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sin by the value of his death, and purifies the soul by the virtue of his life, that it may consent to its own salvation. No less than a divine power could perform this work. From thence the superlative excellency of evangelical knowledge doth arise ; all other knowledge is unprofitable without it, and that alone can make us perfectly blessed ; " This is life eternal, to know thee, and Jesus Christ whom thou hast sent," John xvii. 3.
I will briefly consider how ineffectual all other knowledge is, whether natural, political, or moral, to recover us from our misery.
The most exact insight into natural things leaves the mind blind and poor, ignorant of happiness and the way to it. Solomon, who had an extraordinary measure of natural knowledge and was able to set a just price upon it, tells us, that the increase of knowledge was attended with proportionable degrees of sorrow, Eccles. i. 18; for the more a man knows, the more he discerns the insufficiency of that knowledge to supply his defects and satisfy his desires : he was therefore weary of his wisdom, as well as of his folly. The devils know more than the profoundest philosophers; yet their knowledge doth not alleviate their torments. It is not only insufficient to prevent misery, but will more expose it by enlarging the faculties, and making them more capable of torment. It is the observation of St. Ambrose, that when God discovered the creation of the world to Moses, he did not inform him of the greatness of the heavens, the number of the stars, their aspects and influences; whether they derive their light from the sun, or have it inherent in their own bodies ; from whence eclipses are caused ; how the rainbow is painted; how the winds fly in the air; or the causes of the ebbing and flowing of the sea : but so much as might be a foundation of faith and obedience, and left the rest, “ quasi marcescentis sapientiæ vanitates," as the vanities of perishing wisdom. The most knowing philosopher, though encompassed with these sparks, yet if ignorant of the Redeemer, shall lie down in sorrow for ever.
And as natural, so political knowledge, in order to the governing of kingdoms and states, hath no power to confer happiness upon man. It concerns not his main interest ; it is terminated within the compass of this short life, and provides not for death and eternity. The wisdom of the world is folly in a disguise, a specious ignorance, which, although
it may secure the temporal state, yet it leaves us naked and exposed to spiritual enemies “ who war against the soul.”
And all the moral knowledge which is treasured up in the books of the heathens, is insufficient to restore man to his original integrity and felicity. Reason sees that man is ignorant and guilty, mortal and miserable; that he is transported with vain passions, and tormented with accusations of conscience; but it could not redress these evils. Corrupt nature is like an imperfect building that lies in rubbish, the imperfection is visible, but not the way how to finish it; for through the ignorance of the first design, every one follows his own fancy; whereas when the architect comes to finish his own project, it appears regular and beautiful. Thus the various directions of philosophers to recover fallen man out of his ruins, and to raise him to his first state, were vain. Some glimmerings they had, that the happiness of the reasonable nature consisted in its union with God; but in order to this, they propounded such means as were not only ineffectual, but opposite. Such is the pride and folly of carnal wisdom, that to bring God and man together, it advances man and depresses God. The Stoics ascribed to their wise man those prerogatives whereby he equalled their supreme god. They made him the architect of his virtue and felicity, and to vie with Jupiter himself, to be one of his peers.
Others reduced the gods to live like men, and men like beasts, by placing happiness in sensual pleasures. Thus, instead of curing, they fomented the hereditary and principal diseases of mankind, pride and concupiscence, which at first caused the separation of man from God, and infinitely increase the distance between them; for what sins are more contrary to the majesty and purity of God than pride, which robs him of his honour; and carnal lust, which turns a man into a beast? Besides, all their inventions to expiate sin, to appease the Deity and make him favourable, to calm the conscience, were frivolous and unprofitable. And their most generous principles and accurate precepts wcre short of that purity and perfection wherewith moral duties are performed to God and men. Briefly; they wasted their candle in vain, in searching for the way to true happiness.
But God who created man for the enjoyment of himself, hath happily accomplished his eternal decree, by the work of our redemption, wherein his own glory is most visible. And the gospel which reveals this to us, humbles whom it
justifies, and comforts those that were condemned; it abases more than the law, but without despair; and advances more than nature could, but without presumption. The Mediator takes away the guilt of our old sins, and our inclination to new sins. We are not only restored, but exalted, made “heirs of God, joint-heirs with Christ,” Rom. viii. 17. For these reasons the apostle sets so high a value upon the heavenly doctrine, that reveals a Saviour to the undone world. He desires to “know nothing but Jesus Christ, and him crucified,” 1 Cor. ii. 2. He despiseth all pharisaical and philosophical learning “in comparison of the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus,” Phil. iii. 8. Other knowledge swells the mind, and increases the esteem of ourselves ; this gives us a sincere view of our state. It discovers our misery in its causes, and the almighty mercy that saves us. Other knowledge enlightens the understanding without changing the heart, but this inspires us with the love of God, with hatred of sin, and makes us truly better. In seeking after other knowledge, the mind is perplexed by endless inquiries; here it is at rest, as the wavering needle is fixed when turned to its beloved star. Ignorance of other things may be without any real damage to us, for we may be directed by the skilful how to preserve life and estate ; but this knowledge is absolutely necessary to justify, sanctify, and save us. All other knowledge is useless at the hour of death; then the richest stock of learning is lost, the vessel being split wherein the treasure was laid ; but this pearl of inestimable price is both the ornament of our prosperity, and the support of our adversity. A little ray of this is infinitely more desirable, than the light of all human sciences in their lustre and perfection.
