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IV. APPLICATION. I come now to the application, which will be in these three particulars : that we should hearken to the counsel in the text, and buy of Christ this white raiment. They who obtain this raiment ought to prize it, and likewise to keep it well.
1. Let us hearken to the counsel here given by Christ, and buy of him this white raiment. Let us view him in his life, and in his death. Let us be at the pains of considering seriously the spiritual and heavenly nature of his doctrine, the concern he has shown for our welfare, and the end of all his humiliations and sufferings, which is, that he might "purify unto himself a peculiar people, zealous of good works," Tit. ii. 14. If we attend to these things, we shall be convinced, that he who is destitute of virtue and good works, ought to reckon himself as wretched and miserable in a spiritual sense, as he who is destitute of necessary clothing; and that we must add to a fair and open profession of the principles of religion the lustre of a holy life and conversation. Let us observe St. Paul's exhortation to the Colossians, where he recommends so many virtues: and let us see how we may learn them of Christ, or buy of him this white raiment.
"Put on therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, bowels of mercies, kindness," Col. iii. 12. Labour after a kind and merciful disposition, and let every virtue appear in your conversation. Put them on as your clothing, without which you would not willingly be at any time surprised. And for this end consider that you have experienced great mercy from God, through Christ Jesus. He has brought you out of a state of darkness into great light, and has made you his people, who once were far off. God clothes himself with goodness, as his garment. And the ordinary course of his providence is beneficial to the human race in general: but you have obtained some distinction by being brought into the fellowship of his son Jesus Christ. And are therefore under especial obligations to do those things which are agreeable to his will.
"Put on," particularly, "bowels of mercies." If any among you are afflicted and distressed, do you, who are at ease, and have ability, sympathise with them, bear their burdens, tenderly compassionate their case, and afford them help and relief, proportioned to their exigence.
"Put on" also "kindness." Be not fierce and severe towards any, but be affable in your discourse, courteous in your behaviour: show, in all things, such mildness and tenderness, as by no means to discourage and grieve those you converse with, especially such as are of a broken and afflicted spirit.
"Humbleness of mind." Be willing to condescend, and to behave, as inferiors, toward those who ought to serve and honour you: even as Jesus Christ was among his disciples, and others, "as one that serves," Luke xxii. 27.
"Meekness:" Not resenting every injury done you, but quietly submitting to some ill-treatment, rather than disturb the peace of your society.
"Long-suffering:" Enduring many and repeated offences, without being provoked to wrath and revenge.
Forbearing one another:" Mutually bearing with one another's failings and weaknesses, from which none are entirely exempt.
And forgiving one another if any have a quarrel against you:" And even forgiving and forgetting injuries, and being willing to be reconciled again, though differences may have arisen, and subsisted for some time. Of this also, however great the condescension may seem, you have a pattern in God's dealings with you. And no more is expected from you to others, than you have "Even as Christ forgave you, so do ye.' experienced from Jesus Christ.
"And above all these things put on charity, which is the bond of perfection :" And upon all these put true, and undissembled, and ardent love; which, as a girdle, may encompass and bind you all about, as one body, and secure a complete and amiable harmony and union in the several parts of your society.
By humble and earnest prayer, by a sincere resolution to deny yourselves, as to some present advantages, by often and carefully viewing the example of Jesus, and the whole of his transactions from the beginning to the end, in his humiliation, and abasement on earth, and in his glory and exaltation in heaven, you may buy and obtain of him this white raiment, that you may be clothed, and may walk with him in white, and be among the noble and honourable of his kingdom.
2. They who have obtained this "white raiment," the wedding-garment, ought to prize it. Never therefore suffer yourselves by scoff and ridicule to be put out of countenance in it.' A rich and costly dress may be depreciated by those who want it. And it may excite the envy
of some others. But it fails not to procure respect from many. By this clothing you are in some measure fit for fellowship with God, and Christ, and for the society of perfect spirits.
It will never cause pride in your own hearts, nor excite to a lofty deportment toward others. But the real excellence of it may fill you with a modest consciousness of the worth and dignity which God has put upon you. It is a garment properly your own, which no one can deprive you of without your consent:. which you have obtained by prayer and meditation, watchfulness and circumspection, abstinence and self-denial: which therefore you have received from Christ himself. And by wearing it, and appearing in it, as his disciples, you will do him honour and respect, which he will accept and reward hereafter.
