Matthew Henry (1662-1714)
Copyright Public Domain
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Here the prophet further encourages us to trust in the Lord for ever, and to continue waiting on him; for,
I. He will make humble souls that trust in him to triumph over their proud enemies, Isa 26:5, Isa 26:6. Those that exalt themselves shall be abased: For he brings down those that dwell on high; and wherein they deal proudly he is, and will be, above them. Even the lofty city Babylon itself, or Nineveh, he lays it low, Isa 25:12. He can do it, be it ever so well fortified. He has often done it. He will do it, for he resists the proud. It is his glory to do it, for he proves himself to be God by looking on the proud and abasing them, Job 40:12. But, on the contrary, those that humble themselves shall be exalted; for the feet of the poor shall tread upon the lofty cities, Isa 26:6. He does not say, Great armies shall tread them down; but, When God will have it done, even the feet of the poor shall do it, Mal 4:3. You shall tread down the wicked. Come, set your feet on the necks of these kings. See Psa 147:6; Rom 16:20.
II. He takes cognizance of the way of his people and has delight in it (Isa 26:7): The way of the just is evenness (so it may be read): it is their endeavour and constant care to walk with God in an even steady course of obedience and holy conversation. My foot stands in an even place, goes in an even path, Psa 26:12. And it is their happiness that God makes their way plain and easy before them: Thou, most upright, dost level (or make even) the path of the just, by preventing or removing those things that would be stumbling-blocks to them, so that nothing shall offend them, Psa 119:165. God weighs it (so we read it); he considers it, and will give them grace sufficient for them, to help them over all the difficulties they may meet with in their way. Thus with the upright God will show himself upright.
III. It is our duty, and will be our comfort, to wait for God, and to keep up holy desires towards him in the darkest and most discouraging times, Isa 26:8, Isa 26:9. This has always been the practice of God’s people, even when God has frowned upon them, 1. To keep up a constant dependence upon him: “In the way of thy judgments we have still waited for thee; when thou hast corrected us we have looked to no other hand than thine to relieve us,” as the servant looks only to the hand of his master, till he have mercy upon him, Psa 123:2. We cannot appeal from God’s justice but to his mercy. If God’s judgments continue long, if it be a road of judgments (so the word signifies), yet we must not be weary but continue waiting. 2. To send up holy desires towards him. Our troubles, how pressing soever, must never put us out of conceit with our religion, nor turn us away from God; but still the desire of our soul must be to his name and to the remembrance of him; and in the night, the darkest longest night of affliction, with our souls must we desire him. (1.) Our great concern must be for God’s name, and our earnest desire must be that his name may be glorified, whatever becomes of us and our names. This is that which we must wait for, and pray for. “Father, glorify thy name, and we are satisfied.” (2.) Our great comfort must be in the remembrance of that name, of all that whereby God has made himself known. The remembrance of God must be our great support and pleasure; and, though sometimes we be unmindful of him, yet still our desire must be towards the remembrance of him and we must take pains with our own hearts to have him always in mind. (3.) Our desires towards God must be inward, fervent, and sincere. With our soul we must desire him, with our soul we must pant after him (Psa 42:1), and with our spirits within us, with the innermost thought and the closest application of mind, we must seek him. We make nothing of our religion, whatever our profession be, if we do not make heart-work of it. (4.) Even in the darkest night of affliction our desires must be towards God, as our sun and shield; for, however God is pleased to deal with us, we must never think the worse of him, nor cool in our love to him. (5.) If our desires be indeed towards God,. we must give evidence that they are so by seeking him, and seeking him early, as those that desire to find him, and dread the thoughts of missing him. Those that would seek God and find him must seek betimes, and seek him earnestly. Though we come ever so early, we shall find him ready to receive us.
IV. It is God’s gracious design, in sending abroad his judgments, thereby to bring men to seek him and serve him: When thy judgments are upon the earth, laying all waste, then we have reason to expect that not only God’s professing people, but even the inhabitants of the world, will learn righteousness, will have their mistakes rectified and their lives reformed, will be brought to acknowledge God’s righteousness in punishing them, will repent of their own unrighteousness in offending God, and so be brought to walk in right paths. They will do this; that is, judgments are designed to bring them to this, they have a natural tendency to produce this effect, and, though many continue obstinate, yet some even of the inhabitants of the world will profit by this discipline, and will learn righteousness; surely they will; they are strangely stupid if they do not. Note, The intention of afflictions is to teach us righteousness; and blessed is the man whom God chastens, and thus teaches, Psa 94:12. Discite justitiam, moniti, et non temnere divos – Let this rebuke teach you to cultivate righteousness, and cease from despising the gods. – Virgil.
V. Those are wicked indeed that will not be wrought upon by the favourable methods God takes to subdue and reform them; and it is necessary that God should deal with them in a severe way by his judgments, which shall prevail to humble those that would not otherwise be humbled. Observe,
1. How sinners walk contrary to God, and refuse to comply with the means used for their reformation and to answer the intentions of them, Isa 26:10. (1.) Favour is shown to them. They receive many mercies from God; he causes his sun to shine and his rain to fall upon them, nay, he prospers them, and into their hands he brings plentifully; they escape many of the strokes of God’s judgments, which others less wicked than they have been cut off by; in some particular instances they seem to be remarkably favoured above their neighbours, and the design of all this is that they may be won upon to love and serve that God who thus favours them; and yet it is all in vain: They will not learn righteousness, will not be led to repentance by the goodness of God, and therefore it is requisite that God should send his judgments into the earth, to reckon with men for abused mercies. (2.) They live in a land of uprightness, where religion is professed and is in reputation, where the word of God is preached, and where they have many good examples set them, – in a land of evenness, where there are not so many stumbling-blocks as in other places, – in a land of correction, where vice and profaneness are discountenanced and punished; yet there they will deal unjustly, and go on frowardly in their evil ways. Those that do wickedly deal unjustly both with God and man, as well as with their own souls; and those that will not be reclaimed by the justice of the nation may expect the judgments of God upon them. Nor can those expect a place hereafter in the land of blessedness who now conform not to the laws and usages, nor improve the privileges and advantages, of the land of uprightness; and why do they not? It is because they will not behold the majesty of the Lord, will not believe, will not consider, what a God of terrible majesty he is whose laws and justice they persist in the contempt of. God’s majesty appears in all the dispensations of his providence; but they regard it not, and therefore study not to answer the ends of those dispensations. Even when we receive of the mercy of the Lord we must still behold the majesty of the Lord and his goodness. (3.) God lifts up his hand to give them warning, that they may, by repentance and prayer, make their peace with him; but they take no notice of it, are not aware that God is angry with them, or coming forth against them: They will not see, and none so blind as those who will not see, who shut their eyes against the clearest conviction of guilt and wrath, who ascribe that to chance, or common fate, which is manifestly a divine rebuke, who regard not the threatening symptoms of their own ruin, but cry Peace to themselves, when the righteous God is waging war with them.
2. How God will at length be too hard for them; for, when he judges, he will overcome: They will not see, but they shall see, shall be made to see, whether they will or no, that God is angry with them. Atheists, scorners, and the secure, will shortly feel what now they will not believe, that it is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God. They will not see the evil of sin, and particularly the sin of hating and persecuting the people of God; but they shall see, by the tokens of God’s displeasure against them for it and the deliverances in which God will plead his people’s cause, that what is done against them he takes as done against himself and will reckon for it accordingly. They shall see that they have done God’s people a great deal of wrong, and therefore shall be ashamed of their enmity and envy towards them, and their ill usage of such as deserved better treatment. Note, Those that bear ill-will to God’s people have reason to be ashamed of it, so absurd and unreasonable is it; and, sooner or later, they shall be ashamed of it, and the remembrance of it shall fill them with confusion. Some read it, They shall see and be confounded for the zeal of the people, by the zeal God will show for his people; when they shall be made to know how jealous God is for the honour and welfare of his people they shall be confounded to think that they might have been of that people and would not. Their doom therefore is that, since they slighted the happiness of God’s friends, the fire of his enemies shall devour them, that is, the fire which is prepared for his enemies and with which they shall be devoured, the fire designed for the devil and his angels. Note, Those that are enemies to God’s people, and envy them, God looks upon as his enemies, and will deal with them accordingly.
The Attributes of God
AW Pink (1886–1952)
Copyright – Public Domain
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"Acquaint now thyself with Him, and be at peace: thereby good shall come unto thee" (Job_22:21). "Thus saith the Lord, Let not the wise man glory in his wisdom, neither let the mighty glory in his might, let not the rich glory in his riches: But let him that glorieth glory in this, that he understandeth, and knoweth Me, that I am the Lord" (Jer_9:23-24). A spiritual and saving knowledge of God is the greatest need of every human creature.
The foundation of all true knowledge of God must be a clear mental apprehension of His perfections as revealed in Holy Scripture. An unknown God can neither be trusted, served, nor worshipped. In this booklet an effort has been made to set forth some of the principal perfections of the Divine character. If the reader is to truly profit from his perusal of the pages that follow, he needs to definitely and earnestly beseech God to bless them to him, to apply His Truth to the conscience and heart, so that his life will be transformed thereby.
Something more than a theoretical knowledge of God is needed by us. God is only truly known in the soul as we yield ourselves to Him, submit to His authority, and regulate all the details of our lives by His holy precepts and commandments. "Then shall we know, if we follow on (in the path of obedience) to know the Lord" (Hos_6:3). "If any man will do His will, he shall know" (Joh_7:17). "The people that do know their God shall be strong" (Dan_11:32).
1. The Solitariness of God
The title of this article is perhaps not sufficiently explicit to indicate its theme. This is partly due to the fact that so few today are accustomed to meditate upon the personal perfections of God. Comparatively few of those who occasionally read the Bible are aware of the awe-inspiring and worship-provoking grandeur of the Divine character. That God is great in wisdom, wondrous in power, yet full of mercy, is assumed by many to be almost common knowledge; but, to entertain anything approaching an adequate conception of His being, His nature, His attributes, as these are revealed in Holy Scripture, is something which very, very few people in these degenerate times have attained unto. God is solitary in His excellency. "Who is like unto Thee, O Lord, among the gods? Who is like Thee, glorious in holiness, fearful in praises, doing wonders?" (Exo_15:11).
"In the beginning, God" (Gen_1:1). There was a time, if "time" is could be called, when God, in the unity of His nature (though subsisting equally in three Divine Persons), dwelt all alone. "In the beginning, God." There was no heaven, where His glory is now particularly manifested. There was no earth to engage His attention. There were no angels to hymn His praises; no universe to be upheld by the word of His power. There was nothing, no one, but God; and that, not for a day, a year, or an age, but "from everlasting." During a past eternity, God was alone: self-contained, self-sufficient, self-satisfied; in need of nothing. Had a universe, had angels, had human beings been necessary to Him in any way, they also had been called into existence from all eternity. The creating of them when He did, added nothing to God essentially. He changes not (Mal_3:6), therefore His essential glory can be neither augmented nor diminished.
God was under no constraint, no obligation, no necessity to create. That He chose to do so was purely a sovereign act on His part, caused by nothing outside Himself, determined by nothing but His own mere good pleasure; for He "worketh all things after the counsel of His own will" (Eph_1:11). That He did create was simply for His manifestative glory. Do some of our readers imagine that we have gone beyond what Scripture warrants? Then our appeal shall be to the Law and the Testimony: "Stand up and bless the Lord your God forever and ever: and blessed be Thy glorious name, which is exalted above all blessing and praise" (Neh_9:5). God is no gainer even from our worship. He was in no need of that external glory of His grace which arises from His redeemed, for He is glorious enough in Himself without that. What was it moved Him to predestinate His elect to the praise of the glory of His grace? It was, as Eph_1:5 tells us, according to the good pleasure of His will.
We are well aware that the high ground we are here treading is new and strange to almost all of our readers; for that reason it is well to move slowly. Let our appeal again be to the Scriptures. At the end of Rom_11:1-36, where the apostle brings to a close his long argument on salvation by pure and sovereign grace, he asks, "For who hath known the mind of the Lord? Or who hath been His counsellor? Or who hath first given to Him, and it shall be recompensed to him again?" (Rom_11:34-35). The force of this is, it is impossible to bring the Almighty under obligations to the creature; God gains nothing from us. If thou be righteous, what givest thou Him? Or what receiveth He of thine hand? Thy wickedness may hurt a man as thou art; and thy righteousness may profit the son of man (Job_35:7-8), but it certainly cannot affect God, who is all-blessed in Himself. When ye shall have done all those things which are commanded you, say, We are unprofitable servants (Luk_17:10) — our obedience has profited God nothing.
Nay, we go further: our Lord Jesus Christ added nothing to God in His essential being and glory, either by what He did or suffered. True, blessedly and gloriously true, He manifested the glory of God to us, but He added nought to God. He Himself expressly declares so, and there is no appeal from His words: "My goodness extendeth not to Thee" (Psa_16:2). The whole of that Psalm is a Psalm of Christ. Christ’s goodness or righteousness reached unto His saints in the earth (Psa_16:3), but God was high above and beyond it all, God only is the "Blessed One" (Mar_14:61, Gr.).
It is perfectly true that God is both honored and dishonored by men; not in His essential being, but in His official character. It is equally true that God has been "glorified" by creation, by providence, and by redemption. This we do not and dare not dispute for a moment. But all of this has to do with His manifestative glory and the recognition of it by us. Yet had God so pleased He might have continued alone for all eternity, without making known His glory unto creatures. Whether He should do so or not was determined solely by His own will. He was perfectly blessed in Himself before the first creature was called into being. And what are all the creatures of His hands unto Him even now? Let Scripture again make answer: "Behold, the nations are as a drop of a bucket, and are counted as the small dust of the balance: behold, He taketh up the isles as a very little thing. And Lebanon is not sufficient to burn, nor the beasts thereof sufficient for a burnt offering. All nations before Him are as nothing; and they are counted to Him less than nothing, and vanity. To whom then will ye liken God? or what likeness will ye compare unto Him?" (Isa_40:15-18). That is the God of Scripture; alas, He is still "the unknown God" (Act_17:23) to the heedless multitudes. "It is He that sitteth upon the circle of the earth, and the inhabitants thereof are as grasshoppers; that stretcheth out the heavens as a curtain, and spreadeth them out as a tent to dwell in: that bringeth the princes to nothing; He maketh the judges of the earth as vanity" (Isa_40:22-23). How vastly different is the God of Scripture from the god of the average pulpit!
Nor is the testimony of the New Testament any different from that of the Old: how could it be, seeing that both have one and the same Author! There too we read, "Which in His times He shall show, who is the blessed and only Potentate, the King of kings, and Lord of lords: Who only bath immortality, dwelling in the light which no man can approach unto; whom no man bath seen, nor can see: to whom be honour and power everlasting, Amen" (1Ti_6:16). Such an One is to be revered, worshipped, adored. He is solitary in His majesty, unique in His excellency, peerless in His perfections. He sustains all, but is Himself independent of all. He gives to all, but is enriched by none.
Such a God cannot be found out by searching; He can be known, only as He is revealed to the heart by the Holy Spirit through the Word. It is true that creation demonstrates a Creator, and that, so plainly, men are "without excuse;" yet, we still have to say with Job, "Lo, these are parts of His ways: but how little a portion is heard of Him? but the thunder of His power who can understand?" (Job_26:14). The so-called argument from design by well-meaning "Apologists" has, we believe, done much more harm than good, for it has attempted to bring down the great God to the level of finite comprehension, and thereby has lost sight of His solitary excellence.
Analogy has been drawn between a savage finding a watch upon the sands, and from a close examination of it he infers a watch-maker. So far so good. But attempt to go further: suppose that savage sits down on the sand and endeavors to form to himself a conception of this watch-maker, his personal affections and manners; his disposition, acquirements, and moral character — all that goes to make up a personality; could he ever think or reason out a real man — the man who made the watch, so that he could say, "I am acquainted with him?" It seems trifling to ask such questions, but is the eternal and infinite God so much more within the grasp of human reason? No, indeed! The God of Scripture can only be known by those to whom He makes Himself known.
Nor is God known by the intellect. "God is Spirit" (Joh_4:24), and therefore can only be known spiritually. But fallen man is not spiritual, he is carnal. He is dead to all that is spiritual. Unless he is born again supernaturally brought from death unto life, miraculously translated out of darkness into light, he cannot even see the things of God (Joh_3:3), still less apprehend them (1Co_2:14). The Holy Spirit has to shine in our hearts (not intellects) in order to give us "the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ" (2Co_4:6). And even that spiritual knowledge is but fragmentary. The regenerated soul has to grow in grace and in the knowledge of the Lord Jesus (2Pe_3:18).
The principal prayer and aim of Christians should be that we "walk worthy of the Lord unto all pleasing, being fruitful in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God" (Col_1:10).
2. The Decrees of God
The decree of God is His purpose or determination with respect to future things. We have used the singular number as Scripture does (Rom_8:28, Eph_3:11), because there was only one act of His infinite mind about future things. But we speak as if there had been many, because our minds are only capable of thinking of successive revolutions, as thoughts and occasions arise, or in reference to the various objects of His decree, which being many seem to us to require a distinct purpose for each one. But an infinite understanding does not proceed by steps, from one stage to another: "Known unto God are all His works, from the beginning of the world" (Act_15:18).
The Scriptures make mention of the decrees of God in many passages, and under a variety of terms. The word "decree" is found in Psa_2:7, etc. In Eph_3:11 we read of His "eternal purpose." In Act_2:23 of His "determinate counsel and foreknowledge." In Eph_1:9 of the mystery of His "will." In Rom_8:29 that He also did predestinate. In Eph_1:9 of His "good pleasure." God’s decrees are called His "counsel" to signify they are consummately wise. They are called God’s "will" to show He was under no control, but acted according to His own pleasure. When a man’s will is the rule of his conduct, it is usually capricious and unreasonable; but wisdom is always associated with "will" in the Divine proceedings, and accordingly, God’s decrees are said to be "the counsel of His own will" (Eph_1:11).
The decrees of God relate to all future things without exception: whatever is done in time, was foreordained before time began. God’s purpose was concerned with everything, whether great or small, whether good or evil, although with reference to the latter we must be careful to state that while God is the Orderer and Controller of sin, He is not the Author of it in the same way that He is the Author of good. Sin could not proceed from a holy God by positive and direct creation, but only by decretive permission and negative action. God’s decree is as comprehensive as His government, extending to all creatures and all events. It was concerned about our life and death; about our state in time, and our state in eternity. As God works all things after the counsel of His own will, we learn from His works what His counsel is (was), as we judge of an architect’s plan by inspecting the building which was erected under his directions.
God did not merely decree to make man, place him upon the earth, and then leave him to his own uncontrolled guidance; instead, He fixed all the circumstances in the lot of individuals, and all the particulars which will comprise the history of the human race from its commencement to its close. He did not merely decree that general laws should be established for the government of the world, but He settled the application of those laws to all particular cases. Our days are numbered, and so are the hairs of our heads. We may learn what is the extent of the Divine decrees from the dispensations of providence, in which they are executed. The care of Providence reaches to the most insignificant creatures, and the most minute events — the death of a sparrow, and the fall of a hair.
Let us now consider some of the properties of the Divine decrees. First, they are eternal. To suppose any of them to be made in time, is to suppose that some new occasion has occurred, some unforeseen event or combination of circumstances has arisen, which has induced the Most High to form a new resolution. This would argue that the knowledge of the deity is limited, an that He is growing wiser in the progress of time — which would be horrible blasphemy. No man who believes that the Divine understanding is infinite, comprehending the past, the present, and the future, will ever assent to the erroneous doctrine of temporal decrees. God is not ignorant of future events which will be executed by human volitions; He has foretold them in innumerable instances, and prophecy is but the manifestation of His eternal prescience. Scripture affirms that believers were chosen in Christ before the world began (Eph_1:4), yea, that grace was "given" to them then (2Ti_1:9).
Second, the decrees of God are wise. Wisdom is shown in the selection of the best possible ends and of the fittest means of accomplishing them. That this character belongs to the decrees of God is evident from what we know of them. They are disclosed to us by their execution, and every proof of wisdom in the works of God is a proof of the wisdom of the plan, in conformity to which they are performed. As the Psalmist declared, "O Lord, how manifold are Thy works! in wisdom hast Thou made them all" (Psa_104:24). It is indeed but a very small part of them which falls under our observation, yet, we ought to proceed here as we do in other cases, and judge of the whole by the specimen, of what is unknown, by what is known. He who perceives the workings of admirable skill in the parts of a machine which he has an opportunity to examine, is naturally led to believe that the other parts are equally admirable. In like manner should we satisfy our minds as to God’s works when doubts obtrude themselves upon us, and repel the objections which may be suggested by something which we cannot reconcile to our notions of what is good and wise. When we reach the bounds of the finite and gaze toward the mysterious realm of the infinite, let us exclaim. "O the depth of the riches! both of the wisdom and knowledge of God" (Rom_11:33).
Third, they are free. "Who hath directed the Spirit of the Lord, or being His counselor hath taught Him? With whom took He counsel, and who instructed Him, and taught Him in the path of judgment, and taught Him knowledge, and showed to Him the way of understanding?" (Isa_40:13-14). God was alone when He made His decrees, and His determinations were influenced by no external cause. He was free to decree or not to decree, and to decree one thing and not another. This liberty we must ascribe to Him who is supreme, independent, and sovereign in all His doings.
Fourth, they are absolute and unconditional. The execution of them is not suspended upon any condition which may, or may not be, performed. In every instance where God his decreed an end, He has also decreed every means to that end. The One who decreed the salvation of His elect also decreed to work faith in them (2Th_2:13). "My counsel shall stand, and I will do all My pleasure" (Isa_46:10): but that could not be, if His counsel depended upon a condition which might not be performed. But God "worketh all things after the counsel of His own will" (Eph_1:11).
Side by side with the immutability and invincibility of God’s decrees, Scripture plainly teaches that man is a responsible creature and answerable for his actions. And if our thoughts are formed from God’s Word the maintenance of the one will not lead to the denial of the other. That there is a real difficulty in defining where the one ends and the other begins, is freely granted. This is ever the case where there is a conjunction of the Divine and the human. Real prayer is indited by the Spirit, yet it is also the cry of a human heart. The Scriptures are the inspired Word of God, yet were they written by men who were something more than machines in the hand of the Spirit. Christ is both God and man. He is Omniscient, yet "increased in wisdom" (Luk_2:52). He was Almighty, yet was "crucified through weakness" (2Co_13:4). He was the Prince of life, yet He died. High mysteries are these, yet faith receives them unquestioningly.
It has often been pointed out in the past that every objection made against the eternal decrees of God applies with equal force against His eternal foreknowledge:
Whether God has decreed all things that ever come to pass or not, all that own the being of a God, own that He knows all things beforehand. Now, it is self-evident that if He knows all things beforehand, He either doth approve of them or doth not approve of them; that is, He either is willing they should be, or He is not willing they should be. But to will that they should be is to decree them. (Jonathan Edwards).
Finally, attempt to assume and then contemplate the opposite. To deny the Divine decrees would be to predicate a world and all its concerns regulated by undesigned chance or blind fate. Then what peace, what assurance, what comfort would there be for our poor hearts and minds? What refuge would there be to fly to in the hour of need and trial? None at all. There would be nothing better than the black darkness and abject horror of atheism. O my reader, how thankful should we be that everything is determined by infinite wisdom and goodness! What praise and gratitude are due unto God for His Divine decrees. It is because of them that "we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to His purpose" (Rom_8:28). Well may we exclaim, "For of Him, and through Him, and to Him, are all things: to whom he glory forever. Amen" (Rom_11:36).
3. The Knowledge of God
God is omniscient. He knows everything: everything possible, everything actual; all events, all creatures, God the past, the present and the future. He is perfectly acquainted with every detail in the life of every being in heaven, in earth and in hell. "He knoweth what is in the darkness" (Dan_2:22). Nothing escapes Hs notice, nothing can be hidden from Him, nothing is forgotten by Him. Well may we say with the Psalmist, "Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is high, I cannot attain unto it" (Psa_139:6). His knowledge is perfect. He never errs, never changes, never overlooks anything. "Neither is there any creature that is not manifest in His sight: but all things are naked and opened unto the eyes of Him with whom we have to do" (Heb_4:13). Yes, such is the God with whom "we have to do!"
"Thou knowest my downsitting and mine uprising, Thou understandest my thoughts afar off. Thou compassest my path and my lying down, and art acquainted with all my ways. For there is not a word in my tongue but, lo, O Lord, Thou knowest it altogether" (Psa_139:2-4). What a wondrous Being is the God of Scripture! Each of His glorious attributes should render Him honorable in our esteem. The apprehension of His omniscience ought to bow us in adoration before Him. Yet how little do we meditate upon this Divine perfection! Is it because the very thought of it fills us with uneasiness?
How solemn is this fact: nothing can be concealed from God! "For I know the things that come into your mind, every one of them" (Eze_11:5). Though He be invisible to us, we are not so to Him. Neither the darkness of night, the closest curtains, nor the deepest dungeon can hide any sinner from the eyes of Omniscience. The trees of the garden were not able to conceal our first parents. No human eye beheld Cain murder his brother, but his Maker witnessed his crime. Sarah might laugh derisively in the seclusion of her tent, yet was it heard by Jehovah. Achan stole a wedge of gold and carefully hid it in the earth, but God brought it to light. David was at much pains to cover up his wickedness, but ere long the all-seeing God sent one of His servants to say to him, "Thou art the man! And to writer and reader is also said, Be sure your sin will find you out" (Num_32:23).
Men would strip Deity of His omniscience if they could — what a proof that "the carnal mind is enmity against God" (Rom_8:7)! The wicked do as naturally hate this Divine perfection as much as they are naturally compelled to acknowledge it. They wish there might be no Witness of their sins, no Searcher of their hearts, no Judge of their deeds. They seek to banish such a God from their thoughts: "They consider not in their hearts that I remember all their wickedness" (Hos_7:2). How solemn is Psa_90:8! Good reason has every Christ-rejecter for trembling before it: Thou hast set our iniquities before Thee, our secret sins in the light of Thy countenance.
But to the believer, the fact of God’s omniscience is a truth fraught with much comfort. In times of perplexity he says with Job, "But He knoweth the way that I take." (Job_23:10). It may be profoundly mysterious to me, quite incomprehensible to my friends, but "He knoweth!" In times of weariness and weakness believers assure themselves "He knoweth our frame; He remembereth that we are dust" (Psa_103:14). In times of doubt and suspicion they appeal to this very attribute saying, "Search me, 0 God, and know my heart: try me, and know my thoughts: and see if there be any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting" (Psa_139:23-24). In time of sad failure, when our actions have belied our hearts, when our deeds have repudiated our devotion, and the searching question comes to us, "Lovest thou Me?;" we say, as Peter did, "Lord, Thou knowest all things; Thou knowest that I love Thee" (Joh_21:17).
Here is encouragement to prayer. There is no cause for fearing that the petitions of the righteous will not be heard, or that their sighs and tears shall escape the notice of God, since He knows the thoughts and intents of the heart. There is no danger of the individual saint being overlooked amidst the multitude of supplicants who daily and hourly present their various petitions, for an infinite Mind is as capable as paying the same attention to millions as if only one individual were seeking its attention. So too the lack of appropriate language, the inability to give expression to the deepest longing of the soul, will not jeopardize our prayers, for "It shall come to pass, that before they call, I will answer; and while they are yet speaking, I will hear" (Isa_65:24).
"Great is our Lord, and of great power: His understanding is infinite" (Psa_147:5). God not only knows whatsoever has happened in the past in every part of His vast domains, and He is not only thoroughly acquainted with everything that is now transpiring throughout the entire universe, but He is also perfectly cognizant with every event, from the least to the greatest, that ever will happen in the ages to come. God’s knowledge of the future is as complete as is His knowledge of the past and the present, and that, because the future depends entirely upon Himself. Were it in anywise possible for something to occur apart from either the direct agency or permission of God, then that something would be independent of Him, and He would at once cease to be Supreme.
Now the Divine knowledge of the future is not a mere abstraction, but something which is inseparably connected with and accompanied by His purpose. God has Himself designed whatsoever shall yet be, and what He has designed must be effectuated. As His most sure Word affirms, "He doeth according to His will in the army of heaven, and the inhabitants of the earth: and none can stay His hand" (Dan_4:35). And again, "There are many devices in a man’s heart; nevertheless the counsel of the Lord, that shall stand" (Pro_19:21). The wisdom and power of God being alike infinite, the accomplishment of whatever He hath purposed is absolutely guaranteed. It is no more possible for the Divine counsels to fail in their execution than it would be for the thrice holy God to lie.
Nothing relating to the future is in anywise uncertain so far as the actualization of God’s counsels are concerned. None of His decrees are left contingent either on creatures or secondary causes. There is no future event which is only a mere possibility, that is, something which may or may not come to pass, "Known unto God are all His works from the beginning" (Act_15:18). Whatever God has decreed is inexorably certain, for He is without variableness, or shadow, of turning. (Jas_1:17). Therefore we are told at the very beginning of that book which unveils to us so much of the future, of "Things which must shortly come to pass." (Rev_1:1).
The perfect knowledge of God is exemplified and illustrated in every prophecy recorded in His Word. In the Old Testament are to be found scores of predictions concerning the history of Israel, which were fulfilled to their minutest detail, centuries after they were made. In them too are scores more foretelling the earthly career of Christ, and they too were accomplished literally and perfectly. Such prophecies could only have been given by One who knew the end from the beginning, and whose knowledge rested upon the unconditional certainty of the accomplishment of everything foretold. In like manner, both Old and New Testament contain many other announcements yet future, and they too "must be fulfilled" (Luk_24:44), must because foretold by Him who decreed them.
It should, however, be pointed out that neither God’s knowledge nor His cognition of the future, considered simply in themselves, are causative. Nothing has ever come to pass, or ever will, merely because God knew it. The cause of all things is the will of God. The man who really believes the Scriptures knows beforehand that the seasons will continue to follow each other with unfailing regularity to the end of earth’s history (Gen_8:22), yet his knowledge is not the cause of their succession. So God’s knowledge does not arise from things because they are or will be but because He has ordained them to be. God knew and foretold the crucifixion of His Son many hundreds of years before He became incarnate, and this, because in the Divine purpose, He was a Lamb slain from the foundation of the world: hence we read of His being "delivered by the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God" (Act_2:23).
A word or two by way of application. The infinite knowledge of God should fill us with amazement. How far exalted above the wisest man is the Lord! None of us knows what a day may bring forth, but all futurity is open to His omniscient gaze. The infinite knowledge of God ought to fill us with holy awe. Nothing we do, say, or even think, escapes the cognizance of Him with whom we have to do: "The eyes of the Lord are in every place, beholding the evil and the good" (Pro_15:3). What a curb this would be unto us, did we but meditate upon it more frequently! Instead of acting recklessly, we should say with Hagar, "Thou God seest me" (Gen_16:13). The apprehension of God’s infinite knowledge should fill the Christian with adoration. The whole of my life stood open to His view from the beginning. He foresaw my every fall, my every sin, my every backsliding; yet, nevertheless, fixed His heart upon me. Oh, how the realization of this should bow me in wonder and worship before Him!
4. The Foreknowledge of God
What controversies have been engendered by this subject in the past! But what truth of Holy Scripture is there which has not been made the occasion of theological and ecclesiastical battles? The deity of Christ, His virgin birth, His atoning death, His second advent; the believer’s justification, sanctification, security; the church, its organization, officers, discipline; baptism, the Lord’s supper, and a score of other precious truths might be mentioned. Yet, the controversies which have been waged over them did not close the mouths of God’s faithful servants; why, then, should we avoid the vexed question of God’s Foreknowledge, because, forsooth, there are some who will charge us with fomenting strife? Let others contend if they will, our duty is to bear witness according to the light vouchsafed us.
There are two things concerning the Foreknowledge of God about which many are in ignorance: the meaning of the term, its Scriptural scope. Because this ignorance is so widespread, it is an easy matter for preachers and teachers to palm off perversions of this subject, even upon the people of God. There is only one safeguard against error, and that is to be established in the faith; and for that, there has to be prayerful and diligent study, and a receiving with meekness the engrafted Word of God. Only then are we fortified against the attacks of those who assail us. There are those today who are misusing this very truth in order to discredit and deny the absolute sovereignty of God in the salvation of sinners. Just as higher critics are repudiating the Divine inspiration of the Scriptures; evolutionists, the work of God in creation; so some pseudo Bible teachers are perverting His foreknowledge in order to set aside His unconditional election unto eternal life.
When the solemn and blessed subject of Divine foreordination is expounded, when God’s eternal choice of certain ones to be conformed to the image of His Son is set forth, the Enemy sends along some man to argue that election is based upon the foreknowledge of God, and this "foreknowledge" is interpreted to mean that God foresaw certain ones would be more pliable than others, that they would respond more readily to the strivings of the Spirit, and that because God knew they would believe, He, accordingly, predestinated them unto salvation. But such a statement is radically wrong. It repudiates the truth of total depravity, for it argues that there is something good in some men. It takes away the independency of God, for it makes His decrees rest upon what He discovers in the creature. It completely turns things upside down, for in saying God foresaw certain sinners would believe in Christ, and that because of this, He predestinated them unto salvation, is the very reverse of the truth. Scripture affirms that God, in His high sovereignty, singled out certain ones to be recipients of His distinguishing favors (Act_13:48), and therefore He determined to bestow upon them the gift of faith. False theology makes God’s foreknowledge of our believing the cause of His election to salvation; whereas, God’s election is the cause, and our believing in Christ is the effect.
Ere proceeding further with our discussion of this much misunderstood theme, let us pause and define our terms. What is meant by "foreknowledge?" "To know beforehand," is the ready reply of many. But we must not jump at conclusions, nor must we turn to Webster’s dictionary as the final court of appeal, for it is not a matter of the etymology of the term employed. What is needed is to find out how the word is used in Scripture. The Holy Spirit’s usage of an expression always defines its meaning and scope. It is failure to apply this simple, rule which is responsible for so much confusion and error. So many people assume they already know the signification of a certain word used in Scripture, and then they are too dilatory to test their assumptions by means of a concordance. Let us amplify this point.
Take the word "flesh." Its meaning appears to be so obvious that many would regard it as a waste of time to look up its various connections in Scripture. It is hastily assumed that the word is synonymous with the physical body, and so no inquiry is made. But, in fact, "flesh" in Scripture frequently includes far more than what is corporeal; all that is embraced by the term can only be ascertained by a diligent comparison of every occurrence of it and by a study of each separate context. Take the word "world." The average reader of the Bible imagines this word is the equivalent for the human race, and consequently, many passages where the term is found are wrongly interpreted. Take the word immortality. Surely it requires no study! Obviously it has reference to the indestructibility of the soul. Ah, my reader, it is foolish and wrong to assume anything where the Word of God is concerned. If the reader will take the trouble to carefully examine each passage where "mortal" and "immortal" are found, it will be seen these words are never applied to the soul, but always to the body.
Now what has just been said on "flesh," the "world," immortality, applies with equal force to the terms know and "foreknow." Instead of imagining that these words signify no more than a simple cognition, the different passages in which they occur require to be carefully weighed. The word "foreknowledge" is not found in the Old Testament. But know occurs there frequently. When that term is used in connection with God, it often signifies to regard with favour, denoting not mere cognition but an affection for the object in view. "I know thee by name" (Exo_33:17). "Ye have been rebellious against the Lord from the day that I knew you" (Deu_9:24). "Before I formed thee in the belly I knew thee" (Jer_1:5). "They have made princes and I knew it not" (Hos_8:4). "You only have I known of all the families of the earth" (AmosAmo_3:2). In these passages knew signifies either loved or appointed.
In like manner, the word "know" is frequently used in the New Testament, in the same sense as in the Old Testament. "Then will I profess unto them, I never knew you" (Mat_7:23). "I am the good shepherd and know My sheep and am known of Mine" (Joh_10:14). "If any man love God, the same is known of Him" (1Co_8:3). "The Lord knoweth them that are His" (2Ti_2:19).
Now the word "foreknowledge" as it is used in the New Testament is less ambiguous than in its simple form "to know." If every passage in which it occurs is carefully studied, it will be discovered that it is a moot point whether it ever has reference to the mere perception of events which are yet to take place. The fact is that "foreknowledge" is never used in Scripture in connection with events or actions; instead, it always has reference to persons. It is persons God is said to "foreknow," not the actions of those persons. In proof of this we shall now quote each passage where this expression is found.
The first occurrence is in Act_2:23. There we read, "Him being delivered by the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God, ye have taken, and by wicked hands have crucified and slain." If careful attention is paid to the wording of this verse it will be seen that the apostle was not there speaking of God’s foreknowledge of the act of the crucifixion, but of the Person crucified: "Him (Christ) being delivered by," etc.
The second occurrence is in Rom_8:29-30. "For whom He did foreknow, He also did predestinate to be conformed to the image, of His Son, that He might be the Firstborn among many brethren. Moreover whom He did predestinate, them He also called," etc. Weigh well the pronoun that is used here. It is not what He did foreknow, but whom He did. It is not the surrendering of their wills nor the believing of their hearts but the persons themselves, which is here in view.
"God hath not cast away His people which He foreknew" (Rom_11:2). Once more the plain reference is to persons, and to persons only.
The last mention is in 1Pe_1:2: "Elect according to the foreknowledge of God the Father." Who are elect according to the foreknowledge of God the Father? The previous verse tells us: the reference is to the "strangers scattered" i.e. the Diaspora, the Dispersion, the believing Jews. Thus, here too the reference is to persons, and not to their foreseen acts.
Now in view of these passages (and there are no more) what scriptural ground is there for anyone saying God "foreknew" the acts of certain ones, viz., their "repenting and believing," and that because of those acts He elected them unto salvation? The answer is, None whatever. Scripture never speaks of repentance and faith as being foreseen or foreknown by God. Truly, He did know from all eternity that certain ones would repent and believe, yet this is not what Scripture refers to as the object of God’s "foreknowledge." The word uniformly refers to God’s foreknowing persons; then let us "hold fast the form of sound words" (2Ti_1:13).
Another thing to which we desire to call particular attention is that the first two passages quoted above show plainly and teach implicitly that God’s "foreknowledge" is not causative, that instead, something else lies behind, precedes it, and that something is His own sovereign decree. Christ was "delivered by the,
(1) determinate counsel and
(2) foreknowledge of God." (Act_2:23).
His "counsel" or decree was the ground of His foreknowledge. So again in Rom_8:29. That verse opens with the word "for," which tells us to look back to what immediately precedes. What, then, does the previous verse say? This, "all things work together for good to them. . . .who are the called according to His purpose." Thus God’s foreknowledge is based upon His purpose or decree (see Psa_2:7).
God foreknows what will be because He has decreed what shall be. It is therefore a reversing of the order of Scripture, a putting of the cart before the horse, to affirm that God elects because He foreknows people. The truth is, He "foreknows" because He has elected. This removes the ground or cause of election from outside the creature, and places it in God’s own sovereign will. God purposed in Himself to elect a certain people, not because of anything good in them or from them, either actual or foreseen, but solely out of His own mere pleasure. As to why He chose the ones He did, we do not know, and can only say, "Even so, Father, for so it seemed good in Thy sight." The plain truth of Rom_8:29 is that God, before the foundation of the world, singled out certain sinners and appointed them unto salvation (2Th_2:13). This is clear from the concluding words of the verse: "Predestinated to be conformed to the image of His Son," etc. God did not predestinate those whom He foreknew were "conformed," but, on the contrary, those whom He "foreknew" (i.e., loved and elected) He predestinated to be conformed. Their conformity to Christ is not the cause, but the effect of God’s foreknowledge and predestination.
God did not elect any sinner because He foresaw that he would believe, for the simple but sufficient reason that no sinner ever does believe until God gives him faith; just as no man sees until God gives him sight. Sight is God’s gift, seeing is the consequence of my using His gift. So faith is God’s gift (Eph_1:8-9), believing is the consequence of my using His gift. If it were true that God had elected certain ones to be saved because in due time they would believe, then that would make believing a meritorious act, and in that event the saved sinner would have ground for "boasting," which Scripture emphatically denies: Eph_2:9.
Surely God’s Word is plain enough in teaching that believing is not a meritorious Act. It affirms that Christians are a people "who have believed through grace" (Act_18:27). If then, they have believed "through grace," there is absolutely nothing meritorious about "believing," and if nothing meritorious, it could not be the ground or cause which moved God to choose them. No; God’s choice proceeds not from anything in us, or anything from us, but solely from His own sovereign pleasure. Once more, in Rom_11:5, we read of "a remnant according to the election of grace." There it is, plain enough; election itself is of grace, and grace is unmerited favour something for which we had no claim upon God whatsoever.
It thus appears that it is highly important for us to have clear and scriptural views of the "foreknowledge" of God. Erroneous conceptions about it lead inevitably to thoughts most dishonoring to Him. The popular idea of Divine foreknowledge is altogether inadequate. God not only knew the end from the beginning, but He planned, fixed, predestinated everything from the beginning. And, as cause stands to effect, so God’s purpose is the ground of His prescience. If then the reader be a real Christian, he is so because God chose him in Christ before the foundation of the world (Eph_1:4), and chose not because He foresaw you would believe, but chose simply because it pleased Him to choose: chose you notwithstanding your natural unbelief. This being so, all the glory and praise belongs alone to Him. You have no ground for taking any credit to yourself. You have "believed through grace" (Act_18:27), and that, because your very election was "of grace" (Rom_11:5).
5. The Supremacy of God
In one of his letters to Erasmus, Luther said, "Your thoughts of God are too human." Probably that renowned scholar resented such a rebuke, the more so, since it proceeded from a miner’s son; nevertheless, it was thoroughly deserved. We too, though having no standing among the religious leaders of this degenerate age, prefer the same charge against the majority of the preachers of our day, and against those who, instead of searching the Scriptures for themselves, lazily accept the teaching of others. The most dishonoring and degrading conceptions of the rule and reign of the Almighty are now held almost everywhere. To countless thousands, even among those professing to be Christians, the God of the Scriptures is quite unknown.
Of old, God complained to an apostate Israel, Thou thoughtest that I was altogether as thyself. (Psa_50:21). Such must now be His indictment against an apostate Christendom. Men imagine that the Most High is moved by sentiment, rather than actuated by principle. They suppose that His omnipotency is such an idle fiction that Satan is thwarting His designs on every side. They think that if He has formed any plan or purpose at all, then it must be like theirs, constantly subject to change. They openly declare that whatever power He possesses must be restricted, lest He invade the citadel of man’s "free will" and reduce him to a "machine." They lower the all efficacious Atonement, which has actually redeemed everyone for whom it was made, to a mere "remedy," which sin-sick souls may use if they feel disposed to; and they enervate the invincible work of the Holy Spirit to an "offer" of the Gospel which sinners may accept or reject as they please.
The "god" of this twentieth century no more resembles the Supreme Sovereign of Holy Writ than does the dim flickering of a candle the glory of the midday sun. The "god" who is now talked about in the average pulpit, spoken of in the ordinary Sunday School, mentioned in much of the religious literature of the day, and preached in most of the so-called Bible Conferences is the figment of human imagination, an invention of maudlin sentimentality. The heathen outside of the pale of Christendom form "gods" out of wood and stone, while the millions of heathen inside Christendom manufacture a "god" out of their own carnal mind. In reality, they are but atheists, for there is no other possible alternative between an absolutely supreme God, and no God at all. A "god" whose will is resisted, whose designs are frustrated, whose purpose is checkmated, possesses no title to Deity, and so far from being a fit object of worship, merits nought but contempt.
The supremacy of the true and living God might well be argued from the infinite distance which separates the mightiest creatures from the almighty Creator. He is the Potter, they are but the clay in His hands to be molded into vessels of honor, or to be dashed into pieces (Psa_2:9) as He pleases. Were all the denizens of heaven and all the inhabitants of the earth to combine in revolt against Him, it would occasion Him no uneasiness, and would have less effect upon His eternal and unassailable Throne than has the spray of Mediterranean’s waves upon the towering rocks of Gibraltar. So puerile and powerless is the creature to affect the Most High, Scripture itself tells us that when the Gentile heads unite with apostate Israel to defy Jehovah and His Christ, "He that sitteth in the heavens shall laugh" (Psa_2:4).
The absolute and universal supremacy of God is plainly and positively affirmed in many scriptures. "Thine, O Lord, is the greatness, and the power, and the glory, and the victory and the majesty: for all in the heaven and all in the earth is Thine; Thine is the Kingdom, O Lord, and Thou art exalted as Head above all. . . .And Thou reignest over all" (1Ch_29:11-12) — note reignest now, not "will do so in the Millennium." "O Lord God of our fathers, art not Thou, God in heaven? and rulest not Thou over all the kingdoms of the heathen? and in Thine hand is there not power and might, so that none (not even the Devil himself) is able to withstand Thee?" (2Ch_20:6). Before Him presidents and popes, kings and emperors, are less than grasshoppers.
"But He is in one mind, and who can turn Him? and what His soul desireth, even that He doeth" (Job_23:13). Ah, my reader, the God of Scripture is no make-believe monarch, no mere imaginary sovereign, but King of kings, and Lord of lords. "I know that Thou canst do everything, and that no thought of Thine can be hindered" (Job_42:3, margin), or, as another translator, "no purpose of Thine can be frustrated." All that He has designed He does. All that He has decreed, He performs. "But our God is in the heavens: He hath done whatsoever He hath pleased" (Psa_115:3); and why has He? Because "there is no wisdom, nor understanding, nor counsel against the Lord" (Pro_21:30).
God’s supremacy over the works of His hands is vividly depicted in Scripture. Inanimate matter, irrational creatures, all perform their Maker’s bidding. At His pleasure the Red Sea divided and its waters stood up as walls (Exo_14:1-31); and the earth opened her mouth, and guilty rebels went down alive into the pit (Num_14:1-45). When He so ordered, the sun stood still (Jos_10:1-43); and on another occasion went backward ten degrees on the dial of Ahaz (Isa_38:8). To exemplify His supremacy, He made ravens carry food to Elijah (1Ki_17:4-6), iron to swim on top of the waters (2Ki_6:5), lions to be tame when Daniel was cast into their den, fire to burn not when the three Hebrews were flung into its flames. Thus "Whatsoever the Lord pleased, that did He in heaven, and in earth, in the seas, and all deep places" (Psa_135:6).
God’s supremacy is also demonstrated in His perfect rule over the wills of men. Let the reader ponder carefully Exo_34:24. Three times in the year all the males of Israel were required to leave their homes and go up to Jerusalem. They lived in the midst of hostile people, who hated them for having appropriated their lands. What, then, was to hinder the Canaanites from seizing their opportunity, and, during the absence of the men, slaying the women and children and taking possession of their farms? If the hand of the Almighty was not upon the wills even of wicked men, how could He make this promise beforehand, that none should so much as "desire" their lands? Ah, "The king’s heart is in the hand of the Lord, as the rivers of water: He turneth it whithersoever He will" (Pro_21:1).
But, it may be objected, do we not read again and again in Scripture how that men defied God, resisted His will, broke His commandments, disregarded His warnings, and turned a deaf ear to all His exhortations? Certainly we do. And does this nullify all that we have said above? If it does, then the Bible plainly contradicts itself. But that cannot be. What the objector refers to is simply the wickedness of man against the external word of God, whereas what we have mentioned above is what God has purposed in Himself. The rule of conduct He has given us to walk by, is perfectly fulfilled by none of us; His own eternal "counsels" are accomplished to their minutest details.
The absolute and universal supremacy of God is affirmed with equal plainness and positiveness in the New Testament. There we are told that God "worketh all things after the counsel of His own will" (Eph_1:11) — the Greek for "worketh" means to work effectually. For this reason we read, "For of Him, and through Him, and to Him are all things: to whom be glory forever. Amen" (Rom_11:36). Men may boast that they are free agents, with a will of their own, and are at liberty to do as they please, but Scripture says to those who boast "we will go into such a city, and continue there a year, and buy and sell…Ye ought to say, If the Lord will" (Jas_4:13-15)!
Here then is a sure resting-place for the heart. Our lives are neither the product of blind fate nor the result of capricious chance, but every detail of them was ordained from all eternity. and is now ordered by the living and reigning God. Not a hair of our heads can be touched without His permission. "A man’s heart deviseth his way: but the Lord directeth his steps" (Pro_16:9). What assurance, what strength, what comfort should this give the real Christian! "My times are in Thy hand" (Psa_31:15). Then let me "Rest in the Lord, and wait patiently for Him" (Psa_37:7).
6. The Sovereignty Of God
The sovereignty of God may be defined as the exercise of His supremacy — (see Web Site on Supremacy). Being infinitely elevated above the highest creature, He is the Most High, Lord of heaven and earth. Subject to none, influenced by none, absolutely independent; God does as He pleases, only as He pleases always as He pleases. None can thwart Him, none can hinder Him. So His own Word expressly declares: "My counsel shall stand, and I will do all My pleasure" (Isa_46:10); "He doeth according to His will in the army of heaven, and the inhabitants of the earth: and none can stay His hand" (Dan_4:35). Divine sovereignty means that God is God in fact, as well as in name, that He is on the Throne of the universe, directing all things, working all things "after the counsel of His own will" (Eph_1:11).
Rightly did the late Mr. Spurgeon say in his sermon on Mat_20:15:
There is no attribute more comforting to His children than that of God’s Sovereignty. Under the most adverse circumstances, in the most severe trials, they believe that Sovereignty has ordained their afflictions, that Sovereignty overrules them, and that Sovereignty will sanctify them all. There is nothing for which the children ought more earnestly to contend than the doctrine of their Master over all creation — the Kingship of God over all the works of His own hands — the Throne of God and His right to sit upon that Throne. On the other hand, there is no doctrine more hated by worldings, no truth of which they have made such a football, as the great, stupendous, but yet most certain doctrine of the Sovereignty of the infinite Jehovah. Men will allow God to be everywhere except on His throne. They will allow Him to be in His workshop to fashion worlds and make stars. They will allow Him to be in His almonry to dispense His alms and bestow His bounties. They will allow Him to sustain the earth and bear up the pillars thereof, or light the lamps of heaven, or rule the waves of the ever-moving ocean; but when God ascends His throne, His creatures then gnash their teeth, and we proclaim an enthroned God, and His right to do as He wills with His own, to dispose of His creatures as He thinks well, without consulting them in the matter; then it is that we are hissed and execrated, and then it is that men turn a deaf ear to us, for God on His throne is not the God they love. But it is God upon the throne that we love to preach. It is God upon His throne whom we trust.
