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ON THE NATURE AND DESIGN OF THE GOSPEL OF CHRIST, AND THE CONSEQUENCES OF NOT BEING PROPERLY ACQUAINTED WITH IT.
AT THE NEW CHAPEL, IN LOWGATE, HULL, DEC. 30, 1787.
"But if our Gospel be hid, it is hid to them that are lost."
1. A MOMENT'S reflection upon the preceding verses, with which this passage of Scripture is closely connected, will cast much light upon it, and assist us to understand its purport. The apostle, in the foregoing chapter, having drawn a comparison between the gospel and the law, the Christian and Mosaic economy, and shown the superiority of the former to the latter, proceeds, in the beginning of this chapter, to speak of the conduct of himself and his fellowapostles, who were entrusted with the dispensation of this gospel.
2. Seeing then (says he) we have received this ministry, a mínistry so superior to that wherewith Moses was entrusted, more excellent in its nature, and more beneficial in its effects, transforming all who receive it into the image of God; as we have obtained mercy to be accounted faithful, as God has in mercy accepted us as his servants in the gospel, and supported us in our work; we faint not, are not discouraged, do not desist from the glorious enterprise : But have renounced the hidden things of dishonesty, whatever a person has need to hide or be ashamed of; not walking in craftiness, not making use of guile, fraud, or low cunning, nor handling the word of God deceitfully, nor corrupting it with impure mix
tures of our own, (as vintners sometimes mix their wines with baser liquors,) not adding to it, diminishing from it, nor striving to accommodate it to the taste of our hearers, but by manifestation of the truth, by speaking the whole truth clearly and plainly, commending ourselves to every man's conscience, appealing to the consciences of sinners for the truth of what we say, or rather addressing ourselves to their consciences, aiming principally to convince and awaken these; and all this in the sight of God, knowing he is a witness to our behaviour in his work, and will shortly call us to give an account, and therefore desiring to approve ourselves to him.
3. But if, notwithstanding the excellency of the doctrine we teach, and the plain, clear, and powerful manner in which we deliver ourselves, our gospel also (for so it should be translated,) as well as the law, be hid, (xexaλvuevov, veiled or concealed, as the face of Moses by the veil, to which he alludes) "it is hid to them that are lost, in whom the god of this world hath blinded the minds of them that believe not, lest the light of the glorious gospel of Christ should shine unto them." The Jews in general were ignorant of the law, and their ignorance was attended with the most fatal consequences; yet still they might have been saved by becoming acquainted with the gospel; but if they were strangers to the gospel also, there was no remedy for them, but they were lost without hope of recovery. The same is affirmed concerning all mankind in general, as well as the Jews in particular. If any child of man, to whom the gospel is plainly and powerfully preached, (for what have we to do to judge those to whom it is not preached?) still remain ignorant of its nature, disobedient to its commands, and unexperienced in its privileges and blessings, the apostle pronounces in the most express terms that he is lost, lost now, and in the way to be lost for ever.
4. Surely then it highly concerns us, to whom this gospel is preached, thoroughly to understand it and experience its efficacy, and to be well assured that we do so: Surely if we are wise, we shall not rest in an uncertainty here, shall not satisfy ourselves with any thing short of a clear assurance that we are savingly acquainted with the gospel of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.-Now with a view to assist you in this important matter, I beg your candid and serious attention while I inquire into
I. The nature and design of the gospel.
II. The consequences of being ignorant of it.
And first, I am to inquire into the nature and design of the gospel of Christ.
1. It is well known that the Greek word which we translate gospel, means good news, or glad tidings. Such the gospel undoubtedly is to every child of man; glad tidings of great joy unto all people. Such all account it to be who are rightly informed concerning it, who know its worth and their want of it. For it is tidings of eyes to the blind, feet to the lame, health to the sick; tidings of light to them that sit in darkness, of strength to such as are weak and helpless, of liberty to those bound in misery and iron, and of pardon and life to persons condemned to die. In other words, it is tidings of forgiveness of sins, of holiness, and of heaven, to such as are notoriously guilty, utterly depraved, and altogether hell-deserving; tidings of the highest honour and most consummate happiness to persons sunk into the greatest depth of infamy and wretchedness. In the gospel we learn that God hath visited and redeemed his people, and hath raised up an horn of salvation for us in the house of David his servant;-salvation from our enemies and from the hand of all that hate us;-that we might serve him without fear in righteousness and holiness before him all the days of our life." In short, by the gospel glory is brought to God in the highest, peace is proclaimed upon earth, and the good will of heaven is manifested to men; for it discovers to us a Saviour who is Christ the Lord, divinely appointed, and sufficiently qualified to rescue fallen man from sin and misery, and reinstate him in the favour and image of God.
