Romans - Introduction
LECTURES ON THE ROMANS.
IT is possible to conceive the face of our world over-spread with a thick and midnight darkness, and without so much as a particle of light to alleviate it, from any one quarter of the firmament around us. In this case, it were of no avail to the people who live in it, that all of them were in possession of sound and perfect eyes. The organ of sight may be entire, and yet nothing be seen from the total absence of external light among the objects on every side of us. Or in other words, to bring about this perception of that which is without, it is not enough that we have the power of vision among men; but, in addition to this, there must be a visibility in the trees, and the houses, and the mountains, and the living creatures, which are now in the ordinary discernment of men.
But, on the other hand, we may reverse the supposition. We may conceive an entire luminousness to be extended over the face of nature - while the faculty of sight was wanting among all the individuals of our species. In this case, the external light would be of as little avail towards our perception of any object at a distance from us, as the mere possession of the sense of seeing was in the former instance. Both must conspire to the effect of our being rendered conversant with the external world through the medium of the eye. And if the power of vision was not enough, without a visibility on the part of the things which are around us, by God saying let there be light - as little is their visibility enough, without the power of vision stamped as an endowment by the hand of God, on the creatures whom He has formed.
Now we can conceive that both these defects or disabilities, in the way of vision, may exist at the same time - or that all the world was dark, and that all the people in the world were blind. To emerge out of this condition - there must be a twofold process begun and carried forward, and at length brought to its full and perfect termination. Light must be poured upon the earth, and the faculty of seeing must be conferred upon its inhabitants. One can imagine, that, instead of the light being made instantaneously to burst upon us in its highest splendour, and, instead of the faculty being immediately bestowed upon us in full vigour to meet and to encounter so strong a tide of effulgency - that both these processes were conducted in a way that was altogether gradual - that the light, for example, had its first weak glimmering; and that the eye, in the feebleness of its infancy, was not overcome by it - that the light advanced with morning step to a clearer brilliancy; and that the eye, rendered able to bear it, multiplied the objects of its sight, and took in a wider range of perception - that the light shone at length unto the perfect day and that the eye, with the last finish upon its properties and its powers, embraced the whole of that variety which lies within the present compass of human contemplation. We must see that if one of these processes be gradual, the other should be gradual also. By shedding too strong a light upon weak eyes, we may overpower and extinguish them. By granting too weak a light to him who has strong eyes, we make the faculty outstrip the object of its exercise, and thus incur a waste of endowment. By attempering the one process to the other, we maintain, throughout all the stages, that harmony which is so abundantly manifested in the works of Nature and Providence, between man as he actually is, and the circumstances by which-man is actually surrounded.
These preliminary statements will we trust be of some use for illustrating the progress, not of natural, but of spiritual light, along that path which forms ,successive history of our world. Whatever discernment Adam had of the things of God in Paradise, the fall, which he experienced was a fall into the very depths of the obscurity of midnight. The faculties he had in a state of innocence, made him able to perceive, that the Creator, who formed him, took pleasure in all that He had formed; and rejoiced over them so long as He saw that they were good. IBut when they ceased to be good, and became evil - when sin had crept into our world in the shape of a novelty as yet unheard, and as yet unprovided for - when the relation of man to his Maker was not merely altered, but utterly and diametrically reversed - when, from a loyal and affectionate friend, he had become at first a daring, and then a distrustful and. affrighted rebel - Adam may, when a sense of integrity made all look bright and smiling and serene around him, have been visited from Heaven with the light of many high communications; nor could he feel at a loss to comprehend, how He, who was the Fountain of moral excellence, should cherish, with a Father's best and kindest regards, all those whom He had filled and beautified and blest with its unsullied emanations: But, after the gold had become dim, how He whose eye was the eye of unspotted holiness could look upon it with complacency - after the sentence had been incurred, how, while truth and unchangeableness were the attributes of God, it ever could be reversed by the lips of Him who pronounced it - after guilt with all its associated terrors had changed to the view of our first parents the aspect of the Divinity, how the light of His countenance should ever beam upon them again with an expression of love or tenderness These were:the mysteries which beset and closed and shrouded. in thickest darkness,. the understandings of. those who had just passed out of innocence into sin.
Till God made this first communication, there was no external light, to alleviate that despair and dreariness which followed the first visitation of a feeling so painful and so new as the consciousness of evil. And, if the agitations of the heart have any power to confuse and to unsettle the perceptions of the understanding - if remorse and perplexity and fear, go to disturb the exercise of all our judging and all our discerning faculties - if, under the engrossment of one great and overwhelming apprehension, we can neither see with precision nor contemplate with steadiness - above all, if, under the administration of a righteous God, there be a constant alliance between spiritual darkness and a sense of sin unpardoned or sin unexpiated - Then may we be sure that an obscurity of the deepest character lay upon the first moments in the history of sinful man; and which required both light from Heaven upon his soul, a renovation of its vitiated and disordered faculties, ere it could be effectually dissipated.
From this point then, the restoration of spiritual light to our benighted world takes its commencement - when Adam was utterly blind; and the canopy ever his head, was palled in impenetrable darkness. To remove the one disability, was in itself to do nothing - to remove the other disability, was in itself to do nothing. Both must be removed before Adam could again see. Both may have been removed instantaneously; and by one fiat of Omnipotence, such a perfection of spiritual discernment may have been conferred on our first parents, aad such a number of spiritual truths have been made by a direct communication from Heaven to stand around him, as in a single moment would have ushered him into all the splendours of a full and flushed revelation. But this has not been God 's method in His dealings with a sinful world. Spiritual light and spiritual discernment, were not called forth to meet each ether, in all the plenitude of an unclouded brilliancy, at the bidding of His immediate voice. The outward truth has been dealt out by a gradual process of revelation - and the inward perception of it has been made to maintain a corresponding pace through a process equally gradual. A greater number of spiritual objects has been introduced, from one time to another, into the field of visibility - and the power of spiritual vision has from one age to another been made to vary and to increase along with them.