"Whatsoever the Lord pleased, that did He in heaven, and in earth, in the seas, and all deep places" (Psa_135:6). Yes, dear reader, such is the imperial Potentate revealed in Holy Writ. Unrivalled in majesty, unlimited in power, unaffected by anything outside Himself. But we are living in a day when even the most "orthodox" seem afraid to admit the proper Godhood of God. They say that to press excludes human responsibility; whereas human responsibility is based upon Divine sovereignty, and is the product of it.
"But our God is in the heavens: He hath done whatsoever He hath pleased" (Psa_115:3). He sovereignly chose to place each of His creatures on that particular footing which seemed good in His sight. He created angels: some He placed on a conditional footing, others He gave an immutable standing before Him (1Ti_5:21), making Christ their head (Col_2:10). Let it not be overlooked that the angels which sinned (2Pe_2:5),. were as much His creatures as the angels that sinned not. Yet God foresaw they would fall, nevertheless He placed them on a mutable creature, conditional footing, and suffered them to fall, though He was not the Author of their sin.
So too, God sovereignly placed Adam in the garden of Eden upon a conditional footing. Had He so pleased, He could have placed him upon an unconditional footing; He could have placed him on a footing as firm as that occupied by the unfallen angels, He could have placed him upon a footing as sure and as immutable as that which His saints have in Christ. But, instead, He chose to set him in Eden on the basis of creature responsibility, so that he stood or fell according as he measured or failed to measure up to his responsibility obedience to his Maker. Adam stood accountable to God by the law which his Creator had given him. Here was responsibility, unimpaired responsibility, tested out under the most favorable conditions.
Now God did not place Adam upon a footing of conditional, creature responsibility, because it was right He should so place him. No, it was right because God did it. God did not even give creatures being because it was right for Him to do so, i. e., because He was under any obligations to create; but it was right because He did so. God is sovereign. His will is supreme. So far from God being under any law of "right," He is a law unto Himself, so that whatsoever He does is right. And woe be to the rebel that calls His sovereignty into question: "Woe unto him that striveth with his Maker. Let the potsherd strive with the potsherds of the earth. Shall the thing say to Him that fashioned it, What makest Thou?" (Isa_45:9).
Again; the Lord God sovereignly placed Israel upon a conditional footing. The 19th, 20th and 24th chapters of Exodus afford a clear and full proof of this. They were placed under a covenant of works. God gave to them certain laws, and made national blessing for them depend upon their observance of His statutes. But Israel were stiffnecked and uncircumcised in heart. They rebelled against Jehovah, forsook His law, turned unto false gods, apostatized. In consequence, Divine judgment fell upon them, they were delivered into the hands of their enemies, dispersed abroad throughout the earth, and remain under the heavy frown of God’s displeasure to this day.
It was God in the exercise of His high sovereignty that placed Satan and his angels, Adam, Israel, in their respective responsible positions. But so far from His sovereignty taking away responsibility from the creature, it was by the exercise thereof that He placed them on this conditional footing, under such responsibilities as He thought proper; by virtue of which sovereignty, He is seen to be God over all. Thus, there is perfect harmony between the sovereignty of God and the responsibility of the creature. Many have most foolishly said that it is quite impossible to show where Divine sovereignty ends and creature accountability begins. Here is where creature responsibility begins: in the sovereign ordination of the Creator. As to His sovereignty, there is not and never will be any "end" to it!
Let us give further proofs that the responsibility of the creature is based upon God’s sovereignty. How many things are recorded in Scripture which were right because God commanded them, and which would not have been right had He not so commanded! What right had Adam to "eat" of the trees of the Garden? The permission of his Maker (Gen_2:16), without such, he had been a thief! What right had Israel to "borrow" of the Egyptians’ jewels and raiment (Exo_12:35)? None, unless Jehovah had authorized it (Exo_3:22). What right had Israel to slay so many lambs for sacrifice? None, except that God commanded it. What right had Israel to kill off all the Canaanites? None, save as Jehovah had bidden them. What right has the husband to require submission from his wife? None, unless God had appointed it. And so we might go on. Human responsibility is based upon Divine sovereignty.
One more example of the exercise of God’s absolute sovereignty. God placed His elect upon a different footing from Adam or Israel. He placed them upon an unconditional footing. In the Everlasting Covenant Jesus Christ was appointed their Head, took their responsibilities upon Himself, and wrought out a righteousness for them which is perfect, indefeasible, eternal. Christ was placed upon a conditional footing, for He was "made under the law, to redeem them that were under the law," only with this infinite difference: the others failed, He did not and could not. And who placed Christ upon that conditional footing? The Triune God. It was sovereign will that appointed Him, sovereign love that sent Him, sovereign authority that assigned Him His work.
Certain conditions were set before the Mediator. He was to be made in the likeness of sin’s flesh; He was to magnify the law and make it honorable; He was to bear all the sins of all God’s people in His own body on the tree; He was to make full, atonement for them; He was to endure the outpoured wrath of God; He was to die and be buried. On the fulfillment of those conditions He was promised a reward: Isa_53:10-12. He was to be the Firstborn among many brethren; He was to have a people who should share His glory. Blessed be His name forever, He fulfilled those conditions, and because He did so, the Father stands pledged, on solemn oath, to preserve through time and bless throughout eternity every one of those for whom His incarnate Son mediated. Because He took their place, they now share His. His righteousness is theirs, His standing before God is theirs, His life is theirs. There is not a single condition for them to meet, not a single responsibility for them to discharge in order to attain their eternal bliss. "By one offering He hath perfected forever them that are set apart" (Heb_10:14).
Here then is the sovereignty of God openly displayed before all, displayed in the different ways in which He has dealt with His creatures. Part of the angels, Adam, Israel, were placed upon a conditional footing, continuance in blessing being made dependent upon their obedience and fidelity to God. But in sharp contrast from them, the "little flock" (Luk_12:32), have been given an unconditional, an immutable standing in God’s covenant, God’s counsels, God’s Son; their blessing being made dependent upon what Christ did for them. "The foundation of God standeth sure, having this seal: The Lord knoweth them that are His" (2Ti_2:19). The foundation on which God’s elect stand is a perfect one: nothing can be added to it, nor anything taken from it (Ecc_3:14). Here, then, is the highest and grandest display of the absolute sovereignty of God. Verily, He has "mercy on whom He will have mercy, and, whom He will He hardeneth" (Rom_9:18).
7. The Immutability of God
This is one of the Divine perfections which is not sufficiently pondered. It is one of the excellencies of the Creator which distinguishes Him from all His creatures. God is perpetually the same: subject to no change in His being, attributes, or determinations. Therefore God is compared to a rock (Deu_32:4, etc.) which remains immovable, when the entire ocean surrounding it is continually in a fluctuating state; even so, though all creatures are subject to change, God is immutable. Because God has no beginning and no ending, He can know no change. He is everlastingly "the Father of lights, with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning" (Jas_1:17).
First, God is immutable in His essence. His nature and being are infinite, and so, subject to no mutations. There never was a time when He was not; there never will come a time when He shall cease to be. God has neither evolved, grown, nor improved. All that He is today, He has ever been, and ever will be. "I am the Lord, I change not" (Mal_3:6) is His own unqualified affirmation. He cannot change for the better, for He is already perfect; and being perfect, He cannot change for the worse. Altogether unaffected by anything outside Himself, improvement or deterioration is impossible. He is perpetually the same. He only can say, "I am that I am" (Exo_3:14). He is altogether uninfluenced by the flight of time. There is no wrinkle upon the brow of eternity. Therefore His power can never diminish nor His glory ever fade.
Secondly, God is immutable in His attributes. Whatever the attributes of God were before the universe was called into existence, they are precisely the same now, and will remain so forever. Necessarily so; for they are the very perfections, the essential qualities of His being. Semper idem (always the same) is written across every one of them. His power is unabated, His wisdom undiminished, His holiness unsullied. The attributes of God can no more change than Deity can cease to be. His veracity is immutable, for His Word is "forever settled in heaven" (Psa_119:89). His love is eternal: "I have loved thee with an everlasting love" (Jer_31:3) and "Having loved His own which were in the world, He loved them unto the end" (Joh_13:1). His mercy ceases not, for it is "everlasting" (Psa_100:5).
Thirdly, God is immutable in His counsel. His will never varies. Perhaps some are ready to object that we ought to read the following: "And it repented the Lord that He had made man" (Gen_6:6). Our first reply is, Then do the Scriptures contradict themselves? No, that cannot be. Num_23:19 is plain enough: "God is not a man, that He should lie; neither the son of man, that He should repent." So also in 1Sa_15:19, "The strength of Israel will not lie nor repent: for He is not a man, that He should repent." The explanation is very simple. When speaking of Himself. God frequently accommodates His language to our limited capacities. He describes Himself as clothed with bodily members, as eyes, ears, hands, etc. He speaks of Himself as "waking" (Psa_78:65), as "rising early" (Jer_7:13); yet He neither slumbers nor sleeps. When He institutes a change in His dealings with men, He describes His course of conduct as "repenting."
Yes, God is immutable in His counsel. "The gifts and calling of God are without repentance" (Rom_11:29). It must be so, for "He is in one mind, and who can turn Him? and what His soul desireth, even that He doeth" (Job_23:13). Change and decay in all around we see, may He who changeth not abide with thee. God’s purpose never alters. One of two things causes a man to change his mind and reverse his plans: want of foresight to anticipate everything, or lack of power to execute them. But as God is both omniscient and omnipotent there is never any need for Him to revise His decrees. No. "The counsel of the Lord standeth forever, the thoughts of His heart to all generations" (Psa_33:11). Therefore do we read of "the immutability of His counsel" (Heb_6:17).
Herein we may perceive the infinite distance which separates the highest creature from the Creator. Creaturehood and mutability are correlative terms. If the creature was not mutable by nature, it would not be a creature; it would be God. By nature we tend to nothing, as we came from nothing. Nothing stays our annihilation but the will and sustaining power of God. None can sustain himself a single moment. We are entirely dependent on the Creator for every breath we draw. We gladly own with the Psalmist Thou "holdest our soul in life" (Psa_66:9). The realization of this ought to make us lie down under a sense of our own nothingness in the presence of Him "in Whom we live and move, and have our being" (Act_17:28).
As fallen creatures we are not only mutable, but everything in us is opposed to God. As such we are "wandering stars" (Jdg_1:13), out of our proper orbit. The wicked are "like the troubled sea, when it cannot rest" (Isa_57:20). Fallen man is inconstant. The words of Jacob concerning Reuben apply with full force to all of Adam’s descendants: "unstable as water" (Gen_49:4). Thus it is not only a mark of piety, but also the part of wisdom to heed that injunction, "cease ye from man" (Isa_2:22). No human being is to be depended on. "Put not your trust in princes, in the son of man, in whom is no help" (Psa_146:3). If I disobey God, then I deserve to be deceived and disappointed by my fellows. People who like you today, may hate you tomorrow. The multitude who cried "Hosanna to the Son of David," speedily changed to "Away with Him, Crucify Him."
Herein is solid comfort. Human nature cannot be relied upon; but God can! However unstable I may be, however fickle my friends may prove, God changes not. If He varied as we do, if He willed one thing today and another tomorrow, if He were controlled by caprice, who could confide in Him? But, all praise to His glorious name, He is ever the same. His purpose is fixed, His will stable, His word is sure. Here then is a rock on which we may fix our feet, while the mighty torrent is sweeping away everything around us. The permanence of God’s character guarantees the fulfillment of His promises: "For the mountains shall depart, and the hills be removed; but my kindness shall not depart from thee, neither shall the covenant of My peace be removed, saith the Lord that hath mercy on thee" (Isa_54:10).
Herein is encouragement to prayer: "What comfort would it be to pray to a god that, like the chameleon, changed color every moment? Who would put up a petition to an earthly prince that was so mutable as to grant a petition one day, and deny it another?" (S. Charnock, 1670). Should someone ask, But what is the use of praying to One whose will is already fixed? We answer, Because He so requires it. What blessings has God promised without our seeking them? "If we ask anything according to His will, He heareth us" (1Jn_5:14), and He has willed everything that is for His child’s good. To ask for anything contrary to His will is not prayer, but rank rebellion.
Herein is terror for the wicked. Those who defy Him, break His laws, have no concern for His glory, but live their lives as though He existed not, must not suppose that, when at the last they shall cry to Him for mercy, He will alter His will, revoke His word, and rescind His awful threatenings. No, He has declared, "Therefore will I also deal in fury: Mine eye shall not spare, neither will I have pity: and though they cry in Mine ears with a loud voice, yet will I not hear them" (Eze_8:18). God will not deny Himself to gratify their lusts. God is holy, unchangingly so. Therefore God hates sin, eternally hates it. Hence the eternality of the punishment of all who die in their sins.
The Divine immutability, like the cloud which interposed between the Israelites and the Egyptian army, has a dark as well as a light side. It insures the execution of His threatenings, as well as the performance of His promises; and destroys the hope which the guilty fondly cherish, that He will be all lenity to His frail and erring creatures, and that they will be much more lightly dealt with than the declarations of His own Word would lead us to expect. We oppose to these deceitful and presumptuous speculations the solemn truth, that God is unchanging in veracity and purpose, in faithfulness and justice. (J. Dick, 1850).
8. The Holiness of God
"Who shall not fear Thee, O Lord, and glorify Thy name? for Thou only art holy" (Rev_15:4). He only is independently, infinitely, immutably holy. In Scripture He is frequently styled "The Holy One": He is so because the sum of all moral excellency is found in Him. He is absolute Purity, unsullied even by the shadow of sin. "God is light, and in Him is no darkness at all" (1Jn_1:5). Holiness is the very excellency of the Divine nature: the great God is "glorious in holiness" (Exo_15:11). Therefore do we read, "Thou art of purer eyes than to behold evil, and canst not look on iniquity" (Hab_1:13). As God’s power is the opposite of the native weakness of the creature, as His wisdom is in complete contrast from the least defect of understanding or folly, so His holiness is the very antithesis of all moral blemish or defilement. Of old God appointed singers in Israel "that they should praise for the beauty of holiness" (2Ch_20:21). "Power is God’s hand or arm, omniscience His eye, mercy His bowels, eternity His duration, but holiness is His beauty" (S. Charnock). It is this, supremely, which renders Him lovely to those who are delivered from sin’s dominion.
A chief emphasis is placed upon this perfection of God: God is oftener styled Holy than almighty, and set forth by this part of His dignity more than by any other. This is more fixed on as an epithet to His name than any other. You never find it expressed ‘His mighty name’ or ‘His wise name,’ but His great name, and most of all, His holy name. This is the greatest title of honour; in this latter doth the majesty and venerableness of His name appear (S. Charnock).
This perfection, as none other, is solemnly celebrated before the Throne of Heaven, the seraphim crying, "Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord of hosts" (Isa_6:3). God Himself singles out this perfection, "Once have I sworn by Thy holiness" (Psa_89:35). God swears by His holiness because that is a fuller expression of Himself than anything else. Therefore are we exhorted, "Sing unto the Lord, O ye saints of His, and give thanks at the remembrance of His holiness" (Psa_30:4). "This may be said to be a transcendental attribute, that, as it were, runs through the rest, and casts luster upon them. It is an attribute of attributes" (J. Howe, 1670). Thus we read of "the beauty of the Lord" (Psa_27:4), which is none other than "the beauty of holiness" (Psa_110:3).
As it seems to challenge an excellency above all His other perfections, so it is the glory of all the rest; as it is the glory of the Godhead, so it is the glory of every perfection in the Godhead; as His power is the strength of them, so His holiness is the beauty of them; as all would be weak without almightiness to back them, so all would be uncomely without holiness to adorn them. Should this be sullied, all the rest would lose their honour; as at the same instant the sun should lose its light, it would lose its heat, its strength, its generative and quickening virtue. As sincerity is the luster of every grace in a Christian, so is purity the splendor of every attribute in the Godhead. His justice is a holy justice, His wisdom a holy wisdom, His arm of power a "holy arm" (Psa_98:1), His truth or promise a "holy promise" (Psa_105:42). His name, which signifies all His attributes in conjunction, "is holy," Psa_103:1 (S. Charnock).
God’s holiness is manifested in His works. "The Lord is righteous in all His ways, and holy in all His works" (Psa_145:17). Nothing but that which is excellent can proceed from Him. Holiness is the rule of all His actions. At the beginning He pronounced all that He made "very good" (Gen_1:31), which He could not have done had there been anything imperfect or unholy in them. Man was made "upright" (Ecc_7:29), in the image and likeness of his Creator. The angels that fell were created holy, for we are told that they "kept not their first habitation" (Jdg_1:6). Of Satan it is written, "Thou wast perfect in thy ways from the day that thou wast created, till iniquity was found in thee" (Eze_28:15).
God’s holiness is manifested in His law. That law forbids sin in all of its modifications: in its most refined as well as its grossest forms, the intent of the mind as well as the pollution of the body, the secret desire as well as the overt Acts Therefore do we read, The law is holy, and "the commandment holy, and just, and good" (Rom_7:12). Yes, "the commandment of the Lord is pure, enlightening the eyes. The fear of the Lord is clean, enduring forever: the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether" (Psa_19:8-9).
God’s holiness is manifested at the Cross. Wondrously and yet most solemnly does the Atonement display God’s infinite holiness and abhorrence of sin. How hateful must sin be to God for Him to punish it to its utmost deserts when it was imputed to His Son!
Not all the vials of judgment that have or shall be poured out upon the wicked world, nor the flaming furnace of a sinner’s conscience, nor the irreversible sentence pronounced against the rebellious demons, nor the groans of the damned creatures, give such a demonstration of God’s hatred of sin, as the wrath of God let loose upon His Son. Never did Divine holiness appear more beautiful and lovely than at the time our Saviour’s countenance was most marred in the midst of His dying groans. This Himself acknowledges in Psa_22:1-31. When God had turned His smiling face from Him, and thrust His sharp knife into His heart, which forced that terrible cry from Him, "My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?" He adores this perfection — "Thou art holy," Psa_22:3 (S. Charnock).
Because God is holy He hates all sin. He loves everything which is in conformity to His laws, and loathes everything which is contrary to it. His Word plainly declares, "The froward is an abomination to the Lord" (Pro_3:32). And again, "The thoughts of the wicked are an abomination to the Lord" (Pro_15:26). It follows, therefore, that He must necessarily punish sin. Sin can no more exist without demanding His punishment than without requiring His hatred of it. God has often forgiven sinners, but He never forgives sin; and the sinner is only forgiven on the ground of Another having borne his punishment; for "without shedding of blood is no remission" (Heb_9:22). Therefore we are told, "The Lord will, take vengeance on His adversaries, and He reserveth Wrath for His enemies" (Nah_1:2). For one sin God banished our first parents from Eden. For one sin all the posterity of Ham fell under a curse which remains over them to this day (Gen_9:21). For one sin Moses was excluded from Canaan, Elisha’s servant smitten with leprosy, Ananias and Sapphira cut off out of the land of the living.
Herein we find proof for the Divine inspiration of the Scriptures. The unregenerate do not really believe in the holiness of God. Their conception of His character is altogether one-sided. They fondly hope that His mercy will override everything else. "Thou thoughtest that I was altogether as thyself" (Psa_50:21) is God’s charge against them. They think only of a "god" patterned after their own evil hearts. Hence their continuance in a course of mad folly. Such is the holiness ascribed to the Divine nature and character in Scripture that it clearly demonstrates their superhuman origin. The character attributed to the "gods" of the ancients and of modern heathendom are the very reverse of that immaculate purity which pertains to the true God. An ineffably holy God, who has the utmost abhorrence of all sin, was never invented by any of Adam’s fallen descendants! The fact is that nothing makes more manifest the terrible depravity of man’s heart and his enmity against the living God than to have set before him One who is infinitely and immutably holy. His own idea of sin is practically limited to what the world calls "crime." Anything short of that, man palliates as "defects," "mistakes," "infirmities," etc. And even where sin is owned at all, excuses and extenuations are made for it.
The "god" which the vast majority of professing Christians "love," is looked upon very much like an indulgent old man, who himself has no relish for folly, but leniently winks at the "indiscretions" of youth. But the Word says, "Thou hatest all workers of iniquity "(Psa_5:5). And again, "God is angry with the wicked every day" (Psa_7:11). But men refuse to believe in this God, and gnash their teeth when His hatred of sin is faithfully pressed upon their attention. No, sinful man was no more likely to devise a holy God than to create the Lake of fire in which he will be tormented for ever and ever.
Because God is holy, acceptance with Him on the ground of creature doings is utterly impossible. A fallen creature could sooner create a world than produce that which would meet the approval of infinite Purity. Can darkness dwell with Light? Can the Immaculate One take pleasure in "filthy rags" (Isa_64:6)? The best that sinful man brings forth is defiled. A corrupt tree cannot bear good fruit. God would deny Himself, vilify His perfections, were He to account as righteous and holy that which is not so in itself; and nothing is so which has the least stain upon it contrary to the nature of God. But blessed be His name, that which His holiness demanded His grace has provided in Christ Jesus our Lord. Every poor sinner who has fled to Him for refuge stands "accepted in the Beloved" (Eph_1:6). Hallelujah!
Because God is holy the utmost reverence becomes our approaches unto Him. "God is greatly to be feared in the assembly of the saints, and to be had in reverence of all about Him" (Psa_89:7). Then "Exalt ye the Lord our God, and worship at His footstool; He is holy" (Psa_99:5). Yes, "at His footstool," in the lowest posture of humility, prostrate before Him. When Moses would approach unto the burning bush, God said, "put off thy shoes from off thy feet" (Exo_3:5). He is to be served "with fear" (Psa_2:11). Of Israel His demand was, "I will be sanctified in them that come nigh Me, and before all the people I will be glorified" (Lev_10:3). The more our hearts are awed by His ineffable holiness, the more acceptable will be our approaches unto Him.
Because God is holy we should desire to be conformed to Him. His command is, "Be ye holy, for I am holy" (1Pe_1:16). We are not bidden to be omnipotent or omniscient as God is, but we are to be holy, and that "in all manner of deportment" (1Pe_1:15).
This is the prime way of honoring God. We do not so glorify God by elevated admiration, or eloquent expressions, or pompous services of Him, as when we aspire to a conversing with Him with unstained spirits, end live to Him in living like Him (S. Charnock).
Then as God alone is the Source and Fount of holiness, let us earnestly seek holiness from Him; let our daily prayer be that He may "sanctify us wholly; and our whole spirit and soul and body be preserved blameless unto the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ" (1Th_5:23).
9. The Power of God
We cannot have a right conception of God unless we think of Him as all-powerful, as well as all-wise. He who cannot do what he will and perform all his pleasure cannot be God. As God hath a will to resolve what He deems good, so has He power to execute His will.
The power of God is that ability and strength whereby He can bring to pass whatsoever He pleases, whatsoever His infinite wisdom may direct, and whatsoever the infinite purity of His will may resolve. . . . As holiness is the beauty of all God’s attributes, so power is that which gives life and action to all the perfections of the Divine nature. How vain would be the eternal counsels, if power did not step in to execute them. Without power His mercy would be but feeble pity, His promises an empty sound, His threatenings a mere scarecrow. God’s power is like Himself: infinite, eternal, incomprehensible; it can neither be checked, restrained, nor frustrated by the creature. (S. Charnock).
"God hath spoken once; twice have I heard this, that power belongeth unto God" (Psa_62:11). "God hath spoken once": nothing more is necessary! Heaven and earth shall pass away, but His word abideth forever. God hath spoken once: how befitting His Divine majesty! We poor mortals may speak often and yet fail to be heard. He speaks but once and the thunder of His power is heard on a thousand hills. "The Lord also thundered in the heavens, and the Highest gave His voice; hailstones and coals of fire. Yea, He sent out His arrows, and scattered them; and He shot out lightnings, and discomfited them. Then the channels of waters were seen and the foundations of the world were discovered at Thy rebuke, O Lord, at the blast of the breath of Thy nostrils" (Psa_18:13-15).
"God hath spoken once": behold His unchanging authority. "For who in the heaven can be compared unto the Lord? who among the sons of the mighty can be likened unto the Lord?" (Psa_89:6). "And all the inhabitants of the earth are reputed as nothing: and He doeth according to His will in the army of heaven, and among the inhabitants of the earth: and none can stay His hand, or say unto Him, What dost Thou?" (Dan_4:35). This was openly displayed when God became incarnate and tabernacled among men. To the leper He said, "I Will, be thou clean, and immediately his leprosy was cleansed" (Mat_8:3). To one who had lain in the grave four days He cried, "Lazarus, come forth," and the dead came forth. The stormy wind and the angry wave were hushed at a single word from Him. A legion of demons could not resist His authoritative command.
"Power belongeth unto God," and to Him alone. Not a creature in the entire universe has an atom of power save what God delegates. But God’s power is not acquired, nor does it depend upon any recognition by any other authority. It belongs to Him inherently.
God’s power is like Himself, self-existent, self-sustained. The mightiest of men cannot add so much as a shadow of increased power to the Omnipotent One. He sits on no buttressed throne and leans on no assisting arm. His court is not maintained by His courtiers, nor does it borrow its splendor from His creatures. He is Himself the great central source and Originator of all power (C. H. Spurgeon).
Not only does all creation bear witness to the great power of God, but also to His entire independency of all created things. Listen to His own challenge: "Where wast thou when I laid the foundations of the earth? declare, if thou hast understanding. Who hath laid the measures thereof, if thou knowest? or who hath stretched the line upon it? Whereupon are the foundations thereof fastened or who laid the cornerstone thereof?" (Job_38:4-6). How completely is the pride of man laid in the dust!
Power is also used as a name of God, the Son of man sitting at the right hand of power (Mar_14:62), that is, at the right hand of God. God and power are so inseparable that they are reciprocated. As His essence is immense, not to be confined in place; as it is eternal, not to be measured in time; so it is almighty, not to be limited in regard of action (S. Charnock).
"Lo, these are parts of His ways:" but how little a portion is heard of Him? but the thunder of His power who can understand? (Job_26:14). Who is able to count all the monuments of His power? Even that which is displayed of His might in the visible creation is utterly beyond our powers of comprehension, still less are we able to conceive of omnipotence itself. There is infinitely more power lodged in the nature of God than is expressed in all His works.
"Parts of His ways" we behold in creation, providence, redemption, but only a "little part" of His might is seen in them. Remarkably is this brought out in Hab_3:4: "and there was the hiding of His power." It is scarcely possible to imagine anything more grandiloquent than the imagery of this whole chapter, yet nothing in it surpasses the nobility of this statement. The prophet (in vision) beheld the mighty God scattering the hills and overturning the mountains, which one would think afforded an amazing demonstration of His power Nay, says our verse, that is rather the "hiding" than the displaying of His power. What is meant? This: so inconceivable, so immense, so uncontrollable is the power of Deity, that the fearful convulsions which He works in nature conceal more than they reveal of His infinite might!
It is very beautiful to link together the following passages: "He walketh upon the waves of the sea" (Job_9:8), which expresses God’s uncontrollable power. "He walketh in the circuit of Heaven" (Job_22:14), which tells of the immensity of His presence. "He walketh upon the wings of the wind" (Psa_104:3), which signifies the amazing swiftness of His operations. This last expression is very remarkable. It is not that "He flieth," or "runneth," but that He "walketh" and that, on the very "wings of the wind" — on the most impetuous of the elements, tossed into utmost rage, and sweeping along with almost inconceivable rapidity, yet they are under His feet, beneath His perfect control!
Let us now consider God’s power in creation. "The heavens are Thine, the earth also is Thine, as for the world and the fulness thereof, Thou hast founded them. The north and the south Thou hast created them" (Psa_89:11-12). Before man can work be must have both tools and materials, but God began with nothing, and by His word alone out of nothing made all things. The intellect cannot grasp it. God "spake and it was done, He commanded and it stood fast" (Psa_33:9). Primeval matter heard His voice. "God said, Let there be. . .and it was so" (Gen_1:1-31). Well may we exclaim, "Thou hast a mighty arm: strong is Thy hand, high is Thy right hand" (Psa_89:13).
Who, that looks upward to the midnight sky; and, with an eye of reason, beholds its rolling wonders; who can forbear inquiring, Of what were their mighty orbs formed? Amazing to relate, they were produced without materials. They sprung from emptiness itself. The stately fabric of universal nature emerged out of nothing. What instruments were used by the Supreme Architect to fashion the parts with such exquisite niceness, and give so beautiful a polish to the whole? How was it all connected into one finely-proportioned and nobly finished structure? A bare fiat accomplished all. Let them be, said God. He added no more; and at once the marvelous edifice arose, adorned with every beauty, displaying innumerable perfections, and declaring amidst enraptured seraphs its great Creator’s praise. "By the word of the Lord were the heavens made, and all the host of them by the breath of His mouth," Psa_33:6 (James Hervey, 1789).
Consider God’s power in preservation. No creature has power to preserve itself. "Can the rush grow up without mire? can the flag grow up without water?" (Job_8:11). Both man and beast would perish if there were not herbs for food, and herbs would wither and die if the earth were not refreshed with fruitful showers. Therefore is God called the Preserver of "man and beast" (Psa_36:6). "He upholdeth all things by the word of His power" (Heb_1:3). What a marvel of Divine power is the prenatal life of every human being! That an infant can live at all, and for so many months, in such cramped and filthy quarters, and that without breathing, is unaccountable without the power of God. Truly He "holdeth our soul in life" (Psa_66:9).
The preservation of the earth from the violence of the sea is another plain instance of God’s might. How is that raging element kept pent within those limits wherein He first lodged it, continuing its channel, without overflowing the earth and dashing in pieces the lower part of the creation? The natural situation of the water is to be above the earth, because it is lighter, and to be immediately under the air, because it is heavier. Who restrains the natural quality of it? certainly man does not, and cannot. It is the flat of its Creator which alone bridles it: And said, "Hitherto shalt thou come, but no further: and here shall thy proud waves be stayed" (Job_38:11). What a standing monument of the power of God is the preservation of the world!
Consider God’s power in government. Take His restraining the malice of Satan. "The devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour" (1Pe_5:8). He is filled with hatred against God, and with fiendish enmity against men, particularly the saints. He that envied Adam in paradise, envies us the pleasure of enjoying any of God’s blessings. Could he have his will, he would treat all the same way he treated Job: he would send fire from heaven on the fruits of the earth, destroying the cattle, cause a wind to overthrow our houses, and cover our bodies with boils. But, little as men may realize it, God bridles him to a large extent, prevents him from carrying out his evil designs, and confines him within His ordinations.
So too God restrains the natural corruption of men. He suffers sufficient outbreakings of sin to show what fearful havoc has been wrought by man’s apostasy from his Maker, but who can conceive the frightful lengths to which men would go were God to remove His curbing hand? "Their mouth is full of cursing and bitterness their feet are swift to shed blood" (Rom_3:14-15). This is the nature of every descendant of Adam. Then what unbridled licentiousness and headstrong folly would triumph in the world, if the power of God did not interpose to lock down the floodgates of it! See Psa_93:3-4.
Consider God’s power in judgment. When He smites, none can resist Him: see Eze_22:14.How terribly this was exemplified at the Flood! God opened the windows of heaven and broke up the great fountains of the deep, and (excepting those in the ark) the entire human race, helpless before the storm of His wrath, was swept away. A shower of fire and brimstone from heaven, and the cities of the plain were exterminated. Pharaoh and all his hosts were impotent when God blew upon them at the Red Sea. What a terrific word is that in Rom_9:22: "What if God, willing to show wrath, and to make His power known, endured with much long-suffering the vessels of wrath fitted to destruction." God is going to display His mighty power upon the reprobate not merely by incarcerating them in Gehenna, but by supernaturally preserving their bodies as well as souls amid the eternal burnings of the Lake of Fire.
Well may all tremble before such a God! To treat with impunity One who can crush us more easily than we can a moth, is a suicidal policy. To openly defy Him who is clothed with omnipotence, who can rend us in pieces or cast into Hell any moment He pleases, is the very height of insanity. To put it on its lowest ground, it is but the part of wisdom to heed His command, "Kiss the Son. lest He be angry, and ye perish from the way, when His wrath is kindled but a little" (Psa_2:12).
Well may the enlightened soul adore such a God! The wondrous and infinite perfections of such a Being call for fervent worship. If men of might and renown claim the admiration of the world, how much more should the power of the Almighty fill us with wonderment and homage. "Who is like unto Thee, O Lord, among the who is like Thee, glorious in holiness, fearful in praises, doing wonders?" (Exo_15:11).
Well may the saint trust such a God! He is worthy of implicit confidence. Nothing is too hard for Him. If God were stinted in might and had a limit to His strength we might well despair. But seeing that He is clothed with omnipotence, no prayer is too hard for Him to answer, no need too great for Him to supply, no passion too strong for Him to subdue; no temptation too powerful for Him to deliver from, no misery too deep for Him to relieve. "The Lord is the strength of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?" (Psa_27:1). "Now unto Him that is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that worketh in us, unto Him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus throughout all ages, world without end. Amen" (Eph_3:20-21).
10. The Faithfulness of God
Unfaithfulness is one of the most outstanding sins of these evil days. In the business world, a man’s word is, with exceedingly rare exceptions, no longer his bond. In the social world, marital infidelity abounds on every hand, the sacred bonds of wedlock being broken with as little regard as the discarding of an old garment. In the ecclesiastical realm, thousands who have solemnly covenanted to preach the truth make no scruple to attack and deny it. Nor can reader or writer claim complete immunity from this fearful sin: in how many ways have we been unfaithful to Christ, and to the light and privileges which God has entrusted to us! How refreshing, then, how unspeakably blessed, to lift our eyes above this scene of ruin, and behold One who is faithful, faithful in all things, faithful at all times.
"Know therefore that the Lord thy God, He is God, the faithful God" (Deu_7:9). This quality is essential to His being, without it He would not be God. For God to be unfaithful would be to act contrary to His nature, which were impossible: "If we believe not, yet He abideth faithful; He cannot deny Himself" (2Ti_2:13). Faithfulness is one of the glorious perfections of His being. He is as it were clothed with it: "O Lord God of hosts, who is a strong Lord like unto Thee? or to Thy faithfulness round about Thee?" (Psa_89:8). So too when God became incarnate it was said, "Righteousness shall be the girdle of His loins, and faithfulness the girdle of His reins" (Isa_11:5).
What a word is that in Psa_36:5, Thy mercy, "O Lord, is in the heavens; and Thy faithfulness unto the clouds." Far above all finite comprehension is the unchanging faithfulness of God. Everything about God is great, vast, incomparable. He never forgets, never fails, never falters, never forfeits His word. To every declaration of promise or prophecy the Lord has exactly adhered, every engagement of covenant or threatening He will make good, for "God is not a man, that He should lie; neither the son of man, that He should repent: hath He said, and shall He not do it? or hath He spoken, and shall He not make it good?" (Num_23:19). Therefore does the believer exclaim, "His compassions fail not, they are new every morning: great is Thy faithfulness" (Lam_3:22-23).
Scripture abounds in illustrations of God’s faithfulness. More than four thousand years ago He said, "While the earth remaineth, seedtime and harvest, and cold and heat, and summer and winter, and day and night shall not cease" (Gen_8:22). Every year that comes furnishes a fresh witness to God’s fulfillment of this promise. In Gen_15:1-21 we find that Jehovah declared unto Abraham, "Thy seed shall be a stranger in a land that is not theirs, and shall serve them. . . . But in the fourth generation they shall come hither again" (Gen_15:13-16). Centuries ran their weary course. Abraham’s descendants groaned amid the brick-kilns of Egypt. Had God forgotten His promise? No, indeed. Read Exo_12:41, "And it came to pass at the end of the four hundred and thirty years, even the selfsame day it came to pass, that all the hosts of the Lord went out from the land of Egypt." Through Isaiah the Lord declared, "Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call His name Immanuel" (Isa_7:14). Again centuries passed, but "When the fulness of the time was come, God sent forth His Son, made of a woman" (Gal_4:4).
God is true. His Word of Promise is sure. In all His relations with His people God is faithful. He may be safely relied upon. No one ever yet really trusted Him in vain. We find this precious truth expressed almost everywhere in the Scriptures, for His people need to know that faithfulness is an essential part of the Divine character. This is the basis of our confidence in Him. But it is one thing to accept the faithfulness of God as a Divine truth, it is quite another to act upon it. God has given us many "exceeding great and precious promises," but are we really counting on His fulfillment of them? Are we actually expecting Him to do for us all that He has said? Are we resting with implicit assurance on these words, "He is faithful that promised" (Heb_10:23)?
There are seasons in the lives of all when it is not easy, no not even for Christians, to believe that God is faithful. Our faith is sorely tried, our eyes bedimmed with tears, and we can no longer trace the outworkings of His love. Our ears are distracted with the noises of the world, harassed by the atheistic whisperings of Satan, and we can no longer hear the sweet accents of His still small voice. Cherished plans have been thwarted, friends on whom we relied have failed us, a profest brother or sister in Christ has betrayed us. We are staggered. We sought to be faithful to God, and now a dark cloud hides Him from us. We find it difficult, yea, impossible, for carnal reason to harmonize His frowning providence with His gracious promises. Ah, faltering soul, severely-tried fellow-pilgrim, seek grace to heed Isa_50:10, "Who is among you that feareth the Lord, that obeyeth the voice of His servant, that walketh in darkness and hath no light? let him trust in the name of the Lord, and stay upon his God."
When you are tempted to doubt the faithfulness of God, cry out, "Get thee hence, Satan." Though you cannot now harmonize God’s mysterious dealings with the avowals of His love, wait on Him for more light. In His own good time He will make it plain to you. "What I do thou knowest not now, but thou shalt know hereafter" (Joh_13:7). The sequel will yet demonstrate that God has neither forsaken nor deceived His child. "And therefore will the Lord wait that He may be gracious unto you, and therefore will He be exalted, that He may have mercy upon you: for the Lord is a God of judgment: blessed are all they that wait for Him" (Isa_30:18).
"Judge not the Lord by feeble sense,
But trust Him for His grace,
Behind a frowning providence
He hides a smiling face.
Ye fearful saints fresh courage take,
The clouds ye so much dread,
Are rich with mercy, and shall break
In blessing o’er your head."
"Thy testimonies which Thou hast commanded are righteous and very faithful" (Psa_119:138). God has not only told us the best, but He has not withheld the worst. He has faithfully described the ruin which the Fall has effected. He has faithfully diagnosed the terrible state which sin has produced. He has faithfully made known his inveterate hatred of evil, and that He must punish the same. He has faithfully warned us that He is "a consuming fire" (Heb_12:29). Not only does His Word abound in illustrations of His fidelity in fulfilling His promises, but it also records numerous examples of His faithfulness in making good His threatenings. Every stage of Israel’s history exemplifies that solemn fActs So it was with individuals: Pharaoh, Korah, Achan and a host of others are so many proofs. And thus it will be with you, my reader: unless you have fled or do flee to Christ for refuge, the everlasting burning of the Lake of Fire will be your sure and certain portion. God is faithful.
God is faithful in preserving His people. "God is faithful, by whom ye are called unto the fellowship of His Son" (1Co_1:9). In the previous verse promise was made that God would confirm unto the end His own people. The Apostle’s confidence in the absolute security of believers was founded not on the strength of their resolutions or ability to persevere, but on the veracity of Him that cannot lie. Since God has promised to His Son a certain people for His inheritance, to deliver them from sin and condemnation, and to make them participants of eternal life in glory, it is certain that He will not allow any of them to perish.
God is faithful in disciplining His people. He is faithful in what He withholds, no less than in what He gives. He is faithful in sending sorrow as well as in giving joy. The faithfulness of god is a truth to be confessed by us not only when we are at ease, but also when we are smarting under the sharpest rebuke. Nor must this confession be merely of our mouths, but of our hearts, too. When God smites us with the rod of chastisement, it is faithfulness which wields it. To acknowledge this means that we humble ourselves before Him, own that we fully deserve His correction, and instead of murmuring, thank Him for it. God never afflicts without reason. "For this cause many are weak and sickly among you" (1Co_11:30), says Paul, illustrating this principle. When His rod falls upon us let us say with Daniel, "O Lord, righteousness belongeth unto Thee, but unto us confusion of faces’ (Dan_9:7)
"I know, O Lord, that Thy judgments are right, and that Thou in faithfulness hast afflicted me" (Psa_119:15). Trouble and affliction are not only consistent with God’s love pledged in the everlasting covenant, but they are parts of the administration of the same. God is not only faithful notwithstanding afflictions, but faithful in sending them. "The will I visit their transgression with the rod, and their iniquity with stripes: My lovingkindness will I not utterly take from him nor suffer My faithfulness to fail" (Psa_89:32-33). Chastening is not only reconcilable with God’s lovingkindness, but it is the effect and expression of it. It would much quieten the minds of God’s people if they would remember that His covenant love binds Him to lay on them seasonable correction. Afflictions are necessary for us: "In their affliction they will seek Me early" (Hos_5:15)
God is faithful in glorifying His people. "Faithful is He which calleth you, who also will do" (1Th_5:24). The immediate reference here is to the saints being preserved blameless unto the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. God treats with us not on the ground of our merits (for we have none), but for His own great name’s sake. God is constant to Himself and to His own purpose of grace whom He called. . .them He also glorified (Rom_8:30). God gives a full demonstration of the constancy of His everlasting goodness toward His elect by effectually calling them out of darkness into His marvelous light, and this should fully assure them of the certain continuance of it. The foundation of God standeth sure (2Ti_2:19). Paul was resting on the faithfulness of God when he said, I know whom I have believed, and am persuaded that He is able to keep that which I have committed unto Him against that day (2Ti_1:12).
The apprehension of this blessed truth will preserve us from worry. To be full of care, to view our situation with dark forebodings, to anticipate the morrow with sad anxiety, is to reflect upon the faithfulness of God. He who has cared for His child through all the years, will not forsake him in old age. He who has heard your prayers in the past, will not refuse to supply your need in the present emergency. Rest on Job_5:19, "He shall deliver thee in six troubles: yea, in seven there shall be no evil touch thee."
The apprehension of this blessed truth will check our murmurings. The Lord knows what is best for each of us, and one effect or resting on this truth will be the silencing of our petulant complainings. God is greatly honored when, under trial and chastening, we have good thoughts of Him, vindicate His wisdom and justice, and recognize His love in His very rebukes.
The apprehension of this blessed truth will beget increasing confidence in God. "Wherefore let them that suffer according to the will of God commit the keeping of their souls to Him in well to Him in well doing, as unto a faithful Creator" (1Pe_4:19). When we trustfully resign ourselves, and all our affairs into God’s hands, fully persuaded of His love and faithfulness, the sooner shall we be satisfied with his providence and realize that "He doeth all things well."
11. The Goodness of God
"The goodness of God endureth continually" (Psa_52:1) The "goodness" of God respects the perfection of His nature: "God is light, and in Him is no darkness at all" (1Jn_1:5). There is such an absolute perfection in God’s nature and being that nothing is wanting to it or defective in it, and nothing can be added to it to make it better.
He is originally good, good of Himself, which nothing else is; for all creatures are good only by participation and communication from God. He is essentially good; not only good, but goodness itself: the creature’s good is a superadded quality, in God it is His essence. He is infinitely good; the creature’s good is but a drop, but in God there is an infinite ocean or gathering together of good. He is eternally and immutably good, for He cannot be less good than He is; as there can be no addition made to Him, so no subtraction from Him. (Thos. Manton).
God is summum bonum, the chiefest good.
The original Saxon meaning of our English word "God" is "The Good." God is not only the Greatest of all beings, but the Best. All the goodness there is in any creature has been imparted from the Creator, but God’s goodness is underived, for it is the essence of His eternal nature. As God is infinite in power from all eternity, before there was any display thereof, or any act of omnipotency put forth; so He was eternally good before there was any communication of His bounty, or any creature to whom it might be imparted or exercised. Thus, the first manifestation of this Divine perfection was in giving being to all things. "Thou art good, and doest good" (Psa_119:68). God has in Himself an infinite and inexhaustible treasure of all blessedness enough to fill all things.
All that emanates from God — His decrees, His creation, His laws, His providences — cannot be otherwise than good: as it is written. "And God saw everything that He had made, and, behold, it was very good" (Gen_1:31). Thus, the "goodness" of God is seen, first, in Creation. The more closely the creature is studied, the more the beneficence of its Creator becomes apparent. Take the highest of God’s earthly creatures, man. Abundant reason has he to say with the Psalmist, "I will praise Thee, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made: marvelous are Thy works, and that my soul knoweth right well" (Psa_139:14). Everything about the structure of our bodies attests the goodness of their Maker. How suited the bands to perform their allotted work! How good of the Lord to appoint sleep to refresh the wearied body! How benevolent His provision to give unto the eyes lids and brows for their protection! And so we might continue indefinitely.
Nor is the goodness of the Creator confined to man, it is exercised toward all His creatures. "The eyes of all wait upon Thee; and Thou givest them their meat in due season. Thou openest Thine hand, and satisfiest the desire of every living thing" (Psa_145:15-16). Whole volumes might be written, yea have been, to amplify this fActs Whether it be the birds of the air, the beasts of the forest, or the fish in the sea, abundant provision has been made to supply their every need. God "giveth food to all flesh, for His mercy endureth forever" (Psa_136:25). Truly, "The earth is full of the goodness of the Lord" (Psa_33:5).
The goodness of God is seen in the variety of natural pleasures which He has provided for His creatures. God might have been pleased to satisfy our hunger without the food being pleasing to our palates — how His benevolence appears in the varied flavors which He has given to meats, vegetables, and fruits! God has not only given us senses, but also that which gratifies them; and this too reveals His goodness. The earth might have been as fertile as it is without its surface being so delightfully variegated. Our physical lives could have been sustained without beautiful flowers to regale our eyes, and exhale sweet perfumes. We might have walked the fields without our ears being saluted by the music of the birds. Whence, then, this loveliness, this charm, so freely diffused over the face of nature? Verily, "The tender mercies of the Lord are over all His works" (Psa_145:9).
The goodness of God is seen in that when man transgressed the law of His Creator a dispensation of unmixed wrath did not at once commence. Well might God have deprived His fallen creatures of every blessing, every comfort, every pleasure. Instead, He ushered in a regime of a mixed nature, of mercy and judgment. This is very wonderful if it be duly considered, and the more thoroughly that regime be examined the more will it appear that "mercy rejoiceth against judgment" (Jas_2:13). Notwithstanding all the evils which attend our fallen state, the balance of good greatly preponderates. With comparatively rare exceptions, men and women experience a far greater number of days of health, than they do of sickness and pain. There is much more creature — happiness than creature — misery in the world. Even our sorrows admit of considerable alleviation, and God has given to the human mind a pliability which adapts itself to circumstances and makes the most of them.
Nor can the benevolence of God be justly called into question because there is suffering and sorrow in the world. If man sins against the goodness of God, if he despises "the riches of His goodness and forbearance and longsuffering," and after the hardness and impenitency of his heart treasurest up unto himself wrath against the day of wrath (Rom_2:4-5), who is to blame but himself? Would God be "good" if He punished not those who ill-use His blessings, abuse His benevolence, and trample His mercies beneath their feet? It will be no reflection upon God’s goodness, but rather the brightest exemplification of it, when He shall rid the earth of those who have broken His laws, defied His authority, mocked His messengers, scorned His Son, and persecuted those for whom He died.
The goodness of God appeared most illustriously when He sent forth His Son "made of a woman, made under the law, to redeem them that were under the law, that we might received the adoption of sons" (Gal_4:4-5) Then it was that a multitude of the heavenly host praised their Maker and said, "Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace, good-will toward men" (Luk_2:14). Yes, in the Gospel the "grace (Gk. benevolence or goodness) of God that bringeth salvation hath appeared to all men" (Tit_2:11). Nor can God’s benignity be called into question because He has not made every sinful creature to be a subject of His redemptive grace. He did not the fallen angels. Had God left all to perish it had been no reflection on His goodness. To any who would challenge this statement we will remind him of our Lord’s sovereign prerogative: "Is it not lawful for Me to do what I will with Mine own? Is thine eye evil, because I am good?" (Mat_20:15).
"O that men would praise the Lord for His goodness, and for His wonderful works to the children of men" (Psa_107:8). Gratitude is the return justly required from the objects of His beneficence; yet is it often withheld from our great Benefactor simply because His goodness is so constant and so abundant. It is lightly esteemed because it is exercised toward us in the common course of events. It is not felt because we daily experience it. "Despisest thou the riches of His goodness?" (Rom_2:4). His goodness is "despised" when it is not improved as a means to lead men to repentance, but, on the contrary, serves to harden them from the supposition that God entirely overlooks their sin.
The goodness of God is the life of the believer’s trust. It is this excellency in God which most appeals to our hearts. Because His goodness endureth forever, we ought never to be discouraged: "The Lord is good, a stronghold in the day of trouble, and He knoweth them that trust in Him" (Nah_1:7).
When others behave badly to us, it should only stir us up the more heartily to give thanks unto the Lord, because He is good; and when we ourselves are conscious that we are far from being good, we should only the more reverently bless Him that He is good. We must never tolerate an instant’s unbelief as to the goodness of the Lord; whatever else may be questioned, this is absolutely certain, that Jehovah is good; His dispensations may vary, but His nature is always the same. (C. H. Spurgeon).
12. The Patience of God
Far less has been written upon this than the other excellencies of the Divine character. Not a few of those who have expatiated at length upon the Divine attributes have passed over the patience of God without any comment. It is not easy to suggest a reason for this, for surely the longsuffering of God is as much one of the Divine perfections as His wisdom, power, or holiness, and as much to be admired and revered by us. True, the actual term will not be found in a concordance so frequently as the others, but the glory of this grace itself shines forth on almost every page of Scripture. Certain it is that we lose much if we do not frequently meditate upon the patience of God and earnestly pray that our hearts and ways may be more completely conformed thereto.
Most probably the principal reason why so many writers have failed to give us anything, separately, upon the patience of God was because of the difficulty of distinguishing this attribute from the Divine goodness and mercy, particularly the latter. God’s longsuffering is mentioned in conjunction with His grace and mercy again and again, as may be seen by consulting Exo_34:6, Num_14:18, Psa_86:15, etc. That the patience of God is really a display of His mercy, in fact is one way in which it is frequently manifested, cannot be gainsaid; but that they are one and the same excellency, and are not to be separated, we cannot concede. It may not be easy to discriminate between them, nevertheless, Scripture fully warrants us, in predicating some things of the one which we cannot of the other.
