer to His creatures, and laying Himself more open to their astonished and admiring gaze, than He could have done, had not that which He abhors presented the occasion. We mean not to imply, of course, that God was wholly unknown in the world before the Incarnation, and that no other way existed or was possible than this, of arriving at a knowledge of His existence and attributes. There is a light in nature which reveals God, and there are lessons respecting Him spread out before the eyes of all men. But revelation has surpassed nature. We speak not now of its meeting those new necessities which the apostasy has introduced, and for which nature has not the semblance of a remedy; but of this one particular, which is now before us--the making known of God. Prophet and priest fulfilled each their course to teach the people knowledge; psalmists added their heaven-born strains; the Spirit of God, Himself the Author of these various lessons, taught them to the heart illumined by His grace. And here, again, if we knew not, from the actual fact, what was yet in reserve, we might be ready to ask what farther could be added to these teachings, so abundant, so comprehensive and so explicit of the Word of God, to make Jehovah better known? And yet, though the language of inspired communication may leave nothing untold which words can convey, and nothing farther to be desired, nothing even possible, in the way of description of the nature and perfections of the Most High; still it would introduce us to a nearer acquaintance with this dread Being if, instead of merely distantly hearing about Him, we should be made witnesses of His acts, and be permitted to gaze direct upon positive exhibitions of those attributes of power, and justice, and grace, of which we had been told. Here is another advance in the presentation of the knowledge of God. Thus, the fearful overthrow of Sodom, the plagues sent on hardened Pharaoh, the judgments on murmuring Israel, speak more impressively than any language, the holiness, the justice, and the dreadful vengeance of our God. So the various interpositions of God on behalf of His people, for their deliverance from danger and for their rescue from their foes, the magnificence of His descent on Sinai, the food He vouchsafed them in the desert, the guidance of the pillar of cloud and of fire, give a more vivid conception of God, and let us more into the beatings of His gracious heart, and show us more of the glory of His nature than any words can express. And now one might, with strong appearance of reason, conclude that the various modes of revealing God must be complete, and that nothing more can be imagined to be added to those already recited. And still the wisdom of God has shown us that it was not yet exhausted, that there was something yet possible, superior to them all. We would have pronounced it incredible had it not actually occurred. It is for the invisible God to make Himself visible, and assume a habitation among men, to be born, and live, and die. This, which was in appearance forbidden by His spirituality, His omnipresence, and His eternity, was nevertheless accomplished by God being manifested in the flesh. The unseen, eternal, omnipotent God dressed Himself in a human form, and gave Himself a local, temporal, tangible existence, so as to bring Himself within reach of our corporeal senses; He came down to dwell among us, not by a mere symbol of His presence, but really, personally, visibly. And thus He disclosed Himself to man, not at second hand, through the ministry of His servants, nor by occasional and momentary displays of His own dread power and magnificence, but by a life of intimate, uninterrupted converse in their midst. And now we ought, for the proper presentation of our subject, to go in some detail regarding the various perfections of the Divine nature, and show how, in respect to them all, our knowledge receives new confirmation and additional clearness by this manifestation of God in the flesh; and how, in the case of many, it receives large accessions above all that was previously known, or could, apart from the Incarnation, be known regarding them. And here be it observed, that we are not now speaking of Jesus as a teacher. The very existence of God receives new confirmation here. Indeed, some have referred to the miracles of Jesus as affording to their minds the only argument which was absolutely irrefragable, that there is an intelligible Being, the Author and the Lord of Nature. The unity of God is also freshly demonstrated both against the thousand deities of an idolatrous Paganism, and the two independent principles of good and evil of the Persian superstition, by the unlimited authority which Jesus freely exercised, commanding obedience in the kingdom of darkness as well as that of light. But we cannot delay on these and similar points. We pass to the holiness of God. This was set in a light by the Incarnation in which it never appeared before, and in which (without designing to limit the wisdom or power of God) we may say that, as far as we can judge, it could not have appeared without it. Our proof of this is drawn not from the fact, melancholy as it is, that the idea of holiness is entirely lost among the heathen, to whom God has not made Himself known. And thus it is with all the attributes of God. They all gather fresh lustre from the mystery of the Incarnation; and when they are viewed in the face of Jesus Christ, they appear with an impressiveness which they never before assumed. Where was the long-suffering of God ever so exhibited as we see it in Jesus? If He had given proofs before of His regard for the human race, what a nearness does this induce beyond anything else that is conceivable, that He should come and live among us and wear a human nature, become bone of our bone and flesh of our flesh, partake of our infirmities and weaknesses, that He might deliver us from them, and take our nature with Him to glory. We would like to have pointed out to you how the feelings of man’s natural heart toward God were exhibited here likewise, in their treatment of God manifest in the flesh; how perfect goodness and celestial excellence raised against Him the malice which betrayed, condemned, and crucified Him; and how it is the same enmity of the natural heart still which leads so many to side with His persecutors, and if they do not madly cry, “Away with Him!” nevertheless to show by their lives as well as by their professions, that they will not have this Man to reign over them. (W. H. Green.)
The mystery of the incarnate God
I. In it we have distinctly announced the redeemer’s supreme and essential divinity. “God was manifested in the flesh.” This is affirmed of Christ, of the Son.
II. These words announce the redeemer’s perfect manhood. Flesh here means our common humanity. You need not be told that it does not mean corrupt human nature; nor yet does it mean the body as distinct from the spirit; but human nature in its entireness as distinct from the Divine nature. “For both He that sanctifieth and they who are sanctified are all of one: for which cause He is not ashamed to call them brethren.” He did not merely seem man, nor merely assume the human shape, as He did when He appeared to the patriarchs and prophets previous to His Incarnation; but He was really and truly man, having flesh and blood, and body and spirit, and every element and characteristic of our common humanity.
III. The third important doctrine announced in the text is, the union of two distinct and widely dissimilar natures in one person. “God was manifest in the flesh.” The doctrine of Scripture plainly is, that He is perfect God and perfect Man in one Person. The two natures were united, not blended: the human nature could not absorb the Divine, nor did the Divine absorb the human.
IV. The text affirms, that this mysterious procedure resulted in a special and peculiar display of the godhead. “God was manifested in the flesh.” It does not merely mean that Deity became incarnate in our nature; but that through this mysterious event and others which were consequent upon it, the will, nature, attributes, and character of Jehovah were especially unfolded to the world, and made palpable to human observation and intelligence. “No man hath seen God at any time; the only begotten Son, which is in the bosom of the Father, He hath declared Him.” He is “the brightness of the Father’s glory, and the express image of His person.” “God was in Christ”; and Christ is manifested God. The representation is accurate, full, perfect, and, in most condescending and attractive form, supplies the identical vision of paternal Deity. “I and My Father are one.” Nor is the manifestation confined to earth. In the person and work of the God-man, Jehovah stands forth revealed to angels as well as to men. The manifestation is made on a higher stage, on a wider theatre, and before intelligence more penetrating and lofty. What a wonderful and condescending method to teach us how to look on God!
V. The great objects which this mysterious event was designed to accomplish. They were doubtless such as call for these wonderful means, and as required and justified their adoption. The vast and mysterious display of condescension and love furnished by God manifest in the flesh would not be made to secure trifling ends, nor for purposes which might have been accomplished by means lest costly and extraordinary. The objects contemplated, in short, are infinitely important. “God was manifested in the flesh” to teach us the Divine will and character,--to furnish a perfect Example for our imitation; that He might die to make a full atonement for our sins; that He might make an ample provision for our pardon and sanctification; that He might become our faithful and merciful High Priest, our sympathizing Friend, and powerful Advocate with God: that He might destroy the works and power of the devil.
1. We learn from this subject, that the Saviour provided for us is pre-eminently suited to His office.
2. We learn from this subject how confidently we may commit ourselves to this Saviour, and trust in Him for acceptance and life. (S. Lucas.)