Those truths, which make up the body of our written revelation, may be regarded as so many objects on which visibility has been conferred by so many successive communications of light from Heaven. They were at first few in number; and these few were offered to mankind, under the dieguise of a rather vague and extended generality. The dawn of this eternal revelation was marked by the solitary announcement, given to our outcast progenitors, that the seed of the woman should bruise the head of the serpent. To this, other announcements were added in the progress of ages - and even the great truth, which lay enveloped in the very first of them, had a growing illumination cast upon it in the lapse of generations. The promise given to Adam, brightened into a more cheering and intelligible hope, when renewed to Abraham, in the shape of an assurance, that, through one of his descendants, all the families of the earth were to be blest; and to Jacob, that Shiloh was to be born, and that to Him the gathering of the people should be; and to Moses, that a great Prophet was to arise like unto himself; and to David, that one of his house was to sit upon his throne for ever; and to Isaiah, that one was to appear, who should be a light unto the Gentiles, and the salvation of all the ends of the earth; and to Daniel, that the Messiah was to be cut off, but not for Himself, and that through Him recoriciliation was to be made for iniquity, and an everlasting righteousness was to be brought in and to John the Baptist, that the kingdom of Heaven was at hand, and the Prince of that kingdom was immediately to follow in the train of his own ministrations; and to the apostles in the days of our Saviour upon earth, that He with whom they cornpanied was soon to be lifted up for the healing of the nations, and that all who looked to Him should live - and finally - to the apostles after the day of Pentecost, when, fraught with the full and explicit tidings of a world's atonement and a world's reaction, they went forth with the doctrine of Christianity in its entire copiousness, and have transmitted it to future ages in a book, of which it has been said no man shall add thereto, and no rnan shall take away from it.
This forms but a faint and a feeble outline of that march, by which God s external revelation hath passed magnificently onwards, from the first days of our world, through the twilight of the patriarchal ages - and the brightening of the Jewish dispensation, aided as it was by the secondary lustre of types and of ceremonies - and the constant accumulation of Prophecy, with its visions every century becoming more distinct, and its veil becoming more transparent - and the personal communications of God manifest in the flesh, who opened -His mouth amongst us, but still opened it in parables - insomuch that when He ascended from His disciples, He still left them in wonder and dimness and mystery - Till, by the pouring forth of the Holy Spirit from the place which He had gone to occupy, the evidence of inspiration received its last and its mightiest enlargement, which is now open to all for the purpose of perusal, but so shut against every purpose of augmentation, that in this respect it may be said, its words are closed up and sealed to the time of the end.
The Epistle to the Romans, forms one of the most complete and substantial products of this last and greatest illumination. In this document, the visibility of external revelation is poured forth not merely on the greatest variety of Christian doctrine, but on that doctrine so harmoniously blended with the truths of human experience - so solidly reared from the foundation of Jesus Christ and of Him crucified, into a superstructure at once firm and graceful and stately - so branching forth into all the utilities of moral and practical application - and, at length from an argument bearing upon one great conclusion, so richly efflorescing into all the virtues and accomplishments which serve both to mark and to adorn the person of regenerated man - Such is the worth and the density and the copiousness of this epistle - that, did our power of vision keep pace at all with the number and the value of those spiritual lessons which abound in it, then indeed should we, become the children of light, be rich in a wisdom that the world knoweth not, in a wisdom which is unto salvation.
But the outward light by which an object is rendered visible is one thing - and the power of vision is another. That these two are not only distinct in respect of theoretical conception, but were also experimentally distinct from each other in the actual history of God's communications to the world, will, we trust, be made to appear from several passages of that revealed history in the Bible; and from one single appeal which we shall make to the experience of our hearers.
The first passage is in 1 Peter, i, 10 - 12. "Of which salvation the prophets have enquired and searched diligently, who prophesied of the grace that should come unto you. Searching what, or whet manner of time, the Spirit of Christ which was in them did signify, when it testified beforehand the sufferings of Christ, and the glory that should follow. Unto whom it was revealed, that not unto themselves, but unto us, they did minister the things which are now reported unto you, by them which have preached the gospel unto you, the Holy Ghost sent down from heaven; which things the angels desire to look into." This passage sets the old prophets before us in a very striking attitude. They positively did not know the meaning of their own prophecies. They were like men of dim and imperfect sight, whose hand was guided by some foreign power to the execution of a picture - and who, after it was finished, vainly attempted, by straining their eyes, to explain and to ascertain the subject of it. They were the transmitters of a light, which, at the same time, did not illuminate themselves. They uttered the word, or they put it down in writing, as it was given to them - and then they searched by their own power, but searched in vain for the signification of it. They enquired diligently what the meaning of the Spirit could be, when it testified of the sufferings of Christ and the glory of Christ. But till that Spirit gave the power of discernment, as well as set before them the objects of discernment - their attempts were nugatory. And indeed they were sensible of this, and acquiesced in it. It was told them by revelation, that the subject-matter of their prophecy was not for themselves, but for others even for those to whom the gospel should be preached in future days, and who, along with the ministration of the eternal word, were to receive the ministration of the Holy Ghost - whose office it is to put into the mouths of prophets the things which are to be looked to and believed, and whose office also it is to put into the hearts of others the power of seeing and believing these things. And it serves clearly to mark the distinction between these two offices, that the prophets, alluded to in this passage, presented to the world a set of truths which they themselves did not understand - and that again the private disciples of Peter, who were not so learned as to be made the original and inspired authors of such a communication were honoured with the far more valuable privilege of being made to understand it.