Stephen Charnock, the Puritan, defines God’s patience, in part, thus:
It is a part of the Divine goodness and mercy, yet differs from both. God being the greatest goodness, hath the greatest mildness; mildness is always the companion of true goodness, and the greater the goodness, the greater the mildness. Who so holy as Christ, and who so meek? God’s slowness to anger is a branch of His mercy: "the Lord is full of compassion, slow to anger" (Psa_145:8). It differs from mercy in the formal consideration of the subject: mercy respects the creature as miserable, patience respects the creature as criminal; mercy pities him in his misery, patience bears with the sin which engendered the misery, and giving birth to more.
Personally we would define the Divine patience as that power of control which God exercises over Himself, causing Him to bear with the wicked and forebear so long in punishing them. In Nah_1:3 we read, "The Lord is slow to anger and great in power," upon which Mr. Charnock said,
Men that are great in the world are quick in passion, and are not so ready to forgive an injury, or bear with an offender, as one of a meaner rank. It is a want of power over that man’s self that makes him do unbecoming things upon a provocation. A prince that can bridle his passions is a king over himself as well as over his subjects. God is slow to anger because great in power. He has no less power over Himself than over His creatures.
It is at the above point, we think, that God’s patience is most clearly distinguished from His mercy. Though the creature is benefited thereby, the patience of God chiefly respects Himself, a restraint placed upon His acts by His will; whereas His mercy terminates wholly upon the creature. The patience of God is that excellency which causes Him to sustain great injuries without immediately avenging Himself. He has a power of patience as well as a power of justice. Thus the Hebrew word for the Divine longsuffering is rendered "slow to anger" in Neh_9:17, Psa_103:8, etc. Not that there are any passions in the Divine nature, but that God’s wisdom and will is pleased to act with that stateliness and sobriety which becometh His exalted majesty.
In support of our definition above let us point out that it was to this excellency in the Divine character that Moses appealed, when Israel sinned so grievously at Kadesh-Barnea, and there provoked Jehovah so sorely. Unto His servant the Lord said, I will smite them with the pestilence and disinherit them. Then it was that the typical mediator pleaded, "I beseech Thee let the power of my Lord be great according as Thou hast spoken, saying, The Lord is longsuffering," etc. (Num_14:17). Thus, His longsuffering is His "power" of self-restraint.
Again, in Rom_9:22 we read, "What if God, willing to show His wrath, and to make His power known, endured with much longsuffering the vessels of wrath fitted to destruction. . . ?" Were God to immediately break these reprobate vessels into pieces, His power of self-control would not so eminently appear; by bearing with their wickedness and forebearing punishment so long, the power of His patience is gloriously demonstrated. True, the wicked interpret His longsuffering quite differently — "Because sentence against an evil work is not executed speedily, therefore the heart of the sons of men is fully set in them to do evil" (Ecc_8:11) — but the anointed eye adores what they abuse.
"The God of patience" (Rom_15:5) is one of the Divine titles. Deity is thus denominated, first, because God is both the Author and Object of the grace of patience in the saint. Secondly, because this is what He is in Himself: patience is one of His perfections. Thirdly, as a pattern for us: "Put on therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, bowels of mercy, kindness, humbleness of mind, meekness, longsuffering" (Col_3:12). And again, "Be ye therefore followers (emulators) of god, as dear children" (Eph_5:2). When tempted to be disgusted at the dullness of another, or to be revenged on one who has wronged you, call to remembrance God’s infinite patience and longsuffering with yourself.
The patience of God is manifested in His dealings with sinners. How strikingly was it displayed toward the antediluvians. When mankind was universally degenerate, and all flesh had corrupted his way, God did not destroy them till He had forewarned them. He "waited" (1Pe_3:20), probably no less than one hundred and twenty years (Gen_6:3), during which time Noah was a "preacher of righteousness" (2Pe_2:5). So, later, when the Gentiles not only worshipped and served the creature more than the Creator, but also committed the vilest abominations contrary to even the dictates of nature (Rom_1:19-26), and hereby filled up the measure of their iniquity; yet, instead of drawing His sword for the extermination of such rebels, God "suffered all nations to walk in their own ways," and gave them "rain from heaven and fruitful seasons"(Act_14:16-17).
Marvelously was God’s patience exercised and manifested toward Israel. First, He "suffered their manners" for forty years in the wilderness (Act_13:18). Later, when they had entered Canaan, but followed the evil customs of the nations around them, and turned to idolatry; though God chastened them sorely, He did not utterly destroy them, but in their distress, raised up deliverers for them. When their iniquity was raised to such a height that none but a God of infinite patience, could have borne them, He, notwithstanding, spared them many years before He allowed them to be carried down into Babylon. Finally, when their rebellion against Him reached its climax by crucifying His Son. He waited forty years ere He sent the Romans against them, and that only after they had judged themselves "unworthy of eternal life" (Act_13:46).
How wondrous is God’s patience with the world today. On every side people are sinning with a high hand. The Divine law is trampled under foot and God Himself openly despised. It is truly amazing that He does not instantly strike dead those who so brazenly defy Him. Why does He not suddenly cut off the haughty, infidel and blatant blasphemer, as He did Ananias and Sapphira? Why does He not cause the earth to open its mouth and devour the persecutors of his people, so that, like Dathan and Abiram, they shall go down alive into the Pit? And what of apostate Christendom, where every possible form of sin is now tolerated and practiced under cover of the holy name of Christ? Why does not the righteous wrath of Heaven make an end of such abominations? Only one answer is possible: because God bears with "much longsuffering the vessels of wrath fitted to destruction."
And what of the writer and the reader? Let us review our own lives. It is not long since we followed a multitude to do evil, had no concern for God’s glory, and lived only to gratify self. How patiently He bore with our vile conduct! And now that grace has snatched us as brands from the burning, giving us a place in God’s family, and begotten us unto an eternal inheritance in glory; how miserably we requite Him. How shallow our gratitude, how tardy our obedience, how frequent our backslidings! One reason why God suffers the flesh to remain in the believer is that He may exhibit His "longsuffering to usward" (2Pe_3:9). Since this Divine attribute is manifested only in this world, God takes advantage to display it toward His own.
May our meditation upon this Divine excellency soften our hearts, make our consciences tender, and may we learn in the school of holy experience the "patience of saints," namely, submission to the Divine will and continuance in well doing. Let us earnestly seek grace to emulate this Divine excellency. "Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect" (Mat_5:48): in the immediate context Christ exhorts us to love our enemies, bless them that curse us, do good to them that hate us. God bears long with the wicked notwithstanding the multitude of their sin, and shall we desire to be revenged because of a single injury?
13. The Grace of God
Grace is a perfection of the Divine character which is exercised only toward the elect. Neither in the Old Testament nor in the New is the grace of God ever mentioned in connection with mankind generally, still less with the lower orders of His creatures. In this it is distinguished from mercy, for the mercy of God is "over all His works" (Psa_145:9). Grace is the alone source from which flows the goodwill, love, and salvation of God unto His chosen people. This attribute of the Divine character was defined by Abraham Booth in his helpful book, The Reign of Grace thus, "It is the eternal and absolute free favour of God, manifested in the vouchsafement of spiritual and eternal blessings to the guilty and the unworthy."
Divine grace is the sovereign and saving favour of God exercised in the bestowment of blessings upon those who have no merit in them and for which no compensation is demanded from them. Nay, more; it is the favour of God shown to those who not only have no positive deserts of their own, but who are thoroughly ill-deserving and hell-deserving. It is completely unmerited and unsought, and is altogether unattracted by anything in or from or by the objects upon which it is bestowed. Grace can neither be bought, earned, nor won by the creature. If it could be, it would cease to be grace. When a thing is said to be of grace we mean that the recipient has no claim upon it, that it was in nowise due him. It comes to him as pure charity, and, at first, unasked and undesired.
The fullest exposition of the amazing grace of God is to be found in the Epistles of the apostle Paul. In his writings "grace" stands in direct opposition to works and worthiness, all works and worthiness, of whatever kind or degree. This is abundantly clear from Rom_11:6, "And if by grace, then is it no more of works: otherwise grace is no more grace. If it be of works, then is it no more grace, otherwise work is no more work." Grace and works will no more unite than an acid and an alkali. "By grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God: not of works, lest any man should boast" (Eph_2:8-9). The absolute favour of God can no more consist with human merit than oil and water will fuse into one: see also Rom_4:4-5.
There are three principal characteristics of Divine grace. First, it is eternal. Grace was planned before it was exercised, purposed before it was imparted: "Who hath saved us, and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works, but according to His own purpose and grace, which was given us in Christ Jesus before the world began" (2Ti_1:9). Second, it is free, for none did ever purchase it: "Being justified freely by His grace" (Rom_3:24). Third, it is sovereign, because God exercises it toward and bestows it upon whom He pleases: "Even so might grace reign" (Rom_5:21). If grace "reigns" then is it on the throne, and the occupant of the throne is sovereign. Hence "the throne of grace" (Heb_4:16).
Just because grace is unmerited favour, it must be exercised in a sovereign manner. Therefore does the Lord declare, "I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious" (Exo_33:19). Were God to show grace to all of Adam’s descendants, men would at once conclude that He was righteously compelled to take them to heaven as a meet compensation for allowing the human race to fall into sin. But the great God is under no obligation to any of His creatures, least of all to those who are rebels against Him.
Eternal life is a gift, therefore it can neither be earned by good works, nor claimed as a right. Seeing that salvation is a "gift," who has any right to tell God on whom He ought to bestow it? It is not that the Giver ever refuses this gift to any who seek it wholeheartedly, and according to the rules which He has prescribed. No! He refuses none who come to Him empty-handed and in the way of His appointing. But if out of a world of impenitent and unbelieving, God is determined to exercise His sovereign right by choosing a limited number to be saved, who is wronged? Is God obliged to force His gift on those who value it not? Is God compelled to save those who are determined to go their own way?
But nothing more riles the natural man and brings to the surface his innate and inveterate enmity against God than to press upon him the eternality, the freeness, and the absolute sovereignty of Divine grace. That God should have formed His purpose from everlasting without in anywise consulting the creature, is too abasing for the unbroken heart. That grace cannot be earned or won by any efforts of man is too self-emptying for self-righteousness. And that grace singles out whom it pleases to be its favored objects, arouses hot protests from haughty rebels. The clay rises up against the Potter and asks, "Why hast Thou made me thus?" A lawless insurrectionist dares to call into question the justice of Divine sovereignty.
The distinguishing grace of God is seen in saving that people whom He has sovereignly singled out to be His high favorites. By "distinguishing" we mean that grace discriminates, makes differences" chooses some and passes by others. It was distinguishing grace which selected Abraham from the midst of his idolatrous neighbors and made him "the friend of God." It was distinguishing grace which saved "publicans and sinners," but said of the religious Pharisees, "Let them alone" (Mat_15:14). Nowhere does the glory of God’s free and sovereign grace shine more conspicuously than in the unworthiness and unlikeness of its objects. Beautifully was this illustrated by James Hervey, (1751):
Where sin has abounded, says the proclamation from the court of heaven, grace doth much more abound. Manasseh was a monster of barbarity, for he caused his own children to pass through the fire, and filled Jerusalem with innocent blood. Manasseh was an adept in iniquity, for he not only multiplied, and to an extravagant degree, his own sacrilegious impieties, but he poisoned the principles and perverted the manners of his subjects, making them do worse than the most detestable of the heathen idolators: see 2Ch_33:1-25. Yet, through this superabundant grace he is humbled, he is reformed, and becomes a child of forgiving love, an heir of immortal glory.
Behold that bitter and bloody persecutor, Saul; when, breathing out threatenings and bent upon slaughter, he worried the lambs and put to death the disciples of Jesus. The havoc he had committed, the inoffensive families he had already ruined, were not sufficient to assuage his vengeful spirit. They were only a taste, which, instead of glutting the bloodhound, made him more closely pursue the track, and more eagerly pant for destruction. He still has a thirst for violence and murder. So eager and insatiable is his thirst, that be even breathes out threatening and slaughter (Act_9:1). His words are spears and arrows, and his tongue a sharp sword. ‘Tis as natural for him to menace the Christians as to breathe the air. Nay, they bled every hour in the purposes of his rancorous heart. It is only owing to want of power that every syllable he utters, every breath he draws, does not deal out deaths, and cause some of the innocent disciples to fall. Who, upon the principles of human judgment, would not nave pronounced him a vessel of wrath, destined to unavoidable damnation? Nay, would not have been ready to conclude that, if there were heavier chains and a deeper dungeon in the world of woe, they must surely be reserved for such an implacable enemy of true godliness? Yet, admire and adore the inexhaustible treasures of grace — this Saul is admitted into the goodly fellowship of the prophets, is numbered with the noble arm of martyrs and makes a distinguished figure among the glorious company of the apostles.
The Corinthians were flagitious even to a proverb. Some of them wallowing in such abominable vices, and habituated themselves to such outrageous acts of injustice, as were a reproach to human nature. Yet, even these sons of violence and slaves of sensuality were washed, sanctified, justified (1Co_6:9-11). "Washed," in the precious blood of a dying Redeemer; "sanctified," by the powerful operations of the blessed Spirit; "justified," through the infinitely tender mercies of a gracious God. Those who were once the burden of the earth, are now the joy of heaven, the delight of angels.
Now the grace of God is manifested in and by and through the Lord Jesus Christ. "The law was given by Moses, grace and truth came by Jesus Christ" (Joh_1:17). This does not mean that God never exercised grace toward any before His Son became incarnate — Gen_6:8, Exo_33:19, etc., clearly show otherwise. But grace and truth were fully revealed and perfectly exemplified when the Redeemer came to this earth, and died for His people upon the cross. It is through Christ the Mediator alone that the grace of God flows to His elect. "Much more the grace of God, and the gift by grace, which is by one man, Jesus Christ. . .much more they which receive abundance of grace, and of the gift of righteousness, shall reign in life by one, Jesus Christ. . .so might grace reign, through righteousness, unto eternal life, by Jesus Christ our Lord" (Rom_5:15, Rom_5:17, Rom_5:21).
The grace of God is proclaimed in the Gospel (Act_20:24), which is to the self-righteous Jew a "stumbling block," and to the conceited and philosophizing Greek "foolishness." And why so? Because there is nothing whatever in it that is adapted to gratify the pride of man. It announces that unless we are saved by grace, we cannot be saved at all. It declares that apart from Christ, the unspeakable Gift of God’s grace, the state of every man is desperate, irremediable, hopeless. The Gospel addresses men as guilty, condemned, perishing criminals. It declares that the chastest moralist is in the same terrible plight as is the most voluptuous profligate; that the zealous professor, with all his religious performances, is no better off than the most profane infidel.
The Gospel contemplates every descendant of Adam as a fallen, polluted, hell-deserving and helpless sinner. The grace which the Gospel publishes is his only hope. All stand before God convicted as transgressors of His holy law, as guilty and condemned criminals; awaiting not sentence, but the execution of sentence already passed on them (Joh_3:18; Rom_3:19). To complain against the partiality of grace is suicidal. If the sinner insists upon bare justice, then the Lake of Fire must be his eternal portion. His only hope lies in bowing to the sentence which Divine justice has passed upon him, owning the absolute righteousness of it, casting himself on the mercy of God, and stretching forth empty hands to avail himself of the grace of God now made known to him in the Gospel.
The third Person in the Godhead is the Communicator of grace, therefore is He denominated "the Spirit of grace" (Zec_12:10). God the Father is the Fountain of all grace, for He purposed in Himself the everlasting covenant of redemption. God the Son is the only Channel of grace. The Gospel is the Publisher of grace. The Spirit is the Bestower. He is the One who applies the Gospel in saving power to the soul: quickening the elect while spiritually dead, conquering their rebellious wills, melting their hard hearts, opening their blind eyes, cleansing them from the leprosy of sin. Thus we may say with the late G. S. Bishop,
Grace is a provision for men who are so fallen that they cannot lift the axe of justice, so corrupt that they cannot change their own natures, so averse to God that they cannot turn to Him, so blind that they cannot see Him, so deaf that they cannot hear Him, and so dead that He Himself must open their graves and lift them into resurrection.
14. The Mercy of God
"O give thanks unto the Lord: for He is good, for His mercy endureth forever" (Psa_136:1). For this perfection of the Divine character God is greatly to be praised. Three times over in as many verses does the Psalmist here call upon the saints to give thanks unto the Lord for this adorable attribute. And surely this is the least that can be asked for from those who have been such bounteous gainers by it. When we contemplate the characteristics of this Divine excellency, we cannot do otherwise than bless God for it. His mercy is "great" (1Ki_3:6), "plenteous" (Psa_86:5), "tender" (Luk_1:78), "abundant" (1Pe_1:3); it is "from everlasting to everlasting upon them that fear Him" (Psa_103:17). Well may we say with the Psalmist, "I will sing aloud of Thy mercy" (Psa_59:16).
"I will make all My goodness pass before thee, and I will proclaim the name of the Lord before thee; and will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show mercy on whom I will show mercy" (Exo_33:19). Wherein differs the "mercy of God from His grace"? The mercy of God has its spring in the Divine goodness. The first issue of God’s goodness is His benignity or bounty, by which He gives liberally to His creatures as creatures; thus has He given being and life to all things. The second issue of God’s goodness is His mercy, which denotes the ready inclination of God to relieve the misery of fallen creatures. Thus, "mercy" presupposes sin.
Though it may not be easy at the first consideration to perceive a real difference between the grace and the mercy of God, it helps us thereto if we carefully ponder His dealings with the unfallen angels. He has never exercised mercy toward them, for they have never stood in any need thereof, not having sinned or come beneath the effects of the curse. Yet, they certainly are the objects of God’s free and sovereign grace. First, because of His election of them from out of the whole angelic race (1Ti_5:21). Second, and in consequence of their election, because of His preservation of them from apostasy, when Satan rebelled and dragged down with him one-third of the celestial hosts (Rev_12:4). Third, in making Christ their Head (Col_2:10; 1Pe_3:22), whereby they are eternally secured in the holy condition in which they were created. Fourth, because of the exalted position which has been assigned them: to live in God’s immediate presence (Dan_7:10), to serve Him constantly in His heavenly temple, to receive honorable commissions from Him (Heb_1:14). This is abundant grace toward them but "mercy" it is not.
In endeavoring to study the mercy of God as it is set forth in Scripture, a threefold distinction needs to be made, if the Word of Truth is to be "rightly divided" thereon. First, there is a general mercy of God, which is extended not only to all men, believers and unbelievers alike, but also to the entire creation: "His tender mercies are over all His works" (Psa_145:9): "He giveth to all life, and breath, and all things" (Act_17:25). God has upon the brute creation in their needs, and supplies them with suitable provision. Second, there is a special mercy of God, which is exercised toward the children of men, helping and succouring them, notwithstanding their sins. To them also He communicates all the necessities of life: "for He maketh His sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust" (Mat_5:45). Third, there is a sovereign mercy which is reserved for the heirs of salvation, which is communicated to them in a covenant way, through the Mediator.
Following out a little further the difference between the second and third distinctions pointed out above, it is important to note that the mercies which God bestows on the wicked are solely of a temporal nature; that is to say, they are confined strictly to this present life. There will be no mercy extended to them beyond the grave: "It is a people of no understanding: therefore He that made them will not have mercy on them, and He that formed them will show them no favour" (Isa_27:11). But at this point a difficulty may suggest itself to some of our readers, namely, Does not Scripture affirm that "His mercy endureth forever" (Psa_136:1)? Two things need to be pointed out in that connection. God can never cease to be merciful, for this is a quality of the Divine essence (Psa_116:5); but the exercise of His mercy is regulated by His sovereign will. This must be so, for there is nothing outside Himself which obliges Him to act; if there were, that "something" would be supreme, and God would cease to be God.
It is pure sovereign grace which alone determines the exercise of Divine mercy. God expressly affirms this fact in Rom_9:15, "For He saith to Moses, I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy." It is not the wretchedness of the creature which causes Him to show mercy, for God is not influenced by things outside of Himself as we are. If God were influenced by the abject misery of leprous sinners, He would cleanse and save all of them. But He does not. Why? Simply because it is not His pleasure and purpose so to do. Still less is it the merits of the creature which causes Him to bestow mercies upon them, for it is a contradiction in terms to speak of meriting "mercy." "Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us" (Tit_3:5) — the one standing in direct antithesis from the other. Nor is it the merits of Christ which moves God to bestow mercies on His elect: that would be putting the effect for the cause. It is "through" or because of the tender mercy of our God that Christ was sent here to His people (Luk_1:78). The merits of Christ make it possible for God to righteously bestow spiritual mercies on His elect, justice having been fully satisfied by the Surety! No, mercy arises solely from God’s imperial pleasure.
Again; though it be true, blessedly and gloriously true, that God’s mercy "endureth forever," yet we must observe carefully the objects to whom His "mercy" is shown. Even the casting of the reprobate into the Lake of Fire is an act of mercy. The punishment of the wicked is to be contemplated from a threefold viewpoint. From God’s side, it is an act of justice, vindicating His honour. The mercy of God is never shown to the prejudice of His holiness and righteousness. From their side, it is an act of equity, when they are made to suffer the due reward of their iniquities. But from the standpoint of the redeemed, the punishment of the wicked is an act of unspeakable mercy. How dreadful would it be if the present order of things when the children of God are obliged to live in the midst of the children of the Devil, should continue forever! Heaven would at once cease to be heaven if the ears of the saints still heard the blasphemous and filthy language of the reprobate. What a mercy that in the New Jerusalem "there shall in nowise enter into it any thing that defileth, neither worketh abomination" (Rev_21:27)!
Lest the reader might think that in the last paragraph we have been drawing upon our imagination, let us appeal to Holy Scripture in support of what has been said. In Psa_143:12 we find David praying, "And of Thy mercy cut off mine enemies, and destroy all them that afflict my soul: for I am Thy servant." Again; in Psa_136:15 we read that God "overthrew Pharaoh and his hosts in the Red Sea: for His mercy endureth forever." It was an act of vengeance upon Pharaoh and his hosts, but it was an act of "mercy" unto the Israelites. Again, in Rev_19:1-3 we read, "I heard a great voice of much people in heaven, saying, Alleluia; Salvation, and glory, and honour, and power, unto the Lord our God: for true and righteous are His judgments: for He hath judged the great whore, which did corrupt the earth with her fornication, and hath avenged the blood of His servants at her hand. And again they said, Alleluia. And her smoke rose up forever and ever."
From what has just been before us, let us note how vain is the presumptuous hope of the wicked, who, notwithstanding their continued defiance of God, nevertheless count upon His being merciful to them. How many there are who say, I do not believe that God will ever cast me into Hell; He is too merciful. Such a hope is a viper, which if cherished in their bosoms will sting them to death. God is a God of justice as well as mercy, and He has expressly declared that He will "by no means clear the guilty" (Exo_34:7). Yea, He has said, "The wicked shall be turned into hell, all the nations that forget God" (Psa_9:17). As well might men reason: I do not believe that if filth be allowed to accumulate and sewerage become stagnant and people deprive themselves of fresh air, that a merciful God will let them fall a prey to a deadly fever. The fact is that those who neglect the laws of health are carried away by disease, notwithstanding God’s mercy. Equally true is it that those who neglect the laws of spiritual health shall forever suffer the Second Death.
Unspeakably solemn is it to see so many abusing this Divine perfection. They continue to despise God’s authority, trample upon His laws continue in sin, and yet presume upon His mercy. But God will not be unjust to Himself. God shows mercy to the truly penitent, but not to the impenitent (Luk_13:3). To continue in sin and yet reckon upon Divine mercy remitting punishment is diabolical. It is saying, "Let us do evil that good may come," and of all such it is written, whose "damnation is just" (Rom_3:8). Presumption shall most certainly be disappointed; read carefully Deu_29:18-20. Christ is the spiritual Mercy-seat, and all who despise and reject His Lordship shall "perish from the way, when His wrath is kindled but a little" (Psa_2:12).
But let our final thought be of God’s spiritual mercies unto His own people. "Thy mercy is great unto the heavens" (Psa_57:10). The riches thereof transcend our loftiest thought. "For as the heaven is high above the earth, so great is His mercy toward them that fear Him" (Psa_103:11). None can measure it. The elect are designated "vessels of mercy" (Rom_9:23). It is mercy that quickened them when they were dead in sins (Eph_2:4-5). It is mercy that saves them (Tit_3:5). It is His abundant mercy which begat them unto an eternal inheritance (1Pe_1:3). Time would fail us to tell of His preserving, sustaining, pardoning, supplying mercy. Unto His own, God is "the Father of mercies" (2Co_1:3).
"When all Thy mercies, O my God,
My rising soul surveys,
Transported with the view I’m lost,
In wonder, love, and praise."
15. The Love of God
There are three things told us in Scripture concerning the nature of God. First, "God is spirit" (Joh_4:24). In the Greek there is no indefinite article, and to say "God is a spirit" is most objectionable, for it places Him in a class with others. God is "spirit" in the highest sense. Because He is "spirit" He is incorporeal, having no visible substance. Had God a tangible body, He would not be omnipresent, He would be limited to one place; because He is spirit He fills heaven and earth. Second, God is light (1Jn_1:5), which is the opposite of "darkness." In Scripture "darkness" stands for sin, evil, death; and "light" for holiness, goodness, life. God is light, means that He is the sum of all excellency. Third, "God is love" (1Jn_4:8). It is not simply that God "loves," but that He is Love itself. Love is not merely one of His attributes, but His very nature.
There are many today who talk about the love of God, who are total strangers to the God of love. The Divine love is commonly regarded as a species of amiable weakness, a sort of good-natured indulgence; it is reduced to a mere sickly sentiment, patterned after human emotion. Now the truth is that on this, as on everything else, our thoughts need to be formed and regulated by what is revealed thereon in Holy Scripture. That there is urgent need for this is apparent not only from the ignorance which so generally prevails, but also from the low state of spirituality which is now so sadly evident everywhere among professing Christians. How little real love there is for God. One chief reason for this is because our hearts are so little occupied with His wondrous love for His people. The better we are acquainted with His love — its character, fulness, blessedness — the more will our hearts be drawn out in love to Him.
1. The love of God is uninfluenced.
By this we mean, there was nothing whatever in the objects of His love to call it into exercise, nothing in the creature to attract or prompt it. The love which one creature has for another is because of something in them; but the love of God is free, spontaneous, uncaused. The only reason why God loves any is found in His own sovereign will: "The Lord did not set His love upon you, nor choose you because ye were more in number than any people; for ye were the fewest of all people: but because the Lord loved thee" (Deu_7:7-8). God has loved His people from everlasting, and therefore nothing of the creature can be the cause of what is found in God from eternity. He loves from Himself: "according to His own purpose" (2Ti_1:9).
"We love Him, because He first loved us" (1Jn_4:19). God did not love us because we loved Him, but He loved us before we had a particle of love for Him. Had God loved us in return for ours, then it would not be spontaneous on His part; but because He loved us when we were loveless, it is clear that His love was uninfluenced. It is highly important if God is to be honored and the heart of His child established, that we should be quite clear upon this precious truth. God’s love for me, and for each of "His own," was entirely unmoved by anything in them. What was there in me to attract the heart of God? Absolutely nothing. But, to the contrary, everything to repel Him, everything calculated to make Him loathe me — sinful, depraved, a mass of corruption, with "no good thing" in me.
"What was there in me that could merit esteem,
Or give the Creator delight?
Twas even so, Father, I ever must sing,
Because it seemed good, in Thy sight."
2. It is eternal.
This of necessity. God Himself is eternal, and God is love; therefore, as God Himself had no beginning, His love had none. Granted that such a concept far transcends the grasp of our feeble minds, nevertheless, where we cannot comprehend, we can bow in adoring worship. How clear is the testimony of Jer_31:3, "I have loved thee with an everlasting love, therefore with loving-kindness have I drawn thee." How blessed to know that the great and holy God loved His people before heaven and earth were called into existence, that He had set His heart upon them from all eternity. Clear proof is this that His love is spontaneous, for He loved them endless ages before they had any being.
The same precious truth is set forth in Eph_1:4-5, "According as He hath chosen us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before Him. In love having predestinated us." What praise should this evoke from each of His children! How tranquilizing for the heart: since God’s love toward me had no beginning, it can have no ending! Since it be true that "from everlasting to everlasting" He is God, and since God is "love," then it is equally true that "from everlasting to everlasting" He loves His people.
3. It is sovereign.
This also is self-evident. God Himself is sovereign, under obligations to none, a law unto Himself, acting always according to His own imperial pleasure. Since God be sovereign, and since He be love, it necessarily follows that His love is sovereign. Because God is God, He does as He pleases; because God is love, He loves whom He pleases. Such is His own express affirmation: "Jacob have I loved, but Esau have I hated" (Rom_9:19). There was no more reason in Jacob why he should be the object of Divine love, than there was in Esau. They both had the same parents, and were born at the same time, being twins; yet God loved the one and hated the other! Why? Because it pleased Him to do so.
The sovereignty of God’s love necessarily follows from the fact that it is uninfluenced by anything in the creature. Thus, to affirm that the cause of His love lies in God Himself, is only another way of saying, He loves whom He pleases. For a moment, assume the opposite. Suppose God’s love were regulated by anything else than His will, in such a case He would love by rule, and loving by rule He would be under a law of love, and then so far from being free, God would Himself be ruled by law. "In love having predestinated us unto the adoption of children by Jesus Christ to Himself, according to" — what? Some excellency which He foresaw in them? No; what then? "According to the good pleasure of His will" (Eph_1:4-5).
4. It is infinite.
Everything about God is infinite. His essence fills heaven and earth. His wisdom is illimitable, for He knows everything of the past, present and future. His power is unbounded, for there is nothing too hard for Him. So His love is without limit. There is a depth to it which none can fathom; there is a height to it which none can scale; there is a length and breadth to it which defies measurement, by any creature-standard. Beautifully is this intimated in Eph_2:4: But God, who is rich in mercy, for His great love wherewith He loved us: the word "great" there is parallel with the "God so loved" of Joh_3:16. It tells us that the love of God is so transcendent it cannot be estimated.
No tongue can fully express the infinitude of God’s love, or any mind comprehend it: it "passeth knowledge" (Eph_3:19). The most extensive ideas that a finite mind can frame about Divine love, are infinitely below its true nature. The heaven is not so far above the earth as the goodness of God is beyond the most raised conceptions which we are able to form of it. It is an ocean which swells higher than all the mountains of opposition in such as are the objects of it. It is a fountain from which flows all necessary good to all those who are interested in it (John Brine, 1743).
5. It is immutable.
As with God Himself there is "no variableness, neither shadow of turning" (Jas_1:17), so His love knows neither change or diminution. The worm Jacob supplies a forceful example of this: "Jacob have I loved," declared Jehovah, and despite all his unbelief and waywardness, He never ceased to love him. Joh_13:1 furnishes another beautiful illustration. That very night one of the apostles would say, "Show us the Father"; another would deny Him with cursings; all of them would be scandalized by and forsake Him. Nevertheless "having loved His own which were in the world, He love them unto the end." The Divine love is subject to no vicissitudes. Divine love is "strong as death … many waters cannot quench it" (Son_8:6-7). Nothing can separate from it: Rom_8:35-39.
"His love no end nor measure knows,
No change can turn its course,
Eternally the same it flows
From one eternal source."
6. It is holy.
God’s love is not regulated by caprice passion, or sentiment, but by principle. Just as His grace reigns not at the expense of it, but "through righteousness" (Rom_5:21), so His love never conflicts with His holiness. "God is light" (1Jn_1:5) is mentioned before "God is love" (1Jn_4:8). God’s love is no mere amiable weakness, or effeminate softness. Scripture declares, "whom the Lord loveth He chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom He receiveth" (Heb_12:6). God will not wink at sin, even in His own people. His love is pure, unmixed with any maudlin sentimentality.
7. It is gracious.
The love and favor of God are inseparable. This is clearly brought out in Rom_8:32-39. What that love is from which there can be no "separation," is easily perceived from the design and scope of the immediate context: it is that goodwill and grace of God which determined Him to give His Son for sinners. That love was the impulsive power of Christ’s incarnation: "God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son" (Joh_3:16). Christ died not in order to make God love us, but because He did love His people, Calvary is the supreme demonstration of Divine love. Whenever you are tempted to doubt the love of God, Christian reader, go back to Calvary.
Here then is abundant cause for trust and patience under Divine affliction. Christ was beloved of the Father, yet He was not exempted from poverty, disgrace, and persecution. He hungered and thirsted. Thus, it was not incompatible with God’s love for Christ when He permitted men to spit upon and smite Him. Then let no Christian call into question God’s love when he is brought under painful afflictions and trials. God did not enrich Christ on earth with temporal prosperity, for "He had not where to lay His head." But He did give Him the Spirit "without measure" (Joh_3:34). Learn then that spiritual blessings are the principal gifts of Divine love. How blessed to know that when the world hates us, God loves us!
16. The Wrath of God
It is sad to find so many professing Christians who appear to regard the wrath of God as something for which they need to make an apology, or at least they wish there were no such thing. While some would not go so far as to openly admit that they consider it a blemish on the Divine character, yet they are far from regarding it with delight, they like not to think about it, and they rarely hear it mentioned without a secret resentment rising up in their hearts against it. Even with those who are more sober in their judgment, not a few seem to imagine that there is a severity about the Divine wrath which is too terrifying to form a theme for profitable contemplation. Others harbor the delusion that God’s wrath is not consistent with His goodness, and so seek to banish it from their thoughts.
Yes, many there are who turn away from a vision of God’s wrath as though they were called to look upon some blotch in the Divine character, or some blot upon the Divine government. But what saith the Scriptures? As we turn to them we find that God has made no attempt to conceal the fact of His wrath. He is not ashamed to make it known that vengeance and fury belong unto Him. His own challenge is, "See now that I, even I, am He, and there is no god with Me: I kill, and I make alive; I wound, and I heal; neither is there any that can deliver out of My hand. For I lift up My hand to heaven, and say, I live forever, If I whet My glittering sword, and Mine hand take hold on judgment; I will render vengeance to Mine enemies, and will reward them that hate Me" (Deu_32:39-41). A study of the concordance will show that there are more references in Scripture to the anger, fury, and wrath of God, than there are to His love and tenderness. Because God is holy, He hates all sin; And because He hates all sin, His anger burns against the sinner: Psa_7:11.
Now the wrath of God is as much a Divine perfection as is His faithfulness, power, or mercy. It must be so, for there is no blemish whatever, not the slightest defect in the character of God; yet there would be if "wrath" were absent from Him! Indifference to sin is a moral blemish, and he who hates it not is a moral leper. How could He who is the Sum of all excellency look with equal satisfaction upon virtue and vice, wisdom and folly? How could He who is infinitely holy disregard sin and refuse to manifest His "severity" (Rom_9:12) toward it? How could He who delights only in that which is pure and lovely, loathe and hate not that which is impure and vile? The very nature of God makes Hell as real a necessity, as imperatively and eternally requisite as Heaven is. Not only is there no imperfection in God, but there is no perfection in Him that is less perfect than another.
The wrath of God is His eternal detestation of all unrighteousness. It is the displeasure and indignation of Divine equity against evil. It is the holiness of God stirred into activity against sin. It is the moving cause of that just sentence which He passes upon evil-doers. God is angry against sin because it is a rebelling against His authority, a wrong done to His inviolable sovereignty. Insurrectionists against God’s government shall be made to know that God is the Lord. They shall be made to feel how great that Majesty is which they despise, and how dreadful is that threatened wrath which they so little regarded. Not that God’s anger is a malignant and malicious retaliation, inflicting injury for the sake of it, or in return for injury received. No; while God will vindicate His dominion as the Governor of the universe, He will not be vindictive.
That Divine wrath is one of the perfections of God is not only evident from the considerations presented above, but is also clearly established by the express declarations of His own Word. "For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven" (Rom_1:18). Robert Haldane comments on this verse as follows:
It was revealed when the sentence of death was first pronounced, the earth cursed, and man driven out of the earthly paradise; and afterwards by such examples of punishment as those of the Deluge and the destruction of the Cities of the Plain by fire from heaven; but especially by the reign of death throughout the world. It was proclaimed in the curse of the law on every transgression, and was intimated in the institution of sacrifice. In the 8th of Romans, the apostle calls the attention of believers to the fact that the whole creation has become subject to vanity, and groaneth and travaileth together in pain. The same creation which declares that there is a God, and publishes His glory, also proclaims that He is the Enemy of sin and the Avenger of the crimes of men . . . But above all, the wrath of God was revealed from heaven when the Son of God came down to manifest the Divine character, and when that wrath was displayed in His sufferings and death, in a manner more awful than by all the tokens God had before given of His displeasure against sin. Besides this, the future and eternal punishment of the wicked is now declared in terms more solemn and explicit than formerly. Under the new dispensation there are two revelations given from heaven, one of wrath, the other of grace.
Again; that the wrath of God is a Divine perfection is plainly demonstrated by what we read of in Psa_95:11, "Unto whom I sware in My wrath." There are two occasions of God "swearing": in making promises (Gen_22:16), and in denouncing threatening (Deu_1:34). In the former, He swares in mercy to His children; in the latter, He swares to terrify the wicked. An oath is for solemn confirmation: Heb_6:16. In Gen_22:16 God said, "By Myself have I sworn." In Psa_89:35 He declares, "Once have I sworn by My holiness." While in Psa_95:11 He affirmed, "I swear in My wrath." Thus the great Jehovah Himself appeals to His "wrath" as a perfection equal to His "holiness": He swares by the one as much as by the other! Again; as in Christ "dwelleth all the fulness of the Godhead bodily" (Col_2:9), and as all the Divine perfections are illustriously displayed by Him (Joh_1:18), therefore do we read of "the wrath of the Lamb" (Rev_6:16).
The wrath of God is a perfection of the Divine character upon which we need to frequently meditate. First, that our hearts may be duly impressed by God’s detestation of sin. We are ever prone to regard sin lightly, to gloss over its hideousness, to make excuses for it. But the more we study and ponder God’s abhorrence of sin and His frightful vengeance upon it, the more likely are we to realize its heinousness. Second, to beget a true fear in our souls for God: "Let us have grace whereby we may serve God acceptably with reverence and godly fear: for our God is a consuming fire" (Heb_12:28-29). We cannot serve Him "acceptably" unless there is due "reverence" for His awful Majesty and "godly fear" of His righteous anger, and these are best promoted by frequently calling to mind that "our God is a consuming fire." Third, to draw out our souls in fervent praise for having delivered us from "the wrath to come" (1Th_1:10).
Our readiness or our reluctancy to meditate upon the wrath of God becomes a sure test of how our hearts’ really stand affected toward Him. If we do not truly rejoice in God, for what He is in Himself, and that because of all the perfections which are eternally resident in Him, then how dwelleth the love of God in us? Each of us needs to be most prayerfully on his guard against devising an image of God in our thoughts which is patterned after our own evil inclinations. Of old the Lord complained, "Thou thoughtest that I was altogether as thyself" (Psa_50:21), If we rejoice not "at the remembrance of His holiness" (Psa_97:12), if we rejoice not to know that in a soon coming Day God will make a most glorious display of His wrath, by taking vengeance on all who now oppose Him, it is proof positive that our hearts are not in subjection to Him, that we are yet in our sins, on the way to the everlasting burnings.
"Rejoice, O ye nations (Gentiles) His people, for He will avenge the blood of His servants, and will render vengeance to His adversaries" (Deu_32:43). And again we read, "I heard a great voice of much people in heaven, saying Alleluia; Salvation, and glory, and honour, and power, unto the Lord our God; For true and righteous are His judgments: for He hath judged the great whore, which did corrupt the earth with her fornication, and hath avenged the blood of His servants at her hand. And again they said Alleluia." (Rev_19:13). Great will be the rejoicing of the saints in that day when the Lord shall vindicate His majesty, exercise His awful dominion, magnify His justice, and overthrow the proud rebels who have dared to defy Him.
"If thou Lord, shouldest mark (impute) iniquities, O Lord, who shall stand?" (Psa_130:3). Well may each of us ask this question, for it is written, "the ungodly shall not stand in the judgment" (Psa_1:5). How sorely was Christ’s soul exercised with thoughts of God’s marking the iniquities of His people when they were upon Him! He was "amazed and very heavy" (Mar_14:33). His awful agony, His bloody sweat, His strong cries and supplications (Heb_5:7), His reiterated prayers ("If it be possible, let this cup pass from Me"), His last dreadful cry, ("My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?") all manifest what fearful apprehensions He had of what it was for God to "mark iniquities." Well may poor sinners cry out, "Lord who shall stand" when the Son of God Himself so trembled beneath the weight of His wrath? If thou, my reader, hast not "fled for refuge" to Christ, the only Saviour, "how wilt thou do in the swelling of the Jordan?" (Jer_12:5)?
When I consider how the goodness of God is abused by the greatest part of mankind, I cannot but be of his mind that said, The greatest miracle in the world is God’s patience and bounty to an ungrateful world. If a prince hath an enemy got into one of his towns, he doth not send them in provision, but lays close siege to the place, and doth what he can to starve them. But the great God, that could wink all His enemies into destruction, bears with them, and is at daily cost to maintain them. Well may He command us to bless them that curse us, who Himself does good to the evil and unthankful. But think not, sinners, that you shall escape thus; God’s mill goes slow, but grinds small; the more admirable His patience and bounty now is, the more dreadful and unsupportable will that fury be which ariseth out of His abused goodness. Nothing smoother than the sea, yet when stirred into a tempest, nothing rageth more. Nothing so sweet as the patience and goodness of God, and nothing so terrible as His wrath when it takes fire. (Wm Gurnall, 1660).
Then flee, my reader, flee to Christ; "flee from the wrath to come" (Mat_3:7) ere it be too late. Do not, we earnestly beseech you, suppose that this message is intended for somebody else. It is to you! Do not be contented by thinking you have already fled to Christ. Make certain! Beg the Lord to search your heart and show you yourself.
A Word to Preachers. Brethren, do we in our oral ministry, preach on this solemn subject as much as we ought? The Old Testament prophets frequently told their hearers that their wicked lives provoked the Holy One of Israel, and that they were treasuring up to themselves wrath against the day of wrath. And conditions in the world are no better now than they were then! Nothing is so calculated to arouse the careless and cause carnal professors to search their hearts, as to enlarge upon the fact that "God is angry with the wicked every day" (Psa_7:11). The forerunner of Christ warned his hearers to "flee from the wrath to come" (Mat_3:7). The Saviour bade His auditors "Fear Him, which after He hath killed, hath power to cast into Hell; yea, I say unto you. Fear Him" (Luk_12:5). The apostle Paul said, "Knowing therefore the terror of the Lord, we persuade men" (2Co_5:11). Faithfulness demands that we speak as plainly about Hell as about Heaven.
17. The Contemplation of God
In the previous chapters we have had in review some of the wondrous and lovely perfections of the Divine character. From this most feeble and faulty contemplation of His attributes, it should be evident to us all that God is, first, an incomprehensible Being, and, lost in wonder at His infinite greatness, we are constrained to adopt the words of Zophar, "Canst thou by searching find out God? canst thou find out the Almighty unto perfection? It is high as heaven; what canst thou do? deeper than hell; what canst thou know? The measure thereof is longer than the earth, and broader than the sea." (Job_11:7-9). When we turn our thoughts to God’s eternity, His immateriality, His omnipresence, His almightiness, our minds are overwhelmed.
But the incomprehensibility of the Divine nature is not a reason why we should desist from reverent inquiry and prayerful strivings to apprehend what He has so graciously revealed of Himself in His Word. Because we are unable to acquire perfect knowledge, it would be folly to say we will therefore make no efforts to attain to any degree of it. It has been well said that, "Nothing will so enlarge the intellect, nothing so magnify the whole soul of man, as a devout, earnest, continued, investigation of the great subject of the Deity. The most excellent study for expanding the soul is the science of Christ and Him crucified and the knowledge of the Godhead in the glorious Trinity." (C. H. Spurgeon). Let us quote a little further from this prince of preachers.
The proper study of the Christian is the God-head. The highest science, the loftiest speculation, the mightiest philosophy, which can engage the attention of a child of God, is the name, the nature, the person, the doings, and the existence of the great God which he calls his Father. There is something exceedingly improving to the mind in a contemplation of the Divinity. It is a subject so vast, that all our thoughts are lost in its immensity; so deep, that our pride is drowned in its infinity. Other subjects we can comprehend and grapple with; in them we feel a kind of self-content, and go on our way with the thought, "Behold I am wise." But when we come to this master science, finding that our plumb-line cannot sound its depth, amid that our eagle eye cannot see its height, we turn away with the thought "I am but of yesterday and know nothing." (Sermon on Mal_3:6).
Yes, the incomprehensibility of the Divine nature should teach us humility, caution and reverence. After all our searchings and meditations we have to say with Job, "Lo, these are parts of His ways: but how little a portion is heard of Him!" (Job_26:14). When Moses besought Jehovah for a sight of His glory, He answered him "I will proclaim the name of the Lord before thee" (Exo_33:19), and, as another has said, "the name is the collection of His attributes." Rightly did the Puritan John Howe declare:
The notion therefore we can hence form of His glory, is only such as we may have of a large volume by a brief synopsis, or of a spacious country by a little landscape. He hath here given us a true report of Himself, but not a full; such as will secure our apprehensions — being guided thereby — from error, but not from ignorance. We can apply our minds to contemplate the several perfections whereby the blessed God discovers to us His being, and can in our thoughts attribute them all to Him, though we have still but low and defective conceptions of each one. Yet so far as our apprehensions can correspond to the discovery that He affords us of His several excellencies, we have a present view of His glory.
As the difference is indeed great between the knowledge of God which His saints have in this life and that which they shall have in Heaven, yet, as the former should not be undervalued because it is imperfect, so the latter is not to be magnified above its reality. True, the Scripture declares that we shall see "face to face" and "know" even as we are known (1Co_13:12), but to infer from this that we shall then know God as fully as He knows us, is to be misled by the mere sound of words, and to disregard that restriction of the same which the subject necessarily requires. There is a vast difference between the saints being glorified and their being made Divine. In their glorified state, Christians will still be finite creatures, and therefore, never able to fully comprehend the infinite God.
The saints in heaven will see God with the eye of the mind, for He will be always invisible to the bodily eye; and will see Him more clearly than they could see Him by reason and faith, and more extensively than all His works and dispensations had hitherto revealed Him; but their minds will not be so enlarged as to be capable of contemplating at once, or in detail, the whole excellence of His nature. To comprehend infinite perfection, they must become infinite themselves. Even in Heaven, their knowledge will be partial, but at the same time their happiness will be complete, because their knowledge will be perfect in this sense, that it will be adequate to the capacity of the subject, although it will not exhaust the fulness of the object. We believe that it will be progressive, and that as their views expand, their blessedness will increase; but it will never reach a limit beyond which there is nothing to be discovered; and when ages after ages have passed away, He will still be the incomprehensible God. (John Dick, 1840).
Secondly, from a review of the perfections of God, it appears that He is an all-sufficient Being. He is all-sufficient in Himself and to Himself. As the First of beings, He could receive nothing from another, nor be limited by the power of another. Being infinite, He is possessed of all possible perfection. When the Triune God existed all alone, He was all to Himself. His understanding, His love, His energies, found an adequate object in Himself. Had He stood in need of anything external, He had not been independent, and therefore would not have been God. He created all things, and that "for Himself" (Col_1:16), yet it was not in order to supply a lack, but that He might communicate life and happiness to angels and men, and admit them to the vision of His glory. True, He demands the allegiance and services of His intelligent creatures, yet He derives no benefit from their offices, all the advantage redounds to themselves: Job_22:2-3. He makes use of means and instruments to accomplish His ends, yet not from a deficiency of power, but often times to more strikingly display His power through the feebleness of the instruments.
The all-sufficiency of God makes Him to be the Supreme Object which is ever to be sought unto. True happiness consists only in the enjoyment of God. His favour is life, and His loving kindness is better than life. "The Lord is my portion, saith my soul; therefore will I hope in Him" (Lam_3:24). His love, His grace, His glory, are the chief objects of the saints’ desire and the springs of their highest satisfaction. "There be many that say, Who will show us any good? Lord, lift Thou up the light of Thy countenance upon us. Thou hast put gladness in my heart, more than in the time that their corn and their wine increased" (Psa_4:6-7). Yea, the Christian, when in his right mind, is able to say, "Although the fig tree shall not blossom, neither shall fruit be in the vines; the labour of the olive shall fail, and the fields shall yield no meat; the flock shall be cutoff from the fold, and there shall be no herd in the stalls: yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will joy in the God of my salvation" (Hab_3:17-18).
Thirdly, from a review of the perfections of God, it appears that He is the Supreme Sovereign of the universe. It has been rightly said:
No dominion is so absolute as that which is founded on creation. He who might not have made any thing, had a right to make all things according to His own pleasure. In the exercise of His uncontrolled power, He has made some parts of the creation mere inanimate matter, of grosser or more refined texture, and distinguished by different qualities, but all inert and unconscious. He has given organization to other parts, and made them susceptible of growth and expansion, but still without life in the proper sense of the term. To others He has given not only organization, but conscious existence, organs of sense and self-motive power. To these He has added in man the gift of reason, and an immortal spirit, by which he is allied to a higher order of beings who are placed in the superior regions. Over the world which He has created, He sways the scepter of omnipotence. "I praised and honored Him that liveth forever, whose dominion is an everlasting dominion, and His kingdom is from generation to generation: and all the inhabitants of the earth are reputed as nothing: and He doeth according to His will in the army of heaven, and among the inhabitants of the earth: and none can stay His hand, or say unto Him, What doeth Thou?" — Dan_4:34-35. (John Dick).
A creature, considered as such, has no rights. He can demand nothing from his Maker; and in whatever manner he may be treated, has no title to complain. Yet, when thinking of the absolute dominion of God over all, we ought never to lose sight of His moral perfections. God is just and good, and ever does that which is right. Nevertheless, He exercises His sovereignty according to His own imperial and righteous pleasure. He assigns each creature his place as seemeth good in His own sight. He orders the varied circumstances of each according to His own counsels. He moulds each vessel according to His own uninfluenced determination. He has mercy on whom He will, and whom He will He hardens. Wherever we are, His eye is upon us. Whoever we are, our life and everything is held at His disposal. To the Christian, He is a tender Father; to the rebellious sinner He will yet be a consuming fire. "Now unto the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only wise God, be honour and glory for ever and ever. Amen" (1Ti_1:17).
