Pagina-afbeeldingen
PDF
ePub

doubtless alludes to the same persons, when he speaks of certain "dreamers who defile the flesh." They imagined that all religion consisted in the inward feelings and exercises of the mind, and belonged only to the spirit-that the flesh had no concem in the religion of man here, and would take no share in the happiness of man hereafter. Hence" they defiled the flesh ;" took an unbounded licence to indulge the motions, and gratify the inclinations of the flesh. Read, with attention, those two epistles, and you will find persons of this description opposed and condemned. But you

will tell me, Paul himself often calls re. ligion a mystery, and says, “Great is the mystery of godliness-we speak the wisdom of God in a mystery : the hidden wisdom.”

But will you hence conclude, that the gospel is a hidden mysterious scheme of religion? Only read, in connexion, the passages alledged, and you will see that nothing could be farther from his intention.

There are, as we have observed, certain grand and astonishing doctrines in the gospel ; incom. prehensible indeed, but not unintelligible. You cannot, by searching, find out God; you cannot fa. thom the depth of his counsels ; yet there is such a thing as the knowledge of God's character and will. We inay know what is necessary to be known ; but we cannot stretch our minds to grasp that which is, in its nature, incomprehensible to finite beings.

It is however, in a sense still different from this that the gospel scheme is called a mystery ; as you will easily see, if you attend to the several places where this word is used.

The apostle says to the Ephesians, “To me is this grace given, that I should preach among the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ, to make all men see what is the followship of the mystery,

which from the beginning of the world hath been hid in God, that now might be known the manifold wisdom of God."

This mystery, this manifold wisdom, these unsearchable riches, are things, which, from the beginning of the world, had been hidden in the purpose of God; but were by the preaching of the apostles, so clearly made known, that all men could see them. The dispensation of providence in the salvation of mankind by Jesus Christ, is called a mystery, with respect to that time when it was hidden in God's secret purpose ; but not with respect to the time when it was declared and revealed, so that all men might see and know it..

In his epistle to the Romans, the apostle calls his preaching“ a revelation of the mystery, which was kept secret since the world began, but now is made manifest ;” and, “by the scriptures of the prophets is made known to all nations for the obedience of faith.” The great work of redemption by Christ, and the calling of all nations to share in this redemption, was a mystery in former ages, being hidden in God's counsel, and not fully discovered even to Jews, much less to Gentiles. But since the coming of Christ, it is no longer a mystery. It is now manifested and revealed by the preaching of the apostles, as well as by the scriptures of the prophets, to all nations, as well as to the Jews.

What the principal doctrines are, which this glorious mystery comprises, and which are now made known for our faith and obedience, the apos. tle has shewn in his first epistle to Timothy." Great is the mystery of godliness ; God was manifest in the flesh, justified in the spirit, seen of angels, preached to the Gentiles, believed on in the world, received up into glory.”

Again the apostle says, “I shew you a mystery ;. we shall not all sicep, but we shall all be changed.” Can we suppose that the apostle shewed them some. thing, which still remained a mystery after he had

shewed it. No, that would be a contradiction : But he shewed that which had been a mystery before ; how those would be disposed of who were found alive at Christ's coming.

In his first epistle to the Corinthians, he tells them in what light they were to view the preachers of the gospel. “Let a man so account of us, as of the min. isters of Christ, and stewards of the mysteries of God.” His meaning surely is not that they were to preach mystically; preach things which would remain mysteries after they had been preached ; but that God had committed to them the dispensation of the doctrines of the gospel, which, as faithful stew. ards, they were to distribute by manifesting them to all men. Further he says,

“We speak the wisdom of God in a mystery, even the hidden wisdom, which God ordained before the world unto our glory.But then he adds, “God hath revealed it to us by his spirit, that we might know the things that are freely given us of God, which things we speak." This mystery was that which had been hidden, but was now revealed and known to the apostles ; and this they spake, that others also might know it as well as they.

I need not refer to other passages. It is suffici. ent to observe in general, that the word mystery, is commonly used in the same sense, throughout the New Testament, and especially in St. Paul's writings; not to signify something which is still unknown, but something which had been unknown, and was

now made manifest. To know the mystery of the kingdom of God—not to be ignorant of the mystery to understand all mysteriesto see what is the fellowship of the mystery-to hold the mystery of faith-to acknowledge and make known the mystery of the gospel, are phrases which so frequently occur, that no doubt can remain concerning the sense in which the word is used.

Our business then is to read and search the scrip.. tures, and to attend on the dispensation of the gospel, in the way of God's appointment, that we may understand that great mystery of godliness, which was unknown to the early ages of the world, and is still unknown to many nations of the earth ; but is revealed and manifested to us by the scriptures of the prophets, and more fully by the scriptures of the apostles, who used great plainness of speech. Let us contemplate with gratitude, and receive with joy the riches of divine grace. Let us give all diligence to secure a share in that great salvation, which was purshased by the Redeemer's blood, and is now in the distinguishing mercy of our God, clearly revealed, and freely offered to us.

2. Our text shews the great mistake of those who imagine, that the scriptures cannot be understood without some special, immediate discovery from the spirit of God.

To prevent misapprehensions, I would observe, we are no less dependent on the grace of God in the concerns of religion, than on his providence in the business of common life ; and we need the kind di. rection and assistance of his spirit in searching the scriptures, as well as in the other ordinary duties of religion. But then the guidance of the spirit, in this matter, is in a way of aid to our natural faculties, not in a way of revelation. It is by

It is by “opening the understanding, fixing the attention, bringing to remembrance"-and removing prejudices against the truth ; not by immediate discovery and communication. We are therefore, to“ lay apart all filthiness and superfluity of naughtiness, to put on meckness and humbleness of mind,” and to search the scriptures with careful attention, and not to expect that, without our enquiry, the truth contained in them will be immediately revealed.

If the scriptures are written plainly, why may we not, by the proper use of our faculties, understand

these, as well, as other plain writings? The onir difference is in the aversion of a corrupt heart to divine and spiritual truths, and in the consequent inattention, forgetfulness, prejudice, and neglect of enquiry. Let this aversion be removed or suspended, and attentive enquiry take place, and there will be no more difficulty in understanding the holy writings, than common writings. All then that we can suppose the spirit of God to do in this case, is to awaken a sense of the importance of divine things, and open the heart to attend to them. When this is done, there will be such a proper use of our faculties, as will lead us to a competent knowledge of revealed truths, without an additional revelation,

The apostle, speaking of the great doctrines of the gospel, says, “God hath revealed them to us," the apostles, “ by his spirit; for the spirit searcheth all things, even the deep things of God—which things we also speak ;” and “ we use great plainness of speech.” But to what purpose have they so plainly spoken the things which were revealed to them by the spirit, if still we need to have them revealed to us by the spirit, as much as if they had never been spoken? If we cannot understand this written revelation, without another to explain it, how shall we understand the explanatory revelation without a third? We may as well be in doubt concerning the second, as the first ; and, at this rate, there will be no end of revelations; and after all, we may not know, whether we understand any of them.

The apostle John says, “Beloved, believe not every spirit, but try the spirits whether they be of God.” But how shall we try them ? He adds, "Hereby know we the spirit of God: Every spirit, who confesseth that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh, is of God.” Every spirit, whose dictates correspond with the plain doctrines of the gospel, is

« VorigeDoorgaan »