3. Lastly, they who have received from Christ this white raiment, should be careful to keep it well.
Amidst the representation of great afflictions and trials it is said in this book: " Blessed is he that keepeth his garments," Rev. xvi. 15. He who is richly clad, is under especial obligation to a strict care of his garment, that it may be unsullied. In our conversation in this world, without particular care, this garment will contract some disagreeable defilement. And in so rich a dress it cannot be overlooked. As a little folly is observed in him, who is in reputation for wisdom, so every the least spot is discernible in a white garment.
In our walk in this world, amidst a variety of characters, we must have our eye about us, and take heed to ourselves, that our meekness be not tarnished by hastiness of speech or action, and that no spot of pride or ambition, or inordinate affection for earthly things, stain the purity of this raiment.
This may be thought difficult; but it is not impossible. It is taken notice of at the beginning of this chapter, to the advantage of some: "Thou hast a few names even in Sardis, which have not defiled their garments." It is added: " And they shall walk with me in white, for they are worthy." Which also shews, that care and watchfulness, on which so much depends, though somewhat tedious at present, will be fully rewarded in the end.
Well then, "Blessed is he that watcheth, and keepeth his garments, lest he walk naked, and they see his shame," Rev. xvi. 15. Blessed is he who maintains his watch in every station and condition, and in all the dangerous temptations of this life.
In the warm beams of prosperity this white raiment is very apt to fade: and it can scarcely bear them in an intense degree, especially for a long season, and without interruption. In some easy circumstances likewise extraordinary care may be needful, that it be not lost in a deep sleep of security. Happy is he who then "watches, and keeps his garments," that no man rob him of that which is his chief glory and ornament, and which he cannot lose without being filled with shame and confusion.
Happy likewise is he who is provided with the double clothing of fortitude and patience: so that he is not afraid for the cold of adversity, nor for the tempests of affliction and persecution. That is another very dangerous circumstance. But it usually awakens attention, and is often cleansing and purifying. And our Lord adds immediately after the words of the text: "As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten."
In fact, many "have gone through great tribulation, and washed their robes, and made them white in the blood of the Lamb," Rev. vii. 14. By a steady faith in their great Lord and pattern, whom they have been made to resemble in sufferings, they have become like him in meekness and patience. And in those suffering circumstances, the most displeasing and affrighting to carnal apprehensions, their robes have become resplendent: a part of the heavenly glory has seemed to descend upon them: the beams of which have enkindled a flame of divine. love in the hearts of others, which has inspired them with a holy ambition of sharing with those followers of the Lamb in sufferings, and resembling them in virtue: that they may also partake of their uncommon comforts here, and their peculiar rewards hereafter.
THE GREAT MYSTERY OF GODLINESS.
And without controversy great is the mystery of godliness: God was manifest in the flesh, justified in the spirit, seen of angels, preached unto the Gentiles, believed on in the world, and received up into glory.-1 Tim. iii. 16.
Or discerning the coherence we need look no farther back than to the fourteenth verse. "These things," says the apostle, "write I unto thee, hoping to come unto thee shortly. But if I tarry long, that thou mayest know, how thou oughtest to behave thyself in the house of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth. And without controversy great is the mystery of godliness: God was manifest in the flesh."
This clause seems to be added with a view to excite the care, circumspection, and diligence of Timothy: considering the vast importance of the doctrine of the gospel committed to him. Which also justifies the concern of the apostle for the right behaviour of this evangelist, and the care he took to send him proper advices and directions, and engage his due regard to them.
"And without controversy great is the mystery of godliness. As if he had said: Do not therefore think me too minute and particular, or too earnest and importunate in the directions ' which I send unto you. For it is confessed, and acknowledged by all who are acquainted with it," that the mystery of godliness is very great," weighty and important.'
Thus we are coming to the difficult part of our undertaking to explain these words: and indeed it has no small appearance of difficulty. But yet I would suppose, and am apt to think, that the things here intended by the apostle are clear and obvious points, often said in the books of the New Testament, in other places: and understood and acknowledged by all, who are well acquainted with the Christian doctrine, and its evidences, as contained in the scriptures. The obscurity therefore of this text, I presume, arises from some particular expressions here made use of.
It appears to me very likely, that by "the mystery of godliness" is meant the gospel-dispensation, or the doctrine of the gospel in its extent and purity: as containing the design of God concerning the salvation of men, in and through Jesus Christ, without the works, or the ritual and peculiar ordinances of the law of Moses.
We may be confirmed in this interpretation by observing some of the many places, in which the word "mystery" occurs in the epistles of this apostle. Rom. xvi. 25, 26. "Now unto him, that is of power to establish you according to my gospel, and the preaching of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery, which was kept secret since the world began, but now is made manifest, and by the scriptures of the prophets, according to the commandment of the everlasting God, made known to all nations for the obedience of faith."