Why did God become incarnate?
I. God intended thereby to reveal himself more clearly and lovingly to man.
II. That He might unite created beings to Himself by the closest tie, and give the most affecting proof of His regard to created intelligences like ourselves.
III. That He might in our nature, and as one of ourselves, give the most disinterested and decisive testimonies that He was in the right.
IV. That He might thereby give the strongest evidence that the dignity and happiness of creatures was not only compatible with a state of subjection, but that it really consisted in an entire conformity to the divine will.
V. That God might show more hatred to sin by pardoning the transgressor than by punishing him.
VI. That He might afford the fullest security of His people’s salvation. (John Hall.)
The divinity of Christ
Like a coronation crown robbed of its jewels, so is the gospel divested of the divinity of Christ. It is true there is pure gold left in the moral teaching and the matchless precept, but gaping cavities show where once the chief glory shone. Nor is the gospel alone mutilated by denying the divinity of Jesus. The character of Jesus as a man is brought down from a calm, consistent teacher to a sincere, insane enthusiast. From divinity to insanity--that is an awful descent! But there is no alternative. Not only is the gospel and the character of Jesus mutilated by a denial of His divinity, but my relation to Him is desolated. I find that I cannot touch the divinity of Jesus without touching my respect for His person. I might respect Him if He were a prophet like Moses or Elijah, or if He were a hero like Charlemagne or Luther. But as one who made the claims that He made, as one who demands my whole heart and my adoration, I must give Him that or nothing--or at most a tear. Without Christ’s divinity my life’s light dims, my love chills, my hope fades, the sunlight dies out of the spiritual landscape, and all things lose their clearness in the universal shadow. (R. S. Barrett.)
The incarnation of God
Paganism is misplaced incarnation. Some of these fancied incarnations are very revolting, and some of them are really sublime. The Egyptian’s cat and crocodile are gross forms for God to take. The horrid fetiches of the Dark Continent are even worse. The Greek mythologies are classic and beautiful: There is something imposing in the fire-worship of the Parsecs, and the Indian’s river-god moving in majesty. But when God did really come to dwell among us, He came as a human child, an infant in its mother’s arms. This is at once the most mysterious, the most beautiful, and the most universal form God could take, as far as we can think. The most mysterious, because Darwin and Huxley acknowledge no more baffling mystery than that of mother and child. The most beautiful, because Raphael and Murillo attempted to paint nothing more beautiful than a child in its mother’s arms. The most universal, because the traveller who encircles the earth hears no voice which declares the brotherhood of man like the voice of an infant. It is a universal language, always the same, whether the plaintive cry come from the Indian papoose hanging from the bending bow, or from the Italian bambino among the sunny hills of Tuscany. The same one touch of nature, whether coming from Laplander’s furs, or Hottentot’s booth, or Hindoo’s bungalow, or Turk’s kiosk, or Arab’s tent, or the silken curtains of a palace, or the squalid poverty of a garret. Mysterious! Beautiful! Universal! (R. S. Barrett.)
Of Christ’s humiliation in His Incarnation
Why was Jesus Christ made flesh?
1. The especial and repulsive cause was free grace; it was love in God the Father to send Christ, and love in Christ that He came to be incarnate. Love was the intrinsical motive.
2. Christ took our flesh upon Him that He might take our sins upon Him. He took our flesh that He might take our sins, and so appease God’s wrath.
3. Christ took our flesh that He might make the human nature appear lovely to God, and the Divine nature appear lovely to man. As when the sun shines on the glass it casts a bright lustre, so Christ, being clad with our flesh, makes the human nature shine and appear amiable in God’s eyes. As Christ, being clothed with our flesh, makes the human nature appear lovely to God, so He makes the Divine nature appear lovely to man. Now we need not be afraid to look upon God, seeing Him through Christ’s human nature. It was a custom of old among the shepherds, they were wont to clothe themselves with sheep-skins to be more pleasing to the sheep; so Christ clothed himself with our flesh that the Divine nature may be more pleasing to us.
4. Jesus Christ united Himself to man “that man might be drawn nearer to God.” God before was an enemy to us by reason of sin; but Christ taking our flesh doth mediate for us, and bring us into favour with God. If Solomon did so wonder that God should dwell in the temple, which was enriched and hung with gold, how may we wonder that God should dwell in man’s weak and frail nature? Behold here a secret riddle or paradox, “God manifest in the flesh.” The text calls it a mystery. That man should be made in God’s image was a wonder; but that God should be made in man’s image is a greater wonder. From hence, “God manifest in the flesh, Christ born of a virgin,” a thing not only strange in nature, but impossible, learn that there are no impossibilities with God. He would not be our God if He could not do more than we can think. He can reconcile contraries. How apt are we to be discouraged with seeming impossibilities! How do our hearts die within us when things go cross to our sense and reason! What will it profit us, that Christ was born into the world, unless He be born into our hearts: that He was united to our nature, unless He be united to our persons? Be like Christ in grace. He was like us in having our flesh, let us be like Him in having His grace. (T. Watson.)
Justified in the spirit.
The Incarnate God vindicated
Flesh and spirit are opposed to each other as terms. The spirit is not made to stand for the human soul, for that is included in the word flesh; signifying all the constituents of humanity. Nor does the spirit intend the Third Person of the Trinity, for there is antithesis, and the contrast must be found in the same person respecting whom it is affirmed. God was manifest in the flesh, in His flesh: was justified in the spirit, in His spirit. Now, then, we proceed to inquire, Is the assurance of our Lord’s Divinity, its perfect evidence, the justification of all His acts and undertakings during His manifestation in flesh amongst us?
1. A manner of very original dignity and pre-eminent authority was assumed by Jesus Christ.
2. Jesus Christ was punished with death under the accusation of blasphemy.
3. Imposture was laid to the charge of Jesus Christ.
4. Jesus Christ undertook mediatorial suretyship and representation.
5. Jesus Christ bore the Imputation, and was subjected to the stigma, of human guilt.
6. The methods which the Saviour pursued for the accomplishment of His ends seemed unlikely and ineffective.
7. Certain promises were made by the Son of God to His people, which must always have tested His power to fulfil them.
8. The dispositions and exercises of mind which the Redeemer inculcated on His disciples in respect of Himself, may create a strange suspense. (R. W. Hamilton, D. D.)
Justified in the spirit
These words are added to answer an objection that may rise from the former. He was “God manifest in the flesh.” He veiled Himself. He could not have suffered else. He appeared to be nothing but a poor man, a debased, dejected man: a persecuted, slandered, disgraced man in the world. He was thought to be a trespasser. It is no matter what He appeared, when He was veiled with our flesh; He was “justified in the spirit,” to be the true Messiah; to be God as well as man. “Justified.” It implies two things in the phrase of Scripture: a freedom and clearing from false conceits and imputations, and declared to be truly what He was; to be otherwise than He was thought to be of the wicked world. “In the spirit.” That is, in His Godhead: that did show itself in His life and death, in His resurrection and ascension. He was “justified” in a double regard.
1. In regard of God, He was justified and cleared from our sins that He took upon Him. He “bore our sins upon the tree,” and bore them away, that they should never appear again to our discomfort. Now, the Spirit raising Him from the dead, showed that the debt was fully discharged, because our Surety was out of prison. All things are first in Christ and then in us. He was acquitted and justified from our sins, and then we.
2. And then He was justified by the Spirit from all imputations of men, from the misconceits that the world had of Him. They thought Him to be a mere man, or a sinful man. No. He was more than a mere man; nay, more than a holy man; He was God-man.
The reason why He justified Himself to be so.