2. But I must be a little more particular. The whole gospel proceeds on this supposition; that mankind are in a fallen state, that they have lost the favour and image of God, and are by nature ignorant, sinful, guilty, and helpless: " that there is none that understandeth, that all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God; that the whole world are guilty before God, and that we are all without strength." On this foundation the gospel is built: take away this, and it has nothing to support it. Deny the fall of man, his original depravity, the one source of all his actual transgressions, and you deny the whole gospel of Christ, all that deserves the name of gospel or glad tidings. For surely, to deny that we are sick, is to deny we have any need of a physician; and if we are not guilty and condemned, he does but insult us who offers us a pardon. Let then the secret infidels of our day speak out; let
* Luke i. 68-75.
Rom, iii. 11-23, and v. Q
them tell us in plain terms that they disbelieve the gospel of Christ; let them openly avow their sentiments, and reject Christianity altogether. This would be acting a far more honourable part, (and they too are men of honour!) than under colour of friendship, and with professions of regard, slily to stab it in the dark, and cowardly to endeavour that in secret which they dare not attempt openly.
3. Taking it for granted, then, that mankind are lost, the gospel proposes their restoration. It is exactly suited to our case it is just such a dispensation as we want: it is a remedy every way adequate to our disease, It offers us all that we lost in Adam, and much more than we ever had. It shows us how we may escape sin, and death, and hell; and how we may recover holiness and heaven, the favour and image of God here, and the enjoyment of his glory for ever hereafter."
4. But all this will appear more manifest, if we consider, a little, the short but full account the apostle has given us of the gospel in the preceding chapter, where he compares it with the law. Ver. 9, he calls the law, the ministration of condemnation, and the gospel the ministration of righteousness. By the law there, he principally means the moral law, which alone was written and engraven on stones, ver. 7. and this he calls the ministration of condemnation, because it condemns mankind for their violation of it. Had we observed and kept it in all points, at all times, and in all respects, perfectly, universally, and constantly, instead of condemning, it would have acquitted and rewarded us: For the law saith, He that doeth these things, shall live by them. But because we have all violated in one or more points, (and he that offends, though only in one point, is guilty of all,t) therefore it condemns us all. And hence the apostle declares, As many as are of the works of the law, (or seek to be justified by them,) are under the curse, for it is written, Cursed is every one that continueth not in all things which are written in the book of the law to do them.
5. Such is the condition of all men by nature. All having sinned and come short of the glory of God, all are guilty before God, children of wrath, and under sentence of condemnation to the second death, the lake that burneth with fire and brimstone. And the law, considered in itself, in its precepts and penalties, knows no mercy, but denounces judgment without mercy. It provides no way of escape. But the gospel does: it is a ministration of righteousness:
it shows us how we may be pardoned and accepted consistently with the justice and truth of God; how we may be delivered from the curse of the law, and yet the authority of it be preserved inviolate. Therein the " day-spring from on high hath visited us, to give light to us who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, and to guide our feet into the way of peace."* For therein the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith.† God's method of justifying sinners by faith in the righteousness of Christ. Therein we learn that "God made Christ sin (or a sin-offering) for us, though he knew no sin, that we might be made the righteousness of God in him :" that God hath set him forth to be a propitiation through faith in his blood, to declare his righteousness (both justice and mercy) for the remission of sins that are past :§ that Christ hath redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us."|| Hence it is, that, notwithstanding our guilt and impotence, we may be "justified freely by his grace through the redemption that there is in Jesus;" yea, God can "be just, and yet the justifier of him that believeth in Jesus ;" he can pardon and accept the sinner, without any impeachment of his divine perfections, or any derogation from the authority of his holy law.
6. On this ground it is, that the gospel offers us a free, full, and universal pardon for all our past offences. It assures us, that " God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself, not imputing their trespasses to them, and that he hath committed to his apostles the word of reconciliation." They, therefore, according to the commission Christ had given them, beseeching sinners to be reconciled to GOD, not only preached repentance, but also remission of sins in his name among all nations: In his name they offered, and that to all without exception,
"Pardon for infinite offence? and pardon
By means that speak its value infinite!
A pardon bought with blood! with blood divine!
* Luke i. 78.
And in order to the enjoyment of this pardon, they required nothing of mankind but repentance towards God, and faith, living faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, both which they represented as the
↑ Rom. i. 17.
12 Cor. v. 21.
2 Cor. v. 19.
§ 2 Rom. iii. 25.