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ed, so happiness is set off by comparison : not that there is any regular content to see the destruction of others, but the sense of our own preservation from a common ruin, raises our joy to its highest elevation. The first work of Noah, after his deliverance, was to build an altar, on which to offer the sacrifices of thanksgiving to his preserver. We should imitate his example.
How many nations, unknown to our world, remain in the darkness and shadow of death, now the day-spring from on high häth visited us !” This special favour calls for special thankfulness. Were there any qualities in us to incline God to prefer ús before others, it would lessen our esteem of the benefit. But this distinguishing mercy is one of those free acts of God, for which there is no reason in the objects on which they are exercised, St. Austin calls it “Profundum crucis.” As the lowest part of the cross is under ground, unseen, but the upper part is exposed to sight; so the effects of the divine predestination, the fruits of the cross, are visible, but the reasons are not within our view. When “God divided the world,” and chose Israel for his heritage to receive the promise of the Messiah, and left the rest in thick and disconsolate darkness, there was no apparent cause of this inequality; for they all sprang from the same corrupt root, and equally deserved a final rejection. There was no singular good in them, nor transcendent evil in others. The unaccountable pleasure of God was the sole motive of the different dispensation. Our Saviour breaks forth in an ecstasy of joy, “ I thank thee, O Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that thou hast hid these things from the wise and prudent, and hast revealed them unto babes : even so, Father, for so it seemed good in thy sight,” Luke x. 21. It is the prerogative of God to reveal the secrets of the kingdom to whom he pleases, Mat. xiii. 11. It is an act of pure grace, putting a difference between one nation and another, with the same liberty, as in the creation of the same indigested matter he formed the earth, the dregs of the universe, and the sun and stars the ornaments of the heavens, and the glory of the visible world. How can we reflect on our spiritual obligations to divine grace without a rapture of soul ? The corruption of nature was universal ; our ignorance as perverse, and our manners as profane, as of other nations, and we had been condemned to an eternal night, if the light of life had not graciously shined upon us.
This should warm
our hearts in affectionate acknowledgments to God, who hath “ made known to us the riches of the glory of this mystery, among the Gentiles,” Col. i. 26, 27; and with that revelation the concomitant power of the Spirit, to translate us from the kingdom of darkness into the kingdom of his dear Son." If the publication of the law by the ministry of angels to the Israelites were such a privilege, that it is reckoned their peculiar treasure; "he hath showed his statutes unto Israel; he hath not dealt so with any nation,” Psalm cxlvii. 19, 20; what is the revelation of the gospel by the Son of God himself? For although the law is obscured and defaced since the fall, yet there are some ingrafted notions of it in the human nature ; but there is not the least suspicion of the gospel. The law discovers our, misery, but the gospel alone shows the way to be delivered from it. If an advantage so great and so precious doth not touch our hearts; and in possessing it with joy, if we are not sensible of the engagement the Father of mercies hath laid upon us, we shall be the ungratefullest wretches in the world.
II. This incomprehensible mystery is worthy of our most serious thoughts and study, that we may arrive to a fuller knowledge of it. And to incite us, it will be fit to consider those excellencies, which will render it most desirable.
Knowledge is a quality so eminent, that it truly ennobles one spirit above another. As reason is the singular ornament of the human nature, whereby it excels the brutes ; so in proportion, knowledge, which is the perfection of the understanding, raises those who are possessors of it above others that want it. The testimony of Solomon confirms this, “ Then I saw that wisdom excelleth folly, as far as light excelleth darkness,” Eccles. ii. 13. And according to the nature and quality of knowledge, such is the advantage it brings to us. Now the doctrine of the gospel excels the most noble sciences, as well contemplative as practical.
It excels the conteniplative in the sublimity of the object and in the certainty of its principle.
(1.) In the sublimity and greatness of the object; and this is no less than the highest design of the eternal wisdom, the most glorious work of the great God. In the creation his footsteps appear, in our redemption his image; in the law his justice and holiness, but in the gospel all his perfections shine forth in their brightest lustre. The bare theory of this enriches the mind, and the contemplation of it affects the
soul that is conversant about it, with the highest admiration, and most sincere and lasting delight.