Deuteronomy Chapter 13
Matthew Henry (1662-1714)
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Here is, I. A very strange supposition, Deu_13:1, Deu_13:2. 1. It is strange that there should arise any among themselves, especially any pretending to vision and prophecy, who should instigate them to go and serve other gods. Was it possible that any who had so much knowledge of the methods of divine revelation as to be able to personate a prophet should yet have so little knowledge of the divine nature and will as to go himself and entice his neighbours after other gods? Could an Israelite ever be guilty of such impiety? Could a man of sense ever be guilty of such absurdity? We see it in our own day, and therefore may think it the less strange; multitudes that profess both learning and religion yet exciting both themselves and others, not only to worship God by images, but to give divine honour to saints and angels, which is no better than going after other gods to serve them; such is the power of strong delusions. 2. It is yet more strange that the sign or wonder given for the confirmation of this false doctrine should come to pass. Can it be thought that God himself should give any countenance to such a vile proceeding? Did ever a false prophet work a true miracle? It is only supposed here for two reasons: – (1.) To strengthen the caution here given against hearkening to such a one. “Though it were possible that he should work a true miracle, yet you must not believe him if he tell you that you must serve other gods, for the divine law against that is certainly perpetual and unalterable.” The supposition is like that in Gal_1:8, If we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel to you – which does not prove it possible that an angel should preach another gospel, but strongly expresses the certainty and perpetuity of that which we have received. So here, (2.) It is to fortify them against the danger of impostures and lying wonders (2Th_2:9): “Suppose the credentials he produces be so artfully counterfeited that you cannot discern the cheat, nor disprove them, yet, if they are intended to draw you to the service of other gods, that alone is sufficient to disprove them; no evidence can be admitted against so clear a truth as that of the unity of the Godhead, and so plain a law as that of worshipping the one only living and true God.” We cannot suppose that the God of truth should set his seal of miracles to a lie, to so gross a lie as is supposed in that temptation, Let us go after other gods. But if it be asked, Why is this false prophet permitted to counterfeit this broad seal? It is answered here (Deu_13:3): “The Lord your God proveth you. He suffers you to be set upon by such a temptation to try your constancy, that both those that are perfect and those that are false and corrupt may be made manifest. It is to prove you; therefore see that you acquit yourselves well in the trial, and stand your ground.”
II. Here is a very necessary charge given in this case,
1. Not to yield to the temptation: “Thou shalt not hearken to the worlds of that prophet, Deu_13:3. Not only thou shalt not do the thing he tempts thee to, but thou shalt not so much as patiently hear the temptation, but reject it with the utmost disdain and detestation. Such a suggestion as this is not to be so much as parleyed with, but the ear must be stopped against it. Get thee behind me, Satan.” Some temptations are so grossly vile that they will not bear a debate, nor may we so much as give them the hearing. What follows (Deu_13:4), You shall walk after the Lord, may be looked upon, (1.) As prescribing a preservative from the temptation: “Keep close to your duty, and you keep out of harm’s way. God never leaves us till we leave him.” Or, (2.) As furnishing us with an answer to the temptation; say, “It is written, Thou shalt walk after the Lord, and cleave unto him; and therefore what have I to do with idols?”
2. Not to spare the tempter, Deu_13:5. That prophet shall be put to death, both to punish him for the attempt he has made (the seducer must die, though none were seduced by him – a design upon the crown is treason) and to prevent his doing further mischief. This is called putting away the evil. There is no way of removing the guilt but by removing the guilty; if such a criminal be not punished, those that should punish him make themselves responsible. And thus the mischief must be put away; the infection must be kept from spreading by cutting off the gangrened limb, and putting away the mischief-makers. such Dangerous diseases as these must be taken in time.
Further provision is made by this branch of the statute against receiving the infection of idolatry from those that are near and dear to us.
I. It is the policy of the tempter to send his solicitations by the hand of those whom we love, whom we least suspect of any ill design upon us, and whom we are desirous to please and apt to conform ourselves to. The enticement here is supposed to come from a brother or child that are near by nature, from a wife or friend that are near by choice, and are to us as our own souls, Deu_13:6. Satan tempted Adam by Eve and Christ by Peter. We are therefore concerned to stand upon our guard against a bad proposal when the person that makes it can pretend to an interest in us, that we many never sin against God in compliment to the best friend we have in the world. The temptation is supposed to be private: he will entice thee secretly, implying that idolatry is a work of darkness, which dreads the light and covets to be concealed, and in which the sinner promises himself, and the tempter promises him, secrecy and security. Concerning the false gods proposed to be served, 1. The tempter suggests that the worshipping of these gods was the common practice of the world; and, if they limited their adorations to an invisible Deity, they were singular, and like nobody, for these gods were the gods of the people round about them, and indeed of all the nations of the earth, Deu_13:7. This suggestion draws many away from religion and godliness, that it is an unfashionable thing; and they make their court to the world and the flesh because these are the gods of the people that are round about them. 2. Moses suggests, in opposition to this, that it had not been the practice of their ancestors; they are gods which thou hast not known, thou nor thy fathers. Those that are born of godly parents, and have been educated in pious exercises, when they are enticed to a vain, loose, careless way of living should remember that those are ways which they have not known, they nor their fathers. And will they thus degenerate?
II. It is our duty to prefer God and religion before the best friends we have in the world. 1. We must not, in complaisance to our friends, break God’s law (Deu_13:8): “Thou shalt not consent to him. nor go with him to his idolatrous worship, no, not for company, or curiosity, or to gain a better interest in is affections.” It is a general rule, If sinners entice thee, consent thou not, Pro_1:10. 2. We must not, in compassion to our friends, obstruct the course of God’s justice. He that attempts such a thing must not only be looked upon as an enemy, or dangerous person, whom one should be afraid of, and swear the peace against, but as a criminal or traitor, whom, in zeal for our sovereign Lord, his crown and dignity, we are bound to inform against, and cannot conceal without incurring the guilt of a great misprision (Deu_13:9): Thou shalt surely kill him. By this law the persons enticed were bound to the seducer, and to give evidence against him before the proper judges, that he might suffer the penalty of the law, and that without delay, which the Jews say is here intended in that phrase, as it is in the Hebrew, killing thou shalt kill him. Neither the prosecution nor the execution must be deferred; and he that was first in the former must be first in the latter, to show that he stood to his testimony: “Thy hand shall be first upon him, to mark him out as an anathema, and then the hands of all the people, to put him away as an accursed thing.” The death he must die was that which was looked upon among the Jews as the severest of all deaths. He must be stoned: and his accusation written is that he has sought to thrust thee away, by a kind of violence, from the Lord thy God, Deu_13:10. Those are certainly our worst enemies that would thrust us from God, our best friend; and whatever draws us to sin, separates between us and God, is a design upon our life, and to be resented accordingly, And, lastly, here is the good effect of this necessary execution (Deu_13:11): All Israel shall hear and fear. They ought to hear and fear; for the punishment of crimes committed is designed in terrorem – to terrify, and so to prevent their repetition. And it is to be hoped they will hear and fear, and by the severity of the punishment, especially when it is at the prosecution of a father, a brother, or a friend, will be made to conceive a horror of the sin, as exceedingly sinful, and to be afraid of incurring the like punishment themselves. Smite the scorner that sins presumptuously, and the simple, that is in danger of sinning carelessly, will beware.
Here the case is put of a city revolting from its allegiance to the God of Israel, and serving other gods.
I. The crime is supposed to be committed, 1. By one of the cities of Israel, that lay within the jurisdiction of their courts. The church then judged those only that were within, 1Co_5:12, 1Co_5:13. And, even when they were ordered to preserve their religion in the first principles of it by fire and sword to propagate it. Those that are born within the allegiance of a prince, if they take up arms against him, are dealt with as traitors, but foreign invaders are not so. The city that is here supposed to have become idolatrous is one that formerly worshipped the true God, but had now withdrawn to other gods, which intimates how great the crime is, and how sore the punishment will be, of those that, after they have known the way of righteousness, turn aside from it, 2Pe_2:21. 2. It is supposed to be committed by the generality of the inhabitants of the city, for we may conclude that, if a considerable number did retain their integrity, those only that were guilty were to be destroyed, and the city was to be spared for the sake of the righteous in it; for will not the Judge of all the earth do right? No doubt he will. 3. They are supposed to be drawn to idolatry by certain men, the children of Belial, men that would endure no yoke (so it signifies), that neither fear God nor regard man, but shake off all restraints of law and conscience, and are perfectly lost to all manner of virtue; these are those that say, “Let us serve other gods,” that will not only allow, but will countenance and encourage, our immoralities. Belial is put for the devil (2Co_6:15), and the children of Belial are his children. These withdraw the inhabitants of the city; for a little of this old leaven, when it is entertained, soon leavens the whole lump.
II. The cause is ordered to be tried with a great deal of care (Deu_13:14): Thou shalt enquire and make search. They must not proceed upon common fame, or take the information by hearsay, but must examine the proofs, and not give judgment against them unless the evidence was clear and the charge fully made out. God himself, before he destroyed Sodom, is said to have come down to see whether its crimes were according to the clamour, Gen_18:21. In judicial processes it is requisite that time, and care, and pains, be taken to find out the truth, and that search be made without any passion, prejudice, or partiality. The Jewish writers say that, though particular persons who were idolaters might be judged by the inferior courts, the defection of a city was to be tried by the great Sanhedrim; and, if it appeared that they were thrust away to idolatry, two learned men were sent to them to admonish and reclaim them. If they repented, all would be well; if not, then all Israel must go up to war against them, to testify their indignation against idolatry and to stop the spreading of the contagion.
III. If the crime were proved, and the criminals were incorrigible, the city was to be wholly destroyed. If there were a few righteous men in it, no doubt they would remove themselves and their families out of such a dangerous place, and then all the inhabitants, men, women, and children, must be put to the sword (Deu_13:15), all the spoil of the city, both shop-goods and the furniture of houses, must be brought into the marketplace and burned, and the city itself must be laid in ashes and never built again, Deu_13:16. The soldiers are forbidden, upon pain of death, to convert any of the plunder to their own use, Deu_13:17. It was a devoted thing, and dangerous to meddle with, as we find in the case of Achan. Now, 1. God enjoins this severity of show what a jealous God he is in the matters of his worship, and how great a crime it is to serve other gods. Let men know that God will not give his glory to another, nor his praise to graven images. 2. He expects that magistrates, having their honour and power from him, should be concerned for his honour, and use their power for terror to evil doers, else they bear the sword in vain. 3. The faithful worshippers of the true God must take all occasions to show their just indignation against idolatry, much more against atheism, infidelity, and irreligion. 4. It is here intimated that the best expedient for the turning away of God’s anger from a land is to execute justice upon the wicked of the land (Deu_13:17), that the Lord may turn from the fierceness of his anger, which was ready to break out against the whole nation, for the wickedness of that one apostate city. It is promised that, if they would thus root wickedness out of their land, God would multiply them. They might think it impolitic, and against the interest of their nation, to ruin a whole city for a crime relating purely to religion, and that they should be more sparing of the blood of Israelites: “Fear not the” (says Moses), “God will multiply you the more; the body of your nation will lose nothing by the letting out of this corrupt blood.” Lastly, Though we do not find this law put in execution in all the history of the Jewish church (Gibeah was destroyed, not for idolatry, but immorality), yet for the neglect of the execution of it upon the inferior cities that served idols God himself, by the army of the Chaldeans, put it in execution upon Jerusalem, the head city, which, for is apostasy from God, was utterly destroyed and laid waste, and lay in ruins seventy years. Though idolaters may escape punishment from men (nor is this law in the letter of it binding now, under the gospel), yet the Lord our God will not suffer them to escape his righteous judgments. The New Testament speaks of communion with idolaters as a sin which, above any other, provokes the Lord to jealousy, and dares him as if we were stronger than he, 1Co_10:21, 1Co_10:22.
2 Thessalonians 2.7
LNW Note: As you read this LNW commentary on 2 Thessalonians 2.7, keep in mind the news headlines posted at latenightwatch, how the church is moving toward Rome and a compromised gospel; how global governments are unraveling and lacking leadership. Deceit is starting to abound and be portrayed openly without restraint. Also read Albert Barnes commentary on 2 Peter 2.1(KJV) But there were false prophets also among the people, even as there shall be false teachers among you, who privily shall bring in damnable heresies, even denying the Lord that bought them, and bring upon themselves swift destruction. See also Deuteronomy 13.5 concerning Moses’ prophecy surrounding false prophets, but more specifically this man of sin and his deceivableness of unrighteousness.
KJV: 2Th 2:7 ForG1063 theG3588 mysteryG3466 of iniquityG458 doth alreadyG2235 work:G1754 onlyG3440 he who now lettethG2722 G737 will let, untilG2193 he be takenG1096 out ofG1537 the way.G3319
APB+: 2Th 2:7 For theG3588 G1063 mysteryG3466 [2alreadyG2235 3operatesG1754 G3588 1of lawlessness],G458 onlyG3440 there is the oneG3588 constrainingG2722 just nowG737 untilG2193 [2out ofG1537 3 the midstG3319 1he should be].G1096
LITV: 2Th 2:7 For the mystery of lawlessness already is working, only he is holding back now, until it comes out of the midst.
Strong’s G1537: ἐκ, ἐξ – ek ex – (ek, ex)
A primary preposition denoting origin (the point whence motion or action proceeds), from, out (of place, time or cause; literally or figuratively; direct or remote): – after, among, X are, at betwixt (-yond), by (the means of), exceedingly, (+ abundantly above), for (-th), from (among, forth, up), + grudgingly, + heartily, X heavenly, X hereby, + very highly, in, . . . ly, (because, by reason) of, off (from), on, out among (from, of), over, since, X thenceforth, through, X unto, X vehemently, with (-out). Often used in composition, with the same general import; often of completion.
Thayer Definition: 1) out of, from, by, away from
Part of Speech: preposition
A Related Word by Thayer’s/Strong’s Number: a primary preposition denoting origin (the point whence action or motion proceeds), from, out (of place, time, or cause; literal or figurative
Strong’s G3319: μέσος – mesos (mes’-os)
From G3326; middle (as adjective or [neuter] noun): – among, X before them, between, + forth, mid [-day, -night], midst, way.
Thayer Definition: 1) middle, 2) the midst, 3) in the midst of, amongst
Part of Speech: adjective
A Related Word by Thayer’s/Strong’s Number: from G3326
Strong’s G1096: γίνομαι – ginomai (ghin’-om-ahee)
A prolonged and middle form of a primary verb; to cause to be (“gen” -erate), that is, (reflexively) to become (come into being), used with great latitude (literally, figuratively, intensively, etc.): – arise be assembled, be (come, -fall, -have self), be brought (to pass), (be) come (to pass), continue, be divided, be done, draw, be ended, fall, be finished, follow, be found, be fulfilled, + God forbid, grow, happen, have, be kept, be made, be married, be ordained to be, partake, pass, be performed, be published, require, seem, be showed, X soon as it was, sound, be taken, be turned, use, wax, will, would, be wrought.
1) to become, i.e. to come into existence, begin to be, receive being
2) to become, i.e. to come to pass, happen
2a) of events
3) to arise, appear in history, come upon the stage
3a) of men appearing in public
4) to be made, finished
4a) of miracles, to be performed, wrought
5) to become, be made
Part of Speech: verb
A Related Word by Thayer’s/Strong’s Number: a prolongation and middle voice form of a primary verb
Citing in TDNT: 1:681, 117
I was reading in 2 Thessalonians 2.7 again and I was troubled by the KJV translation of key words in this verse and the understanding coming out of the pulpits today. Many pastors are saying that it is the Holy Spirit that is restraining (true) and that it is also the Holy Spirit that is to be taken out of the way. It is this last part that my heart and mind had trouble with. For if the Holy Spirit is removed, no one will be saved in these End Times, for it is the Holy Spirit that opens our eyes to see Jesus as the Savior.
The early commentators, such as Matthew Henry & Albert Barnes, saw this restraining force as the Roman Empire keeping the Roman Catholic church from breaking forth and the Pope coming in to rule the world. The Catholic church may indeed have a role in the End Times, but I do not believe the Pope is the Antichrist, nor do I believe the word of God leans this way either.
I took a closer look at 2 Thessalonians 2.7 (hence the inserts from Strong’s and Thayer’s definitions at the beginning of this post) and what I discovered was quite interesting, especially in light of Revelation 13.1: And I stood upon the sand of the sea, and saw a beast rise up out of the sea, having seven heads and ten horns, and upon his horns ten crowns, and upon his heads the name of blasphemy.
Now there is some disagreement as to whether the pronoun should be “I” (meaning John) or “he” meaning Satan – that aside as it is not what caught my mind’s eye. What I noticed was “and saw a beast rise up out of the sea”. So we have something rising out of the midst of the nations; the word “sea” carries the Biblical use of referring to the nations collectively, whereas “earth” (Rev 13:11) refers to the people.
It is this “rising up out of” that is key, for it addresses Strong’s G1537, G3319, and G1096 and Thayer’s definitions more closely than the KJV translation delivers. I have included the Literal Version translation above as it most closely reflects the Greek wording of the passage.
The preceding are my own thoughts upon review of the passage and looking at the definitions as provided by Strong and Thayer. Always let the Holy Spirit be your guide in understanding the scriptures (for He is the Author and will lead us in to all truth) and trust no man to do it for you –
Be Berean (Acts 17.11) These were more noble than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness of mind, and searched the scriptures daily, whether those things were so.
Matthew Henry (1662-1714)
LNW Note: As you read this commentary, keep in mind the news headlines posted at LateNightWatch.
The disciples had asked concerning the times, When shall these things be? Christ gives them no answer to that, after what number of days and years his prediction should be accomplished, for it is not for us to know the times (Act 1:7); but they had asked, What shall be the sign? That question he answers fully, for we are concerned to understand the signs of the times, Mat 16:3. Now the prophecy primarily respects the events near at hand – the destruction of Jerusalem, the period of the Jewish church and state, the calling of the Gentiles, and the setting up of Christ’s kingdom in the world; but as the prophecies of the Old Testament, which have an immediate reference to the affairs of the Jews and the revolutions of their state, under the figure of them do certainly look further, to the gospel church and the kingdom of the Messiah, and are so expounded in the New Testament, and such expressions are found in those predictions as are peculiar thereto and not applicable otherwise; so this prophecy, under the type of Jerusalem’s destruction, looks as far forward as the general judgment; and, as is usual in prophecies, some passages are most applicable to the type, and others to the antitype; and toward the close, as usual, it points more particularly to the latter. It is observable, that what Christ here saith to his disciples tends more to engage their caution than to satisfy their curiosity; more to prepare them for the events that should happen than to give them a distinct idea of the events themselves. This is that good understanding of the time which we should all covet, thence to infer what Israel ought to do: and so this prophecy is of standing lasting use to the church, and will be so to the end of time; for the thing that hath been, is that which shall be (Ecc 1:5, Ecc 1:6, Ecc 1:7, Ecc 1:9), and the series, connection, and presages, of events, are much the same still that they were then; so that upon the prophecy of this chapter, pointing at that event, moral prognostications may be made, and such constructions of the signs of the times as the wise man’s heart will know how to improve.
I. Christ here foretells the going forth of deceivers; he begins with a caution, Take heed that no man deceive you. They expected to be told when these things should be, to be let into that secret; but this caution is a check to their curiosity, “What is that to you? Mind you your duty, follow me, and be not seduced from following me.” Those that are most inquisitive concerning the secret things which belong not to them are most easily imposed upon by seducers, 2Th 2:3. The disciples, when they heard that the Jews, their most inveterate enemies, should be destroyed, might be in danger of falling into security; “Nay,” saith Christ, “you are more exposed other ways.” Seducers are more dangerous enemies to the church than persecutors.
Three times in this discourse he mentions the appearing of false prophets, which was, 1. A presage of Jerusalem’s ruin. Justly were they who killed the true prophets, left to be ensnared by false prophets; and they who crucified the true Messiah, left to be deceived and broken by false Christs and pretended Messiahs. The appearing of these was the occasion of dividing that people into parties and factions, which made their ruin the more easy and speedy; and the sin of the many that were led aside by them, helped to fill the measure. 2. It was a trial to the disciples of Christ, and therefore agreeable to their state of probation, that they which are perfect, may be made manifest.
Now concerning these deceivers, observe here,
(1.) The pretences they should come under. Satan acts most mischievously, when he appears as an angel of light: the colour of the greatest good is often the cover of the greatest evil.
[1.] There should appear false prophets (Mat 24:11-24); the deceivers would pretend to divine inspiration, an immediate mission, and a spirit of prophecy, when it was all a lie. Such they had been formerly (Jer 23:16; Eze 13:6), as was foretold, Deu 13:3. Some think, the seducers here pointed to were such as had been settled teachers in the church, and had gained reputation as such, but afterward betrayed the truth they had taught, and revolted to error; and from such the danger is the greater, because least suspected. One false traitor in the garrison may do more mischief than a thousand avowed enemies without.
[2.] There should appear false Christs, coming in Christ’s name (Mat 24:5), assuming to themselves the name peculiar to him, and saying, I am Christ, pseudo-christs, Mat 24:24. There was at that time a general expectation of the appearing of the Messiah; they spoke of him; as he that should come; but when he did come, the body of the nation rejected him; which those who were ambitious of making themselves a name, took advantage of, and set up for Christ. Josephus speaks of several such impostors between this and the destruction of Jerusalem; one Theudas, that was defeated by Cospius Fadus; another by Felix, another by Festus. Dosetheus said he was the Christ foretold by Moses. Origen adversus Celsum. See Act 5:36, Act 5:37. Simon Magus pretended to be the great power of God, Act 8:10. In after-ages there have been such pretenders; one about a hundred years after Christ, that called himself Baṙcochobas – The son of a star, but proved Baṙcosba – The son of a lie. About fifty years ago Sabbati-Levi set up for a Messiah in the Turkish empire, and was greatly caressed by the Jews; but in a short time his folly was made manifest. See Sir Paul Rycaut’s History. The popish religion doth, in effect, set up a false Christ; the Pope comes, in Christ’s name, as his vicar, but invades and usurps all his offices, and so is a rival with him, and, as such, an enemy to him, a deceiver, and an antichrist.
[3.] These false Christs and false prophets would have their agents and emissaries busy in all places to draw people in to them, Mat 24:23. Then when public troubles are great and threatening, and people will be catching at any thing that looks like deliverance, then Satan will take the advantage of imposing on them; they will say, Lo, here is a Christ, or there is one; but do not mind them: the true Christ did not strive, nor cry; nor was it said of him, Lo, here! or Lo, there! (Luk 17:21), therefore if any man say so concerning him, look upon it as a temptation. The hermits, who place religion in a monastical life, say, He is in the desert; the priests, who made the consecrated wafer to be Christ, say, “He is en tois tameiois – in the cupboards, in the secret chambers: lo, he is in this shrine, in that image.” Thus some appropriate Christ’s spiritual presence to one party or persuasion, as if they had the monopoly of Christ and Christianity; and the kingdom of Christ must stand and fall, must live and die, with them; “Lo, he is in this church, in that council:” whereas Christ is All in all, not here or there, but meets his people with a blessing in every place where he records his name.
(2.) The proof they should offer for the making good of these pretences; They shall show great signs and wonders (Mat 24:24), not true miracles, those are a divine seal, and with those the doctrine of Christ stands confirmed; and therefore if any offer to draw us from that by signs and wonders, we must have recourse to that rule given of old (Deu 13:1-3), If the sign or wonder come to pass, yet follow not him that would draw you to serve other gods, or believe in other Christs, for the Lord your God proveth you. But these were lying wonders (2Th 2:9), wrought by Satan (God permitting him), who is the prince of the power of the air. It is not said, They shall work miracles, but, They shall show great signs; they are but a show; either they impose upon men’s credulity by false narratives, or deceive their senses by tricks of legerdemain, or arts of divination, as the magicians of Egypt by their enchantments.
(3.) The success they should have in these attempts,
[1.] They shall deceive many (Mat 24:5), and again, Mat 24:11. Note, The devil and his instruments may prevail far in deceiving poor souls; few find the strait gate, but many are drawn into the broad way; many will be imposed upon by their signs and wonders, and many drawn in by the hopes of deliverance from their oppressions. Note, Neither miracles nor multitudes are certain signs of a true church; for all the world wonders after the beast, Rev 13:3.
[2.] They shall deceive, if it were possible, the very elect, Mat 24:24. This bespeaks, First, The strength of the delusion; it is such as many shall be carried away by (so strong shall the stream be), even those that were thought to stand fast. Men’s knowledge, gifts, learning, eminent station, and long profession, will not secure them; but, notwithstanding these, many will be deceived; nothing but the almighty grace of God, pursuant to his eternal purpose, will be a protection. Secondly, The safety of the elect in the midst of this danger, which is taken for granted in that parenthesis, If it were possible, plainly implying that it is not possible, for they are kept by the power of God, that the purpose of God, according to the election, may stand. It is possible for those that have been enlightened to fall away (Heb 6:4, Heb 6:5, Heb 6:6), but not for those that were elected. If God’s chosen ones should be deceived, God’s choice would be defeated, which is not to be imagined, for whom he did predestinate, he called, justified, and glorified, Rom 8:30. They were given to Christ; and of all that were given to him, he will lose none, Joh 10:28. Grotius will have this to be meant of the great difficulty of drawing the primitive Christians from their religion, and quotes it as used proverbially by Galen; when he would express a thing very difficult and morally impossible, he saith, “You may sooner draw away a Christian from Christ.”
(4.) The repeated cautions which our Saviour gives to his disciples to stand upon their guard against them; therefore he gave them warning, that they might watch (Mat 24:25); Behold, I have told you before. He that is told before where he will be assaulted, may save himself, as the king of Israel did, 2Ki 6:9-10. Note, Christ’s warnings are designed to engage our watchfulness; and though the elect shall be preserved from delusion, yet they shall be preserved by the use of appointed means, and a due regard to the cautions of the word; we are kept through faith, faith in Christ’s word, which he has told us before.
[1.] We must not believe those who say, Lo, here is Christ; or, Lo, he is there, Mat 24:23. We believe that the true Christ is at the right hand of God, and that his spiritual presence is where two or three are gathered together in his name; believe not those therefore who would draw you off from a Christ in heaven, by telling you he is any where on earth; or draw you off from the catholic church on earth, by telling you he is here, or he is there; believe it not. Note, There is not a greater enemy to true faith than vain credulity. The simple believeth every word, and runs after every cry. Memnēso apistein – Beware of believing.
[2.] We must not go forth after those that say, He is in the desert, or, He is in the secret chambers, Mat 24:26. We must not hearken to every empiric and pretender, nor follow every one that puts up the finger to point us to a new Christ, and a new gospel; “Go not forth, for if you do, you are in danger of being taken by them; therefore keep out of harm’s way, be not carried about with every wind; many a man’s vain curiosity to go forth hath led him into a fatal apostasy; your strength at such a time is to sit still, to have the heart established with grace.”
II. He foretells wars and great commotions among the nations, Mat 24:6-7. When Christ was born, there was a universal peace in the empire, the temple of Janus was shut; but think not that Christ came to send, or continue such a peace (Luk 12:51); no, his city and his wall are to be built even in troublesome times, and even wars shall forward his work. From the time that the Jews rejected Christ, and he left their house desolate, the sword did never depart from their house, the sword of the Lord was never quiet, because he had given it a charge against a hypocritical nation and the people of his wrath, and by it brought ruin upon them.
Here is, 1. A prediction of the event of the day; You will now shortly hear of wars, and rumours of wars. When wars are, they will be heard; for every battle of the warrior is with confused noise, Isa 9:5. See how terrible it is (Jer 4:19), Thou hast heard, O my soul, the alarm of war! Even the quiet in the land, and the least inquisitive after new things, cannot but hear the rumours of war. See what comes of refusing the gospel! Those that will not hear the messengers of peace, shall be made to hear the messengers of war. God has a sword ready to avenge the quarrel of his covenant, his new covenant. Nation shall rise up against nation, that is, one part or province of the Jewish nation against another, one city against another (2Ch 15:5-6); and in the same province and city one party or faction shall rise up against another, so that they shall be devoured by, and dashed in pieces against one another, Isa 9:19-21.
2. A prescription of the duty of the day; See that ye be not troubled. Is it possible to hear such sad news, and not be troubled? Yet, where the heart is fixed, trusting in God, it is kept in peace, and is not afraid, no not of the evil tidings of wars, and rumours of wars; no not the noise of Arm, arm. Be not troubled; Mē throeithe – Be not put into confusion or commotion; not put into throes, as a woman with child by a fright; see that ye be not orate. Note, There is need of constant care and watchfulness to keep trouble from the heart when there are wars abroad; and it is against the mind of Christ, that his people should have troubled hearts even in troublous times.
We must not be troubled, for two reasons.
(1.) Because we are bid to expect this: the Jews must be punished, ruin must be brought upon them; by this the justice of God and the honour of the Redeemer must be asserted; and therefore all those things must come to pass; the word is gone out of God’s mouth, and it shall be accomplished in its season. Note, The consideration of the unchangeableness of the divine counsels, which govern all events, should compose and quiet our spirits, whatever happens. God is but performing the thing that is appointed for us, and our inordinate trouble is an interpretative quarrel with that appointment. Let us therefore acquiesce, because these things must come to pass; not only necessitate decreti – as the product of the divine counsel, but necessitate medii – as a means in order to a further end. The old house must be taken down (though it cannot be done without noise, and dust, and danger), ere the new fabric can be erected: the things that are shaken (and ill shaken they were) must be removed, that the things which cannot be shaken may remain, Heb 12:27.
(2.) Because we are still to expect worse; The end is not yet; the end of time is not, and, while time lasts, we must expect trouble, and that the end of one affliction will be but the beginning of another; or, “The end of these troubles is not yet; there must be more judgments that one made use of to bring down the Jewish power; more vials of wrath must yet be poured out; there is but one woe past, more woes are yet to come, more arrows are yet to be spent upon them out of God’s quiver; therefore be not troubled, do not give way to fear and trouble, sink not under the present burthen, but rather gather in all the strength and spirit you have, to encounter what is yet before you. Be not troubled to hear of wars and rumours of wars; for then what will become of you when the famines and pestilences come?” If it be to us a vexation but to understand the report (Isa 28:19), what will it be to feel the stroke when it toucheth the bone and the flesh? If running with the footmen weary us, how shall we contend with horses? And if we be frightened at a little brook in our way, what shall we do in the swellings of Jordan? Jer 12:5.
III. He foretells other judgments more immediately sent of God – famines, pestilences, and earthquakes. Famine is often the effect of war, and pestilence of famine. These were the three judgments which David was to choose one out of; and he was in a great strait, for he knew not which was the worst: but what dreadful desolations will they make, when they all pour in together upon a people! Beside war (and that is enough), there shall be,
1. Famine, signified by the black horse under the third seal, Rev 6:5-6. We read of a famine in Judea, not long after Christ’s time, which was very impoverishing (Act 11:28); but the sorest famine was in Jerusalem during the siege. See Lam 4:9-10.
2. Pestilences, signified by the pale horse, and death upon him, and the grave at his heels, under the fourth seal, Rev 6:7-8. This destroys without distinction, and in a little time lays heaps upon heaps.
3. Earthquakes in divers places, or from place to place, pursuing those that flee from them, as they did from the earthquake in the days of Uzziah, Zec 14:5. Great desolations have sometimes been made by earthquakes, of late and formerly; they have been the death of many, and the terror of more. In the apocalyptic visions, it is observable, that earthquakes bode good, and no evil, to the church, Rev 6:12. Compare Rev 6:15; Rev 11:12-13, Rev 11:19; Rev 16:17-19. When God shakes terribly the earth (Isa 2:21), it is to shake the wicked out of it (Job 38:13), and to introduce the desire of all nations, Hag 2:6-7. But here they are spoken of as dreadful judgments, and yet but the beginning of sorrows, ōdinōn – of travailing pains, quick, violent, yet tedious too. Note, When God judgeth, he will overcome; when he begins in wrath, he will make a full end, 1Sa 3:12. When we look forward to the eternity of misery that is before the obstinate refusers of Christ and his gospel, we may truly say, concerning the greatest temporal judgments, “They are but the beginning of sorrows; bad as things are with them, there are worse behind.”
1. The cross itself foretold, Mat 24:9. Note, Of all future events we are as much concerned, though commonly as little desirous, to know of our own sufferings as of any thing else. Then, when famines and pestilences prevail, then they shall impute them to the Christians, and make that a pretence for persecuting them; Christianos ad leones – Away with Christians to the lions. Christ had told his disciples, when he first sent them out, what hard things they should suffer; but they had hitherto experienced little of it, and therefore he reminds them again, that the less they had suffered, the more there was behind to be filled up, Col 1:24.
(1.) They shall be afflicted with bonds and imprisonments, cruel mockings and scourgings, as blessed Paul (2Co 11:23-25); not killed outright, but killed all the day long, in deaths often, killed so as to feel themselves die, made a spectacle to the world, 1Co 4:9-11.
(2.) They shall be killed; so cruel are the church’s enemies, that nothing less will satisfy them than the blood of the saints, which they thirst after, suck, and shed, like water.
(3.) They shall be hated of all nations for Christ’s name’s sake, as he had told them before, Mat 10:22. The world was generally leavened with enmity and malignity to Christians: the Jews, though spiteful to the Heathen, were never persecuted by them as the Christians were; they were hated by the Jews that were dispersed among the nations, were the common butt of the world’s malice. What shall we think of this world, when the best men had the worst usage in it? It is the cause that makes the martyr, and comforts him; it was for Christ’s sake that they were thus hated; their professing and preaching his name incensed the nations so much against them; the devil, finding a fatal shock thereby given to his kingdom, and that his time was likely to be short, came down, having great wrath.
2. The offence of the cross, Mat 24:10-12. Satan thus carries on his interest by force of arms, though Christ, at length, will bring glory to himself out of the sufferings of his people and ministers. Three ill effects of persecution are here foretold.
(1.) The apostasy of some. When the profession of Christianity begins to cost men dear, then shall many be offended, shall first fall out with, and then fall off from, their profession; they will begin to pick quarrels with their religion, sit loose to it, grow weary of it, and at length revolt from it. Note, [1.] It is no new thing (though it is a strange thing) for those that have known the way of righteousness, to turn aside out of it. Paul often complains of deserters, who began well, but something hindered them. They were with us, but went out from us, because never truly of us, 1Jo 2:19. We are told of it before. [2.] Suffering times are shaking times; and those fall in the storm, that stood in fair weather, like the stony ground hearers, Mat 13:21. Many will follow Christ in the sunshine, who will shift for themselves, and leave him to do so to, in the cloudy dark day. They like their religion while they can have it cheap, and sleep with it in a whole skin; but, if their profession cost them any thing, they quit it presently.
(2.) The malignity of others. When persecution is in fashion, envy, enmity, and malice, are strangely diffused into the minds of men by contagion: and charity, tenderness, and moderation, are looked upon as singularities, which make a man like a speckled bird. Then they shall betray one another, that is, ”Those that have treacherously deserted their religion, shall hate and betray those who adhere to it, for whom they have pretended friendship.” Apostates have commonly been the most bitter and violent persecutors. Note, Persecuting times are discovering times. Wolves in sheep’s clothing will then throw off their disguise, and appear wolves: they shall betray one another, and hate one another. The times must needs be perilous, when treachery and hatred, two of the worst things that can be, because directly contrary to two of the best (truth and love), shall have the ascendant. This seems to refer to the barbarous treatment which the several contending factions among the Jews gave to one another; and justly were they who ate up God’s people as they ate bread, left thus to bite and devour one another till they were consumed one of another; or, it may refer to the mischiefs done to Christ’s disciples by those that were nearest to them, as Mat 10:21. The brother shall deliver up the brother to death.
(3.) The general declining and cooling of most, Mat 24:12. In seducing times, when false prophets arise, in persecuting times, when the saints are hated, expect these two things,
[1.] The abounding of iniquity; though the world always lies in wickedness, yet there are some times in which it may be said, that iniquity doth in a special manner abound; as when it is more extensive than ordinary, as in the old world, when all flesh had corrupted their way; and when it is more excessive than ordinary, when violence is risen up to a rod of wickedness (Eze 7:11), so that hell seems to be broke loose in blasphemies against God, and enmities to the saints.
[2.] The abating of love; this is the consequence of the former; Because iniquity shall abound, the love of many shall wax cold. Understand it in general of true serious godliness, which is all summed up in love; it is too common for professors of religion to grow cool in their profession, when the wicked are hot in their wickedness; as the church of Ephesus in bad times left her first love, Rev 2:2-4. Or, it may be understood more particularly of brotherly love. When iniquity abounds, seducing iniquity, persecuting iniquity, this grace commonly waxes cold. Christians begin to be shy and suspicious one of another, affections are alienated, distances created, parties made, and so love comes to nothing. The devil is the accuser of the brethren, not only to their enemies, which makes persecuting iniquity abound, but one to another, which makes the love of many to wax cold.
This gives a melancholy prospect of the times, that there shall be such a great decay of love; but, First, It is of the love of many, not of all. In the worst of times, God has his remnant that hold fast their integrity, and retain their zeal, as in Elijah’s days, when he thought himself left alone. Secondly, This love is grown cold, but not dead; it abates, but is not quite cast off. There is life in the root, which will show itself when the winter is past. The new nature may wax cold, but shall not wax old, for then it would decay and vanish away.
3. Comfort administered in reference to this offence of the cross, for the support of the Lord’s people under it (Mat 24:13); He that endures to the end, shall be saved. (1.) It is comfortable to those who wish well to the cause of Christ in general, that, though many are offended, yet some shall endure to the end. When we see so many drawing back, we are ready to fear that the cause of Christ will sink for want of supporters, and his name be left and forgotten for want of some to make profession of it; but even at this time there is a remnant according to the election of grace, Rom 11:5. It is spoken of the same time that this prophecy has reference to; a remnant who are not of them that draw back unto perdition, but believe and persevere to the saving of the soul; they endure to the end, to the end of their lives, to the end of their present state of probation, or to the end of these suffering trying times, to the last encounter, though they should be called to resist unto blood. (2.) It is comfortable to those who do thus endure to the end, and suffer for their constancy, that they shall be saved. Perseverance wins the crown, through free grace, and shall wear it. They shall be saved: perhaps they may be delivered out of their troubles, and comfortably survive them in this world; but it is eternal salvation that is here intended. They that endure to the end of their days, shall then receive the end of their faith and hope, even the salvation of their souls, 1Pe 1:9; Rom 2:7; Rev 3:20. The crown of glory will make amends for all; and a believing regard to that will enable us to choose rather to die at a stake with the persecuted, than to live in a palace with the persecutors.
V. He foretells the preaching of the gospel in all the world (Mat 24:14); This gospel shall be preached, and then shall the end come. Observe here, 1. It is called the gospel of the kingdom, because it reveals the kingdom of grace, which leads to the kingdom of glory; sets up Christ’s kingdom in this world; and secures ours in the other world. 2. This gospel, sooner or later, is to be preached in all the world, to every creature, and all nations are to be discipled by it; for in it Christ is to be Salvation to the ends of the earth; for this end the gift of tongues was the first-fruits of the Spirit. 3. The gospel is preached for a witness to all nations, that is, a faithful declaration of the mind and will of God concerning the duty which God requires from man, and the recompense which man may expect from God. It is a record (1Jo 5:11), it is a witness, for those who believe, that they shall be saved, and against those who persist in unbelief, that they shall be damned. See Mar 16:16. But how does this come in here?
(1.) It is intimated that the gospel should be, if not heard, yet at least heard of, throughout the then known world, before the destruction of Jerusalem; that the Old Testament church should not be quite dissolved till the New Testament was pretty well settled, had got considerable footing, and began to make some figure. Better is the face of a corrupt degenerate church than none at all. Within forty years after Christ’s death, the sound of the gospel was gone forth to the ends of the earth, Rom 10:18. St. Paul fully preached the gospel from Jerusalem, and round about unto Illyricum; and the other apostles were not idle. The persecuting of the saints at Jerusalem helped to disperse them, so that they went every where, preaching the word, Act 8:1-4. And when the tidings of the Redeemer are sent over all parts of the world, then shall come the end of the Jewish state. Thus, that which they thought to prevent, by putting Christ to death, they thereby procured; all men believed on him, and the Romans came, and took away their place and nation, Joh 11:48. Paul speaks of the gospel being come to all the world, and preached to every creature, Col. 1:6-23.
(2.) It is likewise intimated that even in times of temptation, trouble, and persecution, the gospel of the kingdom shall be preached and propagated, and shall force its way through the greatest opposition. Though the enemies of the church grow very hot, and many of her friends very cool, yet the gospel shall be preached. And even then, when many fall by the sword and by flame, and many do wickedly, and are corrupted by flatteries, yet then the people that do know their God, shall be strengthened to do the greatest exploits of all, in instructing many; see Dan 11:32-33; and see an instance, Phi 1:12-14.
(3.) That which seems chiefly intended here, is, that the end of the world shall be then, and not till then, when the gospel has done its work in the world. The gospel shall be preached, and that work carried on, when you are dead; so that all nations, first or last, shall have either the enjoyment, or the refusal, of the gospel; and then cometh the end, when the kingdom shall be delivered up to God, even the Father; when the mystery of God shall be finished, the mystical body completed, and the nations either converted and saved, or convicted and silenced, by the gospel; then shall the end come, of which he had said before (Mat 24:6-7), not yet, not till those intermediate counsels be fulfilled. The world shall stand as long as any of God’s chosen ones remain uncalled; but, when they are all gathered in, it will be set on fire immediately.
VI. He foretells more particularly the ruin that was coming upon the people of the Jews, their city, temple, and nation, Mat 24:15, etc. Here he comes more closely to answer their questions concerning the desolation of the temple; and what he said here, would be of use to his disciples, both for their conduct and for their comfort, in reference to that great event; he describes the several steps of that calamity, such as are usual in war.
1. The Romans setting up the abomination of desolation in the holy place, Mat 24:15. Now, (1.) Some understand by this an image, or statue, set up in the temple by some of the Roman governors, which was very offensive to the Jews, provoked them to rebel, and so brought the desolation upon them. The image of Jupiter Olympius, which Antiochus caused to be set upon the altar of God, is called Bdelugma erēmōseōs – The abomination of desolation, the very word here used by the historian, 1 Macc. 1:54. Since the captivity in Babylon, nothing was, nor could be, more distasteful to the Jews than an image in the holy place, as appeared by the mighty opposition they made when Caligula offered to set up his statue there, which had been of fatal consequence, if it had not been prevented, and the matter accommodated, by the conduct of Petronius; but Herod did set up an eagle over the temple-gate; and, some say, the statue of Titus was set up in the temple. (2.) Others choose to expound it by the parallel place (Luk 21:20), when ye shall see Jerusalem compassed with armies. Jerusalem was the holy city, Canaan the holy land, the Mount Moriah, which lay about Jerusalem, for its nearness to the temple was, they thought in a particular manner holy ground; on the country lying round about Jerusalem the Roman army was encamped, that was the abomination that made desolate. The land of an enemy is said to be the land which thou abhorrest (Isa 7:16); so an enemy’s army to a weak but willful people may well be called the abomination. Now this is said to be spoken of by Daniel, the prophet, who spoke more plainly of the Messiah and his kingdom than any of the Old Testament prophets did. He speaks of an abomination making desolate, which should be set up by Antiochus (Dan 11:31; Dan 12:11); but this that our Saviour refers to, we have in the message that the angel brought him (Dan 9:27), of what should come at the end of seventy weeks, long after the former; for the overspreading of abominations, or, as the margin reads it, with the abominable armies (which comes home to the prophecy here), he shall make it desolate. Armies of idolaters may well be called abominable armies; and some think, the tumults, insurrections, and abominable factions and seditions, in the city and temple, may at least be taken in as part of the abomination making desolate. Christ refers them to that prophecy of Daniel, that they might see how the ruin of their city and temple was spoken of in the Old Testament, which would both confirm his prediction, and take off the odium of it. They might likewise from thence gather the time of it – soon after the cutting off of Messiah the prince; the sin that procured it – their rejecting him, and the certainty of it – it is a desolation determined. As Christ by his precepts confirmed the law, so by his predictions he confirmed the prophecies of the Old Testament, and it will be of good use to compare both together.
Reference being here had to a prophecy, which is commonly dark and obscure, Christ inserts this memorandum, “Whoso readeth, let him understand; whoso readeth the prophecy of Daniel, let him understand that it is to have its accomplishment now shortly in the desolations of Jerusalem.” Note, Those that read the scriptures, should labour to understand the scriptures, else their reading is to little purpose; we cannot use that which we do not understand. See Joh 5:39; Act 8:30. The angel that delivered this prophecy to Daniel, stirred him up to know and understand, Dan 9:25. And we must not despair of understanding even dark prophecies; the great New Testament prophecy is called a revelation, not a secret. Now things revealed belong to us, and therefore must be humbly and diligently searched into. Or, Let him understand, not only the scriptures which speak of those things, but by the scriptures let him understand the times, 1Ch 12:32. Let him observe, and take notice; so some read it; let him be assured, that, notwithstanding the vain hopes with which the deluded people feed themselves, the abominable armies will make desolate.
2. The means of preservation which thinking men should betake themselves to (Mat 24:16, Mat 24:20); Then let them which are in Judea, flee. Then conclude there is no other way to help yourselves than by flying for the same. We may take this,
(1.) As a prediction of the ruin itself; that it should be irresistible; that it would be impossible for the stoutest hearts to make head against it, or contend with it, but they must have recourse to the last shift, getting out of the way. It bespeaks that which Jeremiah so much insisted upon, but in vain, when Jerusalem was besieged by the Chaldeans, that it would be to no purpose to resist, but that it was their wisdom to yield and capitulate; so Christ here, to show how fruitless it would be to stand it out, bids every one make the best of his way.
(2.) We may take it as a direction to the followers of Christ what to do, not to say, A confederacy with those who fought and warred against the Romans for the preservation of their city and nation, only that they might consume the wealth of both upon their lusts (for to this very affair, the struggles of the Jews against the Roman power, some years before their final overthrow, the apostle refers, Jam 4:1-3); but let them acquiesce in the decree that was gone forth, and with all speed quit the city and country, as they would quit a falling house or a sinking ship, as Lot quitted Sodom, and Israel the tents of Dathan and Abiram; he shows them,
[1.] Whither they must flee – from Judea to the mountains; not the mountains round about Jerusalem, but those in the remote corners of the land, which would be some shelter to them, not so much by their strength as by their secrecy. Israel is said to be scattered upon the mountains (2Ch 18:16); and see Heb 11:38. It would be safer among the lions’ dens, and the mountains of the leopards, than among the seditious Jews or the enraged Romans. Note, In times of imminent peril and danger, it is not only lawful, but our duty, to seek our own preservation by all good and honest means; and if God opens a door of escape, we ought to make our escape, otherwise we do not trust God but tempt him. There may be a time when even those that are in Judea, where God is known, and his name is great, must flee to the mountains; and while we only go out of the way of danger, not out of the way of duty, we may trust God to provide a dwelling for his outcasts, Isa 16:4-5. In times of public calamity, when it is manifest that we cannot be serviceable at home and may be safe abroad, Providence calls us to make our escape. He that flees, may fight again.
[2.] What haste they must make, Mat 24:17-18. The life will be in danger, in imminent danger, the scourge will slay suddenly; and therefore he that is on the house-top, when the alarm comes, let him not come down into the house, to look after his effects there, but go the nearest way down, to make his escape; and so he that shall be in the field, will find it his wisest course to run immediately, and not return to fetch his clothes or the wealth of his house, for two reasons, First, Because the time which would be taken up in packing up his things, would delay his flight. Note, When death is at the door, delays are dangerous; it was the charge to Lot, Look not behind thee. Those that are convinced of the misery of a sinful state, and the ruin that attends them in that state, and, consequently, of the necessity of their fleeing to Christ, must take heed, lest, after all these convictions, they perish eternally by delays. Secondly, Because the carrying of his clothes, and his other movables and valuables with him, would but burthen him, and clog his flight. The Syrians, in their flight, cast away their garments, 2Ki 7:15. At such a time, we must be thankful if our lives be given us for a prey, though we can save nothing, Jer 45:4-5. For the life is more than meat, Mat 6:25. Those who carried off least, were safest in their flight. Cantabit vacuus coram latrone viator – The pennyless traveller can lose nothing by robbers. It was to his own disciples that Christ recommended this forgetfulness of their house and clothes, who had a habitation in heaven, treasure there, and durable clothing, which the enemy could not plunder them of. Omnia mea mecum porto – I have all my property with me, said Bias the philosopher in his flight, empty-handed. He that has grace in his heart carries his all along with him, when tripped of all.
Now those to whom Christ said this immediately, did not live to see this dismal day, none of all the twelve but John only; they needed not to be hidden in the mountains (Christ hid them in heaven), but they left the direction to their successors in profession, who pursued it, and it was of use to them; for when the Christians in Jerusalem and Judea saw the ruin coming on, they all retired to a town called Pella, on the other side Jordan, where they were safe; so that of the many thousands that perished in the destruction of Jerusalem, there was not so much as one Christian. See Euseb. Eccl. Hist. lib. 3, cap. 5. Thus the prudent man foresees the evil, and hides himself, Pro 22:3; Heb 11:7. This warning was not kept private. St. Matthew’s gospel was published long before that destruction, so that others might have taken the advantage of it; but their perishing through their unbelief of this, was a figure of their eternal perishing through their unbelief of the warnings Christ gave concerning the wrath to come.