1. It was the more to strengthen our faith. All His miracles were but so many sparkles of His Divine nature, so many expressions of His Divine power; and--
2. To stop the mouths of all impudent rebellious persons. “Justified in the spirit.”
Then first of all--
1. Christ will at length justify Himself. This is a ground of faith. However He be now as a sign set up that many speak against and contradict, yet the time will come when He will gloriously justify Himself to all the world. That is our comfort. Now, as it were, His offices are darkened: His kingly office is darkened and His prophetical office is darkened; but at length it will appear that He is King of the Church, and all kingdoms will be Christ’s. There are glorious times coming, especially the glorious day of the resurrection. Christ at length will be cleared, He will be justified. The sun at length will scatter all the clouds. Again, as Christ will justify Himself, so He will justify His Church and children, first or last, by His Spirit. His children are now accounted the offscouring of the world. Therefore in our eclipses and disgraces let us all comfort ourselves in this. How do we justify Christ?
(1) We justify Christ when, from an inward work of the Spirit, we feel and acknowledge Him to be such an one as He is: Christ is God.
(2) Those that have Christ illuminating their understandings, to conceive the mysteries of religion, they justify Christ to be the Prophet of His Church; because they feel Him enlightening their understandings.
(3) Those that find their consciences pacified, by the obedience and sacrifice of Christ, they justify Him to be their Priest; for they can oppose the blood of Christ sprinkled on their hearts, to all the temptations of Satan, and to the risings of their own doubting conscience.
(4) In a word, we justify and declare and make good that He is our King, and put a kingly crown upon His head, when we suffer Him to rule us and to subdue our spirits and our rebellions; when we cherish no contrary motions to His Spirit; when we rest in His word and not traditions, but stoop to the sceptre of Christ’s Word. In particular, we justify Him, that “He rose from the dead” when we believe that we are freed from our sins, our Surety being out of prison. In the next place, for our direction; as Christ justified Himself by His Spirit, by His Divine power, so let us know that it is our duty to justify ourselves, to justify our profession, justify all Divine truth. Let us make it good that we are the sons of God, that we are Christians indeed; not only to have the name, but the anointing of Christ; that we may clear our religion from false imputations; or else, instead of justifying our profession, we justify the slanders that are against it. How shall this be? The text saith, “by the Spirit.” For as Christ “justified” Himself, that is, declared Himself to be as He was “by His Spirit,” so every Christian hath the “Spirit of Christ, or else He is none of His” (Romans 8:9). (R. Sibbes.)
Justified in the spirit
There is in the words a twofold antithesis, or distinction from what went before.
1. The first is in the nature or kind of the revelation; in the flesh He was manifest, in the spirit He is justified. The former does not carry the discovery far enough for His whole glory; many saw that who were strangers to the latter.
2. The other distinction here is about the manner of the discovery. He was manifest in the flesh, He is justified in the spirit; which may be understood these three ways.
(1) He was justified in the spirit, i.e., the seat of this justification, the place where it is fixed, is the soul of man. That He was manifest in the flesh we could see with our eyes; but when He is justified, that lies all within; there the mind, the conscience, the affections, take in the argument. And this is the great work of the Holy Spirit; the thing that He has in charge.
(2) The nature of this justification is all spiritual. As it is delivered to the mind and conscience, so it impresses these in a way suitable to the spirit of man. His manifestation was in the flesh, by miracles, signs, and wonders, to show His power; by meekness, humility, and patience, to show his purity; by trouble, shame, and death, to declare His merit. These were external, the facts upon which He sustained His character were seen abroad, the thing was not done in a corner; but the manner of conveying this to the soul is different. The things of the Spirit of God are spiritually discerned (1 Corinthians 2:14).
(3) That the Spirit is the Author of this justification; it is He that works upon our souls in the manner that I have been describing.
I. We shall inquire into the sense of the words, that Christ Jesus was justified.
1. He had a Divine approbation, both to His character and to His actions. That He was the Messiah, the anointed of the Lord; and that what He did was right and good (John 8:29).
2. He was also praised and admired as another part of His justification (Romans 3:4).
II. On what heads is Christ thus justified?
1. As to His mission, that He was sent of God.
2. As to His personal glory.
3. As to His fitness for the undertaking.
4. As to the propriety of those methods that He used.
5. As to His claim of the great reward above.
6. As to His actual possession of it.
III. The scripture has furnished us with several particulars. Christ was justified in the spirit.
1. By the prophetical warnings that were given of Him.
2. By His personal furniture.
3. At the hour of His death and suffering.
4. More especially at His resurrection.
5. At the day of Pentecost.
6. In the conviction of sinners.
7. In the consolation of believers.
IV. He who is thus justified in the spirit is no other than the most high God.
V. That it is a mystery of godliness.
1. It is a thing mysterious in its own nature, that He who was manifest in the flesh should be justified in the spirit.
(1) One testimony given to our blessed Lord was concerning His death; and you may look upon it as a mystery that He should take such a way to carry on His design, as all mankind imagined would be fatal to it (1 Corinthians 1:25).
(2) It is a mystery that He should be owned by the Father at the same time that He thought Himself forsaken.
(3) Another mystery is this, that the very thing which seemed to hinder the faith of men should afterwards encourage it. I mean the death of our blessed Lord.
(4) It is still further a mystery that He who appeared at His death, as if He was entirely in the enemies hands, should soon after declare His own power at the resurrection.
(5) The manner of the Spirit’s justifying Christ in a soul that was filled with prejudice against Him is very mysterious. Application:
1. If the justification of Christ in the Spirit is such a mystery, it is no wonder that the honour of our Lord is so much struck at.
2. This shows us how vain all the ways of promoting the knowledge of Christ will be that are not agreeable to the Spirit.
VI. You will see that it is a mystery of godliness, by considering the influence it has upon the following principles.
1. By this we learn to approach with reverence to Him with whom we have to do.
2. If God is justified in our spirits it will fill us with a care to please Him.
3. This gives us humble thoughts of ourselves.
4. This inspires us with charity to others.
5. Another principle that the testimony of the Spirit has an influence upon is, that peace and hope that runs through the lives of believers.
6. It prepares him for a dying hour; he dare trust his soul to the care of a Redeemer at last. Lord Jesus receive my spirit. (T. Bradbury.)
Jesus justified in the spirit
I. Justifying is the absolving from a charge and pronouncing innocent. Thus, wisdom is justified of her children. They clear her from the accusations of her enemies, and declare their sentiments of her as excellent and lovely. But from what charge was He justified? It is an important truth that, by His glorious resurrection, and the consequent effusion of the Spirit, He was declared absolved from the sins which were laid upon Him as our Surety and Substitute.
1. He was justified by His Divine nature, or by those beams of Divinity which often broke forth, and brightly shone, in His darkest nights of humiliation and suffering. He did not display His royalty by a splendid equipage, by sumptuous entertainments, or by advancing His followers to worldly honours. But He displayed it more gloriously by giving, what no earthly prince could give, health to the diseased, life to the dead, virtue to the profligate, and pardon to the guilty. When He discovered the signs of human infirmity He also discovered the attributes of Divine glory and power.
2. Jesus was justified; and the charges of enthusiasm or imposture, which ignorance or malice brought against Him, were confuted by the Holy Ghost. The character of the Messiah, which inspired prophets had delineated, fully proved that Jesus was indeed the Christ. His Spirit that was in them testified, long before His appearance, the time, place, and manner of His birth; the circumstances of His life and death, His deep humiliation and abasement; and the glory which should follow. John, who was filled with the Holy Ghost from his mother’s womb, pointed Him out as the Lamb of God which taketh away the sin of the world. In the meantime, let your temper and conduct justify those claims of Jesus, which others reject and condemn. Justify His claim of divinity. Did Jesus, by the Spirit, justify His claims? Under the influence of the Spirit, justify your pretensions to the character of Christians, and display the excellency of that character. (J. Erskine, D. D.)
