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had suffered for us more than ever one friend suffered for another, or a father for a son, or than the strength and patience of an angel can endure; who would not be struck with horror at the thought of that poison which required such a dreadful cure? And the benefit we receive in so costly a way, is justly magnified by us. Now what is more apt to inflame our love to God, than the admirable expression of his love to us, in that with the most precious blood he ransomed us from hell? How did it endear obedience, that God had sacrificed his Son to keep us from acts of hostility ? So that the grace of the gospel is so far from indulging sin, that it gives the most deadly wound to it: especially when the tenor of the new covenant is, that the condemned creature, in order to receive pardon and the benefits that are purchased, must receive the Benefactor, with the most entire consent, for his Prince and Saviour. The law of faith requires us to submit to the sceptre, as well as to depend upon his sacrifice. The gospel is a conditional act of oblivion, that none may venture to sin upon confidence of pardon.
And since the occasion of the fall was from a conceit, that man could better his estate by complying with the tempter, and obtain a more desirable happiness in the creature than in the favour of God; his recovery is by revealing to him wherein true blessedness consists, and giving him an assurance that he may obtain it; for man will never subject himself to God as his highest Lord, till he looks on him as his last end and sovereign good. Now the gospel offers to us the most effectual means to convince man of the folly of his choice in making the creature his happiness : for the Son of God, who was heir of all things, during his continuance in the world, was in the perpetual exercise of self-denial. He lived a despised life and died an ignominious death, to discover to us, that as the miseries of this life cannot make us truly miserable, so the prosperities of it cannot make us truly happy. Besides, how is it possible that the wretched enjoyment of this world should be the blessedness for which he spent his sweat, his tears, his blood ? The rich price he laid down doth most powerfully convince us, that our felicity is infinitely more valuable than all earthly things, and can be no less than the fruition of God himself. Thus the divine wisdom hath so ordered the way of our salvation, that as mercy and justice in God, so holiness and comfort may be perfectly united in the reasonable creature.
1. What a superlative degree of praise and thankfulness is due to God, for revealing his eternal and compassionate counsel in order to our salvation !
The fall of man was so wounding and deadly, that only an infinite understanding could find out the means for his recovery. And if that mercy which moved the Lord to ordain the remedy, had not discovered it, a thick cloud of despair had covered mankind, being for ever unable to conceive the way of our redemption. It is a mystery which "eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, nor hath entered into the heart of man to conceive," 1 Cor. ii. 9. All human knowledge is acquired by two sorts of faculties; the external and internal. Of the first, sight and hearing are the most spiritual, and convey the knowledge of the most worthy objects; they are the senses of discipline; the other three are immersed in matter, and are incapable to make such clear discoveries. Besides those impressions that are made upon the senses, we may form some ideas in the imagination; upon which the mind reflecting may argue and discourse: thus far only the light and vigour of the understanding can go; so that the apostle declares, that the whole plot of the gospel was without the compass of our most searching faculties.
This will be evident by considering,
1. There was no discovery of it in the creation. The voice of the heavens instructs us concerning the being of God, but not in the secrets of his will. The economy of man's redemption is the merciful design of God, which hath no connexion with the existence of the creatures, but depends only upon his good pleasure. It is as impossible to read the divine decrees in the volume of the world, as for the eye to discover a sound, which hath neither figure, colour, nor visible motion. Besides the glorious nature of God in three persons, which is the foundation of this mysterious mercy, is not made known by the visible frame of the universe. It is true, in all external works the three persons are equally concerned: being of one essence, they are of one efficacy; and the essential perfections of the Deity, as they concur, so they are evident in the production of all things. The first motive is goodness; that which orders and directs, is wisdom; that
which executes, is power, Rom. i. 20. And the several ranks of creatures, according to their state, reflect an honour on their Author. Things endued with life, declare him to be the fountain of life, and intellectual creatures represent him to be the Father of lights. But the personal being, as personal, operating nothing out of the divine nature, there is no resemblance in the world that expresses the distinction, propriety, and singularity of the persons, so as to discover them to the human understanding. Those deeper mysteries of the Deity are made known only by the word of God.
2. It is above the strain and reach of natural reason to attain the knowledge of it. There are seminal sparks of the law in the heart of man, Rom. ii. 15; some common principles of piety, justice, and charity, without which the world would soon disband and fall into confusion ; but there is not the least presumption or conjecture of the contrivance of the gospel. Though misery sharpens the mind and makes it more ingenious to find out ways of deliverance, yet here reason was utterly at a loss. How could it ever enter into the thoughts of the Israelites, that by erecting a brazen serpent upon a pole and looking towards it, the wounds made by the fiery serpents should be healed ? And how should guilty man find out a way to satisfy infinite justice by the sufferings of a Mediator, and to heal the wounded spirit by believing on him? The most inquiring reason could never have thought of the wonders of the incarnation, that a virgin should conceive, and a God be born; or of the death of the Prince of life, and the resurrection, and ascension of the Lord of glory.