This we think will appear still more clearly from another passage of the same apostle in 2 Peter, i, 19 - 21. "We have also a more sure word of prophecy; whereunto ye do well that ye take heed, as unto a light that shineth in a dark place, until the day dawn, and the day-star arise in your hearts. Knowing this first, that no prophecy of the Scripture is of any private interpretation. For the prophecy came not in old time by the will of man; but holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost:" No prophecy is of private interpretation. It was not suggested by the natural sense of him who uttered it - and as little is it understood, or can it be explained, by the natural powers of the same person. He was the mere recipient of a higher influence; and he conveyed what. he had thus received to the world - speaking not of hia own will but just as he was moved by the Holy Ghost - and enabled to discern or to expound the meaning of what he had thus spoken, not of his own power, but just as the same Holy Ghost who gave him the materials of contemplation, gave him the faculty of a just and true contemplation. The light of which, he was barely the organ of transmission, shone in a dark place, so long as it shone upon the blind; and, not till the blind was made to see - not till the eyes of those, who were taking heed to the letter of the prophecy, were opened to perceive the life and meaning and spirit of the prophecy - not till that day which has dawned, and that day-star which had arisen on the outward page of revelation, had also dawned and arisen upon their own hearts - not, in short, till the great agent of all revelation, even the Holy Spirit who had already furnished the object of ception in the word, had also furnished the organ of perception in the understanding - Not till then, were the enquiries after the truth as it is in Jesus effectually introduced, to a full acquaintance with all its parts, - or to the full benefit of all its influence.
We cannot take leave of this passage, without adverting to the importance of that practical injunction which is contained in it. They who are still in darkness are called upon to look, and with earnestness too, to a particular quarter; and that is the word of God - and to do so until the power of vision was granted to them. If a blind man were desirous of beholding a landscape, and had the hope at the same time of having his sight miraculously restored to him, he might, even when blind, go to the right post of observation, and turn his face to the right direction, and thus wait for the recovery of that power which was extinguished. And, in like manner, we are all at the right post, when we are giving heed to our Bibles. We are all going through a right exercise, when, with the strenuous application of our natural powers, we are reading and pondering and comparing and remembering the words of the testimony - and if asked, how long we should persevere in this employment, let us persevere in it with patience and prayer until, as Peter says, until the day dawn and the day-star arise in our hearts. That John the Baptist should not know himself to have been he who was to come in the spirit and power of Elijah; and hence, in reply to the question Art thou Elias! should say that I am not - whereas our Saviour affirmed of him, that he was the Elias who should come - this ignorance of his may be as much due to the want of outward formation about the point, as to any lack in the faculty of discernment. The same thing however can scarcely be said of his ignorance of the true character of the very Messiah whom he himself foretold - insomuch, that, though he had baptized him and attested him to be the Lamb of God, and seen the Spirit descending upon him like a dove - yet he seems afterwards to have been so much startled by the obscurity of his circumstances, and by the style of his companionship which looked unsuitable to the character of a great Prince and deliverer, that, in perplexity about the matter, he sent his disciples to Jesus to ask whether he was the person who should come or they had to look for another, He laboured under such a disadvantage, whether of darkness or of blindness about the nature of the new dispensation, that though, of light, he was greater than the greatest of the prophets, who had gone before him, yet, in the very same respect, he was less than the least in the Kingdom of Heaven; or less than the least enlightened of the Christian disciples who should come after him.
The constant misapprehension of our Saviour's own immediate disciples, of which we read so much in. the Gospels, was certainly due as much to their being blind as to their being in the dark - to their defect in the power of seeing, as to any defect in the visibility of what was actually set before them.
We read of our Saviour's sayings being hid from that they perceived not - and of His dealing the light of external truth to them, as their were able to bear it - and of His averring, in spite of all He had dealt out in the course of His personal ministrations upon earth, of His averring, at the close of these ministrations, that as yet they knew nothing, though if they had had the power of discernment, they might surely have learned much from what is now before us in the Gospels, and of which they were both the eye and the ear witnesses. We further read; that after the resurrection, when He met two of His disciples, and the eyes of their body were holden that they should not know Him, just as the eyes of their mind were holden that they should not know the things which were said in Moses and the Prophets and all the Scriptures concerning Himself, they at length came to recognize His person - not by any additional light thrown upon the external object, but simply by their eyes being opened; and they also came to recognize Him in the Scriptures - not by any change or any addition to the word of their testimony, but simply by their understandings being opened to understand them. We also read of the descent of the Holy Ghost in the day of Pentecost - that event on which our Saviour set such an importance, as to make it more than an equivalent for His own presence in the way of teaching and enlightening the minds of His apostles. "If I go not away, he will not come unto you - but if I depart, then him who is not yet given, because I am not yet glorified, I will send unto you. And he will guide you into all truth, and take of my things, and show them unto you."
There is no doubt that He showed them new things, which we have in the Epistles; and so made the Light of external revelation shine more fully and brightly upon them. But there is as little doubt, that, in His office as a Revealer, He made them see old things more clearly than before - that, by a direct work on the power of mental perception, He brought them to their remembrance. He made them skilful in the discernment of Scripture - a term applied exclusively at that time to the writings of the Old Testament and He, not only cleared away the external darkness which rested on that part of Christian doctrine that was still unpromulgated, but He strengthened and purified that organ of discernment through which the light of things new and old finds its way into the heart- insomuch that we know not two states of understanding which stand more decidedly connected with each other, than that of the apostles before, and of the same apostles after the resurrection from being timid, irresolute, confused, and altogether doubting and unsatisfied enquirers, they became brave unshrinking and consistent ministers of a spiritual faith - looking back both on the writings of the Old Testament, and on our Saviour's conversations with other eyes than they had formerly; and enabled so to harmonize them with their subsequent revelations, as to make them perceive an evangelical spirit and an evangelical meaning even in those earlier communications which, of themselves, shed so dim and so feeble a lustre over the patriarchal and the prophetic ages.