The vindicated Saviour
I. The spirit vindicated the saviour by demonstrating the godhead which he professed. The evidence is spread over a wide field, but it is clear and decisive. The Spirit testified of Him in the prophets, foretelling His Divine character, as well as sufferings and subsequent glory. Amid His lowest forms of abasement and reproach the prophet seers recognise in Him the full majesty of the Godhead, and all the prerogatives of the Infinite. Not less clear and decisive are the inspired statements of the New Testament. His Godhead is announced without faltering or hesitation. And that nothing might be wanting to the demonstration, the Spirit raised Him from the dead.
II. The Spirit vindicated the Saviour by attesting His right to the claims which He put forth. These claims were of the most lofty character, embracing, in fact, the office of the Messiah, and all the prerogatives and perfections of the Most High God. He claimed to be the Light and Life of the world, the authorized Teacher of the will of God, the Head and Sovereign of the Church, and the Creator, Ruler, and Judge of all men. He challenged as His right the government and homage of the universe. These lofty claims the Spirit solemnly attested and justified.
III. The Spirit vindicated the Saviour by clearing Him from all the aspersions with which His enemies caluminiated His person and character.
IV. The Spirit vindicated the Saviour by completing the revelation which He Himself commenced. By new or fuller revelations He finished the Divine system of truth which had already been largely unfolded by the personal teaching and history of Christ.
V. The spirit has vindicated the Saviour by bestowing the blessings which He professed to have purchased. He not only revealed the truth which Christ left partially or wholly unrevealed: but also communicated the blessings which He claimed to have procured for man by His sufferings and death.
VI. The Spirit vindicated the Saviour by displaying His glory. He has lifted and removed the veil which shrouded him, and shown us the awful splendour of the August One who tabernacled in the likeness of sinful flesh in the person of Jesus of Nazareth. To unfold the Redeemer’s mantled glory was one great object of the revelation which the Spirit inspired. It illuminated the deepest depths of His humiliation and reproach, and shone through the darkest eclipse of His Divinity. The prophets saw the Redeemer as Jehovah of hosts, with His train of ineffable glory filling the temple, and shining through heaven and earth. The Spirit, in short, led them to a height of vision whence they saw eternity and immensity filled with the majesty of His infinite Being, and flaming with the brightness of His immeasurable perfections. Then again, how did the Spirit display the Redeemer’s glory through the stupendous miracles which He wrought! (S. Lucas.)
Seen of angels.--
Jesus seen of angels
I. For explaining this subject, I observe--
1. Angels were witnesses of the most important events which concerned the Redeemer.
2. The angels, who beheld this amazing scene, were honoured to minister to Jesus in these His sufferings. Thus, after our Lord’s temptation in the wilderness, we read, “Then the devil leaveth Him, and behold angels come and minister unto Him” (Matthew 4:11).
3. Angels behold and pry into the grand designs, for which Infinite Wisdom ordained all this scene of condescension and suffering. They not only saw God manifest in the flesh, but they saw the purposes for which He was thus manifest, for which He lived, for which He died.
4. While beholding the love which prompted the Son of God thus to condescend and thus to suffer, angels learn to love, and willingly to attend upon, and minister to the meanest of those whom the Lord of angels loved, and for whose salvation He stooped so low.
5. Angels, who saw God manifest in the flesh, were the first publishers to man of some of the most important events which they witnessed. An angel acquainted Daniel that the Messiah should be cut off, though not for Himself. An angel was the first publisher of the Saviour’s birth.
II. And now to conclude with a few practical reflections.
(1) How shocking the folly and ingratitude of many! Angels desire to look into the mysteries of grace: and men, more nearly concerned in them, esteem it a disparagement to bestow upon them one serious thought. They shut their eyes, despise and scoff, while angels gaze, and wonder, and adore.
(2) Imitate angels. The sufferings and glory of the Redeemer are their favourite meditation. Let them also be yours. Count all things loss and dung for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ.
(3) Rejoice that He who was seen of angels was manifest in the flesh. Triumph, oh Christian, in that name Immanuel, God with us. In creation man was made a little lower than the angels. In redemption, the Son of God, by assuming our nature, has done infinitely greater honour to us than to them.
(4) Ask your hearts, Have we ever seen the Lord? You have heard of Him with the hearing of the ear. Have you, by the eye of faith, so seen Him as to abhor yourselves, and repent in dust and ashes? Doth beholding His glory remove prejudice against Him, captivate your hearts, and transform you to His image? (J. Erskine, D. D.)
Seen of angels
The word is not altogether so fitly translated, for it is more pregnant than it is here rendered, “He was seen.” It is true. But He was seen with admiration and wonderment of angels.
1. They saw Him with wonderment. For was it not a wonder that God should stoop so low as to be shut up in the straits of a virgins’ womb? It was matter of admiration to the angels to see the great God stoop so low, to be clothed in such a poor nature as man’s, that is meaner than their own.
2. And because He was their Head, as the Second Person, and they were creatures to attend upon Christ, their sight and wonderment must tend to some practice suitable to their condition. Therefore they so see and wondered at Him, as that they attended upon Christ in nil the passages of His humiliation and exultation--in His life, in His death, in His resurrection and ascension.
3. They saw Him so as they were witnesses of Him to man. They gave testimony and witness of Him.
(1) Shall angels see and wonder at these things? at the love and mercy and wisdom of God in governing His Church, in joining together things irreconcilable to man’s comprehension, infinite justice with infinite mercy in Christ, that God’s wrath and justice should be satisfied in Christ, and thereby infinite mercy showed to us? Shall they wonder at it, and joy and delight in it, and shall we slight those things that are the wonderment of angels? There are a company of profane spirits--I would there were not too many among us--that will scarce vouchsafe to look into these things, that have scarcely the book of God in their houses. They can wonder at a story, or a poem, or some frothy device; at base things net worthy to be reckoned of.
(2) Again, from hence, that Christ was seen and attended on and admired by angels, there is a great deal of comfort issueth to us. So we have a derivative comfort from the attendance of angels upon Christ. But surely, whatsoever they did to Him they do to us, because there is the same respect to Head and members. And hence we have the ground of the perpetuity of it, that they will for ever be attendants to us; because their love and respect to us is founded upon their love and respect to Christ. Likewise, it may comfort us in all our extremities whatsoever, in all our desertions. The time may come, beloved, that we may be deserted of the world, and deserted of our friends; we may be in such straits as we may have nobody in the world near us. Oh! but if a man be a true Christian, he hath God and angels about him alway. A Christian is a king; he is never without his guard, that invisible guard of angels. (R. Sibbes.)
God manifested to angels by the scheme of human redemption
I. In the depth of his condescension. It is probable that even angels cannot directly see God in the Person of the Father, and in His infinite essence. They see Him only in the displays of His glory. His condescension reaches to the lowest depth. They see Him reigning with the Father amid the ineffable glories of heaven, “making Himself of no reputation, and taking upon Him the form of a servant, and humbling Himself to become obedient unto death, even the death of the Cross.”
II. In the scheme of godliness, God was seen of angels in the mystery of His incarnation. This event, so strange and unparalleled in its character, would awaken their deepest interest, and largely engage their attention. They would learn something of it from the first promise, although it doubtless involved much more than they at first perceived. We are not to suppose, however, that the whole mystery of His incarnation was then made known to angels.
III. In the scheme of godliness God was seen of angels in the supreme wisdom of His councils. In its contrivance and execution, they saw a display of intelligence which had never before impressed them.
IV. In the scheme of godliness, God was seen of angels in the solemn majesty of His justice. Never had they seen this attribute stand out in such tremendous manifestation, as when they saw Christ made “a propitiation to declare the righteousness of God for the remission of sins that are past.”
V. In the scheme of godliness, God was seen of angels in the immense achievements of His power. They saw all power in heaven and in earth committed to the incarnate Son, and omnipotently wielded for the rescue of man, and for the overthrow of his enemies.