And what an amazing folly is it, that men who are possessed with an earnest passion of knowing, should waste their time and strength in searching after things, the knowledge of which cannot remove the evils that oppress them, and be careless of the saving knowledge of the gospel! Were there no other reason to diminish the esteem of earthly knowledge, but the difficulty of its acquisition, that error often surprises those who are searching after truth, this might check our intemperate pursuit of it. Sin hath not only shortened our understandings, but our lives, so that we cannot arrive to the perfect discovery of inferior objects. But suppose that one, by his vast mind, should comprehend all created things, from the centre of the earth to the circumference of the heavens,
and were not savingly enlightened in the mystery of our redemption, with all his knowledge he would be a prey to Satan, and increase the triumphs of hell. The historian Pliny upbraids the Roman luxury, that with so much cost and hazard they should send to foreign parts for trees that were beautiful but barren, and produced a shadow only without fruit. With greater reason we may wonder, that men should, with the expense of their precious hours, purchase harren curiosities, which are unprofitable to their last end. How can a condemned criminal, who is in suspense between life and death, attend to study the secrets of nature and art, when all his thoughts are taken up how to prevent the execution of the sentence ? And it is no less than a prodigy of madness, that men who have but a short and uncertain space allowed them to escape the wrath to come, should rack their brains in studying things impertinent to salvation, and neglect the knowledge of a Redeemer. Especially when there is so clear a revelation of him: the righteousness of faith doth not command us to ascend to the heavens, or descend into the deep to make a discovery of it; but the word is nigh us, that discovers the certain way to a happy immortality, Rom. x. 6, 7. Seneca, a philosopher and a courtier, valued his being in the world only upon this account, that he might contemplate the starry heaven. He saw only the visible beauty of the firmament, but was ignorant of the glory within it, and of the way that leads to it; yet, to our shame, he speaks that the sight of it made him despise the earth, and without the contemplation of the celestial bodies, he esteemed his continuance in the world not the life of a man, but the toil of a beast. Quid erat cur in numero viventium me positum esse gauderem ? an ut cibos et potum percolarem ? ut hoc corpus casurum, ac fluidum, periturumque nisi subinde impleatur, farcirem ? et viverem ægri minister ? ut morti timerem cui omnes nascimur? Detrahe hoc inæstimabile bonum; non est vita tanti ut sudem, ut æstuem. O quam contempta res est homo nisi supra humana se erexerit !" But what transports had he been in, if he had been acquainted with the contrivance of our redemption, the admirable order of its parts, and the beauty that results from the composition of the whole? But we that with open face may in the glass of the gospel behold the glory of the Lord, turn away our eyes from it to vanity. Here the complaint is more just, “ Ad sapientiam quis accedit ? quis dignam judicat, nisi quam in tran
situ noverit ?” We content ourselves with slight and transient glances, but do not seriously and fixedly consider this blessed design of God, upon which the beginning of our happiness in this, and the perfection of it in the next life, is built. Let us provoke ourselves by the example of the angels who are not concerned in this redemption as man is; for they continued in their fidelity to their Creator, and were always happy in his favour, and where there is no alienation between parties, reconcilement is unnecessary; yet they are students with us in the same book, and unite all their powers in the contemplation of this mystery: they are represented stooping to pry into these secrets, to signify their delight in what they know, and their desire to advance in the knowledge of them, 1 Pet. i. 12. With what intention then should we study the gospel, who are the subject and end of it!
THE CAUSES AND UNREASONABLENESS OF UNBELIEF.
The simple speculation of this glorious mystery will be of no profit without a real belief of it, and a cordial acceptance of salvation upon the terms which the divine wisdom prescribes. The gospel requires the obedience of the understanding, and of the will; unless it obtains a full possession of the soul, there is no saving efficacy derived from it. And such is the sublimity and purity of the object, that till reason is sanctified and subdued, it cannot sincerely entertain it. I will therefore distinctly consider the opposition which carnal reason hath made against it; and show how just it is that the human understanding should, with reverence, yield up itself to the word of God, that reveals this great mystery to us.
1. The apostle tells us,that Jews and Gentiles conspired in the contempt of the gospel, 1 Cor. i. 22. Reason cannot hear without great astonishment, for the appearing contradiction between the terms, that God should be made man, and the Eternal die. The Jews esteemed it an intolerable blasphemy, and without any process of law were ready to stone the Lord Jesus, that, being a man, he should make himself equal with God, John x. 33. And they upbraided him in his sufferings that he could