So that the office of the Holy Ghost with the apostles, was, not merely to show them things new respecting Christ, but to make them see things both new and old. The former of His functions, as we said before, has now ceased - nor have we reason to believe, that, during the vhole currency of our present world, there will another article of doctrine or information be given to us, than what is already treasured up in the written and unalterable word of God's communications. But the latter function is still in full exercise. It did not cease with the apostolic age. The external revelation is completed. But, for the power of beholding aright the truths which it sets before us, we are just as dependent on the Holy Ghost as the apostles of old were. His miraculous gifts and His conveyances of additional doctrine are now over. But His whole work in the church of Christ is not nearly over. He has shed all the light that He ever will do over the field of revelation. But He has still to open the eyes of the blind; and, with every individual of the human race, has He to turn him from a natural man who cannot receive the things of the Spirit, to a spiritual man by whom alone these things can be spiritually discerned.
There is with many amongst us, an undervaluing of this part of the Christian dispensation. The office of the Holy Ghost as a revealer is little adverted to, and therefore little proceeded upon in any of our practical movements. We set ourselves forth to the work of reading and understanding the Bible, just as we would any human composition - and this is so far right - for it is only when thus employed that we have any reason to look for the Spirit's agency in our behalf. But surely the fact of His agency being essential, is one, not of speculative but of practical importance - and ought to admonish us, that there is one peculiarity, by which the book of God stands distinguished from the book of a human author, and that is that it is not enough it should be read with the spirit of attention, but with the spirit of dependence and of prayer.
We should like if this important part in the process of man's recovery to God, held a more conspicuous place in your estimation. We should like you to view it as a standing provision for the church of Christ in all ages. It was not set up a mere temporary purpose, to shed a fleeting brilliancy over an age of gifted and illuminated men that has now rolled by. Such is the value, and such the permanency of this gift of the Holy Ghost,.that it almost looks to be the great and ultimate design of Christ'e undertaking, to obtain dispensation of it, as the accomplishment of a promise by his Father. And when Peter explained to the multitude its first and most wondrous exhibition on that day of Pentecost, he did not restrict it to one period or to one country of world. But the gift of the Holy Ghost is "unto you," he says, "and to your children, and to as many as the Lord our God shall call." We think that if we saw Christ in person, and had the explanation of our Bibles from His own mouth, this would infallibly conduct us to the highest eminences of spiritual wisdom. But blessed be they who we not seen, but yet have believed - and Christ has expressly told us, that it is better He should away from the world, for "if he did not go the Spirit would not come - but that if he went away he would send him." What the mysterious connection is between Christ's entrance into heaven, and the free egress of the Holy Ghost upon earth, it is not for us to enquuire. But such is the revealed fact, that we are in better circumstances for being guided unto all truth by having a part and an interest in this promise, than if we had personal access to the Saviour still sojourning and still ministering amongst us. Let us not despise that which has so mighty a place assigned to it in the counsels of God - and if, heretofore, a darkness has hung over the pages of the word of. His testimony - let us feel assured that in Him or in His communications there is no darkness at all. It is not because He is dark, but because we are blind that we do not understand Him; and we give you, not a piece of inert orthodoxy, but a piece of information which may be turned to use and to account on your very next perusal of any part of the Bible - when we say that it is the office of the Spirit to open the eye of your mind to the meaning of its intimations, and that God will not refuse His Holy Spirit to those who ask Him.
This brings us by a very summary process to the resolution of the question, How is it that the Spirit acts as a revealer of truth to the human understanding? To deny Him this office, on the one hand, is, in fact, to set aside what by the fullest testimony of the Bible is held forth as the process, in every distinct and individual case, whereby each man at his conversion is called out of darkness into marvellous light. On the other hand, to deny such a fulness and such a sufficiency of doctrine in the Bible, as if beheld and believed is enough for salvation, is to count it necessary that something should be added to the words of the prophecy of this book, which if any man do, God will add unto him all the plagues that are written therein. There is no difficulty in effecting a reconciliation between these two parties. The Spirit guides unto all truth, and all truth is to be found in the Bible - The Spirit therefore guides us unto the Bible. He gives us that power of discernment, by which we are wisely and intelligently conducted through all its passages. His office is not to brighten into additional splendour the sun of revelation, or even to clear away any clouds that may have gathered over the face of it. His office is to clarify our organs of perception, and to move away that film from the eye, which, till He begins to operate, adheres with the utmost obstinacy in the case of every individual of the species. The ebbs and the alternations of spiritual light in our world, are not due to any fluctuating movements, in the flame, which issues from that luminary that has been hung out as a lamp unto our feet and a light unto our paths. It is due to the variations which take place, of soundness or disease, in the organs of the beholders. That veil which was at one time on the face of Moses, is now upon the heart of the unconverted Israelites. The blindness is in their minds, and they are in darkness, just because of this veil being :yet untaken away in the reading of the Old Testament or in the New - but this veil which is now upon their faculties of spiritual discernment, will be taken away. The unconverted of our own country, to whom the gospel is hid, do not perceive it, not because there is a want of light in the gospel which would need to be augmented, but because the God of this world hath blinded their own minds, lest the light of the glorious gospel of Christ who is the image of God should shine unto them. God hath already commanded all the external light of revelation, which he ever purposes to do, in behalf of our world - and that light shines upon all to whom the word of salvation is sent. But though it shines upon all, it does not shine into all. He hath already commanded the light to shine out of darkness - and we now wait for that opening and purifying of the organ of conveyance which is upon our person, that it may shine into our hearts and thence give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ Jesus. The period of the new dispensation has been a period of light, as much from the increase of vision as from the increase of visibility. The vacillation of this light from one age to another, is not from any periodical changes in the decay or the brightening of the outward luminary. It is from the partial shutting and openings of a screen of interception. And, in those millennial days, when the gospel, in full and unclouded brilliancy, shull shine upon the world - it will not be because light came down to it from Heaven in a tide of more copious supply - but because God will destroy the face of the covering that is cast over all people; and the veil that is spread over all nations.