VI. In the scheme of godliness, God was seen of angels in the infinite tenderness of His love. Here they saw the fullest manifestation of this attribute, and gathered their loftiest conceptions of its depth and height. Here they first saw its peculiar mode, mercy. They had seen it developed as goodness, as infinite benignity before, but not its peculiar form, mercy. They required no sacrifice.
VII. In the mystery of godliness, God was seen of angels in the perfect harmony of His attributes.
VIII. In the scheme of godliness, God was seen of angels in the grandeur of His ultimate purposes. What a host of unparalleled events rush on their brightening view! Earth redeemed!--devils vanquished!--death destroyed!--angels established!--the universe conserved!--sin and ruin all confined to hell!--man saved!--Messiah enthroned, and crowned with all power and glory!--the whole Godhead illustrated!--the Father glorified!--and all the faithful host of God united into one great and rejoicing family for ever! What purposes are unfolded here! We thus learn that the scheme of our redemption deeply interests the whole universe. (S. Lucas.)
Seen of angels
I. What is it for that God who was manifest in the flesh and justified in the spirit to be seen of angels?
1. We may hence collect the esteem they had for the person of our Lord.
2. The esteem the angels had for our blessed Lord appears from their care to promote the design that He came about. Christ is seen and admired of the angels in His design as well as His person because it is their care to spread the gospel.
II. The next general head is to consider it as a mystery that our God should be seen of angels. Now this part of the story, that He was seen of angels, is wonderful.
1. This was a Saviour of whom they had no need, for they never sinned.
2. It farther enhances this wonder that they should pay so much regard to one who came down into a nature beneath their own.
III. I have no more to do upon this branch of the Christian religion than to show you how it is a mystery of godliness.
1. The belief of this gives life and soul to our duty.
2. Another act of our duty is a courageous profession of His name.
3. From His being seen of angels, in the way that I have described, we are encouraged in our dependence upon His grace, as that which is sufficient for us.
4. Here is an argument for your care and love to the people of a Redeemer.
Preached unto the Gentiles.--
Preached to the Gentiles
First of all, there must be a dispensation of Christ. See the equity of this even from things among men. It is not sufficient that physic be provided; but there must be an application of it. It is not sufficient that there is a treasure; but there must be a digging of it out. It is not sufficient that there be a candle or light; but there must be a holding out of the light for the good and use of others. It was not sufficient that there was a “brazen serpent,” but the brazen serpent must be “lifted up” that the people might see it. It is not sufficient that there be tapestry and glorious hangings, but there must be an unfolding of them. What it is to preach.
1. To preach is to open the mystery of Christ, to open whatsoever is in Christ; to break open the box that the savour may be perceived of all. To open Christ’s natures and person what it is; to open the offices of Christ. And likewise the states wherein He executed His office. First, the state of humiliation. But it is not sufficient to preach Christ, to lay open all this in the view of others; but in the opening of them there must be application of them to the use of God’s people, that they may see their interest in them; and there must be an alluring of them, for to preach is to woo. And because people are in a contrary state to Christ, “to preach Christ” is even to begin with the law, to discover to people their estate by nature. A man can never preach the gospel that makes not way for the gospel by showing and convincing people what they are out of Christ. This preaching is that whereby God dispenseth salvation and grace ordinarily. And God in wisdom sees it the fittest way to dispense His grace to men by men. Why?
(1) To try our obedience to the truth itself. He would have men regard the things spoken, not for the person that speaks them, but for the excellency of the things.
(2) And then God would knit man to man by bonds of love. Now there is a relation between pastor and people by this ordinance of God.
(3) And then it is more suitable to our condition. We could not hear God speak, or any more excellent creatures.
(4) And it is more proportionable to our weakness to have men that speak out of experience from themselves that preach the gospel, that they have felt the comfort of themselves. It works the more upon us. Let us therefore set a price upon God’s ordinance. There must be this dispensation. Christ must be “preached.” Preaching is the chariot that carries Christ up and down the world. But then, in the next place, this preaching it must be of Christ; Christ must be “preached.” But must nothing be preached but Christ? I answer, Nothing but Christ, or that that tends to Christ. The foundation of all these duties must be from Christ. The graces for these duties must be fetched from Christ; and the reasons and motives of a Christian’s conversation must be from Christ, and from the state that Christ hath advanced us unto. The prevailing reasons of a holy life are fetched from Christ. Now Christ must be preached wholly and only. “we must not take anything from Christ, nor join anything to Christ. Christ must be preached; but to whom? “To the Gentiles.” Here lies the mystery, that Christ, who was “manifest in the flesh, justified in the spirit,” etc., should be “preached to the Gentiles.” But why did God suffer the Gentiles to “walk in their own ways”? (Acts 14:16). “Why did He neglect and over look the Gentiles, and suffer them to go on “in their own ways,” so many thousand years before Christ came? Were they not God’s creatures as well as the Jews? I answer, This is a mystery, that God should suffer those witty people, that were of excellent parts, to go on “in their own ways.” But there was matter enough in themselves. He need not call God to our bar to answer for Himself. They were malicious against the light they knew. They imprisoned the light of nature that they had, as it is Romans 1:21. They were unfaithful in that they had. It is God’s sovereignty. He must let God do what He will. Therefore we cannot be too much thankful for that wondrous favour which we have enjoyed so long time together under the glorious sunshine of the gospel. Hence we have a ground likewise of enlarging the gospel to all people, because the Gentiles now have interest in Christ; that merchants and those that give themselves to navigation, they may with good success carry the gospel to all people. There are none shut out now since Christ in this last age of the world; and certainly there is great hope of those western people. (R. Sibbes.)
Jesus preached unto the Gentiles
I. I am to represent in what manner Christ was preached to the gentiles.
1. The great truths which relate to Christ were declared and explained to them. Christ, therefore, was the chief, though not the only subject of the apostle’s sermons, and everything else was preached in reference to Him. “What we are told of Paul’s sermons at Corinth and Rome is equally true of the sermons of the rest of the apostles. What were the things concerning Christ which they taught it is impossible to say in one sermon. The undertaking of Christ in the covenant of redemption and the promises then made Him by the Father; His personal glory, both as the Equal and Fellow of the Almighty, and as anointed in His human nature with the Holy Ghost and with power; His fitness as God-man for redeeming lost mankind.
2. The apostles laid before their hearers sufficient evidence of the truths concerning Christ in which they were instructed. Thus Paul confounded the Jews which dwelt at Damascus, proving that Jesus is very Christ. At a synagogue in Thessalonica, as his manner was, he went in unto them, and three Sabbath days reasoned with them out of the Scriptures, opening and alleging that Christ must needs have suffered and risen again from the dead, and that Jesus is the Christ.
3. The apostles invited and commanded their hearers to believe on Christ, to receive Him, and to rest on Him alone for salvation. Christ and the blessings of His purchase were freely offered to all, and all were invited and enjoined to accept them.
II. I am next to show in what respect Christ preached to the gentiles is a mystery. It was mysterious that, for a long period, God suffered them to walk in their own ways, giving His statutes unto Jacob and His testimonies unto Israel, while He dealt not so with other nations. This, however, was a mystery of wisdom. Still, however, it remains a mystery that to the Gentiles Christ was preached when they were at the very worst. Search the inspired Epistles and tell me was Rome, Corinth, Ephesus, or Crete celebrated for sobriety, charity, justice, benevolence, and other humane and social virtues, when the apostles were sent to publish in their ears the religion of Jesus? Did they generally resemble a Socrates, an Aristides, a Fabricius, a Camillus? Alas! wisdom and goodness were far from them. What can we say to these things? How unsearchable are God’s judgments, and His ways past finding out! When offers of salvation were made in the amplest manner to a generation so enlightened and yet so profligate, does not this manifest that all, however vile and unworthy, are welcome of the Saviour? The confirmation of Christianity might be another end of this mysterious dispensation. The gospel was intended to subdue sinners to Christ. God, therefore, first sends it on that design, in an age where it was to meet with the greatest opposition, that its amazing conquests might manifest its Divine original. And this leads me to observe that the effects of the preaching of Christ to the Gentiles were mysterious and amazing. When the men of Cyprus and Cyrene spoke to the Grecians, preaching the Lord Jesus, the hand of the Lord was with them; and a great number believed and turned to the Lord. (J. Erskine, D. D.)