Eph. i. 9, 10. Having made known unto us the mystery of his will, according to his good pleasure, which he had purposed in himself: that in the dispensation of the fulness of times, he might gather together in one all things in Christ."
Eph iii. 2-5." If ye have heard of the dispensation of the grace of God, which is given me to you-ward: how that by revelation he made known unto me the mystery, -which in other ages was not made known unto the sons of men, as it is now revealed unto his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit: that the Gentiles should be fellow heirs, and of the same body, and partakers of his promise in Christ by the gospel." And afterwards in the same chapter, ver. 8, 9. "Unto me, who am less than the least of all saints, is this grace given, that I should preach among the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ: and to make all men see what is the fellowship of the mystery, which from the beginning of the world has been hid in God."
These texts plainly shew, that by the "mystery," the apostle often means "the" whole "dispensation of the gospel," with its unsearchable riches, and abundant grace and mercy:
always determined in the purpose of God, but fully revealed to men in these late ages of the world.
Once more in the same epistle. Eph. vi. 19, 20. "—and for me, that utterance may be given unto me, that I may open my mouth boldly, to make known the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in bonds: that I may speak boldly as I ought to speak.'
To the like purpose in the epistle to the Colossians, which we have often observed to have a great agreement with that to the Ephesians. Col. i. 25-27. "Whereof I am made a minister, according to the dispensation of God, which is given to me for you, to fulfil the word of God, even the mystery which has been hid from ages and generations, but now is made manifest to his saints: to whom God would make known what is the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles: which is Christ in you the hope of glory."
And ch. ii. 2. "— -that their hearts might be comforted, being knit together in love, and unto all riches of the full assurance of understanding, to the acknowledgment of the mystery of God, even the Father, and of Jesus Christ."
And ch. iv. 3. “Withal praying for us, that God would open to us a door of utterance, to speak the mystery of Christ: for which I am also in bonds.'
And in this very chapter, the third of the first epistle to Timothy, ver. 8, 9. “Likewise must the deacons be grave,--holding the mystery of the faith in a pure conscience."
There can be no doubt then, but that by "the mystery of godliness" the apostle means the evangelical dispensation, or the doctrine of the gospel of Christ, which he oftentimes calls "a mystery, the mystery of the gospel, the mystery of the faith" and here "the mystery of godliness."
To the like purpose in the sixth chapter of this first epistle to Timothy. Ver. 2, 3. "If any man teach otherwise, and consent not to wholesome words, even the words of our Lord Jesus Christ, and to the doctrine which is according to godliness, he is proud, knowing nothing." And the epistle to Titus begins in this manner. "Paul, a servant of God, and an apostle of Jesus Christ, according to the faith of God's elect, and the acknowledging of the truth which is after godliness."
This doctrine of the gospel, the apostle says in the text, is "great," unquestionably so. "And without controversy great is the mystery of godliness.' By great" meaning, as we may reasonably think, every thing, which can be comprehended in that character. It is weighty and important: it is sublime: most true and certain: in all respects worthy of God, and carrying in it the best and kindest design toward men: most likely and most effectual to reclaim them from sin, and bring them to God and true holiness here, and to durable and unmixed happiness hereafter. Upon the comparison too it surpasseth in glory, riches, and grace, all former dispensations. Finally, it may be said to be great, as it was unsearchable, exceeding all that had entered into the heart of man to conceive: though fully determined by the Divine Being, and often hinted and foretold in the revelations of the prophets, in the more early ages of the world.
Thus far we seem to have proceeded with a satisfactory evidence and perspicuity, as to the meaning of the words.
It follows. "God was manifest in the flesh." Here we have a difficulty well known to learned Christians, and the laborious and diligent interpreters of scripture. For whereas we have in our text, "God was manifest in the flesh :" some think we should read, 66 Which was
manifest in the flesh."
In favour of the reading last mentioned it is alleged, that it is found in divers ancient versions, and in several Latin authors. On the other hand, in favour of our present, and more common reading, it is said, that it is in most, and well nigh all Greek manuscripts that we know of. It is likewise observed, that several of the expressions which follow, are more properly used of a person than of a thing. For instance: of" the mystery of godliness," it cannot be so properly said, that "it was manifested in the flesh :" nor that it was "received up into glory." Without deciding this point, I shall now proceed to explain the several following expressions of the text. And I suppose it will appear, that which soever of these two readings we follow, the meaning is much the same.