The light is exceedingly near to every one of us, and we might even now be in the full and satisfactory enjoyment of it - were it not for a something in ourselves. All that is necessary is, that the veil, which hangs over our own senses, be destroyed. The obstacle in the way of spiritual manifestation, does not lie in the dimness of that which is without us - but in the state of our own personal faculties. Let the organ of discernment be only set right; and the thing to be discerned will then appear in its native brightness, and just in the very features and complexion which it has worn from the beginning, and in which it has offered itself to the view of all whose eyes have been opened by the Spirit of God, to behold the wondrous things contained in the book of God's law. His office is not to deal in variable revelations to a people sitting in darkness. It, is to lift up the heavy, eyelids of a people who are blind, that they may see the characters of a unchangeable and ever~during record. The light is near us; and all that remains to be done for its being poured into the innermost recesses of every soul, is the destruction of that little tegument which lies in the channel of communication, between the objects which are visible and him for whose use and whose perception they are intended. To come in contact with spintual light, we have not to ascend into heaven, and fetch an illumiiated torch from its upper sanctuaries - we have not to descend into the deep, and,and,out of the darkness of its hidden mysteries, bring to the openness of day some secret thing that before was inaccessible. All that we shall ever find is in that word which is nigh unto us, even in our mouth; and which, by the penetrating energies of Him in whose hand it becometh a sword, can find its way through all the dark and obstructed avenues of nature, and reach its convictions and its influences and its lessons to the very thoughts and intents of the heart. If you be longing for a light which you have not yet gotten - it is worth your knowing, that the firmament of a man's spiritual vision is already set round with all its splendours - that not one additional lamp will for your behoof be hung out from the canopy of heaven - that the larger and the lesser lights of revelation are already ordained; and not so much as one twinkling luminary will either be added or expunged from this hemisphere of the soul, till this material earth and these material heavens be made to pass away - And therefore, if still sitting in the region and under the shadow of death, there be any of you who long to be ushered into the manifestations of the gospel, know that this is done, not by any change in that which is without, but by a change in that which is within - by a medicating process upon our own faculties - by the simplicity of a personal operation.
This is something more than the mere didactic affirmation of a speculative or scholastic Theology. It contains within its bosom the rudiments of a most important practical direction, to every reader and every enquirer. If I do not see, not because thnrc is a darkness around me, but because there is a blindness upon me adhering in the shape of a personal attribute - it were a matter of great practical account to ascertain, if this defect do not stand associated with other defects in my character and mind which are also personal. And when we read of the way in which the moral and the intellectual are blended together in the doctrines of the New Testament - how one apostle affirms, that he who hateth his brother is in darkness; and another, that he who lacketh certain virtues is blind and cannot see afar off; and another, that men who did not, up to what they knew, award the glory and the gratitude to God, had their foolish hearts darkened, so as to have that which they at one time possessed taken away from them; and how our Saviour resolves the condemnation of men's unbelief into the principle that they loved the dark ness, and therefore wilfully shut their eyes to the truth that was offered. All this goes to demonstrate, that presumptuous sin stands in the way of spiritual discernment; that evil deeds, and the indulgence of evil affections, serve to thicken that has settled upon the mental eye, and obscures its every perception of the truths of revelation. And this much at least may be turned into a matter of sure and practical inference from all these elucidations - that the man who is not yet awakened to a sense of his iniquities, and not evincing it by putting forth upon them the hand of a strenuous and determined reform; that the man who stifles the voice of conscience within him, and, the slave of his inveterate habits, never, either in practice or in prayer, makes an honest struggle for his own emancipation; that he who makes not a single effort against the conformities or the associations of worldliness; and, far more, he who still its in its dishonesties or its grosser dissipations . - he may stand all his days on the immediate margin of a brightness that is altogether celestial, and yet, in virtue of an interposed barrier which be is doing all he can to make more opake and impenetrable, may he, with the Bible before his eyes, be groping in all the darkness and in more than all the guilt of heathenism. These sins infuse a sore and a deadly distemper into his organs of perception, and by every wilful repetition of them is the distemper more fixed and perpetuated - and therefore it is that we call upon those who desire for light, to cherish no hope whatever of its attainment, while they persist in any doings which they know to be wrong. We call upon them to frame their doings in turning to the Lord if they wish the veil to be taken away - and, instead of hesitating about the order of precedency between faith and practice, or about the way in which they each reciprocate upon the other, we call upon them simply arid honestly to betake themselves to the apostolical order of "Awake, 0 sinner, and Christ shall give thee light."