The proclaimed Saviour
I. He was preached unto the Gentiles as the Divine Son of God. Ii. The incarnate God was preached unto the Gentiles as having by His death on the cross presented an atoning sacrifice for the sins of the world.
III. Christ was preached unto the Gentiles as the high priest and days-man appointed to mediate between God and man, and to reconcile man to his offended creator.
IV. the incarnate God was preached unto the Gentiles as the grand centre and means of union to the whole Church of God.
V. Christ was preached to the Gentiles as the supreme and universal judge. (S. Lucas.)
Preached unto the Gentiles
I. I am to explain the thing itself that is here said of Christ Jesus, that the God who was manifested in the flesh, justified in the Spirit, and seen of angels, is now preached unto the Gentiles. What is the import of the expression that He was preached? The word signifies the office of a herald, or, as some think, of an ambassador.
1. To preach Christ is to declare that He is the only Mediator between God and man; and when this is preached among the Gentiles, it is to turn them from the error of their way, and the vile abominations they were got into.
2. When we preach Christ, we represent Him as sufficient to answer all the danger that our souls are in.
3. Preaching Christ is telling these things in the plainest and most open way we can.
4. We preach Christ as One who is willing to seek and save that which is lost.
5. Our preaching of Christ signifies the pains we are at in persuading people to come to Him.
6. We assert His authority over the whole creation, and especially over the Churches; that He has the government upon His shoulder; that all power is given to Him in heaven and in earth.
7. In this preaching of Christ we have an eye to that state where His glory shall be seen and ours complete.
II. The other part of the truth contained in this text is, that He was preached unto the Gentiles; by whom we are to understand all the rest of the world, who had been, by the providence of God, a long while distinguished from one particular people.
1. You will see, by going over some historical accounts, that until the gospel came to be preached in this last and best edition, religion confined and drew in itself by every new dispensation. As, for example--
(1) When God had revealed that promise, which was the blooming gospel, that the seed of the woman should break the serpent’s head, as it was delivered to our first parents, so it equally concerned all their posterity.
(2) After the flood, when our whole nature consisted of no more than what came out of the ark, Noah had three sons--Shem, Ham, and Japhet--and it is only the first of these among whom the true worship was maintained.
(3) Here is still a farther narrowing of the Divine interest; for though Abraham’s whole family were taken into an external covenant during his own days, yet one-half of them are cut off afterwards.
(4) Here is a farther limitation; for though Isaac had the promise renewed to him--that in his seed should all the families of the earth be blessed--yet that is only to be understood of one-half.
(5) Jacob’s whole family, indeed, remain possessed of the true religion, and all the twelve tribes are brought out of Egypt; but in Jeroboam’s time ten of them fall off both from their king and their God.
(6) Whether the ten tribes returned with the two or not--as to me it seems probable they did--yet you find in a little time they revive the old prejudice. The Samaritans were supposed by the Jews not to be of the stock of Israel; but it is plain they always claimed it.
(7) There seems to be a yet narrower distinction; for the people who lived at some distance from the temple, though there was no dispute of their lineal descent, are accounted afar off.
2. From that period the Divine mercy entered into other measures. You may then see how religion widened in pursuance of ancient prophecies.
(1) Our Saviour was a Minister of the circumcision, and only sent to the lost sheep of the house of Israel: but yet even then He gave a dawn of His being preached among the Gentiles.
(2) Accordingly, at His death, He took away all that which had kept up the distinction between Jew and Gentile, and so laid the foundation for their having the gospel.
(3) He gave orders to His disciples, soon after the resurrection, that they might be witnesses for Him in Jerusalem, Judaea, Samaria, and to the uttermost ends of the earth.
(4) For this He gives them qualifications. They are endued with power from on high; the Holy Ghost came upon them.
(5) He did it in accomplishment of His ancient prophecies. The Book of God is full to this purpose. Promises are made to those people who seemed the farthest off from mercy.
II. He who thus distinguished Himself by an honour that had not been known for many ages could be no other than the Most High God. Jehovah is to be King over all the earth; and in that day there shall be one Lord, and His name one.
1. We can preach no person to the Gentiles as the only Mediator between God and man, but one that is God as well as man.
2. In preaching Christ Jesus, we represent Him to the world as sufficient to answer all the necessities of their souls, both by way of atonement for them and of conquest over them; that He paid a full price, and that He is possessed of a complete fund. We durst not say of a creature, let him be never so glorious, that by one offering he has for ever perfected them that are sanctified.
3. I told you that in preaching Christ Jesus we are to make a public discovery of Him. We must not conceal His righteousness and His truth from the great congregation, and in that are to run all hazards; but this is more than we owe to a creature.
4. In preaching Christ Jesus we declare His willingness to save them that are lost.
5. Our preaching is persuading sinners to come to Him, that they may have life.
6. We proclaim Him as the great Head over all things unto His Church.
III. We are to consider this branch of our religion as a mystery.
1. It is mysterious that the Gentiles, who were neglected for so many ages, should have Christ Jesus preached among them.
2. These Gentiles were no way prepared to receive the news of a Saviour when He came to be preached among them (Acts 14:16).
3. It is still more mysterious that the Jews should reject a Saviour who was to be preached among the Gentiles.
4. After His disgrace from the Jews, He is made the subject of our ministry.
5. That Christ should be preached to the Gentiles is what He Himself put a bar in the way of. He acted all along as a Jew, as a minister of the circumcision.
6. This was a thing never to be conceived of by the Jews.
7. It is what the apostles themselves came into very unwillingly; their thoughts were of a national cast as well as others; and this stuck by them a long time.
8. It is some part of the wonder that the preaching among the Gentiles should be put into such hands. “Are not these men that speak Galileans? and how is it that we hear among them in our own tongues the wonderful works of God”?
9. The persons He employed were no way prepared by education for that life of public service into which He called them (1 Corinthians 1:27-29).
10. It is still farther a mystery in the way that God took to spread this gospel among the Gentiles; that He should raise up these men to run all manner of dangers, who might have lived secure and protected (1 Corinthians 4:9-13).
11. The great wonder of all is, that they should be qualified with the gift of tongues.
12. He called most of them to seal this truth with their blood, which was the highest testimony that nature could give to what grace had taught.
IV. I am now to show you that this branch of Christianity enjoys the same beautiful character that is given of all the rest; that it is a mystery of godliness, and promotes a pure and undefiled religion before God and our Father.
1. That minister who preaches up the Divinity of Christ, and tells the world plainly that He is no other than the Most High God, is likely to promote religion among men, because he speaks out. We see, we know what he means.
2. They who preach up Christ as the Most High God do insist upon such an object of their ministry as deserves to be so.
3. When we preach Christ as God, it answers the demand of your duty to Him.
4. This agrees to the nature of your dependence upon Him. Our gospel tells us there is salvation in no other.
5. This provides for all the comfort that we can stand in need of. The application of this is what I have but little room for; I will therefore confine myself to these three particulars..
(1) If it is God whom we preach to the Gentiles--a God manifest in the flesh--then you may be very sure we have no reason to be ashamed of the testimony of our Lord.
(2) Let us, upon this account, recommend ourselves to your friendship and hearty prayers. (T. Bradbury.)