It affects the soul with the highest admiration. The strongest spirits cannot comprehend its just greatness : the understanding sinks under the weight of glory. The apostle who had seen the light of heaven, and had such knowledge as never any man had before, yet, upon considering one part of the divine wisdom, breaks forth in astonishment, “ O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments, and his ways past finding out !” Rom. xi. 33. It is fit when we have spent the strength of our minds in the consideration of this excelling object, and are at the end of our subtilty, 'to supply the defects of our understandings with admiration; as the psalmist expresses himself, Lord, how wonderful are thy thoughts to us-ward !” The angels adore this glorious mystery with an humble reverence, 1 Pet. i. 12. The admiration that is caused by it, is a principal delight of the mind. It is true, the wonder that proceedeth from ignorance, when the cause of some visible effect is not known, is the imperfection and torment of the spirit ; but that which arises from the knowledge of those things which are most above our conception and our hope, is the highest advancement of our minds, and brings the greatest satisfaction to the soul. Now the contrivance of our redemption, was infinitely above the flight of reason and our expectation. When the Lord turned the captivity of Sion, they were as in a dream, Psalm cxxvi. 1. The way of accomplishing it was so incredible, that it seemed rather the picture of fancy, than a real deliverance. And there is far greater reason that the rescuing of us from the powers of hell, and the restoring of us to liberty and glory by Christ, should raise our wonder. The gospel is called a “marvellous light,” upon the account of the objects it discovers, 1 Pet. ii. 9. But such a peryerse judgment there is in men, that they neglect those things which deserve the highest admiration, and spend their wonder on meaner things. Art is more admired than nature; a counterfeit eye of crystal, which hath neither sight nor motion, than the. living eye, the sun of the little world, that directs the whole man. And the effects of nature are more admired, than the sublime and supernatural works of grace; yet these infinitely exceed the other. The world is the work of God's hand, but the gospel is his plot, and the chiefest of all his ways.
What a combination of wonders is there in the great mystery of godliness! That he who fills heaven and earth, should be confined to the virgin's womb; that life should die, and being dead revive! that mercy should triumph without any disparagement to justice ! These are miracles that transcend all that is done in nature. And this appears by the judgment of God himself, who best knows the excellency of his own works ; for whereas upon finishing the first creation, he ordained the seventh day, that reasonable creatures might more solemnly ascribe to him the glory of his attributes, which are visible in the things that are made ; he hath upon the completing of our redemption by the raising of Christ from the dead, made the first day sacred for his service and praise, there being the clearest illustration of his perfections in that blessed work. God is more pleased in the contemplation of the new world, than of the old. The latter by its extraordinary magnificence hath lessened the dignity of the former, as the greater light obscures the less. Therefore the sabbath is changed into the Lord's day. And what a just reproach is it to man that he should be unobservant and' unaffected with this glorious mercy, wherein he may always find new cause of admiration ! “O Lord, how great are thy works! and thy thoughts are very deep! A brutish man knoweth not, neither doth a fool understand this,” Psalm xcii. 5, 6. The admiring of any other thing in comparison of this mystery, is the effect of inconsideration or infidelity.
It produces the most sincere and lasting pleasure. As the taste is to meat, to allure us to feed for the support of our bodies; that is delight to knowledge, to excite the mind to seek after it. But its vast capacity can never be satisfied with the knowledge of inferior things. The pleasure is more in the acquisition, than in the possession of it; for the mind is diverted in the search, but having attained to that knowledge which cannot fill the rational appetite, it is disgusted with the fruits of its travail, and seeks some other object to relieve its languor. From hence it is, that variety is the spring of delight, and pleasure is the product of novelty. We find that the pleasure of the first taste, in learning some. thing new, is always most sensible. The most elegant compositions and excellent discourses, which ravished at the first reading, yet repeated often, are nauseous and irksome. The exercise of the mind on an object fully known, is unprofitable, and therefore tedious; whereas by turning the thoughts
on something else, it may acquire new knowledge. But the apostle tells us that the mystery of our redemption contains all the “ treasures of wisdom and knowledge,” to signify their excellence and abundance: the “ unsearchable riches" of grace are laid up in it. There is infinite variety, and perpetual matter for the inquiry of the most excellent understanding. No created reason is able to reach its height, or sound its depths. By the continual study, and increase in the knowledge of it, the mind enjoys a persevering pleasure, that far exceeds the short vehemence of sensual delights.
(2.) It excels other sciences in the certainty of its principle, which is divine revelation. Human sciences are built upon uncertain maxims, which being admitted with precipitation and not confirmed by sufficient experiments, the mind is satisfied with appearances, instead of real certainty. And from hence it is, that upon severe inquiry into matters of fact, those doctrines which were received in one age are discovered to be false in another. Modern philosophy discards the ancient; but the doctrine of salvation is the “ word of truth,” that came from heaven, and bears the character and marks of its divine descent. It is confirmed by the “demonstration of the Spirit and of power.” It is always the same, unchangeable as God the author, and Christ the object of it, who is the same “yesterday, to day, nad for ever.” And the knowledge which the sincere and enlightened mind hath of it is not uncertain opinion, but a clear, solid, and firm apprehension. It is a contemplation of the glory of God with open face, 2 Cor. iii. 18. This appears by the effects it produces in those that have received the true tincture of it in their souls; they despise all things which carnal men admire, in comparison of this inestimable treasure.
2. The doctrine of the gospel exceeds all practical sciences in the excellency of its end, and the efficacy of the means to obtain it.
The end of it is the supreme happiness of man; the restoring of him to the innocence and excellency of his first ştate. And the means are appointed by infinite wisdom, so that the most insuperable obstacles are removed and these are the justice of God that condemns the guilty, and that strong and obstinate aversion which is in corrupted man from true felicity. Here is a Mediator revealed, who is “able to save to the uttermost;" who hath quenched the wrath of God by the blood of his divine sacrifice; who hath expiated