There is another set of passages which may be quoted as a counterpart to the former, and which go to demonstrate the connection between obedience and spiritual light - even as the others prove the connection between sin and spiritual darkness. He who is desirous of doing God's will shall know of Christ's doctrine that it is of God. He whose eye is single shall have the whole body full of light. Light is sown unto the upright, and breaketh forth as the morning to those who judge the widow and the fatherless. To him who hath, more shall be given - and he who keepeth my sayings, to him will I manifest myself. These are testimonies which clearly bespeak, what ought to be the conduct of him who is in quest of spiritual manifestation. They will serve to guide the seeker in his way to that rest, which all attain who have attained an acquaintance with the unseen Creator. It is a rest which he labours to enter into - and, in despite of freezing speculation, does he turn the call of repentance to the immediate account of urging himself on to all deeds of conformity with the divine will, to all good and holy services.
But more than this. It is the Spirit who opens the understanding; and He is affected by the treatment which He receives from the subject on which He operates. It is true that He has been known at times to magnify the freeness of the of God, by arresting the sinner in the full determination of his impetuous career; and turning him, despite of himself, to the refuge and righteousness of the gospel. But, speaking generally, He is grieved by resistance, He is quenched by carelessness, He is provoked by the constant baffling of His endeavours, to cheek and to convince and to admonish. On the other hand He is courted by compliance; He is encouraged by the favourable reception of His influences; He is given in larger measure, to those who obey Him; and He follows up your docility under one dictate and one suggestion, by freer and fuller manifestations. In other words, if to thwart your conscience be to thwart Him, and if to act with your conscience be to act with Him - what is this to say, but that every enquirer after the way of salvation, -has something to do at the very outset with the furtherance of his object? What is this to say, but that a nascent concern about the soul should instantlym be associated with a nascent activity in the prosecution of its interests? What is this to say, but that the man should, plainly and in good earnest, forthwith turn himself to all that is right? If he have been hitherto a drunkard, let him abandon his profligacies. If he have been hitherto a profaner of the Sabbath, let him abandon the habit of taking his own pleasure upon that day. If he have been hitherto a defrauder, let him abandon his deceits and his depredations. And though in that region of spiritual light upon which he is entering, he will learn that he never can be at peace with God till he lean on a better righteousness than his own - yet such is the influence of the docrines of grace on every genuine enquirer. that, from the first dawning of his obscure perception of them, to the splendour of their full and finished manifestation, is there the breaking and the stir and the assiduous effort of a busy and ever-doing reformation - carrying him onwards from the more palpable rectitudes of ordinary and every-day conduct, to the high and sacred and spiritual elevation of a soul ripening for heaven, and following hard after God.
We know that we are now standing on the borders of controversy. But we are far more solicitous for such an impression as will lead you to act, than for any speculative adjustment. And yet how true it is, that, for the purpose of a practical effect, there is not one instrument so powerful and so prevailing as the peculiar doctrine of the gospel. It is the belief that a debt unextinguishable by us has been extinguished by another - it is the knowledge that that God, who can never lay aside either His truth or His righteousness, has found out such a way for the dispensation of mercy as serves to exalt and to illustrate them both - it is the view of that great transaction by which He laid on His own Son the iniquities of us all, and has thus done away an otherwise invincible barrier which lay across the path of acceptance - it is the precious conviction that Christ has died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and thus has turned aside the penalties of a law, and by the very act wherewith He has magnified that law and made it honourable - It is this, which seen, however faintly, with the eye of faith, which first looses the bond of sin and gives a hope and an outlet for obedience. The subtile inetaphysics of the question, about the order of succession with the two graces of faith and of repentance, may entertain or they may perplex you. But of this you may be very centain, that, where there is no repentance, all the dogmas of a contentious orthodoxy put together will never make out the reality of faith - and, where there is no faith, all the drudgeries of a most literal and laborious adherence to the outward matter of the law will never make out the reality of repentance.
Life is too short for controversy. Charged with the urgency of a matter on hand, we tell you turn and flee and make fast work of your preparation for a coming eternity. The sum and substance of the preparation is, that you believe what the Bible tells you, and do what the Bible bids you. Bestir yourselves, for the last messenger is at the door. There is not time for cold criticisms, or laborious investigations, or splendid oratory, or profound argument - when death has broke loose amongst us, and is spreading his havoc amongst our earthly tabernacles - when he is wresting away from us the delights and the ornaments of our society upon earth - when he is letting us see, by examples the most affecting, of what frail and perishable materials human life is made up - and is dealing out another and another reproof to that accursed delay, which leads man to trifle on the brink of the grave, and to smile and be secure, while the weapons of mortality are flying thick around him. When will we be brought to the beginning of wisdom - to the fear of God - to the desire of doing His will-- to the accomplishment of that desire, by our believing in the name of His only-begotten Son, and loving one another even as He has given us commandment! Let us work while it is day - and, set in motion by the encouragements of the gospel, let us instantly become the followers of them who through faith and patience are now inheriting the promises.
You occasionally meet in the New Testament, with an express reference to a certain body of writings, which are designated by the term of Scripture. We now apply this term to the whole Bible. But, in those days, it was restricted to that collection of pieces which makes up the Old Testament. For the New was only in the process of its formation, and was not yet completed; and it was not till some time after the evangelists wrote their narratives, and the apostles their communications, that they were gathered into one volume, or made to stand in equal and co-ordinate rank with the inspired books of the former dispensation.
So that all which is said of the Scriptures in the New Testament, must be regarded as the testimony of its authors to the value and importance of those writings which compose the Old Testament. And it would therefore appear from Paul's espistle to Timothy, that they are able to make us wise unto salvation.
There can be no doubt, however, that one ingredient of this ability is, that they refer us in a way so distinct and so authoritative to the events of the New Dispensation. They give evidence to the Commission of our Saviour, and through Him the Commission of all His apostles. The wisdom which they teach, is a wisdom which would guide us forward to the posterior revelations of Christianity. The Old Testament is a region of comparative dimness. But still there is light enough there, for making visible the many indices which abound in it, to the more illuminated region of the New Testament - and, by sending us forward to that region, by pointing our way to Christ and to the apostles, by barely informing us where we are to get the wisdom that we are in quest of - even though it should not convey it to us by its own direct announcements, it may be said to be able to make us wise unto salvation.