Believed on in the world.--
Believed on in the world
After “preached to the Gentiles,” he joins “believed on in the world,” to show that faith “comes by hearing.” Indeed, “preaching” is the ordinance of God, sanctified for the begetting of faith, for the opening of the understanding, for the drawing of the will and affections to Christ. Therefore the gospel unfolded is called “the Word of faith,” because it begets faith. God by it works faith; and it is called the “ministry of reconciliation” (2 Corinthians 5:18), because God by it publisheth reconciliation. As preaching goes before believing, so it is the blessed instrument, by reason of the Spirit accompanying of it, to work faith. We see the excellency and necessary use of this grace of faith. How is Christ to be believed on?
1. We must rest upon no other thing, either in ourselves or out of ourselves, but Christ only.
2. And whole Christ must be received. We see here Christ “believed on in the world”--the world that was opposite, that were enemies, that were under Satan. Who shall despair, then?
Now, I shall show how this is a mystery.
1. First, if we consider what the world was, an opposite and enemy to Christ; and under His enemy, being slaves to Satan, being idolaters, in love with their own inventions, which men naturally doat on; here was the wonder of God’s love and mercy, that he should vouchsafe it to such wretches. It was a mystery that the world should believe. If we consider, besides their greatness and wisdom, the inward malicious disposition of the world, being in the strong man’s possession, for these men to believe the gospel, surely it must needs be a great mystery.
2. Again, if we consider the parties that carried the gospel, whereby the world was subdued--a company of weak men, unlearned men, none of the deepest for knowledge, only they had the Holy Ghost to teach and instruct, to strengthen and fortify them--which the world took no notice of--men of mean condition, of mean esteem, and few in number: and these men they came not with weapons, or outward defence, but merely with the Word, and with sufferings.
3. Again, if we consider the truth that they taught, being contrary to the nature of man, contrary to his affections; to enforce self-denial to men that naturally are full of self-love.
4. Again, if we consider another circumstance, it adds to the mystery; that is, the suddenness of the conquest.
5. Again, it is a wonder in respect of Christ, whom the world “believed on.” What was Christ? Indeed, He was the Son of God, but He appeared in abased flesh, in the form of a “servant.” He was crucified. And for the proud world to believe in a crucified Saviour, it was a mystery.
6. Lastly, it is a great mystery, especially in respect of faith itself, faith being so contrary to the nature of man. (R. Sibbes.)
Jesus believed on in the world
I. The import of Christ being believed on in the world. Doubtless Paul here speaks of saving faith. What that is we are told: “Whosoever believeth that Jesus is the Christ, is born of God.” Yet faith, though it views Jesus in all His mediatorial characters, in its first acts chiefly beholds Him as purchasing for us salvation by His meritorious sufferings. And hence, in many scriptures the death and sacrifice of Christ is represented as the peculiar object of faith.
II. The mysteriousness of Christ being believed on in the world.
1. It is a mystery that even under the most encouraging external circumstances, men savingly believe. Many are so immersed in business, or intoxicated with pleasure, that their attention is in vain courted to objects which strike not their senses. A humbled, self-condemning sinner, coming boldly to the throne of grace, for mercy to pardon, and grace to help, is indeed a wonderful spectacle. Faith is the gift of God; and no common inconsiderable gift.
2. In the apostolic age the multitude brought to believe was mysterious. (J. Erskine, D. D.)
The accepted Saviour
I. The success of the first preachers of the Gospel will appear mysterious when we consider the themes which they proclaimed.
II. The success of the first preachers of the Gospel appears greatly mysterious when we consider the human agency by which it was secured: an agency, humanly speaking, the most inadequate to such success, and the most unlikely to realize it.
III. The success of the first preachers of the Gospel appears mysterious when we consider the numerous and formidable obstacles arrayed against them, and which they had to surmount.
IV. The success of the first preachers of the Gospel appears greatly mysterious when we consider the mode in which it was achieved.
V. The success of the first preachers of the Gospel appears greatly mysterious when we consider its rapidity and extent.
1. We thus learn by whom all the past success of the gospel has been achieved. That success most clearly and distinctly announces the exertion of the power of God.
2. Hence we also learn from whom we are to expect all success in future. “God giveth the increase.” “Our sufficiency is of God.” “It is the Spirit that quickeneth.” God must be entirely depended upon, and must have all the glory.
3. We further learn, that no matter how weak the instruments are, if they are only called of God, and humbly depend upon Him, and plainly declare the truth as it is in Jesus, success will crown their efforts. But, we must ask, Have you believed in Christ? (S. Lucas.)
Believed on in the world
I. What it is for any people to believe on Christ.
1. I begin with that which seems to be the lowest act of faith: and that is receiving the testimony He has given of Himself; believing that His doctrine is of God, that it came from above.
2. They that believe on Christ look upon Him as the only Saviour of a lost world.
3. Believing in Christ is relying upon the righteousness, that He has brought in for our acceptance with God.
4. Believing in Christ is deriving from His fulness the principles of a new life. The satisfaction that He has made was with a view to this.
5. Believing in Christ is growing in the spiritual life.
6. When we believe in Christ, we regard Him as our great Comforter in every time of need.
7. They that believe in Christ are obedient to Him in all manner of conversation.
8. In particular, they that believe in Christ, live in the acts of religious worship to Him.
9. Believing in Christ is trusting Him for protection to the end of life.
10. Believing in Christ is looking to Him as the finisher of our faith; as one that is to give the completing stroke to His own work.
II. I am now to open this account that is given of Him, as an argument of His divinity; that He in whom the world are to believe, can be no other than the Most High God. In believing we look upon Him as the only Saviour of the world; and this cannot be affirmed of one that is not God.
III. As it is a mystery. The nature of the work.
1. Believing itself is a mystery; as it is acting without the direction of sense and reason, and very often against them, and therefore in opposition to the example and practice of others. So that it must proceed from something that we feel only in ourselves.
(1) Believing is acting without the direction of sense and reason; it is depending upon what we do not see, and admiring what we cannot understand.
(2) Believing is oftentimes acting against these two principles, by which we are to be conducted in other things.
(3) Believing is acting in opposition to the practice and example of others; and it is no easy matter to get thus high,
(4) This proceeds from something within ourselves.
IV. To what is said of believing in general, we may add the circumstance of place where men are to look for it, which leads us farther into the mystery.
1. You will observe the mystery of believing in Christ, if you regard it as a thing to be met with in this world, and not in heaven. Had it been said of Him now, that He is received up with glory, we could easily come into the report, because there He is revealed with a brightness unconfined: there is no veil upon His face, no limitation to their eyes.
2. It is mysterious that He is believed on in a world where He had been refused.
3. To this you may add another consideration, which heightens the wonder, that He is believed on in a world where the greatest evidence has already proved in vain (John 3:32).
4. He is thus believed on in a world where He appears no longer.
5. He is thus believed on in a world possessed of the greatest prejudice against Him (John 15:18).
6. It is farther strange that He is believed on in a world that is under the power of His most obstinate enemy.
7. It is strange that people should believe on Christ in a world when nothing is to be got by it. I do not affirm this in the strict sense of the words, for you know godliness has the promise of all things; but my meaning is, that the soul, in the recumbence of his faith upon Christ Jesus, looks above all riches, honours, and every endearment of life.
V. I am now to show, that for the world to believe in Christ Jesus as God who was manifest in the flesh, is a means of promoting that religion that ever was and ever will be the ornament of any profession. It is a mystery of godliness. This will appear if you do but consider what the great business of religion is, and to what purposes it is both recommended as a practice, and promised as a blessing. I take it to consist in these four things--
1. In subjection to Christ’s authority, and a conformity to His image; this may be called inward religion, and thus I shall consider it in the principle.
2. There arises from this a duty both to God and man, which is commanded in the two tables of the moral law.
3. It is a branch of this religion to make a profession of Christ, to own Him in the world, and show forth His praises.
4. The joys and satisfaction that Christ gives to His people who thus wait upon Him may come into the general notion that we have of godliness. Now all these are begun, advanced, and extended by the belief of those mysteries that we meet with in the faith, and in particular that He is a God who was manifest in the flesh.