The first thing here affirmed, whether the subject be "the mystery of godliness,” or “ God,” is," was manifest," or manifested" in the flesh." And certainly, the connection is very good,
understanding this to be spoken of the former of the two. And how it may be said, appears from many of the texts before alleged, when it was shewn, that by "the mystery of godliness," is to be understood the evangelical dispensation, or the doctrine of the gospel. For in those, and other texts, the apostle speaks of "the revelation of the mystery, which was kept secret since the world began, but is now made manifest:" and, "the mystery, which had been hid from ages and generations, but now is made manifest unto his saints. The mystery of godliness,” or the doctrine of the gospel, had been made manifest, by the preaching of John the Baptist, of our Saviour himself, and his apostles after him. It had been manifested "in the flesh," that is, to, and among men.
But take our present, and more common reading. "God was manifest in the flesh." And the expression will not be very difficult to be understood: the same thing being often said, and spoken of in other places of scripture. For God was manifested in the human nature of Jesus Christ. As St. John says at the beginning of his gospel: "And the word was made flesh and dwelled among us." And at the beginning of his first epistle : "For the life was manifested, and we have seen it, and bear witness, and shew unto you that eternal life, which was with the Father, and was manifested unto us." And says St. Paul, Col. ii. 9. "In him dwelleth all the fulness of the Godhead bodily:" that is really and durably, not figuratively and typically, as in a bright cloud or glory, sometimes appearing under the ancient dispensations. The same apostle therefore says of Christ, Col. i. 15, that he is "the image of the invisible God." And Heb. i. 3. "the brightness of his glory, and the express image of his person." For in him appeared the wisdom, the power, the truth, the holiness, the goodness, the mercifulness of God. In the like manner, and for the same reason, Jesus is called " Emmanuel," or "God with us," Matt. i. 23: or, as St Peter expresseth it, Acts x. 38. "Ye know, how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Ghost, and with power: who went about doing good, and healing all that were oppressed of the devil. For God was with him."
And so far as we can perceive, those ancient Christian writers, who read "which," understood this, and also the following particulars, concerning Jesus Christ."
"justified in the spirit," or by the spirit. This is easily understood either of "the mystery of godliness," or of " God manifested in the flesh." For the doctrine of the gospel was proved and attested by many miraculous works. Or, the divine authority and mission of the Lord Jesus were proved and evidenced by the spirit. As John the Baptist declares in his testimony to him. John iii. 34. "He whom God hath sent, speaketh the words of God. For God giveth not the spirit by measure unto him." And our Lord himself, Matt. xii. 28. "If I by the Spirit of God cast out dæmons, then the kingdom of God is come unto you." And compare Luke xi. 20, and John v. 36. "The works, which the Father has given me to finish, the same works that I do, bear witness of me, that the Father hath sent me." And to the like purpose elsewhere.
The whole doctrine of the gospel, the divinity of this dispensation, and all things concerning the Lord Jesus, were confirmed by his resurrection from the dead. As St. Paul says, Rom. i. 4. "Declared to be the Son of God with power by the resurrection from the dead: and also by the plentiful effusion of gifts of the Spirit upon the apostles, and other believers, after his ascension, in conformity to his predictions and promises concerning that matter. So John xvi. 13, 14. "Howbeit, when the Spirit of truth is come, he will guide you into all truth-And he will shew you things to come. He shall glorify me. For he shall receive of mine, and shall shew it unto you." And St. Paul reminds the Corinthians, 1 Cor. ii. 4, that he had preached to them "in demonstration of the Spirit and power." See also 1 Thess. i. 5, 6, and Heb. ii. 3, 4. "How shall we escape if we neglect so great salvation, which at the first began to be spoken by the
Quod. Clar. Lat. Vulg. Syr.Hieron. Fulgentius aliique Latini. Qui tamen omnes cum Græcis in eo consentiunt, quod partem hanc cum sequentibus in Christi personam interpretentur. Mill. in loc.
So Mill. I shall put down here the passages of some early Greek writers, who have referred to this text, and understood it of Jesus Christ.
Οι χαριν απέσειλε λόγον, ἵνα κόσμω φανη ος υπο λαδ
aruaceis, dia años ohwv nyeux deis, uwo εdrwy εTISEUN. Ep. ad Diognel. p. 501. D. Paris.
Ω μυσήριον. Μεθ ημων είδον οι αγγελοι τον Χρισον, προς TEPOY OUX OPWYTES. Clem. A. C. vii. Hypot. citat. ab Ecum. in loc. Vid. Clement. Fragm. ap Potter. p. 1015. et J, Ittig. Bib. PP. p. 162.
Εαν δε ο εμος ιεσες αναλαμβάνεσθαι εν δόξη λέγηται. Orig. Contr. C. 1. 3. p. 129. Cant. 467. C. Bened.
See Vol. i. p. 350, 569.