The quotation taken in all its completeness is in full harmony, with the statement that we have now given. "From a child thou hast known the holy Scriptures, which are able to make thee wise unto salvation, through the faith that is in Christ Jesus." But there is more in it than this. The same light from Heaven by which the doctrine of the New Testament has been made visible, has also made more visible the same doctrine, which in the Old lay disguised under the veil of a still unfinished revelation. In the first blush of morning, there is much of the landscape that we cannot see at all - and much that we do see, but see imperfectly. The same ascending luminary which reveals to us those more distant tracts that were utterly unobserved, causes to start out into greater beauty and distinctness, the fields and the paths and the varied forms of nature or of art that arc immediately around us - till we come to perceive an extended impress of the character and the goodness of the Divinity, over the whole range of our mid-day contemplation. It is thus with the Bible. That light, in virtue of which the pages of the New Testament have been disclosed to observation, has shed both a direct and a reflected splendour on the pages of the Old - insomuch that from certain chapters of Isaiah, which lay shrouded in mystery both from the prophet himself and from all his countrymen - as in reading of Him who bore the chastisement of our peace, and by whose stripes we are healed, and who poured out His soul unto the death, and made intercession for transgressors - we now draw all the refreshing comfort that beams upon the heart, from an intelligent view of our Redeemer's work of mediation; and behold plainly standing out, that which lay wrapt, in a kind of hieroglyphic mantle, from the discernment of the wisest and most righteous of men under a former dispensation. This power of illumination reaches upward, beyond the confines of the letter of the New Testament; and throws an evangelical light upon the remotest parts of an economy which has now passed away. The rays of our brighter sun bave fallen in a flood of glory over the oldest and most distant of our recorded intimations; and a Christian can now read the very first promise in the book of Genesis, that "the seed of the woman should bruise the head of the serpent," which only served to light up a vague and general expectation in the minds of our first parents - he read it with the same full intelligence and comfort wherewith he reads in the book of the Romans that "the God of peace shall bruise Satan under your feet shortly."
But there is still more in it than this. If there be any truth in the process whereby the Holy Spirit adds to the power of discernment,as well as to the truths which are to be discerned - then this increased power will enable us to see more - not merely in the later, but also in the earlier truths of revelation, than we would otherwise have done. It is like a blind man, in full and open day, gradually recovering his sight as he stands by the margin of a variegated parterre. Without any augmentation whatever of the external light, is there a progress of revelation to his senses, as to all the beauty and richness and multiplicity of the objects which are before him. What he sees at first, may be no more than a kind of dazzling uniformity, over the whole length and breadth of that space which is inscribed with so many visible glories; and, afterwards, may plants and flowers stand out in their individuality to his notice; and then may the distinctive colours of each come to be recognized; and then, may the tints of minuter delicacy call forth his admiration - till all which it is competent for man to perceive, of what has been so profusely lavished by the hand of the great Artist, either in one general blush of loveliness, or in those nicer and more exquisite streaks of beauty which He hath pencilled in more hidden characters, on the specimens of flowers and foliage taken singly, shall all be perceived and all be rapturously enjoyed by the man, whose eyes have just beeu opened into a full capacity for beholding the wondrous things, which lie a spread and a finished spectacle before him.
And it is the same with the Bible. That book which stands before the eye of many an accomplished disciple in this world's literature, as transfused throughout all its extent with one pervading and indiscriminate character of mysticism, gradually opens up to the eye of him who is rescued from the power of the god of this world, and whose office it is to blind the minds of them who believe not; and he beholds one general impress both of wisdom and of moral beauty upon the whole; and he forms a growing and more special intimacy with its individual passages; and feels a weight of significancy in many of them, which he never felt before; and he is touched with the discernment of a precious adaptation in this one and that other verse to his own wants and his own circumstances; and this more minute and microscopic acquaintance ~ with the truths, and perception of the excellencies of revelation, apply as much to the verses of the Old as it does to the verses of the New Testament - so that if he just grow in spiritual clear-sightedness, he will have as growing a relish and observation for the one part of Scripture as he has for the other:
And thus it is, that, unlike to any human composition, an advancing Christian ever reads the Bible and the whole Bible, with a new light upon his understanding, and a new impression upon the affections and the principles of his nature. The books of the former dispensation never stand to him in place of the rudiments of a schoolboy, which now abandon. But written as they are for our admonition on whom the latter ends of the world have come; and maintaining to this very hour the high functions and authority of a teacher, all whose sayings are given by inspiration from God, and all are profitable; and still instrumental, in the hands of the Spirit for conveying the whole light and power of His demonstrations into the understanding - let us rest assured that the Old Testament is one of the two olive trees planted in the house of God, and which is never to be removed; one of the two golden candlesticks lighted up for the church of Christ upon earth, and which while that church has being, will never be taken away.