Application: If it is part of the mystery of godliness that Christ is believed on in the world, then--
1. You see how both ministers and people do best fall in with the design of Christianity; the one by preaching up this faith, and the other by receiving it.
2. If that is one branch of religion, that Christ is believed on in the world, no wonder that Satan sets himself in opposition to it (2 Corinthians 4:4-5).
3. How great a wickedness must theirs be who would hinder the faith of Jesus in the world!
4. What need have we to be very earnest for that faith which is of the operation of God?
5. See that this end is answered upon your souls (Colossians 1:28).
6. Be sure that in believing on Him you regard all His perfections. (T. Bradbury.)
Received up to glory.--
Received up to glory
Glory implies three things. It is an exemption from that which is opposite, and a conquering over the contrary base condition. But where these three are--an exemption and freedom from all baseness, and all that may diminish reckoning and estimation, and when there is a foundation of true excellency, and likewise a shining, a declaring and breaking forth of that excellency--there is glory. It will not be altogether unuseful to speak of the circumstances of Christ’s being “taken up to glory.”
1. Whence was He taken? He was taken “up to glory,” from Mount Olivet, where He used to pray, and where He sweat water and blood, where He was humbled.
2. And when was He taken “up to glory”? Not before He had finished His work, as He saith, “I have finished the work Thou gavest Me to do” (John 17:4).
3. The witnesses of this were the angels. They proclaimed His incarnation with joy; and without doubt they were much more joyful at His ascending up to glory. Now this nature of ours in Christ, it is next to the nature of God in dignity; here is a mystery. Among many other respects it is a mystery for the greatness of it. We see after His ascension, when He appeared to Paul in glory, a glimpse of it struck Paul down; he could not endure it. In this glorious condition that Christ is received into, He fulfils all His offices in a most comfortable manner. He is a glorious Prophet, to send His Spirit now to teach and open the heart. He is a glorious Priest, to appear before God in the holy of holies, in heaven for us, for ever; and He is a King there for ever.
To come to some application.
1. First of all we must lay this for a ground and foundation of what follows, that Christ ascended as a public person. He must not be considered as a particular person, alone by Himself, but as the “Second Adam.”
2. In the second place, we must know that there is a wondrous nearness between Christ and us now; for before we can think of any comfort by the “glory of Christ,” we must be one with Him by faith, for He is the Saviour of His body.
3. Again, there is a causality, the force of a cause in this; because Christ, therefore we. Here is not only a priority of order, but a cause likewise; and there is great reason.
4. And then we must consider Christ not only as an efficient cause, but as a pattern and example how we shall be “glorified.” It is a comfort, in the hour of death, that we yield up our souls to Christ, who is gone before to provide a place for us. Likewise, in our sins and infirmities. When we have to deal with God the Father, whom we have offended with our sins, let us fetch comfort from hence. Christ is ascended into heaven, to appear before His Father as a Mediator for us; and, therefore, God turns away His wrath from us. Consider the wonderful love of Christ, that would suspend His glory so long. Hence, likewise, we have a ground of patience in all our sufferings from another reason, not from the order but from the certainty of glory. Shall we not patiently suffer, considering the glory that we shall certainly have? “If we suffer with Him we shall be glorified with Him.” (Romans 8:17). Again, the mystery of Christ’s glory tends to godliness in this respect, to stir us up to heavenly-mindedness. (Colossians 3:1). (R. Sibbes.)
Jesus received up into glory
Consider the glory into which Jesus is received as Mediator.
1. He is invested with the glorious office of interceding for lost sinners, and thus procuring their reconciliation and acceptance with God. Never was there a priest or advocate so truly glorious.
2. Jesus is invested with the high and honourable office of imparting saving light and life to the world by the influences of His Spirit and grace.
3. Jesus is advanced to the glory of universal dominion. To Him whom men despised; to Him whom the nation abhorred; to a Servant of rulers dominion and glory and a kingdom are given, that all people, nations and languages should serve Him.
4. Christ is received into glory as the Forerunner of His people, and the Pattern of their approaching bliss.
1. Let our conversation and hearts be where our Lord is.
2. Let, O Christian, the majesty and greatness of thy Lord excite thee to a bold undisguised profession of thy regards to Him.
3. Debase not that nature which God hath thus exalted in the person of Christ. Our nature, in Him, is advanced above the angels, and is next in dignity to the nature of God.
4. How great the happiness of those who are admitted to heaven, and who there behold the glory of the Redeemer l (J. Erskine, D. D.)
Received up into glory
I. His glory may be considered--
1. As He is man, He has
(1) The imperfection of our nature.
(2) Complete rest from all His labours.
(3) A glory and reputation in His person.
(4) His soul is satisfied with joys.
(5) His body is independent on all supplies. Because it is a glorious body, it is received into an immortal life, and an eternal settlement.
2. He has the office of judge; but the greatest glory is--
(1) The union of the human nature to the Divine.
3. As He is mediator, His glory appears in--
(1) The stupendous union of the two natures.
(2) His separation to the work of a Saviour.
(3) His discharge of the trust.
(4) His acquittance from the Father.
(5) The union between the two natures is confirmed.
(6) In this union He receives the praises of heaven.
(7) He continues the mediation between God and man.
4. As He is God, He has the glories of the Deity.
II. Being received into this glory may be considered with reference to--
1. His human nature: A cloud received Him; angels attended Him; He abides in heaven; He has received the reward.
2. His mediatorial office in the union of natures: He is owned by the Father; recognized by saints and angels; declares His resolution to continue so; proceeds in this character through all His works, of nature, of grace, of providence; He rules the Church; He will judge the world.
3. His Divine nature; the glory of this appears in throwing off the veil that was upon it, and laying that aside for ever; a fresh exposing Himself to the worship of angels; speaking the language of a God in heaven, and thus revealing Himself on earth.
4. Therefore He will keep His glory, in His authority over the Church, in His full and proper Deity, and expects we should keep it.
III. Great is the mystery--God received into glory.
1. An account of mysteries in general, of this in particular. He who was destitute below has all fulness above. The object of God’s wrath lives in His favour. He was deserted of men and angels, and is now their head. A suffering nature is united with an eternal.
2. A vindication of this mystery.
IV. This is a doctrine of godliness. It promotes--
1. Faith, by which we rest on the bare word of God, we make an honest profession of Him, we live with duty to Him.
2. Hope, by owning His Deity, we rest upon His righteousness, we trust Him for protection, we resign to Him at death.
3. Charity, the several senses of the word. A belief of Christ’s divinity teaches forbearance of one another. Union in the faith the foundation of charity. (T. Bradbury.)
The exalted Saviour
I. The exaltation of Christ supplies demonstrative proof that He has finished the great work of expiation.
II. The exaltation of Christ supplies the fullest proof of the complacent acceptance of His sacrifice.
III. The text expresses the actual investiture of the redeemer with mediatorial power and glory. This it is both important and necessary to observe. Distinctions must be made. The “glory” up into which the Redeemer was received, was not, of course, the essential glory of His Godhead. This He always possessed, and could not indeed do otherwise without ceasing to be God, it being inseparable from His nature as a Divine person. We need not again remind you that, as God, the Redeemer was incapable of exaltation, or of an accession of glory. To suppose Him thus capable is to suppose Him not God, and thus implies a contradiction. But as Mediator He was, economically at least, inferior to the Father, and acted as His servant, finishing the work which He had given Him to do, and was thus capable of being honoured and glorified by Him.
IV. The statement includes the instrument of Christ in His intercessory office.
V. The exaltation of Christ supplies the surest pledge for the full accomplishment of all Jehovah’s redeeming purposes.
VI. The exaltation of Christ supplies the highest guarantee for the universal spread of His kingdom. (S. Lucas.)
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "1 Timothy 3". The Biblical Illustrator. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 12 / Ordinary 17