[3.] Whom it would go hard with at that time (Mat 24:19); Woe to them that are with child, and to them that give suck. To this same event that saying of Christ at his death refers (Luk 23:29), They shall say, Blessed are the wombs that never bare, and the paps that never gave suck. Happy are they that have no children to see the murder of; but most unhappy they whose wombs are then bearing, their paps then giving suck: they of all others will be in the most melancholy circumstances. First, To them the famine would be most grievous, when they should see the tongue of the sucking child cleaving to the roof of his mouth for thirst, and themselves by the calamity made more cruel than the sea monsters, Lam 4:3-4. Secondly, To them the sword would be most terrible, when in the hand of worse than brutal rage. It is a direful midwifery, when the women with child come to be ripped up by the enraged conqueror (2Ki 15:16; Hos 13:16; Amo 1:13), or the children brought forth to their murderer, Hos 9:13. Thirdly, To them also the flight would be most afflictive,; the women with child cannot make haste, or go far; the sucking child cannot be left behind, or, if it should, can a woman forget it, that she should not have compassion on it? If it be carried along, it retards the mother’s flight, and so exposes her life, and is in danger of Mephibosheth’s fate, who was lamed by a fall he got in his nurse’s flight. 2Sa 4:4.
[4.] What they should pray against at that time – that your flight be not in the winter, nor on the sabbath day, Mat 24:20. Observe, in general, it becomes Christ’s disciples, in times of public trouble and calamity, to be much in prayer; that is a salve for every sore, never out of season, but in a special manner seasonable when we are distressed on every side. There is no remedy but you must flee, the decree is gone forth, so that God will not be entreated to take away his wrath, no, not if Noah, Daniel, and Job, stood before him. Let it suffice thee, speak no more of that matter, but labour to make the best of that which is; and when you cannot in faith pray that you may not be forced to flee, yet pray that the circumstances of it may be graciously ordered, that, though the cup may not pass from you, yet the extremity of the judgment may be prevented. Note, God has the disposing of the circumstances of events, which sometimes make a great alteration one way or other; and therefore in those our eyes must be ever toward him. Christ’s bidding them pray for this favour, intimates his purpose of granting it to them; and in a general calamity we must not overlook a circumstantial kindness, but see and own wherein it might have been worse. Christ still bids his disciples to pray for themselves and their friends, that, whenever they were forced to flee, it might be in the most convenient time. Note, When trouble is in prospect, at a great distance, it is good to lay in a stock of prayers beforehand; they must pray, First, That their flight, if it were the will of God, might not be in the winter, when the days are short, the weather cold, the ways dirty, and therefore travelling very uncomfortable, especially for whole families. Paul hastens Timothy to come to him before winter, 2Ti 4:21. Note, Though the ease of the body is not to be mainly consulted, it ought to be duly considered; though we must take what God sends, and when he sends it, yet we may pray against bodily inconveniences, and are encouraged to do so, in that the Lord is for the body. Secondly, That it might not be on the sabbath day; not on the Jewish sabbath, because travelling then would give offence to them who were angry with the disciples for plucking the ears of corn on the day; not on the Christian sabbath, because being forced to travel on the day would be a grief to themselves. This intimates Christ’s design, that a weekly sabbath should be observed in his church after the preaching of the gospel to all the world. We read not of any of the ordinances of the Jewish church, which were purely ceremonial, that Christ ever expressed any care about, because they were all to vanish; but for the sabbath he often showed a concern. It intimates likewise that the sabbath is ordinarily to be observed as a day of rest from travel and worldly labour; but that, according to his own explication of the fourth commandment, works of necessity were lawful on the sabbath day, as this of fleeing from an enemy to save our lives: had it not been lawful, he would have said, “Whatever becomes of you, do not flee on the sabbath day, but abide by it, though you die by it.” For we must not commit the least sin, to escape the greatest trouble. But it intimates, likewise, that it is very uneasy and uncomfortable to a good man, to be taken off by any work of necessity from the solemn service and worship of God on the sabbath day. We should pray that we may have quiet undisturbed sabbaths, and may have no other work than sabbath work to do on sabbath days; that we may attend upon the Lord without distraction. It was desirable, that, if they must flee, they might have the benefit and comfort of one sabbath more to help to bear their charges. To flee in the winter is uncomfortable to the body; but to flee on the sabbath day is so to the soul, and the more so when it remembers former sabbaths, as Psa 42:4.
3. The greatness of the troubles which should immediately ensue (Mat 24:21); Then shall be great tribulation; then when the measure of iniquity is full; then when the servants of God are sealed and secured, then come the troubles; nothing can be done against Sodom till Lot is entered into Zoar, and then look for fire and brimstone immediately. There shall be great tribulation. Great, indeed, when within the city plague and famine raged, and (worse than either) faction and division, so that every man’s sword was against his fellow; then and there it was that the hands of the pitiful women flayed their own children. Without the city was the Roman army ready to swallow them up, with a particular rage against them, not only as Jews, but as rebellious Jews. War was the only one of the three sore judgments that David excepted against; but that was it by which the Jews were ruined; and there were famine and pestilence in extremity besides. Josephus’s History of the Wars of the Jews, has in it more tragical passages than perhaps any history whatsoever.
(1.) It was a desolation unparalleled, such as was not since the beginning of the world, nor ever shall be. Many a city and kingdom has been made desolate, but never any with a desolation like this. Let not daring sinners think that God has done his worst, he can heat the furnace seven times and yet seven times hotter, and will, when he sees greater and still greater abominations. The Romans, when they destroyed Jerusalem, were degenerated from the honour and virtue of their ancestors, which had made even their victories easy to the vanquished. And the willfulness and obstinacy of the Jews themselves contributed much to the increase of the tribulation. No wonder that the ruin of Jerusalem was an unparalleled ruin, when the sin of Jerusalem was an unparalleled sin – even their crucifying Christ. The nearer any people are to God in profession and privileges, the greater and heavier will his judgments be upon them, if they abuse those privileges, and be false to that profession, Amo 3:2.
(2.) It was a desolation which, if it should continue long, would be intolerable, so that no flesh should be saved, Mat 24:22. So triumphantly would death ride, in so many dismal shapes, and with such attendants, that there would be no escaping, but, first or last, all would be cut off. He that escaped one sword, would fall by another, Isa 24:17-18. The computation which Josephus makes of those that were slain in several places, amounts to above two millions. No flesh shall be saved; he doth not say, “No soul shall be saved,” for the destruction of the flesh may be for the saving of the spirit in the day of the Lord Jesus; but temporal lives will be sacrificed so profusely, that one would think, if it last awhile, it would make a full end.
But here is one word of comfort in the midst of all this terror – that for the elects’ sake these days shall be shortened, not made shorter than what God had determined (for that which is determined, shall be poured upon the desolate, Dan 9:27), but shorter than what he might have decreed, if he had dealt with them according to their sins; shorter than what the enemy designed, who would have cut all off, if God who made use of them to serve his own purpose, had not set bounds to their wrath; shorter than one who judged by human probabilities would have imagined. Note, [1.] In times of common calamity God manifests his favour to the elect remnant; his jewels, which he will then make up; his peculiar treasure, which he will secure when the lumber is abandoned to the spoiler. [2.] The shortening of calamities is a kindness God often grants for the elects’ sake. Instead of complaining that our afflictions last so long, if we consider our defects, we shall see reason to be thankful that they do not last always; when it is bad with us, it becomes us to say, “Blessed be God that it is no worse; blessed be God that it is not hell, endless and remediless misery.” It was a lamenting church that said, It is of the Lord’s mercies that we are not consumed; and it is for the sake of the elect, lest their spirit should fail before them, if he should contend for ever, and lest they should be tempted to put forth, if not their heart, yet their hand, to iniquity.
And now comes in the repeated caution, which was opened before, to take heed of being ensnared by false Christs, and false prophets; (Mat 24:23, etc.), who would promise them deliverance, as the lying prophets in Jeremiah’s time (Jer 14:13; Jer 23:16-17; Jer 27:16; Jer 28:2), but would delude them. Times of great trouble are times of great temptation, and therefore we have need to double our guard then. If they shall say, Here is a Christ, or there is one, that shall deliver us from the Romans, do not heed them, it is all but talk; such a deliverance is not to be expected, and therefore not such a deliverer.
VII. He foretells the sudden spreading of the gospel in the world, about the time of these great events (Mat 24:27-28); As the lightning comes out of the east, so shall the coming of the Son of man be. It comes in here as an antidote against the poison of those seducers, that said, Lo, here is Christ, or, Lo, he is there; compare Luk 17:23-24. Hearken not to them, for the coming of the Son of man will be as the lightning.
1. It seems primarily to be meant of his coming to set up his spiritual kingdom in the world; where the gospel came in its light and power, there the Son of man came, and in a way quite contrary to the fashion of the seducers and false Christs, who came creeping in the desert, or the secret chambers (2Ti 3:6); whereas Christ comes not with such a spirit of fear, but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind. The gospel would be remarkable for two things.
(1.) Its swift spreading; it shall fly as the lightning; so shall the gospel be preached and propagated. The gospel is light (Joh 3:19); and it is not in this as the lightning, that it is a sudden flash, and away, for it is sun-light, and day-light; but it is as lightning in these respects:
[1.] It is light from heaven, as the lightning. It is God, and not man, that sends the lightnings, and summons them, that they may go, and say, Here we are, Job 38:35. It is God that directs it (Job 37:3); to man it is one of nature’s miracles, above his power to effect, and of nature’s mysteries, above his skill to account for: but it is from above; his lightnings enlightened the world, Psa 97:4.
[2.] It is visible and conspicuous as the lightning. The seducers carried on their depths of Satan in the desert and the secret chambers, shunning the light; heretics were called lucifugae – light-shunners. But truth seeks no corners, however it may sometimes be forced into them, as the woman in the wilderness, though clothed with the sun, Rev 12:1, Rev 12:6. Christ preached his gospel openly (Joh 18:20), and his apostles on the housetop (Mat 10:27), not in a corner, Act 26:26. See Psa 98:2.
[3.] It was sudden and surprising to the world as the lightning; the Jews indeed had predictions of it, but to the Gentiles it was altogether unlooked for, and came upon them with unaccountable energy, or ever they were aware. It was light out of darkness, Mat 4:16; 2Co 4:6. We read of the discomfiting of armies by lightning, 2Sa 22:15; Psa 144:6. The powers of darkness were dispersed and vanquished by the gospel lightning.
[4.] It spread far and wide, and that quickly and irresistibly, like the lightning, which comes, suppose, out of the east (Christ is said to ascend from the east, Rev 7:2; Isa 41:2), and lighteneth to the west. The propagating of Christianity to so many distant countries, of divers languages, by such unlikely instruments, destitute of all secular advantages, and in the face of so much opposition, and this in so short a time, was one of the greatest miracles that was ever wrought for the confirmation of it; here was Christ upon his white horse, denoting speed as well as strength, and going on conquering and to conquer, Rev 6:2. Gospel light rose with the sun, and went with the same, so that the beams of it reached to the ends of the earth, Rom 10:18. Compare with Psa 19:3-4. Though it was fought against, it could never be cooped up in a desert, or in a secret place, as the seducers were; but by this, according to Gamaliel’s rule, proved itself to be of God, that it could not be overthrown, Act 5:38-39. Christ speaks of shining into the west, because it spread most effectually into those countries which lay west from Jerusalem, as Mr. Herbert observes in his Church-militant. How soon did the gospel lightning reach this island of Great Britain! Tertullian, who wrote in the second century, takes notice of it, Britannorum in accessa Romanis loca, Christo tamen subdita – The fastnesses of Britain, though inaccessible to the Romans, were occupied by Jesus Christ. This was the Lord’s doing.
(2.) Another thing remarkable concerning the gospel, was, its strange success in those places to which is was spread; it gathered in multitudes, not by external compulsion, but as it were by such a natural instinct and inclination, as brings the birds of prey to their prey; for wheresoever the carcase is, there will the eagles be gathered together (Mat 24:28), where Christ is preached, souls will be gathered in to him. The lifting up of Christ from the earth, that is, the preaching of Christ crucified, which, one would think, should drive all men from him, will draw all men to him (Joh 12:32), according to Jacob’s prophecy, that to him shall the gathering of the people be, Gen 49:10. See Isa 60:8. The eagles will be where the carcase is, for it is food for them, it is a feast for them; where the slain are, there is she, Job 39:30. Eagles are said to have a strange sagacity and quickness of scent to find out the prey, and they fly swiftly to it, Job 9:26. So those whose spirits God shall stir up, will be effectually drawn to Jesus Christ, to feed upon him; whither should the eagle go but to the prey? Whither should the soul go but to Jesus Christ, who has the words of eternal life? The eagles will distinguish what is proper for them from that which is not; so those who have spiritual senses exercised, will know the voice of the good Shepherd from that of a thief and a robber. Saints will be where the true Christ is, not the false Christs. This is applicable to the desires that are wrought in every gracious soul after Christ, and communion with him. Where he is in his ordinances, there will his servants choose to be. A living principle of grace is a kind of natural instinct in all the saints, drawing them to Christ to live upon him.
2. Some understand these verses of the coming of the Son of man to destroy Jerusalem, Mal 3:1-2, Mal 3:5. So much was there of an extraordinary display of divine power and justice in that event, that it is called the coming of Christ.
Now here are two things intimated concerning it.
(1.) That to the most it would be as unexpected as a flash of lightning, which indeed gives warning of the clap of thunder which follows, but is itself surprising. The seducers say, Lo, here is Christ to deliver us; or there is one, a creature of their own fancies; but ere they are aware, the wrath of the Lamb, the true Christ, will arrest them, and they shall not escape.
(2.) That it might be as justly expected as that the eagle should fly to the carcasses; though they put far from them the evil day, yet the desolation will come as certainly as the birds of prey to a dead carcase, that lies exposed in the open field. [1.] The Jews were so corrupt and degenerate, so vile and vicious, that they were become a carcase, obnoxious to the righteous judgment of God; they were also so factious and seditious, and every way so provoking to the Romans, that they had made themselves obnoxious to their resentments, and an inviting prey to them. [2.] The Romans were as an eagle, and the ensign of their armies was an eagle. The army of the Chaldeans is said to fly as the eagle that hasteth to eat, Hab 1:8. The ruin of the New Testament Babylon is represented by a call to the birds of prey to come and feast upon the slain, Rev 19:17-18. Notorious malefactors have their eyes eaten out by the young eagles (Pro 30:17); the Jews were hung up in chains, Jer 7:33; Jer 16:4. [3.] The Jews can no more preserve themselves from the Romans than the carcase can secure itself from the eagles. [4.] The destruction shall find out the Jews wherever they are, as the eagle scents the prey. Note, When a people do by their sin make themselves carcasses, putrid and loathsome, nothing can be expected but that God should send eagles among them, to devour and destroy them.
3. It is very applicable to the day of judgment, the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ in that day, and our gathering together unto him, 2Th 2:1. Now see here,
(1.) How he shall come; as the lightning, The time was now at hand, when he should depart out of the world, to go to the Father. Therefore those that enquire after Christ must not go into the desert or the secret place, nor listen to every one that will put up the finger to invite them to a sight of Christ; but let them look upward, for the heavens must contain him, and thence we look for the Saviour (Phi 3:20); he shall come in the clouds, as the lightning doth, and every eye shall see him, as they say it is natural for all living creatures to turn their faces towards the lightning, Rev 1:7. Christ will appear to all the world, from one end of heaven to the other; nor shall any thing be hid from the light and heat of that day.
(2.) How the saints shall be gathered to him; as the eagles are to the carcase by natural instinct, and with the greatest swiftness and alacrity imaginable. Saints, when they shall be fetched to glory, will be carried as on eagles’ wings (Exo 19:4), as on angels’ wings. They shall mount up with wings, like eagles, and like them renew their youth.
VIII. He foretells his second coming at the end of time, Mat 24:29-31. The sun shall be darkened, etc.
1. Some think this is to be understood only of the destruction of Jerusalem and the Jewish nation; the darkening of the sun, moon, and stars, denotes the eclipse of the glory of that state, its convulsions, and the general confusion that attended that desolation. Great slaughter and devastation are in the Old Testament thus set forth (as Isa 13:10; Isa 34:4; Eze 32:7; Joe 2:31); or by the sun, moon, and stars, may be meant the temple, Jerusalem, and the cities of Judah, which should all come to ruin. The sign of the Son of man (Mat 24:30) means a signal appearance of the power and justice of the Lord Jesus in it, avenging his own blood on them that imprecated the guilt of it upon themselves and their children; and the gathering of his elect (Mat 24:31) signifies the delivering of a remnant from this sin and ruin.
2. It seems rather to refer to Christ’s second coming. The destruction of the particular enemies of the church was typical of the complete conquest of them all; and therefore what will be done really at the great day, may be applied metaphorically to those destructions: but still we must attend to the principal scope of them; and while we are all agreed to expect Christ’s second coming, what need is there to put such strained constructions as some do, upon these verses, which speak of it so clearly, and so agreeably to other scriptures, especially when Christ is here answering an enquiry concerning his coming at the end of the world, which Christ was never shy of speaking of to his disciples?
The only objection against this, is, that it is said to be immediately after the tribulation of those days; but as to that, (1.) It is usual in the prophetical style to speak of things great and certain as near and just at hand, only to express the greatness and certainty of them. Enoch spoke of Christ’s second coming as within ken, Behold, the Lord cometh, Jud 1:14. (2.) A thousand years are in God’s sight but as one day, 2Pe 3:8. It is there urged, with reference to this very thing, and so it might be said to be immediately after. The tribulation of those days includes not only the destruction of Jerusalem, but all the other tribulations which the church must pass through; not only its share in the calamities of the nations, but the tribulations peculiar to itself; while the nations are torn with wars, and the church with schisms, delusions, and persecutions, we cannot say that the tribulation of those days is over; the whole state of the church on earth is militant, we must count upon that; but when the church’s tribulation is over, her warfare accomplished, and what is behind of the sufferings of Christ filled up, then look for the end.
Now concerning Christ’s second coming, it is here foretold,
[1.] That there shall be then a great and amazing change of the creatures, and particularly the heavenly bodies (Mat 24:29). The sun shall be darkened, and the moon shall not give her light. The moon shines with a borrowed light, and therefore if the sun, from whom she borrows her light, is turned into darkness, she must fail of course, and become bankrupt. The stars shall fall; they shall lose their light, and disappear, and be as if they were fallen; and the powers of heaven shall be shaken. This intimates,
First, That there shall be a great change, in order to the making of all things new. Then shall be the restitution of all things, when the heavens shall not be cast away as a rag, but changed as a vesture, to be worn in a better fashion, Psa 102:26. They shall pass away with a great noise, that there may be new heavens, 2Pe 3:10-13.
Secondly, It shall be a visible change, and such as all the world must take notice of; for such the darkening of the sun and moon cannot but be: and it would be an amazing change; for the heavenly bodies are not so liable to alteration as the creatures of this lower world are. The days of heaven, and the continuance of the sun and moon, are used to express that which is lasting and unchangeable (As Psa 89:29, Psa 89:36-37); yet they shall thus be shaken.
Thirdly, It shall be a universal change. If the sun be turned into darkness, and the powers of heaven be shaken, the earth cannot but be turned into a dungeon, and its foundation made to tremble. Howl, fir trees, if the cedars be shaken. When the stars of heaven drop, no marvel if the everlasting mountains melt, and the perpetual hills bow. Nature shall sustain a general shock and convulsion, which yet shall be no hindrance to the joy and rejoicing of heaven and earth before the Lord, when he cometh to judge the world (Psa 96:11, Psa 96:13); they shall as it were glory in the tribulation.
Fourthly, The darkening of the sun, moon, and stars, which were made to rule over the day, and over the night (which is the first dominion we find of any creature, Gen 1:16-18), signifies the putting down of all rule, authority, and power (even that which seems of the greatest antiquity and usefulness), that the kingdom may be delivered up to God, even the Father, and he may be All in all, 1Co 15:24, 1Co 15:28. The sun was darkened at the death of Christ, for then was in one sense the judgment of this world (Joh 12:31), an indication of what would be at the general judgment.
Fifthly, The glorious appearance of our Lord Jesus, who will then show himself as the Brightness of his Father’s glory, and the express Image of his person, will darken the sun and moon, as a candle is darkened in the beams of the noon-day sun; they will have no glory, by reason of the glory that excelleth, 2Co 3:10. Then the sun shall be ashamed, and the moon confounded, when God shall appear, Isa 24:23.
Sixthly, The sun and moon shall be then darkened, because there will be no more occasion for them. To sinners, that choose their portion in this life, all comfort will be eternally denied; as they shall not have a drop of water, so not a ray of light. Now God causeth his sun to rise on the earth, but then Interdico tib sole et luna – I forbid thee the light of the sun and the moon. Darkness must be their portion. To the saints that had their treasure above, such light of joy and comfort will be given as shall supersede that of the sun and moon, and render it useless. What need is there of vessels of light, when we come to the Fountain and Father of light? See Isa 60:19; Rev 22:5.
[2.] That then shall appear the sign of the Son of man in heaven (Mat 24:30), the Son of man himself, as it follows here, They shall see the Son of man coming in the clouds. At his first coming, he was set for a Sign that should be spoken against (Luk 2:34), but at his second coming, a sign that should be admired. Ezekiel was a son of man set for a sign, Eze 12:6. Some make this a prediction of the harbingers and forerunners of his coming, giving notice of his approach; a light shining before him, and the fire devouring (Psa 50:3; 1Ki 19:11-12), the beams coming out of his hand, where had long been the hiding of his power, Hab 3:4. It is a groundless conceit of some of the ancients, that this sign of the Son of man, will be the sign of the cross displayed as a banner. It will certainly be such a clear convincing sign as will dash infidelity quite out of countenance, and fill their faces with shame, who said, Where is the promise of his coming?
[3.] That then all the tribes of the earth shall mourn, Mat 24:30. See Rev 1:7. All the kindreds of the earth shall then wail because of him; some of all the tribes and kindreds of the earth shall mourn; for the greater part will tremble at his approach, while the chosen remnant, one of a family and two of a tribe, shall lift up their heads with joy, knowing that their redemption draws nigh, and their Redeemer. Note, Sooner or later, all sinners will be mourners; penitent sinners look to Christ, and mourn after a godly sort; and they who sow in those tears, shall shortly reap in joy; impenitent sinners shall look unto him whom they have pierced, and, though they laugh now, shall mourn and weep after a devilish sort, in endless horror and despair.
[4.] That then they shall see the Son of man coming in the clouds of heaven, with power and great glory. Note, First, The judgment of the great day will be committed to the Son of man, both in pursuance and in recompense of his great undertaking for us as Mediator, Joh 5:22, Joh 5:27. Secondly, The Son of man will at that day come in the clouds of heaven. Much of the sensible intercourse between heaven and earth is by the clouds; they are betwixt them, as it were, the medium participationis – the medium of participation, drawn by heaven from the earth, distilled by heaven upon the earth. Christ went to heaven in a cloud, and will in like manner come again, Act 1:9, Act 1:11. Behold, he cometh in the clouds, Rev 1:7. A cloud will be the Judge’s chariot (Psa 104:3), his robe (Rev 10:1), his pavilion (Psa 18:11), his throne, Rev 14:14. When the world was destroyed by water, the judgment came in the clouds of heaven, for the windows of heaven were opened; so shall it be when it shall be destroyed by fire. Christ went before Israel in a cloud, which had a bright side and a dark side; so will the cloud have in which Christ will come at the great day, it will bring both comfort and terror. Thirdly, He will come with power and great glory: his first coming was in weakness and great meanness (2Co 13:4); but his second coming will be with power and glory, agreeable both to the dignity of his person and to the purposes of his coming. Fourthly, He will be seen with bodily eyes in his coming: therefore the Son of man will be the Judge, that he may be seen, that sinners thereby may be the more confounded, who shall see him as Balaam did, but not nigh (Num 24:17), see him, but not as theirs. It added to the torment of that damned sinner, that he saw Abraham afar off. “Is this he whom we have slighted, and rejected, and rebelled against; whom we have crucified to ourselves afresh; who might have been our Saviour, but is our Judge, and will be our enemy for ever?” The Desire of all nations will then be their dread.
[5.] That he shall send his angels with a great sound of a trumpet, Mat 24:31. Note, First, The angels shall be attendants upon Christ at his second coming; they are called his angels, which proves him to be God, and Lord of the angels; they shall be obliged to wait upon him. Secondly, These attendants shall be employed by him as officers of the court in the judgment of that day; they are now ministering spirits sent forth by him (Heb 1:14), and will be so then. Thirdly, Their ministration will be ushered in with a great sound of a trumpet, to awaken and alarm a sleeping world. This trumpet is spoken of, 1Co 15:52, and 1Th 4:16. At the giving of the law on mount Sinai, the sound of the trumpet was remarkably terrible (Exo 19:13, Exo 19:16); but much more will it be so in the great day. By the law, trumpets were to be sounded for the calling of assemblies (Num 10:2), in praising God (Psa 81:3), in offering sacrifices (Num 10:10), and in proclaiming the year of jubilee, Lev 25:9. Very fitly therefore shall there be the sound of a trumpet at the last day, when the general assembly shall be called, when the praises of God shall be gloriously celebrated, when sinners shall fall as sacrifices to divine justice, and when the saints shall enter upon their eternal jubilee.
[6.] That they shall gather together his elect from the four winds. Note, At the second coming of Jesus Christ, there will be a general meeting of all the saints. First, The elect only will be gathered, the chosen remnant, who are but few in comparison with the many that are only called. This is the foundation of the saints’ eternal happiness, that they are God’s elect. The gifts of love to eternity follow the thought of love from eternity; and the Lord knows them that are his. Secondly, The angels shall be employed to bring them together, as Christ’s servants, and as the saints’ friends; we have the commission given them, Psa 50:5 Gather my saints together unto me; nay, it will be said to them, Habetis fratres – These are your brethren; for the elect will then be equal to the angels, Luk 20:36. Thirdly, They shall be gathered from one end of heaven to the other; the elect of God are scattered abroad (Joh 11:52), there are some in all places, in all nations (Rev 7:9); but when that great gathering day comes, there shall not one of them be missing; distance of place shall keep none out of heaven, if distance of affection do not. Undique ad coelos tantundem est viae – Heaven is equally accessible from every place. See Luk 8:11; Isa 43:6; Isa 49:12
2 Thessalonians 2.7
Albert Barnes (1798-1870)
LNW Note: As you read this commentary on 2 Thessalonians 2.7, keep in mind the news headlines posted at latenightwatch, how the church is moving toward Rome and a compromised gospel; how global governments are unraveling and lacking leadership. Deceit is starting to abound and be portrayed openly without restraint. Also read Albert Barnes commentary on 2 Peter 2.1(KJV) But there were false prophets also among the people, even as there shall be false teachers among you, who privily shall bring in damnable heresies, even denying the Lord that bought them, and bring upon themselves swift destruction. See also Wikipedia® article on Rapture.
For the mystery of iniquity. On the meaning of the word mystery, See Barnes "Ro 11:25". Comp. 1 Co 2:7; Eph 1:9;Eph 3:3; Col 1:26. It means properly that which is hidden or concealed; not necessarily that which is unintelligible. The "mystery of iniquity," seems here to refer to some hidden or concealed depravity-some form of sin which was working secretly and silently: and which had not yet developed itself. Any secret sources of iniquity in the church—anything that tended to corrupt its doctrines, and to destroy the simplicity of the faith of the gospel, would correspond with the meaning of the word. Doddridge correctly supposes that this may refer to the pride and ambition of some ministers, the factious temper of some Christians, the imposing of unauthorized severities, the worship of angels, etc.
Doth already work. There are elements of these corruptions already existing in the church. Bishop Newton maintains that the foundations of Popery were laid in the apostles’ days, and that the superstructure was raised by degrees; and this is entirely in accordance with the statements of the apostle Paul. In his own time, he says, there were things, which, if not restrained, would expand and ripen into that apostasy. He has not told us particularly to what he refers, but there are several intimations in his writings, as well as in other parts of the New Testament, that even in the apostolic age there existed the elements of those corruptions which were afterwards developed and embodied in the Papacy. Even "then," says bishop Newton, "idolatry was stealing into the church,1 Co 10:14, and a voluntary humility and worshipping of angels." Col 2:18; See Barnes "Col 2:18".
"There existed strife and divisions, 1 Co 3:3; an adulterating and handling the word of God deceitfully, 2 Co 2:17; 4:2; a gain of godliness, teaching of things for filthy lucre’s sake, 1 Ti 6:5; Tit 1:11; a vain observation of festivals, Ga 4:10; a vain distinction of meats, 1 Co 8:8; a neglecting of the body, Col 2:23; traditions, and commandments, and doctrines of men, (Col 2:8,22)." Compare 3 Jo 1:9, "Diotrephes, who loveth to have the preeminence." These things constituted the elements of the corruptions which were afterwards developed in the Papacy, and which are embodied in that system. An eye that could see all, would even then have perceived that, if there were no restraint, these incipient corruptions would grow up into that system, and would be expanded into all the corruptions and arrogant claims which have ever characterized it. Comp. 1 Jo 4:3.
Only he who now letteth. Who now hinders or restrains — ὁ κατέχων ho katechōn. This is the same word which is used in 2 Th 2:6, and rendered "withholdeth," except that it is there in the neuter gender. There can be no doubt that there is reference to the same restraining power, or the same power under the control of an individual: but what that was, is not quite certain. It was some power which operated as a check on the growing corruptions then existing, and which prevented their full development, but which was to be removed at no distant period, and whose removal would give an opportunity for those corruptions to develope themselves, and for the full revelation of the man of sin. Such a supposition as that the civil power of Rome (LNW: not the Catholic Church at Rome as it had not yet come in to being) was such a restraint, operating to prevent the assumption of the ecclesiastical claims of supremacy which afterwards characterized the Papacy, will correspond with all that is necessarily implied in the language.
Will let, until he be taken out of the way. This will be an effectual check on these corruptions, preventing their full development, until it is removed, and then the man of sin will appear. The supposition which will best suit this language is, that there was then some civil restraint, preventing the development of existing corruptions, but that there would be a removal, or withdrawing of that restraint; and that then the tendency of the existing corruptions would be seen [emphasis by LNW]. It is evident, as Oldshansen remarks, that this resisting or restraining power must be something out of the church, and distinguished from the antichristian tendency itself: von der Kirche und vom Antichristenthum. It is necessary, therefore, to understand this of the restraints of civil power. Was there, then, any fact in history which will accord with this interpretation? The belief among the primitive Christians was, that what hindered the rise of the man of sin was the Roman empire, and therefore "they prayed for its peace and welfare, as knowing that when the Roman empire should be dissolved and broken in pieces, the empire of the man of sin would be raised on its ruins." Bp. Newton. How this revolution was effected, may be seen by the statement of Machiavel. "The emperor of Rome, quitting Rome to dwell at Constantinople," (in the fourth century under Constantine,) "the Roman empire began to decline, but the church of Rome augmented as fast. Nevertheless, until the coming in of the Lombards, all Italy being under the dominion of either emperors or kings, the bishops assumed no more power than what was due to their doctrine and manners; in civil affairs they were subject to the civil power. But Theodoric, king of the Goths, fixing his seat at Ravenna, was that which advanced their interest, and made them more considerable in Italy, for there being no other prince left in Rome, the Romans were forced for protection to pay greater allegiance to the pope. The Lombards having invaded and reduced Italy into several can-tons, the pope took the opportunity, and began to hold up his head. For being, as it were, governor and principal of Rome, the emperor of Constantinople and the Lombards bare him a respect, so that the Romans (by mediation of their pope) began to treat and confederate with Longinuis, [the emperor's lieutenant,] and the Lombards, not as subjects, but as equals and companions; which said custom continuing, and the pope’s entering into alliance sometimes with the Lombards, and sometimes with the Greeks, contracted great reputation to their dignity." (Hist. of Florence, B.i. p 6, of the English translation.) A more extended quotation on this subject, may be seen in Newton on the Prophecies, pp. 407,408. To any one acquainted with the decline and fall of the Roman empire, nothing can be more manifest than the correspondence of the facts in history respecting the rise of the Papacy, and the statement of the apostle Paul here. The simple facts are these.
(1.) There were early corruptions in the church at Rome, as there were elsewhere, but peculiarly there, as Rome was the seat of philosophy and of power.
(2.) There were great efforts made by the bishop of Rome to increase his authority, and there was a steady approximation to what he subsequently claimed—that of being universal bishop.
(3.) There was a constant tendency to yield to him deference and respect in all matters.
(4.) This was kept in check as long as Rome was the seat of the imperial power. Had that power remained there, it would have been impossible for the Roman bishop ever to have obtained the civil and ecclesiastical eminence which he ultimately did. Rome could not have had two heads, both claiming and exercising supreme power; and there never could have been a "revelation of the man of sin."
(5.) Constantine removed the seat of empire to Constantinople; and this removal or "taking away" of the only restraint on the ambitious projects of the Roman bishops, gave all the opportunity which could be desired for the growth of the papal power. In all history there cannot, probably, be found a series of events corresponding more accurately with a prophetic statement than this; and there is every evidence, therefore, that these are the events to which the Spirit of inspiration referred.
Philippians Chapter Three
Matthew Henry (1662-1714)
LNW Note: For insight purposes, remember that the Apostle Paul is not condemning the Jewish rite of circumcision (for remember he had Timothy circumcised); but the reliance upon circumcision (obedience to the Law of Moses) as a work of salvation. The adherence of the Law (Moses) in conjunction with Christ for salvation was what the legalists were promoting among the Gentile believers; Paul, on the other hand, was insisting (as all the apostles did) that salvation was by grace through faith in Christ alone (His shed blood and righteousness, His atoning work at Calvary).
He cautions them against judaizing seducers (Phi 3:1-3) and proposes his own example: and here he enumerates the privileges of his Jewish state which he rejected (Phi 3:4-8), describes the matter of his own choice (Phi 3:9-16), and closes with an exhortation to beware of wicked men, and to follow his example (Phi 3:17-21).
It seems the church of the Philippians, though a faithful and flourishing church, was disturbed by the judaizing teachers, who endeavoured to keep up the law of Moses, and mix the observances of it with the doctrine of Christ and his institutions. He begins the chapter with warnings against these seducers.
I. He exhorts them to rejoice in the Lord (Phi 3:1), to rest satisfied in the interest they had in him and the benefit they hoped for by him. It is the character and temper of sincere Christians to rejoice in Christ Jesus. The more we take of the comfort of our religion the more closely we shall cleave to it: the more we rejoice in Christ the more willing we shall be to do and suffer for him, and the less danger we shalt be in of being drawn away from him. The joy of the Lord is our strength, Neh 8:10.
II. He cautions them to take heed of those false teachers: To write the same thing to you to me indeed is not grievous, but for you it is safe; that is, the same things which I have already preached to you; as if he had said, “What has been presented to your ears shall be presented to your eyes: what I have spoken formerly shall now be written; to show that I am still of the same mind.” To me indeed is not grievous. Observe, 1. Ministers must not think any thing grievous to themselves which they have reason to believe is safe and edifying to the people. 2. It is good for us often to hear the same truths, to revive the remembrance and strengthen the impression of things of importance. It is a wanton curiosity to desire always to hear some new thing. It is a needful caution he here gives: Beware of dogs, Phi 3:2. The prophet calls the false prophets dumb dogs (Isa 56:10), to which the apostle here seems to refer. Dogs, for their malice against the faithful professors of the gospel of Christ, barking at them and biting them. They cried up good works in opposition to the faith of Christ; but Paul calls them evil workers: they boasted themselves to be of the circumcision; but he calls them the concision: they rent and tore the church of Christ, and cut it to pieces; or contended for an abolished rite, a mere insignificant cutting of the flesh.
III. He describes true Christians, who are indeed the circumcision, the spiritual circumcision, the peculiar of people of God, who are in covenant with him, as the Old Testament Israelites were: We are the circumcision, who worship God in the spirit, and rejoice in Christ Jesus, and have no confidence in the flesh. Here are three characters: – 1. They worshipped in the spirit, in opposition to the carnal ordinances of the Old Testament, which consist in meats, and drinks, and divers washings, etc. Christianity takes us off from these things, and teaches us to be inward with God in all the duties of religious worship. We must worship God in spirit, Joh 4:24. The work of religion is to no purpose any further than the heart is employed in it. Whatsoever we do, we must do it heartily as unto the Lord; and we must worship God in the strength and grace of the Divine Spirit, which is so peculiar to the gospel state, which is the ministration of the spirit, 2Co 3:8. 2. They rejoice in Christ Jesus, and not in the peculiar privileges of the Jewish church, or what answers to them in the Christian church – mere outward enjoyments and performances. They rejoice in their relation to Christ and interest in him. God made it the duty of the Israelites to rejoice before him in the courts of his house; but now that the substance has come the shadows are done away, and we are to rejoice in Christ Jesus only. 3. They have no confidence in the flesh, in those carnal ordinances and outward performances. We must be taken off from trusting in our own bottom, that we may build only on Jesus Christ, the everlasting foundation. Our confidence, as well as our joy, is proper to him.
The apostle here proposes himself for an example of trusting in Christ only, and not in his privileges as an Israelite.
I. He shows what he had to boast of as a Jew and a Pharisee. Let none think that the apostle despised these things (as men commonly do) because he had them not himself to glory in. No, if he would have gloried and trusted in the flesh, he had as much cause to do so as any man: If any other man thinketh that he hath whereof to trust in the flesh, I more, Phi 3:4. He had as much to boast of as any Jew of them all. 1. His birth-right privileges. He was not a proselyte, but a native Israelite: of the stock of Israel. And he was of the tribe of Benjamin, in which tribe the temple stood, and which adhered to Judah when all the other tribes revolted. Benjamin was the father’s darling, and this was a favourite tribe. A Hebrew of the Hebrews, an Israelite on both sides, by father and mother, and from one generation to another; none of his ancestors had matched with Gentiles. 2. He could boast of his relations to the church and the covenant, for he was circumcised the eighth day; he had the token of God’s covenant in his flesh, and was circumcised the very day which God had appointed. 3. For learning, he was a Pharisee, brought up at the feet of Gamaliel, an eminent doctor of the law: and was a scholar learned in all the learning of the Jews, taught according to the perfect manner of the laws of the fathers, Act 22:3. He was a Pharisee, the son of a Pharisee (Act 23:6), and after the most strict sect of his religion lived a Pharisee, Act 26:5. 4. He had a blameless conversation: Toughing the righteousness which is of the law, blameless: as far as the Pharisees’ exposition of the law went, and as to the mere letter of the law and outward observance of it, he could acquit himself from the breach of it and could not be accused by any. 5. He had been an active man for his religion. As he made a strict profession of it, under the title and character of a Pharisee, so he persecuted those whom he looked upon as enemies to it. Concerning zeal, persecuting the church. 6. He showed that he was in good earnest, though he had a zeal without knowledge to direct and govern the exercise of it: I was zealous towards God, as you all are this day, and I persecuted this way unto the death, Act 22:3, Act 22:4. All this was enough to have made a proud Jew confident, and was stock sufficient to set up with for his justification. But,
II. The apostle tells us here how little account he made of these, in comparison of his interest in Christ and his expectations from him: But what things were gain to me those have I counted loss for Christ (Phi 3:7); that is, those things which he had counted gain while he was a Pharisee, and which he had before reckoned up, these he counted loss for Christ. “I should have reckoned myself an unspeakable loser of, to adhere to them, I had lost my interest in Jesus Christ.” He counted them loss; not only insufficient to enrich him, but what would certainly impoverish and ruin him, if he trusted to them, in opposition to Christ. Observe, The apostle did not persuade them to do any thing but what he had himself did, to quit any thing but what he had himself quitted, nor venture on any bottom but what he himself had ventured his immortal soul upon. – Yea doubtless, and I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, Phi 3:8. Here the apostle explains himself. 1. He tells us what it was that he was ambitious of and reached after: it was the knowledge of Christ Jesus his Lord, a believing experimental acquaintance with Christ as Lord; not a merely notional and speculative, but a practical and efficacious knowledge of him. So knowledge is sometimes put for faith: By his knowledge, or the knowledge of him, shall my righteous servant justify many, Isa 53:11. And it is the excellency of knowledge. There is an abundant and transcendent excellency in the doctrine of Christ, or the Christian religion above all the knowledge of nature, and improvements of human wisdom; for it is suited to the case of fallen sinners, and furnishes them with all they need and all they can desire and hope for, with all saving wisdom and saving grace. 2. He shows how he had quitted his privileges as a Jew and a Pharisee: Yea doubtless; his expression rises with a holy triumph and elevation, alla men oun ge kai. There are five particles in the original: But indeed even also do I count all things but loss. He had spoken before of those things, his Jewish privileges: here he speaks of all things, all worldly enjoyments and mere outward privileges whatsoever, things of a like kind or any other kind which could stand in competition with Christ for the throne in his heart, or pretend to merit and desert. There he had said that he did count them but loss; but it might be asked, “Did he continue still in the same mind, did he not repent his renouncing them?” No, now he speaks in the present tense: Yea doubtless, I do count them but loss. But it may be said, “It is easy to say so; but what would he do when he came to the trial?” Why he tells us that he had himself practised according to this estimate of the case: For whom I have suffered the loss of all things. He had quitted all his honours and advantages, as a Jew and a Pharisee, and submitted to all the disgrace and suffering which attended the profession and preaching of the gospel. When he embarked in the bottom of the Christian religion, he ventured all in it, and suffered the loss of all for the privileges of a Christian. Nay, he not only counted them loss, but dung, skubala – offals thrown to dogs; they are not only less valuable than Christ, but in the highest degree contemptible, when they come in competition with him. Note, The New Testament never speaks of saving grace in any terms of diminution, but on the contrary represents it as the fruits of the divine Spirit and the image of God in the soul of man; as a divine nature, and the seed of God: and faith is called precious faith; and meekness is in the sight of God of great price, 1Pe 3:4; 2Pe 1:1, etc.
We now heard what the apostle renounced; let us now see what he laid hold on, and resolved to cleave to, namely, Christ and heaven. He had his heart on these two great peculiarities of the Christian religion.
I. The apostle had his heart upon Christ as his righteousness. This is illustrated in several instances. 1. He desired to win Christ; and an unspeakable gainer he would reckon himself if he had but an interest in Christ and his righteousness, and if Christ became his Lord and his Saviour: That I may win him; as the runner wins the prize, as the sailor makes the port he is bound for. The expression intimates that we have need to strive for him and after him, and that all is little enough to win him. 2. That he might be found in him (Phi 3:9), as the manslayer was found in the city of refuge, where he was safe from the avenger of blood, Num 35:25. Or it alludes to a judicial appearance; so we are to be found of our Judge in peace, 2Pe 3:14. We are undone without a righteousness wherein to appear before God, for we are guilty. There is a righteousness provided for us in Jesus Christ, and it is a complete and perfect righteousness. None can have interest or benefit by it but those who come off from confidence in themselves, and are brought heartily to believe in him. “Not having my own righteousness, which is of the law; not thinking that my outward observances and good deeds are able to atone for my bad ones, or that by setting the one over against the other I can come to balance accounts with God. No, the righteousness which I depend upon is that which is through the faith of Christ, not a legal, but evangelical righteousness: The righteousness which is of God by faith, ordained and appointed of God.” The Lord Jesus Christ is the Lord our righteousness, Isa 45:24; Jer 23:6. Had he not been God, he could not have been our righteousness; the transcendent excellence of the divine nature put such a value upon, and such a virtue into, his sufferings, that they became sufficient to satisfy for the sins of the world, and to bring in a righteousness which will be effectual to all that believe. Faith is the ordained means of actual interest and saving benefit in all the purchase of his blood. It is by faith in his blood, Rom 3:25. 3. That he might know Christ (Phi 3:10): That I may know him, and the power of his resurrection, and the fellowship of his sufferings. Faith is called knowledge, Isa 53:11. Knowing him here is believing in him: it is an experimental knowledge of the power of his resurrection, and the fellowship of his sufferings, or feeling the transforming efficacy and virtue of them. Observe, The apostle was as ambitious of being sanctified as he was of being justified. He was as desirous to know the power of Christ’s death and resurrection killing sin in him, and raising him up to newness of life, as he was to receive the benefit of Christ’s death and resurrection in his justification. 4. That he might be conformable unto him, and this also is meant of his sanctification. We are then made conformable to his death when we die to sin, as Christ died for sin, when we are crucified with Christ, the flesh and affections of it mortified, and the world is crucified to us, and we to the world, by virtue of the cross of Christ. This is our conformity to his death.
II. The apostle had his heart upon heaven as his happiness: If by any means I might attain to the resurrection of the dead, Phi 3:11.
1. The happiness of heaven is here called the resurrection of the dead, because, though the souls of the faithful, when they depart, are immediately with Christ, yet their happiness will not be complete till the general resurrection of the dead at the last day, when soul and body shall be glorified together. Anastasis sometimes signifies the future state. This the apostle had his eye upon; this he would attain. There will be a resurrection of the unjust, who shall arise to shame and everlasting contempt; and our care must be to escape that: but the joyful and glorious resurrection of saints is called the resurrection, kat’ exochēn – by eminence, because it is in virtue of Christ’s resurrection, as their head and first-fruits; whereas the wicked shall rise only by the power of Christ, as their judge. To the saints it will be indeed a resurrection, a return to bliss, and life, and glory; while the resurrection of the wicked is a rising from the grave, but a return to a second death. It is called the resurrection of the just, and the resurrection of life (Joh 5:29), and they are counted worthy to obtain that world and the resurrection from the dead, Luk 20:35.
2. This joyful resurrection the apostle pressed towards. He was willing to do any thing, or suffer any thing, that he might attain that resurrection. The hope and prospect of it carried him with so much courage and constancy through all the difficulties he met with in his work. He speaks as if they were in danger of missing it, and coming short of it. A holy fear of coming short is an excellent means of perseverance. Observe, His care to be found in Christ was in order to his attaining the resurrection of the dead. Paul himself did not hope to attain it through his own merit and righteousness, but through the merit and righteousness of Jesus Christ. “Let me be found in Christ, that I may attain the resurrection of the dead, be found a believer in him, and interested in him by faith,” Observe,
(1.) He looks upon himself to be in a state of imperfection and trial: Not as though I had already attained, or were already perfect, Phi 3:12. Observe, The best men in the world will readily own their imperfection in the present state. We have not yet attained, are not already perfect; there is still much wanting in all our duties, and graces, and comforts. If Paul had not attained to perfection (who had reached to so high a pitch of holiness), much less have we. Again, Brethren, I count not myself to have apprehended (Phi 3:13), ou logizomai. “I make this judgment of the case; I thus reason with myself.” Observe, Those who think they have grace enough give proof that they have little enough, or rather that they have none at all; because, wherever there is true grace, there is a desire of more grace, and a pressing towards the perfection of grace.
(2.) What the apostle’s actings were under this conviction. Considering that he had not already attained, and had not apprehended, he pressed forward: “I follow after (Phi 3:12), diōkō – I pursue with vigour, as one following after the game. I endeavour to get more grace and do more good, and never think I have done enough: If that I may apprehend that for which also I am apprehended of Christ Jesus.” Observe, [1.] Whence our grace comes – from our being apprehended of Christ Jesus. It is not our laying hold of Christ first, but his laying hold of us, which is our happiness and salvation. We love him because he first loved us, 1Jo 4:19. Not our keeping hold of Christ, but his keeping hold of us, is our safety. We are kept by his mighty power through faith unto salvation, 1Pe 1:5. Observe, [2.] What the happiness of heaven is: it is to apprehend that for which we are apprehended of Christ. When Christ laid hold of us, it was to bring us to heaven; and to apprehend that for which he apprehended us is to attain the perfection of our bliss. He adds further (Phi 3:13): This one thing I do (this was his great care and concern), forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth to those things which are before. There is a sinful forgetting of past sins and past mercies, which ought to be remembered for the exercise of constant repentance and thankfulness to God. But Paul forgot the things which were behind so as not to be content with present measures of grace: he was still for having more and more. So he reaches forth, epekteinomenos – stretched himself forward, bearing towards his point: it is expressive of a vehement concern.
(3.) The apostle’s aim in these actings: I press towards the mark, for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus, Phi 3:14. He pressed towards the mark. As he who runs a race never takes up short of the end, but is still making forwards as fast as he can, so those who have heaven in their eye must still be pressing forward to it in holy desires and hopes, and constant endeavours and preparations. The fitter we grow for heaven the faster we must press towards it. Heaven is called here the mark, because it is that which every good Christian has in his eye; as the archer has his eye fixed upon the mark he designs to hit. For the prize of the high calling. Observe, A Christian’s calling is a high calling: it is from heaven, as its original; and it is to heaven in its tendency. Heaven is the prize of the high calling; to brabeion – the prize we fight for, and run for, and wrestle for, what we aim at in all we do, and what will reward all our pains. It is of great use in the Christian course to keep our eye upon heaven. This is proper to give us measures in all our service, and to quicken us every step we take; and it is of God, from whom we are to expect it. Eternal life is the gift of God (Rom 6:23), but it is in Christ Jesus; through his hand it must come to us, as it is procured for us by him. There is no getting to heaven as our home but by Christ as our way.
The apostle, having proposed himself as an example, urges the Philippians to follow it. Let the same mind be in us which was in blessed Paul. We see here how he was minded; let us be like-minded, and set our hearts upon Christ and heaven, as he did. 1. He shows that this was the thing wherein all good Christians were agreed, to make Christ all in all, and set their hearts upon another world. This is that whereto we have all attained. However good Christians may differ in their sentiments about other things, this is what they are agreed in, that Christ is a Christian’s all, that to win Christ and to be found in him involve our happiness both here and hereafter. And therefore let us walk by the same rule, and mind the same thing. Having made Christ our all, to us to live must be Christ. Let us agree to press towards the mark, and make heaven our end. 2. That this is a good reason why Christians who differ in smaller matters should yet bear with one another, because they are agreed in the main matter: “If in any thing you be otherwise minded – if you differ from one another, and are not of the same judgment as to meats and days, and other matters of the Jewish law – yet you must not judge one another, while you all meet now in Christ as your centre, and hope to meet shortly in heaven as your home. As for other matters of difference, lay no great stress upon them, God shall reveal even this unto you. Whatever it is wherein you differ, you must wait till God give you a better understanding, which he will do in his due time. In the mean time, as far as you have attained, you must go together in the ways of God, join together in all the great things in which you are agreed, and wait for further light in the minor things wherein you differ.”
On The Christian Life
John Calvin (1509-1564)
THE LIFE OF A CHRISTIAN MAN. SCRIPTURAL ARGUMENTS EXHORTING TO IT.
1 Connection between this chapter and the doctrine of Regeneration. Necessity of the doctrine concerning the Christian Life. The brevity of this treatise. The method of it. Plainness and unadorned simplicity of the Scripture system of morals.