We may see how impossible it is for the natural understanding to discover the mystery of redemption, when those that had the highest reputation for wisdom were ignorant of the creation. The philosophers were divided in. nothing more, than in their account of the world's original. Some imagined it to proceed from water, others from fire; some from order, others from confusion; some to be from eternity, others in time. If the soul's eye be so weakened as not to see that eternal power which is so apparent in its effects, much less could it pierce into the will and free determinations of God, of which there is not the least intimation or shadow in the things that are made. This wisdom comes from above, and “was hidden from ages and generations,” Col. i. 26. It is called the “mystery of Christ,” Ephes. iii. 4; he is the object and revealer of it: the “mystery of
the faith,” the discovery of which was by pure revelation, 1 Tim. iii. 9 ;-the “mystery of his will," an inviolable secret, till he was pleased to make it known, Ephes. i. 9. Were the human understanding as clear as it is corrupt, yet it cannot, by the strength of discourse, arrive at the knowledge of it. Supernatural revelation was necessary to discover it to the angels. The thoughts of men are a secret, into which the Creator alone had right to enter, 2 Chron. vi. 30, it being his prerogative to search the heart; the angels conjecture only, from the dispositions of men, from outward circumstances, from the images in the fancy, and from material impressions on the blood and spirits, what are the thoughts of the heart: and much less can they discover the counsel of God himself. The apostle tells us, to principalities and powers in heavenly places, by the church, the manifold wisdom of God is made known, Ephes. iii. 10. By the first coming of Christ and the conversion of the world, the depths of the divine wisdom were opened, and there remains much undiscovered, which his second coming shall gloriously make known. Before the first, they understood not the foundation; till the second, not the perfection of our recovery. Briefly; the Spirit that searches the mysterious counsel of God, is the alone intelligencer of heaven, that reveals them to the world, 1 Cor. ii. 10. And the more to incite us with sincere and humble thankfulness to acknowledge this invaluable mercy, it will be useful to reflect on the state of the heathen world, who are entirely ignorant of this mystery.
The apostle describes the case of the Gentiles in such terms as argue it to be extremely dangerous, if not desperate ; their understanding was darkened, being alienated from the life of God, through the ignorance that is in them;" they
without Christ, aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, strangers from the covenants of promise, without hope," Ephes. ii. 12; iv. 18. They had no sense of their misery, no expectation, nor desire of mercy. Not only the barbarous and savage, but the polished and civilized nations are called ãdeos, being without the knowledge of the true God and of a Saviour. Philosophy never made one believer. And as the want of a sovereign remedy exposes a man that hath a mortal disease to certain ruin, so the single ignorance of the gospel leaves men in a state of perdition. It is true, where the faculties are not capable, or the object is not revealed, God
doth not impute the want of knowledge as a crime; but sal'vation is obtained only by the covenant of grace, which is founded in the satisfaction of the Redeemer; and it is by the knowledge of him that he justifies many, Isa. liii. 11. God would have all men saved by coming “to the knowledge of the truth ;" that is, the doctrine of the gospel, so called in respect to its excellency, being the most profitable that ever was revealed, 1 Tim. ii. 4. The infants of believers are saved by special privilege, for the merits of Christ, without any apprehension of him; but others who are come to the use of reason, are made partakers of blessedness by the knowledge of God in Christ; “This is life eternal, that they might know thee, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom thou hast sent," John xvii. 3. The sun quickens some creatures by its vital influences, which are buried in the caves of the earth and never see the light, but the Sun of righteousness illuminates all whom he saves. What degree of knowledge is nocessary of the dignity of his person and the efficacy of his mediation, I cannot determine; but that the heathens who are absolutely strangers to the holy means of our recovery. and do not believe on God reconciled in the Son of his love, should partake of saving mercy; I do not see any thing in the gospel which is the revelation of God's will concerning our salvation, upon which to build a rational hope. Indeed if any heathen were seriously penitent, God is so merciful, that he would rather despatch an angel from heaven, saying, “Deliver him from going down into the pit, I have found a ransom ;" or by some extraordinary way instruct him in the necessary knowledge of our Saviour, than suffer him to perish. But repentance as well as forgiveness, is purchased and dispensed by our Saviour alone; and that any receive this benefit, who are entirely ignorant of the Benefactor, we cannot tell. Now this should raise our esteem of the discriminating favour of God to us.
What a flood of errors and miseries covered the earth, when
of God that bringeth salvation” first appeared ? The deluge was universal, and so was the destruction. Those that were most renowned for wisdom, the philosophers of Greece and the orators of Rome, were swallowed up, only the church of Christ is triumphant over the merciless waters. When Noah, from the top of the mountain, saw the sad remains of that dreadful inundation, what a lively sense of joy possessed his breast ! As misery is heighten