It may illustrate this whole matter, if we look to the book of Psalms, and just think of the various degrees of spirituality and enlargement with which the same composition may be regarded by Jewish and by Christian eyes - how in the praise which waiteth for God in Zion - and in the pleasure which His servants took in her stones, so that her very dust to them was dear - and in the preference which they made of one day in His courts to a thousand elsewhere - and in the thirsting of their souls to appear before God - and in their remembrance of that time when they went to His house with the voice of joy and praise, and with the multitude that kept holyday - and when exiles from the holy city, they were cast down in spirit, and cried from the depths of their banishment in the land of Jordan - and when longing for God, in a dry and thirsty land where no water was, they followed hard after the privilege of again seeing His power and His glory in the sanctuary - and in the songs of deliverance with which they celebrated their own restoration, when their bands were loosed, and their feet were set in a sure place, and they could offer their vows and their thanksgivings in the courts of the Lord s house, and "in the midst of thee, 0 Jerusalem"
In all this, a Jew might express the desires of a fainting and an affectionate heart, after that ceremonial in which he had been trained, and that service of the temple which he loved; and yet in all this, there is enough to sustain the loftiest flights of devotion in the mind of a Christian. There is a weight of expression, altogether commensurate to the feelings and the ardours and the extacies of a soul exercised unto godliness. There is a something to meet the whole varied experience of the spiritual life, in these ages of a later and more refined dispensation. And such is the divine skilfulness of these compositions, that, while so framed as to suit and to satisfy the disciples of a ritual and less enlightened worship, there is not a holy and heavenly disciple of Jesus in our day, who will not perceive in the effusions of the Psalmist, a counterpart to all the alternations of his own religious history - who will not find in his very words, the fittest vehicles for all the wishes and sorrows and agitations to which his own heart is liable - and thus be taught by a writer far less advanced in spirituality than himself, the best utterance of desire for the manifestation of God s countenance, the best utterance of gratitude for the visitations of spiritual joy, the best and most expressive prayers under the major distress and darkness of spiritual abandonment.
Let us read over without any comment the whole 84th Psalm - and just simply ask you to consider how those very materials which form a most congenial piece of devotion for a Jew, admit of being so impregnated with the life and spirit of a higher economy, that they are able to sustain all the views, and to express all the aspirations of the most spiritual and exercised Christian. "How amiable are thy tabernacles, 0 Lord of hosts! My soul longeth, yea, even fainteth for the courts of the Lord; my heart and my flesh crieth out for the living God. Yea, the sparrow hath found an house, and time swallow a nest for where she may lay her young, even thine altars, 0 Lord of hosts, my King, and my God. Blessed are they that dwell in thy house; they will be still praising thee. Blessed is the man whose strength is in thee; in whose heart are the ways of them: who passing through the valley of Baca make it a well; the rain also filleth the pools. They go from strength to strength; every one of them in Zion appeareth before God. 0 Lord God of hosts, hear my prayer: give ear, 0 God of Jacob. Behold, 0 God our shield, and look upon the face of thine anointed. For a day in thy courts is better than a thousand. I had rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God, than to dwell in the tents of wickedness. For the Lord God is a sun and shield; the Lord will give grace and glory: no good thing will he withhold from them that walk uprightly. O Lord of hosts, blessed is the man that trusteth in thee."
We think it necessary to say thus much - lest the Old Testament should ever be degraded below its rightful place in your estimation - lest any of you should turn away from it, as not fitted to aliment the faith and the holiness of those, who lie under a better and a brighter dispensation - - lest you should abstain from the habit of reading that letter of the Old Testament, which is abundantly capable of being infused with the same evangelical spirit, that gives all its power to the letter of the New Testament. And be assured, that, if you want to catch in all its height and in all its celestial purity the raptures of a sustained and spiritual intereourse with Him who sitteth upon the throne, we know nothing fitter to guide your ascending way, than those psalms and those prophecies, which shone at one time in a dark place; but may now, upon the earnest heed of him who attentively regards them, cause the day to dawn and the day-star to arise in his heart.
In turning now to one of the fullest expositions of Christian doctrine which is to be found in the New Testament; and which was drawn up for the edification of the most interesting of the early churches; and where, in the conduct of his argument, Paul seems to have been fully aware of all those elements both of intolerance and philosophy which were in array against him; and where, as his manner was, he suits and manages his reasoning, with the full consciousness of the kind and metal of resistance that were opposed to him; and where he had to steer his dexterous way through a heterodox assemblage of Gentiles on the one hand, to the whole literature and theology and of Jews on the other, most fiercely and proudly tenacious of that sectarianism which they regarded as their national glory - in such an epistle, written in such circumstances by the accomplished Paul, when we may be sure he would bring up his efforts to the greatness of the occasion, it is natural to look for all the conviction and all the light that such an able and intellectual champion is fitted to throw over the cause which he has undertaken. And yet what would be the result in a discussion of science or politics or law, we will not find to be the result in a discussion of Christianity, without such a preparation and such an accompaniment as are not essential to our progress in this world s scholarship.
To be a disciple in the school of Christ, there must be an affectionate embracing of truth with the heart; and there must be a knowledge which puffeth not up, but humbles and edifies; and there must be a teaching of the Spirit of God, distinct from all those unsanctified acquirements, which we labour to win and to defend, in the strife it may be of Logical contention. For, let it be observed, that the wisdom of the New Testament is characterized by moral attributes. It is pure and peaceable and gentle, and easy to be entreated, and full of mercy and good fruits, and without partiality and without hypocrisy. Let us not confound the illumination of natural argument, with that which warms the heart as well as informs the understanding - for it is a very truth, that the whole demonstration of orthodoxy may be assented to by him, who is not spiritual but carnal. And while we are yet on the threshold of by far the mightiest and closest of those demonstrations, that ever were offered to the world, let us bow "the knee to the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, that he would grant us, according to the riches of his glory, to be strengthened with might by his Spirit in the inner man; that Christ may dwell in our hearts by faith; that, being rooted and grounded in love, we may be able to comprehend with all saints what is the breadth, and length, and depth, and height, and to know the love of Christ which passeth all knowledge, that we may be filled with all the fulness of God."
Go to Lecture Two
Go Back to Index
Home | Biography | Literature | Letters | Interests | Links | Quotes | Photo-Wallet