2 Two divisions. First, Personal holiness. 1. Because God is holy. 2. Because of our communion with his saints.
3 Second division, relating to our Redemption. Admirable moral system of Scripture. Five special inducements or exhortations to a Christian Life.
4 False Christians who are opposed to this life censured 1. They have not truly learned Christ. 2. The Gospel not the guide of their words or actions. 3. They do not imitate Christ the Master. 4. They would separate the Spirit from his word.
5 Christians ought not to despond: Provided 1. They take the word of God for their guide. 2. Sincerely cultivate righteousness. 3. Walk, according to their capacity, in the ways of the Lord. 4. Make some progress. 5. Persevere.
II. A SUMMARY OF THE CHRISTIAN LIFE. OF SELF-DENIAL.
1 Consideration of the second general division in regard to the Christian life. Its beginning and sum. A twofold respect. 1. We are not our own. Respect to both the fruit and the use. Unknown to philosophers, who have placed reason on the throne of the Holy Spirit.
2 Since we are not our own, we must seek the glory of God, and obey his will. Self-denial recommended to the disciples of Christ. He who neglects it, deceived either by pride or hypocrisy, rushes on destruction.
3 Three things to be followed, and two to be shunned in life. Impiety and worldly lusts to be shunned. Sobriety, justice, and piety, to be followed. An inducement to right conduct.
4 Self-denial the sum of Paul’s doctrine. Its difficulty. Qualities in us which make it difficult. Cures for these qualities. 1. Ambition to be suppressed. 2. Humility to be embraced. 3. Candour to be esteemed. 4. Mutual charity to be preserved. 5. Modesty to be sincerely cultivated.
5 The advantage of our neighbour to be promoted. Here self-denial most necessary, and yet most difficult. Here a double remedy. 1. The benefits bestowed upon us are for the common benefit of the Church. 2. We ought to do all we can for our neighbour. This illustrated by analogy from the members of the human body. This duty of charity founded on the divine command.
6 Charity ought to have for its attendants patience and kindness. We should consider the image of God in our neighbours, and especially in those who are of the household of faith. Hence a fourfold consideration which refutes all objections. A common objection refuted.
7 Christian life cannot exist without charity. Remedies for the vices opposed to charity. 1. Mercy. 2. Humility. 3. Modesty. 4. Diligence. 5. Perseverance.
8 Self-denial, in respect of God, should lead to equanimity and tolerance. 1. We are always subject to God. 2. We should shun avarice and ambition. 3. We should expect all prosperity from the blessing of God, and entirely depend on him.
9 We ought not to desire wealth or honours without the divine blessing, nor follow the arts of the wicked. We ought to cast all our care upon God, and never envy the prosperity of others.
10 We ought to commit ourselves entirely to God. The necessity of this doctrine. Various uses of affliction. Heathen abuse and corruption.
OF BEARING THE CROSS—ONE BRANCH OF SELF-DENIAL.
1 What the cross is. By whom, and on whom, and for what cause imposed. Its necessity and dignity.
2 The cross necessary. 1. To humble our pride. 2. To make us apply to God for aid. Example of David. 3. To give us experience of God’s presence.
3 Manifold uses of the cross. 1. Produces patience, hope, and firm confidence in God, gives us victory and perseverance. Faith invincible.
4 Frames us to obedience. Example of Abraham. This training how useful.
5 The cross necessary to subdue the wantonness of the flesh. This portrayed by an apposite simile. Various forms of the cross.
6 God permits our infirmities, and corrects past faults, that he may keep us in obedience. This confirmed by a passage from Solomon and an Apostle.
7 Singular consolation under the cross, when we suffer persecution for righteousness. Some parts of this consolation.
8 This form of the cross most appropriate to believers, and should be borne willingly and cheerfully. This cheerfulness is not unfeeling hilarity, but, while groaning under the burden, waits patiently for the Lord.
9 A description of this conflict. Opposed to the vanity of the Stoics. Illustrated by the authority and example of Christ.
10 Proved by the testimony and uniform experience of the elect. Also by the special example of the Apostle Peter. The nature of the patience required of us.
11 Distinction between the patience of Christians and philosophers. The latter pretend a necessity which cannot be resisted. The former hold forth the justice of God and his care of our safety. A full exposition of this difference.
OF MEDITATING ON THE FUTURE LIFE.
1 The design of God in afflicting his people. 1. To accustom us to despise the present life. Our infatuated love of it. Afflictions employed as the cure. 2. To lead us to aspire to heaven.
2 Excessive love of the present life prevents us from duly aspiring to the other. Hence the disadvantages of prosperity. Blindness of the human judgment. Our philosophizing on the vanity of life only of momentary influence. The necessity of the cross.
3 The present life an evidence of the divine favour to his people; and therefore, not to be detested. On the contrary, should call forth thanksgiving. The crown of victory in heaven after the contest on earth.
4 Weariness of the present life how to be tempered. The believer’s estimate of life. Comparison of the present and the future life. How far the present life should be hated.
5 Christians should not tremble at the fear of death. Two reasons. Objection. Answer. Other reasons.
6 Reasons continued. Conclusion.
HOW TO USE THE PRESENT LIFE, AND THE COMFORTS OF IT.
1 Necessity of this doctrine. Use of the goods of the present life. Extremes to be avoided. 1. Excessive austerity. 2. Carnal intemperance and lasciviousness.
2 God, by creating so many mercies, consulted not only for our necessities, but also for our comfort and delight. Confirmation from a passage in the Psalms, and from experience.
3 Excessive austerity, therefore, to be avoided. So also must the wantonness of the flesh. 1. The creatures invite us to know, love, and honour the Creator. 2. This not done by the wicked, who only abuse these temporal mercies.
4 All earthly blessings to be despised in comparison of the heavenly life. Aspiration after this life destroyed by an excessive love of created objects. First, Intemperance.
5 Second, Impatience and immoderate desire. Remedy of these evils. The creatures assigned to our use. Man still accountable for the use he makes of them.
6 God requires us in all our actions to look to his calling. Use of this doctrine. It is full of comfort.
LIFE OF A CHRISTIAN MAN. SCRIPTURAL ARGUMENTS EXHORTING TO IT.
This first chapter consists of two parts,—I. Connection between this treatise on the Christian Life and the doctrine of Regeneration and Repentance. Arrangement of the treatise, sec. 1–3. II. Extremes to be avoided; 1. False Christians denying Christ by their works condemned, sec. 4. 2. Christians should not despair, though they have not attained perfection, provided they make daily progress in piety and righteousness.
1. WE have said that the object of regeneration is to bring the life of believers into concord and harmony with the righteousness of God, and so confirm the adoption by which they have been received as sons. But although the law comprehends within it that new life by which the image of God is restored in us, yet, as our sluggishness stands greatly in need both of helps and incentives it will be useful to collect out of Scripture a true account of this reformations lest any who have a heartfelt desire of repentance should in their zeal go astray. Moreover, I am not unaware that, in undertaking to describe the life of the Christian, I am entering on a large and extensive subject, one which, when fully considered in all its parts, is sufficient to fill a large volume. We see the length to which the Fathers in treating of individual virtues extend their exhortations. This they do, not from mere loquaciousness; for whatever be the virtue which you undertake to recommend, your pen is spontaneously led by the copiousness of the matter so to amplify, that you seem not to have discussed it properly if you have not done it at length. My intention, however, in the plan of life which I now propose to give, is not to extend it so far as to treat of each virtue specially, and expatiate in exhortation. This must be sought in the writings of others, and particularly in the Homilies of the Fathers.1 For me it will be sufficient to point out the method by which a pious man may be taught how to frame his life aright, and briefly lay down some universal rule by which he may not improperly regulate his conduct. I shall one day possibly find time for more ample discourse, [or leave others to perform an office for which I am not so fit. I have a natural love of brevity, and, perhaps, any attempt of mine at copiousness would not succeed. Even if I could gain the highest applause by being more prolix, I would scarcely be disposed to attempt it,2] while the nature of my present work requires me to glance at simple doctrine with as much brevity as possible. As philosophers have certain definitions of rectitude and honesty, from which they derive particular duties and the whole train of virtues; so in this respect Scripture is not without order, but presents a most beautiful arrangement, one too which is every way much more certain than that of philosophers. The only difference is, that they, under the influence of ambition, constantly affect an exquisite perspicuity of arrangement, which may serve to display their genius, whereas the Spirit of God, teaching without affectation, is not so perpetually observant of exact method, and yet by observing it at times sufficiently intimates that it is not to be neglected.
2. The Scripture system of which we speak aims chiefly at two objects. The former is, that the love of righteousness, to which we are by no means naturally inclined, may be instilled and implanted into our minds. The latter is, (see chap. ii.,) to prescribe a rule which will prevent us while in the pursuit of righteousness from going astray. It has numerous admirable methods of recommending righteousness.3 Many have been already pointed out in different parts of this work; but we shall here also briefly advert to some of them. With what better foundation can it begin than by reminding us that we must be holy, because “God is holy?” (Lev. xix. 1; 1 Pet. i. 16.) For when we were scattered abroad like lost sheep, wandering through the labyrinth of this world, he brought us back again to his own fold. When mention is made of our union with God, let us remember that holiness must be the bond; not that by the merit of holiness we come into communion with him, (we ought rather first to cleave to him, in order that, pervaded with his holiness, we may follow whither he calls,) but because it greatly concerns his glory not to have any fellowship with wickedness and impurity. Wherefore he tells us that this is the end of our calling, the end to which we ought ever to have respect, if we would answer the call of God. For to what end were we rescued from the iniquity and pollution of the world into which we were plunged, if we allow ourselves, during our whole lives, to wallow in them? Besides, we are at the same time admonished, that if we would be regarded as the Lord’s people, we must inhabit the holy city Jerusalem, (Isaiah rev. 8, et alibi;) which, as he hath consecrated it to himself, it were impious for its inhabitants to profane by impurity. Hence the expressions, “Who shall abide in thy tabernacle? Who shall dwell in thy holy hill? He that walketh uprightly, and worketh righteousness,” (Ps. xv. 1, 2; xxiv. 3, 4) for the sanctuary in which he dwells certainly ought not to be like an unclean stall.
3. The better to arouse us, it exhibits God the Father, who, as he hath reconciled us to himself in his Anointed, has impressed his image upon us, to which he would have us to be conformed, (Rom. v. 4.) Come, then, and let them show me a more excellent system among philosophers, who think that they only have a moral philosophy duly and orderly arranged. They, when they would give excellent exhortations to virtue, can only tell us to live agreeably to nature. Scripture derives its exhortations from the true source,4 when it not only enjoins us to regulate our lives with a view to God its author to whom it belongs; but after showing us that we have degenerated from our true origin, viz., the law of our Creator, adds, that Christ, through whom we have returned to favour with God, is set before us as a model, the image of which our lives should express. What do you require more effectual than this? Nay, what do you require beyond this? If the Lord adopts us for his sons on the condition that our life be a representation of Christ, the bond of our adoption,—then, unless we dedicate and devote ourselves to righteousness, we not only, with the utmost perfidy, revolt from our Creator, but also abjure the Saviour himself. Then, from an enumeration of all the blessings of God, and each part of our salvation, it finds materials for exhortation. Ever since God exhibited himself to us as a Father, we must be convicted of extreme ingratitude if we do not in turn exhibit ourselves as his sons. Ever since Christ purified us by the laver of his blood, and communicated this purification by baptism, it would ill become us to be defiled with new pollution. Ever since he ingrafted us into his body, we, who are his members, should anxiously beware of contracting any stain or taint. Ever since he who is our head ascended to heaven, it is befitting in us to withdraw our affections from the earth, and with our whole soul aspire to heaven. Ever since the Holy Spirit dedicated us as temples to the Lord, we should make it our endeavour to show forth the glory of God, and guard against being profaned by the defilement of sin. Ever since our soul and body were destined to heavenly incorruptibility and an unfading crown, we should earnestly strive to keep them pure and uncorrupted against the day of the Lord. These, I say, are the surest foundations of a well-regulated life, and you will search in vain for any thing resembling them among philosophers, who, in their commendation of virtue, never rise higher than the natural dignity of man.
4. This is the place to address those who, having nothing of Christ but the name and sign, would yet be called Christians. How dare they boast of this sacred name? None have intercourse with Christ but those who have acquired the true knowledge of him from the Gospel. The Apostle denies that any man truly has learned Christ who has not learned to put off “the old man, which is corrupt according to the deceitful lusts, and put on Christ,” (Eph. iv. 22.) They are convicted, therefore, of falsely and unjustly pretending a knowledge of Christ, whatever be the volubility and eloquence with which they can talk of the Gospel. Doctrine is not an affair of the tongue, but of the life; is not apprehended by the intellect and memory merely, like other branches of learning; but is received only when it possesses the whole soul, and finds its seat and habitation in the inmost recesses of the heart. Let them, therefore, either cease to insult God, by boasting that they are what they are not, or let them show themselves not unworthy disciples of their divine Master. To doctrine in which our religion is contained we have given the first place, since by it our salvation commences; but it must be transfused into the breast, and pass into the conduct, and so transform us into itself, as not to prove unfruitful. If philosophers are justly offended, and banish from their company with disgrace those who, while professing an art which ought to be the mistress of their conduct, convert it into mere loquacious sophistry, with how much better reason shall we detest those flimsy sophists who are contented to let the Gospel play upon their lips, when, from its efficacy, it ought to penetrate the inmost affections of the heart, fix its seat in the soul, and pervade the whole man a hundred times more than the frigid discourses of philosophers?
5. I insist not that the life of the Christian shall breathe nothing but the perfect Gospel, though this is to be desired, and ought to be attempted. I insist not so strictly on evangelical perfection, as to refuse to acknowledge as a Christian any man who has not attained it. In this way all would be excluded from the Church, since there is no man who is not far removed from this perfection, while many, who have made but little progress, would be undeservedly rejected. What then? Let us set this before our eye as the end at which we ought constantly to aim. Let it be regarded as the goal towards which we are to run. For you cannot divide the matter with God, undertaking part of what his word enjoins, and omitting part at pleasure. For, in the first place, God uniformly recommends integrity as the principal part of his worship, meaning by integrity real singleness of mind, devoid of gloss and fiction, and to this is opposed a double mind; as if it had been said, that the spiritual commencement of a good life is when the internal affections are sincerely devoted to God, in the cultivation of holiness and justice. But seeing that, in this earthly prison of the body, no man is supplied with strength sufficient to hasten in his course with due alacrity, while the greater number are so oppressed with weakness, that hesitating, and halting, and even crawling on the ground, they make little progress, let every one of us go as far as his humble ability enables him, and prosecute the journey once begun. No one will travel so badly as not daily to make some degree of progress. This, therefore, let us never cease to do, that we may daily advance in the way of the Lord; and let us not despair because of the slender measure of success. How little soever the success may correspond with our wish, our labour is not lost when today is better than yesterday, provided with true singleness of mind we keep our aim, and aspire to the goal, not speaking flattering things to ourselves, nor indulging our vices, but making it our constant endeavour to become better, until we attain to goodness itself. If during the whole course of our life we seek and follow, we shall at length attain it, when relieved from the infirmity of flesh we are admitted to full fellowship with God.
1 The French adds, “C’est a dire, sermons populaires:”—that is to say, popular sermons.
2 The passage in brackets is omitted in the French.
3 The French begins the sentence thus, “Quant est du premier poinct;—As to the former point.
4 Mal. i. 6; Eph. v. 1; 1 John iii. 1, 3; Eph. v. 26; Rom. vi. 1–4; 1 Cor. vi. 11; 1 Pet. i. 15, 19; 1 Cor. vi. 15; John xv. 3; Eph. v. 2, 3; Col. iii. 1, 2; 1 Cor. iii. 16; vi. 17; 2 Cor. vi. 16; 1 Thess. v. 23.
A SUMMARY OF THE CHRISTIAN LIFE. OF SELF-DENIAL.1
The divisions of the chapter are,—I. The rule which permits us not to go astray in the study of righteousness, requires two things, viz., that man, abandoning his own will, devote himself entirely to the service of God; whence it follows, that we must seek not our own things, but the things of God, sec. 1, 2. II. A description of this renovation or Christian life taken from the Epistle to Titus, and accurately explained under certain special heads, sec. 3 to end.
1. ALTHOUGH the Law of God contains a perfect rule of conduct admirably arranged, it has seemed proper to our divine Master to train his people by a more accurate method, to the rule which is enjoined in the Law; and the leading principle in the method is, that it is the duty of believers to present their “bodies a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable unto God, which is their reasonable service,” (Rom. xii. 1.) Hence he draws the exhortation: “Be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect will of God.” The great point, then, is, that we are consecrated and dedicated to God, and, therefore, should not henceforth think, speak, design, or act, without a view to his glory. What he hath made sacred cannot, without signal insult to him, be applied to profane use. But if we are not our own, but the Lord’s, it is plain both what error is to be shunned, and to what end the actions of our lives ought to be directed. We are not our own; therefore, neither is our own reason or will to rule our acts and counsels. We are not our own; therefore, let us not make it our end to seek what may be agreeable to our carnal nature. We are not our own; therefore, as far as possible, let us forget ourselves and the things that are ours. On the other hand, we are God’s; let us, therefore, live and die to him (Rom. xiv. 8.) We are God’s; therefore, let his wisdom and will preside over all our actions. We are God’s; to him, then, as the only legitimate end, let every part of our life be directed. O how great the proficiency of him who, taught that he is not his own, has withdrawn the dominion and government of himself from his own reason that he may give them to God! For as the surest source of destruction to men is to obey themselves, so the only haven of safety is to have no other will, no other wisdom, than to follow the Lord wherever he leads. Let this, then be the first step, to abandon ourselves, and devote the whole energy of our minds to the service of God. By service, I mean not only that which consists in verbal obedience, but that by which the mind, divested of its own carnal feelings, implicitly obeys the call of the Spirit of God. This transformation, (which Paul calls the renewing of the mind, Rom. xii. 2; Eph. iv. 23.) though it is the first entrance to life, was unknown to all the philosophers. They give the government of man to reason alone, thinking that she alone is to be listened to; in short, they assign to her the sole direction of the conduct. But Christian philosophy bids her give place, and yield complete submission to the Holy Spirit, so that the man himself no longer lives, but Christ lives and reigns in him, (Gal. ii. 20.)
2. Hence follows the other principle, that we are not to seek our own, but the Lord’s will, and act with a view to promote his glory. Great is our proficiency, when, almost forgetting ourselves, certainly postponing our own reason, we faithfully make it our study to obey God and his commandments. For when Scripture enjoins us to lay aside private regard to ourselves, it not only divests our minds of an excessive longing for wealth, or power, or human favour, but eradicates all ambition and thirst for worldly glory, and other more secret pests. The Christian ought, indeed, to be so trained and disposed as to consider, that during his whole life he has to do with God. For this reason, as he will bring all things to the disposal and estimate of God, so he will religiously direct his whole mind to him. For he who has learned to look to God in everything he does, is at the same time diverted from all vain thoughts. This is that self-denial which Christ so strongly enforces on his disciples from the very outset, (Matth. xvi. 24,) which, as soon as it takes hold of the mind, leaves no place either, first, for pride, show, and ostentation; or, secondly, for avarice, lust, luxury, effeminacy, or other vices which are engendered by self love. On the contrary, wherever it reigns not, the foulest vices are indulged in without shame; or, if there is some appearance of virtue, it is vitiated by a depraved longing for applause. Show me, if you can, an individual who, unless he has renounced himself in obedience to the Lord’s command, is disposed to do good for its own sake. Those who have not so renounced themselves have followed virtue at least for the sake of praise. The philosophers who have contended most strongly that virtue is to be desired on her own account, were so inflated with arrogance as to make it apparent that they sought virtue for no other reason than as a ground for indulging in pride. So far, therefore, is God from being delighted with these hunters after popular applause with their swollen breasts, that he declares they have received their reward in this world, (Matth. vi. 2,) and that harlots and publicans are nearer the kingdom of heaven than they, (Matth. xxi. 31.) We have not yet sufficiently explained how great and numerous are the obstacles by which a man is impeded in the pursuit of rectitude, so long as he has not renounced himself. The old saying is true, There is a world of iniquity treasured up in the human soul. Nor can you find any other remedy for this than to deny yourself, renounce your own reason, and direct your whole mind to the pursuit of those things which the Lord requires of you, and which you are to seek only because they are pleasing to Him.
3. In another passage, Paul gives a brief, indeed, but more distinct account of each of the parts of a well-ordered life: “The grace of God that bringeth salvation hath appeared to all men, teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly, in this present world; looking for that blessed hope, and the glorious appearance of the great God and our Saviour Jesus Christ; who gave himself for us, that he might redeem us from all iniquity, and purify to himself a peculiar people, zealous of good works,” (Tit. ii. 11–14.) After holding forth the grace of God to animate us, and pave the way for His true worship, he removes the two greatest obstacles which stand in the way, viz., ungodliness, to which we are by nature too prone, and worldly lusts, which are of still greater extent. Under ungodliness, he includes not merely superstition, but everything at variance with the true fear of God. Worldly lusts are equivalent to the lusts of the flesh. Thus he enjoins us, in regard to both tables of the Law, to lay aside our own mind, and renounce whatever our own reason and will dictate. Then he reduces all the actions of our lives to three branches, sobriety, righteousness, and godliness. Sobriety undoubtedly denotes as well chastity and temperance as the pure and frugal use of temporal goods, and patient endurance of want. Righteousness comprehends all the duties of equity, in every one his due. Next follows godliness, which separates us from the pollutions of the world, and connects us with God in true holiness. These, when connected together by an indissoluble chain, constitute complete perfection. But as nothing is more difficult than to bid adieu to the will of the flesh, subdue, nay, abjure our lusts, devote ourselves to God and our brethren, and lead an angelic life amid the pollutions of the world, Paul, to set our minds free from all entanglements, recalls us to the hope of a blessed immortality, justly urging us to contend, because as Christ has once appeared as our Redeemer, so on his final advent he will give full effect to the salvation obtained by him. And in this way he dispels all the allurements which becloud our path, and prevent us from aspiring as we ought to heavenly glory; nay, he tells us that we must be pilgrims in the world, that we may not fail of obtaining the heavenly inheritance.
4. Moreover, we see by these words that self-denial has respect partly to men and partly (more especially) to God, (sec. 8–10.) For when Scripture enjoins us, in regard to our fellow men, to prefer them in honour to ourselves, and sincerely labour to promote their advantages (Rom. xii. 10; Phil. ii. 3,) he gives us commands which our mind is utterly incapable of obeying until its natural feelings are suppressed. For so blindly do we all rush in the direction of self-love, that every one thinks he has a good reason for exalting himself and despising all others in comparison. If God has bestowed on us something not to be repented of, trusting to it, we immediately become elated, and not only swell, but almost burst with pride. The vices with which we abound we both carefully conceal from others, and flatteringly represent to ourselves as minute and trivial, nay, sometimes hug them as virtues. When the same qualities which we admire in ourselves are seen in others, even though they should be superior, we, in order that we may not be forced to yield to them, maliciously lower and carp at them; in like manner, in the case of vices, not contented with severe and keen animadversion, we studiously exaggerate them. Hence the insolence with which each, as if exempted from the common lot, seeks to exalt himself above his neighbour, confidently and proudly despising others, or at least looking down upon them as his inferiors. The poor man yields to the rich, the plebeian to the noble, the servant to the master, the unlearned to the learned, and yet every one inwardly cherishes some idea of his own superiority. Thus each flattering himself, sets up a kind of kingdom in his breast; the arrogant, to satisfy themselves, pass censure on the minds and manners of other men, and when contention arises, the full venom is displayed. Many bear about with them some measure of mildness so long as all things go smoothly and lovingly with them, but how few are there who, when stung and irritated, preserve the same tenor of moderation? For this there is no other remedy than to pluck up by the roots those most noxious pests, self-love and love of victory. This the doctrine of Scripture does. For it teaches us to remember, that the endowments which God has bestowed upon us are not our own, but His free gifts, and that those who plume themselves upon them betray their ingratitude. “Who maketh thee to differ,” saith Paul, “and what hast thou that thou didst not receive? now if thou didst receive it, why dost thou glory, as if thou hadst not received it?” (1 Cor. iv. 7.) Then by a diligent examination of our faults let us keep ourselves humble. Thus while nothing will remain to swell our pride, there will be much to subdue it. Again, we are enjoined, whenever we behold the gifts of God in others, so to reverence and respect the gifts, as also to honour those in whom they reside. God having been pleased to bestow honour upon them, it would ill become us to deprive them of it. Then we are told to overlook their faults, not, indeed, to encourage by flattering them, but not because of them to insult those whom we ought to regard with honour and good will.2 In this way, with regard to all with whom we have intercourse, our behaviour will be not only moderate and modest, but courteous and friendly. The only way by which you can ever attain to true meekness, is to have your heart imbued with a humble opinion of yourself and respect for others.
5. How difficult it is to perform the duty of seeking the good of our neighbour! Unless you leave off all thought of yourself and in a manner cease to be yourself, you will never accomplish it. How can you exhibit those works of charity which Paul describes unless you renounce yourself, and become wholly devoted to others? “Charity (says he, 1 Cor. xiii. 4) suffereth long, and is kind; charity envieth not; charity vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up, doth not behave itself unseemly, seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked &c. Were it the only thing required of us to seek not our own, nature would not have the least power to comply: she so inclines us to love ourselves only, that she will not easily allow us carelessly to pass by ourselves and our own interests that we may watch over the interests of others, nay, spontaneously to yield our own rights and resign it to another. But Scripture, to conduct us to this, reminds us, that whatever we obtain from the Lord is granted on the condition of our employing it for the common good of the Church, and that, therefore, the legitimate use of all our gifts is a kind and liberal communication of them with others. There cannot be a surer rule, nor a stronger exhortation to the observance of it, than when we are taught that all the endowments which we possess are divine deposits entrusted to us for the very purpose of being distributed for the good of our neighbour. But Scripture proceeds still farther when it likens these endowments to the different members of the body, (1 Cor. xii. 12.) No member has its function for itself, or applies it for its own private use, but transfers it to its fellow-members; nor does it derive any other advantage from it than that which it receives in common with the whole body. Thus, whatever the pious man can do, he is bound to do for his brethren, not consulting his own interest in any other way than by striving earnestly for the common edification of the Church. Let this, then, be our method of showing good-will and kindness, considering that, in regard to everything which God has bestowed upon us, and by which we can aid our neighbour, we are his stewards, and are bound to give account of our stewardship; moreover, that the only right mode of administration is that which is regulated by love. In this way, we shall not only unite the study of our neighbour’s advantage with a regard to our own, but make the latter subordinate to the former. And lest we should have omitted to perceive that this is the law for duly administering every gift which we receive from God, he of old applied that law to the minutest expressions of his own kindness. He commanded the first-fruits to be offered to him as an attestation by the people that it was impious to reap any advantage from goods not previously consecrated to him, (Exod. xxii. 29; xxiii. 19.) But if the gifts of God are not sanctified to us until we have with our own hand dedicated them to the Giver, it must be a gross abuse that does not give signs of such dedication. It is in vain to contend that you cannot enrich the Lord by your offerings. Though, as the Psalmist says “Thou art my Lord: my goodness extendeth not unto thee,” yet you can extend it “to the saints that are in the earth,” (Ps. xvi. 2, 3;) and therefore a comparison is drawn between sacred oblations and alms as now corresponding to the offerings under the Law.3
6. Moreover, that we may not weary in well-doing, (as would otherwise forthwith and infallibly be the case,) we must add the other quality in the Apostle’s enumeration, “Charity suffiereth long, and is kind, is not easily provoked,” (1 Cor. xiii. 4.) The Lord enjoins us to do good to all without exception, though the greater part, if estimated by their own merit, are most unworthy of it. But Scripture subjoins a most excellent reason, when it tells us that we are not to look to what men in themselves deserve, but to attend to the image of God, which exists in all, and to which we owe all honour and love. But in those who are of the household of faith, the same rule is to be more carefully observed, inasmuch as that image is renewed and restored in them by the Spirit of Christ. Therefore, whoever be the man that is presented to you as needing your assistance, you have no ground for declining to give it to him. Say he is a stranger. The Lord has given him a mark which ought to be familiar to you: for which reason he forbids you to despise your own flesh, (Gal. vi. 10.) Say he is mean and of no consideration. The Lord points him out as one whom he has distinguished by the lustre of his own image, (Isaiah lviii. 7.) Say that you are bound to him by no ties of duty. The Lord has substituted him as it were into his own place, that in him you may recognize the many great obligations under which the Lord has laid you to himself. Say that he is unworthy of your least exertion on his account; but the image of God, by which he is recommended to you, is worthy of yourself and all your exertions. But if he not only merits no good, but has provoked you by injury and mischief, still this is no good reason why you should not embrace him in love, and visit him with offices of love. He has deserved very differently from me, you will say. But what has the Lord deserved?4 Whatever injury he has done you, when he enjoins you to forgive him, he certainly means that it should be imputed to himself. In this way only we attain to what is not to say difficult but altogether against nature,5 to love those that hate us, render good for evil, and blessing for cursing, remembering that we are not to reflect on the wickedness of men, but look to the image of God in them, an image which, covering and obliterating their faults, should by its beauty and dignity allure us to love and embrace them.
7. We shall thus succeed in mortifying ourselves if we fulfil all the duties of charity. Those duties, however, are not fulfilled by the mere discharge of them, though none be omitted, unless it is done from a pure feeling of love. For it may happen that one may perform every one of these offices, in so far as the external act is concerned, and be far from performing them aright. For you see some who would be thought very liberal, and yet accompany every thing they give with insult, by the haughtiness of their looks, or the violence of their words. And to such a calamitous condition have we come in this unhappy age, that the greater part of men never almost give alms without contumely. Such conduct ought not to have been tolerated even among the heathen; but from Christians something more is required than to carry cheerfulness in their looks, and give attractiveness to the discharge of their duties by courteous language. First, they should put themselves in the place of him whom they see in need of their assistance, and pity his misfortune as if they felt and bore it, so that a feeling of pity and humanity should incline them to assist him just as they would themselves. He who is thus minded will go and give assistance to his brethren, and not only not taint his acts with arrogance or upbraiding but will neither look down upon the brother to whom he does a kindness, as one who needed his help, or keep him in subjection as under obligation to him, just as we do not insult a diseased member when the rest of the body labours for its recovery, nor think it under special obligation to the other members, because it has required more exertion than it has returned. A communication of offices between members is not regarded as at all gratuitous, but rather as the payment of that which being due by the law of nature it were monstrous to deny. For this reason, he who has performed one kind of duty will not think himself thereby discharged, as is usually the case when a rich man, after contributing somewhat of his substance, delegates remaining burdens to others as if he had nothing to do with them. Every one should rather consider, that however great he is, he owes himself to his neighbours, and that the only limit to his beneficence is the failure of his means. The extent of these should regulate that of his charity.
8. The principal part of self-denial, that which as we have said has reference to God, let us again consider more fully. Many things have already been said with regard to it which it were superfluous to repeat; and, therefore, it will be sufficient to view it as forming us to equanimity and endurance. First, then, in seeking the convenience or tranquillity of the present life, Scripture calls us to resign ourselves, and all we have, to the disposal of the Lord, to give him up the affections of our heart, that he may tame and subdue them. We have a frenzied desire, an infinite eagerness, to pursue wealth and honour, intrigue for power, accumulate riches, and collect all those frivolities which seem conducive to luxury and splendour. On the other hand, we have a remarkable dread, a remarkable hatred of poverty, mean birth, and a humble condition, and feel the strongest desire to guard against them. Hence, in regard to those who frame their life after their own counsel, we see how restless they are in mind, how many plans they try, to what fatigues they submit, in order that they may gain what avarice or ambition desires, or, on the other hand, escape poverty and meanness. To avoid similar entanglements, the course which Christian men must follow is this: first, they must not long for, or hope for, or think of any kind of prosperity apart from the blessing of God; on it they must cast themselves, and there safely and confidently recline. For, however much the carnal mind may seem sufficient for itself when in the pursuit of honour or wealth, it depends on its own industry and zeal, or is aided by the favour of men, it is certain that all this is nothing, and that neither intellect nor labour will be of the least avail, except in so far as the Lord prospers both. On the contrary, his blessing alone makes a way through all obstacles, and brings every thing to a joyful and favourable issue. Secondly, though without this blessing we may be able to acquire some degree of fame and opulence, (as we daily see wicked men loaded with honours and riches,) yet since those on whom the curse of God lies do not enjoy the least particle of true happiness, whatever we obtain without his blessing must turn out ill. But surely men ought not to desire what adds to their misery.
9. Therefore, if we believe that all prosperous and desirable success depends entirely on the blessing of God, and that when it is wanting all kinds of misery and calamity await us, it follows that we should not eagerly contend for riches and honours, trusting to our own dexterity and assiduity, or leaning on the favour of men, or confiding in any empty imagination of fortune; but should always have respect to the Lord, that under his auspices we may be conducted to whatever lot he has provided for us. First, the result will be, that instead of rushing on regardless of right and wrong, by wiles and wicked arts, and with injury to our neighbours, to catch at wealth and seize upon honours, we will only follow such fortune as we may enjoy with innocence. Who can hope for the aid of the divine blessing amid fraud, rapine, and other iniquitous arts? As this blessing attends him only who thinks purely and acts uprightly, so it calls off all who long for it from sinister designs and evil actions. Secondly, a curb will be laid upon us, restraining a too eager desire of becoming rich, or an ambitious striving after honour. How can any one have the effrontery to expect that God will aid him in accomplishing desires at variance with his word? What God with his own lips pronounces cursed, never can be prosecuted with his blessing. Lastly, if our success is not equal to our wish and hope, we shall, however, be kept from impatience and detestation of our condition, whatever it be, knowing that so to feel were to murmur against God, at whose pleasure riches and poverty, contempt and honours, are dispensed. In shorts he who leans on the divine blessing in the way which has been described, will not, in the pursuit of those things which men are wont most eagerly to desire, employ wicked arts which he knows would avail him nothing; nor when any thing prosperous befalls him will he impute it to himself and his own diligence, or industry, or fortune, instead of ascribing it to God as its author. If, while the affairs of others flourish, his make little progress, or even retrograde, he will bear his humble lot with greater equanimity and moderation than any irreligious man does the moderate success which only falls short of what he wished; for he has a solace in which he can rest more tranquilly than at the very summit of wealth or power, because he considers that his affairs are ordered by the Lord in the manner most conducive to his salvation. This, we see, is the way in which David was affected, who, while he follows God and gives up himself to his guidance, declares, “Neither do I exercise myself in great matters, or in things too high for me. Surely I have behaved and quieted myself as a child that is weaned of his mother,” (Ps. cxxxi. 1, 2.)
10. Nor is it in this respect only that pious minds ought to manifest this tranquillity and endurance; it must be extended to all the accidents to which this present life is liable. He alone, therefore, has properly denied himself, who has resigned himself entirely to the Lord, placing all the course of his life entirely at his disposal. Happen what may, he whose mind is thus composed will neither deem himself wretched nor murmur against God because of his lot. How necessary this disposition is will appear, if you consider the many accidents to which we are liable. Various diseases ever and anon attack us: at one time pestilence rages; at another we are involved in all the calamities of war. Frost and hail, destroying the promise of the year, cause sterility, which reduces us to penury; wife, parents, children, relatives, are carried off by death; our house is destroyed by fire. These are the events which make men curse their life, detest the day of their birth, execrate the light of heaven, even censure God, and (as they are eloquent in blasphemy) charge him with cruelty and injustice. The believer must in these things also contemplate the mercy and truly paternal indulgence of God. Accordingly, should he see his house by the removal of kindred reduced to solitude even then he will not cease to bless the Lord; his thought will be, Still the grace of the Lord, which dwells within my house, will not leave it desolate. If his crops are blasted, mildewed, or cut off by frost, or struck down by hail,6 and he sees famine before him, he will not however despond or murmur against God, but maintain his confidence in him; “We thy people, and sheep of thy pasture, will give thee thanks for ever,” (Ps. lxxix. 13;) he will supply me with food, even in the extreme of sterility. If he is afflicted with disease, the sharpness of the pain will not so overcome him, as to make him break out with impatience, and expostulate with God; but, recognising justice and lenity in the rod, will patiently endure. In short, whatever happens, knowing that it is ordered by the Lord, he will receive it with a placid and grateful mind, and will not contumaciously resist the government of him, at whose disposal he has placed himself and all that he has. Especially let the Christian breast eschew that foolish and most miserable consolation of the heathen, who, to strengthen their mind against adversity, imputed it to fortune, at which they deemed it absurd to feel indignant, as she was aimless and rash, and blindly wounded the good equally with the bad. On the contrary, the rule of piety is, that the hand of God is the ruler and arbiter of the fortunes of all, and, instead of rushing on with thoughtless violence, dispenses good and evil with perfect regularity.
1 On this and the three following chapters, which contain the second part of the Treatise on the Christian Life, see Augustine, De Moribus Ecclesiae Catholicae, and Calvin de Scandalis.
2 Calvin. de Sacerdotiis Eccles. Papal. in fine.
3 Heb. xiii. 16; 2 Cor.ix. 12.
4 French, “Car si nous disons qu’il n’a merité que mal de nous; Dieu nous pourra demander quel mal il nous a fait, lui dont nous tenons tout notre bien;’—For if we say that he has deserved nothing of us but evil, God may ask us what evil he has done us, he of whom we hold our every blessing.
5 Matth. v. 44; vi. 14; xviii. 35; Luke xvii. 3.
6 The French is, “Soit que ses bleds et vignes soyent gastées et destruites par gelée, gresle, ou autre tempeste;”— whether his corn and vines are hurt and destroyed by frost, hail, or other tempest.
OF BEARING THE CROSS—ONE BRANCH OF SELF-DENIAL.
The four divisions of this chapter are,—I. The nature of the cross, its necessity and dignity, sec. 1, 2. II. The manifold advantages of the cross described, sec. 3–6. III. The form of the cross the most excellent of all, and yet it by no means removes all sense of pain, sec. 7, 8. IV. A description of warfare under the cross, and of true patience, (not that of philosophers,) after the example of Christ, sec. 9–11.
1. THE pious mind must ascend still higher, namely, whither Christ calls his disciples when he says, that every one of them must “take up his cross,” (Matth. xvi. 24.) Those whom the Lord has chosen and honoured with his intercourse must prepare for a hard, laborious, troubled life, a life full of many and various kinds of evils; it being the will of our heavenly Father to exercise his people in this way while putting them to the proof. Having begun this course with Christ the first-born, he continues it towards all his children. For though that Son was dear to him above others, the Son in whom he was “well pleased,” yet we see, that far from being treated gently and indulgently, we may say, that not only was he subjected to a perpetual cross while he dwelt on earth, but his whole life was nothing else than a kind of perpetual cross. The Apostle assigns the reason, “Though he was a Son, yet learned he obedience by the things which he suffered,” (Heb. v. 8.) Why then should we exempt ourselves from that condition to which Christ our Head behoved to submit; especially since he submitted on our account, that he might in his own person exhibit a model of patience? Wherefore, the Apostle declares, that all the children of God are destined to be conformed to him. Hence it affords us great consolation in hard and difficult circumstances, which men deem evil and adverse, to think that we are holding fellowship with the sufferings of Christ; that as he passed to celestial glory through a labyrinth of many woes, so we too are conducted thither through various tribulations. For, in another passage, Paul himself thus speaks, “we must through much tribulation enter the kingdom of God,” (Acts xiv. 22;) and again, “that I may know him, and the power of his resurrection, and the fellowship of his sufferings, being made conformable unto his death,” (Rom viii. 29.) How powerfully should it soften the bitterness of the cross, to think that the more we are afflicted with adversity, the surer we are made of our fellowship with Christ; by communion with whom our sufferings are not only blessed to us, but tend greatly to the furtherance of our salvation.
2. We may add, that the only thing which made it necessary for our Lord to undertake to bear the cross, was to testify and prove his obedience to the Father; whereas there are many reasons which make it necessary for us to live constantly under the cross. Feeble as we are by nature, and prone to ascribe all perfection to our flesh, unless we receive as it were ocular demonstration of our weakness, we readily estimate our virtue above its proper worth, and doubt not that, whatever happens, it will stand unimpaired and invincible against all difficulties. Hence we indulge a stupid and empty confidence in the flesh, and then trusting to it wax proud against the Lord himself; as if our own faculties were sufficient without his grace. This arrogance cannot be better repressed than when He proves to us by experience, not only how great our weakness, but also our frailty is. Therefore, he visits us with disgrace, or poverty, or bereavement, or disease, or other afflictions. Feeling altogether unable to support them, we forthwith, in so far as regards ourselves, give way, and thus humbled learn to invoke his strength, which alone can enable us to bear up under a weight of affliction. Nay, even the holiest of men, however well aware that they stand not in their own strength, but by the grace of God, would feel too secure in their own fortitude and constancy, were they not brought to a more thorough knowledge of themselves by the trial of the cross. This feeling gained even upon David, “In my prosperity I Said, I shall never be moved. Lord, by thy favour thou hast made my mountain to stand strong: thou didst hide thy face, and I was troubled,” (Ps. xxx. 6, 7.) He confesses that in prosperity his feelings were dulled and blunted, so that, neglecting the grace of God, on which alone he ought to have depended, he leant to himself, and promised himself perpetuity. If it so happened to this great prophet, who of us should not fear and study caution? Though in tranquillity they flatter themselves with the idea of greater constancy and patience, yet, humbled by adversity, they learn the deception. Believers, I say, warned by such proofs of their diseases, make progress in humility, and, divesting themselves of a depraved confidence in the flesh, betake themselves to the grace of God, and, when they have so betaken themselves, experience the presence of the divine power, in which is ample protection.
3. This Paul teaches when he says that tribulation worketh patience, and patience experience. God having promised that he will be with believers in tribulation, they feel the truth of the promise; while supported by his hand, they endure patiently. This they could never do by their own strength. Patience, therefore, gives the saints an experimental proof that God in reality furnishes the aid which he has promised whenever there is need. Hence also their faith is confirmed, for it were very ungrateful not to expect that in future the truth of God will be, as they have already found it, firm and constant. We now see how many advantages are at once produced by the cross. Overturning the overweening opinion we form of our own virtue, and detecting the hypocrisy in which we delight, it removes our pernicious carnal confidence, teaching us, when thus humbled, to recline on God alone, so that we neither are oppressed nor despond. Then victory is followed by hope, inasmuch as the Lord, by performing what he has promised, establishes his truth in regard to the future. Were these the only reasons, it is surely plain how necessary it is for us to bear the cross. It is of no little importance to be rid of your self-love, and made fully conscious of your weakness; so impressed with a sense of your weakness as to learn to distrust yourself—to distrust yourself so as to transfer your confidence to God, reclining on him with such heartfelt confidence as to trust in his aid, and continue invincible to the end, standing by his grace so as to perceive that he is true to his promises, and so assured of the certainty of his promises as to be strong in hope.
4. Another end which the Lord has in afflicting his people is to try their patience, and train them to obedience—not that they can yield obedience to him except in so far as he enables them; but he is pleased thus to attest and display striking proofs of the graces which he has conferred upon his saints, lest they should remain within unseen and unemployed. Accordingly, by bringing forward openly the strength and constancy of endurance with which he has provided his servants, he is said to try their patience. Hence the expressions that God tempted Abraham, (Gen. xxi. 1, 12,) and made proof of his piety by not declining to sacrifice his only son. Hence, too, Peter tells us that our faith is proved by tribulation, just as gold is tried in a furnace of fire. But who will say it is not expedient that the most excellent gift of patience which the believer has received from his God should be applied to uses by being made sure and manifest? Otherwise men would never value it according to its worth. But if God himself, to prevent the virtues which he has conferred upon believers from lurking in obscurity, nay, lying useless and perishing, does aright in supplying materials for calling them forth, there is the best reason for the afflictions of the saints, since without them their patience could not exist. I say, that by the cross they are also trained to obedience, because they are thus taught to live not according to their own wish, but at the disposal of God. Indeed, did all things proceed as they wish, they would not know what it is to follow God. Seneca mentions (De Vit. Beata, cap. xv.) that there was an old proverb when any one was exhorted to endure adversity, “Follow God;#8221; thereby intimating, that men truly submitted to the yoke of God only when they gave their back and hand to his rod. But if it is most right that we should in all things prove our obedience to our heavenly Father, certainly we ought not to decline any method by which he trains us to obedience.
5. Still, however, we see not how necessary that obedience is, unless we at the same time consider how prone our carnal nature is to shake off the yoke of God whenever it has been treated with some degree of gentleness and indulgence. It just happens to it as with refractory horses, which, if kept idle for a few days at hack and manger, become ungovernable, and no longer recognize the rider, whose command before they implicitly obeyed. And we invariably become what God complains of in the people of Israel—waxing gross and fat, we kick against him who reared and nursed us, (Deut. xxxii. 15.) The kindness of God should allure us to ponder and love his goodness; but since such is our malignity, that we are invariably corrupted by his indulgence, it is more than necessary for us to be restrained by discipline from breaking forth into such petulance. Thus, lest we become emboldened by an overabundance of wealth; lest elated with honour, we grow proud; lest inflated with other advantages of body, or mind, or fortune, we grow insolent, the Lord himself interferes as he sees to be expedient by means of the cross, subduing and curbing the arrogance of our flesh, and that in various ways, as the advantage of each requires. For as we do not all equally labour under the same disease, so we do not all need the same difficult cure. Hence we see that all are not exercised with the same kind of cross. While the heavenly Physician treats some more gently, in the case of others he employs harsher remedies, his purpose being to provide a cure for all. Still none is left free and untouched, because he knows that all, without a single exception, are diseased.
6. We may add, that our most merciful Father requires not only to prevent our weakness, but often to correct our past faults, that he may keep us in due obedience. Therefore, whenever we are afflicted we ought immediately to call to mind our past life. In this way we will find that the faults which we have committed are deserving of such castigation. And yet the exhortation to patience is not to be founded chiefly on the acknowledgment of sin. For Scripture supplies a far better consideration when it says, that in adversity “we are chastened of the Lord, that we should not be condemned with the world,” (1 Cor. xi. 32.) Therefore, in the very bitterness of tribulation we ought to recognise the kindness and mercy of our Father, since even then he ceases not to further our salvation. For he afflicts, not that he may ruin or destroy but rather that he may deliver us from the condemnation of the world. Let this thought lead us to what Scripture elsewhere teaches: “My son, despise not the chastening of the Lord; neither be weary of his correction: For whom the Lord loveth he correcteth; even as a father the son in whom he delighteth,” (Prov. iii. 11, 12.) When we perceive our Father’s rod, is it not our part to behave as obedient docile sons rather than rebelliously imitate desperate men, who are hardened in wickedness? God dooms us to destruction, if he does not, by correction, call us back when we have fallen off from him, so that it is truly said, “If ye be without chastisement,” “then are ye bastards, and not sons,” (Heb. xii. 8.) We are most perverse then if we cannot bear him while he is manifesting his good-will to us, and the care which he takes of our salvation. Scripture states the difference between believers and unbelievers to be, that the latter, as the slaves of inveterate and deep-seated iniquity, only become worse and more obstinate under the lash; whereas the former, like free-born sons turn to repentance. Now, therefore, choose your class. But as I have already spoken of this subject, it is sufficient to have here briefly adverted to it.
7. There is singular consolation, moreover, when we are persecuted for righteousness’ sake. For our thought should then be, How high the honour which God bestows upon us in distinguishing us by the special badge of his soldiers. By suffering persecution for righteousness’ sake, I mean not only striving for the defence of the Gospel, but for the defence of righteousness in any way. Whether, therefore, in maintaining the truth of God against the lies of Satan, or defending the good and innocent against the injuries of the bad, we are obliged to incur the offence and hatred of the world, so as to endanger life, fortune, or honour, let us not grieve or decline so far to spend ourselves for God; let us not think ourselves wretched in those things in which he with his own lips has pronounced us blessed, (Matth. v. 10.) Poverty, indeed considered in itself, is misery; so are exile, contempt, imprisonment, ignominy: in fine, death itself is the last of all calamities. But when the favour of God breathes upon is, there is none of these things which may not turn out to our happiness. Let us then be contented with the testimony of Christ rather than with the false estimate of the flesh, and then, after the example of the Apostles, we will rejoice in being “counted worthy to suffer shame for his name,” (Acts v. 41.) For why? If, while conscious of our innocence, we are deprived of our substance by the wickedness of man, we are, no doubt, humanly speaking, reduced to poverty; but in truth our riches in heaven are increased: if driven from our homes we have a more welcome reception into the family of God; if vexed and despised, we are more firmly rooted in Christ; if stigmatised by disgrace and ignominy, we have a higher place in the kingdom of God; and if we are slain, entrance is thereby given us to eternal life. The Lord having set such a price upon us, let us be ashamed to estimate ourselves at less than the shadowy and evanescent allurements of the present life.
8. Since by these, and similar considerations, Scripture abundantly solaces us for the ignominy or calamities which we endure in defence of righteousness, we are very ungrateful if we do not willingly and cheerfully receive them at the hand of the Lord, especially since this form of the cross is the most appropriate to believers, being that by which Christ desires to be glorified in us, as Peter also declares, (1 Pet. iv. 11, 14.) But as to ingenuous natures, it is more bitter to suffer disgrace than a hundred deaths, Paul expressly reminds us that not only persecution, but also disgrace awaits us, “because we trust in the living God,” (1 Tim. iv. 10.) So in another passage he bids us, after his example, walk “by evil report and good report,” (2 Cor. vi. 8.) The cheerfulness required, however, does not imply a total insensibility to pain. The saints could show no patience under the cross if they were not both tortured with pain and grievously molested. Were there no hardship in poverty, no pain in disease, no sting in ignominy, no fear in death, where would be the fortitude and moderation in enduring them? But while every one of these, by its inherent bitterness, naturally vexes the mind, the believer in this displays his fortitude, that though fully sensible of the bitterness and labouring grievously, he still withstands and struggles boldly; in this displays his patience, that though sharply stung, he is however curbed by the fear of God from breaking forth into any excess; in this displays his alacrity, that though pressed with sorrow and sadness, he rests satisfied with spiritual consolation from God.
9. This conflict which believers maintain against the natural feeling of pain, while they study moderation and patience, Paul elegantly describes in these words: “We are troubled on every side, yet not distressed; we are perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; cast down, but not destroyed,” (2 Cor. iv. 8, 9.) You see that to bear the cross patiently is not to have your feelings altogether blunted, and to be absolutely insensible to pain, according to the absurd description which the Stoics of old gave of their hero as one who, divested of humanity, was affected in the same way by adversity and prosperity, grief and joy; or rather, like a stone, was not affected by anything. And what did they gain by that sublime wisdom? they exhibited a shadow of patience, which never did, and never can, exist among men. Nay, rather by aiming at a too exact and rigid patience, they banished it altogether from human life. Now also we have among Christians a new kind of Stoics, who hold it vicious not only to groan and weep, but even to be sad and anxious. These paradoxes are usually started by indolent men who, employing themselves more in speculation than in action, can do nothing else for us than beget such paradoxes. But we have nothing to do with that iron philosophy which our Lord and Master condemned—not only in word, but also by his own example. For he both grieved and shed tears for his own and others’ woes. Nor did he teach his disciples differently: “Ye shall weep and lament, but the world shall rejoice,” (John xvi. 20.) And lest any one should regard this as vicious, he expressly declares, “Blessed are they that mourn,” (Matth. v. 4.) And no wonder. If all tears are condemned, what shall we think of our Lord himself, whose "sweat was as it were great drops of blood falling down to the ground?” (Luke xxii. 44; Matth. xxvi. 38.) If every kind of fear is a mark of unbelief, what place shall we assign to the dread which, it is said, in no slight degree amazed him; if all sadness is condemned, how shall we justify him when he confesses, “My soul is exceeding sorrowful, even unto death?”
10. I wished to make these observations to keep pious minds from despair, lest, from feeling it impossible to divest themselves of the natural feeling of grief, they might altogether abandon the study of patience. This must necessarily be the result with those who convert patience into stupor, and a brave and firm man into a block. Scripture gives saints the praise of endurance when, though afflicted by the hardships they endure, they are not crushed; though they feel bitterly, they are at the same time filled with spiritual joy; though pressed with anxiety, breathe exhilarated by the consolation of God. Still there is a certain degree of repugnance in their hearts, because natural sense shuns and dreads what is adverse to it, while pious affection, even through these difficulties, tries to obey the divine will. This repugnance the Lord expressed when he thus addressed Peter: “Verily, verily, I say unto thee, When thou wast young, thou girdedst thyself and walkedst whither thou wouldst; but when thou shalt be old, thou shalt stretch forth thy hands, and another shall gird thee; and carry thee whither thou wouldest not,” (John xxi. 18.) It is not probable, indeed, that when it became necessary to glorify God by death he was driven to it unwilling and resisting; had it been so, little praise would have been due to his martyrdom. But though he obeyed the divine ordination with the greatest alacrity of heart, yet, as he had not divested himself of humanity, he was distracted by a double will. When he thought of the bloody death which he was to die, struck with horror, he would willingly have avoided it: on the other hand, when he considered that it was God who called him to it, his fear was vanquished and suppressed, and he met death cheerfully. It must therefore be our study, if we would be disciples of Christ, to imbue our minds with such reverence and obedience to God as may tame and subjugate all affections contrary to his appointment. In this way, whatever be the kind of cross to which we are subjected, we shall in the greatest straits firmly maintain our patience. Adversity will have its bitterness, and sting us. When afflicted with disease, we shall groan and be disquieted, and long for health; pressed with poverty, we shall feel the stings of anxiety and sadness, feel the pain of ignominy, contempt, and injury, and pay the tears due to nature at the death of our friends: but our conclusion will always be, The Lord so willed it, therefore let us follow his will. Nay, amid the pungency of grief, among groans and tears this thought will necessarily suggest itself and incline us cheerfully to endure the things for which we are so afflicted.
11. But since the chief reason for enduring the cross has been derived from a consideration of the divine will, we must in few words explain wherein lies the difference between philosophical and Christian patience. Indeed, very few of the philosophers advanced so far as to perceive that the hand of God tries us by means of affliction, and that we ought in this matter to obey God. The only reason which they adduce is, that so it must be. But is not this just to say, that we must yield to God, because it is in vain to contend against him? For if we obey God only because it is necessary, provided we can escape, we shall cease to obey him. But what Scripture calls us to consider in the will of God is very different, namely, first justice and equity, and then a regard to our own salvation. Hence Christian exhortations to patience are of this nature, Whether poverty, or exile, or imprisonment, or contumely, or disease, or bereavement, or any such evil affects us, we must think that none of them happens except by the will and providence of God; moreover, that every thing he does is in the most perfect order. What! do not our numberless daily faults deserve to be chastised, more severely, and with a heavier rod than his mercy lays upon us? Is it not most right that our flesh should be subdued, and be, as it were, accustomed to the yoke, so as not to rage and wanton as it lists? Are not the justice and the truth of God worthy of our suffering on their account?1 But if the equity of God is undoubtedly displayed in affliction, we cannot murmur or struggle against them without iniquity. We no longer hear the frigid cant, Yield, because it is necessary; but a living and energetic precept, Obey, because it is unlawful to resist; bear patiently, because impatience is rebellion against the justice of God. Then as that only seems to us attractive which we perceive to be for our own safety and advantage, here also our heavenly Father consoles us, by the assurance, that in the very cross with which he afflicts us he provides for our salvation. But if it is clear that tribulations are salutary to us, why should we not receive them with calm and grateful minds? In bearing them patiently we are not submitting to necessity but resting satisfied with our own good. The effect of these thoughts is, that to whatever extent our minds are contracted by the bitterness which we naturally feel under the cross, to the same extent will they be expanded with spiritual joy. Hence arises thanksgiving, which cannot exist unless joy be felt. But if the praise of the Lord and thanksgiving can emanate only from a cheerful and gladdened breasts and there is nothing which ought to interrupt these feelings in us, it is clear how necessary it is to temper the bitterness of the cross with spiritual joy.
1 See end of sec. 4, and sec. 5, 7, 8.
OF MEDITATING ON THE FUTURE LIFE.
The three divisions of this chapter,—I. The principal use of the cross is, that it in various ways accustoms us to despise the present, and excites us to aspire to the future life, sec. 1, 2. II. In withdrawing from the present life we must neither shun it nor feel hatred for it; but desiring the future life, gladly quit the present at the command of our sovereign Master, see. 3, 4. III. Our infirmity in dreading death described. The correction and safe remedy, sec. 6.
1. WHATEVER be the kind of tribulation with which we are afflicted, we should always consider the end of it to be, that we may be trained to despise the present, and thereby stimulated to aspire to the future life. For since God well knows how strongly we are inclined by nature to a slavish love of this world, in order to prevent us from clinging too strongly to it, he employs the fittest reason for calling us back, and shaking off our lethargy. Every one of us, indeed, would be thought to aspire and aim at heavenly immortality during the whole course of his life. For we would be ashamed in no respect to excel the lower animals; whose condition would not be at all inferior to ours, had we not a hope of immortality beyond the grave. But when you attend to the plans, wishes, and actions of each, you see nothing in them but the earth. Hence our stupidity; our minds being dazzled with the glare of wealth, power, and honours, that they can see no farther. The heart also, engrossed with avarice, ambition, and lust, is weighed down and cannot rise above them. In short, the whole soul, ensnared by the allurements of the flesh, seeks its happiness on the earth. To meet this disease, the Lord makes his people sensible of the vanity of the present life, by a constant proof of its miseries. Thus, that they may not promise themselves deep and lasting peace in it, he often allows them to be assailed by war, tumult, or rapine, or to be disturbed by other injuries. That they may not long with too much eagerness after fleeting and fading riches, or rest in those which they already possess, he reduces them to want, or, at least, restricts them to a moderate allowance, at one time by exile, at another by sterility, at another by fire, or by other means. That they may not indulge too complacently in the advantages of married life, he either vexes them by the misconduct of their partners, or humbles them by the wickedness of their children, or afflicts them by bereavement. But if in all these he is indulgent to them, lest they should either swell with vain-glory, or be elated with confidence, by diseases and dangers he sets palpably before them how unstable and evanescent are all the advantages competent to mortals. We duly profit by the discipline of the cross, when we learn that this life, estimated in itself, is restless, troubled, in numberless ways wretched, and plainly in no respect happy; that what are estimated its blessings are uncertain, fleeting, vain, and vitiated by a great admixture of evil. From this we conclude, that all we have to seek or hope for here is contest; that when we think of the crown we must raise our eyes to heaven. For we must hold, that our mind never rises seriously to desire and aspire after the future, until it has learned to despise the present life.
2. For there is no medium between the two things: the earth must either be worthless in our estimation, or keep us enslaved by an intemperate love of it. Therefore, if we have any regard to eternity, we must carefully strive to disencumber ourselves of these fetters. Moreover, since the present life has many enticements to allure us, and great semblance of delight, grace, and sweetness to soothe us, it is of great consequence to us to be now and then called off from its fascinations.1 For what, pray, would happen, if we here enjoyed an uninterrupted course of honour and felicity, when even the constant stimulus of affliction cannot arouse us to a due sense of our misery? That human life is like smoke or a shadow, is not only known to the learned; there is not a more trite proverb among the vulgar. Considering it a fact most useful to be known, they have recommended it in many well-known expressions. Still there is no fact which we ponder less carefully, or less frequently remember. For we form all our plans just as if we had fixed our immortality on the earth. If we see a funeral, or walk among graves, as the image of death is then present to the eye, I admit we philosophise admirably on the vanity of life. We do not indeed always do so, for those things often have no effect upon us at all. But, at the best, our philosophy is momentary. It vanishes as soon as we turn our back, and leaves not the vestige of remembrance behind; in short, it passes away, just like the applause of a theatre at some pleasant spectacle. Forgetful not only of death, but also of mortality itself, as if no rumour of it had ever reached us, we indulge in supine security as expecting a terrestrial immortality. Meanwhile, if any one breaks in with the proverb, that man is the creature of a day,2 we indeed acknowledge its truth, but, so far from giving heed to it, the thought of perpetuity still keeps hold of our minds. Who then can deny that it is of the highest importance to us all, I say not, to be admonished by words, but convinced by all possible experience of the miserable condition of our earthly life; since even when convinced we scarcely cease to gaze upon it with vicious, stupid admiration, as if it contained within itself the sum of all that is good? But if God finds it necessary so to train us, it must be our duty to listen to him when he calls, and shakes us from our torpor, that we may hasten to despise the world, and aspire with our whole heart to the future
3. Still the contempt which believers should train themselves to feel for the present life, must not be of a kind to beget hatred of it or ingratitude to God. This life, though abounding in all kinds of wretchedness, is justly classed among divine blessings which are not to be despised. Wherefore, if we do not recognize the kindness of God in it, we are chargeable with no little ingratitude towards him. To believers, especially, it ought to be a proof of divine benevolence, since it is wholly destined to promote their salvation. Before openly exhibiting the inheritance of eternal glory, God is pleased to manifest himself to us as a Father by minor proofs, viz., the blessings which he daily bestows upon us. Therefore, while this life serves to acquaint us with the goodness of God, shall we disdain it as if it did not contain one particle of good? We ought, therefore, to feel and be affected towards it in such a manner as to place it among those gifts of the divine benignity which are by no means to be despised. Were there no proofs in Scripture, (they are most numerous and clear,) yet nature herself exhorts us to return thanks to God for having brought us forth into light, granted us the use of it, and bestowed upon us all the means necessary for its preservation. And there is a much higher reason when we reflect that here we are in a manner prepared for the glory of the heavenly kingdom. For the Lord hath ordained, that those who are ultimately to be crowned in heaven must maintain a previous warfare on the earth, that they may not triumph before they have overcome the difficulties of war, and obtained the victory. Another reason is, that we here begin to experience in various ways a foretaste of the divine benignity, in order that our hope and desire may be whetted for its full manifestation. When once we have concluded that our earthly life is a gift of the divine mercy, of which, agreeably to our obligation, it behoves us to have a grateful remembrance, we shall then properly descend to consider its most wretched condition, and thus escape from that excessive fondness for it, to which, as I have said, we are naturally prone.
4. In proportion as this improper love diminishes, our desire of a better life should increase. I confess, indeed, that a most accurate opinion was formed by those who thought, that the best thing was not to be born, the next best to die early. For, being destitute of the light of God and of true religion, what could they see in it that was not of dire and evil omen? Nor was it unreasonable for those3 who felt sorrow and shed tears at the birth of their kindred, to keep holiday at their deaths. But this they did without profit; because, devoid of the true doctrine of faith, they saw not how that which in itself is neither happy nor desirable turns to the advantage of the righteous: and hence their opinion issued in despair. Let believers, then, in forming an estimate of this mortal life, and perceiving that in itself it is nothing but misery, make it their aim to exert themselves with greater alacrity, and less hinderance, in aspiring to the future and eternal life. When we contrast the two, the former may not only be securely neglected, but, in comparison of the latter, be disdained and contemned. If heaven is our country, what can the earth be but a place of exile? If departure from the world is entrance into life, what is the world but a sepulchre, and what is residence in it but immersion in death? If to be freed from the body is to gain full possession of freedom, what is the body but a prison? If it is the very summit of happiness to enjoy the presence of God, is it not miserable to want it? But “whilst we are at home in the body, we are absent from the Lord,” (2 Cor. v. 6.) Thus when the earthly is compared with the heavenly life, it may undoubtedly be despised and trampled under foot. We ought never, indeed, to regard it with hatred, except in so far as it keeps us subject to sin; and even this hatred ought not to be directed against life itself. At all events, we must stand so affected towards it in regard to weariness or hatred as, while longing for its termination, to be ready at the Lord’s will to continue in it, keeping far from everything like murmuring and impatience. For it is as if the Lord had assigned us a post, which we must maintain till he recalls us. Paul, indeed, laments his condition, in being still bound with the fetters of the body, and sighs earnestly for redemption, (Rom. vii. 24;) nevertheless, he declared that, in obedience to the command of Gods he was prepared for both courses, because he acknowledges it as his duty to God to glorify his name whether by life or by death, while it belongs to God to determine what is most conducive to His glory, (Phil. i. 20–24.) Wherefore, if it becomes us to live and die to the Lord, let us leave the period of our life and death at his disposal. Still let us ardently long for death, and constantly meditate upon it, and in comparison with future immortality, let us despise life, and, on account of the bondage of sin, long to renounce it whenever it shall so please the Lord.
5. But, most strange to say, many who boast of being Christians, instead of thus longing for death, are so afraid of it that they tremble at the very mention of it as a thing ominous and dreadful. We cannot wonder, indeed, that our natural feelings should be somewhat shocked at the mention of our dissolution. But it is altogether intolerable that the light of piety should not be so powerful in a Christian breast as with greater consolation to overcome and suppress that fear. For if we reflect that this our tabernacle, unstable, defective, corruptible, fading, pining, and putrid, is dissolved, in order that it may forthwith be renewed in sure, perfect, incorruptible, in fine, in heavenly glory, will not faith compel us eagerly to desire what nature dreads? If we reflect that by death we are recalled from exile to inhabit our native country, a heavenly country, shall this give us no comfort? But everything longs for permanent existence. I admit this, and therefore contend that we ought to look to future immortality, where we may obtain that fixed condition which nowhere appears on the earth. For Paul admirably enjoins believers to hasten cheerfully to death, not because they a would be unclothed, but clothed upon,” (2 Cor. v. 2.) Shall the lower animals, and inanimate creatures themselves even wood and stone, as conscious of their present vanity, long for the final resurrection, that they may with the sons of God be delivered from vanity, (Rom. viii. 19;) and shall we, endued with the light of intellect, and more than intellect, enlightened by the Spirit of God, when our essence is in question, rise no higher than the corruption of this earth? But it is not my purpose, nor is this the place, to plead against this great perverseness. At the outset, I declared that I had no wish to engage in a diffuse discussion of common-places. My advice to those whose minds are thus timid is to read the short treatise of Cyprian De Mortalitate, unless it be more accordant with their deserts to send them to the philosophers, that by inspecting what they say on the contempt of death, they may begin to blush. This, however let us hold as fixed, that no man has made much progress in the school of Christ who does not look forward with joy to the day of death and final resurrection, (2 Tim. iv. 18; Tit. ii. 13:) for Paul distinguishes all believers by this mark; and the usual course of Scripture is to direct us thither whenever it would furnish us with an argument for substantial joy. “Look up,” says our Lord, “and lift up your heads: for your redemption draweth nigh,” (Luke xxi. 28.) Is it reasonable, I ask, that what he intended to have a powerful effect in stirring us up to alacrity and exultation should produce nothing but sadness and consternation? If it is so, why do we still glory in him as our Master? Therefore, let us come to a sounder mind, and how repugnant so ever the blind and stupid longing of the flesh may be, let us doubt not to desire the advent of the Lord not in wish only, but with earnest sighs, as the most propitious of all events. He will come as a Redeemer to deliver us from an immense abyss of evil and misery, and lead us to the blessed inheritance of his life and glory.
6. Thus, indeed, it is; the whole body of the faithful, so long as they live on the earth, must be like sheep for the slaughter, in order that they may be conformed to Christ their head, (Rom. viii. 36.) Most deplorable, therefore, would their situation be did they not, by raising their mind to heaven, become superior to all that is in the world, and rise above the present aspect of affairs, (1 Cor. xv. l9.) On the other hand, when once they have raised their head above all earthly objects, though they see the wicked flourishing in wealth and honour, and enjoying profound peace, indulging in luxury and splendour, and revelling in all kinds of delights, though they should moreover be wickedly assailed by them, suffer insult from their pride, be robbed by their avarice, or assailed by any other passion, they will have no difficulty in bearing up under these evils. They will turn their eye to that day, (Isaiah xxv. 8; Rev. vii. 17,) on which the Lord will receive his faithful servants, wipe away all tears from their eyes, clothe them in a robe of glory and joy, feed them with the ineffable sweetness of his pleasures, exalt them to share with him in his greatness; in fine, admit them to a participation in his happiness. But the wicked who may have flourished on the earth, he will cast forth in extreme ignominy, will change their delights into torments, their laughter and joy into wailing and gnashing of teeth, their peace into the gnawing of conscience, and punish their luxury with unquenchable fire. He will also place their necks under the feet of the godly, whose patience they abused. For, as Paul declares, “it is a righteous thing with God to recompense tribulation to them that trouble you; and to you who are troubled rest with us, when the Lord Jesus shall be revealed from heaven,” (2 Thess. i. 6, 7.) This, indeed, is our only consolation; deprived of it, we must either give way to despondency, or resort to our destruction to the vain solace of the world. The Psalmist confesses, “My feet were almost gone: my steps had well nigh slipt: for I was envious at the foolish when I saw the prosperity of the wicked,” (Psalm lxxiii. 3, 4;) and he found no resting-place until he entered the sanctuary, and considered the latter end of the righteous and the wicked. To conclude in one word, the cross of Christ then only triumphs in the breasts of believers over the devil and the flesh, sin and sinners, when their eyes are directed to the power of his resurrection.
1 French, “Or pource que la vie presente a tousiours force de delices pour nous attraire, et a grande apparence d’amenité, de grace et de douceur pour nous amieller, il nous est bien mestier d’estre retiré d’heure en d’heure, à ce que nous ne soyons point abusez, et comme ensorcelez de telles flatteries;”—Now because the present life has always a host of delights to attract us, and has great appearance of amenity, grace, and sweetness to entice us, it is of great importance to us to be hourly withdrawn, in order that we may not be deceived, and, as it were, bewitched with such flattery.
2 Latin, “Animal esse;”—is an ephemereal animal.
3 French, “Le peuple des Scythes;”—the Scythians.
HOW TO USE THE PRESENT LIFE, AND THE COMFORTS OF IT.
The divisions of this chapter are,—I. The necessity and usefulness of this doctrine. Extremes to be avoided, if we would rightly use the present life and its comforts, sec. 1, 2. II. One of these extremes, viz, the intemperance of the flesh, to be carefully avoided. Four methods of doing so described in order, sec. 3–6.
1. BY such rudiments we are at the same time well instructed by Scripture in the proper use of earthly blessings, a subject which, in forming a scheme of life, is by no mean to be neglected. For if we are to live, we must use the necessary supports of life; nor can we even shun those things which seem more subservient to delight than to necessity. We must therefore observe a mean, that we may use them with a pure conscience, whether for necessity or for pleasure. This the Lord prescribes by his word, when he tells us that to his people the present life is a kind of pilgrimage by which they hasten to the heavenly kingdom. If we are only to pass through the earth, there can be no doubt that we are to use its blessings only in so far as they assist our progress, rather than retard it. Accordingly, Paul, not without cause, admonishes us to use this world without abusing it, and to buy possessions as if we were selling them, (1 Cor. vii. 30, 31.) But as this is a slippery place, and there is great danger of falling on either side, let us fix our feet where we can stand safely. There have been some good and holy men who, when they saw intemperance and luxury perpetually carried to excess, if not strictly curbed, and were desirous to correct so pernicious an evil, imagined that there was no other method than to allow man to use corporeal goods only in so far as they were necessaries: a counsel pious indeed, but unnecessarily austere; for it does the very dangerous thing of binding consciences in closer fetters than those in which they are bound by the word of God. Moreover, necessity, according to them,1 was abstinence from every thing which could be wanted, so that they held it scarcely lawful to make any addition to bread and water. Others were still more austere, as is related of Cratetes the Theban, who threw his riches into the sea, because he thought, that unless he destroyed them they would destroy him. Many also in the present day, while they seek a pretext for carnal intemperance in the use of external things, and at the same time would pave the way for licentiousness, assume for granted, what I by no means concede, that this liberty is not to be restrained by any modification, but that it is to be left to every man’s conscience to use them as far as he thinks lawful. I indeed confess that here consciences neither can nor ought to be bound by fixed and definite laws; but that Scripture having laid down general rules for the legitimate uses we should keep within the limits which they prescribe.
2. Let this be our principle, that we err not in the use of the gifts of Providence when we refer them to the end for which their author made and destined them, since he created them for our good, and not for our destruction. No man will keep the true path better than he who shall have this end carefully in view. Now then, if we consider for what end he created food, we shall find that he consulted not only for our necessity, but also for our enjoyment and delight. Thus, in clothing, the end was, in addition to necessity, comeliness and honour; and in herbs, fruits, and trees, besides their various uses, gracefulness of appearance and sweetness of smell. Were it not so, the Prophet would not enumerate among the mercies of God “wine that maketh glad the heart of man, and oil to make his face to shine,” (Ps. civ. 15.) The Scriptures would not everywhere mention, in commendation of his benignity, that he had given such things to men. The natural qualities of things themselves demonstrate to what end, and how far, they may be lawfully enjoyed. Has the Lord adorned flowers with all the beauty which spontaneously presents itself to the eye, and the sweet odour which delights the sense of smell, and shall it be unlawful for us to enjoy that beauty and this odour? What? Has he not so distinguished colours as to make some more agreeable than others? Has he not given qualities to gold and silver, ivory and marble, thereby rendering them precious above other metals or stones? In short, has he not given many things a value without having any necessary use?
3. Have done, then, with that inhuman philosophy which, in allowing no use of the creatures but for necessity, not only maliciously deprives us of the lawful fruit of the divine beneficence, but cannot be realised without depriving man of all his senses, and reducing him to a block. But, on the other hand, let us with no less care guard against the lusts of the flesh, which, if not kept in order, break through all bounds, and are, as I have said, advocated by those who, under pretence of liberty, allow themselves every sort of license. First one restraint is imposed when we hold that the object of creating all things was to teach us to know their author, and feel grateful for his indulgence. Where is the gratitude if you so gorge or stupify yourself with feasting and wine as to be unfit for offices of piety, or the duties of your calling? Where the recognition of God, if the flesh, boiling forth in lust through excessive indulgences infects the mind with its impurity, so as to lose the discernment of’ honour and rectitude? Where thankfulness to God for clothing, if on account of sumptuous raiment we both admire ourselves and disdain others? if, from a love of show and splendour, we pave the way for immodesty? Where our recognition of God, if the glare of these things captivates our minds? For many are so devoted to luxury in all their senses that their mind lies buried: many are so delighted with marble, gold, and pictures, that they become marble-hearted—are changed as it were into metal, and made like painted figures. The kitchen, with its savoury smells, so engrosses them that they have no spiritual savour. The same thing may be seen in other matters. Wherefore, it is plain that there is here great necessity for curbing licentious abuse, and conforming to the rule of Paul, “make not provision for the flesh to fulfil the lusts thereof,” (Rom. xiii. 14.) Where too much liberty is given to them, they break forth without measure or restraint.
4. There is no surer or quicker way of accomplishing this than by despising the present life vand aspiring to celestial immortality. For hence two rules arise: First, “it remaineth, that both they that have wives be as though they had none;#8221; “and they that use this world, as not abusing it,” (1 Cor. vii. 29, 31.) Secondly, we must learn to be no less placid and patient in enduring penury, than moderate in enjoying abundance. He who makes it his rule to use this world as if he used it not, not only cuts off all gluttony in regard to meat and drink, and all effeminacy, ambition, pride, excessive shows and austerity, in regard to his table, his house, and his clothes, but removes every care and affection which might withdraw or hinder him from aspiring to the heavenly life, and cultivating the interest of his soul.2 It was well said by Cato: Luxury causes great care, and produces great carelessness as to virtue; and it is an old proverb,—Those who are much occupied with the care of the body, usually give little care to the soul. Therefore while the liberty of the Christian in external matters is not to be tied down to a strict rule, it is, however, subject to this law—he must indulge as little as possible; on the other hand, it must be his constant aims not only to curb luxury, but to cut off all show of superfluous abundance, and carefully beware of converting a help into an hinderance.
5. Another rule is, that those in narrow and slender circumstances should learn to bear their wants patiently, that they may not become immoderately desirous of things, the moderate use of which implies no small progress in the school of Christ. For in addition to the many other vices which accompany a longing for earthly good, he who is impatient under poverty almost always betrays the contrary disease in abundance. By this I mean, that he who is ashamed of a sordid garment will be vain-glorious of a splendid one; he who not contented with a slender, feels annoyed at the want of a more luxurious supper, will intemperately abuse his luxury if he obtains it; he who has a difficulty, and is dissatisfied in submitting to a private and humble condition, will be unable to refrain from pride if he attain to honour. Let it be the aim of all who have any unfeigned desire for piety to learn, after the example of the Apostle, “both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need,” (Philip. iv. 12.) Scripture, moreover, has a third rule for modifying the use of earthly blessings. We have already adverted to it when considering the offices of charity. For it declares that they have all been given us by the kindness of God, and appointed for our use under the condition of being regarded as trusts, of which we must one day give account. We must, therefore, administer them as if we constantly heard the words sounding in our ears, “Give an account of your stewardship.” At the same time, let us remember by whom the account is to be taken, viz., by him who, while he so highly commends abstinence, sobriety, frugality, and moderation, abominates luxury, pride, ostentation, and vanity; who approves of no administration but that which is combined with charity, who with his own lips has already condemned all those pleasures which withdraw the heart from chastity and purity, or darken the intellect.
6. The last thing to be observed is, that the Lord enjoins every one of us, in all the actions of life, to have respect to our own calling. He knows the boiling restlessness of the human mind, the fickleness with which it is borne hither and thither, its eagerness to hold opposites at one time in its grasp, its ambition. Therefore, lest all things should be thrown into confusion by our folly and rashness, he has assigned distinct duties to each in the different modes of life. And that no one may presume to overstep his proper limits, he has distinguished the different modes of life by the name of callings. Every man’s mode of life, therefore, is a kind of station assigned him by the Lord, that he may not be always driven about at random. So necessary is this distinction, that all our actions are thereby estimated in his sight, and often in a very different way from that in which human reason or philosophy would estimate them. There is no more illustrious deed even among philosophers than to free one’s country from tyranny, and yet the private individual who stabs the tyrant is openly condemned by the voice of the heavenly Judge. But I am unwilling to dwell on particular examples; it is enough to know that in every thing the call of the Lord is the foundation and beginning of right action. He who does not act with reference to it will never, in the discharge of duty, keep the right path. He will sometimes be able, perhaps, to give the semblance of something laudable, but whatever it may be in the sight of man, it will be rejected before the throne of God; and besides, there will be no harmony in the different parts of his life. Hence, he only who directs his life to this end will have it properly framed; because free from the impulse of rashness, he will not attempt more than his calling justifies, knowing that it is unlawful to overleap the prescribed bounds. He who is obscure will not decline to cultivate a private life, that he may not desert the post at which God has placed him. Again, in all our cares, toils, annoyances, and other burdens, it will be no small alleviation to know that all these are under the superintendence of God. The magistrate will more willingly perform his office, and the father of a family confine himself to his proper sphere. Every one in his particular mode of life will, without repining, suffer its inconveniences, cares, uneasiness, and anxiety, persuaded that God has laid on the burden. This, too, will afford admirable consolation, that in following your proper calling, no work will be so mean and sordid as not to have a splendour and value in the eye of God.
1 See Chrysost. ad Heb. Hi. As to Cratetes the Theban, see Plutarch, Lib. de Vitand. aere alien. and Philostratus in Vita Apollonii.
2 French, “Parer notre ame de ses vrais ornemens;”—deck our soul with its true ornaments.
Coming Events and Present Duties: Being Miscellaneous Sermons on
Prophetical Subjects (1867)
J.C. Ryle (1816-1900)
Copyright: Public Domain
The Reading Which is Blessed
"The Revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave unto him, to show unto his servant things which must shortly take place. And He sent and signified it by His angel to His servant John, who bore witness to the word of God, and to the testimony of Jesus Christ, to all things that he saw. Blessed is he who reads and those who hear the words of this prophecy, and keep those things which are written in it; for the time is near." (Rev. 1:13)
We live in "troublous" and "perilous" times. It is many years since there has been so much in the aspect of public affairs to raise anxious thoughts as there is in the present day.
We are always apt to exaggerate the importance of events that happen in our own days. I do not forget that. But I cannot retract what I have just written. I look around me at the things now going on in the Church and in the world. I look forward to the possible future. And as I look, I feel that I am justified in speaking of our times as "perilous" and "troublous." I appeal to the judgment of all who observe the history of their own times. "Is there not a cause?"
There are three heavy judgments which God can send upon a nation, the sword, the pestilence, and the famine. All these three have fallen heavily upon our country within the last few years. The Irish famine, the Russian war, the cholera, the cattle plague, have left marks on this country which cannot be erased. Surely these signs of the times deserve no common notice. They should make us say with Habakkuk, "I will stand upon my watch, and set me upon my tower, and will watch to see what He will say unto me" (Hab. 2:1). They should make us cry with Daniel, "O my Lord, what shall be the end of these things?" (Dan. 12:8.)
But one thing, at all events, is clear and that is the duty incumbent on Christians to search more diligently than ever the prophetical Scriptures. Let us not be, like the Jews at the first advent, blind to the hand of God and the fulfillment of His purposes in all that is going on in the world. Let us rather remember that the word of prophecy is given to be "a light shining in a dark place, until the day dawn, and the daystar arise" (2 Pet. 1:19). Let us walk much in that light. Let us search "what and what manner of time the Spirit of Christ in the Prophets did signify, when He testified before the sufferings of Christ and the glory that should follow" (1 Pet. 1:11). Let us compare prophecies fulfilled with prophecies unfulfilled and endeavor to make the one illustrate the other. Let us strive, above all, to obtain clear views of the things yet to be expected, both in the church and the world, before the end comes and time shall be no more.
With such feelings I now invite you to enter on the consideration of the verses of Scripture which stand at the head of this address. Those verses, I need hardly remind you, are the preface or opening words of the Book of Revelation. May the blessing which is specially promised to the readers and hearers of this book be with all into whose hands this address may fall!
Reader, there are three points to which I desire to call your attention:
1. The general character of the Book of Revelation.
2. The arguments commonly used to deter men from reading it.
3. The many useful lessons which the study of it is calculated to teach.
The general character of the Book of Revelation.
The Book of Revelation differs widely from any other book of the Old or New Testaments. In many respects it is thoroughly unlike the rest of the Bible. There is a solemn and majestic peculiarity about it. It stands alone.
It is peculiar in the dignity with which it begins. The very first verse prepares the reader for something extraordinary, for a book even more directly from God, if possible, than one written under the plenary inspiration of the Holy Ghost. It is called, "The Revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave unto Him, to show unto His servants things which must shortly come to pass; and He sent and signified it by His angel unto His servant John."
It is peculiar in the subject matter which it contains. It contains less of doctrinal and practical Christianity, in proportion to its length, than any book of the New Testament. With few exceptions its pages are filled with prophecies, prophecies of the widest range, extending, it seems to me, from the time of John to the very end of the world; prophecies embracing a vast number of events, spreading over the whole "times of the Gentiles" and covering the mighty interval between the destruction of the first Jerusalem and the descent of the new Jerusalem from heaven; prophecies of universal importance to all mankind, having reference not only to the condition and prospects of the believing Church but also of the unconverted world.
It is peculiar in the style and dress in which its subject matter is clothed. With the exception of the 2nd and 3rd chapters, the greater part of the book is composed of visions which the Apostle John saw in the Spirit. In these visions the vast range of the Church’s history was revealed to him under emblems, figures, allegories, symbols, and similitudes. The meaning of the great majority of these symbols and emblems is not explained. The general characteristics of these visions are much alike. All are marked by a vastness, a grandeur, a majesty, a life, a force, a boldness, a sublimity entirely unparalleled in any human writings. The door opened in heaven, the voice like a trumpet speaking, the sea of glass like crystal, the seven seals, he seven trumpets, the seven vials, the four angels holding the four winds, the mighty angel with a face like the sun, his right foot on the sea, his left on the earth the woman clothed with the sun and the moon under her feet, the great red dragon having seven heads and ten horns, the beast that rose out of the sea, the mighty earthquake, the destruction of Babylon the summoning of the fowls of heaven to the supper of the great God, the bind, the description of the glorious city, who can read such things without being struck by them? Who can study them and avoid the conclusion, "This is written with the finger of God?"
Such is the general character of the Book of Revelation. Such is the book which you are emphatically told it is "blessed" to read. I will only offer two general remarks on the symbolical style in which the book is composed and then pass on.
One remark is, that you must not regard the use of symbolical language as entirely peculiar to the Book of Revelation. You will find it in other parts of Scripture. The very emblems and figures of the Apocalypse, whose meaning seems so obscure, are often employed by the Holy Ghost in the Old Testament. You read, for example, of four living creatures in the fourth chapter. You read of four also in Ezekiel (1:5). You read of horses in the vision of the four first seals. You read of horses also in the vision of Zechariah (6:2,3). You read of a sealed company in the seventh chapter. You read also of a sealed and marked people in the vision of Ezekiel (chap. 9). You read of a plague of locusts under the fifth trumpet. You read of locusts also in the prophecy of Joel (chap. 2). You read of John eating the little book in the tenth chapter. You read also of Ezekiel eating the roll in his vision (chap. 3). You read of olive trees and candlesticks in the vision of the two witnesses. You read of the same emblems in the prophecy of Zechariah (chap. 4). You read of a beast having seven heads and ten horns in the thirteenth chapter. You read of a similar beast in the Book of Daniel (chap. 7). You read of a wondrous celestial city in the twentyfirst chapter. You have the description of a city scarcely less mysterious, though different, at the end of Ezekiel (chap. 40 &c.) These things are worthy of remark. They show us that we must not be stumbled by the symbols of Revelation, as if they were altogether a new and strange thing. We must remember they are used in the Old Testament as well as here, though far more sparingly, in communicating the mind of God to man. The peculiarity of the Apocalypse is not so much the use of symbols and emblems as the profuse abundance of them.
My other remark is, that a symbolical style of composition will always seem more strange to us than it does to Oriental nations.1 Figures, parables, illustrations, and similitudes are infinitely better known in the countries round the Holy Land than they are among ourselves. The hieroglyphic inscriptions, for example, which abound in Egypt and elsewhere in the East, are nothing more than symbolical writings. Who does not know that at first sight these hieroglyphics seem uncouth, meaningless, dark, and obscure? The first step the student of them must take is to become familiar with their appearance. By and by he may hope to become acquainted with the key to their meaning. Ultimately, that key being found, these very hieroglyphics are found full of interesting matter. It is much the same with the Book of Revelation. It is a book of sacred hieroglyphics. Its very style is one to which our matter of fact northern mind is utterly unaccustomed. To us, therefore, its visions seem doubly strange; strange because we are not familiar with such a mode of conveying our ideas stranger still, because in many cases we have no clue to their meaning. Our first step must be to read them and study them much, so as to become familiar with their outward garb, with the style of composition in which they are clothed. So studying in a prayerful spirit, we may hope that the meaning of their inward contents will be gradually made more plain to our minds.
One thing let us always remember in reading the visions of the Apocalypse. Whether we understand little or much, let us settle it in our minds as a fixed principle that every vision in the book has a real definite meaning.
The time is short. We hasten on towards a day when every page shall be unfolded and unsealed. Every knot shall be untied. Every hard question shall be solved. Then shall we see that the Revelation, like every other part of the inspired volume, was all "very good."
Then shall we find that the blessing pronounced on its students was not given in vain, and that those readers whom God blesses are blessed indeed.
Let us consider, in the next place, the arguments commonly used to deter men from studying the Book of Revelation.
There never have been wanting good men who have cried down the study of Revelation as unprofitable. They have spoken of it as a book too dark and mysterious for use. They have bid men respect it as inspired, but not touch it reverence it at a distance, as part of the Bible, but not draw near to it or handle its contents. To this prejudice we probably owe the unhappy omission of the book from the daily calendar of lessons in the Liturgy of the Church of England. It is deeply to be regretted that in the last arrangement of that calendar, the Apocryphal story of Bel and the Dragon should have been thrust in and the Revelation of John the Divine should have been shut out. Room was made for an entirely uninspired composition. No place was found for a book to the reading of which a special blessing is promised. Truly we may say in this case, "Great men are not always wise, neither do the aged understand judgment" (Job 32:9).2
Reader, when such prejudices have existed against the study of the Book of Revelation among good men, you will not wonder that the children of the world should have gone further. Men, more witty than wise, have launched sharp sayings, jests, and jibes at its students. They have not been ashamed to find a mark for witticism in its solemn and mysterious visions. Even a man like Scaliger declared that one of Calvin’s wisest acts was his abstaining from writing a commentary on the book. Dr. South, a clever writer, though an unsound theologian, said, that the study of Revelation either "found a man mad or made him so."3
But, after all, what is the real worth of the objections commonly made to the study of Revelation? Let us weigh them in the balances and see to what they amount. To my own mind they appear neither so serious nor so unanswerable as is commonly supposed.
One class of objectors dislike the book because it seems to point to a coming state of things in the world, which, to their minds, is monstrous, incredible, and improbable.
That God should send plagues and judgments upon the nations of the earth because of their sins against Him, that the kings of the earth, and the great men, and the captains, and the rich, and the mighty, and the bond, and the free, should really flee to hide themselves from the wrath of the Lamb, that the kingdoms of this world should really become the kingdoms of our God and of His Christ, that the saints of the Lord Jesus should ever reign upon the earth and everything that defiles be cast out, all this is to their minds almost absurd. "It is contrary to their common sense," they tell us. "It is a mark of a weak mind to believe it. It is extravagance. It is raving. It is enthusiasm. It is going back to the ranting of fifth monarchy men in the Commonwealth. It cannot be. We cannot show them the details of the mode in which all these things shall come to pass. They will not believe them. A book from which we draw such strange fanatical opinions can never be a profitable one to study."
I am not careful as to the answer to be given to such objectors. They would do well to remember that the great leading events yet to come, to which Revelation points, are in no wise more wonderful than many which have already taken place in the world. The destruction of the old world by the flood, the wasting of Babylon, Nineveh, Tyre, and Egypt, the scattering of the Jews, and their perpetual preservation, notwithstanding, as a separate people, all these were things utterly improbable at the time when they were foretold. But we know that they all came to pass. And as it has been in days gone by, so it shall be in days to come. Men, in their pride of heart, forget that in the eyes of an Eternal God the movements of the nations of the earth are but as the struggles of a few ephemeral insects. Yet a little time, and despotic and constitutional governments, liberal and conservative parties, all, all shall be swept away. God has said it, and with Him nothing is impossible.
As to the manner in which the great events predicted in Revelation shall be brought about, we do not pretend to explain it. There are many things which we accept as facts and yet should find it impossible to explain. We believe the creation of all things out of nothing. We believe the doctrine of the Trinity in Unity. We believe the fact of the Incarnation. But who would dare to offer an explanation of any of these great mysteries? We have a right to regard unfulfilled prophecy in the same light. We claim belief for its facts though the mode of their accomplishment be at present hid from our eyes.
I leave this first class of objectors here. I fear the secret spring of their arguments, in too many cases, is the dislike of the natural heart to spiritual things. The heart not taught by the Holy Ghost rebels against the idea of severe judgments against sin, a kingdom of Christ, a reign of the saints. And why? The plain truth is, that it is not so much the Book of Revelation that such a heart really objects to, as the whole Gospel of Christ and all the counsel of God.
Another class of objectors must next be noticed. These are they who deprecate the study of Revelation because of the wide differences which prevail in the interpretation of its contents, and the notorious mistakes into which interpreters have fallen.
I do not for a moment pretend to deny the existence of these differences and mistakes. Some good men tell us confidently that the whole book is entirely unfulfilled. They look for an accomplishment of its visions so clear and unmistakable that there shall be no room left for doubt. Other good men assure us, with no less confidence, that the whole book is fulfilled, with the exception of a small portion at the end. A third school of expositors maintains that the Revelation is partly fulfilled and partly unfulfilled. As to the details of the book, the meaning and application of the several visions it contains, the fulfillment of times and seasons, time would fail if I were to recount the various interpretations that have been put forth and the errors that have been committed.
Now, what shall we say to these things? What can the advocate for Apocalyptic study reply to these undeniable facts?
My reply is, that the variations and mistakes in the views of interpreters constitute no argument against the study of the book itself. Because others have missed the road in searching for truth, you and I are not to give up the search altogether and sit down in contented ignorance. Who has not heard of the extravagant and contradictory theories which astronomers, geologists, and physicians have occasionally propounded in their respective sciences? Yet who would think of giving up astronomy, geology, or medicine in despair because of the conflicting tenets and avowed mistakes of their professors? Luther and Zwingle differed widely about the Lord’s Supper. Cranmer and Hooper differed widely about vestments. Wesley and Toplady differed widely on predestination. Yet no one in his senses would think of giving up the study of the Christian system because these good men could not agree.
My answer furthermore is, that the very mistakes and differences of Apocalyptic interpreters are not without their use. They have cleared the field in many a direction and shown us what the Revelation does not mean. Expositors have shown in many cases the weakness of other men’s interpretation, if they have not succeeded in establishing their own. To know what an unfulfilled Scriptural prediction does not mean is one step towards knowing what it does mean. When Napoleon was overtaken by the rising tide in a dark evening on the sandy shore of the Red sea, he is said to have ordered his attendants to disperse and ride in different directions, charging each one to report as he proceeded whether the water grew shallower or deeper. There was great wisdom in that order. Each man’s report was useful. The report of him who found the water deepening was in its way as useful as the report of the successful finder of the right path. It is much the same with the widely varying expositions of Revelation. It is evident that many of them must be wrong. But all in their way have done good. There is hardly one, perhaps, which has not contributed some sparks of light.4
My answer beside this is, that the differences of Apocalyptic interpreters, great as they undoubtedly are, are often magnified and absurdly exaggerated. The common points of agreement among expositors are more in number and greater in importance than men commonly suppose. Whether the seals, trumpets, and vials are fulfilled or not, all students of the Revelation agree that there are judgments predicted in it on the unconverted and unbelieving. Whether days mean literal days, as some say, or years, as others say, all are agreed that the time of the wicked triumphing is defined, limited, and fixed by the counsels of God. Whether the beast with horns like a lamb be the Papal power or not, nearly all are agreed that Romish apostasy is foretold in the book, and doomed. Whether Christ shall come and reign visibly on earth or not, for 1000 or 365,000 years, all are agreed that He shall come again with power and great glory, that the kingdoms of this world shall sooner or later become the kingdoms of our God, and of His Christ, and that all believers should look and long for their Lord’s return. I doubt much whether this is as much considered by the opponents of Apocalyptic study as it deserves.
I grant them freely that the divergences and contrarieties of the paths drawn out by the expositors of the book are very many and very great. But, I bid them remember that the great terminus towards which all their lines lead is always one and the same. Oh, that men would remember that mighty terminus, and realize the tremendous importance of the end and breaking up of all things towards which they hasten! Then would they be more anxious to study any book which handles matters like those contained in Revelation. Then would they be less ready to catch at any excuse for declining Apocalyptic study.
The only remaining objection to the study of Revelation which I shall notice is that which is drawn from the mysterious character of a large portion of the book.
That the Revelation is full of dark and difficult things it is of course impossible to deny. Some of its symbols and emblems the Spirit of God has thought good to interpret and explain. The seven stars, the seven candlesticks, the incense, the fine linen, the waters on which the woman sat, the woman herself all these and a few more are expounded, perhaps as a specimen of the kind of meaning which should be attached to the symbols of the book generally. But, after every deduction, there remain a very large number of visions and emblems which the Spirit has not thought fit to interpret. These symbols are unquestionably dark and mysterious. It is not, perhaps, saying too much to admit that after all the attempts of commentators, ancient and modern, preterist and futurist, there are many visions and symbols of Revelation which, we must confess, we do not understand. I do not say that elaborate and learned expositions of them have not been offered, but not expositions so manifestly satisfactory that we can demand a reader’s assent to them. If truth be spoken, we must allow that all the expositions of some parts of the Revelation are nothing better than ingenious conjectures. We admire them as we read. We are not prepared to say that they are not true, or to furnish a reason for refusing our assent. But still they fail to carry conviction with them. We somehow feel the mark is not yet hit, the spring of the lock is not yet touched, the whole truth is not yet discovered.
But I appeal to the common sense of men and their sense of fairness, and I ask them whether they have right to expect that such a book as the book of Revelation can in the very nature of things be anything but dark and mysterious.
Here is a prophetical book which spans the mighty gulf between the end of the first century and the day of judgment, a book which was given to show God’s dealings with the Church and the world during a space of well night 2000 years, a book which points to the rise and fall of empires and kingdoms with all the attendant wars and tumults over a third part of the habitable globe, a book, above all, which does not tell its story in simple, plain matter of fact narration but clothes it in majestic visions, symbols, emblems, figures, and similitudes.
Here are we reading this book during a life of three score and ten years at most, with all the cares and anxieties of this world pressing upon us, with an understanding partaking in the corruption of the fall,-with a heart naturally earthly and sensual, and, even after conversion, weak and deceitful, knowing little of ourselves, knowing little of contemporary history, finding constantly how hard it is to discover the real truth about events happening in our own day. Is it likely, I ask, is it probable, is it agreeable to common sense that such students, coming to such a book, should find it anything but mysterious and hard to understand? Can anyone doubt as to the reply?
The plain truth is that we are like children watching some mighty building in process of erection. They see a thousand operations which they are utterly unable to comprehend or explain. They see scaffolding and stones, and iron and brick, and mortar and timber, and rubbish. They hear noise, and hammering, and cutting, and chipping. It seems to their eyes a vast scene of hopeless confusion. And yet to the eye of the architect all is order, system, and progress. He sees the end from the beginning. He knows exactly what is going on.
It is much the same with us in trying to pass a judgment on the application of many of the Apocalyptic visions. We are like those who stand on the outward surface of a sphere. The range of our mental vision is exceedingly limited. We know so little and see so little beyond our own circle, the very pages of history are so often full of inaccuracies and lies that we are really very poor judges of the question whether such and such visions have been fulfilled or no. More light, I firmly believe, may yet be expected before the end come. Much may probably be yet unfolded and unsealed. But as to any certainty about the meaning of all parts of the Apocalypse, when I see how little certainty there is about anything 1000 miles from us in distance, or 100 years in time, I own I do not look for it until the Lord comes.
And here let me turn for a moment to those who secretly wonder why the Book of Revelation was not written more plainly, and why things of such vast interest to the Church have been purposely clothed in the mysterious garb of symbol, allegory, and vision.
I might easily remind such persons of Bishop Sherlock’s remark on this very point: "To inquire why the ancient prophecies are not clearer is like inquiring why God has not given us more reason or made us as wise as the angels." But I have no wish to leave them there. I would rather use an argument which has often proved satisfactory to my own mind, and silenced the speculative questionings of a curious spirit.
I ask you then, whether you cannot see wisdom and mercy in the darkness which it has pleased God to throw around the prophetical history of His Church? You wonder in your own heart why the things to come were not more clearly revealed. But, consider for a moment how fearfully deadening and depressing it would have been to the early Christians if they had clearly seen the long ages of darkness and corruption which were to elapse before the Lord returned. Reflect for a moment how much unhappiness primitive believers were spared by not knowing for certain the events which were to take place. If humble saints in the days of imperial persecution could have dreamed of the eighteen weary centuries during which the saints were yet to wait for their Lord from heaven, they might almost have sat down in flat despair. If Polycarp had foreseen the present state of Asia Minor, or Ignatius that of Syria, or Chrysostom that of Constantinople, or Irenaeus that of France, or Athanasius that of Egypt, or Augustine that of Africa, their hands might well have trembled and their knees waxed faint.
Count up, I say, the dark and painful pages of which there are so many in the annals of Church history. Set down in order the heresies, and false doctrines, and apostasies of which there has been such a rank growth, Arianism and Romanism and Socinianism and Neologianism and their kindred errors. Place before your mind’s eye the centuries of ignorance and superstition before the Reformation, and of coldness and formality since Luther’s generation passed away. Count up the crimes which have been perpetrated in the name of Christianity, the massacres, the burnings, the persecutions within the Church, not forgetting the Vallenses, the Albigenses, the Spanish Inquisition, the slaughter of the Huguenots, and the fires of Smithfield. Do all this faithfully and I think you will hardly avoid the conclusion that it was wise mercy which drew so thick a veil over things to come. Wise mercy showed the early Christians a light in the distance but did not tell them how far it was away. Wise mercy pointed out the far off harbor lights but not the miles of stormy sea between. Wise mercy revealed enough to make them work, and hope, and wait. But wise mercy did not tell all that was yet to be fulfilled before the end.
Who thinks of telling his little children, in their early years, every trial and pain and misery which they may have to go through before they die? Who thinks of filling their tender ears with the particulars of every bodily disease they may have to endure, and every struggle for success in life in which they may have to engage? Who thinks of harrowing up their young souls by describing every bereavement they may have to submit to, or dilating [speaking at length] on every deathbed they may have to watch? We do not do it because they could not understand our meaning, and could not bear the thought of it if they did. And just so, it seems to me, does the Lord Jesus deal with His people in the Apocalyptic vision. He keeps back the full revelation of all the way they must go through till the time when He sees they can bear it. He considers our frame. He teaches and reveals as we are able to bear.
In reply to those who object to the study of Revelation, there is, after all, no argument so powerful as the simple promise of the Word of God. The predictions of Revelation may seem to many improbable and absurd. The differences and mistakes of interpreters may fill others with disgust and dislike to the very name of Apocalyptic study. The acknowledged mysteriousness and confessed difficulties of the book may incline many to shrink from perusing it. But there the book stands part of those Scriptures which are all given by inspiration and all profitable. And there on the forefront of the book stands a promise and an encouragement to the reader and hearer: "Blessed is he who reads, and they who hear." These words, no doubt, were spoken in foresight of the objections that men would raise against the study of the book. Give these words their full weight. Fall back on them when all other arguments fail. They are a reserve which will never give way. God has said it and will make it good. "Blessed is he who reads, and they who hear the words of the prophecy of this book."
The third and last thing which I now wish to consider is, the number of useful lessons which the Book of Revelation is calculated to teach.
I am anxious to impress this point on your attention. I want you to establish it in your mind as a settled thing that the Book of Revelation is an eminently profitable book for every reader of the Bible to study. It is a fountain to which the poorest and most unlearned shall never go in vain.
I say, then, that there are many blessed and comfortable truths scattered up and down, all over the Book of Revelation, which are intelligible to the simplest comprehension and yet full of food for the most spiritual mind. God has mercifully so ordered the composition of the book that there is hardly a chapter from which a man may not draw some striking and edifying thought. He may be unskilled in the interpretation of visions. He may have no idea of the meaning of seals, or trumpets, or vials, of the two witnesses, of the woman fleeing into the wilderness, of the first or second beasts. But still, if he perseveres in humble, prayerful study of the whole book, he shall find in almost every page verses which shall richly repay his pains. They shall shine out on him like stars in the dark vault of heaven in a moonless night. They shall refresh him like an Oasis in the wilderness and make it impossible for him to say, "All is barren." They shall sparkle like precious stones on the shore as he walks by the deep waters of the mysterious book, and make him feel that his journey in search of treasure is not in vain. 5
Let me select a few examples in order to show what I mean.
There is much about the Lord Jesus Christ in Revelation. There are names, and titles, and expressions about Him there which we find nowhere else. There is new light thrown on His offices, His power, His care for His people. Surely this alone is no small matter. To know Jesus is life eternal. To abide in Jesus is to be fruitful. If we are indeed born of the Spirit, we can never hear too much about our Savior, our Shepherd, our High Priest and Physician. If our hearts are right in the sight of God, we can never hear too much about our King. Like snow in summer and good news from a far country, so are any fresh tidings about Christ.
There is much about the desperate corruption of human nature in Revelation. There is evidence on this subject in the Epistles to the Seven Churches and the repeated accounts of the incorrigibleness and impenitence of the nations of the earth under judgments, which we shall all do well to lay to heart. We can never be too well acquainted with our own sinfulness and weakness. The spring of all humility, thankfulness, grateful love to Christ, and close walk with God is real, thorough, scriptural knowledge of the wickedness of our own hearts. None will ever build high who does not begin low. The soul that loves much is the soul that feels its debt is great and that much has been forgiven.
There is much about hell in Revelation. There are many fearful expressions which show its reality, its misery, its eternity, its certainty. How deeply important is it to have clear views on this solemn subject in the present day! A disposition appears in some quarters to shrink from asserting the eternity of punishment. A flood of that miserable heresy universalism seems coming in upon us. Amiable and well meaning enthusiasts are speaking smooth things about the love of God being lower than hell, and the mercy of God excluding the exercise of all His other attributes of justice and holiness. Tender hearted women and intellectual men are catching at the theory that, after all, there is hope in the far distance for everybody, and that Satan’s old assertion deserves credit, "Ye shall not surely die." Oh, reader, beware of this delusion! Be not wise above that which is written. Believe me, it is a great thing to believe in the reality of hell. Study the Apocalyptic visions well and you will find it hard to disbelieve it.
There is much about heaven in Revelation. I speak of heaven in the common acceptation of the word. I mean the future abode of the saints and people of God. And I say that no book in God’s Word tells us so much about heaven as the Apocalypse. If there was nothing else to be learned from the book beside this, we ought to be most thankful. Where is there a believer in the Lord Jesus who does not frequently think on the world to come and the resurrection state? Who that has lost a dear friend or relative, who died in the Lord, can abstain from meditating on the life of glory and the place of meeting? Who among the people of God does not frequently reach forward in imagination into that unknown and unvisited abode and strive to picture to his mind’s eye the manner of the place and its employments? It is mysterious, no doubt. But nowhere is the veil so much lifted up as it is in the Book of Revelation.
There is much about the prospects of the Church of Christ in the Revelation. When I speak of the Church, I mean the Church of the elect, the living body of Christ, whose members are all holy. The pages of the Apocalypse show plainly that the triumphs, and rest, and ease, and peace of that Church are not in this world. Its members must make up their minds to battles and fightings, to trial and persecution, to cross and affliction. They must be content to be a little flock, a poor and despised people, until the advent of Christ. Their good things are yet to come. Well would it be for believers if they would learn from Revelation to moderate their expectations from missions, schools, and all other ecclesiastical machinery. Then should we not hear, as we now often do, of disappointments and despondency and depression among true Christians, and especially among ministers. We live in the time when God is taking out a people. These are the days of election, but not of universal conversion. We are yet in the wilderness. The bridegroom is not yet with us. The days of absence and mourning and separation are not yet past and gone.
There is much in Revelation to show the folly of depending entirely on the powers of this world for the advancement of true religion. There is much to show that believers should not look to kings, and princes, and rich men, and great men for the bringing in and support of the kingdom of Christ. The times are not yet come when kings shall literally be "the nursing fathers" of the Churches. It is striking to observe how often the Apocalypse speaks of them as the enemies of God’s cause, and not the friends. We need this lesson here in England. With a settled conviction that the principle of an Established Church is scriptural and sound, I still feel we need reminding that alliance with the powers that be has its disadvantages as well as its advantages to the visible Church of Christ. It is apt to engender indolence, apathy, and formality among professing Christians. I firmly believe that the Church of England would have exerted itself more and done more for the world if its members had been more familiar with the Book of Revelation, and learned from it to expect little from the State.
There is much in Revelation to show the painful childishness of the vast majority of true Christians all over the world. Here we are, the greater part of us, scrambling and wrangling about the merest trifles, contending about forms, and ceremonies, and outward matters of man’s devising as if they were the essentials of Christianity, talking of order, and precedent, and custom, and routine while millions of heathen are perishing for lack of knowledge, and myriads of our countrymen are dying, as ignorant as the heathen around our own doors. And all this time the eternal purposes of God are rolling on to fulfillment the kingdoms of this world are on the brink of dissolution the day of judgment is at hand, and an hour draws nigh when Episcopacy, Presbyterianism, Congregationalism, Establishments, and voluntary Churches shall be clean swept out of the way, and nothing but grace, faith, and heart-holiness shall abide and stand the fire. Never, never do I, for one, read the Apocalypse without feeling the excessive littleness of Christians. We are like children busy with our little houses of sand at low water by the seaside. The tide is rising. Our houses will soon be gone. Happy shall we be if we ourselves escape with our lives!
There is much, in the last place, in Revelation to show the safety of all true believers in Christ, whatever may come upon the world. Awful as are the woes of which the Apocalypse speaks, there is not a syllable to show that a hair shall fall from the head of any one of God’s children. Hid, like Noah, in the ark plucked, like Lot, from the fiery judgment withdrawn, like Elijah, from the reach of their enemies rescued, like Rahab, from the ruin of all around they at least may read the Revelation without being afraid. The book that looks dark and threatening to the world speaks no terrors to them. Like the wondrous pillar of cloud at Pihahiroth (Exod. 14), it may fill the mind of an ungodly man with gloom, but, like the same cloud, it shall give light by night to the people of God.
Reader, what shall we say to these things? I have mentioned eight things which stand forth plainly and unmistakably in the Book of Revelation. There is no mystery about them. They require no deep learning to understand. A humble mind and a prayerful heart will not fail to discover them.
These are the kind of things which we can never know too well. The offices of the Lord Jesus Christ Himself, the corruption of man, the reality of hell, the nature of heaven, the prospects of the Church, the folly of trusting in princes, the childishness of God’s people, the safety of believers in the day of wrath these are the kind of subjects with which we cannot be too familiar. These are the plain lessons which, with all its many difficulties, Revelation will unfold. Truly if these things are engraved deeply on our minds, our reading the Apocalypse will be blessed indeed!
These are the kind of things which Satan labors hard to keep us from. Well may that old enemy fill men’s minds with prejudice against Apocalyptic study. Well may he suggest the evil thought, "it is all mysterious, it is all too deep, we need not read it." Let us resist him in this matter. Let us cleave to Revelation more closely every year. Let us never doubt that it is a profitable study for our souls.
It only remains now to conclude this address with three practical remarks.
1. For one thing, let us thank God that the things needful to salvation are all clear, plain, and devoid of mystery to a humble mind. Whatever difficulties there may be in the visions of the Apocalypse, the most unlearned reader of the Bible shall never miss the way to heaven if he seek to find it in a childlike and prayerful spirit.
The guilt, and corruption, and weakness of man is not a hidden thing, like a seal, a trumpet, or a vial.
Christ’s power and willingness to save, and justification by faith in Him, are not a dark thing, like the number 666.
The absolute necessity of a new birth and a thorough change of heart is not an uncertainty, like the meaning of the two witnesses.
The impossibility of salvation without meetness for heaven is not a mystery, like the interpretation of the vision of the four living creatures.
But, reader, remember while you thank God for this clear teaching in the things essential to salvation, that this very clearness increases your personal responsibility. Take heed, lest an open door being set before you, any of you should fail to enter in by it and be saved.
Hearken, everyone into whose hands this address may come, and understand. I give you a plain warning this day. Do not forget it. You may reach heaven without knowing much about the deep things of the Apocalypse, but you will never get their without the saving knowledge of Christ and a new heart. You must be born again. You must renounce your own righteousness and acknowledge yourself a sinner. You must wash in the fountain of Christ’s blood. You must be clothed in the garment of Christ’s righteousness. You must take up the cross of Christ and follow Him.
These are the things absolutely needful. These are the things without which no man, learned or unlearned, high or low, can ever be saved.
Rest not, rest not till you know these things by experience. Without them you may know the whole list of Apocalyptic commentaries, be familiar with all that Mede, Brightman, Cressener, Daubuz, Durham, Cuninghame, Woodhouse, Elliot, Alford, and Garratt have written on the subject, and yet rise at the last day a lost soul knowing much intellectually, like the devils, but, like the devils, ruined forever.
2. For another thing, let me entreat all students of the Book of Revelation to beware of dogmatism and positiveness in expressing and maintaining their views of the meaning of its more mysterious portions.
Nothing, I firmly believe, has brought more discredit on the study of prophecy than the excessive rashness and overweening confidence with which many of its advocates have asserted the correctness of their own interpretations and impugned the expositions of others. Too many have written and talked as if they had a special revelation from heaven, and as if it was impossible for anyone to maintain a character for common sense if he did not see with their eyes.6
Let us all watch our hearts and be on our guard against this spirit. Dogmatism is a great trap which Satan lays in men’s way when he cannot prevent them studying the Apocalypse. Let us not fall into it. Let us rather pray for a spirit of modesty and humility in offering our solutions of the deep things of symbolical prediction. Let us allow that we may possibly be wrong, and that others may possibly be right. Believe me, we all need this caution. We are unhappily prone to be most positive when we have least warrant for our assertions, simply because our pride whispers that our credit for discernment is at stake, and that having made statements mainly on the authority of our own judgment, we are specially bound to defend them.
Happy is that student of prophecy who is willing to confess that there are many things of which he is yet ignorant. Happier still, and more uncommon too, is he who is able to use those three hardest words in the English language, "I was mistaken."
3. Finally, let all believers take comfort in the thought that the end to which all things are coming is clear, plain, and unmistakable. There may yet be judgments in store for the world of which we know nothing. There may be "distress of nations with perplexity" far exceeding anything we have yet heard of, read, or seen. There may be more grievous wars, and famines, and pestilences, and persecutions yet to come.
But the end is sure. Yet a little while and He who shall come, will come, and will not tarry. The kings of the earth may struggle and contend for their own worldly interests; but sooner or later the kingdoms of their world shall become the kingdoms of our God, and of His Christ. There shall be an eternal peace. He shall come and take possession "whose right it is." The dominion and power shall be given to the saints of the Most High, and of the increase of their peace shall be no end.
Oh, that we may all remember this! In patience let us possess our souls, and in every trying time do as Luther did repeat the forty-sixth Psalm:
"God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, even though the earth be removed, and though the mountains be carried into the midst of the sea; though its waters roar and be troubled, through the mountains shake with its swelling. Selah.
There is a river whose streams shall make glad the city of God, the holy place of the tabernacle of the Most High. God is in the midst of her, she shall not be moved; God shall help her, just at the break of dawn. The nations raged, the kingdoms were moved; He uttered His voice, the earth melted. The LORD of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our refuge. Selah.
Some, behold the works of the LORD, who has made desolations in the earth. He makes wars cease to the end of the earth; He breaks the bow and cuts the spear in two; He burns the chariot in the fire. Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth! The LORD of hosts is with us; The God of Jacob is our refuge. Selah."
1 "The Symbolical or Hieroglyphical character is an art of communicating the conceptions of the mind by visible figures, which having a metaphorical relation or similitude, or at least affinity to the conceptions, excite in others the same conceptions."–Daubuz on Revelation, p. 6. 1720. "The Hieroglyphical characters are like all kinds of animals and members of men, and working tools, especially those of carpenters. For their writing does not show the discourse about the subject matter by the composition of syllables, but by the emphasis of the figures."–Diodorus Sicubus, quoted by Daubuz, p. 8. "From this way of writing arose a symbolical way of speaking too; the symbolical characters, which they were so conversant with, furnishing them continually with metaphors and other tropes, first in their mysterious or religious speeches and from them easily passing on to the vulgar matters. Which kind of speech set up the priests and wiser sort of men above the level of the vulgar, because such figurative and florid kind of speech and notions seemed to add great beauty to their thoughts, and distinguished that of wise men from the plain style of the rest. Thence it comes that most of the Oriental languages, especially that of the poets, affect this way."–Daubuz, p. 8.
2 It is a curious fact that the fourth council of Toledo, held about the year 640, made the following decree: "Because there are many that do not receive the book of Apocalypse as authentic, and scorn to read it in the Church of God, if anyone for the future shall refuse to receive it, or to read it in the Church, in the time of Mass, from Easter to Whitsuntide, he shall be excommunicated."–Cressener on Revelation. 1690.
3 Voltaire was pleased to say that Sir Isaac Newton wrote his comment on the Revelation to console mankind for the great superiority he had over them in other respects. But Voltaire, though a very agreeable, is yet a very superficial writer, and often mistaken in his judgment of men and things."–Bishop Newton on Prophecy. 1754.
4 Among the interpreters of Revelation in the last ages, there is scarce one of note who has not made some discovery worth knowing."–Sir Isaac Newton on the Apocalypse. Chap. I, p. 253.
5 "It is true, many things in the Book of Revelation are obscure, and it is likely that the full clearing of them is not to be expected till God in some singular way shall open them up. Yet there are many clear, edifying, and comfortable passages of God’s mind in it, the Holy Ghost mixing them in to be fed upon, to sweeten those passages that are more obscure, and to encourage the reader to search for the meaning of them."–Durham on Revelation. 1658.
6 Joseph Mede, the most learned and able interpreter of prophecy that this country can name among its divines, was remarkable for his modesty and humility. In a letter of his to Dr. Twiss, speaking of the leisurely and deliberate progress he made in his exposition of Apocalypse, chap. 14, he adds these words, ‘I am by nature dilatory in all things, but in this let no man blame me if I take more pause than ordinary; for it has sunk deeply into my mind, that rashly to be the author of a false interpretation of Scripture is to take God’s name in vain in a high degree.’"–Mede’s Works, 1672.
Coming Events and Present Duties: Being Miscellaneous Sermons on
Prophetical Subjects (1867)
J.C. Ryle (1816-1900)
Copyright: Public Domain
Scattered Israel to be Gathered
“Hear the Word of the Lord, O ye nations, and declare it in the isles afar off, and say, He who scattered Israel will gather him, and keep him, as a shepherd does his flock.” Jer. 31:10.
The text which heads this page is singularly full and comprehensive. It contains both history and prophecy. It speaks of the scattering of Israel; this is history. It speak of the gathering of Israel; this is prophecy. It demands the attention both of the Jew and the Gentile. To the Jew it holds out a hope” Israel,” it says, “shall be gathered.” On the Gentile it lays a command “Hear the Word of the Lord,” it says, “O ye nations, and declare it in the isles afar off, He who scattered Israel will gather him.”
Reader, the whole body of Gentile Christendom is specially addressed in this text. There is no evading this conclusion on any fair interpretation of Scripture. We ourselves are among the “nations” to whom Jeremiah speaks. Upon us devolves a portion of the duty which he here sets forth. The text is the Lord’s voice to all the Churches of Christ among the Gentiles. It is a voice to the Churches of England, Scotland, and Ireland. It is a voice to the Churches of Germany, Switzerland, Sweden, Holland, Denmark, and America. It is a voice to all Christendom. And what does the voice say? It bids us proclaim far and wide the will of God concerning the Jewish nation. It bids us keep one another in memory of God’s past and future dealings with Israel. “He who scattered Israel will gather him.”
Reader, I ask your serious attention for a few minutes while I try to place the Jewish subject before you in a connected and condensed form. I propose in this address to show you from Scripture the past, the present, and the future of Israel. I know few texts in the Bible which contain such a complete summary of the subject as the one before you. This text I shall endeavor to unfold.
I entreat you not to dismiss the subject as speculative, fanciful, and unprofitable. The world is growing old. The last days are come upon us. The foundations of the earth are out of course. The ancient institutions of society are wearing out and going to pieces. The end of all things is at hand. Surely it becomes a wise man, at a time like this, to turn to the pages of prophecy and to inquire what is yet to come. At a time like this the declarations of God concerning His people Israel ought to be carefully weighed and examined. “At the time of the end,” says Daniel, “the wise shall understand” (Dan. 12:10).
There are four points on which I purpose to dwell in considering the words of Jeremiah which stand at the head of this address.
1. The meaning of the word “Israel,” both here and elsewhere in Scripture.
2. The present condition of Israel.
3. The future prospects of Israel.
4. The duty which Gentile Churches owe to Israel.
The meaning of the word “Israel.”
The definition of terms is of first importance in theology. Unless we explain the meaning of the words we use in our religious statements, our arguments are often wasted, and we seem like men beating the air.
The word “Israel” is used nearly seven hundred times in the Bible. I can only discover three senses in which it is used. First, it is one of the names of Jacob, the father of the twelve tribes; a name specially given to him by God. Second, it is a name given to the ten tribes which separated from Judah and Benjamin in the days of Rehoboam and became a distinct kingdom. This kingdom is often called Israel in contradistinction to the kingdom of Judah. Thirdly and lastly, it is a name given to the whole Jewish nation, to all members of the twelve tribes which sprang from Jacob and were brought out of Egypt into the land of Canaan. This is by far the most common signification of the word in the Bible. It is the only signification in which I can find the word “Israel” used through the whole New Testament. It is the same in which the word is used in the text which I am considering this day. That Israel, which God has scattered and will yet gather again, is the whole Jewish nation.
Now, why do I dwell upon this point? To some readers it may appear mere waste of time and words to say so much about it. The things I have been saying sound to them like truisms. That Israel means Israel is a matter on which they never felt a doubt. If this be the mind of any into whose hands this address has fallen, I am thankful for it. But unhappily there are many Christians who do not see the subject with your eyes. For their sakes I must dwell on this point a little longer.
For many centuries there has prevailed in the Churches of Christ a strange, and to my mind, an unwarrantable mode of dealing with this word “Israel.” It has been interpreted in many passages of the Psalms and Prophets as if it meant nothing more than Christian believers. Have promises been held out to Israel? Men have been told continually that they are addressed to Gentile saints. Have glorious things been described as laid up in store for Israel? Men have been incessantly told that they describe the victories and triumphs of the Gospel in Christian Churches. The proofs of these things are too many to require quotation. No man can read the immense majority of commentaries and popular hymns without seeing this system of interpretation to which I now refer. Against that system I have long protested, and I hope I shall always protest as long as I live.
I do not deny that Israel was a peculiar typical people, and that God’s relations to Israel were meant to be a type of His relations to His believing people all over the world.
I do not forget that it is written, “As face answers to face, so does the heart of man to man” (Prov. 27:19), and that whatever spiritual truths are taught in prophecy concerning Israelitish hearts are applicable to the hearts of Gentiles.
I would have it most distinctly understood that God’s dealings with individual Jews and Gentiles are precisely one and the same. Without repentance, faith in Christ, and holiness of heart, no individual Jew or Gentile shall ever be saved.
What I protest against is the habit of allegorizing plain sayings of the Word of God concerning the future history of the nation Israel and explaining away the fullness of their contents in order to accommodate them to the Gentile Church. I believe the habit to be unwarranted by anything in Scripture, and to draw after it a long train of evil consequences.
Where, I would venture to ask, in the whole New Testament shall we find any plain authority for applying the word “Israel” to any one but the nation Israel? I can find none. On the contrary, I observe that when the Apostle Paul quotes Old Testament prophecies about the privileges of the Gentiles in Gospel times, he is careful to quote texts which specially mention the “Gentiles” by name. The fifteenth chapter of the Epistle to the Romans is a striking illustration of what I mean. We are often told in the New Testament that under the Gospel believing Gentiles are “fellow-heirs and partakers of the same hope” with believing Jews (Eph. 3:6). But that believing Gentiles may be called “Israelites,” I cannot see anywhere at all.
To what may we attribute that loose system of interpreting the language of the Psalms and Prophets, and the extravagant expectations of universal conversion of the world by the preaching of the Gospel, which may be observed in many Christian writers? To nothing so much, I believe, as to the habit of inaccurately interpreting the word “Israel,” and to the consequent application of promises to the Gentile Churches with which they have nothing to do. The least errors in theology always bear fruit. Never does man take up an incorrect principle of interpreting Scripture without that principle entailing awkward consequences and coloring the whole tone of his religion.
Reader, I leave this part of my subject here. I am sure that its importance cannot be overrated. In fact, a right understanding of it lies at the very root of the whole Jewish subject, and of the prophecies concerning the Jews. The duty which Christians owe to Israel, as a nation, will never be clearly understood until Christians clearly see the place that Israel occupies in Scripture.
Before going any further, I will ask all readers of this address one plain practical question. I ask you to calmly consider — What sense do you put on such words as “Israel,” “Jacob,” and the like when you meet with them in the Psalms and Prophecies of the Old Testament? We live in a day when there are many Bible readers. There are many who search the Scriptures regularly and read through the Psalms and the Prophets once, if not twice, every year they live. Of course you attach some meaning to the words I have just referred to. You place some sense upon them. Now what is that sense? What is that meaning? Take heed that it is the right one.
Reader, accept a friendly exhortation this day. Cleave to the literal sense of Bible words and beware of departing from it, except in cases of absolute necessity. Beware of that system of allegorizing and spiritualizing and accommodating, which the school of Origen first brought in, and which has found such an unfortunate degree of favor in the Church. In reading the authorized version of the English Bible, do not put too much confidence in the “headings” of pages and “tables of contents” at beginnings of chapters, which I take leave to consider a most unhappy accompaniment of that admirable translation. Remember that those headings and tables of contents were drawn up by uninspired hands. In reading the Prophets, they are sometimes not helps but real hindrances and less likely to assist a reader than to lead him astray. Settle it in your mind, in the reading the Psalms and Prophets, that Israel means Israel and Zion Zion and Jerusalem Jerusalem. And, finally, whatever edification you derive from applying to your own soul the words which God addresses to His ancient people, never lose sight of the primary sense of the text.
The second point in the text on which I proposed to dwell, is the present condition of Israel.
The expression used by Jeremiah describes exactly the state in which the Jews are at this day, and have been for nearly eighteen hundred years. They are a “scattered” people. The armies of Assyria, Babylon, and Rome have, one after another, swept over the land of Israel and carried its inhabitants into captivity. Few, if any, of the ten tribes appear to have returned from the Assyrian captivity. Not fifty thousand of Judah and Benjamin came back from the captivity of Babylon. From the last and worst captivity, when the temple was burned and Jerusalem destroyed, there has been no return at all. For eighteen hundred years Israel has been dispersed over the four quarters of the globe. Like the wreck of some goodly ship, the Jews have been tossed to and fro on all waters and stranded in broken pieces on every shore.
But though Israel has been “scattered,” Israel has not been destroyed. For eighteen hundred years the Jews have continued a separate people, without a king, without a land, without a territory, but never lost, never absorbed among other nations. They have been often trampled underfoot, but never shaken from the faith of their fathers. They have been often persecuted, but never destroyed. At this very moment they are as distinct and peculiar a people as any people upon earth an unanswerable argument in the way of the infidel, a puzzling difficulty in the way of politicians, a standing lesson to all the world. Romans, Danes, Saxons, Normans, Belgians, French, Germans have all in turn settled on English soil. All have in turn lost their national distinctiveness. All have in turn become part and parcel of the English nation, after the lapse of a few hundred years. But it has never been so with the Jews. Dispersed as they are, there is a principle of cohesion among them which no circumstances have been able to melt. Scattered as they are, there is a national vitality among them which is stronger than that of any nation on earth. Go where you will, you always find them. Settle where you please, in hot countries or in cold, you will find the Jews. But go where you will and settle where you please, this wonderful people is always the same. Scattered as they are, few in number compared to those among whom they live, the Jews are always the Jews. Three thousand years ago Balaam said, “The people shall dwell alone, and not be reckoned among the nations.” Eighteen hundred years ago our Lord said, “This generation shall not pass away till all be fulfilled.” We see these words made good before our eyes (Num. 23:9; Luke 21:32).
But by whose hands was this scattering of Israel wrought? The text before us today declares expressly that it was the hand of God. It was not the armies of Tiglath Pileser or Shalmanezer, of Nebuchadnezzar or of Titus. They were only instruments in the hand of a far higher power. It was that God who orders all things in heaven and earth who dispersed the twelve tribes over the face of the earth. It was the same God who brought Israel out of Egypt with a high hand and mighty arm and planted them in Canaan, who plucked them up by the roots and made them “wanderers among the nations” (Hos. 9:17).
And why did God send this heavy judgment upon Israel? To what are we to attribute this marvelous [surprising] dispersion of a people so highly favored? The inquiry is a very useful one. Let us mark well the answer.
The Jews are a “scattered” people because of their many sins. Their hardness and stiff-neckedness, their impenitence and unbelief, their abuse of privileges and neglect of gifts, their rejection of prophets and messengers from heaven, and finally their refusal to receive the Lord Jesus Christ, the King’s own Son, these were the things which called down God’s wrath upon them. These were the causes of their present dispersion. The vine which was brought out of Egypt bore wild grapes. The husbandman to whom the vineyard was let out rendered not of the fruit to the Lord of the vineyard. The people that were brought out of the house of bondage rebelled against Him by whom they were set free. Hence the wrath of God rose until there was no remedy. Thus He says, “You only have I known among the inhabitants of the earth, therefore I will punish you, because of your iniquities” (Amos 3:2). “They killed the Lord Jesus and their own prophets, they persecuted the apostles, they pleased not God, they were contrary to all men, they forbade us to speak to the Gentiles that they might be saved; and therefore the wrath is come upon them to the uttermost” (1 Thess. 2:15,16).
Israel was “scattered” to be a perpetual warning to the Gentile Churches of Christ. The Jews are God’s beacon or pillar of salt to all Christendom and a silent standing lesson which all who profess to know God ought never to forget. They proclaim to all Christians God’s hatred of spiritual pride and self righteousness, God’s high displeasure with those who exalt the traditions of men and depart from the Word, God’s hatred of formality and ceremonialism. If any man desires to know how much God hates these things, he has only to look at the present condition of the Jews. For eighteen hundred years God has held them up before the eyes of the world, and written His abhorrence of their sins in letters which he who runs may read.
I cannot pass away from this part of my subject without entreating all who read this address to learn a practical lesson from the scattering of Israel. I entreat you to remember the causes which led to their dispersion, and to beware of the slightest approach to their peculiar sins. I am sure the warning is needed in these latter days. I am sure that the opinions which are boldly broached and openly maintained by many religious teachers in all Churches of Christendom call loudly on all Christians to stand on their guard. It is not without good reason that our Lord said, “Take heed and beware of the leaven of the Sadducees and Pharisees” (Matt. 16:6). Look to your own heart. Beware of tampering with false doctrines. Churches are never safe unless their members know their individual responsibility. Let us each look to ourselves and take heed to our own souls. The same God lives who scattered Israel because of Israel’s sins. And what says He to the Churches of Christ this day? He says, “Be not high-minded, but fear. If God spared not the natural branches, take heed lest He also spare not thee” (Rom. 11:20,21).
The third part of the text on which I propose to dwell is the future prospects of Israel.
In taking up this branch of my subject, I feel that I am entering on the region of unfulfilled prophecy. I desire to do so with all reverence, and with a deep sense of the many difficulties surrounding this department of theology and the many diversities of opinion which prevail upon it. But the servant of God must call no man master on earth. Truth is never likely to be attained unless all ministers of Christ speak out their opinions fully, freely, and unreservedly, and give men an opportunity of weighing what they teach.
Reader, however great the difficulties surrounding many parts of unfulfilled prophecy, two points appear to my own mind to stand out as plainly as if written by a sunbeam. One of these points is the second personal advent of our Lord Jesus Christ before the Millennium. The other of these points is the future literal gathering of the Jewish nation and their restoration to their own land. I tell no man that these two truths are essential to salvation and that he cannot be saved except he sees them with my eyes. But I tell any man that these truths appear to me distinctly set down in holy Scripture, and that the denial of them is as astonishing and incomprehensible to my own mind as the denial of the divinity of Christ.
Now what says our text about the future prospects of the Jews? It says, “He who scattered Israel will gather him.” That gathering is an event which plainly is yet to come. It could not apply in any sense to the ten tribes of Israel. They have never been gathered in any way. Their scattering has never come to an end. It cannot be applied to the return of the remnant of Judah and Benjamin from the Babylonian captivity. The language of the text makes such an application impossible. The text is addressed to the Gentiles, “the nations.” The declaration they are commanded to make is, “to the isles of the sea.” In the days of the Babylonian captivity, the “nations” of the earth knew nothing of the Word of the Lord. They were sunk in darkness and had not even heard the Lord’s name. If Jeremiah had told them to proclaim the return of the Jews from Babylon under such circumstances, it would have been useless and absurd. There is but one fair and legitimate interpretation of the promise of the text. The event it declares is yet future. The “gathering” spoken of is a gathering which is yet to come.
Reader, I believe that the interpretation I have just given is in entire harmony with many other plain prophecies of Scripture. Time would fail me if I were to quote a tenth part of the texts which teach the same truth. Out of the sixteen prophets of the Old Testament, there are at least ten in which the gathering and restoration of the Jews in the latter days are expressly mentioned. From each of these ten I will take one testimony. I say “one” testimony deliberately. I am anxious not to overload the subject with evidence. I would only remind the reader that the texts I am about to quote are only a small portion of the evidence that might be brought forward.
1. Hear what Isaiah says: “It shall come to pass in that day that the Lord shall set His hand again the second time to recover the remnant of His people, which shall be left, from Assyria, and from Egypt, and from Pathros, and from Cush, and from Elam, and from Shinar, and from Hamath, and from the islands of the sea. And He shall set up an ensign for the nations, and shall assemble the outcasts of Israel, and gather together the dispersed of Judah from the four corners of the earth” (Isa. 11:11,12).
2. Hear what Ezekiel says: “Thus saith the Lord God: Behold, I will take the children of Israel from among the heathen, whither they be gone, and will gather them on every side, and bring them into their own land” (Ezek. 37:21).
3. Hear what Hosea says: “Then shall the children of Judah and the children of Israel be gathered together, and appoint themselves one head, and they shall come up out of the land; for great shall be the day of Jezreel” (Hos. 1:11). “For the children of Israel shall abide many days without a king, and without a prince, and without a sacrifice, and without an image, and without an ephod, and without teraphim. Afterward shall the children of Israel return and seek the Lord their God, and David their king, and shall fear the Lord and His goodness in the latter days” (Hos. 3:4,5).
4. Hear what Joel says: “But Judah shall dwell forever, and Jerusalem from generation to generation” (Joel 3:20).
5. Hear what Amos says: “And I will bring again the captivity of my people Israel, and they shall build the waste cities and inhabit them; and they shall plant vineyards and drink the wine thereof; they shall also make gardens and the fruit of them. And I will plant them upon their land, and they shall no more be pulled up out of their land which I have given them, saith the Lord thy God” (Amos 9:14,15).
6. Hear what Obadiah says: “But upon Mount Zion shall be deliverance, and there shall be holiness; and the house of Jacob shall possess their possessions” (Obad. 1:17).
7. Hear what Micah says: “In that day, saith the Lord, will I assemble her that halts, and I will gather her that is driven out, and her that I have afflicted; and I will make her that halts a remnant, and her that was cast far off a strong nation; and the Lord shall reign over them in Mount Zion from henceforth, even forever” (Micah 4:6,7).
8. Hear what Zephaniah says: “Sing, O daughter of Zion! Shout, O Israel! Be glad and rejoice with all the heart, O daughter of Jerusalem. The Lord has taken away thy judgments, He has cast out thine enemy. The King of Israel, even the Lord, is in the midst of thee; thou shalt not see evil any more. In that day it shall be said to Jerusalem, Fear thou not; and to Zion, Let not thine hands be slack. The Lord thy God in the midst of thee is mighty; He will save, He will rejoice over thee with joy, He will rest in His love, He will joy over thee with singing. I will gather them that are sorrowful for the solemn assembly, who are of thee, to whom the reproach of it was a burden. Behold, at that time I will undo all that afflicts thee; and I will save her that halts and gather her that was driven out; and I will get them praise and fame in every land where they have been put to shame. At that time will I bring you again, even in the time that I gather you; for I will make you a name and a praise among all people of the earth, when I turn back your captivity before your eyes, saith the Lord” (Zeph. 3:1420).
9. Hear what Zechariah says: “And I will strengthen the house of Judah, and I will save the house of Joseph. I will bring them again to place them, for I have mercy upon them. They shall be as though I had not cast them off; for I am the Lord their God, and will hear them. And they of Ephraim shall be like a mighty man, and their heart shall rejoice as through wine. Yes, their children shall see it and be glad; their heart shall rejoice in the Lord. I will hiss for them and gather them, for I have redeemed them; and they shall increase as they have increased. And I will sow them among the people, and they shall remember me in far countries; they shall live with their children and turn again. I will bring them again also out of the land of Egypt, and gather them out of Assyria. I will bring them into the land of Gilead and Lebanon, and place shall not be found for them” (Zech. 10:610).
10. Hear, lastly, what Jeremiah says: “For behold, the days come, saith the Lord, that I will bring again the captivity of my people Israel and Judah, saith the Lord. And I will cause them to return to the land that I gave to their fathers, and they shall possess it” (Jer. 30:3). “For I am with thee, saith the Lord, to save thee; though I make a full end of all nations whither I have scattered thee, yet will I not make a full end of thee. But I will correct thee in measure, and will not leave thee altogether unpunished” (Jer. 30:11).
Reader, I place these texts before you without note or comment. I only wish that they may be weighed and examined, and the several chapters from which they are taken read carefully. I believe there is one common remark that applies to them all. They all point to a time which is yet future. They all predict the final gathering of the Jewish nation from the four quarters of the globe and their restoration to their own land.
I must ask you to believe that the subject admits of being drawn out at far greater length than the limits of this address allow. I am resolved, however, not to encumber it by entering on topics of comparatively subordinate importance. I will not complicate it by dwelling on the manner in which Israel shall be gathered, and the particular events which shall accompany the gathering. I might show you by Scriptural evidence that the Jews will probably first be gathered in an unconverted state, though humbled; and will afterwards be taught to look to Him whom they have pierced, through much tribulation. I might speak of the future glory of Jerusalem, after the Jews are restored, and the last siege which it shall endure, as described by Zechariah and by our Lord Jesus Christ. But I forbear. I will not travel beyond the bounds of my text. I think it better to present its weighty promise to you in its naked simplicity. “Israel scattered shall yet be gathered.” This is the future prospect of the Jew.
Now is there anything contrary to this gathering in the New Testament? I cannot find a single word. So far from this being the case, I find a chapter in the Epistle to the Romans where the subject is fully discussed. An inspired Apostle speaks there of Israel being once more “received” into God’s favor, “grafted in,” and “saved.” (See Rom. 11:1532.)
Is there anything impossible in this gathering of Israel? Who talks of impossibilities? If an infidel, let him explain the present condition and past history of Israel, if he can. And when he has solved that mighty problem, we may listen to him. If a Christian, let him think again before he talks of anything being impossible with God. Let him read the vision of the dry bones in Ezekiel and mark to whom that vision applies. Let him look to his own conversion and resurrection from the death of trespasses and sins and recall the unworthy thought that anything is too hard for the Lord.
Is there anything inconsistent with God’s former dealings in the gathering of Israel? Is there any extravagance in expecting such an event? Why should we say so? Reasoning from analogy, I can see no ground for refusing to believe that God may yet do wonderful things for the Jewish people. It would not be more marvelous to see them gathered once more into Palestine than it was to see them brought from Egypt into the promised land. What God has done once, He may surely do again.
Is there anything improbable in the gathering of Israel? Alas! reader, we are poor judges of probabilities. God’s ways of carrying into effect His own purposes are not to be judged by man’s standard, or measured by the line and plummet of what man calls probable. In the day when the children of Israel went forth from Egypt, would anyone have said it was probable that such a nation of serfs would ever produce a book that should turn the world upside down? Yet that nation has done it. From that nation has come the Bible. Four thousand years ago, would anyone have said it was probable that God’s Son would come to earth and suffer in the flesh on a cross before He came to earth in glory to reign? Yet so it has been. Christ has lived, and Christ has suffered, and Christ has died. Away with this talk about improbabilities! The ways of God are not our ways.
Finally, is there anything fanatical or enthusiastic in this expectation that Israel shall be gathered? Why should men say so? Your own eyes tell you that the present order of things will never convert the world. There is not a church, or a parish, or a congregation where the converted are more than a little flock. There is not a faithful minister on earth, and never has been, who has ever seen more than the “taking out of a people” to serve Christ. A change must come before the earth shall be filled with the knowledge of the Lord. A new order of teachers must be raised up and a new dispensation ushered in. These teachers, I firmly believe, shall be converted Jews. And then shall be seen the fulfillment of the remarkable words, “If the casting of them away be the reconciling of the world, what shall the receiving of them be but life from the dead?” (Romans 11:15.)
I may not dwell longer on this branch of my subject. I leave it with one general remark, which may sound to some readers like a bald truism. Whether it be a truism or not, I believe the remark to be of vital importance, and I heartily wish that it was more deeply impressed on all our minds.
I ask you, then, to settle it firmly in your mind that when God says a thing shall be done, we ought to believe it. We have no right to begin talking of probable and improbable, likely and unlikely, possible and impossible, reasonable and unreasonable. What is all this but veiled skepticism and infidelity in disguise? What has the Lord said? What has the Lord spoken? What says the Scriptures? What is written in the Word? These are the only questions we have a right to ask; and when the answer to them is plain, we have nothing to do but believe. Our reason may rebel. Our preconceived ideas of what God ought to do may receive a rude shock. Our private systems of prophetical interpretation may be shattered to pieces. Our secret prejudices may be grievously offended. But what are we to do? We must abide by Scripture, or be of all men most miserable. At any cost let us cling to the Word. “Let God be true and every man a liar.”
In all matters of unfulfilled prophecy, I desire, for my own part, to fall back on this principle. I see many things I cannot explain. I find many difficulties I cannot solve. But I dare not give up my principle. I am determined to believe everything that God says. I know it will all prove true at the last day. I read that He says in the text before us this day, “He who scattered Israel shall gather him.” It must be true, I feel, whatever be the difficulties. That Israel shall be gathered I steadfastly believe.
The last point on which I propose to dwell is one purely practical. It is the duty which Gentile Churches owe to Israel.
Reader, in touching on this point, I would not have you for a moment suppose that the future gathering of Israel depends on anything that man can do. God’s counsels and purposes are independent of human strength. The sun will set tonight at its appointed hour, and neither Queen, Lords nor Commons, Pope, President, nor Emperors can hasten, prevent, or put off its setting. The tides of the sea will ebb and flow this week in their regular course, and no scientific decree nor engineering skill can interfere with their motion. And just in like manner the promises of God concerning Israel will all be fulfilled in due season, whether we will hear or whether we will forbear. When the “times and seasons” arrive which God has “put in His own power,” Israel will be gathered; and all the alliances and combinations of statesmen, and all the persecution and unbelief of apostate Churches shall not be able to prevent it.
But seeing that we look for such things, it becomes us all to be found in the path of duty. It behooves us to consider gravely the solemn question, What manner of persons ought we to be? and in what way can we testify our full assent to God’s purposes about the Jews? Can we in no sense be fellow workers with God? Should we not remember that remarkable saying of St Paul” Through your mercy they shall obtain mercy” (Rom. 11:31). This is the question to which I now desire briefly to supply a practical answer.
1. I believe, then, for one thing, that it is a duty incumbent on all Gentile Christians to take a special interest in the spiritual condition of the Jewish nation, and to give their conversion a special place in our prayers. I say, advisedly, their spiritual condition. I leave alone their civil and political position. I speak, exclusively, of our duty to Jewish souls. I say that we owe them a special debt, and that this debt ought to be carefully paid.
We prize our Bibles, and we are right to do so. A heaven without a sun would not be more blank than a world without a Bible. But do we ever reflect that every page in that blessed book was written under God’s inspiration by Israelitish hands? Remember that every chapter and verse you read in our Bible you owe under God to Israel. There is not a religious society that meets in London in the month of May which is not constantly working with Israelitish tools.
We prize the glorious Gospel of the grace of God, and we are right to do so. A land without the Gospel, like Tartary and China, is nothing better than a moral wilderness. See the vast difference between Europe and America with the Gospel, notwithstanding all their vices, and Africa and Asia without it. But do we ever reflect that the first preachers of that Gospel were all Jews? The men who, at cost of their lives, first carried from town to town the blessed tidings of Christ crucified were not Gentiles. The first to take up the lamp of truth, which was passed from hand to hand till it reached our heathen forefathers, were all men of Israel.
We rejoice in Christ Jesus and glory in His person and work. Well may we do so! Without a living Savior and the blood of His atonement once made on the cross, we should indeed be miserable. But do we ever reflect that when that Savior became a man, in order that as man’s substitute He might live, and suffer and die, He was born of a Jewish woman? Yes, let that never be forgotten! When “God was manifest in the flesh” and was “born of a woman,” that woman was a virgin of the house of David. When the promised Savior took flesh and blood that He might bruise the serpent’s head and redeem man, He took not flesh and blood of any royal house among the Gentiles, but of one of the twelve tribes of Israel.
Reader, I know well that these are ancient things. They have been often urged, often alleged, often pressed on the attention of the Churches. I am not ashamed to bring them forward again. I say, that if there be such a thing as gratitude in the heart of man, it is the duty of all Gentile Christians to take special interest in the work of doing good to the Jews.
2. I believe, furthermore, that it is a duty incumbent on all Gentile Christians to be specially careful that they take up stumbling blocks out of the way of Israel, and too that they do nothing to disgust them with Christianity or hinder their conversion. This is a matter which is expressly mentioned in Scripture. There we find Isaiah bidding us, “Take up the stumbling blocks out of the way of God’s people” (Isa. 57:14). Truly the Prophet might well speak of this. No man can look round the Gentile Churches and fail to see that he had cause.
What shall we say of the glaring unholiness and neglect of God’s Ten Commandments which prevail so widely in Christendom? What shall we say of the open unblushing idolatry which offends the eye in all Roman Catholic Churches? What shall we say of the widespread habit of Sabbath-breaking which is eating like a cancer into the heart of the Protestant Churches? What shall we say of the rationalistic mode of interpreting Old Testament history, which has crept so extensively into modern commentaries the system of regarding the histories of Abraham, Jacob, Joseph and the like as so many myths or ingenious fable but not as narratives of facts which really took place? What shall we say of the traditional mode of interpreting Old Testament prophecies, in which so many Christians indulge the system of appropriating all the blessings to the Church of Christ and handing over all the bitter things to poor despised Israel; the system of interpreting all prophecies about Christ’s first advent literally and all prophecies about His second advent figuratively; requiring the Jew to believe the first in the letter and refusing in turn to believe the second, except in what is called (by a sad misnomer) a spiritual sense? What shall we say of all these things but that they are stumbling blocks great stumbling blocks in the way of the conversion of the Jews? What are they all but great barriers between the Jew and Christ, and barriers cast up by Christian hands?
Reader, we must all do our part in aiding to take these stumbling blocks away. Here at least all may help. Here, at any rate, every Gentile Christian can aid the Jewish cause. The more pure and lovely we can make our holy faith, the more we are likely to recommend it to Israel. The more we can check the progress of the Roman apostasy and protest against its idolatries and corruptions, the more likely is the Jew to believe there is something in Christianity. The more we can promote the habit of taking all Scripture in its plain literal sense, the more we are likely to remove prejudices in the minds of honest inquirers in Israel and to make them ready to hear what we have to say.
3. Finally, I believe it is a duty incumbent on all Gentile Christians to use special efforts in order to promote the conversion of the Jews. I say special efforts advisedly. The Jews are a peculiar people and must be approached in a peculiar way.
They are peculiar in their state of mind. They require an entirely different treatment from the heathen. Their objections are not the heathen man’s objections. Their difficulties are not the heathen man’s difficulties. They believe many things which the heathen man never heard of. They have a standard of right and wrong with which the heathen man is utterly unacquainted. Like the heathen they need to be converted. Like the heathen they need to be brought to Christ. But the lines of argument to be pursued with the Jew and the heathen are widely dissimilar. A faithful missionary might do admirably well among the heathen who might find it difficult to reason with a Jew.
They are peculiar in their position in the world. They are not to be found all assembled together, like the Africans at Sierra Leone, or the Hindoos, or New Zealanders, or Chinese. They are emphatically a scattered people, a few in one country and a few in another. An effort to get at them must aim at nothing short of sending missionaries in search of them all over the world.
Circumstances like these appear to me to point out clearly that nothing less than a special effort will ever enable Christians to discharge their debt to Israel. There must be a division of labor in the missionary field. There must be a special concentration of preaching, praying, and loving intercourse on the Jewish people, or the Church of the Gentiles can never expect to do them much spiritual good. Without such special effort the cause of Israel will inevitably be lost sight of in the cause of the whole heathen world. Without such special effort I cannot see how the command of the text can be rightly obeyed.
I leave the whole subject with three remarks, which I pray God to impress on the minds of all into whose hands this address may fall.
1. For one thing, I charge every reader of this address to remember the special blessing which God has promised to all who care for Israel. Whatever a sneering world may say, the Jews are a people “beloved for their fathers’ sake.” Of Jerusalem it is written, “They shall prosper who love thee” (Ps. 122:6). Of Israel it is written, “Blessed is he who blesses thee, and cursed is he who curses thee” (Num. 24:9). These promises are not yet exhausted. We see their fulfillment in the blessing granted to the Church of England since the day when the Jewish cause was first taken up. We see their fulfillment in the peculiar honor which God has put from time to time on individual Christians who have labored especially for the Jewish cause. Charles Simeon, Edward Bickersteth, Robert M’Cheyne, Haldane Stewart, and Dr. Marsh are striking examples of what I mean. Is there anyone that desires God’s special blessing? Then let him labor in the cause of Israel, and he shall not fail to find it.
2. For another thing, I charge every reader of this address never to forget the close connection which Scripture reveals between the time of Israel’s gathering and the time of Christ’s second advent to the world. In one Psalm it is expressly declared, “When the Lord shall build up Zion, He shall appear in His glory” (Ps. 102:16). Where is the true believer who does not long for that blessed day? Where is the true Christian who does not cry from the bottom of his heart, “Thy kingdom come”? Let all such work and give and pray, so that the Gospel may have free course in Israel. The time to favor Zion is closely bound up with the restitution of all things. Blessed indeed, is that work of which the completion shall usher in the second coming of the Lord!
3. Finally, I charge every reader of this address to make sure work of his own salvation. Rest not in mere head-knowledge of prophetical subjects. Be not content with intellectual soundness in the faith. Give diligence to make your own calling and election sure. Seek to know that your repentance and faith are genuine and true. Seek to feel that you are one with Christ and Christ in you, and that you are washed, sanctified, and justified. Then, whether the completion of God’s promises to Israel be near or far off, your own portion will be sure. You will “stand in your lot” safely when the kingdoms of this world are passing away. You will meet Christ without fear when He comes the second time to Zion. You will join boldly in the song, “Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord.” You will sit down with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of God and go out no more.
The substance of this Address was originally preached as the Annual Sermon on behalf of the London Society for promoting Christianity among the Jews, at the Rectory Church, Marylebone, in May, 1858.
- A.M. Toplady
- A.W. Pink
- Albert Barnes
- Andrew Bonar
- Andrew Murray
- C.H. Spurgeon
- F.B. Meyer
- Franz Delitzsch
- George Whitefield
- Gilbert Tennent
- Horatius Bonar
- J.C. Ryle
- John Blair
- John Bunyan
- John Calvin
- John Owen
- John Tennent
- John Wesley
- Jonathan Edwards
- Karl Friedrich Keil
- Matthew Henry
- Robert Murray McCheyne
- Samuel Blair
- William Tennent